Here Are 10 Fascinating Historical Cases Where People Claimed to be the Messiah

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Sabbatai Zevi (1626-1676)

Zevi was a Sephardic Rabbi who taught throughout what was at the time the Ottoman Empire. He also practiced Kabbala and through it claimed the ability to achieve miracles as well as talk directly to God and accurately predict the future. He was named for the planet Saturn, his name translates as Saturn. By the time was 22 he had a following in Smyrna, to whom he declared himself to be the messiah, which brought him to the attention of the Jewish authorities, who gradually came to believe him to be of negative influence and a threat to their authority. Zevi was in effect excommunicated by the rabbinical authorities in Smyrna.

In the early 1650s, the actual year of the event being disputed by scholars, Zevi and his followers were banished. Forced to leave Smyrna his wanderings for some time are undocumented. In 1658 he was in Constantinople, where he met with a forger who produced for him a document which using lettering no longer in common use established Zevi’s credentials as the messiah. The manuscript was a testimony entitled The Great Wisdom of Solomon. Using the document Zevi went to Salonica, where proclaiming himself as the messiah he gained a following and once again the disapproval of local rabbinical authority. He was banished from Salonica, roamed about for a time and settled in Cairo.

When Zevi heard the story of an orphan girl who had been forced into a life of prostitution, he had the girl brought to him in Cairo. Informing his followers that it had been revealed to him in a dream that the messiah was to marry such a girl, as scripturally foretold. The girl, called Sarah, and Zevi were wed, further confirming among his followers that he was the true messiah. As his fame and claims spread the number of his followers and his influence increased, and by 1665 he was back in Smyrna, with cheering crowds hailing him as their king and messiah.

Messiah or not, Zevi was imprisoned in Constantinople by authorities concerned over activities they considered seditious. While imprisoned Zevi confronted another self-proclaimed messiah and after failing to convince the man of the error of his claim denounced him to his followers. Zevi then converted to Islam, motivated by his captor’s offer of allowing him to escape death if he would convert. They offered to shoot him with bows and arrows, if the arrows missed his divinity would be proved. Zevi chose conversion not only for himself but for his wife and for as many of his followers as he could convince. Most of his followers were disillusioned with their messiah.

Zevi continued to practice kabbala as a Muslim, for which he drew increasingly harsh punishments from the authorities, including banishment from areas of Constantinople, then from the city itself. Those whom he converted and other Muslims continued to follow him, though his messianic claims seem to have ceased in the later years of his life. He appeared in public as a Muslim, yet was said to sing Psalms in private, and he read Jewish books. There are still followers of Zevi in Turkey today, known as Donme, who offer the appearance of being Muslim in public, but practice both messianic and mystical Judaism privately. Several of his followers later claimed to be the messiah.

Yahweh ben Yahweh (1935-2007)

The man who renamed himself God son of God, was born Hulon Mitchell Jr. The son of a Pentecostal minister was raised in Enid, Oklahoma. Hulon was the first of what would become a family of fifteen children. Mitchell would later say that by the age of three he was aware of his own divinity. He attended segregated schools as a child, and after serving in the US Air Force he earned a degree in psychology from Phillips College in Enid, a then all-black school affiliated with the Disciples of Christ (now Phillips University).

Where and when he developed his radical beliefs, which included God and all of the significant figures of the Bible, including the prophets and patriarchs being black is unclear. For a time he worked in the civil rights movement of the 1960s but grew disillusioned with it, once referring to Martin Luther King as “…that dead dog preacher.” He attended both the University of Oklahoma and Atlanta University, studying law at the former but not completing a degree, and economics at the latter. Over the years he called himself by several religious names, including Brother Love, Father Michel, and Hulah Shah. He was associated with the Nation of Islam in Chicago before moving to Miami in 1976.

There he pronounced himself to be both God and the Son of God, an incarnation of himself as perfection. His followers were given the last name Israel, and he promised them that through his teachings they would learn the true history of the Bible and the black race. They were called Yahweh’s and over the next several years acquired a temple, apartment buildings, a hotel, and numerous cars and trucks. Mitchell acquired several cars of his own, including Rolls-Royces, and a reputation for sexual predation with the women and in some cases underage girls of his following.

