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In the Footsteps of the Messiah

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Be-ikvot Mashiah (Jerusalem: Tarshish, 1944) was the first scholarly publication to present selections from the scattered and secret manuscripts of the Sabbatian prophet Nathan of Gaza, described by Gershom Scholem as the instigator of the messianic activities of Sabbatai Ṣevi. The publication of such texts, widely condemned as heretical and hidden away for generations, was part of Scholem’s efforts to raise the Sabbatian movement up from the depths of oblivion and dispel the fog that had long obscured its history. He lay the groundwork for this undertaking in his remarkable essay “Mitsvah ha-Ba’ah ba-Averah: la-Havanat ha-Shabta’ut,” (Keneset 2 [1937]: 347–392; translated into English by Hillel Halkin as “Redemption Through Sin” in Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism: And Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality, New York: Schocken Books, 1973, 78–141). Here Scholem called for the authoring of a new history of the Sabbatian movement, one that would stand in opposition to the one-sided portrayals crafted by earlier scholars and the writers of the Haskalah. This was an attempt to demonstrate how the messianic fervor brought forth a radical new theology and led to the formation of a “blasphemous” Kabbalah, an “accursed heresy” that changed the face of early modern Judaism. Scholem believed that the return to and printing of primary source texts was a means of redeeming history. Following in the footsteps of the kinus project declared by Hayyim Nahman Bialik, he proposed nothing short of a textual renaissance. He wanted these texts to be accessible to all those “who take an interest in the great awakening that came in the footsteps [be-ikvot] of this wondrous Messiah.” He believed that the time had come for a reevaluation and a new understanding, and that it was precisely the present period of national revival that afforded a deeper understanding of “this tragic manifestation of the desire for redemption and longings for salvation within our people.”

Since then, the study of Sabbatianism has changed deeply, yet Be-ikvot Mashiah has not been reprinted. The current edition aims to make the text more accessible to a wider audience with the addition of a comprehensive introduction, notes, and appendices appropriate for contemporary readers. We have no doubt that this book will be of interest not just to researchers of Jewish literature or Jewish theology, but also to anyone who is interested in the twists and turns of modern Jewish history. The choice of Blima Books, specialists in high-quality and attractive printing, will bring these important and powerful texts to contemporary Hebrew readers.