Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought

“The theology of covenant in the Pentateuch set the stage, metaphysically speaking, for Israel to conceive of itself as a society devoid of inherent and cosmically legitimated hierarchy found elsewhere.”

Rabbi Joshua Berman

How it Connects with Hebraic Thought:

Berman sets out to demonstrate both the internal logic of equality generated by a close reading of the political philosophy of the Pentateuch and how it differs from peer texts in the ancient Near East. Berman exposes anachronistic assumptions about political structure and power that can often lead the readers to miss these patterns in and beyond the Torah.


Created Equal reveals the Hebrew Bible to be a sophisticated work of political philosophy, and the birthplace of egalitarian thought. Focusing on the Pentateuch, this book lays bare the manner in which the Bible appropriated and reconstituted ancient norms and institutions to create a new blueprint for society. Theology, politics, and economics were marshaled anew to weaken traditional seats of power, and to create a homogeneous class of empowered common citizens. Much of this anticipates developments in the history of political thought that would recur only during the Enlightenment and in the thought of the American Founding Fathers. Ancient religion granted sacral legitimation to the ruling classes and saw the masses as mere servants. The Pentateuch, by contrast, elevates the common citizenry in the eyes of God by invoking the political institution of the vassal treaty, and casting Israel as a subordinate king to the Almighty through the theology of covenant. Through the prism of the political philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, and Montesquieu, the book demonstrates the Pentateuch to be history’s first proposal for the distribution of political power. Utilizing the anthropology of pre‐modern economies, ancient norms are explored concerning land tenure, taxation, and loans are reworked so that the common citizenry remains economically secure. Invoking the transformational role of the printing press in the spread of the Reformation and the birth of the Enlightenment, the book identifies far‐reaching consequences in the Bible’s approach to what was then the new technology of communication: the alphabetic text.