Sovereignty and Conquest in the Hebrew Bible

56 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2010 Last revised: 24 Aug 2011

Date Written: September 3, 2010


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.

Suggested Citation

Miller, Geoffrey P., Sovereignty and Conquest in the Hebrew Bible (September 3, 2010). NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 10-61. Available at SSRN: or

Geoffrey P. Miller (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

Center for the Study of Central Banks
40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
212-998-6329 (Phone)
212-995-4590 (Fax)

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