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The Messianism of Isaac Abarbanel, ‘Father of the [Jewish] Messianic Movements of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries’

  • E. Lawee
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Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 173)

Abstract

One can hardly gainsay the accuracy of the recent observation that “though much has been written on [Isaac] Abravanel’s messianic posture, there is no systematic attempt to reconcile its various aspects into a consistent theory.”1 Yet beneath the question of the contours, character, and consistency of Abarbanel’s messianic stance lie what would seem more basic queries — just how deep, abiding, and central to his religious outlook and scholarly occupations were the millennial expectations which Abarbanel expressed in various works written after the 1492 expulsion of Spanish Jewry? What motivated his apparently thoroughgoing investment in Judaism’s “messianic idea” during this period? These are questions which students of Abarbanel and early modern Jewish messianism have by no means overlooked. What they have offered by way of answers amounts to a theme and variations. The theme is that Abarbanel’s preoccupation with the imminence of “the end” was definitive in shaping his religious outlook and scholarly activities throughout his postexpulsion period (i.e., that period during which he composed the overwhelming majority of his writings) and that his messianic consciousness and the vast literary corpus which it spawned mark a direct response to the expulsion of 1492.

Keywords

Seventeenth Century Jewish People Jewish History Messianic Advent Messianic Calculation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, “The Ultimate End of Human Life in Postexpulsion Philosophic Literature,” in Crisis and Creativity in the Sephardic World 1391 1648, ed. Benjamin R. Gampel (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 354–55 n. 10 — though it remains unclear why the concluding chapter of the most definitive work on Abarbanel written to date by Benzion Netanyahu (on which see below) is not just such a systematic attempt, if in some ways a flawed one. See now also the systematic exposition and analysis of the apocalyptic element in Abarbanel’s messianic thought in Dov Schwartz, Ha-reayon ha-meshihi be-hagut ha-yehudit bi-yemei ha-benayim (Ramat-Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 1997), 230–42.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Omitted here is consideration of the apparently considerable extent to which Abarbanel served as an interlocutor of choice for Christian millenial thinkers, especially of the Protestant “Hebraist” variety, over centuries. See below, nn. 136–137.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    B. Netanyahu, Don Isaac Abravanel: Statesman and Philosopher, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1972), 195.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Netanyahu showed little interest in the predominantly non-doctrinal, exegetical side of Abarbanel’s writing or dynamics of the commentatorial mode typically favored by Abarbanel even when dealing with doctrinal matters.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Preface to the first edition as in ibid.,viii. Google Scholar
  6. 6.
  7. 7.
  8. 8.
    Ibid., 254.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 251.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ibid., viii.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Ibid., 249. The comparison, amply elaborated by Netanyahu slightly earlier (245–47), may have been suggested by Heinrich Graetz’s passing depiction of a Jewish messianic figure of the 1530s, Solomon Molkho, as “the Jewish Savonarola.” See History of the Jews, 6 vols. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1894–98), 4:504. On Savonarola see Donald Weinstein, Savonarola and Florence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Netanyahu, Abravanel, viii.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    In a student’s words, as relayed by Richard H. Popkin in his introduction to idem,ed., Millenarianism and Messianism in English Literature and Thought 1650–1800 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1988), 4.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    For a case study with ample references to secondary literature see Richard Popkin, “Jewish-Christian Relations in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: The Conception of the Messiah,” in The Frank Talmage Memorial Volume, ed. Barry Walfish (= Jewish History 6, vol. 2), 163–77. For the “pursuit of the millennium” in the period of the French Revolution itself see Clarke Garrett, Respectable Folly: Millenarians and the French Revolution in France and England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975). For centuries prior see Dale K. van Kley, The Religious Origins of the French Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Abravanel, viii: “that Abravanel was the father of the messianic movements… was already sensed and pointed out by a number of scholars.”Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Abraham Joshua Heschel, Don Jizchak Abravanel (Berlin: E. Reiss, 1937), 23.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    M. Gaster, “Abravanel’s Literary Work,” in Isaac Abravanel: Six Lectures, ed. J.B. Trend and H. Loewe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1937), 69.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 69–70. The “many pseudo-Messianic movements” of the period other than Sabbatianism are not identified.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Israel Zinberg, A History of Jewish Literature, trans. Bernard Martin, 12 vols. (Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University, 1973), 3:288. The various volumes of Zinberg’s history were published in the years leading up to the quincentenary of Abarbanel’s birth, with the final volume being published in that year.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    History of the Jews, 4:482.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Isaac Barzilay, Between Reason and Faith: Anti-rationalism in Italian Jewish Thought 12501650 (The Hague-Paris: Mouton, 1967), 119–20.Google Scholar
