"Ego sum dominus deus tuus". Constitutive Power, Prescriptive Force

Autore:Antonio Incampo

1. A sinaïtic beginning. - 1.1. "Ego sum Dominus Deus Tuus". - 1.2. "Non habebis deos alienos coram me". - 1.3. Normative phenomena. 2. Another question. - 2.1. Constitutivity vs. prescriptivity of rules. - 2.2. Constitutive power of rules. - 2.3. Prescriptive power of rules. - 3. Audi, Israel!


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Ego sum Dominus Deus tuus […]. Non habebis deos alienos coram me.

“I am the Lord thy God [...]. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.”

(Exodus, 20: 2-3.)

This is the first “word” (lógos) of the Decalogue, proclaimed on Mount Sinai.

The first word of the Decalogue is not immediately a rule that prescribes something, a rule that lays down a type of behaviour as obligatory. The first word of the Deca logue is, much rather, a rule announcing and constituting a power. He who speaks declares himself to be “Lord”, thereby giving himself a power of sovereignty over Israel.

The following two topics are a condition, a necessary one, but not a sufficient one of such a power:

(i) “Qui eduxi te de terra Aegypti

“Who brought thee out of the land of Egypt”;

* This paper reproduces a lecture at the ItalianPolish Workshop “Consitutive Rule” held on 8-9th June 2006 at the University of Zielona Góra, Poland.

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(ii) “[Qui eduxi te] de domo servitutis.

“[Who brought thee] out of the house of bondage.”

(Exodus: 20, 2.)

The announcement of Yahweh remains decisive to establish the “Law” on Israel, even after the people of Israel were made to leave Egypt and were delivered from the condition of slavery. This proclamation states a rule governing the normative competence of other rules: “Just who is “Lord” may lay down rules regarding the Law of Israel”.

The first word of the Decalogue is, however, also a rule that prescribes something. Obviously, this is not the same thing as the previous one. The word constitutes a power and prescribes to recognise the very same power as such: “Non habebis deos alienos coram me”.

This rule is a rule of behaviour; it is even the beginning of a law that is pre scriptively apodictic (you ought to, you must not): “You shall obey only what I, as your Lord, will impose on you”. This rule requires an unconditioned and ex clusive recognition of Yahweh who bears no other deities “in front of Him” or “over and against Him”.

The sinaïtic example makes fully come to the foreground the mutual connec tion between the constitutive and the prescriptive aspect of rules. The norm ative phe nomenon is not simple but complex. There is no constitutive power of rules without a prescriptive force; there is no prescriptive force of rules without a con stitutive power.

In the first word of the Decalogue the constitutive power of the rule is not its prescriptive force. The word that constitutes is not the same as that which prescribes.

The word that is constitutive of God’s Lordship over Israel is the word that makes itself true in virtue of itself: “Ego sum Dominus Deus tuus”. In virtue of that word, Yahweh enters the history of Israel as the “Lord” of Israel. It is a nonCarlSchmittstyle “political theology” [politische Theologie] of a praxis of sovereignty, it is, much rather, a theology of institutions, of constitutive rules that identify objectively a sov ereignty: that of God over Israel.

Things stand differently with the one that word prescribes.

The word that is prescribing is being carried out, in fact, by the direction of those who obey it. The people of Israel ought to obey the precepts of the Lord: “Non habebis deos alienos coram me”.

Whenever Moses speaks to the people he repeats a fundamental duty:

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Haec sunt mandata et praecepta atque iudicia, quae mandavit Dominus Deus vester, ut docerem vos et faciatis ea in terra, ad quam transgredi mini possidendam.

These are the precepts, and ceremonies, and judgements, which the Lord, your God commanded that I should teach you, and that you should do them in the land into which you pass over to pos sess it.

(Deuteronomy, 6: 1.)

The people of Israel ought to put into practice the “mandata”, “praecepta” and “iudicia” of...

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