Kings, Tyrants and Democratic Imagination in the Hebrew Bible

Nestor Ravilas

I am writing this for publication. I am afraid however that by the time this was published, it was a bit behind of its desired goal, to inform Filipino believers of sound political theology. May of 2021 will be the earliest date it will be available to public, if I insist on publication. Thus, I was moved by the strong desire to compose a chewable version of this immense project and thereby make it accessible to those I assumed need to read this. As way of reminder before I proceed, this is about a case of reform in the Hebrew Bible, New Testament and Jesus movement hopefully have their own time in the future research. Let me start then.

It was commonly broached up in any political discussion among religious people whether the HB (Hebrew Bible) has ever endorsed a political system. And as always, once the question laid down in the table, the discussion comes immediately to its end. Because we have not known any political arrangement the HB endorses other than kingship. And the reason for such short-sightedness is that our knowledge of politics and power in the HB was mired in the activity of the prophets, the kings known nemesis. The prophets are indeed vocal to their criticism of the monarchy, and they were at the forefront of the fight against monarchical abuses. But did they denounce the very institution of kingship itself, or did they ever suggest to uproot it and replace it with a more working and just system? No, never! Because the prophets themselves believed that kingship is divinely instituted. The two Isaiah prophets themselves, both the 8th century and the exilic one, provided legitimation to royal ideology that the Davidic house was sacred. If they were annoyed at times, it was usually because the kings failed to play their role as mediator between God and the people to promote shalom, or justice and righteousness. But through thick and thin, prophets hold on monarchy as their political system.

There was, however, a surprising turn of events after the Babylonian exile. Upon the edict of the Persian king, the exiled community returned back to Israel to build their religion. And the second temple was indeed rebuilt, but nowhere to be found the monarchy. The monarchy, the problem of the prophets, the main reason behind the national defeat and the exile, was finally gone! Did the prophets finally have successfully terminate it? No! Prophetic office officially ended also in the exile. Prophets who emerged in exile and in Yehud community mostly are priests or related to the priestly group, and their main activities evolved primarily in the re-building of the religion of Israel, and not of the monarchy. Did the Persians thwarted its re-institution? There was no record of that. And since even after the collapse of the Persian Empire the monarchy has not able to bounce back, that alone bespeaks only that the force that hinder the return of the king is internal and not external.

Who then terminated the monarchy and ended the royal ideology of Israel? How did they do that and why did they do that?
To be continued!