Lost Messiahby John Freely
Rabbi Sabbatai Sevi is one of the most controversial religious figures in all history. In The Lost Messiah, acclaimed author John Freely follows Sevi's trail and the traces of the Jewish cult that grew up around him-one that still inspires belief today. Brilliantly evoking the vanished world of the seventeenth-century Jewish diaspora in the Ottoman Empire, the narrative moves from Sevi's birthplace in Izmir on the Aegean coast of Turkey, to the ghettos of Venice and Rome, the bazaars of Cairo, and the rabbinical schools of Jerusalem and Safed, all the while placing the exotic story into magnificent context with details of the state of the current Jewish communities in these areas. As Damian Thompson wrote in The Mail on Sunday, "Everything in this book is astonishing."
The result of thirty years of research and travel, The Lost Messiah deftly interweaves the work of respected scholars-including the pioneering writings of Gershom Scholem-along with Freely's own firsthand knowledge of ancient and contemporary Turkey and its environs. From the theoretical and practical background of Sevi's messianic movement and its emergence from the mysticism of the Kabbalah, Freely describes the many early unorthodoxies that turned many in Sevi's community against him and then goes on to provide explanations for how and why Sevi nevertheless acquired an international following that continued to support and believe in him-even after his shocking apostasy and conversion to Islam in the year 1666.
Figuratively walking the length and breadth of the Levant, the author initially neglects to ground his readers, preferring to mete out history piecemeal as he unfolds the story. But the essential facts congeal: hounded from Catholic Spain for a century, murdered in Catholic Poland, Jews from all over Europe found tolerance, security, and even comfort in the seats of power of the Turks’ Ottoman Empire, the mightiest Islamic kingdom ever known. Thus, in Izmir (Smyrna), a charismatic rabbinical student named Sabbatai Sevi proclaimed in 1648 that he had been anointed as Messiah, Redeemer, King of the Jews who would lead them back to the Holy Land. Given to both spiritual visions and unholy depressions, Sevi apparently had a riveting gaze and a melodious singing voice, and seems to have been regarded as something between a rock star and Bonnie Prince Charlie by Jews, Muslims, and gentiles alike. He rapidly gained both fanatic followers and powerful enemies, the latter primarily in the conservative orthodoxy, and no wonder: He constantly tinkered with the liturgy, flip-flopped feast days and fast days, blew away the Torah’s sexual prohibitions, and even encouraged women to peruse the holy writ, forbidden to them by tradition. As an ultimate outrage, Sevi readily embraced the Islamic faith under a sultan’s death threat, then blithely convinced members of his cult, known thereafter by the Turkish word for "turncoats," that it was all part of God’s great plan for him. Remarkably, directdescendants of those Islamic, crypto-Jewish believers, ostracized and persecuted over three centuries, remain in a few distinct Levantine communities to the present day, and the author has visited several.
Lacks critical perspective, but patient readers will be fascinated.
- Overlook Press, The
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1ST US
- Product dimensions:
- 6.32(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.15(d)
Meet the Author
John Freely was born in New York in 1926. At seventeen he joined the navy and served during WWII, later returning to New York where he received a PhD in physics from New York University in 1960. He has lived in New York, Boston, London, Athens, Istanbul, and Venice, and has written more than twenty books, including Inside the Seraglio.
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