King John and Moses

Today the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta (the Great Charter of Liberties) is being celebrated. The media are going mad with declarations of how forward thinking it was and how it enshrines the freedoms we accept as normal today. Well, apart from the fact that the Pope annulled it two years later (do you think we will celebrate that in 2017?) and it only really applied to the Barons, Mosaic Law was far more “modern” than anything Magna Carta declared.

Deuteronomy was written, in conservative estimates, 2400 years ago and in radical ones, 3200 years ago. Moses tells the people, “And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you.  Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.” Magna Carta forbade the king from imprisoning the Barons without charge; he could do what he like to the people.

The responsibility of the king is also enshrined in Deuteronomic Law. Deuteronomy 17:16-20 says,

The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, ‘You are not to go back that way again.’ He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.  When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests.  It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees  and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

The king must not gain military power (horses), political power (wives) or economic power (silver and gold) but he must read and learn to keep the law under God. Wow!

I don’t think they would have gotten King John to sign that. So the next time somebody says how great Magna Carta is, point them to Deuteronomy!