Biblical bottles: Jeroboam to Salmanazar

Jeroboam – three litres/four bottles
Used in: Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy

The “wise man of God” warns of the destruction of Jeroboam’s profane idols

As it goes in the Bible, Jeroboam was the first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (sometimes called the Kingdom of Israel Samaria after its capital) following the rebellion of 10 tribes of Israel in the wake of Solomon’s death in 931 BC, which led to the end of the first united Kingdom of Israel.

If one follows the narrative of the Bible, at the beginning of the Iron Age, the 12 tribes of Israel coalesced into a united kingdom under the rule of Saul sometime around 1050 BC (although the dates are disputed as indeed is the whole idea of a united kingdom*). This was, it is argued, very likely a result of increased pressure from enemies such as the Philistines.

The Philistines were very real as a people, we know a reasonable amount about them and in the Book of Samuel, Saul does indeed meet death and defeat at their hands at the Battle of Gilboa after proving himself unworthy in the eyes of God (although whether he fell on his own sword or was polished off by an Amalekite is unknown as both accounts are given in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel respectively).

The great King David succeeded Saul, initially just in Judah but eventually over the united Israel again after Saul’s surviving son, Ish-Bosheth, was murdered. David is followed in turn by the great temple builder Solomon and the united kingdom lasted until 930 BC when Rehoboam, son of Solomon, came to the throne.

At this point, says the Bible, the 10 most northerly tribes of Israel rebelled, apparently after Rehoboam seemed poised to continue the policy of heavy taxation implemented by his father.

As is related in 1 Kings, Jeroboam, upon hearing of Solomon’s death, returned from exile in Egypt, where he had fled after plotting an armed rebellion, and led a delegation to Rehoboam at Sechem where the latter had come to be crowned.

It is suggested that Solomon, in the building of his temple in Jerusalem and in supporting his increasingly decadent lifestyle, had implemented heavy taxes and effectively used his people as slave labour.

The elders of the northern tribes, Jeroboam at their head, went before Rehoboam asking for some relief from these duties.

“Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee,” they apparently asked.

Older men counselled Rehoboam to take a sympathetic line and grant the wishes of the Ten Tribes but younger men called for no compromise and in fact an even tougher stance. Rehoboam took the latter course, arrogantly and foolishly declaring to the northern tribes: “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.”

At this the Ten Tribes rebelled, with the powerful and influential Tribe of Ephraim being among the most vocal in their condemnation of Rehoboam. Jeroboam who had led the delegation was part of the tribe of Ephraim and they acclaimed him king.

Yet Jeroboam was immediately faced with a serious problem. Although the larger territory, his Kingdom of Israel was bereft of important religious sites. The Israelites, no less than the Judeans, were bound by their Covenant with Yahweh and the centre of that important bond was very firmly established at the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem – now enemy territory. In order to establish religious authority over the new kingdom and break the bond with Jeroboam reintroduced polytheism.

He did this, says the Bible, because he was afraid the people would continue to head to Jerusalem, now in the Kingdom of Judah, to make their sacrifices and so be reconciled with Rehoboam and turn against him.

The first Book of Kings continues that he: “Made two calves of gold; and he said unto them [the Israelites]: ‘Ye have gone up long enough to Jerusalem; behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.’

“And he set the one in Beth-el, and the other put he in Dan.”

Of course this reversion back to the worship of false idols and the like gives Jeroboam something of a poor reputation in the Bible. At one point while he is offering a sacrifice to the idol at Bethel a “man of God” warns him that House of David will one day return to destroy his altars.

Naturally, the two kingdoms were soon at war, “perpetual war” according to the Bible. Jeroboam was largely unsuccessful in battle, losing one large battle in particular to Rehoboam’s son, Abijam, but the smaller Kingdom of Judah could never quite defeat its northern neighbour.

Jeroboam died, it is said, in 910 BC to be succeeded by his son, Nadab. Nadab reigned for just two years before he was murdered by one of his own lieutenants, Baasha, who then made himself king. It was the end of the, short-lived, House of Jeroboam and 200 years later the kingdom would be subsumed by the Neo-Assyrian Empire as it expanded westwards and, indeed, Jeroboam’s altars at Bethel and Dan were destroyed by king Josiah of Judah in the 7th century BC – as the mysterious “man of God” had foretold.

