Taking up the challenge to develop a new study of the economic patterns in the ancient Near East, including what passes for ancient “Israel' (the Persian province of Yehud), this article proposes a model of the “sacred economy.” A study in economic history, it seeks to map out the broad contours of this sacred economy in light of the neglected but crucial economically-informed scholarship from the Soviet Union on the ancient Near East. The article identifies the key nodes of the sacred economy as the village-commune, the temple-city complex, the formation of the despotic state, the tensions between labour and class, and mediations between empire and village commune. It traces the development of the State to the tensions between the village commune and the city-temple complex. It also argues that the key features of this sacred economy may be described as regimes of allocation and regimes of extraction. The unique combination of these regimes and the tensions between them make up the sacred economy. The underlying logic of the regimes of allocation was to provide a rationale for the allocation of productive units such as land and fertility by means of kinship, the war machine, patron-client relations and the judiciary. All of this was posed in the language of the sacred, for the deity is the ultimate arbiter of allocation. By contrast, the regimes of extraction undermine the allocatory economic logic by means of a pattern of exploitation in terms of tribute and trade. This article insists upon the necessary centrality of economic analysis in any historiography of the Ancient Near East.
Scandinavian Journal for the Old Testament Vol. 21, Issue 1, p. 29-48