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The Biblia Americana has remained unpublished and largely unexplored until today.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

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!

Course: The Challenge of the Moravians

There is a special opportunity for Heidelberg University students this summer semester. In cooperation with the theology faculty and the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, the Jonathan Edwards Center Germany has arranged a special course on the Moravians.

“The Challenge of the Moravians in the Old and New World” will be co-taught by Dr. Craig Atwood, of Moravian Theological Seminary, and Jennifer Adams-Massmann, a doctoral student at Heidelberg. The course will be held at the HCA on May 6-7, 20-21, and 27-28.

Adams-Massmann sends along this description of the course:

“The Unitas Fratrum (English: Moravian Church or German: die Herrnhuter) was one of the most dynamic and controversial religious groups in Europe and British North America. Founded in the mid-15th century in what is now the Czech Republic, the Moravians were the first “peace church” and tried to live according to the teachings of the New Testament. Intense persecution in the 17th century almost destroyed the church, before it was reborn in the early 1700s under the leadership of German Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf and by 1760 the movement had established relicommunities worldwide through missions, from Greenland to India, to the American colonies. In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the Moravians created a busy multilingual and multiethnic commune which rejected the patriarchal family structure and where women served in leadership alongside men. This alternative way of life generated controversy as did Zinzendorf’s provocative theology and piety, which included erotic spirituality, adoration of God “the Mother,” and mystical devotion to the wounds of Christ. This course will explore the fascinating history of the Unitas Fratrum from its radical founding through the end of the 18th century, paying particular attention to Zinzendorf and the Bethlehem community in America. We will also consider their controversial missions in the American colonies to Native peoples, slaves and European immigrants and how they understood and practiced gender difference. Using a mix of primary and secondary sources, we will thus consider the appeal and threat presented by the radical, idealistic Moravians in early modern Europe and especially in America.”

Anyone interested in taking the course may email Adams-Massmann at: jennifer.adams-massmann@wts.uni-heidelberg.de

Now Available: Biblia Americana, Vol. 5: Proverbs-Jeremiah

From Mohr Siebeck:

This volume of the Biblia Americana contains Cotton Mather’s annotations on the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. A mixture of historical-textual criticism and pious explications, the commentaries are a treasure-trove for scholars interested in the development of Reformed theology and biblical interpretation during a decisive period of intellectual change in the early modern Atlantic world. Mather, an apologetically oriented, pastoral yet deeply learned exegete, confronts the early Enlightenment challenges to the Bible’s authority.
He engages with issues of translation and the difficult questions about authorship, provenance, and genre being asked in his day, especially about the three books traditionally ascribed to King Solomon. Who wrote Proverbs and Ecclesiastes? How can the worldly wisdom of these books be reconciled with the Christian gospel? Is Canticles only a royal wedding song celebrating human love?

IMG_0521In turn, the annotations on Isaiah and Jeremiah are crucially concerned with the relevance and evidential value of the Hebrew prophets for the claims of Christian theology. If seen in their original contexts, in what ways can the oracles of Isaiah and Jeremiah be understood to speak of Christ, the gospel and the second coming? The volume shows the struggle of exegetes in Mather’s generation to adjust traditional interpretations of the Old Testament to a growing awareness of the Scriptures’ historicity. The annotations shift between detailed attention to this historical dimension of the texts and typological and allegorical readings. Moreover, many of the entries reve l a new “Baconian” concern with demonstrating the factual realism of the scriptural narratives by recourse to empirical evidence and the natural sciences.

The book can purchased from the publisher here.

Edwards among the theologians and the political philosophers

There are two new titles of interest, both putting Jonathan Edwards into new contexts and perspectives.

51b6qY+1Z2L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The first is The Ecumenical Edwards: Jonathan Edwards and the Theologians, a collection of essays edited by Biola University’s Kyle C. Strobel. The essays are written by scholars from a variety of religious traditions. Each puts Edwards in conversation with a different theologian, from Thomas Aquinas and Gregory of Nyssa to Karl Barth and Wolfhart Pannenberg.

The book has a blurb from George Marsden, who writes:

“The Ecumenical Edwards offers a treasure trove of insights on the relationship of one of the greatest theologians in the Reformed tradition to the grand traditionsof Christian theology as represented by Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and other Protestant thinkers. Here is an all-star international ecumenical line-up of analysts who are critical as well as sympathetic in assessing Edwards’s contributions to discussions of some of the most profound theological issues.”

The second book is by Jeff Jay Stone, titled Mysteries of Government: The Political Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards.

81ni89SeRaL._SL1500_A revised dissertation written at the University of Dallas, Stone’s work has long been cited in the literature, but is only now widely available as an ebook. Michael J. McClymond and Gerald R. McDermott, for instance, cited Stone to support the claim that “Edwards in fact cared deeply about civil and public life, and developed elaborate conceptions of how life in the public square ought to be conducted.”

This work treats Edwards as a political philosopher, looking especially at Edwards’ reading of John Locke.

“The few occasions on which Edwards does speak of politics,” writes Stone, “reveal a compeling particularity: he has indeed thought very seriously about politics, but has encountered a problem which he does not clearly enunciate. However, the problem is no less evident for not having been mentioned, and the solution–which is explicit–gives us new insight to the nature of Edwards’ thought as a whole.”

Both books are available now.

— Daniel Silliman

Class: The New England Tradition in American Reformed Theology

Prof. Jan Stievermann, director of the Jonathan Edwards Center Germany, is going to be co-teaching a seminar with an eminent Jonathan Edwards scholar, Prof. Douglas A. Sweeney, of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The class will be called The New England Tradition in American Reformed Theology. It will take place over four intensive days at the Ökumenisches Institut at Heidelberg University, May 29 and 30, and June 6 and 7, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The course description:

This compact seminar offers an outstanding opportunity for all students interested in the history of Reformed theology more generally and the specific development of Protestantism in the New World. Our focus will be on New England Calvinism, one of the most interesting and powerful traditions to emerge in early America, which also had a lasting influence on both liberal and evangelical Protestantism in the U.S. today. While providing a broad survey of the New England tradition between c. 1650 and 1850, the course will also allow students to discuss in depth the writings of key theologians with our distinguished guest scholar, Prof. Douglas A. Sweeney.

Over the course of this seminar we will cover the development of the New England tradition from Puritanism and early evangelicalism (represented most prominently by Edwards), to the major divisions of the early nineteenth century between popular revivalism (Charles Finney), Edwardsean Calvinism, and liberal Protestantism (Horace Bushnell). In following these historical developments we will look at the central theological debates within this tradition that concerned, among other things, the doctrines of predestination and original sin, the role of human agency in redemption, the nature of conversion, and the significance of affections in religion.

To register, e-mail Stievermann at jstievermann@hca.uni-heidelberg.de.

Conference to honor Albert J. Raboteau

Of interest to those of us here at Heidelberg who had a chance to study with Prof. Raboteau last year, there is a conference at Princeton being held in his honor. Held at Princeton next month, the conference is called Reflections on the Study of African American Religious History. Talks are organized around the themes of roots, routes, and encounters.

Information on the conference can be found here.