Dear Workshop,

On Thursday, May 24, David Mihalyfy, Ph.D. Candidate in History of Christianity will present a chapter from his dissertation:


“…almost all romantic stories have been suggested by some actual circumstance…”:

Tom Paine Confronts Late 18th c. America with the Problem of the Historical Jesus.


Time: 12:00, Thursday, May 24, 2012

Place: Swift Hall, Room 400

Food: Snacks provided, feel free to bring your lunch!

Paper: Copies of the essay are available by emailing


A short quote from David’s chapter follows:


Before the 18th c. was over, both parts of Tom Paine’s bestselling religious polemic The Age of Reason introduced a large number of Americans to the same intellectual challenges as anti-traditional biblical criticism associated with the academy in his quest to replace Christianity with deism. Anti-traditional biblical criticism would begin reaching small numbers of New England elites in the first decades of the next century, gain adherents among prominent albeit atypical antebellum figures such as Congregationalist minister Theodore Parker, and eventually spark the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy with the start of its institutionalization within the academy after the Civil War. Although religious radicals such as deists are sometimes mentioned as an anticipators of certain critical positions, more impressive but less well known is Paine’s success at fomenting international engagement with its intellectual challenges. Engagement does not necessitate acceptance, however, and since Paine’s dissemination of these ideas did not lead to widespread acceptance, the challenge that he issued greatly abated after the initial years-long burst of his work’s notoriety; although scattered figures such as the deists George Bethune English and Abner Kneeland would gain fame in part by reviving his challenges throughout the first part of the 19th c., none of their works would approximate Paine’s in popularity, leaving the more famous and more lasting intellectual challenge to be made by biblical criticism associated with the academy. In any case, even apart from its deserved place in the standard scholarly narrative of the history of biblical criticism, the controversy around Paine’s Age of Reason deserves examination because of its important synchronic implications: The Age of Reason suggests large-scale unifying features of interpretation of the gospels among forms of late 18th c. Christianity, precisely because it seeks to undermine them and harm Christianity as much as possible.





Persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance, please contact Paul Chang in advance at