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contrary . . . What ancient tradition asserts of the original constitution of
nature, or of the origin and primitive state of the world, is to be allowed
for true, where it is fully agreeable to scripture, reason and philosophy.™À»
Newtonianism was only the most prominent of a variety of approaches to
sacred history emerging from the Anglican method of scriptural interpre-
tation.À¦ Late seventeenth-century Anglicans favoured a rational ap-
proach to Scripture, and were prepared to combine reason, including
natural religion and tradition, in the quest for truth. Thomas Burnet
(1635?“1715) and John Woodward (1665“1728), neither of whom was a
Newtonian, also adopted strategies aimed at the reconciliation of Scrip-
ture with natural philosophy.À  Allegorical readings of Genesis, or the
placing of sacred history within a scientiWc framework, or the testing of
canons of exegesis against observation of the natural world did little in
themselves to undermine Scripture, despite the fears of the more narrow-
ly orthodox. There was no wholesale assault on Genesis, merely the
establishment of a more nuanced canon of accommodationist exegesis.
The new science had accomplished ˜a half-way revolution which left
sacred history intact™.ÀÀ
English ethnic theology proved responsive to the rise of scientiWc
methods. Richard Cumberland, Bishop of Peterborough (1631“1718),
employed a set of demographic calculations to refute the notion that there
was not ˜a suYcient increase of men from the three sons of Noah, to a
number large enough to found all the nations mentioned in the earliest
credible histories; and that in the times assigned to their foundation,
agreeably with the Hebrew accounts™. Elaborating upon on an idea al-
ready aired by Richard Kidder (1633“1703), Bishop of Bath and Wells,
in his Commentary on the Wve books of Moses (1694), Cumberland argued
that the patriarchs had lived much longer lives than modern men, because
of the propitious environment of the pre-Diluvial era. However, the
Flood had transformed the earth for the worse, and gradually over a
period of eight hundred years the human lifespan had been reduced to

À» William Whiston, A new theory of the earth (London, 1696), p. 95. See also E. DuVy,
˜˜˜Whiston™s aVair™™: the trials of a primitive Christian, 1709“1714™, JEH 27 (1976),
129“50. À¦ Reedy, Bible and reason.
À  J. Levine, Dr Woodward™s shield (1977: Ithaca and London, 1991).
ÀÀ Haber, Age of the world, pp. 3, 96“7.
46 Theological contexts

about three score years and ten. In the immediate centuries after the
Flood the physiology of the patriarchs was only beginning its gradual
decline. Thus their longevity and stronger constitutions meant that they
had been ˜more able and Wt to propagate mankind to great numbers than
men can now do™. Adopting a system of multiplication by twenty-year
cohorts Cumberland argued that the post-Diluvial world had been
peopled at much quicker rates than would have been possible by degener-
ate modern man. Hence, the existence in the earliest centuries of post-
Diluvial antiquity of civilisations far from the area where the Ark had
come to rest was not an argument against the credibility of Scripture
chronology. In addition, Cumberland was able to account for the extrava-
gant ages of such Biblical patriarchs as Noah and Methuselah by syn-
thesising the history of mankind with the sacred science of geology.ÀÃ
Science and orthodoxy meshed in the emergent science of racial classi-
Wcation. John Harris (1667?“1719), a supporter of Woodward, countered
critics of Scripture ethnology with his account of the Hamidian origins of
the black African peoples, and his argument that the ˜colour of the
Negroes is not ingenite; but proceeds from accidental natural causes, and
such as are peculiar to the countries they inhabit™.À• The inXuence of
BuVon led only to more discreet naturalistic statements of this orthodox
monogenetic position. Starting from the proposition that both ˜reason
and religion™ indicated the origins of the races from ˜one common parent™,
Oliver Goldsmith (1730?“74) argued that the white European was the
norm ˜whence other varieties have sprung™ through processes of degener-
ation brought on by climatic factors, poor nutrition or savage customs. As
evidence, Goldsmith claimed that, while ˜we have frequently seen white
children produced from black parents™, the union of two whites had never
produced any black oVspring: ˜From hence we may conclude that white-
ness is the colour to which mankind naturally tends.™À’
The problem of accounting for the diversity of human languages within
the short timespan of Mosaic chronology meant that linguistics became
one of the most important bastions for the defence of revelation against
deists armed with polygenism. William Wotton (1666“1727) claimed
ÀÃ Richard Cumberland, Origines gentium antiquissimae; or, attempts for discovering the times of
the Wrst planting of nations (London, 1724), tract IV, esp. pp. 142“51. See also Richard
Kidder, A commentary on the Wve books of Moses (2 vols., London, 1694), I, p. 54. For the
seventeenth-century background, see F. Egerton, ˜The longevity of the patriarchs: a topic
in the history of demography™, JHI 27 (1966), 575“84. This argument was still being
made by Richard Kirwan at the end of the eighteenth century: see Cohn, Noah™s Xood,
p. 107.
À• John Harris, Remarks on some late papers, relating to the universal Deluge (London, 1697),
p. 66.
À’ Oliver Goldsmith, A history of the earth, and animated nature (8 vols., London, 1774), II,
ch. xi, ˜Of the varieties in the human race™, pp. 239“40.
Ethnic theology and British identities 47

