The Bible’s Defense of Cities

Oct. 26 2020

In the book of Genesis, it is the fratricidal Cain who founds the first city, and Sodom and the other “cities of the plain” are dens of sin; by contrast, heroic figures—as is true in other biblical books—tend to be shepherds. Leon Kass has gone so far as to argue that, in the Torah, “the city is rooted in fear, greed, pride, violence, and the desire for domination.” For Kass and others, the best prooftext can be found in a passage read in synagogues last Saturday, where the inhabitants of Babel say, “Let us build a city and tower with its head in the heavens.” Looking to the counterexample of Jerusalem, Yehuda Goldberg attempts a different reading of Scripture’s attitude toward urban life:

The origins of Jerusalem and the Tower of Babel are parallel in many ways. Both arise when there is unity, either in the land or the world at large. The Tower is built as the world begins to gather from scattered settlements and becomes unified around a central city. David builds Jerusalem as he unites his kingdom and attempts to unify his nation around a central city. Both Jerusalem and the Tower are built around a central tower or fortress. . . .

Yet, the story of Jerusalem diverges from that of the Tower of Babel. In the subsequent chapters after the capture of the fort at Jerusalem, one would expect David to consolidate power around his capital. [Instead], his primary preoccupation appears to be ensuring that Jerusalem is the earthly dwelling place of God. First, David brings the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. [Then] David seeks to build the Temple in his new capital, a dream his son Solomon will bring to fruition.

David recognized, as did Aristotle, that the city is a place where human virtue and excellence are uniquely poised to flourish. He also recognized the opportunity that urban life provides to glorify God in the world. . . . City dwellers may not depend on God to send rain in the proper time [as do farmers], but they do rely on God to help protect them from their enemies and to help culture, art, finances, and education blossom. These realms, which supplant mere survival and necessity with human flourishing, are areas where it is often difficult to acknowledge God’s presence in human affairs. Yet, when a city’s inhabitants do manage to recognize the link between the prosperity of the city and God, they are declaring to the world that God’s power spans from the minute to the great, from the farm to the metropolis.

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More about: Aristotle, Hebrew Bible, Jerusalem, Leon Kass, Tower of Babel

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship