backed by a system of priesthood and sacrifice, which were projected back into the time of Moses following the exodus. An implication of the scheme was that the prophets of the eighth century played a decisive role in the development of Israel's ethical monotheism, while the post-exilic religion centred on Jerusalem and, dominated by ritual purity and atoning sacrifices, fell below the achievements of the earlier prophetic religion.
If Wellhausen presented his case with forceful logic and overwhelming evidence, Robertson Smith's no less logically presented case was marked by Christian evangelical fervour. It is true that Smith's book was the published version of public lectures delivered to large audiences while he was on trial for heresy before the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland (he eventually lost his case and was dismissed from his post in Aberdeen); but Smith believed passionately that biblical criticism was a continuation and completion of what was begun at the Reformation. The fact that the new criticism produced a version of Old Testament religion and history at variance with that presented in the Bible was not a problem for Smith. Rather, it enabled the Old Testament to regain the respect of intelligent readers, and it confirmed Smith's belief that 'the Bible history [was] no profane history, but the story of God's saving self-manifestation'.27 It was, incidentally, also Colenso's faith rather than his scepticism that made him become such a fearsome biblical critic. As a missionary to the Zulu people, biblical criticism, along with recent scientific discoveries, meant that he did not have to make his converts believe that the world had been created in 4004 bc, that woman was created from the rib of a man, that there had been a universal flood, that an ass had spoken and that the sun had stood still. The abandonment of such literalism left the way open to concentrate on what the Bible was really about, which was about the Living Word which spoke through the Bible to bring a clearer knowledge of the Living God.28
The mention of the literalism that Colenso opposed is a reminder that while orthodox churchmen in Britain were reeling from the shock of his attacks on the historicity of parts of the Pentateuch, they were also having to respond to the implications of works such as Lyell's Principles of geology (1830) which showed that the earth was much older than the 6,000 years of Ussher's chronology based on the Bible, and Darwin's Origin of species (1859) which
27 W Robertson Smith, Lectures and essays of William Robertson Smith (London: A. and C. Black, 1912), p. 233.
28 J. W Colenso, 'On missions to the Zulus in Natal and Zululand', reprinted in Bringing forth light: five tracts on Bishop Colenso's Zulu mission (Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press; Durban: Killie Campbell Africana Library, 1982), pp. 205-38.
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