c/SjfecKsrnThe Old Testament Foundationsrnof Cultural Conservatismrnby Jacob NeusnerrnThe Hebrew Scriptures of ancient Israel (a.k.a. the Old Testament)rnare frequently quarried for proof-texts—pretexts,rnreall—for leftist polities, hi prophetic calls for justice, liberalrnChristianit)’ and liberal Judaism claim ample support to legitimizernbig-government intervention into e er’ area of life, andrn”Justice, justice pursue” is broadly interpreted as a divine endorsementrnof the platform of the Democratic Part}-. But the usernof Scripture by the left to claim that God concurs with go’ernmentrnsolutions to the crisis du jour does not intimidate those ofrnus on the right who value Scripture as well.rnThe difference lies in die context in which Scripture is invoked.rnLeftward-leaning exegesis finds verses that say what thernexegete wants to hear; ripped out of cultural context, anv verserncan mean w hatever c)u want to make of it. But divine reelation,rntaken whole and in context, shapes a culture of remarkablyrnconservative qualities: continuih’, tradition, and respect for receivedrntruth, for example, hideed, it is no accident that thosernwho value Scripture as Clod’s Word, not just good advice, deri ernfrom it die lesson that the new should be measured by die standardrnof riie true, and truth derives from principle, reason, andrndie logic of history.rnThe social order that Scripture seeks to construct out of ancientrnIsrael builds upon ancient foundations: the ver’ creationrnof the world. The law of the Torah convevs God’s plan for thernworld He made. What could offer a more conservative conceptionrnof culture dian the view, expressed b’ the ancient sagesrnof Judaism in Genesis Rabbali (their comnientan- on the bookrnof Genesis) that God looked into the Torah for guidance in creatingrnthe world? It follows that tiie law of the Torah may be interpretedrndiversely but iiexer dismissed as ephemeral. Here is arnsublime expression of tiiis profoundly conscnative philosoph)rnof culture, rooted in God’s plan and will for creation:rn”In the beginning God created” (Gen. 1:1):rnR. Oshaia commenced [discourse bv citing tiie followingrn crse:] “Then I was beside him like a little child, andrnI was daily his delight [rejoicing before him always, rejoicingrnin his inhabited world, and delighting in the sonsrnofnien|”(Prov. 8:^^0-M).rn[In the cited verse] the Torah speaks, “I was the workplanrnof the Holy One, blessed be he.”rnIn the accepted practice of the worid, when a mortalrnking builds a palace, he does not build it out of his ownrnhead, but he follows a work-plan.rnAnd [tiie one who supplies] the work-plan does notrnbuild out of his own head, but he has designs and diagrams,rnso as to know how to situate the rooms and thernJacob Neusner is Research Professor of Religion and Theologyrnand Senior Fellow in the Institute of Advanced Theology atrnBard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.rndoorways.rnTlius the Hol One, blessed be he, consulted thernTorah when he created the world.rnSo the Torah stated, “Bv means of’the beginning’ [thatrnis to say, the Torah] did God create . . . ” (Gen. 1:1).rnAnd the word for “beginning” refers only to the Torah,rnas Scripture says, “The Lord made me as tiie beginningrnofhis way” (Prov. 8:22).rnHere is an explicit claim that the social order set forth by thernTorah, with its emphasis on the critical role of the family in thernformation of that order, is the foundation of civilization. Furthermore,rnScripture is clear that capital punishment forms partrnof justice. The Talmud cxplicid) states that it is a means ofrnatoning for sin, so that the felon may also inherit the world torncome and eternal life at the resurrection of the dead. And torntake a third component of the conservative philosophy of the socialrnorder—the preference for decentralized decisionmaking—rnScripture offers devolution as tiie pinnacle of wisdom whenrnJethro advises his son-in-law, Moses, to provide for local decisionsrnand to address onl- the most difficult matters himselfrnHence, in matters of philosophy. Scripture read in context sustainsrnconservative, and rejects disruptive, policies. It is onlyrnwhen interpreted out of context tiiat Scripture can be read tornoppose capital punishment, support non-natural “families,”rnand uphold the destruction of local communities through therncentralization of power. <-‘rn20/CHRONiCLESrnrnrn