Feb 26, 2020



Last Name
First Name
Harold J.
Life Span
Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (1983), Series of lectures at Boston University published as The Interaction of Law and Religion (1973), in Finding God at Harvard (IVP, 2007); Matt Sieger's article "Answering to higher authority: The life and legacy of Harold J. Berman" in Issues, Vol. 17:9, 2009
Article: The Holy Spirit:The God of History.''"
Jewish Harvard Law professor for 37 years. Born in Hartford, Connecticut, he graduated from Dartmouth, then Yale (M.A. History). He served the U.S. Army as a cryptographer from 1942-1945 and received a Bronze Star medal. Then he completed a law degree at Yale and began his Harvard career in 1948. At the age of 67, he joined the Faculty of Emory Law School for another two decades. He died a short time after his 60th anniversary as a law professor and is best known for his book Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (1983), of which the American Political Science Review said, "This may be the most important book on law in our generation." His main contention is that law is a foundational principle of Western society that derives its moral and religious dimension from God as the first lawgiver. When he was twenty-one years old, he was in Europe studying history at the outbreak of World War II. While he visited Germany, Hitler announced on the radio that Germany had invaded Poland. "Many of us fled to France. ... The earliest train I could catch left at midnight. I thought that Hitler's invasion would lead to the total destruction of human civilization. I felt as one would feel today if all the major powers were to become involved in a full-scale nuclear war. I was shattered-in total despair. There, alone on that train, Jesus Christ appeared to me in a vision. His face reminded me of one of the Russian icons that I would later see-heavily scarred and tragic-not suffering but bearing the marks of having suffered. I suddenly realized that I was not entitled to such despair, that it was not I but another, God himself, who bore the burden of human destiny, and that it was rather for me to believe in him even though human history was at an end. When the train arrived in Paris early that morning, I walked straight to the Notre Dame cathedral and I prayed a personal prayer to God for the first time in my life. My wife, who is a Protestant, asks me how I could become a believer in Christ without having read the Gospels. My answer is that that is how the first disciples became believers." Here is an article he wrote on "The Holy Spirit:The God of History." That encounter with Jesus never altered his appreciation of his Jewishness. Edward McGlynn Gaffney, Jr., law professor at Valparaiso University, recalls, "To Jews troubled by his acceptance of Jesus, he could offer the reassurance that he was never a supercessionist. He did not imagine that the newness of the covenant into which he entered by becoming a Christian was defined by nullifying the older alliance between the divine and the human called the people of Israel. ... No bigot could safely utter a word of contempt or scorn for Jews in the presence of this great Christian." When the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) invited Berman in 2005 to co-author a brief to the Supreme Court, it was not a shot in the dark. The ACLJ wanted Berman because he was a prominent legal historian. The brief in Van Orden v. Perry argued that the State of Texas had the constitutional right to display a monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the State Capitol. The high court upheld the constitutionality of the display. When Jay Sekulow received it, there was no need for any editing. "You don't want to do any correcting of what Harold Berman wrote," he explained. Sekulow, who like Berman is a Jewish believer in Jesus, explained the basis of the Supreme Court decision: "The fact that the Commandments hold a religious meaning for many does not render them unconstitutional. The Texas decision recognizes that the Commandments have played a vital role in the development of Western Law." The courts have used Berman's legal histories to support similar judicial writings about church-state relations. In 2003, upholding a Ten Commandments monument outside a Pennsylvania courthouse, a panel of the Third Circuit referenced Berman's statement that English common law, on which American law is based, was founded on the Ten Commandments. Sekulow has continued Berman's legacy in the case of Summum and the Ten Commandments. Summum Bonum Amen Ra, born Claude Nowell, said he was visited by extraterrestrials in 1975 and wanted to post his "Seven Aphorisms" alongside a Ten Commandments monument in a public park in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Chief Justices, John Roberts and Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked Sekulow why the display of the Ten Commandments in the public park is not a government endorsement of religion. Sekulow noted that the Supreme Court building displays Moses holding the Ten commandments with the words written in Hebrew and that it was representative of history. When the attorney for Summum argued that the park was a public forum, so everyone should be allowed a display, Chief Justice Roberts replied, "How far do you push that? I mean, you have a Statue of Liberty; do we have to have a statue of despotism? Or do we have to put any president who wants to be on Mount Rushmore?" Sekulow's argument won out. Harold Berman delivered a series of lectures at Boston University in 1973 which were published as The Interaction of Law and Religion. Author Kelly Monroe one day approached him as a 28-year-old young man in his office at Harvard to ask him to contribute to his collection of stories, Finding God at Harvard (IVP, 2007). This is where his powerful testimony of his vision of Jesus Christ while fleeing Germany on a midnight train is found.

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