Friday, November 19, 2021

2. Jews, Napoleon and the Ottoman Empire: the 1797-9 Proclamations to the Jews (2021 edition) Part 2

This is Part 2 of a study on young Napoleon's connection to the theme of Jewish peoplehood and the right of Jews to self-determination in their aboriginal homeland. Part 1 is available at:  http://www.allenzhertz.com/2018/05/jews-napoleon-and-ottoman-empire-1797-9.html


While fighting in Israel in 1799 did Napoleon write one or more proclamations to the Jews? In our own century, historians are divided. But, the deeper story is not simply whether he did so in Israel. There are also his earlier proclamations to the Jews, similarly issued as propaganda against the Ottomans. Thus, an important Ottoman-Turkish source says there was, already in the Muslim year 1212 (1797-8), a revolutionary proclamation inviting Jews to "establish a Jewish government in Jerusalem" (قدس شريفده بر يهود حكومتى تشكيل). Napoleon's intention to make Jerusalem capital of a restored "Jewish Republic" (Еврейская Республика) is also affirmed in an August 1798 letter from the Russian Emperor Paul. April 1799 reports from Constantinople caused at least twenty European newspapers in May 1799 to describe Napoleon's proclamation inviting Jews to return to Jerusalem. His evocation of aboriginal restoration echoed for decades about, an age-old People that for millennia kept demographic and cultural ties to its ancestral home. For Napoleon, restoring the Jews was initially linked to his plan to soon start digging a ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez — the clear strategic rationale for launching his Mideast campaign. Much evidence suggests that he wrote the anonymous June 1798 "Letter from a Jew to His Brothers." This calls on world Jewry to organize itself to ask France to negotiate with Turkey, so that the Jews could return to their native land. Finally, revealed only in 1940 was a 1799 translation, from Hebrew to German, of his April 20th letter recognizing the hereditary right of the "Israelites" to "Palestine." 


Allen Z. Hertz was senior advisor in the Privy Council Office serving Canada's Prime Minister and the federal cabinet. He formerly worked in Canada's Foreign Affairs Department and earlier taught history and law at universities in New York, Montreal, Toronto and Hong Kong. He studied European history and languages at McGill University (B.A.) and then East European and Ottoman history at Columbia University (M.A., Ph.D.). He also has international law degrees from Cambridge University (LL.B.) and the University of Toronto (LL.M.).


The "proclamation" in the European press

The world seems to have known little or nothing about Napoleon's appeal to the "Israelites" in the letter of April 20, 1799. But most certainly way too soon to have then originated from distant Ottoman Syria came repeated, May 1799, European tidings about an apparently earlier, undated, and likely unrelated, Napoleon "proclamation to the Jews."

To be sure, it was then impossible for an account of an April 20th Napoleon letter in Ottoman Syria to reach European cities quickly enough to appear in their newspapers before June of that same year. For example, consider the speedy reporting about the first French assault (March 28, 1799) on Acre, where fast British warships were exceptionally present. This particular Acre story features in an April 19th Constantinople report, first published in the Wiener Zeitung on May 7th, and in the Journal Politique de l'Europe of Mannheim on May 19th. Inclusive of the dates of occurrence and European printing, it takes no fewer than 41 days for this specific Acre story to hit the streets of Vienna, and a total of 53 days for Mannheim. About 51 days are needed for London to print similar Acre news, as in Lloyd's Evening-Post (May 17, 1799).

From around May 12th until the 22nd, accounts of Napoleon's proclamation inviting Jews to return to Jerusalem, feature in at least twenty newspapers in Germany, England and France. At the end of May, the same story appears in the London Lady's Magazine and in Paris in La Décade philosophique (May 29, 1799)The relatively slow speed of contemporary travel dictates that these printed news items cannot possibly reflect reports of Holy Land events, occurring after March 1799. To the point, we have already noted Gichon's reasonable conjecture that Napoleon perhaps wrote such a "Jewish" document, some time in the week after his conquest of Jaffa (March 7, 1799). If indeed Napoleon then wrote something specifically for the Jews, the office copy kept for the record was probably purposely destroyed, in the 19th century, exactly as described in the preface.

With regard to the stipulated source for the at least twenty-two May 1799 European articles telling the proclamation story, most of the contemporary accounts refer to an April 1799 report, whether dated the 10th, 12th, 17th or 22nd. Each one of these April source reports is specifically described as from Constantinople. This geographical point is key. Already noted is The London Chronicle (March 30-April 2, 1799) which, apart from anything else, says Napoleon's printed writings and dispatches kept on turning up in Constantinople, after being secretly infiltrated, by "itinerant Syrians, Jews, etc."

It is also possible that some or all of the May 1799 articles in the European press were triggered, not by news of a 1799 document written by Napoleon in the Holy Land, but rather by one or more of his earlier invitations to the Jews. For example, there could conceivably have been deferred disclosure in Constantinople of information about the revolutionary beyanname (بياننامه) that, according to Cevdet Pasha, the Turks had first heard about in the period before the Sultan's declaration of war against France (September 10, 1798). This possibility is supported by the letter which the Emperor Paul wrote on August 18, 1798.

To the point, we have already seen contemporary evidence that the Turks were sharing, with friendly foreign governments, details of France's anti-Ottoman propaganda. Moreover, The London Chronicle  explicitly reveals that, in 1798-9, intercepted French communications were, in Constantinople, regularly passed on to foreigners representing allied and neutral States (March 30-April 2, 1799):
It appears that, with the exception of such packets as were on board the Généreux, and which might reach Paris by way of Ancona, the Directory have not received a single original dispatch from the Army of the East, since the capture of Malta [June 10, 1798]. The first dispatches of Buonaparte and [General Louis-Alexandre] Berthier were taken by the Turks, and sent to Constantinople. There the Porte permitted them to be copied by the different Ambassadors; and those who are acquainted with the politics of one [Sweden] of the Northern Courts, who know that the French have an active agent in every one of its Ministers, will not be at a loss for the manner in which they reached the Directory. Private letters (that is to say, copies of them) have found their way to France through the same channel; for most of the originals are in this country.


Story breaks in Hamburg and Berlin

Maintaining diplomatic ties with the important European powers, Hamburg was an autonomous city that was neutral during the War of the Second Coalition. It was the commercial capital of northern Germany and an important communications center for all northern Europe, including London. At home, Hamburg was divided between the friends of Great Britain and those of France. The city was also a hotbed of espionage and an ideological cockpit in the struggle between revolution and reaction.

April 1799 news from Constantinople, about a proclamation to the Jews, seems to have been initially published circa Sunday, May 12th, most likely in the French-language Gazette de Hambourg. If so, verification can only be indirect, because the spring 1799 numbers of the Gazette de Hambourg are extremely rare or no longer exist. I have been unable to find them.

But, let us turn our attention to the press of Berlin, the capital of another neutral power, Prussia. An alleged April 22nd Constantinople report features as the very last, foreign-news item on page five of the Vossische Zeitung, Number 58 (May 14, 1799):
Konstantinopel, den 22. April. Buonaparte hat, wie es heißt, eine Proklamation an die Juden in mehreren Afrikanischen und Asiatischen Gegenden erlassen, um das Reich von Jerusalem wieder herzustellen. Auch soll er eine beträchtliche Anzahl Juden bewaffnet, in Bataillons formirt haben, und jetzt Aleppo bedrohen. Die Einwohner in der Gegend von Damascus sollen gegen die Pforte in Insurrektion zu seyn. — Mit der Großvezier sollen auch viele Janitscharen nach Syrien abgehen.  Der Großherr hatte erst selbst nach Syrien abgehen wollen, wogegen aber die nachdrücklichstens Vorstellungen gemacht wurden. Unter den Französ. Truppen in Aegypten sollen fortdauernd ansteckende Krankheiten herrschen. Man erwartet hier ehestens aus der Krimm eine zweite nach dem Mittelländischen Meere bestimmte Russische Flotte.  — Der Bruder des hiesigen Französischen Schiffbaumeisters, Le Brun, der sich sehr demokratisch zeigte, ist aus dem Türkischen Dienste entlassen worden. Für den Schiffbaumeister selbst besorgt man noch ein schlimmeres Schicksal. 
[Constantinople, April 22nd. Buonaparte has reportedly issued a proclamation to the Jews in several African and Asian places, to rebuild the Empire of Jerusalem. He is also said to have armed a considerable number of Jews, formed them into battalions, and to be now threatening Aleppo. The inhabitants in the area of Damascus are said to be in rebellion against the Sublime Porte. — Many janissaries are expected to go to Syria with the Grand Vizier. The Sultan at first wanted to go to Syria himself, but the most emphatic representations were made against this idea. Persistently contagious diseases are said to prevail among the French troops in Egypt. Expected here any time now, from the Crimea, is a second Russian fleet bound for the Mediterranean Sea. — The brother of the local French shipwright, Le Brun, who showed himself to be very democratic, has been dismissed from the Turkish service. For the shipwright himself, an even worse fate is feared.]

Berlin, Vossische Zeitung, Number 58,
Tuesday, May 14, 1799, page 5.

Only 23 days for Constantinople news to get printed in Berlin? The distance was 1,364 miles, over mostly bad roads. Given the slow pace of 18th-century travel, is it likely that a Constantinople report sent out on April 22nd could arrive in Berlin fast enough for inclusion in the May 14th edition? Twenty-three days from Constantinople to Berlin was physically possible, but impressively prompt transmission, for that era.

As reported by Le Propagateur (October 15, 1798), there were on occasion official couriers ("tartars"rushing urgent dispatches between the Ottoman and Prussian capitals, via Habsburg Semlin. (There were also such postal tartars on other routes. For example, visiting the Rastadt Congress, on July 14, 1798, was the imperial Ottoman courier Ali Osman Mehmet, who was traveling from Constantinople to Paris.) 

Nonetheless, the question remains: Is the initial digit in the April 22nd date perhaps a typographical or similar error? If so, the true Vossische Zeitung source could perhaps be either an April 12th letter reaching Berlin directly from Constantinople or a recently published newspaper report about such an April 12th letter from Constantinople. In the latter case, just before going to press, the Vossische Zeitung editors maybe rushed to add a final, foreign-news item, perhaps drawn from the Gazette de Hambourg, if previously printed. Such a postulated prior publication in Hamburg could conceivably have reached Berlin by stagecoach within 48 hours.

The phrase "several African and Asian places" in the German-language text of the Vossische Zeitung can conceivably be understood as referring either to the sites of issuance of the Napoleon proclamation or to the places of residence of the recipient Jews. But, no matter which translation option is chosen, those "places" certainly refer to the territory of the Ottoman Empire. Repeated references to the Jews of Africa and Asia will be further discussed below.

The hypothesis that the Vossische Zeitung's story about the Napoleon proclamation to the Jews might have originated from an issuance, perhaps made before 1799, is supported by careful analysis of the background of each one of the seven other news items in the April 22nd Constantinople report. External evidence suggests that, of the seven companion topics, no fewer than five describe events that can be shown to have occurred, in whole or in part, before 1799:
  • The tale that Napoleon had "armed a considerable number of Jews" was already, in the summer of 1798, a persistent rumor in Ottoman Syria, as specifically affirmed by the aforementioned two Hebrew letters from Jerusalem.
  • Dovetailing with 1798 events was news that inhabitants of Damascus region were in revolt against the Sublime Porte.
  • Epidemics among French soldiers in Alexandria, Damietta and Mansoura began in December 1798.
  • As early as October 24, 1798, the Wiener Zeitung announced that a second Russian fleet would be coming from the Crimea to the Mediterranean.
  • Long gone were fears for the fate of the Le Brun brothers in Constantinople, because those two French shipwrights were, by January 1, 1799, safe in Saint Petersburg, where they soon agreed to serve the Imperial Russian Navy.
Thus, there is no reason to reject the possibility that the Vossische Zeitung story about the proclamation to the Jews perhaps reflects a document issued by Napoleon before 1799, and maybe even in the period before the Sultan's declaration of war against France (September 10, 1798). This hypothesis dovetails with the Emperor Paul's letter of August 18, 1798, and with the mid-19th-century account in the official Ottoman history written by Ahmet Cevdet Pasha.


Story spreads quickly across Europe

Too soon to be copied from the Vossische Zeitung, but most likely derived from prior publication in the Gazette de Hambourg, is the same story in London's The True Briton, Friday, May 17th. This alleges an April 12th Constantinople report, news of which had arrived late on Thursday evening, in the mails from Hamburg. That same Friday, London articles identical to the one in The True Briton, appear verbatim in The Star and Lloyd's Evening-Post; and on Wednesday, May 22nd, in The Caledonian Mercury of Edinburgh.
Buonaparte, it is said, has published a Proclamation to the Jews dispersed in Africa and Asia, inviting them to restore the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He has armed a great number of Jews, and formed them into Battalions; and now threatens Aleppo. The Pacha of that district has received from the Porte 220,000 piasters for extraordinary expenses. The Inhabitants in the vicinity of Damascus are in Insurrection against the Porte. A second Russian fleet is soon expected here from the Crimea, destined for the Mediterranean. The Grand Signior had declared his intention of leading the Army in Syria; but strong remonstrances have been made against this measure. An epidemic sickness still prevails among the French troops in Egypt.

London, The True Briton, Number 1997, 
Friday, May 17, 1799.


Also relying on news from "the Hamburgh Mail" are three 1799 London articles that allege as source an April 10th Constantinople report, wherein Napoleon's proclamation is limited to "the Jews in Africa." This is a virtually identical text which appears almost verbatim in The London Chronicle (May 16-18), The Times (May 17), and the Evening Mail (May 15-17, 1799):
Constantinople, April 10. — Buonaparte, it is said, has published a Proclamation to the Jews in Africa, inviting them to restore the kingdom of Jerusalem. He has armed a great number of Jews, and formed them into battalions; and now threatens Aleppo. The Pacha of that district has received from the Porte 220,000 piastres for extraordinary expenses. The inhabitants in the vicinity of Damascus are in insurrection against the Porte. A second Russian fleet is soon expected here from the Crimea, destined for the Mediterranean. The Grand Signior has declared his intention of heading himself the army in Syria; but strong remonstrances have been made against this measure. An epidemic sickness still prevails among the French troops in Egypt.

 London, Evening Mail, Postscript,
Friday Afternoon, May 17th, page 4,
Wednesday, May 15 to Friday, May 17, 1799.

Virtually the same text as the foregoing appears once again in London in The Selector or Say's Sunday Reporter (Sunday, May 19, 1799). But, The Selector says this news is "From the Hamburgh Mails"; the source is the April 12th Constantinople report; and "the Jews dispersed in Africa and Asia" are named as the recipients of the proclamation published by "Buonaparte."


Based on a number of the Gazette de Hambourg that had reached the "Banks of the Main" river on May 16th, the Journal de Francfort ran the proclamation story as a direct quotation (May 17, 1799):
La gazette de Hambourg rapporte une lettre de Constantinople du 12 avril, où il est dit: "Buonaparte a adressé une proclamation aux juifs de l'Afrique & de l'Asie, dans laquelle il annonce le projet de rétablir le royaume de Jérusalem, & les invite à y concourir. Ce général a déjà armé, dit-on, un nombre considérable de juifs, & les a organisés en bataillons. L'on attend incessamment ici (à Constantinople) de la Crimée, une seconde flotte Russe, destinée pour la Méditerranée."
[The gazette of Hambourg reports from Constantinople a letter of April 12th, wherein it is said: "Buonaparte has addressed a proclamation to the Jews of Africa and Asia, in which he announces the plan to reestablish the kingdom of Jerusalem, and invites them to rush there together. This general has already armed a considerable number of Jews, and has organized them into battalions. Here (in Constantinople) we await any time now the arrival of a second Russian fleet, bound for the Mediterranean."]

Frankfurt am Main, Journal de Francfort, Number 137,
Friday, May 17, 1799, page 4.

In the quotation printed in Frankfurt, the issuance of the undated proclamation is presented without any qualification such as "reportedly" or "it was said." Here as elsewhere, "juifs de l'Afrique et de l'Asie" means the Jews of the entire Ottoman Empire, including Turkey in Europe. This Frankfurt text also refers to armed Jewish battalions, but says nothing about Aleppo.

Applicable here too is the earlier analysis of the similar story in Berlin's Vossische Zeitung. Thus, in the Journal de Francfort, the April 12th Constantinople letter (as quoted from the Gazette de Hambourg) might conceivably be referring to a proclamation to the Jews, perhaps made before 1799. Nothing in the April 12th Constantinople letter prevents linking this "proclamation" with: Napoleon's 1798 plans for a Jerusalem "Jewish Republic" (Еврейская Республика), as portrayed by the Russian Emperor Paul (August 18, 1798); and the beyanname (بياننامه) that Cevdet Pasha assigns to the period before September 10, 1798.

A proclamation to all world Jewry to come to Jerusalem to help "Buonaparte" rebuild the Temple is the striking version in the Augsburgische Ordinari Postzeitung. This also alleges an April 12th report from Constantinople, but reveals nothing about how this remarkable news arrived in Augsburg. Perhaps the story here is less likely to be copied from the Berlin Vossische Zeitung which explicitly claims an April 22nd source. The Postzeitung item was published on May 18, 1799:
Konstantinopel, den 12. April. Buonaparte hat an die Juden in allen Welttheilen eine Proklamation erlassen, durch die er sie einladet, nach Jerusalem zu kommen, weil er ihr Reich und ihren Tempel wieder aufrichten wolle. Er hat auch bereits unter seiner Armee einige Bataillons Juden. — Der Großsultan war anfänglich entschlossen, die türkische Armee gegen Buonaparte selbst anzuführen. Der Diwan aber war dagegen. Unter den französischen Truppen in Aegypten soll die Pest herrschen. 
[Constantinople, April 12th. Buonaparte has issued to the Jews in all parts of the world a proclamation, whereby he invites them to come to Jerusalem, because he wants to restore their realm and their temple. He already has several Jewish battalions in his army. — The great sultan had initially decided to himself lead the Turkish army against Buonaparte, but the divan was against it. The plague is said to be ravaging the French troops in Egypt.]

