The Sabbatean Prophets

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Overview

In the mid-seventeenth century, Shabbatai Zvi, a rabbi from Izmir, claimed to be the Jewish messiah, and convinced a great many Jews to believe him. The movement surrounding this messianic pretender was enormous, and Shabbatai's mission seemed to be affirmed by the numerous supporting prophecies of believers. The story of Shabbatai and his prophets has mainly been explored by specialists in Jewish mysticism. Only a few scholars have placed this large-scale movement in its social and historical context.

Matt Goldish shifts the focus of Sabbatean studies from the theology of Lurianic Kabbalah to the widespread seventeenth-century belief in latter-day prophecy. The intense expectations of the messiah in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam form the necessary backdrop for understanding the success of Sabbateanism. The seventeenth century was a time of deep intellectual and political ferment as Europe moved into the modern era. The strains of the Jewish mysticism, Christian millenarianism, scientific innovation, and political transformation all contributed to the development of the Sabbatean movement.

By placing Sabbateanism in this broad cultural context, Goldish integrates this Jewish messianic movement into the early modern world, making its story accessible to scholars and students alike.

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Editorial Reviews

Forward

Goldish...succeeds in going well beyond the foundational work of previous scholars. He achieves this not by uncovering hitherto unknown Sabbatean texts, but by significantly widening the lens through which the Sabbatean messianic phenomenon is viewed, taking his readers on a fascinating voyage through the turbulent worlds of 17th-century religious enthusiasm and prophetic millenarian thought—Christian, Muslim and Jewish...Aside from vividly describing, and explaining the widespread belief in, Sabbatean messianic prophecies, this book refines both the timeline of Sabbateanism's spread and the exact nature of its heresy...Unlike [Richard] Popkin, Goldish can ably decipher the most arcane Hebrew and Aramaic mystical sources; and unlike the famously imaginative and anti-historicist [Moshe] Idel, Goldish brings the sensibilities of the sober historian to his finely nuanced readings of them. The Rabbinical Sages always have insisted that the wisdom of successive generations of Judaic scholars is in perpetual decline. This exciting new book suggests quite the contrary.
— Allan Nadler

Forward - Allan Nadler
Goldish...succeeds in going well beyond the foundational work of previous scholars. He achieves this not by uncovering hitherto unknown Sabbatean texts, but by significantly widening the lens through which the Sabbatean messianic phenomenon is viewed, taking his readers on a fascinating voyage through the turbulent worlds of 17th-century religious enthusiasm and prophetic millenarian thought--Christian, Muslim and Jewish...Aside from vividly describing, and explaining the widespread belief in, Sabbatean messianic prophecies, this book refines both the timeline of Sabbateanism's spread and the exact nature of its heresy...Unlike [Richard] Popkin, Goldish can ably decipher the most arcane Hebrew and Aramaic mystical sources; and unlike the famously imaginative and anti-historicist [Moshe] Idel, Goldish brings the sensibilities of the sober historian to his finely nuanced readings of them. The Rabbinical Sages always have insisted that the wisdom of successive generations of Judaic scholars is in perpetual decline. This exciting new book suggests quite the contrary.
Forward
Goldish...succeeds in going well beyond the foundational work of previous scholars. He achieves this not by uncovering hitherto unknown Sabbatean texts, but by significantly widening the lens through which the Sabbatean messianic phenomenon is viewed, taking his readers on a fascinating voyage through the turbulent worlds of 17th-century religious enthusiasm and prophetic millenarian thought--Christian, Muslim and Jewish...Aside from vividly describing, and explaining the widespread belief in, Sabbatean messianic prophecies, this book refines both the timeline of Sabbateanism's spread and the exact nature of its heresy...Unlike [Richard] Popkin, Goldish can ably decipher the most arcane Hebrew and Aramaic mystical sources; and unlike the famously imaginative and anti-historicist [Moshe] Idel, Goldish brings the sensibilities of the sober historian to his finely nuanced readings of them. The Rabbinical Sages always have insisted that the wisdom of successive generations of Judaic scholars is in perpetual decline. This exciting new book suggests quite the contrary.
— Allan Nadler
Library Journal
Goldish (history, Ohio State Univ.) looks at the Jewish messianic surge of the 17th century, which culminated with the Sabbatean movement, and places it in a broader multidimensional context. The Sabbatean movement revolves around the figure of Shabbatai Zvi, a rabbi and popular messianic pretender who played a major role in Jewish history. Goldish argues that "beliefs about the messianic and prophetic future were heavily shaped by Christian and Muslim influences." The general political ferment of the age was also a great influence on the Sabbatean movement. To appreciate properly Goldish's departure from earlier studies, the reader must have some familiarity with the pioneering scholarship of the late, great Gershom Scholem, the author of the authoritative book on Shabbatai Zvi. Scholem explained the Sabbatean movement mainly within the historical context of the evolution of Jewish mystical belief. Goldish's argument is a wider one, tying the messianic movement to further surrounding influences. He has produced a well-written, scholarly addition and modification to the literature. Recommended for libraries with comprehensive Jewish and religious studies collections.-Paul Kaplan, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674012912
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Matt Goldish is Samuel M. and Esther Melton Associate Professor of History at Ohio State University.
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Table of Contents

Preface

Prologue

1. Messianic Prophecy in the Early Modern Context

2. Nathan of Gaza and the Roots of Sabbatean Prophecy

3. From Mystical Vision to Prophetic Explosion

4. Opponents and Observers Respond

5. Prophecy after Shabbatais Apostasy

Notes

Index

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