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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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The Greek word Χριστος , from whence comes Christ and Christian, exactly answers to the Hebrew Messiah, which signifies him that hath received unction, a prophet, a king, or a priest. See JESUS CHRIST .

Our Lord warned his disciples that false messiahs should arise, Matthew 24:24 ; and the event has verified the prediction. No less than twenty-four false Christs have arisen in different places and at different times: Caziba was the first of any note who made a noise in the world. Being dissatisfied with the state of things under Adrian, he set himself up as the head of the Jewish nation, and proclaimed himself their long expected messiah. He was one of those banditti that infested Judea, and committed all kinds of violence against the Romans; and had become so powerful that he was chosen king of the Jews, and by them acknowledged their messiah. However, to facilitate the success of this bold enterprise, he changed his name from Caziba, which it was at first, to that of Barchocheba, alluding to the star foretold by Balaam; for he pretended to be the star sent from heaven to restore his nation to its ancient liberty and glory. He chose a forerunner, raised an army, was anointed king, coined money inscribed with his own name, and proclaimed himself messiah and prince of the Jewish nation. Adrian raised an army, and sent it against him; he retired into a town called Bither, where he was besieged. Barchocheba was killed in the siege, the city was taken, and a dreadful havoc succeeded. The Jews themselves allow, that, during this short war against the Romans in defence of this false messiah, they lost five or six hundred thousand souls. This was in the former part of the second century. In the reign of Theodosius the younger, A.D. 434, another impostor arose, called Moses Cretensis. He pretended to be a second Moses, sent to deliver the Jews who dwelt in Crete, and promised to divide the sea, and give them a safe passage through it. Their delusion proved so strong and universal, that they neglected their lands, houses, and other concerns, and took only so much with them as they could conveniently carry. And on the day appointed, this false Moses, having led them to the top of a rock, men, women, and children threw themselves headlong down into the sea, without the least hesitation or reluctance, till so great a number of them were drowned as opened the eyes of the rest, and made them sensible of the cheat. They then began to look for their pretended leader; but he had disappeared, and escaped out of their hands. In the reign of Justin, about A.D. 520, another impostor appeared, who called himself the son of Moses. His name was Dunaan. He entered into a city of Arabia Felix, and there he greatly oppressed the Christians; but he was taken prisoner, and put to death by Elesban, an Ethiopian general. The Jews and Samaritans rebelled against the Emperor Justinian, A.D. 529, and set up one Julian for their king, and accounted him the messiah. The emperor sent an army against them, killed great numbers of them, took their pretended messiah prisoner, and immediately put him to death. In the time of Leo Isaurus, about A.D. 721, arose another false messiah in Spain; his name was Serenus. He drew great numbers after him, to their no small loss and disappointment; but all his pretensions came to nothing. The twelfth century was fruitful in messiahs. About A.D. 1137, there appeared one in France, who was put to death, and numbers of those who followed him. In A.D. 1138, the Persians were disturbed with a Jew, who called himself the messiah. He collected a vast army; but he too was put to death, and his followers treated with great inhumanity. A false messiah stirred up the Jews at Corduba in Spain, A.D. 1157. The wiser and better sort looked upon him as a madman, but the great body of the Jews in the nation believed in him. On this occasion nearly all the Jews in Spain were destroyed. Another false messiah arose in the kingdom of Fez, A.D. 1167, which brought great troubles and persecutions upon the Jews that were scattered throughout that country. In the same year, an Arabian professed to be the messiah, and pretended to work miracles. When search was made for him, his followers fled, and he was brought before the Arabian king. Being questioned by him, he replied, that he was a prophet sent from God. The king then asked him what sign he could show to confirm his mission. "Cut off my head," said he, "and I will return to life again." The king took him at his word, promising to believe him if his prediction was accomplished. The poor wretch, however, never came to life again, and the cheat was sufficiently discovered. Those who had been deluded by him were grievously punished, and the nation condemned to a very heavy fine. Not long after this, a Jew who dwelt beyond the Euphrates, called himself the messiah, and drew vast multitudes of people after him. He gave this for a sign of it, that he had been leprous, and had been cured in the course of one night. He, like the rest, perished, and brought great persecution on his countrymen. A magician and false christ arose in Persia, A.D. 1174, who seduced many of the common people, and brought the Jews into great tribulation. Another of these impostors arose, A.D. 1176, in Moravia, who was called David Almusser. He pretended he could make himself invisible; but he was soon taken and put to death, and a heavy fine laid upon the Jews. A famous cheat and rebel exerted himself in Persia, A.D. 1199, called David el David. He was a man of learning, a great magician, and pretended to be the messiah. He raised an army against the king, but was taken and imprisoned; and, having made his escape, was afterward retaken and beheaded. Vast numbers of the Jews were butchered for taking part with this impostor. Rabbi Lemlem, a German Jew of Austria, declared himself a forerunner of the messiah, A.D. 1500, and pulled down his own oven, promising, his brethren that they should bake their bread in the holy land next year. A false christ arose in the East Indies, A.D. 1615, and was greatly followed by the Portuguese Jews who are scattered over that country. Another in the Low Countries declared himself to be the messiah of the family of David, and of the line of Nathan, A.D. 1624. He promised to destroy Rome, and to overthrow the kingdom of antichrist, and the Turkish empire. In A.D. 1666, appeared the false messiah Sabatai Tzevi, who made a great noise, and gained a great number of proselytes. He was born at Aleppo, and imposed on the Jews for a considerable time; but afterward, with a view of saving his life, he turned Mohammedan, and was at last beheaded. The last false christ that made any considerable number of converts was one rabbi Mordecai, a Jew of Germany: he appeared, A.D. 1682. It was not long before he was found out to be an impostor, and was obliged to flee from Italy to Poland to save his life: what became of him afterward does not seem to be recorded.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Messiah'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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