Discuss Daniel Fleming’s work on the Amorites. Evaluate his contention that Amorite polity has a greater affinity with the polity of Israel than that of Judah. 


-        Divided into two major confederacies: the Binu Yamina and the Binu Sim’al

1.     these were characterized by significant differences within the political and social structures, namely that Sim’al was ruled by one king (Zimri-lim), whereas Yamina was ruled by 5 kings in a confederation of tribes.

-        Zimri-lim (king of Mari, lived ca. 1775-1761) was an active ‘tribal’ king, as opposed to other rulers of the time, like Ḫammurabi of Babylon.

-        Fleming claims to have found “extensive evidence” in the Mari archives suggesting collective decision making in some situations.  This is especially the case in entities such as “towns.”

-        Fleming does NOT suggest that this was the general modus operandus, but merely that it could happen in certain situations.

-        Since the three cities with the strongest evidence for this kind of policy making had all been significant 3rd millennium centers, Fleming suggest that these traditions were very old. (The three cities are: Imar, Tuttul and Urgiš).

Tribal kings

-        Zimri-lim (and his predecessor Yaḫdun-lim) seem to have ruled Mari and the mat (Akk: matum; land) Ḫana, indicating that Mari was the center of a greater tribal area. Meaning they ruled a greater area of land and peoples from the fortified administrative and ritual center of Mari.

-        It seems Zimri-lim was considered a ruler of the tribe of the Sim’alites, not the city of Mari. This is different from for instance the image of Ḫammurabi, who seems to have been very much identifies with the city if Babylon, and has no tribal affiliations. (This is not to say that there were no tribes in the dominion of Ḫammurabi, but that in the case of Zimri-lim an integration of tribal and city-based identity seems to have taken place i.e. tribes-men and pastoralists were not at the fringe of political power).

The mātum

-        “lands.” Not in the sense of a “kingdom,” but – at least in the case of Mari and Zimri-lim – the notion of the lands surrounding the central city. Fleming suggest that this was a separate political entity of which the ruler could not be entirely sure of, and which was not his “commoners,” as was the case of the inhabitants of his city. The mātum could revolt and disagree, and the term may originally have come from a tribal political context.

Fleming does not suggest that “democracy” took place in the Mesopotamian/Amorite cities like Mari, but rather that “collective and individual power must not be relegated to hierarchical levels, usual with the individual authority on top, but must be treated as two competing and perhaps even complimentary elements of a single political system.” (Democracy, 239)

Judah vs Israel.

Fleming outlines two very different polities found near the end of the Book of Kings; Israel and Judah. According to Fleming the two do not only differ in their geographical areas, but also they are not part of the same “people”; and so there is no “seamless shared culture” (Legacy, 179). Judah is the smaller kingdom based in the South, and with its capital in Jerusalem.

On the basis of biblical evidence (Judges and 2 Sam 2:9), along with descriptions of tribal associations of Mesopotamia in the Mari letters, Fleming suggest the concept of Israel as an “association of distinct peoples” (Legacy, 217). That the Mesopotamian kingdoms were a part of various tribal confederations suggests that the political situation was the same in Israel.

“What really distinguishes Israel from Judah, however, seems to be its literal decentralization, the grounding of political power in groups with their own regional identities and structures.” (Legacy, 216). Thus, Judah is somewhat more centralized, in particular around Jerusalem. 

-        Fleming suggests that the notion of a non-monarchic period mainly refers to Israel, not Judah (Legacy, 277)

-        Thus, the name “Israel” defines an association for mutual defense, and the unity of the groups in the association is explained by the bonds of the tribal family.

-        As outlined by Judges, the enemies of Israel seem to come both from ‘outside’ (i.e. across the Jordan, from Ammon, Ehud, Moab, Gideon etc) and ‘inside’ (i.e. Benjamin and the rulers Sion and Og etc). None of these clashes include southern coastal plains or the western foothills (the Philistines are not opponents until the time of Saul-David in Sam 1 and 2).

