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"Jessey the Educator" and "Jessey the Jew": Henry Jessey, Hebraism, and Puritan pedagogy in seventeenth-century England

Jonathan Adler

<plain_text><page sequence="1">10. 14324/111. 444.jhs.2016V47.010 "Jessey the Educator" and "Jessey the Jew": Henry Jessey, Hebraism, and Puritan pedagogy in seventeenth-century England JONATHAN ADLER And as he expert was in holy tongue, / He's making now an everlasting Song; I Swanlike his lips, o life with warbling death / Sung sweetest notes 0/ praise in dying breath. / What if deaths dart did us in Jessey wound, / The root of Jessey grows not underground; / The root doth grow, above there all is/ound: / That doth with everlasting jřuits abound.1 Henry Jessey - the seventeenth-century English Baptist, millenarian, and educator - was a crucial figure in the English Reformation, whose "everlasting Song" has only recently been rediscovered by scholars. Jessey's life and work was largely influenced by his historical moment, as a "pastor in politics"2 who lived through the English Civil Wars, interregnum, and the early days of the Restoration of the English monarchy. He was an active millenarian, with a scholarly knowledge of Jewish tradition and the Hebrew language. He was also an educator, who exhibited an acute Puritan approach to childhood and developmental education through a number of pedagogical texts, and who aimed more broadly to educate Christians and Jews about each other. Yet these two key aspects of Jessey's identity have been examined almost entirely separately from one another in the historical scholarship. This paper will, for the first time, consider together Jessey's Hebraism and pedagogical interests. An appreciation for the ways in which Hebraism shaped Jessey's pedagogical aims, and for the ways in which those same aims may have limited his commitment to Hebraism, is significant not only for proper understanding of Jessey's work. It also allows for a more precise evaluation of the extent of Jessey's "philo-Semitism", as well as the broader accomplishments of Puritan educational reform in seventeenth-century England. i Edward Whiston, The Life and Death ofMr. Henry Jessey (London, 1671), 107-8. 2 Ernestine G. E. Van der Wall, "A Philo-Semitic Millenarian on the Reconciliation of Jews and Christians: Henry Jessey and his 'The Glory and Salvation of Jehudah and Israel' (1650)", in Sceptics, Millenarians, and Jews, ed. David Katz and Jonathan Israel (New York: Brill, 1990), 163. Jewish Historical Studies, volume 47, 2015 105</page><page sequence="2">106 JONATHAN ADLER Hebraism in the Renaissance and Reformation Prior to the Renaissance of late fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Europe, Hebrew was largely absent from the Christian intellectual world. In fact, there was no official Hebrew programme in European universities until 1540, when Henry VIII established the Regius professorships of Hebrew at Cambridge and Oxford.3 This is not to suggest, though, that Christians lacked interest in Hebrew and Judaism prior to the Renaissance. Early anti-Jewish writings in the eleventh and twelfth centuries - medieval aduersus lúdeos literature - were ubiquitous and were even used as models of rhetoric in schools.4 And while, as Michael Signer argues, there were few true scholars of the Hebrew language in the twelfth century, many "cultural Hebraists" made connections with Jews and wrote about Hebrew and Jewish literature.5 By the early fifteenth century, the study of Hebrew texts - not only through the Old Testament but in Talmudic and Kabbalistic sources as well - was a central part of Renaissance scholarship and was estab- lished as a field in its own right. For example, Leonardo Bruni, the Italian humanist, historian, and politician, helped to establish interest in Hebrew in the early Renaissance, suggesting that a complete under- standing of Platonic thought would require a knowledge of the Hebrew language. In his 1405 translation of Plato's Phaedo, Bruni affirmed that "Plato received his wisdom from Jewish sources" and that Platonic doctrines were inextricably tied to the Judeo-Christian tradition.6 This renewed curiosity in the study of Hebrew texts and Jewish theology, moreover, was largely made possible by the growth of Italian printing culture. It was the fifteenth-century Italian printing houses that became the "scriptoria of Judaica", providing the prayer books, Old Testaments, 3 Frank E. Manuel, The Broken Staff: Judaism through Christian Eyes (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 31. 4 Anna Sapir Abulafia, "'Sie Stinken Beide', or How to Use Medieval Christian-Jewish Disputational Material", in Seeing Things Their Way, ed. Alister Chapman, John Coffey, and Brad S. Gregory (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), 76-7. 