The Ancient 1%

Credit:, Israel

Exodus 35 lays out the plans for the construction and furnishing of a desert Tabernacle that would serve as nascent Israel’s center of worship. The physical and labor resources for the Tabernacle were to come from the people of Israel. “Moses said to the whole Israelite community, this is what the Lord has commanded: From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering of gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece. All who are skilled among you are to come and make everything the Lord has commanded.”

The Tabernacle, in its building and operation, is an example of social stratification in Israelite society. Within the community of Israel, there were a group of priests who were dedicated to working in the Tabernacle, while the rest of the nation provided the goods and services to supports its operation.

In the Iron IIB period, both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah appear to have become increasingly stratified, with a richer class living better than a poorer class. This is evidenced in the archaeology of the period through the presence of houses that differed in size and quality within towns.

In the northern Kingdom of Israel, the city of Samaria is an example of stratification, with the large palace structure of the Israelite king. Similarly, at Megiddo, there appear to be large open areas that are associated with stables belonging to a king.

Similarly, the Kingdom of Judah contains evidence of social stratification. At Lachish, a royal palace sat in middle of the city. Tel Moza, a city to the northwest of Jerusalem, was home to a large building and courtyard that shares a layout with other monumental temples in the Levant, and whose remains suggest that this building functioned as a temple.

These various site demonstrate the changes over time in social structures of the ancient Israelites and Judahites. Whereas the areas were once egalitarian in the Iron I period, in the Iron IIB period these same areas are divided into different classes.

The image above is of ashlar masonry, smooth cut stones, at the site of ancient Samaria, indicative of higher value construction available only to those with greater resources.