Augsburg, Augsburgische Ordinari Postzeitung, Number 118,
Saturday, May 18, 1799, page 2.


Bell's Weekly Messenger publishes its own "Turkey" news referring to entirely Jewish battalions in the French Army of the East. Highlighted is a proclamation from "Buonaparte" calling upon "the Jews dispersed over Asia and Africa" (the Jews of the Ottoman Empire) to restore "the kingdom of Jerusalem." This account is derived from an April 12th Constantinople report, taken "from the Hamburgh Mails" (May 19, 1799):
Turkey. Constantinople, April 12. — A proclamation is said to have been published by Buonaparte inviting the Jews dispersed over Asia and Africa, to restore the kingdom of Jerusalem. He has already formed whole battalions of that nation; and now threatens Aleppo. The country about Damascus is in insurrection against the Porte.


London, Bell's Weekly Messenger,
Sunday, May 19, 1799, page 155.


Under "Foreign Intelligence," The Observer of London covers familiar ground with slightly different language that specifically clarifies that it was Napoleon who was preparing to attack Aleppo, not Jewish battalions (May 19, 1799):
Constantinople, April 12. — Buonaparte is said to have formed some battalions of Jews, the whole of which race in Asia and Africa he has invited to restore the Kingdom of Jerusalem:  The people near Damascus, the account adds, are in insurrection against the Porte, and Buonaparte preparing to attack Aleppo. A second Russian fleet is expected to shortly arrive, on their way to the Mediterranean. An epidemic sickness still prevails amongst the French troops in Egypt.

London, The Observer, Number 386,
Sunday, May 19, 1799, p. 4.


Mannheim's Journal Politique de l'Europe relies on a number of the Journal de Francfort, that arrived in Mannheim on May 18th, to requote verbatim an undated recent number of the Gazette de Hambourg. However, the Journal Politique changes the spelling of Napoleon's family name and adds a Vienna news report about the siege of Acre (May 19, 1799):
La gazette de Hambourg rapporte une lettre de Constantinople du 12 avril, où il est dit: "Bonaparte a adressé une proclamation aux juifs de l'Afrique & de l'Asie, dans laquelle il annonce le projet de rétablir le royaume de Jérusalem, & les invite à y concourir. Ce général a déjà armé, dit-on, un nombre considérable de juifs, & les a organisés en bataillons. L'on attend incessamment ici (à Constantinople) de la Crimée, une seconde flotte Russe, destinée pour la Méditerranée."
— La gazette de Vienne [Die Wiener Zeitung] du 7 [May 1799] rapporte une lettre de Constantinople du 19 avril, qui dit que l'armée françoise en Syrie a été repousée dans sa première attaque [March 28, 1799] contre St. Jean-d'Acre.
[The gazette of Hambourg reports from Constantinople a letter of April 12th, wherein it is said: "Bonaparte has addressed a proclamation to the Jews of Africa and Asia, in which he announces the plan to reestablish the kingdom of Jerusalem, and invites them to rush there together. This general has already armed a considerable number of Jews, and has organized them into battalions. Here (in Constantinople) we await any time now the arrival of a second Russian fleet, bound for the Mediterranean."
— The gazette of Vienna {Die Wiener Zeitung} of the 7th {May 1799} reports a letter from Constantinople of April 19th, which says that the French army in Syria has been rebuffed in its first attack {March 28, 1799} against Acre.] 

Mannheim, Journal Politique de l'Europe, Number 138,
Sunday, May 19, 1799, page 4.

Taken from the May 7th Wiener Zeitung, the Journal Politique's account of the first French assault on Acre (March 28, 1799) is definitely fresh news from the spring of 1799. By contrast, the proclamation story drawn from the Gazette de Hambourg might perhaps have occurred before 1799.

The same is true of the proclamation tale in the Allgemeine Zeitung of Munich. Moreover, the Munich newspaper item has no dated source, and notably lacks any reference to armed Jewish battalions (May 22, 1799):
Türkei. Nachrichten aus Konstantinopel sprechen von einer Proklamation, welche Bonaparte an die Juden von Afrika und Asien erlassen habe, um ihnen anzukündigen, daß er das Königreich von Jerusalem wiederherzustellen gedenke, und ihren Beistand hiezu erwarte. — Man erwartete, daß eine zweite, nach dem Mittel-Meer bestimmte, russische Flotte noch im April zu Konstantinopel eintreffen würde.
[Turkey. News reports from Constantinople speak of a proclamation which Bonaparte has issued to the Jews of Africa and Asia in order to inform them that he is thinking about restoring the Kingdom of Jerusalem and expects their assistance therewith.
— A second Russian fleet bound for the Mediterranean Sea was expected to have arrived in Constantinople before the end of April.]

Munich, Allgemeine Zeitung, Number 142,
Wednesday, May 22, 1799, page 606.


We have already learned that l'Ami des Lois was particularly close to the Directory. Under "External Correspondence" (correspondance extérieur), the first article on the front page of the May 22nd number is a Constantinople report of 23 germinal, April 12th. This day significantly dovetails with the Constantinople source date of most of the other pertinent newspaper accounts of May 1799.

This item in l'Ami des Lois appears too soon to be copied from Frankfurt, London, Edinburgh, Augsburg, Mannheim, or Munich. It is also unlikely to be based on the article printed in Berlin on May 14th, because of the problematic April 22nd Constantinople source date that is alleged in the Vossische Zeitung. Thus, we can guess that the story in l'Ami des Lois comes directly from the Gazette de Hambourg.

Such Paris borrowing from a newspaper from Germany is hardly surprising, because the French government generally lacked much own-source information as to what was really transpiring in the Mideast, just as Napoleon was then getting very little news from Europe. Thus, in Paris the Mercure Français opined (November 19, 1798): "Most of our national gazettes are faithful copyists of the foreign papers and notably of the German ones."

Nonetheless, the article in l'Ami des Lois is politically significant, because that newspaper regularly published news, as provided by the Directory. At the very least, the editors would have waited for an official, green light, before rushing to print such extraordinary, front-page news about Napoleon, who was always of key concern to the Directors.

Please note that the text in l'Ami des Lois contains an evident internal error. To the point, it predicts that the Grand Vezir would set off on campaign, at the beginning of germinal, i.e. circa March 21st. This is highly peculiar, because the start of germinal is about two weeks before the stipulated April 12th date of this report from Constantinople (May 22, 1799):
Constantinople, le 23 germinal. Bonaparte a fait publier une proclamation, dans laquelle il invite tous le juifs de l'Asie et de l'Afrique à venir se ranger sous ses drapeaux pour rétablir l'ancienne Jérusalem. Il en a déjà armé un grand nombre, et leurs bataillons menacent Alep. Les habitans des environs de Damas sont en insurrection contre la Porte. On assure ici que le grand-seigneur doit partir incessament pour la Syrie, afin de commander, en personne, contre Bonaparte. Le grand-visir, à la tête d'un corps considérable de janissaires, doit aussi se mettre en route, au commencement de germinal.

[Constantinople, 23 germinal {April 12}. Bonaparte has arranged for the publication of a proclamation, in which he invites the Jews of Asia and Africa to come line up under his banners in order to reestablish ancient Jerusalem. He has already armed a great number of them, and their battalions are menacing Aleppo. The inhabitants of the area around Damascus are in revolt against the Sublime Porte. Here it is affirmed that the Sultan is expected, any time now, to leave for Syria, in order to personally command against Bonaparte. At the head of a considerable body of janissaries, the Grand Vezir is also expected to take to the road, at the beginning of germinal {March 21}.]


Under "Nouvelles" (news), the May 22nd number of the Journal de Paris offers an account said to be based on "letters from Constantinople" of 28 germinal (April 17th). Is this reference to "28 germinal" an understandable transcription error from "23 germinal" (April 12th) as offered in l'Ami des Lois? By contrast, mistaking a stylized "3" for an "8" could not have occurred in reading the Constantinople source date (April 12th) in the corresponding item in the Gazette de Hambourg which did not use the French revolutionary calendar at that time.

In the Journal de Paris, Bonaparte addresses Jews everywhere, with no reference to Africa and Asia. Moreover, among the May 1799 newspaper stories about the proclamation, the item here is unique in adding the fake news that Bonaparte has already conquered Jerusalem. Furthermore, the large number of armed Jews here are notably, not threatening Aleppo, which is not mentioned (May 22, 1799):
Égypte. — Les lettres de Constantinople du 28 germinal, disent: Bonaparte, maître de Gaza & de Jérusalem, a fait publier une proclamation, dans laquelle il invite tous les Juifs à venir se ranger sous ses drapeaux, pour rétablir leur ancienne capitale; il en a déjà armé un grand nombre. Les environs de Damas sont en insurrection contre la Porte. Le grand-seigneur projette d'aller en personne combattre les français en Syrie.
[Egypt. — Letters from Constantinople of 28 germinal {April 17th} say: Master of Gaza and Jerusalem, Bonaparte has arranged for the publication of a proclamation, in which he invites all the Jews to come line up under his banners, in order to reestablish their ancient capital; he has already armed a great number of them. The Damascus area is in revolt against the Sublime Porte. The Sultan plans to go in person to fight the French in Syria.] 

Paris, Journal de Paris, Number 243
3 prairial, l'an VII de la r
épublique
(Wednesday, May 22, 1799), p. 1063.


Le Moniteur, May 22, 1799

The proclamation story is the first item on the front page of Le Moniteur.  Was it copied from the corresponding item in l'Ami des Lois? If so, the editors of Le Moniteur were astute enough to correct the text. Namely, they indicated "the beginning of floréal" (April 20th) for the expected time of the Grand Vezir's departure for Syria. The text in Le Moniteur appears verbatim that same day in Le Propagateur.

These two papers join the Journal de Paris in citing as source an alleged 28 germinal (April 17th) report from Constantinople. Given the great distance to Paris and the many other newspapers citing April 12th as the Constantinople source date, 28 germinal (April 17th) is less credible than the 23 germinal (April 12th) cited in l'Ami de Lois. Despite this claim of an independent, April 17th source, the Moniteur, the Propagateur and the Journal de Paris curiously add almost nothing that is credible to the account printed that same day in l'Ami des Lois. Following is the text, as it appears in Le Moniteur (May 22, 1799):
Constantinople, le 28 germinal. Bonaparte a fait publier une proclamation dans laquelle il invite tous les juifs de l'Asie et de l'Afrique à venir se ranger sous ses drapeaux pour rétablir l'ancienne Jérusalem. Il en a déjà armé un grand nombre, et leurs bataillons menacent Alep. 
Les habitans des environs de Damas sont en insurrection contre la Porte. Le grand-seigneur doit partir incessament pour la Syrie, afin de commander, en personne, contre Bonaparte. Le grand-visir, à la tête d'un corps considérable de janissaires, doit aussi se mettre en route au commencement de floréal. 
[Constantinople, the 28th of germinal {April 17}. Bonaparte arranged for the publication of a proclamation in which he invites all the Jews of Asia and Africa to come line up under his banners in order to reestablish ancient Jerusalem. He has already armed a great number of them, and their battalions are threatening Aleppo. 
In the Damascus area, the inhabitants are in rebellion against the Sublime Porte. In order to personally command against Bonaparte, the Sultan is expected to leave for Syria any time now. At the head of a considerable body of janissaries, the Grand Vizier too ought to be setting out at the beginning of Florial {April 20}.]

(prominent as first item on the front page)
Paris, Le Moniteur, No. 243, Tridi, 3 prairial an VII
(Wednesday, May 22, 1799).

"All the Jews of Asia and Africa" (tous les juifs de l'Asie et de l'Afrique) means the Jews of the entire Ottoman Empire, including most of the Balkan lands. The pertinent geopolitical perspective is that of the Habsburg diplomat and statesman Klemens von Metternich, who later quipped, "Asia begins at the Landstraße," in Vienna. Only in Bell's Weekly MessengerThe Observer, the Ami des Lois, the Moniteur; and the Propagateur does the reference to Asia precede Africa.

"L'ancienne Jérusalem" (ancient or old Jerusalem) appears only in the version in l'Ami des Lois, the Moniteur, and the Propagateur. But, "leur ancienne capitale" (their ancient capital), in the Journal de Paris, is approximate. Both these expressions are used, perhaps because the editors, as revolutionaries, revere Classical antiquity and respect biblical Jews. By contrast, their revolutionary perspective disdains anything smacking of the medieval Catholic Church, such as the phrase "Kingdom of Jerusalem" (royaume de Jérusalem) which derives from the Christian Bible. This matter gets more attention below.

The versions of the proclamation story in l'Ami des Lois, the Moniteur, the Propagateur, and the Journal de Paris are notably alone in explicitly including a call to the colors. Only in those four Paris papers of May 22nd does Napoleon's proclamation clearly summon the Jews to line up in ranks under his banner. This particular martial element is significantly absent from the other European and British newspapers that tell the story of the proclamation to the Jews. A call to the colors is also missing from the Emperor Paul's letter of August 18, 1798, and from Ahmet Cevdet Pasha's account of the "Jewish" proclamation that the Ottomans had heard about, in the months before September 10, 1798.

By contrast, there is a call to the colors in the phrase "repair to our standard" that appears in the English-language translation of Napoleon's Arabic proclamation to the inhabitants of Syria (February 19, 1799). Not too much should be read into that detail, because there is no reference to rallying to Napoleon's flag in the French-language translation of the Arabic proclamation to the inhabitants of Syria, as published in the Bulletin officiel du directoire helvétique (February 15, 1799) and the Journal de Francfort (February 16, 1799).


Jewish battalions threatening Aleppo?

Some historians have pointed to this improbable Aleppo detail to deride, discredit and dismiss the entire proclamation story, provided by Le Moniteur. And indeed, such armed Jewish battalions would have been highly unlikely in Aleppo, at that time. There, news of the 1798 French landing in Egypt caused consternation among local janissaries. Under district notables, Aleppo's Muslims formed additional armed bands to defend against infidel invasion. These Aleppo troops harassed neighboring Christians, who were suspected of favoring Napoleon.

Had there really been Jewish battalions around Aleppo, their mere existence would probably have outraged Muslim sensibilities and sparked lethal retaliation against Jews, locally and generally. Thus, it is striking that the incredible claim that armed Jewish battalions are threatening Aleppo is absent from the Journal de Paris, the Frankfurt and Mannheim quotations from the Gazette de Hambourg; and also missing from the Berlin, London, Edinburgh, Augsburg, and Munich versions.

In 1796-9, Le Moniteur sometimes likes to highlight revolutionary Jews as soldiers, as in the aforementioned addition of a call to the colors. But, this strange Aleppo story is otherwise to be explained as perhaps a misreading or a mistranslation. For example, the German-language text in the Vossische Zeitung grammatically states that it is Bonaparte who is threatening Aleppo, not the Jewish battalions. This particular point is confirmed by careful reading of the words and punctuation of the English-language versions of the same Aleppo story in The True Briton, The Star, Lloyd's Evening-Post, The Times, The London Chronicle, the Evening MailThe Selector,  Bell's Weekly Messenger, and The Caledonian Mercury.

Furthermore, The Observer (Sunday, May 19, 1799), while discussing Jewish battalions elsewhere, specifically speaks of "Buonaparte preparing to attack Aleppo." Referring to the May 14th item in the Vossische Zeitung, the Allgemeine Zeitung (May 23, 1799) unwittingly concurs with The Observer. While saying nothing about Jewish battalions, the Allgemeine Zeitung reads the Berlin account of the April 22nd Constantinople report, as indicating that it is the French who are threatening Aleppo.


"The Jews of Africa and Asia"

Of our twenty May 1799 newspapers carrying the proclamation story, only the Augsburgische Ordinari Postzeitung and the Journal de Paris report Napoleon's invitation as being to Jews everywhere. By contrast, the eighteen other newspapers say the recipients are some variant of the Jews of Africa and Asia.

Make no mistake, a false millenarian story about restoration of the Jews to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬) would never have restricted return to the Jews of the Ottoman Empire. Thus, the exceptional focus on the Jews of Africa and Asia lends the proclamation story added authenticity, for three important reasons.

Firstly, an invitation limited to the Jews of Africa and Asia is not inconsistent with the key idea of Franco-Ottoman diplomatic talks for Jewish return. Such a negotiation was specifically proposed in Lettre d'un Juif, written by Napoleon or by somebody else in the French government. Throughout his time in the Mideast, Napoleon remained especially interested in the possibility of negotiating to get the Ottomans to bless permanent French control of the entire land bridge between Asia and Africa. Thus, we can understand why calling on Jews to take up arms is absent from our May 1799 newspapers, with the notable exception of l'Ami des Lois, the Moniteur, the Propagateur, and the Journal de Paris. At the end of the publication thread (May 22, 1799), these four Paris newspapers add the element of a call to the colors. This late innovation probably reflects the acute wartime requirements of France's desperate struggle against the countries of the Second Coalition.

Secondly, an appeal restricted to the Jews of the Ottoman Empire hints that the pertinent Napoleon proclamation was likely issued, before he got news that France was officially at war with both Russia and Austria. The Russians finally made their alliance with Turkey on January 3, 1799. Direct conflict between France and Austria broke out on March 12, 1799. Lacking firm knowledge of some or all of these key developments, Napoleon narrowed his appeal to the Jews of Africa and Asia. His pertinent concern was partly to preserve the Treaty of Campo-Formio (October 17, 1797). This was the peace agreement with Austria that he himself had designed and signed. Apart from anything else, his likely motive was to avoid directly antagonizing Russia and Austria, where so many of the world's three million Jews then lived. At that time, the Russian and Austrian governments were worried that their Jewish subjects would be too easily seduced by France's revolutionary ideology.

Thirdly, Napoleon limited his invitation to the Jews of Africa and Asia, because of his extensive experience as a revolutionary emancipator. He knew perfectly well that, for the Jews of Western Europe, revolutionary doctrine demanded not so much restoration to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬) as equal rights of citizenship, and freedom of religion, in the French Republic and its sister republics in Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany.

