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J. Crimmens (ed.), Religion, secularization and political thought (London and New York,
1989), pp. 76, 84.
Ethnic theology and British identities 51

ist analyses. Robertson explained the underlying similarities of the
world™s religions not in terms of the post-Diluvial spread of the patri-
archal religion of Noah, but by way of the ˜regular™ and predictable
operations of ˜superstition™ upon the ˜weakness of the human mind™,
given the similar fears “ ˜dread of invisible beings™, ˜solicitude to penetrate
into the eVects of futurity™ “ experienced by savage peoples across the
globe, which created the illusion of ˜consanguinity™. Monotheism, ˜the
idea of one superintending mind™, was ˜an attainment far beyond the
powers of man in the more early stages of his progress™.•¦ However, in his
treatment of Incan and Hindu civilisations, Robertson showed how more
elevated ideas of a supreme power could arise out of ˜false religion™, in the
solar cult of the Incas and in the learning of the Brahmin philosophers.
The natural progress of mankind tended “ providentially “ towards the
truths of Christianity.•  Despite his distaste for the old shibboleths of
ethnic theology, Robertson remained committed to the historicity of the
Old Testament: ˜the books of Moses™ constituted ˜the most ancient and
only genuine record of what passed in the early ages of the world™.•À Thus,
while questioning the outlandish interpretations of ethnic theologians as
to how America had been peopled, Robertson held to an ˜infallible
certainty, that all the human race spring from the same source, and that
the descendants of one man, under the protection, as well as in obedience
to the command of heaven, multiplied and replenished the earth™. Al-
though it was now impossible ˜to trace the branches of this Wrst family™ as
they spread over the earth in a distant age which lay beyond the region of
attested history, he advanced the probability of a Siberian migration to
America, which avoided any suggestion of polygenesis.•Ã Despite the
challenge of the Enlightenment, the Scots intelligentsia of the late eight-
eenth century remained unembarrassed by sacred history: Robert Heron
(1764“1807) produced A philosophical view of universal history from the
Creation (1796) which conXated the history of Genesis with the natural
history of society, economy and arts; the third edition of the Encyclopaedia
Britannica (1797) listed the Celts as the descendants of Gomer, the eldest
son of Japhet; and Caledonia (1807“24) by George Chalmers (1742“
•¦ William Robertson, The history of America (1777), in Robertson, Works (London, 1831
edn), p. 785; Robertson, An historical disquisition concerning the knowledge which the
ancients had of India (1791), ˜Appendix™, in Robertson, Works, p. 1094.
•  Robertson, America, p. 916; Robertson, India, pp. 1093“9; N. Phillipson, ˜Providence
and progress: an introduction to the historical thought of William Robertson™, in
S. J. Brown (ed.), William Robertson and the expansion of empire (Cambridge, 1997);
K. O™Brien, Narratives of Enlightenment: cosmopolitan history from Voltaire to Gibbon
(Cambridge, 1997), p. 165; Marshall and Williams, Great map of mankind, pp. 119“20.
•À Robertson, India, p. 1035.
•Ã Robertson, America, pp. 784“9; E. A. Hoebel, ˜William Robertson: an eighteenth-
century anthropologist-historian™, American Anthropologist 62 (1960), 653“4.
52 Theological contexts

