- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (June 4, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 019984349X
- ISBN-13: 978-0199843497
- Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1 x 6.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #964,853 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution 1st Edition
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"Marvelously researched and historically compelling an achievement of the first order."--Reviews in American History
"Short but potent It will be foundational for all future studies of the Bible and the American Revolution, and it will be of great interest and relevance for broader studies of religion in late colonial America." --Reviews in History
"Excellent and trailblazing It is impossible to do justice to the richness of the book's findings and insights in a short review fascinating, important, and insightful." --Journal of American History
"With its remarkable research and deft insights, Sacred Scripture, Sacred War represents a major breakthrough in the study of religion and the American Founding. Never before have we had such a systematic investigation of how the Patriots actually used the Bible. Anyone interested in the Revolution will have to contend with Byrd's book." -- Thomas S. Kidd, author of God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution
"Historians believe they know why Founders such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became revolutionaries, but the reasons why most common people supported the American Revolution, and were willing to fight and die for American independence, has remained something of an enigma. By studying how the Bible and the clergy inspired patriotism, historian James Byrd has provided answers that unravel some of the mystery. Byrd has written a good and important book that enriches our understanding of the American Revolution." -- John Ferling, author of Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free
"It is no secret that the Bible is the quintessential text in American political and cultural history. Its cadences soar in presidential addresses and in America's greatest novels. Until recently, the central role the Bible has played in American wars has been less clear. Now, thanks to James Byrd, scholars have a thoroughly narrated index of the American Revolution that shows just how pervasive the Bible was to patriots pursuing their war for independence. Richly detailed and beautifully written, this book makes a major contribution to the literature on America's religious destiny, which was forged in the travail of revolution." -- Harry S. Stout, author of The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England
"By far the most comprehensive analysis ever undertaken of how revolutionary Americans defended their patriotic convictions through scripture." - Christianity Today
"Byrd mines his dataset of wartime sermons during the long eighteenth-century to great effect...adds immeasurably to our understanding of the Bible's function during wartime and the ways in which American patriots understood the Revolution." - Religion in American History
"A convincing, first systematic analysis of how early American preachers and authors used the Bible to interpret Americans' engagement in war... Recommended." --CHOICE
"Sacred Scripture, Sacred War is a milestone in understanding Christianity in the American Revolution."-Fides et Historia
About the Author
James P. Byrd is Assistant Professor of American Religious History and Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Research at Vanderbilt University Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion. He is the author of Jonathan Edwards for Armchair Theologians and The Challenges of Roger Williams.
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A couple of questions kept popping into my mind as I read Byrd's work: 1) what percentage of Colonial preachers were represented by the sermons he read and tallied and 2) how frequiently even did those pastors who supported the revolution devote their sermon to support for the patriot's cause. The sense one gets from the book is that the pulpits of colonial churches were filled each Sunday with Patriots admonishing young men to go shed their blood for the holy cause of independence. If that is the case, the churches must have deserted their primary mission of sheparding the flock in its faith and evangelizing those of no faith, or another faith. I find it unbelieveable that more than a small minority of colonial pastors were represented in the sermons Byrd uses to make his point. Nonetheless Byrd illustrates well the influence a core of Colonial preachers had as promoters and supporters of colonial and revolutionary patriotism and war. One cannot read the book without drawing mental parallels to the influence conservative ministers are exerting on the issues of our day.
The ad is strange for several reasons. For one thing, the Fourth of July celebrates the decidedly non-godless Declaration of Independence, not the supposedly godless Constitution. For another, three of the six Founders quoted--Thomas Paine, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson--were not part of the convention that drafted the Constitution. And finally, the ad selectively quotes the Founders, overlooking the more benign view of religion found in other statements by them. (For a balanced overview of the role of religion in the Founding, see the Library of Congress's exhibit, "Religion and the Founding of the American Republic.")
