a1 Covenant College, Nettle Hill, Brinklow Road, Ansty, Coventry CV7 9JL, England, UK
In October 1862, John William Colenso, bishop of Natal, published a book entitled The Pentateuch and book of Joshua critically examined. Although this volume proved to be only the first of seven parts, and the bishop's life was eventful in other ways, the controversy surrounding this volume did more than any other single factor to determine Colenso's enduring reputation. To his critics, the publication of such a book was an outrageous and heretical act. When the book was discussed in the Lower House of Convocation, C. E. Kennaway was convinced that it should be labelled ‘Poison!’ and Archdeacon Denison declared that ‘No book can ever be brought under our consideration of a worse character than this’ and that ‘if a man asserts such things as are in this book — anathema esto — let him be put away’. In the end, both houses of Convocation resolved that ‘the main propositions’ of the book ‘involve errors of the gravest and most dangerous character’.
* An earlier draft of this paper was given at the annual conference of the Study Group on Christianity and History (Scotland) held at the University of Stirling in October 1995. I am grateful to Dr D. W. Bebbington for several valuable comments which he made on that occasion.