In 1524, a man named David Reubeni appeared in Venice, claiming to be the ambassador of a powerful Jewish kingdom deep in the heart of Arabia. In this era of fierce rivalry between great powers, voyages of fantastic discovery, and brutal conquest of new lands, people throughout the Mediterranean saw the signs of an impending apocalypse and envisioned a coming war that would end with a decisive Christian or Islamic victory. With his army of hardy desert warriors from lost Israelite tribes, Reubeni pledged to deliver the Jews to the Holy Land by force and restore their pride and autonomy. He would spend a decade shuttling between European rulers in Italy, Portugal, Spain, and France, seeking weaponry in exchange for the support of his hitherto unknown but mighty Jewish kingdom. Many, however, believed him to favor the relatively tolerant Ottomans over the persecutorial Christian regimes. Reubeni was hailed as a messiah by many wealthy Jews and Iberia's oppressed conversos, but his grand ambitions were halted in Regensburg when the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, turned him over to the Inquisition and, in 1538, he was likely burned at the stake.
Diary of a Black Jewish Messiah is the first English translation of Reubeni's Hebrew-language diary, detailing his travels and personal travails. Written in a Hebrew drawn from everyday speech, entirely unlike other literary works of the period, Reubeni's diary reveals both the dramatic desperation of Renaissance Jewish communities and the struggles of the diplomat, trickster, and dreamer who wanted to save them.
Stanford University Press
Country of Publication:
Series: Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture
Publication Date: 31 January 2023
Professional and scholarly
Introduction 1. Africa 2. Egypt and the Holy Land 3. Italy 4. Portugal 5. Spain Appendix: Solomon Cohen's Addendum
Alan Verskin is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Rhode Island.
Reviews for Diary of a Black Jewish Messiah: The Sixteenth-Century Journey of David Reubeni through Africa, the Middle East, and Europe
"""Alan Verskin has once again proven himself to be a master translator with this English rendering of the Hebrew diary of the semi-messianic figure, David Reubeni. Verskin is no less a master storyteller who vividly recreates the historical setting of Reubeni's activity in his detailed introduction, which is eminently scholarly yet fully accessible.""—Norman A. Stillman, Executive Editor of Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World ""A fantastical tale of adventure, political intrigue, and apocalyptic expectation, David Reubeni's diary is surely one of the most fascinating pieces of Jewish writing from the age of exploration. Alan Verskin's elegant and eminently readable translation reveals the exploits of this self-declared messenger of a mythical Jewish kingdom as he pursues his unlikely quest to restore Jews to their ancient homeland.""—Matthias B. Lehmann, author of The Baron ""There were several ways in which Verskin could have approached this project. The material is so rich that he could have produced an updated English version of Aaron Ze'ev Aescoly's thick, heavily annotated and augmented 1940 Hebrew edition of the diary. But this would have been the work of several decades. On the other hand, he could have given us a bare translation with minimal apparatus. This small, elegant volume, which features Verskin's rich thirty-page introduction and deft, helpful endnotes, seems just right.""—Matt Goldish, Jewish Review of Books"