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The enormous scope suggested by the Image result for bridge of history over the gulf of timestriking metaphorical title of Thomas Cooper’s non-fictional work The Bridge of History Over the Gulf of Time (1871) has always intrigued me, so I was excited to finally get my hands on a copy (the book is out of print). The work is actually an apologetic defence of the historicity of Christ, that he was a real person who died and rose again – a kind of nineteenth century Case for Christ, if you will. However, The Bridge of History’s approach is different, as Cooper seeks to trace the origin of Christianity backwards through time, century by century, showing how the faith could not have been invented or embellished in any era going all the way back to the first century A.D., bringing us to encounter Christ himself, a real historical figure – hence the metaphor in the title. The evidence from each century function as planks the reader walks across to bridge the gulf of time that stretches between Christ and himself. (Victorians reign supreme when it comes to metaphors, in my humble opinion.)

Like Lee Strobel after him, Cooper also tackles with lawyer-like tenacity the authority and reliability of the gospel writers and their claims. The book is written partly in response to a controversial work entitled Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet (1835) (The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined) by German scholar David Friedrich Strauss, who denied Christ’s divinity by maintaining that his resurrection and miracles were merely mythical narratives created by the church, although he did probably exist. The translation of the text into English by Marian Evans (who went by the pen name “George Eliot” when writing novels) invoked contention in England as the original did in Germany. Unfortunately, Evans, one of the finest Victorian novelists, lost her Christian faith by studying Strauss and other German philosophers.

Thomas Cooper was born in Leicester and eventually became a journalist and poet with Chartist sympathies, for which he was jailed for two years. In 1855, he converted to Christianity and became a Baptist preacher. For thirty years Cooper lectured as a Christian apologist, defending the faith against Darwinian ideas. These lectures form the basis of The Bridge of History Over the Gulf of Time.