The book of Job is regularly classified as an ancient genre called theodicy. Theodicy refers to the question or questions of divine justice. There are numerous ways to define such a term, but here I will offer my own. Theodicy is meditation on disaster. The biblical term for disaster is “evil,” which basically refers to anything bad or wrong. It is not restricted to intentional agency as we tend to use the term, i.e a morally reprehensible act by someone. Bad weather or an accident of any kind was “evil.” Ancient people struggled along with anybody today to cope with bad things happening to them. They struggled to find a meaning and purpose in their suffering.
If we restrict our discussion of theodicy to ancient literature—and not to a broader philosophical discussion which developed later on—we discover that ancient reflections on personal disaster focus only on one kind—economic. It contemplates the disaster of one’s “house” coming to ruin, usually by the will of a superior entity, which could be a king, a counsel of ruling elders, or a divine counsel. Typically, the disaster of one’s house was a coordinated effort by all of them working in an almost magical unanimity. Only the ruler or rulers of the decimated house reflect on their disaster. The main evil suffered in ancient theodicy is implemented from above and is deserved without question.
Unlike today, however, there were no atheists in the ancient world. Interaction with the gods was as common as human exchange and environmental interaction. Inevitably, then, questions as to one’s suffering always lead to questions as to what the hell the gods are doing. For the ancients, however, the search for meaning is not restricted to divinities because both gods and humans were responsible to keep the whole cosmos in balance. The whole cosmos is like the game of putting a board over a ball and then trying to stand up on the board by applying equal weight to both sides. There is wavering back and forth, but as long as things stay even on all sides, one will not crash. If there is a crash, the question is less, “why me, oh God?” but more, “who or what tipped the scales?”
Even further, the question is how the balance can be restored lest the whole world collapse. There must be a restoration of balance which means that whoever tipped the scales is a communal problem. But more importantly—and here is where we must go against our contemporary notions of restitution—the other players, both human and divine must take action to restore the balance. In the board and ball game, weight must be applied in the opposite direction. And this shifting of weight for restoration brings me to the topic of this essay—retribution. Retribution comes up constantly in discussions of theodicy. Here, I will go with a standard dictionary definition. Retribution is deserved punishment for evil done or disaster incurred.
But a funny thing happened on my way to exploring the definition of retribution. Its root is tribe. Fundamentally, the consequence for disturbing the universal balance is to be “re-‐tribed,” i.e. to take back tribe. It is to lose tribal identification. Even more curious are numerous other words derived from tribe including the word tribute, which fundamentally describes how ancient economies functioned for several millennia. Two other common economic verbs also derive from “tribe”: distribute— to “tribe” down or away—and contribute—to “tribe” together or with. A tribunal is also a derivative of the word tribe.
Curious, I investigated the historical development of this term “tribe” and its cognates and have come to some surprising conclusions, all of which clarify the discussion of ancient theodicy and retribution. My conclusions may provide some interesting implications to some of our pressing current issues, which I will identify at the end of this article.
My assessment is this: tribe in the Ancient Near East develops as an artificial designation for accounting and real estate purposes. Belonging to a tribe was much more about an economic identity than a familial one.
Tribe is an accounting term.
From its very inception in the Neolithic period on down to Roman civilization (and hence to the Latin roots to our English word), the term tribe is an accounting term used to categorize and manage one of the key elements in anyone’s discussion of economy, especially ancient economies—labor, the means of production.
In the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) world, an individual’s survival and well-‐being absolutely depended on tribal membership. The community defined an individual’s identity, mainly in terms of the kind and value of work he or she put into the community—con-‐tribution. Unlike today where a birth certificate is the gateway to citizenship and social entitlements (social security cards, driver’s license, passports, employment and education), the ancients depended solely on their union membership card, their tribal identity.
The notion of the rugged individualist living off his own wits and grits was non-‐ existent. If one was “un-‐tribed”—not connected to a community in which he or she works within—you were a wilderness wanderer, which is akin to being virtually dead. The notion of demons finds its origins in the lone wanderers of the wilderness, whether people or herd animals, who lived in the dead world.
Along with tribe being an accounting term to manage production, tribe is also a real estate term. It designates land ownership, or more accurately land proprietorship or tenure. Ancient peoples did not think in terms of property. Land was not considered something that could be privately owned, especially in terms of being bought and sold. The right or deed to land was dictated entirely by whoever occupied the land. Land was simply taken, either from the wilderness or from another community (tribe). A territory belonged to a certain tribe because they were able to hold on to it. A community’s ability to hold the land depended on their ability to work it for sustenance and protect it from invaders or civil strife. As the practice of tribute grew to be the dominant engine of an empire, a tribe could also hold the land by paying tribute as a subordinate entity serving the production needs of an empire.
