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Covenant to Lady Liberty: An Idea and Political Identity

Moses and the Covenant (https://www.imdb.com)

There is more to Moses than Charlton Heston. Ignore the theology. Ignore the special effects. Ignore Cecil B. DeMille. Instead focus on the political. Focus on the fact that when Israel emerged in history it did not have a king, it did not have a temple, it did not have a capital city. It was not a nomadic people. Yet somehow people still were able to identify themselves as Israel. What the people did have that no one else had was a covenant. While not exactly a Constitution, it did serve to define the people. Whereas our defining document begins with WE THE PEOPLE, Israel’s began with “Yahweh thy God took thee out of the land of Egypt (Ex. 20:2).

Pharaoh Merneptah (1212-1202 BCE), the son and successor to Ramses II, claimed to have destroyed the seed of Israel. When the Merneptah Stele was discovered in 1896 with these words, it caused quite a stir as you might imagine.

Merneptah Stele, Cairo Museum (Wikipedia)

Merneptah used an indentifier with the word “Israel” to indicate that Israel was a not a settled people as were the people of the Canaanites cities that Egypt had ruled for centuries. But they were not nomads in the land of Canaan either. So what were they?

Archaeologists have discovered hundreds of small unwalled settlements in the land of Canaan that date to this time. They are considered to be Israelite because realistically speaking who else could they be? Merneptah knew there was a people Israel there and they knew they were not a city-based people. So how did they maintain their identity?

The answer is the covenant renewal ceremony. They were united by an idea. Israel was not a people based on geography. It was not a people based on race. It was not a people based on ethnicity. It was a people based on an idea expressed in the covenant and later physically expressed in the Ark of the Covenant. Periodically, the people met (or at least the elders did) to renew that sense of identity. At first Israel did so at Mount Ebal as instructed by Moses (Deut. 11:29, 27:4, 13) and done by Joshua (Josh, 8:30-35). Archaeologists have discovered the altar used in the ceremonies but the consequences of admitting it are too much to accept.

The Altar at Mount Ebal (Biblical Archaeology Society)

After Mount Ebal, the covenant renewal ceremony relocated to Shiloh. Shiloh also served as a place for men to bring the unmarried women in their family to find mates (Judg. 21:19-23) much like the camp meetings in the early 1800s in the United States. The ark remained at Shiloh until it was captured by the Philistines.

Shiloh and the Capture of the Ark of the Covenant (Biblical Archaeology Society)

When David became king of all Israel, he continued this tradition of defining the people based on an idea. He brought the ark to Jerusalem, his new capital. Jerusalem, unlike with the founding of Washington, DC, had been enemy territory for centuries. Based on the archaeological record, Jerusalem had been a good vassal of Egypt during the more than three centuries of Egyptian rule in the land of Canaan.

Diplomatic Correspondence between Vassal Jerusalem and Egypt (Amarna Letters)

It is reasonable to conclude that Jerusalem like other vassal cities would have joined with Pharaoh Merneptah against the newcomer Israel. And according to the biblical account, Jerusalem organized a coalition against Israel (Josh. 10:1-5). In the biblical accounts of this time period, Jerusalem definitely is not part of Israel (Judg. 1:7-8, 21; 19:11-12).

Yet David makes the enemy city his capital. He installs the ark there (II Samuel 6). He buys land there from most likely the Jebusite king of the city and the Temple of Solomon would be built there (II Sam. 24:16-25; I Chr. 24:15-30; II Chr. 3:1). He does not massacre the Jebusite inhabitants of the city. Instead he welcomes them into his kingdom, his government, his family. Consider the words of Rahab the Canaanite, the female figure used to symbolize the Canaanite people who are now under the rule of David, King of Israel.

Joshua 2:10 For we have heard how Yahweh dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.

Note that the Canaanites have heard what Yahweh has done. By contrast, the Israelites had seen what Yahweh had done.

Exodus 14:13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of Yahwweh, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.

In this contrast between those who saw and those who heard, one may recognize the difference between the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution and the naturalized Americans who have no biological link to the Patriot cause. It is precisely this distinction and inclusion that Lincoln will replicate at Gettysburg (see below).

