The Enlightenment Bible

The Enlightenment Bible: Translation, Scholarship, Culture

Jonathan Sheehan
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt4cg9b4
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  • Book Info
    The Enlightenment Bible
    Book Description:

    How did the Bible survive the Enlightenment? In this book, Jonathan Sheehan shows how Protestant translators and scholars in the eighteenth century transformed the Bible from a book justified by theology to one justified by culture. In doing so, the Bible was made into the cornerstone of Western heritage and invested with meaning, authority, and significance even for a secular age.

    The Enlightenment Bible offers a new history of the Bible in the century of its greatest crisis and, in turn, a new vision of this century and its effects on religion. Although the Enlightenment has long symbolized the corrosive effects of modernity on religion, Sheehan shows how the Bible survived, and even thrived in this cradle of ostensible secularization. Indeed, in eighteenth-century Protestant Europe, biblical scholarship and translation became more vigorous and culturally significant than at any time since the Reformation. From across the theological spectrum, European scholars--especially German and English--exerted tremendous energies to rejuvenate the Bible, reinterpret its meaning, and reinvest it with new authority.

    Poets, pedagogues, philosophers, literary critics, philologists, and historians together built a post-theological Bible, a monument for a new religious era. These literati forged the Bible into a cultural text, transforming the theological core of the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the end, the Enlightenment gave the Bible the power to endure the corrosive effects of modernity, not as a theological text but as the foundation of Western culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4779-2
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE: FORGING THE CULTURAL BIBLE
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Chapter One THE VERNACULAR BIBLE: REFORMATION AND BAROQUE
    (pp. 1-26)

    The Enlightenment Bible grew out of the soil of the Protestant Reformation, whose insistence on first principles—sola gratia, sola fides, sola scriptura—put the Bible at the center of the enormous struggles that beset sixteenth-century Christendom. The Reformation made the Protestant Bible the engine of political, religious, and imaginative life, an engine defended and cherished well into the nineteenth century. Even more than gratia and fides, the Bible powered the very project of Reformation. Whatever the theological controversies that arose around predestination, the value of works, or the priesthood of believers, beneath all these, the Bible lurked, as a...

  6. Part I: The Birth of the Enlightenment Bible
    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 27-30)

      Around the year 1700 Protestants in England and Germany discovered that their canonical texts had become or were threatening to become, as one observer sadly wrote, “strange, awkward, and new.”¹ The Bible as it had shaped Protestantism, as familiar as family, began to take on darker tones: it was obsolete, it was imperiled, it was deficient, it was insufficient as it stood to confirm the authenticity of the Protestant religions. Whether in the hands of iconoclastic Catholics like the Oratorian scholar Richard Simon; radical philosophers like Baruch Spinoza, Thomas Hobbes, or Pierre Bayle; mainstream critics like Jean le Clerc; or...

    • Chapter Two SCHOLARSHIP, THE NEW TESTAMENT, AND THE ENGLISH DEFENSE OF THE BIBLE
      (pp. 31-53)

      In the winter of 1710, the English Parliament impeached Henry Sacheverell for his “wicked, malicious and seditious intention to undermine and subvert her Majesty’s government and the Protestant succession.” The cause was a fiery sermon, preached at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Guy Fawkes Day, proclaiming the church in danger. “Her holy communion . . . rent and divided by factious and schismatical imposters; her pure doctrine . . . corrupted and defiled; her primitive worship and discipline profaned and abused . . . her altars and sacraments prostituted to hypocrites, Deists, Socinians and atheists.” Nor were these last the only...

    • Chapter Three RELIGION, THE NEW TESTAMENT, AND THE GERMAN REINVENTION OF THE BIBLE
      (pp. 54-86)

      In 1710 the leading mouthpiece of Germany’s Lutheran orthodoxy, Valentin Ernst Löscher’s Unschuldige Nachrichten von Alten und Neuen Theologischen Sachen, reported the publication of John Mill’s Greek New Testament. Enthusiasm was the order of the day for this “beautiful and praiseworthy work” and its author’s “uncommon industry.” Mill’s careful notes had produced, Löscher exclaimed, a truly “kingly work,” a “well-ordered thesaurus” for the critical study of the New Testament. They answered Löscher’s hopes, eight years prior, that “more Greek MSS might be sent from the Orient” and that the existing manuscripts be “collated with more diligence” in order to “preserve...

  7. Part II: The Forms of the Enlightenment Bible
    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 87-92)

      In 1747 an anonymous writer complained about the decline of religion in Germany. The “word ‘freethinker’ is . . . an entirely new word,” the author grumbled, “and our current century discovered it first. God, if only the German language did not have such a word to name such people, just as Hebrew had no word to designate atheists.”¹ Among many of the devout in midcentury Germany, the mood was gloomy. In Prussia the young prince Frederick II had assumed the throne in 1740 and showed few of the pious traits that had marked his father. In the same year,...

