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The Last Deception: Failed Messiahs and Jewish Conversion in Early Modern German Lands

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

Abstract

Jewish and Christian religious messianic traditions collided, intersected, and reverberated in an endless cycle which continually revised and reworked mutual perceptions and definitions. This paper will study the interplay between Christian expectations concerning Jewish conversion, Jewish messianism, and Jewish deceitfulness in early modern German literary culture. Jewish conversion to Christianity, collective or individual, and expressions of Jewish messianism constituted two extreme reactions to the Christian claims concerning the messiah. The former was interpreted by both Christians and Jews as a capitulation to the Christian interpretation of history, whereas the latter utterly rejected those claims. Christian notions of Jewish deceit undermined the meaning of both these Jewish responses and reinterpreted them, reshaping the signs of the endtime to carry a far more sinister meaning, in which conversions were transformed into new avenues of subversion and messianic claimants into predictable precursors of the Antichrist. They took on particular configurations in early modern German culture.

Keywords

Jewish Woman Christian Faith Christian World Ultimate Conversion Beautiful Daughter 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Romans 11: 24–27.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Andrew Colin Gow, The Red Jews: Antisemitism in an Apocalyptic Age, 1200–1600 (Leiden, 1995), 97.Google Scholar
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    Gow, The Red Jews, 3, 92. Not only the myth of the Red Jews, but the term itself, existed only in German language materials through the sixteenth century.Google Scholar
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    On early modern German attitudes toward Jewish conversion see Martin Friedrich, Zwischen Abwehr and Bekehrung: Die Stellung der deutschen evangelischen Theologie zum Judentum im 17. Jahrhundert (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1988, Beiträge zur historischen Theologie, 72), 1929; 55–62. Christopher M. Clark, The Politics of Conversion: Missionary Protestantism and the Jews of Prussia 1728–1941 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 9–32.Google Scholar
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    Eisenmenger, Entdecktes Judenthum, (Königsberg, 1711), 2:574.Google Scholar
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    For images and sources connecting the Jews with avarice, see Richard Wilhelm Stock, Die Judenfrage durch fünf Jahrhunderte, (Nürnberg: Verlag der Stürmer, 1939), passim. This Nazi inspired work, dedicated to Julius Streicher, contains many antisemitic works from the fifteenth century in facsimile. It also contains a separate section on the deceitfulness and dangers of Jewish conversion to Christianity. On Jewish deceit of Christians in medicine, see most recently John M. Efron, “Interminably Maligned: The Conventional Lies about Jewish Doctors,” in Jewish History and Jewish Memory: Essays in Honor of Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi ed. Elisheva Carlebach, John M. Efron and David N. Myers (Hanover and London: Brandeis University Press, 1998), 296–310. Eisenmenger distilled this strand of anti-Jewish discourse in his summa, Entdecktes Judenthum, 1:233: “When Jews are young, they deceive Christians with usury, when older, with medicine, although some have never laid eyes on a medical book. Through this, some Christians are murdered…. I believe today there are still many such deceitful doctors in Germany. I myself know a Jewish `medicastrum’ who does not know three words of Latin, and studied little. Even though today many Jews in Germany do go to universities and study to become doctors, a Christian can never trust them because their hatred is insatiable.” At one point in Entdecktes Judenthum, 2:574–576, Eisenmenger undermined his entire painstaking collection of rabbinic citations, by acknowledging that there was a vast body of work that would show them in an opposite, and very favorable light. Whenever one accused Jews of negative behavior, they refuted it with a citation from their rabbis forbidding that behavior. “To this I respond: The teachings of the rabbis are good and desirable; all Jews should follow them so that Christians would not be brought to grief through their shameful deceit. But because the rabbis not only countenance such abominable deceit, and do not punish it…, it follows that they must have another doctrine, which is opposite of the previously mentioned one.” I have cited here only token citations, from German sources; voluminous literature exists for each of these themes in medieval Europe.Google Scholar