Before Lincoln did do that, four score and seven years earlier, the Founding Fathers had to first create the United States of America based on an idea. To understand what they accomplished it is necessary to put aside our racial classification system. Based on the standards of the time, they were trying to create “WE THE PEOPLE” out of a disparate amalgamation of peoples. There were English of various types, Scotch Irish, Irish Catholic, Dutch, Palatine Germans, Sephardic Jews, and French Huguenots among other peoples. There was no precedent for combining such a diversity into a non-imperial republic. Certainly no political entity was organized on such a basis in Euope. The idea of constituting themselves as a people was farfetched to say the least. They knew it was an experiment. They knew it might not work. They probably would be shocked by the idea of a pending 250th anniversary for such a political entity.

Lincoln at Gettysburg continued this definition of the political entity based on an idea. When he said “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers,” he knew that not everyone in his audience was a son or daughter of the American Revolution. But just as David included in the political kingdom of Israel people who had not been part of the people of Israel that Merneptah had claimed to have destroyed two centuries earlier, so Lincoln linked all the Americans of his present to the events 76 years earlier. If you stood for the Union now, you were one with those who had created the Union then.

This idea took a giant leap forward for humanity with Captain Kirk on the Starship Enterprise. His hero was Lincoln so I presume Lincoln was a hero to Gene Roddenberry as well. Earth like the 13 states was part of a Federation. Beings of different races were joined together in a single entity. The precise details of how the Federation of Planets operated are not the issue here. What is the issue is the concept of beings becoming one without abandoning their individuality as with the Borg or in Mainland China. In this regard, Federation with its Prime Directive and other defining principles is another step on a journey that began millennia earlier when a mixed multitude entered into a covenant. They are united not by geography, not by race, not by ethnicity, but by an idea.

It’s all one story. Moses in the wilderness with the covenant, David at Zion with the Ark of the Covenant, the Founding Fathers with the Constitution, Lincoln with the Gettysburg Address,  Kirk on the Enterprise are all part of a single story. As the Ark of the Covenant once was the physical expression of the covenant idea that defined Israel, so the Statue of Liberty is the physical expression of the idea that defines the United States. Both for the people who come here and those in Hong Kong, Russia, and elsewhere, the Statue of Liberty is the global symbol for people who want to be free. So which Charlton Heston ending will America choose? The Charlton Heston of The Ten Commandments who ends the movie with the words of the Liberty Bell to proclaim liberty throughout the land (Lev. 25:10) or the Charlton Heston of Planet of Apes overwhelmed by the sight of the Statue of Liberty buried in the sands?

Planet of the Apes (YouTube)

My Birthday and the Day I Was Born Are the Same Day: Previewing the 2020 Election (Part 1)

Lincoln Memorial Courtesy GalleryHip

Once upon a time more years ago than I care to count, my sister had an epiphany. Suddenly discrete data packets in her brain coalesced into a vision of breathless clarity and intense emotion. She was effused with the joy and happiness that only one who has seen the truth possesses. Overcome with the intensity of the experience she stood up and proudly exclaimed:

I JUST REALIZED THAT MY BIRTHDAY AND THE DAY I WAS BORN ARE THE SAME DAY!

For all she knew, she was the one and only person on the planet who had attained such knowledge.

How old do you think she was when she had this moment of understanding?

I was reminded of this bit of family lore when our immature child President announced to the world that in the eighth decade of his life, he had suddenly learned that Abraham Lincoln had been a Republican…and that not many people knew that. He apparently was quite proud of himself for now being the possessor of such obscure but important knowledge.

His moment of insight suggests that prior to this learning experience he had thought, along with most others, that Lincoln had been a Democratic President. Instead of simply making fun of him for being a blithering idiot, one should inquire as to how he came to think that Lincoln has been a Democrat.

Certainly it was not something he had learned in school.

Certainly it was not something he had read in a book.

Certainly it was not something he had learned from Fox where Lincoln never is mentioned.

So how then did he come to think of Lincoln as being a Democrat?

He may have presumed that since the former party of Lincoln now is a Confederate party of malice, that Lincoln therefore must have belong to the opposition party.

He may have presumed that since Steven Spielberg had produced a movie about Lincoln that therefore anyone who was a hero to La La Land liberals must have been Democratic.

He may have presumed that since New York State Governor Mario Cuomo had been a big admirer of Lincoln that therefore Lincoln must have been a Democrat as well.

He even may have been vaguely aware of Martin Luther King standing at the Lincoln Memorial at his “I have a dream” speech and since all Middle-Passage blacks are Democrats, therefore Lincoln must have been one too.

