False Messiahs 

  • "For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect."
  • (Matthew 24:24.)

Logo. . .and then there is this crowd. A wide variety of claimants to the title of 'Messiah' have arisen within the Jewish community. Christians believe One of these is the real article: Jesus of Nazareth; His Jewish detractors disavow even Him. Many of these pretenders retain no adherents today and are generally acknowledged as failures. Though reciting the list is a sorry tale of gullibility leading in some cases to disaster and massive loss of life, it might be instructive to study a few of these characters. Anti-Christian polemicists like Rabbi Shmuley Boteach patiently explain what Jews expect of the Messiah and how, accordingly, they react to Messianic aspirants. These explanations soar a mile or two above the ground. Rather they present an idealized picture, not matching conditions on this earthly ground, where the claimants and their followers tussle with the authorities, in some cases reminding the reader of the gospel story, in other cases offering a horrid and terrifying parody. What kind of Messiah does the Jewish nation actually expect, and are accordingly likely to follow? Let's take a look:

Portrait of Sabbatai Sevi, in Thomas Coenen
Sabbatai Sevi

Ten Thousand Moses of Crete
Yemeni Madman Simon bar Kochba
Emperor Vespasian Serene
David Alroy Abraham Abulafia
Asher Lemmlein Solomon Molko
Sabbatai Sevi The Franks
Rabbi Menachem Schneerson

Ten Thousand

Flavius Josephus, writing of the unsettled conditions in the Holy Land after the death of Herod the Great, says, "Now at this time there were ten thousand other disorders in Judea, which were like tumults, because a great number put themselves into a warlike posture, either out of hopes of gain to themselves, or out of enmity to the Jews." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 17, Chapter 10.4, pp. 1101-1102). Though Josephus does not identify his bandit chieftains as 'Messiahs' or 'Christs,' some of these outlaws, who aspire to a crown and a throne, may have expressed aspirations of that sort:

"There was also Judas,  the son of that Ezekias who had been head of the robbers; which Ezekias was a very strong man, and had with great difficulty been caught by Herod. This Judas, having gotten together a multitude of men of a profligate character about Sepphoris in Galilee, made an assault upon the palace [there,] and seized upon all the weapons that were laid up in it, and with them armed every one of those that were with him, and carried away what money was left there; and he became terrible to all men, by tearing and rending those that came near him; and all this in order to raise himself, and out of an ambitious desire of the royal dignity; and he hoped to obtain that as the reward not of his virtuous skill in war, but of his extravagance in doing injuries." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 17, Chapter 10.4, p. 1102).

Another instance of a 'fighting' Messiah is Athronges,

"But because Athronges, a person neither eminent by the dignity of his progenitors, nor for any great wealth he was possessed of, but one that had in all respects been a shepherd only, and was not known by any body; yet because he was a tall man, and excelled others in the strength of his hands, he was so bold as to set up for king. . .They were every one of them also commanders; but when they came to fight, they were subordinate to him, and fought for him, while he put a diadem about his head, and assembled a council to debate about what things should be done, and all things were done according to his pleasure. And this man retained his power a great while; he was also called king, and had nothing to hinder him from doing what he pleased. He also, as well as his brethren, slew a great many both of the Romans and of the king’s forces, an managed matters with the like hatred to each of them." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jew, Book 17, Chapter 10, Section 7, p. 1103).

It cannot now be exactly determined whether these people were simply ambitious adventurers, as are found in every culture, nation, tribe and clime, or Messianic aspirants who aligned their personal ambitions with the Old Testament's prophetic promise of an anointed king. Josephus mentions several people who made unmistakably 'religious' claims:

  • “Now it came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain magician, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it; and many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them; who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them, and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, and cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem. This was what befell the Jews in the time of Cuspius Fadus’s government.”
  • (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, Chapter 5.1, p. 1242.).

The patriotic group that came to the fore in the Jewish War of 66-70 A.D. were the Zealots. Josephus' animus against the Zealots is so overwhelming,— he blames them for the destruction of the temple and the ruin of the nation,— that it is difficult to disentangle, from his narrative, which of these people, if any, made Messianic claims.

A low, political, conception of the Messiah is attested in the New Testament,

“And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done.” (Luke 24:19-21).

This need not have been the only view, but it seems to have been the majority expectation. Hippolytus, a Christian author, expounds it thus:

"And they allege that this Messiah will be King over them, — a warlike and powerful individual, who, after having gathered together the entire people of the Jews, and having done battle with all the nations, will restore for them Jerusalem the royal city. And into this city He will collect together the entire Hebrew race, and bring it back once more into the ancient customs, that it may fulfill the regal and sacerdotal functions, and dwell in confidence for periods of time of sufficient duration." (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Book Nine, Chapter 25, p. 285).

Jesus does not fit this mold. It is not until His Second Coming that He will satisfy the 'political' constituency, even then only to their hurt. The reductio ad absurdum of the 'political Messiah' is Josephus' brilliant deduction that the Roman Emperor Vespasian was the Messiah!

The Old Testament prophet Zechariah foresaw,

"Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south." (Zechariah 14:1-4).

Whose feet? This guy said it was his:

"Moreover, there came out of Egypt about this time to Jerusalem one that said he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the Mount of Olives, as it was called, which lay over against the city, and at the distance of five furlongs. He said further, that he would show them from hence how, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down; and he promised them that he would procure them an entrance into the city through those walls, when they were fallen down." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, Chapter 8, Section 6, pp. 1252-1253).

Not all these bandit chieftains claimed to be the Messiah, but it would seem that more than a few of them did. Some Jewish critics of Christianity, such as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, say that, because the political conception of the Messiah was the only one Jews ever entertained, Jesus must in reality have fit this mold. He must have been a fighting Messiah, as the Jews knew of no other kind, and no Jew would have hailed Him as Messiah had He not lived up to their expectations. (Consequently, the New Testament, which does not describe Him this way, is a skein of lies.) Let's line up some of those Messianic claimants who have attracted a following and interrogate them. Are they all warrior-Messiahs, even the venerated Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson? Let's see:

Moses of Crete

The church historian Socrates Scholasticus recounts an appalling incident:

  • “About this period a great number of Jews who dwelt in Crete were convened to Christianity, through the following disastrous circumstance. A certain Jewish impostor pretended that he was Moses, and had been sent from heaven to lead out the Jews inhabiting that island, and conduct them through the sea: for he said that he was the same person who formerly preserved the Israelites by leading them through the Red Sea. During a whole year therefore he perambulated the several cities of the island, and persuaded the Jews to believe such assurances. He moreover bid them renounce their money and other property, pledging himself to guide them through a dry sea into the land of promise. Deluded by such expectations, they neglected business of every kind, despising what they possessed, and permitting any one who chose to take it. When the day appointed by this deceiver for their departure had arrived, he himself took the lead, and all followed with their wives and children. He led them therefore until they reached a promontory that overhung the sea, from which he ordered them to fling themselves headlong into it. Those who came first to the precipice did so, and were immediately destroyed, some of them being dashed in pieces against the rocks, and some drowned in the waters: and more would have perished, had not the Providence of God led some fishermen and merchants who were Christians to be present. These persons drew out and saved some that were almost drowned, who then in their perilous situation became sensible of the madness of their conduct. The rest they hindered from casting themselves down, by telling them of the destruction of those who had taken the first leap. When at length the Jews perceived how fearfully they had been duped, they blamed first of all their own indiscreet credulity, and then sought to lay hold of the pseudo-Moses in order to put him to death. But they were unable to seize him, for he suddenly disappeared which induced a general belief that it was some malignant fiend, who had assumed a human form for the destruction of their nation in that place. In consequence of this experience many of the Jews in Crete at that time abandoning Judaism attached themselves to the Christian faith.”
  • (Socrates Scholasticus, History of the Church, Book 7, Chapter 38, p. 388).