    • Chapter Four PHILOLOGY: THE BIBLE FROM TEXT TO DOCUMENT
      (pp. 93-117)

      In his first journal entry for the year 1751, John Wesley described this holy encounter:

      One Sunday morning I was just going to open my Bible when a voice . . . seemed to say very loud, “God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgive thee.” I started up, took the candle, and searched all about to see if anyone was near, but there was none. I then sat down, with such peace and joy in my soul as cannot be described. . . . Soon after it was repeated . . . still louder, which drove me on my knees to...

    • Chapter Five PEDAGOGY: THE POLITICS AND MORALS OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT BIBLE
      (pp. 118-147)

      In 1768 the English dissenting minister Edward Harwood suggested that, when Christians pray, they ought to say:

      O Thou great governour and parent of universal nature—who manifest thy glory to the blessed inhabitants of heaven—may all thy rational creatures in all the parts of thy boundless dominion be happy in the knowledge of thy existence and providence, and celebrate thy perfections in a manner most worthy thy nature [sic] and perfective of their own!¹

      As a version of the Lord’s Prayer, Harwood’s translation left something to be desired. Over 250 words long—triple the usual number—it transformed...

    • Chapter Six POETRY: NATIONAL LITERATURE, HISTORY, AND THE HEBREW BIBLE
      (pp. 148-181)

      In 1778 Robert Lowth—the greatest scholar of the Hebrew Bible that England ever produced—furnished the English republic of letters with a translation of Isaiah, the “single English commentary” of the eighteenth century, as the later critic Frederick Farrar claimed, to stake out wholly new territory in biblical studies.¹ Whether Farrar was correct or not, the translation was surely a major literary monument. Unlike the biblical paraphrases that dominated English letters at least since Addison began presenting them in the Spectator in the 1710s, Lowth offered his readers what was designed to be a perfect reproduction of the Hebrew...

    • Chapter Seven HISTORY: THE ARCHIVAL AND ALIEN OLD TESTAMENT
      (pp. 182-218)

      Between 1740 and 1780, the landscape of English religious scholarship was largely arid and infertile. One exception was the strange oasis of Hutchinsonianism, a “delightful fantastic system,” Horace Walpole mocked, but one that he admitted was unexpectedly successful in convincing eighteenth-century Britons.¹ Founded on the principle that the very letters of the Old Testament revealed “God’s divine plan . . . untainted by the machinations of the Jews,” this Hebraic fundamentalism declared loudly its faith that the language of Moses was “a monument of Brass or Rock of Adamant . . . [that can] not be destroy’d by all the...

  8. Part III: The Cultural Bible
    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 219-222)

      When the Orientalist Johann Eichhorn fondly gazed back over the life of Michaelis, he regretted only that the older scholar had not gone far enough in making the Hebrews strange. Because he had seen “the ancient times in a condition of higher spiritual development,” Michaelis had lacked the key insight of the late century, the insight that “spirit and customs are always in step and when the latter is still simple, then the former remains in its primitive simplicity; high scholarly culture is foreign to it.”¹ In essence, Michaelis had not adequately studied his Herder, who, more than anyone in...

    • Chapter Eight CULTURE, RELIGION, AND THE BIBLE IN GERMANY, 1790–1830
      (pp. 223-240)

      Nothing signified more clearly the German sense that by the 1780s and 1790s the Gordian knot of the Bible had unraveled than the decline in fortune of Bible translation. In dramatic terms, the Bible had become, in the words of Johann Griesbach in 1780, “untranslatable.”¹ More prosaically, it was clear to someone like Eichhorn that it would be “more useful and profitable for the expansion of true knowledge of the Bible” if the project of Bible translation were stopped.² As a consequence, he refused to review new translations in his General Library of Biblical Literature. But if the translators’ day...

    • Chapter Nine “REGENERATION FROM GERMANY”: CULTURE AND THE BIBLE IN ENGLAND, 1780–1870
      (pp. 241-258)

      If the cultural Bible stormed across Germany in the early nineteenth century, in England, it was a more hesitant process. It began with great promise in the 1780s, as English scholars began to recognize that their biblical scholarship had fallen far behind their continental neighbors. In contrast to “Dutch and German philologists of the eighteenth century [who] . . . vigorously carried forwards their disquisitions” on the Bible, complained one critic, the English had not “sufficiently adverted to the necessity of Critical Philology.”¹ In the last twenty years of the eighteenth century, scholars from across the religious spectrum tried to...

  9. AFTERWORD
    (pp. 259-260)

    At the end of any study that pretends to cover as much ground as this one, there are bound to be a host of partially or wholly unresolved questions. Rather than trying fully to anticipate these (an impossible and ultimately tedious task) I want to end on two related notes. First, we might ask whether this nineteenth-century cultural Bible is still “our” model in the contemporary United States or Europe. In one sense, it is certainly not precisely the model embraced in the early twenty-first century: at the very least, when we speak of the Bible as culture, relatively few...

  10. INDEX
    (pp. 261-273)