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September 26: Trying to Convert the Pope

Lawrence Bush
September 25, 2016
Abraham Abulafia, a Spain-born mystic, kabbalist, and self-declared messiah who went to Rome in 1280 to attempt to convert Pope Nicholas III to Judaism, was released from after a month in prison on this date in that year. Hearing of Abulafia’s intention, the pope had issued orders to have him burned at the stake upon his arrival -- but then the pope died from an apoplectic stroke the night before Abulafia arrived. Abulafia next headed to Sicily and then to Messina, where he spent a decade as a prophet and messiah with a small following. He was a prolific writer of treatises, poems, commentaries, and meditation manuals, and his “subterranean influence,” according to Wikipedia, “is evident in the large number of manuscripts of his major meditation manuals that flourished down to the present day until all his works were finally published in Mea Shearim in Jerusalem during the 1990s.” As for Pope Nicholas III, Dante placed him, in The Inferno, in the eighth circle of hell. “The Pope commanded all the guards of his house, when he was in Soriano. . . that should Raziel [thus Abulafia designates himself] come to speak with him in the name of the Jews, that they take him immediately, and that he not see him at all, but that he be taken outside of the city and burnt.... And this matter was made known to Raziel, but he paid no attention to the words of those who said this, but he practiced hitbodedut and saw visions and wrote them down, and thus came about this book.”--Abraham Abulafia

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.