|PEOPLE OF THE LAND |
Translation of the technical Hebrew term Ďam ha' arez, used primarily in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, 2 Kings, and 2 Chronicles, (see also
Daniel 9:6). In most cases, the term apparently refers to the male citizens who lived upon their own land and who had the responsibility as citizens to participate in judicial activities, cultic festivals, and army service. Nonetheless, the references are so diverse that we cannot be sure the same people were in mind each time the term appears. Some scholars think the “people of the land” represented a particular influential element in society such as a national council, influential aristocrats, free citizens and property owners, landless poor, or non-Jerusalemites. Such theories cannot be proven.
In preexilic Judah, the “people of the land” first appear in association with the coronation of Joash (2 Kings 11:4-20). They appear slightly later in the avenging of Amon's murder and the elevation of Josiah to the kingship (2 Kings 21:24). They are depicted as being capable of liberating slaves (Jeremiah 34:1, especially
Jeremiah 34:18-20, where the “people of the land” both participated in the covenant making and were held responsible for breaking the same). They could also be agents of oppression (Ezekiel 22:29).
2 Kings 25:18-21 records that Nebuchadrezzar put to death at Riblah “sixty men of the people of the land,” along with others held responsible for the revolt against Babylon resulting in the fall of Jersualem in 587 B.C. Clearly, in these situations these are people who have social, economic, political, and religious significance.
The “people of the land” are also portrayed as “the poor of the land” who remained in Jerusalem during the Babylonian Exile (2 Kings 24:14;
2 Kings 25:12). It is notable that when the exiles returned they distanced themselves from those who had remained in Judah by using “people of Judah” to characterize the returning exiles (Ezra 4:4). Disapproval is expressed in Ezra and Nehemiah for the pagan half-Jew and half-Gentile, essentially non-observant Jews (see
Ezra 10:2,Ezra 10:11;
Nehemiah 10:28-31). In
Ezra 9:1-2,Ezra 9:11 the plural, the “people of those lands,” is used to designate the groupings with whom intermarriage had occurred, “the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites” (Ezra 9:1).
There was considerable bad feelings between the “people of the land” and the Pharisees. In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus is portrayed as supporting the “people of the land” (Mark 7:1-5;
Luke 6:1-5). The later postexilic use as witnessed in Ezra and Nehemiah as well as in the Synoptic Gospels (see also
John 7:49) is further reflected in the rabbinical classification of the “people of the land” as those ignorant of the law and non-observant in their daily lives. Because their condition was not dependent upon birth, however, the deficiencies could be remedied by a greater awareness of and adherence to Torah.
Frank E. Eakin, Jr.