Sunday, 26 August 2007



1: And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, “ Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. 2: But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. 3: And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.”4: These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. 5: “And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. 6: These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will. 7: And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them….

In 1652, John Reeve and his cousin Lodowick Muggleton took themselves to be the two last witnesses mentioned in this passage; which would not be very remarkable but for the fact that they commenced a religious movement known as the Muggletonians which continued for over three hundred years. The belief that Muggleton and Reeve were these persons and the odd cosmology that accompanied it seem so peculiar that it is hard to imagine how it persisted for so long. It seems to me that it could be an excellent example of the transfer of information and belief between generations by what Richard Dawkins has called “memes”, analogous to genes but not material. In more commonplace terms the argument is that information and belief passed from parent to child along with language is likely to be strongly held.

I am not sure that the meme hypothesis is of much assistance but the way in which tradition and belief pass from generation to generation is interesting.

I have wanted to find a more detailed history of the Muggletonians both as an example of this process and out of interest in the sheer oddity of the sect. The TLS of August 17 includes a review of LAST WITNESSES by William Lamont published last year. The author has had the use of a remarkable archive of Muggletonian records found at a farm in Kent in 1974. The book traces the sect from 1652 to the death of its last member in 1979. I hope to get hold of the book soon and discover more.

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