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2014 Penn Lectures in Judaic Studies
Thirteen scholars from Penn’s Katz Center offer snapshots from Jewish life during the early modern period, an era marked by a dynamic interplay between the perseverance of medieval traditions and the upheavals of the new—the scientific revolution, the printing press, and the rise of new forms of communal and state authority—developments that would transform the lives and cultures of non-Jews and Jews alike in unforeseen ways, bringing their world ever-closer to the modern.
The Penn Lectures are made possible through a generous endowment from the Klatt family and the Harry Stern Family Foundation.
“Little Redhead Jews Crossing the Sambatyon River”:
A Shared Myth in Jewish and Christian Folklore
Speaker: Rebekka Voß
The Ten Lost Tribes of Israel are said to live in a distant land across the mysterious Sambatyon River. Speakers of Yiddish know them as “Red Jews” to this day. In the early modern period with its groundbreaking discoveries, paired with a flood of sensational news about unknown lands and exotic peoples, interest in this imaginary people of “little redheads” was intense. The lecture paints a vivid picture of the image of the Red Jews that was in fact shared by Jews and Christians, to both of whom the Red Jews were as real as any other early modern nation. Bringing Jewish and Christian voices into discussion with each other, we are allowed a glimpse into a shared myth in Jewish and Christian folklore that was as common to both communities as disputed between them.
Rebekka Voß is Associate Professor of the History of German and European Jewry at the Institute of Judaic Studies at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. Her first book, Umstrittene Erlöser: Politik, Ideologie und jüdisch-christlicher Messianismus in Deutschland, 1500–1600 (Disputed Messiahs: Politics, Ideology, and Jewish-Christian Apocalypticism in Germany, 1500–1600), was published in 2011.