Wednesday, May 2, 2012


A Potential Mashiach Gathering Followers

Hello My Friend and Welcome. 

Today we look at the very interesting phenomena of the Sheker, or False Messiah. Jewish yearning for the Mashiach seems reached a fever pitch in the years prior to and in the years after the birth of Christ. Why? Well, part of the reason could have been the oppressive conditions under Roman rule, but the expected fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy was probably also a factor.  

The Law of Moses commanded that every 7th year be a Sabbatical Year. As the name suggests, the Sabbatical year is tied to the biblical concept of the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week and a time of rest. The Jubilee and Sabbatical years provided a form of regular debt release to stabilize social and economic gaps that naturally develop within every society. 

According to the Hebrew Bible, during the seventh year all land had to be left untilled and unplanted, and debts from close neighbors that were unpaid during the previous six years were cancelled. These laws of land use and debt remission are not necessarily originally connected but appear to have been grouped together under a single general category of the Sabbatical year or Shemittah (Exodus 21:2-6, Exodus 23:10-11, Leviticus 25:1-7, 18-22, and Deuteronomy 15:1-11, 12-18) by the time the Bible was written. 

In particular these laws addressed three specific concerns. First, they controlled overuse of the land. The laws also covered debt concerns. Because of drought and other cyclical crop failures, the poor needed to have a way to start over rather than languish in poverty. A similar consideration led to the introduction of Bankruptcy Laws in modern society. And, lastly, they addressed land ownership and management concerns that affected families in inter-generational settings. Other ancient near-eastern texts from the laws of Hammurabi and Ras Shamra (Ugarit) suggest similar concerns, but none of them have formulations as advanced or as specific as the laws of the Hebrew Bible. 

Jeremiah foretold that God would withhold His blessings and protection, because the nation of Judah had fallen away. He said Judah would be conquered and taken into a captivity which would last for 70 years (Jeremiah 25:12; 29:10). This was later fulfilled when Babylon conquered Judah and took them into captivity.  

There is a belief that the observance of a Sabbatical year had apparently been neglected for most of Israel's history, so the Lord decreed they would spend one year in captivity for every sabbatical year they had failed to keep. They had missed 70 sabbatical years during their 490 years as a nation. The first deportation took place in 605 BC and the return occurred in 535 BC — 70 years. 

Some validation for this belief can be found in the system of Rabbi Hillel, who lived in the First Century. He created a legal fiction (a prosbul or transference) that allowed for the repayment of a debt through a transfer of that debt from a personal loan to an institutional loan, thereby technically meeting the Sabbatical requirements, but allowing for repayment after the Sabbatical year. This prosbul is an example of the ways in which some Jews in the time of Christ ostensively met the spirit of the law, yet circumvented them in practice. Hence, his criticism of the Pharisees. 

However, Daniel’s prophecy not only looked back in time, it also looked forward. It promised a Messiah who would come to make atonement for iniquity. The general consensus is that the some groups of Jewish teachers believed that the arrival of the Messiah was imminent. (Recall the meeting with Herod the Great after the Wise Men appeared searching for the Christ Child.) We also must keep in mind that the Sadducees accepted only the Torah, so the Temple aristocracy would have rejected any Messianic claims.  

The list of Messianic Pretenders, or Shekers, can be short or long depending upon the criteria used. (One list continues into the Twentieth Century.  Its most recent entry being an Hassidic Rabbi who died in the 1990’s.) For our purposes, the real interest lies with those who arose just prior to, or shortly after, the birth of Yeshua of Nazareth. This yields a list of thirteen individuals beginning with Athrongeus and ending with Simon bar Kokhbar in 132 AD.  

My novel, WITNESS chronicles the rise and fall of the two earliest pretenders, Judas the Galilean and Athrongeus of Judea. Of the two, Judas had the greater impact. The Roman army executed most of Judas’ followers after his uprising. He, however, lived to fight another day. Retreating into the Galilean hills with a handful of supporters, he waged a guerilla war against the Romans for many years. The party of the Zealots arose from his movement. 

Jacob & Simon, both sons of Judas the Galilean, are listed among the Messianic Pretenders. They were crucified by the Roman Governer Tiberius Julius Alexander in 47 AD. Seventy years after Judas’ revolt in Sepphoris the Zealot party seized control of Jerusalem, which led to the the famous Jewish Revolt and the city’s destruction by the Romans in 70AD. 

Another Messianic Pretender is mentioned by Gamali’el in his speech to the Great Sanhedrin recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. (Acts 5:34-39) “But a Pharisee in the council named Gama'li-el, a teacher of the law, held in honor by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a while. And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you do with these men. For before these days Theu'das arose, giving himself out to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was slain and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean arose in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” 

The Bar Kokhbar Revolt marked the last attempt by the Jews to establish a nation in ancient Israel. Though the Temple had been destroyed in 70AD, Jews still inhabited the territory in and around Jerusalem. Simon bar Kokhba ―Simon Son of a Star― is referenced in the Babylonian Talmud, in Cassius Dio’s Roman History, and in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. He led a major Jewish revolt that took the Romans three years to put down. Coins minted during his reign are stamped “Year one of the redemption of Israel.” His defeat led to the absolute leveling of Jerusalem and the expulsion of all Jews from the Holy Land. His critics referred to him as bar Kozeba – Son of Disappointment.

The Unfortunate End of a Failed Revolt

It’s tempting to write these people off as rabble-rousers and riff-raff. Surely, some of them were. We see that same phenomena in modern society. How often does a city’s celebration of a championship team devolve into a riot in which shops are vandalized and looted? Clearly a share in the potential spoils motivated some of the followers of these failed rebellions.  

However, to paint them all with such a broad brush seems unfair. Place yourself in their shoes. You’re dissatisfied, angry about the Roman occupation and a devout follower of the Judaism. You believe the prophecies of a coming Mashiach with all your heart. Who is he? Where is he? It suddenly occurs to you that maybe…just maybe, God is calling you to this task. After all, many Biblical heroes were reluctant heroes at best. How can you find out whether or not you’re the long awaited Mashiach? The only way is to test the vocation. If you succeed, the call is true.

Unfortunately, such a process forces you to place your life on the line.  

Interestingly enough one, if not two, of Judas the Galilean’s followers apparently found a home among Yeshua’s disciples. Luke refers to the first as Simon Zelotes (Simon the Zealot). In Matthew and Mark the KJV identifies him as a Canaanite. This is an incorrect translation of the Hebrew word Cananean, which in Greek becomes Zealot.  

It has been suggested that the name Judas Iscariot derives from the Greek word sikarios ― dagger bearer. The Sicarii were a band of fanatical nationalists who broke with the Zealots and assassinated perceived enemies with their daggers.  

On Friday we’ll be examining the First Century game known as Tabula.

Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings.

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