Tuesday, April 14, 2009

god is not Great chapter 12: How Religions End

The title of Chapter 12 is actually a bit misleading. While it does discuss the rise and fall of a specific movement within Judaism, it could hardly be considered indicative of how religions (in a general sense) end.

Hitchens chooses Sabbatai Sevi as his subject. To those not familiar with him, Sevi was a mid-seventeenth century candidate to be the Jewish messiah. He had a large backing from people as well as Jewish religious figures, but in the end was imprisoned and forced to either convert to Islam or die (guess which he picked), and left Jerusalem never to return, dying in relative obscurity. Hitchens declares "So the Sabbatai Sevi religion came to an end," but that's not entirely honest in my opinion.

Yes, Sevi failed spectacularly in converting to Islam, and by extension he was clearly no messiah for the Jews. That said, however it was not an end to Messianic Judaism by any means, and calling Sabbatai Sevi a religion is a bit of a stretch in my opinion. What Sevi is a very good example of is how easily myths arise around a messianic archetype both within their lifetime and shortly after. Miracles were attributed to him, supposed eye witnesses vouched for him, and he had no shortage of followers. If his Muslim captors hadn't been as wise to history and the power of martyrdom as they were, we very likely could still be hearing about Sabbatai Sevi today. The parallels of him to Yeshua up until his conversion to Islam are that Stark.

All in all, it was an extremely short (4 pages) chapter that sadly didn't set out to show what it said it did. It is so far, probably Hitchens' weakest showing.


  1. That's definitely not an example of the death of a religion. It's really an object lesson in the wisdom of not allowing an enemy to become a martyr.

  2. I really do like Hitchens, but it was a really weak and tenuous connection he was making. He could have made a great argument with Sevi when he was discussing the New testament though.