How Byzantine Jews Appropriated, and Satirized, Christian Messianism

March 31 2017

The Book of Zerubbabel—a purported Hebrew prophecy about the coming of the messiah, thought to have been written by a 7th-century Jew living in the Byzantine empire—circulated in rabbinic circles throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. In Jewish Messiahs in a Christian Empire, Martha Himmelfarb explores the origins, history, and impact of the book, arguing that much of its content was inspired by the author’s (or authors’) exposure to Christian ideas about the life and death of Jesus. Jae H. Han writes in her review:

This slim book rewards close reading. Through her careful analysis of . . . the Book of Zerubbabel and other contemporaneous sources, Himmelfarb finds evidence of a body of popular traditions about messianic figures circulating among ordinary Jews in the late-antique Byzantine milieu. . . . [T]hese traditions suggest that Jews were both deeply attracted to and repulsed by Christian descriptions of a suffering and dying messiah, his mother Mary, and the figure of an anti-Christ.

The Book of Zerubbabel passes itself off as a work of biblical prophecy, as evidenced by its debt to Ezekiel and its tendency to employ archaic biblical grammatical forms. . . . [Among its characters is] Hephzibah, the warrior-mother of the messiah. [Himmelfarb] argues that the authors of the Book of Zerubbabel responded to the Byzantine military’s deployment of icons and statues of the Virgin Mary by appropriating and fashioning Hephzibah as a militant mother of the messiah.

In exploring early traditions concerning Hephzibah, Himmelfarb first turns to the figure of a negligent mother of the messiah in the Jerusalem Talmud and argues that the rabbinic story mocks a more popular, positive tradition about this mother. She then discusses the Book of Zerubbabel’s figure of the “Beautiful Statue”—undoubtedly a reference to statues of the Virgin Mary—and its son, Armilos, the Jewish “anti-Christ,” who “is at once the Christian messiah and the equivalent of the Christian anti-Christ.” She argues that book’s depiction of the beautiful statue, which is impregnated by Satan and gives birth to Armilos, is in fact a “parody of the narrative of the virgin birth.”

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More about: ancient Judaism, Byzantine Empire, Christianity, History & Ideas, Messianism

To Israel’s Leading Strategist, Strength, Not Concessions, Has Brought a Measure of Calm

Aug. 14 2018

Following a long and distinguished career in the IDF, Yaakov Amidror served as Israel’s national-security adviser from 2011 to 2013. He speaks with Armin Rosen about the threats from Gaza, Hizballah, and Iran:

For Israel’s entire existence, would-be peacemakers have argued that the key to regional harmony is the reduction of the Jewish state’s hard power through territorial withdrawals and/or the legitimization of the country’s non-state enemies. In Amidror’s view, reality has thoroughly debunked this line of reasoning.

Amidror believes peace—or calm, at least—came as a result of Israeli muscle. Israel proved to its former enemies in the Sunni Arab world that it’s powerful enough to fill the vacuum left by America’s exit from the region and to stand up to Iran on the rest of the Middle East’s behalf. “The stronger Israel is, the more the ability of Arab countries to cooperate [with it] grows,” Amidror explained. On the whole, Amidror said he’s “very optimistic. I remember the threat that we faced when we were young. We fought the Six-Day War and I remember the Yom Kippur War, and I see what we are facing today. We have only one-and-a-half problems. One problem is Iran, and the half-problem is Hizballah.” . . .

In all likelihood the next Israeli-Iranian confrontation will be a clash with Amidror’s half-threat: the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hizballah, Iran’s most effective proxy in the Middle East and perhaps the best armed non-state military force on earth. . . . “We should neutralize the military capability of Hizballah,” [in the event of war], he said. “We should not destroy the organization as a political tool. If the Shiites want these people to represent them, it’s their problem.” . . .

“It will be a very nasty war,” Amidror said. “A very, very nasty war.” Hizballah will fire “thousands and thousands” of long-range missiles of improved precision, speed, and range at Israeli population centers, a bombardment larger than Israel’s various layers of missile defense will be able to neutralize in full. . . . This will, [however], be a blow Israel can withstand. “Israelis will be killed, no question,” Amidror said. “But it’s not going to be catastrophic.”

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Lebanon