1825), the major history of early Scotland in the Wrst half of the nine-
teenth century, still held fast to a Mosaic account of the peopling of
Europe in the Japhetan line.••
The confrontation of ethnic theologians with the gods of the pagan
world continued throughout the second half of the eighteenth century,
but no longer occupied the central place in English religious thought
which it had been accorded in the age of the Cambridge Platonists and
the latitude-men. The challenge to orthodoxy had taken on new forms,
and the most innovative theologians had abandoned the Noachic land-
scape for other terrains of apologetic. Foremost in sophistication was the
Scottish Common Sense philosophy of mind, devised by Thomas Reid as
an antidote to Hume™s devastating metaphysical scepticism.•’ From the
late 1770s a pressing need to answer Gibbon led a number of scholars,
foremost among them Richard Watson (1737“1816), into defences of
early church history. By the turn of the nineteenth century the Weld of
apologetics was dominated by the ˜evidences™ of William Paley (1743“
1805), who, conscious of Voltaire™s strategy of ˜attacking Christianity
through the sides of Judaism™, shifted his principal line of defence forward
to the New Testament. Although he conceded the importance of proph-
ecy to the credibility of Christianity, Paley was unwilling ˜to make Christi-
anity answerable with its life, for the circumstantial truth of each separate
passage of the Old Testament™.•“ Nevertheless, gentilism continued to
intrigue a number of Wgures in the second rank of English theology and in
the related disciplines of ethnography and mythology.•“ As George Eliot
(1819“80) indicated in Middlemarch (1871“2), it was the rise of the
higher criticism in Germany in the early nineteenth century which made
Casaubon with his ˜Key to all mythologies™ an intellectual anachronism
by about 1830; in the high Enlightenment of the middle of the eighteenth
century an ethnic theologian in the mould of Casaubon, while no longer
at the cutting edge of intellectual life, was still representative of the
concerns of the wider clerical intelligentsia.•”
During the second half of the eighteenth century Anglican circles
enjoyed a minor boom in ˜speculative mythography™,’» and quite a vigor-
ous debate ensued over the origins of idolatry. John Jackson (1686“
•• H. Weinbrot, Britannia™s issue (Cambridge, 1993), p. 485 n.; Chalmers, Caledonia (3
vols., London, 1807“24), I, pp. 2“9.
•’ However, Hume™s heterodox ideas on racial inferiority also attracted a rebuttal from the
Common Sense philosopher James Beattie, An essay on the nature and immutability of truth
in opposition to sophistry and scepticism (1771: reprint, London, 1996), pp. 507“12.
•“ William Paley, A view of the evidences of Christianity (1794: 11th edn, 2 vols., London,
1805), II, pt 3, ch. 3, ˜The connection of Christianity with the Jewish history™, pp. 290“5.
•“ Feldman and Richardson, Rise of modern mythology, pp. 397“9.
•” George Eliot, Middlemarch (ed. W. J. Harvey, Harmondsworth, 1965), pp. 240, 254.
’» Mee, Dangerous enthusiasm, p. 121; Feldman and Richardson, Rise of modern mythology.
Ethnic theology and British identities 53

1763), although an adherent of Samuel Clarke™s Arian formulation of the
Trinity, remained an orthodox defender of sacred history, attributing the
origins of paganism among the Japhetan peoples of Europe to ancestor-
worship imported from the lineage of Ham which corrupted the ancient
patriarchal religion. When the Japhetans Wrst came to Europe in the
seventh century after the Deluge, they brought with them their ancient
monotheism, ˜and hero-gods were not known amongst them, till the
Phoenician Pelasgi, about the ninth century after the Flood, carried the
Cabiric gods amongst them, and introduced their worship and myste-
ries™.’¦ Similarly, Jacob Bryant (1715“1804), the doyen of late eight-
eenth-century British mythographers, argued in his inXuential treatise, A
new system, or, an analysis of ancient mythology (1774“6), that pagan cults
had arisen from the ethnic stock of Chus, son of Ham, a people known as
the Cuthites or Amonians. The founders of the arts and sciences necess-
ary for civilisation as well as the fathers of idolatry, the Cuthites alone had
been responsible for the enormity of the events at Babel. The degenerate
religion of this lineage, which involved the worship of the sun and Wre but
also included a vague ancestral memory of the universal Deluge, had been
diVused throughout the ancient world.’  However, the diVusionist the-
ories of Jackson and Bryant were attacked by John Richardson (1741?“
1811) and the antiquary Francis Wise (1695“1767) as deviations from
Scripture.’À
There was a continuing need to defend the truths of revealed religion
against its heterodox critics. Ethnic theology provided a response to the
threat posed by anti-Trinitarians. In The remains of Japhet (1767), James
Parsons (1705“70) harnessed ethnic theology to the defence of orthodox
Trinitarianism against the heterodox charge that the doctrine of the
Trinity was a metaphysical corruption of true Christianity. Parsons ar-
gued that ˜a plurality in the deity, was always believed by the patriarchs™;
in other words, far from Trinitarianism being a corruption of Christian
doctrine, it was of Noachic antiquity. He bolstered his case by arguing
that the worship of the triune deity was universal, and could be found as


