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Jeremiah's Scribes

Creating Sermon Literature in Puritan New England

By Meredith Marie Neuman

Publication Year: 2013

New England Puritan sermon culture was primarily an oral phenomenon, and yet its literary production has been understood mainly through a print legacy. In Jeremiah's Scribes, Meredith Marie Neuman turns to the notes taken by Puritan auditors in the meetinghouse in order to fill out our sense of the lived experience of the sermon. By reconstructing the aural culture of sermons, Neuman shifts our attention from the pulpit to the pew to demonstrate the many ways in which sermon auditors helped to shape this dominant genre of Puritan New England.

Tracing the material transmission of sermon texts by readers and writers, hearers and notetakers, Jeremiah's Scribes challenges the notion of stable authorship by individual ministers. Instead, Neuman illuminates a mode of textual production that pervaded communities and occurred in the overlapping media of print, manuscript, and speech. Even printed sermons, she demonstrates, bore the traces of their roots in the oral culture of the meetinghouse.

Bringing material considerations to bear on anxieties over the perceived relationship between divine and human language, Jeremiah's Scribes broadens our understanding of all Puritan literature. Neuman examines the controlling logic of the sermon in relation to nonsermonic writing—such as conversion narrative—ultimately suggesting the fundamental permeability among disparate genres of Puritan writing.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Material Texts


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-vi

Note on Transcription

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

In the 1661 London printing of The Saints Anchor-Hold (a sermon originally preached in New Haven, Connecticut), the minister John Davenport offered a simple message of perseverance in difficult times to his immediate congregation and to an imagined transatlantic readership. ...

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pp. 1-34

The distinguished scholar was absolutely correct when he quipped, “Indeed, ours has been a notably sermon-ridden literature from the beginning.”1 The Puritan sermon has long been the elephant in the room for many teachers and scholars of early American literature. We know that we have to deal with it, but we are often not sure how to do so. ...

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Chapter 1. Unauthorizing the Sermon

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pp. 35-58

In a letter written to his old friend and colleague John Cotton in 1650, John Davenport requests advice regarding a sermon he is preparing for the press. Some time ago, Davenport had lent his own copy of notes on a sermon on “the knowledge of Christ” to “Brother Pierce,” a lay auditor who took notes at the delivery of the sermon.1 ...

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Chapter 2. Reading the Notetakers

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pp. 59-100

When Robert Keayne migrated to Boston in 1635 with his wife and son, he brought with him “two or 3000 lb in good estate of my owne.”1 Among those belongings, apparently, were notebooks in which he had recorded sermons in London. One of these early notebooks survives in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, ...

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Chapter 3. Publishing Aurality

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pp. 101-139

Sermon culture was predominantly oral. Notetaking offered one way for individuals to attempt to preserve that ephemeral experience, but print sermons provided a means for the dissemination of godly preaching beyond the meetinghouse and local community. How, then, could the orality of delivery be suggested in print form? ...

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Chapter 4. Crumbling, Collating, and Enabling

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pp. 140-172

While studying at Harvard College, Thomas Weld III kept a small commonplace book in which he recorded pious, secular, academic, and administrative miscellany. At the beginning of the volume, Weld transcribes multiple pages of jokes and humorous anecdotes. Much of the humor turns on verbal play and punning, ...

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Chapter 5. Narrating the Soul

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pp. 173-204

During one particularly tense moment in her trial, after repeated requests from her examiners that she offer a scriptural text to support her claims, Anne Hutchinson responds with the scornful retort “Must I shew my name written therein?”1 Her ad absurdum rejoinder cuts through the obvious frustrations felt on all sides of the theological impasse ...


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pp. 205-238


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pp. 239-252


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pp. 253-262

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pp. 263-265

How fitting that this book about disseminated authorship across communities has benefited from so many individuals and institutions. Proving the suspicion that from small seeds greater things might grow, a summer stipend from the Alice Coonley Higgins School of the Humanities at Clark University in 2007 ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812208726
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245059

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 9 illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Material Texts