home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives Were there steam engines in the Bible?

Were there steam engines in the Bible?

Yes, you read that title right – this week we're sharing a selection from the collection of British pamphlets, and it's a sermon claiming that the steam engine was revealed in biblical prophecy.  It appears to survive in only a few copies (perhaps unsurprisingly), and this is one of the few in the United States.  The author is Tresham Dames Gregg (1800-1881), a militant protestant clergyman who spent much of his career in the Church of Ireland campaigning against Catholicism.  Gregg was popular with the working class in Dublin and was consistently at odds with higher-ranking Church officials throughout his career.  Although known for his preaching style and his prolific writings, "in his later years he had strange ideas about the rule of the Antichrist, and his own personal immortality" (source).

Gregg's primary idea in this sermon is that various prophetic visions in the Bible are actually descriptions of steam engines.  He goes to great lengths to prove this, even paraphrasing the first chapter of Ezekiel, with the famous vision of God's heavenly chariot, to claim that it is in actuality a vision of a passenger train in the far future.  But Gregg doesn't end there.  He suggests that locomotives on earth are already  "partly realized by human skill…  why should we not, thus led, be by the divine goodness, at last enabled to construct locomotives that would connect the earth with the other planets?"






Some new thoughts for the new year

Here are some New Thoughts for your New Year, courtesy of our extensive collections of seventeenth- through nineteenth-century British pamphlets.  This one was printed in 1796.


The Cheap Repository Tracts series was created by the British poet, playwright, and philanthropist Hannah More, whose writings often dealt with religious themes.  They were printed in large quantities for distribution to the poor.  Although there must have been thousands of original copies, they were ephemera – not meant to be preserved.  Only six copies of this tract are recorded in libraries around the world. 


Many of the tracts deal with people in trades or in domestic service.  This one shows "How Mr. Thrifty the great Mercer succeeded in his Trade, by always examining his Books soon after Christmas, and how Mr. Careless, by neglecting this rule, let all his affairs run to ruin before he was aware of it."  The pamphlet ends with a hymn for the new year.


Find it in the MERLIN catalog.

home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives The End of the World, Past and Present

The End of the World, Past and Present

Still waiting for the world to end?  Perhaps you need a different apocalyptic prophecy. Don't worry, Special Collections has plenty!  They may not be Mayan, but here's a small sampling of various ways the world could have ended over the past 350 years.

Mede's Key to the Revelation, 1643Joseph Mede (1586–1638) was a fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge, and a recognized authority on the Bible, Hebrew language, and ancient Egypt.  In his Clavis apocalypseos (Key to the Revelation), Mede claimed that the book of Revelation should be interpreted literally as a prophecy of world history.  An ancient Near Eastern text on dream interpretation, he argued, provides the key to interpreting the book's symbolism. Mede identified Rome as the Antichrist and the source of the apostasy supposed to come with the end times.  He thought the biblical Apocalypse would occur sometime prior to 1716, and suggested 1654 as a probable date.  Mede's work had broad influence, and its translation into English after his death renewed interest in the apocalypse among English scholars and religious leaders.

Testimony of Joanna Southcott, 1804The daughter of a farmer, Joanna Southcott (1750–1814) proclaimed herself a prophet and visionary in her early 40s.  She saw herself as a champion of the poor, and she gained credibility and a large following when some of her public predictions came true.  In 1814, at the age of 64, Southcott believed herself to be pregnant with the second incarnation of God.  The child, named Shiloh, was supposed to usher in the Millennium, the thousand years of peace that some Christians believe will occur before the Last Judgement.  Rather than giving birth, Southcott died on December 27 of that year.  Her followers preserved her legacy, including a box of sealed prophecies, into the twentieth century.

Cumming's The Sixth Vial: A Sermon for the Times, 1843John Cumming (1807-1881) was a Presbyterian preacher whose career was initially built on popularizing established forms of worship.  By the 1840s, his congregation numbered over 4,000, and he was patronized by members of the peerage and social elite. At the height of his popularity, Cumming turned increasingly to the study of biblical prophecy.  His interpretations of the books of Genesis and Daniel led him to believe that the second coming would occur in 1867.  Even after that year passed, Cumming continued to publish pamphlets with apocalyptic and prophetic themes, despite the decline of his congregation and popularity.

Pae's The Coming Struggle among the Nations of the Earth, 1853Very little is known of David Pae (1828-1884), but he seems to have been a contemporary of Cumming.  His pamphlet The Coming Struggle among the Nations of the Earth laid out a detailed sequence of world events Pae claimed would take place over a fifteen-year span, starting in 1853, and ending with Britain dominant over most of the world.  This hegemony, Pae argued, would set the stage for the end times, in which those of Anglo-Saxon descent would feature as God's chosen people.  Pae published at least two follow-ups to The Coming Struggle to counter objections and answer questions about his very Anglo-centric prophecies.

Special Collections has dozens of other works on eschatology.  Some attempt to interpret contemporary events as signs of the end; others are works of prophecy. Many are serious treatises written by theological scholars, while others are perhaps better characterized by this manuscript note, from a nineteenth-century reader: "The author is half crazy & all his trash is only fit to throw into the fire."

Edward Irving, Foredoomed and Forewarned, 1867


The Latter Days: Railways, Steam, and Emigration, 1854

But don't take that reader's word for it; you be the judge!  Search the MERLIN catalog under the keywords Eschatology, Apocalypse, and End of the World, and find your own favorite work of impending doom.