The same entities that the land was taken from could also take it back. The archeological record is consistent for thousands of years. Villages of various sizes were either abandoned, usually for environmental reasons, or they were destroyed from an invasion or by an internal conflict. In either case, the remnants of that village life would disappear, either by the wilderness covering it up with growth or erosion or by a new community building on the remains. Either the wilderness or another tribe would “hold” the land, and to remind, it took the land.
The unfortunates of a destroyed or abandoned village had their tribe taken back; they were “re-‐tribed.” I can offer only a ridiculously generalized historical rehearsal to make my point. This opens me up to the accusation of over-‐simplifying things, which can hardly be avoided. Yet, the more I read of ANE economic structures, the more I realize that many things did not substantially change. In fact, even to this day we still have remnants of these structures.
Most important for this article and my continued study of the book of Job is clarifying where this powerful notion of retribution came from and how engrained it is even in our modern times. Whether wittingly or not, we still think that people deserve their economic lots. We still believe the ruin of someone’s “house” is a recompense for playing with the system. We resign ourselves to “bust” cycles because boom-‐and-‐bust is just the way it is.
The historical rehearsal of the economic development of tribe below begins with the emergence of human civilization in the Neolithic period until it reaches the Roman concept of retributio. It covers the period from around 10,000 BC to 100 AD and is limited to the Ancient Near Eastern world. Most of the information comes from a series of scholarly articles recently published in the book Labor in the Ancient World, produced by the International Scholars Conference on Ancient Near Eastern Economies. Although I believe similar developments occurred in the other great cradles of human civilization, India and China, I make no attempt to address that here. I suggest David Graeber’s book, Debt, the First 5,000 Years for a more comprehensive view.
Neolithic emergence of community
The transition from small bands of hunter-‐gatherers to sedentary communities during the Neolithic period (10,000–5,000 BCE) is one of the most significant in human history. Earlier scholarship tended to view it as revolutionary. They envisioned an outburst of isolated pockets of settled communities suddenly appearing on the landscape. The burgeoning of recent research, however, points to an evolving process rather than an explosive shift. The compilation of data dispels earlier conceptions of pre-‐historic village life as isolated, self-‐sustaining communities formed in an “all-‐for-‐one and one-‐for-‐all” way. Rather, several characteristics developed rather immediately and with long-‐term effects.
For certain, the conversion to agriculture centered on the development of irrigation in Ancient Mesopotamia. A chicken or the egg type question still remains open. Did the need for irrigation create a need for humans to organize collective labor or was communal labor simply the result. Either way, “corvee” labor is essentially the foundation of human civilization. A tribe in the ANE world became a cluster of small villages around a common irrigation system and under the control of some centralized administrative body.
It is easy enough to think into the change that occurred in communities with the domestication of land. Tasks, tools, and resources had to be divvied out to produce a crop. The produce also had to be distributed. This was done according to the kind of task and according to need. The benefits of land domestication were too obvious to resist. The community could enjoy the two Ps—peace and protection. It would enjoy peace in that it could be settled. It was no longer transient. It could create permanent housing and a more predictable life. As a result, the community could much more readily protect itself from a variety of threats. It could protect itself from the environment. They were not as subject to wild animals or adverse environmental conditions. They could redirect water sources and store food. They could also protect themselves against other communities with the building of protective structures and the mustering of armies.
The liabilities to domestication also began to rise, and archeological evidence abundantly testifies to how communities coped. The two benefits of village life— peace and protection—created larger populations. With this came heightened internal tensions aggravated by disease, pestilence, competition for resource, and internal conflict. Internal collapse due to resource stress proved to be the biggest threat to villages in this period. Inequality, social hierarchy, and violence emerged across the board in Neolithic communities. Mechanisms for managing labor, resources, populations, and internal violence emerged simultaneously with land domestication.
One particular aspect of village cooperatives proved to be both an asset, but more a liability: surplus. Surplus production of agricultural goods or items produced to support it created networks of trade and a new “social capital” among managerial elites who were able to act independently of communal concerns even while they manipulated communal resources. The emergence of specialized labor and of trade—i.e. the emergence of goods produced alongside those needed for basic sustenance—were the primary cause of a collective social hierarchy of managerial elites and its inevitable byproduct of inequity, Lamberg-‐Karlovsky asserts. 
Religion in the form of ritual, temple structures, and a guiding storyline (myth, beliefs and symbols encased in ritual) emerged first as the managerial mechanism for limiting the liabilities of communal life. Lamberg-‐Karlovsky argues that the primary function of religion was to apply authoritative weight to a distinct group of managers or administrators within the community. Temple structures first functioned as the hub of a community providing storage facilities, warehouses, shops for specialized skills such as tool and cloth making, and town halls for communal decision-‐making and festivals. Temple personnel emerged as managers, accountants, distributors, bankers, myth-‐makers and preservationists, and judges. Critically, they were also policemen and military generals. They prosecuted internal violence and orchestrated military campaigns for either expansion or protection. Thus, we have the organic link with violence and moral overseers.
