Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. I.: Shewing that Israel was a Commonwealth. - The Oceana and Other Works
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CHAP. I.: Shewing that Israel was a Commonwealth. - James Harrington, The Oceana and Other Works 
The Oceana and Other Works of James Harrington, with an Account of His Life by John Toland (London: Becket and Cadell, 1771).
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Shewing that Israel was a Commonwealth.
Sect. 1.IT is said of the Israelits that went first into Egypt, All the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls.Exod. 1. 5. These becoming so many fathers of familys, and governing their own familys by paternal right, it follows that at first they so govern’d the whole people;The rise of the Israelits government. yet not with any soverain power (as may be easily thought in a country that had a prince of its own) but by way only of direction and advice. The people being thus accustom’d to this way,Of the princes of the tribes, and princes of families. as any of these seventy came to dy, supply’d his place with another of their election; at least for the probability of this opinion, we find mention of Moses, Nadab, Abihu,and seventy of the elders, before the institution of the Israelitish senat or sanhedrim.Exod. 24. 9. To these and to the people Moses propos’d his laws. So I am sure in the*Latin it is expresly said, where by our English translation it is thus render’d, This is the law (and by the law here is meant no less than the whole book of Deuteronomy) whichMosesset before the children of Israel, whose assemblys were not always without faction.Antiq. I. 4. c. 2. For Korah, Dathan,andAbiram,with two hundred princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown, bandy’d themselves against Moses, and his intended election of his brother Aaron to the hereditary priesthood, reproaching him (says Josephus) that he went about to dispose of this honor without the suffrage of the congregation, therby affecting tyranny, and a sly usurpation of the liberty of the people: which sense also is imply’d by their upbraiding him in Scripture;Num. 16. 13.Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of the land that flows with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness? except thou makest thyself altogether a prince over us.That Moses was no king. But wheras the Scripture in all this presumes these incendiarys to have bely’d Moses, som will have all they thus laid to his charge, to be no more, but less than truth; in as much as they will needs have Moses not only to have bin a king, but to have bin a king exercising arbitrary power, and such arbitrary power as, being without any bounds, fully amounts to tyranny.
Sect. 2. That Moses propos’d his laws to the people and their suffrage.The word king is not a sufficient definition of the magistrat so stil’d: between a Lacedemonian king and a Persian king, or between either of these and a king of England, there was a vast difference. Both the kings of Lacedemon were but as one duke in Venice. The Venetians therfore, if it had so pleas’d them, might as well have call’d their duke a king. Certain it is, that he is not so much in the commonwealth, as are a few of his counsillors; and yet all acts of the government run in his name, as if there were no commonwealth.
Deut. 34. 4. In what sense Moses may be call’d a king.It is said (according to our translation) Mosescommanded us a law, &c. according to the original, Moses (propos’d, or) gave us a law, which is an inheritance to the congregation ofJacob. The duke of Venice has a right to propose or give law in the congregation or great council of Venice; where he, who sees him sitting, would believe he were a king.Ver. 5. And if Moses were king in Jesurun (or Israel) it was when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel were gather’d together.Acts 13.Paul, epitomizing the story of the people of Israel, in his sermon to the Antiochian Jews, shews how God chose their fathers, exalted the people, destroy’d (for their sake) seven nations in the land of Canaan, and divided their lands to them by lots: but speaks not a word of any king given to them, till expresly after their judges. But if Moses were a king, yet that he did not propose, but command by his power the laws which he gave to Israel, dos not follow. For David was a king, who nevertheless did no otherways make any law than by proposition to the people, and their free suffrage upon it.1 Chron. 