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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: November 2019

Chapter 12 - Sovereign-Making and Biblical Covenants in On the Citizen


In On the Citizen, Hobbes describes two kinds of covenants. The first are covenants among human beings, most importantly sovereign-making covenants, which create human sovereigns. The second kind are the major biblical covenants, which have God as a party. Hobbes follows the traditional interpretation of biblical covenants, according to which God is a party to them with Abraham, the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, and all humanity. Ironically, his theory had the resources to give a single account of both kinds of covenants. He could have said that God accepted the transfer of rights from humans. So Hobbes treats the biblical covenants involving God and human beings differently from ordinary sovereign-making covenants. He does not say why or discuss any relationship that may exist between the two kinds. Another odd feature of Hobbes’s handling of biblical concepts is that while the covenant with Abraham is a new covenant, the ones with Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus in some way renew Abraham’s. A significant common element between ordinary sovereign-making covenants and the central biblical ones is faith.