Cotton Mather’s wig

Cotton Mather had quite the wig.

Wigs were, everyone knows, “just the fashion.” But Mather’s wig can also be seen as a statement of his Puritanism. Against Puritan condemnation of the vanity of wearing someone else’s hair, Mather asserted a Reformed theology of the disjuncture between outward appearances and the internal truth of a redeemed soul.

There was some real controversy around wigs in Puritan New England. As Dr. Richard Godbeer documented in a 1997 article for the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, there were 17th and 18th century debates about whether wigs were dishonest. There were arguments that wigs were a subversive vanity, undermining the natural order. They were, to some, nothing less than a rebellion against God.

Samuel Sewell, for example, said that God gave him his hair, and it seemed wrong to want someone else’s. Sewell was an adamant opponent of wigs. He went out of his way to condemn wig-wearers and even tried to rally the Puritan clergy to take a stand against the fashion. Mather, however, wasn’t interested.

Sewell records in his diary that in 1690, Mather preached it was “a sign of a hypocrit” to “be zealous against an innocent fashion,” instead of more serious matters. Mather reminded his congregation of Christ’s admonition about gnats and camels.

Sewell was shocked.

Mather gave the issue no more attention. He did, however, wear a wig for his 1728 portrait, memorializing himself in someone else’s luxurious curls.

“The most fundamental issue raised by the debate,” according to Godbeer, was about the correspondence between “inner and outward comportment, between the appearance of the outer man and the true nature of what lay within.”

Sewell fits the Puritan stereotype of the harsh busybody, whose self-rightousness is matched only by his pettiness. Mather, however, was as much a Puritan as anyone. So while his wig was “just the fashion,” it was a statement, too, about how Puritanism need not obsess over every hair on your head.

— Daniel Silliman

Edwards texts return to Yale

They’ve been checked out for about 150 years, but now a dozen boxes of Jonathan Edwards texts are being returned to the library at Yale Divinity School.

The books were borrowed by Edwards Amasa Park, a professor at Andover Theological Seminary, in the mid 1800s. The exact date is unclear. Park apparently intended to write a biography of Edwards. He was interested especially in Edwards’s writings on natural philosophy. Park has been called “the last Edwardsian,” though there are surely some today who would dispute that. A Congregationalist theologian, Park also happened to be married to one of Edwards’s descendants. Perhaps it felt like the books belonged in the family. When the theologian died 1900, the books he’d borrowed just stayed at the Massachusetts seminary.

More than a century later, they’ve been returned.

As the New Haven Register reports, the small-but-significant collection is being reunited with the larger Yale collection. Andover Newton, struggling with the declines hitting many mainline seminaries in the U.S., formed a partnership with Yale several years ago. Part of the partnership is the merging of theological libraries, including the Edwards collection.

“It brings great relief,” Ken Mikema, director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale told to the New Haven paper. “I sleep better at night knowing these things are all reunited again.”

–Daniel Silliman

Robert W. Jenson (1930-2017): Heidelberg Alumnus & Edwards Scholar

Image result for Robert W. Jenson

Edwards scholar and Lutheran theologian Robert W. Jenson passed away on September 5, 2017 at 87 years of age.

Jenson received his Dr. Theol. in 1960 from Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, the current home of the Jonathan Edwards Center Germany. He wrote his dissertation on Karl Barth’s doctrine of election under the supervision of Heidelberg Professor Peter Brunner (1900-1981), and he later studied with Barth in Basel.

Holding posts at Oxford University, Lutheran Seminary, St. Olaf College, and Princeton University, Jenson published several books and articles on systematic theology, the Trinity, biblical commentaries, and more.

Among his many publications was an influential monograph on Jonathan Edwards, America’s Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (1988). Edwards studies was undergoing a renaissance at the time, due largely to the publication of his works in the Yale edition and the revival of interest among scholars in the fields of history, American Studies, and English.

Jenson however was one of the first to boldly ask whether Edwards was right and if his theology still holds value for today.

The title betrays his thesis: Jenson recommends Edwards as “America’s theologian,” and despite his flaws, American theologians and pastors today should take his theology seriously. He writes, “Edwards’ theology meets precisely the problems and opportunities of specifically American Christianity and the nation molded thereby” (3).

Many have taken Jenson’s recommendation seriously, and the strength of Edwards studies today owes a great deal to his legacy. From Heidelberg: ruhe in Frieden.

Kenneth Silverman, RIP

Kenneth Silverman, the award-winning biographer of Cotton Mather, has died. He was 81.

With his 1984 biography, Silverman showed Mather was a man, not a metaphor, not a cartoon villain, not a crude foil for American history. His work was especially notable for depicting the richness of Mather’s intellectual life and the daily, lived-out struggle of his physical existence.

