*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Advent book review: Jewish Christians in Puritan England by Aidan Cottrell-Boyce

by
27 October 2023

These ‘Jewish Christians’ even practised ritual circumcision, says Judith Maltby

JUDGING from the title, readers may find Aidan Cottrell-Boyce’s book is not about what they think it will be about. “Jewish Christians” is usually a term used to describe Jews who have converted to Christianity. Cottrell-Boyce’s interesting study, however, is about a rather niche, theologically diverse group within the 17th-century English Puritan Movement. These “Jewish Christians” adopted Jewish practices such as dietary laws, observing the sabbath on Saturday, and even in some cases (and painfully, I imagine) circumcision. To their contemporary critics — and they had many — they were called “Judaizers”. To anyone who knows their St Paul, that was not a compliment.

At its best, this was a theological and political movement that took seriously the Jewish origins of Christianity and engaged with the Hebrew Scriptures almost as an equal to the New Testament. At its worst, and from the perspective of the long and shameful history of anti-Semitism in England, Cottrell-Boyce gives us a study of “cultural appropriation” by a group of 17th-century Christians of aspects of Jewish faith and practice. This appropriation was never intended for the benefit of, or out of admiration for, Jewish people themselves. Rather, it grew out of an eschatologically driven political agenda in a time of ever-increasing polarisation and violence held by a group of radical Puritans convinced that the End Times were imminent.

This was especially true in the middle decades of the 17th century, which brought forth catastrophic civil wars and rebellions throughout the British Isles, regicide, and the creation of England’s first republic, which to modern eyes looks remarkably like a theocratic military dictatorship.

Puritan interest in Judaism, or perhaps more accurately in “Judaizing”, was not primarily for the benefit of actual Jews. Like so much of the Puritan tradition, finding ways to exclude, to distinguish oneself from the mass of the “ungodly” — to establish “differentiation” with those considered reprobate — was key to maintaining a certain kind of Puritan self-esteem.

Some readers will know the story of the resettlement of the Jews in the mid-1650s and the informal arrangement that allowed them to worship openly. London’s remarkable Bevis Marks Synagogue has its origins in these events, although the building is slightly newer. Along with a genuine idealistic belief in religious liberty held by some radical Christians, there was also the view (God’s Anglo-centric views a given, of course) that the return of the Jews to England would hasten the Second Coming of Christ.

This is a well-researched book about a very specific movement in the history of Christianity, and of a movement that, in the end, did not really stake out a place for itself in the diverse and pluralist Christianity of pre-modern England. It is also a case study of the recurring desire by some Christians to assert “otherness”, to separate, and to differentiate themselves from fellow Christians deemed apostate. It feels timely.

Canon Judith Maltby is College Lecturer in Theology and Fellow Emerita, Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

 

Jewish Christians in Puritan England
Aidan Cottrell-Boyce
James Clarke & Co £26.50
(978-0-227-17795-2)

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

 

Church Times/RSCM: 

Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE

 

Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available

 

Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available

 

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

Church Times/Canterbury Press:

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

Early bird tickets available

 

 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)