New Jerusalem

New Century Edition

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Emanuel Swedenborg
Translator(s): 
George F. Dole
  • West Chester, PA: 
    Swedenborg Foundation
    , December
     2016.
     216 pages.
     $7.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780877854159.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) was a celebrated natural philosopher and scientist who experienced mystical encounters with Jesus Christ and other spiritual beings, beginning in the 1740s. He devoted the rest of his life to studying the Bible and publishing works explicating the spiritual cosmology revealed to him. These works not only gave rise to the Swedenborgian church, still practicing today, but were widely influential in the romantic, transcendentalist, and spiritualist worldviews of the 19th century. They have continued to resonate with theologians, philosophers, artists, and cultural reformers exploring alternative spiritualties and new social orders.

Since the 1990s, the Swedenborg Foundation has been publishing The New Century Edition (NCE) of Swedenborg’s works. This series provides translations which are more accurate to Swedenborg’s original Latin than previous English translations (the “Standard Edition”) and more accessible to contemporary readers. The NCE, recognized as the definitive collection of Swedenborg’s works, is published in two forms: each work appears in a deluxe edition with extensive introductory materials, annotations, and indexes; and a portable edition that, aside from a three-page key to the publication conventions and a one-page biographical note on Swedenborg, includes only the author’s text. George F. Dole, professor emeritus of ancient languages, the Bible, and theology at the Swedenborg School of Religion in Newtown, Massachusetts, has translated this and several other volumes in the NCE, most notably Heaven and Hell (2000), Divine Love and Wisdom (2003), and Divine Providence (2003). He also has authored books elucidating a contemporary Swedenborgian worldview. These include Sorting Things Out (J. Appleseed, 1994), Freedom and Evil: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Hell (Chrysalis Books, 2001), and A Book about Us: The Bible and Stages of Our Lives (Chrysalis Books, 2007). His compilation of Swedenborg’s theology in A Thoughtful Soul: Reflections from Swedenborg (Chrysalis Books, 1995) is still one of the best introductions available.

New Jerusalem (De Nova Hierosolyma et Ejus Doctrina Coelesti), first published in 1758, has appeared under several English titles beginning in 1780: The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Teaching; The Heavenly City; Heavenly Doctrines; and New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine. This was Swedenborg’s third theological work, after his massive, 15-volume Secrets of Heaven (1749-1756) and the ever-popular Heaven and Hell (1758). Swedenborg structured this work as a compendium of his teachings, summarizing the discoveries laid out in his first two works. In twenty-three short chapters, he lays out a lexicon of his own specialized vocabulary based on his spiritual readings of the Bible, and gives a shorthand version of his entire cosmology, both heavenly and earthly. These chapters build from elemental principles—good and evil, truth and falsity, the will and understanding, the inner self and outer self, love, faith, freedom, and sin and forgiveness—to more practical church teachings about baptism, communion, resurrection, heaven and hell, the nature of the church, interpreting the spiritual meaning of the Bible, and the incarnation of the Lord. For readers who want to delve deeper into any particular area, he appends to each chapter a more in-depth exploration of the topic by mining his magnum opus, Secrets of Heaven, though he also includes references to Heaven and Hell where helpful. Here, as elsewhere in his theological writings, Swedenborg speaks matter-of-factly about his observations from his spiritual travels and his divine revelations.

I highly recommend this edition of New Jerusalem for anyone looking for a solid overview of Swedenborg’s theology. It would also be of interest to those working in the areas of biblical interpretation, alternate spiritualities, and Christian spiritist traditions. Dole’s translation of the text is far superior to earlier English versions, not only in its linguistic and conceptual accessibility, but also in its transparency to the poetic beauty and passionate conviction of Swedenborg’s visions. Like the other volumes in the NCE, this book is elegantly produced with a clearly legible typeface, and with the section numbers of Swedenborg’s text highlighted in the margins making for easy maneuvering when cross-referencing this work with others in Swedenborg’s corpus. (Standard citations to Swedenborg’s texts rely on section rather than page numbers.)

Given its character as a compendium, New Jerusalem is often proposed as a good starting place for beginners in Swedenborg’s theology. For those newcomers, this portable edition has advantages and disadvantages. If you’re a purist and want your Swedenborg straight with no chaser, this is the edition for you. However, this would present many beginners with difficulties in understanding some key Swedenborgian vocabulary and concepts. For example, Swedenborg launches right into a spiritual reading of passages from the Book of Revelation, referring to angels, the new heaven and new earth, the last judgment, and the inner, spiritual meaning of the Word, without clearly defining the referents of those terms until later in the book. Readers who lack the determination or stamina to forage through the references he provides to the Secrets of Heaven must cobble together the significance of these words by continually referring back to earlier passages. That kind of back-tracking is challenging in the portable edition because it lacks an index.

For readers attempting to make their way into Swedenborg for the first time with this edition, I would recommend reading sections 1-10 (through the prologue), skipping to sections 249-266 (which lay out his understanding of sacred scripture and his method of “correspondence” for interpreting its inner or spiritual sense), and then reading sections 280-310 (on his christology), before circling back to the beginning. In addition, the Swedenborg Foundation webpage on Swedenborg’s Writings Online is an invaluable resource for beginners. Perusing the topics offered there would go a long way toward orienting readers to the distinctive topography of New Jerusalem. I also recommend the deluxe editions of the NCE for anyone serious about understanding Swedenborg’s works in their literary, philosophical, and historical contexts. That edition of New Jerusalem has not yet been published, but it will appear in a volume entitled The Shorter Works of 1758, along with Last Judgment, White Horse, and Other Planets (Earths in the Universe).

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jennifer G. Jesse is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Truman State University.

Date of Review: 
February 3, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) was a Swedish scientist, nobleman, and theologian who spent his life investigating the mysteries of the soul. Born in Stockholm to a staunchly Lutheran family, he graduated from the University of Uppsala and then traveled to England, Holland, France, and Germany to study the leading scientists of the time. He gained favor with Sweden’s King Charles XII, who gave him a position on the board of overseers of the Swedish mining industry. Later, he was granted a seat on the Swedish House of Nobles by Charles XII’s successor, Queen Ulrika Eleonora. Between 1743 and 1745 he began to have visions of heaven, hell, and Jesus Christ that resulted in a stream of books about the nature of God, the afterlife, and the inner meaning of the Bible. He devoted the last decades of his life to studying Scripture and presenting his own unique theology to the world.

George F. Dole holds a BA from Yale, an MA from Oxford, and a PhD from Harvard. Now professor emeritus, Dr. Dole taught ancient languages, the Bible, and theology at the Swedenborg School of Religion in Newton, Massachusetts. He is also the author of Freedom and EvilSorting Things Out, and A Book about Us. He lives in Bath, Maine.

Add New Comment

Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.

Log in to post comments