The Apocrypha in early modern England
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Protestantism is a religion based on an anthology: the Bible. English Protestants, however, generally accepted fewer holy books than Catholics. Scripture alone, rather than the Papacy or Church councils, was paramount for them. Yet which scriptures were to be accepted and which rejected was no straightforward matter. This chapter begins with a brief account of how and why certain Jewish writings came to be regarded as apocryphal, highlighting the crucial contribution Jerome’s contentious canonical theory would ultimately play. It also underscores the fact that the Apocrypha was a Protestant construction, one moreover that reflected the privileging of Jewish texts available in Hebrew over those then extant in Greek. For the gradual evolution of the Apocrypha as a distinct corpus was partially a by-product of the Humanist return to the sources – specifically Hebrew. Previous studies of the Apocrypha in early modern England have tended to stress two points. Firstly, that the removal of these books from the Old Testament was unauthorised, lacking explicit royal and ecclesiastical sanction. Secondly, that their influence was greater than commonly recognised. Both approaches dated from the turn of the twentieth century. While the former may have been motivated by a desire to foster closer ties between Anglicans and Catholics, the latter was intended to rescue these writings from oblivion. As Randall Davidson (1848–1930), Archbishop of Canterbury, put it, ‘a systematic effort should be made to extend the knowledge of people generally about the Apocrypha, and to encourage its more careful study’. Here I want to suggest that in addition the Apocrypha was important because of its inherent potential to exacerbate religious conflict – not just between Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists, but also between moderate churchmen and puritans.
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