The Commoner’s Upgrade from King’s Servant
to Servant King
As we embark on exploration of social and political thought in the ancient Near East and in the Bible, we must check at the door some of our assumptions as modern readers and thinkers concerning the relationship between affairs of religion and affairs of state. In the ancient Near East and in the Bible as well, it is impossible to disentangle social and political thought from religious thought and ideals.
The attempt to treat things social and political as distinct from things religious is a thoroughly modern notion. It derives from the fact that the development of political thought in early modern Europe was largely a conscious effort to leave behind the theologically laden political systems, dominated by the medieval Church, of the period following the general disintegration engendered by the barbarian invasions. In the view of the medieval church, the purpose of the republic was to serve as a vehicle of the salvation of the individual, and with this rationale, the Church imposed theocracy in its rule over empires, monarchies, and city-states. It was hostility toward this theocracy that ultimately gave rise in Italy to the first secular culture in Europe, in the writings of figures such as Dante, who were the first to challenge the political power of the papacy. Machiavelli sought to articulate a new political order as a response to what he saw around him: the tenuous political structure of the Florentine city-state, weakened by the domination of the Church. Machiavelli was the first European political thinker who rejected the Church’s position whereby the religious good was superior to the