Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers

by Daniel Dreisbach, OUP, £20

Talk to the wrong American political pundit and you may come away with the impression that the nation’s founding fathers had little interest in religion and wanted to banish faith from the public sphere. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As Daniel Dreisbach’s outstanding new book demonstrates, Scripture was central to 18th-century political discourse in America – providing imagery, rhetorical flourishes and, crucially, insights into all manner of philosophical and intellectual conundrums.

When the founding fathers wanted to discuss the nature of political authority, legal codes, the hallmarks of the good citizen or the competent ruler, and the very nature of liberty itself, they frequently opened their Bibles. Or, rather, they didn’t have to, because most of them knew much of it by heart.

This, as Dreisbach stresses, is not to suggest that every luminary during the period was a passionate Christian. For some, the Bible’s influence was stylistic rather than theological and, while many saw the Bible as divinely inspired, others preferred to treat it as a moral lodestone.

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