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“To Inherit God Himself?”: The Metaphysical Transformation of Man in Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana

Year: 2023

Presenter Name: Michael Green

This research examines Cotton Mather's Biblia Americana, the first scriptural commentary written in North America, his largest and most comprehensive work, and only recently discovered by scholars after more than two hundred years of neglect. The Biblia Americana is an enlightened response to the early eighteenth-century ascension of higher criticism, which sought to impose a historical-literal exegesis on the Bible and thereby threatened its secularization. This research is concerned with Mather's theological assertions in the Biblia Americana, both in how he reaffirms or rejects Reformation exegetical methodologies and conclusions while simultaneously trying to absorb certain aspects of Enlightenment thinking. Specifically, this research explores how Mather's theorization of experiential piety influenced his ontological conception of both God and man, which consequently shaped his soteriological and eschatological claims. This includes an examination of Christ's dyohypostatic nature, the creation and function of the human soul, experiential piety in relation to mortal life, and the post-mortal processes of resurrection and metaphysical transformation. The Biblia Americana reveals that Mather possessed a unique theological stance that included a progressive spirituality nurtured through a personal connection with divinity and culminating in the glorification of the soul and body. These findings reconceptualize Mather's character and legacy, which currently stands as a symbol of aggressive Puritanism; challenges the narrative of moderate Biblical exegetists as stagnant and purely apologetic, rather than as active, explorative, and creative; and illuminates a theology that in some ways radically departs from Reformation theology and returns to a more patristic mindset. Thus Mather's Biblia Americana acts as a bridge between the Enlightenment and the American First Great Awakening.
University / Institution: Brigham Young University
Type: Oral
Format: In Person
SESSION C (1:45-3:15PM)
Area of Research: Humanities
Faculty Mentor: Paul Kerry
Location: Alumni House, BOYER ROOM (1:45pm)