Hannibal Hamlin focuses on one significant play, A Looking Glasse for London,
by Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene. Called the most popular biblical play of
the Elizabethan stage, it is rich in spectacle and scandal – designed to
succeed in the popular theatre. Yet Hamlin proposes that in both moralising
and stagecraft it looks back to the mystery plays of the earlier fifteenth
century. It thus offers a unique Elizabethan example of staging God himself,
though done in such a peculiar way as to avoid censure.
In her chapter, Chanita Goodblatt discusses English, German and Yiddish
dramatisations of the Book of Esther. She focuses specifically on the
performative dimensions of the Fool, enacted through two different
dramaturgical strategies: in comic interludes; or inserted directly into the
narrative. Goodblatt discusses the Fool as an exemplar of the Bakhtinian
carnivalesque, enacted through parodic language and embodying (in the
material and corporeal aspects of its performance) his ultimate authority as
incisive commentator on monarchy, family, and religious tradition.
Jonathan Stavsky analyses the representation of Jewish–Christian relations in
the N-Town ‘Trial of Mary and Joseph’. He situates this play within a wide
intertextual context, including the apocryphal source and its Middle English
retelling. Considered in this way, Stavsky proposes that the play offers a
nuanced vision of Christianity’s roots, as it translates salvation history
to fifteenth-century East Anglia in order to forge a just community capable
of resisting scandalmongers.
The biblical identity politics of the Demerara Slave Rebellion
The British missionary enterprise disseminated the Bible across the empire with often unintended consequences. The reception of the Protestant Scriptures among colonial subjects was anything but passive. Readers and hearers appropriated scriptural texts in their own distinctive, even subversive ways. Surviving sources, however, are often less revealing about this process than we might like, and it can be hard to get beyond the voice of the missionary to that of the native convert. This chapter explores a unique set of sources: the trial records of the London Missionary Society (LMS) missionary John Smith, who was prosecuted (and died in prison) for allegedly ‘exciting the negroes to rebellion’ in the sugar colony of Demerara in 1823. Smith and his black congregants were cross-questioned at length about the use and abuse of the Bible. The records offer a unique window on the use of the Bible in missionary chapels, its reception among enslaved hearers, and the sensitivities of colonial authorities. It was also emblematic of a larger shift – the growing identification of black Protestants with Old Testament Israel, and the problematising of Britain’s identity as a new Israel.
The concluding afterword assesses the contribution of the preceding chapters to current debates about the roles of science and religion in shaping notions of identity, genealogy and legacy in the nineteenth century. Drawing on examples from various parts of the globe, the chapter posits the career of the American scientist, racist and biblical apologist Alexander Winchell as emblematic of some of the new directions and questions raised by this volume. The issues of identity and genealogy which pervade Winchell’s ethno-biblical science, and its enduring legacy, resonate with many of the topics interrogated by the volume. The preceding chapters confirm just how significant the Bible has been in the manufacturing and moulding of various identities. Lines of descent were also critical to the task of securing and stabilising identities. Whether human languages were of monogenetic or polygenetic origin exercised the minds of numerous students of philology. The use of the labels Hamitic, Japhetic and Semitic to designate lines of linguistic ancestry discloses how intimately connected the early science of language was with biblical thought-forms. The chapter concludes by exploring the pervasive legacy of the ideas and movements scrutinised in the volume in the present day.
Chapter 2 first details the framework of analysis, ‘self-perpetuating technologies of religious synthesis’, a theory which links combinations of societal catalysts to the development of specific religious trends. The ethnographic data illustrates that these ‘technologies’ are triggered in reaction to societal catalysts, resulting in religious transformations that function as ‘self-perpetuating mechanisms’ for the wider religious tradition. The individual ‘technologies’ are drawn from two discourses: first, the ‘politics of syncretism’, incorporating appropriation, absorption, acculturation, transfiguration, hybridisation and transfiguring hybridisation; and second, a broadening interpretation of Hobsbawm and Ranger’s ‘invention of tradition’, including the reinvention, reinterpretation, inversion and Sinification of tradition. The chapter then details essential information concerning the historical development of Singapore and Malaysia’s secular and religious landscapes. In highlighting Japanese massacres in both locations during the Second World War; religious harmony, urban redevelopment, the Master Plan for land use of 1965 and the subsequent destruction of cemeteries in Singapore vis-à-vis Malay ‘special rights’ and the active promotion of Malay interests under the New Economic Policy (1971) and the National Development Policy (1990), a diverse selection of societal catalysts later incorporated into the broader analysis are introduced. The chapter concludes with a summary of the book’s structure and chapter outlines.
