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Friday, February 05, 2010

Armilius: The Jewish Lord Voldemort

[Emblem of the The Holy Roman Empire: a double-crowned two-headed eagle]


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:
http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

6 Comments:

Blogger Margaux Repp said...

What I find fascinating about this is all the pop-culture religion based literature that speaks of a "Son of Satan" (Namely the comic/movie Constantine). I wonder if there is also some relation between the Jewish Armilius and the Christian "Beast".

8:49 PM  
Blogger Maureen said...

Given that there was a Middle Eastern, Greco-Roman-era god who was allegedly the child of a statue/rock and a deity, I think that's where you'd want to look for your parallels.

It's not a very nice or printable myth, though, so that's probably why you haven't heard of the guy.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Maureen said...

Attis, I believe the name is. Sorry.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Geoffrey Dennis said...

Maureen, I'd be curious if you can identify this god from classical antiquity,it sounds like a likely source, though the Armilus tradition appears well into the Christian era. Perhaps this myth you mentioned was reworked in a new polemical context.

10:45 PM  
Blogger DavidN23 said...

Thanks as always for these posts, please know how much they are appreciated for their insight and erudition.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous edvard said...

You have heard of the musical "My Fair Lady", which ifs derived from the Shaw play, "Pygmalion". This movie is based on Maureen's myth.
Pygmalion was a sculptor who built a statue named Galatea. She was so beautiful that he fell in love with it and refused to eat or something. Aphrodite brought the statue to life and Pygmalion mated with her. The resulting child was named Paphos, an important city of Cyprus, the island of Aphrodite.

10:56 AM  

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