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Nationalists Don’t See What Is Special About Our Biblical Nation
Does the Bible make us American? On one side of this debate stand those who see America as a “Christian nation.” On the other stand those who highlight religious skepticism among the founders and insist on strict separation of church and state.
A third faction has entered the fray. Drawing on recent scholarship, a provocative group of intellectuals argues America can be understood as a “Hebraic” nation, decisively influenced by Jewish scripture (what Christians call the Old Testament). In particular, they emphasize the United States’ origins in the ideal of self-governing peoples with defined borders. According to Yoram Hazony, author of “The Virtue of Nationalism” and organizer of a summer conference on “national conservatism,” the “idea that the political order should be based on independent nations was an important feature of ancient Israelite thought as reflected in the Hebrew Bible.”
Hebraic nationalists have a historical point. Contrary to interpretations of the American Revolution that stress the influence of enlightenment philosophy or Roman republicanism, patriots were more likely to cite the Bible than any other source in making the case for independence. Even Benjamin Franklin, among the most heterodox leaders, proposed Moses crossing the Red Sea as the new nation’s emblem and “rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God” as its motto.
But focusing on nationalist elements of the Hebrew Bible can obscure its broader teaching.
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