Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Messiahs Jews Have Known and Apocalyptic Beliefs

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                     

It is possibly "the end of times" forecast in the Bible.  Jews, Christians and Muslims await their messiah.  Just what is the messiah according to the Jewish definition?  In Hebrew, this is a person, pronounced "mashiah" and means, The Anointed One, the ultimate deliverer. The person could be a general or a king or president.   "Messiah"  is used as an adjective in our Tanakh or Bible referring to kings or such who have been anointed.  This means they have received Divine sanction and a security of having not been violated in receiving this direct transmission from G-d.  In other words, they got the message directly without any alteration.

In time it came to mean anyone with a special mission from G-d, like the patriarchs, prophets, even the Jewish people themselves.  Cyrus II the Mede, a gentile, was also included. He died in 529 BCE and was the king of Persia who had rule over the Babylonian empire which included Israel.  His policies were fair and just to the Jews and in 538  BCE gave them permission to leave Babylon and go back to Judah and rebuild the Temple.  For this the exiles regarded him as a Divine agent.   I wonder if he's turning over in his grave to see how modern Persia (Iran) is plotting the demise of all Jews and of Israel today.  Isn't that country's leadership  the opposite of Cyrus, though.

In times after the exile, a prophetic vision developed of the universal establishment of G-d's kingdom and this was associated with the in-gathering of Israel under the leadership of a descendant of King David who would be G-d's anointed.  During the Roman rule a personal messiah philosophy developed where it was thought he would break the alien hold over the Jews and establish a golden age of peace and tranquility, unlike what they were living under.

Rome had taken hold of Judah and Jesus (Greek for Joshua) d: 29 CE appeared as the messiah with many Jews following him as he claimed Davidic descent.  His followers now are the number 1 religion in the world as Christians and make up 33.39% of the world population.   As 70 CE approached, many messiahs started to appear that were deemed as being false, something we have been forewarned about.  The 2nd Temple was destroyed in 70 CE and messianic fervor grew even stronger, keeping up with the need.  The Jewish revolt from 115-117 had  messianic overtones..  This last revolt against the Romans was led by Bar Kokhba who was thought to be THE messiah and proclaimed so in 131.

Again in the 5th century a man named Moses was in Crete and was thought to be the messiah.  The Persian and Byzantine empires in the 7th century fell and Jewish messianic hopes were aroused. Mohammed (570-632) presented himself to the Jews in Medina, Arabia and asked them to follow him with negative results. His Arab followers now are the 2nd largest religion in the world with Islam and make up 22.74% of the world population.

In the 8th century 3 possible messiahs appeared; Abu Issa al Isfahani in Persia, Severus or Serene in Syria and Yudghan in Hamadan.  In the 9th century we had Eldad Ha-Dani.  He did not proclaim himself as the messiah but announced the existence of the Lost Ten Tribes, whose return was a prerequisite of the messianic era, and his claim started up the thinking about the apocalyptic "end of times."

We have a famous scholar and doctor, Moses ben Maimon or Maimonides (1135-1204, known as the Rambam, who studied the Torah and was a famous commentator of it. He and his family  left Cordova, Spain at age 13 to escape the Almohade persecutions and eventually got to Palestine in 1165.  At that time Palestine was still suffering from the Crusades, so they went to Egypt where he became the spiritual leader of Cairo's Jews.  He became a physician as well.  He wrote a letter to the Yemen Jewish community in about 1172 which  recalled the messianic doctrine and showed that he was confident that the messiah was coming and he included in the letter the 13 articles of faith.  In other documents he insisted on a rational, unmiraculous nature of the Messianic Age which would be merely the breaking of the hold rulers had on us.  There would be no more political bondage and we would again be ruled by a descendant of the House of David.

The Christian Crusaders came to "Palestine"  to save Jerusalem from infidels.  Both Jew and Arab were slaughtered as we all looked and dressed in similar fashion.  In 1096 in Salonica, Turkey,  Jews thought the deliverance from all this evil had begun.  In 1121 a Karaite claim to the messiahship was reported in Palestine.

 In 1147 we had David Alroy (Menahem ben Solomon) from Mesopotamia- Iraq with his claim. He was in Persia and the movement really started before 1121 with his father and the "Mountain Jews" in NE Caucasia.  David Alroy was said to be physically and intellectually outstanding, and was proclaimed "Messiah."  They were defeated and went to the mountains of Kurdistan in Amadia.  He was killed by secret assassins (possibly his father in law),  instigated by the Moslem governor of the city in 1160.  Some followers were in Azerbaijan and remained loyal.  They were called Menahemites.  Benjamin Disraeli's novel, "The Wondrous Tale of  Alroy"written in 1833  is based on David Alroy and his revolt.  Disraeli (1804-1881) was England's Prime Minister 2 times, serving for 40 years.

 More messiahs were reported in Yemen, Fez, Persia, Spain and France in the 11th and 12th centuries.  Abraham Abulafia (Abulafia meaning "Father of Health" in Arabic), or in Hebrew as Abraham ben Samuel of Spanish origins had his claim from Sicily in the 13th century and was followed into Spain by his disciples in 1295. He was a Kabbalist.  He traveled in Palestine, Greece and Italy and said he was a prophet when in Spain.  In 1280 he went to Rome and tried to convert the Pope Nicholas III!  The only thing that saved him from a death at the stake for this was that the Pope suddenly died.  Rabbis, led by Solomon ben Adret,  did not like or approve of him.  He was prophesying imminent redemption.  He leaned on Gematria and the use of abbreviations a lot.

