In 1644, Menasseh ben Israel received a letter from John Dury, chaplain of Mary Princess of Orange, asking him to verify a report received by one Montezinos regarding the existence of a Jewish Indian tribe in S. America. Ben Israel wrote in confirmation: Indeed, "I believe the first inhabitants of America were of the Ten Tribes, that they were scattered also in other countries, and will return to the Holy Land in due time. I prove at large, that the day of the promised Messiah unto us doth draw near.... (read more)"

Deeply influenced by Montezinos' report and stimulated by his own mystical disposition, Ben Israel gradually fashioned his most important and best-selling book: The Hope of Israel. A fabric of messianic conjectures based on the reported discovery of the Lost Ten Tribes in South America, The Hope of Israel was highly popular, and was published in several editions and translated into several languages. In 1650, following the Puritan revolution and the newly raised discussions regarding the return of the Jews to England who had been expelled in 1290, Menasseh dedicated the Latin edition of The Hope of Israel to the British Parliament in an effort to solicit their goodwill.

Menasseh ben Israel explained that the prophetic precondition for redemption was the dispersion of Jews to all corners of the earth. He demonstrated that following the recent discovery of Israelites in S. America, the reacceptance of Jews into England as well would complete their dispersion throughout the world and hasten the messianic era : "The Lord will scatter you among the peoples from one end of the earth to the other..." (Deut. 28:64). The end of the earth, explained Ben Israel, was none other than "Angle-Terre," the medieval term for England.

In 1655 Menasseh ben Israel met with Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, at Westminster. He submitted his petition for the recall of the Jews, basing his appeal on Montezinos' testimonies. Although he did not succeed in persuading Cromwell, he was influential in allowing a group of Marranos in England (new Christians living secretly as Jews; products of the Inquisition) to return openly to Judaism in 1656 and, thus, in renewing Jewish settlement in England.

Part I: Ben Israel and Oliver Cromwell




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