To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
The rise of biblical archaeology, which came to dominate and control the archaeological investigation of Palestine, demonstrates how closely intertwined the study of the Bible and archaeology had become. European expansion opened up Palestine to much more extensive archaeological exploration. The European powers that were competing to control the land for strategic reasons were also competing to own and control its past. Political and economic power alone is never sufficient to maintain imperial adventures, cultural power is also required. Palestine's strategic importance to Britain in the struggle with France for control of the region was a crucial factor in the founding of the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1865. The period from 1920s onwards is often referred to as the golden age of biblical archaeology, a time when many of the major sites were excavated and many of the great figures of archaeology and biblical studies shaped their disciplines.
It is blood which makes atonement by reason of the life.
There is no forgiveness of guilt without atonement, just as there can be no reconciliation without the restoration of justice.
In December 1994 Myra Hindley, imprisoned for life for her part as accomplice in a series of terrible child murders, broke the silence of thirty years to plead for release. Her press statement read, ‘I have paid my debt to society and atoned for my crime.’ This plea reaches right back, more than two thousand years, to the texts of the Old Testament. To understand it, and the theological affirmation of retributive theory in general, we need to understand and evaluate these texts. Diverse, numerous, and often heavily edited, they come to us from a period of approximately seven or eight hundred years and speak from very varying social situations. This presents a real problem of interpretation for those who take social context seriously. On the other hand, Brevard Childs’ ‘canonical criticism’ has made the important point that these texts have in fact been read as a unity over the past two thousand years and as such have made a profound contribution to the formation of Western culture. Accordingly my concern is first to understand those texts which fed in to the structure of affect which gathered around satisfaction theory, and second to argue that there are resources in the same texts in which to ground the alternative response to offenders which I shall argue for in the final chapter.
The prison authorities profess three objects: (a) Retribution (a euphemism for vengeance), (b) Deterrence (a euphemism for Terrorism) and (c) Reform … They achieve the first atrociously. They fail in the second … the third is irreconcilable with the first.
G. B. Shaw
In Part II we have an overview, however partial and impressionistic, of developments in atonement theology and criminal justice during the eight centuries between Anselm and Moberly. Before sketching the present situation, and attempting a theological appraisal, I shall briefly review the argument.
Attitudes to crime and punishment in the West are, beyond argument, rooted deep in the Christian Scriptures. Here, alongside the ordinary punishments of criminal law, we find notions of expiation and atonement. In the texts of the Old Testament these run in and out of each other, and are not conceptually distinguished. In dealing with crime, which is also sin, a person must make both reparation and sacrifice. Murder is the great exception. For what would now be called ‘first-degree murder’ only capital punishment will do. The language which is used to theorise this is largely that of pollution.
The New Testament rests on these foundations. It exists as an attempt to interpret a judicial murder as a salvific event. Categories of sacrifice, possibly of scapegoating, are used to interpret it, but this attempt serves not to legitimate such practices but to critique them once and for all. ‘No one understood Paul before Marcion’, said Harnack, in a famous aphorism, ‘and Marcion misunderstood him.’ Augustine, called the Doctor gratiae by the Schoolmen, was the interpreter of Paul for both Scholastics and Reformers, but, if Krister Stendahl is right, he too misunderstood him.
We speak God's wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
I Cor. 2.7–8
A social style characterized by the creation of a new community and the rejection of violence of any kind is the theme of New Testament proclamation from beginning to end.
John Howard Yoder
The story of the crucifixion, I have argued, plays an indisputably important role in shaping the mentalities and sensibilities of Western culture. As such it has also helped shape Western attitudes to the punishment of offenders. The interpretive lens through which Jesus’ execution was understood by the earliest Christian community was provided by the writings of the ‘Old Testament’. In the previous chapter I argued that texts which have been used for centuries to legitimate retributive ideas of punishment can be understood in a very different way. Continuing this argument I shall try to show that the New Testament, far from underscoring retributivism, actually deconstructs it.
For many Christians the ‘meaning of the cross’ is simply selfevident. They do not reflect that they have been taught to understand it through hymns and paintings, and through the way it is described in the liturgy – ‘a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction’. In the narrative I take up in the following chapter it will become clear that there have been majority and minority understandings of the atonement for at least a thousand years of the church's history.
In the early 1970s it was widely assumed that religion had lost its previous place in Western culture and that this pattern would spread throughout the world. Since then religion has become a renewed force, recognised as an important factor in the modern world in all aspects of life, cultural, economic and political. This is true not only of the Third World, but in Europe East and West, and in North America. It is no longer a surprise to find a religious factor at work in areas of political tension.
