Epistle to Yemen/XVII

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Epistle to Yemen [xvii]
Moses Maimonides
Iggeret Teiman, translated by Boaz Cohen, notes by Abraham S. Halkin

Messiah culminates in the following manner "Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee." (Psalms 2:7). All these statements demonstrate the pre-eminence of the Messiah.

Transcendent wisdom is a sine qua non for inspiration. It is an article of our faith that the gift of prophecy is vouchsafed only to the wise, the strong, and the rich. Strong is defined as the ability to control one's passions. Rich signifies wealthy in knowledge. Now if we dare not put trust in a man's pretensions to prophecy, if he does not excel in wisdom, how much less must we take seriously the claims of an ignoramus to be the Messiah. That the man in question is a sciolist is evident from the order he issued, as you state, to the people to give away all their possessions for eleemosynary purposes. They did right in disobeying him, and he was wrong inasmuch as he disregarded the Jewish law concerning alms-giving. For Scripture says, "If a man will devote anything of all that he has" and the rabbis explain in their comment on this verse, "part of all that he has, but not all that he has," (Sifra ad locum). The sages accordingly set bounds to the bounty of the beneficent in an explicit statement which reads "He who is inclined to be liberal with the poor, may not part with more than a fifth of his possessions. (Ketubot 50a). There is no doubt that the process of reasoning which led him to claim that he is the Messiah, induced him to issue a command to his fellow-men to give away their property and distribute it to the poor. But then the affluent would become destitute and vice-versa. According to this ordinance, it would be necessary for the nouveaux riches to return their recently-acquired property to the newly impoverished. Such a regulation, which would keep property moving in a circle, is the acme of folly.

As to the place where the Messiah will make his first appearance, Scripture intimates that he will first present himself only in the Land of Israel, as we read, "He will suddenly appear in His Temple" (Malachi 3:1). As for the advent of the Messiah, nothing at all will be known about it before it occurs. The Messiah is not a person concerning whom it may be predicted that he will be the son of so and so, or of the family of so and so. On the contrary he will be unknown before his coming, but he will prove by means of miracles and wonders that he is the true Messiah. Scripture in allusion to his mysterious lineage says, "His name is the Shoot, and he will shoot up out of his place" (Zechariah 6:12). Similarly, Isaiah referring to the arrival of the Messiah implies that neither his father nor mother, nor his kith nor kin will be known, "For he will shoot up right forth as a sapling, and as a root out of the dry ground." (53:2). After his manifestation in Palestine, Israel will be gathered in Jerusalem and the other cities of Palestine. Then will the tidings spread to the East and the West until it will reach you in Yemen and those beyond you in India as we learn from Isaiah. "That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of papyrus upon the waters, go, ye swift mesengers [sic], to a nation that has been pulled and plucked to a people that suffered terribly from their beginning onward." (18:2). The process of the final redemption will not be reversed so that it will first appear in distand lands, and ultimately reach Palestine.

What the great powers are, which all the prophets from Moses to Malachi ascribe to the Messiah, may be inferred from various statements in the twenty-four books of Scripture. The most significant of them all is the fact that the mere report of his advent will strike terror into the hearts of all the kings of the earth, and their kingdoms will fall, neither will they be able to war or revolt against him. They will neither defame nor calumniate him, for the miracles he will perform will frighten them into complete silence. Isaiah refers to the submission of the kings to the Messiah in the verse, "Kings shall shut their mouth because of him." (52:15). He will slay whom he will, none will escape or be saved, as it is written, "And he shall smite the land with the rod of his mouth." (Isaiah 11:4). Revolution and war in the entire world, from East to West, will not cease at the beginning of the Messianic era, but only after the wars of Gog and Magog, as was indicated by Ezekiel. I do not believe that this man who has appeared among you posesses [sic] these powers.

You know that the Christians falsely ascribe marvelous powers to Jesus the Nazarene,18 may his bones be ground to dust, such as the resurrection of the dead and other miracles. Even if we would grant them for the sake of argument, we should not be convinced by their reasoning that Jesus is the Messiah. For we can bring a thousand proofs or so from the Scripture that it is not so even from their point of view. Indeed, will anyone arrogate this rank to himself unless he wishes to make himself a laughing stock?

Notes[edit]

18Cf. Krauss, J.E. VII.171, Ha-Shiloah 45:130, G. Levi della Vida, "Gesu e il teschio (leggenda Musulmana) in Bilychnis," Rivista mensile de Studi Religiosi, Rome 1923, pp. 116-121 and Giustiono Boson, "La leggenda di Gesu e il re di Tiro" in Revue de l'Orient Chretien, XXI (1918-19) 225-240.