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 À Rossi, Dark abyss, pp. 133“6; Popkin, La Peyrere, p. 43.
`
 Ã Rossi, Dark abyss, p. 138; Popkin, La Peyrere, pp. 80“1. According to Ephraim Chambers
`
(d. 1740), Cyclopedia (4 vols., 1786 edn), III, ˜Preadamite™, the most eVective rebuttal of
La Peyrere was by Samuel Desmarets of Groningen.
`
 • Popkin, La Peyrere, pp. 82“3.
`  ’ Ibid., pp. 80“1.
Prologue: the Mosaic foundations 17

Jewish nation, and should not be read for deeper signiWcances. These
works, which insinuated that the Bible, including the Pentateuch, was a
human creation which had emerged over a long timespan, and contained
its fair share of errors, developed the sort of logical inconsistencies spot-
ted by La Peyrere into a wider assault on the validity of Scripture. “
`
The other major development that threatened the authenticity of the
Mosaic world picture was the awareness that there were civilisations in
the gentile world whose antiquity was diYcult to reconcile with Genesis.
Pre-adamitism exploited the explosive potential of this notion, but its
origins predated the insights of La Peyrere. The plausible claims of the
`
gentile civilisations of Egypt, Babylon and China to histories which
stretched back into antiquity beyond the recognised limits of Mosaic
chronology posed a potent challenge to the validity of the Bible as sacred
history. The study of universal chronology became one of the foremost
disciplines of the early modern period. It tackled questions of fundamen-
tal importance to the identity of Christendom, and it attracted some of
Europe™s foremost minds from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment,
including Scaliger, Ussher and Newton. Astronomy, textual scholarship
and mathematical calculations formed important planks in the support
for Mosaic chronology. However, there were also several crucial points of
contact between universal chronology and ethnic theology, since the
defence of sacred history involved relating the founding of the various
ancient gentile civilisations to the peopling of the world by Noah™s oV-
spring. “ With the renaissance of classical learning it became imperative
to reconcile with Judaeo-Christian accounts of the history of the world
the ethnography and chronology of pagan antiquity. The development of
Near Eastern studies in the work of such scholars as Guillaume Postel
expanded the scope of this Weld of investigation to include Persian and
Babylonian histories. ” The brilliant Protestant humanist Joseph Justus
Scaliger (1540“1609) transformed the whole science of chronology with
his De emendatione temporum (1583). Scaliger invented the device of the
Julian Period “ an era of 7,980 years “ which enabled the construction of a

 “ Popkin, Scepticism, pp. 224“37; P. Hazard, The European mind 1680“1715 (1935: trans.
J. L. May, Harmondsworth, 1964), pp. 213“31; Rossi, Dark abyss, p. 212. For the
challenge of Simon™s hermeneutic method to the authority of traditional chronology and
˜ethnic theology™, see Richard Simon, A critical history of the Old Testament (1678: transln,
London, 1682), p. 5: ˜As these books are but the abridgements of much more large
records, one cannot establish upon the Scripture an exact and certain chronology,
because the genealogies are not always immediate.™ For the connection between
Spinoza™s treatment of the Old Testament and the rise of secular nationalism, see
C. Cruise O™Brien, ˜Nationalism and the French Revolution™, in G. Best (ed.), The
permanent revolution: the French revolution and its legacy 1789“1989 (London, 1988).
 “ A. T. Grafton, ˜Joseph Scaliger and historical chronology: the rise and fall of a discipline™,
H+T 14 (1975), 156“85.  ” Ibid., 159.
18 Theological contexts

