A record from 1 November 1655 of a donation to a certain Sarah from Poland is probably the first documented historical appearance of Sarah the Ashkenazi, future wife of messiah Shabbetai Tzevi. Individually recorded donations by the Sephardic community to Polish refugees were quite unusual in these years, but, according to later biographical sources, the future messianic bride Sarah displayed a great talent for persuading others, and this explains why Amsterdam’s Portuguese Mahamad would give her money. Arriving as a Polish refugee around the time of this record, Sarah the Ashkenazi told a fantastic autobiographical tale that made her stand out among the other refugees and forged a bond of kinship with an earlier refugee. Moreover, she might have claimed clairvoyant abilities.
In his book Why Study Religion? ethicist and philosopher Richard B. Miller criticizes the discipline of religious studies for being negligent about the fundamental goal of its academic pursuits. In this review essay, the authors challenge Miller’s diagnosis by arguing that scholars of religion do share a common goal and that the state of affairs bemoaned by Miller is healthier than he admits. The essay raises doubts concerning his selection of six “methodologies” that supposedly represent the field and it challenges Miller’s interpretation of Jonathan Z. Smith’s famous comparative analysis of the Jonestown massacre. The essay proposes a different distinction between goals and values in research and critically reviews the four goals/values proposed by Miller, three of which appear to represent business as usual. The essay argues that Miller’s proposed teleology is suspicious, not as innovative as he seems to think, and maybe even a retrogression. Finally, the essay faults Miller’s undertheorized conception of religion.