Virginia religionists also saw the entire Bible as
a unity, as a Christian book. Israel’s history prefigured or
foreshadowed the Christian future, and expressed, to paraphrase Lampe, the significance of
the present in terms of the past (Lampe, p. 20).
Between the American Revolution and the Civil War,
according to Mark A. Noll, the United States was the most
"biblical nation" in the world. For the educated as well as
the illiterate, the Bible "was the story of all stories. . . .
the controlling myth for American use." The scriptures were
"most useful on public occasions" when treated as "a
storehouse of types" in the "belief that the United States
was an antitype which fulfilled biblical types" ("The Image
of the United States as a Biblical Nation," p. 43). Ministers had
an intense fascination with the fulfillment of biblical prophecy to
substantiate nationalism and patriotism:
This predisposition to read Scripture typically
and to regard the United States as a new Israel naturally led
ministers to stress the grand narratives of the Old Testament.
Well into the national period, the public Bible of the United
States was for all intents the Old Testament. During the
Revolution just about the only ministers who preached consistently
from the New Testament were pacifists and loyalists, trying—in
vain—to overcome the power of Old Testament narratives about
setting captive Israel free with straight-forward New Testament
injunctions to honor the king and love one’s neighbors (Noll,
Though widespread, this "union of biblical
typology and American nationalism" was not followed by all (Noll,
p. 46). In the early nineteenth century, a class of educated blacks,
David Walker, rose in the North who used biblical typology for
ideological purposes, namely, abolitionism. Some, such as
Delany, used this biblical mode of interpretation to promote the
notion of an African nationality.
Enlightenment thinkers, such as
Locke and other natural theologians, many American clergyman modified
the traditional methods of biblical exegesis. Congregationalist
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), former president of the College
of New Jersey and a "student of prophecy" and "God’s
eschatological designs" for America, moved away from the standard
use of Bible typology as was used by
Cotton Mather and other
Congregationalists. He was "enthralled with the sense of God’s
majestic presence, not with man’s submission to infinite authority"
(Bowden, p. 142).
Edwards' dispute with the Northampton church over
"church purity" and its attempt to establish a public
morality led him to "reconsider the application of biblical
typology. He did not abandon the idea that Israel and its history were
types to be fulfilled in later years," according to
Mark A. Noll.
"But he did insist that these were types of spiritual realities
having little or nothing to do with later nations as such"
Image of the United States as a Biblical Nation," p.
Much of the nation, however, did not follow Edwards
or make use of his method as he had intended. Many of the colonists
viewed the Revolution and American Independence in biblical terms as a
fulfillment of prophecy. The dissenting settlers who made up the body
of the revolutionary spirit, less lettered than Edwards, were still
heavily influenced by the bible tradition. For them, the American
Revolution "represented the complete break from Old Israel"
and the "creation of a New Israel" in which the promises of
the past would bring forth a harvest that would benefit the world,
"One of the obvious points here is that
biblical typology, particularly Exodus, is an important part of the
cultural and political beginnings (ideology, if you will) of the
United States, so much so that most political events are captured and
understood within the terms of the narrative. We are the new
Israelites. That is, unless you are black" (Exodus, p.
42). The American Enlightenment was not as thorough-going as that
which occurred in Europe, which moved away from religious explanations
to explain "natural events."
Samuel Hopkins of Newport, a follower of Edwards’
method, used scripture, during the Revolutionary period, for an
on slavery. He was aware that there was nothing explicit in the Bible
that condemned slavery. Hopkins concluded, however, that slavery was
"condemned by the whole of divine revelation." He cited
book, chapter, and verse in which implicit condemnation could be
found. "For Hopkins to read the Bible as had been taught by
Edwards was to find a very different public book than that which many
of his contemporaries opened to illuminate the Revolutionary era"
(Noll, p. 47-48).
Besides the Edwardseans, there was yet another
group of Americans who used "biblical typology," not as a
"fulfillment in the legendary events of United States
history," according to Noll. Though seldom heard, Christian
slaves had their own perspective of God working in the world. "If
whites saw future political realities in Scriptural narrative, and
Edwardseans discerned spiritual ones, [Christian] slaves saw a
combination of social and spiritual truths" ("The Image
of the United States as a Biblical Nation," pp. 48-49). One needs
only examine the Spirituals, an extant source of Christian slaves’
religious consciousness, to observe their use of biblical typology to
other purposes than nationalism or self-glorification.
There will be no attempt here to analyze the
Spirituals for their topological content. But a mere perusal of a few
titles of the more than six hundred songs should sustain the point:
"Go Down Moses"; "Joshua Fit The Battle of
Jericho"; "Didn’t Old Pharaoh Get Lost?"; "Give
Me That Old Time Religion"; "Stand Still Jordan";
"Singing With a Sword in My Hand"; "Steal Away to
Jesus"; and "Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel."
Spiritual and physical liberation centered their religious concerns.
