Not only is my birthday today, but another celebrated event took place on this day:
Eve Cohan’s baptism created a huge uproar in London towards the end of the 17th century.The story of her “conversion” to Christianity is to be found in a booklet published in London in 1680.
Gilbert Burnet, The Conversion Persecutions of Eve Cohan : Now Called Elizabeth Verboon, a Person of Quality of the Jewish Religion, Who Was Baptized the 10th of October, 1680, at St. Martins in the Fields By … William, Lord Bishop of St. Asaph (London: Printed by J.D. for Richard
The front cover of the booklet reads: “A Person of the Quality of the Jewish Religion, Who was baptised the 10th October 1680 At St.Martins in the Fields, by the Right Reverend Father in God, William Lord Bishop of St. Asaph”.
It gives a picture not only of the society in which Elizabeth lived but also a dynamic background to her family. In 1680 Jewish people had only just begun to return to the UK – there is little evidence of the presence of a Jewish community at this time, and Eve Cohan’s flight to the UK is likely as she was put under great pressure from her family not to “convert”.
The Preface read as if it was written by a Jew, asserting that many who convert from Christianity to Judaism are not sincere in their undertaking. Similar doubts are expressed by the writer. In the instance of Eve Cohan the author believes that she was a “true convert”. He says and as he puts it
“But here is a Convert that is indeed a Disciple of the Cross, and has, in all the steps she made towards her Change, been oft in danger of her
life, and has suffered much from her Mother and Kindred: whose Persecutions ceased not after she had taken sanctuary in this Country, where she might reasonably have thought , that either the Jews durst not presume to have pursued her any longer; or if they would have attempted it,could not have found Instruments to have served their wicked Designs.
But even here, as they found out cursed tools to have spirited her away;so when they failed, they betook themselves to all the Arts of Villainy, in which they are so well practised: and hoping that nothing could resist their Wealth, of which they resolved to be prodigal upon this Occasion, they carried their Designs so far, that she was neglected by some,
and hardly used by others, from a greater Zeal to the Christian Religion ought to have been expected”.
In these words, the prejudice and presumptions of wealth,strength and
evil of the Jews are readily apparent. The Preface is a mirror of the society in which the event has occurred. It also brings to notice a convert from Judaism to Christianity,Charles du Veil and his brother, who converted to Catholicism in France, but later fled from “the detesting Idolatry of the Church of Rome, forsook the great Advantages they had, and
might have expected there, and came hither, and joined themselves to our Church. “
Elizabeth Verboon was born as Eve Cohan in Holland to a wealthy businessman, Abraham Cohan, Chief Governor of the Dutch Plantations in Brazil. He lost a fortune, when the Portuguese defeated the Dutch and occupied Brazil. Nevertheless he was still a wealthy man worth apparently £20000 and upwards when he died, when Eve was not yet twelve
years old. She was brought up by her mother, whose name was Rebekah, alias Elizabeth. It would appear that Elizabeth herself was a convert from Christianity to Judaism, the daughter of Pallacius, an Ambassador and Professor at the University of Leyden, though she could have been a Marrano. Eve Cohan converted to be married to Michael Verboon who came from humble but “honest” parents and who inter alia was working for the Cohan household for nine months and discharged from service on 17th May 1680.
The Jewish family tried to have Verboon arrested, but when the Bailiffs came he was spirited away through the window. He tried to use all their connections and influence in England. The writer concludes:
“I do not design to inflame any rage or fury against the Jews, nor do I desire to have force put upon their Consciences : for the wrath of man worketh not out the Righteousness of God; but I have rather written this, to provoke all, that may be concerned in the Sequel of this Affair, to proceed in it as becomes truly zealous Christians, and to redeem the Nation from the Infamy that so base a Conspiracy (if not severely punished) will bring on it; that so those enemies of Christ, if they are suffered to live among us, yet may not again dare to adventure on such practices, against those who forsake their blind Superstitious, and come to believe in the Saviour of the World: And that those who are called Christians, may by the signal punishment of those Instruments of wickedness, whom they found among us, be so terrified, that they may no more, with Judas, for little money, betray a member of Christ, to be crucified by them”.
This story of intrigue and conspiracy shows how bigotry on both sides can work against the individual with mistrust and betrayal all playing a part.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for this Jewish believer in Yeshua in the early modern period. Her fascinating story indicates the struggles and issues that still affect many Jewish believers in Yeshua today. Give us something of her courage and faith we pray, in Yeshua’s name. Amen
The above is quoted directly from:
Thomas Salamon, “Biographical Illustrations, Proselytes and their acceptance to Judaism between the 9th and 19th Centuries”
(PhD diss.,OR-ZSE, Doctoral School, Budapest,2013), p80-82 [footnotes omitted]). Online: http://or-zse.hu/phd/Salamon_PhD.pdf
Also see “My Scrap Book”, The Christian Penny Magazine, April 18, 1835, p.126-7, avaliable from Googlebooks here.
(If anyone has a copy of the 1680 book by Gilbert Burnet please let me know. Thanks!)
Additional material from the Public Record Office. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic series, of the Reign of Charles II, 1660- Preserved in the State Paper Department of Her Majesty’s Public Record Office. Vol. 1-28. London: Longman, Green, & Roberts, 1860-1939.
Eve Cohan now Elizabeth wife of Michael Verboom to Lord Chief Justice Sir Francis Norh. Petition for relief. Was a Jewess in Holland, but being threatened with death by her relations for becoming a Christian came to England, where she was pursued by her brother and Vandersee, a kinsman, for fear of whom she was forced to marry to obtain the protection of a husband, and detailing various persecutions by her brother and kinsman, who employed persons to arrest her husband 2 Oct. last on an action of 200 l., who so terrified her that she miscarried. (vol. 22: 120)
in Joshua Polster, “Under The Crown: The Royal Protection of Jews in Restoration Politics and Drama”, The Journal of Religion and Theatre, Vol. 9, No. 1, Fall 2010, p.43. http://www.rtjournal.org. This article: http://www.rtjournal.org/vol_9/no_1/polster.html
Elizabeth moved to Chester. Her husband William died fighting in Northern Ireland. She was paid a pension, and in 1714 this was continued until her death in 1720.