The pattern on which Jewish messianic movements were based crystallized in the late Second Temple period and furnished Jews in following generations with certain basic elements. These, when confronted by certain typical challenges, culminated in messianic movements of varying scope. The term "messianic movement" in Jewish history applies to a movement centered around or expressing the yearning for a king or leader of the house of David and for a new ideal political existence for the Jewish people that would serve as a reassertion of independence and cause their return to Ereẓ Israel, as well as acting as a model and focus for a united and better mankind. Experiencing the miracle of Jewish redemption, mankind would attain an ideal world where true faith and real harmony would prevail. Jewish prayers for redemption, while seeking the advent of the king and the kingdom, also ask "may they all blend into one brotherhood to do Thy will with a perfect heart," and express the hope that with this change of heart, "Thou shalt reign over all whom Thou hast made, Thou alone" (in evening service (Arvit) for Rosh Ha-Shanah). This formulates the abiding hope of the Jew while in the *galut. The basis of the movements is intense longing for the messianic era. Up to the 18th century it was both an article of faith and an emotional necessity among Jews to hope constantly for the immediate advent of the Messiah. Yet this persistent element did not of itself necessarily lead to the emergence of such movements. Jewish messianic history includes periods and religious trends in which people experienced intense and wholehearted hopes for the Messiah while being lukewarm toward active messianic movements. Thus the *Karaites throughout the Middle Ages had a deep-seated feeling of being in exile; Karaite settlers in Jerusalem in the tenth century called themselves *Avelei Zion ("Mourners for Zion"), organizing their life and patterning their thought on the basis of this attachment to Zion. Yet only one Karaite messianic movement is known for certain. The Rabbanite *Ḥasidei Ashkenaz longed for the Messiah, yet only rarely is any active striving for a Messiah mentioned in their relatively extensive writings. Indeed, some of the expressions they use appear to satirize computations of the date of the coming of the Messiah (J. Wistinetzki (ed.), Sefer Ḥasidim (1924), 461, no. 1706). They even warned their readers: "If you see that a man has prophesied the advent of the Messiah, know that he is engaged either in sorcery or in dealings with devils; or that he uses the power of the Divine Name…. One has to say to such a man: 'Do not talk in this manner'…, eventually he will be the laughingstock of the whole world … they teach him calculations and secrets to bring shame on him and on those who believe him" (ibid., 76–77, no. 212).
This attitude displayed by mystics and ascetics in opposing activist messianism finds even sharper expression in the views of the 13th-century mystic, Naḥmanides. In his disputations with the representatives of Christianity, Naḥmanides told the Spanish king at *Barcelona in 1263:
Our Law and Truth and Justice are not dependent upon a Messiah. Indeed, you yourself are more important to me than a Messiah. You are a king and he is a king. You are a gentile sovereign and he is a king of Israel. The Messiah is but a king of flesh and blood like yourself. When I serve my Creator under your jurisdiction, in exile, torment, and subjection, exposed constantly to universal contempt, I merit great reward; for I offer of my own flesh a sacrifice to God, and my reward in afterlife will be so much the greater (Kitvei Rabbenu Moshe ben Naḥman, ed. by H.D. Chavel, 1 (1963), 310).
The basic consideration put forward here is that the greatness of the individual suffering under alien rule can be as rewarding as redemption. In a work addressed to Jews Naḥmanides wrote:
Even if we thought that it is the will and purpose of God to afflict us with political enslavement on this earth [forever], this would in no way weaken our adherence to the precepts of the Torah, for the sole rewards which we anticipate are those of the world to come – the beatitude of the soul which, having escaped hell's torments, enjoys the bliss of paradise.
He continues that he believes in the Messiah and redemption because it is true and because it gives him comfort to face the adversities suffered by the Jewish people; but this is not a necessary or sustaining element of his Jewish faith (Sefer ha-Ge'ullah, pt. 2; ibid., 279–80).
The extreme wing of modern *Orthodoxy in Judaism and most of the adherents of *Neo-Orthodoxy – in particular *Agudat Israel in the period before the Holocaust and, later, *Neturei Karta – continued, under changed and secularized conditions, old attitudes of messianism which were half-hearted toward a messianic movement. Messianic-prompted efforts have been made toward an ingathering of the Jews without an express connection with either Ereẓ Israel or political independence (see Anan b. David, Sefer ha-Mitzvot, ed. by A. Harkavy (1903), 6–7). Jacob *Frank in the 18th century had a savage desire for armed Jewish power and a Jewish settlement on the land – but all this was to be achieved on the soil of Poland. Thus, the modern movement of *territorialists can claim some ancient though rare precedents in traditional Jewish messianic trends.
Within this ideological framework and set of attitudes, the emergence of an active messianic movement required a challenge that would break through the tranquility of the regular messianic hope to turn it into fervent and directed effort, and create a revolutionary constellation. There were elements in Jewish historical consciousness encouraging such active responses to various and widely differing challenges. One element basic to Jewish messianism is anticipation of the "birth pangs of the Messiah" (ḥevlei Mashi'aḥ) – the time of troubles and turbulence that precedes his coming. Hence, periods in which terrible massacres of Jews occurred (e.g., during the *Crusades or the *Chmielnicki) massacres have also been periods of fervent messianic expectations and movements. Jewish historical conception – and for that matter Christian also – interpreted Daniel's apocalyptic vision of the four evil beasts (7:2ff.) as denoting four successive evil empires. The fourth will be succeeded by the everlasting dominion of "one like unto a son of man." He will be given "dominion and glory and a kingdom that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him." This conception enabled Jews to view great historical and political transformations – the fall and rise of empires and kingdoms, or revolutions and counterrevolutions – as the death throes of the fourth and last beast-kingdom and the harbingers of the messianic eternal kingdom.
