About Us

Hebraic Political Studies was an international, peer-reviewed journal that ran from 2005 through 2009. The journal was published quarterly by Shalem Press, and edited by Professor Gordon Schochet of Rutgers University and Dr. Arthur Eyffinger of the Huygens Institute in the Netherlands. Hebraic Political Studies published articles that explored the political concepts of the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic literature, the significance of reflections on the Hebrew Bible and Judaic sources in the history of ideas, and the role of these sources in the history of the West. Hebraic Political Studies aimed to evaluate the place of the Jewish textual tradition, alongside the traditions of Greece and Rome, in political history and the history of political thought.

The journal is a project of The Herzl Institute.

From The Editors

It is our pleasure to present the first issue of Hebraic Political Studies, a journal devoted to recovering the Hebraic political tradition and evaluating its place in the history of political thought.

We begin this process of recovery with the premise that the Hebrew Bible and later Hebrew sources are the basis for a political tradition that can be characterized as Hebraic. This tradition is distinct from the better-known Greek, Roman, and, for that matter, Continental traditions. It was developed by Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thinkers, rabbis, theologians, scholars, and statesmen, who drew ideas with political import from the Hebrew Bible, and who interacted with each other and with the philosophical traditions they encountered. These thinkers insured that Hebrew sources continued to appear and to be interpreted, alongside those of Greek and Roman antiquity, down to our own day.

This Hebraic political tradition has remained largely unknown to the history of political thought as this larger subject has been conceived and presented in university courses, textbooks, and articles appearing over the course of the last hundred years. Indeed, scholarship has tended toward indifference when it comes to the Hebraic tradition in political thought, perhaps due to a persistent and self-consciously secular Enlightenment heritage that minimizes, when it does not derogate, the relevance of religion for the history of philosophy and ideas.

It is in fact the case that what we call “the history of ideas,” and derivatively the history of political thought, is an invention of the Enlightenment. Political philosophy, in Enlightenment terms, was seen as beginning with the Greeks, with the Romans making some additions, and developing from there. It was this same Enlightenment that taught us to think of the Middle Ages as the “Dark Ages” and to see in the “Renaissance” the literal rediscovery and rebirth of ancient wisdom. It did not, however, draw our attention to the fact that the sources of many of the ideas it so prized were to be found not only in Greece and Rome, but in the biblical heritage of medieval thought as well.

The history of political thought is a continuing record of borrowings and reinterpretations, and of the application of past doctrines to contemporary politics. We are well aware of the ways in which Aristotle, Cicero, and Augustine appropriated, commented on, and quarreled with Plato. Thomas Aquinas’ “Christianization” of Aristotle and Machiavelli’s translation of Livy and the history of Rome into modern Italian are equally well known. But we know far less about early Christendom’s reliance on the political biblicism of Philo and Josephus. We are also insufficiently informed about the interaction between medieval Jewish and Muslim political thought and its Christian counterpart; and about the subsequent borrowing and interpreting of Jewish sources, not only the Bible but also the Talmud, Midrash, Philo, Maimonides, and many others, by early modern thinkers from Jean Bodin to Hugo Grotius.

It is a familiar enough process, at times engaged in without particular regard for historical context or the actual intentions of the author being cited. It is more a matter of inference, or what Michael Oakeshott, in his 1951 inaugural lecture at the London School of Economics, “Political Education,” called the “pursuit of intimations.” The process is characterized by the finding of something in the words or import of a text that spurs one’s thinking in ways that the original author may not, and sometimes could not, have intended. Thus Calvin found the justification for the reformation of Christianity and the reconstitution of Geneva in the Hebrew Bible. John Selden found in the Noahide laws a suitable foundation for seventeenth-century natural law theory. And while Filmer was reducing the Sanhedrin to the rule of first fathers, Dutch scholars such as Petrus Cunaeus found the sources of their own republic in that same governmental structure. Even Hobbes, Harrington, and Locke went to great lengths to place their thought within this Hebraic political tradition.

