Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Plenty of Messiahs Remain After Moon

Moon in full regalia
Another messiah died over the Labor Day weekend.  All right, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon wasn’t really the messiah, but he thought he was, just like the multitude of people throughout history who claimed the same title.

They all died, too, with their claims intact.

Moon’s death hardly dented the ranks of modern would-be messiahs.  At last count, an estimated 2,000 people today claim to be the messiah.  They include Claude Vorilhon, who prefers to call himself Rael and preaches about extraterrestrials who created life; Iesu Matayoshi, a Japanese politician who trained as a Protestant minister and who founded the World Economic Community Party as the final prelude to the judgment day he will run; Brazilian Inri Christo, a Roman Catholic who founded his own order after God spoke to him; Englishman David Shayler, a former spy who says he can “influence the weather, prevent terror attacks and predict football scores;” and Wayne Bent, who founded Lord Our Righteousness Church shortly before being convicted of criminal sexual contact with a minor, among other charges.

They are all wrong, of course, because they have no idea where the term messiah comes from or what it means.

Cyrus the Great
As outlined in my book, The Messiah, the term is simply the translation of a Hebrew word meaning “anointed king.”  That means that a priest blessed olive oil and poured the oil over the head of a selected individual, designating him as the new ruler.

That’s it.

As a result, many people in the Bible were anointed kings: all the monarchs of Israel and Judah; some prophets; and even Cyrus the Great of Persia.

A messiah was supposed to rule the sacred land of Israel under Jewish law.  When the land was conquered, he was supposed to get the exiled residents back and then rule the land.

Some sages thought the messiah would accomplish this by war; others were sure a prayerful messiah could evoke God’s help.  As a result, Jewish writing refer to a Davidic messiah who would lead armies and a Josephite messiah who would succeed through prayers.

Ruins of the Essene center in Qumran
The idea was trumpeted by the Essenes, an isolated Jewish cult that originated in the second century B.C.E.  Members were convinced that God had given Jews their independence from Syria in 142 B.C.E. They were sure God would destroy the land, however, when the new kings of independent Israel did not follow Jewish laws to the extreme that the Essenes advocated. They awaited the messianic figure to accomplish that.  Instead, the Essenes themselves were annihilated by the Romans around 70 C.E.

Their philosophy, however, animated many people in ancient Israel to claim to be the chosen one selected to oust the Romans and recreate Israel.  

After his death, Jesus was assigned that role, too, but later Christian theologians were hard pressed to explain how a dead leader was going to rule over a Jewish state.  So they expanded Jesus’ job description.  He would now judge the dead after Judgment Day.  He could forgive sins.  He was the leader in the next life since he could hardly be the leader in this one.

The new messiah concept was born.

Some of the ideas were based on Augustus Caesar, who was labeled the son of God and the savior of mankind.  Some came from other would-be messiahs who populated the Jordan River valley in Jesus’ day.  The rest developed out of necessity to explain the failure of a living person to accomplish the promised creation of a state dedicated to God’s laws, whatever those laws were.

David Koresh
Since then, an array of Jews, Christians and a few outsiders have claimed to be the ethereal messiah.  Men like Moon, Jim Jones and David Koresh always found a few people to bamboozle.  Jones and Koresh died with many of their sadly misguided followers.  Moon died in the hospital.

Moon was just one of the better known because of his propensity for mass weddings. 

A friend’s son was a member of Moon’s Unification Church. Like all members, he surrendered all belongings to the church.  He eventually left to start over.  His parents helped him with new furniture and household supplies.  He then promptly returned to the church and gave it all away again.

Today, he’s in his 60s and has nothing to show for his life.

Moon, on the other hand, died extremely wealthy, the owner of hotels, a ski resort, sports teams, schools, universities and hospitals.  No wonder so many people like the messiah gig.  There’s lots of money to be made from the gullible, who apparently constitute an inexhaustible supply.

There always will be, as long as people swallow an idea that warped from royalty to nonsensical speculation.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; The Messiah; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1

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