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|Home ¬ Previous Page ¬ APOCALYPTIC READINGS OF EDWARD GIBBON'S DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE|
Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1778) early on gained a reputation as a work of scepticism and was attached form the start for its ironic treatment of Christianity. In the decades following its publication, however, Protestant exegetes began to recast The Decline and Fall as a chief source for the historical verification of the Apocalypse. Gibbon's change in status was probably facilitated by several Christianized editions of his history, but the exegetes never lost sight of his sceptical intentions. Commentators came to regard Gibbon's infidelity as one of his most important assets, for an unbeliever could hardly be accused of writing to support the fulfilment of biblical prophecy.
By the mid-nineteenth century this exegetical appropriation of Gibbon's famous work had reached an immense scale, and The Decline and Fall attained an almost inspired status. Some even implied that Gibbon had been divinely raised up for the purpose of composing a history that would confirm the Book of Revelation. The interpreters also admired and praised Gibbon for his scholarship and historical precision -- qualities necessary for commentators revealing God's hand at work in history.
This paper reconstructs the dynamics of this unexpected appropriation of The Decline and Fall for the first time. It also explores the strategies of the exegetes in transforming the authorial intentions of Gibbon into something compatible with their view of the designs of providence. Finally, this study raises questions about this striking religious use of Enlightenment scholarship, and offers insight into our understanding of the polygenetic roots of Protestant fundamentalism.$Z
Whilst the happiness and glory of a temporal reign were promised to the disciples of Christ, the most dreadful calamities were denounced against an unbelieving world. The edification of the new Jerusalem was to advance by equal steps with the destruction of the mystic Babylon; and, as long as the emperors who reigned before Constantine persisted in the profession of idolatry,, the epithet of Babylon was applied to the city and to the empire of Rome. A regular series was prepared for all the moral and physical evils which can afflict a flourishing nation; intestine discord, and the invasion of the fiercest barbarians from the unknown regions of the North; pestilence and famine, comets and eclipses, earthquakes and inundations. All these were only so many preparatory and alarming signs of the great catastrophe of Rome, when the country of the Scipios and Caesars should be consumed by a flame from Heaven, and the city of the seven hills, with her palaces, her temples, and her triumphal arches, should be buried in a vast lake of fire and brimstone.
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire