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  • “Not I, But Christ”: Allegory and the Puritan Self
  • Thomas H. Luxon

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God

—Philippians 2:6

If subversion is possible, it will be a subversion from within the terms of the law, through the possibilities that emerge when the law turns against itself and spawns unexpected permutations of itself.

—Judith Butler 1

If the Bible is true, then I’m Christ. But so what? You know being Christ ain’t nothing. I claim my father sits on the throne. Doesn’t yours? Isn’t your father God?

—David Koresh, Leader of the Branch Davidians, Waco, Texas, February, 1993

One day in July 1649, William Franklin told Mary Gadbury that his outward body had been “destroy’d” and had been replaced with the spiritual and glorified body of Christ. He had “closed with Christ,” body and soul. 2 According to her confession, recorded by a hostile, but clearly fascinated witness, Gadbury found Franklin’s claim difficult to credit at first. Indeed, she says that she laughed in his face. But within a short space of time, probably no more than a few days, she came to recognize in Franklin the man of her hopes and dreams, indeed the man of all Christendom’s hopes and dreams. By Christmas time, Franklin and Gadbury (now announcing herself as the “Spouse of Christ”) had gathered to themselves a number of disciples, including a Hampshire minister, William Woodward and his wife, Margaret. Humphrey Ellis, a Congregational minister, was alarmed enough by the couples’ success to compose a rather detailed (62-page) account of their activities and trials. By some accounts, their followers numbered in the hundreds even after they and their chief supporters had been apprehended and imprisoned (E, 47). Franklin was not the first English pseudo-christ, but he appears to have been the first of a flurry of pseudo-christs and ecstatic women prophets [End Page 899] who commanded the anxious attention of the English public in the years immediately following the execution of Charles I. 3 Thomas Tany, for example, dated his bodily conversion from November 1649, saying “I have been emptied of temporalls, but am filled with the eternall being -I am One.” 4 Over the course of his seven-year career, Tany, calling himself Thoreaujohn, also claimed to be high priest of the Jews, King of England and France, and even King of the Jews. 5 In 1650 John Robins was reported to be raising the dead and announcing himself as Christ. 6 According to Lodowick Muggleton, who believed himself to be “one of the two last Prophets & Witnesses of the Spirit, being the Third & last Record from God on Earth,” Robins preached “that he was the first Adam that was in that innocent State; & that his Body had been Dead this Five Thousand, Six Hundred and odd Years, & now he was risen again from the Dead; And that he was that Adam Melchisadek that met Abraham in the Way.” 7 Robins’s wife, Joan, like Mary Gadbury before her, believed she was about to give birth to Christ, a Christ in “substance,” rather than one of “types and shadows.” 8 Mrs. Richard King and Mary Adams made identical claims in 1651. Mary Vanlop and Joan Garment, whose husband Joshua was a minister and disciple of John Robins, both claimed that the man they followed was the “true god to serve.” 9 Anna Trapnel accompanied Baptist leader Vavasour Powell to Whitehall in 1654, only to fall into a twelve-day trance during which she uttered a series of fifth-monarchist prophecies denouncing Cromwell and the army for threatening to betray Christ’s kingdom on earth. 10 In 1656, the Quaker James Nayler rode into Bristol on a donkey as women followers strewed palms in his way. 11 This list is far from complete, but the literature from which it is drawn suggests that if the early interregnum years were not unusually blessed in the frequency of such episodes, they certainly attracted more widespread attention, both popular and official, enthusiastic and anxious, than before or after.

Most of the stories involve sexy bits—a perennial attraction...

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