Tuesday, November 25, 2014

D. J. Boorstin on Pseudo-Events and Celebrities

Here's a brief take on a book that's worth a read, I think: Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. New York: Atheneum, 1987.

First published in 1962, The Image went on to established itself as a standard work of history and cultural critique. Boorstin took note of the development of what he called "pseudo-events." He meant by this term events created for the sake of being reported; "man-made" rather than "God-made" events; a scheduled interview, subsequently analyzed, versus a train wreck, for example. The personal counterpart to a pseudo-event, said Boorstin, was a celebrity, "the human pseudo-event." In short, over 50 years ago this guy anticipated developments like 24-hour "news," staged "reality" TV, and the fame of people like Paris Hilton. He offers no prescription for a world where images do not depict reality but rather create it. He seems to assume that the best remedy is awareness. Interesting.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Rough Ride through Reformation Europe

Cunningham, Andrew and Ole Peter Grell. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Religion, War, Famine and Death in Reformation Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Andrew Cunningham is one of the more distinguished and influential writers on medicine in early modern Europe. Ole Peter Grell, his frequent collaborator, is likewise an expert in the field of early modern studies who often focuses on religion.

As the two begin this book, they note that the historiography of early modern Europe has usually followed a compartmentalized approach: scholars take up Reformation history, medical, agricultural, or social history, and so on. As valuable as those contributions are, such narrow slices tend to leave behind a certain something that can be provided only by a synthesis. That observation identifies the central goal of this book.

The decision to take on such a huge task naturally raises two basic concerns: method and sources. The authors explain that their approach includes a couple of basic moves. First, they read the story looking forward from primary sources. Second, they read the same story, this time looking backward; that is, from the vantage point of "modern specialized historiography.” The goal of such an exacting method is to understand “why an apocalyptic interpretation of events and crises in early modern life made sense to a Christian society under stress” (2). In addition, the authors suggest that historians of the period have overlooked the significance of contemporary art. So, they bring that feature of the history to the fore with over 70 illustrations in this book.

Chapter 1 is an introduction titled “An Apocalyptic Age.” Cunningham and Grell identify the period under study—1490 to 1648—and name ten episodes or developments that mark off the era as a time of “deep religious, social, political, economic” and, above all, “demographic” crisis (1). They assert that sometime after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, Europe was engulfed in “apocalypticism.” This outlook expects the divinely-appointed and imminent end of the world, followed immediately by God’s judgment of all people. A favorite text of the time, “the apocalyptic period par excellence” (11), was the Book of Revelation, appropriately placed at the end of the New Testament. More specifically, Europeans drew a correspondence between their experiences and Revelation 6:1-8. The passage identifies four horses whose riders bring cataclysm to the world. Perhaps better than all the preachers combined, the artist Albrecht Dürer communicated the message with his impressive woodcut of 1498 titled, Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, which appears on the book’s front cover.

Chapter 2, “The White Horse: Religion, Revelation, and Reformation,” begins by noting that by the 1510s, more and more people associated the conqueror on the white horse with Christ himself (19). From there, the authors take up, in turn, a variety of related topics: the eschatological character of Lutheranism, the development of radical, sometimes violent, responses to growing expectations, apocalyptic elements of Calvinism, excitement over what  were thought to be astronomical portents, and assumptions about cosmic decay and the prevalence of demons and witchcraft during the Last Days.

In Chapter 3, “The Red Horse: War, Weapons and Wounds,” the authors argue that the economic growth of the period accelerated the breakdown of age-old political and social structures. Resulting skirmishes and wars, all of which were thought to have some sort of religious meaning, lead to a social preoccupation with death. Early modern Europe also witnessed the development of new, more powerful weapons and more-effective techniques in battle. Naturally, greater numbers of casualties generated a whole new era of medical treatment. For example, new procedures for amputations were developed, and artificial limbs became more common and sophisticated. Christian humanists and a few notable Puritans raised their voices against the growth of war. But they were drowned out by the large majority who believed that war could serve to advance Christ’s kingdom and hasten a welcome end to the present age.