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    Gershom Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, trans. R.J. Zwi Werblowsky (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), 14–15.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Benjamin Gross, Le messianisme juif `Teternité d’Israël“ du Maharal de Prague (1512–1609), Etudes Maharaliennes 2 (Paris: Librairie C. Klincksieck, 1969), 37 n. 56.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Ibid., 27.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Moshe Idel, introduction to Ha-tenu or ha-meshihiyyot be-yisra’el, by Aaron Ze’ev Aescoly, 2nd ed. (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1987), 21.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Gershon Weiler, Jewish Theocracy (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1988), 72.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    By contrast popular images of the man stress different aspects of Abarbanel’s life and legacy. See Jean-Christophe Attias, “Isaac Abravanel: Between Ethnic Memory and National Memory,” Jewish Social Studies (New Series) 2 (1996), 137–45.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Menachem Kellner, Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought: From Maimonides to Abravanel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 193.Google Scholar
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    Frank E. Manuel, The Broken Staff Judaism through Christian Eyes (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), 155.Google Scholar
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    See Jean-Christophe Attias, Isaac Abravanel: La mémoire et l’espérance (Paris: Cerf, 1992), 1718.Google Scholar
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    Roland Goetschel, Isaac Abravanel: conseiller des princes et philosophe (Paris: Albin Michel, 1996), 147, 170.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Yehoshua Rash, “Immobilisme et dynamisme dans la culture d’Israël,” Reserches de Science Religieuse 77 (1989), 323–46. (Given this choice Abarbanel might well have opted for the pairing with Sofer but, one suspects, might not have felt too much more comfortable in his company than in that of the putative representatives of post-rabbinic Jewish dynamism.)Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Netanyahu, Abravanel, 91.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    “’Eres yisra’el ve-galut be-`enei ha-dorot shel yemei ha-benayim,” Meassef Siyyon 10 (1934), 166. Elsewhere Baer portrayed the polarities of the “evident contradiction in Abarbanel’s life” without reference to Abarbanel’s “non-Jewish” political activities: “strengthening of messianic hopes in his works more than all Jewish scholars of the Middle Ages” on the one hand, abstinence from “any and all deeds in preparation for the redemption” on the other. See “Don Yishaq ‘Abarbanel ve-yehaso ’el beayot ha-historiyah ve-ha-medinah,” Tarbiz 8 (1937), 259. For the same perspective on Abarbanel expressed more obliquely see idem, Galut (New York: Schocken, 1947), 64–65. For Baer as striker of “an historiographic image that was to prove lasting… the incarnation par excellence of the Jew in the Exile,” see Attias, “Isaac Abravanel,” 145.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Abravanel, 255.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Ibid., 90.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Ibid., 255, though contrary to Baer, Netanyahu imagined Abarbanel’s activities at court serving as a counterweight to the worst excesses of the messianic politics he entertained for his own people (ibid., 90, where Netanyahu suggests that the influence of the “mystical views” which so affected Abarbanel’s “general position on the Jewish question” and “dealings with current problems” of Jewish concern must have been especially strong when not given any brake by Abarbanel’s “management of state affairs” at non-Jewish courts).Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Ibid., 91,256.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Ibid., 244.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    This linkage had appeared in pre-Netanyahu treatments of Abarbanel as well; see the citation from Israel Zinberg as per n. 19 above. It is dispiriting to see it reappear, again without explanation, in the most recent layer of Abarbanel scholarship. See Elias Lipiner, Two Portuguese Exiles in Castile: Dom David Negro and Dom Isaac Abravanel, Hispania Judaica 10 (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1997), 73–74, For a critique of Abarbanel’s messianic predictions by a contemporary on the grounds that their author was not among the mystically initiated (in a more narrow understanding of this concept) see the text cited below at n. 142.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Netanyahu, Abravanel, 89–90.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Ibid., 256.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    The Origin of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain (New York: Random House, 1995), 726.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    The porousness of the borders between medieval historiography and twentieth-century intraZionist polemic becomes clear upon inspection of this speech delivered by Netanyahu at Haifa University in 1981 (“Meqomo shel Jabotinsky be-toldot yisra’el,” Sidrat harsain be-limmudei ha-yahadut 7) in which he emphasized that Jabotinsky’s views were then more “realistic than they ever were in the past” (14) and that when Jabotinsky first stressed the need for Jewish appreciation of military values “many believed that the days of the Messiah were drawing nigh, that the world was progressing toward general disarmament, international peace and universal brotherhood” (13). For the Revisionist, messianism in secularized form — namely, a world-view rooted too little in how the world is and too much in how one would wish it to be — had seduced its fair share of Zionists as well, despite Zionism’s ostensible break with traditional messianic beliefs. For the charge of retaining elements of a “galut mentality” as “one of the mightiest stones that different Zionist groups… can throw at one another,” see Simon Rawidowicz, “On the Concept of Galut, in Israel the Ever-Dying People and Other Essays, ed. Benjamin C.I. Ravid (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1986), 104–5.