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Martha G. Newman, Chair BUR 529, Mailcode A3700, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-232-7737

"The Pre-Exilic Levites and the Israelite Monarchy in Cross-Cultural Perspective"

Mon, October 11, 2010 • 5:00 PM • Texas Union, Lone Star Room

A talk by 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). 

Jeremy M. Hutton is assistant professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. He received his A.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University, and his B.A. from the University of Notre Dame. His doctoral dissertation, “The Transjordanian Palimpsest: The Overwritten Texts of Personal Exile in the Deuteronomistic History,” took an interdisciplinary approach to the symbolic geography of Transjordan and the Jordan River in the Deuteronomistic History, using concepts and models from anthropological, sociological, and philosophical thought. It is currently in preparation for publication in the BZAW series. Hutton's research interests include the symbolic geography of Transjordan and the Jordan River in the Old and New Testaments, Israelite prophets and the institution of prophecy, anthropological and sociological approaches in biblical interpretation, and the formation and structure of the Deuteronomistic History, especially the books of Samuel. He teaches courses in Biblical Hebrew, prophetic literature, the exegesis of Amos and the minor prophets, and Historical Hebrew Grammar. 


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