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Kabbalah: Sabbatai Sevi and his Contemporaries II

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Continued from Part I

Among the colorful observers of Sabbatai Sevi, we find Thomas Coenen, a Dutch Evangelical preacher in Izmir, who followed Sabbatai Sevi closely, and in 1669 published in Amsterdam his book, Vain Expectations of the Jews.

Sevi was a career savior for Thomas Coenen, a frustrated preacher for a reluctant and non-devout community of Dutch merchants in Izmir. An avid contestant of Judaism, Coenen found in the phenomenon of Sevi a worthy weapon for his battle against Jewish as well as Catholic faith, and immersed himself in the project; he followed every step of the “False Messiah,” acquired secret material from Sevi’s followers, and spent time arguing with them. Like many priests before him from the Spanish Inquisition, Coenen was very much obsessed with his “enemy”; you’d think he was an avid scholar of Judaism and Kabbalah. For that reason, apart for its derogatory remarks, his book provides an authentic glimpse not only into the events but also into Kabbalistic beliefs.

For instance, in order to understand messianic expectations, Coenen explains at length the idea of messianism in the Kabbalah:

“The Jews believe that every soul enters three human bodies. Adam’s first soul has entered King David and will inhabit the Messiah. However, Adam had five souls, so did King David, and so will the Messiah. In every century there is a person worthy of being the Messiah. This person is born with the first three souls each human has, and once redemption has arrived, this person will actualize the two additional souls and will have the unique five.“

The book ends with the description of Coenen’s meeting with Nathan of Gaza, Sevi’s prophet. Coenen hoped Nathan would give specific details about his “prophecies,” but his wish was not granted, and it seems that Nathan was altogether reluctant to enter into any dialogue with the Protestant preacher.

Coenen left Izmir in 1671 and spent the rest of his life in the uneventful town of Nieuwersluis, where he had plenty of time to reflect upon his great opponent, the Jewish “false” Messiah.

Despite Coenen’s slandering remarks on the Jews and their ridiculous hopes, his knowledge of so many events and ideas make one wonder if his stern Calvinistic facade wasn’t but the cover for a repressed passion for the freedom from exactly those religious constraints he preached against. Who knows if this frustrated preacher, who pronounced his disgust with his own disinterested flock, didn’t secretly nurture an aspiration for the antinomian freedom of the mystical way of life, as lived out by Sabbatai Sevi?

About michal Schwartz