Eran, Shalev. American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from The Revolution to The Civil War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.

The book American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from The Revolution to The Civil War was authored by Eran Shalev and published by Yale University Press in 2013. Shalev explores how Americans integrated the Hebrew text into their national and political contexts in this book. The Bible was an important text in the formation of the young nation, and its usage span both religious and non-religious appropriation. The book by Shalev is built on the works of historians projecting the idea that America was God chosen to redeem the world morally. To this end, the Bible, especially the Old Testament, had cultural and political implications for the American public. Each political group sought to refer to this text to depict legitimacy while questioning the ideals of other camps. Concerning America as the God-chosen Israel, Shalev argues that invoking Biblical text and its themes was an approach to legitimize human endeavors while advancing a timeless sensibility about the connection between the two nations.

Shalev provides different instances in which similarities were drawn between the American nation and Biblical Israel, thereby legitimizing the actions of the political leaders from the revolution to the civil war. The Old Testament was easily adapted to the American scenario at the time, meaning it became part of the political rhetoric. In demonstrating this adaptation, Shalev notes that most Americans declared Israel a federal republic. The connection was relevant in the constitutional debates of 1787-88 when the intention was to establish the US as a federal republic. Other comparisons involved a similarity between the federal approach and the constitution by Moses, where each tribe was allowed to establish its own government while participating in national politics. Shalev argues that the biblical text was highly malleable and easily adapted to fit the needs of any political discourse. To this end, the politicians used the Hebrew text as a historical retribution for their actions.[1] While the 18th-century Americans considered Israel to be federal, 19th-century Americans equally referred to the same Old Testament in depicting Israel as a democracy. By drawing association and relevance to scriptural authority, American leaders sought to rid the public of any anxieties associated with human leadership.

In furtherance of his argument, Shalev also projects the idea that the Biblical text was appropriated in justifying the institution of slavery, which involved invoking the New Testament for particular ends. American history is incomplete without exploring slavery and its impact on political and cultural life. Shalev approaches this subject by depicting how most Americans used the Old Testament to justify their positions on slavery. The supporters of slavery in the South easily drew from the Old Testament as a confident appeal to the public on the right to hold slaves. The abolitionists had a difficult time questioning the proslavery interpretations. The anti-slavery proponents did not want to appear to question or assault scriptural authority by questioning the Christian morality of the institution.[2] While this was the case, Shalev explores how both sides of the debate started appropriating the New Testament, especially Jesus’s figure. Shalev argues that Jesus became a predominant figure after the 1830s as both sides invoked him as a champion of their cause. By depicting the usage of Jesus for competing ends, he demonstrates that, just like the Old Testament, He lacked any inherent meaning and could be appropriated for any social and political cause.  

Through his argument and the evidence, the author effectively demonstrates how the Bible as a cultural text can be applicable in condemning and condoning societal issues. Shalev relies on the Old Testament in its entirety while also foraying into the New Testament to depict the appropriation of the text into social and political issues. By providing wide context and drawing from historical sources, he successfully demonstrates how culturally authoritative texts can be sources of authority for different ideals. Using a wide range of examples draws the readers to the varied contexts of applications. Much as the examples may be relevant for defining evidence and supporting his arguments, this rids the author of the opportunity to provide a sustained argument. This shortcoming’s complexity emerges from the author’s failure to provide a clear introduction that outlines the primary argument of each chapter. By providing little context and only delving into the examples that support his main thesis, the readers do not have a clear reference point as they consume the text. Even so, the author successfully demonstrates different ways in which the Old Testament has been appropriated for purposes of advancing particular agendas and therefore being an important text in the formation of the young American nation.


Eran, Shalev. American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from The Revolution to The Civil War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.

[1] Shalev Eran, American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from The Revolution to The Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 75.

[2] Ibid, 172.

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