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To your tents, O Israel!

The people of ancient Israel discovered that their militia-based confederation lacked the cohesion to protect them from foreign aggression. But when they created a strong central government with a standing army, their own liberties were endangered by that government. The American colonists and Founders closely studied Israel's experience, and tried to learn from it. That's the topic of my new article in the April 2007 issue of Liberty magazine. In HTML. In PDF.

AppSocRes (mail):
The Judeans also knew how to get around government disarmament: "Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weak say, I am strong." (Joel, 3:10)
3.22.2007 4:44pm
Malderi:
New article in a 2004 edition of a magazine?


[DK: I just fixed it. Thanks.]
3.22.2007 5:33pm
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
Or the April 2007 edition of a magazine...
3.22.2007 5:51pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"In other words, military conscription for a standing army would lead to labor conscription, with Israelites forced to work for the king and his military."

Anyone remember when Harry Truman tried break a railroad strike, first by seizing the railroads, like a Latin American dictator, and then on May 25, 1946 by asking Congress for permission to draft the strikers? Would George Bush even ask permission?
3.22.2007 5:59pm
Spartacus (www):
Would George Bush even ask permission?

Of course not--look how he has gone about nationalizing industries and drafting unwilling conscripts . . . oops, hasn't happened.
3.22.2007 6:52pm
Friedrich Foresight:
I've heard some conservative Christians point to David vs Goliath as a Biblical argument in favour of guns - well, projectile weapons, specifically, as against strength-based, up-close-and-personal weapons like sword and spear. An "equaliser" in the literal sense. I suppose having God on your side also helps (eg, Gideon).

I'm assuming Jews would regard the book of Revelation rather the way Baptists would regard I Nephi, but I have to say, the "locusts" in Rev 20 sound a lot like helicopter gunships with chemical weapons.
3.22.2007 7:00pm
Friedrich Foresight:
Oops - Rev 9, not 20. (Sorry, can only open one web page at a time on this PC).
3.22.2007 7:03pm
Anderson (mail):
the "locusts" in Rev 20 sound a lot like helicopter gunships with chemical weapons.

I believe Hal Lindsay made this argument in The Late, Great Planet Earth or one of its sequels.
3.22.2007 7:35pm
Friedrich Foresight:
Well, yes, as Orwell said, a thing can be true even if Lord Hamilton says that it's true.
3.22.2007 7:37pm
Colin (mail):
I've heard some conservative Christians point to David vs Goliath as a Biblical argument in favour of guns - well, projectile weapons, specifically, as against strength-based, up-close-and-personal weapons like sword and spear. An "equaliser" in the literal sense.

How much of a Bible-beater does one have to be to rely on scripture to tell you whether guns are more effective than swords and spears?
3.22.2007 7:52pm
Friedrich Foresight:
Colin, for these guys, the question is not "effective" but "morally licit".
3.22.2007 10:53pm
musterion (mail):
It is in the book of I Samuel (chap 13) that the Philistines disarmed Israel to such an extent that they did not have the tools to sharpen their farm implements, but had to go to the Philistines to have it done. Here are vss 19 to 22 from the KJV:

19 Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears:

20 But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock.

21 Yet they had a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads.

22 So it came to pass in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan: but with Saul and with Jonathan his son was there found.

One, however, should very careful in using the Old Testament to justify practices in the New.
3.23.2007 10:50am
musterion (mail):
oops, my bad, I should have read Kopel's article first, since he mentions the above quote. A case (me) of Ready, Fire, Aim
3.23.2007 10:53am
Jam (mail):
The lesson of the Old Testament is one: Israel is at peril when Israel departs from Jehova, regardless of how strong/weak Israel is militarily. When Israel trusts the God of the pillar of fire and smoke he is safe but when he trusts in princes and horses (theirs or through alliances) he is not safe.

And anybody that takes seriously what Hal Lindsey says needs to have their brains examined.
3.23.2007 1:20pm
Jam (mail):
1 Samuel 8

1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, "You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead [a] us, such as all the other nations have."

6 But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do."

10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle [b] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day."

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. "We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles."


21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22 The LORD answered, "Listen to them and give them a king."
Then Samuel said to the men of Israel, "Everyone go back to his town."
3.23.2007 1:22pm
jvarisco (www):
The founders, who were not religious at all, decided to use a historically dubious and admittedly ancient account rather than anything else as their basis? I don't see much causality; of course ministers bring in biblical analogies. But they were not making policy. Common sense was not for policymakers, but the masses. Where is the evidence that the actual founders (who wrote the Constitution) used this as a basis? Considering the rampant anti-Semitism (the idea of Judeo-Christian came much later), this seems a dubious claim.

I'm also not sure all the founders shared the same outlook; Hamilton would have been quite happy with a king, and the early Federalists came up with the Alien and Sedition Acts. Jefferson just wanted a bunch of subsistence farmers and no trade at all. The Bill of Rights was not actually put in the Constitution, but added as an addendum.
3.23.2007 1:27pm
Jam (mail):
I cannot recall where but I have read that the Swiss Cantons also provided a framework. True?
3.23.2007 1:41pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

The founders, who were not religious at all, decided to use a historically dubious and admittedly ancient account rather than anything else as their basis? I don't see much causality; of course ministers bring in biblical analogies. But they were not making policy. Common sense was not for policymakers, but the masses. Where is the evidence that the actual founders (who wrote the Constitution) used this as a basis? Considering the rampant anti-Semitism (the idea of Judeo-Christian came much later), this seems a dubious claim.


Not sure I would agree that the Founders weren't religious at all; the key Founders weren't orthodox Christians, but rather followed a rational Enlightenment theology which was unitarian, not Trinitarian. They were devout theists, however.

Many of the pro-patriotic ministers like Samuel Langdon argued along the lines that Kopel desribes going so far as to term what the Ancient Israelites had a "republic." Arguably, though, this was a clever reimagining of the history of the Ancient Jews. Since this story fit perfectly with other Whig propaganda, the Founders didn't object.

If we read the Federalist Papers, written by Madison, Hamilton and Jay, we see none of the discussion of the Bible or the Ancient Jews and far more analogies made to the Pagan Greco-Roman Republics, for which the Founders had an affinity (indeed, they adopted Pagan Greco-Roman Pseudonyms when writing their pamphlets). And again, the Whigs propagandized and tended to "read in" to the Greco-Roman Republics anachronistic Whig Enlightenment ideals just as the patriotic preachers did with Ancient Israel.
3.23.2007 5:10pm
speedwell (mail):
Someone told me (probably my redneck history teacher in a Georgia school) that they also had the Iriquois confederation in mind. Yes? No? (Abort? Retry? Fail?)
3.23.2007 5:13pm
karrde (mail) (www):
If you read Thomas Paine's Common Sense, you'll see an examination of Bible quote above about choosing a king.

While not necessarily a "Founder", Paine did write and speak a message that communicated strongly with the reading public. He also knew that almost every English-speaking person in the Colonies had learned to read from Scripture.

Whether or not the Christian Scripture was viewed as Holy Writ by all (especially the educated upper classes who were the political leaders of the Revolution and the new Republic), it was a dominant cultural influence.

However, as was mentioned above, the political and legal systems of Britain (and the American Colonies) owed more to the Greeks and Romans than to the Jews.
3.23.2007 10:39pm
Frater Plotter:
It is not clear that the Founders derived their ideas of a militia from the ancient Hebrews. However, it is certain that when speaking or writing to an audience that was closely familiar with the Bible, they would have drawn metaphors from that source.

Do not mistake illustration for inspiration. That a standing army can more easily become a tool for centralized tyranny than a citizen militia is relatively obvious to a person who has thought about the problem. That realization does not require any particular classical source to inspire it. However, when introducing it to a person who has not thought about it, it is useful to use illustrations drawn from a common cultural source.
3.24.2007 4:31am