The Unknown False Messiahs

I. False Moses:

 In the days of the emperor Theodosius, who reigned from 412 to 454, a Jewish scoundrel appeared in [Crete] and asserted that he was Moses. He promised the Jews, of whom there were many on the Island, that he would transport them without ships across the sea and bring them to the land of Judea, just as [Moses] had done for their forefathers in the time of Pharaoh… He went about saying that he was Moses and that God had sent him from Heaven to be their leader. For a year he toured the island repeating this, and he fixed a day for the exodus from there. He preached and prophesied and collected money on every side.  On the appointed day, he assembled a multitude, and, coming down upon the rocks to the sea, he ordered those in front to jump into the sea. Their madness and blindness were such that they obeyed him, and so, many sank into the waves. Some fishermen who happened to be nearby charitably saved a few people, pulled them up into their boats and called out to those who remained not to jump. Because of them many of these miserable people were saved. The scoundrel fled, and I do not know what his end was; but his fraud had a good result, for many of the wretched had their eyes opened and converted to Christianity.

Source: Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History (fl. 5th cent., Byzantine historian)

II. Persian Rebel:

Some Jew, native of Bet Aramaye, got up in a town named Pallughta at the point where the waters of the Euphrates separate for the irrigation of the soil, and asserted that the messiah had come. He gathered around him [artisans], some 400 men. They burned down three [Christian] sanctuaries and killed the chief of that locality. A military force, however, sent from the city of Aqula, intervened and slew them with their wives and children, and crucified their leader in his own village.

Source: Nestorian Chronicler, ca. 645, Syria

III. Serenus:

As to your inquiry concerning a deceiver who stayed in the land of our exile and whose name was Sari’a, who said, “I am the messiah”, and people strayed after him and practiced heresy. They stopped praying and observing the laws of ritual slaughter, stopped keeping their wine distinct from the “wine of [others]” worked on the second day of festivals, failed to follow the ordinances of the sages as concerns the form of the marriage contract, like others who are major heretics. When they return [to the fold], do they require immersion or not?  …Also this deceiver permitted forbidden sexual union to them. If we reaccept them we could come to sully the pure. Should we concerned about this or not? 

                Source: Responsa of Natronai Gaon (Head of Pumpedita from 719 to 730)

IV. Abu-Issa:

Ovadiah appeared… known as Abu Issa of Isfahan. He proclaimed himself a prophet… It is said that he led a revolt against the [Moslem] government. Many people followed him until he had an armed force. But he was conquered in a battle and killed. Some of his admirers say that he was not killed but escaped to a cave in the mountains and that nothing has been heard of him since. The most wondrous thing about him, according to his admirers, is that even though he was, in their words, an uneducated and illiterate tailor, he composed books and shorter works without anyone having taught him… He prohibited divorce… he instituted seven prayers a day, drawing on the words [of the Psalm] “Seven times a day do I praise Thee”… he prohibited the eating of meat and the drinking of liquors, not on the basis of scripture, but because God ordered him to through prophecy…

Source: al-Qirqistani the Karaite – Kitab al-Anwar wal-Maraqib 937               

V. Miracle Messiah of Lyon:

[In 1060] there appeared a man in [Lyons] a large center in the heart of France, which numbered more than 10,000 Jewish families. He pretended that he was the messiah. He was supposed to have performed the following miracle: on moonlit nights he would go out and climb to the tops oh high trees in the field and glide from tree to tree like a bird… many who witnessed this miracle became his adherents. The French discovered this, pillaged the Jewish quarter, and put the pretender to death, together with many of his followers. Some of them maintain, however, that he is still in hiding until this very day.

Source: Maimonides – Epistle to Yemen 1172

VI. Ibn Arye:

My Father, of blessed memory, told me that… there lived respectable folk in Cordova, the center of Andalusia, some of whom were given to the cult of astrology. They were all of one mind that the messiah would appear that year. They sought a revelation in a dream night after night and ascertained that the messiah was a man of that city. They picked a pious and virtuous person by the name of Ibn Arye, one who had been instructing the people. They wrought miracles and made predictions… until they won over the hearts of all of the people. When the learned and influential men of our community heard this, they assembled in the synagogue and had Ibn Arye brought there and had him flogged in public. Furthermore, they imposed a fine on him and put him under ban, because he gave assent to the professions of his adherents by his silence instead of restraining then and pointing out to them that they contradict our religion. They did the same thing to persons who assembled about him. The Jews escaped the wrath of the Gentiles only with the greatest difficulty.  Source: IBID

