Ancient Oil Jugs Shed Light on the Biblical Idea of the Covenant

The recent municipal elections in the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Shemesh have been in the news in Israel. But Joshua Berman points to other important news coming from the town, which is also the site of the largest ongoing archaeological excavation in the country. Among the findings are the remains of a 7th-century-BCE plant for the mass production of olive oil, unprecedented in size, littered with handles from large jugs bearing the inscription la-melekh, “for the king.” These words indicate that the oil was intended as tribute for the kings of Assyria, who at the time exercised their suzerainty over the kingdom of Judea. To Berman, the discovery sheds light on both biblical politics and biblical theology:

The covenant that God establishes with Israel at Sinai is patterned after the ancient Near Eastern vassal treaty. The idea was simple: when a weaker king fell into distress—such as siege or famine—he would call out to a greater king to provide salvation. When the greater king did so, both kings understood that they would enter an alliance of unequals—sovereign and vassal. The vassal would pledge loyalty and tribute to the sovereign, and in turn the sovereign would vouchsafe the vassal’s security. The idea is carried over into the Torah. . . . Israel cries out from Egypt. God delivers the Israelites and establishes a treaty with them: if Israel is loyal to God, and offers tribute—observance of the commandments—God will vouchsafe its security and prosperity. . . .

The foremost component of the ancient Near Eastern vassal treaty was that the vassal had to pledge loyalty to the sovereign king alone. He could not simultaneously strike another pact with a different power. Here, too, we see how the prophets of Israel converted a political idea into a theological one. Prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel insisted that when Israel and Judah established treaties with foreign powers, they were, in fact, betraying God. They preached that Israel had to know that its security and prosperity depended upon one source alone—faithful commitment as a vassal to the sovereign, the King of Kings.

The new finds at Tel Beit Shemesh vividly show us why these prophets were so dead-set against the establishment of vassalage with foreign powers. Just imagine all those residents of Beit Shemesh in the 7th century BCE, filling up those oil jugs with the word melekh (king) on them. Every time they saw the word melekh they would be reminded that their security and prosperity were safeguarded by the Assyrian king. When your day-to-day reality is that you are dependent on the king of Assyria, what hope is there that you will really feel dependent on God?

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Assyria, Covenant, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas

An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security