Dudley Wright II: The Philo-Judaism and Anti-Judaism of Dudley Wright
See also: Dudley Wright I: A Brief Introduction
The Philo-Judaism of Dudley Wright
One religion that interested Dudley Wright a great deal was Judaism. He integrated Jewish mysticism into his discourse about the search for the core truths of all religion. In his examination of masonic legends during the 1910s, he had already started to express a romantic interest in King Solomon and the Jewish Temple. [See for example Dudley Wright, “Legends of Solomon, the King,” The Masonic Secretaries’ Journal 2, no. 4, May 1918; Dudley Wright, “More Masonic Legends,” The Masonic Secretaries’ Journal 3, no. 6, January 1919; Dudley Wright, “The Temple in Legend and Tradition,” The Masonic Secretaries’ Journal 3, no. 7, May 1919].
His earliest clear expression of sympathy for Judaism was a short article in August 1920 about the Sefer Raziel HaMalakh (the Book of Raziel), a medieval Jewish mystical text containing magical incantations and an angelology. Wright suggested that it was sacred and foundational to both Judaism and Freemasonry, and that by Masonic tradition the text is held to have been passed down through the generations from Adam to Solomon, and is regarded by some “as the foundation of the modern Craft of Freemasonry.” According to Wright, Jews in the Middle Ages regarded the Book of Raziel as “a sacred trust,” and it contains “many of the precepts and signs used by Freemasons of modern times.” [See Dudley Wright, “The Book of Raziel: A Scarce Jewish Work,” The Freemason, 21 August 1920, p. 101. This was later republished, with very minor revisions, in the Masonic News, 27 July 1929, p. 76, and the Jewish Chronicle Supplement, October 1931, pp. ii-iii].
In July 1923, in an article entitled “The Mysteries of Markabah,” Wright argued that “Jewish mysticism would appear to be as old as the Jewish religion and some of the most learned Rabbis, whose names are household words today in the class-room of the seminary, devoted their lives to the decipherment of the sacred treasures engraven in symbolical language on the tablets of the Law.” It was, he concluded, “their love for learning, their fame for wisdom and their reputation for sanctity that acted as a vitalizing influence upon the whole of the Jewish race.” Wright observed that a number of Jewish schools of mysticism have existed that made the study and elucidation of the ancient mysteries their primary goal. According to Wright, these included a select group among the ancient Essenes, and a less well known sect called the “Society of the Merkabah.” Whether a group called “the Society of the Merkabah” really existed is unclear, but an ancient school of Jewish mysticism known as the Markabah did exist during the first centuries of the Christian era. The Markabah literature focused on mystical images found in scriptural texts, such as the Book of Ezekiel and the Third Book of Enoch, relating to the secrets of creation, Ezekiel’s chariot, and the seven heavens and throne rooms. According to Wright, the Society of the Merkabah was a select rabbinical society devoted to the study of “the Mysteries of the Merkabah.” He concluded that the study of the Merkabah was a form of “Theosophy,” a path to “gnosis,” and a “mystic or hidden way leading up to the final goal of the soul; enabling the individual, while still in the envelope of flesh, to ascend into the presence of the majesty of the Eternal.” This “decipherment of the sacred treasures,” and the pursuit of a “hidden way leading up to the final goal of the soul,” were exactly the kind of search for veiled spiritual truths that excited Wright. [See Dudley Wright, “The Mysteries of Markabah,” Open Court, July 1923, pp. 402-407].
Wright published another article in October 1923, entitled “Jews and Freemasonry,” in the Jewish Guardian. In this he praised Jews, and traced connections between the symbolism, myths and legends of Judaism and Freemasonry. He observed that it was astonishing that a Masonic Lodge in America had recently refused to initiate a Jewish candidate, not only because of the universalism of Freemasonry, but because of the “prominent part which Jewish lore and legend plays in Masonic history, ritual and tradition.” Wright argued that the legends, traditions and symbols of Freemasonry are Jewish in origin and interpretation, and have the Jewish Temple as their source. For example, he observed that “tradition has it that David, when unable to accomplish his design of building the Temple, bequeathed the cubical stone to Solomon, who used it as the corner-stone of that building.” According to the tradition, the Tetragrammaton, the name of God, was to be found within that stone. Wright’s admiration for Jewish mysticism intermingled with his antipathy towards Christianity. He pointed out that “in England there has never been any bar against the admission of Jews, nor indeed, against any candidates professing a Theistic belief, with, or without the Trinitarian appendage.” It was, he suggested, only in a handful of countries that Jews struggled to gain admittance to Freemasonry, such as Germany, which he attributed to the “theories of a mystical Christian cult.” [See Dudley Wright, “Jews and Freemasonry,” Jewish Guardian, 5 October 1923, pp. 10-11].
