Let’s assume that Michael Walzer in In God’s Shadow is right about the apolitical politics of the Hebrew Bible. So if the Bible is not “political,” well then you want to ask what it “is.” You can call it theological, and that would be correct, but it doesn’t go too far. It’s a tautological statement: a book, or collection of writings that presents itself as a book or collection of religious revelation is a book or collection of religious revelation. To clarify further what something “is,” you want also to align it with the thing-that-it’s-not to which it is most proximate. In other words, you want to align it with a thing that it’s most like even though it’s not that thing, not exactly or actually.
So what “is” the Bible if it’s not political? As I posted below, for Walzer this means that most of the biblical authors are not interested in politics as the arena of mundane constitutional arrangements, or more dramatically, with Hannah Arendt, as the arena of inter-human agon. So if the Bible is not political, then perhaps it “is” aesthetic. The Bible is aesthetic. Not exactly, not actually, but aesthetics is what the Bible is most close to being not.
Walzer comes only close to seeing this, perhaps because the scope of his book is limited to what the Bible is definitely not, namely politics, politics being the thing he knows best. As for the Bible being aesthetic, Walzer drops an indication to this effect here and there in In God’s Shadow. If the Bible isn’t “political,” its force or authority would rest only in the eloquence of its rhetoric and images. Walzer cites Robert Alter to call the book of Esther “a kind of fairy tale.” He remarks that the people are saved by the protagonist’s “beauty and courage” (pp.116, 117). And he will have said about the prophets that they are dependent, that they can only prove that their words are divine on the basis of the eloquence of their words (p.78). The prophetic writings are more poetic than political.
This is not to say that there is no poetry in the rough and tumble of politics. But political poetics, the eloquence of a politician, is of a different sort, a more or less different sort, than religious poetics, the poetics of a prophet, because the poltician’s work and poetic, as per Walzer, is more invested in aspects of human agency and inter-human life than are the prophet and messianist, who would seem to take almost no practicable interest in “mere” politics, their imagination and their poetics being cast in the shadow of God. The prophetic writings, for instance, are hot, radiant little things, compacted into the pages of the Bible, compacted into Jewish liturgy. I’m not sure you want to set these things out loose into the public sphere.
The risk of catastrophe is one more reason not to politicize the Bible, not to politicize Judaism, not to politicize religion, at least not too much or not “more than is necessary” (That’s an old Jewish [?] joke, that defines anti-Semitism as hating Jews more than is necessary). Because when prophets and psuedo prophets take over, bad things tend to happen. Walter Benjamin was half right in the essay on “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” when he observed that fascists aestheticize politics. If religion is aesthetic, then you want to keep it away from politicians and ideologues who might use the aesthetic radiance of religion to push politics. Conversely, you don’t want to politicize aesthetics either, because that too is the work of what they used to call “totalitarianism” in the 20th century. (This, Benjamin did not see.) Of course, maybe you don’t want to aestheticize religion either, at least no more than is necessary, but the problem is that religion is almost always aesthetic, no matter where you look at it.