State power and the death of a man

The recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands (or rather knees) of police officers has caused a wave of protests around the world. The protesters expressed their outrage at police violence and racism. Even though many other people have experienced police violence and many people have experienced racism, even though this incident is not the normal way of policing and of interaction between white and black Americans, this incident has struck a nerve. Something about the particular disregard for human life by the police officers dealing with an unarmed man has galvanised people around the world. For this is not how it is meant to be. Many people feel that there needs to be change, that this is even a defining moment in history.

By Lorie Shaull –, CC BY-SA 2.0,

I have recently read another article on a story about a man who was killed through the overreach of state power, a story about the disregard of human life, so that people could only conclude that this was not how it was supposed to be: the story of Naboth and his vineyard (1 Kings 21). While this one was more about the archaeological investigation of an ancient wine press and vineyard near Jezreel, where the story is supposed to have happened, it also addresses the story of Naboth. The story is looked at in the light of international events and theories of biblical composition. Among other macro-historic movements, it is related to the increased use and therefore requirement for wine in the Assyrian Empire. The story is seen as the folk-tale version of slow historical developments, rather than an event, which when told far and wide, galvanised people, was later looked back to as a defining moment in history.

Many scholars regard history as a slow, social process, that has to be explained through social models. In their opinion there is no place for the events that happened to real people. While looking at these social processes is indeed an important aspect of history and it is close to impossible to get information on ancient events and people that would comply with a modern understanding of verifiable reporting, the denial of the importance of particular people and events as transforming moments comes from a sever misunderstanding of history.

A winepress at Horvat Rimmon – probably later than the one measured near Jezreel.

What amazes me is that some archaeologists and historians who write so abstractly about ancient history, are passionately involved in modern-day struggles. They see what happened to George Floyd as a pivotal point in history, and yet they cannot see similar dynamics in ancient history.

Yes, there were no social media or global news in the ancient world, but stories of what happened circulated, especially if they struck a chord. So the story of Naboth could indeed have resonated with people throughout Israel. It could indeed have happened (even though, of course, it was later put in a certain literary form). And the concerns expressed in that story may indeed have been the concerns of people back then, more so than any social changes we today think may have happened then.

This entry was posted in Archaeology, Assyria, Bible, Biblical Studies, History, Israel, Scholarly articles and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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