Wright continued to publish positive articles about Jews and Judaism throughout the 1920s. For example, in a short article in October 1925, this time in the Jewish Chronicle, he observed that whilst the Lodge of Tranquillity in London was somewhat reserved when it came to blowing its own trumpet, it was one of the “foremost masonic lodges” in terms of its “good works.” He pointed out that its members were mostly “of the Jewish faith.” In April 1928, Wright published another article about “Jews and Freemasonry,” this time in the Masonic News. This essentially repeated the content of his earlier article in the Jewish Guardian, but with new information about early Jewish membership in English lodges. He stated that “the admission of Jews to the privileges of Masonic membership of English Lodges dates from a very early period and their admission must have taken place, if not coeval with the formation of the [Grand Lodge], at least very shortly afterwards.” The evidence according to Wright suggests that by 1732, there was at least one lodge in England that had several Jewish members and a Jewish Master. [See Dudley Wright, “Freemasonry,” Jewish Chronicle, 2 October 1925, p. 25; Dudley Wright, “Jews and Freemasonry,” Masonic News, 14 April 1928, pp. 306-307].
In 1930, Wright published a booklet entitled “The Jew and Freemasonry,” which repeated many of the arguments and observations from his earlier articles about Jews, supplemented with new information about Jewish Freemasons. He argued that “there can be no action or attitude more illogical than for individual Freemasons or a Masonic Lodge, … to attempt to bar the initiation of candidates adhering to the Jewish faith … solely on account of the religion they profess.” As he had in the article published in July 1923, Wright argued that Jewish learning, mysticism and the decipherment of sacred texts was intrinsic to Judaism, and that the Rabbi’s love of learning had acted as a positive influence on the “Jewish race.” [See Dudley Wright, The Jew and Freemasonry, London: Masonic News, 1930].
Consistent with his belief that all religious and sacred texts provide insights into foundational core truths, Wright embarked upon a study of the Talmud during the early 1920s. His study resulted in a book in 1932. Wright had already written most or all of The Talmud in 1924, and published one chapter of it in the Open Court in April 1925, but for some reason there was a significant delay in publishing the rest of it. According to Wright, the purpose of his book was to make the history and contents of the Talmud available to fellow “seekers after truth,” and to dispel “some of the ignorance that prevails in non-Jewish circles” about the Talmud. His examination of the Talmud was full of praise. He used words such as “wonderful” and “mysterious” to describe the Talmud, and suggested that “above all, one of the values of the Talmud lies in the fact that it teaches that religion is not a thing merely of creed or dogma, or even faith, but of goodness in activity.” “Judaism,” he observed, “is more than a religion with ideals; it is a religion of ideals.” He contended that no quarrel can be found with the claim that “the Talmud is an inexhaustible mine, embodying the purest gold and the most precious of stones; its maxims and its ethics instil the teachings of religion and morality of the very highest order.” The final and longest chapter of this volume – originally published in the Open Court in 1925 – examined the history of “the burnings of the Talmud.” Most of the chapter examined incident after incident of the confiscation, censorship, excision, and destruction of the Talmud, from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century. In most cases, the confiscations and burnings were sanctioned by popes or the various inquisitions. Disturbingly, in many cases, the episodes were supported or instigated by Jewish converts to Christianity. As Wright noted, “much of the trouble was caused by the machinations of apostates from the Jewish faith, who seemed with their change of religion to have lost all sense of honesty and truthfulness.” [See Dudley Wright, The Talmud, London: Williams & Norgate, 1932. See also Dudley Wright, “The Burnings of the Talmud,” Open Court, April 1925].
