Zerubbabel, Book of

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ZERUBBABEL, BOOK OF , a work describing the vision of Zerubbabel, last ruler of the House of David. In accordance with the dates given in the text for various stages of the redemption, this work was probably written at the beginning of the seventh century, at the time of the last victories of the Byzantine Empire over Persia (629). To one living in Ereẓ Israel at that time, it might have seemed that the last stage of victory over the Roman Empire and the Christian Church had arrived, and that the coming of the Messiah was imminent. Since no mention is made of the Arabs and Islam, whose invasion shortly thereafter (637) eclipsed these victories, it can be assumed that this is a pre-Islamic work.

Written in biblical style, especially as found in the visions of Ezekiel and Daniel, the book describes the revelation to Zerubbabel of the events of the End of Days by the angel Michael, or Metatron. Besides the figures of the Messiah son of Joseph and the Messiah son of David, which are standard in such apocalyptic writings, two new figures are introduced: Ḥephzi-Bah, the mother of Messiah son of David, who plays a prominent role in the messianic wars; and Armilus (probably Romulus), the enemy, who is depicted as a monster, son of Satan and of a stone monument of a woman. Both a Caesar and a pope, Armilus unites the powers of Augustus and Jesus, thus symbolizing material and religious evil combined. The victory of the Messiah and his mother over Armilus represents that of Judaism over the Roman Empire and the Christian Church. Since the story – a dramatic one of many wars and apocalyptic disasters – has no theological overtones, it was acceptable to every ideological movement of Judaism (except the followers of Maimonides).

Found in countless medieval manuscripts and printed in many different collections, the Book of Zerubbabel became the standard source for descriptions of the End of Days and of the coming of the Messiah. In addition, many Jewish thinkers were influenced by it, from Saadiah Gaon, who based a chapter of his Emunot ve-De'ot on it, to Nathan of Gaza, Shabbetai Ẓevi's prophet, who used it to prove that Shabbetai was the Messiah. The lasting hatred that Jews felt toward the Roman and Christians throughout the Middle Ages made this work popular for more than a thousand years after its composition.


A. Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash, 2 (1938), 54–57; I. Levi, in: rej, 68 (1915), 129–60; Y. Even-Shmuel, Midreshei Ge'ullah (1954), 56–88.

[Joseph Dan]