It was especially in the nineteenth century that scholars of religion, theology, and biblical studies became deeply obsessed with the question of “origins.” In many ways, the roots for this interest – in these fields in particular – lay in the Protestant Reformation, and it is no accident that the major research on the question was done in predominantly Protestant countries (especially Germany; somewhat in England and, even less, in America) and by Protestant professors in these fields, scholars who had themselves received theological training before themselves giving instruction in universities.
Roughly speaking, it was possible to think about “origins” in two very different ways, one we might label “Catholic” and the other “Protestant.” In the Catholic way of thinking, the “origins” of something was the starting point, from which important developments began to transpire, as religion, theology, and even “the truth” evolved into higher forms over the centuries.
This evolutionary model, of course, owed a good deal to other intellectual currents of the day, for example in the understanding of languages: they become more sophisticated and gratifyingly nuanced over the centuries, leading to the brilliance of, say, modern German and English. And the history of culture: who can deny that life is much better in the 19th century than in the 9th, or in the 9th BCE?, or the 29th BCE? And, of course, the sciences — not just biological evolution, where humans have evolved, frankly, to be superior beings to amoebas, but the evolution of science itself, as we know far more about cosmology (the world was not created in six calendar days!), astronomy (there is actually a universe out there, and it is all not circulating around *us*!), chemistry, anatomy, and on and on. And, relatedly, technology: railways, steam engines, the telegraph, etc. etc.
From this point of view, the origins of something are important because …
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