But these key domestic doctrines of laïcisme and equal citizenship did not necessarily dominate the revolutionary imagination in crafting an international vision for millions of Jews elsewhere. To the point, the numerous Jews of Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire were occasionally seen by Paris as important objects of revolutionary foreign policy. As such, these far-off Jews were sometimes considered, principally within the context of the revolutionary doctrine of the self-determination of Peoples.

Napoleon and his European contemporaries were acutely aware that the revolutionary Jewish claim to equal rights of citizenship, in the various West European republics and kingdoms, seemed to conflict with millennial hopes to restore the biblical Jewish country in the Mideast. For instance, were the Jews of France a "nation within a nation"? Or were they full-fledged French citizens who just happened to believe in "the religion of Moses"? This question pointed to a contradiction that, for the most part, existed more in logic than in daily political practice. Then, the important notion of the individual Jew as equal citizen of a particular, secular, Western State coexisted (albeit uneasily) with the age-old idea of restoring the Jewish commonwealth in the aboriginal homeland of the Jewish People.

For example, consider the August 1796 debate in the Batavian National Assembly, on whether a Jew could enjoy equal civil rights as a citizen of the Batavian Republic. Unsuccessful opponents to granting equal civil rights for Dutch Jews, stubbornly argued that Jews could not be Batavian citizens, because they were really "foreigners," not part of the Batavian People. Jews were said to be "a nation apart," always theologically awaiting the Messiah whose coming would signal return to "Palestine," their ancestral homeland.


"The Kingdom of Jerusalem"

This is a curious, even apocalyptic, phrase that merits our attention. We have already seen similar millenarian language (l'empire de Jérusalem) in the June 1798 "Lettre d'un Juif." Then, there are the May 1799 newspapers. The Vossische Zeitung speaks of "das Reich von Jerusalem." The True Briton, The Star, Lloyd's Evening-Post, The Times, The London Chronicle, the Evening Mail, The Observer, The Selector,  Bell's Weekly Messenger,  and The Caledonian Mercury all talk about "the Kingdom of Jerusalem." In the Allgemeine Zeitung, the word is "das Königreich von Jerusalem." And, as quoted in the Journal de Francfort and the Journal Politique de l'Europe, the Gazette de Hambourg refers to "le royaume de Jérusalem."

This is a Christian rather than a Jewish term. In the Jewish Bible, there is no Israelite or Jewish "kingdom of Jerusalem." The Jewish Bible has many reverential references to the city of Jerusalem, but for geopolitical taxonomy famously focuses on the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and on the persistent idea of the "Land of Israel" (Heb: אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬ Eretz Yisrael).

By contrast, some Christian Bibles mention the "kingdom of Jerusalem" at least once in the supersessionist Book of Esdras: "Thus saith the Lord unto Esdras, Tell My people that I will give them the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which I would have given unto Israel." Historically, that passage sufficed for naming the medieval, Catholic Crusader state, the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Thus, on May 22, 1799, the millenarian phrase "empire" or "kingdom" of Jerusalem was purposely suppressed in l'Ami des Lois, the Moniteur, and the Propagateur. There, "kingdom of Jerusalem" was replaced by "l'ancienne Jérusalem", and in the Journal de Paris by "leur ancienne capitale."

Jerusalem or "David's City" is juridically just an historic, municipal toponym in the alleged Napoleon letter of April 20, 1799. There, "Israelites" are twice saluted as "rightful heirs of Palestine." By contrast, there in no "Palestine" in Lettre d'un Juif, where "Jews" and "Israelites" are to be restored to "the homeland" (la patrie). Anonymous also incidentally mentions "this Holy Land" (cette terre sainte). But more to the point, Lettre d'un Juif specifically points to Jerusalem as "this sacred city" (cette cité sacrée) and showcases the extraordinary millenarian expression, l'empire de Jérusalem.

Can it be merely coincidental that l'empire de Jérusalem, to the extent that it is a political term in Lettre d'un Juif, so closely matches the Jerusalem "Jewish Republic" (Еврейская Республика) cited by the Emperor Paul in August 1798? L'empire de Jérusalem as a political term also dovetails with the plan to "establish a Jewish government in Jerusalem" (قدس شريفده بر يهود حكومتى تشكيل) as told by Ahmet Cevdet Pasha for the Hicrî year 1212 (1797-8). Also striking is such "Jerusalem" nomenclature, used politically, across Lettre d'un Juif, the Emperor Paul's letter, and most of the twenty-two May 1799 publications, reporting the Napoleon proclamation to the Jews.

We have already seen that Napoleon was using agents in Turkey to secretly distribute proclamations, pamphlets, poems, letters, leaflets, songs, engravings, etc. This wide-ranging propaganda probably included one or more proclamations referring to both Jews and a Jewish kingdom or government in Jerusalem. The circulation of these "Jerusalem" proclamations perhaps began before September 1797, as can reasonably be presumed from General Desaix's diary. We have also seen that a Jewish Republic in Jerusalem features in the 1798 English press, including the June satirical writing of Under-Secretary of State George Canning. The plan for the "Hebrew Republic" (République hébraïque) in Jerusalem is also descibed by Mallet du Pan in May 1799.


Napoleon never disavowed

During more than five years as an exile on Saint Helena, Napoleon persistently combed through the back issues of Le Moniteur. He would thus have been reminded of the amazing story of the proclamation to the Jews, published there on May 22, 1799. Nonetheless, he notably never disavowed this particular news item. To the point, around 1819, his own account of the "Syrian" campaign repeatedly refers to Jews, but most carefully says nothing about issuance to them of any "proclamation."

Before his May 1821 death, Napoleon had more than two decades, during which he could easily have denounced as fake news, the many May 1799 newspaper reports about his proclamation to the Jews. And, he had incentive to do so. The end of the French Revolution (November 1799) coincided with more open expression of hatred towards Jews, across Europe. Such antisemitism became even stronger in the reactionary era, immediately after Napoleon's final fall (1815). Then, repudiating the proclamation story would have flattered Catholic opinion. Arguably, a specific denial of authorship would have been advantageous to Napoleon, both while he was in power and after he left office. Then, disavowal might perhaps have enhanced restoration odds for himself or his son.

Thus, we must ask: Why did Napoleon refrain from tarring these May 1799 reports as fake news? Maybe he remained silent from a reasonable fear that, despite having deliberately burned the official "Jewish" papers in the French archives, perhaps there might still survive too much other evidence, proving that he had indeed issued one or more invitations to the Jews to return to their ancestral homeland.



Age-old messianism stimulated  

Faithfully repeating from Le Moniteur, a fanciful figure that multiplies by eight the troop numbers under Napoleon, La Décade philosophique salutes "invincible Bonaparte" as "master of Syria" and revisits the proclamation story (May 29, 1799):
At the head of an army of one hundred thousand men, [Bonaparte] has proclaimed the delivery of Jerusalem and Judea, and calls back to their ancient homeland the Hebrews dispersed on the planet. Who knows? Perhaps they are going to see in him the Messiah, and soon twenty prophecies will have predicted the happening, the epoch, even unto the circumstance of his coming. It is at the least very probable that the Jewish People will reconstitute itself as the body of a nation, that the Temple of Solomon will be rebuilt.
The invitation to the Jews is also sincerely believed by The True Briton. For this reason, Napoleon is mocked with the wry suggestion that the revolutionary general has just sent a message to longtime, millenarian enthusiast Richard Brothers, then confined in a private insane asylum in Islington (May 30, 1799):
Buonaparte, we hear, has sent a pressing invitation to [Richard] Brothers, to come and assist him in the re-establishment of the Jewish Kingdom; but to this invitation the Prophet has given a peremptory refusal, declaring that the restoration of the Jews, and the rebuilding of the Temple, can never be the work of so ungodly a Philistine.
By contrast, there is no hint of humor in a London report first published in Lloyd's Evening-Post (June 3-5) and soon reprinted virtually verbatim in Bell's Weekly Messenger (June 9, 1799):
Private advices from Syria, by way of Italy, state, that such hath been the enthusiasm of the Jews, on Buonaparte's inviting them to their promised Restoration, that numbers from all parts flock to his standard, and that he has whole regiments of them training to war in his armies.

From Hamburg, Berlin, London, Frankfurt, Augsburg, Mannheim, Munich, and Paris—this blockbuster news spreads across Europe and beyond. Thus, Director Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès gets a pertinent letter from a revolutionary called Desgranges (June 14, 1799):
Is it true that Bonaparte is now master of the Asiatic provinces of the sultan? Is it true that he has recalled the Jews of Asia and Africa back to Jerusalem? Would it not be possible to send the Jews of Europe there too? Great and dangerous [Christian] prejudices would fall with the rebuilding of the Temple of the Israelites. They are no more than brokers, so their emigration would not do any harm to our industry. Commerce would not suffer.
Desgranges urges the Revolutionary French Republic to collect three hundred million francs as a service charge for returning the Jews to Jerusalem. He is sure that Jews there would then fight for France with full enthusiasm. "This People would be an ally for us in that part of the world. The navigation of the Red Sea would be guaranteed to us."

The "restoration of the Jews" is also a recurring topic in the 1799 Gentlemen's Magazine of London. Thus, we can better understand a London report in the Wiener Zeitung (July 17, 1799). This says the British House of Lords (June 20th) heard "Lord Radner" (more likely Lord Radnor) condemn secret clubs, free masons and Jacobin societies for propagating the subversive idea of inviting the Jews to gather themselves together to restore "their chimerical Jerusalem."

In Le Moniteur, the proclamation story is credited by "David" who offers a lengthy, informative, and speculative article about "Bonaparte's Probable Conquest of the Ottoman Empire" (De la conquête probable de l'empire ottoman par Bonaparte). Most likely inspired by the aforementioned, November 1798 essay by Volney, "David" imagines Napoleon fighting his way back to Europe overland, by taking Constantinople, and freeing all the subject Peoples of the Ottoman Empire (June 27, 1799): "It wasn't only to deliver to the Jews their Jerusalem that Bonaparte has conquered Syria." (Ce n'est pas seulement pour rendre aux juifs leur Jérusalem que Bonaparte a conquis la Syrie.)

Napoleon's invitation to the Jews was soon known in the United States. For example, the Columbian Museum & Savannah Advertiser (August 2, 1799) reproduced the proclamation story, as detailed in the Constantinople news item of April 12th. The text in Savannah, Georgia, was virtually identical to the account in the aforementioned London newspapers of May 17th. Moreover, from Lloyd's Evening-Post (June 3-5) above, the Gazette of the United States and Philadelphia Advertiser copied (August 13, 1799):
By private letters from Syria, by way of Italy, we are assured, that such has been the enthusiasm of the Jews on Buonaparte's inviting them to their promised restoration that numbers from all parts flock to his standard, and that he has whole regiments of them training to war in his armies. 
However, postponed to 1806-8 was the larger American discussion about Napoleon's intention to restore the Jews to their ancestral homeland. The topic was then debated in the USA press, in connection with news of convocation in Paris of the Assembly of Jewish Notables, followed by the summoning of the Grand Sanhedrin.


A long poem about "the life and actions of Bonaparte" is written shortly after London gets news of Napoleon's return to Paris (October 16, 1799). This epic links the Mideast campaign with his invitation to the Jews. Napoleon is significantly portrayed as "a mighty Rabbi" summoning Jews back to their biblical homeland. To be sung to the tune of "Death and the Lady," this saga was printed in various places, including The Patriot's Vocal Miscellany: A Collection of Loyal Songs (Dublin, 1804):
Lo, on a Dromedary, full of pride / To Syria now, the hero bends his way, / Those soldiers who can steal a Camel, ride; / The rest march after in their best array. 
Rejoice, ye Jews, the Israelitish walls / Require but workmen to be built apace; / A mighty Rabbi, loudly on you calls, / In ev'ry Syrian town, for Zion's place.
Instead of "Zion's place," the original version has "Duke's Place." This was a well-known London neighborhood accommodating the Great Synagogue and many Jews. The original version is published in volume one of The Meteors (1799): "In ev'ry Syrian town to raise Duke's Place."


The Intelligenzblatt der Allgemeinen Literatur-Zeitung of Jena (August 3, 1799) announces publication by the press of Heinrich August Rottmann in Berlin, of a new pamphlet portraying an exchange between a Christian theologian and Baruch, an old Jew. The title is Gespräch über das Sendschreiben von einigen jüdischen Hausvätern an den Probst Teller, zwischen einem christlichen Theologen und einem alten Juden (conversation between a Christian theologian and an old Jew, about the letter to Provost [Wilhelm Abraham] Teller, from several Jewish family heads). (1799):
Theologe: Sie errathen doch wohl die Ursache, warum ich Sie so sehnlich zu sprechen wünschte? Baruch: Errathen? Nein! Doch wohl nicht um zu erfahren, ob ich entschlossen sey, mit nach Jerusalem zu wandern, da alle Zeitungen übereinstimmen, dass Buonaparte diesen heiligen Ort erobert, und bey nahe im Ernst hinzufügen, zum Besten der Juden erobert habe.

[Theologian: Can you guess the reason why I wanted to speak to you so badly? Baruch: Guess? No! But probably not to find out whether I am determined to join the exodus to Jerusalem, since all the newspapers agree that Buonaparte has conquered this holy place and add, almost seriously, that he has conquered it for the cause of the Jews.]

The proclamation was also well known to German philosopher, theologian, poet and playwright Johann Gottfried von Herder whose command of Hebrew language and literature was solid. His essay Die Bekehrung der Juden (the conversion of the Jews) is first printed in 1802, but originally written, perhaps as early as 1800. Herder begins by briefly referring to the pertinent 1799 written debate among David Friedländer, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Abraham Teller. Thereafter, Herder reviews some secular, practical arguments for either toleration or the return of the Jewish People to its aboriginal homeland. With regard to the latter possibility, he writes sardonically:
Good luck to them if a Messiah-Bonaparte may victoriously lead them there; good luck to them in Palestine! (Glück also, wenn ein Meßias-Bonaparte sieghaft sie dahin führt, Glück
zu nach Palästina!)
These words mock both the Jews and Napoleon. But, there is absolutely nothing in Herder's remarks that doubts the truth of the proclamation story, which is universally believed in 1799 Germany.


Abundant coverage in the German press ensured that far-flung German- and Yiddish-speaking populations of East Central Europe also quickly learned about the proclamation story. Well within this Eastern urban zone of German and Yiddish language and culture were Austrian cities like Prague in Habsburg Bohemia (to be discussed below); Lemberg (Lvov or Lviv) in Habsburg Eastern Galicia; and Preßburg (Bratislava) in Habsburg Hungary.

In Preßburg, Moshe Sofer (Moses Schreiber) was one of the leading Orthodox rabbis of European Jewry. On August 8, 1799, he counseled diaspora Jews: "Go and travel now!" He delivered this dramatic message on the seventh day of the Hebrew month of Av. According to the Second Book of Kings, this is the anniversary of the day, when the Neo-Babylonians arrived in Jerusalem to begin their destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE). With great passion, the rabbi expressed keen hopes for early Redemption of the Jewish People. He pointed to the importance of now taking practical measures to return to the aboriginal homeland.

A History of Modern Jewry 1780-1815 (New York, 1971) is the English-language abridgment of part of the important, multi-volume, bilingual (Yiddish and Hebrew) scholarship of the late Raphael Mahler (1899-1977). Whether in Hebrew, Yiddish or English, Mahler accepts the historicity of the 1799 Napoleon proclamation to the Jews. To the point, Mahler quotes from an unidentified and undated newspaper. He says this was printed somewhere in Habsburg Hungary, in 1799:
The proposal which has been distributed in writing throughout the world, encouraging the Jews to return to Jerusalem, has already exerted a powerful influence on the Jews of Lwow. They visit restaurants regularly to read the press, and one can see them agitatedly whispering amongst themselves and taking counsel on the journey to Jerusalem.

Rabbinic responses to Napoleon's proclamation had earlier been confirmed by Martin Buber (1878-1965). He was a Jewish philosopher and careful chronicler of Hasidism, a pietistic movement that is an important expression of Orthodox Judaism. His culturally-authentic novel, For the Sake of Heaven, includes an author's preface that authoritatively clarifies Napoleon's impact on the Jews of Eastern Europe (1945):
The [Hasidic folklore] material had generally been treated from a legendary perspective, but the kernel of reality was unmistakable. It is a fact that several Zaddikim [Hasidic sages] actually attempted by means of theurgic or magic activities (the so-called Practical Cabala) to make of Napoleon that "Gog of the Land of Magog," mentioned by Ezekiel, whose wars, as is proclaimed by several eschatological texts, were to precede the coming of the Messiah. Other Zaddikim opposed these attempts with the monition that no outer gestures or events but only the inner return of the entire human being to God could prepare the approach of Redemption.


The proclamation in Prague

Orthodox Jew, anonymous "B" addresses a long letter to the head of Prague public security, the Stadthauptmann Joseph, Count Wratislaw von Mitrowitz. B denounces Prague members of the schismatic sect of Jacob Frank for constituting a secret society with dangerous sympathies for "freedom," as advocated by the French Revolution (June 27, 1799):
The overthrow of the papal throne [February 1798] has given their [Frankist] daydreams plenty of nourishment. They say openly, this is the sign of the coming of the Messiah, since their chief belief consists of this: Sabbatai Zevi was savior, will always remain the savior, but always under a different shape. General Bonaparte's conquests gave nourishment to their superstitious teachings. His conquests in the Orient, especially the conquest of Palestine, of Jerusalem, his appeal to the Israelites is oil on their fire (sein Aufruf an die Israeliten ist Öhl auf ihrem Feuer).
Here, the explicit reference to "Palestine" and Bonaparte's "appeal to the Israelites" prompts a question: Is B perhaps pointing to the alleged Napoleon letter of April 20th instead of (or in addition to) the at least twenty May 1799 newspaper reports of a "proclamation" to the Jews? No definite answer, because B elsewhere freely oscillates between the terms "Jews" and "Israelites."