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    For earlier passing notation of Netanyahu’s anachronistic terms of reference in his treatment of Abarbanel at points due to his nationalist orientation, see Richard G. Marks, The Image of Bar Kokhba in Traditional Jewish Literature: False Messiah and National Hero (University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), 102–3 n. 6.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Abravanel, 254.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Ibid., 256.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    For primary and secondary sources see, e.g., Yitzhak Baer, A History of the Jews in Christian Spain, trans. Louis Schoffman et. al., 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1961), 2:159–62; Joseph Hacker, “Links between Spanish Jewry and Palestine, 1391–1492,” in Vision and Conflict in the Holy Land, ed. Richard I. Cohen (Jerusalem: St. Martin’s, 1985), 119–29; Eric Lawee, “ `Israel Has No Messiah’ in Late Medieval Spain,” Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 5 (1996), 256 67.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    For the likelihood that this conversion was partially coerced see Netanyahu, Abravanel,5.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    The letter, in which Abarbanel stresses also that in exile the honor of the “noble children of Zion” is “disparaged and disdained,” is published in “Mikhtavei ‘Abarbanel” at the back of Abraham ibn Ezra, Sefer ha-`samim, ed. M. Grossberg (London, A.Z. Rabinovitsh, 1901), 36–39.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    (1894; photo-offset Jerusalem, 1968), 53v. Note that the version of the plea which appears in the editio princeps ([Sabbioneta, 1557], 40v) sounds more actual than this version since in it Abarbanel asks the Deity to “bring us up from amongst the nations (goyyim)” as opposed to “idol-worshipers.”Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Goetschel, Isaac Abravanel, 147. For evidence of Abarbanel thinking about the book of Daniel while in Portugal, see Ma’ayanei ha-yeshu âh (as per no. 57 below), 338.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    J.N. Hillgarth, “Spanish Historiography and Iberian Reality,” History and Theory 24 (1985), 28.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Idel, “Introduction,” 16.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    For Abarbanel’s presence at Iberian courts that promoted the expeditions and his awareness of the maritime discoveries as reflected in post-1492 works, see my “On the Threshold of the Renaissance: New Methods and Sensibilities in the Biblical Commentaries of Isaac Abarbanel,” Viator 26 (1995), 285–86, 299–300. Abarbanel’s Spanish works are obviously too early for the apocalypticism associated with the voyages of Columbus, on which see Alain Milhou, Colon y su mentalidad mesidnica en el ambiente franciscanista espanol (Valladolid: Seminario americanista de la Universidad de Valladolid, 1983); Pauline Moffitt Watts, “Prophecy and Discovery: On the Spiritual Origins of Christopher Columbus’s `Enterprise of the Indies,’” American Historical Review 90 (1985), 73–102. I was unable to determine how far back discovery-related messianic expectations can be traced but even if they stretch back to the time of Abarbanel’s pre-1492 involvement at Iberian courts a considerable distance would need to be traversed before linking Abarbanel to these with any certainty.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    For Abarbanel’s description of his three messianic works as parts of a larger whole entitled Migdol yeshu Ut see She’elot le-he-hakham Sha’ul ha-Kohen sha’al me- ‘et… Yishaq ’Abarbanel (Venice, 1574), 8r (actual pagination). As far as I know he nowhere depicted these works as such during the period of their composition. Modern scholars now typically speak of a “messianic trilogy” employing the coinage of Simon Bernstein, Shomerei ha-homot (Tel Aviv: Ha-Mitspeh, 1938), 15.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    As in Perush al nevi’im u-khetuvim (Tel Aviv: Hoza’at Sefarim Abarbanel, 1961), 414–15.Google Scholar
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    Yeshu`ot meshiho (Königsberg, 1861),15a, 23b, 51a.Google Scholar
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    Ma`ayenei ha-yeshuâh, 247.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    For a full account of Abarbanel’s messianic calculations see Abba Hillel Silver, A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel, reprint with a new preface by the author (New York: Beacon Press, 1959), 119–25.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Maâyenei ha-yeshuâh, 409.Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Ibid., 412.Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    For the relevant sources see Netanyahu, Abravanel,266 n. 6.Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Cp. the emphatic formulation in Gross, Le messianisme juif, 27: “[a]ucun auteur, à aucune époque, n’a mis en évidence avec une telle insistance et un tel luxe de détails, les fondements de la doctrine messianique du judaïsme.”Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Schwartz, Ha-reayon ha-meshihi, 231. The qualification is that in one of its three parts this work examined this-worldly justice including the judgments of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and not just the themes of afterlife and resurrection of the dead as in its other two parts. For these as the work’s three main topics see She’elot, 8r.Google Scholar
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    Abravanel, 75, 78, 80.Google Scholar
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    Kellner, Dogma, 193.Google Scholar
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  69. 69.
