New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

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This article examines the Hebrew Bible’s theory of sovereignty with special reference to the book of Joshua. The author conceives of sovereignty as the exclusive and absolute control over territory. The sovereign is “all Israel” – the biblical analogue to “we the people.” The territory is the land promised to the Patriarchs and partially conquered by Joshua in the war of conquest. Israel’s title to this territory is established vis-à-vis foreign nations by boundary agreement (Aram), partition (Ammon and Moab), abandonment (Edom), and renunciation (Egypt); its right to dispossess the prior inhabitants is based on theories of conquest, capacity, appropriation, grant, promise, purchase and contract. Israel’s control over territory is explored in narratives describing the allocation of the Promised Land. The author’s approach is pragmatic rather than programmatic, stressing the value of fair procedures and recognizing arguments for distributive justice based on merit, equality, productivity, expectations and need. The author argues that a property distribution, even if fair ex ante, must also be accepted as reasonable ex post.

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