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Messianic claimants (12)



Menahem (66 CE)

Sources: Flavius Josephus, Jewish War 2.433-450.

Story: According to Flavius Josephus, the scholar Menahem was the son of Judas the Galilean, but on chronological grounds, this seems unlikely. He may have been his grandson. His ministry took place at the beginning of the war against the Romans, when the Jews had not yet expelled their enemies from Jerusalem.

In the mean time, one Menahem, the son of that Judas, who was called the Galilean [...] took some of the men of note with him, and retired to Masada, where he broke open king Herod's armory, and gave arms not only to his own people, but to other robbers also. These he made use of for a guard, and returned in the state of a king to Jerusalem; he became the leader of the sedition. (Flavius Josephus, Jewish War 2.433-434)
After this, Menahem captured the governor's palace at Jerusalem, laid siege to some minor Roman fortifications and ordered the execution of the high priest. He was now the only leader of the Jewish revolt, and could boast remarkable successes. However, the son of the high priest, Eleasar, was the leader of the temple guard and Menahem's deadly enemy.
The overthrow of the places of strength, and the death of the high priest Ananias, so puffed up Menahem, that he became barbarously cruel; and as he thought he had no antagonist to dispute the management of affairs with him, he was no better than an insupportable tyrant. But Eleasar and his party [...] made an assault upon him in the temple, for he went up thither to worship in a pompous manner, and adorned with royal garments, and had his followers with him in their armor. Eleasar and his party fell violently upon him, as did also the rest of the people; taking up stones to attack him withal, they threw them at the scholar, and thought, that if he were once ruined, the entire sedition would fall to the ground. Menahem and his party made resistance for a while, but when they perceived that the whole multitude were falling upon them, they fled which way every one was able; those that were caught were slain, and those that hid themselves were searched for. A few of them escaped privately to Masada [...]. As for Menahem himself, he ran away to the place called Ophla, and there lay skulking in private; but they took him alive, and drew him out before them all; they then tortured him with many sorts of torments, and after all slew him, as they did by those that were captains under him also.
[Flavius Josephus, Jewish War 2.442-448]
Comment: There is no need to doubt whether Menahem claimed to be the Messiah. He was a warrior, entered Jerusalem dressed as a king, quarreled with the high priest (who may have entertained some doubts about Menahem's claim), and worshipped God in the Temple. We can be positive that Menahem wanted to be the sole ruler of a restored Israel. There are no indications that his rule was regarded as the inauguration of the end of times, but this was, of course, not necessary.
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