Fictions of Conversion: Jews, Christians, and Cultures of Change in Early Modern England

0 avg rating
( 0 ratings by Goodreads )
 
9780812244823: Fictions of Conversion: Jews, Christians, and Cultures of Change in Early Modern England

The fraught history of England's Long Reformation is a convoluted if familiar story: in the space of twenty-five years, England changed religious identity three times. In 1534 England broke from the papacy with the Act of Supremacy that made Henry VIII head of the church; nineteen years later the act was overturned by his daughter Mary, only to be reinstated at the ascension of her half-sister Elizabeth. Buffeted by political and confessional cross-currents, the English discovered that conversion was by no means a finite, discrete process. In Fictions of Conversion, Jeffrey S. Shoulson argues that the vagaries of religious conversion were more readily negotiated when they were projected onto an alien identity—one of which the potential for transformation offered both promise and peril but which could be kept distinct from the emerging identity of Englishness: the Jew.

Early modern Englishmen and -women would have recognized an uncannily familiar religious chameleon in the figure of the Jewish converso, whose economic, social, and political circumstances required religious conversion, conformity, or counterfeiting. Shoulson explores this distinctly English interest in the Jews who had been exiled from their midst nearly three hundred years earlier, contending that while Jews held out the tantalizing possibility of redemption through conversion, the trajectory of falling in and out of divine favor could be seen to anticipate the more recent trajectory of England's uncertain path of reformation. In translations such as the King James Bible and Chapman's Homer, dramas by Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson, and poetry by Donne, Vaughan, and Milton, conversion appears as a cypher for and catalyst of other transformations—translation, alchemy, and the suspect religious enthusiasm of the convert—that preoccupy early modern English cultures of change.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Jeffrey S. Shoulson is Doris and Simon Konover Chair of Judaic Studies, Director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, Professor of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, and Professor of English at the University of Connecticut. He is also author of Milton and the Rabbis: Hebraism, Hellenism, and Christianity.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

On a huge hill,
Cragged, and steep, Truth stands, and he that will
Reach her, about must, and about must go . . .
—John Donne, "Satire III"

In 1534, at the direction of Henry VIII, who had been acclaimed "Defender of the Faith" by Pope Leo X a mere thirteen years earlier, England turned from being a Catholic nation to a Protestant nation; when Henry's son was crowned as Edward VI in 1547, a series of sweeping and far more radical church reforms were instituted, making the break with Rome even more pronounced and seemingly definitive; yet following the young king's death in 1553, Mary Tudor's reign brought with it the return of Catholicism as the official state religion; with Elizabeth's assumption of the throne in 1559, Protestantism again became the regnant religion. In the space of twenty-five years, then, England converted three times. If, for some of its contemporary Protestant observers and chroniclers, the trajectory of the English Reformation lent itself to a historiography that narrated these political and religious developments as providential changes all leading to a millenarian fulfillment of God's special favor to the "Elect Nation," the speed and fitfulness with which these changes transpired could also lead observers to worry over their permanence and authenticity. Even during the relative calm of the Elizabethan Settlement the national conversion to Protestantism was repeatedly challenged, not only by those who remained loyal to the Pope, but also by Puritans and other Protestants of the "hotter" sort, who insisted that the break with Rome remained incomplete. Elizabeth's successor, James I, undertook extensive efforts to sustain the peace of this religious settlement; the English Bible that has taken his name, for example, was produced with the hopes of providing a scripture acceptable to a wide cross-section of the English population, from urban, bourgeois Presbyterians to rural Anglican aristocracy, and even to recusant Catholics and nonconformists. Yet James's reign was only in its second year when an English convert to Catholicism by the name of Guy Fawkes was discovered preparing to bomb the houses of Parliament; the Gunpowder Plot was quickly tied to a network of English Catholics, among them several Jesuits, setting off a wave of anti-Catholic paranoia and repressive legislation targeting recusancy and the persistent, often secret, Catholic presence in England. Clearly, conversion was not a finite, discreet process. Religious change could lead to salvation, but it could also breed deceit and treachery. Those on all sides of the religious conflicts of the period could be forgiven for harboring deep-seated suspicions about conversion's value, or even the capacity for human agents to effect and control its outcome.

