The Witness of Light: effects in industrial Britain

We may wonder if our public witness regarding prophecy has any effect. An analysis of history shows it is significant. There is a direct connection between the light of the truth and Britain’s role in the Balfour declaration which hinges on attitudes in Manchester, Leeds & Birmingham.

The witness was so clear that Christadelphians made a mention in George Orwell’s diary. His entry on 11.8.39 reads,

1. Fresh reports of trials of objectors by tribunals do not in any case indicate objection on political lines (normally members of Christadelphian etc. churches).

But the effect was more positive in the events leading to 1917, as late as 1942 the Manchester Guardian was speaking for and encouraging a Jewish state in Palestine (p6 1942-12.

It is twenty-five years since the British Government made the Balfour Declaration, which this paper at the time called “the signpost of a destiny.” The destiny is the same to-day, the signpost stands, and the Jews have already achieved something, the making of a civilisation in Palestine, which cannot now be taken from them..

C.P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian in 1917 had a pivotal but indirect role in the Balfour declaration. David Lloyd George’s ‘Memoirs’ records regarding Britain’s debt to Weizmann for developing acetone for explosives,

“As Chairman of the Munitions of War Committee I took this matter greatly to heart. While I was casting about for some solution of the difficulty, I ran against the late C. P. Scott, Editor of the Manchester Guardian. He was a friend in whose wisdom I had implicit faith. I told him of my problem and that I was on the look-out for a resourceful chemist who would help me solve it. He said: ‘There is a very remarkable professor of chemistry in the University of Manchester willing to place his services at the disposal of the State. I must tell you, however, that he was born somewhere near the Vistula, and I am not sure on which side. His name is Weizmann.’ Scott could guarantee that whatever the country of origin, Weizmann was thoroughly devoted to the cause of the Allies that the one thing he really cared about was Zionism, and that he was convinced that in the victory of the Allies alone was there any hope for his people. I knew Mr. Scott to be one of the shrewdest judges of men I had ever met. The world renown of his great paper had been built up on the soundness of his judgement — of men as well as of affairs. But I also trusted his patriotism implicitly. Pacifist as he was he believed in the essential justice of our intervention in this War. I took his word about Professor Weizmann and invited him to London to see me. (Source of quote from ‘Memoirs’)

C.P. Scott was a pacifist possibly because he was a Unitarian. That with his background he had so much influence indicates the milieu of the English Midlands. Fifty years before Weizmann, a Jew, sought to work at Manchester University, Owens College which became Manchester University was set up and among the conditions for establishment was that it had no religious test for either student or teachers (link). It is likely due to a sympathy for dissenters from Anglican Orthodoxy, and possibly due to a knowledge that dissenters were very evident among the leaders of science. John Dalton was a Quaker at the New College in Manchester until 1800. It was possibly John Dalton who contributed to the university’s later reputation for chemistry. Weizmann chose Manchester above any other university, though it was only 50 years old, for its world-leading reputation in chemistry.

Why Manchester?
From the time of the widespread availability of the Bible in English, it was the Merchants who mostly had access to the ideas of the Polish Brethren and their ideals combined with various form of dissent, including Baptists, and the spread of John Biddle’s ideas. (Through Samuel Crell there was a direct connection between the Polish Brethren and London). At that time it was the Merchants who set up schools and scholarships for the poor, a model that in the time of Cromwell prospered as ‘dissent’ became more possible until 1660. After the act of Toleration and the Declaration of Indulgence in 1672, dissenters emerged and by 1689 they, led by Merchants, had established many Dissenting Academies. It was noted that their schools had a “wider and more up to date curriculum” than the Grammar Schools and “when scientific invention revived in the 18th century, the impetus came from Dissenting Academies.” (Christopher Hill,’The century of revolution, Sphere p252).

There was a direct relationship between literal belief in the Bible and the growth in knowledge sponsored by the Midlands industrialists. An example is the industrialist’s support in Birmingham of the then well known scientist in the field of electricity and the chemistry of air, Joseph Priestly even after writing a series of influential tracts in Leeds. In 1782 he published his influential Unitarian “History of the Corruptions of Christianity” in Birmingham. Manchester University emerged in the this cultural environment evident in Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester which encouraged a search for truth.

And this went hand in hand with strong views on the Millennium and the restoration of the Jews to the Land. To take one famous example, Joseph Priestly in 1786 wrote in a widely circulated tract that the sacrifices of the Law in the service of the Temple would be restored after the restoration of the Jews to their own country. It showed how far the influence of Joseph Mede’s Clavis Apocalyptica from 1627 had come.

