Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought

Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought

Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought

Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought

Synopsis

Joshua Berman engages the text of the Hebrew Bible from a novel perspective -- as a document of social and political thought. He proposes that the Pentateuch can be read as the earliest prescription on record for the establishment of an egalitarian polity. The blueprint that emerges is that ofa society that would stand in stark contrast to the social orders found in the surrounding cultures of the ancient Near East -- Egypt, Mesopotamia, Ugarit, and the Hittite Empire -- where the hierarchical structure of the polity was centered on the figure of the king and his retinue. Berman showsthat the Pentateuch's egalitarian ideal is articulated in comprehensive fashion and is expressed in its theology, politics, economics, use of technologies of communication, and in its narrative literature. Throughout, he invokes parallels from the modern period as heuristic devices to illuminate theancient developments under study. Thus, for example, the constitutional principles in the Book of Deuteronomy are examined in the light of principles espoused by Montesquieu, and the rise of the novel in 18th-century England serves to illuminate the advent of new modes of storytelling in biblicalnarrative.

Excerpt

This book proposes to read the Bible in a novel way—as a document of political and social theory.

Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, and the American founding fathers all sought within the Bible inspiration for their various political theories, mining it to substantiate political teachings. Liberation theology is one movement that continues to invoke the Bible in the service of a political platform to this day. My purpose in this book, however, is not to harness the biblical text to any contemporary political agenda. Rather, I wish to go back to the beginning and to seek out political teachings in the Bible in the context of its own world—the social and political world of the ancient Near East.

While ancient Greece is often considered the cradle of modern political thought, the patrimony of modern political thought rests no less squarely in the texts of the Bible, particularly the Pentateuch. In seeking out its political teachings—even if no longer fully applicable today—we do so as one who returns and searches for the most cherished memories in the home of one’s birth. In looking today for the landmarks by which we find our own bearings, there is purpose and meaning in seeking to uncover the lost systems of coordinates by which past thinkers navigated. Indeed, our ancestors stand at a great distance from us. Yet we may think of the history of ideas, not as a straight line across all of time, but as a winding procession. It is likely that our circumstances may bring us into proximity with similar situations encountered in an earlier age. Examining this idea may . . .

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