13.Davidconsulted with the captains of thousands, and hundreds, and with every leader (of which military disciplin of the congregation of Israel more in due place will be shewn) andDavidsaid to all the congregation, If it seems good to you, and that if it be of the Lord our God (tho he was a king, and a man after God’s own heart, he makes the people judges what was of God) let us send abroad to our brethren every where that are left in all the land of Israel, and with them also to the priests and Levits that are in their citys and suburbs, that they (to the end this thing may be perform’d with the greatest solemnity) may gather themselves to us, and let us bring the ark of God to us: for we inquir’d not at it in the days ofSaul.1 Sam. 4. In the days of Eli the ark was taken by the Philistins, who being smitten till there was a deadly destruction throout all the city, and their divines attributing the cause therof to the detention of the ark, after seven months sent it to Bethshemesh; whence it was brought to Kirjath-jearim, and there lodg’d in the house of Aminadab, before Saul was king, where it remain’d till such time as David propos’d (in the manner shewn) to the people the reduction of the same.1 Chron. 13. 4. Upon this proposition, the people giving suffrage are unanimous in their result; All the congregation said, that they would do so (not that they could do no otherwise by a king, for they did not the like by Rehoboam, but that) the thing was right in the eys of all the people.Chap. 25.Moreover,Davidand the captains of the host separated to the service som of the sons ofAsaph,and ofHeman,and ofJeduthun,who should prophesy with harps, with psalterys and with cymbals; that is, propos’d these laws for church disciplin, or offices of the priests and Levits, to the same representative of the people: of which more in other places. Thus much in this, to shew, that if Moses were a king, it dos not follow that he propos’d not his laws to a congregation of the people having the power of result. To say that the laws propos’d by Moses were the dictat of God, is not to evade, but to confirm the necessity of proposing them to the people, seeing the laws or dictats of God or of Christ can no otherwise be effectually receiv’d or imbrac’d by a people, or by a privat man, than by the free suffrage of the soul or conscience; and not by force or rewards, which may as well establish the laws of the devil.
Sect. 3. That there lay no appeal from the seventy elders to Moses. Numb. 11. 16.But for another way, such a one as it is, of crowning Moses, som are positive that there lay an appeal from the seventy elders to him. Now the command of God to Moses for the institution of the seventy, is this: Gather to me seventy men of the elders of Israel—that they may stand with thee. Upon which words let me ask, whether had Moses thenceforth a distinct or a joint political capacity? If the seventy stood with Moses, or it were a joint capacity, then Moses was no king in their sense; and if it were distinct, then lay there to Moses no appeal, even by his own law: for thus in the case of appeals it is by him directed, If there arises a controversy too hard for thee in judgment—thou shalt com to the priests and Levits (that is, to the seventy elders)—According to the sentence of the law which they—shall tell thee, thou shalt do—And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken—even that man shall dy.Deut. 17. 8. In which words all color of appeal from the seventy elders is excluded.
Sect. 4.But whether Moses were a king or no king, either his power was more than that of king David; or without proposition to, and result of the people, it is plain that he could pass no law. Now the senat, sanhedrim, or seventy elders, came in the place of Moses, or stood with him; therfore their power could be no more than was that of Moses. So that if the power of Moses were never more in the point of lawgiving, than to propose to the people; then the power of the sanhedrim could be no more in the point of lawgiving, than to propose to the people. Nor will it be found in Scripture that the sanhedrim ever made any law without the people; yet it is found in Scripture that the people made a law without the sanhedrim, or levy’d war without them, which is all one: for where there is a power to levy war, there will be the power of making law.Judg. 20. And the occasion upon which this is found, is the war levy’d against Benjamin by the congregation, consisting of four hundred thousand. Again, if the sanhedrim inherited the whole power of Moses, and yet had no larger power in lawmaking than to propose to the people, then had Moses never any larger power in lawmaking than to propose to the people. Now where there is no king, or no king in a distinct capacity from the senat; and where the senat has no farther power in lawmaking than to propose to the free suffrage of the people; the government there is a commonwealth. Thus having shewn that Israel was a commonwealth, I come next to shew what commonwealth Israel was.
[* ]Hac est lex quam Moses proposuit, Deut. 4. 44. And whereas betwixt a precept and a command there is a large difference; in places more than I can stand to number, where the Latin has it, præcepit Moses, the English has it, Moses commanded.