New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

Of Floods and Towers: The Bible’s Affirmative Case for Law and Government

Geoffrey P. Miller, New York University


This paper continues the analysis of the Hebrew Bible as political philosophy. Earlier work presented the Garden of Eden story as a prolegomenon which offers a Utopian account of political obligation and sketches out other arguments for a duty to obey the law. The narratives that follow, which portray a “Dark Age” in the history of the world, demonstrate that under specified conditions of scarcity, self-interest and human character, people will not develop the essentials of a decent life in the absence of government and law. The present article examines the stories of the Flood, Noah’s covenant with God, and the Tower of Babel. These texts generalize the argument that law and government are necessary for human flourishing, offer a consent-based account for the binding quality of law, and explain why societies do not achieve their full potential even when government and law are in place.