Friday, August 31, 2012

Eric Schliesser on Smith's Four Ages

Eric  Schliesser posts a Weekly Philo of Economics HERE  This week it is on “Adam Smith, David Hume, and the Hebrew Bible on Shepherding”

“Early in Genesis we encounter the story of Cain (a farmer), who kills his brother, Abel (a shepherd), because he is jealous over God's favouring Abel's sacrifice). In his The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture (CUP, 2012).
“Yoram Hazony, reminds us that we in addition to being a farmer, (mysterious) unwillingness to accept his sacrifice (while accepting Cain also founds a city; cities are viewed negatively because of their tendency toward despotic-imperialism in the Hebrew Bible. In Hazony's hands the Biblical (archetype) life of a shepherd (think also of Abraham, Moses, Jacob, David) stands for an anarchic "life of dissent and initiative" (108) away from the polity. While the life of the farmer (think of Noah, Isaac, and Joseph) stands for "pious submission, obeying in gratitude the custom that has been handed down, which alone provides bread so that man may live" (108). According to Hazony, The History of Israel (basically Genesis through Kings), favors the shepherding life, but as the story unfolds comes to recognize that anarchy is not self-sustaining. Hazony reads the Hebrew Bible as a search for a politics grounded in ethics--one that makes the state "limited in its aspirations" (153-4). 
Implicit in this reconstruction of the Hebrew Bible is a kind of genealogy of civilization: first, in the Garden of Eden we are gatherers (maybe hunters, too); then, second, humanity splits in between mutually antagonistic shepherds and farmers, from which city-governments with an impulse toward territorial (and other) ambitions spring. As Hazoney notes  (308 n. 26), Jean-Jacques Rousseau certainly read the Bible this way (see his posthumous Essay on the Origins of the Languages, written about the time of the second Discourse) and sides with the anarchic impulse of the "author of Genesis."
Cain founded a city only after his murder of Abel and his own expulsion from Eden, Genesis 4.16.  Rather suddenly, if in Cain's subsequent lifetime, the world was heavily populated by more than the Adam/Eve family in the Eden Garden. 
Overall there is much interesting material in this long essay – too long to include on Lost Legacy.  Those interested in seeing a most fruitful scholar at work may follow the link and read it all.  You could bookmark the series too.


Blogger Eric Schliesser said...

Thank you for your kind comments, Gavin!

6:56 pm  

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