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Reading the Geneva Bible : notes toward an English revolution?

Furniss, Tom (2009) Reading the Geneva Bible : notes toward an English revolution? Prose Studies, 31 (1). pp. 1-21. ISSN 0144-0357

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Abstract

Since its first publication in 1560, the Geneva Bible has been considered by many as a revolutionary or seditious text, especially because of the numerous explanatory notes that the translators added in the margins of the text. Focusing on the 1560 Old Testament, this article takes a fresh look at the text, marginal notes and editorial apparatus of the Geneva Bible in order to ask whether they can be read as recommending English readers to overthrow Mary Tudor as an idolatrous tyrant and whether they could be read as giving support to the revolution against Charles I almost a century later. A close reading of the Geneva Old Testament leads to the conclusion that its politics are undecidable because the notes and prefaces faithfully reflect the internal political undecidability of the Bible itself. While some of the Geneva notes and prefaces encourage a revolutionary response to tyrants, there are many others that recommend obedience or passive resistance. As a consequence, the Geneva Bible's marginal notes could only be used to legitimize revolution through radically reductive reading strategies.