VII. “Robin Hood” of Yemen:

a. As to what you recalled, concerning the man who is saying in the cities of Yemen that he is the messiah- know that I was not surprised to hear of it or of those who believe in him. He is certainly mad and one who is ill incurs neither guilt nor sin if he is not himself the cause of the disease; and likewise I am not surprised at those who believe in him; they think so on account of their impatience and their ignorance of the place of the messiah and his high degree… One of the proofs against him is his lack of education, for he has commanded people to strew their money about and give it to the poor. Any that heed him are fools and he is a sinner for doing the opposite of what the Torah instructs, for one is not to give away all one’s money to charity but only a part of it… one fifth… Doubtless his heart and mind which have led him to say that he is the messiah have led him to command people to abandon their possessions. If they give their money to the poor they will be impoverished and the poor enriched, and then the latter will be required to return their money to the formerly rich and the wealth will just go on thus, back and forth forever. Source: IBID


b. After a year he was seized, and all who had joined with him fled. The king of the Arabs who had seized him asked him: “What is this that you have done?” What I have done I have indeed done, and according to God’s word.” Then he said, “What is your authenticating wonder?” He replied, “Chop off my head and I shall revive at once.” He said to him, “You can have no greater sign than this…” At once they killed the poor fellow. May his death be an atonement for him and for all Israel. The Jews in most places were punished by fines, and even now there are some ignoramuses there who maintain that presently he will come to life and rise.

Source: Maimonides – Epistle to Marseilles 1194

VIII. David Alroy:

a. Ten years ago today there rose up a man and his name was David Alro’i, of the city of Amadiah. And he studied befire the Exilarch Hadai, and before the head of the yeshiva, the Gaon Yakov, in the city if Baghdad. He was quick in the teachings of Israel, in the Torah and in the Talmud, in all the wisdom of Ishmael, and in the secular books, and the books of magicians and mediums.  It came to his mind to raise his hand against the king of Persia and to gather the Jews who live in the mountains of Haftoun [in Kurdistan] and go out and make war against all the other nations and go and take Jerusalem. And he gave  signs to the  Jews by false wonders and said that, “the Holy One blessed be He has sent me to conquer Jerusalem and bring you out from beneath the yoke of the nations.” And some few Jews followed him and called him our Messiah.

And the king of Persia heard the report and sent to him to come and speak with him, and he went to see the king, without fear… [the king asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “I am.” The king was angered and gave orders to seize him and put him in the prison… At the end of three days the king was seated to speak with his ministers about the matter of the Jews…” And then David came before them, for he had freed himself from the prison with the permission of no man. And at the moment the king saw him, he said to him, “Who has brought you here? Who has set you free?” And he said, “My art and my skills have, for I fear not you nor all your servants.” At once the king called out, “Catch him!” And his servants replied, “We see no man but hear his voice!”… Right then the servants of the king saw him, that he was crossing the river on his kerchief, and they took off after him in little fishing boats to bring him back. But they could not catch him…

 Then the king of Persia sent a letter to the… Exilarch and the head of the Yeshiva, Gaon Yakov, to stop David Alro’I from doing this thing. “And if not, I will kill all of the Jews in my kingdom,” and all the Jewish communities of Persia sat in great distress. And [they] sent to him, “Know that the time of the redemption has not come… and we decree that you cease from doing such a thing and if not you are cast out from all of Israel.”

At last one king, Zun al-Din, king of the Turks, a servant of the king of Persia, arose. And he sent for the father-in-law of David AlRo’i and gave a bribe of ten thousand gold pieces to kill him in secret. And he came to his house as he was asleep in his bed and killed him, and his idea came to nothing…

Source: The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela (ca. 1180)


b. In order to show how [the Jews] are inclined to believe whatever is false ans impossible in a big hurry, we will mention an incident that will show as well how weak are the intellectual powers of the Jews of Baghdad… when the rumors about [al-Ro’i] reached Baghdad, two swindling Jews, elders and men of esteem, conspired and wrote letters… to the Jews of Baghdad, to announce to them the Redemption for which they had been long waiting. They set the date for a certain night in which they would all fly to Jerusalem. And the Jews of Baghdad, who glory so in their acuity and analysis, attended closely to this and trusted in the truthfulness of these two men. And the women brought them their wealth and ornaments so they might give them to whomever needed them. And so the Jews donated a fair part of what they owned. They had clothes made for themselves and gathered on the rooftops that night, in order to wait for the angels that would carry me to Jerusalem on their wings. And the mothers who were there and had babies to nurse worried tearfully, lest they should fly before their children or their children before them, that the babies would thus die for lack of nourishment… That whole night, until the dawn, the Jews tried o fly. Finally, they came to know that they had been misled and had become a laughing matter. The two swindlers fled, taking with them what they had gotten from the Jews… They called the year “the year of flying” and used it to tell how old someone was… The whole matter is an eternal and constant shame for them.      Source: Samau’el Ibn Abbas – Ifham al-Yahud ca. 1150

