#108 The Messianic Idea in Jewish History (3)

In this lecture series, David Solomon comprehensively traces the evolution of the Jewish messianic idea as it developed through history. This lecture provides an in-depth examination of how the messianic concept transformed from the end of the Talmudic period up until the European Renaissance era, analyzing how changing circumstances and events impacted and propelled shifts in messianic thought. Throughout his analysis, David emphasizes how the messianic idea acts as the pulsating and propulsive heart at the centre of the ongoing Jewish historical experience.

The Post-Talmudic Era – Rabbinic Authority and False Messiah Dangers Emerge

David initially highlights how in the Post-Talmudic era, an atmosphere of increased caution and even suspicion started to enter mainstream Jewish messianic thought, in response to the traumatic failures of recent messianic pretenders and the rise of Christianity. With rabbinic interpretations and texts now firmly establishing the definitive boundaries of Jewish theological orthodoxy, the concept of a strictly “midrashic” messiah started to emerge, firmly subject to the interpretive authority of the rabbinic sages.

To illustrate this, David explores two influential rabbinic texts that highlight the newly perceived dangers of false messianic claimants, while also identifying a connection between the role of the true Messiah and overthrowing spiritual Rome, allegorically representing the power of Christianity.

Seventh Century Militant Messianism – Nehemiah ben Hushiel and the Persian Alliance

David argues that within the Jewish diaspora, the challenging circumstances and conflicts with surrounding powers started to directly stimulate and propel the development of innovative messianic concepts. In particular, he cites the example of Nehemiah ben Hushiel in the 7th century, who led a Jewish militia that aided the Persian Empire’s reconquest of the Land of Israel.

David analyses how Nehemiah ben Hushiel exemplifies the “Mashiach ben Yosef” model of militantly redemptive diaspora leaders, embodying a distinctly “Ishmaelic” messianic approach focused against the dominating power of Islamic rule.

Medieval Kabbalistic Messianism – Metaphysical Forces and Mystical Sparks

David outlines how in the medieval period, the backdrop of the Crusades and the resulting intensification of conflict between both Islam and Christendom led to two distinct messianic models emerging among Jewish thinkers:

  1. The Ishmaelic approach which sought to launch a militant campaign to physically conquer the Land of Israel through material force.
  2. The Edomic approach which focused instead on pursuing messianic transformation by metaphysically correcting cosmic levels through mystical enlightenment and spiritual forces.

To demonstrate the contrast between these models, David explores influential historical examples like the mystical 12th century warrior missions of David Alroy in Babylon, and the 13th century intellectual Abraham Abulafia’s spiritual journey to metaphysically convert the Pope in Rome through revelation of Kabbalistic secrets.

David then explains how ultimately these two differing messianic approaches became synthesized into a unified perspective.


David Solomon lecture, podcast and YouTube video on the Messianic Idea in Jewish History. This image is the medieval Kabbalistic Abraham Abulafia
An illuminated page from Abraham Abulafia’s Light of the Intellect (1285). The Vatican Library, Vat. ebr. 597 leaf 113 recto. Unknown artist; the author of the book is Abulafia. Public Domain. Source: Wikipedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abraham_abulafia.jpg

Pre-Modern Culmination – Molcho and Reuveni’s Fused Messianic Mission

David argues that the 16th century messianic careers of Shlomo Molcho and David Reuveni represent the climax and culmination of the fused Edomic and Ishmaelic messianic models. He analyzes how Molcho embodied a metaphysical and spiritual model of messianism focused on transforming Christendom and the Vatican, expressed through mysticism, martyrdom and penitence. In contrast, Reuveni represented the ideal of the militantly redemptive diaspora leader, seeking to practically launch a physical campaign to reconquer the Land of Israel from Ottoman imperial control.

Despite their ultimate failures and martyrdom, David suggests the fervent messianic zeal demonstrated by Molcho and Reuveni directly helped to transmit a pioneering proto-Zionist messianic ethos into the future, which would profoundly inspire and influence the later modern Zionist movement.

Conclusion to David Solomon’s Analysis of the Messianic Idea’s Evolution

In conclusion, David argues that the Jewish messianic idea throughout history remained fluid, multifaceted and adaptable, dynamically synthesizing a diverse range of redemptive perspectives and approaches across changing historical eras. While the rabbinic class tended towards caution and conservatism, more radical and mystical messianic expressions persisted as energetic undercurrents coursing through Jewish thought.

Ultimately, David emphasizes the importance of appreciating the conceptual flexibility and responsiveness to circumstances demonstrated by the messianic idea, which allowed it to continuously resurrect itself as an evolving and propulsive ideological force at the very heart of the ongoing Jewish historical experience.

Relevant Historical and Religious Background

As with his wider lecture series, David examines the transformations of the messianic idea here within specific historical contexts, fluidly integrating broad academic analysis with traditional Jewish conceptual frameworks and perspectives.

This is an AI generated summary of a transcript made of this lecture. If you discover any errors or inconsistencies, please let us know.


This talk is the third of a four-part series presented for Caulfield Shule in 2021 as part of its scholar-in-residence program. Due to COVID lockdown restrictions in Melbourne at the time, it was filmed at home.