- Hardcover: 448 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 6, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0190263989
- ISBN-13: 978-0190263980
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.5 x 6.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #439,275 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783 1st Edition
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"This work will likely be read by anyone interested in the widely read Bible, Protestant history in America, and early American history."--The Journal of American Studies
"In the Beginning Was the Word offers genuinely fresh insights into the roots of American ideology."--Times Literary Supplement
"Monumental . . . The story told by Noll brims with ironies and complexities. The first installment of a projected two-volume history of the Bible in American public life, In the Beginning Was the Word is the fruit of Noll's many years of deep reflection combined with his proven talent for synthesis." --Peter Thuesen, Books & Culture, selected as a Favorite Book of 2015
"[A] rich and deep examination of the place of the bible, both as an object and a source of ideas, in the public life of early America . . . Noll has demonstrated that it is virtually impossible to understand the colonial society without understanding the place, significance, and prominence of scripture in private and public life." --New Books in History
"[A] thoughtful book."--William and Mary Quarterly
"Noll shows how 17th-century Americans received conflicting models of scriptural authority from Europe: the Bible under Christendom (high Anglicanism), the Bible over Christendom (moderate Puritanism), and the Bible against Christendom (Anabaptists, enthusiasts, Quakers). In the 18th century, the colonists turned increasingly to the Bible against Christendom, fueling the Revolution against Britain and preparing the way for a new country founded on the separation of church and state." --Wichita Eagle, New & Notable
"A superb study of Early America's most widely read book by one of the nation's leading historians of religion. No one has ever before described and analyzed the role of the Bible in colonial America as thoroughly as Mark Noll has in this important book. In the Beginning Was the Word is a landmark work of history." -- Gordon S. Wood, Professor of History Emeritus, Brown University
"In the Beginning Was the Word documents the Bible's ubiquity in the nation's formative years. With massive research and lapidary prose, Noll shows how Scripture provided solace for individuals, authority for Protestants, and warrants for Christendom. Lest there be any doubt, the volume secures the author's rank as the dean of active American religious historians." -- Grant Wacker, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Christian History, Duke Divinity School
"Mark Noll has written a learned and wise treatment of the power of the Bible in early American history, sensitive to the ways Scripture was invoked on different sides of many disputes. Noll appropriately roots his account in the Old World background and restores the importance of Puritanism to the course of American History." -- Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
"This book is a must-read for all pastors and students of scripture." -Ministry
"Noll's work is a significant contribution to literature on colonial American intellectual history in demonstrating how the Bible was often both shaping and being shaped by intellectual currents." --Religious Studies Review
"During the last 50 years, Noll has been one of the principal leaders, along with other evangelical Protestant scholars, who have continued the tradition of superb, critical analysis of the history of Christianity that was begun by the 'church historians' of an earlier generation (Martin Marty, Syndney Ahlstrom and others). This book stands as a monument to his scholarly career, in which he has drawn on the insights of American 'historians of American religion' and many other disciplines, but still adhering to his commitment to write history for the edification of the church. May his work continue, and may his tribe increase."--The Presbyterian Outlook
About the Author
Mark A. Noll is the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame and author of numerous books, including America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (OUP 2002) and Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction (OUP 2011).
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Now, I am certain that die-hard secularists will meet such an assertion with hostility. However, I do not understand why. Just because America has a Christian origin and heritage does not mean America must remain Christian. In fact, Americans have not had a consistent, comprehensive Christian worldview for decades (maybe even a century). Obama was correct when he said, “…we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”
In any event, Noll does a fair job tracing the role of scriptures in the development of colonial and republican America. I have a few bones to pick, two major plus two pet peeves.
1. Noll suggests that scriptural teaching was eventually married to Whig political ideology. In other words, scripture was increasingly interpreted to support the age’s more “secular political theories”. May I suggest that Whig political ideology is scriptural but (a) it requires a self-governing people to see it come to fruition and (b) it sometimes takes people outside the Church to enlighten the eyes of the Church to what the scriptures teach.
2. The next bone is related to the first. Noll rightly points out that scripture was enlisted to justify imperialism and to hold Britain up as a New Israel. The problem is that he equates the two. It is one thing to read scripture and conclude that the Whigs have it right, it is another to read scripture and conclude that Britain is the New Israel. Big difference.
3. The first pet peeve. Noll quotes 1 Tim 6:10 as reading money as “the root of all evil”. I hope this was a matter of editing because Noll has just got to know that the LOVE of money is a root of ALL KINDS of evil. Obviously, money is not inherently evil nor is it the source of all evil.
4. The second pet peeve. Noll twice refers to the “so-called Boston Massacre”. Yes, Paul Revere and Sam Adams milked the events of March 5, 1770 for all its worth. However, it WAS a massacre. The 1828 definition reads, “the murder of an INDIVIDUAL…without authority or necessity”. By dismissing it as “so-called” Noll and other Americans prove that (a) they don’t know the definition of massacre and/or (b) have become so desensitized that a death toll of five is no longer a big deal.
All in all, worth the read.
Noll begins with an overview of Martin Luther’s proclamation of Scripture alone and the English Bible from William Tyndale, to the Geneva Bible, and finally to the KJV. Next he explores how the Puritan system in the Massachusetts colony would be challenged by people like Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams, and the Baptists, where all parties involved anchored their positions in biblicism. Puritan biblicism was also contested by the religious toleration of Pennsylvania and several other colonies, and it came to an end in 1684 when the crown made Massachusetts a royal colony.
A number of topics are covered in this wide-ranging study. Colonial preachers employed the Bible to support the British wars with the ungodly, Roman Catholics in the first part of the 18th century, only to later paint the English crown with similar strokes. The Bible played a major role in the Frist Great Awakening in the 1730s and early 1740s, and both opponents and proponents of the revival used this work to justify their positions. Scripture was also employed in colonial life on the issues of economics, slavery and race, both natural and moral philosophy, and politics. For example, the revivalists, like George Whitefield, brought the Gospel to the slaves. Their biblicism led them to encourage the slaves to learn to read, which would allow them to explore the Scriptures for themselves. The evangelists, however, did not denounce slavery, and occasionally defended the system. Yet, the introduction of Scripture to slaves would lead to several deadly uprisings in the early 1800s.
Noll ends with two chapters on the Bible’s role in the American Revolution. Both those who supported the revolt against Great Britain and those who backed the king found support in Scripture, sometimes utilizing the same passage to buttress their arguments; e.g., Romans 13. One irony was that Thomas Paine, who would later denounce Christianity, used in Common Sense several Old Testament passages to show that monarchy was a government condemned by God. In his later work, The Age of Reason, he would label Christianity a “fable” and point out what he saw as its many “internal contradictions.”
This is a well-written, tightly argued work based on a combination of primary sources and a number of specialized monographs. Like his previous books, In the Beginning Was the Word, is a worthwhile read. This book is the first of two volumes on the topic, with the second covering the 19th century.