A Review Note on David F. Holland: Sacred Borders

David F. Holland
Sacred Borders
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (February 2, 2011)
ISBN-10: 9780199753611
ISBN-13: 978-0199753611

David Holland’s recent work through Oxford is an examination of New England’s flirtation with the Bible and its status among Protestants of various constitutions. Is the Bible the last word on canon, if so, which bible? Can you “tear off the back cover” so to speak, and tack more on? Is the Bible a revelation or a historic collection of revelations/histories? Is it the end of revelation or merely an example of it?

Holland looks at these questions and others asked by Christians of various sorts as well as other figures from the Early Republic. Puritans, Shakers, Evangelicals, Transcendentalists and other liberals, Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, Catholics and deists all get their turn.

It is in few words, a fine book. An excellent treatment of an important subject which will surprise you at various turns. You get to know wonderful figures like Ann Hutchinson and Jemima Wilkinson, Rebecca Jackson and Orestes Brownson.

The book keeps its focus, which is an admittedly narrow one, yet it drills down to the very meaning of faith in early America and allows the reader to see across a fabulous landscape of interpretation and opinion. For anyone interested in religion in the antebellum period, this book is a necessary brick in the wall of your education.

The cost? It’s not cheap. $63 from Amazon. I really don’t see what Oxford is playing at here. You’re not paying for expensive pictures or multicolor illustrations. But if you’ve got a dog in this race, pony up! (har) Either that or grab it at your local library. I’d let you borrow mine, but I’m on my second read.

Sacred Borders: open your wallet and curb the trips to Wendy’s for a while. Your brain will be glad and so will your heart.

P.S. See Sam Brown’s more extensive review here.

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2 Responses to A Review Note on David F. Holland: Sacred Borders

  1. David G. says:

    Thanks, WVS. I haven’t gotten to this yet, although it is on the list. Here’s a link to JI Christopher’s review of Sacred Borders: http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/book-review-david-holland-sacred-borders-continuing-revelation-and-canonical-restraint-in-early-america/

  2. WVS says:

    I agree with Christopher by and large. It does foreclose on some things that could inform the discussion, like cultures beyond America vis-a-vis Mormonism. However Holland does spend some time there in a general way. But it’s a mistake to think of this as Mormon studies. That’s way too narrow a handle for this. On the other hand, any moderately informed LDS is going to be slapping their forehead as they read (not in the Mormon section!), saying, “wow, that’s exactly the way things played out through the Utah period(s). Just change the names and such and it looks precisely the same.” Well, that’s probably a personal prejudice but I found it a stimulating read, obviously.

    Just a remark about the Mormon bit. In a work like this you’ll never see the fine grain of Mormonism. The book is reasonable here, but if you’re buying it just to find out what Holland says about Mormons, you’ve wasted your money. Not as much sin here as with Givens’ Preexistence book but still. I want to write something longer, but time is at a premium right now.

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