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Archive for November, 2015

Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Early Modern England, c. 1530-1700

Kevin Killeen, Helen Smith, and Rachel Willie, eds., The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Early Modern England, c. 1530-1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)

9780199686971This massive volume (roughly 800 pages in length) is a goldmine for those of us studying the history of the Bible, or exegesis, in Edwards’ early-modern world.

It never mentions Edwards himself. Nor does it pay much attention to people living in New England. Nevertheless, it offers a wealth of information on the British sources of Edwards’ work with Scripture.

It contains 40 chapters organized in 6 parts, written by many of the leading scholars working in the field. (See the table of contents below.) Most of the authors seem to agree with the assertion of their editors: “the Bible was the most important book in early modern England,” indeed it was “the pivot of thought and learning, to which knowledge of all sorts might be directed, and which contained inexhaustible conceptual and intellectual, as well as spiritual, riches” (p. 1).

“The animating purpose of this book,” continue the editors, “is to trace the knotty practical and intellectual concerns of Bible translation and scholarship, the forms and contexts in which the Bible was seen, heard, and read, its varied uses in political thought and action, and its shaping presence in the literature of the English Renaissance” (p. 2). The contributors succeed in tracing these histories superbly.

Here is the book’s table of contents:

List of Illustrations
Note to the Reader

“Introduction: All other bookes … are but Notes upon this’: The Early Modern Bible,” Kevin Killeen and Helen Smith

Part I: Translations
Part One Introduction

  1. “A day after doomsday’: Cranmer and the Bible Translations of the 1530s,” Susan Wabuda
  2. “Genevan Legacies: The Making of the English Geneva Bible,” Femke Molekamp
  3. “‘A comely gate to so rich and glorious a citie’: The Paratextual Architecture of the Rheims New Testament and the King James Bible,” Katrin Ettenhuber
  4. “The King James Bible and Biblical Images of Desolation,” Karen L. Edwards
  5. “The Roman Inkhorn: Religious Resistance to Latinism in Early Modern England,” Jamie H. Ferguson
  6. “Retranslating the Bible in the English Revolution,” Nigel Smith

Part II: Scholarship
Part Two Introduction

  1. “The Septuagint and the Transformation of Biblical Scholarship in England, from the King James Bible (1611) to the London Polyglot (1657),” Nicholas Hardy
  2. “The Apocrypha in Early Modern England,” Ariel Hessayon
  3. “Isaiah 63 and the Literal Senses of Scripture,” Debora Shuger
  4. “The ‘sundrie waies of Wisdom’: Richard Hooker on the Authority of Scripture and Reason,” Torrance Kirby
  5. “‘The doors shall fly open’: Chronology and Biblical Interpretation in England, c. 1630-c. 1730,” Scott Mandelbrote
  6. “Early Modern geographia sacra in the Context of Early Modern Scholarship,” Zur Shalev
  7. “Milton’s Corrupt Bible,” Neil Forsyth
  8. “The Commodification of Scripture, 1640-1660: Politics, Ecclesiology and the Cultures of Print,” Crawford Gribben
  9. “Self-Defeating Scholarship? Antiscripturism and Anglican Apologetics from Hooker to the Latitudinarians,” Nicholas McDowell

Part III: Spreading the Word
Part Three Introduction

  1. “The Church of England and the English Bible, 1559-1640,” Lori Anne Ferrell
  2. “‘Hearing’ and ‘Reading’: Disseminating Bible Knowledge and Fostering Bible Understanding in Early Modern England,” Ian Green
  3. “‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God’: Dissonance and Psalmody,” Rachel Willie
  4. “Ornament and Repetition: Biblical Interpretation in Early Modern English Preaching,” Mary Morrissey
  5. “Preaching, Reading and Publishing the Word in Protestant Scotland,” Alasdair Raffe
  6. “The Bible in Early Modern Gaelic Ireland: Tradition, Collaboration and Alienation,” Marc Caball
  7. “‘Wilt thou not read me, Atheist?’: The Bible and Conversion,” Helen Smith