For example: “However luxuriantly he lived in heaven,” Silverman wrote in one passage, “Mather had not lived affluently on earth, and had lost much. What he left behind, as set down in the inventory of his estate, was dingy and mean: pie plates, lumber, a crosscut saw, three old rugs, four old bedsteads, two old oval tables, two old chests of drawers, old china curtains, old quilt, old warming pan, old standing candlestick, red
curtains motheaten, broken stone table, broken fireplace dogs, broken chairs, broken pewter, broken spoons.”

The New York Times praised the book, reporting, “An immense richness is what one feels first of all in reading ‘The Life and Times of Cotton Mather.’ Mr. Silverman has got hold of one of the most colorful men in American history, and he treats Mather with all the awe, sympathy and skepticism that he deserves.”

According to the New Republic, “The author seems virtually to have taken up residence inside Mather’s head and heart and the reader is repeatedly invited to see the world as Mather himself would have done — looking out.”

Mather scholarship, including that sponsored by the Jonathan Edwards Center Germany, has not been uncritical of Silverman’s work. Nevertheless, we owe a great deal to Silverman. He invited readers to think about Mather in all his complexities and contradictions. Generations of scholars accepted that invitation.

The Life and Times of Cotton Mather won the Pultizer and the Bancroft prizes. Silverman, a professor of English at New York University from 1965 to 2001, went on to write biographies of Edgar Allan Poe, Samuel F. B. Morse, John Cage, and Harry Houdini. His biography of Houdini, called Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss, American Self-Liberator, Europe’s Eclipsing Sensation, World’s Handcuff King and Prison Breaker — Nothing on Earth Can Hold Houdini a Prisoner!!!, is especially well regarded. At the time of his death, he had completed a new biography of Emma Lazarus.

Silverman had lung cancer and died in New York City on July 7.

— Daniel Silliman

Pennington Award goes to Edwards scholar

This year’s prestigious James W.C. Pennington Award is going to Harry S. Stout, the Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Christianity at Yale Divinity School and the General Editor of the Works of Jonathan Edwards.

The Heidelberg Center for American Studies and the Faculty of Theology of Heidelberg University give the annual award to one outstanding scholar who has done stellar work on the African-American experience in the Atlantic world. The award is named for the escaped-slave-turned-abolitionist who received a doctorate from Heidelberg University in 1849. The award is funded by the With financial support from the Manfred Lautenschläger Foundation. The first recipient was Albert J. Raboteau. Subsequent awards have gone to Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Laurie Maffly-Kipp, William L. Andrews, and John With, Jr. Stout is the sixth recipient.

Stout has written a number of books of interest to Jonathan Edwards scholars, including The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England, published in 1986 and The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism, published in 1991. He has also edited a numerous critical volumes in the study of American religious history, including The Jonathan Edwards ReaderJonathan Edwards and the America Experience (co-edited with Nathan Hatch), Benjamin Franklin Jonathan Edwards, and The Representation of American Culture, (co-edited with Barbara Oberg), Reading in American Religious History, (co-edited with Jon Butler), and Stories of Faith, Stories of America: Religion in United States History (with Randall Balmer and Grant Wacker).

Stout will be speaking at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies on May 17, at 6:15 p.m. The title of his talk is “Lincoln’s God and the Emancipation Proclamation.” The talk is free and open to the public.

$35,000 grant will support continued publication of Biblia Americana

First Edition of Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana
Cotton Mather was America’s first major Bible commentator.

From 1693 to his death in 1728, Mather tirelessly worked on an ambitious, ever-expanding work, “Biblia Americana: The Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testament Illustrated.” With this commentary, he  aimed at nothing less than the harmonization of an orthodox Reformed Christianity, based on a faithful interpretation of Scripture, with the growing body of learning in all the new fields of Enlightenment scholarship and philosophy. However, he never managed to get his opus magnum published. He couldn’t secure the necessary patronage from far-away London. After the American Revolution, Mather’s heirs bequeathed the manuscript to the Massachusetts Historical Society, where the six folio volumes (containing more than 4,500 densely written pages) have slumbered for over two centuries.

The Biblia Americana has remained unpublished and largely unexplored until today.

Since the early 2000s, however, a team of international scholars under the directorship of Reiner Smolinski (Atlanta) and Jan Stievermann (Heidelberg) has begun editing the manuscript. In 2008, we were able to convince the distinguished theological publishing house Mohr Siebeck in Tübingen, Germany, to undertake what will be a 10-volume, fully annotated scholarly edition of the Biblia Americana. In total, the letterpress edition will comprise about 10,000 pages.

