English contemporary opinions on the Sabbatean movement

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While working on seventeenth-century colonial history I came across an unpublished letter from Henry Muddiman originating from Whitehall.((Public Record Office, State Papers, Dom? estic 29/151, folios 23-5 (CP 3671). It is from Henry Muddiman, an intelligence gatherer em? ployed by Joseph Williamson, at that time Secretary to Sir Henry Bennet (later Earl Arlington), Secretary of State. Williamson was also 'Keeper of State Papers', as well as Latin Secretary to the king. )) It strangely resembles a somewhat later missive written by Henry Oldenburg, Secretary of the Royal Society, to Joseph Williamson.((Oldenburg's letter to Williamson is dated 10 November 1666. Cf. PRO, State Papers 29/136. The letter is mentioned by the late Professor G. Scholem in his Sabbetai Sebi The Mystical Messiah (1626-1676) (Princeton 1973) 544? note !95? in connection with his letter to Spinoza (see n. 8 below). The letter is only signed with initials, but the handwriting can easily be authenticated by comparing it, for instance, with A. Rupert Hall and Marie Boa Hall's edition of the Correspondence of Spinoza, vol. I (Wisconsin 1966) plate III, following p. 200. It is apparent from this letter, as Scholem has pointed out, that he 'seems to have taken a positive view of the messianic movement among the Jews, about which he continued to keep himself informed'.)) Both deal with news regarding Sabbetai Zvi (Sebi), the false Messiah.

The first one is dated 15 March 1666 and contains a long array of military and political information in the form of a daily report. The phrase of particular interest reads as follows: 'The Jewes hurry out of Amsterdam to their fraternity with great expectations from their new Messias whome the...((Illegible. Probably an abbreviation for 'letters' in this context.)) thenne((Uncertain reading.)) speake to be but an ordinary silly fellow and the son of a Baker.' This entry is preceded by Court news concerning the return of the king to London, and is followed by a notice on the demise of Sir John Jacob, a customs official.

This information on the Sabbatean movement was clearly not considered important either by the reporter himself((As reflected in his disparaging tone in the report quoted already. In another reference to Sabbetai Sebi, according to the Calendar of State Papers, SP 29/156f. 38, Whitehall, 15 May 1666, he relates that: 'New Messias of the Jews was hanged in chains at Stamboul, hav? ing first confessed, after some blows on the feet, that he was persuaded by some Jews'. I am indebted to Mr Derek Davis for kindly allowing me to use the above-mentioned quotation, which shows-by the way-the less than accu? rate reporting by Muddiman.)) or by his superiors, among whom was Joseph Williamson, an original Fellow and later President of the Royal Society.((He was elected to the Royal Society before the First Charter, was an original Fellow, and became President in 1677. His correspond? ence with Oldenburg extended over a period of years, but was intense during 1666-7. See Spinoza's correspondence (see n. 2) 126, 127, 138, 182 and passim. On

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