Thursday, August 15, 2013

What's Wrong With Calling a Kid Messiah?

Cyrus the Messiah
What’s in a name?

Plenty, at least to Child Support Advocate Lu Ann Ballew, who recently ordered a Tennessee couple to rename their son Martin instead of “Messiah” on the specious claim that "only one person earned that name and that one person is Jesus Christ.”

The judge needs a history lesson.  She should start by reading the Bible where she will find many messiahs.  All the word means is “anointed king.”  Guess what? Every king of ancient Israel and Judah was anointed.  They were all called messiahs.  So was Zerubbabel, the man who led the Jews back to Israel after the Babylonian exile, and Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire.

In more recent times, say the last 2,000 years, there have been plenty of messiahs.  The list is really extensive, even in Jesus’ day.  The New Testament lists at least two individuals who were identified as their followers as messiahs:  Theudas and the Egyptian.

Neither had a long run.  Theudas died in about 45 CE.  Apparently, he was trying to recreate Exodus, possibly by crossing the Jordan River.  The Judean procurator of the time, Fadus, promptly sent troops to massacre them.  Theudas’ head was then displayed in Jerusalem. 

In 56 CE, the Egyptian (otherwise unnamed) and his followers approached a high wall in Jerusalem, clearly trying to imitate Joshua at the battle of Jericho.  The procurator of that time, Felix, sicced his troops on them.  Many died, but the Egyptian escaped and vanished into history. 

Declaring yourself king was like signing your own death warrant in those days.  That didn’t deter everyone.  As the Jewish historian of the day, Josephus, noted: “Imposters and deceivers called upon the mob to follow them into the desert.  For they said they would show them unmistakable marvels and signs that would be wrought in harmony with God’s design.”

Then there’s John the Baptist, who was thought of as the long-awaited messianic figure by his followers.  A religion that believed in him lingered on for about 200 years after his death.

Other non-biblical messiahs include Simon and Anthronges, both of whom were eventually killed by the Romans.  The duo had some success, however.  The Romans needed three legions and four regiments of cavalry to recapture what they eventually renamed Palestine. They also suppressed a messianic movement by razing the capital of Galilee, Sepphoris, in 4 BCE. 

Nor did the belief that Jesus was the messiah disband the line of claimants.  Josephus finally washed his hands of the lot of them:  “Numerous prophets, indeed, were in this period suborned by the tyrants to delude the people, by bidding them wait for God’s help, in order that desertions might be checked…Thus is was that the wretched people were deluded at that time by charlatans and pretended messengers of the deity.”

Coins issued by the messiah, Bar Kochba
After 100 CE, two would-be messiahs appeared including the forgotten Lucuas (also known as Andreas)  who led an unsuccessful revolt against the Romans.  The rebellion lasted two years and encompassed Libya and Egypt to Cyprus, Roman Mesopotamia and possibly Judea.  That was followed by the more famous Bar Kochba revolt.  When that failed, belief in his claim of being the messiah vanished, too.

Many more would-messiahs have arisen since then, including some in modern times.  In my book, The Messiah, I devote two chapters to listing the many messianic figures.  I won’t duplicate that here, but do have a basic question:

Who has the right to tell anyone what to name a child?

Obviously, there has to be some limit.  No one should name a child Adolf Hitler, for example.  That’s cruel.  Someone tried, though.   Pretty much anything other than that should be to the discretion of parents. 

Just look at some monikers children have today:
Bear Blu Jarecki and his mom

Apple, Chastity, Moon , Blue, Birdie, Aleph, Pilot, Bear Blu, Bronx, River, Xander have all passed muster among our celebrities.  Let’s not forget Shaquille, Covelli, Longar, God, Danger, Creedance, Yourhighness, Urban, Picabo, Earthwind and Majestic, which are all names of athletes.

Messiah seems to fit right in there.

Moreover, what are kids going to call little Messiah as a nickname?  Mess?

To me, calling a little boy Mess isn’t wrong.  It’s simply redundant.

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  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; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, 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

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