Sunday, July 30, 2023

Bureaucracy in the Bible: Attitudes toward Document-mediated Interaction in the Deuteronomistic History and Ancient Israel

Bureaucracy in the Bible: Attitudes toward Document-mediated Interaction in the Deuteronomistic History and Ancient IsraelPrice, Jason Ryan

During the 8th-7th centuries BCE, Israelite and Judahite society witnessed expanded applications of writing as a communication technology. In particular, the epigraphic record shows a stark rise in the usage of writing by state and military bureaucracies to manage bodies and economic matters across time and space. Previous scholarship has rarely considered how sectors of society may have perceived writing’s expansion in these administrative contexts. How did Israelites and Judahites think about and talk about the increase in bureaucratic writing? This dissertation seeks to answer this question by investigating administrative writing as depicted in biblical literature. It assesses the historical value of three biblical narratives where administrative documents mediate interaction between sovereign figures and other sectors of society. The three narratives include Gideon’s use of a name-list (Judg 8:14), David’s census (2 Sam 24:1-25), and Jehoash’s fiscal reforms (2 Kgs 12:4-16). Each narrative’s portrayal of writing is situated in its literary and historical contexts while also considered in the light of the epigraphic record, other biblical depictions of writing, the anthropology of documents and bureaucracy, and comparative ancient Near Eastern texts and artistic depictions of bureaucratic writing. Typically, such biblical portrayals of writing are valued in scholarship for what they might say about the extent of literacy in ancient Israel and Judah. This dissertation differs from previous scholarship by instead valuing these depictions for what they might say about attitudes towards document-mediated interaction. When the depictions of writing analyzed here are examined with a full consideration of the evidence, it can be argued that they reveal suspicious and anxious attitudes towards state-sponsored writing. Ultimately, it is argued that such negative attitudes stemmed from West Semitic political culture, which placed an emphasis on political action rooted in negotiation and persuasion. In this sociopolitical landscape, administrative documents could function as powerful symbols of coercion and domination. The three biblical narratives examined here suggest that writing’s increased usage in bureaucratic contexts of the 8th-7th centuries BCE thus generated distrust among some factions who had reservations about the growing centralization of the Judahite and Israelite states. 

Publication Date:
UCLA Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Local Identifier(s):
ProQuest ID: Price_ucla_0031D_19001
Merritt ID: ark:/13030/m55196bn


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