Chapter 4, “The Black Horse: Food, F(e)ast and Famine,” begins by observing that 1498 to 1648 was a time of advanced food production in Europe. But, it was also a time of tremendous population growth. Consequently, most everyone experienced dearth, and sometimes even famine. As the reader has come to expect, all such episodes were interpreted as direct acts of God. (Regarding food shortages, the authors explicitly adopt the position of Ronald E. Seavoy, Famine in Peasant Societies, 1986. Seavoy argued that a sustained growth in population that avoids famine must be accompanied by farming that is industrial as opposed to subsistence). Although Europeans ate all sorts of food, with regional variety, the staple was some sort of grain that could be made into bread. Food might be in short supply for two reasons: man-made and natural. In the case of the former, some memorable famines resulted from the siege of a city, combining the Red and Black Horses as it were.

Appropriately, Chapter 5, the last main part of the book, focuses on “The Pale Horse: Disease, Disaster and Death.” The chapter begins with a disturbing section on “Sexual Disease.” Untold thousands of people suffered terribly in an age when syphilis was not understood and had no known cure. Many hospitals of the time were built primarily for the purpose of seeing to the needs its victims. There were, in addition, epidemics that resulted from siege and from outbreaks of plague. The prevalence of sudden death presented early modern culture with a paradox: death was the result of divine disfavor, but hope sprang from a belief in divine grace. 

In a brief “Epilogue” Cunningham and Grell conclude: “We have argued that these [four horses and horsemen] were images which contemporaries used, not only to understand, but also to decode and give meaning to the troubles and disasters which they found themselves exposed to in the increasingly unstable and changing world of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries” (319). Following the end of the Thirty Years War, a post- apocalyptic era emerged on the continent of Europe. And why did things unfold in that way and at that time? First, there actually were more wars, outbreaks of epidemic disease, and famine between 1498 and 1648. Second, these were due to population growth, which was the result of “global warming” during that century and a half. It seems probable, say the authors, that these were directly related. In spite of all the death and destruction of the period, the population managed to double during the time in question. Third and finally, sometime during the early 1600s, Europe began to cool again, and population leveled off. Once population growth subsided in the early seventeenth century, the apocalypse "receded into the future" (323).

This is a splendid book, a tremendous academic achievement from which I have learned much. Though nothing like an expert in this period, I cannot help but wonder if the authors have placed too much weight on their main idea. It may very well be true that, historically, warming trends lead to greater food production, which leads to sustained population growth, which generates all sorts of economic, political and social problems, which produce apocalypticism in a Christianized society. But I cannot be the only reader who has thought that that explanation is a bit too neat and tidy. Not unrelated, it seems to me that the authors underestimate the extent to which apocalyptic language and themes can reverberate in a Christianized society (like post-World War II America) that is very different from early modern Europe.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

J. C. Beker on the Theology of Paul

Beker, J. Christiaan. The Triumph of God: The Essence of Paul's Thought. Translated by Loren T. Struckenbruck. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.

How should the letters of Paul be interpreted? Is there a key that will unlock the door to understanding? In The Triumph of God, the late J. Christiaan Beker, who then taught New Testament Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, presented his answers to those questions.

In 1980 Beker published Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Fortress Press, 1980), an insightful and provocative book which established him as a leading interpreter of the Apostle. In 1988, he issued a German, popular-level abridgment of the first book. His abridgment contains concepts from another of his previous works, Paul's Apocalyptic Gospel (Fortress, 1982).

The Triumph of God is Loren T. Struckenbruck's translation of Beker's German work of 1988 with an appendix entitled "Paul the Theologian." So, the book I'm reviewing here was at the time Beker's most recent attempt to explain to a popular audience what Paul's letters were, and are, all about.

Following the preface, which introduces the reader to Beker's basic concepts, "Part One: The Pauline Letter" presents his answer to the question of identifying the universal truth conveyed in Paul's contingent, occasional letters. Beker explains that this historical enterprise has often sacrificed the contingency and particularity of Paul's letters in order to gain coherence and "catholicity," which other attempts to interpret Paul conjecture too much. He critiques what he calls the "catholic solution" in which the author of Acts is said to have reduced the entirety of Paul's thought to a minimum. This solution stands behind several textual variants among Paul's letters which would give them a more universal appeal.