Individual households of four to eight found their primary identity within the temple-‐controlled community as a unit of labor. Personal identity and belonging as well as entitlements to communal produce were determined by their labor contribution, their union membership. The belief system controlled by the managerial elites determined the value of each person’s labor contribution. “Typically within the Neolithic household, the ‘oikos,’ is seen as the unit of labor of organization,” states Lamberg-‐Karlovsky. The hierarchy of communal administrators was characteristically plural, and it was only much later that a singular ruling “king” or “chief” emerged.
The religious social structures of pre-‐historic civilizations constituted Neolithic economies. Their “ideological capital” legitimized the presence of a ruling elite, the unequal distribution of resources, and the specialization of labor. The collective energy of pooled labor and resources it took to build communal buildings proved to be a powerful engine driving communal buy-‐in, personal identity, and social solidarity.
Lamberg-‐Karlovsky concludes his study by strongly affirming “labor is the energy source, the building block of all social complexity.” Collective, cooperative a coercive labor was organically synthesized with a system of ritual and belief through the building of communal centers. In this way, the willingness on the part of everyone in the community to “sacrifice” their labor and resources for the good of the whole simultaneously produced personal identity and social solidarity all the while legitimizing a managerial elite and unequal distribution of resources.
Human civilization emerged where human labor was organized and coordinated. Personal identity was subsumed in communal solidarity in which the economic (domestic), political and religious aspects of village existence were woven together in a singular fabric. Religion proved to be especially effective in managing the internal tensions of community. It compelled all members to communal cooperation and entitlements, but it also coerced them into accepting or implementing collective punishment for anti-‐social behavior. Moral obligation is tied to the common good, to religious participation and to economic viability and the secession of violence.
Bronze Age Development
The basic structure of village life continued through the Bronze Age but with significant developments; they became larger, more complex, and more networked. Most significantly, empire building—conquering and controlling numerous city/states—emerges. With all of that came an upward trend to centralize authority structures. Although the notion of paying into the tribe—mainly in terms of labor contribution and the product of that labor—was incipient in the Neolithic period, tribute, a kind of union membership dues, solidified into an unquestioned practice.
The technological innovation of writing (to put it into contemporary vernacular “information technology”), beginning roughly around 3,000 B.C.E created a tectonic shift in social structures. Over the past century, archeologist have uncovered thousands of remarkably preserved stone engraved texts covering everything from ration lists, product inventory, debt and trade contracts, hymns, prayers, mythic stories and wisdom sayings. The rudimentary elements of math and grammar were developed as well as some of the most influential literature of antiquity such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and Enuma Elish. Writing enabled the management of larger communities and facilitated broader networks between communities.
Systems of education also developed to train and sustain an increasingly distinct managerial elite comprised of temple, palace, or trade personnel. Writing also energized the first form of money, which was debt. 
The internal growth of villages as well as the conjoining of several small villages into a larger entity created the classic “cup and saucer” structure of Bronze Age city/states.  The hub of administrative and communal activity was in the center. It was usually situated higher both in architecture and geography prominently reminding all of the hierarchical structure of the managerial class.
On the lower levels, groupings of small individual households of four to six family members surrounded the administrative complex.  They were decidedly communitarian in structure and function. Farm fields, orchards, and grazing lands surrounded the lower levels, which were worked collectively. An “allotment house” would collect the proceeds and distribute them to individual households. As discussed earlier, these allotment houses were connected to a temple, but as working collectives became larger, more complex and networked, a distinct administrative class centered around or next to a temple emerged. The palace frequently overtook the temple in importance depending on the region. Either way, however, they increasingly operated separately and hierarchically from the day-‐to-‐ day labor operations of the community. Almost all investigation into the word “tribe” will lead to some association with “allotment,” the reception of communal entitlements, assets and liabilities. Contribution and distribution align to the fundamental function of tribe.
Most tribal members lived and worked in a decidedly egalitarian system and generally eked out a bare subsistence. Every member contributed labor and skill, and every household unit received a portion of the collective produce. Scholars struggle with what to call these “ration lists” so prominent in tablets of the period.  Is a household’s amount of barley a ration, a compensation, a salary, shareholder’s dividend, an allotment or an entitlement? The word choice reflects the scholar’s underlying premise of economic system envisioned, often reflecting the author’s own ideological preferences.
