Biography History of Sabatai Sevi

History of Sabatai Sevi

History of Sabatai Sevi
Catalog # SKU3668
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name John Evelyn, Christopher W. Grose
ISBN 10: 0000000000
ISBN 13: 0000000000000


The History of
Sabatai Sevi

The Suppos'd Messiah
of the Jews

John Evelyn
Introduction By Christopher W. Grose

Whatever the appeal of Sevi's story may be for modern readers-as a mode of fiction, perhaps, or an instance of mass hysteria-Evelyn's discovery of an exemplum for religious and political enthusiasts may seem forced or reductive. In 1669, however, the interest of Englishmen in Jewish affairs was by no means merely academic-or narrowly commercial.

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There were, it is true, English sportsmen in 1666 who were actually betting on the Sevi career-ten to one that the "Messiah of Ismir" would be crowned King of Jerusalem within two years. And what was most disturbing about Sevi to the English nation as a whole was perhaps the disruption of trade, in which Sevi's father was intimately involved, as the agent of an English mercantile house. At the height of the furor, Jewish merchants were dissolving businesses as well as unroofing their houses in preparation for the return to Jerusalem.

But the prime significance for Evelyn-perhaps more than for Rycaut-is revealed in the instinctive mental connection between Jewish and Christian history, or ways of thinking about history, on the one hand, and political realities in England on the other. Only nine years had passed since the return of Charles II and the displacement of the Protectorate, with its remarkable Jewish elements. As for the return of the Christian Messiah and an imminent reign of the saints, Sevi might well have reminded Evelyn of the English "impostor," the Quaker Jacob Naylor, whose messianic claims were publicly examined at Bristol in 1657. Far more important to Englishmen of the period, however, was the episode involving the mission of the Amsterdam rabbi Menasseh ben Israel to Cromwell's England in 1655, a year after Naylor's first appearance.

For two centuries after their expulsion from England by Edward I-that is, until the seventeenth century-Jews either avoided England entirely or lived there in deliberate obscurity. Some Spanish and Portuguese Jewish refugees from the Inquisition did arrive in England; but particularly after the execution for treason of Elizabeth's physician Roderigo Lopez in 1594, they could remain only as "Crypto-Jews." It was during the Puritan regime that the Jewish position in England really improved, and the removal of the legal bar dates from the conference summoned by Cromwell in response to the demands of Menasseh.

We can perhaps best understand Evelyn's account of Sabatai Sevi, "the Messiah of Ismir," against this background of English Protestant millennial thinking, admirably summarized in Michael Fixler's recent study. As Fixler suggests, it was possibly to discredit the Fifth-Monarchy men that Rycaut first included the account in what was to become his History of the Turkish Empire. At any rate, Sevi himself was hardly the mere con-man Rycaut and Evelyn portray; the mask, indeed, is erepta only with the greatest of difficulty. Because Rycaut was interested in trade and cultural mores, his (and consequently, Evelyn's) account neglects features of the story which are of primary interest to more psychologically inclined readers.

We are told almost nothing, for example, of the details of Sevi's solitary youth; his physical attractiveness; his clear voice as well suited to lascivious Spanish love-songs (interpreted mystically) as to Psalms; and his early rejection of the Talmud for the practical Cabala, with its strenuous, self-mortifying asceticism. One would gather from Evelyn that only the deluded followers of the "impostor" and not Sevi himself imposed such punishments as self-burial, and bathing in the sea, even in midwinter.

68 pages - 7 x 8½ softcover

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