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Alroy, Edited by Sheila A. Spector

Sources

The Travels of Rabbi Benjamin, The Son of Jonas of Tudela, Through Europe, Asia, and Africa, From Spain to China, from the Year of our Lord 1160 to 1173. From the Latin Versions of Benedict Arias Montanus, and Constantine L’Empereur, compared with other Translations into different Languages. In John Pinkerton. A General Collection of the Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World, Many of Which are Now First Translated into English. Digeted on A New Plan. London, 1811. 7:8-9.

It is not twelve years since a certain man named David Elroi arose in the city of Omaria, who was the disciple of Chasdai, the head of the captivity, and of Jacob the honourable head of the assembly of Levi, in the metropolitan city of Bagdat; he became very learned in the law of Moses, and in the books of doctrine, and also in all wisdom; in the language of the Ishmaelites, and in the books of the magicians and enchanters; he therefore took it in his head that he would raise arms against the King of Persia, would gather together the Jews who dwelt in the mountains of Haphton, would war against the whole world, and go to Jerusalem and win it by assault; and, that he might persuade the Jews thereto, he shewed them lying and deceitful signs, affirming that he was sent from God to Jerusalem, and to free them from the yoke of the nations, so that with many of the Jews he procured credit unto himself, and was owned by them for their Messiah.1

The King of Persia hearing the report of this insurrection, sent for him to talk with him, to whom he went without any fear; and it being demanded whether he was the King of the Jews, he boldly answered, that he was; and he was thereupon apprehended and cast into the gaol in which state prisoners are kept all their lives. This prison is in the city Dabastran, high the great river Gozan. After three days a council of the princes and ministers being called by the King, in which they consulted as to this insurrection of the Jews, David was present there, being escaped out of prison, no man knowing thereof. When the King saw him, he demanded, “Who hath brought thee hither, or delivered thee out of prison?”—“Mine own wisdom,” answered he, “for I am not afraid of thee, or of thy servants.” Then the King cried out to those about him, “Seize him! lay hands on him!” To whom the princes and servants answered, that his voice was heard by all, but he was seen by none.2

The King wondering at his wisdom, was astonished. David then cried out aloud. “Lo! I take my way;” and he began to go before, the King following him, and all the nobility and their servants followed the King. When they came to the bank of the river, David spreading abroad his handkerchief upon the waters, passed over dry, and at that time was seen of all. They endeavoured to pursue and take him with little boats, which they attempted in vain; and thence concluded, that no enchanter in the world might be compared to him. As for David he travelled that day ten days journey, coming to Omaria; through the virtue of the ineffable Name,3 he declared what had befallen unto him to their great amazement.

But the King of the Persians sending messengers unto Bagdat, informed the great Khaliff of the Ishmaelites of this matter, and requested that he would cause David Elroi to be restrained from such enterprizes, by the head of the captivity, and the chief rulers of the assemblies, otherwise he threatened total destruction to all the Jews living in the kingdom of Persia. All the synagogues of the kingdom of Persia falling thereupon into great fear of the matter, sent letters therefore unto the heads of the captivity, and to the heads of all the assemblies in Bagdat to this purpose: “Why should we die before your eyes, as well we as all the universities subject unto this kingdom? Restrain this man, we beseech you, lest innocent blood be shed.” Therefore the head of the captivity, and the chief rulers of the assemblies, wrote letters unto David Elroi to the following effect: “We give you hereby to understand, that the time of our delivery is not yet come, and that our signs, which ought to precede that deliverance, are not yet seen, and a man is not made strong though pride; wherefore we enjoin you to abstain wholly from such enterprise and attempts, otherwise ye shall be excommunicated, and cut off from all Israel.”

They also by messengers advertised Zachai Hanassi*, who was in the country of Assur, and Joseph, surnamed the Seer, Burhan Alpelech living there, that David Elroi might be restrained by letters written from them, which was diligently pursued by them, but all in vain; for he could not forsake that wicked way, but persisted till a certain King of the Togarmim called Zinaldin, subject to the King of Persia, sent 10,000 pieces of gold unto the father-in-law of David Elroi, and persuaded him to end these troubles by privately killing his son-in-law, which, when he had undertaken to perform, he thrust David through with a sword in his bed as he slept; and this was the end of all his subtilty and delusions.4 But even when he was dead the anger of the King of Persia was not appeased towards those people of the mountains, and other Jews subject to him and settled in his dominion; and therefore they desired once more help from the head of the captivity, who, going to the King himself, appeased him by mild and wise speeches; and, having presented him with 100 talents of gold, he so mollified him, that there was ever afterwards great quietness through the whole country.

Notes

1 This story, as extravagant as it seems, is really a matter of fact, and as such is recorded by two Jewish historians; viz. R. Selomo Ben Virga, and R. David Gantz, who place it in A.D. 1135, which, as some critics have observed, does not agree with the date assigned by our author, who says, it happened twelve years before he was there. This, however, is no great mistake, even if we should admit that it is our author’s mistake, though, for my part, I should suppose it as easy for the other writers to err in this particular. The whole, however, may perhaps be solved, by supposing that Benjamin copied the account that he has given us from some history of this impostor written twelve years after this insurrection. However it be, the thing is of no great moment, any more than the difference between the name mentioned by our author, and that of David El David, which is used in the other histories.

2 There are some little variations in the manner in which these facts are told by the other historians; but they are of no great consequence, and therefore I shall not trouble the reader with them, neither should I have mentioned these writers at all, but to convince the reader, that this is not a tale invented by Benjamin, as he might otherwise very readily imagine.

3 Both the Latin translators have missed the sense as to this name, which the Jews call ineffable, because they are persuaded that the true pronunciation of the name of God is lost, or unknown; and they pretend, that whoever has the secret of pronouncing it right, is able thereby to work miracles. They likewise assert, that by this means our Saviour wrought his; and though this be a very idle conceit, yet it is worth the knowing, because it shews plainly, that the Jews do not pretend to deny the matters of fact, but are forced to have recourse to this evasion, in order to justify their incredulity.

4 The authors we have before cited tell us the same story as to the death of this impostor, but with a circumstance that Benjamin has omitted, which is, that the Jews themselves were obliged to raise the 10,000 pieces of gold that were given as a bribe to the father-in-law of David, for killing him when he was asleep.

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January 2005

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