that divine intervention at Babel alone explained the richness of human
linguistic variation: ˜the variety now actually existing of idioms spoken by
the several inhabitants of this our earth, can I think be no way possible for,
without supposing such a miraculous formation of languages as we Wnd
recorded in the eleventh chapter of Genesis™. Thus Wotton overturned
the problem of reconciling diversity with chronology: he accepted the
validity of the polygenist critique, but only to defend the authority of
Scripture and the historicity of divine miracles.À“ A Scots presbyterian
minister, David Malcolme (d. 1748), used perceived similarities in the
languages of the Scottish Gaels, the natives of the Darien Isthmus in
Panama and the Chinese to mount a refutation of those deists who
˜pretend that the languages of America have no aYnity to any of the
languages in Europe, Asia or Africa; and then infer, that therefore they
must be a quite distinct race of mortals, and not sprung from Adam and
Eve™.À“
One of the more prominent theological genres in the Wrst half of the
eighteenth century was the ˜connection™, an attempt to reconcile the
histories and chronologies of the various gentile nations and civilisations
of antiquity with the Bible.À” Celebrated examples of this genre include
Humphrey Prideaux™s The Old and New Testament connected in the history
of the Jews and neighbouring nations (1716“18), which went through at
least Wfteen editions by the middle of the eighteenth century, and Samuel
Shuckford™s The sacred and prophane history of the world connected (1728“
37). Such works carried on the discourses of ethnic theology. Prideaux
(1648“1724) argued that it was the very fact of the intimation within the
ancient and universal patriarchal religion of Christ the mediator, who had
not yet been revealed, which began the decline into polytheism. Noah had
taught his posterity ˜the worshipping of one God, the supreme governor
and creator of all things, with hopes in his mercy through a mediator. For
the necessity of a mediator between God and man was a general notion,
which obtained among all mankind from the beginning.™ However, the
lack of an immediate mediator induced men to search for substitutes for
the unrevealed Christ in the celestial bodies as ˜intelligences . . . of a
middle nature between God and them™. Hence, according to Prideaux,
the true religion began to sink into a polytheism in the Wrst rank of whose
pantheon were the planetary deities such as Saturn, Jupiter, Mars,
À“ William Wotton, A discourse concerning the confusion of languages at Babel (London, 1713),
p. 36.
À“ David Malcolme, Letters, essays and other tracts illustrating the antiquities of Great Britain
and Ireland (1738: London, 1744), ˜Collection of papers™, no. ix, p. 22.
À” A. Grafton, ˜Joseph Scaliger and historical chronology™, H+T 14 (1975), 156; B. Feld-
man and R. D. Richardson, The rise of modern mythology 1680“1860 (Bloomington, IN,
1972), pp. 71“2.
48 Theological contexts