This book takes the conversionary demands and competing claims for adherence made by different confessional identities in early modern England as the starting point for an investigation into the dynamics of change during the period and the anxieties produced by these religious, political, social, economic, and cultural changes. Current scholarship has revealed how ongoing and incomplete was the English Reformation. The Elizabethan Settlement sought to construct an ideologically and religiously coherent English identity, but these explicit and persistent efforts also attest to the resistance they continued to meet publicly and privately, in the urban centers and in the countryside, in the north and in the south. The boundaries between Catholicism and Protestantism, not to mention within and among newly emerging Protestant denominations, remained permeable and shifting; at one time or another throughout much of the sixteenth century most Englishmen and women—whose parents and grandparents very well may have attended a different church than they were attending—would have found it necessary to be somewhat circumspect, if not downright deceptive, about their own religious beliefs and practices. The "fictions of conversion" I examine in this study find their first expressions within the confessional transitions and shifts that happened with some frequency over the course of England's Long Reformation. So threatening to any sense of stability was this fraught history that its alarming implications often demanded to be projected outward onto an alien identity, whose potential for transformation offered both promise and peril but who could, in theory, be kept distinct from emerging formulations of Englishness, especially by virtue of his or her physical absence from England during the period in question: the Jew.

Even as the English Reformation gave rise to the providentialist historiography of John Foxe and others, it also precipitated a distinctively English interest in—some might even called it an obsession with—the Jews who had been entirely exiled from England's midst nearly 300 years earlier. English millenarian and eschatological writings inevitably included speculations about the "Calling of the Jews" or "the Great Restauration," the anticipated mass conversion of the Jews to (a specifically English version of) Christianity as one of the final steps preceding Christ's Second Coming. The Whitehall Conference of 1655 convened by Oliver Cromwell to discuss the legal readmission of Jews to England cannot be understood outside this apocalyptic climate. Yet before the conversion of the Jews became a staple topic for English millenarians in the seventeenth century, Jews already found their way into the English imaginary within an elaborate and self-contradictory network of fictions of conversion. The late medieval and early modern English stage offered audiences encounters with Jewish moneylenders and merchants, powerbrokers and panderers who were forced or who (seemingly) chose to convert; but also with desirable Jewish women, potential wives and mothers to future Christian children, who converted by marrying Christian husbands. English sermons celebrated the baptisms of individual Jews; but they also inveighed against stubborn Jewish resistance to Christian salvation, often in the same sermon. Jews held out the tantalizing possibility of redemption through conversion, particularly powerful insofar as they had once been God's chosen people and could recover that status again, even as they also manifested the fearful effects of preterition, to use Calvin's term for those not elected to salvation. The Jewish trajectory of falling in and out of divine favor was seen as anticipating the more recent trajectory of English providential history in its peripatetic path of reformation. But depending on where that Jewish history resolved itself—with God or as God's enemies—such parallels could bode well or ill for English Christianity. Jewish conversion (collective or individual) offered the most dramatic form of divine reconciliation; but Jews also threatened to undermine the salvific power of conversion whenever they refused, reneged, or, worse, revealed themselves to have converted under false pretenses.

Indeed, it is the specter of false Jewish conversion, in particular, that haunts the English fictions of conversion I examine in this book. To speak of Jews in Tudor and Stuart England was, with almost no exception, to speak of Iberian Jews and their descendants, those who had fled the forced conversions, expulsions, and subsequent Inquisition that had obliterated the largest and most prosperous Jewish population of the Middle Ages. This history of Iberian Jewry stands directly behind these fictions of conversion, for the limpieza di sangre, or blood purity laws that were the legacy of the forced conversions of fourteenth-century Spain, gave legal justification for Old Christian antipathy toward conversos, enforcing a Jewish designation on those who had converted to Christianity in order to avoid expulsion, forfeit of property, or execution. English encounters with Jews—occasionally on English soil, more often in the Levant, and especially in the growing Jewish communities of the Low Countries—were nearly always with descendants of this recent history of forced conversion. English Protestants like Henry Ainsworth (whose work figures significantly in later chapters of this book) spent considerable portions of their lives in close proximity to, and learning from, the Jews of Amsterdam. It is no coincidence that Ainsworth, and other English scholars like Hugh Broughton, Matthew Slade, and John Paget, drew so heavily on Jewish scholarship in his own biblical commentaries. Nor is it surprising that these Puritan Hebraists wrote extensively on and worked for the conversion of the Jews to Christianity. The Amsterdam Jewish community, concentrated primarily in the Vloomberg quarter of the city, was composed almost entirely of descendants from the Spanish and Portuguese Sephardic community that had fled either before or after undergoing conversion to Catholicism. Many of those who had converted to Christianity used their migration to Amsterdam as the occasion openly to recover their Jewish identities. Others remained Christians, even as they retained ties with this recently reconstituted Jewish community. Conversion was the topic of the seventeenth-century Amsterdam Jewish community, the same community from which, only a few decades later, Menasseh ben Israel would call out to England for a change in its policy toward Jews living there. The experiences of conversos and former conversos called particular attention to the persistence of a naturalized notion of Jewishness, one that could be construed positively and not just in the negative light it was cast as a function of the Iberian blood purity laws. Conversos who reclaimed their Jewishness often did so explicitly as a recovery of an identity embedded in the body and familial lineage. But even those conversos who remained (proudly) Christian made special claims about the value of their Jewish ancestry, asserting the importance of the seed of Israel to the vitality and future of Christianity.

