New Israel in New England: The American Jeremiad and the Hebrew Scriptures

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Abstract: This paper explores the influence of Hebraic themes and ideas on the ideological construction of Early American society. It discusses a particular intersection between the American jeremiad and the Hebraic tradition: the use of Hebrew Scriptures as focal texts in New England election sermons. Looking more carefully at the verses Puritan preachers chose to explore in their election sermons sheds light on the development of an American way of thinking about politics that remains deeply informed by the idea of the “chosen nation.” New England Jeremiahs articulated themes of covenant, sin, judgment, and redemption as they sought to connect the experiences of their own communities with the story of the ancient Israelites. The power of the jeremiad—for the ancient Hebrews and the seventeenth-century Puritans—lay, in part, in the way it expressed both a sense of chosenness and a deep anxiety about the prospects of continued blessings. Beyond the parameters of early New England, the jeremiad continued to provide both millennial hope and existential anxiety for Americans into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and it still does down to our own day.

Biography: Andrew Murphy is Associate Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Professor Murphy received his BA from the University of North Carolina, and his MA (1991) and PhD (1996) from the University of Wisconsin. He is the author, most recently, of Prodigal Nation: Moral Decline and Divine Punishment from New England to 9-11 (Oxford, 2009), and his other published work includes Conscience and Community: Revisiting Toleration and Religious Dissent in Early Modern England and America (Penn State, 2001); The Political Writings of William Penn (Liberty Fund, 2002, editor); and Religion, Politics, and the American Identity: New Directions, New Controversies (Lexington, 2006, co-editor). Currently, he is working on a study of the political thought of William Penn, and essays on the relationship between the concepts of modernity and enlightenment.

Volume 4, Number 2 (Spring 2009) pp. 128–156