restricted access Religious Community and Cross-Religious Communication beyond the Atlantic World: The Lost Tribes in the Americas and Mecca
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Religious Community and Cross-Religious Communication beyond the Atlantic World The Lost Tribes in the Americas and Mecca Brandon Marriott P+++++++p In 1650 the Presbyterian minister Thomas Thorowgood published a treatise in London that claimed the indigenous peoples of the Americas were descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Alongside references to scholarly writings and the New England missionary activities of the Puritan John Eliot, Thorowgood used the narrative of the Iberian Converso Antonio Montezinos, who declared to have found “the Children of Israel” in the jungles of South America.1 Fifteen years later, the English Gazette reported: “It is now about three month since the Jews gave out that near 600000 men were arrived at Mecha, professing themselves to be of the lost Tribes.”2 These two stories of the Lost Tribes came to England , one from the Americas and the other from across the Mediterranean, in newspaper reports, treatises, stories, and personal correspondence that traveled across state, religious, and regional boundaries. The movement and development of these narratives raise questions about the relationship between religion and space, both in terms of how religious and cross-religious communities were imagined in the early modern period and in terms of how the historian might most fruitfully approach such a study. More specifically, examining these Lost Tribes narratives brings into focus how religion affected perceptions of space, how people conceptualized space within religious frameworks, and how different spaces influenced religious beliefs and their transmission. Here, space is both real and imagined: something physical that takes time and effort to cross but also something that is imagined and understood in shifting ways that do not simply correlate with miles. In the increasingly dispersed religious communities in the early modern world, for example, the Atlantic space could be imagined as a barrier, a distance that divided, or it could be a pathway that could be crossed by people or information, offering a sense of continuity, community, and connection. Religious Community and Cross-Religious Communication 117 At the same time, the Lost Tribes narratives demand a critical consideration of the limits of an Atlantic world perspective when considering early modern religious networks and cross-religious communication. The movement of people , stories, and ideas associated with these case studies particularly raise questions about the relationship between the Atlantic and Mediterranean worlds. The concept of an Atlantic world developed largely out of the history of commerce, and its usage for historians of religion has primarily centered on Christian populations such as the Puritans, who can be neatly situated within this arena. Only recently have scholars of Jewish history started to engage with this concept; yet they have done so in a manner that focuses on how the Sephardic networks and communities fit into an Atlantic world perspective.3 This essay moves past such an approach by examining the Sephardic networks across both regions, suggesting that the Atlantic and Mediterranean worlds were deeply entwined. To do so, it explores the development of Puritan and Sephardic networks across the Atlantic before tracing the transmission of the two Lost Tribes narratives along, between, and beyond these paths to test the strength of connections across national, religious, and especially regional divides. It argues that religious communities and cross-religious communication produced, were produced by, and transcended ideas of space in the Atlantic world; by thinking of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean together, a more complex history of the movement of people, stories, and information emerges, illustrating the ways in which religious ideas shaped and were shaped by understandings and encounters with space. The Creation of the Networks: The Puritans and the Sephardim One of the great strengths offered by Atlantic history is its comparative nature, especially for often insular Jewish histories.4 As such, this essay begins by comparing the creation of the Sephardic networks to their Puritan counterparts because both groups were involved in transmitting and changing the Lost Tribes narratives along transatlantic trade networks embedded in a shared religious identity.5 To understand how and why these stories moved in and beyond these religious communities, it is important to explore the relationship between their creation, perceptions of space, and religious beliefs. Migration established networks through which people, goods, and ideas moved, creating a sense of continuity and connection that linked distant places. Although great distances now sometimes separated members of religious communities , a sense of shared identity encouraged the shrinking of the perceived space of the early modern Atlantic. In the early modern period, this migration was...


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