Second, Beker faults the "Marcionite solution" for its arbitrary attempts to identify the center of Paul's thought, attempts which sacrifice the situational character of the Apostle's letters in order to "discover" their doctrinal core.

Third, the "psychological solution," which proposes Paul's developing religious psyche as the basis for discontinuity or diversity among his letters, mistakes a conjecture for a real answer. For Beker, the satisfactory answer must be rooted in something firmer than mere speculation about Paul's religious psychology.

Having dispensed with what he considers misguided attempts to understand Paul, Beker turns to his own two-part solution. First, Paul's letters represent a dialectic, an interaction between the Apostle's thought (which is coherent) and the situations to which he writes (which are contingent). This approach rightly views Paul not as a systematic theologian who wrote timeless, doctrinal treatises, but as a missionary interpreter of the gospel who wrote occasional letters to churches in a variety of unique situations. Second, the coherence of Paul's thought is rooted in his Jewish apocalyptic worldview, which is the "basic framework" of his gospel. Beker outlines what he means by "apocalyptic worldview": (a) the faithfulness and vindication of God, (b) the universal salvation of the world, (c) the dualistic structure of the world, and (d) the imminent coming of God in glory" (p. 21). Then he elaborates on each point.

In "Part Two: Theological Consequences," Beker demonstrates his first thesis by revealing contingency in Romans and Galatians. With seasoned observation he notes, for example, that in Galatians 3 Paul's argument centers on Christ, the seed of Abraham, as the object of faith; but in Romans 4 it is rather the God of Abraham who is the object of faith. These sorts of distinctions reveal that, far from being a timeless systematic theology and its abstract (as they are typically portrayed), Romans and Galatians employ basic symbols such as "law," "Abraham," and "faith" in significantly different ways.

Next, Beker demonstrates his second thesis that it is the apocalyptic background that represents the real coherence in Paul's thought. Examining the Apostle's interpretation of the death and resurrection of Jesus, his triumph over demonic powers in his cross, and the Christian life of anticipation, the author shows that Paul's thought is, indeed, rooted in an apocalyptic outlook. Beker adds a chapter in which he discusses the close tie between sin and death in Paul's thought, along with Paul's understanding of the Law as both good but also instrumental in the hands of death.

Finally, the appendix underscores, first the need to find the coherence of Paul's thought at a level beneath the text of his letters and, second, the transparency of apocalyptic as that coherent center, a quality lacking in other attempts to interpret the Apostle. A useful bibliography, index of passages cited, and index of names round out the book.

At least two questions arise in response to Beker's position. First, will not the "fluid" and "subtextual" center of Paul's theology allow for a more open stance toward questions of authorship? (Beker denies the Pauline authorship of Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and the so-called Pastoral Epistles). In other words, how can the flexible coherence of Paul's thought become the final arbiter in deciding which letters should be attributed to him? Second, if the apocalyptic framework and semantic system which are necessary to a true understanding of Paul's message no longer exist as such, in what way can his "truth of the gospel" be proclaimed in our contemporary setting?

Notwithstanding such questions, preachers, teachers, and other serious students of Paul can profitably use this book to understand one of the Apostle's leading modern interpreters who consistently provides penetrating insight into Paul's thought and letters.

Note: An earlier version of this review first appeared in Restoration Quarterly, Volume 35, Number 1, 1993.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Albert Schweitzer's Failed Quest. Or Was It?

Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. New York: Macmillan, 1968.

This book is a translation of Schweitzer’s classic of 1906, Von Reimarus zu Wrede: Eine Geschicte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung. It provides a landmark overview of the then-modern quest to identify the Jesus of history. Schweitzer chronicles the work of, among many others, H. S. Reimarus, the pioneering German skeptic; D. F. Strauss, who brought the anti-supernatural approach to the life of Jesus into the foreground of scholarship; Bruno Bauer, who notoriously concluded that Jesus of Nazareth never existed; Ernest Renan, who introduced the rationalistic treatment of the life of Jesus to a popular French-speaking audience; and Johannes Weiss, who emphasized that the teaching of Jesus assumes and advances the ideas connected with contemporary Jewish eschatology. Finally, Schweitzer pits his own thoroughgoing eschatological understanding of Jesus against the completely skeptical view typified by W. Wrede’s book, The Messianic Secret in the Gospels.  He concludes: “There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the Life of Jesus” (p. 398), and he asserts that it is Christian experience that authenticates the way of Christ.
For a brief overview that deals with the question and updates the discussion, see N. T. Wright, Who Was Jesus? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), pages 1-18. Or, see Wright's academic article, “Quest for the Historical Jesus,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 3, pages 796-802.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Early Beginnings of the New Perspective on Paul

Stendahl, Krister. “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Consciousness of the West.” Harvard Theological Review 56 (1963): 199-215.

