God's Sacred Tongue

Hebrew and the American Imagination

By Shalom Goldman

God's Sacred Tongue

366 pp., 6.14 x 9.21, 14 illus., 1 map, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1468-7
    Published: March 2014

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In a comprehensive examination of how Christian scholars in the United States received, interpreted, and understood Hebrew texts and the Jewish experience, Shalom Goldman explores Hebraism's relationship to American society. By linking history, theology, and literature from the colonial period through the twentieth century, Goldman illuminates the religious and cultural roots of American interest in the Middle East.

God's Sacred Tongue is structured around a sequence of biographical and intellectual portraits of individuals including Jonathan Edwards, Isaac Nordheimer, Professor George Bush (an ancestor of President George W. Bush), and twentieth-century literary critic Edmund Wilson. Since the colonial period, America has been perceived as a western Promised Land with emotional, spiritual, and physical links to the Promised Land of biblical history. Goldman gives evidence from scholarship, diplomacy, journalism, the history of higher education, and the arts to show that this perception is linked to the role Hebrew and the Bible have played in American cultural history.

The book's final section takes up the story of American Christian Zionism, among whose Protestant adherents political Zionism found much of its strongest support. Religious and cultural figures such as William Rainey Harper and Reinhold Niebuhr are among those who exemplify the centuries-old ties between America, the Land of Promise, and Israel, the Promised Land.

About the Author

Shalom Goldman is associate professor of Hebrew and Middle Eastern studies at Emory University. He is editor of Hebrew and the Bible in America: The First Two Centuries and author of The Wiles of Women/The Wiles of Men: Joseph and Potiphar's Wife. He also coauthored the libretto of the Philip Glass opera Akhnaten.
For more information about Shalom Goldman, visit the Author Page.


"The notes and bibliography, the readability and the subject of this work make it the best such narrative we have. . . . Likely to stimulate further work."--Religious Studies Review

"Goldman is a good biographer and storyteller, making [God's Sacred Tongue] a pleasant read."--Jewish Book World

"Each chapter contains provocative stories of Christians in America who viewed the Hebrew language, and the Jews, either real or mythic, as well as the land of Israel, as utterly different than any other language, people or land."--American Historical Review

"[A] well-researched intellectual history of Hebraism in America. . . . This is a worthwhile resource not only for the facts, but also for inspiration."--Na'amat Woman

"No one has told the mottled history of American Christian Hebraism from the colonial era to the twentieth century better than Goldman."--American Jewish History

"Goldman's ideas, interspersed throughout the book, are distilled in brilliant introductions and an epilogue, illuminating issues of Jewish history and interfaith relations, . . . showing that Christian Biblicism and Hebraism continue to play crucial roles in shaping American religion, education, cultural mores, and politics. . . . Highly recommended."--Choice