It is the 30th of November 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1892.
We will remember one man who died on this day in 1892: F.J.A. Hort. If you aren't familiar with Fenton John Anthony Hort, you would be forgiven. If you aren't familiar with the monumental Westcott-Hort critical edition of the Bible, that's ok too. Newer and more authoritative versions have eclipsed this edition. But today, we will remember this giant of philology and textual criticism who incredibly important to the development of theology. So much so that he might be considered one of the most underrated theologians of the 19th century.
Quick, a little background: In the U.K., the decade was called the "Naughty Nineties," in the U.S. it was the "Gay Nineties," and in France, it is the "Belle Epoque." History has tended to focus on this time as worthy of note. We've been in this decade and the specific year before. The time is marked by the consolidation of nations and the establishment of liberal democracies across the globe. The themes presented in the arts was that of change or reluctance to change. New "scientific" approaches to life, from ideas about origins to questions about what we can know, shattered the old illusion of consensus.
Despite making the news in the early 20th century, the so-called "battle for the Bible" began in the 19th century with the mainlining of Critical theories of biblical interpretation. And to argue about the Bible, it would be useful to have a standard text. This search for a better text goes back to Erasmus and his controversial decision to update St. Jerome's Vulgate. With Luther and his Bible, the making of new vernacular translations became a specialty of Protestants, and no Bible is more well-known than that of the English Protestant King James. For many in the English-speaking world, this would become the new equivalent version of Jerome's Vulgate.
There was no more ubiquitous item in antebellum America. It was a book of theology and politics and manners. The King James Bible formed the language and collective stories of generations on both sides of the Atlantic. And just as Erasmus shook the church's foundations when he argued meticulously for changes based on new critical methods, F.J.A. Hort's work would be as significant.
Hort was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1828. His family moved to England when he was 11, and Hort attended the Rugby School, a prestigious boarding school under the headmastership of Thomas Arnold. He then went to Cambridge. He would remain bound to the area and the school for the rest of his life. He formed part of a triumvirate that included B.F. Westcott and J.B. Lightfoot. Hort's reputation was of being the quiet and meticulous philologist whose attention to detail was unmatched. Hort did serve as a pastor for many years as he was also working on the critical edition of the Bible with Westcott.
When the Anglican Church decided to revise the authorized version (that's what they call the King James Bible), Hort became the driving force behind it. A contemporary said of him that there was "No one to whom the English Revision owed more." The Westcott-Hort critical edition was not perfect and was not the only critical edition. The first widely accepted critical text that relied on new and different manuscripts is no small feat. Today the King James is a nostalgic, perhaps quaint translation in a less reliable textual tradition.
F.J.A. Hort was the driving force behind the Revised version that would lead to a century of new textual variants, new manuscripts discovered, and a proliferation of the kind of work pioneered by the man we remember today. Fenton John Anthony Hort, son of Dublin and fixture at Cambridge, one of the greatest and least heralded theologians of his century, the man behind the critical text whose title bears his name. F.J.A. Hort died on the 30th of November in 1892.
Today's reading comes from the Scottish Metrical Psalter, an excellent way to read and remember the Psalms' contents. This is from Psalm 119, verses 105-107.
Thy word is to my feet a lamp,
and to my path a light.
I sworn have, and I will perform,
to keep thy judgments right.
I am with sore affliction
ev'n overwhelmed, O Lord:
In mercy raise and quicken me,
according to thy word.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 30th of November 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, whose favorite youth group game is called the "battle for the Bible," which is just to capture the flag with an old King James in place of the flag. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.