Part IV: The Political Bible
Part Four Introduction

  1. “Mover and Author: King James VI and I and the Political Use of the Bible,” Jane Rickard
  2. “‘A king like other nations’: Political Theory and the Hebrew Republic in the Early Modern Age,” Kim Ian Parker
  3. “Digging, Levelling and Ranting: The Bible and the Civil War Sects,” Andrew Bradstock
  4. “A Year in the Life of King Saul: 1643,” Anne Lake Prescott
  5. “‘That glory may dwell in our land’: The Bible, Britannia, and the Glorious Revolution,” Emma Major

Part V: The Bible and Literature
Part Five Introduction

  1. “The King James Bible in its Cultural Moment,” Helen Wilcox
  2. “The Noblest Composition in the Universe or Fit for the Flames? The Literary Style of the King James Bible,” Hannibal Hamlin
  3. “Epic, Meditation, or Sacred History? Women and Biblical Verse Paraphrase in Seventeenth-Century England,” Sarah Ross
  4. “Scripture and Tragedy in the Reformation,” Russ Leo
  5. “‘This verse marks that’: George Herbert’s The Temple and Scripture in Context,” Alison Knight
  6. “‘Blessed Joseph! I would thou hadst more fellows’: John Bunyan’s Joseph,” Nancy Rosenfeld
  7. “Paradise Lost, the Bible, and Biblical Epic,” Barbara K. Lewalski

Part VI: Reception Histories
Part Six Introduction

  1. “Donne’s Biblical Encounters,” Emma Rhatigan
  2. “Domestic Decoration and the Bible in the Early Modern Home,” Andrew Morrall
  3. “‘My exquisite copies for action’: John Saltmarsh and the Machiavellian Bible,” Kevin Killeen
  4. “Unbelief and the Bible,” Roger Pooley
  5. “Inwardness and English Bible Translations,” Erica Longfellow
  6. “Early Modern Davids: From Sin to Critique,” Yvonne Sherwood

Notes on Contributors

Highly recommended to anyone interested in the Bible in the early-modern world.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: In the Beginning Was the Word

Mark A. Noll, In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016) 

IntheBeginningThis book does not deal with Edwards’ use of the Bible in detail. It gives a few pages to Edwards in the context of the revivals, and refers to Edwards briefly in several other places. Nevertheless, its grand narrative regarding the role of Scripture in the public life of Christians in colonial America builds a solid frame of reference within which to make sense of the cultural significance of Edwards’ exegesis.

Board member Peter Thuesen has written an excellent review of Noll’s tome in Books & Culture.

Here, we note simply that this is the first of two volumes on the Bible in America, the second of which will take the story through the nineteenth century. Noll concentrates throughout on the life and hard times of European Christendom in the Western hemisphere–the way the Bible both supported it and, eventually, undermined it, and the role of Protestant “biblicism” in animating criticism of status quo assumptions on the part of those in power even as it undergirded some of those very same assumptions. The Bible seemed to be everywhere in American public life. It was used by the oppressed to speak divine truth to power. It was used by the powerful to keep others down. And it was used by the rank and file–sometimes naively and at other times wisely–as a lamp unto their feet and a light unto their paths.

As Noll lays out clearly near the beginning of the book, there are three “connected realities” that “propel” his metanarrative. First, “if Roman Catholics introduced the Christian Scriptures to the Americas, including areas now in the United States, Protestants, professing to follow the Bible above all other authorities, dominated this early history and dominated it overwhelmingly. . . . A primary goal of this study is to show what it meant—positively, negatively, ironically, often inadvertently—for Protestants to claim that they followed the Scripture above all other human authorities.” Second, “Protestants always differed considerably among themselves concerning how Scripture served as a guide. Was it the primary guide? The one essential guide? The crucial guide? Or the only guide? Protestants in colonial America held all of these positions, and more. Yet attempts to live by ‘the Bible alone’ . . . enjoyed greater currency in the colonies than in any part of Europe.” (Noll devotes much of his energy to highlighting the nature and implications of this biblicism.) Third, and most complexly, Western Christendom arrived with most settlers in America. “Yet because of the diversity of colonial settlements as well as the space that America opened for innovation, assumptions about Christendom eventually changed and, in some cases, drastically so. Because the Bible had always functioned as a crucial factor in those assumptions, the new-world history of Scripture and the new-world history of Christendom moved in lockstep together” (pp. 2-3).

Over the course of more than 300 wide-ranging pages, Noll demonstrates that Scripture had a rich and varied history in colonial America. It guided the daily lives of individuals, groups, and governments. “It also functioned as a rich treasury of tropes, models, types, examples, and precepts in service to principles that did not rise from its pages” (p. 339).