Four volumes of the have been published so far: Genesis (2010, ed. Reiner Smolinski), Joshua-Chronicles (2013, ed. Kenneth P. Minkema), Ezra-Psalms (2014, ed. Harry Clark Maddux), and now Proverbs-Jeremiah (2015, ed. Jan Stievermann).

The Henry Luce Foundation Grant
The publication of this important monument of America’s early religious heritage will continue, thanks to a generous $35,000 grant from the Theology Program of the prestigious Henry Luce Foundation.

The Theology Program of the Henry Luce Foundation aims to advance understanding of religion and theology through grants to seminaries, divinity schools, and research universities, supporting work that crosses religious, disciplinary, and geographic borders, and scholarship that is theoretically sophisticated, historically informed, critically reflexive, and practically invested.

The forthcoming volumes are:

Vol. 9 (Romans-Philemon) to be published in 2017
Editor, Robert Brown
James Madison University

Vol. 2 (Exodus-Deuteronomy)
Editor: Reiner Smolinski to be published in 2018
Georgia State University

Vol. 8 (John-Acts)
Editors: Rick Kennedy to be published in 2019
Harry Clark Maddux
Appalachian State University

Vol. 10 (Hebrews to Revelation) to be published in 2020
Editors: Jan Stievermann and Paul S. Peterson
Heidelberg University

Vol. 6 (Lamentations-Malachi)
Editor: Ava Chamberlain to be published in 2020
Wright State University

Vol. 7 (Matthew to Luke)
Status: Reiner Smolinski to be published in 2021

Cotton Mather: The Most Influential North American Theologian of his Time
This edition of the Biblia Americana is one of the most promising interdisciplinary projects now underway in early North American Studies. The significance of the Biblia is that Cotton Mather, in his exegetical works, sought to harmonize new insights emerging from the nascent field of historical biblical criticism, the natural sciences, and revolutionary philosophical ideas of the early Enlightenment with a traditional Biblical worldview and Reformed Orthodox Christian doctrines. Thus researchers examining the cultural, religious or literary history of America as well as Europe can equally profit from this academic edition of the Biblia.

The scion of one of the most important Puritan clergy families of New England, Cotton Mather was arguably one of the most influential and productive theologians in British North America of his time. In his lifetime he published more than 400 writings, including a series of extensive and well-known works in various academic fields at the time, such as his account of American church history, Magnalia Christi Americana (1702), or his compendium of physico-theology, The Christian Philosopher (1721). Nevertheless, it was the Biblia, which he worked on for more than three decades until his death in 1728, that he always regarded as his most important endeavor and the summation of his lifework.

An Encyclopedic Archive of the Intellectual History of the Early Enlightenment
When considered as a whole, the Biblia can be seen as a forum for the central intellectual debates of the time period – in British North America and in Europe – and thus serves as an almost encyclopedic archive of intellectual history.

An academic edition of this work not only benefits American cultural, religious, and literary historians but is also highly valuable for scholars working those working on European intellectual history and studying the Enlightenment. The work will be a great source for many interdisciplinary and transnational studies in the years to come.

As reactions to the publication of the first four volumes have shown, the project has met with a very broad and enthusiastic reception internationally. It is widely viewed as a pioneering research project.

Scholarship produced in the course of work on the edition points to the possibilities. The extensive introductions to the edited volumes, Jan Stievermann’s recent Prophecy, Piety, and the Problem of Historicity: Interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures in Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016) and the nineteen essays in the anthology edited by Smolinski and Stievermann, Cotton Mather and Biblia Americana – America’s First Bible Commentary: Essays in Reappraisal (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2010), indicate new directions in scholarship.

The rediscovery of Mather’s Bible commentary has only just begun. The support of the Henry Luce Foundation enables more work to be done and will positively affect scholarship for years to come.

Edwards scholar speaking in Heidelberg

Mark Valeri will be lecturing at 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday, February 7 at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies. The title of the lecture is, “Free Conscience, Conversion, and Social Realities in Eighteenth-Century America.”

Valeri is the Reverend Priscilla Wood Neaves Distinguished Professor of Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. He also works at the Danforth C. Center on Religion and Politics. He specializes in religion and social thought, especially economics, in early America. He’s done extensive research on the thought, context, and legacy of Jonathan Edwards, and he edited vol. 17, Sermons and Discourses, 1730-1733 of the Works of Jonathan Edwards.

His award-winning book Heavenly Merchandize: How Religion Shaped Commerce in Puritan America analyzes social transformations in the American views of the economy from the early 1600s to the 1740s. Valeri charts a change in Protestant thinking, from when Puritans argued personal profit should be subordinate to the common welfare to when they increasingly celebrated commerce as an unqualified good.

