Even More Historical Revisionism in the NCBCPS Curriculum
Chris Rodda printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Apr 22, 2007 at 03:49:11 PM EST
In this part of my series on the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (NCBCPS), I'm going to be looking at a few of the deceptive statements from Unit 17: The Bible in History regarding the Declaration of Independence and its signers.

The first shows how the choice of a single word can render a statement so misleading that, although not technically a lie, it serves the same purpose.

The following statement appears at the end of the first paragraph of the section of Unit 17 entitled "A Source of Revolutionary Ideas," the section that sets the stage for the misrepresentation of the Lutz study.

The leaders of the Revolutionary era were "steeped in the traditions and teachings of Christianity -- almost half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence had some form of seminary training or degree."

The use of the word "seminary" in this statement can have no other purpose than to take advantage of the fact that almost nobody today would associate the word seminary with anything other than a theological seminary, and would assume from this synonym for college that almost half the signers studied for the ministry. While it is true that all of the colleges attended by the signers of the Declaration had been founded by religious denominations, none of them were strictly theological colleges when the signers attended them. They all had schools of law and/or other sciences. Few adults, let alone children hearing the word seminary in their Bible literacy class, will realize that this word can mean any kind of school, and the NCBCPS knows that.

Although the NCBCPS curriculum cites the recent book A Patriot's History of the United States as the source of this statement, this "seminary" trick has been used for many years by NCBCPS advisory board member David Barton. Even the other Christian history revisionists give Barton credit for this one. In his book What If America Were Christian Nation Again?, for example, D. James Kennedy, referring to the signers of the Declaration, writes:

David Barton points out that of the fifty-six men, definitely twenty-four, possibly twenty-seven, had seminary degrees.

All this means, of course, is that twenty-seven of the signers of the Declaration went to college -- twenty at a total of five different American colleges, and seven in Europe. Twenty-four definitely received degrees; three don't appear to have graduated. Almost all of the twenty-seven studied either law or business, and one studied medicine.

Only one of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration was a minister. This was John Witherspoon, the president of Princeton University (at that time called the College of New Jersey). There were two others, William Williams and Robert Treat Paine, who did seriously study of theology at some point in their educations, but neither pursued the ministry as a career. Williams studied under his clergyman father for a time after college, but ended up becoming a merchant. Paine became a lawyer. As for the rest, they may have had to follow the religious rules of the colleges they attended -- mandatory chapel attendance, strict observation of the Sabbath, etc. -- but since their only options were to attend a denominational school and follow its rules or not go to college at all, no conclusions about their religious opinions can be drawn from this.

In addition to the use of this one misleading statement, which is accurately quoted from A Patriot's History of the United States, the NCBCPS curriculum creates another misleading by inaccurately quoting another statement from the same book. Apparently, A Patriot's History, a somewhat biased book containing a handful of misleading statements, isn't biased enough for the NCBCPS, so they accurately quote from it what works for them and alter what doesn't.

The section of A Patriot's History entitled "Revolutionary Ideas," from which the NCBCPS takes much of its section entitled "A Source of Revolutionary Ideas," begins with a paragraph about the 1774 adoption by the Continental Congress of the Declaration of Rights and Grievances, quoting the resolution from that document regarding the right to "life, liberty, and property." This part is accurately quoted in the NCBCPS curriculum.

A Patriot's History ends the paragraph with the question, "Where had the colonists gotten such concepts?," and begins its answer to this question with the following. (emphasis in the next two quotes is mine)

Three major Enlightenment thinkers deeply affected the concepts of liberty and government held by the majority of America's Revolutionary leaders. Certainly all writers had not read the same European authors, and certainly all were affected by different ideas to different degrees, often depending on the relationship any given writer placed on the role of God in human affairs. Nevertheless, the overall molding of America's Revolution in the ideological sense can be traced to the theories of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Baron Charles de Montesquieu.

In the NCBCPS curriculum, however, the phrases are rearranged, the only direct quote from A Patriot's History is the phrase "the role of God in human affairs," and the concepts referred to in the previous statement were "hinged upon" the role of God rather than "depending on the relationship any given writer placed on" this role.

From the curriculum:

These concepts of liberty and government, hinged upon "the role of God in human affairs" and held by the majority of America's Revolutionary leaders, came primarily from three European authors, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Baron Charles de Montesquieu.

The second deceptive statement appears in the fourth section of the curriculum's Unit 17, entitled "Symbols of a Nation."

One of the most famous and recognizable symbols of the American Revolution is the Liberty Bell. It rang, proclaiming liberty, when the Declaration of Independence was first read publicly on July 8, 1776. But why was it rung in conjunction with the reading of the Declaration of Independence. How does this bell symbolize freedom? The answer lies in the Biblical inscription emblazoned on its side. It reads: "Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof. -Leviticus 25:10."