5 See Michael A. Signer, "Polemic and Exegesis: The Varieties of Twelfth-Century Hebraism", in Hebraica Veritas? Christian Hebraists and the Study o/Judaism in Early Modern Europe, ed. Allison P. Coudert and Jeffrey S. Shoulson (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) 6 For other examples of early Renaissance interest in Hebrew, see Abraham Melamed, "Introduction", in HebraicAspects of the Renaissance: Sources and Encounters, ed. llana Zinguer, Abraham Melamed, and Zur Shalev (Boston, MA: Brill, 2011), pp. 1-6.</page><page sequence="3">Henry Jessey 107 and even Talmuds and rabbinic commentaries that allowed the Christian- Hebraica movement to flourish.7 As Frank Manuel argues, though, this early Renaissance interest in the Hebrew language was not grounded on any institutional basis. Rather, Christian scholars and humanists would personally have to find a rabbi who could serve as their tutor and, at best, provide them with a foundation in Hebrew. Even Pico della Mirandola, the fifteenth-century Italian philosopher who inaugurated the Christian study of Jewish mysticism - known as Kabbalah - was largely reliant on his tutor, the converted Jew Flavius Mithridates. It was Mithridates who translated thousands of folios of Kabbalah for Pico from Hebrew or Aramaic into Latin, since Pico's own understanding of Hebrew was limited.8 Like many other intellectual currents of the Renaissance, the philo- logical interest in Hebrew that began in Italy had spread into Protestant Europe by the seventeenth century.9 However, these intellectuals were thinking and writing within a deeply contentious Protestant context; moreover, partly as a result of Martin Luther's own relationship with the Jews and his theological influence, the study of Hebrew was further complicated. In the early part of his career, Luther was largely supportive of Hebraism and, while hoping for their widespread conversion, was empathetic towards the Jewish people.10 This toleration for the Jews, moreover, was also a product of broader Protestant theological ideas: the turn against the papacy, which replaced Judaism as the embodiment of the anti-Christ, helped to diminish the widespread antisemitism and anti-Jewish violence that characterized Judeo-Christian relations in the medieval period.11 Yet by the late 1530s - following the expulsion of Jews from Saxony in 1536 and the subsequent influence of Sabbatarian "judaizing" throughout Germany - Luther no longer believed that Jewish conversion to Christianity was possible. Moreover, to counter his previous toleration of the Jews, he actually enlarged his own definition of the anti- 7 Manuel, Broken Staff, 32. 8 Ibid., 31,42. 9 Melamed, "Introduction", 4. 10 See Armas K. E. Holmio, Martin Luther: Friend or Foe 0/ the Jews (Chicago: National Lutheran Council, 1949), 16-17; Jerome Friedman, "Sixteenth-Century Christian- Hebraica: Scripture and the Renaissance Myth of the Past", Sixteenth Century Journal 11 (1980): 74. ii Howard Hotson, "Anti-Semitism, Philo-Semitism, Apocalypticism, and Millenar- ianism in Early Modern Europe: A Case Study and Some Methodological Reflections", in Chapman, Coffey, and Gregory, Seeing ThincjsTheirWay, 99-100.</page><page sequence="4">108 JONATHAN ADLER Christ into a "diabolical, eschatological trinity" that was comprised of the papacy as well as Jews and Turks.12 Thus in his 1543 essay "Concerning the Jews and their Lies", Luther retreated from his former declarations, asserting, "Our people, the Christians, should watch out for them, the Jews, that they should not be misled by that stubborn, cursed people (whom God punishes because of their lies; a people who haughtily despises the world). The Jews tried their utmost to convert us to their religion."13 Luther's antagonistic proclamation did not keep Hebraists from their work: a wide range of Continental Protestant scholars of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries remained deeply committed to the study of Hebrew. Sebastian Munster, for example, the early sixteenth-century German cartographer, cosmologist, and philosopher, was also known as the "German Ezra" for his work in Christian-Hebraism. Among other things, Munster produced a collection of Hebrew and Aramaic grammars and a trilingual dictionary in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin that provided a foundation for further Protestant scholarship in the field.14 Recently, Anthony Grafton and Joanna Weinberg have argued that Isaac Casaubon, the sixteenth-century French philosopher and classical philologist, not only had a keen understanding of Hebrew and Aramaic but also approached Jewish texts in the same way that he worked with classical materials in Latin and Greek. In other words, Causabon's work in the field of Christian-Hebraism mirrored his scholarship and philological interests in classical humanism, bridging the gap between these two forms of Renaissance study.15 These Continental Protestant Christian- Hebraists were not only interested in Hebrew for its use in theological scholarship, but also - as the example of Casaubon further proves - for its inherent educational importance. Abandoning the common "four- fold method" of Hebrew exegesis, which sought to provide both a literal translation and "Christological interpretation" of the Old Testament, early Protestant Hebraists focused on the developing art of translation. By aiming for a philological and historical understanding of the Old Testament, they saw that it was necessary to remove Christ from their 12 Ibid., 100. 