Religion and ideology form a mixture which can be of interest to the observer, but in practice dangerous and explosive. Our information about such matters comes for the most part from three types of sources. The first is the media, which understandably tend to concentrate on newsworthy events, without taking the time to deal with the underlying issues of which they are but symptoms. The second source comprises studies by social scientists, who often adopt a functionalist and reductionist view of the faith and beliefs which motivate those directly involved in such situations. Finally, there are the statements and writings of those committed to the religious or ideological movements themselves. We seldom lack information, but there is a need – often an urgent need – for sound objective analysis which can make use of the best contemporary approaches to both politics and religion. Cambridge Studies in Ideology and Religion is designed to meet this need.
All Christian services and all Christian teaching in prison strike one with a sense of futility because the whole atmosphere of the prison life is a denial of Christianity. The forgiveness and love of God etc. are meaningless terms to a man who has never known forgiveness and love from men and is in prison because men refused to give them to him.
Hobhouse and Brockway, English Prisons Today
Christian atonement theology is the attempt to spell out how Christ is supposed to have helped us. It envisions the possibility of recreating a broken world, of redeeming what would otherwise be lost. In Western society since at least the seventeenth century the offender has been the paradigm case of such potential loss, but the possibility of redemption in this life has for much of that time hardly been in view. On the contrary, various forms of punishment or retribution have been a surrogate for eternal punishment. The motto guiding punishment has been the motto Dante set over the gates of hell: ‘Abandon hope.’ Over the past thousand years offenders have been hanged, put in the pillory, transported, whipped, put in solitary confinement, set on the treadwheel, and sent to Borstal. None of this has reduced crime. As we have seen, there are those who conclude that, with regard to offenders, ‘nothing works’.
The false God changes suffering into violence. The true God changes violence into suffering.
Almost everything we call ‘higher culture’ is based on the spiritualization of cruelty, on its becoming more profound: this is my proposition.
Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109) came from Aosta, in the foothills of the Alps, but by the age of twenty-six had settled at the monastery of Bee, in Normandy, drawn by the fame and energy of Lanfranc. He arrived during what may be regarded as the peak of Norman expansion and achievement. Eleventhcentury France contained a number of powerful dukedoms, all expanding and given to brutal military conquest, and the Normans were probably the most successful of these. ‘The arrogant self-confidence of these rulers’ aggressive campaigns’, writes David Bates, ‘as well as the essential instability of French society at this time, are contextual matters which cannot be over emphasised.’ Seven years after Anselm's arrival at Bee, William, Duke of Normandy, invaded England. William was well known for cruelty even in an age of cruelty, and the ‘harrying of the North’ in the winter of 1069/70 was condemned by contemporaries. At the same time he took his responsibilities as a Christian ruler with great seriousness. He is said to have attended mass every day. The church prescribed one year's penance for each person killed in battle. William, who probably lacked the necessary longevity, built abbeys as a penance instead, endowing them, as well as existing establishments, with land and wealth.
He died so that the penalty owed by us might be discharged, and he might exempt us from it. But since we all, because we are sinners, were offensive to the judgement of God, in order to stand in our stead, he desired to be arraigned before an earthly judge, and to be condemned by his mouth, so that we might be acquitted before the heavenly tribunal of God.
No clear date can be assigned to mark the divide between the medieval and the modern world. Many supposedly crucial markers of the new period, such as naturalism in art, can be found in the mid thirteenth century, and not only in Italy. Nevertheless, profound cultural, political and religious changes marking off the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries can scarcely be denied. Such changes were gradual and uneven, more complete in one place or area than in another, but those in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries who sensed a decisive quickening in the pace of change were not wrong.
Perhaps the single most important change was the growth of the nation state, henceforth the framework for all forms of cultural and political development. Beginning in France, the rulers of Europe slowly gained control over internal enemies and secured their frontiers. In some countries, such as Germany and Italy, this happened regionally rather than nationally. This new political configuration was the salvation of Protestantism, which could have been crushed had the Catholic states acted together.
Christianity is Parcel of the Laws of England: Therefore to reproach the Christian Religion is to speak in Subversion of the Law.
Matthew Hale, Lord Chief Justice
By the satisfaction of justice, I mean the retribution of so much pain for so much guilt; which is the dispensation we expect at the hand of God, and which we are accustomed to consider as the order of things that perfect justice dictates and requires.
John Fletcher, of Madeley, is one of the most attractive figures of the eighteenth-century English church. Born and brought up in Switzerland, and attending university at Geneva, he learned English only after coming to Britain in his early twenties, and his early sermons, at any rate, were delivered with so thick an accent that English congregations found him difficult to understand. He had intended to be a soldier, but a series of accidents prevented him, and on coming to England he came under Wesley's influence, took up residence in Madeley, and after ordination by the Bishop of Bangor began to assist the incumbent. About Madeley it was observed that it was ‘remarkable for little else than the ignorance and profaneness of its inhabitants, among whom respect to men was as rarely observed as piety towards God’. When the vicar died in 1760 Fletcher was offered the living and accepted, even though he was simultaneously offered one of much greater value. He remained at Madeley for the rest of his life, twenty-five years.
