ABSTRACT

For four centuries, between 1602 and 1958, Yiddish literature produced no fewer than four separate reworkings of a myth that one day a Jewish apostate might come to rule the world as pope. The roots of this fantasy lie deep in the biblical story of Joseph, from which it branches out into numerous quasi-messianic longings informing Jewish existence through two thousand years of exile. The biblical story of Joseph, its midrashim or narrative extensions adduced by the earliest rabbinical commentators, and the similarities and differences in each of the four versions of the myth derived from it, all offer absorbing insights into the nature of a Jewish identity evolving among a people exiled from their homeland and scattered among the nations of the earth to whose beliefs and values their own stood opposed.