Just as Unitarians from 1800-50 were slowly denying miracles, and many of their original beliefs to elevate human reason, there arose the work of John Thomas. The following is from a dispassionate Jewish source, trying to identify just why it was that the Balfour Declartion came to be…!

John Thomas’s book, Elpis Israel (Hope of Israel): An Exposition of the Scriptures in general, with special reference to the hope of Israel as the Divine basis of the hope of mankind in the age to come, published at the same time as Hollingworth’s first book, became one of the most widely read works of Restoration [of Jews to the Holy Land] literature. ..According to Thomas, the “preadventual” colonisation of Palestine would be on purely political principles, with the Jews emigrating thither as agriculturists and traders. Events during the world crisis which he foresaw as the outcome of the 1848 revolution would force the British Empire to collaborate in the Restoration. Kobler

It seems there was ample soil from previous promulgation of works on the Millennium and Jewish restoration to the Holy Land in the Midlands as this is where the Christadelphans most increased, and there were many more who were influenced.

…the traditional Doctrine remained still potent in various quarters (as late as 1914, the Christadelphian Frank Jannaway published a book, Palestine and the Jews, which ran to two editions)..
Scott’s pro-Zionism was rooted in religious feelings which had been cultivated in the house of his Unitarian father. In fact, not only he but all those who, from different quarters, now came to support the Zionist aspirations were steeped in the religious and humanitarian tradition of the late Victorian era. They fully accepted Zionist aims and were eager to co-operate with Zionist representatives.
The close link of the transformed Restoration Movement with Zionism found its visible expression in 1916 in the formation, in Manchester, of the British Palestine Society consisting of Jews and non-Jews. The main object of the group was to establish a community of ideals and interests between Zionist and British policy.

In Manchester two things came together: success in science and the ideal of the Return of Jews to the Holy Land.

To conclude the way we began mention must be made of Christian religious literature, which continues to support Zionism in its own way. The Rev. Earle Langston published recently his ideas on the subject. The Christadelphians have published ample literature to which the learned Mr. Walker has contributed extensively. Mr. Frank Jannaway, an ardent Christadelphian whose interest in Jews and their homeland dates back some forty years, and who has paid several vi^ts to Palestine at intervals of a few years, and has thus enjoyed some splendid opportunities of watching the gradual development of the Holy Land, has published a book, Palestine and the Jews (1914), of which two new editions, one of them entitled Palestine and the Powers, have since appeared. His knowledge is wide and thorough. He sees Palestine as the land of the future, and every new development is to him the fulfilment of a prophecy. He offers biblical chapter and verse for the happenings that have been convulsing the world, and in a way which reminds one of the oldest English pro-Zionist literature of the seventeenth century, which links up the position of the present and future aspects with sacred prediction. His views favour the Jewish cause and show considerable and correct acquaintance with the Zionist movement. ( Nahum Sokolow Introduction by Lord Balfour “History of Zionism”, 1919

Weizmann’s decision to go to Manchester in 1904 was critical for the outcome of the Balfour declaration.

In January 1906 when Weizmann has had time to learn to be articulate in English, Balfour, who was behind the act for restricting Jews entry into Britain with the Aliens Act, was in Manchester and losing his campaign to Churchill. In Manchester, Balfour happens to ask why Jews had turned down ‘Uganda’ and he is introduced to Weizmann in an interview which had a significant impact on Balfour’s thinking. At the point Balfour became very interested Weizmann recollected that he had said to Balfour,

“If Moses had come into the 6th Zionist Congress when it was adopting the resolution in favour of the commission for Uganda, he would surely have broken the tablets once again.” (‘Balfour and Weizmann the Zionist and the Zealot’, Contiuum, p63)

From this point it seems that Balfour has in his mind the centrality of the Holy Land for Jewish settlement.

But this was possibly not enough motivation for a government to make the Balfour declaration. There was also a sense of a strong sense of public opinion in areas that mattered in the Midlands. In November 1915 the Manchester Guardian had an influential editorial by Herbert Sidebotham arguing that for British interests the defence of Egypt needed Palestine to be a friendly state.

“this was the argument adopted by the Foreign Office a few months later” (Lewis, ‘Balfour and Weizmann, the Zionist and the Zealot’, Continuum p113

We cannot underestimate the impact on the majority who have no set ideas by a fervent minority who speak articulately, rationally and clearly about events which are having an impact on the world. And we might do even more by not just speaking about it, but doing something as noted by Nahum Sokolow a Jew who must have known, “Mr. Frank Jannaway, an ardent Christadelphian.”

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