Yemeni Madman

When medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides wrote his letter to Yemen, the Jewish community in that backward land faced daunting challenges including a Muslim ruler willing to practice forcible conversion and also a home-grown fanatic who claimed to be the Messiah. The great Maimonides explained that, while it is not illegal to claim to be the Messiah, false prophecy is a death-penalty crime, and inasmuch as the Messiah is also a prophet, the man who says, falsely, 'I am the Messiah' is fit for execution:

  • “Do you not know, my brother, that the Messiah is a very eminent prophet, more illustrious than all the prophets after Moses? Do you not know that a false pretender to prophecy is liable to capital punishment, for having arrogated to himself unwarranted distinction, just as the person who prophesies in the name of idols is put to death, as we read in Scripture 'But the prophet that shall speak a word presumptuously in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.' (Deuteronomy 18:20). What better evidence is there of his mendacity, than his very pretensions to be the Messiah.”
  • (Moses Maimonides, Letter to Yemen, Chapter xvi.).

Simon bar Kochba

Simon bar Kochba was acclaimed as Messiah by the influential Rabbi Akiba, often cited in the Talmud. Bar Kochba was a Messiah after Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's heart: he was a violent revolutionary. As far as the outcome of his policies, he ultimately achieved the same level of success as Moses of Crete. Evidently championing the wrong horse did no harm to Rabbi Akiba's reputation; though the 'prophet' of a failed Messiah, he is still quoted in the Talmud as a legal authority. One must wonder if any of the worthies quoted in that work were advocates of the Messianic claims of Jesus of Nazareth! The collapse of bar Kochba's revolt led to the Jewish depopulation of Palestine. Though there were still Jewish residents,— there continued to be a small Jewish population in the Holy Land throughout the medieval period and into modern times,— they were no longer the majority in their own land.

Rabbi Akiba came under criticism from his colleagues for his identification of bar Kochba as the Messiah:

"Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai taught: 'Aqiba, my master, used to interpret a star goes forth from Jacob as 'Kozeba goes forth from Jacob'. Rabbi Aqiba, when he saw Bar Kozeba, said: 'This is the king Messiah!' Rabbi Johanan ben Torta said to him: 'Aqiba! Grass will grow on your cheeks and still the son of David does not come!'" (Palestinian Talmud, Ta'anit 4.5, from livius.org.).

In other words, 'You'll be dead in the grave pushing up daisies before the Messiah comes.' Rabbi Still, Akiba thought bar Kochba was the real deal, described in the Bible as follows:

Born at Bethlehem Pierced
O God His Bones
Cast Lots Born of a Virgin
Mother's Children Lifted Up
Stretched Out My Hands On a Donkey
Weeks The Grave
Thirty Pieces of Silver Light to the Gentiles
Out of Egypt House of David
House of My Friends With the Transgressors
Eyes of the Blind With the Rich
I thirst Darkness over the Land
Gall and Vinegar Shame and Spitting
Familiar Friend Son of Man
Den of Thieves Afar Off
E'er the Sun

Israel fell under suffocating pressure in bar Kochba's day. A Roman imperial law forbidding genital mutilation was held to apply to circumcision, at least according to the (partly fictional) Augustan History: "At this time also the Jews began war, because they were forbidden to practice circumcision." (Augustan History, The Life of Hadrian, Part 1, Chapter 13). The government promised to rebuild Jerusalem, devastated by the Jewish War, but then proceeded to redesign that holy site as a pagan city. The pressure built up until there was an explosion. A whole life-time had passed with the temple laying in ruins, and perhaps people had forgotten how tough it is to fight and prevail against those stolid and unyielding pagans, who swarm like ants to any damaged area of their empire. The war raged from 132-136 A.D. Bar Kochba's revolt was successful at first, as such things are wont to be, but the patient, persistent, phlegmatic, and indefatigable pagan Romans fought back inch by inch and regained Palestine.

Because the Jewish Christians were unwilling to entertain the possibility that Simon bar Kochba was the Messiah, he made them his enemies:

  • “They [holy books] are also in the possession of all Jews throughout the world; but they, though they read, do not understand what is said, but count us foes and enemies; and, like yourselves, they kill and punish us whenever they have the power, as you can well believe. For in the Jewish war which lately raged, Barchochebas, the leader of the revolt of the Jews, gave orders that Christians alone should be led to cruel punishments, unless they would deny Jesus Christ and utter blasphemy.”
  • (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 31.)

Sabbatai Sevi, False Christ

"Notwithstanding the deep hatred entertained by the Jews for their enemies, they did not avenge themselves upon such as fell into their hands. It was only against the Jewish Christians who lived in Judaea that Bar-Kochba displayed his hostility, because they were considered as blasphemers and as spies. This hatred against the Jewish Christians was increased because they refused to take part in the national war, and were the only idle lookers-on at the fearful spectacle." (History of the Jews, by Heinrich Graetz, Volume II, Chapter XV, pp. 411-412).

For a 'Messiah,' bar Kochba does not seem overly pious, at least to judge by his reported fighting cry, "He thereupon had two hundred thousand men of each class; and when they went forth to battle they cried, 'O God, neither help nor discourage us!'" (Midrash Rabbah Lamentations 2.2§4, quoted at livius.org.) The outcome of this war for national liberation was catastrophe. Judaea was left depopulated:

  • “At first the Romans took no account of them. Soon, however, all Judaea had been stirred up, and the Jews everywhere were showing signs of disturbance, were gathering together, and giving evidence of great hostility to the Romans, partly by secret and partly by overt acts; many outside nations, too, were joining them through eagerness for gain, and the whole earth, one might almost say, was being stirred up over the matter. Then, indeed, Hadrian sent against them his best generals. First of these was Julius Severus, who was dispatched from Britain, where he was governor, against the Jews. Severus did not venture to attack his opponents in the open at any one point, in view of their numbers and their desperation, but by intercepting small groups, thanks to the number of his soldiers and his under-officers, and by depriving them of food and shutting them up, he was able, rather slowly, to be sure, but with comparatively little danger, to crush, exhaust and exterminate them. Very few of them in fact survived.
  • “Fifty of their most important outposts and nine hundred and eighty-five of their most famous villages were razed to the ground. Five hundred and eighty thousand men were slain in the various raids and battles, and the number of those that perished by famine, disease and fire was past finding out. Thus nearly the whole of Judaea was made desolate, a result of which the people had had forewarning before the war. For the tomb of Solomon, which the Jews regard as an object of veneration, fell to pieces of itself and collapsed, and many wolves and hyenas rushed howling into their cities. Many Romans, moreover, perished in this war. Therefore Hadrian in writing to the senate did not employ the opening phrase commonly affected by the emperors, 'If you and our children are in health, it is well; I and the legions are in health.'”
  • (Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 69, Chapters 13-14)

The Emperor Hadrian de-Judaized Palestine, building a pagan sanctuary on the temple site, with his own equestrian statue gracing the former Holy of Holies. According to church historian Eusebius, it was this pagan emperor's deliberate policy to eliminate any future potential military threat by reconfiguring the population of Palestine:

  • “As the rebellion of the Jews at this time grew much more serious, Rufus, governor of Judea, after an auxiliary force had been sent him by the emperor, using their madness as a pretext, proceeded against them without mercy, and destroyed indiscriminately thousands of men and women and children, and in accordance with the laws of war reduced their country to a state of complete subjection. The leader of the Jews at this time was a man by the name of Barcocheba (which signifies a star), who possessed the character of a robber and a murderer, but nevertheless, relying upon his name, boasted to them, as if they were slaves, that he possessed wonderful powers; and he pretended that he was a star that had come down to them out of heaven to bring them light in the midst of their misfortunes. The war raged most fiercely in the eighteenth year of Adrian, at the city of Bithara, which was a very secure fortress, situated not far from Jerusalem.
  • “When the siege had lasted a long time, and the rebels had been driven to the last extremity by hunger and thirst, and the instigator of the rebellion had suffered his just punishment, the whole nation was prohibited from this time on by a decree, and by the commands of Adrian, from ever going up to the country about Jerusalem. For the emperor gave orders that they should not even see from a distance the land of their fathers. Such is the account of Aristo of Pella. And thus, when the city had been emptied of the Jewish nation and had suffered the total destruction of its ancient inhabitants, it was colonized by a different race, and the Roman city which subsequently arose changed its name and was called Aelia, in honor of the emperor Aelius Adrian. And as the church there was now composed of Gentiles, the first one to assume the government of it after the bishops of the circumcision was Marcus.”
  • (Eusebius, Church History, Book 4, Chapter 6).

