A Jewish Messiah in the Ottoman Court: Sabbatai Sevi and the Emergence of a Judeo-Islamic Community (1666-1720)

Thesis Type:

PhD dissertation


This dissertation is about a person and a community in perpetual transition. It seeks to present a new historical perspective of a highly influential Jewish messianic Sabbatian movement that surfaced in the Ottoman Empire in 1665. The movement emerged within the matrix of early modern Ottoman and European social and religious developments and after the conversion of the “messiah” to Islam in 1666, it was transformed into a Judeo-Islamic messianic sect, better known in later periods as the sect of the Dönmes. The dissertation aims to interpret this experience within the Ottoman material and cultural world and to write a monograph on the movement and its sects, that takes specific Ottoman institutions, practices, personalities and networks into account.

This work attempts to bring together methodological approaches of social and intellectual history and religious studies. The first chapter is an account of the transformation of Sabbatai Sevi into Aziz Mehmed Efendi from 1665 to 1666. The second chapter narrates Aziz Mehmed Efendi's transformation into Sabbatai Mehmed Sevi. The third chapter deals with the formative period of the Ottoman Sabbatian community until 1720, when the third and final split occurred and the community was divided into the Yakubis , Karakaş' and Kapancis. In the fourth chapter, I deal with the formation of Sabbatian identity by looking at the dialectic between the communities' self-perception and the larger society's perception of the communities.

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