Traveling on business can be difficult but one benefit is that it gives me the opportunity to read. I started reading The Sabbatean Prophets by Matt Goldish and so far it has been a fascinating read. Studies on Shabbatai Zevi have focused on the events of the messianic movement. Goldish takes a different approach. He focuses on the environment in the 16th and 17th centuries that allowed for the claims of Nathan of Gaza and Shabbatai Zevi to be taken seriously.
Goldish not only focuses on the rise of Lurianic Kabbalah in the 16th century as well as the experiences of Conversos throughout the Mediterranean. He also discusses the mystical and millenarian movements within Christianity and even within Islam at the time. The expectation that the Davidic messiah or messianic age would be revealed soon was something that promoted within Jewish and Christian circles.
Events like the English Civil War which was partly based on inter-Christian conflict led to the fall of the English monarchy and under the republican government of Oliver Cromwell, the return of Jews to England. The discovery of the New World in the 15th century and the continuing colonization into foreign lands helped spread the view that knowledge was spreading and something momentous was at hand.
I highly recommend Goldish’s work. The Sabbatean Prophets is available on Amazon.
For another blog post on Sabbateanism, see Converso Involvement in the Sabbatean Movement.
Posted by Rabbi Juan Bejarano-Gutierrez, the director of the B’nei Anusim Center for Education, and author of What is Kosher?