“A Pure Language (or Lip)”: Representing Hebrew in Colonial New England

Rachel Wamsley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Judah Monis, a Sephardic émigré from Amsterdam and Livorno, was baptized in the Common Hall of Harvard College in March 1722. Following baptism, he took up the post of Hebrew instructor at Harvard, which he held until retiring forty years later. A source of fascination for Puritans of his own time as for modern historians, Monis is perhaps best known for his grammar of the Hebrew language. Printed in 1735, it was the very first of its kind in the colonies. The intensive hybridity of this book is a material instantiation of Monis’s struggle to repackage his competence in Hebrew grammar and rabbinics as a marketable commodity for his Anglophone Puritan readers and their shifting missionary aspirations. Situated at the intersection of book history, poetics, and translation studies, the present article reads Monis’s linguistic hybridity alongside earlier efforts to transliterate Algonquin languages of colonial New England as a first step toward evangelical translations such as the Eliot Indian Bible of 1663. Here, I argue that the visual poetics of Monis’s transliteration system conspire with the confessional politics of his translations—which foreignize Christian prayer as much as they Christianize Hebrew—to disclose the failure of evangelizing translation as a spiritual exercise in early colonial America.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-144
Number of pages28
JournalStudies in American Jewish Literature
Volume37
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Book history
  • Colonial New England
  • Jewish converts to Christianity
  • Poetics
  • Translation studies

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of '“A Pure Language (or Lip)”: Representing Hebrew in Colonial New England'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this