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Notes from Limmud 2012: Armilus, the Jewish Antichrist—the Apocalypse of Zerubbavel - Lethargic Man (anag.)

Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2016-05-22 10:23
Subject: Notes from Limmud 2012: Armilus, the Jewish Antichrist—the Apocalypse of Zerubbavel
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Notes from Limmud 2012

Armilus, the Jewish Antichrist—the Apocalypse of Zerubbavel

Roni Tabick

[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed.]


What is the function of the archvillain? It highlights everything you need to know about the hero. They need to be alike in some ways, but absolutely opposite in other ways.

"Apocalypse" in Greek means uncovering. It's a genre that flowered from the second century BCE, in the form of the Book of Daniel, to the eighth or ninth century. In this book, an important figure receives a revelation from an angelic figure: a secret, how the universe works—what the names are of the stars and the planets. Secondly, a revelation of history, usually from the beginning of time to the end of time.

The only example in our Bible is the Book of Daniel, but there are examples which did not make it in to our Bible: the Book of Revelation, the Book[s] of Enoch, various ones in the Apocrypha.

סֵפֶר זְרוּבָּבֶל, as it is called in Hebrew, is a very late work. It was first printed in Constantinople in 1590, but dates to earlier. This was worked out by looking at the names and the dates: It says that 990 years after unspecified events, the Messiah is going to come. People said this is probably after the Destruction of the Temple, hence it would have been written around 960. Nobody predicts the Messiah very far into the future; what would be the point? Everybody always predicts the Messiah in their own lifetime.

But what if somebody later changed the date? Also, maybe the 990 years is actually from Zerubbavel, which would be around 640 CE. Most scholars now agree it is seventh century; some even say it was written in 628. This is ten years before Moḥammed started preaching; with any later date there is no way such a work could not talk about Islam.

It also describes the Persian (Sassanid) Empire, which collapsed in 651. It also mentions a king, Siroi, king of Persia, who is a real king, Kavadh II, originally called Shiroi, who ruled for a few months in 628.

At the start of the seventh century, the Byzantines ruled Jerusalem, but in 614 Khosrau II the Persian King captured Jerusalem and removed the True Cross. Then Heraclius captured it back, then in 638 it falls to the Islamic Caliphate. This makes this a period in which Jerusalem changes hands more often than just about any other time.

The word which came to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah: On the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month, the Lord showed me this spectacle there while I was prostrate in prayer before the Lord my God, experiencing a visionary spectacle which I saw by the river Kebar.

Zerubbavel is one of the leaders of the people who return from the Babylonian Exile; he's a descendant of the Davidic house, and is mentioned in a number of Biblical books (and מָעוֹז צוּר).

The river Kevar is where Ezekiel experienced his vision of the Chariot.

As I was reciting ‘Blessed are You, O Lord, the One Who resuscitates the dead!’, my heart groaned within me, thinking ‘[How will] the form of the Temple come into existence?’

What will be the form of the Eternal House. The author knows that the Second Temple is not the Eternal House.

He answered me from the doors of heaven and said to me, ‘Are you Zerubbabel ben Shealtiel, governor of Judah?’ I responded, ‘I am your servant.’ He answered me and conversed with me just as a person would speak to their friend. I could hear His voice, but I could not see His appearance. I continued to lie prostrate as before, and I completed my prayer. Then I went to my house.

He's reciting the second paragraph of the Amida ("prostrating" is a bad translation; he's probably bowing down). Of course, the Amida did not exist in its current form (or possibly any form at all) in the time of Zerubbavel; it's reflecting the time of the work's authorship.

Speaking just as one would speak to a friend is a reference to Moses.

Why put this vision in the mouth of Zerubbavel? Apocalypses are always put in the mouth of important people and rarely prophets: it adds weight. He's also of the Davidic house, as is the Messiah, but he's a failed messiah, because the messianic days never happened.

[The speaker's handout skips sections of the text out here and at other (marked) points; if you want to read the whole thing, you can read it online in English translation and in the original Hebrew.]

A wind lifted me up between heaven and earth and carried me to the great city Nineveh, city of blood [...] He said to me, ‘Go to the “house of filth” near the market-district,’ and I went just as he had commanded me. He said to me, ‘Turn this way,’ and so I turned. He touched me, and then I saw a man despicable, broken down and in pain.

