The overseer of the forced labour (1 Kings 12)

Bilderesultat for stone quarry Mount Carmel

Illustration: Abandoned quarry at Mont Carmel

By the time Rehoboam became king, the northern tribes had grown weary of Solomon’s oppressive forced labour policy (1 Kings 5:13-18, 12:4). They asked Rehoboam to lighten their burden; but rather than following the wise counsel of the elders who had served under Solomon, Rehoboam listened to his young peers and pledged to intensify the burden of labour (12:6-14). This prompted the ten northern tribes to secede (12:16). Their new leader was Jeroboam, himself a former overseer of forced labour for the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (11:28).

In final effort to resolve the crisis, Rehoboam dispatched Adoniram, the official in charge of forced labour, to broker a settlement. Adoniram was experienced in these matters, having served as national overseer of forced labour under both David (2 Samuel 20:24) and Solomon (1 Kings 5:14). Tragically, Adoniram was stoned to death, and Rehoboam himself was compelled to flee in his chariot to avoid a similar fate (12:18).

The seal of a later overseer of forced labour has appeared on the antiquities market. One side was for personal use, while the other designated his official title. Side A reads “(Belonging) to Pelayahu (son of) Mattiyahu”, while Side B specifies “(Belonging) to Pelayahu over(seer of) the forced labour”.

Pelayahu (“Yahweh is wonderous”) is not mentioned in the Bible. His function as an administrator “over the forced labour”, however, uses exactly the same terminology we find in the Old Testament with regard to Adoniram and Jeroboam. The seal therefore serves as external verification for the administrative policies of early monarchy as described in the Bible.


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