Why was the Liberty Bell rung in conjunction with the reading of the Declaration of Independence? Well, the truth is it wasn't. The belfry of the State House had deteriorated so much by 1776 that ringing the bell was impossible. The bell ringing myth began in 1847 with a fictional story written by George Lippard. In Lippard's story, published in the The Saturday Currier, the aged bellman at the State House was waiting in the belfry, ready to ring the bell the minute that Congress declared independence. But after waiting for some time, he began to have doubts that this was really going to happen. Then, the bellman's grandson, who was listening at the doors of the Congress, suddenly shouted, "Ring, Grandfather! Ring!" The popular myth of the ringing of the bell for the reading of the Declaration on July 8 probably evolved over the years from a combination of Lippard's story and an assumption by people unfamiliar with the condition of the State House belfry in 1776 that the bell would have been rung for such an important event. This inaccuracy, however, is the least of the problems with the NCBCPS portrayal of the Liberty Bell.

A bigger problem is the complete omission of the history of the bell in order to associate it, and particularly its biblical inscription, with the American Revolution. The only connection between the Liberty Bell and the Revolution was that it happened to be the bell that hung in the building where the Continental Congress met. At the time, and for many years after, it was just called the State House bell. Most of the signers of the Declaration probably didn't even know what was inscribed on it. It wasn't called the Liberty Bell until 1838, when the bell, because of its inscription, was adopted as a symbol of liberty by a Boston abolitionist group, and a poem entitled The Liberty Bell was reprinted from one of their pamphlets by William Lloyd Garrison in his anti-slavery publication The Liberator. In the decades before this, the bell had become so insignificant that, in 1828, the City of Philadelphia had actually tried to sell it as salvage.

But, the thing that bugs me most about the NCBCPS presentation of the Liberty Bell is that the true story of its inscription would actually be an appropriate example of the use of a biblical reference in American history. In the real story, however, the inscription was chosen by Isaac Norris, a now obscure Quaker, a generation before the Revolution, so it can't be used to imply that those of the founding generation were responsible for this reference.

The Liberty Bell was ordered by the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1751, twenty-five years before the Declaration of Independence. The Pennsylvania State House had been completed in 1746, and in 1749 the decision was made to build an addition to house a bell. The completion of this addition coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of Governor William Penn's Charter of Privileges, the 1701 document that secured the religious freedom and other rights of the colonists and formally gave the Pennsylvania Assembly the expanded legislative powers that it had already begun to exercise. Virtually all historians agree that Isaac Norris, the Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly and one of the superintendents of the State House, chose the Leviticus passage for the inscription to commemorate the anniversary of this charter that gave Pennsylvanians their liberties. The passage for the inscription was obviously chosen by Norris because of the line in the Bible immediately preceding it -- "And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year." The omission of the verse's significance to the fiftieth anniversary of an important historical event in a curriculum that is supposed to be teaching about the significance of biblical references in history is inexcusable.

There's just one more thing that I can't resist adding. The NCBCPS misquotes the Leviticus passage in the bell's inscription, leaving out the word "all" before the words "the land." This might just be a mistake, except for the fact that David Barton misquotes it in exactly the same way in Original Intent. Maybe the folks at the NCBCPS should consider looking up their historical biblical references in the version of the Bible in use at the time rather than copying the errors in the revisionist history books.

Previous articles in this series on the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools:

Chuck Norris Helps the NCBCPS Spread David Barton's Lies - 4/15/07
The Influence of the Ten Commandments on American Law - According to the NCBCPS - 4/12/07
More Historical Revisionism in the NCBCPS Curriculum - 4/5/07
Historical Revisionism in the NCBCPS Curriculum - 3/31/07
Barton Revises History to Promote the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools - 3/24/07
More Historical Revisionism from the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools - 3/18/07
Historical Revisionism from the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools - 3/10/07

Excellent research. Would it be possible to add a bibliogrpahic index to these articles?

It amazes me to what extent Christians have sold out their faith for power.

by Leckey on Sun Apr 22, 2007 at 11:07:00 PM EST

Chris is posting those at her website. I don't know if that's what you want or not.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 08:09:11 AM EST

Some of my pieces here have footnotes and some don't, and there's a reason for this. You'll always see more footnotes and links to additional information and documents when I'm writing about stuff that's in the current volume of my book, simply because I already have all this on my website, so it only takes me a few minutes to add it. Many of the things that are going to be in the next volume of the book, however, like the details of where the founders went to school and what they majored in, and the history of the Liberty Bell, are currently in the form of scribbled notes and lists. Digging through all this to find my footnotes would take a lot more time, so I only do it when I think it's necessary, like when I'm using a direct quote or saying something that I think people might be skeptical about and would want to verify.

