On Earth, Not in Heaven

In God’s Shadow
Politics in the Hebrew Bible
Michael Walzer
Yale University Press, $28, 256 pp.

This book, the eminent political theorist Michael Walzer writes in its acknowledgments, “has been many years in the making.” He dates its beginnings to a seminar in 1990, but gives the reader reason to think that the book has deeper roots in his life. The opening line of the acknowledgments tells us that he “first studied the Hebrew Bible with Rabbi Hoyim Goren, a superb teacher, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in the late 1940s”—that is, when Walzer (born in 1935) was twelve or thirteen, presumably preparing for his bar mitzvah. The title In God’s Shadow reflects the book’s central questions: “How much room for politics can there be when God is the ultimate ruler? How much room is there for prudential decision-making in a nation that lives under divine command and protection?” But the title can also be applied to Walzer himself. For it seems fair to say that his life’s work as a political theorist and activist has been conducted, in some sense, in God’s shadow. Among its other merits, this book throws light on the development of Walzer’s thinking.

Walzer is perhaps best known for his 1977 book...

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About the Author

Bernard G. Prusak is associate professor of philosophy and director of the McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.