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Essays and Reviews, published in 1860, is a collection of seven essays on religion, covering such topics as the Biblical researches of the German critics, the evidences of Christianity, religious thought in England, and the cosmology of Genesis. Today they seem innocuous enough; we are surprised to learn that the book was considered shocking and that the essayists were called “The Seven Against Christ.“ The book was important solely because of its date and its authors, seven liberal Anglican churchmen. Appearing and one year after Darwin's Origin of Species, it summed up a three-quarter-century-long challenge to Biblical history by the Higher Critics and to Biblical prehistory by scientists working in the new fields of geology and biology.

Left: Dean Liddell. Middle: Benjamin Jowett. Right: Frederick Temple. All three courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London. [Click on images to enlarge them and for more information about them.]

The heart of the book is Benjamin Jowett's piece “On the Interpretation of Scripture.” Jowett, later master of Balliol College, Oxford, argued that the Bible ought to be read like any other book--in other words, our aim ought to be to recover the authors' original meaning within their own context and not to expect that Genesis will accord with Newtonian astronomy. His suggestion that New Testament writers had changed the meaning of passages from the Psalms that appear in the Epistles radically implied that divine inspiration had nothing to do with their creative process. He added that Christians ought no longer to ignore the work of the nineteenth-century critics, but to welcome it. The “higher” critics, mostly Germans, had sought to confirm the events narrated in the Bible from independent sources--which implies, obviously, that the Bible's accuracy can be doubted. All this had been said before, by those outside the Church; but these essayists were making the same arguments from inside the Church.

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