LETTERS News Weekly
, September 28, 2013
Not necessarily hypocrisy
I refer to Dr Andrew T. Kania’s article, “Must we be slaves of time and place?” (News Weekly, September 14, 2013).
If Thomas Jefferson fathered children with his slave, Sally Hemmings, it doesn’t prove that he didn’t consider Afro-Americans to have been “created equal”.
For Jefferson to have married his slave would have caused a huge outbreak of racial hatred. This is demonstrated by the controversy that erupted a century later when President Theodore Roosevelt invited a distinguished black man, Booker T. Washington, to dinner at the White House.
For the same reason, a secret liaison doesn’t prove hypocrisy. President Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington realised that “discretion was vital”.
Also, it would hardly have been to Sally Hemmings’ benefit for Jefferson to have freed her — in effect, to have set her adrift.
Bexley North, NSW
The Bible in the Middle Ages
In his balanced and perceptive review of Dr Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World, Mr Bill James observes that the Bible did not become available to the masses until after the 16th century; but of course its influence, mediated through the Roman Catholic Church, had powerfully influenced Western civilisation for well over a millennium prior to that (News Weekly, August 31, 2013).
Many non-Catholic scholars would concur with Mr James’s judgment on this matter.
The German Lutheran, Friedrich Kropatscheck, contends: “It is no longer possible to hold, as the old polemics did, that the Bible was a sealed book to both theologians and laity. The more we study the Middle Ages, the more does this fable tend to dissolve into thin air” [Kropatscheck, Das Schriftprincip der Lutherischen Kirche (Leipzig, 1904), p.163].
“We must admit,” writes another German Lutheran scholar, Ernst von Dobschütz, “that the Middle Ages possessed a quite surprising and extremely praiseworthy knowledge of the Bible, such as might in many respects put our own age to shame” [Dobschütz, in a 1902 edition of the German news journal, Die Deutsche Rundschau].
The Anglican historian, Dr Edward Cutts, observes: “There is a good deal of popular misapprehension about the way in which the Bible was regarded in the Middle Ages. Some people think it was very little read, even by the clergy; whereas the fact is that the sermons of the medieval preachers are more full of Scriptural quotations and allusions than any sermons in these days; and the writers on other subjects are so full of Scriptural allusion, that it is evident their minds were saturated with Scriptural diction” [Edward Cutts, Turning Points of English History (Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 1889), p.200].