Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 116 / Number 2
The Prophet in His Own Words: Nat Turner's Biblical Construction
- By Anthony Santoro, pp. 114–49
This article argues that although the Confessions of Nat Turner was shaped by two different men, Nat Turner and Thomas R. Gray, there is a discernable prophetic voice hidden in plain sight, within the biblical narrative running through the text. The prophetic voice is Nat Turner, as can be seen when the biblical allusions are traced to their sources, read within their contexts, and connected within the Confessions. By means of these allusions, Turner located himself within the lineage of prophets that comprises both the Old and New testaments, and he used this prophetic voice to chastise white slaveholders. Drawing particularly from the Old Testament prophets and Luke, Turner created a narrative that inverted biblical proslavery arguments into a justification for rebellion. The biblical references also speak to the rebels' tactics, which Turner claimed he drew from the Old Testament holy war tradition. The prophetic narrative also provides clues to Turner’s personal background, long thought missing from the Confessions, and indicates both how Turner saw his role in the prophecy he bore and how he may have viewed the rebellion itself.