Next month, Oxford University Press will publish Dissent and the Bible in Britain, c.1650-1950 by Scott Mandelbrote (University of Cambridge) and Michael Ledger-Lomas (King’s College). The publisher’s description follows.
The claim that the Bible was “the Christian’s only rule of faith and practice” has been fundamental to Protestant dissent. Dissenters first braved persecution and then justified their adversarial status in British society with the claim that they alone remained true to the biblical model of Christ’s Church. They produced much of the literature that guided millions of people in their everyday reading of Scripture, while the voluntary societies that distributed millions of Bibles to the British and across the world were heavily indebted to Dissent. Yet no single book has explored either what the Bible did for dissenters or what dissenters did to establish the hegemony of the Bible in British culture. The protracted conflicts over biblical interpretation that resulted from the bewildering proliferation of dissenting denominations have made it difficult to grasp their contribution as a whole. This volume evokes the great variety in the dissenting study and use of the Bible while insisting on the factors that gave it importance and underlying unity. Its ten essays range across the period from the later seventeenth to the mid-twentieth century and make reference to all the major dissenting denominations of the United Kingdom. The essays are woven together by a thematic introduction which places the Bible at the center of dissenting ecclesiology, eschatology, public worship, and “family religion,” while charting the political and theological divisions that made the cry of “the Bible only” so divisive for dissenters in practice.
Yesterday, during Shabbat services, Jews read Vayera (Genesis 18:1 – 22:24), the portion of the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) whose narrative includes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham’s expulsion of Hagar and Ishamel, and then as its climax, the Akedah — the binding of Isaac.
During yesterday’s service at the Havurah in my synagogue, I gave a d’var Torah (homily) on Vayera. Here’s a lightly edited version:
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The typical question we’re moved to ask about the Akedah is whether, in Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac at God’s command, he passed God’s test of faith, or spectacularly failed it. That is a big question, but it is too big for me this morning. It might also not be the right question. Because, actually, Abraham failed his test long before the Akedah, long before God called him to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. Continue reading
The American Revolution had roots in both the Enlightenment and Evangelical Christianity. Intellectual histories often stress the former, but scholarship increasingly focuses on the Revolution’s Evangelical ideology as well. In June, Oxford University Press will publish Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution by Vanderbilt’s James P. Byrd. The publisher’s description follows:
The American colonists who took up arms against the British fought in defense of the ”sacred cause of liberty.” But it was not merely their cause but warfare itself that they believed was sacred. In Sacred Scripture, Sacred War, James P. Byrd shows that the Bible was a key text of the American Revolution. Many colonists saw the Bible as primarily a book about war, and God as not merely sanctioning violence but actively participating in combat. When war came, preachers and patriots turned to scripture, not only for solace, but for exhortations to violence. Byrd has combed through more than 500 wartime sources, which include more than 17,000 biblical citations, to see how the Bible shaped American war, and how war shaped Americans’ view of the Bible.
This month, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company published Bible, Gender, Sexuality by James V. Bownson (Western Theological Seminary). The publisher’s description follows.
In Bible, Gender, Sexuality James Brownson argues that Christians should reconsider whether or not the biblical strictures against same-sex relations as defined in the ancient world should apply to contemporary, committed same-sex relationships. Presenting two sides in the debate — “traditionalist” and “revisionist” — Brownson carefully analyzes each of the seven main texts that appear to address intimate same-sex relations. In the process, he explores key concepts that inform our understanding of the biblical texts, including patriarchy, complementarity, purity and impurity, honor and shame. Central to his argument is the need to uncover the moral logic behind the biblical text. Written in order to serve and inform the ongoing debate in many denominations over the questions of homosexuality, Brownson’s in-depth study will prove a useful resource for Christians who want to form a considered opinion on this important issue.
Last month, Cambridge University Press published Biblical Blaspheming: Trials of the Sacred for the Secular Age by Yvonne Sherwood (University of Glasgow). The publisher’s description follows.
