Feb
19

Josephus on the Origin of the State

By

image Titus Flavius Josephus, also known as Yosef Ben Matityahu, was a Jewish historian in the first-century A.D. He witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and recorded the events. His two major works are The Jewish War and The Antiquities of the Jews. The first tells the story of the Jewish revolt against the Romans from A.D. 66 to 70. The second is a history of the world from a Jewish perspective. Both are extraordinarily important for studying the history of the first-century and the history of the Jewish nation. For the modern Christian, Josephus illuminates the world of first-century Christianity.

In The Antiquities, Josephus mentions that the first human government was built by Nimrod, the mighty hunter from Genesis 10:8-9. This appears to be consistent with Genesis; no other organized government (unless you count a “clan”) is mentioned before his. Genesis is, first and foremost, a book of origins, and thus this original human government can arguably be taken as archetypal. Josephus, while not being authoritative like Scripture, extends the Babel story (Genesis 11:1-9) and provides an interesting insight regarding the origin of the state. The following extended quote is from Book 1, Chapter 4 of the Whiston translation. The selection reads a bit funny (Whiston translated Josephus in the 18th century), but stick with it and I’ll summarize afterwards.

“Concerning The Tower Of Babylon, And The Confusion Of Tongues.”

When they flourished with a numerous youth, God admonished them again to send out colonies; but they, imagining the prosperity they enjoyed was not derived from the favor of God, but supposing that their own power was the proper cause of the plentiful condition they were in, did not obey him. Nay, they added to this their disobedience to the Divine will, the suspicion that they were therefore ordered to send out separate colonies, that, being divided asunder, they might the more easily be Oppressed [by God].

2. Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it [their success] to God, as if it was through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers!

3. Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower, neither sparing any pains, nor being in any degree negligent about the work: and, by reason of the multitude of hands employed in it, it grew very high, sooner than any one could expect; but the thickness of it was so great, and it was so strongly built, that thereby its great height seemed, upon the view, to be less than it really was. It was built of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water. When God saw that they acted so madly, he did not resolve to destroy them utterly, since they were not grown wiser by the destruction of the former sinners; but he caused a tumult among them, by producing in them divers languages, and causing that, through the multitude of those languages, they should not be able to understand one another. The place wherein they built the tower is now called Babylon, because of the confusion of that language which they readily understood before; for the Hebrews mean by the word Babel, confusion. The Sibyl also makes mention of this tower, and of the confusion of the language, when she says thus: “When all men were of one language, some of them built a high tower, as if they would thereby ascend up to heaven, but the gods sent storms of wind and overthrew the tower, and gave every one his peculiar language; and for this reason it was that the city was called Babylon.” But as to the plan of Shinar, in the country of Babylonia, Hestiaeus mentions it, when he says thus: “Such of the priests as were saved, took the sacred vessels of Jupiter Enyalius, and came to Shinar of Babylonia.”

Summarizing, the story here begins shortly after the flood. The people have congregated together for mutual benefit and trade. God then commands them to begin again in the task of spreading over the face of the earth – starting colonies. But instead, the people once again rebelled against God, even believing that this command to spread was given so that God could “oppress” them again. Nimrod, the first human king, was the individual most responsible for inciting this rebellion. They conspired to build a tower that, according to Genesis, would reach to the heavens and symbolize their ability to be gods themselves. Josephus indicates that they believed they could even attack heaven and avenge themselves against God for causing the great flood. God, to punish but not destroy them, sent confusion by causing them to speak different languages. They scattered (partly fulfilling God’s plan to spread humankind), and on the plains of Shinar the kingdom of Babylon was built. (Remember that Babylon is consistently referenced in the Bible as an abomination.)

As much as Josephus can be relied upon as a source, his account emphasizes four points:

  1. The origin of human government is rebellion against God.
  2. The government sets itself up specifically in opposition to the rule of God.
  3. The rulers exalt themselves while deceiving the people.
  4. Human government drives a wedge between people, pitting them against each other. *

The incident brings to mind the words of Paul in the book of Romans:

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…”

Romans 1:21-22

The state, which is the institutionalization of violence on earth, began as a usurpation of God’s authority; the true kingdom of God is not of this world (John 18:36). Let us not think that government can be “fixed” and the kingdom of God advanced by simply getting the right people in office, for we know that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It’s been that way since the beginning.

* Incidentally, even Ludwig von Mises in Liberalism admitted that language is one of the fundamental ways nations are divided.

