Diary of a Black Jewish Messiah
The Sixteenth-Century Journey of David Reubeni through Africa, the Middle East, and Europe
Alan Verskin



“I am not the Messiah,” said David Reubeni, “I am a greater sinner before God than any one of you. I have killed many people. In a single day, I once killed forty enemies. I am not a sage or a kabbalist, neither am I a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I am merely an army commander.”1 Short and thin, with skin “as black as a Nubian”2 and a body covered in scars, Reubeni claimed to be the commander of a powerful Jewish army and the brother of a Jewish king who ruled over three hundred thousand Jews in the Arabian desert of Habor, all descendants of the lost Israelite tribes of Gad, Manasseh, and Reuben (hence his name).3 Despite speaking only Hebrew and Arabic, he successfully forged relationships with Christian rulers, including the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, the King of Portugal, João III, and Pope Clement VII, by dangling the possibility of an alliance against the Ottomans in exchange for weapons and experts in their manufacture. He gained Jewish followers, including many forced converts to Christianity (conversos), who practiced Judaism in secret to avoid persecution, with the promise that his army would liberate them from oppression by force, deliver them to the Holy Land, and restore their pride and autonomy. Many Jews embraced him as the Messiah, despite his denials, and he attracted the patronage and support of some of Europe’s wealthiest Jews and rabbinic elites. A mysterious figure who guarded his secrets closely, he traveled through Africa, the Middle East, and Europe before being halted by the Inquisition and burned at the stake in 1538 for preaching Judaism to Christians. He left us his diary, detailing the hustle and daily grind of a charismatic showman—a showman whose promise of a reunion between far-flung peoples, of allyship, conquest, and power, appealed to the giddy optimism, credulity, and fear that gripped the Mediterranean world in the age of exploration.

Africa and the Middle East

Reubeni’s diary begins in the year 1521 with him leaving Arabia, charged by his brother, King Joseph, and the seventy elders to seek an audience with the pope. From the Red Sea port of Jeddah, he proceeded by ship to the Sudan and then gradually made his way up the Nile. We have no external confirmation of his journeys in either Africa or the Middle East. Some scholars have argued that he did not visit Africa, because the details he provides on the people he met are comparatively sparser in the African section of his diary. Further, some of his descriptions seem to pander to a European audience that viewed Africa as an exotic locale. Reubeni thus tells of narrow escapes, cannibalistic tribes, and his encounters with enslaved women. Others, however, argue that Reubeni likely did visit Africa because he includes some reliable geographical details that could not have been culled from literary sources.4

In Africa, Reubeni reports, he disguised himself as a Muslim sayyid (descendant of Muhammad) and was widely embraced by Muslims as a holy man. He tells of his close relationship with Amara Dunqas, the founder of the Funj Sultanate, with whom he traveled around the region for ten months.5 Amara treated him as an honored guest until their relations soured when another sayyid, angling for the monarch’s attention, spread rumors that Reubeni was Jewish and he was compelled to leave.

Reubeni’s next stop was Cairo, where, despite still being disguised as a Muslim, he made overtures to the Jewish community, all of which were rebuffed. He reported meeting Abraham de Castro, the Chief of the Mint and the most powerful Jew in Cairo.6 Despite Reubeni’s sharing his “secret” with him, Abraham was unmoved, and refused to host Reubeni, on the grounds that it would compromise both Abraham’s own safety and that of all the Jews of the city.7 Reubeni’s valuables were then stolen by the unscrupulous Muslim host he ended up with after being turned away by Abraham de Castro, and despite the efforts of a friendly Turkish Muslim official, he was unable to recover them. This incident was no doubt included in Reubeni’s description of his travels to explain to a European audience why, despite being the ambassador of a rich Jewish kingdom, he had arrived penniless in Venice.

When Reubeni left Egypt for Palestine, he did so in the company of Muslims and without the help of Jews. In Palestine, still disguised as a sayyid, he was embraced by Muslims who welcomed him into both the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. He also visited a church. The details that he provides of these places are highly accurate and lead one to believe that he did indeed visit them. Reubeni reports few interactions with Jews in Jerusalem, and none with any of the Jewish elites with which we are familiar. From his silence, one can perhaps deduce that he was unsuccessful in convincing them to support his project, perhaps reflecting the cautious attitude that Jerusalemite rabbis adopted towards messianic claimants during this period.8 By contrast, in the smaller Jewish community of Gaza, populated by traveling Jewish merchants hailing from diverse places, Reubeni had somewhat greater success, obtaining funds for his trip to Venice.9 On the way to Venice, Reubeni had another brief sojourn in Egypt, this time in Damietta and Alexandria. Although still disguised as a Muslim, he reported far more interactions with Jews and even managed to spend the Jewish New Year at an Alexandrian synagogue.10 Reubeni’s close interactions with Jews did not go unnoticed by some local Muslims, who were shocked that a man whom they believed to be a sayyid was not surrounding himself exclusively with coreligionists. Although they attempted to create difficulties for him, to his relief, nothing came of these attempts.

In Alexandria, Reubeni won his first follower, a Jewish drifter from Naples named Joseph, whom Reubeni describes as irascible, violent, and prone to thievery. Joseph volunteered to guide him to Rome, an offer that he accepted. While they were still in Egypt, Joseph was involved in a violent scuffle with Reubeni’s Jewish hosts. Joseph threatened to denounce them to the governor of Egypt, but Reubeni was spared from this potentially dangerous involvement by the intervention of a local kabbalist, who talked Joseph out of doing so.11 Undeterred by Joseph’s risky behavior, or perhaps with little choice, Reubeni left Egypt for Venice with him as his guide. Joseph continued his misbehavior aboard ship and, indeed, all the way to Rome, sometimes bringing Reubeni unwanted outside attention.

Reubeni in Christendom

It was only once Reubeni reached the Christian world in 1524 that his activities began to have some modest success. His message was exquisitely well-tailored to the atmosphere of apocalyptic expectation that gripped the sixteenth-century Mediterranean. He arrived in an age that had experienced the Ottoman capture of Constantinople, the end of Muslim Spain, and the outlawing of all religions but Catholicism in Iberia. Europe was riven with conflicts. The religious crisis posed by the Reformation-era fragmentation of the Catholic Church had begun a radical reorientation of political loyalties. The political power of the papacy had never been weaker, and this had sparked a devastating war between the Holy Roman Emperor and the King of France over Italian territories, which culminated in the sack of Rome in 1527. Even as Christian kingdoms vied with one another, they looked with dread towards an ascendant Ottoman Empire. The armies of Suleyman the Magnificent were advancing westward, capturing vast swathes of the Balkans and Hungary, and reaching the gates of Vienna in 1529. Nevertheless, despite their fears of being conquered, Europeans stood at the dawn of a new era of global exploration, discovery, and vast imperial expansion. The Spanish encountered and soon conquered the great Aztec and Mayan civilizations of Central and South America. Never in their history had Europeans been so fascinated with the world beyond them. If these disruptions were not enough, the Mediterranean had been visited by a series of natural disasters, including earthquakes, severe flooding, and pandemics, news of which circulated more widely than in previous periods.12 These tumultuous times led many Jews, Christians, and Muslims to interpret such events as harbingers of the Apocalypse. Imperial struggles for global rule were seen as preparing the ground for a millennial age in which all of humanity would be united in a common and purified faith under a single ruler.13 It was widely believed that this final age of religious uniformity would be preceded by an intense battle between the forces of good and evil, represented by the Muslim and Christian worlds. Apocalyptic thinking was widespread across social classes, and there was an atmosphere of pervasive fear and anticipation of the coming of the End.14

Arriving penniless in Venice in early 1524, Reubeni was unlike most other ambassadors, who came in their own ships bearing expensive gifts.15 Having no material resources with which to impress, he instead cultivated a reputation for piety and asceticism, manifested by frequent fasting and prayer. His first victory was in gaining the trust of Moses dal Castellazzo, a well-known artist as well as a banker and entrepreneur with ties to elites across the region. With his help, Reubeni was able to win over some, but not all, of Venice’s Jewish elites. He was also supported by the wealthy Jewish banker Simon ben Asher Meshullam, whose family was intermarried with the da Pisas, an influential family of Italian Jews who were to become Reubeni’s key supporters.16 In this way he was able to secure funds to travel to Rome and to obtain introductions to that city’s Jewish leadership.

