Our knowledge of the political history of ancient Israel is almost exclusively dependent on the information that may be gleaned from biblical writings, which reflect a historiosophical perspective very different from that employed in modern historical writing. Nonetheless and despite all the problems encountered in dealing with the biblical texts, the history of the ancient Israelite states that can be derived from them has much to offer a student of politics.
Instead of the critical literary analysis common to contemporary biblical studies, Sicker constructs a plausible political history of the ancient Israelite states that takes into consideration the geopolitical realities that directly conditioned much of that history as well as the religious dimensions of Israelite political culture that played a critical role in it. He demonstrates that the ancient Israelite states were confronted by virtually every political dilemma, domestic and international, encountered by states and governments throughout the subsequent history of the world. The way they dealt with the issues, successfully or otherwise, is highly instructive and relevant to the complex issues faced by states and governments today.
The author argues that modern advocates of radical theological revision actually have little to add to our understanding of the ways of God and even less to a meaningful Judaic perspective on the universe and the relationship between man and God. A second concern is the contemporary argument that because there is no universally accepted theology of Judaism, one is not bound by any particular conception of God, whether of biblical or rabbinic origin. Jewish theology has thus come to be viewed essentially as an equal opportunity field of intellectual endeavor, an approach Sicker considers fundamentally and fatally flawed. Traditional non-dogmatic thought does not require radical revision. What is required is a sympathetic understanding of the theological assumptions and ideas of the past coupled with a sincere and respectful attempt to reformulate them in terms more attuned to the modern temper.
In addition to geography and topography, the implications of which are explored in depth, religion has also played a major political role in conditioning the pattern of Middle Eastern history. The Greeks first introduced the politicization of religious belief into the region in the form of pan-Hellenism, which essentially sought to impose Greek forms of popular religion and culture on the indigenous peoples of the region as a means of solidifying Greek political control. This ultimately led to religious persecution as a state policy. Subsequently, the Persian Sassanid Empire adopted Zoroastrianism as the state religion for the same purpose and with the same result. Later, when Armenia adopted Christianity as the state religion, followed soon after by the Roman Empire, religion and the intolerance it tended to breed became fundamental ingredients, in regional politics and have remained such ever since. Sicker shows that the political history of the pre-Islamic Middle East provides ample evidence that the geopolitical and religious factors conditioning political decision-making tended to promote military solutions to political problems, making conflict resolution through war the norm, with the peaceful settlement of disputes quite rare. A sweeping synthesis that will be of considerable interest to scholars, students, and others concerned with Middle East history and politics as well as international relations and ancient history.
However, because of the unique character of its religion and culture, which bred an intense nationalism unknown elsewhere in the ancient world, Judaea turned out to be a weak link holding the Roman Empire in the east together. As such, it became a factor of some importance in the protracted struggle of Rome and Parthia for hegemony in southwest Asia. Judaea thus took on a political and strategic significance that was grossly disproportionate to its size and made its subjugation and domination an imperative of Roman foreign policy for two centuries, from Pompeius to Hadrian. In effect, the history of the period may be viewed as the story of the conflict between Roman imperialism and Judaean nationalism. A fresh look at ancient Middle Eastern and Roman history that will be invaluable for students and scholars of ancient history, post-biblical Jewish history and of Christian origins.
As Sicker shows, the problems faced by the Ottoman Empire were also faced by the Persian Empire and both underwent an extended period of political decline and territorial retrenchment in the face of imperialist pressures from Europe and Asia. The greatest challenge to the world of political Islam came from Western Europe, especially France and Great Britain. The Ottoman and Persian empires assumed a global importance in the 19th century, not because of anything in them of intrinsic economic value, but because of their geopolitical and geostrategic significance. They became, in effect, a buffer zone separating Europe from the wealth of the East, at a time when European imperialism was on the march in Asia. It thus came about that the rivalries of the Great Powers, most especially those of Great Britain, France, and Russia, were played out in the Middle East. This book will serve as a vital resource for students, scholars, and other researchers involved with Middle East History, Political Islam, and Modern European History.
For the modern reader, the biblical texts should be understood as postulating some basic ideas of Mosaic moral and political philosophy that, in Sicker's view, continue to be applicable in contemporary times. First, man is endowed with free will, however constrained by circumstances it may be, and with the intellect to govern and direct it in appropriate paths. Accordingly, he is individually responsible for his actions and must be held accountable for them. Second, man has a necessary relation to God whether he wishes it or not. Prudence alone will therefore dictate that compliance with divine precept is in man's best interest. Third,the notion that man can create a moral society without reference to God is a deceptive illusion. Man's ability to rationalize even his most outrageous behavior clearly indicates the need for an unimpeachable source and standard of moral authority. Fourth, until all men accept the preceding principles, the idea of a universal state is both dangerous and counterproductive. In the 20th century, we have witnessed two different attempts to create such a world state, both of which produced totalitarian monstrosities. Fifth, individualism as a social philosophy tends to be destructive of traditional values and must be tempered by the idea of communal responsibility. A survey of particular interest to scholars, researchers, and students interested in Jewish history, political thought, and the Old Testament.
Sicker examines the prospective place of the aging worker in the employment environment of the 21st century in light of the restructuring of American business and the world of work in the final decades of the last century. In doing so, he raises serious concerns about the validity and utility of some of the neoclassical economic ideas and assumptions that have become part of the conventional wisdom of our time. Sicker contends that these dubious propositions have unwittingly contributed signficantly to the problem through their manifestation in public policy. However, the principal focus of his analysis is not on economic theory as such, but on the realities and uncertainties that an aging American workforce will face in the decades to come. This book is significant reading for scholars, researchers, and the general public interested in labor force and aging policy issues.
The treatment of equality developed by Sicker differs in a number of respects from the approach taken in a good deal of modern writing on political theory, much of which is primarily concerned with the question of individual liberty. However, he argues equality must necessarily take precedence over liberty in the hierarchy of social values, that the primary social value is not liberty but equality, and that the claim of a right to individual liberty is clearly predicated on the presumed equality of men in society. This is a thoughtful analysis that will be of concern to scholars and students involved with political theory as well as the concerned citizen.
As is clear, however, the states of the hemisphere have their own geopolitical interests and concerns independent of, and sometimes conflicting with, those of the United States. As Sicker shows throughout the volume, and especially in his analysis of inter-American conflicts, many of the nations of Latin America have unresolved territorial controversies with their neighbors that date to their origins as independent states. Because of this troubled geopolitical legacy, there have been numerous conflicts among the states of Latin America, some of which the United States has attempted to mediate or arbitrate, and some that seem impervious to a permanent negotiated settlement. This is a provocative analysis that will be of interest to scholars, students, researchers, and policymakers involved with inter-American relations and U.S. diplomacy.