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Messiahs, False

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Jesus warned his disciples that false Christs should arise (Matthew 24:24), and the event has verified the prediction. No less than twenty-four such impostors have been enumerated as having appeared in different places and at different times; and even this does not exhaust the list. One by the name of Simeon was the first of any note who made a noise in the world. Being dissatisfied with the state of things under Hadrian, 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 Judaea, 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 assumed the name of Bar-Cocheba (q.v.), alluding to the star foretold by Balaam; for he pretended to' be the star sent by heaven to restore his nation to its ancient liberty and glory. This epithet was changed by his enemies into that of Bar-Cozeba, i.e. son of a lie. 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.

Hadrian raised an army, and sent it against him: he retired into a town called Bither, where he was besieged. Bar-Cocheba seems to have been 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 first half of the 2d century. In the reign of Theodosius the Younger, AD. 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. 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 to open the eyes of the rest, and make 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 AD. 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, AD. 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 the Isaurian, about AD. 721, arose another false Messiah in Spain: his name was Sercnus. He drew great numbers after him, to their no small loss and disappointment; but all his pretensions came to nothing.

The 12th century was particularly fruitful in producing Messiahs. About 1137 there appeared one in France, who was put to death, and numbers of those who followed him. In AD. 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 were treated with great inhumanity. A false Messiah stirred up the Jews at Cordova, in Spain, AD. 1157. The wiser and better part looked upon him as a madman, but the. great body of the Jewish nation believed in him. On this occasion nearly all the Jews in Spain were destroyed. Another false Messiah who arose in the kingdom of Fez, AD. 1167, under the name of David Alrui (Alroy),'brought great troubles and persecutions upon the Jews that were scattered throughout that country. Disraeli has taken this historical event as the plot of his Alroy.

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 was 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 about 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, AD. 1174, who seduced many of the common people, and brought the Jews into great tribulation (see Maimonides, Epistol. ad Judceos in Massilia agentes). Another of these impostors, a great cabalist, arose, AD. 1176, in Moravia, who was called David Almasser. 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, AD. 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 afterwards retaken and beheaded. Vast numbers of the Jews were butchered for taking part with this impostor.

In the 13th and 14th centuries the Messiah imposition had come to a comparative stand-still. It is true the most learned of the rabbis, the celebrated Saadia. Abraham Ibn-Chija, Nachman, and Gersoni, had taken upon themselves to calculate the time of the actual coming of the veritable deliverer, and had fixed upon 1358 as the Messiah year; but no one came forward and sought to impose himself upon the waiting multitude. Towards the close of the 15th- century, however. the opportunity was renewed by the terrible fate of the Jews, especially in the Iberian peninsula, where for so many years they had enjoyed a haven of rest. On the Continent the Jews had suffered from the very start of the Crusading movement, but in the Iberian peninsula they had found a pleasant home and a quiet retreat, frequently even positions of power and of honor. Gradually, however, their position was undermined. First the Church of Rome trained men as polemics against the Jews. Later it was determined to make converts of them at any price, and if they could not be secured peacefully, to subject them to bloody persecution. This policy was inaugurated at Seville in 1391-92, and soon spread over the peninsula. Escape was difficult, and, if made, hardly augured a brighter future in other lands; and thus reasoning, they remained, and some 200,000 Jews were made to accept baptism at the point of the sword. This event forms the saddest turning-point in Jewish history. Persecution upon persecution followed. The Jew, finding no alternative, was forced to play the part of the hypocrite, and, while. pressing the cross to his lips, vowed in his heart more faithful devotion to the cause of Israel. The gloomiest day came with the date of America's discovery. The year that shed new light upon Europe shrouded the Jew in darkness, and forms at the same time the grandest and the most melancholy hour of modern history. But though at first many had been made converts in the hours of oppression, they gradually came to believe in the vital, truths of Christianity; and though the examples before them were no, promotive of a true Christian life, the fact that no deliverer had come to Israel in the most trying hour made them not only faint but wavering, and there seemed danger that, if not soon inspired with new hope, the last day had come for the Jewish race.

