Review of Luke Emehiele Ijezie, The Interpretation of the Hebrew Word עם (People) in Samuel-Kings
Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 8 (2008) - Review

Luke Emehiele Ijezie, The Interpretation of the Hebrew Word עם (People) in Samuel-Kings (European University Studies, Series XXIII Theology, 830; Bern: Peter Lang, 2007). Pp. 341. Paper, US$67.95. ISBN 978-3-03911-139-8.


            The Interpretation of the Hebrew Word עם (People) in Samuel-Kings is based on Luke Ijezie’s 2005 doctoral dissertation at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, under the direction of Stephen Pisano, S.J.   Ijezie studies the semantic range of the word in three parts consisting of seven chapters. The three parts focus on kin relations, political relations, and religious relation. The book adheres to the historical-critical method with an emphasis on the literary-critical dimension of this method. The 28-page bibliography attests to a thorough literary review of the major works in German, French, Italian, and English. The book includes important and helpful discussions of key Hebrew terms such as “tribe,” “man,” “city,” “leader,” etc.

            Ijizie best illustrates the need for this book in his conclusion, where he notes that previous scholars limited עם to kinship or military terminology.  Ijezie offers us a broader semantic range: “one can speak of the עם of a clan, the עם of a tribe, the עם of a city or territory, the עם of a state, the עם of a leader, the עם of a religious institution, the עם of a Deity, etc.” (p. 293). Although Ijezie never quite says it, some sense of kinship underlies all these meanings of עם. His research accentuates one of his concluding statements that the deity functions as the עם of the individual or group in a sense complementing ideas of kin.

            Part I consists of two chapters on clan and tribe respectively. An introduction precedes it that consists of a good and helpful summation of recent scholarship on the lexical meaning of עם, semantics, and methodology. Ijezie distinguished between משׁפחה (clan) and בית אב (family). He distinguishes himself from Van der Toorn’s view of עם and משׁפחה as coterminous and Albertz’s more fluid position on עם. He makes an important distinction: “While משׁפחה expresses the whole kinship group as a natural fact, עם expresses the organizational dimension of the kinship group. This is why the components of עם are usually the functional male members of the kin group, while the components of משׁפחה consist of every member irrespective of age, gender or rank” (p. 59). In his chapter on tribe, Ijezie prefers de Gues’s work, which stresses the transition from city to state rather than tribe to state. He consistently shows the difficulty of understanding tribe, whereas עיר (city) “concretizes and embodies the tribe” (p. 83).

One problem is that Ijezie shows the tension between the work of scholars such as Von Rad and Ahlstrm, but does not take a definitive position. This becomes difficult in the discussion of the origins of Israel and various other dating issues. He states that “varying currents of scholarship are converging on the view that early Israel emerged as a common ethnic identity that gradually developed among the ancient inhabitants of the highland villages of Canaan.” (p. 99) Yet he later stresses that the “motif of liberation from Egypt brings into focus Israel’s original identity as a people liberated from secular leadership to theocratic leadership” (p. 253). Nonetheless, these two chapters offer a nice synthesis of current scholarship with an important new understanding of clan, tribe, and city.

            Part II has chapters on political structures, body of participants in warfare, and body of participants in governance. He focuses on city again in order to show how the importance of inheritance expresses symbolically one’s full membership in עם. Ijezie demonstrates that עם has a closer relationship with city than nation or kingdom until we examine religious relation. עם still connotes army in many instances in Samuel-Kings, but the term appears fluid as it comes to mean a professional band of warriors often employed by the king. In the war between David and Saul, only David’s group is referred to as עם. It loses some of its kinship and fraternal meaning here as its base component is אישׁ rather than אח. In the final chapter of this part, he makes the point about עם: “it is Absalom’s cause which gives the Israelites the common identity as עם for the first time within the Davidic monarchy” (p. 195). This identity fluctuates until it ceases to refer to Israelites and starts to be used by Judahites alone in 2 Kings 11. His discussion of the Succession Narrative has important implications as he finds it disjointed in a manner that supports Noth over Cross in terms of no Josianic redaction. My major concern with this part is his understanding of עם within the story of Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12. Is the עם of 1 Kings 12:5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15 really an assembly in the sense of a body of participants in governance? Does Ijezie appreciate the genre of this story? Is the story about an assembly or the foolishness of Rehoboam? The עם here appear to be a group of elders and a group of peers rather than an assembly dedicated to governance.

            The third and shortest part concerns religious relations. These two chapters involve the community of YHWH’s subjects and YHWH’s עם and the monarchy. These two chapters show how Dtr tries to find a balance between “the divine legitimacy of the king with his popular legitimacy” (p. 272). Deut. 17:15 displays the Deuteronomic position that influences Samuel-Kings. This position subverts the ANE model of kingship as the king is both a נגיד (caretaker) of YHWH’s flock and a kinsman of the people of YHWH. The Dtr king no longer possesses his own עם; rather he becomes YHWH’s elected guardian. Kinship returns to the conversation as YHWH takes the role here as paternal uncle in much the same way as operated in traditional models of clan. This third part demonstrates well how Dtr influences notions of kinship in Samuel-Kings. Unlike the other parts, Ijezie does not examine the historical reality of Dtr’s ideas. The theology here makes sense, but one wonders if kings were actually relegated to such a diminished role.

            I found Ijezie’s book insightful and exegetically both rigorous and consistent. It comprises a solid contribution to the field.

Garrett Galvin
Catholic University of America