Scripture in seventeenth-century England was an immensely powerful, but fiercely contested, authority. It is a commonplace that the Bible was the most printed, most read, and most commented upon text in early modern England, and that its influence suffused all aspects of human experience from individual salvation to familial relationships to political government. However, biblical scholarship in this period has never attracted much attention from historians. Scriptural erudition in seventeenth century England has disappeared into a black hole that divides the 'pre-modern' biblical scholarship of the Middle Ages, Renaissance and early Reformation from the 'modern' biblical scholarship of Higher Criticism developed in Germany in the eighteenth century. Historians seem unsure of the broader significance of scholarly treatments of the Bible in this period, and have left many unwieldy tomes on the shelves to gather dust. There is still an untold story about the Bible in England, a story about those scholars who pored over ancient biblical manuscripts in cold and musty libraries collating thousands of variant readings, trawled through patristic writings and histories of the early Church, trekked across Europe and beyond in search of rare texts, and exchanged ideas through the conduits of the Republic of Letters in the cause of sacred philology to produce some of the finest scholarship of the age. This book seeks to tell that story.
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