This book is a treasure house of information for the study of the English Revolution in general and of the strange career of TheaurauJohn Tany, the self-styled "prophet" who saw himself as the High Priest and King of the Jews. Hessayon's book treats all known aspects of Tany's writings and life with a plethora of detail gleaned from a great many different sources. The author does his best "to establish some kind of certainty about minute details so as to speak with authority about the bigger picture" (18). This includes accounts of Tany's family history, the known facts about his life and works, and a great many up-to-date summaries of recent scholarship about the intellectual, cultural, and historical milieu in which he lived.
Hessayon's contributions here are many. First of all, his original research about TheaurauJohn Tany (born Thomas Totney) includes reference to printed and manuscript sources as well as to surviving records from different sources. The result is a vast amount of data that will certainly serve as an important reference work for anyone doing historical or literary research that touches upon the mid-seventeenth century in England.
The book's introduction places Tany in the context of the Interregnum years. After a short summary of what is known about the man's life, Hessayon sketches a review of some of the historiographical issues that have been the subject of recent debate about the period. He discusses terms such as English Revolution, Puritan, schism and heresy, and Ranter, and likewise refers to questions concerning connection between religious radicalism in England and in Europe. He then points to some of the problems involved in placing Tany in these contexts. Finally, the introduction points to other cultural and religious contexts that must be considered in treating Tany: Judaizing, Boehmism, knowledge about language in general and Hebrew in particular, and connections between the man and some of his contemporaries.
The rest of the book is divided into three parts, the first of which deals with the prophetic "Genesis" of Tany. We are given details about Thomas Totney's ancestors, with specific reference to his grandparents and parents and then details about his apprenticeship as a fishmonger (chapter 1). Chapter 2 provides details about the church he attended, his apparent conflicts with the parish priest, the death of his wife, and his remarriage. Chapter 3 treats the available facts about Totney's moves to Cambridgeshire in 1640 and back to London in 1648, while chapter 4 provides the details of Totney's rebirth as TheaurauJohn Tany.
Part 2 is devoted to the various facts connected to Tany's claim to have been the High Priest of the Jews. This includes a wealth of detail about his ancestors, his accounts of the significance of his new name, Jewish and Christian traditions about the Hebrew and Greek equivalents of his initial 'T' ( and θ) and other aspects of the new name (chapter 5). There is an entire chapter (6) devoted to information concerning the High Priest from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, English accounts of these sources, the Apocrypha, and contemporary materials relevant to the problem, including the life and work of Menasseh ben Israel, John Dury, John Reeve, Lodowick Muggleton, John Robins, and others. In chapter 7 Hessayon collects prophecies about righteous behavior and divine punishment for wrongdoers from the biblical period through medieval England and thence to various seventeenth-century radical condemnations of social injustice The chapter concludes with Tany's presentations of these issues and his approach to the same biblical and English texts with some emphasis on his own "birthright" as supposed descendant of someone like Sir John de Tany of Essex (fl. 1297?-d. 1315?) and as "a commoner of England" (187). Chapter 8, "Hell," provides all available information about Tany's activities between November 1649 and February 1652, during which time he was tried and convicted of blasphemy, imprisoned for six months and then released on bail only to have the conviction subsequently reversed.
Part 3 consists of material about Tany's claims to be King of the Jews. Chapter 9 summarizes Tany's own accounts with reference to the biblical and...