There were two parts to every ceremony in ancient Israel. The first part was conducted in the Temple sanctuary with great pomp, with the royal guard standing around. The crown and insignia were bestowed upon the king (investiture), and he was anointed with oil and acclaimed. After the acclamation, all left the sanctuary and entered the palace, where the king was enthroned and paid homage by the high officials.

We have two fairly detailed accounts of coronations in ancient Israel, that of Solomon and Joash.[1] Although some 150 years pass between the two coronations, the descriptions of the two rites are so similar that scholars have concluded that they must represent the established custom, at least in Judah. (In Solomon's account, investiture is not mentioned, while homage is not mentioned for Joash; they do agree, however, on the essential rite of anointing.)

During the Temple part of the ceremony, the priest handed the future king was the insignia of the monarchy, i.e., the crown and the testimony The crown, a common royal symbol in many cultures, was apparently a symbol of the ancient Israelite kingdom as well.[2]

"[Yehoyada the priest] then brought out the king's son, and placed upon him the crown and the insignia. They anointed him and proclaimed him king; they clapped their hands and shouted "Long live the king!" (II kings 11:12).

The Hebrew word used in this verse for crown and insignia are nezer and édut, respectively. Scholars agree on the meaning of nezer: it is the diadem or crown, which is the royal emblem par excellence. The word édut, however, is more difficult: while meaning literally "testimony" or "solemn law" it is sometimes corrected to s'adot meaning "bracelets." And in fact, Saul's diadem and bracelets, which would have been royal insignia, are brought to David.[3]

Nonetheless, given the many biblical sources in which the word "testimony" (édut) is used to denote covenant, law and status;[4] this second item must probably have been a sort of protocol — either a religious document kept in the Temple, affirming the new king's divine sonship and power (and thus legitimizing his rule), or a royal document listing the conditions incumbent upon him during his reign.

Father Roland de Vaux, in his scholarly work Ancient Israel (1957), compares this testimony to that mentioned in Egyptian enthronement rites. The Egyptian protocol was supposedly written by the hand of god: Thutmoses III says: "He has put my diadem on me and established my protocol." This is an excellent parallel to the verse in II Kings in which the new king of Judah is given a similar "testimony" affirming his adoption by God.

The anointing the king with oil in the Temple by the priest and/or prophet is mentioned also for Saul, David, Absalom, Joachaz and Jehu, and probably took place for all the kings of Judah and Israel. In this religious rite, the "coming of God's spirit" indicates that the king, as a consecrated person, shares in the holiness of God and is thus inviolable; anointing made the reigning monarch the Meshiah Adonai — God's Appointed One.[5] (Anointing was not a rite peculiar to Israel, and probably existed in Canaan before the establishment of the Israelite monarchy; the kings in Mesopotamia during this period, however, do not seem to have been anointed.)

The acclamation involved the sounding of a horn or trumpet, as the people shouted "Long live the king!"[6] — a sign that they accepted the choice made by God. Besides the cry, there was cheering and the singing of psalms in praise of the new ruler, to the accompaniment of flute and trumpet.[7]

After the acclamation, all left the sanctuary and entered the royal palace, where the new king took his seat on the throne.[8] The expression "sitting on the throne," which marks the assumption of power and the beginning of the king's rule,[9] recurs in other Eastern cultures as well as in modern languages.

Finally, when the king had taken possession of his throne, the high officials came to do him homage.[10] This homage, mentioned only in the account of Solomon, probably took place at every accession. The ministers made acts of obedience and the new sovereign confirmed them in their offices. In a parallel Assyrian royal ritual, the officials laid their insignia before the king, and then ranged themselves around him in arbitrary order, without regard for position. When the king said "Let every man resume his office," each officer resumed his insignia and his place in the hierarchy.

The king of Israel, though never deified in the religion of ancient Israel, is nonetheless sanctified by his coronation and anointing. He is now deemed empowered by God to perform religious functions, and in fact — many kings do exactly that. David sets up the first altar for God in Jerusalem and conceives the project of building Him a Temple, Solomon builds and dedicates the temple, Joash publishes ordinances concerning the Temple and supervises their enforcement.[11] The kings even perform acts reserved to the priest — offering sacrifices and blessing the people in the sanctuary.[12]

[1] The coronation of King Solomon — I Kings 1:33-48. The coronation of Joash — II Kings 11:10-20 [back]
[2] II Samuel 1:10; Psalms 89:40; Psalms 132:18. In Egypt, it was the bestowal of the crowns and scepters of Upper and Lower Egypt which made a man a Pharaoh. In Assyria, the crown and scepter were placed on cushions in front of the god; the priest crowned the king and handed him the scepter. The Israelite accounts of enthronement do not mention a scepter, although they do mention some sort of insignia, given the king by the priest. [back]
[3] II Samuel 12:30. [back]
[4] Ex. 31:18; II Kings 17:15; Psalms 19:8; Psalms 132:12. [back]
[5] David, for example, refuses to raise a finger against Saul because he is God's Anointed (I Samuel 24:7,11; II:26:9,11,23), and he executes the man who had dared to lift his hand against the king (II Samuel 1:14,16). [back]
[6] I Kings 1:34,39; II Kings 11:12,14; II Kings 9:13. [back]
[7] I Kings 1:40; II Kings 11:13-14. [back]
[8] I Kings 1:46; II Kings 11:19. [back]
[9] I Kings 16:11; II Kings 13:13. [back]
[10] I Kings 1:47. [back]
[11] II Samuel 24:25; II Samuel 7:2-3; I Kings 5-8; I Kings 12:26-33. [back]
[12] I Kings 8:5, 62-64; I Kings 9:25; II Kings 16:12-15; II Samuel 6:18; I Kings 8:14; I Kings 8:64; II Samuel 6:14. [back]

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