The first city

Jerusalem, capital city of ancient Israel, though thousands of years in the past, is with us still. Not just in the modern state, but in the moral foundation upon which the American experiment rests. Russell Kirk says, “We cannot well understand order and disorder in America today, or elsewhere in the world, unless we know something of the beliefs and the experiences of the Hebrew people in a remote land and a remote time.” He further says that while our political history owes only a little to the Israelites, “Nevertheless, the American moral order cold not have come into existence at all, had it not been for the legacy left by Israel.”

John Adams wrote similar sentiments in a letter to F. A Vanderkemp in February of 1809:

The two most powerful, active, and enterprising nations that ever existed are now contending with us. The two nations, to whom mankind are under more obligations for the progress of science and civilization than to any others, except the Hebrews. This consideration affects me more than the danger from either or both. I excepted the Hebrews, for in spite of Bolingbroke and Voltaire, I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of the other sect, who believe or pretend to believe that all is ordered by chance, I should believe that chance had ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization.

Kirk tells us that the in the realm of politics, the idea of a check on civil authority is present in the Jewish political order: the prophets were the restraint on the the kings of Israel. The covenant, the social conpact if you will, is between Jehova and the Hebrews. The human authority, whether judges, kings, or priests, were judged against their fidelity to that covenant. That idea survived numerous oppressions and the diaspora and was incorporated into our own social compact.

Many people today try to say that the founders were not religious men. This can only be done by ignoring the written record we have of the founding generation. Anyone can read the letters and speeches of men like George Washington, Sam Adams, John Adams and even Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to find the falsness of that claim. The reason the mistake is made is that we think of religiosity in modern terms such as “born again” evangelicalism. But the religion of the colonies was actaually more Old Testament than New. “In Adam’s fall we sinned all” is the first line colonial children learned to read. John Winthrop’s City Upon a Hill sermon of 1630 and Johnathon Edward’s Sinners in the hands of an angry God of 1741two of the most famous examples of this Old Testament worldview. The fall, God’s justice, and God’s grace are all important to the development of the American notion of liberty. We are familiar with some of the ideas of ancient Greece and Rome. But America’s beginnings reach much further into the past, all the way back to God’s chosen people.


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