(1st Things) Peter Leithart on biblical ethics, the Old Testament and resistance to the State

“While Athenian philosophy was in many respects quite distant from the political cosmologies that characterized the great Near Eastern empires,” writes Yoram Yazony (The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture), “it continued to develop their view of man as being essentially a creature of the state that governs him, and of ethics as a discipline that aims to understand how the virtuous individual goes about contributing to the good of this state” (132).

On this point, the ethics of the Hebrew Bible diverges quite radically: “The very first instruction that the God of Israel issues to Abraham is the command to leave the country of his birth and to sever his ties with it – just that which Socrates presented as being unthinkable.” Other biblical heroes find themselves in similar positions, often standing outside or against the established powers: “virtually all of [them] are portrayed as being in a condition of acute conflict with the rulers of the nations in which they live, and as disobeying their laws and commands almost as a matter of course. Indeed, it often seems as if the authors of the biblical narratives believe that the laws of states, and the commands of the kings who rule them, are no better than empty words, bearing no normative force whatsoever” (132). Hazony doesn’t believe this is the case, but the theme of resistance to power is striking.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Theology, Theology: Scripture