The promulgation of "philo-semitic" writing in mid-seventeenth-century England reveals the intense ambivalence with which Jews and Jewish conversion were regarded during this time. On the one hand, advocates of Jewish toleration made their case for the legal readmission of Jews on the strength of the millenarian expectation of mass Jewish conversion: Jews should be welcomed to a tolerant, Protestant England because it would accelerate the process of their total elimination through their transformation into Christians. On the other hand, as we shall see below, what was more worrying to many English writers than the thought that Jews had not or would not convert was the possibility that they would indeed convert, for the successful conversion of the Jew would signal the disruption and destabilization of the organizing differences that gave definition to Christianity in opposition to Judaism. And yet, as I argue in the chapters that follow, the notoriously embattled nature of converso identity—its exemplification of the disputed permanence of conversion—could also contain a potentially advantageous, if also unsettling, property, the quality of changeability. In the figure of the converso, early modern Englishmen and women would have recognized an uncannily familiar religious chameleon, someone whose economic, social, and political circumstances required a religious conversion, conformity, or counterfeiting that challenged the consolidation of a coherent identity. The legacy of forced conversions practiced in previous centuries in Spain and Portugal found its way into the writings of English Protestants, particularly in their efforts to distinguish their religion from what they regarded as the corrupt and ineffective practices of the Catholic Church. Though English Protestants prided themselves on the self-evident truth of the Christianity they professed, one of the effects of the history of forced conversions they sought to disown and, especially, of the Judaism marranos were believed to continue to practice secretly, was to underscore anxieties about permanence and change, authenticity and pretense, in the accounts of conversion that proliferated during the period. John Donne captures the paradoxical permanence of change as a feature of human existence in one of the several sermons he preached as Dean of St. Paul's—years after his own conversion to Anglicanism—on the Sunday that annually marks the conversion of Paul: "The people will change into contrary opinions; And whereas an Angel it selfe cannot pass from East to West, from extreame to extreame without touching upon the way betweene, the people will pass from extreame to extreame, without any middle opinion . . . . All change their minds; High as well as low will change, But I am the Lord; I change not. I and onely I have that immunity, Immutability; . . . all can, all will, all do change, high and low." Drawing the contrast between the characteristic volatility of human existence and the reassuring stability of divine immutability, Donne's conversion sermon succinctly encapsulates the paradox of conversion that lies at the heart of my analysis. While a Christian listener would have certainly desired a conversionary experience like the paradigmatic event that turned Saul the Pharisee into Paul the Apostle, he or she would have also no doubt worried that such a dramatic change, "from extreame to extreame," was not the final word. "High as well as low will change," Donne reminds his congregation. Those not yet saved might hope for the salvation offered by conversion, but the conversion preached especially in the Protestant churches required constant vigilance and self-examination, never offering the absolute certainty so many ostensible converts craved. By exposing the often implicit yoking of the Jewish convert to the master trope of conversion, I argue that these fictions of conversion attest to a fraught intermingling of anxieties about, and expectations for, change that permeates early modern English culture.

