This engraving from 1850 depicts Bell’s reaper. Unlike other, later models of reapers, Bell’s was designed for horses to push the machine.
Classic Image / Alamy Stock Photo

dvancing Agriculture

Food is a prominent theme throughout the Bible. In Genesis, God cursed the ground because of Adam’s disobedience, condemning humanity to toil for food. In other passages, ritual meals are important sources of devotion and fellowship.

One of the most important agricultural innovations was the creation of the combine harvester, which could cut, thresh, and winnow grain in a single process. These remarkable machines did in mere hours what once took days, reducing labor and increasing output.

Rev. Patrick Bell, a Scottish minister, helped kickstart this revolution with his invention of the first practical mechanical reaper in 1827. Bell’s reaper could harvest grain at one acre per hour and is regarded as a precursor to the modern combine harvester.

“Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.”
Genesis 3:17

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McCormick’s reaper is featured in this illustrated plate of nineteenth-century agricultural equipment alongside Bell’s reaper—the original reaping machine—and Hussey’s reaper, rival to McCormick.
The Print Collector / Alamy Stock Photo

Reaping the Harvest

Cyrus McCormick was an American inventor who, with the aid of Jo Anderson, a man enslaved by the McCormick family, made substantial improvements on the mechanical reaper in the 1830s. McCormick’s reaper would help transform the nation’s agricultural landscape, with the French Academy of Science claiming he had “done more for the cause of agriculture than any other living man.”

McCormick viewed his work in agriculture as a vocation. He became the principal benefactor of what would become McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

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This exhibition explores the Bible’s role in the historical relationship between science and religion. Many today believe that religious faith and the natural sciences are very separate subjects. Indeed, many consider the Bible to be an obstacle to scientific progress. Yet, for centuries, faith and the study of nature were very much entangled. At times, biblical beliefs helped encourage people to study the world. They even influenced the rise of science as we know it today.