Blasphemy: Verbal Offense Against the Sacred, From Moses to Salman Rushdie / Edition 1

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Leonard Levy traces the varied meanings of blasphemy throughout Western law. He argues that while past sanctions against the crime have inhibited all manner of cultural, political, scientific, and literary expression, we also pay a price for our extraordinary expansion of the scope of permissible speech. We have become, he charges, not only a free society but one that is 'numb' to outrage.

Distinguished legal historian Levy traces the varied meanings of the offense in Western law--from the ancient Hebrew crime of cursing God by name to the modern crime of ridiculing God or professing atheistical principles that insult the religious feelings of Christians.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Socrates, Jesus, Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno, Quakers George Fox and William Penn, Daniel Defoe and Thomas Paine were all condemned for blasphemy. In a tour de force of lively writing and keen historical interpretation, prolific legal historian Levy shows that the charge of blasphemy has served as a means to besmirch opinions or people held objectionable to those in positions of authority. For centuries the Catholic Church persecuted blasphemers and heretics for their divergent views. Protestant reformers adopted the epithet ``blasphemer'' to castigate dissidents within their own ranks. Proceeding from fifth century B.C. Athens to medieval persecution of the Jews to the ``hysteria'' over Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, this work is both an essential casebook and an outspoken, feisty, important study of the struggle for intellectual and religious liberties. History Book Club alternate. (Sept.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807845158
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/1995
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 700
  • Product dimensions: 1.55 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Leonard W. Levy was Andrew W. Mellon All-Claremont Professor Emeritus of Humanities at the Claremont Graduate School and author of The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Origins of the Fifth Amendment.

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Table of Contents

1 Origins of the Offense 3
2 The Jewish Trial of Jesus 15
3 Christianity Transforms Blasphemy 31
4 Compelling Heretics 46
5 Protestantism Rediscovers Blasphemy 58
6 The Fires of Smithfield 75
7 Socinian Anti-Trinitarians 101
8 The Ranters: Antinomianism Run Amok 136
9 The Early English Quakers 168
10 Christianity Becomes the Law of the Land 205
11 Early Colonial America: Gorton and the Quakers 238
12 America from 1660 to 1800 260
13 England's Augustan Age of Toleration 272
14 Blasphemy and Obscenity 296
15 The "Age of Reason"? 320
16 Eaton to Carlile: Deism for the People 339
17 Carlile's Shopmen and Free Expression 368
18 Early American State Cases 400
19 England Reconsiders the Law of Blasphemy 424
20 English Prosecutions of the 1840s 442
21 Bible Burning and a Debate Revived 463
22 Bradlaugh, Foote, and Coleridge's Decency Test 479
23 The Age of John W. Gott 495
24 The American Middle Period: 1880-1940 506
25 Modern America 522
26 The Gay News Case 534
27 The Rushdie Affair: Should All Religions Be Protected or None? 551
28 Conclusions 568
Notes 581
Index 661
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