Mitchell demanded unflinching loyalty to him as the divine leader of the congregation. He preached hatred of Jews and whites, telling his followers that they were the oppressors of blacks and the true God, himself. Members of the congregation’s inner circle were required to kill a white person as a demonstration of their loyalty and commitment to him, and either an ear or a head was presented as proof. Mitchell and his followers nonetheless earned the praise of the local government, just prior to a federal indictment under RICO led to his arrest and several of his followers.

Mitchell was tried in 1990 under an 18 count indictment which included charges of racketeering, extortion and more than a dozen killings. Convicted largely from testimony of a former Yahweh and professional football player serving time for murder, Mitchell was sentenced to 18 years. In 1992 he was found not guilty on charges of first degree murder. Mitchell served 11 years before being paroled on terms which restricted him from any form of contact with any of his former followers. Those restrictions were lifted shortly before he died in 2007.

Muhammad Ahmad

Ahmad was a religious and military leader in the Sudan who proclaimed himself to be the Mahdi, who in most Islamic traditions will accompany Jesus – in Islam known as Isa – to defeat the antichrist at the time of Judgment. Ahmad was a leader of the Samaniyya order who with others of the Sudanese people revolted against Turkish and Egyptian rulers in the late nineteenth century. Aware that many of the Sudanese believed in the messianic figure of the Mahdi arriving to overthrow their oppressors, Ahmad so proclaimed himself with the announcement of a movement he called the Mahdiyya.

Ahmad was born into a family of boat builders, but from an early age preferred quiet religious study over manual labor. Ahmad studied under various sheikhs, developing a reputation for piety and humility, and traveled about the Sudan. After acquiring the title of Sheikh he conducted religious missions where he taught that any practice not sanctioned in the Quran was heresy. His missions and high standing with several sheikhs were enhanced by his demonstrated piety.

In accordance with Samaniyya tradition, the Mahdi would come from their order, following signs which would foretell his arrival. Ahmad used his knowledge of the necessary signs and that of the people to whom he proclaimed the Mahdiyya to convince them of its truth, claiming to have had the title bestowed upon him by an assembly of prophets known as a Hadra. The Hadra had included all of the prophets from the first, Adam, to Muhammad. In the tradition, the Mahdi would reign for a period of eight years before being defeated in a battle with the antichrist, heralding the return of Isa who would destroy the antichrist.

Although Ahmad was widely popular with the Sudanese Samaniyya, he was criticized and ridiculed for his pronouncement in other quarters, including the authorities of the Egyptian and Turkish governments. Egypt sent a military force to arrest Ahmad for the crime of heresy and false doctrine. Ahmad declared a Jihad and directed his followers to cease paying taxes. Open warfare between Ahmad’s forces and Egyptian forces led the British to withdraw from most of Sudan, retaining some ports on the Red Sea and a few towns in the north. They held onto Khartoum and were there besieged by Ahmad’s forces in 1884.

When the British were defeated and the city taken by Ahmad’s forces, the garrison troops were massacred to a man, and the bodies of many were hacked to pieces by the Sudanese. Ahmad died of typhus within six months of the battle. His successor purged the Mahdiyya of Ahmad’s family and closest followers, and continued the war as the Khalifa. When the Khalifa was defeated in 1898 the British commander, General Kitchener, ordered Ahmad’s tomb destroyed and his remains thrown into the Nile, to prevent the tomb from becoming a shrine.

Ahn Sahng-hong (1918-1985)

Ahn was a Korean Buddhist who was born while Japan ruled over the Korean Peninsula. From 1937 to 1946 he lived in Japan. When he returned to Korea he began attending services at the Seventh Day Adventist mission near Inchon. Near the end of the Korean War Ahn began to experience revelations which he reported to members of the Adventist congregation. He renounced Buddhism and began to study Christianity more closely, claimed to continue having revelations, and in 1956 announced that Jesus Christ would return to earth within a decade.