What does B's testimony actually prove? It shows firstly that, by summer 1799, Prague Jews certainly know about Napoleon's appeal and/or proclamation; and secondly, that informer B presumes that Count Wratislaw too is already aware of this amazing story. But, B never alleges that local Frankists are already circulating copies of a Bonaparte appeal to the Israelites, dated April 20, 1799. Nor does B suggest that local Frankists have themselves forged such a document. Furthermore, B twice over specifically says that he does not think them capable of treason.

Pertinently, forging such fake Hebrew letters in the Habsburg Empire, at that time, would indeed have amounted to the crime of treason. This assessment rests on the "state of war" between France and Austria; the Habsburg Treaty of Alliance with the Ottoman Empire (January 21, 1799); Rabbi Aaron's explicit call to arms; and the particularly belligerent passages in the biblical Book of Joel, which are referenced in both of the 1799 letters.

For sure, the Habsburg Emperor Francis II was then afraid of revolutionary subversion and always anxious about the loyalty of his close to half-million Jewish subjects. Nonetheless, some writers of the last few decades have missed the mark in postulating an improbable scenario involving no more than the local police in Prague. Why improbable? Because these Hebrew letters were an important national-security matter that, in the Habsburg Monarchy, fell squarely within the purview of the Polizeihofstelle in Vienna.

Nor can we possibly ignore the mega-fact that, in 1799, the Austrian police did not arrest the Prague Frankists, for either serious political crimes or lesser offenses. This last circumstance weighs heavily due to the tragic precedent of the Hellenic patriot Rigas. We have already seen that Rigas was sent to his death in Ottoman Belgrade, because he had been caught in Habsburg Trieste (December 1797) with three wooden chests full of revolutionary proclamations.

However, B did advise Count Wratislaw to regularly read Frankist mail and to search their leader's home for seditious papers on a Saturday afternoon. For this reason, these last eighty years, there has been speculation about the possibility of some sort of a link joining all three of the local Frankists; the Prague police; and the Orthodox-Jewish Fleckeles family, whose handwritten document yields the text for the German-language typescript, made in 1939.

If so, we must also take into account the realities of 18th-century communications. Specifically, Napoleonic propaganda leaving Ottoman Syria on April 20th most definitely has enough time (75 days) to reach any point in Central Europe by July 4th. That is the first day that Count Wratislaw can receive B's advice, because B adds a postscript saying he held back mailing until July 4th.

With this in mind, let us provisionally accept the entirely unproven hypothesis that, aimed at local Frankists, was a subsequent Prague police raid or postal interception that netted the original Hebrew letters, said to be from Napoleon and the Jerusalem rabbi. Even in that purely imaginary scenario, there is still no logical reason to presume forgery rather than faithful Frankist transmission of an authentic text, truly from Napoleon in the Mideast. To the point, Kabbalists, Sabbateans and Frankists in the Ottoman Empire then focused on Napoleon, and always had contacts with Jews in Italy and other parts of Europe.

Also consistent with authenticity is the conduct of the Prague Fleckeles family which treasured the document for four generations. The text of the 1799 German-language translation reached the 20th century among the papers of Jewish community leader (Gemeindevorsteher) Wolf Fleckeles. Perhaps he got the document from his older brother, the distinguished Orthodox Rabbi Eleazar Fleckeles. If so, access to this highly-sensitive, official German translation probably came via Eleazar's longtime friend, Karl Fischer. The strong ties between Karl and Eleazar are historically well substantiated.

As Imperial and Royal Censor, Reviser and Translator in Hebrew, Karl's jurisdiction was not limited to Prague. For example, he sometimes approved Hebrew books that were printed in other parts of the Habsburg Monarchy. Moreover, for the Vienna Polizeihofstelle, he from time to time translated secretly-intercepted, Hebrew-language letters that had been addressed to Jews in Prague or elsewhere. Thus, Karl likely translated into German, the Hebrew letters of April 1799. These, the Austrian police had somehow discovered, perhaps elsewhere in the Habsburg lands. Maybe, the sole connection between the 1799 letters and Prague was the fortuitous circumstance that the Bohemian capital was Karl's home base, and also venue for his warm friendship with Eleazar.

The Fleckeles brothers, Eleazar and Wolf, certainly never had the Hebrew-language originals. To the point, if ever they had those originals in Hebrew, they would certainly never have translated them into German, which would have been counterproductive. Pertinently, they could read Hebrew fluently, and German was too accessible to the Austrian police. Thus, we can reasonably suppose that, at some time from 1799 until Eleazar's death in 1826, Karl gave his trusted companion Eleazar an illicit opportunity to secretly hand copy the official German translation.

But Karl would have been unlikely to ever share the Hebrew-language originals: firstly, such texts in Hebrew were too great a threat to Austrian security; and secondly, the originals probably had to be returned to the Polizeihofstelle for burning. We have already seen that such combustion was the fate of the original printings, in various Balkan languages, of the 1797 Rigas proclamation. Also burnt by the Habsburg police were any foreign materials relating to the 1806 invitation to Austrian synagogues to attend Napoleon's Grand Sanhedrin of 1807.

The Fleckeles family always believed the text to be truly from Napoleon. Otherwise, they would never have risked retaining such an inflammatory paper. They would have made no such dangerous effort to keep anything they thought to be just a Frankist fabrication. To the point, they could have had no illusions about a harsh reactionary regime that had already jailed Eleazar for several days in 1799. This penalty was imposed on Eleazar for causing unrest among Prague Jews, due to his strong Orthodox opposition to Frankism. For decades, the Fleckeles family also knew that the Austrian police would severely punish possession of such a seditious screed, whether genuine or a Frankist forgery.


Poland is the Promised Land

The April 20, 1799 letter is unlikely to be a Frankist forgery, inter alia, because broader 18th-century Frankism is very different: on the one hand, from B's highly colored characterization of local Frankists as stubborn Sabbateans; and, on the other hand, from the mainline revolutionary concepts in the handwritten text, so reverentially preserved by the Fleckeles family. This conclusion is clear from a glance at the principal messages then dispatched from Frankist headquarters at Offenbach, near Frankfurt.

The 1798-1800 "red letters" are handwritten in Hebrew, often in red ink. These notorious messages: (i) say nothing about either Sabbatai Zevi or Napoleon, as Messiah or otherwise; (ii) contradict the French Revolution's strong anti-Catholic animus, by repeatedly urging Jews to convert to Roman Catholicism; (iii) include just one incidental reference to Jerusalem, but not as destination; and (iv) spectacularly lack emphasis on return to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬). Frankist teaching followed the Christian view that ancient Jerusalem could only reappear at the very end of human history. Therefore, by sharp contrast to Sabbatai Zevi, Jacob Frank and most of his followers were stone cold to the idea of the Jewish People going back to the Mideast. For Frank, Poland was the Promised Land.

For obvious reasons, 18th-century Catholic theologians well knew the key doctrinal differences between Sabbateans and Frankists. On this fundamental point, consult the Histoire des Sectes Religieuses (history of religious sects). Therein, the aged Abbé Grégoire describes distinctive Frankist beliefs, such as the acceptance of Jesus Christ as "the" Messiah. Grégoire quotes their credo, including (1828): "According to the prophecies, it is certain that Jerusalem will not be rebuilt. The Messiah, promised in the scriptures, is not one who is yet to come (le Messie, promis dans les Écritures, ne plus à venir)."


Highlighting Jews & the "Temple of Solomon"

Months before the April 20th letter (Zuschrift) and the at least twenty May 1799 newspaper items about the "proclamation," the dignified phrase "la nation juive" (the Jewish People) came easily to Napoleon's pen. For example, from his Cairo headquarters, he ordained (September 7, 1798): "Sabbato Adda and Telebi di Figura are named high priests of the Jewish People" (grands prêtres de la nation juive). As the object of respect, "la nation juive" featured again in his December 19, 1798 order confirming the privileges of the Orthodox Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai.

In 1798, he showed respect for the Jewish People, partly in conformity with revolutionary ideology and partly because he could reasonably imagine that he might soon need some help from Mideast Jews. For example, urgently required cash might perhaps come from famously rich Jewish families like the Picciotto (Aleppo) and the Farhi (Damascus). Such a supposition rests squarely on Napoleon's track record in Italy. In spring 1796, his impoverished army there had been bankrolled with three million francs in discreet loans from Jewish financiers in Genoa. In 1797-8, part of the money for the French Army of Italy was provided by longtime papal banker, Moses Vita Coen, a Jew from Ferrara.


احمد جزار پاشا
The Bosnian Ahmet Cezzar Pasha
won great fame in Europe and the Mideast
as the local Ottoman commander who stubbornly

withstood Napoleon's 1799 siege of Acre.


In his own account of the "Syrian" campaign, Napoleon chose to refer to the Jewish agents sent to Damascus and Aleppo and to "a vague hope" that was "animating" local Jews when spring arrived in 1799. In the third person, he wrote (around 1819): "News was circulating among them that, after taking Acre, Napoleon would present himself in Jerusalem where he would reestablish the temple of Solomon." This recollection seems to be Napoleon's admission that, during the "Syrian" campaign, he already knew that some Jews regarded him to be the Messiah.

What Napoleon himself had probably been thinking back in 1799 was perhaps revealed more clearly in Paris in the year following his return from the Mideast. As First Consul of the Republic, he told the Council of State (August 16, 1800): "If I governed a nation of Jews, I would reestablish the temple of Solomon." Napoleon had there been making a broader point about governing to please the majority as "the way to recognize the sovereignty of the people." Thus, in this important democratic context, he chose to rhetorically offer posterity (alongside three other examples) the startling hypothesis of a majority Jewish country centered on the Temple in Jerusalem.


1798 Jewish peoplehood in vogue

News of Napoleon's Mideast invasion was widely discussed alongside the hypothesis of a return of the Jews to their aboriginal homeland. As already seen, this cause had been championed by Joachim Le Breton in the April 19th number of La Décade philosophique, and by Anonymous in Lettre d'un Juif (June 8th). This "Letter from a Jew to his Brethren" was widely read in an integral English translation, first published in the St. James's Chronicle of London (July 14-17, 1798). An English translation was later also available as a twopenny pamphlet, entitled "Re-establishment of the Jewish Government, with a letter from a Jew to his Brethren; copied from the Courier, June 19, 1798." Moreover, Le Breton's article and Lettre d'un Juif were both reprinted in French in London, in Paris Pendant L'Année 1798 (Paris During the Year 1798). Therein, the anti-revolutionary editor Jean-Gabriel Peltier reflected (December 1798):
Re-establishment of Jerusalem: Among the extraordinary events which have occurred in the political world at the end of the 18th century, the return of the Jews to their former homeland would not be the least marvelous. Just a short time ago, the idea would have appeared chimerical, though throughout the centuries the Jews never stopped religiously keeping that hope. Today, the possibility of this happening attracts attention, and it does not seem distant from coming to pass.
Thus, both before and after Napoleon's fleet sailed for Egypt (May 19, 1798), prominently published are some semi-official strategic points and propaganda particularly sympathetic to the idea of Jewish peoplehood and explaining how the Revolutionary French Republic can richly gain by sponsoring the return of Jews to their ancestral homeland.


This same calculation appears in the anonymous, Bonaparte in Cairo (Bonaparte au Caire). This is a rapidly assembled "current affairs" book about the Mideast campaign. It is printed in Paris in Year VII, which begins on September 22, 1798. More precisely, this publication is advertised among "new books" in Le Rédacteur, on February 24, 1799. Bonaparte au Caire has a long footnote signed by "R." This points to Pierre-Louis Roederer, the younger (1754-1835). No later than 1787, Roederer follows in his father's footsteps, as a Christian champion of Jewish rights. France's intention to colonize Egypt is linked to restoration to the Jewish People (la nation juive) of their land of origin (leur terre originaire). This same passage also features verbatim in Roederer's daily newspaper, Journal de Paris (December 13, 1798):
The establishment of the French in Egypt and in Syria could be a happy time for the Jewish people. To receive and welcome the Jews at Jerusalem could perhaps be a way to make them more useful and more happy. Dispersed across three continents, the Jews could, in forming a flourishing colony there, also assist in the colonization of Egypt by the French. The Jews are faulted for several defects, but those vices are caused by the oppression which they suffer. Moreover, the Jews have some virtues which we lack in our civilization and in our abilities. Obedient sons, faithful spouses, tender fathers, they display hospitality and brotherhood to all of their kind. They are sober, laborious, frugal, well behaved, patient, and industrious. There are no other men on the planet who spend less and produce more, who better perform wonders of savings and of work. Essentially merchants, they have ties to all countries, and thus can serve in relation to, and against, all countries. Rich in capital, they can share some of it with him who restores them to their land of origin. One can say of the Jewish people what one says about sex: its virtues are its own, but its vices are ours. The conqueror of Egypt is too good a judge of men, to misunderstand the advantages that he can draw from this people, in the execution of his vast plans.


Pierre-Louis Roederer, the younger (1754-1835)
as he was in late 1789. No later than 1787

he championed Jewish rights
which, in 1798-9, are highlighted
in his newspaper, Le Journal de Paris



Napoleon! Lead the Jews to Jerusalem!

By early 1799, the restoration of the Jews to their aboriginal homeland is a current topic linked to Napoleon in Egypt. February news items from Lucerne describe spirited legislative debate in the Grand Council (February 13th), on the report of the aforementioned Commission on the Reform of Helvetic Jewish Laws (Commission der Reformation helvetischer Judengesetze). The precise issue is whether to accord Swiss Jews equal rights as citizens of the Helvetic Republic. Dated February 20th is a pertinent account in the Allgemeine Zeitung (February 28, 1799):
Against these grounds of [humanitarian] consideration, now erupted especially the unwillingness of the majority, which sank to the most unworthy outbursts. For example, [Joseph] Elmlinger [from Reiden in Canton Lucerne] advised that all the Jews ought to be dispatched to Buonaparte, so that he could lead them to their Kingdom of Jerusalem, where they could no longer harm anyone with their cheating and lying.
More details are in the Bulletin officiel du Directoire helvétique (February 17, 1799). The majority's tone is exemplified by Großrath (Deputy) Carlo Ambrosio Giudici, from Canton Bellinzona. The Jews are guilty of usury, bad faith and deceit. Jews are unworthy to be counted as real "Republicans," because their Talmud teaches them that they await their "powerful King," the Messiah. According to Giudici, the Grand Council should delay granting Jews civic rights until their Messiah arrives.

Deputy Franz Anton Würsch, from Canton Nidwalden, says emancipating the Jews of Switzerland would be tantamount to taking the last scrap of bread from the mouths of the already desperate Swiss People and giving it to "an enemy nation." Deputy Joseph Elmlinger rhetorically asks: "Are not the ethics of the Jews infamous?" He alleges that "fraud, usury, and the most humiliating vices" are "second nature" to Jews (February 17, 1799):
Attracted by their interest in the discussion, several Jews were in the [Grand Council] gallery. Elmlinger turned in their direction and rudely addressed them with force: "Qu'ils aillent, qu'ils aillent demander à Bonaparte de les reconduire à Jérusalem" (Go! Go ask Bonaparte to lead you back to Jerusalem). 


Two February 1799 letters to the Directory

The seasoned Irish revolutionary Thomas Corbet sent from Lorient in Brittany (February 17, 1799) to the principal Republican leader, Director Paul Barras, a plan for return of the Jewish People to "Palestine," after initial settlement in French Egypt. Pointing to Napoleon in Egypt and also to the wider war against England and its allies, Corbet compared the long-suffering Jewish People to the oppressed Irish and Poles. Also hoping to be free, the Jews were said to be waiting "with impatience for the time of their rebirth as a Nation" (Ils attendent avec impatience l'époque de leur rétablissement comme une Nation).

Like Napoleon, Corbet was alive to the military value of Jews. Thus, he suggested enlisting Jews into French shipbuilding, the navy and the army, so that they could learn the skills needed "to repress the Syrian" (pour réprimer le Syrien). Firstly, Corbet thought that a large number of Jews in Egypt would help France by serving as "a barrier against the Arabs and the other barbarians" (une barrière contre les arabes et les autres barbares). Secondly, Corbet argued that, from this first step into French Egypt, the Jews could make a second step to Palestine.

There, they might be for France "a solid pillar" (une colonne solide) of a new revolutionary order that would regenerate the Mideast in the period after the "decrepit and fallen empire of the Ottomans." Moreover, from a Protestant family, Corbet naturally understood the French Revolution's principled fight against the reactionary Catholic Church, for centuries prime vector for the bacillus of antisemitism.

Another reflection of the public's fascination with the Egyptian campaign was information which fellow Director Merlin de Douai got from Commissioner François, a senior official in northern France. François troubled to report a conversation with a "German" Jew. Here, Commissioner François probably intends to describe a Jew who is a French citizen, but by descent and culture an Ashkenaz rather than a Sepharad.

According to this Ashkenaz, Europe's Jews viewed Napoleon as the Messiah whose coming would trigger the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple. The Ashkenaz also said that 1.5 million Jews were awaiting Napoleon's signal to leave for the Mideast. The counsel from Commissioner François was simultaneously strategic and skeptical (February 28, 1799):
One can derive a great deal from these people by flattering their religious prejudices. I leave it to your wisdom either to work to develop this idea if you think it of some value, or to just laugh it off as a joke.

Time, distance and Britain's Royal Navy combined to ensure that these letters from Corbet and François were probably completely unknown to Napoleon who, for months on end, received very little wartime news from France. But, these two February letters could well have been among the contemporary factors that maybe inspired the Directory to perhaps order French Revolutionary agents in Europe, to expertly forge the alleged Napoleon letter, dated April 20, 1799. At the very least, the letters from Corbet and François could have induced the Directory to permit several newspapers to authoritatively spread from Paris (May 22, 1799) the extraordinary news that Napoleon had issued a proclamation to the Jews.


Tactics for wartime advantage?

The stunted imagination of antisemites automatically sees Jews as absent, negligible, or some sort of a "problem." By contrast, as thoroughgoing opportunists, the Directors were more likely to ask themselves how they, France, and the Revolution could benefit.