This book explores the strange persistence of ‘blasphemy’ in modern secular democracies by examining how accepted and prohibited ways of talking and thinking about the Bible and religion have changed over time. In a series of wide-ranging studies engaging disciplines such as politics, literature and visual theory, Yvonne Sherwood brings the Bible into dialogue with a host of interlocutors including John Locke, John Donne and the 9/11 hijackers, as well as artists such as Sarah Lucas and René Magritte. Questions addressed include: What is the origin of the common belief that the Bible, as opposed to the Qur’an, underpins liberal democratic values? What kind of artworks does the biblical God specialise in? If pre-modern Jewish, Christian and Islamic responses to scripture can be more ‘critical’ than contemporary speech about religion, how does this affect our understanding of secularity, modernity and critique?
Posted in Scholarship Roundup, Yosefa A. Heber
Tagged belief, Bible, Blasphemy, Books, Christianity, Democracy, Islam, John Donne, John Locke, Judaism, Rene Magritte, Sarah Lucas, Secular Age
That’s the verdict of the Student Judiciary at the State University of New York at Buffalo, which has reinstated the local chapter of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship as a campus student organization. Earlier this year, the Student Senate had revoked recognition because of Intervarsity’s requirement that leaders in the organization affirm traditional Christian beliefs, including beliefs about homosexuality. Last December, the chapter’s treasurer, who is gay, told the university’s student newspaper that he had been pressured to resign because he would not sign a statement affirming the truth of Biblical passages, including passages condemning homosexual conduct. The Senate believed this episode showed that Intervarsity violated the university’s non-discrimination policy, but the Judiciary disagreed, arguing that one must distinguish between membership and leadership in a student organization. Intervarsity was open to all SUNY-Buffalo students, including gay students, the Judiciary explained; but “it is common sense, not discrimination, for a religious group to want its leaders to agree with its core beliefs.” Similar disputes about the religious freedom of student groups have occurred recently at other American universities, including Vanderbilt, and of course, UC-Hastings Law School, the subject of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in CLS v. Martinez. Martinez held that an “all-comers” policy requiring student religious organizations to open their leadership to all students regardless of belief is constitutionally permissible. That’s not to say an all-comers policy is constitutionally required, however.
Richard Hiers (University of Florida) has posted Ancient Laws, Yet Strangely Modern: Biblical Contract and Tort Jurisprudence. The abstract follows.
People generally, and even most biblical scholars, tend to view biblical law as, at best, a random patchwork of odd and antiquated commandments and rules. The present Article demonstrates that many biblical laws can be understood to have functioned in biblical time, in ways remarkably similar to various laws characterized in modern AngloAmerican jurisprudence as contract and tort law. In particular, the Article points out that the biblical tort laws found in Exodus 21:18 through 22:17 are structured along lines closely parallel to concepts found in modern tort law jurisprudence. Many of the biblical laws considered here give expression to the underlying values of concern for the worth and well being of both individuals and the community. The findings here should be of interest to both legal and biblical scholars.
In connection with my earlier post about how anyone, let alone a federal judge, could believe that the Establishment Clause requires the elimination of religious texts in public school classrooms, here is a complex essay by Marilynne Robinson (of Gilead fame) about the relationship between the Bible and important works of literature. A bit:
The Bible is the model for and subject of more art and thought than those of us who live within its influence, consciously or unconsciously, will ever know . . . .
A number of the great works of Western literature address themselves very directly to questions that arise within Christianity. They answer to the same impulse to put flesh on Scripture and doctrine, to test them by means of dramatic imagination, that is visible in the old paintings of the Annunciation or the road to Damascus. How is the violence and corruption of a beloved city to be understood as part of an eternal cosmic order? What would be the consequences for the story of the expulsion from Eden, if the fall were understood as divine providence? What if Job’s challenge to God’s justice had not been overawed and silenced by the wild glory of creation? How would a society within (always) notional Christendom respond to the presence of a truly innocent and guileless man? Dante created his great image of divine intent, justice and grace as the architecture of time and being. Milton explored the ancient, and Calvinist, teaching that the first sin was a felix culpa, a fortunate fall, and providential because it prepared the way for the world’s ultimate reconciliation to God. So his Satan is glorious, and the hell prepared for his minions is strikingly tolerable. What to say about Melville? He transferred the great poem at the end of Job into the world of experience, and set against it a man who can only maintain the pride of his humanity until this world overwhelms him. His God, rejoicing in his catalog of the splendidly fierce and untamable, might ask, “Hast thou seen my servant Ahab?” And then there is Dostoyevsky’s “idiot” Prince Myshkin, who disrupts and antagonizes by telling the truth and meaning no harm, the Christ who says, “Blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”
Each of these works reflects a profound knowledge of Scripture and tradition on the part of the writer, the kind of knowledge found only among those who take them seriously enough to probe the deepest questions in their terms. These texts are not allegories, because in each case the writer has posed a problem within a universe of thought that is fully open to his questioning once its terms are granted. Here the use of biblical allusion is not symbolism or metaphor, which are both rhetorical techniques for enriching a narrative whose primary interest does not rest with the larger resonances of the Bible. In fact these great texts resemble Socratic dialogues in that each venture presupposes that meaning can indeed be addressed within the constraints of the form and in its language, while the meaning to be discovered through this argument cannot be presupposed. Like paintings, they render meaning as beauty.