    For recent valid if wildly overstated concerns on this point, see Norman Roth, Converses, Inquisition, and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), 299.Google Scholar
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    For more involved treatment of continuities between Abarbanel’s pre-and post-1492 writings see my “Isaac Abarbanel’s Intellectual Biography in Light of His Portuguese Writings.” Forthcoming.Google Scholar
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    Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, “Messianic Impulses in Joseph ha-Kohen,” in Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century, ed. Bernard Dov Cooperman (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983), 483–84, wherein Abarbanel’s work is apparently viewed as a case in point.Google Scholar
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    Yoram Yacobson, Bi-netivei galuyot u-ge’ulot: torat ha-ge’ulah shel R. Mordekhai Dato (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1996), 69.Google Scholar
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    See most recently Robert Bonfil, “Jewish Attitudes Toward History and Historical Writing in Pre-Modern Times,” Jewish History 11 (1997), 7–40.Google Scholar
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    Ram Ben-Shalom, “Dimmui ha-tarbut ha-noserit be-toda`ah ha-historit shel yehudei sefarad u-provens (ha-me’ot ha-shtem-`esrei `ad ha-hamesh-`esrei),” (Ph. D. diss., Tel Aviv University, 1996).Google Scholar
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    On Duran’s Ma’amar zikhron ha-shemadot see Frank Ephraim Talmage, introduction to Kitvei pulmos le-Profet Duran (Jerusalem: Merkaz Zalman Shazar, 1981), 11; cp. Abarbanel’s description of Yemot ‘olam (Ma’ayenei ha-yeshuâh, 288). For Abarbanel’s reference to Duran’s work see Yeshu’ot meshiho, 46r-v.Google Scholar
  76. 76.
    For samples see my “On the Threshold,” 315–18.Google Scholar
  77. 77.
    (Rödelheim, 1828), introduction.Google Scholar
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    See my “Isaac Abarbanel’s `Stance Towards Tradition’: the case of ’Ateret Zeqenim,” AJS Review 22 (1997), 165–98.Google Scholar
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    See my “Abarbanel’s Intellectual Biography.”Google Scholar
  80. 80.
    For an effort in this direction marred by an error as to the commentary’s place within the chronology of Abarbanel’s works, see Shaul Regev, “Meshihiyyut ve-’astrologiyah be-haguto shel rabbi Yishaq ‘Abarbanel,” ’Asuffot 1 (1987), 186–87.Google Scholar
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  82. 82.
    Ibid., 8v. To gain further insight into Abarbanel’s intellectual concerns in his twilight years one should note also the testimony of a scribe who heard from Abarbanel “chapters from the Guide directly” (MS JNUL 1116, 21v) as well as the existence of two brief essays on Maimonidean themes that Abarbanel dictated at this scribe’s request (ibid., 19v-21v).Google Scholar
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    Beyond sheer quantity, a further index of the interest which Abarbanel’s eschatology has generated is the diversity of languages in which relevant secondary literature has appeared. In addition to studies already cited or cited below see Yeshayahu Leibowitz, “Ha-ge’ulah ve’aharit ha-yamim ‘esel ’Abarbanel,” in ’Emunah historiyah va-ârakhim (Jerusalem: Akademon, 1983), 102–111; Marianne Awerbuch, Zwischen Hoffnung and Vernunft: Geschichtsdeutung der Juden in Spanien vor der Vertreibung am Beispiel Abravanels and Ibn Vergas, Studien zu jüdischen Volk and christlichen Gemeinde 6 (Berlin: Institut Kirche and Judentum, 1985); Jacqueline Genot-Bismuth, “Le mythe de l’orient dans l’eschatologie des juifs d’Espagne à l’époque des conversions forcées et de l’expulsion,” Annales ESC (1990), 827–30; Yehoshafat Nevo, “Galut ve-ge’ulah be-haguto shel don Yishaq ’Abravanel,” Sinai 110 (1993), 36–57.Google Scholar
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    A lone possible exception to this generalization is Barzilay who, in a somewhat self-contradictory way given his strong earlier statements as to Abarbanel’s post-1492 messianic consciousness, did ask: “[w]ere he really so serious in his Messianic hopes and speculations, why, one is tempted to ask, didn’t he show the slightest sign of personal involvement?” (Reason and Faith, 130). Elsewhere, however, his suspicion evaporates as he asserts (p. 123) without qualification, “[r]edemption, he feels, is at hand”Google Scholar
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    For the pre-expulsion period one may list an anonymous Spanish kabbalist who authored Sefer ha-meshiv as one who did see himself in this way. Another anonymous Portuguese author, fragments of whose work has only recently been recovered, viewed himself similarly after the expulsion. See Idel, “Introduction,” 17–18 and the translated excerpt from Isaiah Tishby, Meshihiyyut ba-dor gerushei sefarad u-fortugal (Jerusalem: Merkaz Zalman Shazar, 1985) as in Essential Papers on Messianic Movements and Personalities in Jewish History, ed. Marc Saperstein (New York: New York University Press, 1992), 266. On the Portuguese author of the “Genizah Fragments,” as Tishby has dubbed them, see Meshihiyyut,12–17.Google Scholar
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    Zevah pesah, as in Seder haggadah shel pesah (1872; reprinted Jerusalem: Sefarim Toraniyim, 1985), 3.Google Scholar
