False & Genuine Messiahs
The Hebrew word “mashach” means smeared. This leads to the origin of the word “moshiach” or “messiah” which also means smeared. Translated into Greek, the word becomes “chriein” from which “Christ” is derived and which also means smeared, as does “anointed,” derived from the Latin “unguere,” meaning smeared.
“And Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it upon his head” (I Samuel X:1) ... Saul became the first king of Israel when the prophet Samuel poured the oil on him. Hence smeared. The use of oil to inaugurate the kings of Israel and Judah became the symbolic means of elevating the candidate to the throne. This ritual is still used in Christian churches today.
The reason for using oil is evident. Oil exists all over the Near East but was of no use to the ancients, who had no internal combustion engine. However, oil sometimes erupted into spontaneous combustion in the heat of the area and was therefore viewed as supernatural or sacred. This led to its use in the Temple in Jerusalem and to the means of “anointing” the ruler.
Those who believed that a redeemer will eventually come to Israel and to all mankind therefore called him Messiah. Over the centuries a number of Jews have believed that they were indeed the Messiah and therefore organized a number of failed ventures designed to rescue the persecuted Jews from their fate. There were so many of these “messiahs” that we cannot list all of them here. Included are Simon of Perea, who proclaimed himself messiah in 4 B.C.E., and Athronges who did the same in 4 C.E. Most remembered is Joshuah of Nazareth, or Jesus, who is regarded as the messiah by a number of Christians.
Moses of Crete appeared there in 440 and induced his followers to leave their possessions and on his command threw themselves into the ocean in order to return to Israel. They drowned and the so-called messiah disappeared, i.e. he fled.
Obadiah of Isphahan rebelled against the Caliph of Persia in 744. He claimed to be the messiah and gathered a large number of Jewish followers around him. They were defeated by the Persians and killed.
Serene, a Christian born in Syria, proclaimed himself the messiah in 723 and claimed that he would lead the children of Israel to the Promised Land. He had followers as far away as Spain. He was arrested and was brought before the caliph Yasid, who handed him over to the Jews for punishment.
The 12th century saw numerous messiahs who arose under the influence of the Crusades, which caused so much death and destruction for the European Jews. One appeared in France in 1087, another in Spain in 1117, and another in Morocco in 1127. These claims continued into the next several centuries, as new messiahs were found in Germany, Portugal, and Italy. The most famous of the false messiahs was Sabbatai Zvi, who was born in Smyrna in 1626. Smyrna is the modern Izmir in Turkey. Sabbatai Zvi converted to Islam when confronted with the death penalty for seeking to lead the Jews to Turkish occupied Israel. He had a number of followers after his death who also claimed to be messiahs. Among these was the German Jew Mordecai Mokia. He found a willing number of followers in Italy, but was denounced to the Inquisition and fled to Poland where he became “insane.”
In the 18th century, Jacob Joseph Frank claimed to be the messiah. He was eventually converted to Christianity in Poland, where he had a considerable following among Jews who rejected rabbinic Judaism. His daughter, Eve Frank, claimed to be the “Shehinah” or the female aspect of God in 1816. She also claimed to be the Virgin Mary, a Christian deity, as well as the Jewish messiah.
In the twentieth century, Moses Guibbory wrote a massive commentary on the Torah and claimed to be the messiah as well as Lord of the Universe and other titles. Finally, also in the 20th century, Menachem Schneerson (1902-1994), is believed to have been the Messiah by some of his followers, although he never made such a claim.
It is evident that “messiahs” arise when oppressed Jews believed that they had no means of escape from their persecutors. Even in the Russian Empire, the rabbis told the Jews not to go to Israel or the United States during the persecutions in the 19th and early 20th centuries because the “moshiach” would come and end their suffering. Instead, Hitler came. So we conclude that there is indeed a moshiach. He is the Jewish people who built Israel and proclaimed their independence in 1948. He is the Israeli Defense Force, who defeated the Arab-Nazi killers in 1948, in 1956 in 1967 and in 1973.
Finally, the moshiach are all those Jews who support the survival of Israel and seek the defeat of Obama, who looks for Israel’s destruction. May the Jews of today remember the lessons of the failed moshiachs of yesterday bimhayro v’yomaynoo.