Written Assignments

The Hebrew Monarchy Debate


Web Resources for This Assignment

The Creation and Fall
The Flood
Babel
Abraham and Isaac

The Hebrew Monarchy

   As we progress in this course, you are beginning to find out that history is not about facts but about interpretations. You may even begin to wonder if you can ever get past these interpretations and get to some real object somewhere. However, history is more than just interpretations; it's also people acting on those interpretations. As you read this or that "fact" of history, understand that the people responsible for that historical fact didn't do it accidentally. They did it purposefully and rationally; their primary motivation was their world view. This world view included interpretations of history ; these interpretations of history served as the basis for action.
   On this assignment, I want you to go beyond the bare bones of historical fact and try to imaginatively retrieve those cultural causes that brought about that fact. The bare bones fact I want you to deal with is the Hebrew monarchy, which you can read about in your textbook or on the Internet textbook.
   The Hebrew monarchy was a deeply ambivalent affair for the Israelites; the picture of its formation and history is both positive and negative. The two greatest kings, David and Solomon, are presented as both good and bad in their histories. This ambivalent attitude created history; the attitude towards the monarchy affected the stability of the office and the state itself.

The Debate

   On this assignment, I want you to creatively reconstruct the Hebrew experience of the monarchy by attempting to view it through the world view of the ancient Hebrews. In order to construct that world view, you will need to turn to one of our primary readings: The Creation and Fall, The Flood, Babel, Abraham and Isaac, or Gideon. Choose one of those readings and try to extract from that reading any idea that you can use to debate whether the monarchy and unified state is a good idea or a bad idea.
   Since none of these readings deal with the monarchy or a unified state per se, you will have to deal with one of several more fundamental questions: What does it mean to be human? What is the human relationship to Yahweh? What is the Hebrew relationship to Yahweh? What is a "hero"? And other questions.

The Specific Instructions

   In your essay, you are to take one side of the question: would an ancient Hebrew believe that the monarchy or unified state was a good thing or a bad thing? That will be the first part of your thesis. You are to draw your conclusions, though, from the primary texts you've read: the stories in Genesis and the story of Gideon. That will be the second part of your thesis.
   Your thesis should be framed as a response to another answer, ideally someone who disagrees with you on the matter. (Your disagreement should be polite and friendly: no comments about spelling or some such thing).
   The first paragraph or two of your essay should involve explaining the primary text you're using. For instance, if you use the Babel story to argue that Yahweh disapproves of a unified state because humans become too powerful, then you should spend one or two paragraphs showing the meaning of the events of Babel (oops, now you can't use that one!).
   You should then spend one or two paragraphs speculating how the idea you've discussed in the first part might be applied to an interpretation of the monarchy or unified state, how the ancient Hebrews might have viewed that innovation. Make sure that your thesis controls both sections of your essay.

Grading

   The primary difficulty is coming up with a thesis that straddles two issues: an interpretation of a short primary text and a speculative essay on the ancient Hebrew view of the monarchy or unified state. In order to make this work, you must use your interpretation of the primary text all throughout your speculative essay on the Hebrew monarchy or state. Your first Internet quiz was primarily graded on coming up with a thesis that could unify unrelated information; this second Internet quiz will be primarily graded on both your thesis and by the extent to which you apply your interpretation in the first part to your speculative essay in the second part.
   This can be summed up in the following sentence: your essay is about unifying an interpretation with a set of speculative conclusions drawn from that interpretation.
   You will be secondarily graded on the extent and quality of how you interact with another person's ideas by actively disagreeing with them. (This, of course, won't apply to the first answer)

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