A Black Messiah in Rome

In Rome, Reubeni encountered a city rife with the practice of divinatory arts, prophecy, and eschatology. It was a city on edge, gripped by bouts of collective panic that seem to have affected most of its inhabitants, regardless of social class.17 Reubeni was immediately able to attract a circle of Jews and Christians who were deeply engaged in apocalyptic speculation. Here, his appearance may have helped him. One of the first things that struck his interlocutors, whether Jewish or Christian, was the darkness of his skin. Daniel da Pisa, his closest supporter, described him as having “a black visage” (shahor ha-mar’eh), Abraham Farissol said he was “blackish” (sheharhor),18 and Gedaliah ibn Yahya said he was “as black as a Nubian” (shahor ke-kushi). When Diogo Mendes, a leading converso businessman, was arrested by the Inquisition and questioned about Reubeni, he reported that he was “black” (noir).19 Giovanni Battista Ramusio, an orientalist sent by the Venetians to investigate Reubeni, reported both that he was an Arabian and that he was “similar to the Indians of Prester John”—Indians being the term that Ramusio, among others in this period, confusingly used to refer to Abyssinians.20 While such statements cannot shed definitive light on Reubeni’s ethnic identity, which will likely never be known with certainty,21 we do know that both Jewish and Christian dabblers in apocalyptic expectation would have found Reubeni’s “black” skin evocative. Since the fifteenth century, rumors of the rediscovery of the ten lost Israelite tribes had increasingly circulated in Jewish communities. They described these tribesmen as powerful and courageous warriors, who fiercely defended an independent Jewish kingdom, located somewhere adjacent to the Muslim world. A parallel legend existed among European Christians concerning a mythical monarch, known as Prester John, who governed a powerful Christian kingdom that was surrounded by Muslims—according to some it was in Asia; according to others, in Africa. Many believed that Prester John would play a decisive role in an apocalyptic battle in which Islam would be vanquished and Mecca conquered. By the sixteenth century, European Christians came to identify Prester John with the real Christian emperor of Abyssinia and still hoped for his help against the Ottomans.22 Jews, influenced by this Christian focus on Africa, increasingly envisaged apocalyptic battles as being fought by fierce Jewish warriors from the lost tribes, hidden in the African continent, and often at war with Prester John’s kingdom.23 Some Jewish scholars actively mined the works of Christian geographers to locate these tribes and discover other clues about the ways messianic battles might unfold.24 Legends of the lost tribes and Prester John were reinforced by travelers’ tales. For example, in an account published a decade before Reubeni reached Rome, Ludovico de Varthema, the first European Christian to visit Mecca, reported seeing a mountain in Arabia on which five thousand Jews dwelled. These Jews, he wrote, “go about naked, are five or six spans [about two and one-half feet] in height, have feminine voices, and are more black than any other color. They live entirely on sheep’s flesh and eat nothing else. They are circumcised and confess that they are Jews. If they can get a Moor into their hands, they skin him alive.”25 Even in the work of a well-respected explorer like de Varthema, it was often difficult for a contemporary audience to distinguish fact from fantasy, and Reubeni surely benefited from this world of messianic speculation and geographical uncertainty. In an article provocatively titled “The Black Messiah,” Ariel Toaff has argued that by the time Reubeni appeared in Europe, such legends and reports had led many Jews to place their hopes in lost Israelite tribes, located in Africa, and that this primed them to accept Reubeni as “a black messiah.”26 Many of Reubeni’s supporters may thus have embraced him because of, rather than despite, his being a Jew of color.

Reubeni and the Jews of Rome

Reubeni’s most important Jewish patron was the da Pisa banking family, described by one scholar as a Jewish “super elite.”27 Daniel da Pisa, with whom Reubeni had his closest interactions, was then regarded as the de facto head of the Jews of Rome, because of his close relationship with Pope Clement VII. Even as he was attending to Reubeni and serving as his intermediary with the pope, he was authoring an influential set of bylaws to govern Rome’s Jews and ease tensions between the old Roman Jewish families and the newer Jewish families, which included many Iberian exiles.28 The da Pisas felt a great responsibility to ameliorate the condition of Iberian Jewish refugees and spent a good deal of their money on ransoming those who had become captives.29 Some family members were also known for their study of the Kabbalah and apocalyptic speculation. Indeed Yehiel da Pisa, Daniel’s cousin who hosted Reubeni for some time, eventually chose to withdraw from his role in the family bank to pursue kabbalistic studies.30 The da Pisa family was crucial in facilitating Reubeni’s liaisons with key dignitaries, covering the expenses of his entourage, and facilitating his travel to Portugal.

Reubeni describes Rome as a city swirling with rumors and thick with intrigue and informers. According to his diary, he had many Jewish opponents and was often unsure about whom to trust. When Jews gathered to celebrate his receiving of letters of support from the pope, he found himself embarrassingly unable to distinguish between friend and foe. He misinterpreted the friendly gestures of Jewish community leaders, including the eminent Rabbi Obadiah Sforno, as attempts to undermine him, and publicly vented his anger against them. This chain of events somehow led to their arrest, although Reubeni was soon able to secure their release.31 The Roman rumor mill also misled him about the intentions of his most important patron, Daniel da Pisa, with whom he briefly severed relations.32 His mission was again endangered when his servant Joseph spread rumors that he intended to return Iberia’s forced converts (conversos) to Judaism. A community of such converts resided in Rome and, believing that these rumors jeopardized their precarious existence, they threatened to kill Joseph if he did not cease such talk.33 Reubeni also faced some Jewish opponents who asked the pope to burn him at the stake, on the grounds that if he was indeed a divinely charged messenger as he claimed, God would protect him.34 He was saved when the pope punished his accusers by dispatching them to a galley for hard labor. All these incidents recounted by Reubeni show him to be acutely aware of the dangers that his project posed both to himself and to the communities he visited.

Reubeni stresses that the help he received came from men and women alike. Help from women came in a variety of forms. Sometimes it was financial. While he was in Rome, the well-known businesswoman and philanthropist, Benvenida Abravanel, provided him with funds on three separate occasions.35 She further gifted him the silk flag that he proudly unfurled everywhere he went, regarding it as an important martial symbol and witness to his status as a general.36 Reubeni describes meeting many Italian women with high levels of literacy and education.37 He also describes women occupying more traditional roles as devoted hosts and as caregivers, who tended to him when he was ill.38 It is noteworthy that, in these pious homes, hospitality sometimes included women of the household dancing in front of and playing music for guests.39

Reubeni’s relative popularity among Italian Jews led him to conclude that, whereas the Jews of Italy were “fit for war, valiant, and lionhearted,” the Jews of Islamic lands were “timid, cowardly, fearful, and unfit for war.”40 The statement reflects Reubeni’s disappointment that his mission to the Jews of Islamic lands had been a failure, despite his fluency in Arabic and cultural familiarity with the region. There were likely many reasons for this. Reubeni was certainly hampered by the fact that he had traveled through Egypt and Palestine disguised as a Muslim. The danger of harboring an individual weaving across religious boundaries would have been substantial, and Reubeni notes that he was told as much. But his failure to engage such Jews likely runs deeper. While Jews in Egypt and Palestine no doubt experienced tensions with the Muslim majority, their lives in these lands were stable, especially when compared to the ordeals suffered by Iberian Jews. Jews in smaller communities, like Gaza and Damietta, were content to host Reubeni and provide funds for his transportation, but they made no great sacrifices. Larger and more established communities, like those of Jerusalem and Cairo, were often reluctant to provide even minimal hospitality, given Reubeni’s potential to disturb the stable and relatively safe status quo. By contrast, Italian Jews had not only witnessed the expulsions of their Iberian Jewish neighbors but, in parts of southern Italy, had faced such threats of expulsion themselves. They knew of the Inquisition and had seen Charles V allow its spread within his vast empire. They watched with trepidation as, throughout the 1520s, Charles attempted to expand his Italian territories, efforts which resulted in the 1527 sack of Rome. Concerned about this looming disruption of Jewish life, it is not surprising that some Italian Jews were inclined to take a risk by supporting Reubeni.41

Reubeni and the Christian Leadership of Rome

In Rome, Reubeni won the patronage of Cardinal Egidio di Viterbo, who paved the way for his audience with the pope. Egidio was one of the most accomplished humanists of the period—a poet, an orator, a philosopher, and an archaeologist. Crucially for Reubeni, he was a devoted Hebraist whose apocalyptic investigations led him to produce a highly influential synthesis of Christianity and the Kabbalah.42 When Reubeni met Egidio, the latter had been studying kabbalistic texts for a decade and had developed a considerable mastery of Hebrew, perhaps even enough to understand Reubeni’s speech. Although, with the exception of his Hebrew tutor Elijah Levita, Egidio was quite hostile to Jews, Judaism, and even to Jewish converts to Christianity, he considered the Kabbalah to be an important repository of truth and saw his role as that of liberating it from its impious Jewish guardians.43 Egidio believed the world to be on the brink of a golden age in which all humanity would submit to a single religion. He saw the success of Portugal’s eastern conquests in India and the Persian Gulf as evidence of this and plumbed the Kabbalah for further details as to how this age would come about. He was understandably excited by Reubeni, through whom he no doubt hoped to play a part in the apocalyptic events to which he had devoted so much of his life in study.44 Also then residing with Egidio was Leo Africanus, the accomplished diplomat and geographer to whom Egidio had served as godfather when Leo had converted from Islam to Christianity.45 Given their extensive involvement with Egidio, it would be reasonable to imagine that Elijah Levita and Leo Africanus assisted him in his conversations with Reubeni, who spoke only Hebrew and Arabic. One also wonders if they harbored suspicions about Reubeni and his story. But, to the enduring frustration of historians, they did not write about Reubeni and he did not write about them.46

Reubeni’s diary shows him to be keenly aware of the political aspirations of the rulers with whom he interacted. This is first apparent in his opening gambit with Pope Clement VII—an offer to help make peace between Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, and King Francis I of France. Reubeni no doubt counted on this to appeal to the pope, because Clement’s predecessor, Leo X, had sought to mobilize the combined forces of these two rulers to launch a crusade against the Ottomans. Leo’s entreaties, however, had come to naught and it was not long before Charles and Francis went to war with each other in a conflict that ended only once Francis himself was finally captured in 1526.47 Although, by 1524, relations between Francis and Charles had deteriorated too far to give any hope to an intervention by Reubeni, his offer to serve as a mediator established him as someone willing to make common cause with Christians against Muslims. Reubeni does not spell out what further requests he made of the pope. According to Daniel da Pisa, who conducted Reubeni’s negotiations with the pope, Reubeni asked the pope for weapons that were to be delivered to the Arabian port of Jeddah for the purpose of fighting Muslim kingdoms in both Asia and Africa.48 The pope delayed responding to Reubeni for a year and then told him to direct his requests to the King of Portugal, who, he said, was better able to help Reubeni achieve his goals.49 In the letters of introduction he wrote for Reubeni to the King of Portugal and to the Emperor of Abyssinia, Dawit II, the pope said that although he could not verify Reubeni’s story, he also did not want to dismiss it. In his view, Reubeni’s proposal to make common cause with Christians, on the basis of his claim that his nation was embroiled in battle with Muslims, was not implausible, and it was also not unreasonable for Christians to take a similar position. Although Jews are the enemies of Christians, the pope concluded, “sometimes the Lord decrees vengeance upon His enemies by the hand of His enemies,” and in any event, the commitment Reubeni sought was quite modest.50 The pope was the first of several world leaders who were willing to grant Reubeni status as a diplomat; however, as we can see from his reasoning, this was not the result of a lack of sophistication. Rather, it was the product of a policy of caution in an environment in which everyone was profoundly aware of the inherent difficulties of attaining certainty.51 Conventional geographical wisdom was being upended, peoples and lands hitherto unknown to Europeans were being discovered. In such an environment, many rulers thought it best to reserve judgment on matters pertaining to unknown lands. If Reubeni’s tale were true, the rewards for Europe were potentially very great. So, they reasoned, why not take a small gamble on him?52 Indeed, Reubeni was one of many false ambassadors who appeared in Europe in the sixteenth century, many of whom were beneficiaries of this policy of caution.

Dawit II, Emperor of Abyssinia (r. 1508‒1540). Portrait by Cristofano dell’Altissimo.

Departure from Italy

Reubeni left Rome for Pisa. On the way he visited Ismael da Rieti, a wealthy Jewish banker who lived in Siena. Even though Ismael was an in-law of the da Pisas, he refused to help Reubeni. To Reubeni’s shock, Ismael declared that he had no longing whatsoever for Jerusalem because he already had everything he wanted in Siena.54 When Reubeni reached Pisa, he stayed at the luxurious home of Daniel’s young cousin, Rabbi Yehiel, a banker and kabbalist.55 Interestingly, Reubeni went with Yehiel to visit the bell tower of a cathedral, likely the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Climbing to the top, he reported seeing three icons, which he described as “three abominations with appearances too beautiful to be described.”56 Before Reubeni left, Yehiel’s grandmother, Signora Sarah, upon whom he heaped much praise, gave him a Bible inscribed with her advice for him: “Be neither angry nor rash.”57 Reubeni, who recognized his irascible personality as his greatest flaw, was moved by her insight.

To obtain safe passage to Portugal, Reubeni applied to Dom Miguel da Silva, the bishop of Viseu and Portugal’s ambassador to Rome. Dom Miguel was famous for his political machinations, and this is reflected in Reubeni’s description of his creative delay tactics, which sent Reubeni and his entourage on a wild goose chase through Rome in search of him.58 Fortunately for Reubeni, Dom Miguel was recalled to Portugal and Reubeni was welcomed by the new ambassador, who then arranged for his travel. Reubeni and a group of his new Italian Jewish supporters and servants promptly set sail for Portugal. Even with his letter from the pope, Reubeni discovered on his way to Portugal that he was unable to disembark in the Spanish town of Cádiz, where Judaism had been outlawed by royal decree since 1492.

The Conversos of Portugal

According to both Reubeni’s diary and Inquisition documents, from the moment he arrived in Portugal on October 24, 1525, until he left a year and a half later, he was received by many of its conversos (forced converts) with the respect and reverence due to a king or even a messiah.59 The practice of Judaism had been outlawed in Spain since 1492 and in Portugal since 1497, yet the effects of these decrees on conversos were very different. In Spain, the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, had a fiery determination to create and enforce religious homogeneity. They expelled those Jews who were unwilling to submit to conversion and whose recalcitrance might compromise their project. They closely monitored those who converted and remained by vastly expanding the authority and resources of the Inquisition. Conversos in Spain who continued to observe Jewish rituals after 1492 did so in constant fear of the Inquisition and only with the utmost caution.60 By contrast, Manuel I of Portugal did not pursue the goal of religious homogeneity with the fervor of the Spanish Crown. Unlike the Spanish, he did not offer the Jewish population the choice between conversion or expulsion, but instead simply converted all his Jewish subjects en masse. The resulting population of newly converted Christians thus included many who might otherwise have gone into exile for the sake of their faith and were therefore more likely to resist full assimilation to Christianity. Such resistance was further aided by Manuel’s pragmatic decree that no inquiries into the beliefs of these new converts were to be made for a period of twenty years.61 While, despite this, some official attempts were made to assimilate these conversos, they had little success and there is considerable evidence that many continued to observe Jewish rituals. These conversos were no doubt also emboldened by the presence of thousands of Spanish Jewish exiles, who had made the sacrifice to leave Spain in order to practice Judaism only to be forcibly converted to Christianity a few years later in their new home of Portugal. This atmosphere of widespread resistance to full assimilation to Christianity among Portuguese conversos was considerably curtailed in 1536, a decade after Reubeni’s visit, when the Inquisition was introduced into Portugal.

Even in an age known for its intense messianism, conversos in both Spain and Portugal were regarded as extreme messianists. This characteristic was so well known that it became the topic of anti-converso polemics. In theatrical performances and in literature, as Yosef Yerushalmi has noted, “the verb esperar (to hope) became a catchword with which to identify the character who is of Jewish descent. Experana is the Jewish characteristic par excellence, and the satiric use of such terms is a leitmotif in the Spanish drama of the Golden Age.”62 Continual feelings of fear, marginalization, and resentment towards Christian authorities for their forced conversions and ongoing persecution drove many conversos to hope for justice, either through heavenly intervention and messianic deliverance or by more practical means. Indeed, as Matt Goldish has written, converso messianism was characterized by “a particular willingness to entertain a wide variety of messianic scenarios, and the reservation of a special place for the conversos in the messianic process.”63 Following the pogroms and forced conversions of 1391, messianic speculation began to increase.64 For many, it was this hope that motivated them to continue their secret observance of Judaism. In the half century before Reubeni’s arrival, there were a particularly large number of converso prophets, who foretold the impending arrival of the Messiah and the bringing of the conversos to the Holy Land.65 One such figure was Inés Esteban, a preteen conversa, who prophesied the imminent advent of the messianic age. Once the Messiah arrived, she claimed, conversos would be pardoned for abandoning Judaism and would be taken to the Holy Land. In 1501, at the age of twelve, she and seventy-seven of her followers were burned at the stake.66 Many conversos lived their lives in a state of mental preparedness for redemption. Women, for example, were known to always wear their jewelry, knowing that they could be transported to the Holy Land at any moment.67 Converso messianic visions were also often characterized by a desire for their oppressors to receive retribution.68 Many conversos were thus predisposed to respond favorably to Reubeni’s martial image and promises of redemption, as is attested in a variety of documentary sources.69

Reubeni was greatly concerned about the welfare of the conversos. In recounting his travels through Italy, he names most of his Jewish hosts, but in Portugal, he does not usually identify his converso hosts by name, no doubt concerned that doing so might endanger them. Reubeni claimed that no harm came to the conversos as a result of their enthusiasm for his mission, but there is considerable evidence that this was not the case. According to his own admission, his presence resulted in bringing the conversos’ often tenuous adherence to Christianity to the attention of the government. He also describes the great pains that the authorities took to ensure that he had no contact with conversos on his way out of Portugal.70 The most damning evidence of his negative impact on conversos, however, comes from external sources. Many scholars now believe that it was in direct response to Reubeni’s influence on conversos that the Inquisition was brought to Portugal. This process began in the late 1520s, when the Inquisitor of the Spanish town of Llerena, complaining about Reubeni’s influence on the conversos, began to campaign for closer cooperation between the Inquisition and Portuguese authorities.71 Then, in the early 1530s, King João III himself began negotiations with the pope to establish a tribunal for the Inquisition in Portugal, which was finally instituted in 1536.

Reubeni’s Entourage in Portugal

In Portugal, Reubeni’s entourage became increasingly difficult to manage. Often the most Reubeni could do was keep them well-dressed so that, at least at first glance, they resembled the attendants of a respected ambassador. A motley crew comprised of mainly dislocated and disaffected young men, their numbers included Jews from Italy and Morocco as well as conversos. Although some were loyal and upstanding, others were adventurers with few familial and communal ties. A case in point is the converso whom Reubeni refers to as “Aldequa the apostate.” Aldequa had converted first to Islam and then to Christianity, but he confessed to Reubeni that he wished to revert to Judaism, his birth religion.72 Although it was perhaps inevitable, given the extreme riskiness of his enterprise, that Reubeni would attract such rootless individuals, he further guaranteed their selection by magnanimously refusing to allow would-be attendants with young families to travel with him, on the grounds that they were more needed back home.73 In an era when marriage was the social norm, even among those who traveled for a living, an entourage consisting of many unmarried men was bound to attract members who did not abide by social constraints. Reubeni reports constant fights among his entourage, sometimes with weapons, which nearly result in death. Often drunk, these young men publicly flirt with the women they meet and engage in frequent sexual antics, usually with enslaved women but sometimes with each other.74 In his diary, Reubeni depicts them lying, cheating, and stealing, sometimes from him and sometimes from others, and at times endangering his mission by involving Christian authorities. To keep them in line, he unapologetically admits to threatening them, sometimes with his sword. When they are arrested, he occasionally lets them stew for a while in a local jail before coming to their rescue. While they are a disappointment to him, he is clearly aware that a person in his precarious position, a man with a desperate plan to save the Jews, cannot reasonably expect an entourage consisting exclusively of upstanding members of society. The many pages of the diary devoted to these trials and tribulations lead one to believe that Reubeni perhaps committed them to writing to impress upon future redeemers that the process of redemption is fundamentally more mundane than it is supernatural.

