Thursday, June 28, 2007

Oliver Cromwell, A History of Britain and the Re-admission of Jews

I’ve been watching A History of Britain by Simon Schama. An intelligent 12-year-old friend recommended it to me, and I’ve found it very helpful in getting a grasp on the big picture of British history. I’ve also found it fairly balanced, not shying away from both the bright spots and dark sides of Britain’s past. I’ve haven’t noticed much axe-grinding either.

A commendable example of this balance is Schama’s treatment of Oliver Cromwell. He does not in any way excuse and downplay Cromwell’s excesses (And, yes, “excesses” is putting it very mildly.)

Yet, he portrays Cromwell sympathetically, as one who took power reluctantly in large part and sought to serve God, not himself.

And, sitting in a prominent synagogue, he notes that Cromwell re-admitted Jews to England and gave them freedom of worship, both firsts since their expulsion in 1290. It’s touching when he concludes, “It’s Oliver Cromwell we have to thank for opening a new chapter of Anglo-Jewish history – my history.”

It’s hard to find balanced treatments of Oliver Cromwell. In my Bible Church background, I heard nothing but positive words about him -- he’s a hero. In my new Anglican background, he’s a villain.

But until now, I had not heard of his re-admitting Jews and giving freedom to them. For all his faults and serious wrongs, he surely deserves credit for that.

More can be found here.

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