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Theocracy

Theocracy

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The term theocracy signifies belief in governance by divine guidance, a form of regime in which religion or faith plays the dominant role. It denotes thus a political unit governed by a deity or by officials thought to be divinely guided. The word theocracy originates from the Greek theokratia. The components of the word are theos, god, and kratein, to rule, hence rule by god or government by god.

The concept of theocracy was first coined by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37 CEc. 100 CE). Attempting to explain to Gentile readers the organization and political system of the Jewish commonwealth of his time, Josephus contrasted theocracy with other forms of government, such as monarchy, oligarchy, and republics: Our legislator [Moses] had no regard to any of these forms, but he ordained our government to be what, by a strained expression, may be termed a theocracy [ theokratia ], by ascribing the authority and power to God, and by persuading all the people to have a regard to him, as the author of all good things (Josephus 1737).

Few concepts have changed more radically over time than the concept of theocracy. According to its oldest meaning, as used by Josephus, the implication is not that ministers assumed political power. However, according to the more modern definition in the The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, theocracy is a system of government by sacerdotal order, claiming divine commission (The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, vol. 2, 1939, p. 2166), a state in which priests exercise political power, or, more precisely, a state ruled by ministers. In this entry, both meanings will be used.

Theocratic forms of government have existed throughout history. Theocracies were known among ancient people, as in Egypt and Tibet, where kings represented and even incarnated the deity. (In pharaonic Egypt, the king was considered a divine or semidivine figure who ruled largely through priests.) This was the case also with early American civilizations, such as the Mayas, Toltecs, Aztecs, and Natchez.

In Islam, the community established by the prophet Muhammad (c. 570632) in Medina (622632) was a theocracy in which Muhammad served as both temporal and spiritual leader. The communities established by Muhammads father-in-law and successor, Abu Bakr (c. 573634), the first caliph, were also based on theocratic government. The largest and best-known theocracies in history were the Umayyad caliphate (the first Islamic dynasty, 661750) and the early Abbasid caliphate (the second major Muslim dynasty, 7501258), in which state and religion were closely intertwined; the Byzantine Empire (fourthfifteenth centuries), in which the emperor was the head of the church; and the Papal States (Stati Pontificii) during the Middle Ages, in which the pope was the ruler in a civil as well as a spiritual sense.

In Christianity during the early modern period in Europe, the republic of Florence under the rule (14941497) of Girolamo Savonarola (14521498) became a theocracy in which God was the sole sovereign and the Gospel constituted the law. After the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, there were many attempts to establish theocracy. The most famous is the theocratic regime that John Calvin (15091564) established in Geneva when he was at the height of his power (15551564); Genevas civil life was based upon total obedience to God, whose moral order is declared in the scriptures. According to Calvin, a well-ordered Christian community results from a synthesis of rule, cooperation, and order emanating from the divine laws of God; such a community is unified, organized, and structured upon the idea of advancing the glory of God in the world. The same view is evidenced in the theocratic government that Huldrych Zwingli (14841531) established in Zurich from 1525 to 1531. In Zurich, the city council was the lawful government of a Christian state (both church and canton) and administrated the divine commands from the Bible. For interpretation of these commands the council sought and acted on the advice of Christian ministers.

With the Puritan migration to New England during the 1630s, theocratic governments were established in what became Massachusetts and Connecticut. For the New England Puritans, theocracy was considered the best form of government in a Christian commonwealth because only this type of government acknowledged Christ as a sole ruler over the people. Spiritually saving grace was the prerequisite for admission to freemanship or citizenship in the Puritan theocracy. The Puritans goal was not to invest ministers with political power, but rather to appoint civil magistrates who would govern according to Gods word and will. Only visible saints, or those who were able to prove the power of saving grace in their hearts, were allowed to vote, while the ungodly, or profane people, were excluded from political power. In England too, during the Puritan Revolution (1640 1660), especially after the execution of King Charles I in 1649, many zealous Puritans strove to establish a theocratic government by introducing a Sanhedrin of saints, or a dictatorship of the godly.

In the contemporary world, the regime that Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini (19001989) established in Iran in 1979 is considered a theocracy because political power and authority is held in the hands of the imams or religious leaders. The purpose of such a fundamentalist regime is to organize society exclusively under Islamic religious law, the sharia. The Taliban state in Afghanistan (19962001) was similar. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, various fundamentalist Muslim groups are striving to establish theocratic forms of government in Algeria, Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan, Turkey, and other Islamic countries. There are also various fundamentalist Christian groups in the United States, Canada, and Australia who advocate aspects of theocratic government. In Israel, too, several ultra-Orthodox factions advocate restoring the theocracy of ancient times.

SEE ALSO Government; Religion; Vatican, The

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Belfer, Ella. 1986. The Jewish People and the Kingdom of Heaven: A Study of Jewish Theocracy. Ramat-Gan, Israel: Bar-Ilan University.

Clarkson, Frederick. 1997. Eternal Hostility: The Struggle between Theocracy and Democracy. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.

Josephus, Flavius. 1737. Against Apion, Book II. In The Genuine Works of Flavius Josephus, trans. William Whiston. http://wesley.nnu.edu/biblical_studies/josephus/apion-2.htm.

Nobbs, Douglas. 1938. Theocracy and Toleration: A Study of the Disputes in Dutch Calvinism from 1600 to 1650. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Runciman, Steven. 1977. The Byzantine Theocracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles. 1939. 2 vols. Prepared by William H. W. Folwer, et al, rev. and ed. C. T. Onions. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Siddiqi, Mazheruddin. 1953. Islam and Theocracy. Lahore, Pakistan: Institute of Islamic Culture.

Walton, Robert Cutler. 1967. Zwinglis Theocracy. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

Zakai, Avihu. 1993. Theocracy in Massachusetts: Reformation and Separation in Early Puritan New England. Lewiston, NY: Mellen University Press.

Avihu Zakai

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theocracy

the·oc·ra·cy / [unvoicedth]ēˈäkrəsē/ • n. (pl. -cies) a system of government in which priests rule in the name of God or a god. ∎  ( the Theocracy) the commonwealth of Israel from the time of Moses until the election of Saul as King. DERIVATIVES: the·o·crat / ˈ[unvoicedth]ēəˌkrat/ n. the·o·crat·ic / [unvoicedth]ēəˈkratik/ adj. the·o·crat·i·cal·ly / [unvoicedth]ēəˈkratik(ə)lē/ adv.

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theocracy

theocracy Government by religious leaders in accordance with divine law. Theocracies were common in non-literate societies and existed in ancient Egypt and the Orient.

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theocracy

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