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    The belief in the ultimate conversion of the most resistant opponents of Christ was later radicalized by Jakob Boehme to the notion of apokatastasis, a literal belief in universal redemption, including even the redemption of the devil and the end of Hell. See Pierre Deghaye, “Jacob Boehme and his Followers,” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality ed. Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman, (New York, 1992), 210–247.Google Scholar
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    Hans Folz, “Ein Spil von dem Herzogen von Burgund,” in Fastnachtspiele aus dem fünfzehnten Jahrhundert 1 ed. A. von Keller (Stuttgart, 1853) 169–190. This translation from Gow, The Red Jews, 375.Google Scholar
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    Eisenmenger Entdecktes Judenthum (Königsberg, 1711), 1:854, wrote that the Jews awaited their messiah daily so that they could then, in a miserable and gruesome manner, murder all Christians: “Alsdann alle Christen jämmerlicher and grausamer weise ermorden mögen.” This seemed such an obvious statement that no prooftexts were deemed necessary to support it.Google Scholar
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    A version of this story was cited by Eisenmenger who dated it to 1222. Entdecktes Judenthum, 2:665–666. None of the authors who cited the story as an anti Jewish polemic seemed aware that it was a subversive parody of the Virgin Mary and the belief in Immaculate Conception.Google Scholar
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    On the dialogue as a literary form in early modern European literature, see Colette Winn, The Dialogue in Early Modern France, 1547–1630, (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1993); Rudolf Bentzinger, Untersuchungen zur Syntax der Reformationsdialoge (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1992).Google Scholar
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    Cited in Joshua Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew and its Relation to Modern Anti-Semitism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1943/Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1983), 32, 224 n.2.Google Scholar
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    Cited in Gow, Red Jews, 362–3, from a Middle High German Historienbibel of the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. The Antichrist biography bears many similarities to the medieval Toledot Yeshu, a Jewish polemical counterhistory. See Anna Sapir Abulafia, “Invectives against Christianity in the Hebrew Chronicles of the First Crusade,” Crusade and Settlement ed. Peter W. Edbury (Cardiff: University College Press, 1985), 66–72.Google Scholar
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    Hans Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, “The False Messiah,” Courage the Adventuress and the False Messiah transl. Hans Speier (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964), 279.Google Scholar
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    Johannes a Lent, Schediasma Historico Philologicum de Judaeorum pseudo-Messiis (Herborna, 1697). His section on Sabbatai Zevi is found on 76–102.Google Scholar
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    Johann Freiderich Riederer, Intro. to vol. 4, Johann Jacob Schudt, Jüdischer Merckwürdigkeiten (Frankfurt and Leipzig, 1714–18).Google Scholar
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    Jacques Basnage, Histoire des juifs depuis Jesus-Christ jusqu’a present (La Haye, 1716). Introduction to Vol. 9.Google Scholar
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    Buchenroeder, Eilende Messias Juden-Post, cited in Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah 1626–1676 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), 471.Google Scholar
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    Lotharius Franz Fried, Neupolierter und wohlgeschliffener Juden-Spiegel: Darinnen der Juden greuliche Verstockung und Blindheit… und Ihre Falsche Messiasse… (Mainz, 1715). Fried listed nine false Jewish messiahs, 17 ff.; he lavished the most space on Sabbatai, 31–38, and concluded his section with the Antichrist, 56 ff.Google Scholar
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    Friederich Albrecht Christian, Juden Glaube und Aberglaube (Leipzig, 1713), 65 ff.Google Scholar
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    Schudt, Jüdische, vol. 2: 62 described the devastation among the followers of R Judah Hasid: “viele wieder zuruck in Europam gekehrt [from Israel] deren ein gut Theil den christliche glauben angenommen. Unter den letzteren dan auch Wolff Levi gewesen des gedachten R. Judah Chasid Schwester Sohn aus Lublin burtig der zu Nordlingen u.c. 1707 getaufft und Franciscus Lotharius Phillipi genandt worden.” Eisenmenger, Entdecktes, 2:667 provides another contemporary report of the Judah Hasid movement from a derisive persepective, which I intend to analyze more fully in another venue.Google Scholar