Indeed, Edwards was not alone in grounding his daily life in Scripture. Most others did the same. As Noll and Nathan O. Hatch chided long before today’s best graduate students were born (in The Bible in America: Essays in Cultural History), “Scripture has been nearly omnipresent in the nation’s past.” Unfortunately, however, we still know little about this presence. We have acknowledged it for years. But too many have been lulled by its deceptive familiarity.

It is high time that scholars pay due heed to this real presence.

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Jonathan Edwards among the Theologians

Oliver D. Crisp, Jonathan Edwards among the Theologians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015)

9780802871725Hot on the heels of The Ecumenical Edwards, noted here for its sampling of Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox engagement with Edwards by constructive theologians, comes a sample of such engagement by the single most influential writer in the world using Edwards for contemporary purposes.

Most of the chapters in this volume have been published elsewhere, one in The Ecumenical Edwards. Two began as talks given here at T.E.D.S. in 2013.

But all have been refurbished for inclusion in this book. They cover a wide range of topics over the course of nine chapters:

  1. Edwards and Reformed Theology
  2. Anselm and Edwards on the Doctrine of God
  3. Edwards on the Excellence of the Trinity
  4. Arminius and Edwards on Creation
  5. Girardeau and Edwards on Free Will
  6. Edwards on Original Sin: Another Look
  7. Bellamy and Edwards on the Atonement
  8. Edwards on Preaching
  9. On the Orthodoxy of Jonathan Edwards

All nine share in common Crisp’s classically Edwardsean aim to update Edwards for our own, constructive purposes.

Crisp justifies this goal at the end of the book’s preface, using Edwards’ own theological method as a model:

There may be aspects of his project that seem to be problematic, even mistaken. But there are deep themes in his work that may provide the basis for further theological reflection today. That is the mark of a great thinker: not that he always had it right, but that he saw the important issues clearly, . . . refusing easy answers while attempting to elevate the discussion to a new level of clarity and sophistication. . . . As Edwards attempted to use the tools of early Enlightenment philosophy for a theological end, so contemporary Christian thinkers today may borrow ideas, concepts, tools, and methods from modern intellectual disciplines in order to place theology on a firmer footing in today’s intellectual climate. This need not mean the rejection of tradition in favor of theological construction. However, those wanting to imitate Edwards’s example may find themselves driven to more theological revision than they had anticipated, as new light is shed upon old truths. It may even be that in reading Edwards we will be furnished with ways of tackling longstanding theological conundrums and uncovering fresh aspects of the truth once delivered to the saints. It seems Edwards still has things to teach us today, in matters of theological method as well as doctrinal substance (pp. xviii-xx).

This is much the same posture taken by Edwards’ early followers at Andover and Yale in relation to his work. In the words of one of their essays, aired in 1838 in Yale’s Quarterly Christian Spectator, “he who will not tolerate new inquiries . . . cannot be a conservative, or one who desires to keep alive the old New England spirit.” For as explained three months later in the same scholarly journal, “the True Conservative . . ., though he often retires into the past, does not there make his dwelling-place, but lives and acts in the present. From the past, he derives instructions that are most important, and catches nobler and brighter views of the truths which never die; but these permanent principles are made each to read its appropriate lesson under the varying circumstances of present scenes, to strengthen and guide him the more efficiently to act his part in his own generation.”

More confessional theologians, then and since, have usually balked at such free-wheeling uses of the history of Christianity, preferring strict adherence to the language and the teachings of their favorite standard bearers. But Edwards’ closest kin have usually taken Crisp’s approach.

Just as few Edwardsean thinkers want to mimic Edwards’ language or repristinate his doctrine, so few will want to affirm all of Crisp’s uses of Edwards. Nonetheless, as I note on the book’s back cover,

Crisp is leading the way among constructive theologians who are engaging Jonathan Edwards as a serious interlocutor. This book showcases Crisp at his finest, never parroting Edwards’s teaching but, rather, following his model of occasional, contextual, and critical adaptation of the insights of the past in relation to the challenges we face in the present. Edwards still has much to offer even the most contemporary theologians.

This is the best place to start for readers looking for an introduction to Crisp’s view of Edwards.