Here, indeed, was Rabbi Boteach's 'Fighting Messiah,' albeit a spectacularly unsuccessful one. Hmmm. . .who is it who said, "Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." (Matthew 26:52)? Bar Kochba's tarnished reputation has been restored in modern times; he is widely regarded in Israel today as a great hero of the Jewish nation. Israeli kindergartners are taught to sing a ditty that runs, "Bar Kochba was a Hero/He fought for Liberty." And indeed such figures have two sides. Queen Boudicca of the British Iceni led her people into ruin, as did bar Kochba. That is one way of looking at it. But she fought for freedom, seeking to expel the Roman parasites who had battened down on the flesh and blood of the British people, as did Simon:

"We fought for much more than that. We fought for Jerusalem and the Temple and for what they represent to us. We fought for the right of every individual Judean to fear nothing and no one but God; to plant his field without being afraid that others will eat of it; to raise children without being afraid that they will grow up to be slaves. And to be free — truly free — in his mind and his soul as well as his body." (Rabbi Akiba's speech, p. 266, 'Son of a Star,' by Andrew Meisels, one of many historical novels about bar Kochba.)

The Messiah, however, Simon bar Kochba certainly was not. As to who slew him and why, I leave you the mysterious words of the Talmud: "Bar Koziba reigned two and a half years, and then said to the Rabbis, 'I am the Messiah.' They answered, 'Of Messiah it is written that he smells and judges: let us see whether he [Bar Koziba] can do so.' When they saw that he was unable to judge by the scent, they slew him." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 93b.) The idea of 'smell' is deduced by exhaustion from, "And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth:. . ." (Isaiah 11:3-4).

Emperor Vespasian

As mentioned, the Roman emperor Vespasian was advanced as a Messianic candidate. He seems himself to have encouraged this identification, including him among the select few pagan idolatrous aspirants. The Roman historian Tacitus, though contemptuous of Judaism and its prophets, explains that Vespasian in fact fulfilled the prophecies of the anointed one.

"Some few put a fearful meaning on these evens, but in most there was a firm persuasion, that in the ancient records of their priests was contained a prediction of how at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers, coming from Judaea, were to acquire universal empire. These mysterious prophecies had pointed to Vespasian and Titus, but the common people, with the usual blindness of ambition, had interpreted these mighty destinies of themselves, and could not be brought even by disasters to believe the truth." (Tacitus, The Histories, 5.13).

One of the fascinating things about this otherwise not overly credible Messianic claimant is the way his claim is consciously patterned after that of an earlier Messiah, namely Jesus of Nazareth, who healed the sick and gave sight to the blind:

"One of the common people of Alexandria, well known for his blindness, threw himself at the Emperor's knees, and implored him with groans to heal his infirmity. . .He begged Vespasian that he would design to moisten his cheeks and eye-balls with his spittle. Another with a diseased hand, at the counsel of the same God, prayed that the limb might feel the print of a Caesar's foot. At first Vespasian ridiculed and repulsed them. . .And so Vespasian, supposing that all things were possible to his good fortune, and that nothing was any longer past belief, with a joyful countenance, amid the intense expectation of the multitude of bystanders, accomplished what was required." (Tacitus, The Histories, 4.81).

This identification, which seems a bit artificial and strained, would seem to have been government policy, because Suetonius mentions it as well: "A firm persuasion had long prevailed through all the East, that it was fated for the empire of the world, at that time, to devolve on some who should go forth from Judaea. This prediction referred to a Roman emperor, as the event showed; but the Jews, applying it to themselves, broke out into rebellion, and having defeated and slain their governor, routed the lieutenant of Syria, a man of consular rank, who was advancing to his assistance, and took an eagle, the standard, of one of his legions." (Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Vespasian, Chapter IV).

Beyond controversy, this was a political Messianic aspirant, and a very successful one at that; he ruled the world, or a sizeable chunk of it at any rate. But how remarkable that, within forty years of the crucifixion, the most powerful man in the world is reduced to aping Jesus of Nazareth, as the only means of retaining the power of civil government over Judaea and Galilee.

Modern atheist author Joseph Atwill sometimes makes the Emperor Vespasian the Messiah, sometimes his son Titus, sometimes other parties. As can be seen from Josephus, Messiah Vespasian's 'prophet,' Vespasian is not claiming to be 'a' Christ, but the Christ, the fulfillment of the Old Testament oracles:

"But now, what did the most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how, about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth. The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea." (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 5, Section 4, p. 1745).

This seems on its face like cynical imposture. However, the unlettered Arabian prophet drew the conclusion, from the successful outcome of the battle of Badr, that God was with him; Josephus seems to have drawn a similar conclusion from Roman military success. Oddly enough, Joseph Atwill claims Vespasian commissioned a work of fiction, to be represented as fact, identifying another party as the Messiah. Maybe he wasn't really all that into it.

The Flavians Black Humor
Prophetic Perspective Quality Control
Tie a Red String Highly Prefigured
Son of Man The Supreme Pontiff
To the Lions U.S.S. Missouri
Cannibal Feast Replicants
How Many Gods? Malachi

Biblical difficulties include the fact that the Messiah must be Jewish: “Their nobles shall be from among them, and their governor shall come from their midst; then I will cause him to draw near, and he shall approach Me; for who is this who pledged his heart to approach Me?’ says the Lord. ‘You shall be My people, and I will be your God.’” (Jeremiah 30:21-22). This is a general rule for choosing a king over Israel:

“When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.” (Deuteronomy 17:14-15).


Serene appeared in Syria in the eight century A.D.:

 "Natronai states in his responsum (l.c.) that Serene represented himself as the Messiah, establishing certain religious observances opposed to the rabbinical law, abolishing prayer, neglecting the laws of "terefah," not guarding the wine against "nesek," working on the second holy day, and abolishing both the ketubah and certain incest laws established by the scribes.

"The date of Serene's appearance is given by Isidor Pacensis ("Chronicon," in Florez's "Espaņa Sagrada," viii. 298) as 103 of the Hegira (c. 720 C.E.), which was during the reign of Yazid II. This same historian states that in Spain many Jews abandoned all their property and prepared to join the supposed Messiah. The latter, indeed, owing to his promise to put the Jews in possession of the Holy Land, and, perhaps, owing to his hostility toward the Talmud, gained many adherents. He was finally captured and taken before Yazid II., who put some questions to him concerning his Messianic qualities which he was unable to answer. He declared that he had never had any serious design against the calif, and that he desired only to mock the Jews, whereupon he was handed to the latter for punishment. His adherents, having repented of their credulity, on the advice of Natronai Gaon were received again into their communities." (Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906 online, Article "Serene.")

How did Serene expect his scattered people to gather from the ends of the earth and assemble in Jerusalem? They would fly upon a cloud, of course:

"The same motif already had occurred in an earlier messianic movement, inspired by a certain Serenus (?). The fragmentary references to this movement, which occurred in the Orient at the beginning of the eighth century, indicate that the Jews expected to fly through the air to Jerusalem." (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: the Mystical Messiah,' p. 595).

A later movement in Baghdad, in the first half of the twelfth century, specifies angel wings as the mode of transport:

"'They [the Jews of Baghdad] gave a great part of their property to charity, prepared green garments for themselves, and assembled on the appointed night on the roofs of their houses, where they waited for the angels that would carry them to Jerusalem on their wings.' For a long time, that year was referred to as 'the year of the flight' by the Jews of Baghdad." (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: the Mystical Messiah,' p. 595).