The talk is a part of the Winter Baden-Württemberg Seminar and is open and free to the public.

New book looks at Edwards and print culture

Scholars of Jonathan Edwards have explored Edwards’ writings and legacies from seemingly every angle. Yet, a new monograph published by Oxford University Press has revealed a blind spot: print culture. In Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture, Jonathan Yeager, UC Foundation Associate Professor of Religion at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, fills this lacuna.

JY bookThis book is grounded in extensive research. In four Appendices, Yeager provides a table of Edwards’s published works in chronological order up to 1800, a graph showing the most fruitful years for his publications, their prices and formats, and subscription lists for his most successful work, The Life of David Brainerd. But this work is no mere collection of data. Yeager unpacks a compelling narrative and advances an important thesis: “I argue,” he writes, “that Edwards’s printers, publishers, and editors shaped the public perception of him in the way that they packaged and marketed his publications” (xi).

Yeager has two intended audiences. First, he wants to help historians of print culture better understand the religious dimensions of the trade, and second, he guides scholars of religion through the critical connections between religious history and the history of the book. He has five chapters detailing the reception of Edwards’s writings, his relationship with his publishers and their impact on his public perception, and the role of those in the late eighteenth century who continued to publish Edwards’s writings to advance their own objectives.

Yeager also helpfully underscores the transatlantic dimension of evangelical publishing networks and its role in shaping the public identity of figures like Edwards. Not only did Edwards’s evangelical contemporaries like John Wesley and Isaac Watts in England help advance his publications, but so did his heirs, including his son Jonathan Edwards Jr. and the New Divinity men in New England, John Erskine in Scotland, and Baptists in England such as John Ryland Jr.

The German reception of Edwards’s Faithful Narrative is of particular interest, with two groups translating and appropriating Edwards’s work in 1738, but in different ways. On the on hand, Johann Adam Steinmetz packaged Edwards’s work as reinforcing a Lutheran approach to revivalism. On the other, a group of German Reformed Pietists embraced Edwards’s Reformed inflections in their translation, and catered it to a more uneducated and popular readership (23-24).

This book is a much-needed resource, and students and scholars of religious history and print culture will benefit greatly from it.

–Ryan Hoselton

Jonathan Edwards Paper Competition

Our sister Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois has just announced the Third Annual Jonathan Edwards Paper Competition.

Most of the information is the same as the last two years, except for one important detail: the winner’s cash prize has doubled from $500 to $1,000. Think of all the scintillating monographs on Jonathan Edwards that you could buy with that money.

You have until May 1st, so get writing!

Cotton Mather gets the YA treatment

The ghost of Cotton Mather has made another appearance in modern America: this time in a Young Adult novel about bullying.

Adriana and Cotton Mather How to Hang a Witch is the debut work of Adriana Mather, a Mather of the Mathers.

Adriana identifies as a descendent of the famous Puritan and says she learned about her Mather lineage and Cotton Mather from her great-grandmother, a teacher and amateur historian who “catalogued everything from our family.”

Now she’s turned her personal history into a bit of fiction. The heroine of the new novel How to Hang a Witch is also a Mather of the Mathers. The 15-year-old protagonist moves to Salem, Mass. with her stepmother, only to discover that her family’s connection to the witch trials make her a target of the witches who dominate her school.

Also there’s a ghost boy and a whisper about a Mather-family curse.

A sample:

“‘Not having a good first day at Salem High?’

“I shake my head. ‘Have you noticed a group of girls in my grade that wear all black—rich goth types?’

“‘The Descendants?’

“I venture a look at Jaxon. ‘What?’

“‘Like that?’ He nods toward a guy and a girl entering the room. The guy wears an expensive–looking black button-down shirt, black pants, and black loafers. And she has on a floor-length black dress with a tailored black blazer. Her hair is a perfect bob.

“‘Yeah, exactly like that.’

“‘There are five of them in our school. He’s the only dude. They’re descended from the original witches. Everyone kinda love-hates them. People think they can curse you if they want to. I think it’s total bull.’

“‘You’re kidding, right?’ But I can tell from his expression that he’s not.”

Publisher’s Weekly says the novel is “an entertaining story that draws intriguing parallels between the 17th-century trials and modern-day bullying, as well as the fears and mob mentalities behind both.”

Adriana Mather said she wanted to show how the mob-mentality of the witch trials were not as outdated as one might think. “We look at the Salem Witch Trials,” she said in a promotional interview, “and think, ‘How could they ever let something horrible like that happen?’ But it’s not that different for the people who suffer from bullying now.”

Mather’s ghost thus provides pop culture another modern lesson in how not to be a bully.

–Daniel Silliman