Front Page Titles (by Subject) The first Query. How much, or in what the Author of Oceana is mistaken, to think the Commonwealth of the Hebrews appliable to his Purpose. - The Oceana and Other Works
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The first Query. How much, or in what the Author of Oceana is mistaken, to think the Commonwealth of the Hebrews appliable to his Purpose. - 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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The first Query.
The Doctor’s Answer.
I Have reason still to think and say, The government or commonwealth (as you call it) of the Hebrews, was of all other less applicable to your form, which supposes a senate debating, proposing, and the people resolving, choosing, as page 15. to which there was nothing like in that government. You find indeed princes and heads of the tribes, and may call them a senate, and read of the assemblies of the people, but without any such power or authority; both of them receiving laws by the hand of Moses without any debate or contradiction. And ’tis in a manner confessed, page 18. where you say, the function of that senate was executive only, the laws being made by God. And if we look to the institution of the Seventy, we find it was upon the advice of Jethro, and that not to be as a council to Moses, but as under-judges for his ease in the administration of the laws; which rather suits with the condition of inferior ministers of justice under a monarch, God’s vicegerent on earth, as all kings are in a more large consideration, as Moses was more specially in that theocracy. Therefore I did not a little wonder at your assertions and inferences, pag. 16. and 17. where you speak of their making God their king, their power of rejecting and deposing him as their civil magistrate. The harshness of the phrase may be mollified, but the thing asserted I suppose cannot be defended, viz. any such power in the people to God-ward; your inference also seems strange and infirm, that they had power to have rejected any of those laws. What you assert in the 17. page of all the laws given by covenant, is true in a sober sense, but the inference strange, that only which was resolved (or chosen) by the people of Israel was their law. This is so far from good logick, that it falls short of good divinity; for it must suppose God and the people on equal terms at their entring that covenant; whereas God often (especially in Deut.) shews his right of commanding, and enforces their obedience to his commands upon the antecedent obligations; his being the Lord their God, his chusing them out of allnations to be a peculiar people, his bringing them out of the land of Egypt. Much more might be said to shew these instances of the people receiving laws from God (in which they were only passive) are far from proving any power in the people as to God-ward, or from concluding generally the power in the people of resolving and chusing laws; and therefore this commonwealth of Israel not applicable to your purpose.
IN my book I call the government, whereupon we are disputing, the commonwealth of Israel; but though I think I did not much amiss, I am the first that ever called it so, and make no difficulty in your first letter to speak after me. But when I come to call it, as all they do that have written upon it, then you begin to doubt, and it is the commonwealth (as I call it) of the Hebrews, whence you will be more than suspected, not to have read any of those authors. And yet how confidently it is laid to me in your first letter, that I am not a little mistaken in thinking the Israelitish commonwealth or government under Moses to be so applicable to my purpose, as I would make it? Nevertheless when you come in answer to this query to give your reasons, you bring this for one, that page 18, I say the function of the senate was only executive, the laws being made by God: where first, the word only is not mine, but of your imposing. Secondly, when you should shew that I am mistaken in thinking the commonwealth of Israel so applicable to my purpose as I would make it, you shew that I make it no more applicable to my purpose than it is: which is not fair, especially when I give you so clear a reason, that albeit the authority of proposing laws appertain unto every senate, as such, yet the laws of the commonwealth of the Hebrews having been all made by an infallible legislator, even God himself, the senate had no laws in the beginning to propose, but came afterwards to propose, when those laws given in the beginning came to need addition; for if you find the kings upon such occasions as David, 1 Sam. vii. 2. and Hezekiah, 2 Chron. xxx. proposing, and the people resolving, was this likely to have been introduced by them? or if the people had the result in the monarchy, must they not much more have had it in the commonwealth? Wherefore the authority of proposing unto the people, as will better appear hereafter, was derived by the king from the judge, by the judge from the sanhedrim, by the sanhedrim from Moses, and by Moses from God: as (Exod. xix. 5.) where God giveth him instructions for a proposition unto the people; Thus shalt thou say unto the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel, ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, &c. Now therefore if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests: if you will (not whether you will or no) you shall be (which relates unto the future) unto me a kingdom; that is, I will be your king. God having given these instructions unto his sole legislator, Moses came (accordingly) and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words that the Lord had commanded him. And all the people answered together (gave their suffrage, nemine contradicente) and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do: and Moses returned the words (that is, the suffrage, or result) of the people unto the Lord. Wherefore God was king in Israel by covenant, proposed by himself or his servant Moses, and resolved by the people. Now that he was afterwards rejected by the people, when they chose another king, that he should not reign over them, 1 Sam. viii. 7. are his own words. And if in these words he shew plainly, that the people had power to reject a law that was not only proposed unto them, but resolved by them, then must it needs be included even in God’s own words, that the people must have had power to have rejected any thing that was proposed, and not confirmed by them. And yet you tell me, that this is so far from good logick, that it falls short of good divinity. And why? because it must suppose God and the people on equal terms at their entring that covenant. Then that a king either cannot covenant, for example, with his chandler to serve him with wax, or that the chandler was upon equal terms, or hail-fellow well met with the king, at their entering that covenant, comes up to good divinity. Such is the logick which you chop with me, for you are beyond my understanding! but the honest part of logick I understand well enough, not to envy them that seem to have more.
