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Exposed to All the Currents of the Mediterranean—A Sixteenth-Century Venetian Rabbi on Muslim History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 September 2005

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The Western perception of Islam as a belligerent religion owes many of its stereotypes not only to the Crusades, but also to the early modern rivalry between the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe. Heated debates about the “Turkish menace” dominated European political discourse until the (second) Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683, as documented by the innumerable Turcica that circulated both swiftly and widely thanks to revolutionary advances in printing. Sixteenth-century Christian authors provided their eager readers with constantly updated versions of Ottoman history, as did some of their Jewish contemporaries. Probably the first Jew to make the Ottomans the major subject matter of his work was Elijah Capsali of Candia in Venetian Crete, who in 1523 completed a Hebrew chronicle titled Seder ءEliyahu Zuta (“Minor Order of Elijah”).

Research Article
© 2005 by the Association for Jewish Studies

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This article is an expanded version of a paper presented at the 36th annual conference of the Association for Jewish Studies, Chicago, December 19–21, 2004. I also reconsider and develop some of the ideas outlined in my shorter article, “Das ambivalente Islambild eines venezianischen Juden des 16. Jahrhunderts: Capsalis Osmanische Chronik,” Judaica 58, no.1 (2002): 2–17. The translations of Biblical verses are based on TANAKH, A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures according to the Traditional Hebrew Text (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1985), but are often modified to accommodate the way these quotes are used within the context of Capsali's work. All other translations are mine.