In Portugal, Reubeni reports many interactions with Moroccan Jews, some of whom he recruited to his entourage. Over the course of the sixteenth century, Portugal conquered much of the Moroccan coast and, because Moroccan Jews were essential to the Portuguese imperial project, they were not subject to forced conversion. Those with official business in Portugal were even granted permission to journey there despite the 1497 decree that banned Jews from the country.75 As a result of these contacts, Reubeni’s message spread to the Maghreb, and he reports receiving communications from Jews who lived there. Indeed, his popularity was such that his activities became the subject of messianic poems in which Maghrebi Jews described the special role he had promised them in the recapturing of Jerusalem.76

Reubeni and the King of Portugal

In Portugal, Reubeni encountered another royal court saturated with apocalyptic expectation. Although King João III himself was relatively uninterested in millennial speculation, these ideas still had currency among his courtiers as a result of the beliefs of his recently deceased predecessor, Manuel I (r. 1495–1521). Millennial expectation had been a major factor driving Manuel’s dizzying array of conquests in Africa and Asia that had the conquest of Jerusalem as their ultimate, if unrealized, goal.77 He saw the Portuguese as God’s chosen people, their enemies as the embodiments of demonic forces, and believed he was fulfilling the messianic role, normally accorded to Jesus, of realizing God’s kingdom on earth. He and many in his regime understood his conquests as the beginnings of the ultimate apocalyptic battle.78 King João III’s court, still alive with the hopes of his predecessor, was thus a familiar environment for Reubeni. His meetings with the king were initially quite successful, with the king treating him as a respected foreign ambassador, providing for his lodging, and even giving him money. From the very first, Reubeni acted with the confident arrogance befitting the general and son of a monarch that he claimed to be. He portrayed himself as often furious and ready to fight those who opposed him with his sword, although his companions were usually able to dissuade him from such belligerence. On one occasion, however, he confessed to having thrown a monk out of a window after the latter denied that there was a king of Israel and said that Jews had no share in royal lineage.79 Once Reubeni met the king, he continued this blustering approach. When he felt that the king’s officials had not accorded him sufficient attention or respect, he made a scene at the palace, on occasion even reproaching the king himself. At other times, in high dudgeon, he simply refused to appear at court when he was summoned.80

Reubeni requested that the king provide him with weapons, weapon artisans, and ships to bear them to Jeddah.81 His choice of Jeddah was no doubt calculated to appeal to the Portuguese interest in controlling this strategic port, which had indeed featured in several Christian apocalyptic visions.82 In 1517, the Portuguese had laid siege to Jeddah, but were driven off by the combined efforts of the Ottomans and Mamluks.83 When Reubeni arrived in Portugal, the Portuguese stood more in need than ever of an ally in the Red Sea region but, despite their need, they ultimately decided not to include Reubeni in this project. According to Reubeni, the king did initially promise to accede to his requests. Soon, however, Reubeni’s diplomatic efforts were complicated by the appearance of the same Dom Miguel who had created difficulties for him in Rome. Dom Miguel warned the king that Reubeni would bring destruction to Portugal and would lead the conversos to revert to Judaism.84 Matters came to a head when Diogo Pires, a converso who served as a high court judge, circumcised himself. Reubeni was summoned before the king and accused of directing the circumcision, returning the conversos to Judaism, and allowing them to kiss his hand and bow down to him, which was seen as an affront to the dignity of the king. Although Reubeni denied responsibility, the king ended negotiations with him.85 The king then advised Reubeni to instead pursue his diplomatic project with either Charles V or Pope Clement VII, and Reubeni declared his intention to return to the pope.

The parting was initially amicable. The king gave him a letter granting him both safe passage and the sum of three hundred ducats. Reubeni, however, complained to the king that he had been dishonored because the letter had been written on paper rather than parchment. The king agreed to provide him with the letter on parchment but, unbeknownst to the king, it was Reubeni’s old enemy, Dom Miguel, who rewrote it, and with much less favorable terms. In addition to denying Reubeni financial remuneration, the new letter stated in no uncertain terms that no conversos were to leave Portugal with him. This condition represented a break with previous royal policy towards conversos who, at that time, were still allowed to leave the country.86 Reubeni’s anger and arrogance, which had until then served him well in Portugal, had spectacularly backfired. Lamentingly, he recalled Signora Sarah’s words of warning to him: “I see that you are always angry. If you can rid yourself of this anger, you will succeed in your enterprise.”87

The End of Reubeni’s Mission

Reubeni left Portugal for Livorno, but when a storm struck, his ship had to anchor at Almería, and he and his companions were arrested, because no Jew was allowed in Spain without the authorization of Charles V. The papal bull granting Reubeni safe passage was examined by the local authorities, but they would allow him to go no further without first consulting the emperor. Reubeni wrote letters to the emperor and to the queen, whom he had met in Portugal before her marriage, with the result that the emperor allowed him to travel in peace. When he reached the town of Cartagena, despite his letters from both the emperor and the pope, he was arrested on the orders of an inquisitor based in Murcia. Eventually, however, he was released, and that is where his diary ends.

In a section appended to the manuscript of the diary, Reubeni’s companion, Solomon Cohen, continues the story. In 1527, Reubeni was arrested by an individual, referred to as the “Lord of Clermont,” following a shipwreck off the coast of France.88 Everything he possessed was seized on the grounds that he was “not the subject of anyone.” This included the letter from his brother, King Joseph, that testified to his being the ambassador of a Jewish kingdom. According to one source, his two-year captivity ended when he was freed by order of the King of France; according to another, after a heavy ransom was paid by the Jews of Avignon and Carpentras.89 Reubeni’s imprisonment coincided with the devastation of his contacts in Rome as a result of the sack of the city in 1527 and the plague that followed. Reubeni’s Christian patrons had more pressing concerns than negotiating for the release of foreign dignitaries from mysterious kingdoms. Pope Clement VII had managed to escape Rome with his life, but he had become severely ill and his wealth was much diminished. After a year in exile, he returned to Rome and, although he held onto power, he faced formidable challenges to his authority from both within the church and beyond it. Cardinal Egidio also escaped, although his famous library was ransacked and, like the pope, he too absented himself from Rome for a year. Rome’s Jewish community was shattered by the death and looting that resulted from the invasion. Its once vibrant Jewish institutions were replaced with an environment where it was reportedly difficult to gather even the required quorum of ten men for prayer. Most disastrous for Reubeni was that his main patron, Daniel da Pisa, was among the dead.90 The long period of Reubeni’s imprisonment was likely the result of his remaining contacts in Rome being occupied by far more pressing concerns.

In 1530, Reubeni returned to Venice. There, Federigo, the Marquis of Mantua, invited Reubeni to visit him.91 At this point, however, his luck ran out. He no longer had his brother’s letter, which had been taken from him during his captivity. Considering it vital to his success, he decided to forge a new one. To get the letter right, Reubeni determined that he needed not just a scribe but seventy different Jews to individually forge the signatures of King Joseph’s seventy elders. Reubeni’s sway over Jews, however, was not what it had been previously. He was able to recruit only about twenty Jews, aged ten and older, to sign the letter, each of whom was sworn to secrecy. Determining that twenty signatures was not enough, he applied to the scribe to have the letter rewritten without the signatures. To lend authority in their place, he arranged for an official looking seal, bearing the insignia of King Joseph, to be made by a local craftsman, who had also been sworn to secrecy. Reubeni’s clumsy involvement of so many people in such nefarious activities caused the tide to turn. The town’s rabbis became aware of his embroilment of the Jewish community in his forgeries. Sensing danger, they absolved these Jews of the oaths they had sworn and reported the matter to the marquis. Reubeni was then handled with great cunning so as to better trap him in his lies. He was allowed to leave Mantua with his new letter, but the scribe had subtly marked it as a forgery. Not only were its signatures incompletely erased but the scribe had added his own signature to the document, craftily hiding it under King Joseph’s supposed seal. The marquis then sent all this information to his representative in Rome with instructions to inform the pope, and it is possible that he also sent it elsewhere.

Perhaps in response to these events, Abraham ben Solomon Dienna, a rabbi from Mantua, circulated a fiery denunciation of Reubeni. Dienna described a world in which town after town flattered Reubeni, providing for his every whim and supplying him with huge sums of money. Dienna wished to add his voice to the small minority who opposed him. “Since the days of [the biblical villain] Haman the son of Hammedatha,” he wrote, “no one has come to oppose us, rage against us, and cause us to perish, God forbid, like this enemy and adversary—this evil Haman.” Dienna ruled that, since Reubeni had placed Jewish lives in danger, his life was legally forfeit. He lamented that, before Reubeni’s arrival, the Jews were seen by Christians as tranquil but, thanks to him, they were now seen as bellicose, and that this put them in great danger.92

Despite the warnings sent by the marquis, it was some time before Reubeni was unmasked. In 1530, he received another letter of protection from the pope, and soon he was back in Venice.93 At the end of that year, the Venetians assigned Giovanni Battista Ramusio, a learned orientalist and diplomat to examine and report on him.94 Ramusio wrote that crowds of Venetian Jews, who treated Reubeni “like a messiah,” came to hear him preaching.95 Reubeni, he claimed, promised that his Jewish army would be victorious in Jerusalem because God would prevent the enemy’s guns from firing. If Ramusio is to be relied upon, a miraculous dimension had entered Reubeni’s promises, an aspect not evident in his diary.