That despicable man said to me: ‘Zerubbabel!? What business do you have here? Who has brought you here?’ I responded and said: ‘A wind from the Lord lifted me up and carried me to this place.’ He said to me: ‘Do not be afraid, for you have been brought here in order that He might show you’

When I heard his words, I was consoled and regained my self-composure. I asked him, ‘Sir, what is the name of this place?’ He said to me, ‘This is mighty Rome, wherein I am imprisoned.’ I said to him, ‘Who then are you? What is your name? What do you seek here? What are you doing in this place?’ He said to me, ‘I am the Messiah of the Lord, the son of Hezekiah confined in prison until the time of the End.’ [...]

Apocalypses are deeply secretive whilst revealing secrets. It uses code, but is meant to be given to an audience which will understand that code.

He is taken to Nineveh, which is really Rome, which in 628 really means Constantinople. Nineveh in the Book of Jonah is a hive of evildoers. Rome destroyed the Temple.

The house of filth, where the Messiah is imprisoned, is a whorehouse; probably also a church. This is not going to be the most positive view of Christianity you are going to receive...

Then [Gabriel [huh? Michael in the online translation]] said to me: ‘This is the Messiah of the Lord, hidden in this place until the appointed time. This is the Messiah of the lineage of David, and his name is Menahem ben ‘Amiel. He was born during the reign of David, king of Israel, and a wind bore him up and concealed him in this place, waiting for the time of the end.’

This refers to a story in the Jerusalem Talmud, tractate Berachot 2:4:

Once a Jew was ploughing and his ox snorted once before him. An Arab who was passing and heard the sound said to him, "Jew, Jew. Loosen your ox, and loosen your plough [and stop ploughing]. For today your Temple was destroyed."

The ox snorted again. [The Arab] said to him, "Jew, Jew. Bind your ox, and bind your plough. For today the Messiah king was born."

He said to him, "What is his name?" [The Arab replied] "Menaḥem." He said to him, "And what is his father's name?" He said to him, "Ḥizqiah." He said to him, "Where is he from?" He said to him, "From the royal capital of Bethleḥem in Judah."

[The Jew] went and sold his ox and sold his plough. He became a peddler of infants clothes [nappies]. He went from place to place until he came to that very city. All of the women bought from him, but Menaḥem's mother did not buy from him.

He heard the women saying "Menaḥem's mother, Menaḥem's mother, come buy for your child."

She said, "I want to choke this enemy of Israel. For on the day he was born the Temple was destroyed."

[The Jew] said to her, "We are sure that on this day it was destroyed, and on this day [of the year] it will be rebuilt. [Do not abandon the child. Provide for him.]"

She said to him, "I have no money."

He said to her, "It is of no matter to me. Come and buy for him and if you have no money, pay me when I return."

After a while, he returned. He went up to that place. He said to her, "What happened to the infant?" She said to him, "Since the time you saw him a spirit came and carried him up and took him away from me."

עובדא הוה בחד יהודאי דהוה קאים רדי געת תורתיה קומוי עבר חד ערביי ושמע קלה א״ל בר יודאי בר יודאי שרי תורך ושרי קנקנך דהא חריב בית מקדשא

געת זמן תניינות א״ל בר יודאי בר יודאי קטור תוריך וקטור קנקניך דהא יליד מלכא משיחא

א״ל מה שמיה מנחם א״ל ומה שמיה דאבוי א״ל חזקיה א״ל מן הן הוא א״ל מן בירת מלכא דבית לחם יהודה

אזל זבין תורוי וזבין קנקנוי ואיתעביד זבין לבדין למיינוקא והוה עייל קרייה ונפקא קרייה עד דעל לההוא קרתא והויין כל נשייא זבנן ואימה דמנחם לא זבנה

שמע קלן דנשייא אמרין אימיה דמנחם אימיה דמנחם איתיי זובנין לברך

אמרה בעייא אנא מיחנקוניה סנאיהון דישראל דביומא דאיתיליד איחרוב בית מוקדשא

א״ל רחיציא אנן דברגליה חריב וברגליה מתבניי

א״ל לית לי פריטין

א״ל והוא מה איכפת ליה איתיי זובנין ליה אין לית קומך יומא דין

בתר יומין אנא אתי ונסיב בתר יומין עאל לההיא קרתא אמר לה מהו מיינוקא עביד א״ל מן שעתא דחמיתני אתון רוחין ועלעולי וחטפיניה מן ידיי׃

Returning to Sefer Zerubbabel:
Then I, Zerubbabel, posed a question to Metatron, the leader of the host of the Lord. He said to me: ‘The Lord will give a rod for these salvific acts to Hephsibah, the mother of Menahem ben ‘Amiel. A great star will shine before her, and all the stars will wander aimlessly from their paths.</p>

A star is going to shine before Ḥephzibah: connection with the Nativity story [audience interjection: also Bar Kochba].

