Originally, the word “messiah” referred to a king who ruled by divine right. The anointing of the king made him the messiah and the term was applied to David as King of Israel. The idea of the Jewish messiah delivering the people from oppression did not emerge until around the time of the Jewish wars with Rome in the first century AD. It now refers to many different things, in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. There have been multiple persons of all three of these faiths – or variations thereof – who have claimed to be the messiah, or have been called the messiah by their followers.
In Christianity, the messiah is usually referred to as the second coming of Jesus Christ. Interestingly, Muslims too believe Jesus Christ to be the true messiah, as do Messianic Jews. Islam posits that the Mahdi will return along with Jesus to defeat the false messiah, the antichrist. The many people of the different faiths claiming to be the messiah have developed followings, some large and some small. They are not alone, there have been those who have claimed to be the true messiah while not embracing any of the Abrahamic religions, and have appealed to their followers on a nationalistic basis, or other areas which address shared concerns and values.
Here are ten people from history who either claimed to be the messiah or were so designated by their followers.
Arthur Davies (1868 -1880)
Arthur Davies was declared by his father William Davies to be the messiah – literally the reincarnated Jesus Christ – when he was born on February 11, 1868. William Davies was a former Methodist who converted to Mormonism. Davies became disenchanted with the church leadership and became a follower of Joseph Morris, eventually relocating with fellow Morris followers to Montana. Davies received several of what he called revelations about reincarnation and began teaching his own followers his beliefs. One of his revelations directed him to create the Kingdom of Heaven, a utopian commune, and he led his followers to Walla Walla, Washington.
Davies instructed his followers that he was in fact Michael the Archangel. He also taught his followers that it had been revealed to him that he had led several lives, and that he was the reincarnated Adam, the father of all mankind, as well as Abraham, the patriarch of the three Abrahamic religions, and David, the biblical King of Israel. As he was instructing his followers in these great truths, he held title to the forty acres purchased for the establishment of the commune, and maintained complete control over the religious instruction and civil administration of his utopia.
The birth of Arthur and his designation as the messiah was followed by the announcement that his second son, David, who was born in 1869, was the earthly incarnation of God, the Father. Earlier the announcement of the messiah’s birth had greatly increased the number of followers who joined his utopian community. Davies then declared that he himself was the incarnation of the Holy Spirit, thus completing the Christian Trinity under his own roof. Another of his sons was declared to be the reincarnation of John the Baptist.
Davies required the males of the community to wear their hair long as a symbol of strength. He claimed that he could cure disease, prevent death, and raise the dead. Presumably he could only prevent death in his presence, otherwise there would have been no need of the raising talent. The community sent out missionaries and had some success in towns such as Portland. Davies practiced polygamy and expelled several male members of the community for reasons such as immoral behavior, retaining their wives for himself. When one of his wives died of diphtheria, questions from the community over his healing abilities proved damaging, and the community began to decline.
In 1880, the reincarnated Jesus (Arthur) and God the Father (David) likewise died from diphtheria. Some, but by no means all of the followers had had enough and they sued Davies to recover the property which they had placed into the commune. The Superior Court of Walla Wall agreed with them and the commune was disbanded. Davies attempted to start another utopia, which failed to attract a following and after living for a time in San Francisco he returned to Walla Walla, where he died in 1906. Arthur became locally famous during his short life as the Walla Walla Jesus.