In short, we will never know for sure how it came to be that he thought Lincoln was a Democrat only to just recently discover that he was in error.

This eureka moment of understanding raises two critical issues. First, it calls into question his vaunted skill on not needing to be prepped, of not needing to read, of not needing to know anything in advance because he is so smart he can quickly size up the moment, understand the players, and determine the correct course of action. By now we are all in awe of his perceptive ability to make sense of health care, Korean-Chinese history, and taxes and to realize how easy the job of being President of the United States of America is for him even though he had no relevant experience and little knowledge going into the job. After but 100 plus days in office, the job is old hat to him, even boring since it is so easy. Unlike with his predecessor, there is no drama to his administration where everything runs like clockwork in a well-oiled smoothly humming machine.

Secondly, his Lincoln-as-Republican realization calls to mind what else he didn’t know about Lincoln besides his political party. For example, Lincoln concluded his second inaugural address with the famous words:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Is malice towards none a characteristic of our current Republican president?

Is charity for all a characteristic of our current Republican president?

Is binding up the nation’s wounds characteristic of our Republican president?

Does Lincoln having been a Republican have any meaning to people who claim to be Republicans today?

In Lincoln’s annual message to Congress, he referred to America as “the last best hope of earth.” Such thoughts continued the tradition begun by John Winthrop even before there was a United States. They were proclaimed most recently and prominently by Republican President Ronald Reagan who declared our country to be a shining city on a hill that the eyes of the world are upon. The America of Winthrop to Reagan and even beyond had a special role in human history. Even the Politically Correct acknowledge America’s special role in human history. True it is as the Great Satan but that still is a pretty impressive global role in human history.

Where is the vision today? In a world where everything is transactional, where everything is about the deal, where everything is about making money, there is no vision to inspire the world in a journey to a better tomorrow. So he now knows that Lincoln was Republican, so what?

Does Lincoln having been a Republican have any meaning to people who claim to be Republicans today?

Are there any ramifications to America’s abandonment of its role as a city on hill that the eyes of the world are upon? Certainly Turkey is happy about it. So is the Philippines. And Venezuela would be too if its autocrat prevails in the battle against democracy there.

Former Deputy Director of the CIA David Cohen warned of the danger to America of a purely commercial policy. He drew on his own experiences working with undercover agents from other countries. They were people who put their lives on the line for America precisely because it stood for everything our immature child president rejects. The values of the city on a hill that the eyes of the world are upon offered an alternative to the life they knew in their own country. They dreamed of living the American dream.

Cohen writes: “that image of the United States as the ‘last best hope of earth,” proclaimed by our leaders for decades, is an enormously effective recruiting too…” He goes on to tout the value of “the American idea” in promoting our interests. As he put it: “Tarnishing the idea that America stands for something uniquely good makes it harder for the C.I.A. to recruit spies.” Cohen concludes his op-ed piece with a ringing endorsement of America’s role in human history in starkly immediate terms for the safety of the country: “relinquishing America’s place as the shining city on the hill will do real and profound harm to our national security.” Our immature child president genuinely lacks the mental necessities to understand this reasoning. What about the former party of Lincoln?

Speaking again of Lincoln, let me conclude with one other area where his vision and that of the party that he belonged to differ – immigration.

In a debate with Stephen Douglas on July 10, 1858, in Chicago, the future President redefined how one was to define an American in a way those who are ignorant of Lincoln have not yet learned. Suppose one wasn’t a Son or a Daughter of the American Revolution? Could one still fully celebrate July 4? Listen to Lincoln’s answer:

In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations. But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men-descended by blood from our ancestors-among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe-German, Irish, French and Scandinavian-men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.

For Lincoln, one did not need to be a blood-descendant of the American Revolution to be one with the spirit of the event. Through adherence to the principles of the Declaration of Independence every American stood as one with those who had fought and died for America’s birth. The new Republican Party that Lincoln had joined was the immigrant party (except maybe not so clearly the party of the Irish), the party whose political interests were served by reaching out newly arrived and would-be Americans. By disavowing immigrant restrictions it succeeded in holding on to a fair share of the foreign-born vote, especially among younger Protestant voters. These immigrants from Scandinavia, France and Cornwall, among other places, supported Lincoln, Union and America.

Learning that Lincoln was a Republican should be the first step and not the only step for the president of the former party of Lincoln. If he is having trouble learning what it means to be an American, perhaps there are some Russians who can help him.