Ahn’s revelations led him into a series of disputes with the Seventh Day Adventists over their teachings. He claimed one of his revelations informed him that the use of the cross in religious ceremonies should be discontinued, and that the day of the week which should be kept as the Sabbath was Saturday. These and other disputes led the Seventh Day Adventists to excommunicate him, and he responded by forming his own church, which he called Witnesses of Jesus Church of God. It would expand from the original 23 followers who left the Seventh Day Adventists with Ahn to 13 congregations across South Korea by the time of his death.

Ahn did not specifically claim to be the messiah, nor the returned Jesus Christ. Instead he claimed that the early Christian church practices and the messages of Jesus had become changed over time and needed to be restored to what were originally taught by Jesus. Ahn claimed the cross representative of Christianity to be a graven image and was thus not to be used. Ahn also believed that the Passover and other Feasts listed in the Book of Leviticus should be part of the Christian practice of religion. These beliefs and other dogma were published in the more than two dozen books Ahn published.

Upon his death a schism arose within his church over his succession as the head of the religion. Two groups disagreed over whether to continue to follow Ahn’s teachings and direction, or adopt the idea of a spiritual mother over the church, an approach which had been previously explored and rebuked by Ahn when he was alive. The schism led to a formal split and two new churches were formed, the New Covenant Passover Church of God, and the Witnesses of Ahn Sahng-hong Church of God.

The New Covenant Passover Church of God more closely follows Ahn’s teachings. The Witnesses of Ahn Sahng-hong established a new dogma, which included the establishment of a woman as God the Mother and that Ahn should be recognized as Christ, with a new trinity excluding Jesus and including Ahn, and prayer of worship directed not to Jesus but to Ahn. Ahn is titled in the church as Christ Ahn Sangh-hong. During his lifetime he gave several different dates for which he predicted the end of the world, the last one known to have been announced was in 2012.

Ernest Norman

Ernest Norman was an electrical engineer by training. He was the writer of more than twenty books, on a diverse group of topics, including theoretical physics, life on other worlds, and modern poetry. He was a co-founder of the Unarius Science of Life and the Unarius Academy of Science. Unarius is an acronym which stands for Universal Articulate Interdimensional Understanding of Science. Its practitioners refer to themselves as Unarians.

Unarians believe in the immortality of the human soul, reincarnation, and that higher beings from other dimensions and worlds channel knowledge to the enlightened here on Earth. Norman claimed that the books that he had written were merely channeled through him. Books written by other Unarians are channeled from him as well as others. Unarians consider themselves to be practicing a science, not a religion, and there is little dogma.

Norman wrote several articles and included in many of his books arguments against religion, and viewed his organization as scientific rather than religious. Nevertheless Norman believed to be overshadowed throughout his life by an Archangel, one of a group of Archangels who dwell on a super planet. His past lives included incarnations as Benjamin Franklin, Confucius, Jesus Christ, Socrates, and many others. Norman taught the students who studied with him that they had been present with him during his incarnation as Jesus, and that their mutual enemies from that life were reincarnated as well.

Norman taught that the population of the earth was watched and protected by the Higher Beings and that all humans could use their psychic powers to communicate with them. Norman’s co-founder of Unarius on Earth was his wife Ruth, whom he had met when she attended a spiritualist convention. There Norman was told by a spiritualist that there were three men with him carrying books, unseen by anyone else. Norman said that the three were the prophets Elisha, Enoch and Ezra. The books they were carrying were the books Norman would eventually write, once they had been channeled to him.

Norman didn’t claim that he was Jesus returned to earth in the form of the Second Coming of Christ, merely that he had been Jesus in a previous life, one in which presumably he was channeling higher beings as well. Since he also claimed to have been Confucius in a prior life he evidently had no problem with conflicting religious teachings or dogmas. Norman died in 1971. Presumably he is waiting to return as another being, if he hasn’t already.