chronology embracing diVerent calendrical systems, consolidated the
expansion of the discipline, discussing more than Wfty calendars, and
employed the best standards of critical philology alongside the necessary
mathematics and astronomy. However, his principal achievement was in
replacing a method whereby total reliance was placed on Scripture, and
pagan histories were merely complementary rather than authoritative
sources, with an approach which recognised that gentile chronologies
provided a useful litmus test for ascertaining the validity of rival interpre-
tations of those places in Scripture which were vague, ambiguous or
obscure. With the work of Scaliger the antiquities of the various recorded
gentile civilisations of the ancient world were accorded a status alongside
Mosaic history as valid chronologies. This created a problem. Scholars
had long been acquainted with the claims of the Egyptians to a history
which stretched back beyond the limits of Old Testament chronology.
Scaliger, in eVect, forced his contemporaries to admit the irreconcilability
of Egyptian and sacred history. He attempted to negotiate a route
through this particular chronological jungle in a further treatise Thesaurus
temporum (1606), but scholarly integrity impeded his progress. Scaliger
came to the conclusion that the earliest Egyptian dynasties did indeed
predate the era not only of the Flood and Dispersal, but also the Biblical
Creation, the latter by some 1,336 years. Instead of distorting historical
truth in the interests of Christian orthodoxy, the virtuous humanist
acknowledged the impasse which he faced: he divided the phases of
universal chronology into a pre-Mosaic ˜proleptic time™ (the question of
whose reality he chose not to discuss) and ˜historic time™ which accorded
with the Bible.À»
Chronology remained impaled on this paradox until the Dutch scholar
Gerard Vossius achieved a plausible subordination of truth to orthodoxy
by means of the argument in his De theologia gentili (1641) that several of
the early lists of Egyptian dynasties had been collateral rather than suc-
cessive. This allowed Vossius to bring Egyptian history back from an
embarrassing prehistoric limbo to an acceptable location within the Mo-
saic timeframe.À¦ However, anxious chronologists continued to gnaw at
the bone of Egyptian antiquity, and the question continued to bedevil
theological scholarship until the establishment of the discipline of
Egypytology on independent secular foundations in the nineteenth cen-
tury.À 

À» Ibid.; P. Burke, The Renaissance sense of the past (London, 1969), p. 47; H. Trevor-Roper,
˜James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh™, in Trevor-Roper, Catholics, Anglicans and Puri-
tans (London, 1987), pp. 156“7.
À¦ Popkin, ˜Crisis of polytheism™, p. 10; Grafton, ˜Scaliger™, 175.
À  Grafton, ˜Scaliger™.
Prologue: the Mosaic foundations 19

However, the antiquity of Egypt was only one of the several Achilles
heels in Mosaic history which came to the attention of chronologists.
Overseas exploration also brought to the attention of theologians a num-
ber of unfamiliar civilisations in Asia and America whose roots appeared
to lie deep in antiquity. In particular, the vast extent of Chinese history
posed a serious threat to the credibility of the Bible.ÀÀ Paolo Rossi has
identiWed two basic strategies which were deployed in response to the
perceived irreconcilability of gentile histories with the Mosaic chrono-
logy. First, there was the attempt ˜to reduce all diVerent human histories,
in more or less complicated ways, to sacred history™; the alternative
method was to deny the authenticity of gentile histories which appeared
to subvert the Biblical chronology.ÀÃ The Wrst approach included the
massaging of sacred history to accommodate gentile chronology. The
availability of diVerent texts of the Pentateuch allowed a certain freedom
of manoeuvre. Archbishop James Ussher (1581“1656), the leading Ang-
lican contributor to the science of chronology, deployed the Hebrew
Bible as the basis of his calendrical system. As a result, Ussher calculated
that the Creation had occurred in 4004 BC and the Flood in 2349 BC.À•
Yet Jesuit accounts of China, and in particular the Sinicae historiae decas
prima res (1658), the history of ancient China by Martino Martini (1614“
61), suggested that Chinese history went back almost to 3000 BC.
Martini dated the beginnings of the Chinese empire in 2952 BC.À’
However, by using the Greek Septuagint Bible rather than the Masoretic
Hebrew version, Isaac Vossius, the son of the celebrated Gerard Vossius,
was able to absorb the new sinology. His Dissertatio de vera aetate mundi
(1659) added about 1,400 years on to Biblical chronology, relocating the
Creation in 5400 BC.À“ This feat of creative exegesis broadened the
permitted bands in which the great antiquity of gentile civilisations such
as the Chinese could be accommodated to the ultimate standards of
Mosaic chronology. Even by pushing the Mosaic chronology to its limits
it was a tight squeeze Wtting in the full history of Chinese civilisation. In
the chronological paradigm provided by the Septuagint, the date of the
Flood was pushed back only to around 3000 BC. It was necessary to
locate the origins of China in the immediate post-Diluvial era. This
meant relating Chinese chronology to the peopling of the world. If it
could be demonstrated that the cultures of the Chinese and other ancient
gentile civilisations still bore the Noachic hallmarks of their origin in the

