The English Bible and the Seventeenth-century Revolution.: Uses of the Bible in 17th-century England Paperback – 29 Sep 1994
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The translation of the Bible into English in the 16th century was one of the most important events in English history. Previously, the sacred text had been accessible only to a tiny minority, now anybody could read or listen to it. This study explores some of the effects of the Bible - on English literature during its greatest century, on social, agrarian, foreign and colonial policies. During the 17th-century Revolution, the Bible was used to justify both resistance to and defence of the King, and it called into question all established institutions and practices. But the Revolution revealed the impossiblity of agreeing on what the Bible said. This book should help a better understanding of England's most controversial century.
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The books covers anti-Catholic feeling, how Scriptures were used to justify rebellion and deposing the King, the idea of England being some chosen nation, and challenging the very notion of hierarchy. It is well argued, huge amounts of source material offered-seems about half the kindle version is covered is taken up by footnotes that have become endnotes.
The only drawback to this book is that it turned into a Museum of Radical Ideas. Christoper Hill loved rebellion. The writings of Gerard Winstanley and various Levellers are given great prominence . There is little about Cromwell ,virtually nothing about Sir Henry Vane the Younger. Hardly anything about Royalists. Many of the major players are simply marginalised. For all its qualities , the focus of the book was restricted.
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As been noted by more than one commentator there is sometimes a disconnect between the ideas in the air and the way those ideas get fought out in political struggle. In this case secular ideas, or what passed for such to us, such as the questions of the divinity of the monarch, of social, political and economic redistribution and the nature of the new society (the second coming) were expressed in familiar religious terms. That being the case there is no better guide to understanding the significance of the mass of biblical literary articles produced in the period than Mr. Hill. The only objection one can have is that he overloads his argument for the importance of the Bible in the social discourse of the times with more examples than necessary and with a certain redundancy and overlap in the subjects he looks at such as the importance of the garden (of Eden), the wilderness and the hedge in Biblical narrative, the concept of England as a chosen nation and the English as a chosen people and of the decisive weight of the Old Testament as a source of inspiration (and vengeance). However, this is only a minor objection.
In this expansive book Mr. Hill connects the wide spread use of the Bible with the revolution in printing bringing its message to the masses; the effects of the Protestant Reformation on individual responsibility for bible study and leading a moral life; various interpretations of Adam's fall, the consequences of that fall and the possibilities for redemption; the theology of the divine right of kings and the concept of the man of blood exemplified by Charles I; the role of the priesthood of all believers that foreshadow a very modern concept of the validity of individual religious expression; radical interpretations of equality and primitive communism, particularly the work of Gerrard Winstanley ; the Puritan ethic and many more subjects of interests. Here Hill also uses his usual cast of characters that one has met in other works including, Oliver Cromwell, Edmund Sexby, Hugh Peters, John Bunyan, the above-mentioned Gerrard Winstanley, Abizer Coppe, the Levelers, the Ranters, the Quakers and the Fifth Monarchists. And seemingly threading through the whole narrative, John Milton. Read on.