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Response to Review no. 1054

I am extremely grateful to Dr. Prior for taking the time to write such a thorough and sympathetic review of my book. Indeed, so generous are his comments that I hesitate to raise any quibbles at all. However, since the editor has asked me to respond, let me offer a couple of friendly amendments.

In the first paragraph, Dr. Prior characterizes the book’s argument as follows: ‘it was the early modern European encounter with Hebraic sources that fashioned the conceptual foundations of modern political thought’. I would simply amend the final phrase to read ‘some of the conceptual foundations…’

In the third paragraph, Dr. Prior suggests that ‘Christian Hebraists read these [rabbinic] texts rather narrowly, having little use for the moral and customary laws of the ancient Hebrews.’ In general, I think this is correct, but it is important to note that some early-modern Hebraists were extremely interested in the moral law as interpreted and systematized in Jewish sources (Selden and his various English disciples are perhaps the most important examples).

I should also add a brief clarification about the argument summarized in Dr. Prior’s fifth paragraph. My position is that ‘constitutional pluralism’ (the notion that there are several correct constitutional forms) was a virtually unquestioned orthodoxy in humanist political thought, and that the hegemony of this view was challenged in the late 16th and 17th centuries by the Christian encounter with two strands of rabbinic Biblical exegesis. The first of these understood Deut. 17 to embody a divine command to establish monarchy and the second read I Sam. 8 to suggest that monarchy is an instance of the sin of idolatry. Neither of these readings was grounded in what we would regard as the ‘plain meaning’ of the Biblical passages in question. In addition, it is perhaps not quite right to say that chapter one ‘challenges the notion that the early modern period witnessed the victory of constitutional pluralism’; I am not aware that anyone has been making that argument. Rather, my purpose was to call attention to a distinction between ‘pluralism’ and ‘exclusivism’ about political regimes that has not (I think) been taken sufficiently seriously, and to suggest that the rise of a distinctively ‘modern’ kind of political thought depended upon a rejection of the former in favor of the latter.

In conclusion, I simply wish to renew my thanks to Dr. Prior for his very kind words about The Hebrew Republic.