July 21, 2003

Pitts exhibit highlights biblical 'critics' of 1600s

By Elizabeth Cloud

Rare editions of works by influential early modern thinkers have been selected from the special collections of Pitts Theology Library for a summer exhibit titled “Pioneers of Biblical Criticism in the 17th Century.”

Works by Galileo, Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, Isaac de la Peyrere, Benedictus de Spinoza, Richard Simon and Jean le Clerc highlight major themes of the scientific revolution of that period and its impact on the interpretation of the Bible.

These scientists, philosophers and theologians challenged traditional assumptions about how knowledge is acquired. In doing so, they helped to change the intellectual, social and political foundations of the Western world, laying the groundwork for modern scientific methods of inquiry. The exhibit displays early and rare editions of these historically significant works.

“Because of the significance of the figures whose works are on display, this exhibit will likely be of interest not only to those who study theology or religion but also to scholars and students of history, literature, philosophy, politics and the natural sciences,” said Douglas Gragg, head of public services at Pitts and designer of the exhibit.

One of the highlights of the display is a first Latin edition of Galileo’s masterwork on cosmology, which dates to 1635 (the work was first issued in Italian in 1632). Another is a first edition of Hobbes’ Leviathan, dating to 1651.

The ideas expressed in the books on display were bold and controversial for their time, bringing their authors into conflict with ecclesiastical and political authorities. The title page of Spinoza’s Tractatus theologico-politicus (1672) illustrates one way authors and publishers sought to protect themselves; the work appeared not only anonymously but also with a pseudo-nymous publisher and place of publication (it actually was published by Jan Rieuwertsz in Amsterdam).

“Pioneers of Biblical Criticism in the 17th Century” will be on display through
Sept. 15 in the Durham Reading Room of Pitts Library, Mondays through Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information contact Gragg at dgragg@emory.edu.