History is Weird

The second offspring of [Jewish] messianic hopes [in eighteenth century Poland] was Frankism—from the name of its founder, Jacob Frank (?–1791). Frank’s father had fled Poland to escape persecution as a follower of Sabbatai Zevi, and Jacob Frank himself traveled widely in Romania and Greece, where (in Salonika) he met those believers in Sabbatai who had followed their master into Islam but had remained Jews underneath. Initiated into the secret teachings of the sect, Frank proclaimed himself the messiah (Santo Señor, in the Spanish idiom of the Salonika Jews). He had a vision of Poland as the Promised Land, and upon his return there, he was greeted enthusiastically, mostly by poor folk opposing the rabbis, but also by some Jewish notables. Frank, as a new messiah, proclaimed the end of Jewish law and, as a matter of fact, of all law—”I have come to abolish all laws and religions in order to bring life to the world.” The ascent to the kingdom of freedom and wealth was to be accomplished by a descent into abomination and perversion. A Manichean tradition, so strong in the Balkans, is clearly perceivable in Frank’s teachings. Evil was to be overcome by doing evil, sin by sinning. The Frankists, like the Hasidim, practiced ecstatic dancing and singing accompanied by the clapping of hands, but also held orgiastic rituals whereby men and women undressed “to see truth in its nakedness” and copulated indiscriminately—while only the leader stood apart. Frank reinterpreted the idea of the mystic trinity in the cabala as a union of the Holy Primeval (Attika kadisha); the Holy King (Malka kadisha), who was the messiah (Frank himself); and the Primeval Mother (Matronita elyona), who was none other than Frank’s daughter, Eve. The Frankists, because of their rites, provoked horror, and in 1756 they were excluded from the Jewish community by the rabbis—their wives and daughters were declared harlots, their children bastards, and any contact with them anathema. After protracted negotiations with the Roman Catholic hierarchy, a minority of their number chose conversion to Catholicism; they were granted titles of nobility. The majority, however, submitted themselves to the Jewish elders and publicly recognized their errors, though many of them continued to contribute financially to Frank’s cause. Frank himself was baptized in Warsaw in 1759 (with the king as his godfather) and imposed upon those who followed him on that road a strictly dual religious life. In harmony with his teaching, baptism was seen as the lowest debasement necessary to bring about a new world. The faithful were advised to get some military training to prepare themselves for the battles of the final upheaval. Perhaps because of that, several brave Polish officers in the Napoleonic army came from the ranks of the Frankists—for instance, Aleksander Matuszewski, general of the artillery. The Catholic clergy soon discovered Frank’s double game and imprisoned him in the monastery of Czestochowa, where he spent twelve years. Later on, he migrated to Offenbach in Germany, where, as “Count Frank,” he was surrounded by a mounted bodyguard in fanciful uniforms and used to drive in a princely coach. The French Revolution seemed to be an accomplishment of Frank’s prophecies, and many Frankists joined the Jacobins (among them, the heir apparent and nephew of Frank, known in Vienna under the name of Frank Thomas Edler von Schönfeldt, and his brother Emmanuel), only to be beheaded on the guillotine in 1794 together with Danton. “Frankists” remained a vital part of the Polish scene, and several eminent Polish families renowned for their active part in Freemasonry and the Polish uprisings of 1830 and 1863 were descendants of Frank’s followers. At first they preserved their identity and married only among themselves. Gradually, though, they merged completely with the upper classes.
[Czeslaw Milosz, The History of Polish Literature, pp. 164–66]

Just try to match that, alt-history. Just try.

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1 pings

  1. […] Milosz notes that the Enlightenment also coincided with mystical ideals and associations, such as Freemasonry. Poland’s extensive Jewish population saw increasing literacy and increasing interaction with its Gentile neighbors. This was also the time of messianic movements such as the one described here. […]

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