Traditional readers of the Hebrew Bible, reinforced by rabbinic commentary, condemn the bloodlust, cruelty, exploitation of the weak, and exaltation of the strong that is on display in the Amalekite attack on Israel in the book of Exodus. But it’s not the Amalekites, the nomadic enemies of the Israelites, who are shocking for their sacralized violence; it’s the Israelites who are shocking for their ability to quiet that darker, natural impulse, and live out a different moral code. 

That is the thought that frames a recent essay called “Civilization Is from the Jews,” written by Andrew Doran, a senior research fellow with the Philos Project. Here, with host Jonathan Silver, Doran discusses his contention that what we think of as “civilization” came into the drama of human history in no other way than through God’s covenantal promise with Abraham and his children.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.