Chief ruler of a nation.

—Biblical Data:

In Jewish history the first ruler called "king" was Saul, son of Kish, but in Palestine almost every chieftain bore this title. According to Josh. xi. 1-2, the country contained numbers of kings, and in the Song of Deborah (Judges v. 19) reference is made to the "kings of Canaan." These can have had little more power than a modern sheik. Some of them, doubtless, held more extensive sway than others, and the ruler of the federation of the five cities of the Philistines might more deservedly be dignified with the name. The special need of a military leader in primitive times was due to the constant warfare in which even the more settled population of the country passed its existence, and while in the nomad state the Israelites needed a warrior chief like Moses or Joshua to keep them united and under discipline. As soon as the Israelites were settled in the Holy Land decentralizing tendencies became paramount, and the local jurisdiction of the elders superseded the earlier régime, This led to various attempts at reconstruction under the Judges. In two cases, those of Gideon and Abimelech, attempts were made to found petty kingdoms. Similarly, Jephthah seems to have established a minor kingdom east of the Jordan, in Gilead (Judges xi. 6-11); but none of these attempts were sufficient to unite the whole of the Israelitish tribes for warlike purposes against their enemies in plain and mountain.

In the time of Samuel, however, the tribes were for a time united. The manifest advantages of thisunion led Samuel himself to arrange later for a secular head of the Israelite forces, who should be sanctified by the choice of the oracles of God; Saul, therefore, became, by election, the first King of Israel. Dissatisfied with Saul's conduct, the imperious Samuel selected David to replace him, who, after Saul's death, immediately succeeded in ruling over Judah, and some years later was acknowledged king of all Israel. David had taken possession of the great fortress of Jerusalem, and, possibly influenced by the career of the king-maker Samuel, attempted to combine the ecclesiastical and the military headship by making his chapel royal, or Temple, the center of the national worship. This policy was carried out by his son Solomon, who attempted further to break down the old tribal divisions by dividing the whole country into twelve or thirteen districts (I Kings iv. 7), severally presided over by one of his officers; each of these officers, it has been conjectured, was required to supply the court or the army with provisions during one month of each year. But this attempt proved premature, and after Solomon's death his kingdom was divided into two parts (see Israel; Judah). The advantages of a rallying-point for the national forces was nevertheless thenceforth clearly recognized, and both divisions were ruled by kings till the superior forces of the surrounding nations destroyed for a time the national independence.


As indicated by the sketch above, the chief duty of the king was to act as war-lord and commander-in-chief of the army. One result of the establishment of the kingship was the foundation of a standing army, which began with the three thousand men kept by Saul in the field against the Ammonites (I Sam. iii. 2). The "Gibborim," or the mighty men who formed the body-guard of the king, constituted the nucleus of this force. War being regarded by the Hebrews as a sacred occupation (see Schwally, "Kriegsaltertümer," 1901), the king was intimately connected with the religious organization of the people, and it is possible that at an early stage he was regarded as the center of it, though there are no such traces of taboos around Hebrew royalty as are found among other primitive nations (see Frazer, "Golden Bough," i., passim). It is certain that the king performed priestly functions. Saul offered sacrifices (I Sam. xiii. 9-11), and David wore the ephod (I Sam. vii. 19); Solomon addressed the people in the Temple (I Kings viii. 14); the high priests received their appointment from the king, at any rate in the earlier stages of the monarchy (II Sam. viii. 17; I Kings ii. 26-27). The fact that Solomon built a temple and dedicated it shows the intimate relation of the king with the national sanctuary, which was attached to his palace. In addition to their military and ecclesiastical functions, the Jewish kings, like all Oriental monarchs, discharged those of judges (comp. I Kings iii. 16 et seq.), and in the palace there was a special porch for judgment (I Kings vii. 7). How far the king had the right to originate laws is doubtful. Later legislation required him to agree to abide by the Deuteronomic Law (Deut. xvii. 18, 19), but he must have had considerable latitude in interpreting it.

Selection and Anointing.

In the cases of Saul and David, the fact that they had already proved themselves redoubtable leaders in warfare was doubtless the reason why Samuel chose them for the kingly office when he had reluctantly come to the conclusion that such a head for the nation was necessary. When once the kingship had been established, the hereditary principle arose naturally. For nearly eight years. Saul's son Ishbosheth retained the position of his father among the more northern tribes. The king appears to have had the right to select his successor from his descendants, as was done by David in the case of Solomon (I Kings i.), who seems to have been the youngest among his sons (see Junior Right). Although the act of selection was the monarch's, the priestly caste seems to have had some voice in the (decision, while the elders and the people generally expressed by acclamation their satisfaction at the result (II Kings xiv., xxi., xxiii.; see also Josephus, "B. J." i. 33, § 9).

The chief ceremony by which a ruler was consecrated king was that of anointing, mentioned in the cases of Saul (I Sam. x. 1), David (II Sam. ii. 4), Jehu (II Kings ix. 6), and Joash (II Kings xi. 12). In all these cases, excepting the last, the function appears to have been a private one, and hence it has been suggested that it was performed with the beginning of a new dynasty. The general reference to the king as "the anointed one," or "the Lord's anointed" (I Sam. ii. 10; Ps. ii. 2; Lam. iv. 20), seems to show that anointing was the normal and characteristic part of a king's inauguration, though it occurred also in the appointment of a high priest (see Anointing; Messiah; see also Wellhausen in Archiv für Religionswissenschaft," 1904).

