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English National Identity and the Readmission of the Jews, 1650-1656

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 April 2015

ANDREW CROME*
Affiliation:
Religions and Theology, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester Ml3 9PL; e-mail: andrew.crome@manchester.ac.uk

Abstract

This article explores the presentation of English national identity in literature surrounding the 1655 Whitehall Conference on Jewish readmission to England. Writers in the 1650s suggested that England was suffering providential punishment for sins against the Jewish people. This combined with the idea that God had selected England to restore the Jews to Palestine. This form of ‘chosen’ nationhood complicates understandings of links between Jews and English national identity formation. Jews were recognised as ‘other’, but also as superior to Gentiles. England was therefore ‘chosen’ for a special purpose, but in no way replaced ethnic Israel.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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References

1 Spencer, Edward, A briefe epistle to the learned Manasseh ben Israel, London 1650 (Wing S4945A), 58Google Scholar.

2 For full discussions of the circumstances surrounding the conference see Endelman, Todd M., The Jews of Britain, 1656–2000, Berkeley 2002, 1527CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Katz, David S., Philo-semitism and the readmission of the Jews to England, 1603–1655, Oxford 1982Google Scholar; The Jews in the history of England, Oxford 1994, 107–44Google Scholar; and ‘English redemption and Jewish readmission in 1656’, Journal of Jewish Studies xxxiv (1983), 73–91; Shapiro, James, Shakespeare and the Jews, New York 1996, 5562Google Scholar, 167–94; Wilensky, Mordecai, ‘The literary controversy in 1656 concerning the return of the Jews to England’, Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research xx (1951), 357–93Google Scholar; and Wolf, Lucien, Menasseh ben Israel's mission to Oliver Cromwell, London 1901Google Scholar.

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6 ben Israel, To his highness, sigs A3v–A3ir. See also a reprint of the petition in the Publick Intelligencer xii (18–24 Dec. 1655).

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12 Shapiro, Shakespeare, 43–88.

13 Glaser, Judaism, 113–29.

14 All of these positions have something of merit. Philosemitism was an important current of English thought, and had clearly come to influence thinking on the Jews in the 1640s and 1650s. While they should be downplayed, claims that there were economic motives for readmission (although cried down by merchants in the conference itself) are not entirely baseless, as tracts in favour of readmission do talk in terms of financial benefit. Likewise, Glaser has done a great service to our understanding of events of 1655/6 by teasing out the allusions to contemporary legal debates in works ostensibly about the Jews. The caveat here must be that these works, for all that they say on these debates, were still about Jews and still genuinely interested in either admitting or barring them from admission into England.

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30 This was the continuation of the standard pre-Reformation position, which saw the Christian Church as the successor to Israel, and inheritor of her blessings. The Church was therefore seen as the ‘true Israel’ and Christians as ‘true Jews’. Although such thinking is found in Paul (see, for example, Romans ii.25–9, and Ephesians ii), the claim that the Church was the fulfilment of Israel's promises became increasingly common over the patristic period. On this see Cohen, Jeremy, ‘The mystery of Israel's salvation: Romans 11:25–26 in patristic and medieval exegesis’, Harvard Theological Review xcviii (2005), 247–81Google Scholar. This form of thinking continued into the Reformation. See, for example, Calvin's statement that ‘we must grasp this analogy in the prophets: when they discuss Christ's Kingdom, they set forth God's outward blessings as figures of spiritual goods’: Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, Philadelphia 1960, 3.13.4.

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33 Spencer, quoted in Wall, ‘Considerations’, 57.

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53 Ibid. 12.

54 Ibid. 14–15.

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59 Ibid. sig. A2ir.

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62 Ibid. pt ii, pp. 52–3. See also pp. 63–7, 83–8.

63 Ibid. pt ii, pp. 58–64.

64 Jessey, Narrative, 6.

65 Ibid. 4.

66 Ibid. 9.

67 Shapiro, Shakespeare, 167–83.

68 McGiffert's work has highlighted some of the difficulties that dogged the comparison of England with Israel, particularly regarding the extent of any national election (whether the nation as a whole was included, or simply the elect) and counter-productive attempts to solve this problem by placing the entire nation under the covenant of works: ‘God's controversy’, 1151–74.

69 Tillinghast, Generation-work, pt i, p. 49

70 D. L., Israels condition, 33–4.

71 Pincus argues that the failure of Barebones resulted in the side-lining of radicals and the moving away from an offensive ‘apocalyptic’ foreign policy by the Protectorate to a more positive and reactive anti-Spanish position: Protestantism and patriotism, 149–91.

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76 See Oldenburg to Menasseh, 25 July 1657, Royal Society ms MM 1, fo. 24, repr. in Rupert Hall and Marie Boas Hall (eds), The correspondence of Henry Oldenburg, Madison 1965, 125–7. Oldenburg was also a Judeo-centrist. His letter concerns a book that he had been given, which confirms his belief that ‘the magnificent and splendid prophecies of the glorious restoration of the Jews to their homeland are about to be fulfilled’.

77 The classic claim for England's view of itself as ‘the elect nation’ is made in Haller, William, Foxe's ‘Book of martyrs’ and the elect nation, London 1963Google Scholar. For a rebuttal of this view see Bauckham, Richard, Tudor apocalypse, Oxford 1978Google Scholar, and Firth, KatherineThe apocalyptic tradition in Reformation Britain, 1530–1645, Oxford 1979Google Scholar. A helpful discussion of the subtleties of elect nation rhetoric in early modern England can be found in Guyatt, Nicholas, Providence and the invention of the United States, 1607–1876, Cambridge 2007, 1152CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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