The ‘turn’ to faith

Of turning. 67.

Wilt thou use turners craft still? ye by my trouth.

Much thrift and most suretie in turners craft growth.

Halfe turne or whole turne, where turners be turning.

Turnying keepes turners from hangyng and burning.

John Heywoods ‘Of turning’ from his Epygrams (1562)

This short poem by John Heywood neatly encapsulates one of the central anxieties about conversion – that those who turned merely did so to save their skins, rather than their souls. The potential for a convert to continue to ‘revolve’, turning from one faith only to re-turn at a later point, was a very real one: the convert and poet William Alabaster famously vacillated from Protestant to Catholic and back again.  The image of movement at the heart of Heywood’s poem also recalls how the manipulation of language undertaken by the poet or rhetorician is another kind of ‘turn’. ‘Turner’s craft’ is perhaps ultimately employed by the writer who records the faith experiences of the convert in order to persuade the reader to embark upon a ‘turn’ of their own.


Fishy Tales, Part II: 20th Century Performance Art and a 17th Century Messiah

Portrait of Sabbatai Zevi

Sabbatai Zevi was a charismatic seventeenth-century Jewish mystic and scholar who attracted a huge following when he revealed himself as the Messiah. Although Zevi had been declaring himself the son of God for seventeen years, ever since he was twenty-one, it was only in 1665, when Nathan of Gaza confirmed Zevi’s status, that, in the words of David J. Halperin, ‘the Messianic movement headed by Sabbatai and his “prophet” Nathan swept the Jewish Diaspora like a brushfire. From London to Poland, from Hamburg to Yemen, Jews believed in perfect faith that Sabbatai Zevi was the promised Redeemer, about to lead them back to the Holy Land and rebuild the Temple’. Continue reading