One of the early and seminal writings in the emergence of what is now called the New Perspective on Paul. Stendahl argues that Western Christianity, via Augustine and Luther, has wrongly interpreted the Apostle. He claims that, unlike Augustine and Luther, Paul did not speak of an inner struggle that each person has with his conscience.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

When Did Transubstatiation become the Only Correct View in Roman Catholicism?

McCue, James F. “The Doctrine of Transubstantiation from Berengar through Trent: The Point at Issue.” Harvard Theological Review 61 (July 1960): 395-430.

This article demonstrates that for more than two centuries leading up to the Reformation, a large number of medieval theologians “thought that transubstantiation was not a necessary consequence of the doctrine of the physical presence.” Indeed, it was nearly a century after the Fourth Lateran Council that its proceedings were commonly understood as having made transubstantiation “a sine qua non of orthodoxy” (385). Before then, transubstantiation was simply the common favorite of three distinct possibilities, including the view that would come to be known as consubstantiation. Once we reach Thomas Aquinas, however, we encounter for the first time a vast difference. Not only does Thomas deem consubstantiation inappropriate and impossible, he also labels the view heretical. In this clear, well-written article, the author quotes the original Latin in the text of his paper and provides English translations in the footnotes. A superb and convincing piece of work.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

From Toleration to Participation: William R. Hutchison's Vision for Religious and Political History in America

During the last several years of his long teaching career at Harvard, William R. Hutchison developed a series of lectures on the legal, political, and cultural history of religion in America. In 2003, he published the series as a book entitled Religious Pluralism in America: The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal. Throughout, Hutchison focused on the presence of religious subcultures in the United States, and emphasized that acknowledging diversity is something different from embracing pluralism.

Hutchison identified three stages of what he called religious pluralism in America: toleration, inclusion, and participation. He defined "toleration" as the mere legal and social tolerance of religiously deviant persons and groups. Even before the American revolution, the British colonies were known for their religious diversity and tolerance. Throughout much of the nineteenth century, Americans who identified with the dominant culture of Anglo-Calvinist Protestantism typically assumed that newly arrived immigrants, like Irish Catholics and German Lutherans, had the right to exist. Yet these groups were denied any sort of cultural authority. Often, toleration amounted to little more than the "absence of persecution" (6). This was in exchange for the absence of any socially threatening behavior on the part of the new immigrants.

By the end of the nineteenth century, said Hutchinson, a growing number of Americans were coming to see mere toleration as inadequate, both morally and practically. Their dissatisfaction led to what Hutchison called "inclusion," an impulse that represented a step towards a stronger form of pluralism. The middle chapters of the book reveal that inclusion was the result of a three-way collaboration: it was initiated by the leadership of the reigning Protestant liberals, and was claimed by Catholics and Jews. Still, inclusion rarely granted to the newly included "an equal or proportional right to share in the exercise of cultural authority" (6).

Hutchison depicted the years following the First World War as a time of steady march towards his third stage, "participation." By that term he meant a social mandate according to which all sorts of individuals and groups (including groups defined by ethnicity, race, or gender as well as religion) "share responsibility for the forming and implementing of society's agenda" (7). The author was quick to acknowledge that during the early twentieth century there were still signs of intolerance, like anti-immigrant legislation and the Ku Klux Klan. At the same time, there also emerged significant signs of greater participation. For example, the National Council of Christians and Jews was established in 1928, and National Brotherhood Week was first observed in 1934.

At least three public-policy landmarks of the 1950s and 60s hastened the advance of inclusion. First, although it was in some ways xenophobic, the McCurran-Walter Act of 1952 lifted the ban on immigration from Asia and the Pacific. Second, and even more important, was the Brown v. Board of Education decision handed down in 1954. Finally, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 "abolished the quota system that had kept immigration from Asia to a minimum" (224).

