Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Bible and Revolution

Jonathan Rowe is fond of saying, "[T]he Bible is not at all a political revolutionary book. Jesus (or his disciples like Paul) did not abolish one social or political institution. Not tyrannical government, not chattel slavery, not rule of Kings, not one." (See American Creation blog entry for June 6, 2008, American Jacobin.)

I disagree. The very translation of the Geneva Bible from Latin into the vernacular was an act of rebellion that led to the Protestant reformation. At this time, the act of reading the Bible for one's self was an act of rebellion against both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Church. The simple ability to read an affordable biblical text meant that the individual had the ability to undermine any established religion for the sake of rebuilding a new ethically driven culture (i.e. Roger Williams). The Bible, more than any other book, "incorporated" the individual. The Founding Fathers used the literature stemming from the Enlightenment, but the "am ha aretz" (phonetic Hebrew for "people of the land") followed the cues that were conjured up from the Bible.

I can't think about the Bible without recalling, at some point, the story of Moses and how he freed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. The colonials did the same. They reenacted the entire drama through their personal lives. They were the Israelites. British monarchy stood for the Egyptian pharaohs. The Atlantic Ocean represented the Red Sea, and the American Continent became the promised land set aside for God's chosen people (where the natives had to be crushed to make room for the immigrants).

The Bible is more than just a series of chapter-and-verse citations. The Bible is a collection of dreams, and during the Colonial era those dreams helped fuel the American Revolution.


Jonathan Rowe said...

Very nice. I will respond soon. Though two things you might want to fix, it's "Jonathan" not "Jonathon" (a common mistake). And the hyperlik to "Egyptian pharaohs" doesn't work.

Lindsey Shuman said...

So how did these colonial "Israelites" explain their continuation of slavery?

Brian Tubbs said...

Good article, Ray.

Ray Soller said...

Lindsey - It's true that the southern colonies continued slavery with what they felt was biblical justification. What they most frequebtly did not do is teach their slaves how to read the Bible. For all of George Washington's respect for religion he never acquainted his slaves with the Bible. Some slaves as feared, who could read the Bible, did go on and instigate rebellion.