Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Constitution is NOT based on the Bible

This is one of the worst things David Barton tries to peddle.  See Ed Brayton here.


Phil Johnson said...

The dominating media has created a paradigm which is used to pass half truths off in a spin with the purpose of creating segments that can be plugged into any particular ideological reality on might possess.
So, the Barton statements are passed off as more than truth. Rather, they become part of that reality.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thomas Paine uses the Israelites to argue against monarchy and precisely for such a "biblical" form of government:

"Near three thousand years passed away, from the Mosaic account of the creation, till the Jews under a national delusion requested a king. Till then their form of government (except in extraordinary cases where the Almighty interposed) was a kind of Republic, administered by a judge and the elders of the tribes."


""And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people, that asked of him a King. And he said, This shall be the manner of the King that shall reign over you. He will take your sons and appoint them for himself for his chariots and to be his horsemen, and some shall run before his chariots" (this description agrees with the present mode of impressing men) "and he will appoint him captains over thousands and captains over fifties, will set them to clear his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots, And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers" (this describes the expense and luxury as well as the oppression of Kings) "and he will take your fields and your vineyards, and your olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give them to his officers and to his servants" (by which we see that bribery, corruption, and favouritism, are the standing vices of Kings) "and he will take the tenth of your men servants, and your maid servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work: and he will take the tenth of your sheep, and ye shall be his servants, and ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shell have chosen, AND THE LORD WILL NOT HEAR YOU IN THAT DAY." This accounts for the continuation of Monarchy; neither do the characters of the few good kings which have lived since, either sanctify the title, or blot out the sinfulness of the origin; the high encomium of David takes no notice of him OFFICIALLY AS A KING, but only as a MAN after God's own heart. "Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel, and they said, Nay, but we will have a king over us, that we may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us and fight our battles." Samuel continued to reason with them but to no purpose; he set before them their ingratitude, but all would not avail; and seeing them fully bent on their folly, he cried out, "I will call unto the Lord, and he shall send thunder and rain" (which was then a punishment, being in the time of wheat harvest) "that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great which ye have done in the sight of the Lord, IN ASKING YOU A KING. So Samuel called unto the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God that we die not, for WE HAVE ADDED UNTO OUR SINS THIS EVIL, TO ASK A KING." These portions of scripture are direct and positive."

Jonathan Rowe said...

It's true that Paine, after a lot of notable earlier and contemporary figures, endorsed the idea of a Hebraic republic. However, that rhetoric was conspicuously absent from the Federalists when they articulated the ideas behind the US Constitution. Even the much touted by the Christian Nationalists Lutz et al. study admits this (if you know where to look).

jimmiraybob said...

It's been a long long time since I've had any contact with Common Sense, take that as you will, but I don't recall Paine advocating or endorsing a Hebraic republic for the new nation. And comments like "...and precisely [argued] for such a "biblical" form of government," is contrary to what I recall.

Did he endorse rule by judges and priests? Did he endorse rule according to scripture(s)? A "biblical", presumably meaning Hebrew or Christian or Judeo-Christian, form of government? Really? Is this what's meant by the above?

Needs more info.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I explicitly quoted Paine in this context.
"Till then their form of government (except in extraordinary cases where the Almighty interposed) was a kind of Republic, administered by a judge and the elders of the tribes."

See also Algernon Sidney, a 1600s English figure well-known to the Founders

The great Sanhedrin were constituted judges, as Grotius says, most
particularly of such matters as concern’d their kings;7 and Maimonides
affirms, that the kings were judged by them: The distribution of the
power to the inferior Sanhedrins, in every tribe and city, with the
right of calling the people together in general assemblies as often as
occasion required, were the foundations of their liberty; and being
added to the law of the kingdom prescribed in the 17th of Deuteronomy
(if they should think fit to have a king) established the freedom of
that people upon a solid foundation."

jimmiraybob said...

Given "...and precisely [Paine argued] for such a "biblical" form of government," and your inclusion of the Sanhedrin, it appears that you are suggesting/implying that Paine was endorsing a religious-political governing structure legislating based on scripture.

My understanding of the Sanhedrin (1), is that they legislated both religious and Temple matters as well as civil matters (apparently little to no distinction - think Iranian model). The larger body, the Great Sanhedrin, was the final say so on Jewish law (scripturally based) and dissenting scholars (or anyone I suppose) could be put to death. (Not very consistent with Enlightenment sensibilities.)

The final paragraph of Paine'e essay Common Sense, from where your quote comes from, includes(2):

"And here without anger or resentment I bid you farewell. Sincerely wishing, that as men and christians, ye may always fully and uninterruptedly enjoy every civil and religious right; and be, in your turn, the means of securing it to others; but that the example which ye have unwisely set, of mingling religion with politics, MAY BE DISAVOWED AND REPROBATED BY EVERY INHABITANT OF AMERICA. "

So, surely Paine did not intend to imply or endorse a Biblical government that would by necessity mean religious/civil legislation.

