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A New Book Caricatures the Bible’s Place in Colonial American Politics

April 7 2017

While finding much to learn from in Mark Noll’s In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783—the first volume of a projected trilogy—Glenn Moots argues that it is clouded by the author’s narrow view of how Scripture ought to be used:

In the Beginning Was the Word is Noll’s own implicit sermon against what he considers misappropriation of Scripture. But his sermon is flawed—most notably by his belief in Puritan exceptionalism, and by his imprecise dichotomy of the “Bible” opposed by “the Enlightenment.” His presumption of a stark change in New England and the middle colonies, wherein leaders “had self-consciously tried to shape politics and social life with explicit biblical precepts” but were later seduced by political opinions “sanctioned by biblical references and allusions,” is questionable. Noll calls this earlier self-conscious shaping “biblicism” or “Bible fixation.” Those touched by this “fixation” attempted to derive their social thinking entirely from the Bible. Noll categorizes the Protestant Reformers, the Puritans, and then the revivalists of the Great Awakening as exemplary biblicists. . . .

Noll’s ideal biblicist not only has to reason from the Bible, he has to do it exclusive of other arguments—especially secular arguments. No amount of citation, interpretation, or exegesis suffices if Noll judges its use insincere. Noll wants his biblicists to read the Bible (1) uncritically as Christian believers and (2) never simply as history, philosophy, or political theory and without proper commitment to its status as salvific revelation. Noll insists that a true biblicist must focus only on “the eternal consequences of sin, the wrath of God at human sinfulness, the power of God in redirecting the human will, the necessity of Christ as mediator.”

By insisting that social appropriation of the Bible must be rooted in some kind of Christian piety or orthodoxy, Noll implicitly rules out other promising avenues for understanding the Bible’s role in political thought (e.g., the political Hebraism advanced by Eric Nelson or Yoram Hazony). In developing such a simplistic caricature of biblical thinking about politics, Noll imagines a mode of biblical interpretation that actual American practice—colonial or otherwise—does not recognize.

Read more at First Things

More about: American Religion, Bible, Christianity, Hebrew Bible, Religion & Holidays, Religion and politics

 

Why a Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Is Unlikely

Feb. 16 2018

High-ranking figures in the IDF, along with some Israeli and foreign officials, have been warning that economic troubles combined with severely deficient public works could lead to an outbreak of starvation or epidemic in the Gaza Strip; their warnings have been taken up and amplified in sensationalist stories in Western media. Hillel Frisch is skeptical:

The most important factor behind real humanitarian crises—mass hunger and contagious disease—is first and foremost the breakdown of law and order, and violence between warring militias and gangs. This is what occurred in Darfur, Somalia, and the Central African Republic. In such situations, the first to leave are the relief agencies. Then local medical staffs evacuate, along with local government officials and anyone professional who can make it out of the bedlam. The destitute are left to fend for themselves. Hospitals, dispensaries, schools, and local government offices are soon abandoned or become scenes of grisly shootouts and reprisals.

Nothing could be farther from such a reality than Gaza. Hamas, which is the main source of [misleading reports] of an imminent humanitarian crisis, rules Gaza with an iron fist. Few developed democracies in the world can boast the low homicide rates prevailing in the Strip. Nor have there been reports of any closings of hospitals, municipal governments, schools, universities, colleges, or dispensaries. . . .

Nor have there been news items announcing the departure of any foreign relief agencies or the closure of any human-rights organizations in the area. Nor is there any evidence that the World Health Organization (WHO), which rigorously monitors the world to prevent the outbreak of contagious disease, is seriously looking at Gaza. And that is for good reason. The WHO knows, as do hundreds of medical personnel in Israeli hospitals who liaise with their colleagues in Gaza, that the hospital system in Gaza is of a high caliber, certainly by the standards of the developing world. . . .

Hamas, [of course], wants more trucks entering Gaza to increase tax revenues to pay for its 30,000-strong militia and public security force, and to increase the prospects of smuggling arms for the benefit of its missile stockpiles and tunnel-building efforts. How Israel should react is equally obvious. You want more humanitarian aid? . . . Free the two mentally disabled Israelis who found their way into Gaza and are imprisoned by Hamas.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian economy