JEWISH-AMERICAN HALL OF FAME • JEWISH MUSEUM IN CYBERSPACE
ANTI-SEMITIC BIGOTRY AS CHRONICLED BY HISTORICAL MEDALS


 

During this period Jews were particularly receptive to the coming of a Jewish Messiah as the persecution and expulsion of the Jews in the fifteenth century during the Spanish Inquisition were still fresh in their memories. Also during this same period Jews were being persecuted in Russia, which had a long history of anti-Jewish oppression. In 1479 Russia evicted Jews from their territory and prevented them from immigrating there. Later, during the lifetime of Shabbatai Tzvi, in 1648-1649, there was an especially notorious pogrom in the Ukraine where tens of thousands of Jews were barbarously murdered; only those who converted to the Russian Orthodox faith were allowed to survive (Dubnow 2000). It was against this background that Shabbatai Tzvi rose to prominence, as the Jews were ripe for the coming of a Messiah. Shabbatai traveled throughout Europe and gained a wide following. However, because he was developing such a large number of adherents and was creating a danger to the establishment, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV gave Shabbatai Tzvi and his followers the choice of death or conversion to Islam. He chose the latter and at the age of 40 Shabbatai Tzvi converted to Islam along with many of his disciples. As a result of his conversion and for being revealed as a false Messiah, his name became disdained in the Jewish community. Muslims and Christians joined in ridiculing him and his followers. (For more on Shabbatai Tzvi, see Abramson 2012).

This interesting medal, shown in figure 25, has a number of somewhat obscure allusions, employing both biblical themes and the writings of ancient Roman poets to convey its message. On the obverse can be seen a mountain being struck by lighting and which is surrounded by ominous looking, fantastical creatures, including snakes, a lion and other beasts. Inscribed on the mountain is "MONTES ESAV" (Mount Esau) and on the lower part a citation from the books of Zachariah and Obadiah. To the right is an alchemist striking an anvil over a furnace. The legend in Latin reads, “Six Days of Labor, Worse Times," a sentiment that is contrasted on the reverse by: “Sabbath, the Seventh Day, Better Times.” The Latin inscription around is translated as, “The State of the Church Today Is Most Flourishing.” The exergue below reads ACARDU' ET SPINIS FLORET / PALIURUS ACUTIS. Ralph Rosen points out that this is a near transcription of Virgil Eclogues 5.39 (in the context of the death of Daphnis), which is: CARDUUS ET SPINIS SURGIT PALIURUS ACUTIS (...the Thistle and the Thorn with its Sharp Spikes Rises up). This refers to a plant sometimes called by Christians the “thorn of Christ” or “Jerusalem thorn.” On the medal, Wermuth changes SURGIT (rises up) to FLORIT (blooms).

On the reverse of this medal is a mountain on which stands a lamb with a banner (representing Shabbatai Tzvi), while a dove, holding an olive branch, flies overhead. Rays of light from the sun shine from above, and herds of sheep (representing his followers) stand around the base of the mountain. Around is the legend SABBATISMVS POPVLO DEI RELICTVS. HEBR.IV.9 (a Latin translation of Hebrews 4.9, meaning “A Sabbath rest for the people of God”). The Latin legend in the exergue reads: ASPICE VENTURO LATENTUR UT OMIA SECLO. Rosen points out that this is a slightly mistranscribed version of Virgil Eclogues 4.52, which should read in the Latin: ASPICE, VENTURO LAETENTUR UT OMNIA SAECLO (See How Everything Rejoices in the Age That Is about to Come). Other legends read AShabat (Sabbath), the Seventh DayBbetter Times and “Shabat

2 1 3 3

© 2000-2011 Jewish-American Hall of Fame © 2012-2015 American Numismatic Society All Rights Reserved by Benjamin Weiss