Krishna Venta

Krishna Venta was born Francis Herman Pencovic in San Francisco. In 1948, after serving in the US Army during World War II announced to the world that he was the Messiah as the returned Christ. He founded a religious group in California which he called WKFL Fountain of the World (Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith and Love) in a building which had formerly housed a brothel in Santa Barbara, California. In a short time he was able to purchase, using the funds he received by admitting new followers into his group, 25 acres of land south of Los Angeles in box Canyon.

Legally changing his name to Krishna Venta, the messiah told his followers that there would be no more than 144,000 to survive the coming end of the world, and those would be his followers, thus establishing the limits of its growth (which it never reached). He said that he had been born on the planet Neophrates, which was in the same orbital plane as earth and which was drawn into the sun, forcing him and his followers to travel to earth in rocket ships. He had been on earth since, in a wide variety of incarnations which included him either being or being with Abraham, Moses, Mohammed, the Archangel Gabriel, the Angel Moroni, and Jesus Christ.

Venta had been married and divorced before his divinity, and when his ex-wife sued for child support, court papers revealed that the then Pencovic had stated that he would plan his life to be protected, and that he would “…form this organization where people would give all their possessions into the organization and he would be the head of the organization, nothing would be in his name…yet he would have them arrange for all the money he wanted to use anytime he wanted it.” The same papers reveal that the messiah liked to stop over in Vegas from time to time, where his divinity didn’t stop him from losing money.

When he was at the Fountain’s site, Venta often had himself crucified before his followers, using a bicycle seat to support him on a cross to which he was tied, as a means of reinforcing his sermons of that day. In addition to being loose with the group’s money, he was dismissive of celibacy, except among his followers, and it was his proclivity for seducing the wives of some of his followers which brought down his group.

A pair of former followers killed Venta after learning of his affairs with both of their wives. In December 1958 the two men went to the large house which the group had built for Venta in Box Canyon. Each were wearing several sticks of dynamite strapped to their bodies and once in the house they detonated the suicide bombs. Venta and seven other followers were killed in the explosion, one of them an infant, as well as the two bombers.

Jesus of Nazareth

To Christians, Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Savior, and the True Son of the Living God. All forms of Christianity accept this, in fact the acceptance is a necessary part of being a member of a Christian church. The many differences between the protestant religions with each other and with Catholicism do not vary this fact. In fact most Christians would be surprised to learn that Islam also accepts Jesus (Isa) as the messiah.

But to certain followers of Judaism and to some other religions Jesus’ claim as the messiah is considered to be false, and Jesus, even in acknowledging his historic existence, is a false messiah. Some consider him to be the false messiah to have done the most damage of all the false messiahs which have come since his death. The Messianic Age foretold by the Biblical prophets has not yet arrived, nor is it awaiting the Second Coming as prophesied by Jesus and taught by Christian doctrine. Judaism also does not allow for the worship of an individual, for them there is no Trinity as there is in Christianity.

Jewish belief in the messiah and his arrival are dependent on several events which have not occurred, nor did they occur during the life of Jesus. These include the return of the Jews to their homeland, that which was promised to Moses, and the rebuilding of The Temple at Jerusalem. They also include the age of peace which certainly has not befallen humanity.

To Jews Jesus is a false messiah simply by making the claim that he was both God and man, which is a heresy in Judaism, and the idea that the messiah can be a heretic is unthinkable. In the earliest days of the followers of Jesus they established the belief that he was both God and man, which is the basis of the schism which took Jesus’ followers, most of whom were Jews, away from Judaism and formed the basis of what is now called Christianity.

According to the Jewish faith, Jesus is a false messiah because he did not fulfill the prophecies put forth by Isaiah and Ezekiel. Nor was he a paternal descendant of King David. The Jewish messiah is to reign as the King of the Jews (one reason for the derisive sign which was supposedly ordered by Pilate). Any fundamentalist Christian would howl at the suggestion that Jesus could be considered a false messiah, but to a very large number of people that is what he was at the time of his death, and that is what he remains.

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