The following is a post by Marina Caffiero, Honorary Professor of Early Modern History, Sapienza – University of Rome
It seems to me that a common thread runs throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It unites Jewish messianism and Christian millenarianism and configures a modern religious conception of conciliation, reunification and simplification of the faiths. If we can investigate the connections between these eschatological expectations and phenomena in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, we might be able to outline a global geography of the messianic and apocalyptic movements and construct a history of religious intersections. Despite the differences within the various messianic movements, these are intercultural phenomena that lasted until the eighteenth century. At their center was the theme of conversion understood as a positive reversal of the negativity of the real.
Western Europe’s Seventeenth Century was characterized by a climate of eschatological effervescence and messianic-millennial expectations in both the Catholic and the Protestant spheres. Consider the case of the English Revolution: expectations of the imminent realization of the events described in the Apocalypse, as well as of the upcoming conversion of the Jews and their reestablishment in the Holy Land (expected in 1656 or 1666) all played an important role. This climate of hope influenced Cromwell’s decision to readmit the Jews into England following the London mission of the famous Amsterdam rabbi Menasseh ben Israel. Ben Israel was an exponent of Jewish messianism in close connection with numerous protagonists of Christian millenarianism.
Our conference has demonstrated the coexistence, among Jews, of different—and even opposed—religious cultures. In several Italian Jewish figures whom we discussed we have seen a rationalist dimension of a very modern type cohabiting with a religious vision deriving form Kabbalah and the philosophical mysticism of the kabalists. Among them stands the figure of the Roman rabbi Tranquillo Vita Corcos (1660-1730) whose adherence to Kabbalah and even to Sabbatianism is demonstrated, I would suggest, in many unpublished sources. The Jews of Prague in 1727 requested that Corcos intercede with the pope to condemn and burn the Talmud there published which related to a sort of “Sabbatean” and “Catholicized” Judaism. In my forthcoming book, Il grande mediatore. Tranquillo Vita Corcors, un rabbino nella Roma dei papi (Roma: Carocci, 2019 – in press), I suggest that Corcos adhered, albeit in disguised form, to a messianic vision of redemption, and adopted messianic symbols of very interesting Sabbatean derivation. Clearly, complex and ambivalent ideas of Sabbatean origin were still diffuse among eighteenth-century Italian Jews.