Written long before he took on the position of dean at St. Paul's, where he delivered his sermon on Paul's conversion, Donne's "Satire III" can serve to illustrate the fraught tension between the affirming and threatening features of the cultures of change they seek to construct, even as it also provides an example of the unanticipated recourse to the Jew as a means for thinking through the dynamics of transformation. "Of Religion," as it is titled in the manuscript, presents a speaker torn between "kind pity" and "brave scorn" as he meditates on the devotional demands of "our mistress fair religion." Donne wonders whether and how religion might achieve the same commitment that "virtue" had earned in the "first blinded age," the pre-Christian era when men were inspired to heroic acts in pursuit of "earth's honor" (9). Writing at a transitional moment in his life, poised between the Catholicism of his youth and the Anglicanism of his later adulthood and clerical calling, the poet expresses dismay over the risks young men like himself are prepared to take for the sake of adventure and valor. He ticks off a list of hazards an intrepid soldier of fortune might encounter in such efforts; the sequence begins with a series of dangers associated with military activities, m...

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

Top Search Results from the AbeBooks Marketplace

1.

Jeffrey S. Shoulson
Published by John Hopkins University Press
ISBN 10: 0812244826 ISBN 13: 9780812244823
New Quantity Available: > 20
Seller:
INDOO
(Avenel, NJ, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description John Hopkins University Press. Book Condition: New. Brand New. Bookseller Inventory # 0812244826

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 45.35
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.50
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

2.

Shoulson, Jeffrey S.
Published by University of Pennsylvania Press (2013)
ISBN 10: 0812244826 ISBN 13: 9780812244823
New Hardcover Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
Aardvark Rare Books
(Bucknell, SHROP, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. New MInt HB copy in stock for immediate dispatch from the UK. Bookseller Inventory # mon0000184568

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 39.74
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 10.57
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

3.

Shoulson, Jeffrey S.
ISBN 10: 0812244826 ISBN 13: 9780812244823
New Quantity Available: > 20
Seller:
Paperbackshop-US
(Wood Dale, IL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description 2013. HRD. Book Condition: New. New Book. Shipped from US within 10 to 14 business days. Established seller since 2000. Bookseller Inventory # TU-9780812244823

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 54.22
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

4.

Jeffrey S. Shoulson
Published by University of Pennsylvania Press, United States (2013)
ISBN 10: 0812244826 ISBN 13: 9780812244823
New Hardcover Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
The Book Depository US
(London, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description University of Pennsylvania Press, United States, 2013. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The fraught history of England s Long Reformation is a convoluted if familiar story: in the space of twenty-five years, England changed religious identity three times. In 1534 England broke from the papacy with the Act of Supremacy that made Henry VIII head of the church; nineteen years later the act was overturned by his daughter Mary, only to be reinstated at the ascension of her half-sister Elizabeth. Buffeted by political and confessional cross-currents, the English discovered that conversion was by no means a finite, discrete process. In Fictions of Conversion, Jeffrey S. Shoulson argues that the vagaries of religious conversion were more readily negotiated when they were projected onto an alien identity-one of which the potential for transformation offered both promise and peril but which could be kept distinct from the emerging identity of Englishness: the Jew. Early modern Englishmen and -women would have recognized an uncannily familiar religious chameleon in the figure of the Jewish converso, whose economic, social, and political circumstances required religious conversion, conformity, or counterfeiting. Shoulson explores this distinctly English interest in the Jews who had been exiled from their midst nearly three hundred years earlier, contending that while Jews held out the tantalizing possibility of redemption through conversion, the trajectory of falling in and out of divine favor could be seen to anticipate the more recent trajectory of England s uncertain path of reformation. In translations such as the King James Bible and Chapman s Homer, dramas by Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson, and poetry by Donne, Vaughan, and Milton, conversion appears as a cypher for and catalyst of other transformations-translation, alchemy, and the suspect religious enthusiasm of the convert-that preoccupy early modern English cultures of change. Bookseller Inventory # AAJ9780812244823

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 59.19
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

5.