La Décade philosophique's elite readership had already received (April 19, 1798) the impressive statistic that worldwide there were close to three million Jews, of whom up to 130,000 were said to be in the Mideast. For sure, the Directors knew that those "close to three million" Jews, whether in Europe or the Mideast, lived mostly in countries hostile to France. For example, there were then close to half a million Jews in the Habsburg Monarchy, which was a particularly stubborn opponent of the Revolution. Thus, publishing striking propaganda to win Jewish support for the Revolutionary French Republic was for the Directory a shrewd tactic to gain wartime advantage.

Such secularism, cynicism, and readiness to exploit religion were also Napoleon's hallmark. To the point, Bourrienne wrote that Napoleon was only interested in the various historical religions to the extent that they had some political utility. Thus, for his 1798 invasion of Egypt, Napoleon repeatedly told local Muslims that the French were now similar to them in religion, because the Revolution had rejected the Holy Trinity, retaining belief in just the one God, exactly as required by Islam.

However, his philo-Muslim propaganda was sometimes exploited to his disadvantage. For example, the European Magazine and London Review prints a version of Sir Sydney Smith's May 30, 1799 letter to Rear Admiral Lord Nelson. Therein, Smith describes how he made allies of the Maronites (October 1799):
I wrote a circular letter to the Princes and Chiefs of the Christians of Mount Lebanon, ... recalling them to a sense of duty [as Ottoman subjects], and engaging them to cut off the supplies from the French camp [near Acre]. I sent them at the same time a copy of Buonaparte's impious proclamation, in which he boasts of having overthrown all Christian establishments, accompanied by a suitable exhortation, calling on them to choose between the friendship of a Christian Knight [Sydney Smith] and that of an unprincipled Renegado [Napoleon Bonaparte]. This letter had all the effect that I could desire. [...] I had thus the satisfaction to find Buonaparte's career further north effectually stopped by a warlike people inhabiting an impenetrable country.

Less than a week before Napoleon left Cairo for France, the same theological gambit featured in his letter of peace overtures to Grand Vizier Kör Yusuf Ziyaüddin Pasha, then with the Ottoman army in Syria (August 17, 1799): "The Sublime Porte, which was the friend of France as long as that Power was Christian, waged war against her the moment that France by her religion drew herself closer to Islamic belief."

To the point, volume ten of Abbé Grégoire's Annales de la Religion (Paris, 1799) includes an essay entitled, "Bonaparte's Respect for Islam" (du respect de Bonaparte pour l'islamisme):
Of all the characteristics that mark Bonaparte's politics, the most striking is the respect that he always showed for the prejudices, and above all for the religion (le culte) of the Muslims. [...] The French hero understood perfectly that a people's religious sentiments cannot be eradicated; that they have a power greater than all the other sentiments; and that to desire to violate them is to fight against nature itself. 


Role for a Jewish Republic

Revolutionizing all the subject Peoples of the Ottoman Empire and potential help from Jewish bankers were not the only practical reasons that Napoleon had for discreetly wooing Jews, including during his 1799 "Syrian" expedition. Written around 1819, his own history of his war in the Mideast links the strategic importance of the Holy Land to Egypt, exactly as in the 1798 Lettre d'un Juif which is perhaps also from Napoleon's pen.

Today, the Chinese generals of the People's Liberation Army still revere the strategic thinking of ancient China. In the same way, Napoleon was deeply impressed by the example of the great strategists of Classical antiquity. Thus, he mentions (1819) that Cyrus the Great had "protected the Jews and had their Temple rebuilt," because Cyrus was thinking about conquering Egypt from the east. Napoleon also writes that Alexander the Great, similarly attacking from the east, "sought to please the Jews so that they might serve him for his crossing of the [Sinai] desert."

Here, Napoleon's strategic logic makes it easy to understand the companion idea of a Revolutionary Jewish Republic helping to guard the eastern gateway to French Egypt. This makes sense in the larger context of a Near and Mideast dominated by la grande nation. This revolutionary concept required replacing the reactionary Ottoman Empire with a series of satellite republics. The ethno-religious beneficiaries on Mount Lebanon would be the Maronites, the Druze, and the Shia Twelvers or Motouâly. Elsewhere, there would be republican, national homelands for Jews, Armenians, Georgians, Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Greeks, etc.

Using such independent, eastern allies to guard the road to Egypt was a strategy that Napoleon had read about more than once, in a book about the Mideast that was a bestseller during the last years of the 18th century. To the point, Egypt is treated in the fourth volume of the famous Mémoires du Baron de Tott, sur les Turcs et les Tartares (Baron de Tott's memoranda on the Turks and the Tatars). There, French diplomat, soldier and turcologist, François de Tott discusses the rise of the Mameluke potentate Ali Bey (1785):
Ali Bey also knew that he could not govern Egypt peacefully without making Sheykh Daher the master of Damascus and of Syria as far as Gaza, which Ali Bey kept for himself. At the same time, he wanted to assure the independence of the Druze and of the [Shia Twelver] Mutualis, in order to make them his allies. It was only after erecting this impenetrable wall against Ottoman power that Ali Bey was secure enough to think about placing the crown of Egypt on his own head.
Accordingly, on March 20, 1799, Napoleon sent his aforementioned letters to the Emir of the Druze and to the Chief of the Motouâly. Written in the third person, Napoleon's own account of the Mideast campaign tells us about his cooperation with the Motouâly whom he estimated at only 5,000. Recalling late March 1799, he wrote (1819):
The Motouâly presented themselves [at the French camp near Acre] en masse—men, women, seniors, children, to the number of 900. Only 260 were armed, of whom half were mounted and the other half on foot. The general in chief dressed the three chiefs in ceremonial fur coats and restored to them the lands of their ancestors. Formerly, the Motouâly numbered 10,000. But Djezzar [Ahmet Cezzar Pasha] killed almost all of them.
In April 1799, the Motouâly were actively helping the French forces, far more than were the Druze and the Maronites. Moreover, the Motouâly promised to contribute 500 well-armed horsemen for Napoleon's march on Damascus, anticipated for May 1799.

Napoleon's history of the Mideast campaign also tells us that, during his 1799 siege of Acre (1819):
Christian, Jewish, and Muslim agents were dispatched to Damascus, to Aleppo, and even as far as the [two] Armenias. They reported back that the French army's presence in Syria was turning all heads. The general in chief received secret agents and very important communications from several provinces of Asia Minor.
In precisely this context, and around the same time, Napoleon dispatches a secret emissary to King George XII of Georgia. This characteristic initiative is described by the King's son, Prince David, who writes to the Armenian Archbishop Joseph Argun. A Russian translation of David's revealing letter is reproduced in А.А. Цагарели, Грамоты и другие исторические документы XVIII столетия относящиеся к Грузии (charters and other 18th-century historical documents about Georgia) Volume 2, Part 2, Saint Petersburg, 1902 (April 15, 1799):
The French General Bonaparte sent to my Sovereign Father a special envoy. Crossing the Turkish provinces as far as Akhaltsikhe, this emissary was discovered by the local [Ottoman] Pasha who understood his intentions. The Pasha hanged him and burned all his papers. Of course, you are more aware of the circumstances, but it is said that the French took many cities in Egypt and that they intend to spread their conquests further.
Petre Laradze was a Georgian artist, calligrapher and poet. On September 3, 1799, Laradze predicted that "Bonaparte within two months will capture Constantinople which will be of great benefit for us."

The April 20, 1799 letter which Napoleon addressed to the "Israelites" has been discussed. Similarly, we have already seen that, at the start of the siege of Acre, Napoleon sent secret agents to the two Armenias. Such emissaries likely carried handwritten or printed propaganda in Armenian characters, in either or both of Armenian and Armeno-Turkish. In 18th-century Italy, there was Armenian printing, at least in Venice and at the Officium de Propaganda Fide in Rome. The multilingual typeface of these Italian centers was a rare resource that Napoleon fully exploited for the Army of the East.

Eyewitness Nikula ibn Yusuf Al-Türki says Napoleon designated premises on Cairo's Ezbekiye square "for establishment of the printing press that he had brought from Rome, and with which he was able to print in all languages." Elsewhere, Nikula refers to "presses brought from Rome" and specifies printing in French, Latin, Syriac, and Arabic. However, we know that, in the Mideast, the French also printed in Ottoman-Turkish and Greek, and maybe found ways to get papers printed in other important Mideast languages like Hebrew and Armenian.

Whether in Egypt or Ottoman Syria, Napoleon always had some help from individual Armenians, such as his personal bodyguard Rustam Raza. Moreover, we have already seen some quotations from the contemporary European press that stubbornly claim that many Armenians were serving as soldiers for Napoleon, during the Mideast campaign. Significantly, Napoleon himself tells us that, several weeks after the battle near Mount Tabor (April 16, 1799), he received an Armenian delegation (circa 1819):
The battle of Mount Tabor had the result that one would expect: The Druze, the Maronites, the Christian populations of Syria, and several weeks later, representatives of the Christians of Armenia, were abundant in the French camp. By a secret treaty with the Druzes and the Maronites, it was agreed that the General-in-Chief would place on his payroll 6,000 Druze and 6,000 Maronites, commanded by their own officers who would join the French Army [for the attack] on Damascus.
During his May 1799 meeting with Armenian deputies (députés des Chrétiens d'Arménie), Napoleon must have described for them the homeland and freedom that Armenians would enjoy, after they helped defeat the Ottomans. During his Mideast campaign, the Armenian People placed great hopes in Napoleon. Armenians made sure to aid him in various ways. For example, an Armenian banker, Eghiazara Mihra Aguentsi, was intermediary between the central administration and local governments in Egypt. According to Nikula ibn Yusuf Al-Türki, Napoleon named as Ağa of the janissaries, "the Muslim" Mehmet Kethüda, who was an Armenian by birth. Armenians also cared for sick French soldiers in Jaffa. And, Armenians generously shared with Napoleon current information, from their far-flung intelligence networks.

The Russian Emperor Paul was in 1798 completely credible in saying that Napoleon aimed at establishing the Еврейская Республика, the "Jewish Republic," to be based in Jerusalem. Such plans for the Jews were entirely consistent with Napoleon's intentions for the other Peoples of the Ottoman Near and Mideast. Moreover, we have already seen that the utility for France of Jewish restoration in the Holy Land was also understood in 1798-9 by Pierre-Louis Roederer, Thomas Corbet, and the anonymous author of Lettre d'un Juif.

Complementary inspiration came from British colonial practice. As a young man, Napoleon was always interested in learning more about 18th-century India. He described British methods and predicted (1793) their growing success there. The British indirectly ruled large Indian populations, via a series of partner jurisdictions. Thus, revolutionaries easily imagined that France could, if necessary, replace the Sunnite Ottomans, just as the British had inserted themselves in India, at the expense of the Sunnite Mughals. If so, a "regenerated" Near and Mideast could be indirectly ruled by the Revolutionary French Republic, in partnership with a series of satellite republics.

Polymath Eloi Johanneau sent the editor of Le Moniteur, a long letter, in which he pertinently pointed to Ottoman Anatolia as a future revolutionary republic, la République Gallo-grecque. He described the worldwide role of "la Grande-Nation" as the mère-Patrie (mother country) of all the current and future sister republics. His expansive list of imminent republics also included Ireland (République hibernienne), Scotland (République calédonienne), and even dangerous England (République d'Albion). Referring to revolutionary republics everywhere, Johanneau argued (April 9, 1798): "They ought to link their destiny with ours, imitate the mother country, and make common cause with her; and thus we will justify the title of Grande-Nation which, in fact, belongs to us."

This satellite formula follows Napoleon's 1797 understanding. Le Moniteur (August 8), the Journal de Paris (August 9), La Clef du Cabinet des Souverains (August 9), and the Journal de Francfort (August 14) are among the 1797 newspapers that highlight both his July 30th letter to the Maniote chieftain and his companion August 1st letter to the Directory. For Napoleon and his contemporaries, the Maniotes are prestigious as descendants of the ancient Spartans. Also referring to la grande nation, Napoleon tells the Directory that the Maniotes wish "to be useful to the great people (le grand peuple) in some way."

Writing to the Maniote leader, Napoleon acknowledges the chieftain's "desire to see French ships in his port, and to be of some use to the brave French soldiers of the Army of Italy." Napoleon assures the chieftain that "the French esteem the little, but brave, Maniote people (le petit, mais brave peuple maniote), who alone from ancient Greece, knew how to preserve its liberty."

If these few Maniote descendants of ancient Sparta merit homeland, self-rule, and a vassal relationship with la grande nation, why not Georgians, Armenians, Druze, Maronites, Shia Twelvers, and Jews? Like the Maniotes, Jews were also one of the subject Peoples of the Ottoman Empire. Make no mistake! From 1796 to 1799, Napoleon and the Revolutionary French Republic did not discriminate against Jews, Judaism, and the Jewish People. Rather, almost everywhere outside the Mideast, French revolutionaries fiercely discriminated against Catholics and the Roman-Catholic Church.

Exactly such satellite status for Jews is specified in Lettre d'un Juif which is perhaps from Napoleon's pen. This "grande nation" ideology is also the larger context for references by: Ahmet Cevdet Pasha to "establishing a Jewish government in Jerusalem" (قدس شريفده بر يهود حكومتى تشكيل); the Emperor Paul to Bonaparte's "Jewish Republic" (Еврейская Республика); and Mallet du Pan to the revolutionary plan to recreate the "Hebrew Republic" (République hébraïque).





Napoleon points to a canal from Suez to the Nile.
Print from Bonaparte in Cairo (Bonaparte au Caire)
published in Paris in late 1798 or the start of 1799.



Cut the Isthmus of Suez!

Clearly, there were global stakes, because Napoleon always wanted to restore the ancient canal across the Isthmus of Suez, which is mentioned by Herodotus and some other Classical Greek and Roman writers. The canal of antiquity features four times in Napoleon's youthful notebooks. He also read about the historic canal in two 1780s bestsellers about the Mideast. First are the 1784-5 works of the aforementioned François de Tott. Second are two volumes by Constantine Volney, about his 1783-5 travels in Egypt and Syria (1787).

Napoleon certainly knew from de Tott's famous writings that, during the Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774), the Ottoman Sultan Mustafa III had ordered de Tott to prepare a proposal for digging a ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez. De Tott wrote that the Sultan intended to dig this canal when peace returned. Unfortunately, Mustafa died too soon (January 1774) to realize this ambition.

The words "Isthmus of Suez" appear in General Desaix's diary (September 1797) in one of the entries noting Napoleon's conversations about a potential Egyptian campaign. This clearly means that Napoleon then revealed to Desaix an intention to dig a ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez. This hydro-scheme had stubbornly figured in French strategic thinking about Egypt, across the entire 18th century—the central part of the golden age of canal construction in Europe. During 1797, Napoleon's rising interest in seizing Egypt and building a ship canal across the isthmus was likely first stimulus for his 1797-8 propaganda aimed at the Jews of the Ottoman Empire.

Weighty evidence are the 21,345 iron digging tools (pickaxe-hoes, rock-picks, shovels, and axes) that Napoleon shipped from Europe to Alexandria. This astonishing statistic is drawn from volume one of the authoritative L'Expédition d'Égypte, 1798-1801 (Paris, 1899) by Clément de La Jonquière. Napoleon also took along almost 600,000 empty sandbags, perhaps partly because Volney had written that blowing sand quickly filled the ancient canals. This total of more than twenty-one thousand digging tools significantly dovetails with the thinking of Napoleon's chief civil engineer. Jacques-Marie Le Père calculated that cutting a ship canal via the direct route would take ten thousand workers four years.

Studying the topic of such earth-moving tools (outils de pionnier), we learn that 18th-century French armies, whether Royal or Revolutionary, normally did not carry anything like the 21,345 shovels, pickaxe-hoes, rock-picks, and axes that Napoleon brought to Egypt to dig a ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez. For example, François de Tott's 1779 secret plans for French conquest of Egypt and digging a barge canal, from the Nile to the Red Sea at Suez, recommended that the expeditionary force be equipped with two thousand picks and six thousand iron shovels. Furthermore, to dig the ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez, the 1798 Army of the East was accompanied by nineteen civil engineers, and sixteen surveyors and cartographers. It is no accident that these 35 technicians formed the single largest contingent of Napoleon's famous Commission on the Sciences and the Arts.

"Cut the Isthmus of Suez" (couper l'isthme de Suez) is the clear command in the Directory's terse, secret instructions for the General-in-Chief of the Army of the East. This means actually digging the ship canal, as is clear from the preamble (April 12, 1798):
By infamous treason, England has made herself the mistress of the Cape of Good Hope. This makes it very difficult for the ships of the Republic to reach the Indies by the usual route. Thus, it is necessary to open for the Republican forces another route to arrive there.

Contemporary Paris speculation about the purpose of the "secret expedition" immediately includes the possibility of digging a ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez. For example, twenty-two year old civil engineer, Jean-Baptise Prosper Jollois, writes to this father (April 10, 1798):
I forgot that I have yet to tell you that politicians claim that it is a question of cutting the isthmus of Suez (couper l'isthme de Suez), in order to establish a communication between the Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. But, putting aside all these conjectures, and coming straight to the point, I am part of this expedition.
According to Le Moniteur, Gaspard Monge and eighteen other scholars are also "part of the great expedition that is being prepared" (April 12, 1798):
The instruments that are to serve them already left Paris yesterday morning. The one says that they are going to Egypt; the other that they are going to India; a third adds that they are going to cut the Isthmus of Suez (percer l'isthme de Suez). The fact is that one gets lost in conjectures, and cannot do any better, as long as the government carefully guards its secret.