For if by the word terms you understand the conditions of the covenant, it is fair: as to these indeed, the parties covenanting are so far equal, that they may equally will or choose; else it were a precept or command, not a covenant. But if by the word terms you understand the dignity or power of the parties, it is not fair, but an equivocation; for the equality of the parties in that sense is nothing at all unto the equality of the covenant: wherfore the impiety you would fix upon me, is your own, and ariseth from your want of distinguishing between the Almighty power of God, in which he is above all things, and his infinite love whereby he boweth the heavens, and descendeth unto his poor creatures. In the former regard to talk of electing or deposing God, who is king, he the Heathen never so unquiet, were, indeed, impious; but in the latter it is most certain, that he ruleth among no other than a consenting, a resolving, a willing people. Or tell me whether the rein of God on the neck of the Turks be the same with that in the hearts of his elect, or wherein consists the difference? moreover to what I have said, and more than what I have said for the debate that was in the senat, and the result that was in the people of Israel, Grotius hath summed up the Talmudists in this note upon the tenth verse of Deut xviii. Notandum præterea scita senatus nonnulla sive legi interpretandæ sive præmuniendæ facta evanuisse, non modo si senatus ante receptum ubique morem sententiam mutasset, verum etiam si vel ab initio populus ea non ferret, vel irent in dissuetudinem, where there is nothing plainlier to be perceived than that debate was in this senate, and result in this people: and you confess what I assert in the 17th page of all their laws given by covenant to be true in a sober sense; now the sense which I have shew’d you is that of all sober men. But can you shew me the judgment of any sober man, that because we find princes and heads of the tribes, we may call them a senate? pray, how do you cut twelve princes into seventy elders, or where do you find them in the senate? but this is nothing. If we look to the institution of the seventy, we find it, say you, to be upon the advice of Jethro. We: I pray you take it to yourself, or I appeal to him that shall compare Exod. xviii. with Numb. xi. whether this have been the opinion of any sober man. Moses in that of Exodus hearkens unto the voice of his father-in-law, Jethro the priest of Midian: making able men out of Israel, heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves. These were the Jethronian prefectures, or the courts afterwards consisting of twenty-three judges that sate in the gates of every city. Never were they mistaken before for the sanhedrim or seventy elders, which came not to be instituted till afterwards in the 11th of Numbers, where Moses while he stood alone, being as weary of the recourse had unto him from these judicatories, as he was of that, before their institution, cries unto God, I am not able to bear this people alone (his office of sole legislator) in which relation Lycurgus and Solon are as well and as properly called kings, as he, who was king indeed in Jesurum, Deut. xxxiii. 5. but no otherwise than they in their commonwealths, that is to propose the laws in his form, when the heads of the people, and the tribes of Israel were gathered together, which was now almost accomplished. Wherefore the Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy elders of the men of Israel, whom thou knowest to be elders of the people, and officers over them, and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation (in which or in the temple was ever after the session-house of the senate) that they may stand there with thee. If this be not enough, you may have a farther sight of your great mistake, 2 Chron. xix. where at the restitution of this government in some part by Jehoshaphat, the Jethronian counsels are set up city by city: but the senate, or seventy elders with a Moreover in Jerusalem; and that the Jethronian courts are intimated in the New Testament by the name of the Judgment, as the sanhedrim by that of the Council, Godwyn the schoolmaster could have told you. But whereas nothing is more constantly delivered by all authors, nor express in Scripture, than that Moses having instituted the sanhedrim, stood from that time forward no more alone, or was thenceforth but prince of the senate, which God appointed to stand with him; you say that he was a monarch or stood alone. And whereas the Jethronian prefectures henceforth brought all their difficult cases unto the sanhedrim, in the institution of which sanhedrim Jethro had no hand; you say, that the sanhedrim or seventy elders were instituted by Jethro. How plain would your English have been upon this occasion, if they had given it? whereas I shall say no more than that these are no little things nor poor mistakes.