This process of discussing politics in the idiom of the Hebrew sources, and in light of the ideas they contain, continues to this very day. But our understanding of its history remains incomplete: the standard histories of political thought separate the ways in which the Hebrew Bible and its Jewish expositors were borrowed and reinterpreted from the uses of Greek and Roman sources, often deeming the former irrelevant. This despite the fact that at some points in the history of ideas and for some thinkers, Hebrew writings were treated no differently from Greek and Roman sources, and in some cases, it was the Hebrew sources that were considered more authoritative or more relevant.

All this is now beginning to change, as recent developments in two separate areas of scholarship suggest. One of these is the reconstruction by contemporary scholars of a Jewish political tradition that can be characterized by certain principles and ideas, and that has existed from biblical times to this day. This work was pioneered by Daniel Elazar, particularly in his four-volume work, The Covenant Tradition in Politics (1995-1998). It continues to gain in breadth and depth, for example, with the projected four-volume compendium and commentary of Michael Walzer, Menachem Lorberbaum, and Noam Zohar, The Jewish Political Tradition, of which two volumes have appeared so far, in 2000 and 2002. The other development is the exploration by scholars of the Christian interest in, and even fascination with, Hebrew themes, texts, and ideas, especially in Europe in the late medieval and early modern periods, when Hebrew was studied at universities together with Greek and Latin. This phenomenon has been explored by Richard Popkin in numerous projects, Aaron Katchen in his Christian Hebraism and Dutch Rabbis (1984), Frank Manuel in The Broken Staff (1992), and others. The first of these efforts has focused on the Jewish political tradition as a phenomenon internal to the Jewish community and Jewish thinkers; the second has dealt with Christian approaches to what were traditionally Jewish texts, but it has not gone in search of an ongoing tradition of commentary and use, nor has it isolated political thought as a field in which Christian Hebraism played an important role.

Hebraic Political Studies begins with the fusion of these two areas of research. But we do not intend to limit our vision to the topics or texts that have been the focus of research until now. The Hebraic political tradition may very well embrace individuals and periods that have scarcely been mentioned in the literature on the subject. The adaptation of, and responses to, the political thought of the Hebraic tradition in the writings of Catholic thinkers remains largely unexamined; and the same can be said for the political thought of societies that adopted the teachings of Luther, as opposed to Calvin. Much remains unclear as well with respect to the manner in which the Hebraic tradition began to wane in eighteenth-century Europe, its relationship to the Enlightenment and the rise of liberalism, and its role in the American founding. Nor should we ignore the significance of the Hebraic tradition in the thought of recent political figures, from David Ben-Gurion to Martin Luther King, Jr. The sources of the tradition may well include the poetry of Milton, the art of Ghiberti and Michelangelo, and other genres and periods that have not yet been explored.

Analyzing the Hebraic political tradition in the greater context of the history of political thought is not altogether new. But the launch of Hebraic Political Studies marks the first time that historians, philosophers, political thinkers, and scholars of Judaism and of Christianity have come together, bringing the expertise of their own disciplines, in a collective effort to advance our knowledge in this sphere. By identifying and focusing on the specifically Hebraic contribution to politics and political thought, and by examining the ways these texts and their ideas were used in ancient, medieval, early modern, and contemporary political theorizing, we hope to reveal a new and unrecognized richness and diversity within the greater tradition of Western political thought. Our goal is to place the Hebraic component of the Western political tradition on the same kind of footing as that of ancient Greece and Rome, and of medieval and Reformation Christianity.

We would like to think that Hebraic Political Studies will help initiate a new field of scholarship, and we invite our readers – some of whom will be participants as well – to join us on what we believe will be an exciting adventure, a quest for a new old world. We do not know just what we will find there, but we are confident that it will be refreshing and important.

The Editors, Fall 2005