Brueggemann at the Temple

by Kim on February 24, 2008

Here is an excerpt from “Weeping and Hoping in Jerusalem”, chapter two in Walter Brueggemann’s new book Mandate to Difference: An Invitation to the Contemporary Church (2007). Brueggemann is summarizing his analysis of the city of Jerusalem under King Solomon.

“The core ingredients of the new urban economy of Solomon are expansive building [as a symbolic expression of oligarchic power], acquisitive commerce [not least through a huge investment in the arms trade], strong military apparatus [financed by taxes falling inequitably on the poor, who also, of course, comprise the main source of recruitment], cheap labor by inscription [replicating the slave-driven economy of Egypt], and sexual politics [for dynastic purposes]. Every aspect of this development of political economy is in sharp tension with the old covenantal assumptions that governed, according to Israel’s memory, the pre-urban society of Israel. All of that - major achievement that it is, precisely because it is radically innovative in Israel - required theological legitimation, and for that reason the building of the temple occupies the center of the Solomon narrative. Solomon is officially pious and devoted to ‘good works.’

“However, a close and careful reading of the I Kings narrative clearly reveals that the temple is in fact a royal chapel designed for state purposes in which the leadership and liturgical imagination are enthralled by the Solomonic apparatus (see Amos 7:13 for a like notion). State religion thus exists to maintain the status quo of aggressive acquisitiveness by the elites that is based on taxation and conscription of the peasant economy. At the center of this ambitious and shameless program of legitimacy is the God of the temple, YHWH, now portrayed as patron of the dynasty and its economic apparatus, designed to dwell benignly in Jerusalem forever (see I Kgs 8:12-13)…

“In sum, then, the Solomonic urban achievement, according to the text, constitutes a convergence of an economic monopoly, political oligarchy, and a religion of equilibrium. This emergence gave great stature to Solomon. The narrative, however, does not hide the conviction that it was, in toto, a system of aggressive exploitation and oppression that amounted to a deep contradiction of and repudiation of the covenant God of emancipation who had dreamed of covenantal justice.”

Readers can make the requisite extrapolations for our contemporary context. If you need any help, note that Brueggemann first presented this chapter at a conference on urban ministry at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C. (”National Cathedral”: now there’s an oxymoron if ever there was one!)

Kim Fabricius

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }


Rick O'Donnell 02.25.08 at 12:55 am

Kim opined: (”National Cathedral”: now there’s an oxymoron if ever there was one!)

An oxymoron? Perhaps. The word that occurs to me in this case though is ‘incongruity’.

I do so love to split hairs. :-))


DH 02.25.08 at 5:45 pm

I don’t see anything wrong with King Solomon with regard to the temple. God told King Solomom to build the temple to specific descriptions which he followed. Also Jerusalem is defined by God as the capital of God’s chosen people. I just don’t see any problem with what King Solomon did for the people of Israel with regard to Jerusalem or the Temple. However, later on we do know that he worshipped other gods and had hundreds of foreign wives which was clearly outside of God’s directive from His word. So in that he was wrong. However, where in Scripture does it say that all of this other stuff should be done at all? The only thing Solomon did wrong was worshipping other gods and having foreign wives all of the other stuff was not mentioned spcifically in Scripture as sin and as such is not biblically wrong.


Beth 02.25.08 at 6:53 pm

“The only thing Solomon did wrong was worshipping other gods”…

Oh, is that all? Okay, then - I guess he wasn’t acting so bad after all ;)


DH 02.25.08 at 7:22 pm

Well, I never said he didn’t act so bad after all. All I’m saying is that all of the other things are not wrong in light of Scripture which was the whole premise of the article. I have problems with an article that say Solomon is bad for things that Scripture doesn’t say is wrong without mentioning all of the other things Solomon did that were clearly wrong in Scripture. That is what the premise of my previous response was. Beth, thanks for the clarifiying point in your response. I just dislike people placing blame on things without blaming things that are actually sin like worshipping false gods and having hundreds of foreign wives.

With regard to Solomon leadin the nation he did what God told him to do and he fulfilled prophesy by having Israel’s territory be from the Euphrates to the Red Sea. So to me this article is just plain bogus.


Dave Faulkner 03.02.08 at 8:56 pm

Sorry to come late to the discussion, but I’ve only just read this post. Two quick thoughts:

1. Michael Northcott mentions something else in his recent book ‘A Moral Climate’, namely that Solomon’s programme to build the temple, with its devastation of forests, was profoundly anti-environmental, and typical of someone in power. I think that reinforces the first paragraph from Brueggemann above. He may of course say so elsewhere, but I haven’t read this book.

2. If these actions go against ‘the old covenantal assumptions’ (paragraph 1 again), then these must surely include Deuteronomy-type material (notwithstanding the usual debates about date of composition). If that is so, then it is interesting to find this in 1 Kings, itself in the Deuteronomic tradition (Brueggemann’s second paragraph). Does Brueggemann reflect on this anywhere? Is there deconstruction going on, or irony, or something else?


kim fabricius 03.03.08 at 6:53 am

Hi David,

Thanks for mentioning Northcott’s new book. I recently mentioned it to Richard. Highly recommended.

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