The person to lead the messianic movement – the Messiah himself – was viewed from two different angles. Jews – in particular since the parting of the ways with Christianity – saw the Messiah as a man and not God; in the first place, as a national king. But here the agreement ends. Some, like *Maimonides in the 12th century, stressed that the Messiah will himself die even though his life will be a long one. He will first be tested as the successful warrior-king of Israel and proved its lawful ruler by devotion to Torah. Mankind will follow this new exemplary Jewish state. Nature will not change its laws, though society will become perfect (Yad, Melakhim (1962), 417). Along with this rationalistic conception of the Messiah, there is also a miraculous one, in which the person of the Messiah sometimes attains semi-divine heights. The 17th-century pseudo-Messiah, *Shabbetai Ẓevi, concluded a letter:
I will have to give full reward to all those who believe truly, men, women, and children – from the Lord of Peace and from me, Israel your Father, the bridegroom coming out from under the marriage canopy, the husband of the dear and virtuous Torah, this beautiful and virtuous matron, the man set on high, the Messiah of God, the lion of the upper regions and the deer of the high regions, Shabbetai Ẓevi (his letter to Venice, in: J. Sasportas, Ẓiẓat Novel Ẓevi, ed. by I. Tishby (1954), 129).
The rationalistic attitude sometimes reached the extreme of conceiving a Messiah-like political leader. The 14th-century rationalist, Joseph b. Abba Mari ibn *Kaspi, theorizes about:
The imminent actual possibility of our coming out from this galut, becoming free to rule ourselves, without a Lord. Thus, while being confined as slaves in Egypt, God took us out from there with a high hand. Now why should not this be even easier for Him in these days? Is there no longer any material available with which this Creator may create a man like Moses, or even of smaller stature, who shall come before the kings and they will give in to him, as Pharaoh gave in the end, though in the beginning Pharaoh hardened his heart to him (Tam ha-Kesef, ed. by Last (1913), 44ff., sermon 8).
The miraculous conception of the Messiah evolved a complex of superhuman traits, anticipated actions, and achievements; the Messiah is to take the crown from the head of the alien sovereign by his virtue of appearance alone and redeem and avenge the Jews by miraculous means.
According to the rationalistic image of the Messiah, he should be "a very eminent prophet, more illustrious than all the prophets after Moses" (Maim., Iggeret Teiman, ed. A.S. Halkin (1952), 87). In Maimonides' view prophecy necessitated the highest intellectuality. These criteria were not accepted by most of the messianic movements, whose leadership was largely charismatic. It is related of a pseudo-Messiah who appeared around the end of the seventh century, *Abu ʿIsā (Isaac b. Jacob al-Iṣfahanī), that, "the most wonderful thing about him in the opinion of his followers is the fact that although he was, as they say, an illiterate tailor and could neither read nor write, he produced books and pamphlets without having been instructed by anyone" (Jacob al-Kirkisānī's account of the Jewish sects, ed. by L. Nemoy, in: huca, 7 (1930), 328). Not many of the messianic claimants had such humble intellectual beginnings, but practically none of them was regarded by his contemporaries as preeminent among scholars of his day, though some were known as considerable scholars. The most widespread of the messianic movements, that of Shabbetai Ẓevi, had for its leader a man of less than 40 years old, while its great prophet, *Nathan of Gaza, was 21 when he announced the Messiah and died at the age of 36. It is hardly surprising that men of rationalistic bent rarely saw the embodiment of their ideal in the actual messianic claimants who arose, whereas those inclined to follow a Messiah seldom found a man to rouse them in the Maimonidean ideal. This generally created a situation in which the supporters and opponents of the movement were driven into two opposing camps.
The messianic movements envisioned the coming of the Messiah as an historic breakthrough, a new lease of divine grace, and, according to some theories, as a basic change in the cosmos and divine relationships. Hence a phenomenon accompanying many messianic movements was some proposed change in the way of life of Jews. This ranged from the extreme innovations introduced by the New Testament of early Christianity, through minor variations in the law introduced by early medieval messianic movements, up to the orgiastic tendencies and activities of the Shabbatean movement and even more of the Frankists.
Some consider the events surrounding *Zerubbabel of the house of David and his mysterious disappearance (c. 519/518 b.c.e.) as the first messianic movement. The charismatic leadership of the first *Hasmoneans and the devotion they inspired is by rights part of the messianic movement cycle, but for the open question of the claims of this house as opposed to the claims of the house of David. The political and moral ferment created with the rise of *Herod and his house, and even more so with the advent of undisguised Roman rule in Judea, led to the emergence of many messianic leaders and influenced new concepts concerning their aims and leadership. *Jesus of Nazareth was one of many Jews who in this turbulent period claimed to be bringing redemption to the people and who were eventually crucified for announcing their message. *Judah the Galilean told Jews about ten years before the birth of Jesus that it was shameful for them to be "consenting to pay tribute to the Romans and tolerating mortal masters after having God for their Lord" (Jos., Wars, 2:118). Judah and his comrade, "the Pharisee Saddok," were regarded by the hostile *Josephus as the founders of the Zealots. They had "a passion for liberty that is almost unconquerable since they are convinced that God alone is their leader and master" (Jos., Ant., 18:23). With these men there began a heroic and tragic line of short-lived kings, martyred leaders, and brave fighters for freedom. Combating both the Romans and the Herodians, they developed the concept of inaugurating the reign of the "Kingdom of Heaven" for God's elected people here and now. There were many such leaders; it is almost certain that not all of them are mentioned in the extant sources. It is difficult to be certain about their ideas and types of leadership, for the accounts of their activities are subject to distortion either by uncritical admirers or by tendentious enemies. In the case of some of them, not only Jesus, miraculous elements enter the conduct of their leadership. Of *Theudas it is related that he influenced "the majority of the masses to take up their possessions and to follow him to the Jordan River." He stated that he was a prophet and that at his command the river would be parted and would provide them an easy passage (Jos., Ant., 20:97ff.; see also Acts 5:35–39). For this, he and many of his followers paid with their lives, about 45 c.e. Also mentioned is a Jew from Egypt, "who had gained for himself the reputation of a prophet"; followed by "about thirty thousand" Jews, he went to "the Mount of Olives. From there he proposed to force an entrance into Jerusalem" and to free it from the Romans. Many of his followers were killed in battle (Jos., Wars, 2:261ff.). How he was regarded by the Romans appears clearly from the fact that the Christian apostle *Paul was mistaken for him (Acts 21:37–38). It is almost certain that *Menahem b. Judah was considered a Messiah by the Zealots, as possibly was *Simeon Bar Giora.
The unflinching heroism displayed by the warriors in the great revolt against the Romans (66–70/73 c.e.) is comprehensible only in the context of a messianic movement. Some consider that the reason why the Jews did not despair when their messianic leaders had fallen in battle was because of their belief in the Messiah in the person of the son of Joseph (see *Messiah), who is destined to fight and die before the coming of the Messiah in the person of the son of David. Even Josephus – who tried to conceal the messianic motives of the great revolt – once had to reveal that "what more than all else incited them to the war was an ambiguous oracle, likewise found in the sacred Scriptures, to the effect that at that time one from their country would become ruler of the world" (Wars, 6:312; cf. Tacitus, Historiae, 5:13, and Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Vespasian, 4). The *Qumran scrolls also point to messianic hopes and suffering as activating factors in the life and thoughts of this sect, though lacking the Davidic element.
As the great revolt, the precedent of many types of messianic leadership and activity, lay crushed, many new concepts of messianic challenge and response entered the Jewish mind and imagination as the legacy of this period. One trend of Jewish messianism which left the national fold was destined "to conquer the conquerors" – by the gradual Christianization of the masses throughout the Roman Empire. Through Christianity, Jewish messianism became an institution and an article of faith of many nations. Within the Jewish fold, the memory of glorious resistance, of the fight for freedom, of martyred messiahs, prophets, and miracle workers remained to nourish future messianic movements.
Jewish messianic revolt against the Roman Empire did not cease with the severe defeat of 70 c.e. The Jewish revolt against Emperor *Trajan in 115–17, which spread like wildfire through Egypt, Cyrenaica, and Libya, had a messianic king-figure at its head. *Simeon Bar Kokhba was at first only one of several messianic figures, though he became the dominating one in the uprising of 132–35 c.e. It is related that the great tanna, *Akiva, "when he saw [him] would say: 'This is the king Messiah'" (tj, Ta'an. 4:8, 68d). It was only after the death of this semi-legendary figure that the messianic movements began to aim at redeeming the Jews and carrying them back to renewed greatness. Symptomatic of this change is the story about the Jew who appeared in 448, approximately, in Crete and, "said that he is Moses and promised the many Jews on this island to bring them through the sea without ships to Judea." He fixed a certain date for this miracle, and ordered them to jump into the sea; several of them drowned (Socrates Scholasticus, Historia Ecclesiae, 12:33).
Early Middle Ages
The challenge of the appearance of the victorious Arabs and the Muslim caliphate on the world scene gave rise to a new upsurge of Jewish messianic movements. They again assumed a warlike temper, while utilizing social tensions within the Jewish community and some of the military tactics used among Muslims to attain their aims. About 645 there is mention of a Jew who "asserted that the Messiah had come. He gathered around him weavers, carpet makers, and launderers, some 400 men. They burned down three [Christian] sanctuaries and killed the chief of that locality." The leader of these craftsmen was crucified, after his followers and their families had been massacred (Nestorian Chronicle, as quoted in: Baron, Social2, 5 (1957), 184). Similar movements relying on miracles are recorded in Muslim Spain and its vicinity in the eighth to ninth centuries.
Much more significant was the movement led by the above-mentioned Abu ʿĪsā. His teachings include many significant halakhic variations. According to the Karaite sources, he followed the Rabbanite rite and laws in many matters for tactical reasons so that the Rabbanites did not persecute his followers. Abu ʿĪsā acknowledged the prophecy of Jesus and Muhammad, regarding them as prophets for their own followers only. This practical motivation and tendency to temporize was belied by the direction his movements took: Abu ʿĪsā leda battle and fell in the fighting, though some of his followers later believed "that he was not killed, but entered a hole in a mountain and was never heard of [again]" (Kirkisānī, ed. by L. Nemoy, in: huca, 7 (1930), 328, 382–3). Those who followed him in the Islamic lands in the eighth to ninth centuries, like *Yudghan and Mushka, resembled him in inaugurating changes in aspects of religion and in their warlike spirit.
