Monday, May 26, 2014

Did Moses invent Secular Government?

As I understand it, correction invited if I'm wrong, it was standard in the ancient world for the highest religious offices to be occupied by those also in the highest political offices. That is there was no way to separate the religious and the secular authorities. I was struck today as I read Numbers 27 by vs20-21, Moses has prayed about his successor in leadership and God replies that Joshua will be that successor,
You shall give him some of your authority, so that all the congregation of the Israelites may obey. But he shall stand before Eleazar the priest who shall inquire for him . . . before the Lord
Up to this point Moses had been both the leader of the Israelites and the one responsible for mediating God's voice to the people. Here Joshua is set up as leader but only some of Moses authority is passed on to him, and the rest presumably passes to Eleazar, a separation of church and state, of religious and secular power. This also presumably sets the scene for the prophetic interaction with the kingly office that occupies much of the subsequent OT - the idea that the leader of the people is not supreme but can guided and if necessary called to account by a separate religious institution.

4 comments:

  1. Though somewhat prefigured in Ex 28?

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  2. Well yes, I didn't even think to check if the thought had been offered earlier, but it was the reference to "some" authority that piqued my interest e.g. the clear indication that Joshua (and his successors) should not wield absolute power.

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  3. Yes. There was a book I used for ANE research that was quite explicit about this... I'll have to see if I could find it. A nation's "king" was always a "god-king" except with ancient Israel. It refered to Israel as "the first secular monarchy."

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  4. hi Micah welcome to the blog, if you find the reference i'd be glad to know, but also happy to take it on your say so :-)

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