Hutchison ends on a note of hope. The words of the Founders, he intimated, rather than their negative examples, will finally win the day in America. That is still to be seen, and it is still unclear what that sort of victory, if achieved, will look like.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Perry Miller's "Errand into the Wilderness"

Miller, Perry. Errand into the Wilderness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956.

This post provides an overview of the "Preface" and of the leading chapter, "Errand into the Wilderness," in this classic collection by the great Perry Miller.


Miller says that while in central Africa he had an “epiphany” that revealed to him what he ought to do with his life. The task was thrust upon him. Since that time, he had spent 25 years studying “the innermost propulsion of the United States” (viii).

He tell us that, after all of that work, he and his generation of scholars have still not achieved anything like “the comprehensive understanding we presumptuously proposed” (ix), which is one reason he is so glad to see young scholars like Edmund S. Morgan and Bernard Bailyn coming along.

While acknowledging that "social" history can and does contribute to our understanding of the past, Miller is compelled to say that these sorts of probes really don't get at the essence of his subject. He seems to be saying that the most important facet in human history is intellectual history, and that the intellectual history of colonial America is essentially theological. Furthermore, people who think otherwise haven't examined the facts.

He describes the chapters of his book as “pieces,” not “essays.” The first word suggests a piece of work submitted by a deadline. The second word sounds like something much more definitive and timeless. Miller goes out of his way to mention that his pieces are incomplete. They are approximations. And since that’s the case, he’s glad to have had the opportunity to revise them. He comes across as a serious worker who does not take himself too seriously.

"Errand into the Wilderness"

In this fascinating piece, Miller begins with the seeming despair of the second- and third-generation preachers in New England. They seem to assume that their forebears, the first generation, were more devoted and much more capable than they were, and that the present generation had failed because they had not run as well as their predecessors. What, Miller wonders, was the source of this anxiety, and even dread?

He distinguishes between two connotations of the word "errand." These two meanings certainly would have been in the back of the mind of Samuel Danforth, the Puritan preacher who, in 1670, titled his election sermon "A Brief Recognition of New England's Errand into the Wilderness.": On the one hand, someone might be "an errand boy," merely doing someone else's bidding. On the other hand, one might be running errands for himself or herself. In the first scenario, the one running errands is not responsible for the list of things to do, only for the doing of them. In the second scenario, the one running errands is responsible for both. In which of these two had New England failed (or so it seemed to them)?

Plymouth was simple in that the Pilgrims were driven there by their convictions. Plymouth was more or less a forced migration. The only way that the Separatists could have had it otherwise would be if they ceased being Separatists.

The Great Migration of 1630 was completely different. Those people chose to go. The "Massachusetts Bay Colony come on an errand in the second and later sense of the word: it was, so to speak, on its own business" (5). Later, again: "These Puritans did not flee to America; they went in order to work out that complete reformation which was not yet accomplished in England and Europe, but which would quickly be accomplished if only the saints back there had a working model to guide them" (11).

A great section on the experience of change (economic and social) among the first generations of the Bay Colony, and how the jeremiad sermons of the preachers were a sort of ritualistic public venting, which took for granted that such change would continue and accelerate, and that sort of encouraged them, actually. Having grown up in little England, where no more land was to be had, Winthrop could never have imagined how the physical realities of the American experience would change everything for the residents of Massachusetts and their descendants. Expansion, which was impossible in England, was guaranteed in America (9).

Miller sets out to show that the migration connected with John Winthrop was intended “to vindicate the most rigorous ideal of the Reformation, so that ultimately all Europe would imitate New England” (12). In the words of Winthrop, the eyes of the whole world were upon them. The whole world would be watching to see whether or not a purified Christianity would emerge in the New World. And, because they were doing this for the Lord's honor and glory, there is a real sense in which their "errand" was being carried out in the first sense, i.e., at the behest of the Lord whose Word compelled them (11).

Miller says that this is precisely the reason why the second and third generations seem so dejected. What were the sources of this perception and problem?

