Biblical Politics: Where Were the Elders?

Michael Walzer

Abstract: This article suggests that because the biblical authors were largely silent about the “elders,” arguably among the more significant political actors of ancient Israel, and certainly the most enduring, they may not have been as concerned with politics as we otherwise have thought. The “elders” are mentioned some 140 times in the Bible and almost invariably in a political context, and yet their political function and their place in the “constitution” are at best enigmatic. Presented as the keynote address at the September 2008 conference on political Hebraism, this article provides a novel approach to the question of whether the Bible has a political teaching, usually addressed with reference to kings, laws, or prophets.

Biography: Michael Walzer has written about a wide variety of topics in political theory and moral philosophy: political obligation, just and unjust war, nationalism and ethnicity, economic justice and the welfare state. He has played a part in the revival of a practical, issue focused ethics and in the development of a pluralist approach to political and moral life. He is currently working on the toleration and accommodation of "difference" in all its forms and also on a collaborative project focused on the history of Jewish political thought, two volumes of which have been published by Yale University Press.

Volume 3, Number 3 (Summer 2008) pp. 225