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The Mosaic Constitution

Political Theology and Imagination from Machiavelli to Milton

It is a common belief that scripture has no place in modern, secular politics. Graham Hammill challenges this notion in The Mosaic Constitution, arguing that Moses’s constitution of Israel, which created people bound by the rule of law, was central to early modern writings about government and state.

Hammill shows how political writers from Machiavelli to Spinoza drew on Mosaic narrative to imagine constitutional forms of government. At the same time, literary writers like Christopher Marlowe, Michael Drayton, and John Milton turned to Hebrew scripture to probe such fundamental divisions as those between populace and multitude, citizenship and race, and obedience and individual choice. As these writers used biblical narrative to fuse politics with the creative resources of language, Mosaic narrative also gave them a means for exploring divine authority as a product of literary imagination. The first book to place Hebrew scripture at the cutting edge of seventeenth-century literary and political innovation, The Mosaic Constitution offers a fresh perspective on political theology and the relations between literary representation and the founding of political communities.

344 pages | 3 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature

Political Science: Classic Political Thought

Religion: Judaism


The Mosaic Constitution is an extraordinary work of scholarship—remarkable in its depth and range, remarkable in its implications for the field. The scale and texture of the historical scholarship show the kind of period fluency and scholarly gravitas that will place Graham Hammill squarely in the ranks of the most accomplished of contemporary analysts of the early modern era. This impressive book will be the point of reference for scholars engaged with the history of political theology in the early modern era.”

Christopher Pye, Williams College

“Through this beautifully realized study of the central role played by the figure of Moses in the work of disparate political thinkers from Machiavelli and Milton to Spinoza and Freud, Graham Hammill uncovers the productive relationship among political theology, early modern constitutionalism, and the creation of the state. The Mosaic Constitution is a major contribution to literary, legal, and political debates about the ongoing entanglement of the sacred and the secular.”

Anne Orford, University of Melbourne

“Fruitfully investigates links between political philosophy and poetry in the 16th and 17th centuries. . . . Hammill’s crisp, deeply literary recounting of the path of political philosophy will surely benefit advanced students in Renaissance literature.”


Table of Contents


1. Introduction

Part One: Moses and Political Theology
2. Machiavelli and Hebrew Scripture 
3. Spinoza and the Theological Imaginary 

Part Two: The Mosaic Constitution in England: Sovereignty, Government, Literature,1590–1630
4. Marlowe and the Counter-Reformation 
5. Drayton and the Plague 

Part Three: Political Making, Literary Making, 1651–1671
6. Marvell’s Mosaic Moment 
7. Harrington’s Poetics of Government 
8. Paradise Regained and the Limits of Toleration 


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