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Biblical Archaeology Review 3:2, June 1977

Was There an Israelite Amphictyony?

By Roland de Vaux

In 1923, the sociologist Max Weber characterized Israel during the period of the Judges as a warring confederation over which Yahweh guaranteed the social order and insured prosperity. “Israel”, he said, was the name of a religious league which perhaps had “amphictyonic” rites.1 Later Martin Noth expanded this comparison and gave the thesis its definitive form.2

A study of the different tribal lists in the Bible reveals that, despite changes, the number 12 is invariable. Within this larger configuration, the six Leah tribes, the first to come to Canaan, form a constant group.

The Greek amphictyonies and the Italian leagues suggest an analogy which must be considered. Through an oath, they unite twelve (or six) peoples or cities around a common sanctuary, where they periodically assemble for religious celebrations. The members of these leagues retain their political independence, but their delegates oversee the observance of certain rules and take common action against their violation.

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