The George Washington University
History 115: Messianic Movements
and Ideas in Jewish History
Fall 2004

Professor Marc Saperstein

A survey of Messianism as a central force in Jewish history, stressing both theoretical implications and concrete manifestations. Topics include Biblical Messianism, the origins of Christianity as a Jewish messianic movement, medieval speculations, the Sabbatian movement, Zionism.

(This course is being offered in conjunction with Blackboard.  More detailed information about individual sessions, links for additional resources, and a chat room for discussing issues pertaining to the course, will be available.  Most important: assigned readings of primary sources and secondary works in addition to the two required books will be accessible through Blackboard in the Gelman electronic reserve, enabling you to access them from your own computer. In addition some sources are available through links on Blackboard.)



Marc Saperstein, ed., Essential Papers on Messianic Movements and Personalities in Jewish History (bookstore)

Harris Lenowitz, The Jewish Messiahs: From the Galilee to Crown Heights (bookstore)

The Bible (any translation, including New Testament)

Sources accessible through Blackboard e-reserve or links under the appropriate session; please print and bring to class. 

(*indicates that the text should be brought to class)



1. Th, Sept 2: Introduction to the Course, Origins in the Bible


From the *Bible (to be read in class)

    Gen 49:10, Num 24:17–18, Deut 30:1–10
    2 Sam 7:1–29

2. Tu, Sept 7: Prophetic Eschatology


From the *Bible

   Amos 5:18–20, 9:7–15
   Isaiah 2:1–4, 11:1–12
   Jeremiah 23:5–8, chapters 31–33

Saperstein, 1–31, Schweid in Saperstein, 53–62

Lenowitz, 3–21


3. Th, Sept 9: Prophetic Eschatology, cont.


From the *Bible:

    Ezekiel 20:30–38, 34:11–30, chapters 37–39


4. Tu, Sept. 14: Messianism and Apocalyptic in the Second Commonwealth


From the *Bible:

    Isaiah 44:21–45:7, 49:22–26, chapters 52 and 53
    Zechariah chapters 9, 12–14
    Daniel chapters 7–9, 12


Thursday, Sept 16: No Meeting: Rosh Hashanah (see Lev. 23:23-25; Neh. 8:1-12)


5. Tu, Sept 21: Messianic Ideas and Popular Movements in the First Century: The "Jesus Movement"


From the *New Testament:

    Matthew 1, 16:13–20, 17:1–13, chapters 27–28
    Acts 3:11–24, 8:26–40
    Revelation 19:11–21:4

Lenowitz, 23–49

Werblowsky, Smith, Horsley in Saperstein, pp. 35–45, 73–98

Recommended Reading: see link in Blackboard


6. Th, Sept 23: Messianism and Rebellion (The “Great Revolt,” the Bar Kokhba Revolt)


Lenowitz, 49-59

Horsley in Saperstein, pp. 98-106

Recommended Readings: see links in Blackboard


7. Tu, Sept 28: Messianic Doctrines in the Talmud


*Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 96a–99a (e-reserve)


Thursday, Sept 30: No Meeting: First Day of Sukkot (see Lev. 23:33-43)


8. Tu, Oct 5: Messianic Doctrines in the Talmud and Midrash 


*Pesikta Rabbati, Piska 36 (e-reserve)

Short written exerciseapprox. 4 pagesanalyzing Pesikta Rabbati, Piska 36, due in class Tues, Oct 5 (will not be accepted late)


Thursday, Oct 7: No Meeting: Shemini Atzeret (see Lev. 23:39 end)


9. Tu, Oct 12: Messianic Movements under early Islam


Baron in Saperstein, pp. 162-86

Friedlander in Saperstein, pp. 113–61

Lenowitz, 61–79


10. Th, Oct 14: Messianic Movements under early Islam, continued


*Steven Wasserstrom, Between Muslim and Jew: the Problem of Symbiosis in Early Islam (Princeton, 1995), chap. 2, pp. 52-88 (e-reserve)


