Cotton Mather, Biblia Americana: America’s First Bible Commentary, a Synoptic Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Volume 4: Ezra – Psalms, ed. Harry Clark Maddux (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014)
Those who have not yet heard of this project should be brought up to speed. This is the third volume published–though the fourth in the series–of a ten-volume edition of Mather’s most extensive work. Compiled over a span of nearly 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 the entire Protestant canon in America.
Reiner Smolinski, who teaches 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 Genesis, was published in 2010. Volume three, on Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles, appeared in 2013. Now this, the fourth volume, on Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, and Psalms moves us 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.
This is not a book on Edwards, but is part of the most important scholarly project on early American biblical exegesis ever attempted. Arriving as it does at a time of renewed scholarly interest in the Bible in America, this edition will spark new insights into American religious, cultural, and intellectual history. It has already led to three learned scholarly monographs by those on its editorial team: Rick Kennedy, The First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather, Library of Religious Biography (Eerdmans, 2015); Jan Stievermann, Prophecy, Piety, and the Problem of Historicity in Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana, Beiträge zur historischen Theologie (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, forthcoming); and Reiner Smolinski, Cotton Mather and His World: An Intellectual Biography (New Haven: Yale University Press, forthcoming). It has also yielded a volume of learned essays on its subject: Reiner Smolinski and Jan Stievermann, eds., Cotton Mather and Biblia Americana–America’s First Bible Commentary: Essays in Reappraisal (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010).
This edition is essential to those interested in Edwards’ place in American exegesis. It has enhanced and revised my own perspective on the subject.