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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.”

Read more at Ancient Jew Review

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

The Palestinian National Movement Has Reached a Point of Crisis

With Hamas having failed to achieve anything through several weeks of demonstrations and violence, and Mahmoud Abbas reduced to giving rambling anti-Semitic speeches, Palestinian aspirations seem to have hit a brick wall. Elliott Abrams explains:

[Neither] Fatah [nor] Hamas offers Palestinians a practical program for national independence. . . . [The current situation] leaves Palestinians high and dry, with no way forward at all. Whatever the criticism of the “occupation,” Israelis will certainly not abandon the West Bank to chaos or to a possible Hamas takeover. Today the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state is simply too dangerous to Israel and to Jordan to be contemplated. . . . There are only two other options. The first is the “one-state solution,” meaning union with Israel; but that is a nonstarter that Israel will reject no matter who is its prime minister. The other option is some kind of eventual link to Jordan.

In polite diplomatic society, and in Palestinian public discourse, such a link cannot be mentioned. But younger people who visit there, Palestinians have explained to me, can see a society that is half-Palestinian and functions as an independent nation with a working system of law and order. Jordanians travel freely, rarely suffer from terrorism, and [can vote in regular] elections, even if power is ultimately concentrated in the royal palace. The kingdom has close relations with all the Sunni states and the West, and is at peace with Israel.

The fundamental question all this raises is what, in 2018, is the nature and objective of Palestinian nationalism. Is the goal sovereignty at all costs, no matter how long it takes and even if it is increasingly divorced from peace, prosperity, and personal freedom? Is “steadfastness” [in refusing to compromise with Israel] the greatest Palestinian virtue now and forever? These questions cannot be debated in either Gaza or the West Bank. But as Israel celebrates 70 years and the “occupation” is now more than a half-century old, how much longer can they be delayed? . . .

The catastrophic mishandling of Palestinian affairs by generations of leaders from Haj Amin al-Husseini (the pro-Nazi mufti of the British Mandate period) to Yasir Arafat and now to Mahmoud Abbas has been the true Palestinian Nakba.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Jordan, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinians