Sabbatai Zevi (שַׁבְּתַאי צְבִי Shabbetai Tzvi, other spellings include Sabbatai Tzevi, Shabbetai Ẓevi, Sabbatai Sevi, and Sabetay Sevi in Turkish) (1 August 1626 – 17 September 1676 [disputed]) was a Turkish-born Sephardic Rabbi and kabbalist who claimed to be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. He was the founder of the Jewish Sabbatean movement.
By all accounts a charismatic speaker, Sabbatai first claimed to be the Messiah at age 22 in Smyrna. He was banished by the rabbis of the community. He and his followers eventually made their way to Istanbul. He traveled around to Greece, Egypt, and the Holy Land, gaining numerous followers who accepted him as the Messiah. However, in 1666, everything unraveled. Just prior to Sabbatai's return to Constantinople, one of his supporters prophesized that Sabbatai would supplant the Sultan, Mehmed IV. Upon his arrival, Sabbatai was immediately arrested by the Grand Vizier. He was held throughout the year, but treated very well. While in prison, he was visited by one Nehemiah ha-Kohen, who claimed to be a prophet of the coming Messiah. The meeting went badly, with each believing the other to be lying. Nehemiah informed the Sultan's government of Sabbatai's ambitions.
In September, 1666, Sabbatai was given a choice: execution or conversion to Islam. Sabbatai chose conversion. He continued to preach, although the nature of his ministry varied. He successfully converted 300 families among his followers from Judaism to Islam. On the other hand, he did also spread his kabbalistic views among Muslims. In 1673, he was exiled to what is now Montenegro by Mehmed IV, and died there three years later. However, the circumstances of his death are unknown.
Sabbatai Tzevi in "The More it Changes"
In September 1666, Sabbatai Tzevi was brought before Sultan Mehmed IV. The sultan expected Sabbatai to convert to Islam and renounce his claim to be the Messiah. Instead, once the meeting was completed, Mehmed IV announced that he was changing his name to Sabbatai I and converting to Sabbateanism.
Sabbatai died 10 years later. His followers, who had flourished in the Ottoman Empire, proclaimed the year of his death as the new year 0, and spread out into Eastern Europe, proselytizing and converting, and attacking Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.