Title page for ETD etd-11142007-140547

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Belton, Roshunda Lashae
Author's Email Address rbelto1@lsu.edu
URN etd-11142007-140547
Title A Non-Traditional Traditionalist: Rev. A. H. Sayce and His Intellectual Approach to Biblical Authenticity and Biblical History in Late-Victorian Britain
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Suzanne Marchand Committee Chair
David Lindenfeld Committee Member
Meredith Veldman Committee Member
Steven Ross Committee Member
Gregory Schufreider Dean's Representative
  • tel el amarna tablets
  • epic of gilgamesh
  • genesis
  • higher criticism
  • max muller
  • archeology
  • races of the ancient world
  • oxford
  • john w. colenso
  • s. r. driver
  • e. b. pusey
  • moses
  • pentateuch
Date of Defense 2007-09-25
Availability unrestricted
The relationship between science and religion was a dominant topic in late-Victorian Britain. This is exemplified in the debate over biblical authenticity and bible history. After 1860 higher criticism, the textual examination of the biblical texts became a prominent issue of discussion in British society. Higher critics brought into question the authorship and authenticity of the Pentateuch, particularly that of Genesis. One significant contributor to this debate was Oxford educator and Assyriologist Rev. Archibald Henry Sayce, who firmly believed that philology, history and, particularly, archeology provided the evidence necessary to validate the accuracy of biblical texts. Supporters of orthodoxy embraced Sayce's argument, believing he had successfully countered the arguments of the higher critics and exonerated biblical authenticity. His combination of liberal theology and modern philology made him the ideal advocate for the truth of the bible, which he defended in a new, 'scientific' way rather than resorting to traditional theological arguments.

This dissertation examines Sayce's intellectual approach to biblical history and emphasizes his significant contributions to the debates over Old Testament criticism. Even though Sayce embraced the use of archeology, history and philology in proving biblical authenticity, he acknowledged similarities between Babylonian texts and the Book of Genesis. The recognition of these similarities was shaped by his extensive study of ancient history and philology.

Sayce's use of liberal, scientific methods to defend orthodoxy makes his contributions to late-Victorian religious thought interesting and complex. His career and religious interpretations not only reflect Britain's interest and focus on religion but also British society's anxiety over secularization and its impact on religious life. Contemporary works which deal with religion in Britain, and more specifically higher criticism, either omit Sayce or underemphasize his contributions. This has contributed to the lack of information on Sayce. This dissertation relies on newly discovered documents, used here for the first time, to provide insight and perspective into Sayce's intellectual development from religious liberalism (the acceptance and acknowledgment of the higher critical) during the 1860s to firmly defending orthodoxy (harshly criticizing higher critics) after 1895.

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