’¦ John Jackson, Chronological antiquities (3 vols., London, 1752), III, p. 218.
’  Jacob Bryant, A new system, or an analysis of ancient mythology (3 vols., London, 1774“6);
Mee, Dangerous enthusiasm, p. 132; Harrison, ˜Religion™ and the religions, pp. 142“3;
T. Trautmann, Aryans and British India (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1997), pp. 43“4.
’À John Richardson, A dissertation on the languages, literature, and manners of eastern nations
(1777: 2nd edn, Oxford, 1778); Francis Wise, The history and chronology of the fabulous
ages considered (Oxford, 1764); Wise, Some enquiries concerning the Wrst inhabitants, lan-
guage, religion, learning and letters of Europe (Oxford, 1758). For Wise and his intellectual
debt to Malcolme, see S. Piggott, ˜Antiquarian studies™, in L. S. Sutherland and
L. G. Mitchell (eds.), The history of the University of Oxford, vol. V, The eighteenth century
(Oxford, 1986), pp. 766“7.
54 Theological contexts

far away as Tibet and Peru.’Ã This was taken to be evidence that the
Trinity had been disseminated throughout the world on the dispersal of
nations.
The pioneers of the intellectual disciplines which were eventually to
demolish the credibility of the Pentateuch as an accurate record of
universal history continued to engage positively with ethnic theology. Sir
William Jones™s classiWcation of Sanskrit with Greek, Latin, Gothic and
Celtic in 1786 undermined the idea of a primal Hebrew language from
which the post-Babelian languages of Europe were descended, yet it did
not initially disturb the scheme of sacred history. Indeed, though Jones
(1746“94) was a scrupulous orientalist, his philological breakthrough
emerged from a wider project to preserve Mosaic orthodoxy and Biblical
chronology. It was, for instance, rumoured that he had assisted Richard-
son in his repudiation of Bryant™s Cuthite follies.’• More openly, Jones™s
essay ˜On the gods of Greece, Italy and India™ applied some of the old
arguments of ethnic theology to Indian material, highlighting religious
similarities between Christianity and Hinduism, including, for example,
aYnities between Noah and the Indian deity Manu II (to be distinguished
from an earlier Manu I whom Jones associated with Adam).’’ In his essay
on ˜The origin and families of men™, Jones used the laws of geometrical
progression to demonstrate that the whole world could have been
peopled from one couple, and laid out a philological basis for the Noachic
dispersion. Not only was the Deluge ˜an historical fact admitted as true by
every nation, to whose literature we have access™, but it seemed clear from
his classiWcation of the language groups of Asia “ the original seat of
mankind “ that the whole world ˜sprang from three branches of one stem™.
The composition of the ancient Vedas Jones located safely in the chrono-
logical wake of the Noachic Flood. Indeed, he could Wnd ˜no certain
monument, or even probable tradition™ of the rise of civilisation ˜above
twelve or at most Wfteen or sixteen centuries before the birth of Christ™.
’Ã James Parsons, Remains of Japhet: being historical enquiries into the aYnity and origin of the
European languages (London, 1767), ch. 7, esp. p. 218; see also ch. 8 for the universality
of the triune deity. In the second half of the seventeenth century, Ross, Pansebeia,
pp. 558“9, had noticed the trinity of powers found in Gentilism. Cudworth, True
intellectual system, I, pp. 482, 509“10, 600“1, had drawn attention to the Trinitarian
features of various pagan religions and Hyde had detected traces of Trinitarianism in
Chinese idolatry: see Marshall and Williams, Great map of mankind, p. 115. See also
Ramsay, Cyrus, II, ˜Discourse™, pp. 8“9; Henderson, Chevalier Ramsay, p. 218.
’• Feldman and Richardson, Rise of modern mythology, p. 241; Trautmann, Aryans and
British India, pp. 41“6; G. Cannon, The life and mind of Oriental Jones (Cambridge, 1990),
pp. 42, 197, 239, 242.
’’ William Jones, ˜On the gods of Greece, Italy, and India™, in P. J. Marshall (ed.), The
British discovery of Hinduism in the eighteenth century (Cambridge, 1970), p. 212; Feldman
and Richardson, Rise of modern mythology, p. 268; Trautmann, Aryans and British India,
p. 58; Cannon, Oriental Jones, pp. 296“7, 310, 318.
Ethnic theology and British identities 55

The father of modern linguistics and keen student of comparative religion
explicitly conWrmed ˜by antecedent reasoning, and by evidence in part
highly probable, and in part certain™ the truth of the Wrst eleven books of