ÀÀ Rossi, Dark abyss, p. 140. ÀÃ Ibid., p. 152.
À• Trevor-Roper, ˜Ussher™, pp. 158“61.
À’ D. E. Mungello, Curious land: Jesuit accommodation and the origins of sinology (Studia
Leibnitiana supplementa 25, Stuttgart, 1985), pp. 124“7.
À“ Rossi, Dark abyss, pp. 145“6.
20 Theological contexts

dispersal of nations described in Genesis, then this would tend to re-
inforce sacred history. In the case of Chinese antiquity the chronological
limitations on explaining its ethnic origins were so pressing that it became
common to attribute the foundation of China to the earliest post-
Diluvian era. Indeed, many scholars identiWed the Chinese founding
emperor-deity Fohi as a remembrance either of Noah or of his immediate
descendants.À“ The pioneering sinologists of early modern Europe trans-
formed Chinese civilisation from a disquieting puzzle into a conWrmation
of Mosaic history. The visible contours of Noachic history and patriarchal
religion evident beneath the patina of several millennia of cultural vari-
ation were striking proof of the testimony of Scripture.
The seventeenth century witnessed the emergence of ethnic theology
as a lively branch of Christian apologetic, but the eighteenth saw some-
thing of a decline. The arguments of the orthodox tended to stagnate,
while originality and ingenuity belonged to the philosophes who ap-
proached the study of the pagan world in a new light. They used pagan
religion either as a foil for the follies and priestly tyrannies of Christen-
dom, or to construct new naturalistic disciplines, such as mythography
and the history and psychology of religious belief and organisation.À”
Nevertheless, although the names of LaWtau, Pluche, Banier and Four-
mont are obviously less familiar than those of their new breed of oppo-
nents “ Bernard de Fontenelle (1657“1757), Voltaire, Hume and Charles
de Brosses (1709“77), who inaugurated the study of pagan fetishism in
his classic Du culte des dieux fetiches (1760) “ it would be wrong to suggest
´
that ethnic theology had dwindled to an antiquarian bywater, the preserve
only of cranks and bigots. It remained, after all, high on the agenda of the
philosophes. Voltaire, for example, questioned the Noachic peopling of the
American continent and, on the subject of universal chronology, came
down on the side of the high pre-Biblical antiquity of China and India. In
Voltaire™s deistic brand of anti-Semitism “ with attacks on the Jews used
strategically to undermine the foundations of Christianity “ the Hebrews
were parvenus, their Abraham a corruption of the Hindu Brahma and
Adam an obvious derivation from Adimo, the Wrst Indian.û Philosophical

À“ For the standard Jesuit interpretation of Chinese history by Jean-Baptiste Du Halde
(1674“1743) for the settlement of China by the ˜sons of Noah™, see P. J. Marshall and
G. Williams, The great map of mankind: British perceptions of the world in the age of
Enlightenment (London, 1982), p. 108. See also J. G. A. Pocock, ˜Gibbon and the idol Fo:
Chinese and Christian history in the Enlightenment™, in D. S. Katz and J. I. Israel (eds.),
Sceptics, millenarians and Jews (Leiden, 1990), esp. p. 26.
À” Manuel, Eighteenth century confronts the gods; B. Feldman and R. D. Richardson, The rise
of modern mythology 1680“1860 (Bloomington, IN, 1972).
û P. J. Marshall, ˜Introduction™, in Marshall (ed.), The British discovery of Hinduism in the
eighteenth century (Cambridge, 1970), p. 33; Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique (1764:
Paris, 1964), ˜Abraham™, ˜Adam™, ˜Chine (De la)™, pp. 22“6, 111“14; T. F. Gossett,
Race: The history of an idea in America (Dallas, 1963), p. 44.
Prologue: the Mosaic foundations 21

