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The 1753 'Jew Bill' Controversy: Jewish Restoration to Palestine, Biblical Prophecy, and English National Identity

Crome, A (2015) The 1753 'Jew Bill' Controversy: Jewish Restoration to Palestine, Biblical Prophecy, and English National Identity. The English Historical Review, 130 (547). pp. 1449-1478. ISSN 0013-8266

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Abstract

Examinations of the controversy surrounding the Jewish Naturalization Act (or ‘Jew Bill’) of 1753 have tended to concentrate on the role of either systematic anti-Semitism or political expediency in attempting to explain the sudden, violent uproar that the Act occasioned. While both of these approaches shed light on the controversy, they ignore the central role of prophecy in debates surrounding the Act, both for its proponents and opponents. Both groups drew upon a reservoir of Restorationist images of the Jews, built on the biblical prophecies of a Jewish return to Palestine. For opponents, the ‘Jew Bill’ represented an attempt to discredit prophecies of Jewish separation and denigrate scripture. Restorationist concepts were used to portray the Jews as violent and disloyal, and to suggest that if naturalised they would use England as a staging ground for their conquest of Palestine. For supporters of the Act, naturalisation offered England a unique opportunity to fulfil prophecy. They saw the Act as allowing the nation to take the first steps in fulfilling the apocalyptic role God had prepared for it as the nation that would ‘bless’ the Jews. Both sides of the debate therefore used Restorationism to negotiate concepts of Englishness and alterity. This paper constructs its argument by examining a range of material surrounding the controversy including parliamentary debates, sermons, pamphlets and newspaper reports. It argues for the importance of a nuanced understanding of the role of religion in eighteenth-century political debates.

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