Scott’s Hebraic Historicism

  • Esther Schor


David B. Ruderman’s Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key and Tom Segev’s revisionary study of the ManYear period, One Palestine, Complete (in Hebrew, Yamei Kalaniot), both have enriched our understanding of relations between English Jews and the Britons among whom they lived, worked, studied, and worshiped.1 Ruderman, in particular, suggests that Jews played a variety of roles in religious debates among Anglicans and dissenters, both actively and passively.2 While it may seem untoward to suggest that a historical novel about seventeenth-century Presbyterians has implications for the later development of Zionism, I want to argue that Sir Walter Scott’s Old Mortality (1816) richly imagines a Hebrew State, if not a Jewish one. Moreover, the reception of Scott’s novel by Scottish Presbyterian readers suggests how complex, even contradictory, are the uses of “the Jews” in debates about Presbyterian dissent. As we shall see, anti-dissenting rhetoric during the Covenanting wars often identifies dissenters with both Jews and biblical Hebrews; as we shall see presently, this gesture is made on both sides of the issue, for historically, Presbyterian apologists have also invoked Jews and Hebrews in arguing for the purity of their Presbyterian faith against the corruptions of Anglicanism.


Jewish Identity Jewish Question Contemporary Event Religious Debate Established Church 
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  1. 1.
    See David B. Ruderman, Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key: Anglo-Jewry’s Construction of Modern Jewish Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000),Google Scholar
  2. and Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British ManYear, trans. Haim Watzman (New York: Henry Holt, 2000). A broader treatment of Anglo-Jewish history is offered byGoogle Scholar
  3. David S. Katz, The Jews in the History of England, 1485–1850 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994). A narrower purview, focused on the eighteenth century and the Romantic era, is found inGoogle Scholar
  4. Todd M. Endelman, The Jews of Georgian England, 1714–1830: Tradition and Change in a Liberal Society (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1979; reprint, with new preface, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For a discussion of the English reception of Old Mortality, including a dissenting review published in The Eclectic, see Ina Ferris, The Achievement of Literary Authority: Gender, History, and the Waverley Novels (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 140–60. Excerpts from reviews, including Scott’s self-review in the Quarterly Review, are available in John O. Hayden, Scott: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970), 106–45.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Thomas M’Crie, A Vindication of the Scottish Covenanters: Consisting of a Review of the First Series of the “ Tales of My Landlord” (Philadelphia: James M. Campbell, 1843), 29. All subsequent references to M’Crie’s review refer to this edition and appear parenthetically in the text.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    For a classic treatment of hebraic historicism and its vicissitudes, see Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Sir Walter Scott, Miscellaneous Prose Works (Edinburgh: Robert Cadell, 1841), 1:43.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    For a shrewd treatment of Scott’s use of dialect jokes, see Alexander Welsh, The Hero of the Waverley Novels (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963; reprint, with new essays, 1992), 186–90.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    See Daniel Whitmore, “Bibliolatry and the Rule of the Word: A Study of Scott’s Old Mortality,” Philological Quarterly 65 (Spring 1986): 243–62.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    See Beth Dickson, “Sir Walter Scott and the Limits of Toleration,” Scottish Literary Journal 18 (November 1991): 56.Google Scholar
  12. 18.
    Quoted in Michael Ragussis, Figures of Conversion: “The Jewish Question” and English National Identity (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 266.Google Scholar
  13. 22.
    Quoted in Esther Schor, Bearing the Dead: The British Culture of Mourning from the Enlightenment to Victoria (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 215.Google Scholar
  14. 23.
    Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983), 30–63.Google Scholar

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© Sheila A. Spector 2008

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  • Esther Schor

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