Models of Local Political Leadership in the Nehemiah Memoir
Leadership, Social Memory and Judean Discourse in the Fifth - Second Centuries BCE - Diana V. Edelman
Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley [+]
Trinity College Dublin
The Persians will not have described their rule in Yehud and Samaria as based on a system of patron-client type of relationships, but essentially it is just that system that we see operating in the background of the story of Nehemiah in the Nehemiah Memoir (NM). This multi-layered, informal structure was deeply embedded in traditional and long-established socio-political relations in the region and was not formally recognized by the Persian administration. It was a hierarchical system, with Sanballat of Samaria at the top of the socio-political ladder and Eliashib the high priest of Jerusalem fairly low down; he was, after all, only indirectly a client of Sanballat’s through his clientship to the Ammonite ruler Tobiah, to whom he and other rulers of Jerusalem had sworn an oath. Thus, in Yehud, Samaria, and Ammon, we see the same multiple layers of leadership that can be witnessed in other Persian-ruled districts, such as parts of Asia Minor. Apart from these rulers named in the Memoir, through the narrative we glimpse many other layers of political leadership, such as rulers of districts and half-districts and “the leading men of Jerusalem” who, although not even important enough to be named in the text (apart from on a couple of occasions), played a significant role in attempting to prevent Nehemiah from replacing Tobiah as patron of the rulers of Jerusalem. Of all the named and unnamed leaders in the Memoir, Nehemiah is the one remembered in later traditions, such as Sirach and 2 Maccabees, but not as a Persian official who set out to establish a troop in the birta in Jerusalem. Rather he is remembered as a heroic leader of the return from Exile, who rebuilt the great city of Jerusalem and re-established its traditions.