The Later Middle Ages
With the *Crusades, certain new features in messianism appeared. In the Balkans a general movement of repentance was induced by crusader violence. At *Salonika, in 1096, Jews and Christians reported "that Elijah… had revealed himself openly, and not in a dream, to certain men of standing." People saw "many signs and miracles." There was widespread excited anticipation. It was reported that, under the impression that the redemption was at hand, "the Jews were idly neglecting their work." They sent letters to Constantinople to appraise them of the good news. Other communities sent to inquire about it. There was also a rumor "that all the Byzantine congregations were together in Salonika, and would leave from there" for Ereẓ Israel (J. Starr, The Jews in the Byzantine Empire 641–1204 (1939), 203–6 no. 153). This was apparently a messianic movement without a Messiah. Jews were united by general feelings of excitation, rumors, and indeterminate tidings.
Maimonides heard that a miracle-working Messiah had appeared – at Lyons in France or Leon in Spain – about 1060. He also heard a tradition that in approximately 1100 a man had been influenced by a dream to proclaim himself Messiah. The man, Ibn Aryeh, was flogged and excommunicated by the community leaders, and with this the affair ended. In the first half of the 12th century messianic ferment was strong in Jewish communities everywhere. About 1121, *Obadiah, the Norman proselyte, met a Karaite Kohen, Solomon, who prophesied that within two-and-a half months all the Jews would be gathered together in Jerusalem, "for I am the man whom Israel is waiting for." The proselyte was amazed that a man of Aaronide descent should claim messiahship: "It is 19 years since I entered the Covenant and I never heard that Israel is looking for redemption at the hands of a son of the tribe of Levi – only at the hands of the prophet Elijah and the King Messiah of the seed of King David" (J. Mann, in: Ha-Tekufah, 24 (1928), 336–7). This encounter in the Near East reveals how deep-rooted, even in the case of a proselyte, was the concept that the Messiah should be of Davidic descent, whereas in sectarian circles the ancient sectarian concept of an Aaronide Messiah (as shown in the *Dead Sea Scrolls) still persisted.
More or less about the same time, in 1120/21, there was messianic excitation in Baghdad centered around a young prophetess (see S.D. Goitein, in: jqr, 43 (1952/53), 57–76). In 1127 approximately the same occurred in Fez, Morocco, where the man, Moses Al-Dar'i, a great scholar – and admired by Maimonides even after he proclaimed his messiahship – announced the coming of the Messiah.
He told them that the Messiah was about to appear on the first night of Passover. He advised them to sell all their property and to become indebted as much as possible to the Muslims, to buy from them a thing worth a dinar for ten dinars, and thus to fulfill the words of the Torah [Ex. 12:36], for after Passover they would never see them. As Passover came and went and nothing happened, these people perished for they had sold all their property and their debts overwhelmed them (Iggeret Teiman, 103).
Nevertheless, Maimonides expressed satisfaction that this Moses managed to escape to Ereẓ Israel:
There he died, may his memory be blessed. As has been told to me by those who have seen him when he left, he prophesied all that happened later on to the Maghreb Jews, the main outlines as well as the details (ibid., 103).
The story is not only remarkable in demonstrating the influence wielded by the Messiah on large groups of Jews, and their obedience to his instructions, but also instructive since this movement occurred soon after the visit to Fez of Muhammad ibn Tumar, the founder of the *Almohads, and the public discussions he held there with the leaders of the Muslim establishment. Maimonides' attitude to Moses, his blessing him after his death, and his statement that his prophecies were true, reveal that even such a consistent rationalist could be inconsistent with regard to messianic movements.
The first half of the 12th century also saw the remarkable messianic movement led by David *Alroy. Though the dates and personalities are very confused in the sources mentioning this event, they all indicate that it occurred in the first half of the 12th century, and in the remote eastern districts of the Muslim Empire. Most traditions indicate his great and widespread influence and an extensive campaign of written and oral propaganda. All of them agree about the military character of the movement. The apostate to Islam, *Samuel al-Maghribi, relates that Alroy attempted to take the fortress of Amadiyah, in the mountains of Azerbaijan, by the stratagem of having masses of his believers enter the fortress with hidden weapons (tactics resembling those used by the earlier Muslim founder of the Assassins, Hasan ibn al-Sabbah, with regard to the fortress of Alamut). The apostate adds that:
When the report about him reached Baghdad two Jewish tricksters, cunning elders, decided to forge letters by Menahem to the Jews of Baghdad bringing them the good tidings which they had been expecting since of yore; that he would appoint for them a certain night in which all of them would fly to Jerusalem. The Jews of Baghdad, their claim to sagacity and pride in craftiness notwithstanding, were all led to believe it. Their women brought their moneys and jewels in order that it all might be distributed on their behalf, as charity to those whom the two elders considered deserving. In this manner the Jews spent the bulk of their wealth. They donned green garments and on the night gathered on the roofs expecting, he asserted, to fly to Jerusalem on the wings of angels. Women began to weep over their nursing infants; what if the mothers should fly before their children or the children before their mothers? The children might suffer because of the delay in feeding (Ifḥām al-Yahūd: Silencing the Jews, ed. and trans. by M. Perlmann (1964), 73).
Despite its obvious intention to ridicule, this tale cannot be dismissed out of hand, for this readiness among Jews to believe in miracles is also found in Maimonides' story about the movement in North Africa.
