Thursday, April 09, 2015

The 2000 year old prophecy in Yalkut Shimoni

With recent nerve-wracking events involving Iran and their quest for nuclear weapons, Shirat Devorah reposts a post from JewFacts, about a 2000 year old prophecy. The post reads in part:

A piece of rabbinic literature [written 2000 years ago] known as the Yalkut Shimoni touches on many future scenarios both for the nation of Israel and for the world. In its section on the biblical Book of Isaiah and the prophecies contained therein, a rabbi cited by the Yalkut Shimoni states:

“That the year the Messiah will arrive when all the nations of the world will antagonize each other and threaten with war. The king of Persia (Iran) antagonizes the King of Arabia (Saudi Arabia) with war. The King of Arabia goes to Edom (The Western Countries, headed by USA) for advice. Then the King of Persia destroys the world (and since that cannot be done with conventional weapons it must mean nuclear which can destroy most of the world). And all the nations of the world begin to panic and are afraid, and Israel too is afraid as to how to defend from this. G-d then says to them “Do not fear for everything that I have done is for your benefit, to destroy the evil kingdom of Edom and eradicate evil from this world so that the Messiah can come, your time of redemption is now.”

1) I don't know if I would call this "prophecy". This is a midrash, and so is presumably an interpretation by the midrashic author (Rabbi Yizchak) of pesukim, perhaps from Sefer Yeshaya. The prophet was Yeshaya, and the rabbis took it upon themselves to carefully analyze the words to come to some concrete meaning. And that is how different rabbis might argue with one another about the meaning, without calling one another false prophets. The rabbis of the Talmud themselves said that prophecy was removed, and that the last prophets were Chagai, Zecharia, and Malachi.

2) It is not "2000 years old". Yalkut Shimoni is a Yalkut, a collection. While many of the sources are old (though they may be processed versions of the older material), some of the material is more recent. Yalkut Shimoni was composed either in the 11th century or (more likely) the 13th century. Even though this is attributed to a "Rabbi Yitzchak", I would not jump to say that this is older material, nor 2000 year old material, from the time of the earliest Tannaim.

3) The actual text of the midrash in Yalkut Shimoni is this:
א"ר יצחק שנה שמלך המשיח נגלה בו כל מלכי אומות העולם מתגרים זה בזה, מלך פרס מתגרה במלך ערבי והולך מלך ערבי לארס ליטול עצה מהם וחוזר מלך פרס ומחריב את כל העולם וכל אומות העולם מתרעשים ומתבהלים ונופלים על פניהם ויאחוז אותם צירים כצירי יולדה, וישראל מתרעשים ומתבהלים ואומר להיכן נבוא ונלך להיכן נבוא ונלך להיכן נבוא ונלך, וואומר להם בני אל לתתיראו כל מה שעשיתי לא עשיתי אלא בשבילכם מפני מה אתם מתיראים אל תיראו הגיע זמן גאולתכם, ולא כגאולה ראשונה גאולה אחרונה כי גאולה ראשונה היה לכם צער ושעבוד מלכייות אחריה אבל גאולה אחרונה אין לכם צער ושעבוד מלכיות אחריה:
The identifications of the melech aravi with Saudi Arabia and melech Paras with Iran, and ארם (censored for אדום or רומי) for the US represents the guesswork of the author.

So too, the statement that
destroys the world (and since that cannot be done with conventional weapons it must mean nuclear which can destroy most of the world)
is a presumption of the author. I think those countries conquered in the Muslim Conquests would beg to differ. I think those countries conquered in the Mongol invasions would beg to differ.

4) We are dealing with a 13th century midrash. And the midrash makes reference to empires, rather than countries. From Talmudic times, these were understood as empires rather than countries.

Paras is the Persian empire. Edom is the Roman empire. Aravi is the Arabian empire. These each, in their time, conquered and ruled over wide swaths of the settled world.

While Paras is modern-day Iran, and that country is a potential threat, it is a nothing compared with the Persian empire.