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    One should note, however, the element of continuity between what had come before and the messianic works themselves as alluded to by Gross (Le messianisme juif, 26): “Abarbanel, habitué à donner à sa pensée une expression politique et historique, s’attachera à présenter un systeme cohérent de la pensée messianique du judaïsme.”Google Scholar
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    For Jewish-Christian polemics and debates in fifteenth-century Italy see Daniel J. Lasker, Jewish Philosophical Polemics Against Christianity in the Middle Ages (New York: Ktav, 1977), 15, 18; David Ruderman, The World of a Renaissance Jew: The Life and Thought of Abraham ben Mordecai Farissol (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1981), 57–62. Five years prior to 1492 Abraham Farissol conducted a series of debates with Christian friars in Ferrara and Elijah Hayyim of Gennazano engaged in a polemical dispute with a Franciscan friar at around the same time. For a summary see ibid.,57–58.Google Scholar
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    One might wonder whether the usual scholarly assumption of a Hispano-Jewish refugee audience is not evidently questionable from another angle. It seems rather unlikely that non-Iberian Jews living in Italy (and, indeed, beyond) should have been wholly indifferent to the messianic visions and calculations of so prominent a figure as Abarbanel. This observation having been made, one wonders further whether such non-Iberians perhaps imbued Abarbanel’s teachings and predictions with less authority than Abarbanel’s Spanish coreligionists. The name of at least one native Italian scholar, David son of Judah Messer Leon, comes to mind as one who presumably viewed Abarbanel’s pretense to knowledge in matters messianic as just another example of his misguided claims to the mantle of learning generally, not to mention his generally insufferable overweening pride. For the disdain for Abarbanel felt by David, who experienced profound misgivings upon the ascension of Iberian Jews generally in Italy after 1492, see the texts published in Israelitische Letterbode 12 (1886–87), 88, wherein, among other things, Abarbanel’s arrogance in flaunting his alleged Davidic pedigree and pretensions to Maimonidean learning are derisively dismissed.Google Scholar
  112. 112.
    For the image drawn from the book of Leviticus of a house afflicted by eruptive plague to express the loss of faith among his audience, with Abarbanel’s own literary efforts being depicted as purificatory rites, see Yeshu’ot meshiho, 4r.Google Scholar
  113. 113.
    See in general Jeremy Cohen, The Friars and the Jews: The Evolution of Medieval Anti-Judaism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982); Robert Chazan, Daggers of Faith: Thirteenth-century Christian Missionizing and Jewish Response (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).Google Scholar
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    Daniel J. Lasker, “Jewish-Christian Polemics in Light of the Exile from Spain,” Judaism 41 (1992), 151–53.Google Scholar
  116. 116.
    For Abarbanel’s argument, following Crescas, that the second Temple period was not a time of complete redemption but merely one of divine “remembering,” see Yeshu’ot meshiho, 38v; cp. Crescas’ ‘Or ’adonai 3:8:2 (ed. Shlomo Fischer [Jerusalem: Sifrei Ramot, 1990], 366–70). For Abarbanel’s heated rejection of Albo’s application of various scriptural prophecies to the Second Temple period see Yeshu’ot meshiho,27r-28v.Google Scholar
  117. 117.
    See Austin, “Explanatory Pluralism,” 22–23, for the observation that an adequate answer to a why-question will depend on “what the questioner takes as a given and what the alternatives in the questioner’s intended contrast class are”Google Scholar
  118. 118.
    Beyond Abarbanel’s well-known strenuous opposition to the “radical esoteric” reading of Maimonides proffered by the likes of Joseph ibn Kaspi, Moses Narboni, and Profet Duran (for a recent study which takes in this theme see my “Isaac Abarbanel’s `Stance Towards Tradition’: the case of Ateret Zegenim, 165–98), note his rejection in the introduction to his commentary on the Former Prophets of the elliptical writing style at times practiced by Abraham ibn Ezra and Moses b. Nahman (Perush ‘al nevi’im rishonim [Jerusalem: Torah VaDa’at, 1955], 13).Google Scholar
  119. 119.
    Cp. the phenomenologically parallel observation made with respect to Maimonides’ multiply problematic transmission of a family tradition regarding the time of the messianic advent as in Joel L. Kraemer, “On Maimonides’ Messianic Posture,” in Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature II (above n. 93), 120.Google Scholar
  120. 120.
    Tishby, Meshihiyyut, as in Saperstein, ed., Essential Papers, 272.Google Scholar
  121. 121.
    Tishby’s coinage as in Essential Papers, 259.Google Scholar
  122. 122.
    For this distinction in writings of the period see Shaul Regev, “Gerush u-ge’ulah be-`enei hogim megurashim,” in Tarbut yahadut sefarad: refer qongres ha-ben-le’umi ha-rishon, ed. Aviva Doron (Tel Aviv: Ha-Mikhlalah, 1994), 206.Google Scholar
  123. 123.
    Perush âl nevi’im aharonim, 207. This well-known passage is not adduced by Regev in his article referred to in the previous note. For important (if somewhat overwrought) commentary on the tone and biblical allusions found in the larger passage of which this remark forms a part, see Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, The Lisbon Massacre of 1506 and the Royal Image in the Shebet Yehudah, Hebrew Union College Annual Supplements 1 (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1976), 57–58.Google Scholar
  124. 124.