In the religious songs, the sentiments and
often the entire lines are taken bodily from the Bible. However,
there is no doubt that some of these religious songs have a
meaning apart from the Biblical text. It is evident that the
opening lines of "Go Down Moses" . . . have a significance
beyond the bondage of Israel in Egypt (The Book of American Negro Poetry, p. 18)
America’s Christian slaves lived in a world
radically different from that of Jonathan Edwards’ "spiritual
realities." These Christian slaves, like the Jewish sects of the
Roman Empire, were an oppressed people sustained by their relationship
In 1864, a Union soldier was dismayed by the appeal
that the biblical Moses had for liberated Christian slaves.
"There is no part of the Bible with which they are so familiar as
the story of the deliverance of the children of Israel. Moses is their
ideal of all that is high, and noble, and perfect, in man. I think
they have been accustomed to regard Christ not so much in the light of
a spiritual deliverer, as that of a second Moses who could eventually
lead them out of their prison-house of bondage" ("The Image
of the United States as a Biblical Nation," p. 50).
That Jesus was a "second Moses" had long
been a commonplace in Christian typology. According to W. K. Grossouw,
"Chapters 5 to 7 of Matthew’s Gospel represent the Lord as the
new and greater Moses, who with authority proclaims His teaching on
the mountain" (Spirituality of the New Testament, p. 38).
Despite widespread illiteracy, these Christian slaves may have been
more attuned than their power-wielding masters to the underlining
messages found in Jesus’ parables of "the kingdom of
This type of thinking, despite the Union soldier’s
amazement, was orthodox biblical typology, the same typological
thinking found in the Book of Matthew, the "most violently
anti-Pharisaic" of the gospels (The Gospels: Their Origins and their
Growth, p. 137). Like those of the
first century, the religion of Christian slaves were both
other-worldly and this-worldly. Like other Christians, they too
desired one of the "father’s mansions" in this world and
the next. These black Christian "readers" combined
"biblical types and scriptural injunctions" against slavery’s
demonic power. Some of their favorite verses were
("Hath not one God created us?") to counter ethnic rivalry;
Acts 10:34 ("God is no respecter of persons") to counter
racial thinking; and
Acts 17:26 ("Of one blood hath God made all
nations") to counter white nationalism.
For Christian slaves, "God’s chosen
people" were those "who suffered unjustly among all
peoples," not one "nation among nations" ("The Image
of the United States as a Biblical Nation," pp.
50-51). Though an African people, America’s Christian slaves, the
folk masses, responded wonderfully to the universal message of
salvation taught in the gospel of the "kingdom of heaven."
Not infrequently, Christian slaves led their masters to Christ.
In the black popular imagination, Nathaniel Turner, with the
fervor of Old Testament prophets, corrected the religious arrogance
and vanity of Christian slaveholders. But Turner was not singular in
his actions. Christian slaves of Virginia and throughout the South
reoriented the typological mode of interpretation to the perspective
of the enslaved Christian, whose self-interest it was to "escape
from American institutions," as Christian Jews and Gentiles
sought to escape the horrors of Roman imperialism and slavery.
"Escape" for the Christian slave of the
South was expressed in the biblical terms of the "Exodus"
of the United States as a Biblical Nation," p. 49). Grounded and schooled in this Christian slave
perspective, in his youth, Turner did indeed choose "escape"
when his "promise" of freedom was ignored. But that was not
his destiny. He moved toward accommodation ("Give unto Caesar
that which is Caesar’s") and then, in the end, confrontation
("And unto God that which is God’s). For Nathaniel Turner, faith and
obedience were the foundation of Christian manhood.
Like Abraham or Joshua, Turner engaged the forces
of evil with righteous indignation and violence. Though usually
associated with Old Testament prophecy, Turner focused his testament
primarily on the gospel message of the prophet Jesus of Nazareth.
Turner did not read the gospel as a pacifist manifesto nor Jesus as a
non-violent ideologue. Like
Francis Asbury, Turner believed the gospel
was "armed with terror to the disobedient, impenitent, and to
apostates from it. . . . all the perfection of Deity is arranged on
the side of vengeance and vindictive wrath" (The
Journal and Letters of Francis Asbury, p, 553).
the Gospel of
Matthew, which is "emphatically
apocalyptic-eschatological" (The Gospels: Their Origins and their
Growth, p. 147). Establishing a
continuity between the old and the new, Matthew’s gospel cements the
two testaments. This emphasis was a sign for the reader that Turner
too viewed the Bible as a unity, as a Christian book. The gospel
message of the "kingdom" was central to Turner’s
Christianity. For Turner, it was clear, Jesus was a prophet who
"called his disciples to be, among other things, prophetic"
in Israel, p. 159).
The religious world of Southampton, for Turner,
thus mirrored the biblical world of the ancient Israelites and the new
dispensation of Christ as seen through Methodist eyes.. Turner
reenacted in his own Cross Keys context the Christian drama. To put it
another way, one must read Turner’s
Confessions" in light
of the Gospel
of Matthew. Throughout Turner’s life, there are indeed
correspondences or echoes that respond to Jesus’ life and ministry.
For instance, ancient Jerusalem played a pivotal role in the life of
Jesus and his execution.