1. Winthrop and his group had set the bar so incredibly high. To get the whole world to look on and to emulate New England as New England did everything right?

2. Not only that, there were many in England who took an interest in the American project, but who did not appreciate or approve of the policies and actions of the leaders in New England, namely the banishment of the likes of Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, Anabaptists, and Antinomians. Any one of these types would have been welcomed into Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army. And, upon winning, Cromwell would insist on all these being able to enjoy liberty of conscience (13).

3. And, the Civil Wars in England during the 1640s distracted the English and took away the “audience” of those in New England.

People in New England in the mid-1600s were having what Miller describes as a crisis of identity, which was even more troublesome to them than all of the natural hardships. Miller suggests that these events were a real turning point in America. His last few sentences read, “Their errand having failed in the first sense of the term, they were left with the second, and required to fill it with meaning by themselves and out of themselves. Having failed to rivet the eyes of the world upon their city on the hill, they were left alone with America” (15).

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Trip to Abilene

So last Thursday afternoon Michele and I got in the car and drove to Abilene. Compared to the panhandle it gets significantly hotter in that part of Texas, and the closer we got to our destination the further our car thermometer went into triple digits. By 3 that afternoon, we were somewhere around Post, Texas when the temperature reached 105.

I had booked a room at the Courtyard Marriott, which looked nice online. It was. We got to Abilene late afternoon, spent an hour or so in the pool, drove a few blocks down for a nice dinner, and then walked across the street to their shopping mall. We were amazed an hour later when we came out of the mall. At around 8:30, the temperature was in the mid-90s! Near sunset, it was still really hot. Did I mention it was hot in that part of Texas?

Anyway, on Friday morning Michele dropped me off at the Center for Restoration Studies which is in the library on the campus of Abilene Christian University. From there, she went shopping and got an afternoon massage that I had scheduled for her. The shopping and the message were the answer to her question, "If you go to Abilene so you can spend time in the library, what do I get to do?"

At the CRS, I gained a bit more in my quest to establish the timeline and travels of R. W. Officer (see previous post). Many thanks to Carisse Mickey Berryhill, who tracked down the Gospel Guide for me, and took care of a dozen other requests that day.

It also was a pleasure to finally meet in person and visit with Mac Ice at the CRS. Mac was preparing to set up an Restoration Movement hymnal display. Among the gems on the cart was the hymnal pictured here, published by Elias Smith at Boston in 1804!

We made it home late Friday evening. We were glad we got to have a quick vacation just before Michele began her new teaching job here in Tulia today.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Joe S. Warlick Encounters R. W. Officer in Arkansas, 1926

Joe S. Warlick (1866-1941), editor and publisher of the Gospel Guide, often included an "Editorials" section in his paper. These occasional pieces told of Warlick's travels, speaking engagements, debates, etc. To anyone interested in Restoration History, they are a must read.

In the June 1926 issue, Warlick tells of a recent trip from his home in Dallas, Texas to Arkansas and to other states north and east. Along the way, he preached wherever he could and delivered at least one school commencement address. His report includes the following:

"Saturday night we began [preaching] at Center Point, the old county seat of Howard County.  . . .

"We had dinner on the ground Sunday, which all enjoyed greatly. Among those who were with us was the venerable R. W. Officer, who now resides in Nashville [Arkansas], not far away."

"Editorials," Gospel Guide, Volume XI, No. 6, (June 1926), p. 4.

What is the significance of this for people interested in the life and times of R. W. Officer (1845-1930)?  Here we have one of the very few references to him in any church paper between about 1906 and his death in 1930. Up until the first few years of the twentieth century, R. W. had been a long-time and prolific contributor to a large array of Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement journals, especially the Gospel Advocate and Octographic Review.

Why he ceased sending notices to the journals and magazines is a puzzle. Shortly before, Officer did complain in print about his rheumatism. It's been some time since I've seen it, but there was also reference to a wagon accident that may have injured his hand. But these obstacles, it seems to me, would not be enough to stop an inveterate writer with the grit of R. W. Officer. Not to mention that during most of that time he had a second wife, several years younger than him, and also a son, Leon V., who lived close to his father.