Mercury and Venus. Shuckford (d. 1754) aimed to ˜be of some service
towards forming a judgment of the truth and exactness of the ancient
Scripture history, by showing how far the old fragments of the heathen
writers agree with it, and how much better and more authentic the
account is, which it gives of things where they diVer from it™. For instance,
he believed the Chinese idol Fohi to be a concealed memory of Noah. On
the other hand Shuckford was alert to the errors, myths and euhemeristic
additions to gentile traditions: ˜This, I think, is a just account of what has
been the fate of the ancient heathen remains; they were clear and true,
when left by their authors, but after-writers corrupted them by the addi-
tion of fable and false philosophy.™Ã»
Another prominent genre of the eighteenth-century literary scene fo-
cused on the ˜double doctrine™ held to be a common feature of pagan
religions. Beneath those superstitious outer trappings of heathenism
which bore not the slightest resemblance to Christian truth, ran this
argument appropriated from deistic critics of priestcraft, there often lay
an inner core of esoteric truth known only as a mystery cult to an exclusive
body of initiates. Thus, in explaining away the religious diversity of the
world, theologians had resort to the claim that pagan exteriors often
concealed a residue of the patriarchal religion of the Old Testament.æ
The classic analysis of the double doctrine was William Warburton™s The
divine legation of Moses (1738“41). Warburton (1698“1779) argued that
belief in future rewards and punishments had been universal, present
throughout the world™s religions, albeit often only within a secret inner
shell. The only exception to this universal sociological need for the divine
sanction of futurity was found in the religion of the Hebrews, a people
ruled directly by a special divine providence.
By the era of the high Enlightenment, ethnic theology was in decline,
but far from exhausted as an integral part of British culture. Only at the
sceptical extreme of the British Enlightenment were there outright criti-
cisms of Mosaic history. In his Letters on the study and use of history, Henry
St John, Viscount Bolingbroke (1678“1751), rejected the notion that the
genealogies of the Old Testament provided a ˜suYcient™ basis for a
universal history of the peopling of the world, and proceeded to criticise
û Humphrey Prideaux, The Old and New Testament connected in the history of the Jews and
neighbouring nations (1716“18: 3rd edn, 2 vols., London, 1717“18), I, pp. 139“40;
Samuel Shuckford, The sacred and prophane history of the world connected (3 vols., London,
1728“37), I, pp. ii, xx, 29, 102; A. Ross, ˜Introduction™, in Ross (ed.), Selections from the
Tatler and the Spectator (Harmondsworth, 1982), p. 51. See also Richard Cumberland, ˜A
discourse endeavouring to connect the Greek and Roman antiquities, with those of the
eldest eastern monarchies in Asia and Egypt; and consequently with the dispersion from
Babel which came near the great Flood™, in Cumberland, Origines gentium antiquissimae.
æ Manuel, Eighteenth century confronts the gods, ch. 2, pt 2; Manuel, Changing of the gods,
p. 37; P. Harrison, ˜Religion™ and the religions, pp. 85, 95; Feldman and Richardson, Rise of
modern mythology, p. 4.
Ethnic theology and British identities 49

those scholars who relied on the ˜bare names, naked of circumstances™
found in the tenth chapter of Genesis to construct erroneous ˜extensions™
of a dubious Mosaic history.à David Hume challenged the orthodox
tradition of ethnic theology that pagan beliefs had developed from the
progressive degeneration of the ancient patriarchal religion of Noah.
There was, according to Hume, no primeval monotheism; instead, he
conjectured, there had existed in the earliest ages of humankind a univer-
sal polytheism which had evolved with the help of a nascent philosophical
culture into monotheism.ÃÀ Such full-blown challenges to the Noachic
system were rare. Even Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696“1782), a
leading pioneer of Scottish Enlightenment sociology, was half-hearted in
his deviation from Biblical orthodoxy. Kames found the environmentalist
arguments for racial diversity implausible. Why did Britons in India
remain white? Why were Amerindians uniformly coppertoned across the
dramatically diVerent climates of the Americas? While Co-adamitism “
the thesis that God had created many diVerent pairs of humans “ seemed
more likely, it was, declared Kames, an ˜opinion . . . we are not permitted
to adopt; being taught a diVerent lesson by revelation™. Here Kames
backtracked very unconvincingly: a miracle at the Tower of Babel had
wrought ˜an immediate change of bodily constitution™ which Wtted the
dispersing peoples of the world for the various climes they were destined
to inhabit.ÃÃ
This was not simply a matter of a reluctance on the part of Kames to
Xaunt his heterodoxy. It also indicates the resilience of the basic contours
of the Mosaic paradigm within the Scottish Enlightenment. Eighteenth-
century Scotland produced a major mythographer in Principal Thomas
Blackwell, of Marischal College, Aberdeen (1701“57), and, indirectly, in
the converted Ayrshire protege of Fenelon, the ˜Chevalier™ Andrew Ram-
´´ ´
say (1686“1743), who detected the pattern of Biblical monotheism in the
myths of heathenish cultures.Õ The mainstream rational religion of en-
lightened Scotland involved a reappraisal “ rather than a jettisoning “ of
à Bolingbroke, Letters on the study and use of history, in Bolingbroke, Works (5 vols., London,
1754), II, pp. 308, 313.
ÃÀ David Hume, The natural history of religion (1757: ed. J. Gaskin, with Dialogues concerning
natural religion, Oxford, 1993).
ÃÃ Henry Home, Lord Kames, Sketches of the history of man (1774: 2nd edn, 1778: reprinted,
4 vols., Bristol, 1993), I, pp. 22“30, 50, 64, 73“9. See R. Wokler, ˜Apes and races in the
Scottish Enlightenment: Monboddo and Kames on the nature of man™, in P. Jones (ed.),
Philosophy and science in the Scottish Enlightenment (Edinburgh, 1988), pp. 155“6.
Õ Thomas Blackwell, Lectures concerning mythology (London, 1748); Andrew Ramsay,
The travels of Cyrus (1727: 2 vols., Dublin, 1728), II, ˜A discourse upon the theology
and mythology of the ancients™, esp. pp. 1“2, 7“9, 68“9; G. D. Henderson, Chevalier
Ramsay (Edinburgh and London, 1952), pp. 113“14, 118“19, 127“8, 169, 218“19;
D. P. Walker, The ancient theology (London, 1972), ch. 7; J. Mee, Dangerous enthusiasm:
William Blake and the culture of radicalism in the 1790s (Oxford, 1992), pp. 124, 127,
138“9; Feldman and Richardson, Rise of modern mythology, pp. 5, 62.
50 Theological contexts

