Sweeney’s Booknotes: Biblia Americana: America’s First Bible Commentary (Vol. 3)

Cotton Mather, Biblia Americana: America’s First Bible Commentary, a Synoptic Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Volume 3: Joshua – 2 Chronicles, ed. Kenneth P. Minkema (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013)

Ken Minkema’s volume of Cotton Mather’s magnum opus has finally made it off the press.

For those who have not yet heard, this is the second volume published–though the third in the series–of what will be a ten-volume edition of Mather’s largest work. Drafted over the course of 35 years (1693-1728) on 4,583 sheets (double-columned, folio), eventually bound in six volumes, Mather’s “Biblia Americana” proved too large, until now, to attract a publisher. Nonetheless, it represents the oldest commentary on all of the Protestant canon in America.

Reiner Smolinski, who teaches American literature at Georgia State University, has given much of his life to poring over this hidden treasure at the Massachusetts Historical Society.  He leads a team of scholar-editors in Germany and the U.S. committed to realizing Mather’s dream of publishing this summa. Volume one, on the book of Genesis, was published in 2010. Now volume three, on Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles, transports us even further into Mather’s erudition, showing that biblical higher criticism began in North America long before the well-known inroads made by modern German scholars.

Though this is not a book on Edwards, it is part of the most important scholarly project on early American biblical study ever produced. Appearing as it does at a time of renewed historical interest in the Bible in America, this edition will spark new insights into American religious, cultural, and intellectual history. It has become essential reading for anyone interested in Edwards’ place in American exegesis.

Every first-rate scholarly library should own this set.