The rural-urban dialectic in pre-monarchic Israel : Israel vis-a-vis the Canaanites and the Philistines, ca. 1200 to 1020 B.C.E

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Using a historical materialist model of the rural-urban dialectic, this study is an analysis of the rural-urban articulation in Palestine c. 1200-1020 B.C.E., with particular reference to the aetiology of the conflict between the Israelite tribes and the Canaanites and Philistines. The model of the rural-urban dialectic which is developed in this thesis, posits that the relations between rural societies and urban societies in the ancient Near East were essentially antagonistic. Urban centers were sites of consumption rather than production. They were parasitic upon their rural hinterlands, extracting the produce of the village peasantry by means of enforced tributary relations. This extortion of the surplus product generated the conflict between the inhabitants of the rural areas and the city-dwellers. The resistance to such oppression by the peasantry engendered the class struggle in the ancient Near East, which took the form of conflict between the tribute exacting class, located in the cities, and the agrarian peasant class, located in the villages. The major thesis of this study is that the relations between the Israelite tribes and the Canaanites and Philistines can best be explained in terms of the rural-urban dialectic, which means that the conflict between the Israelite tribes and their urban neighbours was a manifestation of the antagonistic relations between rural and urban societies in the ancient Near East. The Canaanite and the Philistine societies were urban societies which existed as such by virtue of their ability to maintain tribute-extracting relations with the peasantry of their rural hinterlands. The Israelites, a tribal peasant society, were subject to this form of oppression to the extent to which they came under the orbit of Canaanite or Philistine power. The aetiology of the sustained conflict which pre-monarchic Israel experienced with the Canaanites and the Philistines lay in the relations of production imposed on them - relations which belong to the economic base of society - rather than in the realm of the superstructure, which includes the religious, political and ethnic aspects of a society. This conflict was expressed in religious, political and even ethnic terms, but had its source in the economic relations that existed between rural and urban societies in the ancient Near East.

Bibliography: pages 123-136.