Wednesday, December 31, 2008

AJS Conference Day Two Session Two (Early Modern Messianism(s): Context, Confluence, and Discourse

Rebekka Voss (Harvard University)
"Topsy-Turvy World's End: The Lost Tribes in Apocalyptic Scenarios from Sixteenth-Century Germany"

Jews saw the Ten Lost Tribes as redeemers who would save them from the Christians. This is in keeping with the theme of revenge which so permeates Ashkenazic thought. Christians saw the Ten Lost Tribes as serving the Anti Christ. (See Andrew Gow's the Red Jews) In the early modern period the Ten Lost Tribes were a major political and military force, to be reckoned with, in the minds of both Jews and Christians in Europe. In 1523 we have pamphlets in Germany talking about the tribes being on the march with 600,000 soldiers. It was at this moment in time that Reubeni appeared and offered Christians a solution to their problem. The Ten Lost Tribes would help them take the Holy Land. What is interesting to note is that, despite the differences between Jews and Christians, the Ten Lost Tribes plays a role in their common culture. Jews and Christians exchange information between each other relating to sightings of the tribes and are used as sources by the other. Jews took on the legend of the Red Jews, that there was this vast army of Jews from the Ten Lost Tribes ready to descend upon Europe, as a counter counter story. Each side claimed the Jacob side in the Jacob/Esau narrative. For Christians red refers to Edom (in reference to Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of lentiles) For Jews red referred to King David who had red hair. The Yiddish version of the legend talks about the Ten Lost Tribes as David taking on the Christian Goliath.

Anne Oravetz Albert (University of Pennsylvania)
"The Religio-Political Jew: Post-Sabbatian Political Thought in Daniel Levi de Barrios and Abraham Pereyra"

The Sabbatean movement meant a lot of different things to different people. We see an example of two Amsterdam Jews who engage in a shift towards a Jewish politics, to see Jews as political beings. Both of these Jews were ex conversos familiar with Catholic political thought. Abraham Pereyra talks about the need to govern with more piety. His Mirror of the World talks about the value of prudence in classical and Jewish sources. He attacks secularizers who follow Machiavelli and try to take religion out of politics. (For a discussion of the role of Machiavelli in early modern Catholic political thought see Robert Bireley's the Counter-Reformation Prince.) Daniel Levi Barrios, a converso poet, talks about how Jewish exile lead to better Jewish forms of government with the ultimate example being the Jewish community of Amsterdam. (Ruth Wisse's Jews and Power is an interesting example of a modern scholar who seems to follow a very similar line of thinking. Wisse talks about Jewish exilic political thought as being centered on creating and maintaining a community without recourse to physical force.) Barrios wavers back and forth on the merits of a monarchy versus that of a democracy. (A line of political discourse founded in Aristotle's Politics.) The mamad is the ideal type of government. Barrios uses various symbols to put the mamad within the context of creation.

(This presentation, as with the first, are closely related to the research I am doing now. I wrote a paper on Reubeni and his use of his status as an ambassador from the Ten Lost Tribes to create a mobile state around himself. This going to be part of my larger dissertation on the politics of Jewish Messianism, an issue this second paper so nicely confronted.)

Pawel Maciejko (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

(The original title of Maciejko's presenation was going to be "Messinaism and Exile in the Works of Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschutz." Maciejko, though, decided to speak on Eibeschutz's Sabbatean son, Wolf Eibeschutz.)

On Christmas eve in 1758 Wolf Eibeschutz told the people in the synagogue that he was in that instead of following the traditional Jewish Christmas eve practice of playing cards. (There is a custom amongst certain Jews not to study Torah on Christmas eve because on this night the klipot, the dark powers, reign supreme and anything good done would just go to serve the forces of evil.) Instead Eibeschutz declared that he would destroy the power of the klipot by playing his harp. The people saw a flame in the sky, which Eibeschutz declared was the sechina descending. Like Eibeschutz, Jacob Frank, in Poland, was trying to unite the Sabbatean community behind him. The Frankists had just lost their protector. Frank was pushing for conversion to Christianity which he would do in 1759. Like Eibeschutz, Frank also used this "flame" in the sky, which was in fact Halley's comet.

The eighteenth century was a golden age of charlatanism, which Eibeschutz and Frank are examples of. The eighteenth century was a time in which there developed a major knowledge gap; those who were on the more knowledgeable side could easily use their knowledge to dupe those who were not. Both Eibeschutz and Frank knew about the expected appearance of Halley's comet from reading European newspapers.

The concept of a false messiah is a contradiction in terms. Frank should not be viewed as a messiah at all. He was simply part of a wide circle of charlatans active in Europe at the time and formed an actual community. There is little messianism in Frank. He does not offer redemption. Instead there is this world and eternal life.

(Even if you are involved in Jewish studies you have probably not yet heard of Pawel Maciejko. I first met him last May when he came to Ohio state for a conference. Just remember that you heard about him here first. This guy is brilliant and a talented speaker and he will be a dominant figure in the field in the decades to come.

One could challenge Maciejko over the eighteenth century being the age of charlatanism. The sixteenth century had David Reubeni and Natalie Zemon Davis' Martin Guerre case. Maciejko responded to this that the eighteenth century was different in that you have an actual community of charlatans who are in contact with each other.

Elisheva Carlebach was chairing the session and challenged him over his refusal to use the terms false and failed messiahs. So they got into an interesting back and forth on this matter. I asked him point blank if in creating the narrative of Jewish Messianism, such as Harris Lenowitz's Jewish Messiahs: From the Galilee to Crown Heights, if he would take Frank out. He said yes. Since I am planning on including a chapter on Frank in my dissertation on political messianism, I am going to have to be responding to Maciejko; this should be interesting.)

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