False Prophets and Messiahs Abraham Ben Samuel Abulafia
About the false prophet or messiah Abraham Ben Samuel Abulafia, biography and history of the man.
ABRAHAM BEN SAMUEL ABULAFIA (1240-1291?)
Born in Saragossa, Spain, in 1240, Abulafia left his native land in 1260 to search for a mythical river in Israel, but because of the ongoing Crusades he was turned back at Acre. He returned to Europe, where he began to study the works of cabalists--those who rely on an esoteric and mystical ciphering method to interpret the Scriptures. He soon developed his own cabala by transposing the four Hebrew letters in the holy name of God to form different words and by assigning number values to those letters. Through this technique, meditation, and an ascetic life-style, he claimed to be able to receive God's prophecies. Arriving back at his homeland, he began to preach about his discovery, but finding few disciples there, he embarked on an odyssey through Italy, Sicily, and Greece. By 1273 he had a small following. In 1280 he set out for Rome determined to convert Pope Nicholas III to Judaism. Not quite ready to accept the gospel according to Abulafia, Pope Nicholas ordered him arrested and put to death. Only the pontiff's own death soon thereafter saved Abulafia from being burned at the stake. After stewing in jail for a month, he was released. Abulafia returned to Sicily, where in 1284 he elevated himself from prophet to Messiah. God, he said, had communicated with him, and based on that communication Abulafia proclaimed the year 1290 as the dawn of a great messianic era. Through his boldness and charisma, he gained a large following eager to believe that redemption was at hand. These believers, however, were largely Christians. Jewish leaders condemned him as a charlatan or a mental case. He retorted that "whilst the Christians believe in my words, the Jews eschew them, and absolutely refuse to know anything of the calculations of God's name, but prefer the calculation of their money." Needless to say, Abulafia was hounded out of Sicily for that statement, and he spent his last years in seclusion on the tiny island of Comino in the Malta group. There he wrote many volumes on prophecy, and his works eventually gained wide circulation, significantly influencing later cabalists, most notably those of Safed, a renowned Israeli center of cabalism in the 16th century.
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