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.1 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