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Messianic claimants (2)


Simon of Peraea (4 BCE)

Sources: Flavius Josephus, Jewish War 2.57-59 and Jewish Antiquities 17.273-277; Tacitus, Histories, 5.9.

Story: In 4 BCE, king Herod the Great died. Immediately, there were several revolts against the rule of his son and successor, Herod Archelaus. One of the rebels was Simon of Peraea, who claimed the kingship for himself. The fact that was a slave, is of no importance: slaves could be highly educated and civilized people.

There was also Simon, who had been a slave of king Herod, but in other respects a comely person, of a tall and robust body; he was one that was much superior to others of his order, and had had great things committed to his care. This man was elevated at the disorderly state of things, and was so bold as to put a diadem on his head, while a certain number of the people stood by him, and by them he was declared to be a king, and he thought himself more worthy of that dignity than any one else.
   He burnt down the royal palace at Jericho, and plundered what was left in it. He also set fire to many other of the king's houses in several places of the country, utterly destroyed them, and permitted those that were with him to take what was left in them for a prey. He would have done greater things, but care was taken to repress him immediately. [The commander of Herod's infantry] Gratus joined himself to some Roman soldiers, took the forces he had with him, and met Simon. And after a great and a long fight, no small part of those that had come from Peraea (a disordered body of men, fighting rather in a bold than in a skillful manner) were destroyed. Although Simon had saved himself by flying away through a certain valley, Gratus overtook him, and cut off his head.
[Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 17.273-276]
The Roman historian Tacitus heard about this incident too, because he writes:
At Herod's death, without waiting for imperial decision, a certain Simon usurped the title of king. He was dealt with by the governor of Syria, Quinctilius Varus, while the Jews were divided up into three kingdoms ruled by Herod's sons. 
[Tacitus, Histories 5.9.2]
Comment: Simon of Peraea may have have 'put a diadem on his head', and his men must have created sufficient trouble to make the Romans send in the legions, but there are no indications that he was considered the Messiah.
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