Monday, August 20, 2007

Armilus, Anti-Christ, Hollywood - The Unholy Trinity?

[Herod Agrippa, a failed messiah, as portrayed in the memorable video series, I Claudius]
In regard to my entry on Armilius, a reader asks:

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".

Its hard to say. To the extent that I am familiar with the Revelation of John, it never explicitly claims that the "Beast" is the offspring of the Devil. Of course, Christian theology of 'divine sonship' invites creating this kind of symmetry. What with Jesus being the "only begotten son of God," it seems logical that the Beast is somehow the "only begotten son of Satan."

In the Jewish traditions of Armilus (or Armilius), an inversion rather than a symmetry. Remember, Jews do not believe that the Eschatological Messiah will be either the "son of God" or divine in anyway [the Dead Sea Scrolls authors may have believed in an angelic messiah, but that notion never really transferred over into Rabbinic Judaism]. So in the absence of a 'sonship theology,' the Jewish author of the Armilius legend is more likely making a polemic by allusively equating Jesus and Armilius, suggesting that rather than being the unique "son of God," the Christian divine/savior may actually be a son of perdition.

It is striking, incidentally, that in the realm of vilifying polemics, Christianity has more than returned the favor. Frequently when I describe the Jewish vision of the Eschatological Messiah to a Christian audience, someone will remark, "Well, your description of your Messiah sounds a lot like the Anti-Christ." That response doesn 't surprise me. I suspect that the author of Revelations was making his own polemic against Jews and our rival notions of messianism in writing his description of the Beast.

But back to the topic at hand: I might speculate the notion of the Anti-Christ being the "son of Satan" actually appeared someplace within Christendom as ideas about the End Times evolved and developed. But frankly, it could entirely be a contrivance of Hollywood, a theme created for Rosemary's Baby and reinforced by The Omen, The Stand, and a legion of lesser apocalyptic horror films, like Constantine. I simply don't know enough about the history of Christian eschatology to say whether the Beast being the 'son of Satan' has any firm roots in Christian tradition.

If anyone has a useful insight to help answer Ms. Repp's question, please send it to me in the comment postings.
Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism:


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