Friday, 25 November 2011

Reports of the Jewish Messiah reach Constantinople, 1728

The report of an army of half a million Jews, headed by the Messiah and marching out of Africa, is treated dismissively by the author who seems to be English ambassador to Turkey. I wonder what he thought at the time. His Jewish servant is convinced of the story.

I took my leave of this good natur'd and generous Sultan, who wants only our Education and Religion, to make a great figure in the world. I got to my lodgings about two hours after fun-set, much pleas'd with the magnificent variety of one day's diversions; and was hardly set down on my sofa to repose myself, after so agreeable a fatigue, when my old Druggerman or Interpreter, Abraham, a learned Jew, whose conversations often entertain my solitary hours, came to me with a good deal of surprize and amazement in his face. I immediately saw something extraordinary had happen'd, and enquir'd of him what was the matter? My Lord, says he, I bring you an account, which if it proves true, will make the enemies of my nation, and the despis'd Jewish people, glad to lick the dust of their shoes. Here is Rabbi Solomon just come from Tunis, who is sent to warn our brethren, that the ten Tribes are discovered in the middle part of Africa, where they retir'd in the days of their Captivity and affliction. He says they have a vast Empire there, and are very powerful, having near 50 millions of souls under their Kings, who are most observant of the Law, and have preserv'd their language pure and unmix'd, as well as their rites and ceremonies. The said Rabbi Solomon avers, that the great Messiah is risen among them, and hath chosen out an army of 500000 pick'd men, all as valiant as the Maccabees; that they have left all the strong holds of their Empire of Gangara and Seneganda well garison'd, and are in motion from the frontiers of those kingdoms, to cross the desarts of Borno and Guoga, and pass the Nile, seize on Egypt, and then the land of Canaan their Inheritance, and build up the fallen glories of mount Sion and Jerusalem. As I had a map of Africa in my room, I immediately search'd it for the kingdoms and desarts, my good Druggerman had settled his friends in, and found so far all was right; but desiring to know what authorities he or Rabbi Solomon had for this report, he gave me two letters from the Synagogue of Tunis, directed to the faithful Jews of Stamboul and its Provinces, willing them to be on their guard, and behave like men, for the Kingdom was about to be restor'd to Israel. Along with these he communicated to me, under the solemnest promises of secrecy, the Messiah's Manifesto; in which he exhorts his subjects and brethren to prepare to rifle, for the restoring both the sword and sceptre, into the hands of the faithful and chosen of heaven; and commands them to be ready, to depart for Jerusalem, to- the solemn sacrifice, so soon as they had certain intelligence from him, of his being possess'd of Egypt and Grand Cairo. I read them all over (that is, the Turkish translation of the Hebrew) with much admiration; and asking Abraham, if he believ'd these to be genuine letters? he answer'd me very hastily and angrily, as genuine as the Talmud; and that it was universally known to all the Turks, and the merchants in Stamboul, that these things were true; and it is certain, I had heard for several days, of some commotions in the inland parts of Africk, of a strange people.

I then ask’d him, what the Jews determined to do? Even, says he very eagerly, to obey the commands of their Messiah; and so soon as, he hath conquer'd Egypt to depart from the four winds under heaven, and be gather’d unto the brethren of the dispersion at Jerusalem at the solemn sacrifice. He said this with tears in his eyes, and such emotion of hearts that I could not chuse but pity him and his deluded people, who are as credulous as malice or love; and will probably, throughout this vast Empire, be, standing with their ears prickt up, and, like birds, ready to take wing with all they can carry with, them, if the news of this Revolution?

Upon this the Chiaus related Abraham's story, very much in the fame manner I have told it your Lord/hip; but with this addition, that the new Messiah was the strongest and most beautiful man upon earth.

But the Jews, my Lord, ate above all other nations foolishly credulous; this Abraham my Truchman, is really more knowing and judicious than'most of his Tribe, and yet he reads the Talmud, the Misnah, and all the fabulous mysteries of the Cabbala, with as much veneration as the Pentateuch. He is as much persuaded that our tears were not salt, till Lot's wife was chang'd into a pillar of salt; that she has still her Menses; and that me was thus chang'd,becau fe that out of malice she would not put down the faltseller on the table to the angels; as that Sodom was burnt.

Source: Memoirs of the twentieth century. 1728.

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