Amanda Anisimova
Scott McIntyre for the NYT

Konstanin Anismov, Russian immigrant and father of Maria Anisimova who graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and of Amanda Anisimova who will represent the United States as the youngest player in the French Open since 2005, on his immigration to America:

We really like Spain, but then we recognized when we visited America that everyone who comes here is going to feel like home. In Europe, you always feel like a foreigner because it is a completely different culture. America is a united country where people come from all over the world, and after a couple of years, they feel this is home. (“Only 15, but Ready for Her Grand Slam Debut” NYT 5/27/17).

If only the former party of Lincoln or the party of identity politics believed that. Is there no Lincoln in American politics today?

 

R.I.P. Party of Lincoln (1856-2016)

Lincoln Memorial

In the past few days, some Republicans have mentioned the name no Republican presidential candidate dares mention: Abraham Lincoln. No self-respecting candidate seeking to survive the primary gauntlet would be so foolish as to utter the name of America’s greatest president. There simply is no place in the Party of Malice for Lincoln.

Democrats deserve no kudos either. They opposed Lincoln when he was alive and with their relentless pursuit of victimhood and identity politics, there is no place for him there either today.

We face the prospect of a presidential election when the candidates of the two national parties are under indictment and instead of hope, hate will be watchword.

Despite the abandonment of Lincoln from national discourse, it is still worth considering what he had to say both for what he achieved then and what he could achieve today if only there was a place for him in national politics. In a debate with Stephen Douglas on July 10, 1858, in Chicago, the future President redefined how one was to define an American in a way those today who despise him have not yet learned.

“We are now a mighty nation…We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years [to 1776] and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country,-with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men….We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; …they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration [on July 4] to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these meetings in better humor with ourselves-we feel more attached the one to the other and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit.”

Notice what Abraham Lincoln was doing here. He reminded Americans that it is the annual celebration of July 4 that links the people of the present to the heroic forefathers who had created and built this prosperous country four-score and two years ago. This connection he referred to seems biological in nature. But suppose one wasn’t a Son or a Daughter of the American Revolution? Could one still fully celebrate July 4? Now listen to Lincoln’s answer:

“We have besides these men-descended by blood from our ancestors-among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe-German, Irish, French and Scandinavian-men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us,”

How is it possible for immigrants to this country to celebrate a holiday to which they have no biological connection?

“but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”

For Lincoln, one did not need to be a blood-descendant of the American Revolution to be one with the spirit of the event. Immigrants were entitled to have their shot at living the American Dream. Through adherence to the principles of the Declaration of Independence every American stood as one with those who had fought and died for America’s birth. The new Republican Party that Lincoln had joined was the immigrant party (except maybe not so clearly the party of the Irish) and later the Black Party, the party whose political interests were served by reaching out newly arrived and newly enfranchised. By disavowing immigrant restrictions it succeeded in holding on to a fair share of the foreign-born vote, especially among younger Protestant voters. These immigrants from Scandinavia, France and Cornwall, among other places, supported Lincoln, Union and America.

So now think again about these familiar words from the Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” When Lincoln said “our fathers” he knew that many people in the audience were not descendants of those who had founded the country. But Lincoln was not excluding them by this word choice, for by examining his words from five years earlier we see that he knew how much of America and the support of the Union depended on the immigrants to this country. In 1858 he had merely referred to the “moral sentiments” that connected the immigrants to the Founding Fathers; now, in the midst of the Civil War, he asserted they had been baptized by blood into the American covenant community. Those who fought to preserve the Union stood as one with those who had fought in the war to create the Union. They sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic with the same gusto that Americans once had sung Yankee Doodle Dandy. They were Americans by Choice.

As we just celebrated the Sesquicentennial of the Homestead Act, the Morrill-Land-Grant Colleges Act, and the Pacific Railway Act launching the Transcontinental Railroad, I am reminded that even without the Civil War Abraham Lincoln was a great President who understood America as a great work always in progress, that he acted to ensure people would have a home to call their own, the education to be able to live the American Dream, and the infrastructure to connect the country. To fulfill the American Dream in the 21st century, our immigrant country needs to be inspired not just by Lincoln’s monument and legacy, but by people who reach for his vision, his eloquence, and his leadership. Who will tell his story? Lincoln may belong to the ages, but does he still belong to the Republican Party?

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”