Does the Bible Have a Political Teaching?

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Abstract: The Bible has been marshaled in the service of many political doctrines. But does it have a political teaching that is its own? This paper argues that the central historical narrative of the Hebrew Bible (beginning in Genesis and ending with the book of Kings) was composed with an eye to advancing a consistent political theory. The biblical narrative issues biting criticism of both the imperial state familiar to the ancient Near East; and of its opposite, political anarchy. In place of these, the Bible advocates a new and intermediate form of political association: the unification of all Israel under a limited state, to be ruled by an Israelite “whose heart is not lifted above his brothers.” This limited state would be constrained with respect to its territorial ambitions, the size of its military, and the resources it would expropriate from the people in the form of taxes and forced service. Such a state has set out on “the way that is good and right,” and can hope for God’s protection from destruction and exile. Thus the freedom of the Israelites is understood to depend not only on maintaining a ban on idolatry, as is often said, but also on adherence to a political doctrine of a limited government over one nation. Only such a regime is thought to deserve the loyalty of man as well as God, and the ultimate collapse of the Israelite state is attributed to the abandonment of this political doctrine by the Israelite kings.

Biography: Yoram Hazony is the founder and former president of The Shalem Center, where he is currently a senior fellow. He is the author of The Dawn: Political Teachings of the Book of Esther (Shalem Press, 2000) and The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul (New Republic/Basic Books, 2000). His essays have appeared in various publications, including the New York Times, The New Republic, Commentary, and Azure. He received his BA from Princeton University and his PhD from Rutgers University, and served as a member of the Israeli delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and seven children.

Volume 1, Number 2 (Winter 2006) pp. 137-161