The Mosaic Republic in Augustan Politics: John Toland’s ‘Reasons for Naturalizing the Jews’

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Abstract: Historians generally depict John Toland’s 1714 ‘Reasons for Naturalizing the Jews in Great Britain and Ireland’ as a harbinger of the later movement to emancipate European Jews. Toland’s plea that Jews should be naturalized as subjects and better integrated into British economic life is remarkable for its time. Nevertheless, his pamphlet is best understood when situated in the political and intellectual context of Augustan England rather than hailed as political prophecy. Two specific contexts are relevant: first, the tumultuous party politics of the era of Queen Anne; and second, Toland’s preoccupation with the Bible as a bowdlerized but valuable constitutional guide. Toland published his ‘Reasons’ in the autumn of 1714, a moment when he and his fellow Whigs waxed euphoric over the recent succession to the British Crown of the Protestant Hanoverians, offering a unique opportunity for expanded religious freedom. But in Toland’s mind, this liberal aim was linked with a revival of antique republican models. The ancient Mosaic republic, whose true greatness the biblical account merely hinted at, offered a blueprint for a tolerant polity whose consummation required a restored Jewish presence. Contra scholars who treat these two areas as distinct, this article insists that Toland’s Mosaic republic is fully explained only when linked to his naturalization program for contemporary Jews.

Biography: Jonathan Karp is an assistant professor in Judaic studies at Binghamton University, SUNY. His forthcoming books are The Politics of Jewish Commerce: Economic Thought and Emancipation in Europe (Cambridge, 2007) and The Art of Being Jewish in Modern Times, coedited with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (University of Pennsylvania, 2007). His current book project is The Rise and Demise of the Black-Jewish Alliance: A Class-Cultural Analysis. He will be Brownstone Visiting Assistant Professor at Dartmouth in the fall of 2006.

Volume 1, Number 4 (Summer 2006) pp. 462-492