The Israelite Kingdom of God in Hobbes’ Political Thought

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Abstract: According to Hobbes, the prophetic kingdom of God is “a real, not a metaphorical kingdom.” That is, it is a political kingdom (Leviathan, ch. 36). In Sinai, God was elected king by the Jewish nation, then “the freest” of all nations and “the greatest enemy to human subjection by reason of the fresh memory of their Egyptian bondage” (De Cive 16; Leviathan, ch. 35). The Jews chose the kingdom of God because they opposed political subjection to human beings. For Hobbes, the election of a flesh-and-blood king was the original sin (Leviathan, chs. 20, 35, 38). The task of Jesus as Messiah will be purely political: to restore the kingdom of God which had been instituted by Moses and formally rejected with the coronation of Saul (Leviathan, chs. 16, 35, 38, 41-44). The libertarian or anarchistic tendency of Hobbes’ religious thought is striking. If human beings were truly religious, they would need no human sovereign, and the rights of the human sovereign derive only from original sin. In his practical politics, Hobbes argued for the absolute rule of a human monarch. His messianism was but a vision. Yet one cannot understand his politics without understanding his vision.

Biography: Warren Zev Harvey is a professor of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He earned his PhD from Columbia University in 1973. His research interests include the philosophy of Hasdai Crescas, Maimonidean philosophy, Spinoza, and Hobbes. He is the author of Physics and Metaphysics in Hasdai Crescas (J.C. Gieben, 1999) and is currently preparing a critical edition of Crescas’ Light of the Lord based on the manuscripts of this anti-Maimonidean classical Jewish philosopher of Barcelona. He is also working on a study of Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed.

Volume 1, Number 3 (Spring 2006) pp. 310-327