The burgeoning managerial class was decidedly hierarchal whether it was centered in a temple or a palace.  Regions that were more temple centered tended to be more communitarian and in sync with the communal life of its workers. For this reason, they tended to be more resilient and adaptive and more oriented toward self-‐subsistence. A temple provided a meaningful framework to the often unequal distribution of labor and produce. They communicated more effectively a sense of being apart of something bigger. They were decidedly socialist—controlling the economy and overseeing distribution. Temple leadership tended to think more in terms of reciprocal obligation. Temples were much more willing to regulate and punish merchant elites acting independently of the community for private gain.
Even though temple personnel were hierarchical, they more readily embraced collegial leadership.
With the development of the palace, managerial elites acted more independently from the community. Gradually, a lone ruler worked his way to prominence, establishing a three-‐tiered political economy. First, there was the king or ruler. His palace personnel functioned as a kind of communal bank or treasury. The palace also monopolized the pool of skilled workers, producing and controlling almost all of the tradable commodities. They were technocrats in a sense. Since they controlled all of the “information technologies” with the production of texts, they could push almost anything in their favor. The palace controlled the books, and with that, they could with new found precision keep track of credits and debts. They could control the storyline for the tribe. The patron deities of a tribe show up time and time again as resembling the ruling families, granting and guaranteeing their higher status into perpetuity. Finally, they controlled the network of communication and trade with other tribes. They became the masters of mustering armies usually from the farm workers. Although armies were needed for protection, they were more often charged with expanding territory or protecting trade routes.
The increased distinction between the administrative hierarchy and the self-‐ sustaining production of the community created the demand of the ruling class to be supported. Tribute, a share or portion of the community’s produce distinct from the distribution back to the community, emerged. Every member of the community was obligated to pay tribute as a kind of union membership fee.
The primary way that community members paid tribute, however, was by offering “free” labor—corvee—to the administrative center. Initially, the coordinated and concentrated labor pool was directed at constructing large centralized infrastructure projects—temples, storage facilities, irrigation, or protective walls. It soon also encompassed offering skilled labor to temple/palace institutions or military service. These had a clear benefit to all who participated. As administrative centers became more and more specialized and hierarchical, however, the product of tribal labor grew one-‐sided, only benefitting and justifying the managerial elites. Communal projects inevitably transformed into the private property of the elites, and tribute turned into the obligatory “due” of village collectives for the “favor” of being granted existence.
The practice of collecting a portion of the proceeds of collective labor for the exclusive benefit of the administrators jettisoned imperial practices. It first of all, created the notion of privately owned real estate. Both land and original communal buildings slipped into the exclusive proprietorship of the elites. This was mainly accomplished through creditor/debt relationships. From there, wealth could easily expand beyond the proceeds of community members to a regional centralized administrative center. With the coercion of a powerful military presence, whole tribes became obligated to pay tribute to an even greater regional presence. The practice of extracting “due” for one’s local community as well as for an imperial presence compounded the plight of local peoples.
Empire, the control of many city/states, emerges in the Bronze Age. Expanded control of a region was not always accomplished by military conquest. Economic interests such as controlling or maintaining trade routes also enabled regional control. Often a smaller city/state would implore a powerful and larger one to help control trade routes. Ruthless “retribution” against tribes who resisted imperial expansion became the staple of imperial practice along with tribute. A confederation of tribes was usually organized in rebellion to imperial incursion.
The management of labor dominates Bronze Age Mesopotamian texts. It is in these accounting texts of “allotment” that we once again realize that tribal identity is inseparably linked to economic viability. Taking consensus in the form of listing households by name and ranking them in terms of labor value became the preoccupation of the ruling elites. Oddly, says Sallaberger and PruB, these allotment lists reflected more the compulsion to manipulate communal resources than to coordinate the actual day-‐to-‐day needs and operations of the workers.
These “allotment” texts demonstrate the artificial designation of tribe. Tribe becomes a middle-‐management term to control labor and manipulate rewards and often worked against an organic distribution within the community. And of course, ledgers reinforced the supposed critical necessity of the managerial elite and their corresponding support in the form of tribute. The meticulous creating and cataloging of labor units (households) fostered a move by managerial elites away from direct management of production and more toward monetary control. Through “raid and trade” as well as through manipulation of debt, land increasingly fell into private ownership and away from communal propriety.
During the Bronze Age, a top tier managerial class emerged who could act increasingly independent of the community. Tribe becomes a critical “middle-‐ management” designation to manage labor, account for production output, and to support the ruling class. A great flip-‐flop occurs in this period. Instead of managerial elites supporting the community, they increasingly viewed the community as existing to support them.
Large-‐scale archeological evidence points to a devastating, regional collapse of this Bronze Age system. Sites across the Levant demonstrate the failure of these more elaborate city/state systems to sustain themselves. Some remains show evidence of destruction by invaders, but there are equally as many sites that point to internal conflict as the main cause of its demise. The more precise accounting of credit and debt pushed economic systems away from communitarian and toward oligarchy. The end of the Bronze Age, to which the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt placed, is characterized as a full-‐scale collapse. The story of the wandering Aramian, Abraham, epitomized the plight of thousands at the end of the Bronze Age.