France's politics and press were carefully watched by British spies abroad and by UK officialdom at home. Though debate persisted as to the Toulon fleet's destination, some astute London observers started discussing the danger of a French plan to seize Egypt and build a ship canal across the Isthmus. The Secretary of State for War, Henry Dundas, was early focused on Egypt. By contrast, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Grenville, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, Earl Spencer, needed almost two months more to become confident that Napoleon was really aiming at Alexandria. At 3 o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon, Dundas wrote to Earl Spencer (April 17, 1798):
If any great European Power shall ever get possession of that country, the keeping it will cost them nothing, and that country so getting possession of Egypt will in my opinion be possessed of the master key to all the commerce of the world.
In the last years of the 18th century, the name François de Tott is tied to the futuristic topic of cutting a barge canal joining the Nile River to the Red Sea. This is the light in which we have to evaluate the reference to "Monsieur de Tott" in the anonymous memorandum on the "Importance of Egypt to the French," which Earl Spencer sends to Dundas. This document specifically points to the survey of the Isthmus of Suez executed for France, during the 1777 secret mission led by the Baron de Tott (April 20, 1798):
The probability of the French taking possession of Egypt, naturally leads us, as a great commercial nation, to consider the question of the probability, as well as the consequences that may arise from the accomplishment of such an undertaking. I believe it will be generally admitted, that the possession of Egypt has been a long time an object of French politics; the sending of Monsieur de Tott to survey the levels and roads practicable across the Isthmus of Suez remains as full proof of such a design.
Eager to raise British awareness of the great strategic importance of Egypt, Dundas perhaps pushed The Times to publish an article entitled, "French Expedition to Egypt" (April 24, 1798):
It seems that General Buonaparte is to be the hero who is intended by the Directory as the Conqueror of the East, whither it is now generally thought by the best informed persons that the French expedition to the South is directed, proceeding by the route of Egypt. Innumerable as are the difficulties in the way of this expedition, it is generally believed that it will at least be attempted; and the Directory will thus get rid of a General, who is too great not to be an object of their envy and their dread; and at the same time find an export for many thousand vagabonds who are too numerous and troublesome to remain inactive in France.
The rest of this article in The Times is a résumé of a long and significant speech, delivered in the lower house of the French legislature (April 12, 1798). Two numbers of Le Moniteur (April 19 and 20) are perhaps the Paris source. In any event, five days, inclusive of printing at either end, suffice for publication in London of news drawn from a Paris newspaper. The speaker is Joseph Eschassériaux (1753-1824). He is most significantly the son-in-law of Monge, who is Napoleon's close confidant. Later, Eschassériaux is an enthusiastic supporter and beneficiary of Napoleon's 1799 coup d'état.

Napoleon likely prompted Eschassériaux to speak out, about Egypt in general and about the ship canal project, in particular. Can it be mere coincidence? Eschassériaux addresses the Chamber, on the very day that the Directory secretly creates the Army of the East and issues Napoleon the top-secret instructions for seizing Egypt and building a ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez. Eschassériaux does not refer specifically to Jews, and only implicitly points to Ottoman Syria. But, Eschassériaux's powerful presentation is nonetheless an important part of Napoleon's propaganda to prepare the public for France's imminent move in the Mideast. Thus, Eschassériaux's much neglected speech deserves to be carefully studied, alongside Le Breton's article and Lettre d'un Juif. 

The Times sees through the smokescreen sent up by Eschassériaux's wide-ranging talk about geography, revolutionary ethics, and the pros and cons of colonial acquisition. The Times notes that Eschassériaux states "openly the grounds upon which the French Government are to seize on the land of Egypt."

Eschassériaux is directly quoted on the subject of digging canals. He is razor sharp in advocating the execution of two distinct Egyptian projects. The first is a ship canal between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. The second is a shallower, barge canal from the Red Sea to the River Nile. The initial stretch between Suez and the Bitter Lakes would be common to the two waterways (April 24, 1798):
These two great projects wait, perhaps for the genius of Frenchmen to be realized. One is, the junction of the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, by the Isthmus of Suez, one of the most vast ideas formed by the ancients, but which they did not dare to execute. The other is, the reconfection of the [barge] canal, which in the time of Sesostris carried to the mouths of the Nile the merchandise of the Indies, transported by the Arabian Gulf.
A barge canal cut from Suez (via the Bitter Lakes) to the River Nile would have great utility for Egypt's internal communications; and also for the off-loading and trans-shipment of Europe-bound cargo from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean coast. But, the Nile's shallow water decreed that this river route would never be able to accommodate large merchantmen and ships-of-the-line.

Thus, cutting a shorter and deeper ship canal all the way from Suez (via the Bitter Lakes) to the Mediterranean Sea would be far more efficient for international trade and key for maritime stategy. A genuine ship canal along this direct route was the only option with revolutionary implications for global naval power. Accordingly, the specter of a waterway for seagoing ships across the Isthmus of Suez haunted the British imagination. London greatly feared the potential of a French ship canal, directly joining the Red Sea with the Mediterranean.

The London Chronicle also prints a long résumé of Eschassériaux's speech, and concludes with the news (April 26-28, 1798): "Ten scientific men are employed in the important expedition which is preparing. Their books and instruments have already been sent off from Paris." Moreover, The London Chronicle stays with the ship canal story (May 8-10, 1798):
Private accounts from France state, that the Directory certainly mean to carry into effect their plan of cutting a canal through the Isthmus of Suez, about sixty miles into the Red Sea, by which the voyage to the East Indies will be shortened very near three months.
Alexander Dalrymple was a long-time British East India Company hydrographer who ultimately also served the Royal Navy. From his respected London pen, the Admiralty receives a long memorandum (May 16, 1798) vigorously warning about the real possibility that the French intend to seize Egypt in order to cut a ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez. Dalrymple underlines that digging such an isthmus ship channel is indeed technically feasible. The Royal Navy follows his advice to send warships to police the Red Sea.

The British Foreign Office also understands the potential of a secret plan to seize Egypt and build a ship canal across the isthmus. This is confirmed by George Canning's humorous "conjectures" on the peace terms which the French delegates had submitted (May 3, 1798) at the Rastadt negotiations. Canning asks about the motives behind France's demand for freedom of navigation on Germany's rivers, including the Danube. Thus, satire in The Anti-Jacobin portrays the plan to dig the ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez as a "gigantic and extravagant speculation" (May 28, 1798):
Paris is to be converted into a seaport, and the commerce of India to be navigated through the Isthmus of Suez... They may expect to establish throughout Europe a system of internal navigation, which shall rival and ruin the commerce of Great Britain—to bring the merchandise of the East through their projected communication to the mouths of the Danube, and from thence to the sources of the Rhine. 
Canning's later parody of a Napoleon letter to the Directory also reveals familiarity with the secret plan to seize Egypt and dig a ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez. This point is evident from the imagined words that The Anti-Jacobin puts into the mouth of Napoleon (June 25, 1798): "In the course of the next Decade [ten days] I shall sail to the canal which is now cutting across the Isthmus of Suez." On June 28, 1798, The True Britain reprints, as authentic foreign intelligence, Canning's satirical letter parodying Napoleon.

Thus, it is credible that Napoleon's intention to seize Egypt and build the ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez is also penetrated by the Russian Emperor Paul, as indicated in the following St. Petersburg story. This item appears in The St. James's Chronicle (August 11) and then in Bell's Weekly Messenger (August 12). These London reports likely originate in Paris, because virtually the same story is earlier printed in Le Publiciste (August 1), where it is a verbatim copy from Le Propagateur (July 30, 1798):
Petersburg, 2 messidor [June 20, 1798]. — [The Russian Emperor] Paul I seeks to distinguish himself by some great enterprise. He heard it said that Bonaparte intends to cut the Isthmus of Suez to join the Red Sea with the Mediterranean: suddenly he [Paul] thought about joining the Black and Baltic Seas. Already under construction are the [Russian] canals necessary for the realization of this ambitious project... 

In Floréal, Year VI (April 20-May 19, 1798), the Journal de physique, de chimie et d'histoire naturelle (journal of physics, chemistry and natural history) prints an anonymous five-page article. The title is "Note d'un artiste, sur la jonction de la Mer Rouge à la Méditerranée" (notes of an artist on the junction of the Red Sea to the Mediterranean). This Paris publication prompts The True Britain to publish English-language extracts headlined, "Junction of the Red Sea with the Mediterranean." The True Britain writes its own introduction that points to Napoleon's Egyptian expedition which is not mentioned in the original French-language article (October 1, 1798):
Among the objects for which the Expedition of Buonaparte is supposed by some at Paris to have been undertaken, is that of forming a junction between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. The Commercial advantages that France would derive from such a measure being carried into effect, have favoured the opinion, and the Philosophers of the Republic have employed themselves in endeavouring to prove its practicability. The following observations on the subject are extracted from the Journal de Physique, a periodical French Publication.
In a similar vein, The London Chronicle reports (October 16-18, 1798):
Letters from Naples [September 18, 1798] state, that the French engineers who accompanied Buonaparte to Egypt, had already made preparations for uniting the Red Sea and the Mediterranean: — eight thousand men will be employed in digging the canal which is to form the communication.
This news about eight thousand men digging a ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez is soon echoed in The Observer (October 21, 1798):
The French papers state, that Buonaparte had employed 8000 men under the direction of skillful engineers, to open a canal across the Isthmus of Suez, for the purpose of connecting the Red Sea with the Mediterranean.

Pursuant to the Directory's precise order "to cut the Isthmus of Suez," Napoleon twice personally explored the desert to find the remains of the ancient canal leading from the Red Sea to the Bitter Lakes. From Bilbeis, he reported his initial success to the Muslim Divan in Cairo. Perhaps for readily understandable political and economic reasons, he discreetly chose to conceal his plan for the ship canal going straight to the Mediterranean. Thus, he limited his remarks to a description of a barge canal from the Red Sea to the River Nile (January 2, 1799):
At the present moment, I am arranging for the operations necessary to determine the place through which to make waters flow to join the Nile River with the Red Sea. This communication formerly existed, because I found traces of it in several places.
From his Cairo headquarters, he wrote to the Directory (February 10, 1799): "By the first courier, I will send you the data setting out the elevations above sea-level for the Suez Canal (le nivellement du canal de Suez), the vestiges of which are perfectly preserved."

Shortly before the Paris coup that established the Consulate, Napoleon went with Monge and Claude-Louis Berthollet to the Institut National for an October 27th session about the antiquities of Egypt. According to the Allgemeine Zeiting (November 14, 1799):
They say that the remains of the ancient Suez Canal that united the Red and Mediterranean Seas, are so significant, that they [Napoleon and Monge] can guarantee that the restoration work would not cost more than a million and a half francs.
Also present was Lucien Bonaparte who recalled the words of his brother Napoleon, at this October 27th meeting of the Institut National (first published 1888):
He assured that still visible are the remains of the Suez Canal which joined the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and that it was very possible to rebuild it. He predicted early arrival in Paris of the plans and nivellements necessary for this great work. He said he had arranged for these designs and surveys to be done with great care and attention to detail. Monge and Berthollet added their observations to those of their colleague.

With French soldiers still in Egypt and Napoleon ruling France as First Consul, he proposes to the legislature a bill lauding the achievements of the Army of the East (January 9, 1801): "Lepeyre [Jacques-Marie Le Père] rediscovers the system of canals that fertilized Egypt, and this Suez Canal which will unite the trade of Europe with the trade of Asia."

Still trying to get the Emperor Paul's support for France's permanent retention of Egypt, Napoleon writes (February 27, 1801): "Already surveyed [by Le Père] is the Suez Canal which would join the Indian and Mediterranean Seas. It is an easy project of short duration that could produce incalculable benefits for Russian trade."


Sea change with loss of Egypt 

As long as France holds Egypt, Napoleon persistently trumpets the idea of soon starting to dig a ship canal from Suez, via the Bitter Lakes, straight through to the Mediterranean. "Les bâtiments alors, sans rompre charge, iraient de Marseille aux Indes" (then, without offloading, ships will go from Marseilles to the Indies). In 1819, this is Napoleon's unequivocal description of the effect of a genuine ship canal cut directly across the Isthmus of Suez.

But, after the Anglo-Ottoman conquest of Egypt (August 1801), it newly serves his personal and political interests to publicly encourage skepticism about digging a ship canal, directly across the Isthmus of Suez. Via Le Père's published report, Napoleon starts spreading such doubts, even though he knows that this direct route, if circa 8 meters deep, would be the only option guaranteeing merchantmen the voyage to and from India, without offloading (la rupture de charge).

Moreover, after the French departure from Egypt, Napoleon starts sowing these doubts about the direct route across the isthmus, exactly because it is the only option for a canal, able to accommodate large warships, i.e. ships-of-the-line. Even a great warship the size of l'Orient could have transited, if significantly lightened by temporary removal of some or all of its 120 guns. According to Vice-Admiral François Paul Brueys, l'Orient could carefully pass with as little as two French feet (.6496 m) of water under its keel.

Probably encouraged by Napoleon, Le Père adopts as his "canal building" requirement, the false premise of an anonymous European Power first taking Egypt as a colony. We know this precondition to be untrue. In the 1860s, the Suez Canal was constructed with the consent and cooperation of both the Ottoman Sultan and his local Viceroy, the Khedive.

Le Père recommends a barge canal following the Nile route, through the heart of Egypt's population. This bad political advice would surely create more friction with Muslims than would a ship canal, crossing the lightly populated area, from Suez to the Mediterranean Sea. In this way too, Napoleon is using Le Père to further discourage France's rivals. Napoleon knows that such a barge canal would not be attractive. He also wants his competitors to fear the political downside of struggling with a turbulent Muslim population, as was the French experience from 1798 to 1801.


Differential sea levels an improbable excuse

The strategic ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez was never built by the Army of the East, before Egypt was conquered by the British and the Ottomans in August 1801. Now, with no ship canal to show for his great Mideast effort, Napoleon was eager to get some necessary political cover. The most convenient refuge was the mistaken Classical notion that the level of the Red Sea was astonishingly higher than that of the Mediterranean.

A more than thirty-foot differential was the peculiar result that suspiciously found its way into the strangely flawed final report, about the survey of the Isthmus of Suez. Napoleon's own 1819 account of the Egyptian campaign refers to the concern that the "Nile Valley would be flooded" by the salt water of the Red Sea. However, this alleged danger was likely nothing more than a ruse and a convenient excuse. France no longer holding Egypt, it made political sense for Le Père's report to publicly champion shallower barge routes from the River Nile to the Red Sea. These could never accommodate large seagoing vessels, whether merchantmen or ships-of-the-line.

The overall nivellement was calculated by Jacques-Marie Le Père—likely not in Egypt—but probably only after his return to France. Édouard de Villiers du Terrage was a nineteen-year-old civil engineer who also did field work on the Le Père survey. According to de Villier's memoirs (first published 1899): "Once the operations were finished, all our notebooks were returned to Le Père. With the help of his brother [Gratien], he took on the task of coordinating all the results." Also a civil engineer with the Commission on the Sciences and the Arts, Gratien Le Père had been Napoleon's classmate at the Brienne Military Academy (1779-1784). There is an air of impropriety attached to entrusting a great public responsibility to the unsupervised activity of close family members—namely, the two brothers Le Père.

Jacques-Marie Le Père gave Napoleon the report in draft in 1802. If he followed his usual practice, Napoleon perhaps asked for some politically motivated changes. Did he secretly order Le Père to fake some of the nivellement figures in order to bury the ship canal option and tout non-strategic barge routes via the River Nile? Some thirty years later, Khedival Egypt's Chief Engineer, Louis Linant Pasha carefully reviewed Le Père's work, including via new surveys on the ground. Suspecting problems with Le Père's overall calculations, Linant Pasha said that, ideally, there had to be re-examination of the original field notebooks of 1799.

Moreover, Linant Pasha bluntly dismissed the pertinence of the alleged divergent sea levels. He presented hydrology calculations showing that, even on the basis of Le Père's wildly mistaken findings, there was still no valid engineering reason to abandon the shorter, ship canal route across the Isthmus of Suez (1872-3): “On voit donc que toute crainte était puérile, même en admettant la différence de niveau présumée entre les deux mers” (therefore, it is established that naive was any fear resulting from the presumed differential between the level of the two seas).

A politically convenient, final version of Le Père's report reached Napoleon in August 1803. It was printed for limited circulation in 1807, the same year he burned so many of his Mideast papers. As a separate work, it was published more widely in 1815. In 1809 and 1821, it also featured as part of the multi-volume Description de l'Égypte. Le Père's report is over 200 pages in length. Is it purposely opaque? I think that it is intentionally designed to confuse. While strangely chock-full of patently irrelevant information, it avoids clearly setting out the pros and cons of the various potential routes. By contrast, it powerfully distracts the reader with meticulously presented toponyms in Arabic script, and long, pointless discussions of various ancient canals. This report is a political "con job."  

Probably prepared during the first Bourbon restoration (1814-1815), the 1815 version displays a (hitherto secret) 1802 French military map of Egypt. Also included is a new testimonial lauding the accuracy of Le Père's survey, from eminent colleagues at the Corps Royal des Ponts et Chaussées (royal corps of bridges and roads). This praise for Le Père's work was even formally read out at the Institut National on January 23, 1815. What is the motive for this professional endorsement?

Jacques-Marie Le Père sought support from his fellow civil engineers, partly to protect his personal reputation, and perhaps partly to loyally conceal a secret, political stratagem. The trick was likely the intentional perversion in France of the nivellement of the route for a ship canal straight across the Isthmus of Suez. If so, the gambit had been secretly ordered by Napoleon. Such deception greatly served his own personal ends, but also the vital interests of France, which had already lost Egypt in August 1801. From either perspective, the aim of certification by the Corps Royal des Ponts et Chaussées was to counter growing scientific scorn for the archaic notion of widely differential sea levels, egregiously affirmed in Le Père's report.

This "differential" story covered for Napoleon's stunning failure to build the required ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez. But, this unlikely tale about the higher waters of the Red Sea was also clever Realpolitik disinformation. The probable aim was to powerfully discourage one or more of France's rivals from digging their own strategic ship canal, across the Isthmus of Suez. Better than anyone else, Napoleon understood that such a ship canal would offer France's opponents enormous naval advantage, including in the Mediterranean.