The next we hear of Reubeni concerns his reunification with Diogo Pires, the converso whom he had refused to circumcise in Portugal. Born in 1501 near Lisbon to converso parents, Pires was a prodigy who, at the age of twenty, became a judge in the highest court of Portugal. According to Pires’s account, his involvement with Reubeni began when he experienced a terrifying dream in which a heavenly power ordered him to be circumcised. Despite repeatedly asking Reubeni to interpret the dream, Pires says, the latter refused. Thinking that Reubeni’s refusal was on account of his being uncircumcised, Pires circumcised himself. When he proudly shared this news with Reubeni, to his shock, the latter was angry with him, rebuking him for placing his mission in Portugal in danger. Reubeni’s account of these events differs only in that he claims that Pires asked him to circumcise him.96 Pires then took on the name Solomon Molkho, an allusion to the biblical King Solomon. He left Portugal and traveled through Italy and the Ottoman Empire. He soon developed a reputation for his deep knowledge of the Kabbalah and gained the admiration of such rabbinic luminaries as Joseph Karo and Shlomo Alkabets.97 How he attained such knowledge, including an ability to write eloquently in Hebrew, is still not known. Molkho also began to attain a reputation for accurate prophecies and, at the same time, came to view himself as the Messiah son of Joseph, the messianic precursor to the final messiah, the Messiah son of David.98 He correctly predicted massive flooding in Rome (1530), an earthquake in Portugal (1531), and the appearance of a great comet (Halley’s comet in 1531). It was on account of these predictions that many came to embrace Molkho as an accomplished magician.99 Crucially for Molkho, his accurate predictions won him Pope Clement VII’s support. This paid off in 1531 when Molkho, condemned by the Inquisition to be burned at the stake for having converted to Judaism, was granted a reprieve by the pope, who substituted a condemned criminal for him at the last moment. This event further enhanced Molkho’s stature, as reports multiplied about how he had emerged unscathed from the flames and was seen walking through the palaces of the Vatican.100

By the time Molkho reunited with Reubeni in Venice, he had a dedicated group of Jewish followers who accepted him as the Messiah, as well as several Christian supporters. Reubeni agreed to join forces with him, and together they journeyed to Regensburg to seek an audience with Charles V. On the way, they met with the King of France. We know very little of this meeting. Some reports by Christian scholars claim both that they attempted to convert the king to Judaism and that the king offered Molkho the chair of Hebrew at the Collège de France.101

The extensive millennial expectation that centered on Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, must have led Reubeni to see him as suitable target for his proposals. Such expectations had been associated with Charles’s family from the time of his grandparents, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, but were further accentuated as a result of the vast domains that he came to rule. His empire was the first to be described as one “on which the sun never sets” and many believed that, with such great power, he would succeed in conquering Jerusalem.102 Reubeni no doubt saw the potential for exploiting such hopes.

When Josel of Rosheim, the great representative of Ashkenazi Jewry to the emperor, heard that Reubeni and Molkho were nearing Regensburg, he was so terrified by the prospect of their arrival that he left town to indicate that neither he nor the town’s Jews had anything to do with them. The Jews of Habsburg lands under Charles V were in a precarious position. Judaism was already outlawed in his empire’s Iberian territories, and Charles was known to be a strong supporter of the Inquisition, both strengthening its powers and allowing it to spread in his empire.103 When, prior to Reubeni’s arrival, Josel had successfully negotiated against the Jews’ expulsion, he had to refute rumors that Jews were spying on the Habsburgs on behalf of the Ottomans. In Josel’s mind, Reubeni and Molkho’s plans to spark Christian-Muslim conflict were likely to reignite Charles’s worst fears and suspicions about Jews.104 For unknown reasons, Josel did not mention Reubeni in his writings, although we know from other sources that Reubeni had indeed been in Regensburg. Josel described Molkho’s visit to the emperor thus: “At that time . . . the righteous convert, Rabbi Solomon Molkho, may his soul rest in Eden, came with his alien ideas to stir up the emperor by telling him that he had come to gather all the Jews to wage war against the Turks. When I heard about his plans, I wrote him a letter warning him not to provoke the emperor lest we be consumed by the great fire. I left Regensburg, so that the emperor should not say that I had a hand in his strange plans.”105

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (r. 1519‒1556). Portrait by Titian.

As it turned out, Josel’s caution was well-warranted. Charles V rejected Reubeni and Molkho’s proposal and had them both arrested. The two were dispatched to Mantua as prisoners, perhaps evidence that the emperor’s displeasure was linked to his knowledge of the forged letters that Reubeni had produced there. Reubeni remained imprisoned for several years. He was transferred to a prison in Llerena where, in 1538, he was condemned by the Inquisition for converting Christians to Judaism and was “relaxed” to the secular authorities for burning at the stake. He was perhaps the only unconverted Jew apprehended by the Inquisition, and was charged with the only crime possible within its legal framework, that of proselytizing Judaism.106

Reubeni’s Goals

What did Reubeni want? In his diary, he made clear to Jews and also to some Muslims that his goal was to return the Jews to the land of Israel. To Christians, Reubeni emphasized a different message. His Arabian kingdom, he claimed, was permanently engaged in war with the Muslims who surrounded it, and this made him a natural ally of Christians against their Muslim enemies.107 Reubeni therefore asked Christian rulers for ships and weapons that were to be sent to the “East.” From Reubeni’s patron, Daniel da Pisa, we learn that he had specified to the pope that he wanted these weapons to be delivered to the Arabian port of Jeddah for the purpose of fighting Muslim kingdoms in Asia and Africa.108 From this, some scholars have suggested that Reubeni’s ultimate aim was that of sparking a world war between Muslims and Christians. Since both sides were already primed for such a war, many may have regarded this aim as easily attainable.109 This hypothesis has recently been strengthened by Moti Benmelech, who has noted the close parallels between Reubeni’s work and that of a contemporary mystic, Abraham ben Eliezer Halevi.110 Halevi suggested that the final apocalyptic battle would occur once the Portuguese were lured into Arabia in the hopes of conquering Mecca, from which they would then be speedily routed by the Ottomans.111 While it is impossible to know whether Reubeni himself had encountered Halevi’s ideas, it is reasonable to imagine that some of Reubeni’s supporters might have seen his activities in this light, since it is known that Halevi’s works circulated in Italy and Venice. Moreover, many Christians openly anticipated and even welcomed such an apocalyptic battle between Ottoman Muslims and European Christians, and it is therefore conceivable that Reubeni’s followers understood his mission as the Jewish narrative of such Christian prophecies.

What did Reubeni hope would happen after this conflict between Christians and Muslims? He may have thought that with both sides weakened by war, his ragtag group of Jews and conversos, newly supplied with weapons from Christian monarchs, would be able to seize the Holy Land for themselves. It is also likely, however, that Reubeni hoped for a decisive Muslim victory. As Cornell Fleischer has noted, “a betting man in 1500 would have put money on a universal Muslim victory.”112 And there are good grounds for supposing that Reubeni and his followers might have embraced such an outcome, as many Jews already had in their eschatologies. Asher Lemlein, a messianic claimant active in Italy a quarter century before Reubeni, predicted that an Ottoman victory against Rome was a necessary precursor to Jews regaining their land.113 The famous Iberian rabbi and statesman, Isaac Abravanel (d. 1508), had a similar view: “It is quite possible that the Messiah will first appear in the land of the Ishmaelites [i.e., the Muslims]. . . . And who knows? Perhaps a king of Ishmael will accept the religion of Israel, bring about the salvation of Israel, and be an anointed one (mashiah)?”114 There are also grounds for assuming that these views were held by some conversos. Historians of the Inquisition have shown how Mehmet II’s conquest of Constantinople filled many conversos with messianic hope. For example, according to a 1464 Inquisition report, one converso told his neighbor: “You do not know who the Turk is. If God will favor us (the conversos), the Turk will be in Castile within a year and a half . . . for the Turk is called the Destroyer of Christianity and the Defender of the Jewish Faith. He is the Messiah whose coming is predicted by the Jewish Bible.”115 Reubeni seems to have largely shared these positive views of Muslims. He claimed to have spent time disguised as a Muslim in Africa, Egypt, and Palestine, and generally spoke positively of the morality of the Muslims whom he met. Later, when traveling in Iberia as a Jew, he describes how Muslims who had been forcibly converted to Christianity saw him as a natural ally and came to kiss his hand.116 He did not see Muslims as an obstacle to his goal of returning the Jews to the land of Israel. After explaining to a Muslim dignitary from Morocco that his ultimate purpose was to send his army to conquer Jerusalem from the Muslims, Reubeni asked him, “Do you believe that the Kingdom of Ishmael will return the land to us?” And this dignitary, according to Reubeni, replied, “Yes, all the world believes that.” Reubeni added that he envisioned Muslim rulers cooperating to help bring their Jewish populations to the land of Israel.117 If this seems far-fetched to modern readers, it is worth keeping in mind that, following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, its new Muslim rulers actively encouraged Jewish migration to that city.118

How did Reubeni view his diary as contributing to his goal of returning the Jews to the land of Israel? Aside from the occasional remark about gathering the Jews in Israel and offering a sacrifice, the diary is devoid of the apocalyptic imagery that one might think would ignite the passions of a mass messianic movement. Indeed, its content is shockingly mundane. It details Reubeni’s daily grind of mustering a following, recruiting and managing (often unruly) followers and servants, dealing with diplomatic victories and failures, as well as his struggles with his own emotions. It reports on the costs of clothing an entourage, entertaining guests, and buying lavish gifts to gain the favor of officials and dignitaries. It shows the extraordinary lengths to which Reubeni had to go to flatter those in power. The purpose of the diary may therefore be to emphasize to his readers that the business of returning the Jews to their land is mainly a naturalistic one. Many Jews nonetheless embraced Reubeni as the Messiah and, as Azriel Shohat has pointed out, Reubeni comfortably fits the naturalistic definition of the Messiah proposed by Moses Maimonides.119 Yet Reubeni, true to the practical image that he wished to cultivate, reports in his diary that he had repeatedly and publicly denied being the Messiah and insisted that he was part diplomat, part military man.


1. David Reubeni, The Story of David Reubeni (in Hebrew), ed. Aaron Aescoly (Jerusalem: Mossad Bialik, 1993), 76. Cf. Amos 7:14. Here and elsewhere, biblical quotations are given in italics.

2. Although in biblical times and even into the early Middle Ages the term kushi referred specifically to Nubians, by Reubeni’s time, it had become a general term for “Black people.” Jonathan Schorsch, Jews and Blacks in the Early Modern World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 116–17.

3. According to 1 Chronicles 5:26, Habor was the place to which the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh were exiled. Cf. 2 Kings 17:6 and 18:11. Although Reubeni claimed that this desert was in Arabia, the Bible itself locates it in Assyria. Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 37.