Could it really be that all the talk about justice, goodness, law, religion, God and so on, was nothing but so many words to conceal the grossest self-interest and cruelty?
Ah! Little think the Gay …
Whom Pleasure, Power and Affluence Surround
How many Pine in Want, and Dungeon Glooms.
The attempt to place the atonement theology of the eighteenth century in its context is made the more difficult because the century is the contemporary focus of the Streit der Historiker. Historians overtly committed to right- and left-wing ideologies interpret the same evidence very differently. Legal history has shared in the difficulty.
The rise in population has been described as ‘The outstanding feature of the social history of the eighteenth century’. In fact, this growth occurred only from mid century on, and the population actually fell both in the late 1720s and in 1741. Mid century the population of England stood, as it had at the beginning, at approximately 5½ million, three-quarters of whom lived and worked in the country. This had risen to 9 million at the time of the first census in 1801.
In 1700 London, the biggest city in Europe, with a population of more than five hundred thousand, was the only really great city in Britain. Norwich was the second city, with a population of nearly thirty thousand, followed by Bristol with twenty thousand and York, Exeter and Newcastle upon Tyne with something over eleven thousand each.
The notion of a ‘middle age’ (media aetas, medium aevum) between ancient and modern, characterising the four hundred years between Abelard and Luther, emerged in the fifteenth century, but only became thoroughly familiar after the eighteenth century, with the re-evaluation of medieval art, and the rise of ‘Gothic’. Twentieth-century historical scholarship has increasingly challenged the periodisation assumed by Michelet and Burckhardt, tracing the roots of humanism, reform and renaissance as far back as the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Economic development accelerated from the late eleventh century on. From being uncertain and reversible economic growth became ‘rapid, ubiquitous, and for a time apparently limidess’. Land tenure gradually became less important, and money payment more significant. As these centuries wore on the merchant class became ever more important until, by the fifteenth century, the richest merchants bought their way into the elite ranks of the hereditary peerage. Throughout the period social hierarchy remained of great importance, but it was transformed from within. The basic social distinction shifted from that between noble and non-noble to that between those who were and those who were not entitled to bear arms. At the lower end of the social scale resentment of servile status was reflected in peasant movements, in popular preaching, and in stubborn resistance to some forms of taxation. The church's hegemony in intellectual and administrative life proved short lived, and by the thirteenth century lay officials, often lawyers, were taking leading roles in administration.
Thanks be to those who plann'd these silent cells, Where Sorrow's true-born child, Repentance, dwells; Where Justice, sway'd by Mercy, doth employ Her iron rod, to chasten, not destroy; The slave of vice to virtue deigns restore, And bids him, once enfranchised, sin no more.
George Holford, MP
This too I know – and wise it were
If each should know the same –
That every prison that men build
Is built with bricks of shame,
And bound with bars lest Christ should see
How men their brothers maim.
Oscar Wilde, ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’
The period from the end of the eighteenth century to the mid nineteenth century has been referred to variously as an age of revolution, of reform, and of improvement, but more recendy, and perhaps more aptly, as an age of atonement. The language of atonement pervaded politics and literature, as well as religion, in a way which it never did in the eighteenth century. As the debate on the abolition of slavery went on, it was seen in the first instance as an act of atonement for national sins. Whilst some evangelicals regarded the Irish famine of 1845 a s God's judgement on ‘an indolent and un self-reliant people’, Gladstone wrote to his wife that unless England atoned for its neglect of the Irish it must expect ‘a fearful retribution’. A National Fast day was proclaimed for this and other occasions of war and famine. The eighteenth century had also had its days of National Fasting, but the importance of religious guilt as a social and political factor is unquestionably higher in this period.
This 1996 book examines the relationship between the theologies of atonement and penal strategies. Christian theology was potent in Western society until the nineteenth century, and the so-called 'satisfaction theory' of atonement interacted and reacted with penal practice. Drawing on the work of Norbert Elias and David Garland, the author argues that atonement theology created a structure of affect which favoured retributive policies. He ranges freely between Old Testament texts, St Anselm, and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British social history, to show the integral connection between sin and crime, the legal and the moral. The question arises if the preaching of the cross not only desensitised us to judicial violence but even lent it sanction. The last two chapters review theory and practice in the twentieth century, and Timothy Gorringe makes concrete proposals for both theology and criminal and societal violence.