Adrian Brune: Yale Project Laboring To Show Softer Side Of Jonathan Edwards

Roundup: Talking About History

Those of us who think we know Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century fire and brimstone theologian, don't really know one of Connecticut's most famous sons. We really only know the side that brought his congregation to their knees with words like this: ``The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider ... abhors you, he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire.''

Yale Divinity School historian Kenneth P. Minkema wants people to see the warm, fuzzy side of Edwards, the side that wandered through fields and sat on the pristine banks of the Hudson; the side that pondered an ``appearance of divine glory, in almost everything.''

``I often used to sit and view the moon, for a long time; and so in the daytime, spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky ... in the meantime, singing forth with a low voice, my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer,'' he wrote in a letter to his son-in-law Aaron Burr, father to the famous 18th-century politician.

Minkema is betting that the modern world will like the other Edwards -- a lot. In fact, he's staking his career on it.

``People read `Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God' in high school and they never want to read anything by Edwards again,'' he says. ``But here was an incredibly luminous mind that needs to be discovered and re-discovered and re-discovered.''

To that end, Minkema and three more of Edwards' greatest admirers have already spent a good portion of their adult lives bringing the theologian/philosopher/``Renaissance man'' to the masses through print. Now, cloistered in a corner of the Yale Divinity School, using the power of the Internet, those same academics are laboring away to make Edwards -- and all 60,000 pages of his work -- available to the common man.

The Jonathan Edwards Project, though it is not without competition (a fan site is a favorite among evangelical Christians), is the first of its kind -- a comprehensive, exhaustive effort to produce an online archive of all of Edwards' sermons, treatises, letters and musings to serve the needs of anyone who cares to know the man.

To date, no other university or institute has attempted to transcribe, computerize and then post online the complete works of any one historical figure -- not Benjamin Franklin, not George Washington, not even Abraham Lincoln.

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