By: Kaufmann Kohler, Louis Ginzberg
In later Jewish eschatology and legend, a king who will arise at the end of time against the Messiah, and will be conquered by him after having brought much distress upon Israel. The origin of this Jewish Antichrist (as he can well be styled in view of his relation to the Messiah) is as much involved in doubt as the different phases of his development, and his relation to the Christian legend and doctrine.
Saadia's Tradition of Armilus.
Saadia (born 892; died 942) is the earliest trustworthy authority that speaks of Armilus. He mentions the following as a tradition of the ancients,hence of the eighth century at the latest: If the Jews do not prove themselves worthy of Messianic salvation, God will force them to repentance by terrible persecutions. In consequence of these persecutions, a scion of the tribe of Joseph will arise and wrest Jerusalem from the hands of the Edomites, that is, from the Christians; the Arabic text of Landauer, p. 239, has correctly "Jerusalem," and not "Temple," as in the Hebrew translation, which has it owing to an erroneous interpretation of the Arabic "al bait al muḳaddas." Thereupon the king, Armilus, will conquer and sack the Holy City, kill the inhabitants together with "the man [Messiah] of the tribe of Joseph," and then begin a general campaign against the Jews, forcing them to flee into the desert, where they will suffer untold misery. When they have been purified by sorrow and pain, the Messiah will appear, wrest Jerusalem from Armilus, slay him, and thereby bring the true salvation.
Armilus in the Apocalyptic Midrashim.
Armilus is for Saadia, or rather for Saadia's sources, nothing more or less than the last powerful anti-Jewish king, the Gog of the prophets under another name (compare "Emunot we-De'ot," ed. Fischel, viii. 152-154; ed. Landauer, pp. 239-241). The same thing is said of Gog that Saadia says of Armilus in "Aggadot MashiaḦ" in Jellinek, "B. H." iii. 141; but the rôle ascribed there to the Messiah, son of Joseph, shows that this Midrash is not Saadia's source.
Armilus and Satan.
However, an entirely different shape and meaning are given to Armilus in some smaller Midrashim dealing with the "latter days." In the "Midrash wa-Yosha'"—which comes nearest to Saadia's conception—Armilus is taken to be Gog's successor; but is represented as a monstrosity, bald-headed, with one large and one small eye, deaf in the right ear and maimed in the right arm, while the left arm is two and one-half ells long. His battle with and his defeat by the Messiah, son of Joseph, correspond with Saadia's account (Jellinek, "B. H." i. 56; Targ. on Isa. xi. 4; but see Steinschneider, "Hebr. Bibl." xiv. 45).
A similar description of Armilus is found in "Nistarot R. Simon b. YoḦai" (Secrets of Simon b. YoḦai), a pseudepigraph, the latest redaction of which can not antedate the first crusade (Steinschneider, "Z. D. M. G." xxviii. 646). (See Apocalyptic Literature, Neo-Hebraic, 10.) The statement found there that Armilus is the son of Satan and of a stone (Jellinek, "B. H." iii. 80) is an interpolation from another source, written in Aramaic, while the book itself is in Hebrew; nor is this curious origin of Armilus mentioned anywhere else in the book.
An entirely different conception of Armilus is found in the pseudepigraphs: "Zerubbabel," "Otot ha-MashiaḦ" (Signs of the Messiah) and "Tefillat R. Simon b. YoḦai" (Prayer of R. Simon b. YoḦai). Aside from a few unimportant variants in these three versions—the Zerubbabel seems to show the earlier, shorter form—they agree in the following description of Armilus: In Rome there is a splendid marble statue of a beautiful girl which God Himself made in the beginning of the world (), according to the version given in "Tefillat R. Simon." Through sexual intercourse of evil men, or even of Satan himself, with this statue, a terrible creature in human form was produced, whose dimensions as well as shape were equally monstrous. This creature, Armilus by name—the Gentiles called him Antichrist, says the "Otot"—will set himself up as Messiah, even as God Himself, being recognized as such by the sons of Esau, that is, by the Christians.