4. For views that Reubeni did indeed travel to the Funj Sultanate, see Gabriel Warburg, “A Note on David Ha-Reuveni’s Visit to the Funj Sultan in 1523,” Sudan Studies 34 (2006), 20–31; and Sigmar Hillelson, “David Reubeni, An Early Visitor to Sennar,” Sudan Notes and Records 26 (1933), 55–66. For a view that he did not travel there, see Moti Benmelech, “History, Politics, and Messianism: David Ha-Reuveni’s Origin and Mission,” AJS Review 35 (2011), 58.

5. On the Funj Sultanate, see A.C.S. Peacock, “The Ottomans and the Funj Sultanate in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 75 (2012), 90–92.

6. On his life, see Abraham David, “Towards a History of Abraham Castro in the Light of Genizah Documents” (in Hebrew), Michael 9 (1985), 147–62.

7. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 19.

8. Azriel Shohat, “Notes on the David Reubeni Affair” (in Hebrew), Zion 35 (1970), 100.

9. Abraham David, “Gaza as a Trade Center between Egypt and the Land of Israel in the 16th Century” (in Hebrew), Mahanayim 2 (1992), 184–91.

10. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 29–31.

11. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 29–30.

12. Carlos Caracciolo, “Natural Disasters and the European Printed News Network,” in News Networks in Early Modern Europe, ed. Joad Raymond and Noah Moxham (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 756–66.

13. Cornell Fleischer, “A Mediterranean Apocalypse: Prophecies of Empire in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 61 (2018), 21.

14. Jean Delumeau, Sin and Fear: The Emergence of a Western Guilt Culture, 13th‒18th Centuries (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991), 206.

15. Reubeni notes that he left Alexandria for Venice on December 2, 1523. He does not mention the date of his arrival in Venice, but travel between Venice and Alexandria in the early sixteenth century by ship has been estimated by one scholar to have taken an average of 65 days, and perhaps even longer during the difficult December weather. We can thus assume that Reubeni arrived in Venice in late January or perhaps even in early February of 1524. Pierre Sardella, Nouvelles et spéculations à Venise au début du XVIe siècle (Paris: A Colin, 1948), 56‒64. On ambassadors and their gifts, see Catherine Fletcher, “‘Those Who Give Are Not All Generous’: The World of Gifts,” in Diplomacy in Renaissance Rome: The Rise of the Resident Ambassador (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 145–67.

16. On Moses dal Castellazzo, see Paul Kaplan, “Jewish Artists and Images of Black Africans in Renaissance Venice,” in Multicultural Europe and Cultural Exchange in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ed. James Helfers (Turnholt: Brepols, 2005), 67–90. On Simon ben Asher Meshullam, see David Jacoby, “New Evidence on Jewish Bankers in Venice and the Venetian Terraferma (c. 1450–1550),” in The Mediterranean and the Jews: Banking, Finance and International Trade (XVI‒XVIII Centuries), ed. Ariel Toaff and Simon Schwarzfuchs (Ramat-Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 1989), 151‒78.

17. Ottavia Niccoli, Prophecy and People in Renaissance Italy, tr. Lydia Cochrane (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 141.

18. The term sheharhor (blackish), a biblical hapax legomenon, is ambiguous. Scholars since Abraham Ibn Ezra (Commentary on the Song of Songs 1:6) have debated whether its effect is to diminish or intensify blackness. It is unclear how Farissol, who used the term only once, understood it. As Jonathan Schorsch has noted, Farissol, despite citing reports of Jews living in Abyssinia, seems to have drawn a sharp distinction between Jews and Blacks (shehorim). It is perhaps for this reason that he preferred to describe Reubeni as “blackish” rather than “black” (shahor). See Schorsch, Jews and Blacks in the Early Modern World, 117–18 and 124.

19. Letter written by Daniel da Pisa (d. 1527), in Umberto Cassuto, “Sulla famiglia da Pisa,” Rivista Israelitica 7 (1910), 149; Abraham Farissol (d. 1526), Iggeret Orhot ‘Olam (Venice: Giovanni di Gara, 1586), 17 and 103; and Gedaliah ibn Yahya (d. 1587), Sefer Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah (Venice: Giovanni di Gara, 1587), 103. For Diogo Mendes’s statement, see Herman Prins Salomon and Aron di Leone Leoni, “Mendes, Benveniste, de Luna, Micas, Nasci: The State of the Art (1532–1558),” Jewish Quarterly Review 88 (1998), 184.

20. Marino Sanuto, I Diarii di Marino Sanuto (Venice: Visentini, 1899), 54:148–49 and Francisco Álvares, The Prester John of the Indies: A True Relation of the Lands of the Prester John, Being the Narrative of the Portuguese Embassy to Ethiopia in 1520 (London: Routledge, 2016).

21. Much fruitless effort has been expended to pinpoint Reubeni’s origins, which scholars have placed across the Old World. For the claim that Reubeni was of Indian origin, see Ervin Birnbaum, “David Reubeni’s Indian Origin,” Historia Judaica 20 (1958), 3–30; for an Abyssinian origin, see Umberto Cassuto, “Who Was David Reubeni?” (in Hebrew), Tarbiz 32 (1963), 346–47; for a Yemeni origin, see Shohat, “Notes on the David Reubeni Affair,” 109. For the claim that Reubeni was an Ashkenazi, Yiddish-speaking, Jew, see Aaron Aescoly, “David Reubeni’s Language” (in Hebrew), in Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 195–96. For the claim that he was Sephardic and Hispanic-speaking, see Abraham Yahuda, “David Reubeni: His Origin, Language and Identity” (in Hebrew), ha-Tekufah 35 (1950), 599–25. For the suggestion that Reubeni might not have been Jewish, see José Alberto Rodrigues da Silva Tavim, “David Reubeni: um ‘embaixador’ inusitado (1525–1526),” in D. João III e o Império: Actas do Congresso Internacional comemorativo do seu nascimento, ed. Roberto Carneiro and Artur Teodoro de Matos (Lisbon: Centro de História de Além-Mar, 2004), 712–13.

22. Andrew Kurt, “The Search for Prester John: A Projected Crusade and the Eroding Prestige of Ethiopian Kings, c.1200–c.1540,” Journal of Medieval History 39 (2013), 297–320; and Adam Knobler, Mythology and Diplomacy in the Age of Exploration (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 30‒56.

23. Moti Benmelech, “Back to the Future: The Ten Tribes and Messianic Hopes in Jewish Society during the Early Modern Age,” in Peoples of the Apocalypse: Eschatological Beliefs and Political Scenarios, ed. Wolfram Brandes, Felicitas Schmieder, and Rebekka Voß (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016), 193–210.

24. Fabrizio Lelli, “The Role of Early Renaissance Geographical Discoveries in Yohanan Alemanno’s Messianic Thought,” in Hebraic Aspects of the Renaissance, ed. Ilana Zinguer, Abraham Melamed, and Zur Shalev (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 196–97.

25. Miriam Eliav-Feldon, Renaissance Impostors and Proofs of Identity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 94.

26. Ariel Toaff, “Il Messia Negro,” in Mostri giudei: l’immaginario ebraico dal Medioevo alla prima età moderna (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1996), 49–63. Cf. Menachem Waldman, Beyond the Rivers of Ethiopia: The Jews of Ethiopia and the Jewish People (in Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Misrad ha-Bitahon, 1989), 54–56.

27. Stefanie Siegmund, The Medici State and the Ghetto of Florence: The Construction of an Early Modern Jewish Community (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 355–56.

28. Bernard Cooperman, “Licenses, Cartels, and Kehila: Jewish Moneylending and the Struggle against Restraint of Trade in Early Modern Rome,” in Purchasing Power: The Economics of Modern Jewish History, ed. Rebecca Kobrin and Adam Teller (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 32–33; and Attilio Milano, “I capitoli di Daniel da Pisa e la comunità di Roma,” La rassegna mensile di Israel 10 (1935), 324‒38 and 409–26.

29. Umberto Cassuto, La famiglia da Pisa: estratto dalla Rivista Israelitica, anni V‒VIII (Florence: Galletti & Cassuto, 1910).

30. David Kaufmann, “La famille de Yehiel de Pise,” Revue des études juives 26 (1893): 83–110; David Kaufmann, “Notes sur l’histoire de la famille ‘de Pise,’Revue des études juives 29 (1894): 142–47; David Kaufmann, “La famille de Pise,” Revue des études juives 31 (1895): 62–73; Cassuto, “La famiglia da Pisa,” passim; Michele Luzzati, La casa dell’Ebreo (Pisa: Nistri-Lischi, 1985); and Lelli, “The Role of Early Renaissance Geographical Discoveries in Yohanan Alemanno’s Messianic Thought,” 195–96.

31. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 47. Cf. Saverio Campanini, “Un intellettuale ebreo del Rinascimento: ‘Ovadyah Sforno a Bologna e i suoi rapporti con i cristiani,” in Verso l’epilogo di una convivenza gli ebrei a Bologna nel XVI secolo, ed. Maria Giuseppina Muzzarelli (Florence: Firenze Giuntina, 1996), 103–4.

32. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 46.

33. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 41. On the conversos of Rome, see James Nelson Novoa, Being the Nação in the Eternal City: New Christian Lives in Sixteenth-Century Rome (Peterborough: Baywolf Press, 2014).

34. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 44.

35. On Benvenida Abravanel, see Renata Segre, “Sephardic Refugees in Ferrara: Two Notable Families,” in Crisis and Creativity in the Sephardic World, 1391–1648, ed. Benjamin Gampel (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 164–85; and Samuel Margulies, “La famiglia Abravanel in Italia,” Rivista Israelitica 3 (1906), 97–107 and 147–54.

36. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 57, 100–101, and 104–5.

