Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Were the Israelites a ‘Melian’-like group on whose world view our culture stands?

One of my side projects this year has been reading the entire Bible cover-to-cover for the first time. Starting at the beginning and staying with it throughout, I find, makes the whole thing more coherent. (It also sometimes feels surprisingly current: "Damascus is waxed feeble, and turneth herself to flee, and fear hath seized on ...

Wikimedia
Wikimedia
Wikimedia

One of my side projects this year has been reading the entire Bible cover-to-cover for the first time. Starting at the beginning and staying with it throughout, I find, makes the whole thing more coherent. (It also sometimes feels surprisingly current: "Damascus is waxed feeble, and turneth herself to flee, and fear hath seized on her." -- Jeremiah 49:24.) I mean, ripped from today's headlines.

The other day I was struck by Jeremiah 46:13, which offers an aside about the Lord telling the prophet that the "king of Babylon should come and smite the land of Egypt." That passage reflects the larger fact that a big chunk of the Old Testament is about the Jews being squeezed between the Persians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and the Egyptians. In other words, about a small, endangered people facing the predations of empires.

This made me think about the revenge of the Melians, another small people who were caught between greater powers, and who also got squashed. What does it mean that the Old Testament, the bulk of the central book of our culture, is written from the point of view not of one of the great powers, but of a small nation that is eventually destroyed by them? Is this why we instinctively side with the rebels and against Darth Vader? If so, how does that unconsciously shape our strategic thinking? Are we inherently more likely to succeed when aiding rebels than we are when fighting them?   

One of my side projects this year has been reading the entire Bible cover-to-cover for the first time. Starting at the beginning and staying with it throughout, I find, makes the whole thing more coherent. (It also sometimes feels surprisingly current: "Damascus is waxed feeble, and turneth herself to flee, and fear hath seized on her." — Jeremiah 49:24.) I mean, ripped from today’s headlines.

The other day I was struck by Jeremiah 46:13, which offers an aside about the Lord telling the prophet that the "king of Babylon should come and smite the land of Egypt." That passage reflects the larger fact that a big chunk of the Old Testament is about the Jews being squeezed between the Persians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and the Egyptians. In other words, about a small, endangered people facing the predations of empires.

This made me think about the revenge of the Melians, another small people who were caught between greater powers, and who also got squashed. What does it mean that the Old Testament, the bulk of the central book of our culture, is written from the point of view not of one of the great powers, but of a small nation that is eventually destroyed by them? Is this why we instinctively side with the rebels and against Darth Vader? If so, how does that unconsciously shape our strategic thinking? Are we inherently more likely to succeed when aiding rebels than we are when fighting them?   

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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