Although brief, Warlick's notice includes more than one piece of important information. First, it locates Officer in Nashville, Arkansas in the spring of 1926. This is especially interesting because according to the U.S. Federal Census of 1930, Officer, by then 85 years old, was still living in Nashville. He is listed as a "boarder" in home of a "farmer" named Parker Russell (age 66); Russell's wife, Gillie (who was 59); and their son, Garner (19). Also according to the 1930 Census, Officer's occupation was "minister" of the Christian Church. It appears, then, that R. W. Officer spent at least the last four years of his life preaching for the Christian Church in Nashville, Arkansas, while residing with a farmer and his family who were presumably members of that congregation.

Second, Warlick's notice indicates that Officer (a veteran of the Civil War who was then 80 years old) was still vigorous enough to get out and around. Center Point, where Warlick shared lunch with Officer, is about 9 miles from Nashville, where he resided.

Third, it seems to indicate that Officer had not moved away from his convictions in previous years. In the time leading up to his silence in the papers, Officer had been suspected of all sorts of "isms" and heresies. Some people probably imagined that he stopped sending notices to the papers because he had indeed "gone off the deep end" religiously. But Officer's appearance at the Sunday gathering and dinner at Center Point, Arkansas in 1926 suggests otherwise. Officer's "heresy trial" in Alabama in the 1870s includes much the same rhetorical tone and tough stance as one would find in the pages of Warlick's Gospel Guide. If by 1926 Officer had long since changed his thinking in a radical way, then why would he want to venture out to see and hear the likes of Joe S. Warlick, a staunch preacher and debater?

All of this suggests two basic conclusions regarding Officer between the ages of 60 and 85. First, he did not stop publishing in the papers because he was no longer able. Second, it does not seem that Officer had significantly changed his views. Even if he had, he was still willing to go hear and visit with Joe Warlick, a preacher who certainly had not.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Early American History: A Dandy Baker's Dozen

So here's a short list of recent titles in the field of Early American History. If you want to get a sense of the state of the art, these books will get you started. While all of them represent an impressive achievement, some are even more significant that others. However, being so new to this area of study, I have a difficult time knowing which ones might still be popular and influential among scholars and their students, say, thirty years from now.

The list represents a good mix: there's the Atlantic Ocean, fish, fishing, the Boston Tea Party, Indians, the French, pirates, more tea, slaves, the British army, etc. For what it's worth, I put an asterisk by the titles I simply enjoyed more than others. So note well: an asterisk does not necessarily mean it's a better, more-important book, or that I especially agreed with the author's main point(s). It simply means I enjoyed reading that book more than most of the others.

*Bolster, W. Jeffrey. The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail. Harvard, 2012.

Carp, Benjamin L. Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America. Yale, 2010.

*Cronon, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. Revised edition. New York: Hill and Wang, 2003.

Fichter, James. So Great a Proffit: How the East Indies Trade Transformed Anglo-American Capitalism. Harvard, 2010.

Gould, Eliga H. Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire. Harvard, 2012.

Jasanoff, Maya. Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World. Vintage, 2012.

Lepore, Jill. The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity. Knopf, 1998.

Little, Ann. Abraham in Arms: War and Gender in Colonial New England. Pennsylvania, 2007.

*Rediker, Marcus. Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age. Beacon, 2004.

Richter, Daniel K. Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America. Harvard, 2001.

*Taylor, Alan. The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832. Norton, 2013.

Wood, Gordon S. The American Revolution: A History. Modern Library, 2002.

Yokota, Kariann Akemi. Unbecoming British: How Revolutionary America Became a Postcolonial Nation. Oxford, 2011.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Adler, Selig. "The United States and the Holocaust." Abstract

Adler, Selig. "The United States and the Holocaust." American Jewish Historical Quarterly 64, No. 1 (September 1974): 14-23.

Adler cites in footnote 1 several authorities who agree that "the United States could have done more to mitigate the catastrophe" (14). But the U.S. did not because of three factors: (a) Washington's incorrect assumptions about the Jewish plight in Europe and what the U.S. could do in order to alleviate it. (b) The refugee predicament came far behind other concerns of the time, especially the war. (c) The aid which did come was too little, too late (14). Most of the article concerns the political mistakes and misdeeds of the U.S. during the Holocaust which resulted in many, many more deaths.