New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

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This paper continues the analysis of the Hebrew Bible as a work of political theory. Previous papers have presented the Garden of Eden story as a prolegomenon outlining concepts of legitimate authority; the stories of the Dark Age and the Flood as a justification for the role of government and law in facilitating human flourishing; and the accounts of the Patriarchs as an exploration of patriarchy as a form of social organization. The present paper examines the first fifteen chapters of the book of Exodus. In Exodus, the author moves to the topic of political authority – the exercise of power over people not connected by close family ties. The author demonstrates that political authority is the only feasible way to govern populations that have grown to any substantial size. He compares and contrasts four types of political organization, each of which was well known in the ancient Near East: nomadism, dependency, slavery, and nationhood. The author demonstrates that nationhood is strictly superior to the alternatives as a means for structuring political power.

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