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Politics and eschatology: Reassessing the appeal of the “jewish Indian” theory in England and new England in the 1650s

Crome, A (2015) Politics and eschatology: Reassessing the appeal of the “jewish Indian” theory in England and new England in the 1650s. Journal of Religious History, 40 (3). pp. 326-346. ISSN 0022-4227

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Abstract

© 2015 Religious History Association. This article examines the “Jewish Indian” theory — which claimed that American Indians were the ten lost tribes of Israel — in 1650s England and New England. The theory found support in England while failing in New England. This difference in reception can be explained by considering its ecclesiological, political, and eschatological implications. Biblical commentators in both England and New England held to a form of “Judeo-Centric” eschatology, which looked for a sudden, miraculous conversion of the Jews and their eventual superiority to Gentile believers. Such beliefs undermined crucial elements of New England ecclesiology when applied to Native Americans. Conversely, the New England Company used the theory in its publications as a fund-raising tool in England. These publications impacted upon debates on Jewish readmission to England in the mid-1650s, with New England missionary models suggested as a way of evangelising Jews. This article therefore argues for the importance of understanding eschatological beliefs in local contexts, while demonstrating the way in which such beliefs can be maintained and reoriented in the face of apparent disconfirmation.

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