In the final chapter, as neither Xie Bian nor Fan Wujiu’s popular mythology originated in either Anxi or Penang, and allowing for the complexities of cultural transmission, the chapter begins by proposing the most likely timeline and trajectory of the Underworld tradition’s geographical spread, both in and between Malaysia and Singapore. The versatility of the framework of analysis is then demonstrated by being applied to religious developments over a corresponding timeframe in Taiwan to explain why a similar Underworld tradition has not developed there. The potential benefits of combining ontological, dialogic, participatory and interpretative approaches to the study of religious and esoteric traditions are then clarified and discussed, and final conclusions drawn.
Relocating to China, Chapter 10 centres on Anxi Chenghuangmiao. The temple’s early history and its 1990 relocation from Anxi city centre to the Fengshan Scenic Tourism Area above the graves of Xie Bian and Fan Wujiu are critically investigated, as are its atypical Tua Di Ya Pek mythologies. Analysed in context of the invention and commoditisation of tradition and of China’s changing cultural policies, Anxi Chenghuangmiao’s reinvention is associated with self-perpetuating its own City God tradition, and to Tua Di Ya Pek’s recent overseas popularisation. Continuing this line of enquiry, the chapter concludes by describing the opening of a new annex in front of Xie Bian and Fan Wujiu’s graves, an annex first conceptualised in Klang, Malaysia, and evaluating the contestation of meaning and counterclaims to provenance of the new ritual site.
Until challenged by evolution, Christians believed on excellent biblical authority that the ‘nations of men’ were God’s creation and that there were no fundamental divisions between them. From this it followed that all the extraordinary cultural diversity exhibited by the peoples of the world as revealed by European explorers disguised an essential unity; despite appearances to the contrary, they were ‘one blood’. This chapter considers the efforts made by missionary linguists to bolster biblical narratives by demonstrating that the languages of the world could be traced to the descendants of the three sons of Noah (Genesis 10). In particular, it examines the work of the Scottish-born schoolmaster Dr John Fraser (1834–1904), who sought to prove the Hamitic origins of the Australian Aborigines and their affinity to the Dravidian peoples of southern India. Fraser’s views were published as part of his 1892 edition of the works of the missionary linguist Lancelot Threlkeld (1788–1859), though modern commentators have found his biblical genealogy for the Australian Aborigines to be distracting, if not bizarre. This chapter demonstrates that Fraser’s worldview fits him firmly within a well-defined intellectual tradition that used language to demonstrate the Judaeo-Christian foundations of the whole world.
This chapter examines the British and Foreign Bible Society’s (BFBS) Arabic Bible translations in the context of European imperial expansion, the global missionary project and emergent Arab nationalism. Unlike the American Bible Society, the BFBS did not produce its own Bible in literary Arabic. They instead published editions in forms of Arabic that were regionally and socially variable and that closely resembled what people spoke. The choice of the BFBS to translate and publish in colloquial Arabic had political implications. By undermining the primacy of literary Arabic during an age of incipient anticolonial Arab nationalism, and by fostering a new and more popular culture of Arabic reading that included men and women from modest social classes, these BFBS editions had the potential to shift extant social hierarchies. The distribution of vernacular Arabic Bibles had the potential to make and remake communities of readers within territories that bore comparison to the colonial borders which Britain and France were imposing during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These colloquial North African Arabic Bibles contributed to a convoluted history that tied together Britain and America; North Africa and western Asia (or ‘the Middle East’); and other parts of the globe.