There remained, it is true, a small remnant that had continued thus far in open defiance to all demands of the government, and valiantly contended for liberty of conscience. But even these successive trials had broken their courage, and had robbed them of the prospect of a more auspicious future. Not only the uneducated, but even the learned and the devoted, were yielding up the long cherished Messianic hope, as a sweet dream, an idle fancy, which lacked all chance of reality. The Jewish race, they declared, was born to suffer forever, and the day would never come for deliverance from oppression; never should they see a day of freedom and independence. This hopeless and hapless condition of his countrymen determined the learned Jewish rabbi Abrabanel (q.v.) to employ his pen in defence of the O.-T. Scriptures, and of Jewish interpretation. Aware that if this spirit of discontent and unbelief were suffered to grow it would result in the ultimate defunction of the Jewish ranks, he essayed to combat it by inspiring them anew with the prospects of an early delivery from oppression, and the dawn of a happy change. Though hoary with age, he wrote with trembling hands book after book to explain the principal Messianic passages of the 0. T., especially those of Daniel, and argued that Israel could safely depend upon a glorious future, and that the day of the Messiah was near at hand. He even went so far as to determine the date, and fixed upon 1503 as the year of their delivery. As a leader in Israel, Abrabanel's word commanded attention, and the wretched people were encouraged to take new hope.

At such a moment there was room for imposition, and it came immediately with the very opening of the 16th century. Enthusiasts declared that the time had arrived for removal to the Holy Land, to anticipate the change so near at hand. One German rabbi, Ascher Lammlein (or Limmlin), a resident within the Austrian dominions, actually gave himself out as the forerunner of the approaching Messiah, and, as pseudo-John, about AD. 1502, called the people to. repentance, and urged an immediate removal to the East. He pulled down his own house, presaging that by another year he and his brethren who would follow him should live in peace under the reign of the " King of the Jews." Linmmlein lived near Venice, but his admonitions travelled all through Germany, Italy, Spain, and France. Everywhere his cause made converts; even Christians are said to have believed in his mission (see Gratz, Gesch. d. Juden, 9:243). But the prophet died suddenly, and all hopes lay prostrate in the dust. The agony of the people, so basely deceived, lacks description. A few flocked. to the cross of Christ, and in this their most trying hour declared that Jesus was the Christ; but the greater number, with that stubbornness characteristic of the Shemitic race, yet refused to look for help from the great Physician.

The Messiah-hope still lingered, however faintly, in the heart of the Jew, particularly in the Iberian peninsula, where he now suffered most; and it was not long before a new impostor arose to abuse the confidence of his munch dejected brethren. This time the pretender played his part more acutely, and it was some time before his deception was discovered. During the eventful reign of Charles V a person suddenly turned up at' the court of the king of Portugal, who, calling himself David Reubeni, declared that he had come from India as ambassador of his brother, the king of the Jews, to propose an alliance for the recovery of the Holy Land from the Mussulman. He had so carefully prepared himself for his role that he appeared natural, and his story apparently bore truth upon its face. He readily found friends both among Jews and Gentiles, and he was favorably received wherever he went. To persuade the Iberian government of the verity of his mission, he had brought papers confirming his claims; and he kept at such a respectful distance from the Jews that they became doubly anxious to approach him. Those who had been forcibly converted to Christianity fairly worshipped the ground he had stood upon; and great was the joy among the Jews of Italy when David found favor in the eyes of Clement VII (1523-34), and gained distinctions at the papal-court. In the midst of his successes he was joined by one Solomon Alolcho (q.v.), a Portuguese New-Christian, who openly apostatized to Judaism, and set up as the prophet of the movement. He submitted to circumcision, and in many other ways sought to prove his sincerity. At first he travelled with David but, anxious to visit the Holy Land, he parted with the prince and set out for the East. On his return he visited Clement VII, and found even greater favor with the pope than David. Indeed, Molcho enjoyed Clement's protection thereafter, and, though an apostate, he was suffered to pour out his apocalyptic rhapsodies without restraint. But he finally came to a woful end. He had met David again, and together they had gone to Ratisbon, the seat of Charles V, to convert the emperor. Charles was hardhearted, and both David and Solomon were thrown into prison; the former escaping, we hardly know how, the latter expiating his daring at the stake. This put an end to the Messiah promises of the 16th century.

In the 17th century the first false Christ arose in the East Indies, AD. 1615, and was largely 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, AD. 1624. He promised to destroy Rome, and to overthrow the kingdom of Antichrist and the Turkish empire.

The year 1666 was a year of great expectation, and some wonderful thing was looked for by many. This was a fit time for an impostor to set up, and accordingly lying reports were carried about. It was said that great multitudes marched from unknown parts to the remote deserts of Arabia, and they were supposed to be the ten tribes of Israel, who had been dispersed for many ages; that a ship had arrived in the north part of Scotland with sails and' cordage of silk; that the mariners spoke nothing but Hebrew; that on the sails was this motto, "The Twelve Tribes of Israel." The auspicious moment. was embraced to advantage by one Sabbathai Zebi (q.v.), the greatest of all Jewish pretenders, 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 with great success as "King of the kings of the earth i" but when the Turkish government, under whose protection he lived, questioned his wholesome influence on the people, he forsook the Jews and turned Mohammedan for the sake of saving his life, which he believed in danger-a presentiment that proved but too true, for he was finally beheaded. Sabbathai Zebi's influence is still incalculable; he demands so much notice at our hands that we refer our readers to the special article under his name. Suffice it to say here that this man formed a considerable sect, which notwithstanding that the conduct of its founder might, one would suppose, have disabused the most blind and fanatic enthusiasm-long existed, and still continues to exist.