In Turner’s life, the Jerusalem of Southampton
played a symbolical role in his Christian slave context. In Turner’s
Jerusalem, the Court of Oyer and Terminer (a special court for
Virginia slaves) publicly tried and convicted him, November 5, 1831,
"as an insurgent." Twelve days after his "capture," under
order of the Court, Turner’s jailers took him from his cell to a
nearby tree, and at noon on November 11, 1831, hanged him until he was
dead. Clearly, for Nathaniel Turner, this state murder was a type of
Bowden, Henry Warner. Dictionary of American Religious
Biography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1977.
Clark, Elmer T., J. Manning Potts, and Jacob S. Payton.
Journal and Letters of Francis Asbury, Volume II. Nashville: Abingdon
Glaude, Jr., Eddie S.
Exodus: Religion, Race, and Nation
in Early Nineteenth-Century Black America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press,
Grant, Frederick C.
The Gospels: Their Origins and their
Growth. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957.
Grossouw, W. K.
Spirituality of the New Testament.
London: B. Herder Book Company, 1961.
Johnson, James Weldon.
The Book of American Negro Poetry.
New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1969.
Lampe, G. W. H., and K. J. Woollcombe. “The
Reasonableness of Typology.” In
Essays on Typology, Studies in
Biblical Theology, no. 22. Napierville, Ill: A.R. Allenson, 1957, pp. 9-38.
Noll, Mark A. "The Image of the United States as a
Biblical Nation, 1776-1865. In Nathan O. Hatch and Mark A. Noll, eds.
The Bible in America:
Essays in Cultural History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982,
Skinner, Andrew C. "The Influence of the Hebrew Bible on
the Founders of the American Republic." In Leonard Jay Greenspoon and Bryan F. LeBeau,
eds. Sacred Text, Secular Times: The Hebrew Bible in the Modern World.
Omaha, Nebraska: Creighton University Press, 2000.
Stroh, Guy W.
American Ethical Thought.
Tucker, Gene M. "The Role of the Prophets and the Role
of the Church." In David L. Petersen, ed.
Prophecy in Israel: Search for an Identity
(Issues in Religion and Theology 10).
Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987, pp. 159-174.
* * *
Bible given to museum—18
a century, the descendants of one of Virginia's oldest
families have kept a Bible that connected them to Nat
Turner, the slave who led the bloodiest slave revolt in
American history. Maurice Person, a descendant of people
who were killed during the Turner rebellion, and his
stepdaughter, Wendy Porter, decided to give the small
Bible to the National Museum of African American History
and Culture."It didn't have the home it deserved. It
needed to be in a place where it could be seen," Porter
Members of Person's
family and the Francis family were among the estimated
55 white Virginians killed by Turner and his followers.
One of the family members, Lavinia Francis, was hidden
by the Francises' house slaves. The gift launched an
investigation by museum experts to pinpoint the Bible's
origins. They knew its provenance—kept in the courthouse
after Turner's trial and execution in 1831. When
Virginia's Southampton County Courthouse was being
renovated in 1912, an official asked the Person family
whether it wanted Turner's Bible. Person's father,
Walter, accepted the book and displayed it on the family
piano for many years. Later, the family put it in a
safe-deposit box. . . .
Even with the ownership clear, the museum did its
due diligence. A photograph of the Bible, identified as
Turner's, was taken in 1900 and is part of the archives
at the University of Virginia. An affidavit in 1969 by
Harriet E. Francis, a descendant of Lavinia Francis, is
also part of the university archives.
Nora Lockshin, a paper conservator for the
Smithsonian Institution Archives, examined the
paper, leather, ink and arrangement of the pages.
The book, which is a little larger than pocket-size,
is missing both covers, part of its spine and one
chapter. Its pages are yellowed, and there are
watermarks and mold. Because of its age, it cannot
be opened flat. "The paper is in good shape, and it
is a good, strong rag paper," Lockshin said. She
enhanced the 1900 photograph, matching the page in
the photo to a page in the book. "It matched the
pattern of stains." With the Turner Bible, Bunch
said, the museum will tell many stories about the
resistance to slavery and the compassion of slaves.—NewsLeader
* * *
Martyrdom in Southampton
Theology of Black Liberation
By Rudolph Lewis
Chapter 4 The Social World of Cross Keys
/ Chapter 6 A
* * *
Exodus!: Religion, Race, and Nation
in Early Nineteenth-Century Black America
By Eddie S.
No other story
in the Bible has fired the imaginations of African
Americans quite like that of Exodus. Its tale of
suffering and the journey to redemption offered hope
and a sense of possibility to people facing
seemingly insurmountable evil.
how this biblical story inspired a pragmatic
tradition of racial advocacy among African Americans
in the early nineteenth century—a tradition based
not on race but on a moral politics of
Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., begins by comparing the
historical uses of Exodus by black and white
Americans and the concepts of "nation" it generated.
He then traces the roles that Exodus played in the
National Negro Convention movement, from its first
meeting in 1830 to 1843, when the convention
decided—by one vote—against supporting
Henry Highland Garnet's call for slave