The introduction lays out the two parallel tracks of the book's argument. The first addresses the story of Moses, of the formation not of a nation but of a political community grounded in universal law, and the Exodus as a foundational myth of politics. The second offers an analysis of the depersonalization of the Moses and Exodus story as it is abstracted into a varied modern history of political beginnings. The book examines political foundations as articulations of beginnings (as distinct from origins) that already imply the eventuality of their own renewals, their own reconstitutions.
Reconsidering Sigmund Freud's last book Moses and Monotheism in dialogue with some of its best-known readers, including Schoenberg, Yerushalmi, Blumenberg, Walzer, Derrida, and Said, chapter 1 makes the argument that rather than take their founding hero away from the Jews, Freud in fact offered the difficult gift of a political constitution based in human history and not in sacred or national origins, and hence a secular foundation that implies the future need for future reconstitutions .
Chapter 2 turns to the iconography of the Lincoln Memorial in the shadow of the evolving politics of race in the United States. A Mosaic iconography accompanies Daniel Chester French's statue through the ambivalent memory of Lincoln himself between his legacies of the preservation of the union and the abolition of slavery. In the chapter's second half, the author argues that, if Marian Anderson's renowned recital in the monument's shadow in 1939 refocused the Memorial into an icon of racial justice, the persecution of the nine Black students who attempted to enter Little Rock High School in September 1957 generated the exhaustion of that iconography.
Chapter 3 turns to Hannah Arendt in relation to the German and German Jewish intellectual traditions and cultural norms that helped form her thinking, examining how their interplay of politics and theatricality, nationhood, and democracy guided her philosophical and political engagement with the trial of Adolf Eichmann as a formative event for the state and fate of Israel
Maintaining the focus on Israel, chapter 4 explores political scientist Yaron Ezrahi's work on democratic theory and history, and the philosophy of science as syncretic ingredients of post-epic democratic culture in general and of the promises and contradictions of a democratic Israel in particular.