September 28, 2023
September 28, 2023

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Biblical Biography Shines Light on Today’s Political Leadership

For former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim, one biblical statesman in particular offers practical lessons for governance today: Nehemiah, the ancient Judean governor. Thus writes Zakheim, who served under the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, in his new political biography: Nehemiah: Statesman and Sage (Maggid Books).

Zakheim’s new book sheds light on the obscure ancient character and focuses on how Nehemiah balanced serving as governor of Persian Judea with his own religious commitment – two areas to which Zakheim himself relates. Since the biblical text of the book of Nehemiah offers scant material about Nehemiah’s background — primarily chronicling his political and administrative activities — Zakheim relies on traditional commentaries and academic research to paint a more vibrant picture of the context in which Nehemiah lived. He also examines the biblical text in light of his own life, highlighting messages of justice, decency and national security for today.

In the introduction, Zakheim writes:

I admired Nehemiah as a man who made a lasting mark both as a statesman and as a religious leader, one whose activities offered an enduring example for later generations to emulate. As I moved up the ranks of officialdom, Nehemiah continued to offer a compelling model of what leadership and religious commitment were all about (ix).

According to Jewish history, Nehemiah is one of the founding fathers of the Second Commonwealth, when the Second Temple stood in Jerusalem. A statesman, politician, and lay religious administrator, Nehemiah aimed to strengthen national security, foster diplomatic relations with neighboring states, and establish social and religious order in the ancient Jewish society.

Matthew Miller, publisher of Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers says, “Dov has brought a deep personal understanding of Nehemiah to the public. His book addresses pertinent issues, especially in light of the 2016 presidential campaign and the political climate around the world.”

Nehemiah: Statesman and Sage is the latest volume in the Maggid Studies in Tanakh series. Previous volumes include Joshua: The Challenge of the Promised Land by Michael Hattin, I Kings: Torn in Two by Alex Israel, Jeremiah: The Fate of a Prophet by Binyamin Lau and Ruth From Alienation to Monarchy by Yael Ziegler.

Nehemiah: Statesman and Sage is available online (  and at bookstores everywhere.

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