Welcome, LRC readers, please check out my other articles featured on LRC: Top 10 Books for Christian Libertarians – Christmas 2008 Edition, and New Testament Theology of the State. Don’t forget to subscribe!

Norman Horn

Norman is the founder and editor of LibertarianChristians.com. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Austin Graduate School of Theology.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYouTubeReddit

Categories : Articles
  • UncleSim

    Matt,

    Two men do not constitute government. Avenging a death doesn’t either. I guess one could say that one’s actions will be governed by the potential reactions of others, which is kind of what life is all about, and is sort of a statement of the obvious to those with common sense, but it creates no structure, only that Noah is to command all living things.

    If God was going to set an example of government, this is a pretty libertarian one, with no preexisting -archy controlling man, except the warning to avoid the sin that excites the wrath of the other living creatures of the earth, especially the human ones. It, like most of the bible, is a guide for self-government, with warnings of the evils that befall men.

    I fail to see a strong enough connection in these verses to say that God ordained government here first. I haven’t read enough to argue for or against it in Mosaic law, but since Moses fled an oppressive government in Egypt, it would be hard to argue that God wants us to blindly serve those governments we happen to be born into.

    I don’t consider Covenants and Governments to be equal, but you have inspired me to learn more about them. I hope you will revisit your support of governments as inherently Godly. Self-government, maybe. Overarching governments virtually depend on our sins for their power, and their very survival, though.

    Rich

  • UncleSim

    Matt,

    Two men do not constitute government. Avenging a death doesn’t either. I guess one could say that one’s actions will be governed by the potential reactions of others, which is kind of what life is all about, and is sort of a statement of the obvious to those with common sense, but it creates no structure, only that Noah is to command all living things.

    If God was going to set an example of government, this is a pretty libertarian one, with no preexisting -archy controlling man, except the warning to avoid the sin that excites the wrath of the other living creatures of the earth, especially the human ones. It, like most of the bible, is a guide for self-government, with warnings of the evils that befall men.

    I fail to see a strong enough connection in these verses to say that God ordained government here first. I haven’t read enough to argue for or against it in Mosaic law, but since Moses fled an oppressive government in Egypt, it would be hard to argue that God wants us to blindly serve those governments we happen to be born into.

    I don’t consider Covenants and Governments to be equal, but you have inspired me to learn more about them. I hope you will revisit your support of governments as inherently Godly. Self-government, maybe. Overarching governments virtually depend on our sins for their power, and their very survival, though.

    Rich

  • Dustin

    Matt, you confuse a theocratic government with a human government as specifically addressed in the article. Obviously, any government presided over by God and ruled by his statutes alone will be a perfect government within God’s plan. Assuming Genesis 9 creates a type of government, it can only be a theocratic government, in the same way the Mosaic law established a theocratic government.

    However, in both cases, when human government was established over theocratic government, both times it was established in a direct opposition to God. In the first, Nimrod established a government to reject God’s commands, in the second, Israel wanted a human government in rejection of God’s established government. Thus, in both examples the hypothesis of the article holds true.

  • Dustin

    To our Libertarian Atheist friend, you make an assumption that freedom of religion is not a principle found in Christianity, and I can hardly blame you. It is highly unfortunate that whenever Christians have historically been in positions of power that they have most often tried to force their own beliefs on those the ruled over, but I assure you that such coercion cannot be found in the teachings of Jesus.

  • Ralph

    As to God establishing a government to be ruled by man, we can look at Romans 8:7, which tells us that the carnal(natural, biological) mind is enmity against God and cannot be subject to God’s laws. If true, this would produce at least two results:
    1.No one can claim physical authority as representative of God, since no natural mind can be subject to God.
    2.Any attempt to do so would result in a tendency toward an infinity of religious ideas about God. Today, by some estimates, there are over 30,000 cults, sects, and denominations that claim to represent God.

    If one assumes that Paul’s statement in Romans 8:7 is true, it would also result in the fact that there could be no decision procedure by which we can get from “here” to God”. Paul himself verifies this logic in Romans 8:29-30 and Romans 9:16, through rest of chapter.

    While Romans 8:29-30 deals with predestination, it establishes the truth I stated earlier regarding Romans 8:7. We cannot make a decision to get from “here” to “God”, because God has already foreknown and predestined those whom he calls children. So, what does predestination have to do with freedom? It cancels any form of human government that would claim to represent God.

    But let’s look at another angle. Kurt Godel developed a theorem in 1931 which states that in any consistent axiomatic formulation of number theory, there exists undecideable propositions. What this means is that there is no way to place all truth in one single package. Assuming that God is consistent with all truth, Godel has demonstrated that there is no single process by which we can get from “here” to ‘truth”, which happens to coincide with the results of Paul’s statements regarding God.

