The Jewish Roots of Western Freedom
Azure, Vol. 13, pp. 88-132, Summer 2002
45 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2006 Last revised: 9 Apr 2010
Date Written: 2002
Seventeenth-century political and juridical thinkers mined the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, and rabbinic literature for ideas, examples and full-fledged political systems, aiming to apply them to modern Europe. This essay examines several political Hebraists of the seventeenth century, notably Petrus Cuneaus, John Selden, James Harrington and his fellow English republicans, and John Locke. The "Hebrew republic," the polity idealized by early modern Hebraists, is significant above all as a political and juridical model. The essay discerns three clusters of ideas reaped exclusively, or mainly, from Hebraic sources, and interwoven into modern political thought: (1)The importance of the rule of law within fixed borders: a concept of international borders underpinning a novel, natural-law-based theory of the state, law, and rights; (2) the idea of a federal republic, transformed from the tribal Israelite society to Dutch political thinking; and (3) the moral economy of republican social justice. Finally, the essay explains why jurists and political thinkers ceased to read the Bible as a historical and political text in the eighteenth century, and why the earlier legacy of political Hebraism could become valuable again today, both historically and politically.
Keywords: Seventeenth-century, political Hebraists, law, rights, republican social justice, economy
JEL Classification: K00, K10, K19, K20, K29, K30, K39, K33, K49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation