Francis Bacon and the Jews: Who was the Jew in the New Atlantis?

By:
Articles Image

Francis Bacon's New Atlantis, first published in 162 7, a year after its author's death,  was the first book by an Englishman to view science as a dominant institution in the emerg ing world. By contrast,  the Utopia of his predecessor, Thomas  More  (1478-1535),  written   more  than   a  century   earlier  as  a document of social protest on behalf of the displaced lower class, afforded no glimpse of the scientific civilization in the making. Bacon's New  Atlantis, furthermore, stands out as an exception to the dreary anti-Jewish sentiments that pervaded the great Elizabethan writers such as Marlowe and Shakespeare. For after his first days on the Pacific island of Bensalem, the hero of the New Atlantis has the good fortune to make the acquaintance of a helpful Jew: 'By the time six or seven days were spent, I was fallen into straight acquaintance with a merchant of that city, whose name was Joabin. He was a Jew and circumcised; for they have some few stirps of Jews yet remaining among them, whom they leave to  their  own  religion.' Unlike the Jews in  other  parts  of the  world, however, 'who  hate  the  name of Christ, and  have a secret inbred rancour against the people amongst whom they live', the Jews of Bensalem 'gave unto our Saviour many high attributes, and love the nation of Bensalem  extremely'. 1

It was Joabin who enabled Bacon's hero to meet with 'the father of Salomon's

House', the island's scientific institute, no member of which had been seen in the town for the last twelve years.

Salomon's House, 'the noblest foundation, as we think, that ever was upon

the earth',  was, according to the governor of the island's house of strangers, founded 'about  1900 years ago' by a great king by the name of Salomona.

Since the  king  of Bensalem had  much  in  common  with  'the  king of the Hebrews' in the ancient records, 'this order or society is sometimes called Solomon's House', leading some to think that 'it beareth the founder's name a little corrupted'. Sometimes too, it was called 'the College of Six Days' Work; whereby I am satisfied that our excellent king had learned from the Hebrews

that God had created the world, and all that  therein is, within six days: and therefore he instituted that house, for the finding out of the true nature of all things, whereby God might have the more glory in the workmanship of them, and men the more fruit in the use of them'.2

According to  the  Jew Joabin, furthermore,  the  inhabitants  of Bensalem themselves were descended from the father of the Hebrews, Abraham, 'by another  son whom they call Nachoran',  while Moses himself was alleged to have 'by a secret cabala ordained the laws of Bensalem'. Bacon's protagonist, reluctant  to  accept such  an  extreme  philo-Judaic interpretation  of history, preferred the traditional account,  narrated  by the governor, that  the island's original inhabitants  consisted of 'Hebrews, Persians, and Indians, besides the natives',  and  that  indeed, as far as three  thousand  years back, it had been

Become a member to read the full article
Become a member today

£7

24 hour access to JHSE online resources

Instant access to over 700 articles View the original articles as a PDF
Learn More

£40

Annual JHSE Membership

Members are entitled to a free copy of the latest Jewish Historical Studies, free access to our online resources and associate membership of the UCL Library in London.  In addition, they receive the JHSE Newsletter, special offers on books for sale and pay less to attend our series of lectures and other public events.
Learn More

£20

Student Membership

The JHSE want to encourage students to engage with Jewish history.  Apply for a Student Membership with your university email account and once we have verified your status you will soon have all the benefits of being a full JHSE member.
Learn More

£80

Associate your Institution with the JHSE

Give your members access to JHSE online resources and special offers on book sales.  Use your institutional email account when applying, and once your status is verified we will explain the scheme.  Preferred payment is by credit or debit card.
Learn More
0

Your Cart