Wright received a mixed reception from Anglo-Jews. In 1908, in response to his book on Jesus and the Essenes, Israel Abrahams, a prominent Anglo-Jewish scholar and a key member of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, referred to this study as “a clever and readable production,” even though he doubted many of its conclusions. In 1921, an anonymous book review in the Jewish Guardian deprecated his attempts to “parade a first-hand acquaintance with Rabbinic literature,” though it did acknowledge that despite his Talmudic “lapses,” he gives “evidence of wide and patient reading in unfamiliar sources.” The review concluded with equivocal praise, observing that Wright, if he did not manage to convince, at least “stimulates the reader’s imaginative faculty.” On the other hand, his study of the Talmud in 1931 received significant praise. Herbert Loewe, a scholar of Jewish languages and culture, and Reader in Rabbinics at Cambridge University, praised Wright’s study of the Talmud, and recommended it for undergraduate students and the general reading public. Wright was even described by Rabbi Dr Isidore Epstein, a prominent rabbinic scholar, as one among the “Chassidé Umot Haolam”. “The general reader,” Epstein explained, “will be greatly beholden to him for having spread out before him a wealth of information on the literary and historical side of the Talmud; while Jewish readers will be particularly grateful for the author’s admirable and moving survey of the burning of the Talmud in the concluding chapter of the volume.” [See Israel Abrahams, “Books and Bookmen,” Jewish Chronicle, 21 February 1908, p. 16; “Legends of Masonry,” Jewish Guardian, 24 June 1921, p. 21; Herbert M. J. Loewe, “Foreword,” in Wright, The Talmud, pp. 9-12; Isidore Epstein, “The Talmud for English Readers,” Jewish Chronicle, 7 October 1932, p. 16].
The Anti-Judaism of Dudley Wright
Dudley Wright converted to Roman Catholicism either in 1932 or 1933. On 28 October 1933, he joined the Catholic Guild of Israel. The Catholic Guild of Israel was an ultramontane English Catholic conversionist organisation which contended that the Catholic Church alone provided the path to truth and salvation. The Guild’s primary mission was the conversion of the Jews. Its secondary mission was to educate English Catholics about Jews and Judaism through the publication of articles and booklets. Somewhat unhelpfully for its primary mission, these often repeated antisemitic stereotypes, and thus served to deter Jews from joining.
Significantly, the Catholic Guild of Israel membership book (which can be found in the CGI archives held at the Sisters of Sion in London) contains a joining entry for Dudley Wright on 28 October 1933, and the entry lists him as a “convert from Judaism.” This could indicate a number of things. It could indicate that Dudley Wright had previously converted to Judaism. However, there is no evidence of this. Furthermore, in his study of The Talmud, published in 1932 shortly before his conversion to Catholicism, he described himself as “a Gentile,” and as “one who has not the honour of claiming kinship with the Chosen People” (Wright, The Talmud, p. 13). It is unknown whether Dudley Wright described himself as a convert from Judaism at the time he joined the Guild, or whether this was simply the assumption or interpretation of one of the existing members of the Catholic Guild of Israel. Another possibility is that the member of the Catholic Guild of Israel who recorded his enrolment simply made little or no distinction between Judaism and Freemasonry (perhaps reinforced by Wright’s history of publications praising Judaism). Certainly it was a reoccurring theme in English Catholic discourses at that time to depict Freemasonry and Judaism as closely related, allied, and in some instances as essentially the same entity. [For more on this, see Simon Mayers, “Anti-Masonry & the Myth of the Jewish-Masonic Alliance in the English Catholic Discourse, 1894–1935,” Heredom 22, 2014].
Whilst Protestant evangelists had been actively trying to convert Jews in England throughout the nineteenth century, the Catholic Guild of Israel, formed in 1917 and suspended in 1939, was the first English Catholic movement to actively proselytise to Jews. A central theme in the discourse of member of the Catholic Guild of Israel was so-called Jewish “power.” It was argued that the Jews had great vitality, zeal and energy, which made them dangerous outside of the Church, but an asset if they could be brought into it. This idea was disseminated by the two most senior and prolific members of the Guild – Bede Jarrett, provincial head of the English Dominicans and the president of the Guild, and Arthur Day, an English Jesuit and vice-president of the Guild – as well as by other members. Their notions of Jewish “power” influenced their views about Jews and their policies on Judaism and Zionism. Arthur Day and Bede Jarrett both saw Jewish “power” as a threat and opportunity. Jarrett placed the emphasis on their so-called threat. He believed that bringing the Jews into the Church was the best way to neutralize the threat, and that Zionism would only present the Jews with an opportunity to cause global chaos. Conversely, Day placed the emphasis on their value to the Church, and believed that supporting Zionism was the best way to overcome Jewish resistance to Christianity. [For more on this, see Simon Mayers, “Zionism and Anti-Zionism in the Catholic Guild of Israel: Bede Jarrett, Arthur Day and Hans Herzl,” Melilah 10, 2013. Link for online edition].
