Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Throckmorton v. Barton, the current round, and some of my thoughts

Unfortunately for them, WorldNetDaily is publishing the newest edition to David Barton's much criticized "The Jefferson Lies." Warren Throckmorton updates us here. A taste:
The recycled spin continues on the WND book description. The original promotional material referred to Barton’s critics as “ a few dedicated liberal individuals and academics.” Now the WND book description calls usbloggers and a handful of non-historian academics.”

This effort to obscure the response of historians, Christian and otherwise, to Barton’s work is a farce. The Jefferson Lies was voted “least credible history book in print’ by readers of the History News Network. Dozens of Christian historians wrote both Family Research Council and Focus on the Family in 2013 urging them to remove Barton’s work from their web pages. If WND editors cared about accuracy, they could just read their own website. In the article WND published yesterday, there is a reference by Barton to his Christian historian critics.
My own personal observation is the biggest bone of contention in Barton's book is that Jefferson was some kind of traditional or orthodox Christian before 1813. There is no evidence for this. There is evidence that Jefferson was much chattier about his heterodoxy from 1813 onwards.

Jefferson after 1800 was influenced by Joseph Priestley's Socinian Unitarian Christianity.  But there's not a shred of evidence that Priestley took Jefferson away from orthodox or traditional Christianity. Rather, it's just as likely Priestley took Jefferson away from a less traditional Deism and made him feel more comfortable with a Christian identity.

I'll offer a bit in support of the speculation. Jefferson was influenced by Bolingbroke before Priestley. Even Bolingbroke might not have been quite as "strictly deistic" as one might think. But he was arguably more heterodox than Priestley.

For instance, even though Joseph Priestley believed that original sin, the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement and plenary inspiration of scripture were "corruptions of Christianity," he believed in the divine inspiration of the Book of Revelation. Jefferson, on the other hand, in 1825 said of the Book:
[I]t is between 50. and 60. years since I read it, & I then considered it as merely the ravings of a Maniac, no more worthy, nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.
Bolingbroke had very similar views on the Book of Revelation. Plus 50 years before 1825 is 1775. He's admitting in this letter he was heterodox enough to consider one of the books of the canon the ravings of a maniac.


Tom Van Dyke said...

FTR, Martin Luther had grave doubts about the "Book of Revelation." It might not be the best barometer of heterodoxy.

Preface to the Revelation of St. John (1522) 7

About this book of the Revelation of John, I leave everyone free to hold his own opinions. I would not have anyone bound to my opinion or judgment. I say what I feel. I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic.

First and foremost, the apostles do not deal with visions, but prophesy in clear and plain words, as do Peter and Paul, and Christ in the gospel. For it befits the apostolic office to speak clearly of Christ and his deeds, without images and visions. Moreover there is no prophet in the Old Testament, to say nothing of the New, who deals so exclusively with visions and images. For myself, I think it approximates the Fourth Book of Esdras; 8 I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it.

Moreover he seems to me to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly — indeed, more than any of the other sacred books do, though they are much more important — and threatens that if anyone takes away anything from it, God will take away from him, etc. Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. This is just the same as if we did not have the book at all. And there are many far better books available for us to keep.

Many of the fathers also rejected this book a long time ago; 9 although St. Jerome, to be sure, refers to it in exalted terms and says that it is above all praise and that there are as many mysteries in it as words. Still, Jerome cannot prove this at all, and his praise at numerous places is too generous.

Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit leads him. My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book. For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it: Christ is neither taught nor known in it. But to teach Christ, this is the thing which an apostle is bound above all else to do; as Christ says in Acts 1, “You shall be my witnesses.” Therefore I stick to the books which present Christ to me clearly and purely.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit leads him. My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book."

He sounds freethinking and Quakerish here. Not like a fundie.