If this is early 13th century, this might refer to the Ilkhanate.
The Ilkhanate, also spelled Il-khanate (Persianایلخانان‎, IlkhananMongolian: Хүлэгийн улс, Hulagu-yn Ulus), was a breakaway state of the Mongol Empire, which was ruled by the Mongol House of Hulagu. It was established in the 13th century and was based primarily in Iran as well as neighboring territories, such as present-day Azerbaijan, and the central and eastern parts of present-day Turkey. The Ilkhanate was based, originally, on Genghis Khan's campaigns in the Khwarazmian Empire in 1219–1224 and was founded by Genghis's grandson, Hulagu Khan. In its fullest extent, the state expanded into territories which today comprise most of IranIraq,TurkmenistanArmeniaAzerbaijanGeorgiaTurkey, western Afghanistanand southwestern Pakistan. Later Ilkhanate rulers, beginning with Ghazan in 1295, would convert to Islam.
This strikes me as a plausible interpretation of the midrash (rather than "prophecy"), of applying pesukim to contemporary events and predicting the resurgence of a mighty empire rooted in Persia.

But it depends on the actual composition date of this midrash. Find the date of composition, and find the people engaged in empire-building and conquest in its proximity, and then see if it fits.

4) If Iran got nuclear weapons, and used them, they would be wiped out instantly. There are other countries (such as the US) who would automatically retaliate. If there were worldwide nuclear war, then even in Israel it would not be a good place to live. None of this corresponds nicely to the events described in the midrash. My explanation (IMHO) besides being rooted historically works better with the scenario described in the midrash.

5) All this "ancient prophecy" gets mixed in with other nonsense such as this:
Another interesting fact recently published in the world press is that astrologers see this winter as the “Nuclear Winter” in which the Western world will be destroyed by Iran with Nuclear weapons [which matches up with ancient prophecy].


Yosef Greenberg said...

It's been a while since you posted these type of discussions. :)

yaak said...

1) The identification with a "prophecy" may not be a "Nevuah" in the technical sense, but in the broader context of prophetic and apocalyptic literature, it is most definitely a prophecy.

2) You are concentrating on when the Yalkut was written, but the source of that Midrash is much earlier. Your Mongolian possibility cannot be true since this Midrash is also written in the Pesikta Rabbati. The Pesikta was written in the 9th century, but again, that date is not the starting date. Many of the Midrashim that talk about Paras were written earlier when the Persian (Sassanid) Empire was in full force. Thus, the 2000 years are pretty close.

And even if it was originally referring to the Sassanids, Mashiah didn't come then, so since Ribbi Yitzhak - whoever he is - wrote this, it can be deemed authoritative and reapplied to our time.

I agree with you about the inclusion of the astrologers, though.

Greg Lauren said...

Here is Rabbi Shimon Kessin talking about Yalkut Shmoni prophecy on Iran

R' Shimon Kessin: "Insanity of nations on Iranian threat, shows Redemption is here"

Greg Lauren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
joshwaxman said...


It is no more a prophecy than your blog posts are a prophecy. It is an attempt to apply ambiguous sources based on contemporary world makeup. It is what abarbanel did, and many other rabbinic figures did.

Thanks for the link to the pesikta. It does indeed bring it earlier, but I would not be so quick to eap all the way to 2000 years ago. Just because many of the Persian statements were stated by Amoraim living under the influence of the persian empire at that time doesn't mean that all are such. Once the pesukim and the gemara is in place, any later source may make use of it. Instead, I would see that the earlier pesikta (earlier than rabbati) doesn't mention it, plus the melech aravi would date it to some time around or after the Muslim conquest, when there was an actual arabic empire to deal with.

I disagree that the Midrash can be authoritative and reapplied. More importantly, rabbi Yitzchak would be shouting from the rooftops that it should not be authoritative and reapplied! Because taken out of contemporary context, Persia as Iran is not at all the same. This wasn't rabbi Yitzchak's intent, and he might well interpret the underlying pesukim differently on a different world stage. After all the prophecy belongs to yeshaya and it is the interpretation based on contemporary reality rabbi Yitzchak is doing. So either wait for a world stage which is actually close enough or say that this Midrashic interpretation turned out to be an inaccurate assessment and turn to another.

yaak said...

Let's say Ribbi Yitzhak was a Tanna. After all, the fact that he's called "Ribbi" Yitzhak implies Tannaic or early Amoraic indentification. Would you still consider this Midrash unauthoritative?

"wait for a world stage which is actually close enough"

My Josh! How much closer can it get?

joshwaxman said...

Or Amora from eretz yisrael, but later. Or a non Amora, but a contemporary to pesikta rabbati, who was a rabbi. Or a copy from a source assumed to be composed entirely by a rabbi Yitzchak (much like some attributions to rabbi Tanchuma).