the Genesis story, without any direct assault on its historicity. In his
careful marriage of reason and revelation, Archibald Campbell (d. 1756),
professor of divinity and ecclesiastical history at St Andrews, confessed: ˜I
do not here appeal to the books of Moses as a divine revelation. I only now
regard them as a history that deserves at least as much credit as any other
book of antiquity.™Ã’ Indeed, in tracing the rise of the economic and
material arts from an Adamic fruit-gathering state through the agrarian
and pastoral experiments of Cain and Abel to the hubris of Babel, Genesis
seemed to complement the insights of stadial history. De l™origine des loix,
des arts et des sciences, et de leurs progres chez les anciens peuples (1758) by the
`
French jurist Antoine-Yves Goguet (1716“58), translated into an Edin-
burgh edition in 1761 and well received in late eighteenth-century Scot-
tish circles, explicitly acknowledged the Mosaic account as the only sure
guide to the early history of man.Ó The Bible was even plundered for raw
anthropological and sociological data by Scotland™s historically minded
moral philosophers and jurists. The Hebrew patriarchs, for example,
were held to be representative of the pastoral phase of human develop-
ment.Ó Indeed, J. G. A. Pocock points out that the Japhetan framework
remained consistent even with the four-stage accounts of the progress of
human society which were such a characteristic feature of the new histori-
cal sociology pioneered in the Enlightenment.Ô Although the conjectural
histories of the Scottish Enlightenment began, according to Roger Emer-
son, ˜at some unspeciWed date, which ignored the Bible or used it only as
one among many sources™, this sidestepping of Genesis was evidence
merely that theology was increasingly ˜compartmentalised™ from the rest
of human knowledge, and should not be assumed to indicate a secularisa-
tion of the world picture.•» For example, on the clerical wing of the
Scottish Enlightenment, William Robertson (1721“93), principal of
Edinburgh University, combined stadialism, a naturalistic Humean ac-
count of the origins of pagan superstition and a providentialist account of
mankind™s intellectual and religious progress in a new version of ethnic
theology which broke signiWcantly with traditional euhemerist-diVusion-

Ã’ Quoted in J. K. Cameron, ˜Theological controversy: a factor in the origins of the Scottish
Enlightenment™, in R. Campbell and A. Skinner (eds.), The origins and nature of the
Scottish Enlightenment (Edinburgh, 1982), p. 127.
Ó P. Stein, Legal evolution (Cambridge, 1980), pp. 19“22; 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), p. 21 n.; Hodgen, Early anthropol-
ogy, pp. 262“3. Ó Stein, Legal evolution, p. 25.
Ô Pocock, ˜Gibbon and the idol Fo™, pp. 20“1. See also R. Emerson, ˜Conjectural history
and Scottish philosophers™, Historical Papers/Communications Historiques (1984), 66“8.
•» R. Emerson, ˜The religious, the secular and the worldly: Scotland 1660“1800™, in

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