Despite the differences in their interpretations of Jewish power, both Day and Jarrett repeated negative stereotypes about Jews. For example, in a modern refinement of the antisemitic well poisoning accusation, Father Jarrett explained that “the liberal Jew is the active enemy of Christian ideals and hopes, and works for their overthrow.” He stated that the liberal Jew “does not poison the wells of drinking water, as mediaeval Europe believed; [but] he does endeavour to poison the living springs of Christendom.” Father Day argued that Jewish hostility towards Christians should be kept in mind when Jews feel “tempted to complain of the cruelties of the Inquisition.” In his memoirs, Day argued that “even a Jew who professes to be an atheist … may yet retain an anti-Christian complex rooted in a substratum of subconscious religion.” [See Bede Jarrett, “The Jew, part I,” Universe, 29 June 1917, p. 5; Bede Jarrett, “The Jew, part II,” Universe, 6 July 1917, p. 11; Arthur Day, Twin Heroes of the Vatican Council, London: Catholic Truth Society, 1938, pp. 5-7; Day, Our Friends the Jews, p. 48].
With these influences, it is perhaps unsurprising that Wright’s transition to Catholicism and the Catholic Guild of Israel was accompanied by a significant and uncharacteristic shift in his discourse. It is not clear whether he entirely abandoned Freemasonry when he embraced Catholicism, but he certainly stopped writing articles about it. He allowed his membership of the Wellesley Lodge to elapse in 1931. His membership of the Eccleston Lodge ceased a year later on 1 November 1932 as a result of non-payment of fees. The newspaper that he owned and edited, the Masonic News, came to an abrupt end in July 1931. For many years, Wright was the principal author of articles on Masonic subjects for the Times newspaper. However, in 1933, Wright was replaced at the Times by James Joseph Nolon.
Wright’s ideas about the shared underlying foundation of all religious systems also disappeared from his discourse around this time, and whereas previously he had praised Jews, he now excoriated them. On 12 February 1934, Wright wrote a letter to Sister Mary Pancratius, the head of the Sister of Sion in London and a member of the Catholic Guild of Israel, to explain that he was working on a book which he proposed to call “Judaism v Rome: Pagan and Papal” (the letter can be found in the CGI archives in London). The book was never published, but he enclosed with his letter a thirty-six-page draft manuscript for a chapter on “the Spanish Inquisition and the Jews.” Whilst he had once criticised the Roman and Spanish Inquisitions, in this manuscript he defended them. For example, with regard to the Rome Inquisition, Wright observed that “in 1299, the Jews of Rome complained to Pope Boniface VIII that the Inquisitors concealed from them the names of their accusers and witnesses.” This was with regard to accusations of Host desecration. In defence of this measure, Wright argued that the concealing of the names of witnesses and accusers may have been necessary in order to protect them from persecution by “rich” and “powerful” Jews. Wright repeated traditional stereotypes about Jewish usury and power, arguing that the creation of the Spanish Inquisition was not without the danger of reprisals, as “the Jews had become rich, powerful and dominant, particularly in financial affairs.” He also referred to a “spirit of superiority and arrogance, which has always been, more or less, a characteristic of the Jew in power.” Perhaps most significantly, Wright tried to mitigate the accusations of torture against the various papal inquisitions, observing that such practices were a widely accepted part of statecraft, and by no means peculiar or unique to the Spanish Inquisition. Wright was of course correct in asserting that torture was widely embraced in earlier times. However, this was hardly a sound defence of the Inquisition’s use of torture (which was often used to elicit false confessions relating to crimes such as blasphemy, heresy, witchcraft, and host desecration), as an earlier Dudley Wright, writing about the cruel imprisonment and torture of Freemasons at the hands of the Roman, Portuguese and Spanish| Inquisitions, had been acutely aware. For example, in 1922, he had referred to an incident in 1768 in which “the Inquisition tortured a Mason, one Dr. Crudeli, Master of the Florence Lodge, and kept him in prison for a considerable time.” According to Wright, “he suffered the most unmerited cruelties for maintaining the innocence of the Association.” Wright had also presented accounts of the interrogation and torture of John Coustos by the Portuguese Inquisition in 1743, and the intensive questioning of a Mr. M. Tournon by the Spanish Inquisition in 1757. He had not on these earlier occasions attempted to excuse torture by pointing to its employment elsewhere. [See Dudley Wright, “The Spanish Inquisition and the Jews,” unpublished manuscript, 36 pages, CGI Archives; Dudley Wright, Roman Catholicism and Freemasonry, London: William Rider, 1922, pp. 27, 36-51, 71-79].