irreligion often took the form of an inverted parody of ethnic theology.
Instead of recounting the degeneration of patriarchal monotheism into
unrecognisable heathen rites, sceptics demonstrated how, on the con-
trary, some pagan deities had been transWgured into Christian saints. One
such sceptic, the geologist Nicolas-Antoine Boulanger (1722“59), also
appropriated the Flood as a tool of anti-Christian subversion. Boulanger
invoked a universal post-Diluvian trauma to deliver a psychological inter-
pretation of the origins of religion. Some men, for example, had felt so
keenly the shame of their survival and continued procreative careers that
they castrated themselves, a vestigial survival of which was the ritual of
circumcision.æ
The defence of Mosaic orthodoxy was generally conducted along lines
established in the seventeenth century by the French Protestant Samuel
Bochart (1599“1667) and by Pierre-Daniel Huet (1630“1721), Bishop
of Avranches. Where Bochart detected the Wgure of Noah and his sons
under the central classical myth of Saturn and his children, Huet, taking
in a wider sweep of heathen cultures, identiWed the prototype of Moses
under the guise of various pagan deities, including the classical gods
Apollo and Janus, the Phoenician god Taautus and even the Aztec god
Teutl.à During the early Enlightenment, a mixture of dubious etymol-
ogy, euhemerist conjectures and diVusionism “ along with some interest
in the psychological roots of idolatry and a willingness to debate Wercely
within the parameters of Mosaic orthodoxy “ remained the standard
formula of writers such as Etienne Fourmont (1683“1745), Antoine
Banier (1673“1741) and Noel-Antoine Pluche (1688“1761) who strug-
gled to reconcile the world™s pagan diversity with the Biblical story of
mankind™s primeval patriarchal monotheism.ÃÀ
Nevertheless, the old guard was not without its innovators. The French
Jesuit missionary Joseph-Fran§ois LaWtau (1681“1746) drew upon his
experiences among the Hurons and Iroquois to construct a strikingly
original symbolic anthropology in Moeurs des sauvages ameriquains com-
´
parees aux moeurs des premiers temps (1724). Although his methods pre-
´
Wgured certain aspects of modern social anthropology, LaWtau was

æ Manuel, Eighteenth century confronts the gods, pp. 210“27.
à Samuel Bochart, Geographiae sacrae pars prior Phaleg seu de dispersione gentium (Caen,
1646), lib. I, cap. i, pp. 1“11; Huet, Demonstratio evangelica, propositio iv, pp. 56“131.
ÃÀ See Etienne Fourmont, ReXexions sur l™origine, l™histoire et la succession des anciens peuples
´
(new edn, 2 vols., Paris, 1747), esp. I, pp. 230“3, for psychological roots of idolatry.
Antoine Banier, The mythology and fables of the ancients, explain™d from history (1738“40: 4
vols., London, 1739“40), while critical of the old guard “ Bochart, Huet, Fourmont “
esp. I, pp. 50“6, remains conventional, tracing the origins of idolatry in the line of Ham,
esp. I, pp. 174“6, with the worship of stars, from I, p. 182. Note that, like Banier™s
treatise, Pluche™s Histoire du ciel (Paris, 1739“41) was immediately published in English
translation, with a second edition of The history of the heavens appearing in 1741: Manuel,
Eighteenth century confronts the gods, pp. 5, 106“7, 115.
22 Theological contexts

concerned to probe the rituals and symbols of Amerindian religion “
including the emblematic meanings of solar worship and ˜pyrolatrie™ “ for
traces of the ancient patriarchal religion. The common worship of a
supreme creator which lurked beneath the colourful and exotic cladding
of all pagan cultures, whether in America or in ancient Greece, proved the
higher truths of Christianity, from which, through the workings of provi-
dence, heathens were never totally alienated: ˜dans quelques erreurs ou
l™idolatrie ait plonge les Gentils, ils ne se sont pas tellement abandonnez a
´
leurs idoles, qu™ils en ayent perdu la connoissance d™un Dieu vrai et
unique, qui est l™Auteur de toutes choses™. The universality of certain core
beliefs undermined the notions advanced by the likes of Pierre Bayle
(whom contemporaries classed as an atheist) that men did not require
religious institutions and that pagan religions were the human inventions
and impostures of the cultures in which they were found: according to
LaWtau, ˜la religion n™a eu qu™une meme origine pour tous les peuples™.ÃÃ
ˆ
Nor should we forget the theological underpinnings of Giambattista
Vico™s Scienza nuova. Vico™s science of human cultural development

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