Hephsibah, the mother of Menahem ben ‘Amiel, will go forth and kill two kings, both of whom are determined to do evil. [...]

This is one of three things סֵפֶר זְרוּבָּבֶל creates in messianism: The character of Ḥephzibah, mother of the Messiah and what she does; Armilus the antichrist* and what he does; and the resurrection of the first Messiah. The second two of these catch on; but Ḥephzibah gets forgotten apart from a brief mention in the Zohar by name, but what she does here is forgotten.

* Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts cites a Jewish text which actually uses the word "Antichristos" in Hebrew.

The rod which the Lord will give to Hephsibah, the mother of Menahem [ben] ‘Amiel, is made of almond-wood; it is hidden in Raqqat, a city in Naphtali. It is the same rod which the Lord previously gave to Adam, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and King David. It is the same rod which sprouted buds and flowered in the Tent (of Meeting) for the sake of Aaron. Elijah ben Eleazar concealed it in Raqqat, a city of Naphtali, which is Tiberias. Concealed there as well is a man whose name is Nehemiah ben Hushiel ben Ephraim ben Joseph. [...]

Tiberias also has great Christian connotations. Neḥemiah ben Hushiel is the first messiah, the Moshiaḥ ben Yosef.

Ḥephzibah is being given this rod because it is very powerful: it splits the sea, turns the Nile to blood, sprouts flowers, etc. It's also a very masculine symbol.

[At this point, we skipped a paragraph.] סֵפֶר זְרוּבָּבֶל goes round and round a lot. It's not clear whether it's because the vision is cyclic or because we have a bad manuscript tradition.

I continued asking there about the prince of the holy covenant. He held me close and they (sic) brought me to the ‘house of filth’. There he showed me a marble stone in the shape of a maiden: her features and form were lovely and indeed very beautiful to behold. Then he said to me, ‘This statue is the [wife] of Belial. Satan will come and have intercourse with it, and a son named Armilos will emerge from it, [whose name in Greek means] “he will destroy a nation.”

The statue is implied to be of the Virgin Mary. It is around the seventh century that the worship of the Virgin Mary took off and became a big thing. This is why the speaker thinks the "house of filth" is actually a church.

He will rule over all (peoples), and his dominion will extend from one end of the earth to the other, and ten letters will be in his hand.

What are the ten letters in his hand? Some parallel to the Ten Commandments, which are called in Judaism Ten Utterances. (What's the Hebrew? אות, which would also mean "sign"?) Parallel with the Ten Plagues?

"Armilus" is explained to mean "he will destroy a nation". This is a corruption of "Eremolaos"; in unpointed Hebrew, it takes very little to change the one into the other: ארמלאוס.

Verger wrote an article in 1985 who came up with other ideas. "Armilus" is actually "Romulus". No need to argue about it: it can be both. Furthermore, in Sanhedrin 105a, the name of בלעם Balaam is explained as בלע־עם "swallower of nations". He's the archenemy of Moses reincarnated combined with the legendary founder of Rome, the destroyer of the Temple. Also a reference to אַרָם referring to Laban (an Aramaean), the arch-nemesis of Jacob. Also a combination of Greek and Rome, what more appropriate a symbol for the antichrist?

Genesis 36:32 בראשית לו לב
And Bela the son of Beor reigned in Edom: and the name of his city was Dinhabah. וַיִּמְלֹךְ בֶּאֱדוֹם בֶּלַע בֶּן־בְּעוֹר וְשֵׁם עִירוֹ דִּנְהָבָה׃

Also Edom = Rome; Bela ben Beor must be Balaam ben Beor.

But Hephsibah, the mother of Menahem b. ‘Amiel, will remain stationed at the eastern gate, and that wicked one will not enter there, thereby confirming what was written: “but the remainder of the people will not be cut off from the city” (Zech 14:2). This battle will take place during the month of Av. Israel will experience distress such as there never was before. They will flee into towers, among mountains, and into caves, but they will be unable to hide from him. All the nations of the earth will go astray after him except for Israel, who will not believe in him. All Israel shall mourn Nehemiah b. Hushiel for forty-one days. His thoroughly crushed corpse will be thrown down before the gates of Jerusalem, but no animal, bird, or beast will touch it. Due to the intensity of the oppression and the great distress, the children of Israel will then cry out to the Lord, and the Lord will answer them.’ [...]

