Our friend and former colleague David Goldman reviews the new book by the Israeli scholar Horam Yazony and has his doubts. He writes in Judaism’s Central Sacrifice that
Yoram Hazony has sought a bridge between secular nationalism and Jewish religion. His latest [book] The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, claims to find it, in a naturalistic reading of the Hebrew Scriptures that allows the sacred texts of the Jewish people to do double duty: They can be read as revelation by the religious, Hazony argues, or by the secular as a guide to personal virtue and national prowess. The question is whether this shidduch between God’s word and natural law is a union of two besherts or a shotgun wedding that leaves both parties miserable.
. . . Hazony contends that an ethical philosophy founded in natural law is embedded in the Tanakh’s historical narrative, requiring no recourse to supernatural revelation. This stems from what he calls “shepherd’s ethics”—that is, “the vantage point of an outsider” who “owes nothing and has committed to nothing that cannot be reconsidered in light of one’s own independent judgment as to what is really right.”
David doesn’t buy it — “it seems a stretch,” as he puts it. As it happens, Hazony has an essay appearing in our October issue, soon to go to the printer, titled “A Biblical Case for Limited Government.” He doesn’t take up the matter David engages, but offers a reading of the Bible as a work of political theory. Here is the third paragraph in which he summarizes the argument:
For ease of reference, I’ll call this great narrative, which makes up the first half of the Hebrew Bible (or “Old Testament”), The History of Israel. The History is often read as though its concerns are principally particularistic and contingent in character—seeking to advance the view, for example, that the Israelite kingdom fell because the Jews abrogated the terms of the covenant with the God of Israel. This reading is reasonable as far as it goes, but it also misses much that the History can teach us. Indeed, the History grapples with many questions of a general nature, questions that are usually considered to be central to political philosophy — among them the relationship of the individual to the state, the virtues and dangers of anarchy, the reasons for the establishment of government, the dangers of government, the best form of political order, the responsibilities of rulers, and the causes of the decline of the state.
It is an essay readers will enjoy, I think, and one that provides several “aha” moments. And of course they should enjoy David’s review of the author’s book.