Iron Age: Emergence of a Fundamental Shift
The Bronze Age collapse, despite its multifaceted causes, signaled to some extent an uneasy tension between a community oriented labor class and a hierarchical managerial class. For most of the Iron Age and biblical history, the “cup and saucer” structure of tribe is not only revived but expands. The Neo-‐Assyrian Empire ushers in new levels of collective buy-‐in on a massive scale and with it establishes systems of imperial oversight that dominated the region through the Roman Empire. On the other hand, little changes for most on the local village level. They remain communities organized around collective labor and subject to multiple levels of tribute.
The region of Assyria suffered upheaval and decline as all other regional powers at the end of the Bronze Age. They survived relatively stable, however and were best positioned to dominate a besieged region for nearly 500 years.
First, Assyria perfected the art of managerial organization, greatly expanding the ability to control and centralize larger and more complex villages and territories. By connecting the empire more closely to the community function of temples, festivals, and mythology, they could more easily manipulate the ideology of the empire. The king was also the high priest. They incorporated ancient mythologies into an imperial ideology expanding both the influence of a king and the imperial deities far beyond a region. Imperial deities became rulers “over the whole earth” and converted the conquered gods into “no gods” or as subservient deities in a pantheon. The Assyrians expanded the potency of legal codes by applying more severe punishment for offenders. The problem of innocent suffering coincides with the expansion of such punitive persuasion.  Legal codes in the ancient world were used more as pieces of persuasion, mainly as threat, than as prescriptions to improve communal life. They primarily functioned as a justification to punish, most often brutally, insubordinate tribes. The threat of tribal annihilation, i.e. retribution, was ever present in annals of ancient Mesopotamian history.
The Assyrian’s organizational prowess enabled them to advance military strategy and techniques to such a degree that they became a warrior society. Without the demand for irrigation work, able-‐bodied men could dedicate much more time to military service. They could also dedicate more labor to the production of military equipment and develop vast merchant networks. Neighboring city/states quickly learned of their terrifying military prowess and the horrifying consequences of uncooperative tribal alliances. The Assyrians were known for their brutal practices of skinning captured soldiers alive or impaling whole armies on poles. They began the ultimate expression of taking tribal identity away (retribution) by simply seizing territory and deporting all its inhabitance. Along with mass deportations, the Assyrians were able to make their language, Aramaic, the common language of the region and thus dominate the information technology. Their decline only transpired after centuries of gradual depletion in available labor.
It is in this period and always under the shadow of the Assyrian Empire that a small league of tribes named Israel emerged. Their stories ensconced in their literature and prayers aptly reflect the other side of those recovering from the societal collapse of the Bronze Age. They repeatedly remember the many who had to flee the enslaving grip of hierarchical city/states and their increasing demand of loyalty and communal buy-‐in, tribute. The Israelites revived the profound sense of community from ages past and were deeply suspicious of wealth and power. Their sense of tribe tends to hearken back to Neolithic times when managerial elites organized contribution and distribution and did not get consumed by tribute.
A specific term for “tribe” is rarely found in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Bible employs the basic description of tribe as land occupiers organized around labor production by referring to the “inhabitants of such-‐a-‐place.” Broader designations like “Israelite” or Canaanite” reference an organic cooperation of small communities within a territory often times “managed” by a local city hub, the classic cup and saucer. The ever negative connotation of “Canaanite” in the Bible mainly refers to regional groups inclined to revive Bronze Age-‐type city/states.
The stories of the early Israelites found in the books of Joshua and Judges accurately reflect the region during the Bronze Age collapse where there is a tremendous amount of transmigrational unease. The early Israelites were strongly resistant to the cup and saucer organization of labor, opting for a more communitarian model.
The early Israelite village structures resemble more a semi-‐nomad encirclement than a cup and saucer. There is no central building, no palaces or temples. Their founding myth retains at its core the plight of millions of “re-‐tribed” groups who were forced to flee degenerative city/states.
Words in the Hebrew bible related to tribe coincide with the Ancient Near Eastern practice, but retains much of the negative connotation. The blessing pronouncement of Jacob to his twelve sons found in Genesis 49 is quite telling of Israelite notions of tribe. The Hebrew word, shebet, refers to a stick or branch and seems to share ideas of splitting off or down (distribute) and ruling. Shibet is also a rod, staff, or scepter held by tribal leaders as a symbol of both the ability to receive tribute and to dole out punishment. Jacob’s blessing of the tribe of Judah demonstrates the meaning of shebet.
