Research Paper: Biography on Edward Robinson

Pages: 8 (2897 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper

Edward Robinson, 1794-1864) was an American biblical scholar. Robinson is often called the "Father of Biblical Geography," and was one of the earliest religious scholars to systematically and professionally catalog numerous sites and establish the Bible as a verifiable archeological map. He was born in Connecticut and graduated at Hamilton College and New York, moving to Europe to study at Halle and Berlin. When he returned to the United States, he accepted a professorship of theology specializing in sacred literature at Andover College. He was the founder, in 1831, of the Biblical Repository, and in 1843 established the Bibliotheca Sacra.

One of his most important periods began in 1938 when, in the company of the Reverend Eli Smith, he traveled to Palestine to do primary research. This led to his publication of Biblical Researches in Palestine and Adjacent Countries. The Royal Geographical Society Awarded Robinson the Gold Medal in 1842 based on his discovery of the tunnel dug by Hezekiah prior to the Assyrian invasion of Jerusalem in 701-02 BCE.

Besides his travels in Palestine, Robinson was a consummate scholar of the Ancient World, in particular the languages of Hebrew and Greek and how the linguistic nature of Ancient Greek interpreted the Gospels. An early biographer found Robinson to be focused almost entirely on his vocation, never a parish clergyman concerned with the day-to-day sermons of the community. He is also noted to have been an extremely private man, often considered standoffish when he was likely just shy. He died, ostensibly from either consumption or something picked up during his Middle East travels, at age 69.

Biblical Geography -- An Overview -- To readily grasp the importance of Robinson, it is first necessary to understand a bit about the subject itself. When placed in context of the early 19th century, Robinson's accomplishments were even more astounding, since the Biblical Geography and Archaeology did not really come into prominence until the mid-20th century. The modern study of geography is far more detailed than simply knowing place names, capitals, and major geologic formations. Instead, it provokes questions about both the natural and human worlds, using differing scales, perspective, and cultural/historical modifiers to review and understand the environments that shaped human behavior, culture, and political systems. Biblical geography relates to not only the physical description of the Biblical world, but the cultural manner in which economics, history, biology, geology, and sociology all impact the populations described in the Bible.

For the Old Testament in particular, in one sense, Israel's proximity to the Promised Land mirrors its religious health. God ties the land to his covenant with the Israelites, and wherever the Israelites are located in relation to that land reflects their religious commitment to God. Enslaved in Egypt, the Israelites remain without a religion just as they are far from the Promised Land. The Assyrian and Babylonian exiles equally represent the outcome of Israel's persistent disobedience. Geographically, the land of Canaan falls in the middle of the ancient Near East. As such, the Old Testament describes Israel's religious story as a physical journey to and away from this geographical center. The structure of the Israelite camp in the Book of Leviticus offers an apt analogy for the relationship between geography and religious well-being. Israelites who are religiously "clean" may remain in the camp; but those who are ceremonially "unclean" must remain outside the camp, distancing themselves from the Ark of the Covenant at the center and, by extension, from God's blessings.

However, the Old Testament also suggests that wandering on the geographical margins is essential to religious development. Moses meets God in the form of a burning bush only after fleeing his homeland, and both Samson and David live amongst the Philistines before emerging as saviors of Israel. Wandering promotes humility, discipline, and moral probity. The Israelites learn the laws of their religion and prepare to enter the Promised Land by roaming the desert. Even the exile, at first emblematic of Israel's religious demise, promotes Israel's religious development. Both historically and in the Book of Esther, the exile marks the flowering of Judaism and the precursor to Christianity.

By understanding the geography and climate of the areas of the New Testament, one can more broadly reconstruct life during the time of Christ and thereafter. Social and economic patterns certainly shaped the way the provinces were governed, as well as the ability of the inhabitants to engage in trade, commerce, and links with others. For example, "Palestine had only two direct links to the rest of the Empire. One was via the Mediterranean shipping lanes. The other was by way of Syria, the far more important province that bordered Palestine on the north"

Knowing this, it is easier to understand the economic importance the land held to the Romans, and to place in historical context the conflictual nature of the various tribes of Israel. Additionally, biblical geography has a seminal place in the study of comparative religion and culture, often finding remarkable similarities between what we call the mythologies of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and the Judaic traditions in the Old Testament.

While Israel, unlike the Mesopotamian civilizations (Sumer, Babylon, Assyria) and Egypt, was not among the great political and economic powers of the ancient Near East, it did excel in the legacy of religion, ethics, literature and historiography that shaped the modern world. Biblical geography, then, is the study of the roots of Western civilization and the Middle Eastern culture of Islam (Gordon and Rendsberg, 1998).

Understanding the ancient Near East also helps the Christian of the day interpret and analyze biblical text in relation to current events. Clearly, the conflicts apparent in modern times have historical precedents, and the ability to interpret the Bible based on some scientific validity is important. In fact, we can use this knowledge while studying the Bible and learning what life was like during the time Jesus walked on this earth. Everyone can benefit from having greater knowledge about the land during the New Testament period. We must also remember that much of the Judaic tradition, though, came from the interplay between the Israelite civilization and other ancient Near Eastern powers. Rome, for instance, did not become an empire in a vacuum -- there was an historical trend from Mesopotamia to Egypt to Greece and then to Rome. The political and population studies within the geographical framework, though, can help explain the manner in which the word of Jesus spread to the outside world, and became the dominant political and philosophical paradigm for Europe and then the Age of Discovery and eventually throughout the New World.

If one expands the continuum from the Geography of Biblical Lands to the Geography of Christianity, one finds that the colonization and spreading of the Gospel had a major effect on the move of the Roman Empire to Byzantium (Constantinople), to the settlements in Western Europe, the East-West schism, and the manner in which feudalism organized (patterned after the Ecclesiastical hierarchy). Monasteries were founded throughout Europe as centers of learning or brief stops for travelers and pilgrimages, the Church was largely responsible for the "Divine Right" of rule, disputes over territory, and the eventual reinvasion of the Holy Lands during the Crusades, and finally, the manner in which population and urban geography engendered the rise of Protestantism.

(Hastings, 2000; Rushmore, 2006).

Robinson and Smith -- Most scholarship agrees that if it was not for Robinson's discoveries and monographs, along with his pioneering work identifying 19th -- century villages and ruins that retained biblical place names, there would have been no biblical archaeology or geology as a serious academic discipline and no locus for archaeologists to begin their studies. His, of course, was the first serious and scientific study of Palestine. That being said, there remains a bit of a scholarly contradiction. Certainly, Robinson was extremely scientific in his methods and the types of theoretical assumptions made. However, the only reason he was able to travel to Palestine was through the collaboration with a rather eccentric but enthusiastic missionary, Eli Smith. Not only did Smith accompany Robinson on both trips to Palestine, it was largely because of Smith's fluency in Arabic that Robinson was able to write his geographical review (becoming a co-author in the process).

Robinson's philosophy was reflected in another contemporaneous work that shows some of his contradictions with fervent clergy like Smith:

He {Robinson] belonged to the staid historic-philosophical school of exegetes… he belonged to this school without sharing the rationalizing tendencies of some of its adherents, for he rested reverentially in the declarations of the Divine World. He had no sympathy with either mysticism or rationalism. He accepted revealed mysteries without being a mystic, and he used all the lights of reason without being a rationalist. Disdaining the cheap notoriety which may be won by exaggerating difficulties, whether arithmetical, chronological, or geographical -- he preferred the wisdom which attempts their explanation and harmony

Like some of the ascetic monks of the Middle Ages, foreign lands and native cultures inspired… [END OF PREVIEW]

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