In his manuscript on the Spanish Inquisition, Wright also dredged up the infamous antisemitic “Jewish conspiracy” narrative. According to Wright, the Jews had conspired to interfere with the workings of the Spanish Inquisition when it was formed at the end of the 1470s. He referred to another so-called “Jewish conspiracy,” which supposedly existed in 1485. “In 1485,” he stated, “a conspiracy of the Jews was discovered at Toledo, the object of which was nothing less than the seizure of the city on Corpus Christi Day and the murder of all the Christians.” It has been proved, he asserted, “that the Jews of this period were guilty of the most abominable practices.” [See Wright, “The Spanish Inquisition and the Jews,” pp. 11, 24].
Whilst Wright abandoned Catholicism and the Catholic Guild of Israel (circa 1939) without finishing his Judaism v Rome: Pagan and Papal, he did publish articles and a booklet during his years in the Guild which were presumably intended to be included in the book. In some of these, Wright defended papal edicts against Jews, and suggested that the Talmud – which he had previously praised and defended – and Jewish literature in general, had been rightfully condemned by Catholic authorities, because they allegedly contained venomous and false statements about Jesus and Mary. In Spring 1934, Wright wrote an article entitled “Some Papal Edicts against Judaism.” In this article, Wright criticised “Jewish controversialists and apologists” who failed to make distinctions between the edicts of the Catholic Church and edicts by sovereigns who just happened to be Catholic. He also defended a number of papal edicts, such as those prohibiting Jews from employing Christians as slaves or servants. “There was,” he argued, “ample justification for this decree reiterated on many occasions.” Wright argued that according to the Old Testament and the Talmud, Jewish law required “anyone who became a member of a Jewish household, whether as a slave, a servant or even a sojourning stranger, … to undergo the rite of circumcision.” This, he argued, was part of a ceremony that initiated the circumcised into the Jewish rather than the Christian faith. [See Dudley Wright, “Some Papal Edicts Against Judaism,” Our Lady of Sion 41, Spring 1934, pp. 9-11].
Whereas previously Wright fervently defended the Talmud at great length, he now condemned it. “There was,” he argued, “abundant justification for the reiterated condemnations of the Talmud.” Wright argued that there were passages in the medieval Talmud, which Jews hid and obscured, containing “the most abominable and scurrilous statements concerning Our Blessed Lord and overlaying His Mother with vile accusations.” Significantly, whereas only three years previously, Wright had considered the handful of anti-Christian polemics in Jewish literature as unimportant in his examination of the Talmud, had criticised popes and inquisitors for sanctioning its censure and destruction, and had praised its “teachings of religion and morality” for being “of the very highest order,” he now emphasised the so-called “violent” polemics in the Talmud. It was almost as if he felt called upon by his fellow members in the Catholic Guild of Israel to deny and invert his previous positive discourse about Jews and the Talmud. A year later, in a booklet entitled The Catholic Church and the Jews (1935), Wright repeated his claims about hostility towards Christianity in the Talmud. Many of the arguments that were first made in Dudley Wright’s unpublished draft chapter on the Spanish Inquisition and his article on papal edicts against Judaism were repeated in The Catholic Church and the Jews. However, in addition to the Talmud, he now claimed that “not only in the Talmud and in the Midrash and even in the Jewish Liturgy were such statements to be found, but in Jewish literature generally were there many statements which evinced venomous hatred towards the Saviour of Mankind.” [See Wright, “Some Papal Edicts Against Judaism,” pp. 12-13; Dudley Wright, The Talmud, London: Williams & Norgate, 1932, pp. 13, 15, 20, 133; Dudley Wright, The Catholic Church and the Jews, Dublin: Catholic Truth Society of Ireland, 1935].
Wright’s final article as a Catholic, entitled “From Rabbi to Archbishop,” was published in the summer 1938 edition of Our Lady of Sion. In 1939, as a consequence of the war, the Catholic Guild of Israel all but suspended its activities. Whilst it is difficult to pin down the exact dates, it would seem that Wright abandoned Catholicism and re-embraced Islam and the Ahmadiyya movement sometime between 1938 and 1944. The intervening years are a mystery, as Wright published nothing until June 1944, when he re-adopted the name Muhammad Sadiq Dudley Wright, and became a regular contributor to the Islamic Review, contributing twenty-two articles from 1944 to 1948. Significantly, his negative representations of Jews and Judaism seemed to virtually evaporate from his discourse around this time. Wright returned to his old belief that Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as taught by Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, were not new religions but attempts to purge existing religions of superstition and human corruption, in order to return them to the original core foundation of the prisca theologia. He argued, as he had previously as a Freemason, that all the great religions of the world, despite their human corruptions and accretions, have Truth at their foundation, and are essentially identical.