‘The Garden of Eden and The Flood’ by J. C. Keener (1901)
Reprint of a “theological curiosity,” annotated by an Unbeliever
“My friend, the father of life and death and taxes, has been neglected long enough. Shall this infamy be allowed to go on or shall it stop right here?” — Mark Twain (1883)
In 1883, Americans were trying to raise funds for a pedestal on which a colossal copper sculpture would be perched on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. A “gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States,” the idea was proposed in 1865 by a French jurist, poet, author and anti-slavery activist. The head of the sculpture was completed in 1878 and displayed at the Paris World’s Fair, but Americans were still short of the funds necessary to pay for the pedestal.
Long “recognized as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy” (National Park Service), Mark Twain saw the effort to erect the Statue of Liberty as an opportunity to further his scheme to erect a monument to the Biblical “first man.” In 1878, the abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher shared his views on the Book of Genesis at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York. The headline in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle the next day read, “Mr. Beecher: No Adam and Eve, no Eden, no Flood.”
Later, in a conversation with his close friend and Henry’s brother, Rev. Thomas K. Beecher, Twain is said to have proposed the idea for a monument to the Biblical Adam in Elmira, New York (not to be confused with a proposed monument to John, our second president). Thomas was eventually appointed to a committee which solicited designs from various sculptors, and the Adam Monument Association raised a significant amount of the $25,000 to pay for the monument before the town’s scheme fell apart for fear of not getting the joke. “Elmira would now be the most celebrated town in the universe,” Twain later demurred, if they had only “carried out our monument scheme.” He would undoubtedly be pleased to know a shattered bronze statue of Adam was recently brought back to life at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (Rose, 2015).
“I would not attack the faith of a heathen without being sure I had a better one to put in its place, because, such as it is, it is better than nothing.” — Harriet Beecher Stowe (Letter to William Lloyd Garrison, 1853)
In a new annotated reprint of a “theological curiosity” (American Journal of Theology, 1901) by “one of the most remarkable men in the South” (Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1906), I attempt to shine some light on a product of the “fallacies of superstition under the guise of a strict interpretation of the bible,” as well as its author, John Christian (J.C.) Keener. This annotated reprint of a work in the public domain will introduce readers to the author of the original work and his German ancestors as well as the interesting historical background and context (with bibliography) on this classic text in what the cofounder of Cornell University called, in his tome published the same year, the “warfare of science with theology.”
The great grandson of a man of “doubtful principles” (Maryland Council of Safety, 1777) and founding father of “the oldest civic organization in the United States” (Maryland Historical Society), John’s father — Christian Keener — was a well-known lawyer in Baltimore and President of the Baltimore City Temperance Society, Chair of the Maryland State Temperance Society, and “an earnest advocate of the temperance cause and a citizen of philanthropic views.” In 1843, he received a gold metal from the North Baltimore Total Abstinence Society. He was also President of the original proprietors of Green Mount Cemetery, where he is interred along with a number of notable historical figures — including John Hopkins, John Wilkes Booth and two of his co-conspirators, and Elijah Jefferson Bond.
Created by a Presbyterian minister in the wake of the assassination of President McKinley (the year after The Garden of Eden and The Flood was published), the Christian Conquest Flag (as opposed to its older cousin) must have resonated with Bishop Keener, but the historical record appears to be silent on this question. Nor do we know how he felt about Twain’s monument to the Biblical “first man” or talking boards, like the one patented by Elijah J. Bond — another Baltimore lawyer — in 1891. However, these two historical artifacts, and Twain’s proposed statue to Adam in Elmira, reflect the sensibilities of a time and place which inspired a former Confederate chaplain and retired Methodist South Bishop in New Orleans to locate the Garden of Eden and construction of Noah’s Ark in Charleston, South Carolina — where the first shot was fired in the American Civil War.
But unlike Twain, Bishop Keener wasn’t joking! Almost a quarter of a century before a “bull in political and religious china shops” prosecuted John T. Scopes for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in Tennessee, the good bishop’s attempt to “drive back to its hidden source the destructive speculation of human philosophy” will, in the words of The Greenville News (1901), “richly repay you for all the time and labor you bestow upon it.”
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Note Although the author is a member and supporter of the American Humanist Association (AHA) and the Secular Coalition of America (SCA), this book is not endorsed by, or associated with, the AHA or SCA, the International Darwin Day Foundation, Margaret Atwood, Bruce Miller, Hulu, or the Talking Board Historical Society, much less other members of the Keener family.