David and Goliath: Jewish Conversion and Philo-Semitism in Late-Eighteenth-Century English Millenarian Thought

  • J. FruchtmanJr.
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 175)


Long struggling with the “Jewish question,” Christian writers have historically asked what should Christians do about the Jews’ persistent rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. Many Christians, however, still retained lingering hopes that the Jews would some day appreciate the supersession of the Old by the New Testament and thus convert to Christianity. In late-eighteenth-century England, this question profoundly resonated when growing millenarian longings permeated the writings of several ministers and political theorists like Joseph Priestley, a founder of the Unitarian church and the modern science of chemistry and an unrelenting critic of English government and politics. Among the Dissenting element’s most prolific writers, Priestley’s theological and miscellaneous works, which alone compromise over twenty-six printed volumes and do not include his scientific writings, were well-respected and wellknown.1 Despite his work in chemistry, electricity, and physics or his publications highlighting his opposition to the politics of the English government and his approval of the American and French Revolutions, Priestley’s primary concern was with the inexorable movement of time to the fast approaching millennium.2 He saw this movement in the Americans’ quest for liberty and independence in the 1770s and he was convinced that the leaders of revolutionary France and later even Napoleon himself forecast the beginning of the end of time. For Priestley, Jewish conversion heralded Jesus’s Second Coming and the ignition of last days. Little did he know that once he tried to convince English Jews to convert, his arguments would be competently and courageously met by the Jew, David Levi, a poor shoemaker-turned-hatter, who forcefully and articulately revealed the underlying weaknesses of Priestley’s claims.


Jewish Community French Revolution English Government Jewish People Jewish Question 
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    Levi erroneously cited Numbers 17:8 as his text when it was actually Numbers 17:23. “And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds.”Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. FruchtmanJr.
    • 1
  1. 1.Towson UniversityUSA

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