Parallels Between Early America and Early Israel

Lately I've been reading the parts of Judges that most people skip over, and I am struck by the similarity between the political situation of pre-monarchy Israel and the United States under the Articles of Confederation, and to an extent afterwards until the Civil War. The situation in Israel went to greater extremes than that of America, but remember that the Constitution was ratified after less than two decades of life under the Articles of Confederation, while Israel was without a central government for several centuries.

In a sense, the time of the Judges could serve to indicate what we could have expected in America had the states retained a sense of individual identity. (Indeed, we had a taste of Biblical-style discord with the Civil War; and the result of it was to dramatically expand the power of the Federal government.)

Israel was composed of thirteen different tribes, each with its own territory and power structure (except for the tribe of Levi, which had no territory and no inherent political status). They were united by (increasingly distant) ties of kinship, and (theoretically) a common religion, with its center in Shiloh. But there was no unified government; the leaders of each region would often act in concert against an invading power, but supreme commanders would often be chosen on an ad hoc basis, generally based on who had been granted a Divine spirit.

Politics between the tribes would frequently get nasty. Often, only a few tribes would contribute armies to repel invaders; tribes living further away were much less likely to send aid. Sometimes, tribes would fall under the influence of pagan religions and actually support foreign powers against their cousins. In a few instances, a tribe would fall so far into moral degeneracy that the other tribes would make war upon it. For example, after the incident of Gib'ah (Gibeah), eleven tribes united to attack the tribe of Benjamin, and ended up nearly wiping it out entirely. The survivors had to pull a "Sabine women" just to make sure they all could have families.

Early America, while it had a central government, was primarily seen as an alliance of states. Even by the time of the Civil War, the national government was weak enough at the outset that President Lincoln made many of his military appointments with an eye towards cementing the support of some of the more reluctant states. Military units were organized by state, and bickering between states was common. Of course, the Southern states felt independent enough of the national government to secede entirely, and a major issue of the Civil War was how much power the central government would have over the states.

I'll be thinking more about this, and trying to extend the parallels if I can. For starters, read Samuel's warning to the people about the dangers of having a monarch, shortly before anointing Saul and establishing the kingship.

1 comment:

Batya said...

Remember that the time of the Judges, when Shiloh was the center, lasted 369 years, longer than the USA has been in existence and also lots longer than the colonial period.