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New-Modelling English Government: Biblical Hermeneutics, Jewish Polity and Constitutional Forms during the Interregnum (1649-1660)

By Gai Marie Ferdon

Abstract

New-Modelling English Government: Biblical Hermeneutics, Jewish Polity and Constitutional Forms During the Interregnum (1649-1660) represents a systematic examination of the political use of the Bible in the major works of prominent seventeenth-century commonwealthsmen, such as James Harrington's Oceana (1656), Sir Henry Vane's A Healing Question (1656) and John Milton's Readie and Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth (1660). I argue that these early modems reflected vigorously on the polity of ancient Israel and other aspects of the Bible as they drew up their civil principles and model commonwealths. \ud The current historiography has tended to marginalize the relationship between biblical hermeneutics and political visions in the Interregnum by seeking to emphasize classical and Renaissance influences. It has also pre-judged early modern readings of the Bible as too haphazard to warrant painstaking investigations of its political role.\ud I argue that these three commonwealthsmen presented constitutional arguments shaped by their biblical reading, and can be termed biblical republicans. Their hermeneutical approaches were more sophisticated, measured and methodical than is often assumed and their religious arguments cannot be secularized, or separated from their political models. In this regard, their political use of the Scriptures should not be reduced to "rag bag" methods, or dismissed as a merely opportunistic move designed to lure a biblically literate audience to their political agendas.\ud I conclude that the prevailing secular interpretations of the current historiography are inadequate at capturing the use of the Bible as a political text among early modems, that there was no standard republican approach to the political reading of the Scriptures, and that the English republicanism of the 1650's was both biblical and classical in its roots and sources. Historians should reconsider how other early modern figures might be recast in light of their own political use of the Scriptures

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 2004
OAI identifier: oai:lra.le.ac.uk:2381/9379

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