Tuesday, March 14, 2023
Today on the Christian History Almanac podcast, we look at the wild world of the Muggletonians.
It is the 14th of March 2023 Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Just yesterday on the mailbag, I commented, “I tend to avoid non-Trinitarians” and try not to look at the strange for the sake of being strange…. I meant that, like, that’s not what we primarily do. Because sometimes… well, when you have an English group called the Muggletonians. They have some pretty eccentric biblical interpretations, and their last member died in 1979. Over 300 years after the movement began, I reserve the right to tell that story (and tomorrow is also a questionable eccentric- so I really set myself up with yesterday’s show). But- you don’t have to listen daily or even in order- these things stand by themselves. And today, we remember and critically examine Lodowick Muggleton, who died on the 14th of March in 1698.
First, remember the context of the English church in the 1600s. After King James, you have his son- the one not really fit or destined to become king, Charles I. He’s married to a Catholic lady- the parliament won’t get along with him- he’s killed. Then we have Cromwell and the Protectorate until that goes sideways, and we get the crown back- the restoration of the crown under Charles II. This was a fertile time for the growth of sects in the English church- the Levelers, the Diggers, the Ranters, the 5th Monarchy Men, and the Muggletonians, to name a few. These groups were responding to instability in the church and state. They believed that these turbulent times must be the end (During the Reformation in the previous century, this was a common belief). And so, cue the new interpretations of the book Revelation. One man, a tailor named John Reeve, believed that God had spoken directly to him with the 3rd and final commission (after the law of Moses and the Gospel of Jesus). This revelation named him and his cousin, Ludowick Muggleton, as the two witnesses in Revelation 11, where we read:
“3 And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4 They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.”[a] 5 If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.”
Muggleton would become the leader, and their followers would take his name. Among his doctrines was that the devil's seed was in Eve, and we all have that inheritance and the seed of God- it’s a battle inside of us. He also taught that there was never a soul without a body. When Jesus became incarnate, Muggleton taught that God was truly on earth and thus not in heaven- Moses and Elijah held the fort down while he was here. Lastly, and most interestingly, was their doctrine of a geocentric universe- they claimed a literal reading of the Bible taught this- the earth was the center of everything and that the new science was nothing but the work of the devil (he taught that the devil was actually man's unclean reason).
Muggleton would be imprisoned, and Quaker George Fox wrote vehemently against him, but Muggletonians would persist. They would scatter but not disappear. In the 1970s, a historian writing in the London Times Literary Supplement bemoaned the lack of some primary sources only to have a man write him, explaining that he was a Muggletonian with extensive writings and collections. They would be donated to the British Library, and the last 40 years have seen a Renaissance of Muggletonian studies.
Like many radical splinter groups, we see them form in times of great social upheaval and teach countercultural (if not heretical) doctrines. We seem to live on the oxygen given to us by their critics- after all, one response to criticism is to double down on your peculiarities.
Ludowick Muggleton either believed he was a prophet or that there was profit to be had pretending to be one. Given that he was imprisoned and fined for his beliefs, it seems he believed he was ushering in the last days- of all the things he could claim to see, his death was likely not one of them as he died on this, the 14th of March in 1698 in London. Born in 1609, he was 88 years old.
The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary and 1 Corinthians 10:
10 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 14th of March 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who was certainly a Muggletonian and was a member of the non-Magic Family- Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who reminds you that “muggle” was also a jazz age synonym for weed. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.
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