    Perush al nevi’im rishonim, 422.Google Scholar
  125. 125.
    For the retrospective implicit seventeenth-century critique of Simone Luzzatto, see the convincing reconstruction in Bernard Septimus, “Biblical Religion and Political Rationality in Simone Luzzatto, Maimonides and Spinoza,” in Jewish Thought in the Seventeenth Century, ed. Isadore Twersky and Bernard Septimus, Harvard Judaic Monographs VI (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987), 432 n. 141.Google Scholar
  126. 126.
    Ma’ayenei hayeshu’ah, 283–84.Google Scholar
  127. 127.
    Sanhedrin 97b: “Blasted be the bones of those who calculate the End, for they [the people who heard these calculations] used to say: `since [the calculated time of] the end has arrived but he [the Messiah] has not come, he will never come’ ’ Despite this dictum, rabbinic literature did offer a series of such calculations. For discussion and secondary literature see David Berger, ”Three Typological Themes in Early Jewish Messianism: Messiah Son of Joseph, Rabbinic Calculations, and the Figure of Armilus,“ AJS Review 10 (1985), 149–55.Google Scholar
  128. 128.
    Ma’ayenei ha-yeshu`ah, 283–84. For the generally positive evaluation of astrology among scholars of “the generation of the expulsion” see the literature cited in Yacobson, Bi-Netivei, 353 n. 297. For the larger Italian Renaissance context relevant to those refugee scholars who settled in Italy and were aware of Renaissance ideas, Abarbanel foremost among them, see D.C. Allen, The Star-Crossed Renaissance: The Quarrel about Astrology and Its Influence in England (Durham: Duke University Press, 1941), 3–46.Google Scholar
  129. 129.
    Netanyahu, Abravanel, 220.Google Scholar
  130. 130.
  131. 131.
    For quick orientation in the printing history of Abarbanel’s writings see Ephraim Shemueli, Don Yishaq ‘Abarbanel ve-gerush sefarad (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1963), 270–71.Google Scholar
  132. 132.
    Ibid., 270.Google Scholar
  133. 133.
    David W. Amram, The Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy (1909; reprinted London: Holland Press, 1963), 279.Google Scholar
  134. 134.
    Manuel, Broken Staff, 155.Google Scholar
  135. 135.
    Shemueli, Don Yishaq Abarbanel, 270. As one of these occurred in Amsterdam in 1647, it emerges that back-to-back printings of two of the three messianic works took place in Amsterdam in the 1640s. In light of the scarcity of printings overall this convergence almost surely tells a story. For regular invocations of Abarbanel’s authority in messianic and other works written in Amsterdam around this time by Menasseh ben Israel see Gaster, “Abravanel’s Literary Work,” 70.Google Scholar
  136. 136.
    Manuel, Broken Staff, 155. Google Scholar
  137. 137.
    For an impressive list of Christian readers see ibid. In addition to Christian savants stimulated, almost invariably negatively, by Abarbanel’s eschatology, one notes its influence on the messianic hopes of Portuguese New Christians as described in José Ferro Tavares, “O Messianismo Judaico em Portugal (la Metade do Seculo XVI),” Luso-Brazilian Review 28 (1991), 141–51.Google Scholar
  138. 138.
    Shemueli, Don Yishaq ‘Abarbanel, 270.Google Scholar
  139. 139.
    Paris MS héb 749 (= film no. 12055 of the Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in Jerusalem).Google Scholar
  140. 140.
    Shemueli, Don Yishaq Abarbanel, 270. Some passages from these works did indeed have a long and at times controversial afterlife, for example Abarbanel’s account of the “suffering servant” songs in Isaiah 52–53, though here it was the christological use to which these verses were put that invited the intensity of interest in Abarbanel’s handling thereof. For the “slashing attack” on Abarbanel’s treatment by Constantijn L’Empereur see Manuel, Broken Staff, 155. For L’Empereur’s awareness of the Isaiah commentary generally see Peter T. Van Rooden, Theology, Biblical Scholarship and Rabbinical Studies in the Seventeenth Century Constantijn L’Empereur (1591–1648) Professor of Hebrew and Theology at Leiden (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1989), 174. In the Jewish world ongoing interest in Abarbanel’s interpretation of these chapters is attested by the production of a Hebrew abridgement of it and an abridgement of the abridgement. See S.R. Driver and Ad. Neubauer, The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters, 2 vols., reprint with prolegomenon by Raphael Loewe (New York: Ktav, 1969), l:xii-xiii, 2:xi-xii.Google Scholar
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    See Tishby, Meshihiyyut, 134–38, where the figure with whom ibn Shraga takes issue is shown to be Abarbanel. Ibn Shraga wrote his work in 1499.Google Scholar
  142. 142.
  143. 143.