But, always, if anyone wants more information or a source for anything specific in any of my pieces, please feel free to ask here in the comments or to email me and I'll find it for you.

by Chris Rodda on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 11:55:24 AM EST

It takes a lot of work to input all of that, and thank you very much for doing it.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 05:08:59 PM EST
I've actually been planning to create a separate section on my website for documents referred to in my TTA posts  that aren't already on the site for other reasons, but haven't had time to get to it yet.  A lot of what I refer to here will be stuff that I'll need to add anyway when I finish the second volume of the book, so I figure I can kill two birds with one stone.

by Chris Rodda on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 06:10:26 PM EST

These revisionists seem never to have heard of the 9th commandment: the one about teling lies. Do they think they are telling lies for God?

by strefanash on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 01:25:02 AM EST

This was a very enjoyable read, very clearly presented.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 08:06:59 AM EST

I am impressed by Chris Rodda's thoroughness and detailed research. I am appalled, but not surprised, by the misrepresentations of the NCBCPS and David Barton. Barton has turned lying about history into a business. Giving these lies credence in the public schools will only add to a growing problem of historical illiteracy. For some time, graduates of the religious right's private schools have been entering colleges and universities and demanding their history and science professors teach them only what they believe to be true and only what they want to hear. They campaign against so-called "liberal" faculty and demand their replacement with those who will follow their agenda. Now, some public schools are choosing to teach the same false history. However, I am disturbed by the use of some popular terminology that I hear and read from both sides, the religious right and their opponents. "Historical revisionism" and "revisionist history" are frequently used by the religious right in their effort to negate historical fact. Those arguing in favor of real history use the same terminology to negate the religious right's false historical claims. Real historical revisionism is a legitimate scholarly endeavor. Although past events cannot change, our understanding and interpretation of those events can and sometimes should change. Without real, scholarly, historical revision there would be no re-examination of history through the lens of gender. There would be no scholarly study of women's history, African-American history, Native-American history and a wide range of others. Revisionists give visibility to those who were previously invisible, or barely visible. Without revision, there would be no effort to correct the "facts" in light of newly discovered documents, or even scientific developments (DNA testing, for example). The lies of the religious right are frightening and Chris Rodda brilliantly exposes them. However, genuine scholarly revision sometimes gets an undeserved bad reputation.

by gertrudes on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 09:09:38 PM EST
"Historical revisionism" should rightly be a neutral term. Chris Rodda's term, "lies", is more apt here.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 11:20:13 PM EST

...so, thank you, gertrudes, for bringing it up.  I probably did start using the word "revisionism" because of seeing it so often in accusations from the religious right. In fact, I was going to include in this post the hypocrisy of Barton's trick of using the word "seminary," when he, in a chapter of his own book entitled "Revisionism: A Willing Accomplice," list "A Failure to Account for Etymology" as one of the nine methods that he claims secularists are using to "revise" history. I decided to leave that out of this post because I thought that Barton's list of methods and the accusations in that chapter of his book might, by itself, be a good subject for a separate piece.

by Chris Rodda on Tue Apr 24, 2007 at 12:32:49 PM EST
I think it is highly defensible and does no discredit to historians who do credible work and find new ways of understanding and viewing history.

The historical revisionism we are talking about here resonates with holocaust revisionism, which is intellectually dishonest and politically expedient.

I might add, R.J. Rushdoony explicitly discussed the idea of "Christian revisionism" as looking at history throught he lens of God's providence. What he meant here, was the given the presuppositionalism of the truth of the Bible as the only valid way of looking at reality, one seeks to discern what God was doing in the past to interpret human events. It is a critical aspect of Christian nationalism and not to be casually dismissed.

Coinicidentally perhaps, I think, in the Institutes of Biblical Law, Rushdoony actually draws on the work of a holocaust revisionist to cast doubt on the scale of the holocaust. And while there is some controversy over whether Rushdoony himself can be fairly called a holocaust revisionist, it is more than fair to say that historical revisionism of a sort that would not be viewed as credible among serious historians is explicitly advocated by Rushdoony.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Apr 24, 2007 at 01:40:28 PM EST

I can't think of a better word to describe what is being done. And, looking back over my own posts, I realized that I usually, at least the first time the word appears, precede it with the words "Christian nationalist" or "religious right." I think doing that makes it clear that, by revisionism, I don't mean presenting a new view that resulted from legitimate scholarship. I think I'll be more diligent about making sure I precede the term with the descriptive words that I often use anyway, but I am going to keep using it.

by Chris Rodda on Tue Apr 24, 2007 at 02:05:26 PM EST

I believe the exact term - though very rarely used and certainly not easily recognized by most audiences - is "historical negationism." I understand few people would easily identify with the term. "Revision" is often used to describe Holocaust denial, but Holocaust denial is not legitimate scholarship, and "negationism" says more about the intentions of those who pursue Holocaust denial. I should be clear about one point - scholarly historical revision is not limited to new ideas, or recent fields of study. Sometimes long-held historical assumptions are also revised. The religious right intentionally uses "revisionism" to deride and abuse historians and to negate their scholarship. This is similar to what a member of the religious right means when he or she calls a scientist an "evolutionist", or a student of gender studies a "feminist". The words themselves are neutral, but everyone knows what is intended and for the religious right they are emotionally charged terms. I do realize the same is not intended here, nor do I intend to suggest that anyone change to "negationism." To be honest, I would personally like to see "historical revisionism" as it is most often used disappear from public discourse, but I know that will not happen.

by gertrudes on Tue Apr 24, 2007 at 07:56:53 PM EST

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