Genesis. Sad to relate, a decisive passage in the Padma Purana, which
dealt with Satyavarman (another Noah-Wgure, according to Jones) and

his three sons S arma, Kharma and Jyapati, was the recent “ and all too
tidy “ interpolation by an unscrupulous pandit whom Jones™s over-eager
Asiatic Society colleague Francis Wilford (1760/1“1822) had indoctri-
nated into Mosaic history.’“
Given the growing scale of British interests in India, it is unsurprising
that the accommodation of Hinduism to sacred history became the hall-
mark of ethnic theology in its twilight phase.’“ Most notably, the credu-
lous Thomas Maurice (1754“1824), concerned to sustain ˜the truth of
the ten Wrst chapters of Genesis™, read the history of India and its religion
as a case study in the degeneration of the original patriarchal religion of
Noah™s descendants. Following in the footsteps of both Jones and Par-
sons, Maurice detected a distinct residue of the Trinity in the ˜Indian
triad of deity, Brahma, Veeshnu, and Seeva™. Within this triune godhead,
Brahma represented Creation, Veeshnu the mediation associated with
Christ and Seeva a spirit of regeneration. Unfortunately, Indian religion
also provided a sad story of pagan corruption. The degraded cult of
lingam, or phallus-worship, Maurice was quick to trace ˜to its true source,
the turpitude of Ham, whose Cuthite progeny introduced it to Hindos-
tan, together with other depravities, destructive of the pure primeval
religion of Shem™. As it transpired, the Indians were not alone in preserv-
ing the patriarchal legacy of the Trinity. Maurice saw remnants of the
Trinity everywhere “ in the ˜triplasios mithra™ of Persian religion, in the
representation of a triune god depicted on a medal found in Siberia and
kept in St Petersburg, in the ˜tanga-tanga™ of South America, in the
symbolic globe“wing“serpent pattern of the ancient Egyptians. All of
these were corrupt memories of a single ˜grand primeval doctrine™. But
could the Noachids have transmitted throughout the world a Christian
doctrine not found among the Jews of the Old Testament? Thankfully,
the plural term ˜Elohim™ for the godhead and the triadic splendours of the
Sephiroth were enough to convince Maurice of the trinitarian nature of
primeval Judaism (which a later rabbinical tradition had expunged, out of
disappointment with the meek and far-from-militant Messiah of the

’“ William Jones, Discourses delivered at the Asiatick Society 1785“1792 (reprint with intro. by
R. Harris, London, 1993), ˜Discourse the ninth on the origin and families of nations.
Delivered 23rd February, 1792™, pp. 191, 193, 196; Trautmann, Aryans and British
India, pp. 90“2; Cannon, Oriental Jones, pp. 283, 317, 330“1, 338“9, 341.
’“ See e.g. Hales, New analysis of chronology.
56 Theological contexts

Christians). The example of Maurice, like that of Jones, shows how the
Mosaic paradigm shaped the response of Britons to the peoples of their
Empire in the East. Subscribing to the idea of Christian monogenesis,
these early orientalists sought not to establish Indian otherness, but its
degenerate aYliation with the British within the universal Noachic family
of nations. Maurice, indeed, identiWed the Druids of the ancient Britons
as a caste of Brahmins who had become incorporated within the Asiatic
Japhetan stock which would eventually people Europe.’”
Although the disciplines of ethnology and philology were in the process
of abandoning the overt Biblical content of ethnic theology, the under-
lying theological structures of these evolving disciplines would survive
well into the nineteenth century, not least in a commitment to the idea of
a unitary Creation.“» By the same token, the idea of polygenesis remained
until the middle of the nineteenth century on the radical fringes of British
intellectual life.“¦ It appeared on the heterodox frontier of the Scottish
Enlightenment in a footnote to one of Hume™s essays, half-heartedly in
the work of Kames (though both authors were social theorists otherwise
committed to assumptions of a uniform human nature) and, more promi-
nently, in the work of the late Enlightenment racialist John Pinkerton
(1758“1826), which combined a critique of the Old Testament, a Vol-
tairean anti-Judaism, polygenesis and a virulent Celtophobia.“  Wherever
the heresy of polygenesis surfaced, its racialist implications were quickly
apparent, as in the case of Edward Long (1734“1813) whose History of
Jamaica (1774) was a self-interested justiWcation of the white plantoc-
racy.“À
Racialism was but a step removed from polygenist heterodoxy. Con-
sider the dissident scriptural exegesis of Edward King FRS (1735?“1807)
who contended that ˜the express words and history of Holy Writ, teach

’” Thomas Maurice, Indian antiquities (6 vols., London, 1800“1), esp. I, pp. 22, 33, 112,
119“21, 126; II, pp. 16, 26“9; III, p. ix; IV, pp. 18, 21, 34“8, 41“7, 68, 74, 146, 152, 162;
IV and V, ˜A dissertation on the pagan triads of deity™; VI, ˜A dissertation on the Indian
origin of the Druids™.

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