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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Sabbathai Zebi

(i.e. צְבַי, the gazelle, or beauty, a family adjunct), a famous Jewish impostor, was born in Smyrna, July, 1641. When a child he was sent to a Rabbinic school and instructed in the whole cycle of Rabbinic lore. When fifteen years of age, he betook himself to the study of the Cabala, rapidly mastered its mysteries, and became peerless in his knowledge of "those things which were revealed and those things which were hidden;" and at the age of eighteen obtained the honorable appellation of sage (חכ ם ), delivering public lectures, and expounding the divine law and the esoteric doctrine before crowded audiences. At the age of twenty-four, he revealed to his disciples that he was the Messiah, the son of David, the true Redeemer, and that he was to redeem and deliver Israel from their captivity among the Christians and Mohammedans. At the same time he publicly pronounced the Tetragrammaton as it is written, to do which, it is well known, was not permitted, save to the high priest during the existence of the Temple, when he performed service in the Holy of Holies on the day of atonement, thus braving the rule that "the penalty of death is pronounced on him who utters the Tetragrammaton publicly." When the sad intelligence reached the sages of Smyrna, they sent to him two messengers of the Beth-din (ecclesiastical tribunal) to warn him, and to caution him that if he should so trespass again they would excommunicate him, and even consider it a meritorious action for any one to take his life. But Sabbathai replied that he was allowed to do so, being the anointed of God. Hearing this, the sages of Smyrna were much affrighted, and having deliberated together what to do, they decreed unanimously that he was guilty of death for two reasons: firstly, because he had uttered the name of the Lord according to its letters, and, secondly, because he pretended to be the Messiah. Therefore they excommunicated him, and proclaimed it a meritorious action for any one to slay him, and the fine imposed on the slayer by the laws of the Mohammedans they promised to pay.

Now, when Sabbathai saw that evil was determined against him, he fled from Smyrna to Salonica, where he was received with great honor, his evil deeds having not yet been known there. Many disciples also gathered around him to learn the science of the Cabala, and all the inhabitants of Salonica revered him and loved him more than any other man. But after having been there for a considerable time, he fell again into his former error, and repeated his former transgression, uttering the name of the Lord according to its letters in the presence of his disciples; and when his pupils asked him wherefore he did so, he replied that he was the anointed, and that it was therefore lawful for him to do so. The sages of Salonica, having heard of this repeated offense, sent to him two messengers of the Beth-din, ordering him to quit Salonica, otherwise he would be put to death, because he had wrought folly in Israel. Knowing that the Jews had more power at Salonica than in any other country, he secretly fled to Athens, and thence into Morea. But he found no refuge there, for the inhabitants of Morea, being informed that he had been expelled from Salonica, also drove him away. He then went through Greece to Alexandria, from this city to Cairo, and thence to the Holy Land, as far as Jerusalem, where he remained for several years, teaching the Cabala, proclaiming himself as the Messiah, anointing prophets, and converting thousands upon thousands. So numerous were the believers in him that in many places trade was entirely stopped; the Jews wound up their affairs, disposed of their chattels, and made themselves ready to be redeemed from their captivity and led by Sabbathai Zebi back to Jerusalem. The consuls of Europe were ordered to inquire into this extraordinary movement, and the governors of the East reported to the sultan the cessation of commerce. Sabbathai Zebi was then arrested by order of the sultan Mohammed IV, and taken before him at Adrianople. The sultan spoke to him as follows: "I am going to test thy Messiahship. Three poisoned arrows shall be shot into thee, and if they do not kill thee, I too will believe that thou art the Messiah." He saved himself by embracing Islamism in the presence of the sultan, who gave him the name Effendi, and appointed him Kapidji-Bashi. Sabbathai died Sept. 10, 1676, after having ruined thousands upon thousands of Jewish families. The literature on this pseudo-Messiah is very rich. See Furst, Bibl. Jud. 3, 184 sq.; Gratz, Gesch. d. Juden, 10, 205 sq.; note 3, p. 23 sq.; Jost, Gesch. d. Judenth. u. s. Secten, 3, 153 sq.; Ginsburg, Kabbalah, p. 139; Basnage, Histoire des Juifs (Taylor's transl.), p. 701; Theologisches Universal- Lexikon, s.v. Milman, Hist. of the Jews, 3, 369 sq.; Da Costa, Israel and the Gentiles, p. 475 sq.; Schmucker, Hist. of the Modern Jews, p. 226 sq. (See MESSIAHS, FALSE). (B.P.)

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Sabbathai Zebi'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/s/sabbathai-zebi.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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