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Title page for ETD etd-03222015-170702

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Adler, Jennifer Axsom
Author's Email Address jennifer.a.adler@gmail.com
URN etd-03222015-170702
Title The Other Witness: Nineteenth-Century American Protestantism and the Material Gospel Theology
Degree PhD
Department Religion
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
James Hudnut-Beumler Committee Chair
James Byrd Committee Member
Jeanne Kilde Committee Member
Joel Harrington Committee Member
Robin Jensen Committee Member
  • material gospel
  • American Protestantism
  • nineteenth century
  • theology
  • higher criticism
  • Bible
  • Holy Land
  • pilgrimage
  • tourism
  • travelogues
  • reproductions
  • space
  • place
  • landscape
Date of Defense 2015-03-13
Availability unrestricted
Nineteenth-century American Protestants saw the Holy Land as a material gospel: a place that preserved an authoritative and experiential account of sacred history that could be plainly read, interpreted, and reproduced. Veneration for this Holy Land—which such Protestants imagined as a network of biblical locations that spanned a crescent-shaped swath of the Mediterranean world from Rome to Cairo—occurred at the same time as increasing theological challenges to the material reliability of the Bible itself. This dissertation offers an historical account of the rise of this material gospel theology around the mid-point of the nineteenth century and its subsequent weakening at the turn of the twentieth. Engaging spatial theory, this dissertation considers a wide variety of objects—including theological tracts, hymns, travelogues, Sunday school literature, newspaper articles, novels, poetry, maps, illustrations, and photographs. Chapter one documents the historical and theological roots of the material gospel theology, tracing, in particular, how the nineteenth-century quest for the historical Jesus fueled widespread interest in the Holy Land. Chapter two delineates different spatial ideologies operating within the material gospel theology, taking note of the varied understandings of space, place, and landscape implicit within Protestants’ view of the Holy Land as a fifth gospel. Chapter three, then, explores the ritual practices Protestants used to discern the Holy Land’s material gospel, with a focus on the embodied practice of walking. Chapter four considers how the material gospel theology spurred a profusion of Holy Land reproductions and examines how Protestants regarded three different mediums—word, illustration, and photograph—as peculiarly suited to reproducing the Holy Land. The final two chapters document a weakening of the material gospel theology at the close of the nineteenth century. From a historiographic perspective, this dissertation adds a popular, material dimension to the history of biblical interpretation and debates over higher criticism. It also enriches our understanding of the nineteenth-century American Protestant encounter with the Holy Land, particularly the tremendous diversity of spatial and material ideologies operating within the construction of the Holy Land as another gospel.
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