Some readers profess to be astonished at the idea that the Messiah might make any sort of change to the law, yet Serene, like Jesus of Nazareth, was a legal reformer:

"One formidable protest came early in the eighth century when a certain Serene proclaimed himself, in Syria, as the long-awaited Messiah, divinely ordained to expel the Moslems from the Holy Land. He released his followers from dependence upon the Talmud, abolishing the dietary laws, the regulations that governed the holidays, and the other practices which, he thought, pressed heavily on the people. Serene gained thousands of adherents, and his fame spread as far as Spain. He was soon captured, however, by the caliph, Yazed II, who turned him over to the Jews for punishment and thus effectively ended his Messianic pretensions." (Abram Leon Sachar, A History of the Jews, p. 162).

Notice that several of the 'things which never happen' happen here: the 'Messiah' changes the law, and is opposed by the religious authorities. Realizing that some critics feel free to toss out the historical accounts, the gospels, because they include 'things which never happen,' it is refreshing to discover how often these features do occur. Of course, a Messianic aspirant who is false, who is deceiving the people, is a threat to public safety as well as soul destroyer,— in the eighth century as in the first.

David Alroy

"A pseudo-Messiah who lived about 1160; born at Amadia in Kurdistan. He became thoroughly proficient in Biblical and Talmudic knowledge, studying under Hisdai, the Prince of the Exile, and under Ali, the head of the Academy in Bagdad. . .The materials for a rebellion being thus at hand, David Alroy raised the banner of revolt against the Seljuk Sultan Muktafi, and called upon the oppressed people of Israel to regard him as their long-expected Messiah. He promised to lead his brethren to the recapture of Jerusalem, after which he would be their king, and they would forever be free. In the adjacent district of Adherbaijan there lived a number of warlike Jews who had their homes among the mountains of Chaftan, and these men Alroy sought to win over to his cause. To his brethren in Mosul, Bagdad, and other towns, he sent letters announcing his divine mission, and summoning them to aid him in waging war upon the Moslems and to shake off their yoke. His intimate knowledge of the magic arts is said to have convinced many Jews of the truth of his pretensions, and Alroy soon found himself with a considerable following, burning to free themselves from Moslem tyranny. He resolved to attack the citadel of his native town, Amadia, and directed his supporters to assemble in that city, with swords and other weapons concealed under their robes, and to give, as a pretext for their presence, their desire to study the Talmud with such a distinguished scholar as himself." (Jewish Encyclopedia, Article "David Alroy," 1906 edition online.)

The details of what happened next are somewhat sketchy. Suffice it to say, he was not successful, though he did evidently succeed in leaving a sect of "Menahemites" to revere his memory. He was the kind of 'Fighting Messiah' close to Rabbi Boteach's heart; but who has heard of him? And who has not heard of Jesus?

Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia

This Kabbalist pioneer first went looking for the ten lost tribes: "At the age of eighteen he was wandering eastward in search of the river Sambation, by the banks of which the lost ten tribes of Israel were reputed to dwell, awaiting the coming of the Messiah." (Abram Leon Sachar, A History of the Jews, p. 234). Upon his return he went straight to the top:

"Abulafia soon left Spain again, and in 1279 wrote at Patras, in Greece, the first of his prophetic books, "Sefer ha-Yashar" (The Book of the Righteous). In obedience to an inner voice, he went in 1280 to Rome, in order to effect the conversion of Pope Nicholas III. on the day before New Year, 5041. The pope, then in Suriano, heard of it, and issued orders to burn the fanatic as soon as he reached that place. Close to the inner gate the stake was erected in preparation; but not in the least disturbed, Abulafia set out for Suriano and reached there August 22. While passing through the outer gate, he heard that the pope had succumbed to an apoplectic stroke during the preceding night. Returning to Rome, he was thrown into prison by the Minorites, but was liberated after four weeks' detention. He was next heard of in Sicily, where he appeared as a prophet and Messiah. This claim was put an end to by a letter to the people of Palermo, which most energetically condemned Abulafia's conduct. It was written by R. Solomon ben Adret, who strove with all his power to guide men's minds aright in that trying time of hysterical mental confusion. Abulafia had to take up the pilgrim's staff anew, and under distressing conditions compiled his "Sefer ha-Ot" (The Book of the Sign) on the little island of Comino, near Malta, 1285-88. In 1291 he wrote his last, and perhaps his most intelligible, work, "Imre Shefer" (Words of Beauty); after this all trace of him is lost." (Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906 edition online, Article Abraham Abulafia).

Asher Lemmlein

The 'John the Baptist' of an unknown, and no-show, 'Messiah' who was to appear that very year:

"Pretended forerunner of the Messiah. He appeared in Istria, near Venice, in 1502, and announced the coming of the Messiah in that very year, provided the Jews showed repentance and practiced charity. Having gained many adherents in Italy, Lemmlein traveled through Austria and Germany, receiving there both sympathy and credence. . .There were much fasting, much praying, and much distribution of alms wherever Lemmlein passed, so that the year of his propaganda was called the year of penitence. But he suddenly disappeared; and the agitation came to an end." (The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906 edition, online, Article "Lemmlein, Asher").

Maybe he made enough money to retire to the country-side. Maybe he's in occultation.

Solomon Molko

A rare treat, a Christian revert, — although the Marranos were not really converts in the first place: "Reubeni's appearance stirred the latent mysticism of a young marrano of excellent family, Diego Pires, who was serving as royal secretary in a high court of justice. He had immersed himself in the Cabala and was thoroughly convinced that the Messianic era was at hand. He sought out Reubeni, but the wily charlatan refused to interview him. Diego attributed the rebuff to the circumstance that he was a marrano, living in falsehood and sin. He returned to Judaism, adopted the name of Solomon Molko, submitted to circumcision, saw visions in which he was commanded to preach the coming of the Messiah, and secretly left Portugal." (Abram Leon Sachar, A History of the Jews, p. 159). He too turns up at Rome, and pantomimes the famous Talmudic vignette of the leper Messiah:

"I questioned him further when the Messiah will appear. And he answered: Go and ask him himself. 'But where is he to be found?' 'At the gate of Rome, among poor people inflicted with wounds.' 'And how can I recognize him?' All the inflicted poor open the bandages of all their wounds, fix all of them and then dress them. And he opens one bandage, fixes the wound and dresses it, and then goes on to the next one, for the reason that perhaps he will be cold and there will be a delay till all the wounds are dressed." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume XVI, Tract Sanhedrin, Chapter XI, Kindle location 65142).

Like the man says, "He [Solomon Molko] preached to vast audiences of wondering Jews and in 1529 arrived outside of Rome. In conformity with the Messianic tradition, he remained in rags for a month, among the poor and the leprous, and then, starved and worn by his self-inflicted privations, he entered the city of wickedness." (Abram Leon Sachar, A History of the Jews, p. 239). This looks like symbolic speech. He ultimately fell into the hands of the Inquisition, — he was, after all, a lapsed Catholic, — and they dealt with him as they dealt with all for whom no pigeon-hole could be found, they burned him at the stake.

Sabbatai Sevi

Like Jesus of Nazareth, who lays claim to over two billion souls in the world today, Sabbatai Sevi still has followers: the people called the Donmeh in Turkey, who practice a syncretistic religion incorporating his Messianic claims. Some elements of this Messianic movement are familiar to Christians: Sabbatai Sevi sent twelve apostles, his prophet Nathan of Gaza preached a gospel of justification by faith, and the Messiah proclaimed his ability to forgive sins. One glaringly discordant element: Sabbatai Sevi was a Kabbalist.

The Kabbalah is a medieval revival of gnosticism, which recasts this world, not as the deliberate, willed creation of a transcendent God, but the involuntary result of a series of emanations which, after an unintended accident called the 'breaking of the vessels,' left us with this world we see around us: a 'Super-fund' clean-up project, which requires human effort to make right. Indeed it is up to humanity to repair not only the world but also God Himself, who was broken in the disaster that led to the formation of the world. This clean-up project magnifies man, making him into a sort of 'God-maker:'

"The Zohar says that every time we choose to subdue and subjugate evil, God’s glory rises higher." (Boteach, Shmuley (2011-12-07). Kosher Jesus (p. 204). Gefen Publishing House. Kindle Edition.)

