One Day Colloquium: Fictions of Antiquity, CRASSH, 6 November 2014

Announcing our first event of the 2014/15 academic year, ‘Fictions of Antiquity: the biblical and classical past of the nineteenth-century novel’, taking place at CRASSH (University of Cambridge) on 6 November 2014.

Speakers include:

  • Professor Norman Vance, Sussex
  • Dr Brian Murray, CRASSH
  • Dr Victoria Mills, Cambridge
  • Dr Jan-Melissa Schramm, Cambridge

It is free to attend, but please do register through our website: Fictions of Antiquity website



Registration now open for Chosen Peoples, Promised Lands conference

This conference took place 14-16 July 2014. For more news and updates about Biblant project conferences, please join our mailing list or email

Registration has now opened for the Biblant group’s conference Chosen Peoples, Promised Lands taking place at CRASSH, University of Cambridge, from 14-16 July 2014.

Please visit the CRASSH website or our Facebook page for full details and a link to online registration.

If you are unable to book online, or require assistance please contact the project administrator: eeh39 [at]


Gordon and the Garden of Eden

A fascinating blog post from Dr Richard Aspin at the Wellcome Library, on General Gordon‘s biblical but decidedly bizarre researches on Mauritius when posted there in the Royal Engineers (1881-2). Place names, conjecture and most importantly the flora convinced Gordon that the Garden of Eden had been in the Seychelles, that Breadfruit was the Tree of Life, and that the suggestively shaped Coco-de-Mer nut was the Tree of Knowledge offered by Eve to Adam, the Genesis Deluge having since flooded the land around. For the full story, follow the link…

Sewing Scripture

by Gareth Atkins

In recent months we’ve begun in our research group to work in earnest on the long-premeditated exhibition (the title remains under wraps, but watch this space). Materiality is currently a buzzword among cultural scholars, and alongside texts and images we’re also on the lookout for objects and artefacts that tell Bible-and-Antiquity tales. Serious and not-so-serious suggestions are very welcome!

Probably my favourite example so far is the horrible glass case of 43 stuffed birds shot by Sergeant Armstrong of the Royal Engineers during the Palestine Exploration Fund’s 1870s expedition, but this striking coverlet from the V&A runs it a close second. It was made in the early nineteenth century, and provides a tantalizing glimpse of how Bible stories were read and reimagined by the neglected many rather than the well-documented few. The coverlet’s creator was a Wiltshire milliner, and she signed it, embroidering ‘Ann West’s work, 1820’, ‘Forget me not’ and ‘Remember Me’.

UntitledIn some ways it reminds me of the fourteenth-century Macclesfield Psalter, acquired by the Fitzwilliam Museum in 2005 after a big fundraising campaign, whose margins are stuffed with jousting rabbits and hounds, grotesque creatures and a terrifying giant skate attacking an astonished man. The marginalia have little relevance to the Psalter’s text! The coverlet, too, displays humour and a lively imagination. Alongside the biblical scenes Ann included plenty of wryly observed contemporary vignettes, including rural weddings, earthy shepherds, posturing soldiers and the playful ‘Negro servant and master’ of the image below. In other ways, though, it’s very different: whereas the Psalter fitted in the palm of the hand, Ann West’s coverlet is 244 x 221cm. And while the Psalter was made for a rich patron, Ann, it seems, was sewing for herself.


Most other patchworks of this kind were made by male tailors: they focused on political campaigns and military heroes. This one is very different. The colours are so vivid because they were made of offcuts from military scarlet, fine blue-black cloth intended for tailored coats and a range of other products of the weaving industry that was so important in south-west England. This one is inspired by the Bible. At the centre is the Garden of Eden and around it, as well as 54 small patches showing contemporary characters, are fourteen other scenes, including Cain and Abel (top left), Moses in the Bulrushes (top right), Abraham and Isaac, complete with sacrificial ram caught in a thicket (bottom left) and ‘Christ talketh with a woman of Samaria’ (West’s own caption, bottom right).


This last is particularly interesting because it demonstrates the influence of printed Bible illustrations. Jenny Lister has shown the close resemblance between this panel and the portrayal of John 4:1-30 in Sarah Trimmer’s Prints from the New Testament, first published in 1790 by John Marshall and Co., a London firm who specialized in children’s literature and educational chapbooks. Intriguingly, though, Ann did not copy the image slavishly, showing Christ robed and haloed but updating the Samaritan woman by giving her the sort of cheap print gown and woollen skirt that most poor women would have worn in early nineteenth-century Wiltshire.