Another false Christ that made any considerable number of converts was one rabbi Mordecai, a Jew of Germany: he appeared AD. 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 afterwards does not seem to be recorded. About the middle of the 18th century an extraordinary adventurer, named Frank, by birth a Polish Jew, and by profession, in his younger days, a distiller of brandy, suddenly came to the front, and revived the expiring Sabbathaic party by the propagation of a new creed, which leaned towards Christianity, while it was really neither that nor Judaism. This lofty eclectic rejected the Talmud, but insisted on a hidden sense in the Scriptures. He admitted the trinity and the incarnation of, the Deity, but preserved an artful ambiguity as to the person in whom the Deity was incarnate. He was himself a believer in Sabbathai Zebi, and yet he dared not to speak out against Christ; consequently he preferred to leave the. question unsettled, until his connection with the Christian world seemed to demand a more decided confession, when he openly embraced Christianity as a member of the Roman Catholic Church. In his last years he flourished as " baron" Frank, and his followers dared even to presume that he was of royal lineage, and closely related to the reigning house of Russia. The extent of his influence may be fairly estimated by our readers when we tell them that 800 persons attended his funeral. A cross was set up over his tomb. For some time a daughter whom he had left guided his followers; but these gradually dispersed, and, deprived of pecuniary aid, the family of Frank gave to the world a work written by him many years before his decease, counselling the Jews to embrace the Christian religion. (See FRANK, JACOB).

Frank evidently preferred to continue the work of Sabbathai Zebi rather than declare himself a Messiah. He frequently declared that his mission was to unite together all religions, sects, and confessions. Among the paradoxical opinions he is said to have advanced was the idea that the Lord Jesus Christ is still upon earth, and that he would soon again send forth twelve apostles to publish the Gospel. All that now remains of the Frankists is contained within the Roman Catholic Church of Poland; they are therefore virtually Christians, though distinguishing themselves by marked remains of Judaism. Some consider that they still retain in secret a belief in the religion of the synagogue. They are found in Poland, especially at Warsaw, dispersed among all, even the highest, classes of society, chiefly in the profession of law and medicine. They are said to have taken a considerable share in the war of insurrection against Russia in the year 1830; it has even been said that the chief of the Frankists was a member of the Diet of Poland, and afterwards obliged to take refuge as an exile in France. But little is known of them at present, as they mix so largely With the Christians as such.

In our own day the Messiah question is again enlivened by the appearance of new claimants. One of these lately made his debut in the far East, at Sana, in the kingdom of Yemen, and created much excitement, which has scarcely subsided yet. The well-known Eastern traveller, baron De Maltzahn, furnishes the following account of this modern Messiah of the Orient: The pretender, of a fascinating exterior, remarkably brilliant eyes, and a melodious voice, after studying the mysteries of the great cabalistical work, the Zohar. withdrew from intercourse with his fellow-men, and eventually retired into a desert, where he submitted to bodily mortifications and self-denial. He soon became distinguished as a worker of miracles, and as such attracted the attention of the superstitious Bedouins. These, seeking to obtain his good graces, brought various descriptions of food, and were pleased that he condescended to accept their offerings. The increase of their flocks and of their household, and even their success in the attack upon hostile troops, were attributed to the power peculiar to this worker of marvels. His reputation spread far and wide among the Arabian population, and many incredible stories were circulated about this "wise man." It was said of him that his face had the splendor of the sun; that the name, "Son of David," was engraved upon his hand; that he possessed the valuable power of discovering treasures; that he was invulnerable, etc.

His Jewish compatriots, not pleased with the connection between their favorite scholar and the members of a strange religion, were about to bring him back to his own people, when a sudden calamity gave the position of this man a new turn. An epidemic broke out among the flocks of the Bedouins, who in consequence' of this calamity were in a short time reduced to extreme want. These changes in the fortune of the Arabs were assigned to the secret influence of the mysterious man. It was then remembered that he was a Jew, and he all at once became the object of bitter hatred. The recluse had meanwhile quitted his solitude and returned to his native place. Here he was declared, chiefly by the Arabs, to be a Messiah, and he became a dreaded and unapproachable power even in the eyes of his fiercest enemies. His Jewish countrymen were in expectation that he would crush the Arabs and lead his own brethren to the Holy Land. His heated imagination accepted the messianic part which the delusion of the people had conferred upon him; and he beheld in the opinion of the multitude an evidence of his high mission. He received everywhere munificent presents, lived in a princely style, was reverenced by his own people, and dreaded by the Moslems, until some daring Arabs finally waylaid and killed him, and thus proved that he was vulnerable. But superstition is more invulnerable than false Messiahs. Ari Shocher (such was his name) is not considered as dead by his followers. He appeared after the murder, they say, under another form, in the neighborhood of Sana, and proclaimed that, at a later time, he would assumeagain his former shape. The government has taken steps to seize him, but he has since disappeared, and his present whereabouts are unknown.