More precisely, it is some men, Israel, who make it their business to 'raise the sparks,' bits and pieces of the divine which have fallen into the pit: "Israel's task, according to the kabbalists, was not to be a light to the nations but, on the contrary, to extract from them the very last sparks of holiness and life." (Gershom Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, p. 46). Readers familiar with earlier forms of gnosticism like the Valentinian system will notice 'Israel' have been substituted for the 'spiritual' upper-crust, while the lower, bestial, altogether unredeemable carnal half-men are now 'Gentiles.' Other than that, it's standard-brand gnosticism. Like other Kabbalists, this group believed in an infinite, unbounded, unknowable deity, Ein Sof, with which mankind can make no contact, who then 'emanated' a set of personal attributes by which he can be known and, indeed, manipulated. These are the ten aeons or sefirot. This is not polytheism because the 'water' in the 'vessels' is the same water: "The explanation is this. Know that the supernal [world of ] Emanation [that is, the sefiroth of the Godhead] is like unto the great sea. The water at the shore is the same as that in the middle of the sea, and all are one. Even so it is with His Emanation." (Gershom Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, p. 316). The Kabbalah proclaims the 'good news' that God is broken and in need of repair by human hands:

Sabbatai Sevi attracted a 'prophet,' Nathan of Gaza, who made a spirited defense of his claims, even after Sabbatai's apostasy and defection to Islam. One rather surprising talking-point of Sabbatai's Messianic claims is the fact that he was not a well man. He was sick: Gershom Scholem infers his illness was manic-depression, or bipolar disorder. This fits him within the parameters of Isaiah 53, the Suffering Servant:

"In the Tannaitic period the 'suffering servant' passages had occasionally been interpreted as referring to the messiah, but later Haggadists as well as the medieval commentators preferred different interpretations. In order to undermine Christian exegesis, which identified the suffering servant with Christ, he was interpreted as a figure of Moses, or of Israel, or of the pious in general. . .However, Moses Alsheikh, one of Vital's teachers, popularized the messianic interpretation of the chapter by his widely read commentary on the Prophets, Mar'oth ha-Sobe'oth (The Looking Glass).
"In fact, even Vital occasionally resorted to the messianic interpretation of the figure of the suffering servant, associating it with the person of his master, Isaac Luria. One of Vital's last disciples, Hayyim ha-Kohen of Aleppo, enlarging on the messianic significance of Isaiah 53, thus comments on the expression 'a man of pains and acquainted with disease.' 'I received the interpretation of this from my master, the divine kabbalist [R. Hayyim Vital] of blessed memory. The Redeemer of Israel will be marked by two signs: He will be a man of pains and acquainted with disease. The meaning of 'man of pains' is that he will always be suffering, and also that he will always and permanently suffer from a specific disease. That is [the meaning of] 'acquainted with disease,' which was the case with his [Vital's ] master, Isaac Luria of blessed memory." (Gershom Schlem, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, pp. 53-55).

This stress on disease comes from a hyper-literalistic reading of Isaiah 53:3, "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not." Some of the Rabbis had even narrowed the illness down, to leprosy, from which neither Jesus nor Sabbatai Sevi is known to have suffered:

"He then asked him, 'When will the Messiah come?' — 'Go and ask him himself,' was his reply. 'Where is he sitting?' — 'At the entrance.'41 And by what sign may I recognize him?' — 'He is sitting among the poor lepers: all of them untie [them] all at once, and rebandage them together, whereas he unties and rebandages each separately, [before treating the next], thinking, should I be wanted, [it being time for my appearance as the Messiah] I must not be delayed [through having to bandage a number of sores].' So he went to him and greeted him, saying, 'peace upon thee, Master and Teacher.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 98a.).
"The Rabbis said: His name is 'the leper scholar,' as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 98b.).

One element of interest in Sabbatai Sevi's travails is the reaction he got from the religious authorities of his day. According to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of 'The Kosher Jesus,' inasmuch as there is no possible reason for a Messianic claimant to fall into conflict with the religious supervisory class, reports that Jesus did so are anti-semitic fabrications. One wonders if that makes reports of Sabbatai's conflicts with the Rabbis into anti-semitic fabrications as well. Of course after his final apostasy and conversion to Islam, the wonder is more that some of his tens of thousands of followers continued loyal, rather than that others denounced him. Bossuet says that "tout les juifs," 'all the Jews,' (Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, Discours sur l'histoire universelle, Kindle location 3680) followed after him, at least up until the point he apostatized; but the power structure showed more resistance, even immunity, to his charms.

Even early on, he ran into nay-sayers. He uttered the divine name. Some were troubled by his propensity for 'strange acts,' like pushing a fish in a baby carriage, acts which purportedly held some deep symbolic significance, but which served rather to convince some people 'the Messiah' was a mental case. A pantomime of this sort got him expelled from Salonika, where he travelled after his banishment from Smyrna, even without revealing his Messianic claim: "Having invited the most prominent rabbis to a banquet, he erected a bridal canopy, had a Torah scroll brought in, and performed the marriage ceremony between himself and the Torah. . .'Instead of attributing this action to his great holiness, they accused him of madness. And as they were afraid that these and similar innovations might have dangerous consequences, they forced him to leave the city.'" (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah,' p. 159).

Then there was his conviction the law of Moses would not continue unchanged in the Messianic era, rather the Messiah would reveal a "new law:" "Then God will give him a new law and new commandments" (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah,' p. 162) according to which he allowed his followers to eat forbidden things. The Kabbalah, being a reversion to gnosticism, might have become an issue of controversy with defenders of monotheism, but most of these Rabbis were Kabbalists just as was Sabbatai. Then there is the inevitable conflict with those who are comfortable with the status quo:

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers." (Matthew 23:29-31).

Sabbatai Sevi did not begin with the public declaration of his Messianic vocation, but privately revealed this 'Messianic secret' to friends and associates. Even at this stage, he got into trouble:

"Sasportas, writing about 1669, tells that 'some twenty years ago, he [Sabbatai] opened his mouth, saying 'I am the messiah' and uttering the Ineffable Name of God, so that the great rabbi Joseph Eskapha, who was his principal teacher, rebuked and outlawed him, and announced "whoever strikes him down first deserves well, for he will lead Israel into sin and make a new religion." He also wrote to Constantinople about this matter.'" (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah,' p. 142).

Perhaps Rabbi Eskapha was a prophet, because Sabbatai did ultimately found his own religion, but he had stated no such intention at that time. Another source confirms his hostility: "Coenen mentions the persecutions without giving exact dates. The 'Grand Rabbi Eskapha' is said to have advised the secret killing of Sabbatai, but since nobody wanted to lay hands on him, it was decided to banish Sabbatai from the city.' In 1665 Nathan writes that Sabbatai 'suffered exile for eighteen years, hunted from pillar to post, and many a time his blood was declared free for all.'" (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah,' p. 150). Other than R. Eskapha's warning that "this one will entice you to serve the Baals," no justification is offered for this unkind reception of a wanna-be Messiah.

Are all these reports of persecution anti-semitic fabrications? When his peregrinations landed him in Constantinople, he met a similar reception:

"When the rabbis realized 'that some new sect, which might confuse minds, was fermenting in his brain, they did not act like the rabbis of Salonika who expelled him, but dispatched an officer of the rabbinic court who gave him forty stripes, and forbade his company to all Jews on pain of a penalty;' that is, they excommunicated him" (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah,' p. 161).

Sabbatai was not a fighting Messiah like bar Kochba; his warfare was without weapons, "He will go forth to the war without hands. . ." (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah,' p. 225). This group believed that singing psalms would bring down strong-holds, as Nathan of Gaza explained:

"And now I shall disclose the course of events. A year and a few month from today, he [Sabbatai] will take the dominion from the Turkish king without war, for by [the power of] the hymns and praises which he shall utter, all nations shall submit to his rule. (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah,' p. 272).