    Ruderman, “Hope Against Hope,” 303, 307. Other Jewish writers including the astrologer Abraham Zacuto set forth 1504 as their entrant for the time of the onset of the messianic era; see Malachi Beit-Arié and Moshe Idel, “Ma’amar `al ha-kes ve-ha-’istagninut me-’et r[abbi] ‘Avraham Zakut,” Kiryat sefer 54 (1979), 182.Google Scholar
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    As formulated in the now classic study by Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schachter, When Prophecy Fails (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956), 23.Google Scholar
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    See Ira Robinson, “K[etav] y[ad] shel qissur `perush nevu’ot ha-yeled’ le-rabbi ‘Avraham ben ’Eliezer ha-levi,” Alei sefer 8 (1980), 151–52. Cp. Mathew N. Schmalz, “When Festinger Fails: Prophecy and the Watch Tower,” Religion 24 (1994), 293–308.Google Scholar
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    This is the conclusion of Ira Robinson in his unpublished study entitled “Abarbanel and Halevi: Two Strands of Jewish Messianic Thought in the Aftermath of the Spanish Expulsion” (13). I wish to express my genuine gratitude to Professor Robinson for putting at my disposal the conclusions of his paper. Note that unlike Abarbanel’s Paduan neighbor Joseph ibn Shraga, Abraham was far removed from Abarbanel geographically. Robinson (“Two Strands,” 12) nonetheless rejects as “highly unlikely,” for a variety of seemingly sound reasons, the possibility of Abraham’s simply not knowing Abarbanel’s messianic ideas and dates.Google Scholar
  147. 147.
    Yacobson, Bi-Netivei, 182.Google Scholar
  148. 148.
    See respectively Yacobson, Bi-Netivei, 182, 201 and 408 nn. 262–263; 206 and 410 nn. 292, 295; 209 and 411 n. 311. For other examples of apparent dependence on Abarbanel see ibid., 166 and 388 n. 47 (on the relationship of redemption to repentance) and 193 and 404 n. 219 (on exegesis of “the wilderness of the nations” passage in Ezekiel).Google Scholar
  149. 149.
    Ibid., 398 n. 156.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 8,49–50.Google Scholar
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    See most recently Abraham Gross, “The Expulsion and the Search for the Ten Tribes,” Judaism 41 (1992), 130–47.Google Scholar
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    Idel, “Introduction,” 25; Tishby, Meshihiyyut, as in Saperstein, ed., Essential Papers, 261–62.Google Scholar
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    Megillat ha-megalleh, ed. Adolph Poznanski and Julius Guttmann (Berlin: Mekizei Nirdamim, 1924), 112.Google Scholar
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    As Guttmann notes in the introduction to the just cited edition of bar Hiyya’s work (27), Abarbanel does not refer to bar Hiyya by name when introducing his astrological calculations but his reliance on his predecessor is clear. Whether Dato knew the extent of Abarbanel’s reliance on bar Hiyya remains an open question. There is also the possibility that Dato was familiar with bar Hiyya’s ideas through conduits other than Abarbanel given their widespread popularity. See above.Google Scholar
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    On this point see Ruderman, “Hope Against Hope”Google Scholar
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    In this vein, see the well taken reservation regarding Netanyahu’s assumption of a link between Abarbanel and Savonarola in Sharot, “Jewish Millennial-Messianic Movements,” 85 n. 36 (a slightly elongated version of idem.,Messianism, Mysticism, and Magic: A Sociological Analysis of Jewish Religious Movements [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982], 262 n. 25).Google Scholar
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    This, despite the frequent associations drawn between the two; see below.Google Scholar
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    Note that Ottoman archival documents discovered since Netanyahu first wrote his book (though published prior to its third edition) ascribe Tiberias’ rebuilding more to Don Joseph’s mother-in-law, Dona Gracia, than Don Joseph himself. See Uriel Heyd, “Te`udot turkiyyot `al binyanah shel teveryah be-me’ah ha-16,” Sefunot 10 (1966), 193–210.Google Scholar
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    E.g., Cecil Roth, The Duke of Naxos of the House of Nasi (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1948), 106: “he was in the direct line of ancestry of later Zionism.” The view of Don Joseph as “Zionist avant la lettre” remains current; see Joseph Adler, Restoring the Jews to Their Homeland: Nineteen Centuries in the Quest for Zion (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1997), 61.Google Scholar
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    For recent discussion see Natan Shor, “Ha-nisayon le-haqamat `medinah yehudit’ bi-teveryah `al-yedei donah Grasiyah Mendes ve-Don Yosef nasi ve-hakhshalato bi-yedei ha-fransisganim,” ’Arid153–54 (1987), 44–50.Google Scholar
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    Netanyahu, Abravanel, 256. For earlier rejection of Netanyahu’s critique on similar grounds, see Gross, “Search for the Ten Tribes,” 147, n. 30.Google Scholar
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    See the sources cited by Tishby as in Saperstein, ed., Essential Papers, 281–83 nn. 29–34.Google Scholar
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    The formulation of Bernard McGinn in Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle Ages (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979), 149–52.Google Scholar
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    This surmise was suggested to me as a result of concatenating various observations in Gross, Le messianisme juif, 27, 57.Google Scholar