Jeffrey S. Shoulson
Published by University of Pennsylvania Press, United States (2013)
ISBN 10: 0812244826 ISBN 13: 9780812244823
New Hardcover Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
The Book Depository
(London, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description University of Pennsylvania Press, United States, 2013. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The fraught history of England s Long Reformation is a convoluted if familiar story: in the space of twenty-five years, England changed religious identity three times. In 1534 England broke from the papacy with the Act of Supremacy that made Henry VIII head of the church; nineteen years later the act was overturned by his daughter Mary, only to be reinstated at the ascension of her half-sister Elizabeth. Buffeted by political and confessional cross-currents, the English discovered that conversion was by no means a finite, discrete process. In Fictions of Conversion, Jeffrey S. Shoulson argues that the vagaries of religious conversion were more readily negotiated when they were projected onto an alien identity-one of which the potential for transformation offered both promise and peril but which could be kept distinct from the emerging identity of Englishness: the Jew. Early modern Englishmen and -women would have recognized an uncannily familiar religious chameleon in the figure of the Jewish converso, whose economic, social, and political circumstances required religious conversion, conformity, or counterfeiting. Shoulson explores this distinctly English interest in the Jews who had been exiled from their midst nearly three hundred years earlier, contending that while Jews held out the tantalizing possibility of redemption through conversion, the trajectory of falling in and out of divine favor could be seen to anticipate the more recent trajectory of England s uncertain path of reformation. In translations such as the King James Bible and Chapman s Homer, dramas by Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson, and poetry by Donne, Vaughan, and Milton, conversion appears as a cypher for and catalyst of other transformations-translation, alchemy, and the suspect religious enthusiasm of the convert-that preoccupy early modern English cultures of change. Bookseller Inventory # AAJ9780812244823

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 61.17
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

6.

Jeffrey S. Shoulson
Published by University of Pennsylvania Press (2013)
ISBN 10: 0812244826 ISBN 13: 9780812244823
New Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
Books2Anywhere
(Fairford, GLOS, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. HRD. Book Condition: New. New Book. Shipped from UK in 4 to 14 days. Established seller since 2000. Bookseller Inventory # CA-9780812244823

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 49.46
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 11.89
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

7.

Jeffrey S. Shoulson
Published by University of Pennsylvania Press (2013)
ISBN 10: 0812244826 ISBN 13: 9780812244823
New Hardcover Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
Irish Booksellers
(Rumford, ME, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0812244826

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 63.77
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

8.

Jeffrey S. Shoulson
Published by University of Pennsylvania Press
ISBN 10: 0812244826 ISBN 13: 9780812244823
New Hardcover Quantity Available: 5
Seller:
THE SAINT BOOKSTORE
(Southport, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description University of Pennsylvania Press. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. New copy - Usually dispatched within 2 working days. Bookseller Inventory # B9780812244823

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 57.96
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 9.17
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

9.

Jeffrey S. Shoulson
Published by University of Pennsylvania Press, United States (2013)
ISBN 10: 0812244826 ISBN 13: 9780812244823
New Hardcover Quantity Available: 10
Seller:
Book Depository hard to find
(London, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description University of Pennsylvania Press, United States, 2013. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. The fraught history of England s Long Reformation is a convoluted if familiar story: in the space of twenty-five years, England changed religious identity three times. In 1534 England broke from the papacy with the Act of Supremacy that made Henry VIII head of the church; nineteen years later the act was overturned by his daughter Mary, only to be reinstated at the ascension of her half-sister Elizabeth. Buffeted by political and confessional cross-currents, the English discovered that conversion was by no means a finite, discrete process. In Fictions of Conversion, Jeffrey S. Shoulson argues that the vagaries of religious conversion were more readily negotiated when they were projected onto an alien identity-one of which the potential for transformation offered both promise and peril but which could be kept distinct from the emerging identity of Englishness: the Jew. Early modern Englishmen and -women would have recognized an uncannily familiar religious chameleon in the figure of the Jewish converso, whose economic, social, and political circumstances required religious conversion, conformity, or counterfeiting. Shoulson explores this distinctly English interest in the Jews who had been exiled from their midst nearly three hundred years earlier, contending that while Jews held out the tantalizing possibility of redemption through conversion, the trajectory of falling in and out of divine favor could be seen to anticipate the more recent trajectory of England s uncertain path of reformation. In translations such as the King James Bible and Chapman s Homer, dramas by Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson, and poetry by Donne, Vaughan, and Milton, conversion appears as a cypher for and catalyst of other transformations-translation, alchemy, and the suspect religious enthusiasm of the convert-that preoccupy early modern English cultures of change. Bookseller Inventory # BTE9780812244823

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 69.46
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

10.

Shoulson Jeffrey S.
Published by University of Pennsylvania Press
ISBN 10: 0812244826 ISBN 13: 9780812244823
New Quantity Available: 3
Seller:
Majestic Books
(London, ,, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description University of Pennsylvania Press. Book Condition: New. pp. 288. Bookseller Inventory # 58065891

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 63.53
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 7.27
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

There are more copies of this book

View all search results for this book