"With terrific insights from Kabbalah, the appearance of famous historical characters and unexpected twists and turns that keep you hooked, The Rabbi's Knight is an exciting and historically fascinating read."
View the storyline
Read more praise
Read an excerpt
Listen to Michael's presentation at The Common Wealth Club
The Rabbi's Knight on The Big Thrill
The Rabbi's Knight in East Bay Times
The Rabbi's Knight in The Orinda News (p. 12)
References & further reading
The Rabbi's Knight can also be found at these independent bookstores.
At the twilight of the Crusades, in the year 1290, Knight Templar Jonathan St. Clair, disguised as a wandering Moslem scholar, seeks out the Baghdad Ga'on, Rabbi Samuel, at an abandoned academy in the mountain village of Safed. In possession of an ancient scroll with a cryptic inscription, St. Clair has learned that only Rabbi Samuel, versed in the arcane wisdom of Kabbalah, is the one able to decipher the inscription of the scroll which holds the key to unlock the secrets of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But time is running out; Rabbi Samuel has been targeted for assassination, and Acre, the last remaining Christian stronghold, will soon come under siege.
Cloaked in a hooded robe, the rider stared into the gorge through trailing fingers of mist, watching for any movement on hills that rose and fell beneath the dawn sky.
The threat to Samuel comes from another rabbi, Solomon Petit of Acre. A native of Paris, Petit is the head of a Jewish faction that bitterly opposes the teachings of Maimonides.
There is one in Acre of my faith, a renegade Jew who seeks to erase the memory of Maimonides. This same man has burned his writings and sent his spawn to desecrate the Rambam's tomb in Tiberius...
[Click on map to view larger version.]
To stop Rabbi Samuel from reaching Acre, Rabbi Petit has bribed the emir of Safed to kill Samuel. With the help of St. Clair, Rabbi Samuel escapes. but instead of proceeding to Acre, Rabbi Samuel determines that, to fully understand the meaning of the inscription of St. Clair's scroll, they must go to Jerusalem.
"We're not going to Acre," replied the rabbi. "It's more important for us to go to Jerusalem."
"Since when did that become important?"
"Since I saw the scroll that you wear in that pouch around your neck."
Even as they escape Safed, the rabbi begins to instruct St. Clair in Kabbalah, posing a parable of a knight drawn to the mysteries of the Torah as to a beautiful maiden.
"There is a beautiful maiden in the high tower of a palace with one small window looking out to the world. One day she shows her face for an instant, and then retreats quickly back into the tower. The maiden does not reveal herself to everyone—only to him." Rabbi Samuel leaned forward. "Very few Jews are aware of the love with which the Torah calls to those of her choosing, Jonathan. How is it that you have heard this calling? How is it that you have seen the maiden's face?"
Escaping from Safed, St. Clair and the Rabbi head south
and soon come within view of the Galilee.
Cresting a hill, they stopped short. Shining beneath the sky, the smooth mirror of the Galilee stretched to the horizon.
"The beauty of heaven is, indeed, reflected on earth." St. Clair looked at Rabbi Samuel and smiled. "As above, so below."
The rabbi and St. Clair find refuge on the northern shore of the Galilee—
in the leper colony of Tel Hum.
"I remember such as these in Europe," St. Clair whispered. "Christ's poor, my mother called them, Christ's poor. They were shut away in lazarettos, the monasteries of St. Lazarus—thousands of them. We called them Christ's poor..."
"Here we call them lepers," the Rabbi stated quietly.
The rabbi uses all opportunities to instruct St. Clair in the mysteries of Kabbalah...
"See how the ripples spread in widening circles over the water? To what may the thing be likened? At the center of our yearning is a point so subtle that it is hidden from us, the depths of depths. But, as one moves away from that point, things become more layered, more revealed. From that hidden, inmost point of God's being, there is an emanation that goes forth, like these ripples, creating new structures, new coverings—Judaism, Islam, Christianity, religions of the East—extension upon extension, each becoming a garment to the layer beneath it.
This is the process within God's self-unfolding, Jonathan—a continuous flow of holiness from the inmost essence of God's being to the outer reaches of his most remote emanations. We don't lead separate lives—God, the soul of man, and every detail of the created universe—all connected, one within the other. Whatever touches one part ripples through the whole system.
In this manner God moves from concealment to revelation. But revelation is subtle, Jonathan, and Divine speech is heard only when one knows how to listen. The heart of Kabbalah is becoming quiet and learning to listen, learning to hear that small voice.
As he lit the last lamp, the rabbi smiled up at St. Clair. "You asked me earlier if God is not diminished by His emanations. To what may the thing be likened? See how we have illuminated the whole tent from a single flame?" The rabbi held the candle up, admiring the flame. "So it is with the divine emanation—like a candle that is not diminished even though it lights a thousand candles, even though it lights all the candles in the world."
In the leper colony there is a beautiful Moslem woman, Zahirah, a fugitive from an emir's harem. St. Clair is drawn to her, struggling with his vow of celibacy.