The chief external signs of dignity were the crown (II Kings xi. 12), which was worn by Saul even on the battlefield (II Sam. i. 10; see Crown), and the scepter (Ps. xlv. 7 [A. V. 6]). It is doubtful whether the spear, so often mentioned in connection with Saul (I Sam. xx. 33, xxii. 6, xxvi. 7), was used by him as a sign of his dignity; it is not mentioned elsewhere in connection with the kings, though modern sheiks use it for that purpose (Tristram, "Land of Israel," p. 59). Naturally, the king's house was of larger dimensions and of more pretentious architecture than that of any of his subjects, and special accounts are given of the palaces of Solomon (I Kings vii.), Jehoiakim (Jer. xxii. 13, 14), and Ahab (I Kings xxii. 39). The king's seat was known as the "throne" or "judgment-seat." An elaborate description is given of that of Solomon I Kings x. 18 et seq.; see Throne).


The chief officer of the king was the "captain of the host" (II Sam. ii. 8). Another high military officer was the captain of the body-guard (II Sam. viii. 16, xx. 23), who, for prudential reasons, was not placed under the orders of the commander-in-chief. Of the officials connected with the royal household the chief appears to have been the high chamberlain, or the officer "over the household" (II Kings xviii. 18). Next come the "sofer," or scribe, who acted as secretary of state (ib.), and the "mazkir," or historiographer (ib.). An official less frequently mentionedwas the "king's servant" (II Kings xxii. 12); a seal that belonged to one of these king's servants, whose name was Obadiah, has recently been discovered. Besides these, several minor officials, as "keeper of the wardrobe" (II Kings xxii. 14) and "chamberlains" II Kings xxiii. 11), were connected with the royal household. Other titles, like those of "king's friend" and "counselor," can scarcely be regarded as official.

Seal of Obadiah, "Servant of the King."(After Benzinger.)Revenue.

The means by which this state was maintained were various, and doubtless differed with the period. The royal domains and flocks (partly obtained by escheat) must have contributed much to its support (I Chron. xxvii. 25-28). The kings may have claimed a tithe of the produce of the land (I Sam. viii. 15-17), but no later evidence is given of this, and such a claim would conflict with the similar claims of the priesthood. Regular presents, doubtless, were made by the king's chief vassals (I Kings x. 25), and tributes were brought in by conquered tribes (I Kings iv. 21; II Chron. xxvii. 5). Solomon probably derived some profit from his trading ventures (I Kings ix. 28), as well as from the customs levied on the foreign merchants trading in Palestine (I Kings x. 14). Resources such as these enabled the king to keep up considerable state. He dressed in royal robes (I Kings xxii. 10; II Chron. xviii. 9), drank from gold vessels (I Kings x. 21), and possessed a large harem (II Sam. xvi. 21). All who approached him bowed down and touched the ground with the forehead (I Sam. xxiv. 8; II Sam. xix. 24). After the destruction of the monarchy, memories of its glory still remained in Israel, and Ezekiel regarded royalty as inseparable from the ideal Jewish state (Ezek. xlvii.). The term "king" was applied symbolically to any great leader, even to death (Job xviii. 14); but above all it was applied to God as the "King of Kings" (see Theocracy). It is likewise applied to a crocodile (ib. xxiv. 34).

  • Benzinger, Hebräische Archäologie, pp. 303-315;
  • K. Budde, Schätzung des Königtums im Alten Testament, Marburg, 1903.
E. G. H. J.—In Rabbinical Literature:

In Talmudic times every official position on earth was regarded as of divine appointment, and the rule of the king was compared with that of God (Ber. 58a). One had, therefore, to pray for a good king (Ber. 55a) and for the good of the king (Abot iii. 2). The office was regarded as hereditary (Hor. 11b; comp. Zeb. 102a). There was a special benediction to be pronounced on seeing a king, and no one should avoid greeting him appropriately (Ber. 58a). Even prayers may in certain cases be interrupted to answer a king (Ber. 32b). Intriguers against the royal majesty lost in certain cases their property and were put to death (Sanh. 48b), while any disrespectful gesture was punished (Pes. 57b). To defraud the customs was a great crime against the king (Ned. 28a), and he received one-thirteenth of all booty captured in war (B. B. 122a). The anointing of the king was done with balsam before he was crowned (Hor. 12a).

But a king must stand during the reading of the Law (Soṭah 41b), and must not arise from his knees until he has finished his prayer (Ber. 34b). The glory of a king is truth (Ta'an. 32a), and, therefore, his word must be irrevocable (B. B. 3b). He should set an example to all in his obedience to the Law (Suk. 30a).

The relations of a king to his courtiers was a favorite subject of the Rabbis in their parables. I. Ziegler has collected no less than nine hundred and thirty-seven parables of this kind, scattered through Midrashic literature, but it is clear from the descriptions of the king's regalia that the model before the Rabbis was the Roman emperor with his purple mantle, laurel crown, and curule chair. These parables, though interesting in their way, seldom throw light upon the rabbinical views about kings, being more of the nature of folk-tales.

  • Lewysohn, in Orient, Lit. 1850, No. 33;
  • I. Ziegler, Die Königsgleichnisse des Midrasch, Breslau, 1903.
S. S. J.
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