- 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: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #563,544 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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Top Customer Reviews
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).
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.
Last year, James Byrd of Vanderbilt released his Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: the Bible and the American Revolution (Oxford University Press). It received a book of the year award from Christianity Today.
The following interview appeared Feb. 1, 2014 on Jesus Creed. Professor Byrd teaches in the divinity school at Vanderbilt University.
Moore: What were the most popular passages of Scripture which preachers used to muster support for the American Revolution?
Byrd: Most popular was Romans 13; which included commands for obedience to civil rulers. Understandably this was a major text used by loyalists to oppose the Revolution, so patriots had to deal with it at length.
Second was Exodus 14-15; the parting of the Red Sea story, which made sense for patriots who felt that they were like the Hebrew slaves under bondage to the Egyptian Pharaoh, which they related to British tyrannical policies. Paul’s commands on the freedom of Christ (Galatians 5) was third, which they related to civil freedom as well. Fourth was the story of Deborah and Jael in Judges 4-5. This included the famous Curse of Meroz against any who did not join in God’s army to fight. There were several other popular texts, including many from David’s life, including his victory over Goliath, which made sense for patriots who saw themselves as Davids going up against a new Goliath in the British Empire.
Moore: Were there any influential ministers who preached pacifism?
Byrd: There were pacifists. Anthony Benezet, the great abolitionist, wrote Serious Considerations on War and its Inconsistency with the Gospel (1778). It went through several printings and patriotic preachers responded to it at length. Benezet and others made use of the Sermon on the Mount, which was another of the most cited texts because patriots had to respond to it.
Moore: What did Paine think about ministers preaching pro revolutionary sermons?
Byrd: I don’t recall reading anything about Paine’s views of the ministers.
Moore: You mention that Washington loved chaplains. Why was that?
Byrd: Chaplains not only reinforced morality and discipline in the army, but they also spurred soldiers on to fight with patriotic sermons. Washington was also a strong believer in providence, and he believed that chaplains could appeal for God’s guidance and advocacy in the war.
Moore: Why was there a prevalent belief that Christians make the best soldiers?
Byrd: Christianity enforced morality and discipline, which were essential qualities of a solider, they believed. Also Christianity reinforced courage in the face of death in battle. At least as important was the belief that Christianity was a martial faith, which taught the necessity of just warfare and even fierceness in battle.
Moore: Apocalyptic fervor has been a besetting sin for thousands of years as Paul Boyer made clear in his seminal, When Time Shall Be No More (Harvard). What lessons are there for preachers today who may be tempted to give current events, especially wars, end-times significance?
Byrd: One of the surprising findings of the book was the relative lack of apocalyptic preaching in the Revolution. For years scholars seemed to think that most of revolutionary preaching was apocalyptic. But even the apocalyptic preaching that was present usually did not focus in grand claims for the United States being only God’s chosen nation. Usually preachers were more cautious. But they did call on apocalyptic battle scenes (e.g. Rev 19) to prove that war was appropriate for Christians to engage in.
Moore: Methodists and Roman Catholics did not really come on the American scene until the nineteenth century. If they had been around during the revolutionary period, do you think the anti-British sermons would have been as influential?
Byrd: Difficult to say. Most of the Roman Catholics in America at the time were patriotic — see Maura Jane Farrelly’s Papist Patriots (Oxford University Press). Methodists were suspect because of their ties to Wesley, who opposed the Revolution. But most American Methodists quickly distanced themselves from loyalism. If they had not, they would not have been as successful as they were. They had to make the case that they were true, patriotic Americans.