Jewish Thought and Messianism in the Colonial Puritan Imagination: The Case of Judah Monis

Jews made up less than one tenth of a percent of the population of late colonial America, but due to a Puritan obsession with the Hebrew Bible and an early idea of America as the new Promised Land, Jewish thought played a key role in American identity formation. At the same time, many Puritans hoped for the conversion of the Jews as an integral part of the end of times. In this conversation, we will explore the role of Judah Monis, a seminal figure who both brought Jewish thought to the American Protestant public and who acted as an ‘exemplar’ by converting to Christianity. Monis was the first Jew to receive an advanced degree in North America and the first full-time Hebrew instructor at Harvard.

CJH-NEH Senior Scholar Brian Ogren (Rice University) and Michael Hoberman (Fitchburg State University) discuss the figure of Judah Monis as an unwitting focal point for Puritan messianic projections. They look at his career, and the kabbalistically tinged discourses given at his public baptism, as sources for better understanding the often slippery early American notions of religious identity formation.

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