Like Jesus, he ascribed names and titles of deity to himself: "The second verse of Genesis was even more fascinating. An old rabbinic source comments on the verse. . .'and the spirit of God moved upon the waters,' in these words: 'this is the spirit of the Messiah.'. . .The verse thus mystically signified 'and the spirit of Sabbatai Sevi was upon the waters.'. . .For the time being, all this was merely hinted at, but it was only a short step from there to such public and audacious expressions of his faith as his later signatures to his letters: 'the firstborn' of the Lord, or even 'I am the Lord you God Sabbatai Sevi.'" (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah,' pp. 234-235). He also used the phrase "only-begotten," relying upon the binding of Isaac?: "'The only-begotten and first-born Son of God Sabbatai Sevi, the Anointed of the God of Jacob and Saviour of Israel, to all the Sons of Israel, peace.'" (Text of proclamation by Sabbatai Sevi, quoted Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah,' p. 616.):

His followers understood what he was getting at. As a delegation of Polish Jews who visited in prison at Gallipoli confessed, "He [Sabbatai] said, 'But I want you to sit with me,' and so they sat with him. A bowl filled with fruit was brought in and he  said to them, 'Recite the benediction,' but they replied, 'How can we eat? This would be to fulfill Scripture [Exod. 24:11]: and they saw God, and did eat and drink, for now it seems to us that we are in the celestial paradise.'" (Text of proclamation by Sabbatai Sevi, quoted Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah,' p. 624). You will often hear it said that no Jew could ever claim to be God. Bart Ehrman says so: "This is quite different from the situation that we find in, say, Egypt, where the pharaohs claimed direct divine lineage; or with Alexander the Great, who accepted cultic veneration; or with some of the Roman emperors, who actively propagated the idea that they were gods. This never happens in Judaism that we know of." (Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God, p. 126). Oh, but it does happen in Judaism! Sabbatai Sevi, who must be ranked in the top tier of Messianic claimants in terms of the number of adherents he attracted, made the very same claims as did Jesus of Nazareth. After all, the Old Testament says what it says.

Sabbatai met with a hostile reception from the Rabbis of Jerusalem partly on account of these titles of deity: "Rumors would have reached them that Sabbatai was applying to himself the names of God; he had even declared that the prayer 'It is our duty to praise the Lord of all' referred to him, since it contained the phrase 'to establish the world in the kingdom of the Almighty (Shaddday)." (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah,' pp. 239-240). For numerological reasons, Sabbatai thought the divine name 'Shadday' was his name. Of course this fueled controversy, as it did when Jesus of Nazareth made similar claims:

"In this deposition, R. Abraham Yishaki — a witness who is hardly suspect of Sabbatian sympathies — is quoted as reporting Galante's own words to the effect that he had neither despised Sabbatai nor believed in him, but that he had turned against him after having seen letters which Sabbatai had written to Jerusalem and signed 'I am the Lord your God Sabbatai Sevi.' Since then (that is, probably since 1666), 'I am cursing him every day.'" (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah,' p. 247).

When he threatened to visit the temple mount (Mosque of Omar) to perform a sacrifice, the Rabbis, aghast, beseeched him to stay away: "Sabbatai later told Laniado that when news of the preparations reached the rabbis of Jerusalem, they rent their clothes in mourning over the blasphemy and in fear of the dire consequences for the community which such an entry into a Muslim holy place would provoke. They sent a message to Sabbatai: 'Why do you want to deliver Israel to death and why do you destroy the Lord's inheritance?'" (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, p. 240). They considered turning him over to the Gentiles: "The report suggests that the rabbis may have tried to get rid of Sabbatai by denouncing him as a rebel to the Turkish authorities." (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah,' p. 241), but ultimately contented themselves with banishing and expelling him:

"Coenen was told in Smyrna that the rabbis of Jerusalem had not believed in Sabbatai, but had expelled and excommunicated him, and sent a full report of his doings to Constantinople. Thereupon the rabbis of the capital dispatched a letter, signed by R. Yomtob (b. Hananiah) b. Yaqar, to their colleagues in Smyrna. R. Yomtob b. Yaqar had added a postscript after his signature: 'The man who spreads these innovations is a heretic, and whoever kills him will be accounted as one who has saved many souls, and the hand that strike him down without delay will be blessed in the eyes of God and man.'" (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah,' p. 249).

It was presumably only his tens of thousands of adherents that preserved Sabbatai from this fate, though he was preserved only for a worse fate. People's natural desire for self-preservation is a powerful motivator: "According to his version of the story, the community of Jerusalem had written to Gaza, with the advice to 'separate yourselves from the tents of these madmen, lest both we and you be found sinning against the king [that is, the sultan], but neither Sabbatai nor Nathan would listen to the voice of the rabbis of Jerusalem.'" (Gershom Scholem, 'Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah,' pp. 250-251).

Since Sabbatai Sevi lived in the Christian era, some of his behavior may have involved conscious or unconscious mimicry of Christianity, but the Rabbis' hostile response (of course, he also had many Rabbinic followers) was unscripted. This is what happens when you make such claims. Sabbatai's kind of Kabbalism, which romances the 'dark side,' ought to have been controversial, but the 'orthodox' Rabbis themselves held similar views. Gnosticism comes into vogue when times are tough, during a 'Dark Age,' as it did for the Bogomils and Cathars, when the world is upended, or in times of exile, as with Israel. It is a way of raging against God, which preserves its own piety and regard for holiness by isolating the 'good God' [the God who sent Jesus] from the 'bad God' [the God of Israel], or, in those gnostics subject to the authority of the Shema, isolating God's 'goodness' from His 'other side.' The 'roots' of evil reside within God Himself/Herself, and humanity are innocent victims. How, otherwise, to account for all the harm and suffering in the world?:

Personally it strikes me that the Kabbalah has arisen from the pit and smells like smoke, but not everyone concurs. The strange tale of Sabbatai Sevi, his peregrinations and his sufferings, does not conform to the pattern which Rabbi Shmuley Boteach presents in his book, 'The Kosher Jesus,' as the inevitable 'watchful waiting' pattern of interaction between the religious authorities and Messianic candidates. Of course once he apostatized and embraced Islam, it is no wonder that they condemned him, the wonder is that not everyone did so.

One strange feature Sabbatai Sevi shares with Samaritan false Messiah Simon Magus, is having been married to a prostitute. . .or maybe not. Some people keep trying to push Jesus to join the club, partnering Him with Mary Magdalene! Of course it is not now possible to find out the facts, but some thought so:

"The most outspoken statement comes from an anonymous French correspondent, who not only says that her reputation as a harlot preceded her to the East, but also that Sabbatai married her precisely for that reason, so as to imitate or fulfill the words of the prophet Hosea (1:2), 'take unto thee a wife of whoredoms.'" (Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, by Gershom Scholem, pp. 195-196).

The later Sabbatians wandered far into antinomianism. It is not clear now how much of this later development to lay at Sabbatai's feet, although the inherent wickedness of the Kabbalah hangs heavy over all these proceedings; Nathan of Gaza gave Sabbatai the title "the king of demons" (Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, by Gershom Scholem, p. 695),— what a wonderful title for the Messiah! In fairness, if the Christian progression had run, Jesus-Paul-Carpocrates, skipping over the mainstream church, observers might think the Carpocratians' wickedness had lain there from the start, like an unexploded land mine, inherent in the idea of salvation by faith. Sabbatai's ceremonial innovations were an offense against the Rabbis, not against the law, which in any case is to be renovated in the Messianic era: "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. . ." (Jeremiah 31:31). He was accused of worse, however.

One of Nathan of Gaza's unacknowledged progeny was Sigmund Freud, who repackaged some of this material as the 'science' of psychotherapy. The idea that the way down is the way up, the idea that immoral behavior is a great fount of liberation and enlightenment, so depressingly familiar from twentieth century literature, and so obviously false on its face, are borrowings by this later author from the 'prophet' who invented them.

