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.

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

 

Palestinian Acceptance of Israel as the Jewish State Must Be a Prerequisite to Further Negotiations

Oct. 19 2018

In 1993, in the early days of the Oslo peace process, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under Yasir Arafat accepted the “right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security.” But neither it nor its heir, the Palestinians Authority, has ever accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, or the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. Robert Barnidge explains why this distinction matters:

A Jewish state for the Jewish people, after all, was exactly what the [UN] General Assembly intended in November 1947 when it called for the partition of the Palestine Mandate into “the Arab state, the Jewish state, and the city of Jerusalem.”

Although the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state does not stand or fall on this resolution—in declaring the independence of Israel on the eve of the Sabbath on May 14, 1948, the Jewish People’s Council, [the precursor to the Israeli government], also stressed the Jewish people’s natural and historic rights—it reaffirms the legitimacy of Jewish national rights in (what was to become) the state of Israel.

The Palestinians have steadfastly refused to recognize Jewish self-determination. [Instead], the PLO [has been] playing a double game. . . . It is not simply that the PLO supported the General Assembly’s determination in 1975, rescinded in 1991, that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” It is that that the PLO leadership continues to speak of Jews as a religious community rather than a people, and of Zionism as a colonial usurper rather than the national liberation movement that it is.

The U.S. government, Barnidge concludes, “should demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace and security as a Jewish state” and refuse to “press Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians unless and until that happens.”

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Peace Process, PLO, US-Israel relations, Yasir Arafat