About 1172 a Messiah appeared in the Yemen. Maimonides' hostile reaction to him shows that he had a clear and proclaimed revolutionary social aim, incomprehensible to Maimonides:
He told them that each man shall distribute all his money and give to the poor. All those who obey him are fools and he is a sinner; for he acts against the Torah. For according to our Torah a man should give as charity only part of his money and not all of it…. No doubt his heart and mind that have misled him to say that he is a Messiah have also brought him to tell the people to leave all their property and give it to the poor. Thus they will become poor and the poor rich, and according to his law they [the former poor] will have to return to them [the now impoverished rich] their money. In this fashion money will go back and forth between rich and poor unceasingly (Iggeret Teiman, 89).
Maimonides advised the communities to proclaim him a madman or put him to death (ibid., 93, 95). Later on, in a letter to the scholar of Marseilles, Maimonides related further details about the movement and its end. By this time he knew that the man in the Yemen was only:
saying that he is a messenger to smooth the path for the King Messiah. He told them that the Messiah [is] in the Yemen. Many people gathered [around him] Jews and Arabs and he was wandering in the mountains…. He gave them new prayers…. After a year he was caught and all who were with him fled." Asked by his Arab captor for proof of the divine source of his message, the Yemen Messiah "answered him: 'Cut off my head and I will come back to life immediately,'" and so he was killed. Maimonides heard that there were still many foolish people in the Yemen who believed that he would arise and lead them yet (A. Marx, in: huca, 3 (1926), 356).
In the 1240s a new source of messianic excitation accompanied the rumors and hopes centering around the news of the Mongol advance into European countries. Meshullam da Pierra in a poem was certain that:
in our days the kingdom shall be renewed for the lost nation and the scattered communities. Tribute will be brought to the son of David, and gifts to my counts and dukes. My Temple will be rebuilt…. There are tribes that have been exiled and now they have left the land of the living. Proof that God has sent them is that many rulers have come to harm…. Babylonia, Aleppo, and Damascus were taken [by the Mongols in 1260]…. My Savior has broken through the mountainous wall.
To about the same time should be ascribed the information that "women in the land of Canaan [i.e., Bohemia] were reciting the entire Book of Isaiah by heart and ignorant people knew by heart all the prophecies of consolation" (J. Wistinetzki (ed.), Sefer Ḥasidim (1924), 77 no. 212).
Spain and the Marranos
At the end of the 13th century the kabbalist Abraham b. Samuel *Abulafia saw himself as the Messiah or the harbinger of the Messiah and tried to spread the word through apocalyptic writings. Solomon b. Abraham *Adret had to oppose the "prophet of Avila" who prophesied the coming of the Messiah in 1295 and had a large following in Avila. There is some information that there was an upsurge of messianic excitation around 1350 (see *Shemariah of Negroponte). The catastrophe of the persecutions of 1391 in Christian Spain led to widespread messianic ferment. In the vicinity of Burgos there appeared a prophet who foretold the imminent coming of the Messiah. At the Disputation of *Tortosa the Christian protagonist claimed that "in our day R. Ḥasdai *Crescas has announced a report and preached to congregations in the synagogues that the Messiah had been born in Cisneros, in the kingdom of Castile." Crescas entertained, it would seem, even more earthly hopes. He imagined the realities of the Second Temple period "as if the king of Egypt, who now reigns over the land of Israel, were to grant permission to Jews living elsewhere in his empire to go and rebuild the sanctuary, on the condition that they submit to his rule" (in his Or Adonai). In a letter of that time from which all proper names have been carefully deleted, it is related that a certain teacher taught that the calamities of the period should be seen as the birth pangs of the Messiah; there was a proliferation of confused messianic tidings:
This one writes about the Lord's Messiah, that he shall surely come by Passover time, and that one says: 'Behold, he stands already at our walls….' Another declares that if the Feast of Tabernacles should arrive and there is yet no Messiah, then surely it is God's will to have us die and to harden our hearts from his fear. But before he has done talking, yet another comes and says: 'It is rumored that a prophet has arisen in Israel who has seen a vision of the Almighty…. The Lord revealed himself in a dream at night and assured him of great amelioration: misery and grief shall flee the years wherein we have seen evil shall be no more; lo, this presages good, this proclaims salvation' (Baer, Spain, 2 (1966), 158–62).
As the position of the Jews in Christian Spain steadily deteriorated, messianic hopes were kept alive. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 awakened great messianic hopes and speculations both in the communities of Spain and among Ashkenazi Jewry. Among the forced converts (*anusim) men and women prophesied the coming of the Messiah. Letters from the Constantinople community related tales about the birth of the Messiah, the place of his activity, and mode of living. A mother and daughter told their Converso friends: "The gentiles do not see us [do not understand us], for they are blind and know not that the Lord our God hath decreed that for a time we should be subject to them, but that we shall now surpass them [have the upper hand], for God hath promised us that after we go to those lands [overseas], we shall ride on horses and pass them by" (ibid., 292–5). Even on the eve of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, both Jews and anusim actively harbored these hopes. About 1481 a Converso told a Jew, when at his request the latter read the messianic prophecies to him: "Have no fear! Until the appearance of the Messiah, whom all of us wait for, you must disperse in the mountains. And I – I swear it by my life – when I hear that you are banished to separate quarters or endure some other hardship, I rejoice; for as soon as the measure of your torments and oppression is full, the Messiah, whom we all await, will speedily appear. Happy the man who will see him!" One Marrano was certain that the Messiah would possess the philosopher's stone and be able to turn iron into silver. He also hoped that "in 1489 there will be only one religion" in the world. Even after the expulsion many Marranos expressed these hopes and were punished for them by the Inquisition (ibid., 350ff.).