Where might a Bible student pick up the idea that the Messiah was to be God in the flesh? There are numerous instances where this is the most parsimonious explanation. Isaiah 35 promises the advent of God: "Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped." (Isaiah 35:4-5). When will this happen, that the eyes of the blind will be opened? When the Messiah comes: "Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. . .To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house." (Isaiah 42:1-7). Whether the 'blindness' is physical or spiritual, the simple-hearted reader concludes, 'the Messiah is God.' Sabbatai was interested in Jesus of Nazareth, whom he considered to be the greatest of sinners, so conscious or unconscious patterning cannot be ruled out. On the other hand, the internal logic of the Old Testament's Messianic passages might have impelled him in the same direction as Jesus. One woman devotee offered a prophecy identifying Sabbatai with the theophanic Angel of the Lord:

  • “Reports received in Leghorn toward the end of 1665 said that even illiterate women had uttered mystic combinations of numbers and letters (gematria); one woman had 'prophesied' on the verse [Exod. 23:21], 'for my name is in him,' that the divine name Shadday spelled out in full equaled Sabbatai Sevi — evidently an echo of Sabbatai's favorite gematria, which was discussed everywhere and by all, also in the hearing of women and children.”
  • (Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, by Gershom Scholem, p. 257).

The argument that the Messiah was the theophanic 'Angel of the Lord' is a very old one, going back to the earliest Christian apologists. However after the rise of the Arian heresy, once it began to sound 'dangerous' to call Jesus an 'angel' even if the speaker did not mean to say He was a created being, the argument fell out of fashion. So Sabbatai is unlikely to have heard of it from any Christian acquaintance; it may be an independent discovery, of an old and sound Bible argument:

As to the behavior of the Jewish authorities and Gentile government, no one can possibly suggest they were patterning their behavior of their New Testament exemplars. And yet they do tend that way. Pilate was lenient; the Sultan and his viziers were lenient, surprisingly so. . .up to a point. There were 'Judases:'

"Another report states that before Sabbatai's arrival in the capital, the leaders of the congregation 'went to the Great Vizier, which is the viceroy, and told him: Be it known to you that one of our nation is coming here and pretends to be the Messiah. But we do not believe in him. You will know what to do'; as a result of this treachery Sabbatai was arrested." (Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, by Gershom Scholem, p. 434).

"Some kind of Jewish intervention is explicitly attested by the emissary from Casale, who says that the elders 'secretly went after him to the vizier, and at their request he was imprisoned.'" (Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, by Gershom Scholem, p. 445). Why did they act this way? Self-preservation. The final Judas, Rabbi Nehemiah Kohen of Poland, seems to have been moved by a spirit of emulation. Christian expositors understand there to be two advents of the Messiah, because of Messianic prophecies with two contrary tendencies: that he will die and ignominious death, and that he will reign forever in glory. But Kabbalistic interpretation, for example by Isaac Luria (who himself claimed to be the Suffering Servant), make of these two advents two Messiahs, Messiah the son of Joseph and Messiah the son of David. The former is the Suffering Servant. Rabbi Nehemiah thought that he himself was the Messiah son of Joseph, and that therefore Sabbatai cannot have been the Messiah son of David, as he claimed, because he, Nehemiah, had not yet died at the gates of Jerusalem (nor would ever do so, he died an old man in Poland):

"According to Nehemiah's account (as given to Leyb), the altercation culminated in a furious outburst in the course of which Nehemiah accused Sabbatai of plunging Israel into deadly peril by his lies and deceitful pretension. He even called him an 'enticer and renegade' who deserved the death penalty according to Jewish law. The situation having come to a head, Nehemiah suddenly ran away, shouting to the Turkish guards that he wanted to become a Muslim. . .Nehemiah was immediately taken to Adrianople where he denounced Sabbatai for fomenting sedition." (Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, by Gershom Scholem, p. 666).

From the moment they arrested Sabbatai, the Turks could have chopped off his head. Though Sabbatai was unarmed, he was arguably fomenting rebellion: "The Jews of the capital prepared to meet their king, and indulged in provocative and dangerous talk. 'All their conversation turned on the war and the imminent establishment of the kingdom of Israel, on the fall of the Crescent and of all the royal crowns in Christendom." (Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, by Gershom Scholem, p. 435). Some accounts suggest the vizier was charmed into inaction: "Sabbatai's mastery of the language [Arabic] gave him 'such pleasure, that he did not want to kill him, although he was guilty of a capital offense.'" (Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, by Gershom Scholem, p. 452). It seems more likely his leniency was for reasons of state: this man was followed by ecstatic psalm-singing crowds, who might turn into riotous mobs upon his execution. Even brutal Turks want peace and quiet. So we have it all: a Jewish 'trial' (where else can the complaining 'elders' find their united voice), a hesitant Pilate.

Events depart from their paradigm when Sabbatai is led into the presence of the Grand Turk, whereupon he apostatizes and embraces Islam. His disgraceful treachery was likely precipitated by sheer physical cowardice; Sabbatai was no military man, but a dreamer with a sweet singing voice. When the Grand Turk offered him his choice of a tortured death or apostasy, did he cry 'Armageddon out of here?' In any case he denied everything: "On 15 September [S]evi was brought before the council, or divan, in Constantinople, in the presence of the sultan, who listened hidden in a latticed alcove. [S]evi denied ever having made messianic claims." (Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, pp. 271-272). He put on the Turkish turban and thereupon became Aziz Mehemed Effendi, kapici bashi (keeper of the palace gates, an honorific title). His wife Sarah also apostatized with him. Thanks to the pleading of the Sultan's mother, no harm came to the Jews, who had been going around telling the Muslims they would soon become their slaves. This fanciful tale, dear reader, is strange but true; it is no anti-semitic fabrication, it happened in the seventeenth century, with plentiful documentation still extant. Though aspects of it, such as the rhetorical venom exchanged between the Sabbatian believers and the Jewish 'infidels,' might offend Rabbi Boteach, who can deny their reality? Therefore lay it down as a general rule: whatever things Sabbatai Sevi, or Mehemed or whomever, said about himself in the seventeenth century, and whatever reactions, whether rapturous joy or opposition, he elicited from the Jewish community, cannot be ruled out a priori as expressions of or reactions to Jesus of Nazareth in the first century, merely because they run counter to someone's idealized picture of that community.

The Franks

This father-daughter tag team is unique, because most Messianic aspirants are male. Jacob, the patriarch, picked up Sabbatai Sevi's fallen Messianic banner and ran with it. Historically, it seems that Messianic claims come in 'clusters:' in a similar vein, Simon Magus borrowed and reiterated some of the claims Jesus had made about Himself in the first century. Persecuted by the Polish Rabbis, Frank sought to protection of the Church, though his own beliefs cannot plausibly be classed as 'Christian.' This protean figure turned in succession to Islam, a trail Sabbatai Sevi had already blazed, to Polish Catholicism, and to Orthodoxy: "In 1756 Frank was excommunicated by a rabbinical court at Brody, and to escape arrest he fled to Turkey where he found it useful to embrace Islam." (Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, p. 274). His daughter inherited the family franchise and herself also claimed to be the Messiah, not to mention God incarnate. 'Messiahs' of the Sabbatian line are not afraid to claim deity. The Polish Catholic Church did not know what to do with this man, variously imprisoning him and lauding him:

"Records vary of the evidence given to the ecclesiastical authorities of their real faith, and it is possible that these did in fact emanate from different sources. It was G. Pikulski in particular who in December 1759 obtained separate confessions from six of the 'brethren' who had remained in Lvov, and it became apparent from these that the real object of their devotion was Frank, as the living incarnation of God. When this information reached Warsaw, Frank was arrested, on Feb. 6, 1760, and for three weeks he was subjected to a detailed investigation by the ecclesiastical court, which also confronted him with many of the 'believers' who had accompanied him to Warsaw." (Kabbalah, Gershom Scholem, p. 301).