The Spanish persecution of 1391, a precursor of the Spanish Inquisition of 1492, produced Moses Botarel.    When Jews were expulsed from Spain in 1492 many messiahs appeared.  There was Asher Lammlein in 1503 who lived in Istria and aroused fervent expectations, Solomon Molcho in about 1500 to 1532, a hidden Jew in Portugal whose name was Diego Pires is well known.  He was a royal notary.  His imagination was fired by David Reubeni in 1525 so had himself circumcised and went to Palestine where he studied Kabbalistic material.  He went to Italy and made a big impression on Pope Clement VII who welcomed him in the Vatican and protected him from the Inquisition.  Finally he thought of himself as the messiah.   Together with Reubeni, they went to Regensburg to interview Emperor Charles V.  He was arrested and handed over to the Inquisition and burned to death at Mantua.  People  thought he had survived and was later seen in Italy.  He had no trial in the Inquisition, at least no records were found.   More messiahs cropped up after him.

The most important of all the pseudo messiahs was Shabbetai Tzevi (1626-1676) of Smyrna, Turkey who had a large following. He was also a Kabbalah student.  After the horrors of the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648-49 where hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered by Cossacks and Ukrainian masses, he was moved by a "messianic spirit" and heard a "heavenly voice" proclaiming that he would redeem Israel.  He started doing odd things that resulted in the other rabbis' opposition.  Later, masses were won over by his emotional sermons.  He married a young survivor of the Polish massacres named Sarah and they went to Palestine and in 1665 was hailed as king-messiah by Nathan of Gaza, but was excommunicated by the rabbis of Jerusalem.  He then returned to Turkey where he was happily received and heaped with honors.  In 1666 he went to Constantinople to "depose" the sultan but was arrested and held at the fortress of Gallipoli.  There he received thousands of followers.

  A sect of his, an offshoot, the Donmeh, still survives.  They are a Judeo-Muslim sect.  They had followed him into ostensible Islam but retained many Jewish observances and their belief in him being the messiah.   They were accused of antinomian tendencies (saying that the moral law is not important as only faith alone is necessary for salvation according to the Christian gospel) and sexual orgies.  Their main center was Salonica.  Some took a leading part in the Young Turk revolution of 1909.  Their practices show that they were much closer to Jewish tradition than was previously imagined.  However, Shabbetai Tzevi  had failed to show he was the messiah and people in other parts of the world were into rationalism by this time which created a reaction against messianic speculation, but even so, a few more hopefuls popped up.  There was Jacob Frank (1726-1791) and Hayyim Malakh, Mordecai, Judah Hasid and Lobele Prossnitz who appeared in the 18th century.  A psudo-messiah declared himself in Yemen in 1889.

Now I hear that Adnan Oktar of Turkey, a TV host, has declared himself to be the Muslim messiah or Mahdi.  In Shia Islam this would be the 12th Imam.  He once was very much against Jews but after being in prison for Turkish crimes, has done a 180 reversal and his attitude towards us is now one of  benevolence.  He has drawn much attention to himself and his followers, but also much negative attention from the Muslims in Turkey as well, and those in other countries.  It's interesting that he has popped up while his country is leaning towards the Muslim Brotherhood, whose charter is to wipe out Israel and Jews. This ideology is shared by Hamas, the terrorists of Gaza.  Turkey had been a friend of Israel until recently when they have been siding with the Palestinian cause.

End Times? What did the prophecies call for?   Israel has been again established after a 2,000 year hiatus.  We do have the return of Jews to Israel, the in-gathering predicted.  Jews are living there from every corner of the globe and appear in every color imaginable, for those genes of ours have been in many places, picking up flavor.  What is next to be done?  We have been looking for the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel, and some have already been found and are already living in Israel.

Now what?  The study of the end of days is Eschatology.  It means the changing of the present world by Divine plan at a time decided on only by G-d.  One view is that on the last day, the world- which was good at the time of creation  has been corrupted by mankind with their wars and lack of ecology standards  and it will be restored to its pristine condition.  These views are found in the ancient Orient and in Greek literature.   It's a faith in a glorious future after a period of suffering, and that we have certainly been doing.  This view was introduced by our great Hebrew prophets and is found in their teachings.  In the final days is envisioned the great day when G-d will reform the world and reign over all peoples in justice.  A new heaven and earth will be created.  Of course, our view states that the throne will be in Zion-Jerusalem.  Each religion has their own view, but Jerusalem does seem to be the navel of the world.  

Our apocalyptic beliefs developed after the fall of the 2nd Temple and we find all shades of opinions.  They are in the Book of Ezekiel and in the visions of Zechariah.  Also, some are in the Book of Daniel.  These books date back to the Maccabean Period of the 2nd century BCE.   The end days are said to be a period of suffering and catastrophes under the rule of an pseudo-savior-ruler (Anti-Christ in today's lingo).

  A terrible war is foretold, the war between Gog and Magog which will  be ranging over Jerusalem. The king is Gog and the country of Magog are mentioned in Ezekiel 38-9.  Ezekiel foretells the downfall of Gog in the latter years after his attack upon the Land of Israel at the head of  the armies of many peoples.  The Talmud says that this will precede the advent of the Messiah.  This concept also if found in Christian and Moslem writings.

 The forces of evil will be defeated.  A new Jerusalem will arise, (which has already happened with the renewal of Jerusalem into a modern leading city.  So has Israel been attacked by many countries.)  Then Elijah will appear and announce the coming of the Messiah.  We few Jews of 14 million making up 0.22% of the world population of 7,021,836,029 people  are still awaiting the messiah.  We continue to  live under the directions of Moses, lawgiver, prophet and founder of the Jewish religion.  Our loyalty is to be given only to G-d.

Resource: The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia

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