Ferment in the 16th to 18th Centuries
In the 16th century there were numerous expressions of messianic expectation. In 1500–02 Asher *Lemlein (Lammlin) preached repentance and the imminent coming of the Messiah. He had great influence. The grandfather of the chronicler David *Gans "broke up the oven that he had for baking maẓẓot, being sure that next year he would be baking maẓẓot in the Holy Land" (Ẓemaḥ David). From the end of the 15th century tales originating in and letters from Jerusalem show messianic hopes centering around the *Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Joseph *Ḥayyun commenting on the verse "In his days Judah shall be redeemed and Israel will live secure" (Jer. 23:6) wrote:
British Museum, Add. Ms. v 27, 560, fol. 106">
He [Jeremiah] said that Judah shall be redeemed and not that Israel shall be redeemed, for Israel need no redemption for they are not in Galut. I mean the Ten Tribes, for they are a great people and they have kings – according to what has been told about them – but Judah needs redemption, whereas [the people of] Israel will then live secure in Ereẓ Israel, for now they are not living so secure as they are abroad. What is more, they fight continuously with the gentiles around them (his commentary to Jeremiah, British Museum, Add. Ms. v 27, 560, fol. 106).
The great Mishnah commentator Obadiah of *Bertinoro wrote in 1489 from Jerusalem to his brother in Italy:
Jews have told us that it is well known, as related by reliable Muslim merchants, that far away, a journey of 50 days through the desert, there lies the famous *Sambatyon River; it surrounds the whole country where the Children of Israel live like a thread. It throws up stones and sand, resting only on the Sabbath. The reason why no Jew goes to this country is because they avoid desecrating the Sabbath. According to their tradition all of them – the descendants of Moses – are saintly and pure like angels; there are no sinners among them. On the outer side of the Sambatyon River there are Children of Israel as numerous as the sands of the seashore, kings and lords, but they are not as saintly and pure as those living on the inner side of the river (A. Yaari, Iggerot Ereẓ Yisrael (1943), 140).
Obadiah believed in the existence of a Jewish realm beyond and around the miraculous river which was not only independent and strong but also consisted of two circles of life – an inner, more holy one, and an open, less holy one. Messianic expectations in this period centered actively around these images and fantasies as shown, for example, in the writings of *Abraham b. Eliezer ha-Levi from Jerusalem.
With the advent of David *Reuveni and Solomon *Molcho many Jews were convinced that they were seeing and hearing a prince of those tribes and one of his devoted companions. About the same time many Jews pinned their hopes on Martin *Luther as a man who had come to pave the way for the Messiah through gradually educating the Christians away from their idolatrous customs and beliefs. In Safed, messianic hopes were strong in the circles around Isaac b. Solomon Ashkenazi *Luria and Ḥayyim b. Joseph *Vital. The latter once dreamed:
I stood on the peak of the great mountain to the west of Safed … over Meron village; I heard a voice announcing and saying, 'The Messiah is coming and the Messiah stands before me.' He blew the horn and thousands and tens of thousands from Israel were gathering to him. He said to us, 'Come with me and you shall see the avenging of the destruction of the Temple.' We went there; he fought there and defeated all the Christians there. He entered the Temple and slew also those who were in it. He commanded all the Jews and told them, 'Brethren, cleanse yourselves and our Temple of the defilement of the blood of the corpses of these uncircumcised ones and of the defilement of the idolatry that was in it.' We cleansed the Temple and reconstructed it as it was, the daily burnt offering was brought by the arch-priest who looked exactly like my neighbor Rabbi Israel (his Sefer ha-Ḥezyonot (1954), pt. 2, no. 2, p. 41).
This blend of the Safed reality and messianic visions of war and glory expresses the intensity of messianic hopes in kabbalistic circles that found expression in Shabbetai Ẓevi in the 17th century. Most communities became involved with Shabbetai Ẓevi and the messianic movement he led in the 1660s. In it many aspects of the messianic movements reached their highest expression, to be faced by crisis: his followers fervently believed that the Messiah would achieve a miraculous victory and were cruelly disappointed when Shabbetai Ẓevi collapsed before the terror of punishment; the masses of his followers repented, but repentance proved of no avail. The movement stimulated Jews to feelings of liberation, but they remained subjugated; orgiastic aspects developed which discredited the movement. The movement led by Jacob Frank in the 18th century introduced the elements of nihilism, licentiousness, and severance of the connection between messianism and Ereẓ Israel.
Scholars are divided as to whether in its origins Ḥasidism bore traits of a messianic movement or whether it was on the contrary a kind of sublimation of messianism.
The Modern Period
In modern times the *Haskalah (Enlightenment) and *Reform wings of Judaism increasingly tended to regard their activity in spreading pure and rational monotheism as a kind of collective movement of messianic "mission." In his letters Leopold *Zunz referred many times to the European revolution of 1848 as "the Messiah." Even many Jews who left the faith tended to invest secular liberation movements with a messianic glow. Martin *Buber expressed the opinion that the widespread Jewish activity in modern revolutionary movements stemmed both from the involvement of the Jew with the state and his criticism of it through his messianic legacy (see *disputations).