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    Schwartz, Ha-reâyon, 232, has recently argued that Abarbanel resolved the great medieval intrareligious Jewish debate over apocalyptic versus naturalistic messianism in favor of the former. If this conclusion holds, one would want to explore anew the possibility that this resolution determined, immediately or eventually, the constraints in which later Jewish messianic activity occurred.Google Scholar
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    For a recent far-reaching survey along these lines not restricted to the Middle Ages, see David Biale, Power and Powerlessness in Jewish History (New York: Schocken, 1986) (for the medieval period see 58–86).Google Scholar
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    E.g., Amos Funkenstein, Teva’ historiyah u-meshihiyyut ‘esel ha-rambam (Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense, 1983). Elsewhere Funkenstein speaks of the “myth” of medieval Jewish political (as opposed to messianic) passivity; Tadmit ve-toda’ah historit he-yahadut u-ve-sevivatah ha-tarbutit (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1991), 234–35.Google Scholar
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    See, e.g., Abarbanel’s account of the conquest of the Land of Israel where an exegetical effort is made to preserve a balance between a requirement for some human initiative and preservation of God’s role as the ultimate saving power. The Israelites are told, “Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, to you have I given it” (Josh. 1:3) lest, as Abarbanel understands, they confuse the previous enjoinder to “arise, go over this Jordan, you, and all this people unto the land which I do give to them” to mean that no initiative is required of them at all. Then, however, to correct for a possible misinterpretation in the opposite direction they are told “there shall not any man be able to stand before thee…” (Josh. 1:5). Having been told that “every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon to you have I given it,” they might have then believed that “the matter, since it was made dependent on the exercise of the treading of their sole, was consequent upon their courage and not God’s providence.” Perush `al nevi’im rishonim, 15–16. Cp. Abarbanel’s effort to explain the absence of any reference to God’s miraculous capability in Caleb’s enjoinder to the people following the scouts’ reconnaissance of the land. Commentary on the Torah, 3 vols. (Jerusalem: Sefarim Benei Arabel, 1964), 3:67. A similar effort to preserve a place for the unique divine providence that operates in Israel’s affairs is evident in Abarbanel’s discussion of kingship. The upshot is that even granting (as Abarbanel does not) monarchy’s necessity for other nations, it would not follow that Jews should have a king since the benefits which this form of government bestows are achieved in Israel by God who “vouchsafes His particular providence to His elected nation” (the formulation in Leo Strauss, “On Abravanel’s Philosophical Tendency and Political Teaching,” in Trend and Loewe, eds. (n. 17 above), 117–18). Connections between Abarbanel’s quietistic political-messianic doctrines and other aspects of his theology are worth pursuing; for an intriguing suggestion of one such (messianic passivity and Abarbanel’s “pessimism with respect to civilization”) see Gross, Le messianisme juif, 29–30.Google Scholar
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    P. 46r; cf. Schorsch, “History of the Political Judgment,” I 1 (where, however, Abarbanel is made to sound more explicit on this score than his formulation warrants).Google Scholar
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    For Maimonides see Amos Funkenstein, “Maimonides: Political Theory and Realistic Messianism,” Miscellanea Mediaevalia 11 (1977), 97 (and for Greco-Arabic context Kraemer, “Maimonides’ Messianic Posture,” 141). For Abarbanel’s kinship with Maimonides here in opposition to more optimistic late medieval visions of the onset of the messianic age see my “ `Israel has No Messiah,’’ ” 275–76. For the more general combination of activity and passivity on the part of “world Jewry” as envisioned by Abarbanel (with the active role ascribed mainly to the ten tribes) see the summary in Robinson, “Abraham b. Eliezer Halevi,” 31–34.Google Scholar
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    For Netanyahu and Weiler as exemplifications of these two critical stances respectively see Attias, “Between Ethnic Memory and National Memory,” 146–48.Google Scholar
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    This final suggestion, which is no more than speculation, is prompted by the fact that Netanyahu blames messianic passivity in his book on Abarbanel mostly by implication whereas his explicit critique falls incessantly on Abarbanel’s lack of realism (above). This suggests the prospect that “standard” Zionist metanarratives acclaim premodern messianism because they work with the polarity “activism-passivity” and find messianism an example of the former whereas Revisionist historians might, as they cast their gaze back, be more inclined to evaluate premodern Jewish history in terms of “realism” or lack thereof, blaming messianism as the prime example of this lack. Elsewhere, Netanyahu does invoke the stigma of a pre-Zionist “ideology which glorified… passivity”; see his lecture cited above in n. 44. Netanyahu’s sense of the inadequacies of medieval Jewish political strategy may have been unduly magnified by his historiographic focus on late medieval Spain where, even seen as a tactical “policy of quietism” (above), this strategy seemed at its most inadequate.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. Lawee
    • 1
  1. 1.York UniversityUSA

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