Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War

Article excerpt

American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War. By Eran Shalev. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013. Pp. [xii], 239. $40.00, ISBN 978-0-300-18692-5.)

American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War by Eran Shalev is an invaluable study of the political uses of the Old Testament from the Revolution to the Civil War. The central thesis of the study and the original chapter theses highlight the centrality of biblical religiosity to the foundations of American politics and culture. The Old Testament narrative and its many historical parallels to the formation of the American republic served to legitimate the creation of the United States. Numerous politicians and ministers, as well as the public, connected the American republic to the biblical Israel, drawing on Old Testament examples to ground a radical revolution and republican experiment in the oldest of traditions. Historians have long noted the analogies the Founders made to classical Greece and Rome, but Shalev brilliantly elevates the Old Testament's political examples to a place of priority. In so doing, he demonstrates more broadly how America and its founders combined biblical and long-established Christian traditions with modernizing Enlightenment ideas, an amalgam that made America's revolution and transition to a modern republican state less threatening to the public and cemented the uniquely American accommodation to modernity and religion that endures today.

Shalev's central thesis is convincing and pays many dividends to the reader while allowing Shalev to explore several other novel analyses, chief among which are his treatments of the Book of Mormon and the antebellum slavery debate. The early national period saw a surge in the popularity of pseudobiblical historical texts that used the language of the King James Bible and the conceit of a "rediscovered" ancient text to describe the miraculous triumph of the American experiment. …

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