By Stephen Palmquist (


      Before explaining why he supports democracy, Edward Dobson admits what all too few Christians understand, that "the truly biblical political system is a theocracy" [D3:12]. The present book has been devoted to a thor­oughgoing examination of just what this implies for a Christian's (or any theocrat's) attitude towards not only democracy, but the world of politics in general. It is, however, primarily the verbal explanation of a vision, and only secondarily (mainly in the footnotes) a study of how that vision relates to various scholarly views on Christianity and politics. As such, it makes no claim to be a thoroughgoing study of political philosophy or theology, nor even of the narrower subject of theocracy (as it is commonly understood). Most of the relatively few books that include "theocracy" in their title are rather dry historical and/or exegetical studies that would be unlikely to stir the interest of the average reader.[1] Many of them end up saying very little about what theocracy actually is, and those that do nearly always as­sume a meaning radically different from the one proposed here [see above, pp.42-43n]. This is mainly because theocracy originated as a Jewish con­cept, and its political implications have never been fully incorporated into the mainstream of Christian political thought in the West.


      One major exception to the neglect of theocracy in modern scholar­ship on religion and politics is Gershon Weiler's recent book, Jewish Theocracy [W1]. His contribution is so significant, and his goals and con­clusions so different from those of the present book, that a separate account of and response to his work is necessary. In this first Appendix I will therefore focus almost entirely on his incisive study, paying special attention to how his account of Jewish theocracy differs from the proposals I have suggested for the proper interpretation of biblical theocracy. It is worth mentioning at the outset that I am no expert on Jewish history or religion; so I am here relying entirely on Weiler's word as a scholar assessing and critiquing his own tradition. The point of greatest interest for Christians is that Weiler's study demonstrates how thoroughly the concept of theocracy is rooted in what Christians call the Old Testament, though, as we shall see, the New Testament requires a radical revision in the way theocracy is to be implemented.


      Weiler begins with an historical survey of the major Jewish writers who discussed the concept of theocracy in a philosophical way. The first known reference to theocracy appears in Josephus' book, Contra Apionem, written near the end of the first century A.D. In a passage that uses a line of reasoning not unlike the one I have used in Part One, Josephus assesses Moses' approach to leadership in terms of Aristotle's system of terminological distinctions [W1:9]. Unfortunately, Josephus probably did not believe this truly theocratic leadership was what it claimed to be; and Weiler explicitly does not, for he maintains "that Moses frightened the Jews with tales of God's extraordinary power" [10]. Nevertheless, Weiler shows the depth of his understanding of what theocracy is meant to be by explaining that Josephus offers "a non-political interpretation of a concept that was originally political."[2] Although Josephus regarded theocracy as necessarily hierarchi­cal (thus indicating that his "theocracy" is actually a form of eccle­siocracy) [14-15], Weiler rightly recognizes two possibilities [15]: "We can anchor the concept of theocracy either in God or in the administrators." This, he explains, is essentially a choice "between order and piety" [16].


      One of the main purposes of Weiler's study is to demonstrate that Jew­ish theocracy was, is, and can be interpreted only in terms of the search for hierarchical order.[3] The pietist interpretation given in 1877 by the Christian scholar J.G. Mueller [W1:16] must be rejected, because it "rests on both historical and institutional confusion" [17]. Just as we have seen that a true theocracy would look very much like anarchy [see above, pp.45-46], so also Mueller recognized that "a permanent form of human government and theocracy are incompatible with each other" [W1:18]. In addition, how­ever, we have seen that, prior to the full realization of the kingdom of God on earth, theocracy can coexist with any transitory system of human government. The depth of the historical recognition on the part of the Jewish people of the need to "coexist" in this way is the prime factor responsible for the centuries of exile they have endured. A full-fledged ecclesiocracy, by contrast, would seek to give the human religious hierarchy absolute control over the political power of a state-a position Weiler shows has (until recently) been firmly rejected by orthodox Judaism.