13 Holmio, Martin Luther, 24. 14 Manuel, Broken Staff, 48. 15 See Anthony Grafton and Joanna Weinberg, with Alastair Hamilton, "I haue always Ioued the holy tongue": Isaac Casaubon, thejews, and a Forgotten Chapter in Renaissance Scholarship (London: Harvard University Press, 2011).</page><page sequence="5">Henry Jessey 109 interpretation, and thus analysed the Jewish text with a "tacit acceptance of its dogmatic significance".16 In other words, such a close analysis would allow for a greater appreciation of the importance of the text as a work in and of itself, without the influence of Christian overtones; again, these Hebraists were not interested in religious rhetoric. Many sixteenth-century Christian-Hebraists even went beyond Scriptural analysis and furthered the development of Hebraism as an independent area of study. If Christian-Hebraists had only been interested in Hebrew for its philological significance, Jerome Friedman claims, then there would be greater evidence of their use of translation tools like the Hebrew dictionaries, lexicons, and grammars that were ubiquitous by 1550. The fact that Christian-Hebraists turned not only to the Old Testament but also toTalmudic and Kabbalistic sources suggests that they found deeper sources of meaning in Hebrew texts beyond the purposes of translation. In the wake of Pico della Mirandola, Johann Reuchlin became the leading Protestant intellectual who studied and wrote about the Talmud and Kabbalah in the early sixteenth century. Reuchlin was a scholar of Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, and a Stuttgart civil administrator and jurist. Moreover, he became a staunch defender of the Talmud and Kabbalah and helped to ward off the spreading censorship of the early Reformation.17 This wide-ranging exegesis embodied by Reuchlin and other Protestant Christian Kabbalists is evidence of a larger Renaissance idea. Hebraism, as Friedman argues, like the study of Greek and Latin, was a means of accessing a distant past in which answers to contemporary problems might be found.18 In an age of theological dispute, Hebrew was important both as "God's own grammar" and as the language of a longstanding scholarly tradition itself- an educational tool in the arts of argumentation and rhetoric. By the early seventeenth century, though, Christian study of Kabbalah was in decline. After Pico and Reuchlin, the only Christian theologians who studied Kabbalah were those who were interested in predicting the Second Coming. The exception to this rule were Christians who, as knowledge of rabbinic Hebrew spread, were able to find passages in the Talmud and in post-Talmudic rabbinic texts that contained "expressions of loathing for Christians, curses, and blasphemous depictions of Christ, Mary, and the Apostles", which only further distanced Jews 16 Friedman, "Sixteenth-Century Christian-Hebraica", 71. 17 Manuel, Broken Staff, 45 . 18 Friedman, "Sixteenth-Century Christian-Hebraica", 84.</page><page sequence="6">110 JONATHAN ADLER from Protestants.19 No longer were scholars interested in ancient and rabbinic Judaism for their own sakes, as another area of study in the realm of classical humanism. Moreover, as Stephen Burnett shows, this intellectual shift was reflective of the movement of Christian-Hebraism at large. Unlike previous generations of intellectuals, early seventeenth- century Protestants did not require the help of Jews but could learn the biblical language from their fellow Christian-Hebraists, and study both Hebrew and Aramaic as part of the established university programmes in oriental languages.20 Yet the early seventeenth century also witnessed the spread of Christian-Hebraism to England, where its presence was ubiquitous.21 Its arrival was anticipated by a number of key sixteenth-century innovations. First, as noted earlier, Henry VIII instituted Regius chairs of Hebrew at Oxford and Cambridge in 1540. Second, intellectual exchange with Continental Protestant scholars allowed for the diffusion of Hebrew Bibles, grammars, and even Talmudic and rabbinic texts through England. These grammars, as David Katz argues, democratized the study of Hebrew on their entrance in the popular market.22 Accompanying this public interest in Christian-Hebraism was the millenarian scholarship of Johann Heinrich Aisted and Joseph Mede. In 1627, Mede completed his Clavis Apocalyptica while a fellow at Christ's College. The Clauis argued that a numerological and eschatological approach to the Book of Revelation could reveal its underlying millenarian meaning. Mede's exegesis, in turn, won him intellectual respect and admiration both in England and on the Continent.23 In the same year Alsted published his Diatribe de Mille Annís Apocalypticis and the second edition of his Theol ogia Polemica, two works that were also milestones in inaugurating the English millenarian movement. Moreover, they were two of the first that equally criticized Christian and Jewish millenarian beliefs: while Jews ignore the first 10 Manuel, Broken Staff! 