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Apocalypse of Zerubbabel

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Sefer Zerubbabel[1] is a medieval Hebrew[2] apocalypse written at the beginning of the seventh century in the style of biblical visions (e.g. Daniel, Ezekiel) placed into the mouth of Zerubbabel,[3][4] the last descendant of the Davidic line to take a prominent part in Israel's history, who laid the foundation of the Second Temple in the 6th century BCE.[2] The enigmatic postexilic biblical leader receives a revelatory vision outlining personalities and events associated with the restoration of Israel, the End of Days,[5] and the establishment of the Third Temple.[2]


The groundwork for the book was probably written in Palestine between 629 and 636[6] during fierce struggles between Persia and the Byzantine Empire for control of the Holy Land[5] (qq.v. Byzantine-Arab Wars, Muslim conquest of Syria). These wars touched Palestine and stirred Messianic hopes among Jews, including the author for whom the wars appear to be eschatological events leading to the appearance of the Messiah.[2] However, firm evidence of the work's existence prior to the tenth century is elusive.[5] The Zohar is cognizant of the legend of Hefzibah[7] whom the apocalypse first names as the mother of the Davidic Messiah.[5] Rabbis Saadia Gaon (892–942) and Hai ben Sherira Gaon (939–1038) probably knew the book, but never mention it by name.[5]

Sefer Zerubbabel is extant in a number of manuscript and print recensions. The first publication was in 1519 in Constantinople within an anthology called Liqqutim Shonim.[5] It was reprinted again along with the Sefer Malkiel in Vilna in 1819, and again by Adolph Jellinek in his Bet Ha-Midrasch (1853–77) and S. A. Wertheimer in his Leqet Midrashim (Jerusalem, 1903).[5] The fullest edition of the work was prepared by Israel Levi in his book L'apocalypse.[5]

Because the book gave an unequivocal date (1058 CE) for the return of the Messiah, it exerted great influence upon contemporary Messianic thought.[6] The book is mentioned by Eleazar of Worms[6] and supposedly[5] by Rashi.[6] Abraham ibn Ezra criticized the book as "unreliable."[5]

One edition of the Pirke Hekalot gave a figure of 890 years until the return of the Messiah, making the Messianic year 958 CE, within a decade of the birth of Saadia Gaon.[6] That date perhaps led to a message sent by Rhenish Jews to Palestine inquiring after rumors of the Messiah's advent.[6]


The sefer describes the eschatological struggle between the Antichrist[2] Armilus,[8] who is the leader of Rome and Christianity, and the Messiah ben Joseph, who fails in battle but paves the way for the Davidic Messiah[3] and the ultimate triumph of righteousness.[2] The original author expected the Messiah would come in the immediate future; subsequent editors substituted later dates.[6]

Set after Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Jerusalem,[3] the book begins with Zerubbabel, whose name was associated with the first restoration, receiving a vision after praying for "knowledge of the form of the eternal house."[2] In the vision he is transported by the angel Metatron to Ninevah, the "city of blood" representing Rome[6] by which the author likely means Byzantium.[2] There he finds in the marketplace a "bruised and despised man" who reveals himself to be the Messiah, Menahem ben 'Amiel, doomed to abide there until his appointed hour. Zerubbabel asks when the lamp of Israel would be kindled.[6] Metatron interjects that the Messiah would return 990 years after the destruction of the Temple (approximately 1058 CE).[6]

Five years prior to the coming of Hefzibah,[7] who would be the mother of the Messiah ben David, the Messiah ben Joseph, Nehemiah ben Hushiel, will appear but he will be slain by Armilus.[6] Afterwards, the Messiah ben David will resurrect him.[6]

Zerubbabel is led to a "house of disgrace" (a church), a kind of antitemple.[2] There he sees a beautiful statue of a woman (the Virgin Mary).[2] With Satan as the father, the statue gives birth to the Antichrist Armilus.[2] Forces associated with Armilus and the antitemple come to rule over the entire world.[2] But in the end these forces are defeated.[2] The work concludes with Zerubbabel's vision of the descent of the Heavenly Temple to earth.[2] Thus the "form of the eternal house" is revealed; unlike the Second Temple it is made in heaven.[2]

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  1. also called the Book of Zerubbabel or the Apocalypse of Zerubbabel
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 Himmelfarb, Martha (1998). David Stern and Mark Mirsky. ed. Rabbinic Fantasies: Imaginative Narratives from Classical Hebrew Literature. Yale University Press. pp. 67f. ISBN 0300074026. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Strack, Hermann Leberecht; Gunter Stemberger (1992). Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash. Fortress Press. pp. 327. ISBN 0800625242. 
  4. also spelled Zrubavel
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 5.9 Reeves, John C. (2005). Trajectories in Near Eastern Apocalyptic: A Postrabbinic Jewish Apocalypse Reader. Society of Biblical Literature. pp. 40f. ISBN 1589831020. 
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 Silver, Abba Hillel (2003). "II The Mohammedan Period". History of Messianic Speculation in Israel. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 49. ISBN 0766135144. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 also spelled Hephsibah, Hephzibah
  8. also spelled Armilos, Armilius

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