The world stage is bad, but that is not the same as "close enough" to the world stage as described by this Midrash. I am talking about who the major powers are today and whether they correspond to the major powers described in the Midrash. Meaning that when this was written there was a Persian empire which could engage in worldwide imperial conquest. Think of major empires, of the Soviet Union, and imagine it were centralized in Iran.

Don't take my words out of context and miscast them into an assertion that I don't think that the situation in the world is somewhat serious and dire.

In other words, if the situation matches and the Midrash can mean the same thing, fire away. But don't stretch the Midrash to mean something it never intended and likely doesn't correspond to the underlying analysis of the underlying pesukim and sources.

yaak said...

"Or a non Amora, but a contemporary to pesikta rabbati, who was a rabbi."

The Geonim were called "Rav" - not "Ribbi".

Iran IS engaging in imperial conquest. It has its tentacles in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen - and it's only expanding. With a bomb, it will be worse than the Soviets since MAD won't make a difference to them.

I never said or meant that you don't consider the situation dire. I do hope you'd agree that the situation matches pretty well, though, with the Midrash. There is no prooftext associated with this Midrash, so I'm not sure why it needs to match any verse in Yeshaya, despite the Yalkut being on Yeshaya.

joshwaxman said...

But Iran is not an empire. It is not malchut paras in that sense. And aravi is meant ( so I argue) to by an arabic empire, rather than a randomly assigned Saudi arabia because the name happens to match.

There is no proof text, but it is built on existing rabbinic literature and pesukim such that it must work in this framework in order to be true to the intent of the author.

joshwaxman said...

Meanwhile, while there are a number of explanations for rabbi (what I wrote, plus individual writing style or expansion of resh into rabbi rather than rav), the reference to melech aravi is much more telling imho. As I wrote above, it makes a lot more sense once there is an Arab empire, to contend with a roman and Persian empire

Real Breslov said...

EXTREMELY interesting discussion. Didn't Saudi Arabia form a united Arab coalition to take action in Yemen? I don't see how ascribing SA for "aravi" is really incorrect if we're applying this Midrash to today's world scenario.

I tend to believe we are getting down to the end and that the nations in play here are very likely those mentioned in the Midrash. It is better to be ready than not, and as R' Nahman stated, it is better to believe in everything, even foolish ideas along with the truth, than it is to be highly critical and believe very little and perhaps completely miss out on the truth.

Dovid Mark said...

Josh, as always you are way too focused on looking at it through an academic lens instead of a Jewish one. Midrashim as we have them are often copies of far older traditions. Many of them were passed down from the time of prophecy. Midrashim across the board are not fixed to the historical parts they are written about, but rather use correlative archetypes to build a universalist and timeless vantage point. It seems self evident that this midrash has the potential to play out in every generation as many do. The Lubavitcher Rebbe saw it that way. Will this midrash occur now? I am not a prophet, but the world events that it describes certainly seem to be building that way.

joshwaxman said...

I wouldn't say "academic" here, though I would not regard this as pejorative.

I do think that it pays to see sources in the context in which they were written. I also think that many rabbis said things which were wrong through the ages, and that those which were embedded in works labelled "Midrash" rather than being associated with the specific author have been unfairly attributed then to "chazal" even when they are not.

I also see that when you bring your eyes out of focus, many things seem to match that really don't. And I have seen, hundreds of times in the past years, people quoting midrashim out of context and misapplying them. Standing up for what the Midrashic author actually meant and against the deliberate or ignorant misinterpretations (we can argue about this one, but this is so in general) shouldn't be solely an "academic" approach.

I meanwhile disagree that the "jewish" perspective is that this Midrash self evidently can lay out in every generation, even where it is not applicable.

joshwaxman said...

just a taste of how this is a perversion of the midrash, and the midrashist's intent:

when this midrash was written, do you think Edom and Aravi were regarded as the good guys or the bad guys? Edom / Rome are historically the bad guys, and if I am right that this was written shortly after the Muslim Conquest, so was Aravi regarded as oppressors.

The idea of this midrash is that all the bad guy empires would wipe each other out, and that כל מה שעשיתי לא עשיתי אלא בשבילכם, in order to wipe out all subjugation prior to the redemption. And this is a wonderful result.

Are you really ready to cast the Malchus sel chesed, the USA, in that evil empire role, such that it is a wondrous thing that they get obliterated by a nuclear weapon?

Ed said...