Zionism and the creation of the State of Israel are to a large extent secularized phenomena of the messianic movements. The ideology of the Zionist religious parties, *Mizrachi and *Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi, tends to regard them – in particular the achievements of the State of Israel – as an atḥalta di-ge'ulla ("anticipation and beginning of redemption"), thus retaining the traditional concepts held by messianic movements in conjunction with the new secularized aspects of the State and its achievements.
Jewish messianism, though appearing in many shapes and permutations, has been and continues to be an activist element in world culture. For Jews it has retained, through the leaders and movements to which it has given rise, the life-force of charisma, and the binding spell of Jewish statehood and kingship to be realized immediately through God's will, through the passion and devotion of His people. Some have spoken of "the price" that Jews and Judaism have had to pay for disappointment and disenchantment after every failure of the messianic movements. Against this are to be set the benefits that these visionary movements gave to a suppressed people – in inspiring them to activity, revitalization, and a sense of sacrifice.
J. Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel (1955); A.H. Silver, A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel (19592); A.Z. Aescoly, Ha-Tenu'ot ha-Meshiḥiyyot be-Yisrael (1956); Y. Baer, Yisrael ba-Ammim (1955); M. Hengel, Die Zeloten (1961); Baron, Social2, index; S. Yeivin, Milḥemet Bar Kokhva (1946); Scholem, Shabbetai Ẓevi; J. Liver, in: htr, 52 (1959), 149–85; H.H. Ben-Sasson (ed.), Toledot Am Yisrael, 3 (1969), s.v.Meshiḥim; idem, The Reformation in Contemporary Jewish Eyes (1970).
[Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson]
1. PRONUNCIATION regarded as correct or proper, especially by arbiters of usage: ‘the theoretically received pronunciation of literary English’ ( A. J. Ellis, On Early English Pronunciation, vol. 1, 1869); ‘Edinburgh and Dublin have their received pronunciations’ ( Simeon Potter, Changing English, 1969)
2. [1920s: with initial capitals]. Short form RP. A term in PHONETICS, applied LINGUISTICS, and LANGUAGE TEACHING for the ACCENT generally associated with educated BRITISH ENGLISH and used as the pronunciation model for teaching it to foreign learners. This accent has been referred to technically as: Received Standard English (or Received Standard) and Public School English by Henry Cecil Wyld; Public School Pronunciation (PSP) by Daniel JONES, prior to using the term itself; General British in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (3rd edition, 1974: in contrast to General American); standard southern pronunciation; and standard (spoken) British English. Since its initial description by Jones in the ENGLISH PRONOUNCING DICTIONARY (EPD) in 1917, it has probably become the most described and discussed accent on earth.
Attitudes to RPThe terms Received Pronunciation and RP are not widely known outside the immediate circle of English-language professionals, but the form that they refer to is widely known as the spoken embodiment of a variety or varieties known as the KING'S ENGLISH, the Queen's English, BBC ENGLISH, OXFORD ENGLISH, and PUBLIC SCHOOL ENGLISH. It is often informally referred to by the British middle class as a BBC accent or a public school accent and by the working class as talking proper or talking posh. In England, it is also often referred to simply as Standard English. Its ‘advanced’ (that is, distinctive upper-class and royal) form is sometimes called la-di-dah (as in talking la-di-dah) or a cut-glass accent, especially if used by people judged as not really ‘from the top drawer’. RP has been described by many of its users and admirers in the UK and elsewhere as the best pronunciation for BrE, for the countries influenced by BrE, or for all users of English everywhere. Americans do not normally subscribe to this view, but many of them admire RP as the representative accent of educated BrE while some associate it with the theatre and, in men, with effeminacy.
Many British people dislike Received Pronunciation, usually arguing that it is a mark of privilege and (especially among the Scots, Northern Irish, and Welsh) of social domination by the (especially southern) English. It has, however, a considerable gravitational pull throughout the UK, with the result that many middle- and lower middle-class people, especially in England, speak with accents more or less adapted towards it. These accents are therefore known among phoneticians as modified regional accents and modified RP. Comparable accents in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, and elsewhere are often referred to as NEAR-RP. It has always been a minority accent, unlikely ever to have been spoken by more than 3–4% of the British population. British phoneticians and linguists have often described it as a ‘regionless’ accent in the UK and especially in England, in that it is not possible to tell which part of the country an RP speaker comes from; it is never, however, described as a ‘classless’ accent, because it identifies the speaker as a member of the middle or upper classes. Because it is class-related, it is socially and politically controversial and can lead to embarrassment when discussed.
General backgroundRP is often taken to have existed for a relatively long time, evolving from a prestigious accent well established in England by the 17c, when comparisons began to be made between the speech of the court and the nobility in LONDON and that of their peers from the provinces. John Aubrey (Brief Lives, mid-17c) provides a hearsay report that Sir Walter Raleigh had a Devon accent; Samuel JOHNSON in the 18c is on record as speaking with a Staffordshire accent. Although there was an increasingly homogeneous and fashionable style of speech in the capital in the 18–19c, little is known about it. It probably served in part at least as a model for the middle classes and may have been common at such ancient public schools as Eton, Harrow, Rugby, and Winchester, but there is no evidence that a uniform accent was used or promoted in these schools until the later 19c. However, by the beginning of the 20c, it was well established, and in 1917, at the height of the First World War, Jones defined his model for English as that ‘most usually heard in everyday speech in the families of Southern English persons whose menfolk have been educated at the great public boarding-schools’, and called it Public School Pronunciation (PSP).