      Weiler's rejection of the "pietist" (i.e., true!) meaning of theocracy in favor of the "hierarchical" meaning (which often leads to ecclesiocracy) is not so much an outright rejection of theocracy, as an insistence that Jewish theocracy can be properly understood only in the latter way. As a result, he assumes, for example, that in a theocratic institution it would be "subversive" to ask "whether it is or is not doing God's will" [W1:20]: "The insti­tution thus becomes more important than God." Such a theocracy must be "authoritarian", because "it is very unlikely that inspiration, the same inspiration, will come to everyone" [20]. The correctness of Weiler's argument as an assessment of the historical situation of his own people is not the topic of this Appendix. The point I wish to stress is that, in rejecting the historical manifestation of Jewish "theocracy" as an "absurd" phenomenon [83,308], he is not rejecting true theocracy. For, as we have seen, the biblical theocrat places hope in pre­cisely the unlikelihood that gives rise to authoritarianism only in those without such hope: namely, the hope that God will inspire those who in true piety submit first and foremost to him, rather than to some human institution, trusting that even those differences we cannot resolve are ultimately part of one consistent, divine plan.


      By rejecting this hope and placing all the emphasis on a human hierar­chical structure, Weiler's discussion of theocracy (and, if we are to accept his interpretation, the whole history of Jewish "theocracy") ends up being a far cry from the biblical model. As long as the hierarchy of Jewish religious leaders stayed well out of the political realm, their religion would be neither theocratic nor fully ecclesiocratic, but separatist, and therefore largely irrelevant to the concerns of the present book. But since 1949 the political situation in Israel has been complicated by the desire of some orthodox rabbis to set up Judaism's traditional, hierarchically-oriented religious law (called the halakha) as the political law of the state of Israel. And when this happens, we can be sure that ecclesiocracy is on the way.


      Once it is recognized that nearly everything Weiler says about the dangers of Jewish theocracy is actually directed against the dangers of Jewish ecclesiocracy, we can find ourselves agreeing with a large portion of his critique. Thus, he identifies "Jewish theocracy" at the very outset with an unworkable concept of "clerical dictatorship" [W1:x], so we can agree with his further claim [xi] that, as such, "Jewish theocracy is both impracticable and harmful." Likewise, he is certainly right to proclaim in W1:22: "Zionism is the rejection of the Judaism of Josephus and ... the victory of Zionism is the defeat of Judaism qua theocracy [read: ecclesiocracy]." Un­fortunately, Weiler is not merely rejecting an admittedly false attempt to establish the worst and most dangerous of all political systems; for as we shall see, he also openly places his faith in human politics over and above any faith he might have in God and/or religion.


      From a scholarly point of view, Weiler's book is nevertheless invaluable. For he carefully traces the development of Jewish thinking on theoc­racy from its origins in Josephus [W1:3-23] and (implicitly) Philo [24-42], through the more fully developed systems of Maimonides [43-68] and Abravanel [69-85], to the scathing critique of Spinoza [86-110]. Weiler regards Abravanel (1437-1508) as unsurpassed in his explanation and defense of theocracy [69]. And, although it succumbs to a special Jewish form of bibliocracy [see 77-78] to be examined shortly, some aspects of his view are remarkably consistent with the vision of biblical theocracy presented in this book-all the more remarkable because he obviously made no appeal to the New Testament. For example, Abravanel insisted that the Jews have no need of a political system as such, so they should neither participate in any armed rebellion, nor resort to any other political means to usher in the Messianic Age; their political fate is to be determined by God alone [79-83]. One of the main differences is that he regarded theocracy as a viable option only for the Jews: the Gentiles, not being chosen and set apart by God, "do need some [non-theocratic] political organization" [78].


      Weiler appeals to Spinoza in order to back up his conviction [W1:83] that "Abravanel's thinking qua political theory is absurd beyond hope." He affirms Spinoza's view, that Jewish theocracy leads inevitably to a "political emasculation of minds" [85]. His explanation of Spinoza's critique reveals, however, that such a fate befalls the members of such a so-called "theocracy" only because it is in truth a form of ecclesiocracy. For Spinoza based his critique on the assumption that God can reign only "through temporal rulers" [97, quoting Tractatus, 245]; and Weiler astutely adds that, "as soon as a visible organ of government is set up, even on behalf of God, it immediately supersedes the rule of God whom that organ claims to represent." And this would undoubtedly take place if the organ were Jewish, because the "one and only one unchangeable article of faith or principle of action" in the Judaism of the past two thousand years [90] "is that all authority is vested in those who are authorized to exercise it." The claim that a religion based on such an authoritarian attitude (whether or not it obtains any real political power) has a highly detrimental effect on the minds of those under its "care" is fully consistent with biblical theocracy, provided we distinguish carefully between the latter and ecclesiocracy. The defect in the views of Weiler and Spinoza comes only in their failure to recognize the possibility of a non-authoritarian version of theocracy-the ver­sion I believe the Bible itself actually supports.[4]









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