In the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E., Jerusalem was the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah while Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. In some ways these cities were much the same: Each was the capital of a part of the former United Kingdom of Israel that had been ruled by David and his son Solomon. Yet they were also very different—ideologically, economically and politically.
These insights come from the field of urban anthropology, which places cities in their larger social and political contexts. Cities themselves are of course multifaceted entities and are made up of diverse elements—residential, industrial, commercial, religious, etc. Urban anthropologists, however, move beyond this static view of cities and instead view them as organic, dynamic entities in constant negotiation with their societies. A society’s ideological beliefs, economic needs, political structures and social behaviors are woven into the very fabric of its urban centers. At the same time, the cities themselves construct and reinforce relationships and values that influence their societies.
As social entities, cities have a variety of social roles, including ideological, political/administrative and economic. Yet the relative importance of these social functions is not random but rather derives from the strength of both the city’s economy and the controlling state.1 When state power is weak and the urban economy is dependent on rural agriculture, the city’s ideological role dominates and becomes what anthropologists term a “regal-ritual city.” By contrast, when the state is strong but the urban economy is still dependent on farming, the city’s administrative role comes to dominate, and it thus becomes an “administrative city.”
In a regal-ritual city, the primary urban role is ideological. The settlement is usually small, not much larger than a village. The city’s essential components are a royal household and a ceremonial center. This type of city occurs in decentralized societies in which leadership is hereditary and has limited access to wealth and power. The city’s residents are also not qualitatively different from their rural counterparts. They certainly skew to the top rung in terms of wealth, power and prestige, but the differences are in quantity only. The rural inhabitants share in the state’s ideology and flock to the regal-ritual center to celebrate political and religious rituals. It is at such times that the city achieves true population density.
Like the regal-ritual city, the administrative city serves as the residence for the state elite and as a center for political and religious functions. However, major differences arise out of the fact that in this type of city, leadership has access to great wealth and power by dint of its organizational and coordinating activities. The administrative city—serving as a nexus for transportation and communication and a hub for commerce, crafts and other specialties—links together a hierarchy of provincial centers that are controlled by the state. These cities extract the agricultural surplus from the countryside and use it to feed the city’s residents, pay for monumental construction and support the luxurious lifestyle of the leadership, who are qualitatively separate from the rest of the population. The city is a repository of state power but unifies through coercion rather than common ideology.
From the perspective of urban anthropology, Jerusalem clearly fits the paradigm of the regal-ritual city.a It was primarily a sacred city, dominated by an ascribed priesthood administering at a national cult center (the Temple) and by a hereditary kingship (the Davidic dynasty) that was often at the mercy of foreign powers. Jerusalem was not a primary producer of goods, but its small population limited the strain placed on the countryside. The royal family certainly lived better than the average Judahite, but both would have viewed themselves first and foremost as inhabitants of Judah; there was not a distinct urban population that saw itself as Jerusalemite first. And, of course, the social life in Jerusalem revolved around the sacred calendar, divine sacrifices and commemorative events related to the royal household. Three times a year, at Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, the city’s population would swell as pilgrims arrived to celebrate the festivals.
In contrast, Samaria fits the paradigm of an administrative city. Located in the hills of Ephraim, it headed a hierarchical network of towns and villages. Consistent with its administrative function, the city was established by Omri, who for strategic reasons moved the Israelite capital there from Tirzah 068 in 876 B.C.E. During its 150 years of existence, Samaria was renowned as a place of luxury, where the urban elite enjoyed a life qualitatively different from their brethren in the countryside.b
When the kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in the late eighth century B.C.E., no one yearned for the rebuilding of Samaria as an Israelite city, for without the Israelite state it had lost its raison d’etre. In the ensuing centuries, others lived and built at the site, but the Israelite character of Samaria was no longer a unifying force. With the state gone, the city no longer had a purpose.
Contrast this with the reaction following the destruction of Jerusalem by the 069070 Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. This city, which never lost its regal-ritual essence, was mourned and remembered as a unique spiritual and national center. The separate functions had been so inextricably linked that to yearn for one was to yearn for the other. When the Jews returned to rebuild Jerusalem under the Persians, it was inconceivable that they would have one without the other. Jerusalem was ultimately refashioned as the center of an independent Yehud (although within Persian constraints) and as the center once again of Jewish spiritual and ritual life.
In the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E., Jerusalem was the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah while Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. In some ways these cities were much the same: Each was the capital of a part of the former United Kingdom of Israel that had been ruled by David and his son Solomon. Yet they were also very different—ideologically, economically and politically. These insights come from the field of urban anthropology, which places cities in their larger social and political contexts. Cities themselves are of course multifaceted entities and are made […]
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