Were such highly differential sea levels still credible at the turn of the century? Not according to France's greatest scientists. Pierre-Simon Laplace and Joseph Fourier were famous mathematicians and physicists. Both Fourier and Laplace knew Napoleon for many years. From time to time, they had the opportunity to debate with him directly. Laplace and Fourier believed in the theory of the "equilibrium of the seas." Their understanding of sea levels solidly rested on Newtonian principles. To the point, consider the weighty judgment of Ferdinand de Lesseps, who eventually built the ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez. In 1885, he significantly wrote: "The genius of Laplace, based on his justified theoretical views, had formally denied the possibility of such a depression at a distance of scarcely thirty leagues."

Fourier served on the Commission on the Sciences and the Arts throughout the Egyptian campaign (1798-1801). Moreover, he was permanent secretary of the Cairo learned society, the Institut d'Égypte. As such, he knew about the many scientific and technical questions that arose for the soldiers, sailors, scientists, surveyors, and civil engineers there. Thus, we have to be impressed that doubt about differential sea-levels features discreetly in his 1809 préface historique to the Description de l'Égypte. A draft of this préface historique was vetted by Napoleon himself. Though he required several small changes for political reasons, Napoleon did not amend the paragraph, where Fourier tactfully declines to certify the accuracy of Le Père's improbable finding of highly differential sea levels (1809):
Of all the enterprises which the Egyptian occupation can realize, one of the most important is the project of joining the Arabian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea by a canal de navigation. This is a longtime, famous question which today has perhaps been fully settled. In fact, whatever the respective level of the two seas and whatever opinion one holds about works to this same end, executed at other times, it will be easy for European engineers to establish and maintain this communication.
By contrast, Napoleon peculiarly persisted in promoting Le Père's bizarre calculations as accurate. For example, written on Saint Helena around 1819, Napoleon's own account of his Mideast campaign twice affirms such a radical differential: "At Suez, the Red Sea lifts itself up, at springtides (vives eaux) 30 feet, 6 inches, higher than the waters of the Mediterranean at Pelusium." This is curious, because Napoleon was supremely intelligent and scientifically astute. Did he see some personal and political advantage in touting the patently obsolete notion of differential sea levels? Otherwise, he had every reason to be skeptical of Le Père's strange findings.

To the point, Napoleon had to have known about the theory of the equilibrium of the seas. For instance, there was the 17th-century classic Hydrographie by René Déscartes's teacher. Georges Fournier was simultaneously a Jesuit priest, geographer and mathematician. Describing stillborn efforts to dig the Suez Canal by the ancients, and "in our times" by the Ottoman Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, Fournier wrote (1643):
A vain fear held back some of them, because they were persuaded that digging the canal would cause the flooding of all Egypt. At that time, their reason was that they estimated the Red Sea to be higher than the Mediterranean. And in this respect, they gravely erred: because these two seas already have reciprocal communication through the Ocean Sea via the Strait of Gibraltar and via Mecca (la Megue) opposite Cape Gardafu [the tip of the Horn of Africa], dubbed by the ancients Promontorium Aromata. Therefore, it is impossible that the one sea be higher than the other. [...] It is necessary that all waters, which are in mutual communication, be of the same height and level. Therefore, it was a panic of terror (une terreur Panique) to believe that Egypt would be submerged, given that there is no part of Egypt where the surface is lower than the surface of the sea.
Napoleon had at least twice read the Baron de Tott's opinion denying that the Red Sea could be higher than the land of Egypt. Referring to ancient attempts to cut a canal from the Pelusiac Gulf to the Red Sea, François de Tott specified (1784):
Darius, King of Persia, continued to work on it. But, he stopped the effort pursuant to the advice of several engineers who told him that, in cutting the land, he would inundate Egypt which they thought to be lower than the Red Sea. [...] In fact, nothing can justify the fears of the engineers of Darius, even if they had taken their measurements (nivellement) at the time of the highest tides.
Differential sea levels are also judged to be "improbable" (pas vraisemblable) in the aforementioned April-May 1798 article in the Journal de physique. This refuses "to lend credence to the habitual superiority which the Red Sea is alleged to have over the Mediterranean."

Strong rejection of the theory of differential sea levels also appeared in a newly published book, first advertised in Le Moniteur on September 2, 1798. The author is foreign affairs commentator Victor Delpuech de Comeiras. The title is Considérations sur la possibilité, l'intérêt et les moyens qu'auroit la France de rouvrir l'ancienne route du commerce de l'Inde: accompagnés de recherches sur l'isthme de Suès, et sur la jonction de la Mer-Rouge à la Méditerranée (considerations on the possibility, interest and means that France would have to reopen the ancient commercial route to India, accompanied by research on the Isthmus of Suez, and on the junction of the Red and Mediterranean Seas).

Comeiras seriatim refutes arguments supporting the peculiar notion that the waters of the Red Sea might be way higher than those of the Mediterranean. He does not see how a sea-level ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez would be any different from the Strait of Gibraltar. He also enthusiastically offers policy support for the idea that France ought to cut such a canal across the isthmus. The book says nothing about Napoleon's Mideast campaign. Nonetheless, because of its content and timing, we have to ask: Was this Comeiras effort also an integral part of the 1798 propaganda, designed to enhance public understanding of the purpose of France's bold Egyptian expedition?

The prevailing scientific view is also expressed in a revealing passage that presumes early knowledge of the official, secret plan to dig a canal across the Isthmus of Suez. The pertinent paragraphs appear in an address on the History of Astronomy for the Year VI (1798). This is delivered at the Collège de France on November 19, 1798, by Joseph Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande, for 46 years the astronomy professor there. His speech is printed in volume five of the 1799 Magasin encyclopédique ou Journal des sciences, des lettres et des arts (encyclopedic magazine or journal of sciences, litterature and the arts):
An important and celebrated voyage has raised new hopes for astronomy and geography. On 26 ventôse (16th March) the government sought astronomers and selected instruments for a secret trip: we soon learned that it was to be commanded by the famous general Bonaparte. I could do no other than to nominate citizens [Nicolas-Antoine] Nouet, [François-Marie] Quénot and [Jérôme Isaac] Méchain, junior. They lent themselves to this fine enterprise. They set out on 5 floréal (24th April). They got on board on May 10th. They disembarked in Egypt on 14 messidor (July 2nd). I am certain that this voyage will be of utility to geography and even to astronomy. I wrote to all the astronomers of Europe to alert them to cooperate by observations corresponding with those that would be made by the astronomers of this expedition. [...] I made sure to tell our own astronomers that I do not believe the oft-repeated story that there is a great difference between the levels of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
In the same vein is a very long, expert, front-page article in the Allgemeine Zeitung. The title is, "Über die Vereinigung des rothen Meeres mit dem mittleländischen" (on the junction of the Red Sea with the Mediterranean). There, anonymous correctly pronounces (December 3, 1798): "Daß die Fläche des rothen Meers höher seyn solle, als die des mittelländischen, ist unwahrscheinlich, und kann nicht angenommen werden" (that the level of the Red Sea is higher than that of the Mediterranean is improbable, and cannot be accepted).


What happened to Napoleon's shovels? 

Were most of Napoleon's digging tools shipped from France aboard the transports able to enter the shallow entrance to the Old Port of Alexandria? Or, were most of those tools carried by the ships-of-the-line that had to anchor in Aboukir Bay? If the latter, Napoleon's failure to follow the Directory's explicit orders to build the ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez was perhaps due to the possibility that the bulk of his outils de pionnier was lost when Nelson sank the French warships (August 1-2, 1798).

Conjecture about the loss of most of Napoleon's iron tools is supported by his exculpatory report to the Directory. After the fact, he probably lies to shift blame to the fleet commander, Vice-Admiral Brueys, who had been killed in the sea battle. To the point, Napoleon suspiciously claims that, on July 6th, he had ordered "the admiral" to bring his warships into the Old Port of Alexandria within twenty-four hours (August 19, 1798):
And, if his squadron could not enter there, to promptly unload all the artillery and other property belonging to the land army, and to sail to Corfu (et, si son escadre ne pouvait pas y entrer, de décharger promptement toute l'artillerie et tous les effets appartenant à l'armée de terre, et de se rendre à Corfou).
Napoleon's August 19th account about his alleged July 6th order is often rejected by historians. Sailing to Corfu was never at issue. Such a voyage was impossible. The French fleet was critically short of food, water, firewood, and crew. The likely truth is that Napoleon always wanted to keep the fleet close by. Moreover, Napoleon already knew that Brueys believed that the entrance to the Old Port was too shallow to permit safe entry by ships-of-the-line. Brueys had already told Napoleon so in a letter of July 3rd. Therein, Brueys wrote that he would first anchor in Aboukir Bay, and then use light djermes and avisos to send to Alexandria the "artillery and other objects" still aboard his warships. Brueys likely reiterated all this information directly to Napoleon, during their last face-to-face meeting in Alexandria on July 4th.

Whatever the truth about his alleged July 6th orders to Brueys, Napoleon's August 19th report testifies to his belief that the French warships still had, on board, important items yet to be brought ashore. For example, underwater archaeologists confirm that some of the famous Malta treasure and a printing press were lost along with the French battle fleet. But, a Brueys letter to the Minister of the Marine can perhaps be read as contrary testimony. Therein, Brueys claims that, no later than July 7th, he had already (July 9, 1798): "disembarked all the soldiers and the property belonging to the land army" (je débarquai toutes les troupes et les effets appartenant à l'armée de terre). Perhaps Brueys knew that the shovels were not immediately needed and—in any event—pertained, not to the army, but rather to the civil engineers of the Commission on the Sciences and the Arts. 

Were other valuable items left aboard Napoleon's ships, after the early July "débarquement général"? After the crushing defeat in Aboukir Bay, strengthening the batteries overlooking Alexandria's two harbors became urgent. This comes from an account by an eyewitness, the architect Charles Norry. Back in Paris in late 1798, he writes that, after the naval disaster (August 1-2), the city commandant, General Jean-Baptiste Kléber feared an early British attack. Therefore, he unloaded cannon from ships in the Old Port, and hauled them up to the heights, in order to better defend Alexandria.

Thus, it is possible that, like some other key equipment and cargo, most of the outils de pionnier had yet to be unloaded. Throughout July 1798, most of the axes, shovels and picks perhaps remained iron ballast for the warships riding at anchor in Aboukir Bay. This hypothesis explains why Napoleon's documents attest that, in 1798-9, the Army of the East was sometimes short of shovels.

Before the end of 1801, the French troops were repatriated, mostly aboard British ships. Written around 1819, Napoleon's own account of the Egyptian campaign says so much about projected Suez canals, but not a word about his 21,345 shovels, picks, and axes. He also hides the fact that he had been explicitly ordered to actually dig a ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez, rather than undertake some feasibility studies here and there.

From Cairo, Napoleon wrote to the Directory (September 8, 1798): "Master of Egypt, France will in the long run be master of the Indies" (Maîtresse de l'Égypte, la France sera à la longue maîtresse des Indes). But, soon starting to dig a ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez was the immediate political, economic, and military purpose for launching the Mideast campaign. This bold attack was virtually pointless without completing the isthmus project. The geostrategic motive was to use the ship canal across the isthmus to strike a lethal blow against England's naval dominance, global commerce, and Indian empire.

A cover up was necessary because Napoleon never managed to dig the ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez, and France had to leave Egypt (August 1801). Thus, he always took great pains to avoid signaling that he had spectacularly failed to do that which had been specifically required of him. All too common were his forgeries, exculpatory omissions, dissimulations, and destructions of documents. Such disinformation was especially true in relation to his failed Mideast adventure.

Subsequent spin and concealment ought not to distract. To his great credit is the large extent to which his vast plans were really revolutionary, bold and creative. He was a strategic genius. Building the ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez and restoring the Jews are two good examples. Both were part of Napoleon's innovative agenda, well before he sailed from Toulon to Alexandria. Furthermore, the "Jewish" and "ship canal" initiatives were strategically related, as suggested by Lettre d'un Juif and Napoleon's own history of the Mideast campaign.


Britain copied Napoleon's canal strategy

After ten years' construction by Frenchmen and others, the ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez was finally opened in 1869. It is a waterway across the direct route, completely at sea level, without need for locks. Great Britain eventually imitated Napoleon's geostrategic perspective on the Suez Canal, Egypt, Palestine, and the Jews.

In 1875, the British government became the principal shareholder in the Suez Canal Company by buying stock held by the Khedive, the autonomous Ottoman viceroy of Egypt. In 1878, the Ottomans granted Great Britain the right to administer Cyprus. From 1882 to 1914, Great Britain occupied Egypt, in partnership with the Khedive, and under the titular sovereignty of the Ottoman Sultan. To the benefit of Great Britain, this diplomatic fiction realized something like the scenario that had been mooted by Talleyrand and Napoleon in early 1798. Moreover, like Lettre d'un Juif, the British later adopted a "Jewish" pretext to justify taking control of Palestine, which was seen as the eastern flank of the Suez Canal.

During and immediately after the First World War, the French Revolutionary idea of a Jewish jurisdiction was revived by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Thus, what for the French had been a dream of a Revolutionary Jewish Republic, sister to la grande nation, for the British became the 1917 Balfour Declaration and the 1922 Palestine Mandate of the League of Nations.

Lloyd George himself genuinely favored Jewish return to the Holy Land. Nonetheless, it is still fair to say that he skillfully exploited Zionism as a diplomatic ploy to sway the President of the United States. Thomas Woodrow Wilson was warm to the millennial rights of the Jewish People, but stone cold to European imperialism. And, winning Wilson's consent was certainly necessary before Palestine could become part of the worldwide British Empire. But first, President Wilson had to be assured that the Jewish People would be the main beneficiary of British rule there.

After Palestine was bagged for Britain, interwar events increasingly exposed this brief interlude of official Zionism under Lloyd George, as a superficial cover for Realpolitik. With the 1939 Palestine White Paper, finally flagrant was failure to honor UK treaty promises to facilitate immigration for "close settlement by Jews on the land." This clear breach of treaty was instantly grasped by USA Senator Harry Truman.

On May 25, 1939, Truman used the Congressional Record to protest against the Palestine White Paper. He said that Britain "has made a scrap of paper out of Lord Balfour's promise to the Jews." At that time, nobody in London heeded Truman's words. Even after he became President in April 1945, it took a surprisingly long time for UK ministers to accept that Truman was seriously engaged on this issue. With regard to Jewish immigration to Palestine, he stubbornly held British feet to the fire.

From 1938-9, King George VI, military and civil officialdom, and the Conservative Party were dead set against further Jewish settlement in Palestine. For geostrategic and other reasons, these British players were unable to imagine ever relinquishing Palestine. Sir Harold MacMichael, the High Commissioner in Jerusalem (1938-1944), repeatedly advised transforming the Mandate into a Crown Colony, to be governed bureaucratically, like British Hong Kong. In the same vein, Viscount Bernard Montgomery, Chief of the Imperial General Staff (1946-8), urged disarming the Palestinian Jews.

By contrast, President Truman doggedly championed mass immigration by the Jewish refugees who had survived Hitler's Europe. In Spring 1947, Soviet Communist leader Joseph Stalin surprised the world by suddenly agreeing with Truman that the Jewish refugees should go to Palestine. The postwar imperative to admit these Jewish refugees was the powerful diplomatic engine that soon pushed an impoverished and isolated Britain out of Palestine (May 15, 1948).


A non-discriminatory exploiter

The Napoleon of 1796-9 shamelessly practiced raison d'état pragmatism. At the same time, he was essentially revolutionary and thus rigorously non-discriminatory in his opportunistic exploitation of deep national feeling. Such patriotic sentiments, and preoccupation with historical memory, he had himself experienced as a young Corsican, including in the first years of the French Revolution.

In 1796-9, his overall stance towards the Jews was fully consistent with his characteristic modus operandi towards all the other Peoples. Napoleon's pertinent practice was well summarized by Eduard von Wertheimer (1848-1930) who was a Jew born in Budapest. Himself a German chauvinist, Wertheimer was savvy about ethnicity and nationalism, including as an historian of the polyglot Habsburg Monarchy (1883):
Napoleon had a system of politics. He used, as a powerful weapon against the States that he wanted to fight those of their subject nations which he thought had not yet entirely gotten over the memory of their erstwhile independence. Himself a son of the revolution, he knew better than anyone else the power and influence which the idea of freedom exercises upon mankind. Accordingly, he never missed a moment, as soon as his own aims required it, to advertise to those nations that he came to restore their freedom and independence. But for sure, little did he care about the later disappointment that he prepared for these Peoples whom he dazzled and misguided with his promises. He just dropped them as soon as they had served their purpose.

Conclusion

After the coup of November 1799, Napoleon was no longer a revolutionary general. As First Consul, he famously made the French Republic's peace with the Roman-Catholic Church (1801). As Emperor of the French (from 1804) and King of Italy (from 1805), he similarly sought to regulate the situation of the Jews in France and parts of Italy. For example, in May 1806, he convoked an Assembly of Jewish Notables to meet in Paris as prelude to hosting a Grand Sanhedrin in February 1807.

This extraordinary representative exercise was aimed at Jews, not so much as a People internationally, but rather mainly as a religious confession domestically. By 1806-7, Napoleon's principal pertinent concern was no longer Jewish self-determination in the biblical homeland, but rather mostly how local Jews, as practitioners of a distinct faith, could better fit into French/Italian State and society.

Nonetheless, accounts of Napoleon's alleged invitation to the Jews to return to Eretz Yisrael (אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל‬) continued to echo. For example, Baron Bernhard von Rossetti was the Imperial Austrian Civil-Commissioner (kaiserlicher österreichische Civil-Kommissär) in Habsburg Venice. Fooled by misinformation or disinformation, he warned the Polizeihofstelle that the Paris convocation of deputies of the Jews of France and Italy was in origin (August 9, 1806): "a project, submitted to Napoleon about five months ago by a Bordeaux rabbi. It aims at the realization of very far-ranging ideas, even at the reunion of the Jews in a particular kingdom."

An even stronger millenarian interpretation was that of English theologian, Samuel Horsley, Lord Bishop of Rochester. Shortly before he died, he wrote to his brother (September 1806): "Bonaparte will settle a considerable body of Jews in Palestine. He will then set himself up for the Messiah."

