American Merozites

American Merozites May 2, 2014

Deborah and Barak go out to fight, and the people of Meroz refuse to join them. In Deborah’s song (Judges 5), Yahweh’s angel curses Meroz in staggering terms: “Curse you bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.”

American ministers of the Revolutionary era knew the curse well, and deployed it liberally. As Eran Shalev (American Zion) points out, it had already been used by English Calvinists in the Puritan Revolution, and during the struggles between old and new lights after the Great Awakening. It’s a curse for fence-straddlers, on the neutral. 

During and after the Revolution, it became, Alan Heimert says, “probably the favorite text of the Calvinist ministry,” but Shalev points pout that it took on a new twist. The story of Deborah was melded with tales of republican corruption to produce a politically charged version of the curse:

“Revolutionaries applied once more the logic of civic humanism to represent the inhabitants of the accursed Meroz as corrupt, antirepublican citizens. This is particularly remarkable since not only is the city of Meroz mentioned just once in the Bible, but beyond the single verse in Deborah’s Son there are no details whatsoever regarding the accursed city.” The use of the text is an illustration of “a republican exegetical mode” used by Americans to make the Bible relevant to their current political struggles (36).

Out of this combination of republican and biblical sources came a portrait of the Merozite: He was “dead to the delicate Feelings of Liberty” and inclined to “court the Oppressors Rod.” Nathaniel Whitaker admitted that the Merozites didn’t murder or pillage; their sin was not to “go over to assist, counsel, or comfort the enemy.” They simply neglected duty to defend freedom, and that was enough to condemn them.

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