A Holy Baptism of Fire and Blood: The Bible and the American Civil War

Oxford Univ. Feb. 2021. 392p. ISBN 9780190902797. $34.95. REL
Having searched published and unpublished Civil War–era sermons and letters for biblical references, Byrd offers a chronological treatment of the Civil War as seen through the eyes of those who believed that the Bible had something to say about that conflict. He argues that, while both the North and the South may have read the same Bible, they each read it differently, and their understanding of what it revealed about God’s purpose changed with the circumstances of the war. Byrd (religion, Vanderbilt Univ. Divinity School; Sacred Scripture, Sacred War) argues convincingly that the war over slavery was a war over the Bible’s teaching on slavery. Referencing Bible passages, the work reflects on what the Bible has to say about war, conflict, pacifism, and redemption. Complementing nicely Elizabeth L. Jemison’s Christian Citizens, which deals with how formerly enslaved people and their former enslavers read the Bible, Boyd’s work offers a microcosm of the mid-19th century world of politics and religion.
VERDICT This study of the use of the Bible at a critical time in the history of the United States can shed light on our own times, when the Bible is often used in a political tug-of-war.
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