As a leading figure in the nation of the Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam, and one of the rabbis of the community, Menasseh ben Israel (1604–57) came to the attention of Samuel Hartlib and his friends during the 1640s. In particular, Menasseh’s approval was sought for the work of Dury’s friend, Adam Boreel, on a vocalized edition of the Mishnah. At the same time, Dury, who was resident in Rotterdam, began collecting travellers’ tales about the dispersal of the tribes of Israel into the east and west. Initially, Dury was most interested in the possibility that more accurate copies of the Hebrew scriptures might have been preserved among such people (for this reason, he was also concerned to find out about the Caraites). However, as accounts of the lost tribes multiplied, both Dury and his Jewish informants began to see them in a messianic light.
Menasseh himself had composed several messianic treatises during the 1640s, and it was he who interviewed the refugee, Antonio de Montezinos, in 1644 and 1645, gathering from him an account of a tribe of Jewish Indians, descend ants of Reuben, who lived in the depths of New Granada (modern Colombia), in South America. Menasseh soon communicated his discovery to Dury, and both men interpreted Montezinos’ information in the light of their hopes for the coming of the Messiah. For Menasseh, the Israelites in America were a separate people, whose existence indicated that there were Jews to be found on every continent, suggesting that the diaspora was complete, and that the messianic age was about to dawn. Dury saw the Jewish Indians in a different light, as potential converts whose inclusion into the Christian fold might fulfil the prophecies of the book of Daniel, and usher in the rule of Christ’s saints.
Montezinos’ tales form part of the account of the extent of the Jewish diaspora given in Menasseh’s Hope of Israel, which was published in 1650. Two editions of the book were produced, with differing contents. One, in Spanish, was aimed at Jewish readers, and included material on the messianic redemption of the Jews not printed elsewhere. The other, in Latin, was distributed more widely, and quickly translated into English by Moses Wall. Encouraged by Dury, Menasseh dedicated his work to the Parliament of England. Both Menasseh and Dury were interested in the possibility of bringing about the return of the Jews to England, an event which finally took place in 1656. Menasseh hoped to widen the trading contacts of the Amsterdam Jews, and also to broaden the Diaspora in order to hasten the fulfilment of prophecy. Dury, who was at times rather tentative about the scheme, wanted the Jews admitted to England so that they could be subjected to an organized programme of proselytizing, and brought to the Christian faith.