In another fruitful collaboration between the University’s Centre for Jewish Studies and the John Rylands Research Institute, Dr Simon Mayers has been working for two months on the Methodist Collections at the John Rylands Library. The subject of the project has been Adam Clarke’s discourse about Jews and Judaism. The study was conducted with the help of the rare books librarian and curator, Dr Peter Nockles, and was funded by a John Rylands Research Institute Seed Corn Fellowship. “This is the first of what is hoped will be a series of Jewish Studies related research proposals using the unique Methodist Collections,” said Daniel Langton, Professor of the History of Jewish-Christian Relations and co-director of the CJS.
Adam Clarke (1762-1832) was a prominent Methodist theologian, preacher, and biblical scholar in England during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He was elected three times to the Presidency of the Methodist Church’s main governing body, the Methodist Conference, and is probably best known for his eight-volume commentary, the ever so succinctly named: The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments. The text carefully printed from the most correct copies of the present authorized translation, including the marginal readings and parallel texts. With a commentary and critical notes, designed as a help to a better understanding of the sacred writings (1825).
Adam Clarke’s early nineteenth-century bible commentaries and sermons provide an illustration of how theological representations of Jews and Judaism continued into nineteenth-century English discourse. Whilst some of Clarke’s stereotypes of Jews and Pharisees were reasonably traditional, some were quite unexpected and even peculiar. For example, in his ambivalent construction of Judas Iscariot in his commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew and the Acts of the Apostles, Clarke stated that Judas was one of the most “infamous” and “vile” of men, and “a thorough Jew”, but he also argued that Judas could have been far worse, and that “much of the wisdom and goodness of God” was to be found in his subsequent repentance and remorse. Another example was his anachronistic projections of contemporary deism and atheism onto the Sadducees. Clarke was in line with the writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, the New Testament, and even some rabbinic texts, when he asserted that the Sadducees rejected the idea of the resurrection of the dead, and an afterlife with rewards and punishments. However, in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, and in a couple of his sermons, he made a leap from that reasonably firm ground to the assertion that they were thus “materialists”, “deists” and “atheists”. According to Clarke in his commentary on Matthew, “from every account we have of this sect, it plainly appears they were a kind of mongrel deists, and professed materialists.”
One of the more traditional theological ideas in his discourse was that following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70CE, the Jews of subsequent generations have become an eternal witness people to the truth of Christianity (he asserted that the Jews were “preserved as continued monuments of the truth of our Lord’s prediction, and of the truth of the Christian religion”), and their role in bringing the “light for the illumination of the nations” has been transferred to “the Gentiles”. However, Clarke went further, stating in a sermon outline that God’s new representative people were even closer to home. He stated that it was “probable that the British nation is now the representative people, by and from whom all the nations of the earth are to receive the knowledge of the true God.”
The findings from this study have already been presented as a paper at the recent British Association for Jewish Studies Conference (July 2015), and are currently been written up as an article.