Contemporary Britain, Americans understand, is a secular place. Weekly church attendance is quite low. Although in surveys majorities continue to identify themselves as “Christian,” most observers dismiss this as evidence of merely vestigial attachments, like the crosses on the Union Jack (left). When Americans think of religion in Britain, they tend to think of stories like sociologist Peter Berger’s, about the time he asked a London hotel concierge for the nearest Church of England parish. Not only did the concierge not know where the parish was; he didn’t know what the Church of England was.
It’s always a little surprising for Americans, then, when Britain’s Christian identity reasserts itself, as it did on two occasions this month. On Sunday, the BBC broadcast the traditional Queen’s Christmas Message, which ended with a meditation on the “great Christian festival” of Christmas and a prayer “that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.” Not so secular.
Now, the Queen is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and I guess most people, if they thought about it, would expect her Christmas message to be, well, Christian. Earlier in the month, though, Prime Minister David Cameron gave a remarkable address, on the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible, which also highlighted Britain’s Christian identity. “We are a Christian country,” he declared, “and we should not be afraid to say so.” He did not mean to minimize the contributions of Britons of other faiths, or of no faith, he insisted. But there was no reason to hide the fact that the Christian tradition, including especially the King James Bible, had helped shape British culture and values. Cameron rejected state “secular neutrality” as “profoundly wrong,” both in its Continue reading
Posted in Commentary, Mark L. Movsesian
Tagged Barack Obama, Bible, Christianity, Christmas, Great Britain, Religion and Culture, Religion and Literature, Religion in Europe, Secularism, United Kingdom
I’ve always enjoyed the image of Thomas Jefferson, sitting up late, going through the New Testament with his razor to excise the parts he found objectionable, the very picture of an Enlightenment eccentric. Jefferson thought that Jesus’ moral teachings were pretty good, but that the Evangelists had ruined them by inserting claims of divinity that Jesus never made. How Jefferson thought he could distinguish the actual words of Jesus from those the Gospel writers invented is not entirely clear, since an independent source for Jesus’ words doesn’t really exist. Just in time for Christmas, Random House has released a new edition of Jefferson’s work, The Jefferson Bible, Smithsonian Edition, a color reproduction of the original, now contained in the Smithsonian’s collections. The publisher’s description follows.
The Jefferson Bible, or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth as it is formally titled, was Thomas Jefferson’s effort to extract what he considered the pertinent doctrine of Jesus by removing sections of the New Testament containing supernatural aspects as well as perceived misinterpretations he believed had been added by the Four Evangelists. Using a razor, Jefferson cut and arranged selected verses from the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in chronological order, mingling excerpts from one text to those of another in order to create a single narrative. After completion of The Life and Morals, about 1820, Jefferson shared it with a number of friends, but he never allowed it to be published during his lifetime. The most complete form Jefferson produced was inherited by his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, and was published in 1895 by the National Museum in Washington.
Once published in black-and-white facsimile by the Government Printing Office in 1900 as a gift for new members of Congress, the Jefferson Bible has never before been published in color in its complete form.The Jefferson Bible, Smithsonian Edition is an exact facsimile reproduction based on the original copy in the Smithsonian collections. The Jefferson Bible, Smithsonian Edition is as beautiful an object as was so painstakingly crafted by Thomas Jefferson himself.