37. Howard Adelman, “The Educational and Literary Activities of Jewish Women in Italy during the Renaissance and the Catholic Restoration,” in Shlomo Simonsohn Jubilee Volume, ed. Daniel Carpi (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1993), 9–23.

38. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 37.

39. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 53 and 55.

40. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 43.

41. There was considerable reason to fear that Iberia’s anti-Jewish policies might spread throughout Italy. Ferdinand of Aragon, who had expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492, had attempted to institute similar policies in his lands in southern Italy. Although, ultimately, this effort was not successful, there were several attempts to expel the Jews from this area over the course of the sixteenth century. Ferdinand was succeeded by his grandson, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, who continued these policies, allowed them to spread to many areas of his empire, and made several attempts to expand his empire into Italy. Later in the sixteenth century, such policies led to the expulsion of the Jews of Milan by Charles V’s son, Philip II of Spain. See Flora Cassen, “The Last Spanish Expulsion in Europe: Milan 1565–1597,” AJS Review 38 (2014), 59–88; Céline Dauverd, “Viceroys, Jews, and Conversos,” in Church and State in Spanish Italy: Rituals and Legitimacy in the Kingdom of Naples (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 64–91; and Kenneth Stow, “Stigma, Acceptance, and the End to Liminality: Jews and Christians in Early Modern Italy,” in At the Margins: Minority Groups in Premodern Italy, ed. Stephen Milner (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 71–92.

42. François Secret, Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod, 1964), 120; and Marjorie Reeves, “Cardinal Egidio of Viterbo: A Prophetic Interpretation of History,” in Prophetic Rome in the High Renaissance Period (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 91–109. Cf. Moshe Idel, “Egidio da Viterbo and R. Abraham Abulafia’s Writings” (in Hebrew), Italia 2 (1981), 48–50.

43. John O’Malley, Giles of Viterbo on Church and Reform (Leiden: Brill, 1968), 67–99.

44. Eliav-Feldon, Renaissance Impostors and Proofs of Identity, 77. Reubeni was not the first messianic figure to become a subject of interest for Christians. For other examples, see David Ruderman, “Hope against Hope: Jewish and Christian Messianic Expectations in the Late Middle Ages,” in Exile and Diaspora: Studies in the History of the Jewish People Presented to Professor Haim Beinart, ed. A. Mirsky, A. Grossman, and Y. Kaplan (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 1991), 195.

45. Natalie Zemon Davis, Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth-Century Muslim between Worlds (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), 76–77.

46. Gérard Weil, Élie Lévita: humaniste et massorète (1469–1549) (Leiden: Brill, 1963), 210.

47. Robert Knecht, Francis I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 69–70.

48. Letter written by Daniel da Pisa, in Cassuto, “Sulla famiglia da Pisa,” 149.

49. For the pope’s letter of introduction to Dawit II, see Appendix B in Reubeni Story of David Reubeni, 175–78.

50. Letter from Clement VII to João III, in Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 173–75.

51. See, e.g., Susan Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise? The Search for Certainty in the Early Modern Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

52. Eliav-Feldon, Renaissance Impostors and Proofs of Identity, 96.

53. Eliav-Feldon, Renaissance Impostors and Proofs of Identity, 68–74; Valentin Groebner, Who Are You? Identification, Deception, and Surveillance in Early Modern Europe (Brooklyn: Zone Books, 2007), 171–222; and Kate Lowe, “‘Representing’ Africa: Ambassadors and Princes from Christian Africa to Renaissance Italy and Portugal, 1402–1608,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 17 (2007), 101–28.

54. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 51. On Ismael da Rieti, see Shlomo Simonsohn, “On the History of the Rieti Banking Family in Tuscany,” Festschrift in Honor of Dr. George S. Wise, ed. Haim Ben-Shahar (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1981), 301–15.

55. On the location of this house, see Michele Luzzatti, “Per la storia degli ebrei italiani nel Rinascimento: Matrimonii e apostasia di Clemenza di Vitale da Pisa,” in Studi sul Medioevo cristiano offerti a Raffaello Morghen (Rome: Istituto storico italiano per il Medio Evo, 1974), 433 and 439.

56. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 56. For examples of other pre-modern Italian rabbis who visited churches, see Marc Shapiro, “May One Enter a Church? An Unpublished Responsum of Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits” (in Hebrew), Milin Havivin 4 (2008–2010), 44. Cecil Roth writes that when Michelangelo was working on his sculpture of Moses (c. 1513–1515) in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, “Roman Jews suppressed their traditional inhibitions and went on pilgrimage on Saturday afternoons to gaze upon their Lawgiver’s marble features.” Cecil Roth, History of the Jews of Italy (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1946), 195.

57. Cf. Ecclesiastes 7:9.

58. Uberto Motta, Castiglione e il mito di Urbino: studi sull’elaborazione del ‘Cortegiano’ (Milan: Vita e Pensiero, 2003), 385–444; and Ana Isabel Buescu, “D. João III e D. Miguel da Silva, bispo de Viseu: novas razões para um ódio velho,” Revista de história da sociedade e da cultura 10 (2010), 141–68.

59. Tavim, “David Reubeni: um ‘embaixador’ inusitado,” 690.

60. Mark D. Meyerson, “Religious Change, Regionalism, and Royal Power in the Spain of Fernando and Isabel,” in Iberia and the Mediterranean World of the Middle Ages, vol. 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 99 and 111. On changes to converso life in Spain before and after 1492, see Renée Levine Melammed, “Judaizing Women in Castile: A Look at Their Lives Before and After 1492,” in Religion in the Age of Exploration: The Case of Spain and New Spain, ed. Bryan LeBeau and Menachem Mor (Omaha: Creighton University Press, 1996), 28‒29. Melammed describes the lives of crypto-Jewish women in this period as “a living hell.”

61. François Soyer, The Persecution of the Jews and Muslims of Portugal: King Manuel I and the End of Religious Tolerance (1496‒7) (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 219, 224, and 285. For other explanations of the differences between Spanish and Portuguese conversos, see Yosef Yerushalmi, From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto: Isaac Cardoso: A Study in Seventeenth-Century Marranism and Jewish Apologetics (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981), 3–8; and Miriam Bodian, Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation: Conversos and Community in Early Modern Amsterdam (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 12.

62. Yerushalmi, From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto, 305. The theme is also extensively referenced in Inquisition documents. See also, Renée Levine Melammed, Heretics or Daughters of Israel? The Crypto-Jewish Women of Castile (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 45ff.

63. Goldish, “Patterns in Converso Messianism,” in Jewish Messianism in the Early Modern World, ed. Matt Goldish and Richard Popkin (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2001), 42.

64. Joseph Hacker, “Links between Spanish Jewry and Palestine, 1391–1492,” in Vision and Conflict in the Holy Land, ed. Richard Cohen (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 1985), 119.

65. Carlos Carrete Parrondo, “Judeoconversos andaluces y expectativas mesiánicas,” in Carlos Barros, Guimerans, Xudeus e Conversos na Historica (Santiago de Compostela: La Editorial de la Historia, 1994), 1:325–37; Carlos Carrete Parrondo, “Idealismo y realidad: notas sobre la noción de Jerusalem entre los judeoconversos castellanos,” El Olivo 20 (1996), 7–11; and Carlos Carrete Parrondo, “Movimientos mesiánicos en las juderías de Castilla,” in Las tres culturas en la Corona de Castilla y los Sefardíes (Salamanca: Junta de Castilla y León, 1990), 65–69, esp. 68–69.

66. Haim Beinart, “The Conversos of Chillón and Siruela and the Prophecies of Mari Gómez and Inés, the Daughter of Juan Esteban” (in Hebrew), Zion 48 (1983), 241–72, and Melammed, Heretics or Daughters of Israel?, 45ff.

67. Melamed, Heretics or Daughters of Israel?, 61.

68. David Gitlitz, Secrecy and Deceit: The Religion of the Crypto-Jews (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996), 104.

69. Carlos Carrete and Yolanda Moreno, “Movimiento mesiánico hispanoportugués: Badajoz 1525,” in Homenaje al Prof. Fernando Díaz Esteban, ed. María Victoria Spottorno Díaz-Caro, Ángel Sáenz-Badillos, and Gregorio del Olmo Lete (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1992), 65–68; and Mercedes García-Arenal, “‘Un réconfort pour ceux qui sont dans l’attent’: Prophéte et millénarisme dans la péninsule Ibérique et au Maghreb (XVIe‒XVIIe siècles),” Revue de l’histoire des religions 220 (2003), 467–68.

70. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 90 and 124.

71. Giuseppe Marcocci, “A fundação da Inquisição em Portugal: um novo olhar,” Lusitania Sacra 23 (2011), 25–26. Cf. “Letter from Doctor Selaya to D. João III, March 30, 1528,” in As Gavetas da Torre do Tombo, ed. António da Silva Rego (Lisbon: Centro de Estudos Históricos Ultramarinos, 1960), 164–66.

72. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 91.

73. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 40.

74. For examples, see Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 72, 74, and 112.

75. For a thorough treatment of this issue, see José Alberto Rodrigues da Silva Tavim, Os judeus na expansão portuguesa em Marrocos durante o século XVI: origens e actividades duma comunidade (Braga: APPACDM Distrital, 1997), passim. For a discussion in English, see Yosef Yerushalmi, “Professing Jews in Post-Expulsion Spain and Portugal,” in Salo Wittmayer Baron Jubilee Volume, ed. Saul Lieberman (Jerusalem: American Academy for Jewish Research, 1974), 2:1023–58.

76. Joseph Chetrit, “The Secret of David Hareuveni According to a Hebrew Poem from Morocco” (in Hebrew), Tarbiz 60 (1991), 237–63.