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    On this convert see Deborah Hertz “Women at the Edge of Judaism: Female Converts in Germany, 1600–1750,” Jewish Assimilation, Acculturation and Accomodation ed. Menachem Mor (Landam, Md.: University Press of America, 1990), 87, who cited the name as Mordechai Schemaja from Le Roi. This convert’s writings include Emunah hadasha shel haYehudim [in Hebrew]; oder, das neue Judenthum… denen Juden und Christen zu nützlichem Gebrauch… entworfen (Onolzbach, 1735–1736); and Gespräch In dem Reiche der Todten über die Bibel und Talmud, Zwischen dem Seeligen Herrn Doctor Luther und dem Berühmten Jüdischen Ausleger, Namens Raschi, […] Vols. 1–4 (Schwabach. 1737–1740).Google Scholar
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    Both Christiani and Theodore John mentioned the influence of Edzard in their decision to convert. Würfel reported that a twenty-year old Berlin Jew who had been instructed by Edzard in 1694 could not be baptized in Hamburg because the number of Jews preparing for baptism under Edzard at that time was so great, that preference had to be given to the local Jews wishing to convert. Those who came from other cities were sent elsewhere for the ceremony. Andreä Würfel, Historische Nachrichten von der Juden-Gemeinde welche ehehin in der Reichstadt Nürnberg angericht gewesen aber Ao 1499 ausgeschaffet worden (Nürnberg, 1755), 112b. [Page numbers 111–112 are erroneously paginated twice, this is the second set.] Callenberg’s institute published an anonymous history of Sabbatai Zevi in the eighteenth century. Der Erzbetrüger Sabbatai Sevi der falsche Messias der juden unter Leopold’s I regierung… (Halle, 1760). On Callenberg’s institute and the Sabbatian connection, see Azriel Shohat, Beginnings of the Haskalah Among German Jewry (Im Hilufe Tekufot) [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1960), 175–182.Google Scholar
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    Sigismund Hosmann, Das Schwer zu bekehrende Juden-Hertz nebst einigen… Mitteln zu der Juden Bekehrung (Helmstadt, 1701). Pp. 74–104 are devoted to descriptions of Sabbatai’s movement.Google Scholar
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    Daniel Jacob Bon, Wolgemeintes Sendschreiben… (Nordhausen, 1694), 20–34.Google Scholar
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    A list of converts from this period who stressed the centrality of the messiah for their conversion would far exceed the space and scope of this note. Examples include Theodore John, An Account of the Conversion of Theodore John, a late teacher among the Jews… which he delivered before he was baptized in the presence of the Lutheran congregation, 31 October 1692 transl from high Dutch into English. London, 1693, 2; his account dwells on this subject alone through page 42; Gutgen Steinhardin, Lebens — Geschichte und Glaubens — Bekenntnis (Nuremberg, c. 1775), 5–6, “dass wir Juden schon über 1700 Jahre vergeblich auf den Messias warteten, da Er doch würklich gekommen seye” Note also her prayers to “Herrn Messias,” 8Google Scholar
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    Bon, Wolgemeintes Sendschreiben, 3. Google Scholar
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    Christian Gerson, Des Jüdischen Thalmuds fürnehmster Inhalt und Widerlegung (6th ed., Leipzig, 1698) 1:351. Gerson, converted in 1600, wrote this book in 1607. “Die Jüden haben etliche falsche Messias angenommen und sind dadurch betrogen worden,” 350.Google Scholar
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    This passage is cited at length in Gottfried Selig, Der Jude, (1772) 9:23–29. He cited it from Bodenschatz, 4: appendix 2, who cited it from the book of convert Friedrich Albrecht Augusti, Geheimnisse der Juden von dem Sabbathjon, wie auch von den rothen Juden, 45. Augusti cites this `swindle’ of the Jews from an oral report by his contemporary and fellow convert Christoph Wallich. Wallich’s pre-conversion Jewish occupation as cantor and scribe qualified him as an authority, “who knew these things well.”Google Scholar
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    Joseph of Rosheim: Historical Writings ed. Hava Fraenkel-Goldschmidt (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1996), 296.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Curieuser Nachrichten aus dem Reich der Beschnittenen. This work was reprinted many times; I have consulted the (Cana in Galilaa, 1737; Frankfurt and Leipzig, 1738) eds. “Erste Unterredung. Zwischen Sabbatai Sevi einem in dem vorigen Seculo in den morganländern hochst-berüchtigt gesesenen Judis. Ertzbetrügerund dem fameusen Würtenbergischen Avanturier Jud Joseph Süss Oppenheimer, worin dieser beider beschnittenen Spitzbuben Leben und Begebenheiten entdeckt” Aside from Shabbatai Zevi, Oppenheimer was linked to other famous local deceivers such as Jörg Honauer. Richard I. Cohen and Vivian B. Mann, “Melding Worlds: Court Jews and the Arts of the Baroque,” From Court Jews to the Rothschilds 1600–1800 (Munich-New York: Prestel, 1996), 107, and to Isaac Nathan lscherlen, 222.Google Scholar
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. Carlebach
    • 1
  1. 1.Queens CollegeCUNYUSA

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