Ancient Israelite Government in Modern Republics (Kyle Swan)

The foundations of our modern liberal democracies are found in the ideas of Enlightenment-era political philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke, Hume, and Rousseau. At first glance, these philosophers seem like they couldn’t be more different from the premodern Hebrews. What does social contract theory and the idea of the consent of the governed have to do with ancient Israelite government—with the story of God and His people in the Torah?

In this episode, Dr. Kyle Swan talks with Dru Johnson about the similarities between ancient Israelite government and republican forms of government. They begin by examining the narrative at Sinai, where a loving God establishes an agreement with the Hebrew people. The law given to the Israelites was not merely a series of divine decrees that people had to obey; their obligation to follow the law emerges from their commitment to follow it. They then discuss the difference between a biblical covenant and the “founding myths” of social contract theory, and consider how consent of the governed can continue through multiple generations. In the end, we can see deep similarities between the way a polity flourishes and the way God establishes a relationship with His people.

Show notes:

  • 0:00 The authority of God
  • 2:53 Commitment and obligation in political philosophy
  • 6:33 The Israelite covenant with God
  • 10:58 How Dr. Swan got started in biblical political philosophy
  • 14:10 Early biblical laws and covenants
  • 17:10 Social contract theory and consent
  • 24:40 Covenant renewal
  • 29:05 Consent of the governed through generations
  • 34:12 The Hebrew Scriptures as a source for our political philosophy

Learn more about Dr. Kyle Swan and his work.

Kyle Swan’s journal article on the political philosophy of the ancient Hebrews: “The Hebrew Republic? Divine Authority and Self-Governance

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