The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel

Princeton University Press
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New insights into how the Book of Samuel offers a timeless meditation on the dilemmas of statecraft

The Book of Samuel is universally acknowledged as one of the supreme achievements of biblical literature. Yet the book's anonymous author was more than an inspired storyteller. The author was also an uncannily astute observer of political life and the moral compromises and contradictions that the struggle for power inevitably entails. The Beginning of Politics mines the story of Israel's first two kings to unearth a natural history of power, providing a forceful new reading of what is arguably the first and greatest work of Western political thought.

Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes show how the beautifully crafted narratives of Saul and David cut to the core of politics, exploring themes that resonate wherever political power is at stake. Through stories such as Saul's madness, David's murder of Uriah, the rape of Tamar, and the rebellion of Absalom, the book's author deepens our understanding not only of the necessity of sovereign rule but also of its costs—to the people it is intended to protect and to those who wield it. What emerges from the meticulous analysis of these narratives includes such themes as the corrosive grip of power on those who hold and compete for power; the ways in which political violence unleashed by the sovereign on his own subjects is rooted in the paranoia of the isolated ruler and the deniability fostered by hierarchical action through proxies; and the intensity with which the tragic conflict between political loyalty and family loyalty explodes when the ruler's bloodline is made into the guarantor of the all-important continuity of sovereign power.

The Beginning of Politics is a timely meditation on the dark side of sovereign power and the enduring dilemmas of statecraft.

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About the author

Moshe Halbertal is the Gruss Professor of Law at New York University, the John and Golda Cohen Professor of Jewish Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and professor of law at IDC Herzliya in Israel. His books include Maimonides: Life and Thought (Princeton), which won the National Jewish Book Award. Stephen Holmes is the Walter E. Meyer Professor of Law at New York University. His books include The Matador's Cape: America's Reckless Response to Terror.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Apr 17, 2017
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Pages
232
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ISBN
9781400884896
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Religious
Political Science / History & Theory
Political Science / Political Ideologies / General
Religion / Judaism / General
Religion / Judaism / History
Religion / Judaism / Theology
Religion / Philosophy
Social Science / Jewish Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Maimonides was the greatest Jewish philosopher and legal scholar of the medieval period, a towering figure who has had a profound and lasting influence on Jewish law, philosophy, and religious consciousness. This book provides a comprehensive and accessible introduction to his life and work, revealing how his philosophical sensibility and outlook informed his interpretation of Jewish tradition.

Moshe Halbertal vividly describes Maimonides's childhood in Muslim Spain, his family's flight to North Africa to escape persecution, and their eventual resettling in Egypt. He draws on Maimonides's letters and the testimonies of his contemporaries, both Muslims and Jews, to offer new insights into his personality and the circumstances that shaped his thinking. Halbertal then turns to Maimonides's legal and philosophical work, analyzing his three great books--Commentary on the Mishnah, the Mishneh Torah, and the Guide of the Perplexed. He discusses Maimonides's battle against all attempts to personify God, his conviction that God's presence in the world is mediated through the natural order rather than through miracles, and his locating of philosophy and science at the summit of the religious life of Torah. Halbertal examines Maimonides's philosophical positions on fundamental questions such as the nature and limits of religious language, creation and nature, prophecy, providence, the problem of evil, and the meaning of the commandments.


A stunning achievement, Maimonides offers an unparalleled look at the life and thought of this important Jewish philosopher, scholar, and theologian.

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, great new trends of Jewish thought emerged whose widely varied representatives--Kabbalists, philosophers, and astrologers--each claimed that their particular understanding revealed the actual secret of the Torah. They presented their own readings in a coded fashion that has come to be regarded by many as the very essence of esotericism. Concealment and Revelation takes us on a fascinating journey to the depths of the esoteric imagination. Carefully tracing the rise of esotericism and its function in medieval Jewish thought, Moshe Halbertal's richly detailed historical and cultural analysis gradually builds conceptual-philosophical force to culminate in a masterful phenomenological taxonomy of esotericism and its paradoxes.

Among the questions addressed: What are the internal justifications that esoteric traditions provide for their own existence, especially in the Jewish world, in which the spread of knowledge was of great importance? How do esoteric teachings coexist with the revealed tradition, and what is the relationship between the various esoteric teachings that compete with that revealed tradition?


Halbertal concludes that, through the medium of the concealed, Jewish thinkers integrated into the heart of the Jewish tradition diverse cultural influences such as Aristotelianism, Neoplatonism, and Hermeticisims. And the creation of an added concealed layer, unregulated and open-ended, became the source of the most daring and radical interpretations of the tradition.

The idea and practice of sacrifice play a profound role in religion, ethics, and politics. In this brief book, philosopher Moshe Halbertal explores the meaning and implications of sacrifice, developing a theory of sacrifice as an offering and examining the relationship between sacrifice, ritual, violence, and love. On Sacrifice also looks at the place of self-sacrifice within ethical life and at the complex role of sacrifice as both a noble and destructive political ideal.

In the religious domain, Halbertal argues, sacrifice is an offering, a gift given in the context of a hierarchical relationship. As such it is vulnerable to rejection, a trauma at the root of both ritual and violence. An offering is also an ambiguous gesture torn between a genuine expression of gratitude and love and an instrument of exchange, a tension that haunts the practice of sacrifice.


In the moral and political domains, sacrifice is tied to the idea of self-transcendence, in which an individual sacrifices his or her self-interest for the sake of higher values and commitments. While self-sacrifice has great potential moral value, it can also be used to justify the most brutal acts. Halbertal attempts to unravel the relationship between self-sacrifice and violence, arguing that misguided self-sacrifice is far more problematic than exaggerated self-love. In his exploration of the positive and negative dimensions of self-sacrifice, Halbertal also addresses the role of past sacrifice in obligating future generations and in creating a bond for political associations, and considers the function of the modern state as a sacrificial community.

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