He agrees to accept as his doctrine the Gospels, which the Christians lay before him ("B. H." ii. 60; tiflatam—not tefillotam—signifying something offensive, morally as well as religiously, whereas tefillotam signifies their prayers). Then he turns to the Jews, especially to their leader, Nehemiah b. Ḥushiel, saying, "Bring your Torah and acknowledge that I am God." Nehemiah and his followers open the Torah and read to Armilus, "I am the Lord, thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me." But as Armilus nevertheless insists upon being recognized as God by the Jews, and they cry out to him that he is Satan and not God, a bitter battle breaks out between Armilus with an immense heathen army on the one side, and Nehemiah with 30,000 Jewish heroes on the other.
This unequal combat ends in the death of the "Ephraimite Messiah" and a million Jews. After an interval of forty-five days, during which the Jews unworthy of the Messianic glory die out (compare the similar statement in reference to the liberation from Egypt found already in the old Haggadah, Mekilta, BeshallaḦ, i., ed. Weiss, p. 29), and the remnant have shown their true worth in sore trials and bitter sufferings in the desert whither they will have fled, Michael will blow his trumpet; then the Messiah and Elijah will appear, gather the dispersed of Israel, and proceed to Jerusalem.
Armilus, inflamed against the Jews, will march against the Messiah. But now God Himself will war against Armilus and his army and destroy them; or the Messiah, as one version has it, will slay Armilus by the breath of his mouth (Jellinek, "B. H." ii. 51, line 3, where the text is probably corrupt; compare II Thess. ii. 8). According to a Roman legend (see Eusebius, "Chronicon," I. xlvi. 7, ed. Migne, pp. 283, 284, and Book II. anno 1145), it was an Armilus who presumed to war with Jupiter, and was slain by the latter's thunderbolt. In the Armilus legend the Messiah takes the place of Jupiter, and here also Armilus is slain by fire and sulphur from heaven (Jellinek, "B. H." ii. 62).
The Later Armilus Legend.
The alleged descent of Armilus from a stone is a Jewish version of the wide-spread legend connected with the name of Virgil and referring to a statue that became a courtezan among the Romans (Güdemann, "Gesch. des Erziehungswesens . . . der Juden in Italien," pp. 221 et seq., 332, 333). It is indeed not improbable that this borrowing from the Virgil legend was due to Christian influence. The antithesis, Christ and Antichrist, which is the distinctive feature in the Christian legend of the Antichrist, led already in the tenth century to the opinion that Antichrist also would be the offspring of a virgin and, of course, of Satan (see Bousset,"Antichrist," p. 92, and the description of St. Hildegarde, lib. iii., visio xi., ed. Migne, pp. 716 et seq.).
As to the origin of the name Armilus, whether it is derived from Romulus, the founder of Rome, or from Ahriman, the evil principle of the Persians, Arimainyus = Armalgus (Targ. Isa. xi. 4 and Targ. Yer. Deut. xxxiv. 3), see under Ahrimanand Antichrist.
• Bousset, Der Antichrist, especially pp. 66-70, 88-99;
• English translation by A. H. Keane, pp. 104-112 and 138-146;
• Brüll, in Kobak's Jeschurun, vii. 11;
• Fränkel, in Z. D. M. G. lii. 295;
• Grätz, in Wertheimer's Jahrb. für Israeliten, 1864, p. 239;
• and Geschichte, 3d ed., iv. 412;
• Grünbaum, in Z. D. M. G. xxxi. 300;
• Güdemann, Gesch. des Erziehungswesens der Juden in Italien, pp. 221 et seq., 332-333;
• Horowitz, Bet 'Eḳed ha-Aggadot, p. 25;
• D. Kaufmann, in Monatsschrift, xl. 135, 136;
• Kohler, in Z. D. M. G. xxiii. 693;
• Kohut, Aruch Completum, i. 291-292;
• Krauss, Griechische und Lateinische Lehnwörter, i. 241-243;
• Jellinek, Introduction to Bet ha-Midrash, ii. 21-23, iii. 17-20;
• Schürer, Geschichte, 3d ed., ii. 532, 533;
• Vogelstein and Rieger, Gesch. der Juden in Rom, i. 155 et seq.;
• Zunz, G. V. 2d ed., p. 295.