Rabbi Waxman:

I appreciate your distate for people force feeding midrashim to fit current events in an effort to predict the imminent arrival of Mashiach. But your attempt to discount this particular midrash is unpersuasive. The implicit premise of your argument is that this midrash reflected the world in Rabbi Yitzchak's time, and, therefore, is nothing more than an incorrect prediction of Mashiach's arrival in the distant past with no predictive value for the future. That argument is badly flawed in two respects. First, you do not know who this Rabbi Yitzchak was or when he lived. Ergo, you have no way of establishing that circumstances similar to those posited in the midrash existed long ago. Second, even if such circumstances existed, that would not mean that similar circumstances could not arise again. History repeats. Indeed, Bereishis Rabbah (44:4) teaches that the war of the four kings against the five kings was reflective of the ultimate war before Mashiach.

There are certain points in history that are especially propitious for the coming of Mashiach. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh in Parashas Chukas writes that if Moshe would have performed the Os pt properly at Mei Merivah, that would have been the generation of Mashiach. Chazal teach that Hashem wanted to make Chizkiyahu the Mashiach but did not do so because the Jews did not say shirah after the downfall of Sancheirev. Shaul might have been the Mashiach if he had eradicated Amalek. Perhaps Bar Kochba could have been the Mashiach if he had done things differently. But the fact that Mashiach didn't come at any of these times doesn't mean that they weren't appropriate for his coming.

I am not predicting absolutely that this Midrash will come to fruition in our time. But the way things are going, it would be foolish to think that Iran destroying the world as we know it is not a real possibility. Iran is the Nazi regime of our time;the latest incarnation of Amalek. Indeed, they not only trumpet that the destruction of Israel is "nonnegotiable," they openly mock the Shoah. Interestingly, the names of its founder (Khomeini) and current Supreme Leader (Khameini) recall the name Haman. Moreover, it is widely reported that their ultimate goal is to bring their version of Mashiach--the so-called twelfth mahdi--even if it means their own destruction. There is no deterring a leadership that has no fear of death. The only peaceful solution is removal of that regime, which, unfortunately, does not seem to be a possibility. The fact that this regime has the support of the newly-belligerent Russia and the nuclear regime in North Korea makes things even more troubling.

It's no stretch to view "Melech Paras" as Iran, the leader of Shiite entities like Syria, much of Iraq, and much of Lebanon, "Melech Aravia" as Saudi Arabia, the leader of Sunni entities, and "Melech Edom" as the United States.
And the notion that the "Malchus Shel Chesed" of America would not be hit with a nuclear weapon elides that the United States is the only country in history that has used such weapons, has killed untold millions of innocent people in its wars, is the source of much of the perversion in the world, and may be in the process of double-crossing Israel with Iran. Furthermore, per the prophecies of Balaam and Ovadiah, the downfall of Edom is an essential element of the Messianic era. It's also worth nothing that the Persian Empire rebuilt the Beis HaMikdash, but was nevertheless destroyed by Alexander the Great shortly thereafter.


Ed said...

A further problem with your attempt to explain away this midrash as relating to some undefined time in the distant past. Until relatively recently, no nation had the power to "destroy the world," not Alexander, not Rome, not the Arabs. With its vast terrorist network of sympathizers throughout the world,Iran may well have that power.


Ed said...

A further problem with your attempt to explain away this midrash as relating to some undefined time in the distant past. Until relatively recently, no nation had the power to "destroy the world," not Alexander, not Rome, not the Arabs. With its vast terrorist network of sympathizers throughout the world,Iran may well have that power.


Anonymous said...

To Dovid Mark, I agree with almost everything you wrote besides the notion that the author is looking here through an academic lens, Rabbi Waxman you clearly have very little knowledge about the Yalkut Shimoni as well as the Pesikta Rabbasi, firstly the nusach you quote is wrong, see the academic edition of Pesikta Rabbasi ish shalom (printed also towards the end of tana dvei eliyahu shai lamora). Secondly it would do much good to read the hakdamah and mavo of the Yalkut Shimoni printed with footnotes by mosad harav look (as well as hamoer), I also recommend you read one of the introductions of the many academic versions of the Pesikta Rabbasi printed in the last 50 years, and my hope is eventually you will get the facts straight, I apologize time does not permit me to correct all your factual errors.

Anonymous said...

Additionally, the author doesn't address the fact that in those other plausible times, Israel did not exist to have a response that the Midrash says. It's a recent development that it once again belongs to the Jews.


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