77. Sanjay Subrahmanyam, “Turning the Stones Over: Sixteenth-Century Millenarianism from the Tagus to the Ganges,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 40 (2003), 155; and Luís Filipe Thomaz, “L’idée impériale manueline,” in La Découverte, le Portugal et l’Europe, ed. Jean Aubin (Paris: Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian, 1990), 35–103.

78. Sanjay Subrahmanyam, The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 54–57; and Carole Myscofski, “Messianic Themes in Portuguese and Brazilian Literature in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” Luso-Brazilian Review 28 (1991), 79.

79. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 62.

80. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 83–84.

81. Reubeni, The Story of David Reubeni, 35.

82. Subrahmanyam, “Turning the Stones Over,” 132.

83. Andreu Martínez d’Alòs-Moner, “Conquistadores, Mercenaries, and Missionaries: The Failed Portuguese Dominion of the Red Sea,” Northeast African Studies 12 (2012), 1–28.

84. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 65. Reubeni’s failure to secure ships may also have been the result of a tacit Portuguese acknowledgment of Ottoman naval dominance in the Red Sea and a corresponding geographic shift of Portuguese imperialist activities away from that area. Martínez d’Alòs-Moner, “Conquistadores, Mercenaries, and Missionaries,” 6–7.

85. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 94.

86. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 102–03; Tavim, “David Reubeni: um ‘embaixador’ inusitado,” 703; and Elias Lipiner, O Sapateiro de Trancoso e o Alfaiate de Setúbal (Rio de Janeiro: Imago Editora, 1993), 147.

87. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 103.

88. Simonsohn suggests that the “Lord of Clermont” might be Francis William of Clerman, who was cardinal bishop of Tusculum and the papal legate in Avignon. Shlomo Simonsohn, The Apostolic See and the Jews: History (Toronto: Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies, 1990), 91.

89. See “Solomon Cohen’s Addendum” (in Hebrew), in Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 143 and 148; and Sanuto, I diarii di Marino Sanuto, 54:145–48.

90. Ariel Toaff, “Gli ebrei a Roma,” in Storia d’Italia, Annali 11, Gli ebrei in Italia, vol. 1, Dall’alto Medioevo all’età dei ghetti, ed. Corrado Vivanti (Turin: Einuadi, 1996), 151–52; Anna Esposito and Manuel Vaquero Piñeiro, “Rome during the Sack: Chronicles and Testimonies from an Occupied City,” in The Pontificate of Clement VII: History, Politics, Culture, ed. Kenneth Gouwens and Sheryl Reiss (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016), 125–42; and Anne Reynolds, “The Papal Court in Exile: Clement VII in Orvieto, 1527–28,” in The Pontificate of Clement VII, 143–64.

91. On this incident, see Shlomo Simonsohn, “David Reubeni’s Second Mission in Italy” (in Hebrew), Zion 26 (1961), 198–207.

92. David Kaufmann, “Azriel b. Salomon Dayiena et la seconde intervention de David Reubéni en Italie,” Revue des études juives 30 (1895), 304–09. According to Simonsohn, Dienna’s letter dates to 1530; according to Baron, 1532. Simonsohn, “David Reubeni’s Second Mission in Italy,” 200–202; and Salo Wittmayer Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), 13:365n57. It is difficult to know whether Dienna’s assessment of the size of Reubeni’s following is accurate. Joseph Ha-Cohen (d. 1578), writing decades after Reubeni’s death, claimed that most Italian Jews refused to help Reubeni because they were reluctant to leave their wives and children and risk death in war. It is possible, however, that Ha-Cohen was writing with wishful hindsight. Joseph Ha-Cohen, The Vale of Tears (Emek Habacha) (The Hague: Martinius Nijhoff, 1971), 77.

93. Tavim, “David Reubeni: um ‘embaixador’ inusitado,” 706.

94. Jerome R. Barnes, “Giovanni Battista Ramusio and the History of Discoveries” (Ph.D. diss., University of Texas at Arlington, 2007), 14–34.

95. Sanuto, I diarii di Marino Sanuto, 54:148.

96. On these events, see Solomon Molkho, The Collected Writings of Solomon Molkho (in Hebrew), ed. Zev Golan (Jerusalem: Ze’ev Golan, 2019), 115–19; Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 94; and Moti Benmelech, Solomon Molkho: The Life and Death of Messiah Ben Joseph (in Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Ben Zvi Institute, 2016), 146–51.

97. Benmelech, Solomon Molkho, 123–27. On the many rabbis who were impressed with Molkho’s learning, see Moshe Idel, Messianic Mystics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 145–46; and R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, Joseph Karo: Lawyer and Mystic (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1980), 98–99.

98. On Molkho’s concept of the Messiah, see Benmelech, Solomon Molkho, 187–228.

99. Benmelech, Solomon Molkho, 261; and Moshe Idel, “Solomon Molkho as a Magician” (in Hebrew), Sefunot 18 (1985): 193–219.

100. Benmelech, Solomon Molkho, 252. Cf. Sanuto, I diarii di Marino Sanuto, 54:145–52.

101. François Secret, “Notes sur les Hébraïsants Chrétiens,” Revue des études juives 123 (1964), 142–45.

102. George Parker, “Messianic Visions in the Spanish Monarchy, 1516–1598,” Calíope: Journal of the Society for Renaissance and Baroque Hispanic Poetry 8 (2002), 6–7. Also see, Rebecca Boone, “Empire and Medieval Simulacrum: A Political Project of Mercurino di Gattinara, Grand Chancellor of Charles V,” Sixteenth Century Journal 42 (2011), 1027–49.

103. Edward Peters, Inquisition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 102.

104. On these events, see Chava Fraenkel-Goldschmidt, The Historical Writings of Joseph of Rosheim, tr. Naomi Schendowich (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 188–98; and Selma Stern, Josel of Rosheim, Commander of Jewry in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, tr. Gertrude Hirschler (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1965), 132–35. For Hebrew-language primary sources, see David Gans, Sefer Tsemah David, ed. M. Breuer (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1983), 138–39; Azariah de’ Rossi, The Light of the Eyes, tr. Joanna Weinberg (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 261–62; and Avraham David, Leon Weinberger, and Dena Ordan, A Hebrew Chronicle from Prague, c. 1615 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2012), 37–38.

105. Fraenkel-Goldschmidt, Historical Writings of Joseph of Rosheim, 323–24.

106. Antonio Rodríguez Moñino, “Les judaïsants à Badajoz de 1493 à 1599,” Revue des études juives 115 (1957), 73–86.

107. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 84; and Letter from Clement VII to João III, in Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 173–78. Reubeni was not the first to present Christian rulers with the possibility of a non-Christian ally against the Muslims. For decades rumors had circulated about the existence of such an ally in the east who was known as the “grand khan.” Indeed, in 1492, Christopher Columbus had justified his famous voyage to the Spanish monarchs as a quest to make contact with him. Thirty years later, Reubeni’s offer of allyship must have seemed to his audiences as a realization of such hopes. Christopher Columbus, The Diario of Christopher Columbus's First Voyage to America (1492‒1493), transcribed and translated by Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley, Jr. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991), 16‒17; and Knobler, Mythology and Diplomacy in the Age of Exploration, 70‒79.

108. Letter written by Daniel da Pisa, in Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 151.

109. Yosef Yerushalmi, “Messianic Impulses in Joseph Ha-Kohen,” in Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century, ed. Bernard Cooperman (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), 485; and Shohat, “Notes on the David Reubeni Affair,” 96–116.

110. Benmelech, “History, Politics, and Messianism,” 42–56; and Moshe Idel, “On Mishmarot and Messianism in Jerusalem in the Early Sixteenth Century” (in Hebrew), Shalem 5 (1987), 83–90.

111. Abraham ben Eli’ezer Halevi, “Nevu’at ha-Yeled,” in Sheloshah ma ʼamre geʼulah, ed. Amnon Gros (Jerusalem: Amnon Gros, 2000), 75–76.

112. Fleischer, “Mediterranean Apocalypse,” 79.

113. Isaiah Tishby, “Acute Apocalyptic Messianism,” in Essential Papers on Messianic Movements and Personalities in Jewish History, ed. Marc Saperstein (New York: New York University Press, 1992), 281. For other examples of Jews embracing Islamic victories over Christendom in this period, see Mercedes García-Arenal and Gerard Wiegers, A Man of Three Worlds: Samuel Pallache, a Moroccan Jew in Catholic and Protestant Europe, tr. Martin Beagles (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 23.

114. Tishby, “Acute Apocalyptic Messianism,” 282.

115. Yitzhak Baer, A History of the Jews in Christian Spain (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1978), 2:347. For further examples, see Baer, “The Messianic Movement in Spain in the Period of the Exile” (in Hebrew), Zion 5 (1933), 61–77; Jacqueline Genot-Bismuth, “Le mythe de l’Orient dans l’eschatologie des Juifs d’Espagne à l’époque des conversions forcées et de l’expulsion,” Annales 45 (1990), 819–38; and Mark Myerson, “Seeking the Messiah: Converso Messianism in Post-1453 Valencia,” in The Conversos and Moriscos in Late Medieval Spain and Beyond, ed. Kevin Ingram (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 1:51–82.

116. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 132. The idea of Muslim followers of Jewish messianic claimants is attested elsewhere in Jewish history, both predating and postdating David Reubeni. See, for example, Bat-Zion Eraqi Klorman, “Jewish and Muslim Messianism in Yemen,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 22 (1990), especially 223n2.

117. Reubeni, Story of David Reubeni, 75. Reubeni had a similarly positive encounter with a Muslim dignitary who was visiting Spain, see Story of David Reubeni, 130.

118. Esther Benbassa and Aron Rodrigue, Sephardi Jewry: A History of the Judeo-Spanish Community: 14th‒20th Centuries (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 7–9. As these authors indicate, the same rulers who encouraged Jewish migration to their territory did also subject Jews to significant restrictions that stemmed from concerns over maintaining Islamic norms.