Google Ngram Viewer as a Reception-Historical Tool

Discovered this tool – better late than never.  Ngram Viewer, showing how many times any word or phrase you specify shows up in the vast number of printed books that Google has digitized.  Let me offer you a sample of charts relevant to my doctoral research:

First, this to illustrate when discussion of Noah and the biblical Flood or ‘Deluge’ peaked in the English-speaking book world:

NGram Viewer Noah,Flood,Deluge 1600ff

My interpretation would be that John Woodword’s Essay Toward a Theory of the Earth in 1695 was the big impetus for discussion here, sustained by William Whiston’s 1696 New Theory of the Earth, both coming on the back of Thomas Burnet’s Sacred Theory of the Earth and related discussion by John Ray and others.  Moderate discussion remains consistently through about 1750, then dies off, never to reach its former intensity.

Next, discussion about Moses and a couple of minor, associated terms:

NGram Viewer Moses, etc. 1600ff

Certainly, Moses’ name came up in theories of the earth that involved a flood that was biblical in both scale and source.  But both in the deist controversy leading up to 1700 and in early deist writings, esp. Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, around 1650, Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch was the topic for debate.

Lastly, moving down to post-1800, again in the Anglophone sphere:

NGram Viewer Scriptural Geology, Geology of Scripture, Mosaic Geology 1800ff

Three terms, Mosaic geology (green), Geology of Scripture (red) and Scriptural Geology (blue) burst onto the English book scene from about 1820, thanks in part to one Granville Penn and then a number of imitators and collaborators who in time became known as the Scriptural Geologists.  Though it’s a little controversial, I think we can still roughly call these the young-earth creationists of the early nineteenth century.  It was chiefly US writers taking on this task by the 1950s, after it was pioneered by British writers, but this attempt to explain the geological column by means of the biblical flood and natural processes before and after it, all within the constraints of a quite recent creation, had largely given way to its competitors, especially the Gap Theory, by about 1860.  But then, it did make a comeback in the 20th century!

Stay tuned – my book on the history of interpretation of the creation week up to 1860 is due out within months.  Then will be the sequel!



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