IX. David Reuveni:

  1. He comes from afar- his from and his manner of speech make that clear. His appearance is dark, short, lean; his language is a mixture of Arabic and some Hebrew. He is a man of merit who fasts daily and trusts in the Lord…              

Source: Daniel da Pisa – Head of the Jewish Community of Rome

  1. I am David, the son of King Shlomo, ZT”L, and my older brother, Yosef, sits on the throne in the wilderness of Habur and rules over thirty myriads, over the tribes of Gad and Reuven and half the tribe of Menashe. I have journeyed away from the presence of the king and his advisors, the seventy elders, who commanded me that I should go first to Rome, before his Majesty the Pope…    

                                      Source: Autobiography of David HaReuveni              

  1. I… arrived at the entrance of the city of Rome on the 15th of Adar I [1525], and a non-Jew from Venice came up to me and spoke Arabic to me and I was angered with him. I went to the courtyard of the Pope, mounted on an old white horse, and my servant went before me and Jews went with me… So I went… I fasted during the Sabbath, and during the whole day men and women, Jews and Christians, came to see me in my house until night… At eight [the next] morning, I came to the house of the Pope… and I spoke with him, and he listened to what I said politely and said, “This matter has come forth from God!” …and I spoke this to him, “… Write me the letters… to all the Christians through whose lands I may pass, greater and lesser.” …and the Pope responded… “I will do what the ambassador wants.” Source: Ibid
  2. …and embassy of Jews  from Arabia appeared before the throne of the Pope, led by the brother of the king… and sought to make a covenant with the Christians for war against the religion of Mohammed, the Arabs and the Turks… Clement sent the Jewish emissary to the kings of Portugal and Ethiopia and besought them that they bestir themselves concerning the whole matter as is fit and make contact with the Arabian Jews in order to enlarge the Christian faith…                          Source: Raynaldus – Annales Ecclesiastici
  3. I came off the ship onto dry land… [in Portugal] and there came to me immediately Christian officers and converted Jews, babies and women… a monk from the land of Spain came… and the evil man said that there was no king of the Jews and no kingly line among us; and he stood in front of a large window. And I was zealous for God’s reputation, and I stood in front of him and threw him out of the window down to the ground in front of all the non-Jews… And the great judge heard of it, and was happy about the matter… and [the Christians] became angry at the converts because they kissed my hand… and said, “Do him great honor, but do not kiss his hand, for [it is only fit to do so] for the king of Portugal… And I would say to them, wherever I came, that I was the son of king Shlomo, “And I have not come to you with signs and wonders and magic, but as a man of war, which I have been since my youth… and we shall see the path upon which Hashem will lead me to the land of Israel…”                        

                                Source: Autobiography of David HaReuveni

X. Shlomo Molkho:

When the mighty warrior, the pious one, our teacher, R. David HaReuveni reached the court of the king of Portugal, in a dream that night I saw awful visions… and I was greatly frightened by them… The essence of the the vision I saw commanded me to carry out my circumcision. I [contacted] our teacher David HaReuveni… but he concealed himself from me and said, “I know nothing of all this; is it really on account of me that these fearful visions you see appear to you?” And I said to myself, “Perhaps he does not wish to reveal the matter to me until I carry out the circumcision.” I left him and performed the circumcision myself; none other was with me. And the Holy One blessed be He aided me and healed me for the sake of His Name, though I felt great pain and distress and fainted, for the blood flowed like a surging spring, and the Merciful One, the Healer, healed me in an unbelievably short time. And afterward I arose from bed and went to our teacher, R. David, may the Rock protect him, and said to him, “Speak with me, my lord, and conceal nothing from me, for I carried out the commandment from the Creator on high, and see, I am circumcised as any other Jew!” Then he looked at me with an angry countenance and rebuked me and said, “What have I done that you should put me and yourself in danger?! If the king comes to know of this he will say that I enticed you to do this though I knew nothing of it or even thought of it at all.” I was astonished at his words, yet I thought to myself that he continued to conceal these matters from me.  And after I was sealed with the signet of my creator, awful things began to appear to me, great and mighty… and they made known to me the hidden things of wisdom of the Holy Robe of the messianic pretender Solomon MolchoKabbalah… and then they ordered me to the kingdom of Turkey and permitted me to publicize the reasons, and in order to diminish the quarrels and questions… I put abroad the story that our teacher, R. David, was sending me on a secret mission to Turkey. But now I will tell the truth… that I neither circumcised my self nor traveled at the direction of flesh and blood, but according to the will of the Lord our God.


                                                                                                Source: Shlomo Molkho (Diogo Pires) –       The Beast of the Reed


                                                                                                Robe and flag of Shlomo Molkho


                                                                                                On Exhibit in Jewish Museum in Prague