Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

The Pre-Exilic Levites and the Israelite Monarchy in Cross-Cultural Perspective (ANE Lecture Series)

Mon, October 11, 2010 | Texas Union, Lone Star Room (3.208)

5:00 PM

The Pre-Exilic Levites and the Israelite Monarchy in Cross-Cultural Perspective
Jeremy M. Hutton, Princeton Theological Seminary

In 1969, the sociologist Ernest Gellner published an ethnographic description of a Berber holy lineage, the Ahansali tribe (The Saints of the Atlas).  As part of a longer project studying the Levites in tandem with the model provided by the Ahansal, and supplemented by recent sociological work on the formation of “complex chiefdoms” (e.g., R. D. Miller, Chieftains of the Highland Clans), this paper will argue for functional correspondences between the Priestly/Levitical families of 1-2 Samuel and the Ahansal, especially as these correspondences occur in relation to political authority.  Ahansali igurramen function as external arbitrators in the yearly ‘elections’ of Berber chiefs.  Elections are governed by principles of “rotation and complementarity” between Berber moieties (Gellner, p. 81), so that in theory the “Saints think and claim they appoint [the tribal leaders], when in fact they [only] ratify and mediate” the elections (ibid., p. 98).  This model provides two significant parallels to the lot-casting ceremony of 1 Sam 10:17-27.  

Not only is a similarly segmentary social structure implied in that ceremony (esp. vv. 20-21), but also Samuel fulfills a role similar to that of an Ahansali agurram through his arbitration of the ceremony.  The ‘choice’ of the agurram carries with it much weight, and the chief governs by virtue of the subordinate moieties’ acceptance of the Ahansali designation.  On occasions when this acceptance begins to break down, the Ahansal are forced to muster a counter-insurgency formed from those groups still accepting of their leadership.  This maintenance of regularity in leadership may be compared to the role played by the families of Zadok and Abiathar in 1-2 Samuel.  These families’ respective roles in the establishment and ideological backing of David’s chiefdom throughout this corpus (e.g., 1 Sam 21:1-6; 22:11-23; 1 Kgs 1:32-40) leads to a more finely-grained study of the specific modes of support they are represented as offering to David in response to Absalom’s coup (2 Sam 15:24-29, 35-36; 17:15-21; 18:19-30; 19:11-15).

Sponsored by: Center and Department of Middle Eastern Studies

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