I mention this ad not so much to refute it as to provide context for my review of James P. Byrd's excellent new book, Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution. Before we enlist history on one side or another of a contemporary political cause--whether on behalf of FFRF's secularism or Hobby Lobby's Christian nationalism--we must understand it on its own terms. Failing to do so results in anachronistic, selective readings of history that misinform--sometimes, intentionally disinform--rather than inform the readers.
The focus of Sacred Scripture, Sacred War is "how the Bible inspired patriotism in Revolutionary America" (p. 2). Byrd approvingly quotes Gordon S. Wood on this topic: "it was the clergy who made the Revolution meaningful for most common people" because "for every gentleman who read a scholarly pamphlet and delved into Whig and ancient history for an explanation of events, there were dozens of ordinary people who read the Bible and looked to their ministers for an interpretation of what the Revolution meant" (ibid).
To see how the Bible inspired patriotism, Byrd compiled what he describes as "the most comprehensive database on the Bible in colonial America, including 17,148 biblical citations from 543 sources over more than a century (1674-1800)" (p. 169). Based on this database, he identified the eight "most cited biblical chapters (50 or more citations) in the Revolutionary Era (1763-1800)": Romans 13, Exodus 14-15, Galatians 5, Judges 4-5, 1 Peter 2, 1 Kings 12, Psalm 124, and Matthew 5 (p. 170). Successive chapters in Sacred Scripture, Sacred War describe how Patriots used these passages to buttress their revolutionary resolve, often in the teeth of Loyalist criticism.
Not surprisingly, patriotic clergy often turned to martial passages in the Old Testament to exhort their parishioners both to die and to kill for the revolutionary cause. God's deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, accomplished by divine war against Pharaoh and his army, was an obvious choice for revolutionary preachers. So was the boldness of Deborah and Jael against Sisera the Canaanite general Sisera. Then, of course, there was David, who combined both martial prowess with spiritual depth, serving as a model for Patriot soldiers. (The fact that David was a king required some finessing on the part of preachers.)
More controversially, patriotic clergy rooted support for the Revolution in New Testament texts. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free" (Galatians 5) was a biblical motto for the Revolution. Other New Testament passages required significant re-interpretation. Should Patriots submit to the king as Paul and Peter commanded (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2)? John Wesley certainly thought so, but patriotic clergy argued that obedience was owed only to just kings. Didn't Jesus command his followers to turn the other cheek and love their enemies (Matthew 5)? Yes, but Revelation also portrayed Jesus--like God in the Old Testament--as a man of war.
Having surveyed the use of select biblical passages by Patriots, Byrd identifies three roles the Bible played in the Revolution (pp. 164-166): "Its primary purpose was to forge militant patriotism." Second, it underwrote republicanism. Byrd quotes Rev. John Mellen, whose view was common among Patriots: "liberty is the spirit and genius, not only of the gospel, but of the whole of that revelation, we have, first and last, received from God." Third, it provided "virtuous heroes" for Patriots to emulate.
One need not agree with Patriot exegesis of Scripture in order to appreciate the role it played in their revolutionary cause. Byrd's task in Sacred Scripture, Sacred War is descriptive, not normative. That is, he describes how Patriots used the Bible; he doesn't judge their use of it. That is the task of Christian theologians, not historians. For my part--American patriot that I am--I nonetheless unsettled by how my colleagues in the 18th-century clergy used the Bible in the cause of war. (Of course, on the other side, Loyalist uses of Scripture generated their own set of exegetical problems.)
Regardless of my reservations about Patriot exegesis, I am unreservedly appreciative of James P. Byrd's analysis of it, and heartily recommend it to readers interested the role religion played in the American Founding. Perhaps some open-minded person at the Freedom from Religion Foundation will read it too and come to realize that both the godly and the godless felt they had a stake in the Revolution.
P.S. If you're interested in reading some of those patriotic sermons, check out
Ellis Sandoz, ed., Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805 (2 Volume Set).