The subject matter raises intriguing questions about the purpose of the coverlet. Was it intended to be an evangelistic aid? A hanging for a Sunday school? Or was it all just an idle flight of imaginative fancy? Not much is known about its creator, either. Was she a stalwart of some local chapel in Warminster or Chippenham? She clearly had a conscience, depicting distressed widows and an unemployed ‘poor sailor’, but she had a sense of humour too. She also wanted to be remembered: recall how she signed her work. Yet it is the scene at the well that most intrigues me: by transforming the Samaritan Woman into one of her contemporaries, Ann West was literally sewing the first century and the nineteenth into one image. Her coverlet comes as a striking reminder that ‘reception’ of the Bible by ordinary men and women was seldom passive, and, whether textual or material, always involved layers of translation and cultural transposition.

All images © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Call for Papers: The Bible, Race and Nation

Chosen Peoples, Promised Lands

The Bible, Race, and Nation in the Long Nineteenth Century 

July 14-16 2014 at CRASSH, University of Cambridge

Speakers include:

  • Stephen Haynes (Rhodes College)
  • Anthony D. Smith (LSE)
  • Stephen K. Batalden (Arizona State)
  • Alex Bremner (Edinburgh)
  • Hilary M. Carey (Bristol)
  • John Coffey (Leicester)
  • Hephzibah Israel (Edinburgh)
  • Halvor Moxnes (Oslo)

Chosen Peoples, Promised Lands will bring together scholars from across a variety of disciplines to throw new light on the biblical themes, ideas, and metaphors that undergird ideas about racial and national identity in the modern world. More specifically, we seek to explore the how biblical notions of lineage, descent, and inheritance continued to inform ideas of race and nation in the increasingly secular and scientific atmosphere of the long nineteenth century. Notwithstanding the publication of several recent works on religion and nationhood, nationalism and race are still often considered in secular terms. The aim of this conference is to explore the means through which a range of nations and races have forged their identities in conversation with the textual traditions of the Abrahamic religions.

Conference organisers: Dr Gareth Atkins, Dr Shinjini Das, Dr Brian Murray.

Topics may include (but are not limited to):

  • Race and the Noachic tradition  (Semites, Hamites, Japhites)
  • Nation as covenant
  • New Israel and Modern Babylon
  • Zionism
  • National Bibles: translation, criticism, scholarship, distribution
  • National (and transnational) Missions
  • Resistance to the Bible in anticolonial and nationalist contexts
  • The postcolonial Bible
  • The contested antiquity of nations/races
  • New worlds and promised lands
  • Exile and Exodus

We invite proposals for 20-minute papers from researchers to fill a limited number of slots in two open panels. Please send your proposal (max. 250 words) with a brief biography to by 11 April 2014. If accepted, finished papers will be precirculated on 27 June. Informal enquiries may also be directed to the above address.

This event is hosted by The Bible and Antiquity in Nineteenth-Century Culture project at CRASSH and supported by the European Research Council.

Cities of God

New publication by project members:

The history of archaeology is generally told as the making of a secular discipline. Cities of God: the Bible and Archaeology in Nineteenth-century Britain (2013) argues however that archaeology in this period was enmeshed with questions of biblical authority and so with religious as well as narrowly scholarly concerns. In unearthing the cities of the Eastern Mediterranean, travellers, archaeologists and their popularisers transformed thinking on the truth of Christianity and its place in modern cities. This happened at a time when anxieties over the unprecedented rate of urbanisation in Britain coincided with critical challenges to biblical truth. In this context, cities from Jerusalem to Rome became contested models for the adaptation of Christianity to modern urban life. Using sites from across the biblical world, this book evokes the appeal of the ancient city to diverse groups of British Protestants in their arguments with one another and with their secular and Catholic rivals about the vitality of their faith in urban Britain.

Dissent and the Bible in Britain c.1650-1950

New publication by project members:

The claim that the Bible was ‘the Christian’s only rule of faith and practice’ has been fundamental to Protestant dissent. Dissenters first braved persecution and then justified their adversarial status in British society with the claim that they alone remained true to the biblical model of Christ’s Church. They produced much of the literature that guided millions of people in their everyday reading of Scripture, while the voluntary societies that distributed millions of Bibles to the British and across the world were heavily indebted to Dissent. Yet no single book has explored either what the Bible did for dissenters or what dissenters did to establish the hegemony of the Bible in British culture. The protracted conflicts over biblical interpretation that resulted from the bewildering proliferation of dissenting denominations have made it difficult to grasp their contribution as a whole. Dissent and the Bible in Britain c.1650-1950 (2013) evokes the great variety in the dissenting study and use of the Bible while insisting on the factors that gave it importance and underlying unity. Its ten essays range across the period from the later seventeenth to the mid-twentieth century and make reference to all the major dissenting denominations of the United Kingdom. The essays are woven together by a thematic introduction which places the Bible at the centre of dissenting ecclesiology, eschatology, public worship and ‘family religion’, while charting the political and theological divisions that made the cry of ‘the Bible only’ so divisive for dissenters in practice.