Prophecy and Constitutionalism in the Political Imagery of Axial Age Civilizations

Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt

Abstract: Axial age civilizations, over a relatively short period of time surrounding the first century C.E., developed radically new conceptions of the relationship between the mundane and the transcendental. These conceptions became defining elements of those civilizations, giving rise to new conceptions of the accountability of rules to a higher, transcendental principle. Prophecy played an important role in the crystallization and dynamics of these civilizations.

Delivered as the keynote address of the conference ‘Political Hebraism: Jewish Sources in the History of Political Thought,’ Jerusalem, December 26-29, 2006, this paper connects these dynamics with the development of constitutionalism through the analysis of the Jewish case. It thereby emphasizes the importance of axial age civilizations, and in particular the Jewish case, in forming modern understandings of law, legal frameworks, and constitutionalism.

Biography: Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt is a fellow at the The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and a professor emeritus of sociology of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He earned his PhD in Jerusalem in 1947. He also has had countless guest professorships and holds honorary doctoral degrees from the universities of Tel Aviv, Helsinki, Harvard, Duke and Hebrew Union College. He is the recipient of the International Balzan Prize, McIver Award of the American Sociological Association, Israel Prize, Rothschild Prize in Social Sciences, Max Planck Research Award, and Amalfi Prize for Sociology and Social Sciences. His many works include Political Systems of Empires (Transaction Publishers, 1992), Paradoxes of Democracy: Fragility, Continuity and Change (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), Fundamentalism,
Sectarianism, and Revolution: The Jacobin Dimension of Modernity
(Cambridge University Press, 2000), and Comparative Civilizations and Multiple Modernities, (Brill Academic Publishers, 2003).

Volume 2, Number 1 (Winter 2007) pp. 1-19