Loisy on Religion–Coming Soon

Well, I’m getting ready for my upcoming conference presentation on LoisyLoisy’s use of “religion.” The paper is entitled, “Religion and Empire: Loisy’s Use of ‘Religion’ Prior to his Correspondence with Cumont,” and it will be one of the presentations at The Uses of Religion in 19th Century Studies international conference at the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University in Texas. Here’s the complete list of panel and presentations. Here’s the conference schedule. The paper is not in its final form yet, but its coming along. I’m limiting my discussion to his pre-1908 works. Danny Praet and Annelies Lannoy have shown how Loisy’s work in the history of religion after 1908 was influenced by his correspondence with the Belgian scholar Franz Cumont. My paper will take a look at his use of the concept of “religion” prior to this time, and thus prior to his excommunication. It’s exciting reading, and it relates to his work on biblical interpretation and ancient Near Eastern studies, since most of his uses of the concept of “religion” prior to 1908 occurred in the context of his work on the Bible. Stay tuned for more to come.

My Three Skeptics and the Bible NOW Available at Amazon!

PICKWICK_TemplateMy new book, Three Skeptics and the Bible: La Peyrère, Hobbes, Spinoza, and the Reception of Modern Biblical Criticism, is now available to purchase from Amazon.com! Here are the reviews from the back cover:

From Edwin M. Yamauchi, Professor of History Emeritus, Miami University: “No other analysis has pursued the historical roots of biblical criticism in the sixteenth century so brilliantly as Jeffrey L. Morrow’s Three Skeptics and the Bible. He persuasively argues that the Thirty Years War affected La Peyrere, Hobbes, and Spinoza to develop methods of analyzing Scriptures to promote their political agendas. Morrow’s erudite and persuasive study exposes the fallacy of regarding biblical criticism as an ‘objective’ approach to the Bible.”

From William L. Portier, Mary Ann Spearin Chair of Catholic Theology, University of Dayton: “In Three Skeptics and the Bible, Morrow digs deeply into the seventeenth-century works of Isaac La Peyrere, Thomas Hobbes, and Baruch Spinoza. He lays bare the tangled early modern political roots of contemporary historical approaches to the Bible. Anyone who cares about retrieving liturgical and spiritual-theological approaches to the Bible, without sacrificing the considerable contributions of historical criticism, will welcome this timely and painstakingly documented book.”

From Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary D. Perry, Jr. Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary: “Recently I heard someone ask an eminent biblical scholar why he was willing to give up the ‘objectivity’ of historical-critical scholarship for the ‘subjectivity’ of theological interpretation. Answering that he was not in fact willing to give up either mode of exegesis, the biblical scholar pointed out that neither mode enjoys a purely scientific ‘objectivity.’ Professor Morrow’s erudite and readable study of politics and exegesis in the seventeenth century makes this crucial point clear once and for all, particularly in his masterful retrieval of Isaac La Peyrere, whose significance might otherwise remain unknown. This book is a must-read for anyone who seeks to employ historical-critical scholarship today in a historically contextualized way–as the method itself demands.”

From Scott W. Hahn, Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Co-author, Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture: “Dr. Jeffrey Morrow has taken up the task that should have been inevitable: the historical criticism of historical criticism. His book is thorough, fair, dispassionate intellectual history of three key seventeenth-century figures. The culmination of long years of research–tested by publication–this book demonstrates that the roots of biblical criticism are not in religiously neutral empirical science, but in a particular agenda that is essentially theo-political.”

My New Book is Coming Out Soon!

PICKWICK_TemplateMy new book, Three Skeptics and the Bible, is coming out soon! It’s a collection of essays I’ve written over the past several years, dealing with the biblical interpretation of Isaac La Peyrère, Thomas Hobbes, and Baruch Spinoza. I’ll post more on this when it becomes available on Amazon. It’s being published by Pickwick from Wipf & Stock, and is my first scholarly volume. At the side is the image they sent me of the cover. I’m still plugging away on my sabbatical projects, and hope to post more on those before my sabbatical is over. More to come in the not-too-distant future.

Sabbatical: New Project–History of Modern Biblical Interpretation, c. 1300 – c. 1900

tropical islandIn addition to the book on Loisy that I had been working on over the summer, I’ve been working intensely since the end of August helping out on a broader project dealing with the roots of modern biblical criticism, stretching back from the 14th century into the
early 20th century. It’s been an amazing journey so far. I’ve helped draft sections on the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, and am almost done with the 17th century, although the 16th century sections still need a lot of cleaning up. The research has been gripping. It’s been very interesting to me to see the varied political connections. So far I would say that I think Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker’s many insights in their Politicizing the Bible are dead on target. It’s been amazing going through the connections between Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham, as they resided with Ludwig of Bavaria, all three in conflict with Pope John XXII—-and then to see how Marsilius’ and Ockham’s thoughts get carried through into later generations. I’m still processing some of the material on Luther and in Reformation England, even as I’m reading (and re-reading) material in the 17th century works of Hobbes, Spinoza, and Simon–which I know better. I know I haven’t done a very good job updating this blog as I progress on my sabbatical, but I’ll try to do a better job. I’m looking forward to getting into the 18th century, probably in a few weeks after we complete better drafts of the chapters I’ve already worked on. So stay tuned.

