Oct. 5, 2020

Bret Stephens on Genesis 14 -- “The Beginnings of Foreign Policy"

Bret Stephens, one of the United States’ great public intellectuals over the past two decades, joins Mark for the podcast today. Among his many achievements, Bret has been the editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post, editor at Commentary magazine, editorialist at The Wall Street Journal, and currently has a column in The New York Times. He has chosen a passage which is often overlooked in biblical commentary, Genesis 14, to discuss with Mark today.

Their conversation begins with Bret sharing the story behind being cited in Leon Kass’ book about Genesis, and his extensive summary of the selected text. Throughout this summary, he and Mark demonstrate how the passage presents the foundation of a Jewish philosophy of a just war and international engagement, discuss a selection of applicable analogies, explore its moral and geopolitical purpose, and review Abram’s declaration of independence. The episode concludes with Bret explaining the argument the passage makes against Jewish pacifism and for the moral use of power, and then offering the lessons he has learned about mankind. As Bret states, this text ‘is telling us things that are relevant…to our ideas about what politics and foreign policy ought to be about, and why it’s useful to have a foreign policy that is rooted in a moral concept rather than in a material one’ – a ‘continuing and eternal implication’ that is of paramount importance throughout the country and, indeed, the world, these days.

Episode Highlights:

  • The story behind Bret being cited in Leon Kass’ book on Genesis
  • Bret’s summary of the text and its context
  • How it presents the foundation of a Jewish philosophy of a just war and international engagement
  • Analogies with the raid on Entebbe, the 1967 war, and Woodrow Wilson entering WWI
  • The moral and geopolitical purposes of this passage
  • Abram’s declaration of independence
  • The passage as an argument against Jewish pacifism and an argument for prudence and the moral use of power
  • The lessons Bret has learned about mankind


“I am to Torah scholarship what John Belushi was to sobriety.”

“It is among the most political of chapters in Genesis.”

“That’s probably my proudest boast intellectually, that Leon Kass cited something I had written as an undergraduate.”

“This is really the story of the genesis…of a Jewish concept of foreign policy, a Jewish concept of a just war.”

“The is the first time the word Hebrew is used in the Bible.”

“There is politics taking place, and there is a strategic quandary, and there’s also a moral quandary, and Abram has to think about how he resolves this.”

“It’s not exactly the raid on Entebbe, but it’s close.”

“This is an extraordinary victory against overwhelming odds, prefiguring…so many of Israel’s wars.”

“Abram is mentored and learns about God from a gentile.”

Genesis 14 https://www.sefaria.org/Genesis.14?lang=bi&aliyot=0

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