Qu'est-ce qu'un Israélite Chrétien? (What is a Christian Israelite?) This prophetic pamphlet is printed, in French and Hebrew, in Paris on August 15, 1806. The millenarian author is born Jew "Samuel Yessite (Christian)," who is also known as "Paly-Rasch, of the House of David." Mr. Rasch is a revolutionary veteran, with service as an officer and medic, first in the French army and then in the Polish Legion. After a spell in the Charenton insane asylum, he becomes a Lieutenant of the Hôtel des Invalides. Born in Poland, he converts to Lutheranism in his youth in Halle (Germany); and more recently to Roman Catholicism in Paris.

Rasch's pamphlet encourages all young Jews, able to bear arms, to join the French army. The "anointed of Jehovah, Napoleon Bonaparte, Cyrus of the West," will restore the splendor of Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. In Paris, "respected scholar" (angesehener Gelehrte), "C.F." tars Rasch as a crackpot. The November 30th essay by "C.F." appears in Berlin, as the first item on the front page of Die Zeitung für die elegante Welt (December 16, 1806). Zeitung editor "M." tries to link Rasch's writing with Napoleon's Sanhedrin and alleges that Rasch's piece was published with approval of the French authorities.

The same suspicion that Napoleon's government favored Rasch's work was later held by London poet and polemicist, William Hamilton Reid. In 1807, he published, in English, a book with the Hebrew title סנהדרין חדשה (New Sanhedrin). This expressed "Christian" and "English" amazement that, "the Jews in France and Italy... persuade themselves that the Emperor Napoleon is the promised Messiah, predicted by the ancient prophets!" However, unknown to Reid, Rasch's "enigmatic pamphlet" had already been described for Napoleon in a secret police report. According to Fouché (February 3, 1807): "The Senator Minister [Fouché] has prescribed the measures appropriate for stopping the circulation of this work and verifying the intention of the author."

Count Procop Lažanský, the Habsburg Governor (Statthalter) of Moravia, received from Nikolsburg a police report claiming that some local Orthodox Jews imagined that the real reason Napoleon had called the Sanhedrin was to harness worldwide Jewish talent to stimulate France's flagging international trade (October 9, 1806):
France, therefore, wished to favor the Jews and for that reason to demand from the Turkish empire the city of Jerusalem together with the surrounding territories, in order to set up and restore the seat of the Israelite People there.
Also in October 1806, the Kreishauptmann (county administrator) of Časlau (Čáslav) in Bohemia reported to Vienna the views of the Orthodox Jews in his district. They felt that Napoleon's Sanhedrin would not be able to restore the biblical purity of Judaism, without first satisfying the essential requirement of rebirth of the Jewish commonwealth in the Promised Land.

If not directly from the Ottoman Empire, then most certainly via a variety of European publications, the astonishing 1799 story that Napoleon had issued a proclamation to the Jews rapidly rippled through Christendom and also across world Jewry. It was widely believed at that time, and thus made its own way through history. Whether accurate or not, this exciting tale principally had two powerful effects: firstly, it fired ancient messianic dreams among both Christians and Jews; and, secondly, it permanently strengthened belief in the practical political possibility of Jewish restoration and renewal in the aboriginal homeland.


Afterword

Very little historical evidence would be required to convince those who warmly welcome the idea that Napoleon issued one or more invitations or proclamations to the Jews. By contrast, those who viscerally reject the notion are unlikely to be convinced, even by a very substantial amount of evidence. The persistent reality of psychological bias is a powerful fact of life.

For the writing of history, there is no professional requirement that there must always be one completely-conclusive document, directly derived from an official archive. Historians are obliged to consider all sorts of evidence, from a wide variety of sources. Moreover, it is well known that government archives are by definition especially subject to the possibility of official censorship and manipulation, as already set out in the preface.

Nor are historians normally required to provide 100% ironclad proof. Rather, the minimum standard for the writing of history regularly demands carefully weighing all the evidence to determine the balance of the probabilities. Dictated by common sense, this is the same minimum standard of proof normally employed in everyday life, journalism, politics, government, and civil litigation in common law jurisdictions.

By contrast, in a criminal trial, the prosecution is normally required to prove the accused guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." But, that very rigorous, minimum requirement of the criminal law does not regularly apply to the writing of history, where the preponderance of the evidence normally suffices. Nonetheless, it is a well-known trick of rhetoric to try to shift to some higher, minimum standard of proof for arguing against the establishment of a proposition that is strongly disliked.

Does the preponderance of the evidence objectively suggest that Napoleon likely issued one or more proclamations and/or letters inviting Jews to return to their aboriginal homeland? I think so. However, the final judgment is yours to make, if you too have patiently weighed all the pertinent evidence.



Appendix

Lettre d’un Juif à ses frères

Décadi, 20 Prairial an 6. [June 8, 1798]
No. 1,025.
L’Ami des Lois, par Poultier, et autres gens de lettres, sous la direction des frères Sibuet, propriétaires.

Lettre d’un Juif à ses frères (traduite de l’italien.) Mes frères, vous tous qui gémissez depuis tant de siècles sous le poids de la persécution la plus odieuse, ne chercherez-vous pas à sortir de l’état affreux d’humiliation où des religions intolérantes et barbares vous ont retenus jusqu’ à présent. Partout le mépris nous accompagne, partout les hommes nous repoussent avec dédain et sans pitié. Cette généreuse constance avec laquelle nous avons conservé la foi de nos ancêtres, bien loin de nous attirer l’admiration qui nous était due, n’a fait qu’accroître la haine injuste que nous portent toutes les nations. Ce n’est qu’en affectant l’extérieur de la bassesse et de la misère que nous parvenons à garder nos richesses et à conserver notre malheureuse existence. Il est temps enfin de secouer un joug aussi insupportable, il est temps de reprendre notre rang parmi les nations.

De vils brigands occupent cette terre sainte que nos ancêtres ont été obligés de céder aux Romains; ils profanent cette cite sacrée que nous avons défendue avec tant de courage. La postérité en a conservé un souvenir terrible. Nous aussi, nous ne l’avons pas oublié. Ce courage n’est qu’assoupi, l’heure de réveil est arrivée.. O mes frères! Rétablissons l’empire de Jérusalem.

Une nation invincible qui remplit maintenant le monde de sa gloire, nous a montré ce que peut l’amour de la patrie. Implorons sa générosité, demandons-lui son secours, et soyons assurés que la philosophie qui guide les chefs de cette nation sublime, leur fera accueillir notre demande.

Nous sommes plus de six millions répandus sur la surface de la terre; nous possédons des richesses immenses; employons tous les moyens qui sont en notre pouvoir pour nous réunir dans notre patrie. Le moment est propice, il est de notre devoir d’en profiter: voici les moyens les plus convenables pour parvenir à l’exécution de cette sainte entreprise.

Il sera établi un conseil dont les membres seront élus par les Juifs répandus en Europe, en Asie, en Afrique, quelle que soit leur secte, ainsi qu’il suit:

1. Tribu Italienne. Les Juifs qui habitent les républiques Romaine, Cisapline, Ligurienne, les états de Toscane, de Parme, les royaumes de Naples et de Sicile, enverront des électeurs à Rome chargés de la nomination d’un membre du conseil; il en sera de même de chaque Tribu.
2. Tribu Helvétique. Ceux qui habitent la Suisse et les états du roi de Sardaigne, enverront leurs électeurs à Genève qui sera compris dans cette division.
3. Tribu Hongroise. Ceux qui habitent la Hongrie, l’Autriche, la Bohême et le pays ci-devant Vénitien, enverront leurs électeurs à Vienne.
4. Tribu Polonaise. Ceux qui habitent la ci-devant Pologne, la Moldavie et la Valachie, enverront leurs électeurs à Cracovie.
5. Tribu Russe. Ceux qui habitent les états de l’empereur de Russie, à l’exception de la Crimée et des pays situés sur la Mer noire, enverront leurs électeurs à Moskou.
6. Tribu du Nord. Ceux qui habitent la Suède et le Danemark, à Copenhague.
7. Tribu Bretonne. Ceux qui habitent les îles de la Grande-Bretagne, à Londres.
8. Tribu Espagnole. Ceux qui habitent l’Espagne et le Portugal, à Cadix.
9. Tribu Gauloise. Ceux qui habitent la France, y compris les pays conquis, enverront leurs électeurs à Colmar.
10. Tribu Hollandaise. Ceux qui habitent la Hollande, à Amsterdam.
11. Tribu Prussienne. Ceux qui sont dans l’électorat d’Hanovre et les états du roi de Prusse, enverront leurs électeurs à Berlin.
12. Tribu Allemande. Ceux qui habitent les autres états de l’Empire, à Francfort-Mein.
13. Tribu Turque. Ceux qui habitent la Crimée, les bords de la Mer noire, les états du Grand-Seigneur en Europe, y compris toutes les îles de la Grèce, à Constantinople.
14. Tribu Asiatique. Ceux qui habitent la Turquie d’Asie . . . . à Smyrne.
15. Tribu Africaine. Ceux qui habitent l'Égypte et les états des puissances barbaresques, enverront leurs électeurs à Tunis.
   
Les quinze députés de ces tribus formeront le conseil qui tiendra ses séances à Paris. Lorsqu’ils seront réunis au nombre de neuf, ils pourront commencer à s’occuper de l’objet de leur mission. Leurs décisions auront pour tous les Juifs force de loi; tous seront obligés de s’y soumettre.  Il nommera un agent auprès du directoire de France pour lui communiquer les propositions à lui faire.

Le pays que nous nous proposons d’occuper comprendra (sauf les arrangements qui conviendront à la France) la basse Égypte, le terrain qui aura pour limite une ligne qui partira de Ptolémaïde ou Saint-Jean d’Acre jusqu’au lac d’Asphalte, ou Mer morte, et de la pointe méridionale de ce lac jusqu’à la Mer rouge.

Cette position, la plus avantageuse qui soit au monde, nous rend, par la Mer rouge, les maîtres du riche commerce des Indes, de celui de l’Arabie, du midi et de l’orient de l’Afrique. L’Abyssinie, L'Éthiopie, ces riches contrées qui fournirent à Salomon tant d’or, d’ivoire et de pierres précieuses, se lieront d’autant plus volontiers avec nous par le commerce, que la plupart des habitants pratiquent encore la loi de Moïse. Le voisinage d’Alep et de Damas nous facilitera le commerce avec la Perse; par la Méditerranée nous communiquerons avec l’Espagne, la France, l’Italie et le reste de l’Europe. Placés au centre du monde, notre pays deviendra l’entrepôt de tout ce qu’il produit de riche et de précieux.

Le conseil offrira au gouvernement français, s’il nous fournit les secours qui nous seront nécessaires pour rentrer dans notre patrie et nous maintenir: Primo, des dédommagements pécuniaires; etc. Secundo, de partager avec les négocians français seuls le commerce des Indes, etc. Les autres arrangements, ainsi que les propositions à faire à la Porte ottomane, ne peuvent pas être rendus publics; nous nous en reposons sur la sagesse de notre conseil et la loyauté de la nation française. Nommons des gens instruits et sages, et soyons persuadés du succès de nos démarches.

O mes frères! Quels sacrifices pourront nous coûter! Nous allons rentrer dans notre patrie, nous allons vivre sous nos lois, nous allons voir ces lieux sacrés que nos ancêtres ont illustrés par leur courage et leurs vertus. Je vous vois déjà tous animés d’un saint zèle. Israélites! Le terme de vos maux s’avance: le temps est favorable; gardez-vous de le laisser échapper.



1799 letters of Napoleon and Rabbi Aaron in modern German

[Franz Kobler's version of front page of 18th-century German typed by Ernst Foges in August 1939. Napoleon's family name in both letters restored to "Buonaparte" used by Foges.]


Zuschrift an die Jüdische Nation
1) von dem französischen Obergeneral Buonaparte
2) von Rabbi Aaron in Jerusalem
aus dem Original übersetzt
1799


Hauptquartier Jerusalem, den 1. Floreal (den 20. April 1799) im Jahre 7 der französischen Republik.

Buonaparte, Obergeneral der Armeen der französischen Republik in Afrika und Asien, an die rechtmässigen Erben Palästinas!

Israeliten, einzige Nation, welcher die Eroberungssucht und Tyrannei nur ihre Erbländer, Namen aber und Volksexistenz auch nicht in Jahrtausenden entziehen konnte!

Aufmerksamkeit und unparteiischen Beobachter der Nationen-Schicksale, wenn schon nicht mit dem Fernspähergeist eines Jesaia und Joel begabt, ahndeten längst schon auch, was jene mit der schönen Herzerhebenden Zuversicht bei dem Ausblick auf die herannahende Zerstörung ihres Erbreiches und Vaterlandes voraussagten: dass die Erlöseten des Herrn wieder gen Zion, mit Jauchzen wiederkommen, und die Freude eines hinfort ungestörten Besitzes ihres Erbteils eine über ihren Häuptern bleibende Freude setzen wird. Jes.35.10.

Auf also mit Jauchzen ihr Vertriebenen! Ein Krieg ohne Beispiel in den Jahrbüchern der Völkergeschichte aus Notwehr ausgeführt von einer Nation, deren Erbländer als ein mit einem Federstrich nach Gutdünken und Bequemlichkeit in den Kabinetten zu teilender Raub geachtete waren, rächt diese ihre und zugleich der entferntesten, längst unter dem Sklavenjoch vergessenen Nationen Schmach, auch Euere Schmach, bald zweitausendjährige Schmach, und, in dessen Zeit und Umstände Erneuerungen Euerer Ansprüche am wenigsten zu begünstigen oder nur laut zu werden erlauben, ja vielmehr zu gänzlicher Verzichtleistung nötigen zu wollen scheinen, bietet Euch—über alle Erwartung—gerade jetzt Israels Erbteil wieder an!

Die jungfrühliche Armee, mit welcher mich die Vorsehung hieher gesendet hat von Gerechtigkeit geführt und von Sieg begleitet, hat Jerusalem zu meinem Hauptquartier gemacht und wird dasselbe in wenigen Tagen nach Damaskus, dieser für Davids Stadt nicht mehr furchtbaren Nachbarschaft verlegen.

Rechtmässige Erben Palästinas!

Die grosse Nation, welche nicht mit Menschen und Ländern Handel treibt wie diejenigen, welche Euere Stammväter verkauft haben unter alle Völker, Joel 4,6, ladet Euch hiemit ein, Euer Erbteil—nicht zu erobern, nein! nur das Eroberte zu übernehmen und mit ihrer gewährsprechenden Unterstüzung zu behaupten.

Auf! zeigt, das die ehemahlige Uebermacht Euerer Unterdrücker den Mut der Nachkömmlinge jener Helden, deren Bruderbund Sparta und Rom selbst ehrenvoll stand, Makkabäer 12, 15, bisher nur zurückzudrängen, mit aller der zweitausend jährigen Sklavenbehandlung aber nicht zu erstricken vermocht hat!

Eilt! jetzt ist der Zeitpunk da, der vielleicht in Jahrtausenden nicht wiederkehren würde, das Euch seit Jahrtausenden schimpflich versagte Bürgerrecht unter den Bewohnern des Weltalls, Euere politische Volksexistenz der Nationen und das unbehinderte Naturrecht einer nach Euerer Ueberzeugung Jehova zu leisten den Verehrung öffentlich wieder und—höchst wahrscheinlich auf ewig, Joel 4, 20, wieder zurückzufordern.


[Franz Kobler's version of back page of 18th-century German typed by Ernst Foges in August 1939. Square brackets for inclusion of short Foges passage omitted from Kobler's modernized text.]

Aaron der Sohn Levis, Rabbi von Jerusalem.
An die Kinder der Gefangenschaft in den Ländern gegen Morgen und Abend, gegen Mittag und Mitternacht.

Jerusalem, im Monden Nissan im Jahr 5559.

Ob es wohl nicht not tut, der Zuschrift, welche der Mann nach dem Herzen Gottes, Buonaparte, dieser grosse und hoch erleuchtete Obergeneral der französischen Armeen in Afrika und Asien, an Euch hat ergehen lassen, noch irgend was beizufügen, so habe doch ich, Aaron, Levis Sohn, aus dem Stamm Levi, ich durch die Barmherzigkeit unseres Gottes, Jehova Zebaoth, nach unzähligen Generationen wieder allhier, in der heiligen Stadt erster Rabbi und Priester, der Schwachen wegen für gut befunden, sie zu errinern an die Worte Joels, des Sohnes Pethuels, Kap. 4, und Zephanias, des Sohnes Chushis, und Maleachi, Kap. 2,3.

Brüder, die daselbst enthaltenen so herrlichen Weissagungen sind durch die siegreiche Armee der grossen Nation bereits grösstenteils in Erfüllung gegangen, und es kommt jetzt nur darauf an, zu beweisen, das wir nicht Kinder der Huren und Ehebrecherinnen, sondern echte Nachkommen Israels sind und das wir Lust haben zum Erbteil des Volkes und zu den schönen Gottesdiensten des Herrn, Psalm Davids, 27,4.

So nehmet denn die Flügel des Adlers und die Stärke der Löwin, wie unsere Väter zu den Zeiten Nehemias, des Sohnes Hachalias, und Esras, des Sohnes Seraias, wieder zu bauen die Mauren der verwaisten Stadt und Jehova einen Tempel, in welchem seine Herrlichkeit wohne von nun an immer und ewiglich.

Rufet dies aus an alle Völker, unter welchen der Samen Jakobs zerstreut ist, heiliget einen Streit, erweckt die Starken, lasset herzukommen und zu uns heraufziehen allen waffenfähigen Mannschaften Israels, selbst auch die Schwachen sprechen: “ich bin Stark!” Joel 4.

Der Gott Abrahams, Isaks und Jakobs segne das Werk unserer Hände! Er tue es und vollende es, wie er unseren Vätern geschworen hat, Esra 9, 9. [Er gedenke zum besten alles, was die grosse Nation an uns gethan hat, Esra 19,] und alles Volk spreche wie von Gideon, dem Sohne Joas (Richter 7.):
Hier Schwert des Herrn und Buonaparte!

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