    But what if there is such a decision procedure? If so, then that procedure can be translated into language, which can be translated into algorithms, which can then be programmed into a computer. The computer, lacking the flaws of human nature and the ‘carnal” mind, would be the embodiment of the son of God.

    To say that a government, which is a finite rational system of human organization, can represent God, is to say that computers can ultimately become sons of God, since both are dependent on the same human reasoning process.

    Further, if we can define “Holy Spirit” we can also program that into computers, so that we will have computerized “sons of God” with qualities of the “Holy Spirit”!

    To argue for a government of God is to argue for computerized sons of God. Both come from the same human reasoning process. If that is true, then human life is unnecessary. We are merely the bridge to the higher, computerized sons of God. That is precisely the kind of reasoning that allows humans to kill other humans in the name of God or government.

  • Ralph

    As to God establishing a government to be ruled by man, we can look at Romans 8:7, which tells us that the carnal(natural, biological) mind is enmity against God and cannot be subject to God’s laws. If true, this would produce at least two results:
    1.No one can claim physical authority as representative of God, since no natural mind can be subject to God.
    2.Any attempt to do so would result in a tendency toward an infinity of religious ideas about God. Today, by some estimates, there are over 30,000 cults, sects, and denominations that claim to represent God.

    If one assumes that Paul’s statement in Romans 8:7 is true, it would also result in the fact that there could be no decision procedure by which we can get from “here” to God”. Paul himself verifies this logic in Romans 8:29-30 and Romans 9:16, through rest of chapter.

    While Romans 8:29-30 deals with predestination, it establishes the truth I stated earlier regarding Romans 8:7. We cannot make a decision to get from “here” to “God”, because God has already foreknown and predestined those whom he calls children. So, what does predestination have to do with freedom? It cancels any form of human government that would claim to represent God.

    But let’s look at another angle. Kurt Godel developed a theorem in 1931 which states that in any consistent axiomatic formulation of number theory, there exists undecideable propositions. What this means is that there is no way to place all truth in one single package. Assuming that God is consistent with all truth, Godel has demonstrated that there is no single process by which we can get from “here” to ‘truth”, which happens to coincide with the results of Paul’s statements regarding God.

    But what if there is such a decision procedure? If so, then that procedure can be translated into language, which can be translated into algorithms, which can then be programmed into a computer. The computer, lacking the flaws of human nature and the ‘carnal” mind, would be the embodiment of the son of God.

    To say that a government, which is a finite rational system of human organization, can represent God, is to say that computers can ultimately become sons of God, since both are dependent on the same human reasoning process.

    Further, if we can define “Holy Spirit” we can also program that into computers, so that we will have computerized “sons of God” with qualities of the “Holy Spirit”!

    To argue for a government of God is to argue for computerized sons of God. Both come from the same human reasoning process. If that is true, then human life is unnecessary. We are merely the bridge to the higher, computerized sons of God. That is precisely the kind of reasoning that allows humans to kill other humans in the name of God or government.

  • Pingback: RefTagger | LibertarianChristians.com()

  • Pingback: ASC Day 1: Author’s Forum and a Jewish Rabbi | LibertarianChristians.com()

  • Pingback: Podcast: Response to Comments on Josephus Article | LibertarianChristians.com()

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000026554415 Nick Scherrer
  • Pingback: Government and Religious Expression | LibertarianChristians.com()

  • Pingback: Just war or pacifism? | LibertarianChristians.com()

  • L Kaz

    What is most interesting is the lack of understanding most Christians have regarding what is written above. While lamenting the loss of our country’s National Sovereignty, I had an educated Christian young man say to me, “What’s the big deal about sovereignty?”

    Son of Perdition – your time is ripe!

  • Pingback: The Christian Libertarian FAQ is having some issues | LibertarianChristians.com()

  • Pingback: Christians in Conflict: Greens vs. Contractualists « Etched in Silicon()

  • Pingback: The Christian Libertarian FAQ is having some issues | Libertarios of America()

  • Pingback: A Biblical Case for Libertarianism, Part 2: Against the State - Indian Libertarians()

  • Pingback: A Biblical Case for Libertarianism, Part 2: Against the State | Libertarian Kid()

Who is behind LCC?

Norman Horn is the creator and primary writer for LCC. Learn a little bit about him in the About Page. You can write him a note or ask a question at the Contact Page. Follow him on Twitter.