The scepter (shibet) shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff (mihoqiq) from between his feet, Until tribute comes to him,
And obedience of the peoples is his. (Gen 49:10)
With just a cursory reading of “the blessing of Jacob” on the tribes in Genesis 49, one gets the feeling that ole Jacob didn’t think very optimistically about his sons. The whole story of his sons is rather negative.
The word for staff (michoqiq) also refers to statutes or ordinances. It denotes the ability to cut, engrave, or write in stone, which describes the accounting practices found on clay tablets going back a thousand years. Interestingly, a derivative (qoch), is often referred to as something prescribed and something allotted or apportioned, especially land, but also taxes and tithes (gifts). In Gen 47, Joseph takes money (silver) from the Egyptians so they can buy grain. After all their money is gone, he takes first their live stock, then their land, then them. They become slaves. This all happens when the people of the land are unable to sustain themselves and continue to pay tribute.
Actually, Jacob’s blessing of the tribes of Israel is really an apportionment, a distribution of land. Jacob’s allotment to Manasseh also reminds us of how land was acquired in the ancient world—through seizure (Gen 48:22). The biblical witness rarely speaks of a tribal ruler (one holding a rod) in positive terms because for the most part it is associated with violent seizure and punishment for failing to pay tribute. Thus the Lord is often promising to “break the rod of the wicked.”
Other words for tribe also share a basic sense of downward motion or pressure. The biblical words for tribute align with the Ancient Near Eastern practice of paying your “dues” mainly in voluntary labor.
The biblical witness covers the span of Ancient Near Eastern empires from Assyrian, to Babylonian, to Persian, to Greece and then to Roman. The imperial practice of tribute changed little during this period. When one empire usurped the previous one, the new empire would borrow, subsume, and even expand the administrative apparatus of its predecessors. The function of tribes as regional middle-‐managers of land production, labor, and trade networks remained constant.
The Roman Designation of Tribe
The Roman tribus emerged in similar ways to the ancient Greek societies during the Iron Age. The term indicates a territory, precinct, or district that was consistently held, primarily agrarian land. Tribe indicated the kind of labor skill and goods produced in a particular locale probably in a similar way to that of a southern plantation in America. As territorial groups exchanged and interacted, it became necessary to identify territories. Thus territorial entities were given tribal designations. Tribal designation was a way to connect a territory with a group or groups living in it. Tribe was primarily a land designation, a way to account for the labor and production of a particular area.
The tribal designation was organized for administrative ends. It served as a basis for taxation and military levy. By giving a particular territory a tribal designation, it could fall under the accountant’s ledger sheet in terms of tribal membership dues— tribute. Tribute was paid in terms of goods produced by that group, voluntary labor for infrastructure works and by providing military support. This was monitored or regulated through consensus. A tribal identification also entitled the community to the distribution of benefits. The main entitlements were citizenship and rations of food.
Of critical importance was the growing association of private land ownership with tribal membership. Public lands, lands held in common, did not receive tribal identities. In a sense, tribal designations were districts controlled by local entities who had incorporated into an economic entity able to engage in a broader regional market. In fact, only land that had transferred to private ownership was granted tribal status.
In essence, to be granted tribal designation was a way to seize public land, usually through debt peonage or “gifting” for military service rendered. It was a way to grant land deeds, and again, in order to place it in a larger (global) system of exchange. Tribal designation, in a sense, was a way to “incorporate” and place the production of the land into a market system that can be accounted for in terms of extracting its resources, both natural and labor, and controlling its exchange. Only tribal members, i.e. private landowners, could participate as representatives in the larger body politic.
Tribal identities had little to do with genealogical connections. The names were tied to ancient heroes, patriarchs, or gods in order to give it an air of authority. Inheritance was based more on ability to hold the land—meet its tribal obligations—than on lineage. Significantly, the number of tribes in the Roman culture appears to be determined more by the ease of accounting than by any historical significance. Thus, the number of tribes changed very little over time. This indicates that they simply grew more in size and significance. Some could become quite powerful and in essence monopolize the empire or a region.
Since tribal identity was essential for any kind of prosperity, it was inevitable that abuses would abound. In order to regulate the tribes the confederation of tribes would institute censorship. There were those who would conduct a consensus in order to check for fraudulent tribal membership or activity. They had the power to “censor”—punish or discipline tribes or its members. The task was to ensure tribute (tax) was flowing. They could set up a “tribune”, a court designed to protect landowners. They could “re-‐tribe” them, take back the their tribal designation. They would thus become tribe-‐less and landless. They were disenfranchised. It bears emphasis hear that retribution through censorship was activated by the larger tribal collective. Censors implemented what the tribal collective instigated.
In an attempt to reign in the destructive power of censorship, all “re-‐tribed” persons were given a tribal identity. Roman citizenship was based on tribal identity, but only relating to one’s place of origins.