14?, 14g. 20 Ibid., 71; Melamed, "Introduction", 10; see also Stephen Burnett, Christian Hebraism in the Re/ormation Era (1500-1660) (Boston, MA: Brill, 2012). 21 This is not to suggest that there were no English Christian-Hebraists before the seventeenth century; see e.g. Judith Olszowy-Schlanger, "A School of Christian Hebraists in Thirteenth-Century England: A Unique Hebrew-Latin-French and English Dictionary and its Sources", European Journal qfjeunsh Studies 1, no. 2 (2007): 249-77. 22 See e.g. Ben Jonson, The Alchemist (1610), 4.5.18-23. 23 Jeffrey K. Jue, "Puritan Millenarianism in Old and New England", in The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism, ed. John Coffey and Paul C. H. Lim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 263.</page><page sequence="7">Henry Jessey m advent of the Messiah, Alsted argues, too many of his contemporary Christians also fail to recognize the present signs of the second advent. As Howard Hotson suggests, Alsted was willing "to meet Jewish messianic expectations halfway".24 The intellectual prominence of Alsted and Mede points to the fact that eschatological disputes were already in full force well before the political upheaval of mid-seventeenth-century England. Moreover, it shows that the importance ofjewish learning was recognized even before England would consider readmitting Jews. Henry Jessey the nonconformist minister Henry Jessey, the minister of "respectable nonconformity",25 provides a clear example of the influence of the Christian-Hebraic tradition in revolutionary mid-seventeenth-century England. Born in 1601, Jessey was "carefully Educated by his Parents, until he became capable of Grammar School", subsequently entering St. John's College at Cambridge in 1619.26 After converting to Puritanism in the same year, Jessey received his degree in 1623 and then stayed at Cambridge to study Hebrew and rabbinical literature. Following his graduation in 1626, and ten years of preaching, tutoring, and establishing himself as a "nonconformist minister", he was urged to replace John Lathrop as the pastor of the Independent Jacob Church. But, in order to understand Jessey in his role in the Jacob Church - the congregation whom he served as pastor from 1636 until his death in 1663 - it is first necessary to understand the historical context of the church from its beginnings in 1616, as well as the larger milieu of seventeenth-century English religious radicalism.27 The historiography of this tumultuous era has primarily focused on the separatism and sectarianism urged by religious nonconformists. Indeed, John Coffey in his Persecution and Toleration insists that there were two essential changes in religion in seventeenth-century England: the destruction of the Anglican religious "monopoly" and the resulting dissemination of non-Anglican sects, and the dissolution of a widespread 24 Hotson, "Anti-Semitism, Philo-Semitism, Apocalypticism", 107. 25 Van der Wall, "Philo-Semitic Millenarian", 163 . 26 Whiston, Life and Death o/Mr. Henry Jessey, 1. 27 For Henry Jacob and the Jacob Church, see "Records of the Jacob-Lathrop-Jessey Church 1616-1641", Transactions of the Baptist Historical Society 1 (1908-9): 203-25; Murray Tolmie, The Triumph of the Saints: The Separate Churches of London, 1616-1649 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 4-20.</page><page sequence="8">112 JONATHAN ADLER insistence on religious uniformity.28 And Christopher Hill argued that radicals entirely discarded the notion of a state church and its system of tithes, in favour of a more democratic, independent system of individual church elections and voluntary contributions.29 On the one hand, the founding principles of the Jacob Church seem to conform with this sectarian doctrine. In his 1605 Humble Supplication to his Majesty Kiry James, Henry Jacob insisted that "each Church of Christ should be so independent as it should have ye full Power of all ye Church affairs entire within itselfe", and in fact provided "An Exposition of ye Second Comandement, shewing that therein now is required a right vissible Church State &amp; Government independent".30 On the other hand, Jacob strongly believed that absolute separation from the Anglican establishment was neither necessary nor productive. He insisted that while Anglicans "in simplicity" subscribed to a corrupted doctrine, they were still "true Christians nevertheless" and could not simply be deserted.31 In fact, Jacob searched to find theological arguments that might bridge the gap between congregational self-sufficiency and the Christian legitimacy of the Anglican Church.32 Thus, when one remembers that the Jacob Church served as the parent congregation for almost all the Particular Baptist churches in seventeenth- century England, and that Jacob's church "for twenty-five years served as a recruiting agency and training schoo