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


January 2023
212 pages.
from $28.00

Hardcover now $42.50 (50% off)
Paperback now $14.00 (50% off)

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503634428
Paperback ISBN: 9781503634435
Ebook ISBN: 9781503634442

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Named one of the Ten Beau­ti­ful Book Cov­ers of 2023 by the Jewish Book Council.

In 1524, a man named David Reubeni appeared in Venice, claiming to be the ambassador of a powerful Jewish kingdom deep in the heart of Arabia. In this era of fierce rivalry between great powers, voyages of fantastic discovery, and brutal conquest of new lands, people throughout the Mediterranean saw the signs of an impending apocalypse and envisioned a coming war that would end with a decisive Christian or Islamic victory. With his army of hardy desert warriors from lost Israelite tribes, Reubeni pledged to deliver the Jews to the Holy Land by force and restore their pride and autonomy. He would spend a decade shuttling between European rulers in Italy, Portugal, Spain, and France, seeking weaponry in exchange for the support of his hitherto unknown but mighty Jewish kingdom. Many, however, believed him to favor the relatively tolerant Ottomans over the persecutorial Christian regimes. Reubeni was hailed as a messiah by many wealthy Jews and Iberia's oppressed conversos, but his grand ambitions were halted in Regensburg when the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, turned him over to the Inquisition and, in 1538, he was likely burned at the stake.

Diary of a Black Jewish Messiah is the first English translation of Reubeni's Hebrew-language diary, detailing his travels and personal travails. Written in a Hebrew drawn from everyday speech, entirely unlike other literary works of the period, Reubeni's diary reveals both the dramatic desperation of Renaissance Jewish communities and the struggles of the diplomat, trickster, and dreamer who wanted to save them.

About the author

Alan Verskin is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Rhode Island.

"Alan Verskin has once again proven himself to be a master translator with this English rendering of the Hebrew diary of the semi-messianic figure, David Reubeni. Verskin is no less a master storyteller who vividly recreates the historical setting of Reubeni's activity in his detailed introduction, which is eminently scholarly yet fully accessible."

—Norman A. Stillman, Executive Editor of Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World

"A fantastical tale of adventure, political intrigue, and apocalyptic expectation, David Reubeni's diary is surely one of the most fascinating pieces of Jewish writing from the age of exploration. Alan Verskin's elegant and eminently readable translation reveals the exploits of this self-declared messenger of a mythical Jewish kingdom as he pursues his unlikely quest to restore Jews to their ancient homeland."

—Matthias B. Lehmann, author of The Baron

"There were several ways in which Verskin could have approached this project. The material is so rich that he could have produced an updated English version of Aaron Ze'ev Aescoly's thick, heavily annotated and augmented 1940 Hebrew edition of the diary. But this would have been the work of several decades. On the other hand, he could have given us a bare translation with minimal apparatus. This small, elegant volume, which features Verskin's rich thirty-page introduction and deft, helpful endnotes, seems just right."

—Matt Goldish, Jewish Review of Books

"Almost everything known about Reubeni derives from his Hebrew diary, which Verskin here translates and presents along with an introduction to Reubeni's life and detailed notes that make the diary accessible. Even as scholars continue to debate Reubeni's origins and biography, this engaging book does a wonderful service by introducing Reubeni through his own telling of his quite remarkable story. Recommended."

—A. J. Avery-Peck, CHOICE

"Verskin's solid introduction allows the reader to fully appreciate how unique this diary is for the history of modern Jewish history.... Diary of a Jewish Messiah is recommended to all libraries."

—Roger S. Kohn, Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews

"Reubeni left behind little legacy for the Jews of his day except for a single manuscript copy of his diary, written in 'an idiosyncratic and anarchic' dialect of Hebrew.... That diary is now available in its entirety to English readers, for the first time, in Alan Verskin's masterful new translation, published by Stanford University Press... Verskin has given us a fascinating, highly accessible text that illuminates Jewish, Christian, and Muslim life during an era of profound upheaval."

—Jennifer Grayson, CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly

"Alan Verskin has provided anyone interested in the renaissance period a fascinating window into the aspirations and tribulations of Jews after the Spanish and Portugese expulsions. Through his skillful translation and illuminating notes he has made accessible to a general audience the extraordinary life and travels of David Reubeni."

—Mark Verman, Sephardic Horizons

"Verskin's translation is an impressive achievement and constitutes an important contribution to the scholarly bookshelf concerning the early modern period. Verskin provides a good translation, readable and clear... Likewise, the concise introduction does not overly burden the reader and presents enough information to enjoy an informed reading of the full source. This is a book that will help students and scholars engaged in the study of a wide range of fields: travel literature, geography, autobiography, daily life, messianism, and more. Another merit of the text is that it is accessible not only to scholars and students but also to the educated reader, who in recent years has been almost entirely neglected by scholars. Indeed, Verskin makes one of the most fascinating Hebrew sources of the early modern period available to all."

—Moti Benmelech, H-Judaic