 

*The argument for this is that we have comparatively little evidence for the existence of a united kingdom in the late Bronze/early Iron Age. Even the existence of King David himself is open to serious question. The Kingdoms of Judah and Israel Samaria certainly did exist as separate entities and were rivals. The Bible seems to have been largely composed in the Kingdom of Judah however and so we must be aware of its bias. The kings of Israel Samaria are inevitably dismissed as wicked and sinful in the eyes of Yahweh and very real kings who we know quite a lot about thanks to archaeological evidence get hardly a verse or two apiece in the Old Testament – usually that they came to the throne in such a year and then died in such a year.

It is entirely plausible that in a bid to make their northern neighbours look particularly bad and to explain the Kingdom of Israel’s fall to the Assyrians, scribes in Judah cooked up a mythical past in which the two realms were happy and unified under a strong king and god, and that king was David and the god was Yahweh. The rejection of the House of David by the 10 northern tribes led to the end of this union and was the cause of the all the subsequent suffering of the Hebrews – the strife between themselves and both Israel and Judah’s eventual punishment from God in the form of their respective destruction by Salmanazar V and Nebuchadnezzar. In effect, the Biblical authors from Judah are accusing the northerners of being rotten spoilsports who ruined everything by their refusal to play ball with Judah. It is reminiscent of that classic scene in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian where Brian attempts to join the Judean People’s Front, only to be told Reg, Francis & co that they are, in fact, the People’s Front of Judea. 

Reg: “The only people we hate more than the Romans are the f**king Judean People’s Front.”
Omnes: “Yeah!”
Judith: “Splitters!”

5 Responses to “Biblical bottles: Jeroboam to Salmanazar”

  1. Kent Benson says:

    “In the Book of Samuel, Saul does indeed meet death and defeat at the hands of the Philistines at the Battle of Gilboa after proving himself unworthy in the eyes of God, although whether he fell on his own sword or was polished off by an Amalekite is unknown as both accounts are given in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel respectively.”

    The II Sam. 1:1-16 account of Saul being killed by an Amalekite at the battle of Gilboa was a story told to David by the very Amalekite in question. It is thought that the Amalekite was an opportunist hoping to curry favor with the heir to the throne (David) by delivering the news of Saul’s death and taking credit for it. It didn’t work, David had him killed for slaying “God’s anointed.”

    The Amalekite’s story is probably not what actually happened. The history recorded by the chroniclers of I & II Samuel (I Sam. 31:1-6) has Samuel killing himself with his sword in order to avoid torture at the hands of the Philistines, after being incapacitated by a Philistine arrow – this, only after his armourbearer refused to do the job. An almost identical account is recorded in I Chron. 10:1-6.

  2. Kent Benson says:

    “Of course, these figures are nonsense, although people have tried to justify them literally through all manner of tenuous arguments.”

    It is your explanation of the Bible’s account of pre-flood longevity that is tenuous. Many things in the Bible seemed like nonsense until science advanced to enough to give them credence. Isaiah 40:22 refers to the “circle of the earth”, which was nonsense prior to Galileo. The physical world prior to a world-wide flood could have been dramatically different. According to the biblical record, it never rained, instead a mist went up from the earth to water the ground (Gen. 2:5-6). One speculation is that a filtering canopy surrounded the earth blocking virtually all harmful solar radiation. In addition, there could have been a much more oxygen-rich environment contributing to longevity. We’re not likely to ever know why humans may have lived much longer thousands of years ago, but treating the idea as nonsense is a closed minded approach to examining human history.

  3. There are several kings named Shalmaneser, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shalmaneser .
    Shalmaneser II was the king of Assyria 1030–1019 BC and ruled for 12 years according to the Assyrian Kinglist.
    So, I think, a big bottle containing 12 standard bottles, is named in honor of these 12 years 🙂

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