-        Fleming bases some of his ideas upon Alt’s description of how Judah became a more ‘fixed’ kingdom centered upon Jerusalem and the Davidic dynasty (Alt, 243, 251)

In the following is Fleming’s account of the history of Israel:

-        (a) As reflected in the book of Judges, various Israelite writers developed a tradition of political life without kings. Accounts of dramatic crises that involved local groups within the eventual Israelite community tended to agglomerate, by the very fact that kings and the kingdom were irrelevant to them. Without the theme of kingship as a clear organizing principle, the basis for preservation seems to have been the local interest, often as memory of threats from peoples outside Israel. None of these older stories involves Judah, which seems not to have been included in this tradition. In contrast, Judah is defined politically by its attachment to the house of David, and maintenance of the David lore is Judah’s preeminent contribution to the Bible’s narrative for early Israel. This Israelite preservation of tales about local crises addressed under local leadership appears to confirm that Israel once existed as a polity without kings. The larger biblical notion that monarchy was a novelty would then be grounded in Israel’s history.

-         (b) Instead of a “united monarchy,” we should speak of an “Israelite monarchy,” which began at least with David and is attributed to Saul. The Israelite monarchy balanced royal power and the possibility of filial succession against the collective power distributed across Israel, most visible when mustered as a fighting force. Simple identification as “Israelite” distinguishes it from the kingdom that maintained a separate capital at Jerusalem and that was finally named Judah.

-        (c) The balance of royal and collective Israelite power meant that the heirs to kings who launched new houses were understood to be vulnerable and could be easily deposed if they failed to gain the support of the wider political body of Israel, in whatever form. Israel’s monarchy was not “unstable” but rather constrained by a decentralizing political tradition that allowed turnover of royal houses. The recollection of famous local events in the book of Judges represents the political complement to the Bible’s supposition that Israel’s royal houses could survive only with broad-based support.

-        (d) The “Israelite monarchy” continued without essential change until Omri established a permanent capital at Samaria, and then Jehu began a royal house that lasted four generations. The dispute involving Rehoboam and Jeroboam I, if we can imagine such an event, would not have altered the character of Israel’s kingship.

-        (e) A second kingdom was created by the successful retreat of a king from the house of David (so, Rehoboam) to his southern capital after he failed to win support to rule. Rehoboam’s avoidance of assassination and successful defense of Jerusalem and the south are proof of striking political strength. Jerusalem became the capital of a polity that owed its very existence to the decision of a king, unlike Israel. In spite of the impressive power displayed in this act of resistance, any reference to “secession” must apply to the house of David, not to Israel, as the entity that withdrew from the existing order. 7 Outside the Bible, this polity is first attested as the House of David and may only secondarily have been identified as Judah.        

Testimony of the decentralized character of Israel’s monarchy is, according to Fleming, varied geography of its royal houses (Legacy, 296).

Also the capital of the “kingdom” changes numerous times i.e. Gibeah, Hebron, Schechem, Penuel (?), Tirzah and Samaria > see 1-2 Samuel and 1 Kings.  (Legacy, 297).

Fleming characterizes the kingdom of Judah as an “offshoot” of Israel; only coming into existence after Rehoboam fails to control the North. (Legacy, 298).

-        Jerusalem remains the dominant center of Judah and experiences fantastic numerical growth.

-        Judah is committed to the single house of David. 


Fleming, Daniel: The Legacy of Israel in Judah’s Bible: History, Politics, and the reinscribing of Tradition, Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Daniel Fleming: Democracy's ancient ancestors : Mari and early collective governance, Cambridge University Press, 2004


Albrecht Alt: Essays on Old Testament History and Religion, Anchor Books, Garden City, NY.

Jean-Marie Durand, “Unite ´ et diversites ´ au Proche-Orient a ` l’epoque ´ amorrite.” Pp. 97 – 128 in Dominique Charpin and Francis Joann` es (eds.), La circulation des biens, des personnes et des id´ ees dans le Proche-Orient ancien . CRRAI 38.

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