Jan. 30 Flashback: 1611 and 1619

Jan. 30 Flashback: 1611 and 1619 January 30, 2022

This blog is so old people used to find it through AltaVista.

From January 30, 2015, “Slavery and the Creation of a Counterfeit ‘Biblical Civilization’ in America: 1619-1865“:

Any discussion of “the Decline of America’s Biblical Civilization, 1865-1918” is doomed from the start because it assumes that America was some kind of “biblical civilization” in 1865. It wasn’t. “America’s Biblical Civilization” could not have cracked in 1865 because the possibility of such a thing ever existing had been negated back in 1619.

Perhaps America Christians in 1865 imagined they were living in a “Biblical Civiliation.” After all, the majority of white American Christians in the centuries leading up to 1865 regarded themselves as “biblical” people. They said as much quite a bit.

But if we’re going to understand America and American Christianity, we can’t just take their word for it. We have to evaluate what they meant by this claim, whether that meaning is meaningful, and whether it is in any sense accurate.

I think that claim was accurate, but I do not think it was meaningful. Because slavery.

The existence of slavery — the reliance upon slavery — renders the claim of “America’s Biblical Civilization: 1619-1865” absurd and meaningless, as “any man whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.”

That last bit is from Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” wherein Douglass contends directly with the claim that America was ever, in any meaningful sense, a “biblical civilization.” …

Christendom never described itself as “biblical civilization” until the 17th century. For the previous 16 centuries of Christianity, the Bible did not play such a role in the way that Christians and “Christian civilization” identified and imagined itself. Such an idea just wasn’t available or possible before then. The transformation of Christendom from “Christian civilization” into “biblical civilization” was not a thing that could have happened until after the printing press and the widespread availability of non-Latin translations.

And as soon as such a thing became possible — as soon as the English-speaking colonists who would later become “Americans” first had the opportunity to redefine themselves and begin to identify as “biblical” Christians — it began to be shaped by the nearly concurrent rise of the institution of slavery.

The King James Version of the Bible was completed in 1611. The first African slaves were imported into Jamestown in 1619. “Biblical” Christianity and the idea of “biblical civilization” grew up alongside slavery. The latter shaped the former, and the two things have been inextricably intertwined ever since.

The invention of “biblical” Christianity and of the idea of “biblical civilization” was for the purpose of accommodating slavery. That may not have been its exclusive purpose, but it was an essential function of the thing. It was a concept shaped and designed and tailored so that it could and would defend and perpetuate slavery.

Read the whole post here.

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