Of course the battle takes place in Av; when else could it take place?

Also at this time the statue of Mary was being put up on the gates of Constantinople. The mother of the Messiah now has an association with gates; Ḥephzibah stands on the gates and protects the people.

All Israel mourning refers to the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sukkot 52a:

"And the land shall mourn" (Zechariah 12:12). [...] What is the reason for this mourning? Rabbi Dosa and the rabbis differ about it. Rabbi Dosa says "Over the messiah who will be slain," and the rabbis say "over the Evil Inclination which will be killed." וְסָפְדָה הָאָרֶץ מִשְׁפָּחוֹת מִשְׁפָּחוֹת לְבָד: [...] הא הספידא מאי עבידתיה פליגי בה רבי דוסא ורבנן׃ חד אמר על משיח בן יוסף שנהרג וחד אמר על יצר הרע שנהרג׃
He said to me: ‘Menahem b. ‘Amiel will suddenly come on the fourteenth day of the first month; i.e., of the month Nisan. He will wait by the Valley of ’Arb’el which belonged to Joshua b. Jehosadaq the priest, and all the surviving sages of Israel—only a few will remain due to the attack and pillage of Gog and Armilos and the plunderers who despoiled them—will come out to him. Menahem b. ‘Amiel will say to the elders and the sages: “I am the Lord’s Messiah: the Lord has sent me to encourage you and to deliver you from the power of these adversaries!” The elders will scrutinize him and will despise him, for they will see that despicable man garbed in rags, and they will despise him just as you previously did. But then his anger will burn within him, “and he will don garments of vengeance (as his) clothing and will put on a cloak of zealousness” (Isa 59:17b), and he will journey to the gates of Jerusalem. Hephsibah, the mother of the Messiah, will come and give him the rod by which the signs were performed. All the elders and children of Israel will come and see that Nehemiah (b. Hushiel) is alive and standing unassisted, (and) immediately they will believe in the Messiah.’

Of course he comes forth on the fourteenth day of the first month; it's the day the Paschal lamb is slaughtered, [me: and the day Jesus entered Jerusalem].

Bringing back the Messiah ben Yosef to life, you have death and resurrection by splitting the character into two people. This completes the cycle as it was his mother working with [lacuna] that allowed him to arrive, And now he [lacuna].

Moshiaḥ ben Yosef also goes down and then rises up again like the Biblical Joseph did.

In Tammuz, the fourth month, the Lord God of Israel will descend upon the Mount of Olives, and the Mount of Olives will split open at His rebuke. He will blow a great trumpet, and every foreign deity and mosque will crumple to the ground, and every wall and steep place will collapse. The Lord will kill all their plunderers, and He will battle those nations “like a warrior fired with zeal” (Isa 42:13). The Lord’s Messiah—Menahem b. ‘Amiel—will come and breathe in the face of Armilos and thereby slay him. The Lord will place each man’s sword on the neck of his companion and their dead bodies shall fall there. [...]

A reference to Isaiah 27 and other places.

Why does Menaḥem ben Amiel slay Armilus with the breath of his mouth?

Isaiah 11:1-5 ישעיהו יא א-ה
A shoot shall come forth from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; it shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. וְיָצָא חֹטֶר מִגֵּזַע יִשָׁי וְנֵצֶר מִשָּׁרָשָׁיו יִפְרֶה׃ וְנָחָה עָלָיו רוּחַ ה׳ רוּחַ חָכְמָה וּבִינָה רוּחַ עֵצָה וּגְבוּרָה רוּחַ דַּעַת וְיִרְאַת ה׳׃ וַהֲרִיחוֹ בְּיִרְאַת ה׳ וְלֹא־לְמַרְאֵה עֵינָיו יִשְׁפּוֹט וְלֹא־לְמִשְׁמַע אָזְנָיו יוֹכִיחַ׃ וְשָׁפַט בְּצֶדֶק דַּלִּים וְהוֹכִיחַ בְּמִישׁוֹר לְעַנְוֵי־אָרֶץ וְהִכָּה־אֶרֶץ בְּשֵׁבֶט פִּיו וּבְרוּחַ שְׂפָתָיו יָמִית רָשָׁע׃ וְהָיָה צֶדֶק אֵזוֹר מָתְנָיו וְהָאֱמוּנָה אֵזוֹר חֲלָצָיו׃

For Isaiah this probably meant easily, in no time? Here, however, Menaḥem ben Amiel is a man of peace; how is he to kill someone so violent. Audience member: he "blows him away".