In the whole of Common Sense I don't see anywhere that he uses language to argue for a Hebraic republic but, instead, uses the passage(s) that you cite as historical reference. The whole appears to be an argument for independence and against inherited rule. I assume that a fair interpretation would be that he felt that his intended audience would identify with the sense of this description. As John alludes to, 17th-18th Century Christians increasingly looked to the Bible as a governing document. (Noll, et al., even allude to this in their In Search of Christian America)

To put the above citation that you present in a more rhetorical, rather than prescriptive, sense, there's some anecdotal information in John Adam's autobiography as to how it was derived(3):

I told him further, that his reason from the Old Testament was ridiculous, and I could hardly think him sincere. At this he laughed, and said he had taken his ideas in that part from Milton: and then expressed a contempt of the Old Testament and indeed of the
Bible at large, which surprised me. He saw that I did not relish this, and soon checked himself, with these words ‘However I have some thoughts of publishing my thoughts on religion, but I believe it will be best to postpone it, to the latter part of life.’1
(3) —John Adams, 1802

In summary, to say that Paine argues for a Biblical form of government, at least in his Common Sense, appears misleading. Are there other sources?

1) from Tannaitic sources per:

2) Apparently this is from a later addition available here:

3) 1John Adams, Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap
Press of Harvard University Press, 1965), 3: 333. From:

I couldn't find a source closer to the original but this is consistent with at least 2 other secondary sources that I found.

Tom Van Dyke said...

appears that you are suggesting/implying that Paine was endorsing a religious-political governing structure legislating based on scripture.

No. Forgive me for not bothering to read the rest. You're not even close.

Michael Heath said...

My reading of Mr. Paine has me concluding that he was both exploiting and leveraging the religiosity of some colonialists to make his case. He was throwing all sorts of arguments on the wall in hopes of achieving his political agenda. To believe all these arguments were part of his own set of conclusions is naive at best and at worst, a cynical attempt to exploit this opportunity for one's own contemporaneous political agenda.

jimmiraybob said...

...not bothering to read the rest.

I would not expect anything more.

Then what is your point? Or is it too much to ask for clarification?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Absolutely, Mr. Heath. I suggested nowt else, and say just that in this essay

as regards Paine's suggestion that Divine Providence created America as a refuge for Protestantism.

I have no desire to litigate with people whose knowledge is Wiki-deep and have no interest in the issues beyond their culture war with Barton and the Religious Right.

Yes, Paine was playing to the religiosity of the times. What makes it even more interesting is that the argument of a biblical-style republic was over 100 years old, dating to the well-known [by the Founders] Algernon Sidney.

Now if anyone wants to hit the books on the concept and how it relates to Britain, Parliament, and the House of Commons in particular, then we'll all learn something. In the meantime, the use of the argument by such major intellectual figures as Paine and Sidney will suffice to illustrate the point.

jimmiraybob said...

Tom, you might consider that my response to what you were trying to say is due to the fact that it wasn't clear what you were trying to say. It's still not.

jimmiraybob said...

“Now if anyone wants to hit the books on the concept and how it relates to Britain, Parliament, and the House of Commons in particular, then we'll all learn something.”

Good idea. I’d like to start off by recommending a starting point. About a year ago, maybe 1½ years ago, I was looking into the Hebraic republic idea and came across a book by Eric Nelson, a Harvard professor, called The Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought (March, 2010).(1)

I couldn’t and still can’t find an electronic review version, except a little access at Amazon, but Nelson actually does a review of his own book that’s available on-line.(2)

I also searched for and found a fair number of other reviews that were helpful in evaluating Nelson’s book(3) - many others can be found by Googling.

Most reviews that I found concluded that the work was interesting and thought provoking but considerably outside of mainstream academic thought. I’ll leave it at that and let anyone that’s interested synthesize the rest.

It did not make it onto my “To Read” list but maybe now’s the time.



(3) This is a partial list of the reviews that I read, but I think fairly informative and from peers inside of or just outside of the academy (as all the cool kids say):

Tom Van Dyke said...

Good. I do not argue Barton or stuff like this

which is, as they say, throwing a dart into the wall and then drawing a bullseye around it. But there is much Biblicism that was in the air they breathed back then---it's not that they used the Bible as an instruction book as much as they used it for a backstop, a double-check, for whatever newish ideas they were considering. They did not do anything in conflict with the Bible;, they were imbued with its worldview.

The American story begins as far back as at least 1600s England. Parliament rises, and there is no other such system in the world at that time, a government BY the people. Barton's critics are as simple-minded as he if their base of criticism starts only in the American colonies in the mid-1700s.

In fact I was just watching Gordon Wood on C-SPAN last night and he made the same point---the American Founding was built on 150 years of Britain's tradition of self-government, and it was the colonial culture as well. When writing the Constitution, they had already rounded out the concept of representative government; the Constitution was about how to take that up a notch to a national scale. [Wood points out that United States of America's Articles of Confederation government was more like today's European Union. And when France tried to create a British-style democracy from scratch, it ended in the Reign of Terror and then Emperor Napoleon.]

So the argument that the Constitution is Deuteronomy is sufficiently false on its face, but under the skin holds a genuine truth.

See also Cromwell and Deuteronomy, Gordon Wood on actual representation vs. "virtual" representation, Jeremy Waldon and Kim Ian Parker on Locke's use of the Old Testament [80 times in the First Treatise]

Daniel J. Elazar on Hebrew covenants and the notion of a republic, probably similar to Eric Nelson, for whom I thank you for referring.

There is no doubt that this line of inquiry, linking the Bible to the American system, is "out of the mainstream." The reason David Barton even exists is because "the mainstream" bleached Christianity and the Bible out of the Founding during the 20th century, so that "the Founders were all deists" still passes without objection.

For all his errors, David Barton doesn't commit that grave mistake against historical truth.