Thursday, February 23, 2006

Shabbetai Zevi

I recently finished reading Balthasar's Odyssey by one of my favourite authors, the Lebanese author and journalist, Amin Maalouf; and I am almost through reading The Story of God by Dr. Robert Winston. By pure coincidence both books mention a self claimed Jewish messiah, Shabbetai Zevi.

Zevi with the help and provacations of a Svengali figure by the name of Nathan, formally announced on 31St May, 1665 to be the Messiah. As this maniac Messiah moved through the cities and towns on his route, mass hysteria followed him like a modern day celebrity icon. Meanwhile, Nathan, acting like today's PR agents, printed and distributed texts which announced Zevi's mission. All this was enthusiastically received in Jewish communities from Palestine to Northern cities of Europe. In Prague they fasted, in Frankfurt they took continual ritual baths to ready themselves for redemption. Many sold all their possessions and returned to Palestine and some shady businessmen profitted from selling non-existent package deals to the Holy Land.

Zevi set the date, 18th June, 1666 as the day of redemption and the end of the world. When the day came it passed just like any other ordinary day. In order to escape death from the Sultan, Zevi embraced Islam and adopted the name Aziz Mehmed Effendi.

When I was reading all this, I couldn't help but remember our own recent Iranian version of Zevi the saviour, a charlatan calling himself, Ahura Pirooz Khalegh Yazdi or as most people referred to him, Hakha. Like Zevi, Hakha also claimed to be the saviour, not for Jews but for Iran, and like Zevi, Hakha also liked setting dates for huge phenpmenons to take place. In fact he set two dates, one when he was supposed to return to Iran with his followers on 50 charter jets and when that didnt happen, he set another date when a national uprising would finally free Iran.

I can not begin to tell you how much I cringed at some of my compatriots who were mesmerised by this charlatan. The shame I felt when I watched wealthy Iranians, professionals, and others subscribe so foolishly to such an obvious conman. A handsome sum must have been spent just on his TV programs alone.

Just like Zevi, Hakha fizzled out after his deadlines passed without much fuss and most of us have now forgotten about Hakha and his gullible followers. I guess when despair sets and people see no light at the end of the tunnel, they become attracted to some notion of mystic saviour and devine intervention. Having read about Zevi the Messiah, I am glad that Iranians have not been the only ones with such embarassing flashpoints.


Anonymous said...

Hehe reminds me of the Christian's Great Dissapointment..

Mr. Azarmehr, can you please put up your email address somewhere so I can contact you? or please send me an email to dreamerofafreeiran at googlemail dot com.

Ba sepaas.

Anonymous said...

Sabbetai Zevi was well known enough to be mentioned by Pepys. The biography by Gershom Scholem is well worth reading---although it is very long and densely argued. I found the attitude of the Ottomans fascinating, looking with amused tolerance as the Jewish community in Izmir went mad, but intervening when this frenzy interfered with trade. Zevi was told to convert to Islam or die: he converted and his followers (via some theological acrobatics)saw this as part of his sacred mission. The Frankists---the last stage of Sabbateanism are very much bound up with the German Jewish Enlightenment.