My assessment is this: tribe was an artificial designation for accounting and real estate purposes. It was fundamentally an economic term to measure and account for production. Tribal identity essentially segregated communities who were economically viable from those who were not. It was especially useful in imperial structures to mitigate and manage the upward flow of tribute. While tribal chiefs could be considered land “owners” in some sense, their primary responsibility in imperial terms was to assure the payment of the corvee tax. Their main concern for the well-‐being of the tribal members was to keep production up (distribution and contribution) and rebellion down. Otherwise the accounting term of “tribe” could be forfeited, i.e. retribution.
Tribal designation was a way for managerial elites to account for and control the production of the land. For the common person on a day-‐to-‐day existence level, tribe was entirely communal. This changed very little for thousands of years. Individuals had little choice but to identify with a tribe less all hope of economic viability and vitality be forfeited. By means of their tribal membership they could contribute
their labor in hopes of some distribution of the produce. The collective buy-‐in was mainly through an acquiescence to the collective myth by means of festal participation and by offering “free labor” for imperial projects in the form of the corvee tax.
I did not cover in this article the progression through history of feudal economies and the beginnings of classical, liberal economics. It appears reasonable to me that the tribal structure of ancient economies may still have a rather strong influence on us even today.
My fundamental question is this—does it still hold true that our primary group identity is mostly tied to our economic standing, i.e. to where our labors are primarily devoted to (contribution) and where the value of that labor is determined (distribution)? Does my economic status influence me in more profound ways than my national, political, ideological, or religious associations? I tend to think yes.
The 2016 presidential election process in America has created a resurgence of the term “tribalism.” There are quite a variety of definitions for the term, but most seem to share the basic idea of group identity that feels threatened by outsiders. “Nativism” is also closely related to this idea. What can be questioned from my brief historical review here is the extent that anything other than one’s economic position is really forging identities.
In this regard, then, I wonder if it is not an assumed resurgence of tribalism that is driving our politics right now, but the loss of tribalism. People are suffering retribution—the loss of tribe, the inability to find or identify with an institution that provides economic viability and vitality. Apart from the “managerial elites,” people hovering around the middle class and poverty cannot find a solidarity with a community or institution where their labor is valued and rewarded. Most people in the world have now returned to the pre-‐civilization days where we are dislodged from the two Ps that domestication of the land ushered in—peace and protection. We are once again hunter-‐gatherers. We can only gather enough for the day (or month) and are exposed to the twin threats of environment—in terms of both “acts of God” and a health crisis—and invasion—in terms of both military and economic predators.
There are a myriad of things in today’s culture that can be latched on to provide some sort of social identification for people. People attach themselves to sports teams, music groups, special interest groups, political figures, social networks, ideologies, products, religious organizations or social causes. Some social
commentators have called this a new kind of tribalism, but I disagree. All these connections are but superficial surrogates for the continued degradation of what is perhaps our primary sense of identity, a solidarity with a group based on the contribution of our labor and the distribution of both liabilities and assets.
Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Laborem Exercens” points to the true poverty in modern and post-‐modern society in similar ways as to what I am describing. There is a profound disconnect to what we as humans have been hard-‐wired toward for thousands of years. It is what John Paul calls the “preminence” of the “subjective” or “ethical nature” of work. Work is for man, not man for work. Rather than work being a kind of commodity to be exchanged in a market, it is a dignity granted the laborer in a community and for the community.  The dignity of work as a contribution to a community fulfills us and makes every person “more of a human being.” He affirms the transformative “social order of work” in that it must be intrinsically tied to communities where people live, participate, and share in the produce of their labor.
In this sense, true poverty is the result of the violation of the dignity of work either by limited opportunity for work or by the “low value put on work and the rights that flow from it, especially the right to a just wage and to the personal security of the worker and his or her family.” We should notice this statement corresponds exactly to what I have said. It is the loss of contribution to a community and a breakdown in distribution where the two advantages to a collective life—peace and protection—breakdown. When my efforts count for almost nothing for myself and for others, when it is not valued as a part of a greater buy-‐in, then loss of self is sure to follow.
I conclude here with some brief commentary on the loss of tribe (retribution) and our notions of God. I recently read that certain religious organizations in America are struggling with their members who intensely feel a loss of something essential (peace and protection) and question whether it is a punishment from God.
For thousands of years now, humans have connected deities to the economic well-‐ being of communities. Sadly, but with the great exception of the biblical witness, most deities always seem to resemble the managerial elites more than the village laborer. The notion of a punishing angry god originates more from the Pharaoh’s demand for “more bricks, less straw” than from the God of Israel demanding a day off for all its laborers, including working animals. Those who are slaves to work so that only they can benefit are the usual culprits in making slaves of workers.
