Skip to content
Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter October 18, 2021

The Old and the New Israel: The Cultural Origins of the Special Relationship

Eran Shalev


Understandings of the new American nation as a “Second Israel,” and a prevalent political discourse devoted to the narratives of the Old Testament, were a distinct trait of the early United States. Indeed, the images and narratives of the Old Testament were as common in the formative decades of the United States, in the words of the great historian Perry Miller, as “the air that the people breathed.” This attachment to the Old Testament, and the fact that American nationalism and twentieth century Zionism crystalized around the biblical history of the Israelites, bears considerably on the relationship of the two nations. The “special” bond between the modern countries, which is commonly understood in terms of pragmatism, interests, and shared ideologies, thus rests on a deep cultural connection. The American public’s consistent backing of the State of Israel (one that far surpasses the constituency of evangelical Christian Zionists), which politically translates into a robust, lasting and bi-partisan support that defies the arithmetic of appeals to Jewish voters (or donors) seems puzzling at times. It becomes more intelligible in light of the centuries-long tradition of American public speech describing the nation as a new incarnation of biblical Israel. This usable biblical past, which continues to influence American culture in meaningful ways, adds an important dimension for our understanding of the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel.

Corresponding author: Eran Shalev, Department of History, The University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel, E-mail:


The author would like to thank Carl Richard and David Tal for their most helpful comments. Eran Shalev is the head of the School of History at the University of Haifa, and author of American Zion: The Bible as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War (Yale University Press, 2012), and Rome Reborn on Western Shores: Historical Imagination and the Creation of the American Republic (Virginia University Press, 2009).


Primary sources

Of Monarchy and Hereditary Sucession. Connecticut Courant, February 19, 1776.Search in Google Scholar

The First Book of the Kings. Alexandria Expositor, February 21, 1803.Search in Google Scholar

The First Book of Chronicles, Chapter the 5th. The Investigator [South Carolina], October 15, 1812.Search in Google Scholar

Adams, J. Q. 1837. An Oration Delivered, July 4, 1837. Newburyport, Massachusetts.Search in Google Scholar

Beecher, L. 1852. “The republican elements of the old testament.” In Lectures on Political Atheism and Kindred Subjects, edited by L. Beecher, 176–90. Boston: Jewett.Search in Google Scholar

Dwight, Timothy Conquest of Canaan: A Poem. Connecticut: Hartford, 1785.Search in Google Scholar

Hitchcock, G. 1774. A Sermon Preached at Plymouth. Boston: Edes and Gill.Search in Google Scholar

Historicus. 1801. “For the balance,” The Balance and Columbian Repository.Search in Google Scholar

Hunt, G. J. 1819. The Late War, Between the United States and Great Britain … Written in the Ancient-Historical Style. New York: Samuel A. Brutus.Search in Google Scholar

Jefferson, T. 1805. “Second inaugural address,” In The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 45, 657. Princeton: Princeton University Press (2021).10.1515/9780691212005Search in Google Scholar

Langdon, S. 1788. The Republic of the Israelites an Example to the American States… [etc.] Exeter: Lamson and Ranlet.Search in Google Scholar

Lieberman, J. 1992. Nothing Could Be Better for Israel than Sending Clinton to White House. New York: Jewish Telegraphic Agency. (accessed April 22, 2021).Search in Google Scholar

Paine, T. 1776. Common Sense: Addressed to the Inhabitants of America… [etc.] Philadelphia: R. Bell.Search in Google Scholar

Tappan, D. 1807. Lectures on Jewish Antiquities Delivered at Harvard University in Cambridge. Boston: Hilliard and Lincoln.Search in Google Scholar

Wedgwood, W. B. 1861. Reconstruction of the Government of the United States of America: A Democratic Empire Advocated, and Imperial Constitution Proposed. New York: J. H. Tingley.Search in Google Scholar

Wines, E. C. 1855. Commentaries on the Laws of the Ancient Hebrews. New York: Presbyterian Board of Publication.Search in Google Scholar

Secondary Sources

Caldwell, G. S., ed. 1973. The Wit and Wisdom of Harry S. Truman. New York: Madison Books.Search in Google Scholar

Dobkin Hall, P. 1984. The Organization of American Culture, 1700–1900: Private Institutions, Elites, and the Origins of American Nationality. New York: New York University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Elazar, D. J. 1992. “Deuteronomy as Israel’s Ancient Constitution: Some Preliminary Reflections.” Jewish Political Studies Review 4 (1): 3–39.Search in Google Scholar

Endy, M. B. 1985. “Just War, Holy War, and Millennialism in Revolutionary America.” William and Mary Quarterly 42 (1): 3–25.10.2307/1919608Search in Google Scholar

Freeman, J. 2002. Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic. New Haven: Yale University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Greene, J. P. 1997. The Intellectual Construction of America: Exceptionalism and Identity from 1492 to 1800. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.Search in Google Scholar

Griffin, K. L. 1994. Revolution and Religion: American Revolutionary War and the Reformed Clergy. New York: Paragon.Search in Google Scholar

McGrath, A. 2001. In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language and a Culture. New York: Anchor Books.Search in Google Scholar

Miller, P. 1955. “The Garden of Eden and the Deacon’s Meadow,” American Heritage Magazine, vol. 7:1. (accessed September 12, 2021).Search in Google Scholar

Perl-Rosenthal, N. 2009. “The Divine Right of Republics: Hebraic Republicanism and the Debate Over Kingless Government in Revolutionary America,” William and Mary Quarterly 66 (3): 535–64.Search in Google Scholar

Pocock, J. G. A. 1967. The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law: A Study of English Historical Thought in the Seventeenth Century. New York: Norton and Norton.Search in Google Scholar

Shalev, E. 2009. Rome Reborn on Western Shores: Historical Imagination and the Creation of the American Republic. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.Search in Google Scholar

Shalev, E. 2010. “Revive, Re-new and Reestablish: Mordecai Noah’s Ararat and the Limits of Biblical Imagination in the Early American Republic,” The American Jewish Archives Journal 62 (1): 1–20.Search in Google Scholar

Smith, T. L. 1980. “The Book of Mormon in a Biblical Culture,” The Journal of Mormon History 7 (1): 3–21.Search in Google Scholar

Stout, H. S. 1986. The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England, New York: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Valeri, M. 1989. “The New Divinity and the American Revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly 56: 741–69.10.2307/1922781Search in Google Scholar

Van Engen, A. C. 2020. City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism. New Haven: Yale University Press.10.2307/j.ctvwcjf0tSearch in Google Scholar

Walzer, M. 1986. Exodus and Revolution. New York: Basic Books.Search in Google Scholar

Zakai, A. 2002. Exile and Kingdom: History and Apocalypse in the Puritan Migration to America. New York: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2021-10-18
Published in Print: 2021-10-26

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston