Armilius: The Jewish Lord Voldemort
Since everybody is talking Harry Potter, I too will ride the wave. In that vein, Judaism has its own tradition of a “Dark Lord,” Armilius or Armilus ben Belial. He is the eschatological nemesis of the Messiah(s). The name itself may be derived from Romulus, the mythic founder of Rome (which, as in the Christian tradition, embodies ungodly forces – with a Jewish twist, as you will see below), while Belial is a demonic figure who enjoys greatest prominence in the traditions of the Dead Sea Scroll sect.
The tradition of Armilus is early medieval in origin, first surfacing textually during the 7-8th Century (Sefer Zerubbabel, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Isa. 11:4). While there are several variations, the core myth is that Armilius is a king who will attack Jerusalem in the wars of the last days (see Zechariah 9-14 for the essential elements of this apocalyptic version of the End of Days), killing the Messiah, son of Joseph. In turn the Messiah, son of David will counterattack and slay Armilus, either with the breath of his mouth (an allusion to Isa. 9) or by fire raining from heaven (Sefer Zerubbabel; BhM 1:56; 2:51; 3:141; 4:124-26).
Sefer Zerubbabel reports he will be the offspring of sexual congress between ha-Satan and a beautiful Roman statue (a riff on the Virgin Mary?). Thus Armilus is a semi-human monstrosity with green skin, gold hair, and two heads (Dan. 11:27) who thinks himself God (Dan. 11:36).
Amilus narratives can be read as a counter-narrative (or parody) of Christian eschatological beliefs. This conflation of Imperial Rome with Christendom may seem confusing to the casual reader, but in the Jewish mythic imagination, Pagan and Christian Rome are a continuous phenomenon, their imperial oppressions being virtually indistinguishable (from a Jewish perspective).
Zal g’mor: To learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: