Corps de l’article

It is interesting to note that this book was written quite by accident. The author was curious about Hobbes’ observation of his contemporary readers of the Geneva Bible — specifically his complaint that since the Bible was translated into English, and every child that could read English thought he or she spoke directly to God without needing the Reformed Church, bishops and pastors, because they themselves have become the judge of religion and the interpreters of the Scriptures. It remained clear to the author that there was much more to be understood about the social and political dimensions of the English Bible, that is, precisely how the ancient text made its way into the social fabric and how it became so easily applicable to contemporary politics.

Fulton began a systematic reading of the two dominant Bibles in the vernacular — the Geneva text of 1560 with its extended notes, and the Authorized Version of 1611 which had much sparser marginal notes. The paratextual differences between these Renaissance Bibles became paramount when at a conference at Hampton Court in 1604, James I, launched a scathing attack on the Geneva text notes, declaring them to be, “very partial, untrue, seditious, and savoring too much, of dangerous, and traitorous conceits” (William Barlow, Summe and Substance of Conference, p. 47). The author notes that very little work has been done to verify the dangerousness or actual social use of the notes in some Bibles, whether subversive, royalist, or puritan. Fulton focuses on the translations and annotations of Erasmus and Tyndale because they were not only the likely point of origin for Tudor biblical translations and annotations but they also offer insight into the connection between translation and reuse. So the question that surfaces is, just how much political context shaped biblical interpretation ? A closer look at the Geneva Bible annotations reveals how tenuous the claims of literal approach described by Calvin and Tyndale truly were.

Fulton looks at “the process of recovery, reinterpretation, and reuse of scripture” in the early modern political thought focussing on the literary and cultural transformations of the biblical texts for political expedience. By looking at the interpretive paratext and annotations, his goal is to understand the hermeneutic and strategy employed by early modern English readers in their transformation of the text for their own use. In addition to looking at the content and function of annotations, but also what takes place in the space they represent, between the earliest biblical meaning and the early modern world. He points out the prevalence of early modern students such as Katherine Philips and John Milton who took a systematic approach to their readings, selecting and writing down particular passages for later reuse. So it was common practice to glean scripture, organize them under set headings for later polemic or theological use. Fulton sheds light on the influence of this practice on cultural dialogue, namely the biblical text and the paratextual interpretation of that text that often go hand-in-hand with issues preoccupying society and by extension, employed politically.

He explores the relationship between biblical interpretation and political literature ; the former cloaked in Protestant literalism with the true purpose for contemporary appeal, the latter remaining faithful to the literalist sense but with a legalistic spin. Fulton concludes that literature itself cannot exist in a purely literalist world and therefore it is not surprising that characters such as Shakespeare’s Puritan Malvolio or even Milton meld and parody Protestant literalism. In post-Reformation England theological debates and ideas were viewed through this prism of literature. In this book, Fulton masterfully demonstrates how literary texts engage the habits of Bible readers and interpreters.