Sabbatical: Alfred Loisy and the New Testament’s Jewish Context


I’ve been working away on my Loisy book, and progressing nicely—actually, I began the work prior to July 1, so I’ve spent much of the summer working on it—and I thought I’d share some interesting finds. This is from his (in)famous L’Évangile et l’Église (The Gospel and the Church), which landed Loisy in a bit of trouble. The book was censured, placed on the Index of Forbidden Books, and it certainly contributed to his eventual excommunication six years later. In fact, many see this work as having “precipitated” the Modernist Crisis–I think that phrase is from C.J.T. Talar, but I don’t have on hand which of his many works he wrote that in. Loisy’s ecclesiological vision, his view of the Church, is the main topic of a paper I’ll be presenting this upcoming November in Atlanta at the meeting of La Société Internationale d’Études sur Alfred Loisy, in conjunction with the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature. It will also form part of one of the later chapters of my book.

In my rereading of L’Évangile et l’Église earlier this summer, I was struck by how Loisy emphasized again and again the Jewish context to the New Testament, and particularly Jesus’ Jewish context (and that of Paul et al). For many of you, perhaps most of you, this wouldn’t seem odd at all. We take it for granted that of course Jesus was Jewish, Paul was Jewish, and the New Testament should be read in its Second Temple Jewish context. And yet, even now, the Jewish context to Paul and the New Testament (if not the “historical” Jesus) is questioned frequently. I remember when my friend Brant Pitre came out with his Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, and one of the criticisms he received was his use of Jewish sources. Granted, Brant was using later rabbinic Jewish sources (Midrashic, Mishnaic, Talmudic, etc.), but even these later sources incontestably contain earlier traditions—the obvious question/debate is how much of their traditions are Second Temple or earlier. I recall last November’s meeting of La Société Internationale d’Études sur Alfred Loisy, which I chaired, the question my doctoral advisor Bill Portier (responses to whose fine work, Divided Friends: Portraits of the Roman Catholic Modernist Crisis in the U.S., occupied the first session) asked the final presenter, Belgian scholar Danny Praet about the absence of a discussion of the Jewish context to the New Testament in the correspondence between Franz Cumont and Alfred Loisy on the matter of Christian origins. The Cumont-Loisy correspondence began in 1908, the year Loisy was excommunicated, and I think we can detect a development in Loisy’s work from after his excommunication. It seems to me that Loisy’s later work, within the History of Religions (although now more influenced by Cumont than Hermann Gunkel, by whom I think he was more influenced prior to beginning his correspondence with Cumont). It was pretty clear that Post-correspondence with Cumont, Loisy was less inclined to situate the New Testament in its Jewish context, and more in a Greco-Roman context.

But, Loisy was early-on influenced by 19th century German scholarship (which for him was contemporary), and such scholarship was increasingly de-emphasizing, in fact, often denying, not only the Jewish context of the New Testament, but of Jesus (historical or otherwise) as well. This became something of a no-brainer with the push for Markan priority (which Loisy followed, but which we should bear in mind was relatively new…really getting going with a following in the 1880s when Loisy was studying biblical criticism [under Ernest Renan beginning in 1882] and Assyriology [under Arthur Amiaud also beginning in 1882]). Mark contains no genealogy for Jesus, and is arguably the least Jewish of the 4 Gospels. In light of this context, Loisy’s comments in L’Évangile et l’Église at the very dawn of the 20th century (1902 and in the expanded 2nd revised edition of 1903) are rather striking.

So, here are two quotations from L’Évangile et l’Église [from Alfred Loisy, The Gospel and the Church, trans. Christopher Home (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912), which is an English trans. of the 2nd revised and expanded edition of 1903]:

“To seek in the gospel an element that shall be entirely new in regard to the religion of Moses and the prophets, is to seek a thing that Jesus had no desire to set there, a thing that on His own statement does not exist there” (65).

“The Gospel, appearing in Judaea and unable to appear elsewhere, was bound to be conditioned by Judaism. Its Jewish exterior is the human body, whose Divine Soul is the spirit of Jesus. But take away the body, and the soul will vanish in the air like the lightest breath” (121).

One could attribute some of this to the fact that he was explicitly responding to Adolf von Harnack, who famously desired the removal of the Old Testament from Christian Scripture (in Marcionite fashion). But, having read quite a bit of Loisy’s earlier works, I don’t think this is sufficient to explain these comments. I think Loisy was convinced of their Jewish context at that point, even if he changed his mind later on.