If the Franks melded gnostic Judaism with Catholicism, there have been other composite projects involving the Kabbalah. In the final years of his life, Joseph Smith came under the influence of the Kabbalah; he was just naive enough to believe that this medieval revival of gnosticism was the authentic religion of ancient Israel, which is how its promoters package it. Though it might surprise some people, the massive Kabbalistic figure of the Primordial Adam, suspended above the sefirot, damaged now, like a birthday pinata the children have bashed, would come to play a role in the theology of Brigham Young:

Jacob Frank presented the world with a hybrid offspring of Judaism and Catholicism. On the one hand, he was correct in his claim that the Talmud is not compatible with Christianity. To the contrary, it deliberately attacks the Lord. The Talmud refers to Jesus both under His own name and under pseudonyms such as 'Balaam.' Some anti-Christian references have been censored out of the Talmud, it being impossible to publish them in nominally Christian Europe; they are now found in the footnotes. The Franks positioned themselves as 'anti-Talmudists;' they claimed the Zohar and other Kabbalistic texts were not incompatible with Christianity. This thesis has been defended before, notably by 'Christian' Kabbalists like Pico della Mirandola. To this day there are Messianic Christians who speak with great respect of the Kabbalah. Some people quaff poison, while remarking on how healthful and delightsome it is. It is owing to the popularity of this view at one time that the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is adorned with a splendid work of Sethian gnosis. Certainly the Talmud is pointedly and deliberately anti-Christian:

"And this they did to Ben Stada in Lydda, and they hung him on the eve of Passover. Ben Stada was Ben Padira. R. Hisda said: 'The husband was Stada, the paramour Pandira. But was nor the husband Pappos b. Judah? — His mother's name was Stada. But his mother was Miriam, a dresser of woman's hair? (megaddela neshayia): — As they say in Pumbaditha, This woman has turned away from her husband, (i.e., committed adultery).'" (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 67a).
"Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, [did the children of Israel slay with the sword].  A soothsayer? But he was a prophet! — R. Johanan said: At first he was a prophet, but subsequently a soothsayer.  R. Papa observed: This is what men say, 'She who was the descendant of princes and governors, played the harlot with carpenters.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 106a).

Not only on the micro level, of what it says explicitly about Jesus, but also on the macro level, the arrogant and human-centered Talmud does not mix very well with Christianity. Though loath to agree with the devil, who could argue with Jacob Frank that: ". . .the interpretation of the Torah to be found in the Talmud contained nonsense and falsehood, hostile to the Torah of the Lord" (Kabbalah, by Gershom Scholem, p. 291). The Frankists, however, were antinomians, which was their heritage from the Sabbatians:

On the One Hand Fear-Mongering
Equal Justice Undergound Railroad
Equal Protection Who is my Neighbor?
Salvation Plan The Virgin Mary
Jesus in the Talmud Contamination
The Crux of the Matter Eighteen
Daniel's Vision Philo Judaeus
Country of Origin Gnats and Camels
Et Tu

LogoWith the Frankists, the 'Judas' paradigm becomes irresistibly attractive, because the Frankists sought to curry favor with Polish Catholics by repeating the scurrilous 'blood libel' charge. What Jewish individual with a due regard for self-preservation would not have opposed these people?

Jacob Frank passed on the 'Messiah' franchise to his daughter, Eva. When 'God' is a woman, it turns out that it's hard to restrict her to a budget: ". . .Eva Frank died in 1816, leaving enormous debts" (Kabbalah, Gershom Scholem, p. 305). According to Gershom Scholem, "In the last 15 years of her life she acted as if she were a royal princess of the house of Romanov" (Kabbalah, Gershom Scholem, p. 305). Should the Shekinah live on dry bread? Reflecting that Eva Frank was simultaneously the Shekinah and the Virgin Mary, readers may wonder: what exactly does the Talmud say about the Virgin Mary?:

LogoJohn Shelby Spong, Episcopal Bishop Emeritus of Newark, New Jersey, has revived the Talmud's long-forgotten slurs against Mary. He wrote a book about Mary presenting these ancient slurs as history, thus introducing them to a Christian readership who had never heard of them before. For some reason he recast the involvement of 'Panthera,' Jesus' purported Teutonic father, as rape. Strange, this anti-German slur doesn't seem to bother anybody. An imaginary person is presumed to have committed an imaginary crime:

  • "A God who can be seen in the limp form of a convicted criminal dying alone on a cross at Calvary can surely also be seen in an illegitimate baby boy born through the aggressive and selfish act of a man sexually violating a teenage girl."
  • (Born of a Woman, John Shelby Spong, p. 185.)

LogoIt seems like we have hit a gap. . .but then when you stop to think of it, not really. Karl Marx was baptized as a youth, but it didn't 'take.' Ultimately he did not revert to his ancestral Judaism, but embraced atheism instead. But fortuitously enough, Science had discovered in the mean-time that history was headed for a great consummation. History would end with Eden restored. . .and Science discovered this! Yes, I tell you, Science!:

In Fashion Surplus Value
Wipe 'Em Out Leon Trotsky
Does it Work? Outdated
Product Placement Witness
Progeny Communism Today

I'm not sure what accounts for the obvious ill-will with which he discusses Judaism:

"Money is the jealous god of Israel, beside which no other god may exist. Money abases all the gods of mankind and changes them into commodities. Money is the universal and self-sufficient value of all things. It has, therefore, deprived the whole world, both the human world and nature, of their own proper value. Money is the alienated essence of man's work and existence; this essence dominates him and he worships it.
"The god of the Jews has been secularized and has become the god of this world. The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew. His god is only an illusory bill of exchange." (Karl Marx, Early Writings, edited by T. B. Bottomore, 'On the Jewish Question,' p. 37)

Where does all this anti-semitic ranting and raving come from? Certainly not from concerns about deicide! Marx seems willing to regurgitate the urban legends of classic European anti-semitism, in spite of his own ethnic heritage. To show he is a regular guy? While money-lending did catch on in the Jewish diaspora owing to a permissive legal environment, the Jews did not invent money. This particular ethnic group does not have any inside track in the development of means of exchange, whether coinage or other equivalences, despite his efforts to hang money around the neck of the Jews like an albatross. Ancient Lydia in Asia Minor coined precious metals to use as money, as did the Greeks of the mainland: "The world's first coins were struck in the Greek city-state of Lydia during the seventh century B.C.E." (The Substance of Civilization, Stephen L. Sass, p. 77). So did the ancient Assyrians: "Gold, silver, and copper were the metals used for exchange, and by the eighth century B.C., coinage had come into use. A very ancient Assyrian trading station, dating from early in the second millennium, was discovered at Kultepe in Anatolia, with its cuneiform business documents and letters still preserved in their files." (Lost Worlds, Leonard Cottrell, Kindle location 1999). In the broadest sense, people have always used cowrie shells or other symbolic representations of value: "In Mesopotamia, five-thousand-year-old written records show that the temple bureaucracies at the core of every community kept detailed accounts of people's services to the temple, expressed as bushels of barley." (The Invention of Yesterday, Tamim Ansary, p. 82). What can possibly be achieved by blaming the Jews for money, a helpful and nearly universal utility?

This strange, secularized revision of Judaism was actually put into practice in the twentieth century, as the governing system of Russia, China, and other unfortunate countries. As it turns out, Karl Marx gave humanity none of the wonders promised. What he did give, pressed down and brimming over, were 'birth pangs:' piles of dead bodies. Messianism without the Messiah is not one of the better ideas, but one of the worst.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson was the leader of the Lubavitch Hasidic sect, head-quartered in Brooklyn, New York. Although Rabbi Schneerson was not a politician and never led an army, some of his followers hailed him as Messiah,

"His critics said Rabbi Schneerson did not do enough to dissuade his followers from talk that he was the Messiah. Pictures of the Rebbe, with his full white beard and piercing blue eyes, are ubiquitous in Jewish homes and shops in Crown Heights, where the Lubavitch Hasidim have their headquarters in a red brick building at 770 Eastern Parkway. At times the picture is accompanied by the legend: 'We want Moshiach now.'" (The New York Times, Rabbi Schneerson Led A Small Hasidic Sect To World Prominence, By ARI L. GOLDMAN, Published: June 13, 1994).

Reportedly, some of these people still think he is the Messiah, though he is deceased and never rose from the dead. Kabbalists, of course, believe in reincarnation, so maybe they think he can come back for another chance.