Beneath the fading canopy of night, the Galilee was a dark glass, silent but for the caress of water rolling on smooth stones. St. Clair sat on a boulder waiting for dawn. High in the eastern sky, the wide smile of the moon mocked his misery.
The rabbi rested his hand on St. Clair's shoulder. "Did you sleep at all?"
St. Clair shook his head. "No."
"It's the woman, isn't it?"
"My vow forbids any commerce with women."
"Given the opportunity, I can see that she would sorely test your will. This woman is dangerous."
"All women are dangerous," murmured St. Clair.
On the run after leaving Tel Hum, the rabbi and St. Clair are joined by Zahirah (over the knight's vigorous objections). Since she is also a fugitive, the rabbi determines that she may join them on their way to Jerusalem. They contract with fishermen to take them across the Galilee
The men soon had the boat in the water. Zahirah, the rabbi, and his disciple sat with their belongings among the coiled lines and nets. The boat was well balanced, though it rode low in the water. Zahirah settled herself against the rounded planks of the bow away from the men.
Since there was not yet wind, they left the sail furled about the mast and fitted the oars onto the pins. As the sun lifted its countenance above the clouds, the fishermen plied the oars for Ein Gofra on the far shore. After an hour of rowing, a west wind began to blow and the fishermen rejoiced, speaking excitedly in what Zahirah now recognized as Aramaic. They shipped the oars and unfurled the sail.
At night, in the relative safety of the eastern shore of the Galilee,
neither St. Clair nor Zahirah can sleep. When the knight goes to bathe in the lake, Zahirah follows.
A light wind cools my skin as I lay on my back upon the soft pallet, looking up at the sky. Bright Vega shines like a jewel among the stars of the soaring eagle. Turning, I look down to where the knight lies. But he is gone. His pallet is empty. Where has he gone?
Rabbi Samuel, St. Clair, and Zahirah see Jerusalem for the first time.
Beyond the Kidron Valley, filled with light mist, Jerusalem lay at their feet, ringed in part by a wall
of pale stone, and crowded with domes, minarets, and towers shining
like jewels in the light of the rising sun.
The rabbi fell to his knees. With trembling hands, he tore open his robe. "Yerushalayim she'mama," he wept. "Jerusalem is a desolation. Our holy and our beautiful house where our fathers praised Thee is burned with fire; all our pleasant things are laid waste..."
Their journey to Jerusalem nearly complete,
the rabbi and the knight realize the reason they have come.
Reaching the trail along the valley floor, they moved along slowly with bowed heads, keeping close together among the other travelers. St. Clair peeked out from beneath his hood at the carved cliff face bordering the road on the right. "What are those?"
"Rock-cut tombs and funerary monuments—very ancient," the rabbi whispered.
Zahirah turned to look. "This one looks like an Egyptian temple with that pyramid on top."
"You are observant, my daughter. From pilgrims' drawings, I know this to be the Tomb of Zechariah."
They stood, peering up at the solid stone monolith, graced with several columns in relief, each topped by a capital with an Ionic flourish beneath the capstone.
St. Clair fingered the pouch that hung by the cord around his neck.
"Do you see it, also, Rabbi?" he asked quietly.
"I do, Jonathan. The very form of that greater triangle inscribed upon your scroll."
“The wonderful breadth of the tale, the language, the time period are all captured… we tread the streets of Jerusalem, stand before the campfires, and engage in hand to hand combat as our hero holds steadfast to all that is right. A compelling read. Best book of the year by far.”
—Suspense Magazine (Read the full review)
"I found The Rabbi's Knight fascinating as a historical novel, thrilling in the twists and turns of the story, and delightful in the manner in which important aspects and concepts of Kabbalah are presented to a general readership."
—Ronit Meroz, Ph.D., Department of Hebrew Culture Studies—Division of Kabbalah and Hasidism, Tel Aviv University
"By sheer coincidence, I had just finished Thomas Asbridge's general history of the Crusades when I discovered Michael Cooper's The Rabbi's Knight. Here is a well-written historical adventure story set in the twilight of the Crusades, but with an intriguing Jewish twist. In this unusual tale, a war-weary Knight Templar, Jonathan St. Clair, joins forces with the noted Rabbi Samuel of Baghdad on a quest to decipher an ancient inscription and uncover a hidden secret of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. With terrific insights from Kabbalah, the appearance of famous historical characters and unexpected twists and turns that keep you hooked, The Rabbi's Knight is an exciting and historically fascinating read."
—Andrew Kaplan, bestselling author of two great thriller series: The Homeland novels and the Scorpion series in addition to the international best sellers: War of the Raven and Dragonfire
"This stunning mix of history, theology and mysticism makes for an amazing novel."
—Rabbi Gordon Freeman, Ph.D., Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation B'nai Shalom
"The Rabbi's Knight is both a saga and a journey that takes the reader from a place of seeming incongruity, scheming conflicts, even treachery, to the recognition of a shared vision. The divisiveness of different religious traditions is pitted against the quest for a common good, an "Upper Jerusalem," that remains out of reach, but still within sight."
—John W. Bennison, Rel. D., Leader Pathways Faith Community