A striking early 20th-century Historic and Prophetic Diagram, possibly in the Dispensationalist tradition, with a crude power that renders it a remarkable piece of American folk art.
The Diagram is a riot of text, color and imagery, organized chronologically from 4004 B.C. to 1912 A.D., bracketed by the “Eternity of the Past” and “Eternity of the Future.” It was issued in an envelope tipped in the back of J. Elwin Woodward’s The Story of the Ages from Creation to Redemption. Key to Historic and Prophetic Diagram of the World, and God’s Plan of Salvation for Law Breakers (Chicago, 1912). PJ Mode provides a helpful explanation that places the diagram in the context of the text.
PJ Mode provides a helpful explanation that places the diagram in the context of the larger work.
“In his Introduction, Woodward notes that “great truths and important lessons are quickly and easily grasped by the mind, through the aid of illustrative diagrams.” He explains that “the author, by means of grouping together on one chart the greatest historic outlines and prophetic symbols of the Bible, has endeavored to present, at one view, God’s plan of the ages, and the entire history of the world . . . , a means by which even those least familiar with the Scriptures may grasp, with ease, its wonderful truths. To understand this diagram, or chart, means to understand the great essentials of history and prophecy, law and gospel, time and eternity.” (At 9-10.) An introductory overview in the book (at 11-15) explains that every “event, date, fact or symbol represented on the chart” is keyed to the numbers 1-30 at the top and bottom and the letters A-Z at the left and right, and each of these is discussed in detail in the book.” (Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection, #2219)
I am no theologian, but the Diagram is strongly reminiscent of a pair of “Dispensationalist” banners I have offered in recent years, both produced in the United States in the second quarter of the 20th century. Dispensationalist theology divides Biblical history into distinct periods or “dispensations,” each with its own “administrative principles.” History is thus understood as a progressive revelation of divine truth, culminating in the Second Coming of Christ, his 1000-year reign on Earth, and the Day of Judgment. Broadly speaking, such structural approaches to Biblical interpretation date back to early Christianity, but Dispensationalism in particular is traced to the teachings of Englishman John Darby (1800-82). Darby traveled in the United States, where his work eventually took hold among some members of the Baptist and Presbyterian churches.
As of October 2018 OCLC lists 16 institutional holdings of Woodward’s Story of the Ages and one for the Diagram alone, but they appear to be very rare on the antiquarian market. I handled an assembled pairing of the volume and diagram not long ago, but find no examples for sale elsewhere in the trade, and RareBookHub lists none having appeared at auction.
I have been unable to find any information about author J. Elwin Woodward or the Historic & Prophetic Publishing Co. Though the volume contains three pages of adverts for related works, OCLC yields nothing else written by Woodward or published by that firm.
In all, a rare and vivid work of theological imagination.
Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection, #2219.
Diagram with folds as issued, a few minor areas of discoloration, one minor edge split, and a strip of adhesive residue on verso. Volume with very minor soiling and bumping to boards, but about excellent.