11 . Tu, Oct 19: Medieval Systematizations


*Saadia Gaon and Maimonides (e-reserve)

*Schweid in Saperstein, pp. 62–65

Berger in Saperstein, pp. 250–5


12. Th, Oct 21: Messianic Movements in the Crusader Period


Goitein, Cohen, and Baron in Saperstein, pp. 189–249

Lenowitz, 65-66, 81–91, 227–29


13. Tu, Oct 26: Messianism in Jewish–Christian Disputation


Moses ben Nahman, “Disputation” (e-reserve)

Short written exerciseapprox. 4 pagesanalyzing “Disputation” due in class Tues, Oct 26 (will not be accepted late)


14. Th, Oct 28: In the Wake of the Expulsion


Lenowitz, 93–123, 136-47

Tishby in Saperstein, pp. 259–86


15. Tu, Nov 2: The Sabbatian Movement: Beginnings


Lenowitz, pp. 149-56

*Matt Goldish, “The Early Messianic Career of Shabbatai Zvi,” in Judaism in Practice, pp. 470-82 (e-reserve)

*Rycaut, from The Jew in the Medieval World, pp. 295-303 (e-reserve)

Scholem in Saperstein, pp. 289-307


16. Th, Nov. 4: The Sabbatian Movement: Climax


Lenowitz, pp. 156-60, 231-35

Scholem, pp. 307-15


17. Tu, Nov. 9: The Sabbatian Movement: After the Conversion


Lenowitz, pp. 160-165

Scholem and Davies in Saperstein, pp. 315–374


18. Th, Nov 11: Jacob Frank


Lenowitz, pp. 167–97


19. Tu, Nov 16: Messianism in the early Hasidic Movement


Lenowitz, pp. 199–214 

Dinur and Green in Saperstein, pp. 374–432


20. Th, Nov. 18: Yemenite Messiahs of the 19th Century


Lenowitz, pp. 225–27, 235–62

(optional: Morgenstern in Saperstein, pp. 433–55)

Short written exerciseapprox. 5-6 pageson texts in Lenowitz, pp. 237–39 and 242–245 middle, due in class Thurs, Nov 18 (will not be accepted late)


21. Tu, Nov 23: Messianism and Modernity: Enlightenment and Emancipation


Selections from The Jew in the Modern World (e-reserve)


Thurs, Nov 25: Happy Thanksgiving


22. Tu, Nov 30: Messianism and Modernity: The Reform Movement


Selections from The Jew in the Modern World (e-reserve)


23. Th, Dec 2: Contemporary Messianism: Redemptive Zionism, Gush Emunim


Schweid, Katz, Tal, Kellner in Saperstein, pp. 65–70, 475–518


24. Tu, Dec 7: Contemporary Messianism: Chabad Hasidism


Lenowitz, pp. 215–23, 263-76



NB: final paper due at 2142 G Street on Monday, December 13, by 5:00 P.M. (see below)


All Students must take the Final Examination



The requirements for the course are as follows:


1. Analysis of a passage from Midrash Pesikta Rabbati, Piska 36 (ca. 4 pages, due Tuesday, October 5) (10%)

2. Analysis of a passage from Nahmanides’ Disputation (ca. 4 pages, due Tuesday, October 26) (10%)

3. Analysis of texts on a 19th-century Yemenite messianic figure (5-6 pages, due Thursday, November 18) (15)

3. Final Paper on a relevant topic approved in consultation with the instructor (12–15 pages, due on Monday, December 13  (30%)

4. Final exam (30%)

5. Preparation for and participation in class discussion (5%).


Instructor's Office Hours are Tuesdays from 4:00-5:30 and Wednesdays from 2–3:30 in 2142 G Street, second floor (Judaic Studies Building).  Students are welcome and encouraged to come and discuss any issues arising from the material of the course.

In order to receive accommodations on the basis of disability, students with special needs must give notice and provide proper documentation to the Office of Disability Support Services, Marvin Center 436, 994–8250.