The tenth king is Armilos, the son of Satan who emerged from the sculpted stone. He will gain sovereignty over all of them. He will come along with the rulers of Qedar and the inhabitants of the East and provoke a battle in the Valley of ’Arb’el, and they will take possession of the kingdom. He will ascend with his force and subdue the entire world. From there in Riblah, which is Antioch, he will begin to erect all the idols of the nations on the face of the earth and to serve their gods, those whom the Lord hates. During those days ‘there will be reward for neither human nor beast’ (cf. Zech 8:10). He will construct four altars, and he will anger the Lord with his wicked deeds. There will be a very terrible and harsh famine upon the surface of the whole land for forty days—their food will stem from the salt-plant; leaves plucked from shrubbery and broom to sustain them (cf. Job 30:4). On that day ‘a fountain will flow forth from the Temple of the Lord and fill the Wadi Shittim’ (Joel 4:18).

Wadi Shittim: Where the people are going to gather.

Now this Armilos will take his mother—(the statue) from whom he was spawned—from the ‘house of filth’ of the scornful ones, and from every place and from every nation they will come and worship that stone, burn offerings to her, and pour out libations to her. No one will be able to view her face due to her beauty. Anyone who refuses to worship her will die in agony like animals.

Heraclius carries an image of the Virgin Mary as he goes out to war. Armilus does the same thing.

This is the mark of Armilos: the color of the hair of his head is similar to gold, and (he is) green, even the soles of his feet. His face is one span in width, his eyes are deep-set, and he has two heads. He will arise and rule over the province of Satan, the father of Belial. All who see him will tremble before him. Menahem will come up from the Wadi Shittim and breathe in the face of Armilos and thereby slay him, just as it is written: ‘he will slay the wicked one with the breath of his mouth’ (Isa 11:4). Israel will take possession of the kingdom; ‘the holy ones of the Most High will receive sovereign power’ (Dan 7:18).

יָרוֹק means in ancient Hebrew both green and yellow. Two heads: [Laurie Davies: Janus reference?] And Romulus and Remus being twins?

These were the words which Metatron spoke to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, while he was still living in exile during the time of the Persian empire. Zechariah ben ‘Anan and Elijah recorded them when the period of exile was completed.

[The speaker didn't explain who Metatron (who is more present in the skipped-over parts of the text), so allow me Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (in Good Omens): "The Voice of God. But not the voice of God. An entity in its own right. Rather like a Presidential spokesman." Despite Jastrow's attempt to derive this name from the Semitic root נטר, it's probably actually from Greek meta-thronos "behind the throne" (but nonetheless pronounced [məta'tron]). 3 Enoch describes how Enoch was touched by an angel and transformed into the Metatron, but here he is described as identical with the angel Michael.]

Why might the author have written this text? (It was probably written in or near Jerusalem.) It's a polemic against Christians, because they've been in and driven out again and are coming back. History: we've lost the battle now but soon we'll win.

[There's] suffering, which often creates messianism. There's wars being fought, there's confusion. People want clarity, which apocalyptic literature brings.

Some scholars think this is a fifth column type of letter: sowing discord amongst the people against their rulers.

Biale wrote in 1989 "Counter History and Jewish Polemics against Christianity"—counter-history is where you take someone else's history and rewrite it as a story against them, for example Marxism [me: or Sefer Toldos Yeshu]. That's what's going on here.

We have the Messiah against Armilus, with Ḥephzibah against the statue (the Virgin Mary). Armilus is the son of a statue and a divine being. He represents the Christian messiah, which is our antichrist. He has the attributes of Jesus, but cast in the negative.

The statue is taken out to Armilus, like Heraclius took out his statue of the Virgin Mary. In both cases, the women is reduced to nothing: just a statue, not even a living person. Against her is Ḥephzibah, who fights, kills kings and is the mother of the Messiah.

What does Armilus tell us about our Messiah? He is pure, as Armilus is not. He is peaceful, as Armilus is not. He's about life, where Armilus is only about death. He's about resurrection, borrowed wholesale from Christianity. The anti-Messiah is off-health—ירוק: jaundice? He has two heads; ours has unity.

Mythology gives us archetypes to understand the world. It gives us a lens to see ourselves through. It gives us an image of the good guy: we're defined by what we think as opposite to ourselves.

What do we now think as opposite to ourselves? What counterhistory are we creating now?

Jewish learning notes index

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