The False Messiah and the Heretic Rabbi – Sabbatai Zevi and Jonathan Eibeschuetz

“I Came This Day to the Spring”–A Book to Shock and Amaze

The Hebrew Kabbalistic text called I Came This Day to the Spring (Va-avo ha-yom el ha-Ayin) created a scandal among the Jewish communities of Central Europe when it surfaced, in manuscript, in 1725.  It was obviously linked to the cult of Sabbatai Zevi, the would-be Messiah who drove the Jewish world wild with excitement in 1665 and converted to Islam the following year.

Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschuetz (1695-1764). From the "Olive Seedlings" website, via Wikimedia Commons.
Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschuetz (1695-1764). From the “Olive Seedlings” website, via Wikimedia Commons.

Yet it was something more, which its earliest readers found baffling and horrifying, alien to all their categories.  “After reading two or three paragraphs the hair of my flesh stood up,” said one.  “Nothing like this was ever seen or known from any heretic or disbeliever of this world.”  Said another:  “This book is that of a complete heretic … who uproots and destroys the very fundaments of the Jewish faith. … I did not find such heresy even among all the religions of the Gentiles that ever existed.”

The author was almost certainly the young Prague rabbi Jonathan Eibeschuetz (1695-1764), soon to become one of the most distinguished preachers and rabbinic authorities of his time.  He wrote his book as a charter for the world religion of the future, rooted in Kabbalistic Judaism but unlike any religion ever known.

The tenets of this faith-to-be-born included the brotherhood of all humanity, equal sharers in  God’s love.  They included gender equality, as mirrored in the relations between the male and female aspects of Divinity, and the acceptance of homosexual love as a legitimate form of eroticism.  All of this was conveyed in I Came This Day with an unabashed sexual frankness, rooted in traditional Kabbalistic eroticism but carried to unheard-of extremes, which has led even some modern scholars to label the book as pornographic.

No wonder 18th-century readers felt their hair stand on end as they turned its pages.

The book remained buried in manuscript until 2014, when the Hebrew text was published by Dr. Pawel Maciejko of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  It’s never been translated into any language–until now.

I’m working on an English translation of I Came This Day, to be published by the distinguished theological publishing house of Wipf and Stock.  This website is devoted to telling you about this amazing book and the challenges of translating it–and to bringing you news of its progress toward publication.

So let’s get started