Hobbes Reenvisions Hebraic and Christian History

In: Hobbes Studies
Mary Nyquist Professor, Comparative Literature and English, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada,

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In this essay, I examine Hobbes’s interpretation of Scriptural passages that figure prominently in contemporaneous political debates. Hobbes’s interpretative practices affirm his major systematic aims but also contribute to his inventive reenvisioning of Hebraic and Christian political history. The privileged position Hobbes gives Hebraic forms of rule together with his treatment of I Samuel 8 are motivated, in part, by a need to counter Aristotle’s influence on an exegetical tradition that opposes monarchy-as-tyranny in connection with this central, much-debated text. Hobbes conjoins his counter-revolutionary interpretation of 1 Samuel 8 with specific passages in the Christian New Testament that permit him to insert Jesus as “king of the Jews” into a startlingly unique conception of Hebraic and Christian history. This revisionary history and eschatology support Hobbes’s theorization of absolute sovereignty and undercut fantastical beliefs in an immaterial world.

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