Very recently " a new Messiah," writes the Fremdenblatt (August, 1872), "has made his appearance, and he has been graciously pleased to address his first official communication to the Jewish congregation of Berlin. The royal whom it may concern' bore a seal which had on it the crown of Israel, the shield of David, and the following words as motto: Lo bechail velo bekoach ki im beruchi, amar Adonai Zebaoth-not with power, nor with force, but with my Spirit, says the Lord Zebaoth.' The congregation is commanded to cause to be proclaimed in the synagogue the commemoration day of the destruction of Jerusalem, that thenceforth that day shall be celebrated no longer as a day of mourning, but as a day of joy and jubilation, because he, Jekuthiel, king of Israel,' has come, and is about to assume the throne of his empire as the veritable Messiah. Should they refuse to carry out his behest, he will-pour out the vial of his anger on the unbelievers, and the infidels will fall under the ban of excommunication, on his entering Berlin. The communication is accompanied by a memorial containing the rules of government which Jekuthiel, the king of Israel,' prescribes for the government of his people, and a copy of the diplomatic notes which his royal majesty has caused to be transmitted to the Porte and the other great powers for a peaceable cession of Palestine and Syria." Although a year has passed since he issued his address, nothing has been heard of his entry into the new capital of the German empire.

See Buxtorf, Lex. Chald. Talm. et Rabbin. (Basle, 1640, fol.), coll. 1267 sq.; id. Synagoga Judaica, ch. i; Hulsius, Theol. Jud. (Bredse, 1653, 4to); Pocock, Theol. Works, 1:159 sq.; Johannes a Lent, Hist. of Fkalse Messiahs (in Ugolini's Thesaurus, entitled De Pseudo-Messiis); Eisenmenger, Entdecktes Judenthum (Konigsb. 1711, 2 vols. 4to), 2:647 sq., a book to be read very guardedly; Jortin, Remarks on Eccl. Hist. 3:330; Birch, De Messia (Havn. 1789); Harris, Sermons on the Messiah; Simpson, Key to the Prophecies, sec. 9; Maclaurin, On the Prophecies relating to the Messiah; Fuller, Jesus the true Messiah; Stehelin, Traditions of the Jews (Lond. 1751-52, fol.); De Rossi, Della vana aspettazione degli Ebrei del loro Re Messia (Parma, 1773, 4to); Bertholdt, Christologia Jud. Jesu apostolorumque AEtate (Erlangen, 1811) - convenient but superficial; Lange, Life of Christ (see Index); Liddon, Divinity of Christ, p. 69, 77, 91; Alger, Hist. Fut. Life, p. 169, 219, 353; Sadler, Emanuel, p. 97 sq.; Milman, Hist. of the Jews, 2:432 sq.; 3:366; Allen, Mod. Judaism, p. 253 sq.; Young, Christology of the Targums (Edinb. 1853); Jost, Gesch. der Israeliten, vol. viii; Gratz, Gesch. der Juden (see Index in vol. vi, vii, viii, and x); Michel Nicolas, Des doctrines rel. des Juifs pendant les deux siecles anterieurs a l'ere Chretienne (Paris, 1860, 8vo), p. 266 sq.; Langen, Judenth. zur Zeit Christi (Freib. 1866), p. 391 sq.; Grau, Semiten und Indogermanen (2d ed. Stuttg. 1867, sm. 8vo), Introd. and chap. v; Rule, Karaites (Lond. 1870, 12mo), p. 132 sq.; Journ. Sac. Lit. 1873, Jan. art. viii; Jahrb. deutsch. Theol. 1867, 2:340 sq.; Christian Examiner, 1869. p. 96; Engl. Revelation 8:182; Christian Monthly, 1844, Nov. p. 581; National Revelation April, 1863, p. 46'6 sq.; 1864, p. 554 sq.; Old and New, 1870, April, p. 545; New-Englander, v. 360 sq.; 10:102 sq.; Biblioth. Sac. 11:609 sq.; Hamburger, Real Encyklop. Bibel u. Talmud, art. Messias. (J. HW.)


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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Messiahs, False'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/m/messiahs-false.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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