I can confidently say in terms of Ancient Near Eastern practice that retribution was ubiquitously and ruthlessly applied to those corporate entities (tribes) that failed or resisted to fulfill their tribute quotas.
I am not calling for the false dichotomy between the angry God and the loving God. What I am questioning is the overblown extent to which the pissed-‐off-‐God image has been too closely tied to the treasury for nearly all of human history up to this point.
A cynical acquaintance of mine questioned why I believe in antiquated and archaic notions of a deity. I did not respond to him then, but I wondered later why the ancient notion that those who manage resources are somehow more worthy of compensation even to the impoverishment of those who work the resources is still the accepted belief. Why do we so tenaciously cling to the notion that managing resources naturally constitutes the unequal distribution of them.
And this is the question that I think the book of Job is asking. Why does the notion of a punishing God seem only to apply to tribes who can’t pay tribute than to rulers who are demanding it?
1 Piotr Steinkeller, “Introduction,” Labor in the Ancient World. Ed. Piotr Steinkeller and Michael Hudson. (Dresden: SE Publishing, 2015) 31.
2 David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Brooklyn; Melville House Publishing, 2014
 C.C. Lamberg-‐Karlovsky, “Labor, Social Formation and the Neolithic Revolution.” Piotr Steinkeller and Michael Hudson ed. International Scholars Conference on Ancient Near Eastern Economies, Vol 5. (Dresden; SE, 2005) 37.
 Piotr Steinkeller, “Introduction,” 19.
 Lamberg-‐Karlovsky conjectures that domestication of land developed before the domestication of animals: “Labor, Social Formation and the Neolithic Revolution,” 45.
 Lamberg-‐Karlovsky , “Neolithic Revolution” 56
 Ibid., 45.
 Ibid., 54-‐55
 Ibid., 49
 Ibid., 62
12] Walther Sallaberger and Alexander PruB, “Home and Work in Early Bronze Age Mesopotamia: ‘Ration Lists’ and ‘Private Houses’ at Tel Bydar/Nabada.” Piotr Steinkeller and Michael Hudson ed. International Scholars Conference on Ancient Near Eastern Economies, Vol 5. (Dresden; SE, 2005) 69.
 David M. Carr, Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, 17–47.
 David Graeber argues against a longstanding notion that the invention of the coin in 600 B.C.E. constitutes the beginning of a monetary system. Instead, he argues that it begins with the tracking of debt and the payment in the form of human slaves. Debt, The First 5,000 Years.
 Walther Sallaberger and Alexander PruB, “Home and Work in Early Bronze Age Mesopotamia,” 81.
 Ibid., 110-‐119.
 The management of labor was one of the dominant themes of 3rd Millennium administrative texts. Ibid., 87.
 Ibid., 121.
 Ibid., 121.
 Ibid., 119.
 Michael Hudson, “How the Organization of Labor Shaped Civilization’s Takeoff,” Piotr Steinkeller and Michael Hudson ed. International Scholars Conference on Ancient Near Eastern Economies, Vol 5. (Dresden; SE, 2005) 856-‐659.
 Hoffner, Harry A. “Theodicy in Hittite Texts”, from Theodicy in the World of the Bible. Edited by Antti Laato and Johannes C. de Moor. Leiden – Boston: Brill, 2003/
 At least in Egypt, 95% of the population was in some degree of conscripted labor. Michael Hudson assures that this practice was “widespread and constant.” Michael Hudson, “How the Organization of Labor Shaped Civilization’s Takeoff,” 659.
 Keith Ruckhaus, Wicked Rich Wicked Poor: the Economic Crisis in the Book of Job, 15-44.
 Num 26:55, 30:1, 31:4, 32:28
 Gen 49:15, Deut 16:10, Jos 16:10, 17:13, 1:28
 Ann Fitzpatrick-‐Mckinley, Empire, Power and Indigenous Elites: A Case Study of the Nehemiah Memoir. Boston: Brill In Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, 2015, 1-‐15. M. Fulford, “Territorial Expansion and the Roman Empire” World Archeology 23 1992:294-‐305)
 My summary of Roman and Greek notions of tribe are based on an article by E.G. Hardy in the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, edited William Smith, LLD. William Wayte. G.E. Marindin http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0063:entry=tribus-‐cn Written in the late 18th century, it is admittedly outdated. There are no doubt qualifications to the information presented here. Still, I am trusting that the basic contours of presentation still apply.
 The “day laborer” or “hired servant” primarily emerges during the Neo-‐Assyrian period. In other words, it is a bi-‐product of imperialism. Scholars debate the various terms used in ancient sources as to how to best translate them into contemporary parallels. Nonetheless, all compensation for work depended entirely on a connection with a tribal entity, and in no way was there any notion of “independent wealth.”
 John Paul II, “Laborem Exercens.” Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1981