The heyday of Empire, approximately 1890–1940, was also the high point of RP, which has been described by such terms as ‘patrician’ and ‘proconsular’. Its possession was a criterion for the selection of young men as potential officers during the First World War and it has been the accent favoured for recruits to the Foreign Office and other services representing the British nation (largely drawn from the public schools, with a slight enlargement of the catchment area in recent years). Newcomers to the British establishment have tended to ensure that their children acquire RP by sending them to the ‘right’ schools or, especially in the past in the case of girls, to elocution teachers. In these schools the accent has never been overtly taught, but appears to have been indirectly encouraged and often promoted through peer pressure that has included mockery of any other form of SPEECH. It has been the voice of national announcers and presenters on the BBC since its founding in the 1920s, but in the 1970s–80s there has been a move towards modified regional accents among announcers and presenters, and towards distinct (but generally modified) regional accents among presenters on popular radio channels and meteorologists and sports commentators on television.
Generalities and characteristics(1) The description of RP in A. C. Gimson, An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English ( Edward Arnold, 3rd edition, 1980), is widely regarded as standard. Its 4th edition (1990) has been revised by Susan Ramsaran. (2) RP is often used as a reference norm for the description of other varieties of English. An idealized representation has been available for this and other purposes for at least 20 years, with minor differences in the house styles of such publishers as Oxford University Press and Longman. A comparison between RP and ‘GenAm’ (General American) is a key element of John C. Wells's Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (1990). (3) RP differs little from other accents of English in the pronunciation of consonants, which are 24 in number. It is a non-rhotic accent that includes the linking/intrusive /r/ (widely noted in such phrases as law/r and order), which is not however taught as part of the EFL/ESL pronunciation model. (4) Wells (above) lists the following 22 basic values of RP vowels: /I/ as in kit, bid, hymn, intend, basic; /e/ as in dress, bed; /æ/ as in trap, bad; /ɒ/ as in lot, odd, wash; /ʌ/ as in strut, bud, love; /ʊ/ as in foot, good, put; /iː/ as in fleece, sea, machine; /eɪ/ as in face, day, steak; /aɪ/ as in price, high, try; /ɔɪ/ as in choice, boy; /uː/ as in goose, two, blue; /əʊ/ as in goat, show, no; /aʊ/ as in mouth, now; /ɪə/ as in near, here, serious; /eə/ as in square, fair, various; /ɑː/ as in start, father; /ɔː/ as in thought, law, north, war; /ʊə/ as in cure, poor, jury; /ʒː/ as in nurse, stir; /i/ as in happy, radiation, glorious; /ə/ as in the first vowel of about and the last of comma; /u/ in influence, situation, annual.
Current situationAlthough RP continues to be socially pre-eminent in Britain, and especially England, it has in recent years become less monolithic both phonetically and socially. Phoneticians recognize several varieties and also a generation gap. In the introduction to the 14th edition of the EPD (1977), Gimson noted of RP that its ‘regional base remains valid and it continues to have wide intelligibility throughout Britain … [but there] has been a certain dilution of the original concept of RP, a number of local variants formerly excluded by the definition having now to be admitted as of common and acceptable usage. Such an extended scope of usage is difficult to define.’ He retained the name, however, because of its ‘currency in books on present-day English’. Even so, the observations of the phonetician David Abercrombie in 1951 still largely apply:
This R.P. stands in strong contrast to all the other ways of pronouncing Standard English put together. In fact, English people are divided, by the way they talk, into three groups; first, R.P. speakers of Standard English—those [regarded as being] without an accent; second, non- R.P. speakers of Standard English—those with an accent; and third, dialect speakers. I believe this to be a situation which is not paralleled in any other country anywhere (‘R.P. and Local Accent’, in Studies in Linguistics and Phonetics, 1965).
In the 15th edition of the EPD (1997), Peter Roach and James Hartman have replaced ‘the archaic name Received Pronunciation’ with BBC English, to contrast with Network English for AmE. The system remains, however, essentially the same.
RP and EFLBecause most British teachers of English have spoken with RP or modified-RP accents, overseas learners have until recently tended to assume that it is the majority accent of BrE. It retains its position as the preferred target for COMMONWEALTH ESL learners, although in countries such as India and Singapore local pronunciations with a degree of prestige have emerged and may in due course replace it or operate alongside it. In EFL, it competes more and more with equivalent forms of AmE, but is strongly buttressed by the investment in RP made by British ELT publishers, especially in learners' dictionaries. It is generally selected as a matter of course as the reference norm for discussing spoken BrE (and often other varieties of English), as well as for such activities as automatic speech synthesis, but since most British people do not speak or even know RP as a coherent system, general statements about BrE keyed to Received Pronunciation can often be misleading and confusing.
See ADVANCED, AMERICAN ENGLISH AND BRITISH ENGLISH, AUSTRALIAN ENGLISH, CLIPPED, ENGLISH IN ENGLAND, R, INTRUSIVE R, LINKING R, KENSINGTON, L-SOUNDS, NEW ZEALAND ENGLISH, OXFORD ACCENT, RHOTIC AND NON-RHOTIC, R-SOUNDS, SCOTTISH ENGLISH, SOUTH AFRICAN ENGLISH, TEFL.