Belial, Antichrist, and Dajjal: Personification of Lawlessness in Abrahamic Eschatology; Signs to the Rightly Guided World
The destiny of mankind in the eschatological philosophy shared by the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is ordained to travail through apocalyptic tribulations and violent end of one existence to usher in a new one bereft of suffering and immorality adorned by peace and justice.
The eschatology of each of these traditions presents esoteric signs foreseeing a world no longer ruled by Godly virtues but rather oppressed by evil, ultimately redeemed and delivered through the dynamic leadership of a messiah whose weapon for destroying wickedness is Divine Law. Judaism and Christianity sustain a rich heritage of apocalyptic literature (both canonical and apocryphal) concomitant with messianic anticipation, Islam shares this tendency with its distinct yet familiar apocalyptic vision as well, preserved predominately via Hadith.
Salient motifs in the apocalyptic precepts of these traditions include various ‘signs’ that point to the approach of lawlessness and direct divine intervention. The signs of the ‘End of Days’ or ‘End Times’ reveal assurance that God’s people will be raised up from tyranny, oppression and ignorance into their ultimate purpose: to witness the triumph and glory of God’s law.
This paper will focus comparatively on two signs found predominately in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic eschatology associated with the approach of the fulfillment of human destiny: The initial sign of lawlessness, manifested by a world governed by abasement, ignorance, and injustice associated with a pseudo messiah symbolically known as Belial, Antichrist, and Dajjal respectively. The conclusive sign of the return and triumph of Divine Law succored by authentic messianic leadership known as the Moshiach, the Messiah and the Mahdi in their particular tradition will be discussed as well.
Key Terms: Eschatology, Apocalypse, Belial, Antichrist, Dajjal and Law
The concept of eschatology (doctrine of the last things) as found in the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam addresses the final destiny of the world - the initiation of Divine governance. Typically, each particular tradition focuses primarily on its role and responsibility with in the context of God’s final analysis and fulfillment of prophecy.
Therefore, while eschatology transpires as a shared or common philosophy, theological doctrines vary significantly not only from tradition to tradition but also with traditions themselves. The ideas presented in the paper may not reflect the views and beliefs of every adherent in their particular tradition, as no religion is monolithic in praxis or orthodoxy. The celebrated Jewish proverb regarding the coming of the Moshiach emphasizes the circumstantial ambiguity in Jewish messianic anticipation, “the Moshiach will come only to a generation which is altogether worthy or altogether unworthy”.
The impact of political crisis, psychological and physical violence, as well as religious oppression has sculpted eschatological concepts of Abrahamic tradition into individual forms that share foundational precepts. The Arabic idiom, "Every place is Karbala; every day is Ashura" underscores Islamic (particularly Shi’a) eschatological concepts; the struggle with oppression for the survival of the ideal way.
The intimate connection between Judaism and Christianity and their shared experience of state endorsed persecution, creates a unity in eschatological forms of overcoming injustice as well.
By examining textual sources for eschatological doctrines in context with historical crisis, we can discern the etiology of some of the mysterious symbols associated with all three eschatologies – in particular the signs or indicator of the status of divine law in the final stage of the world.
The Torah as God’s everlasting law represents the eternal soul of the Jewish people. In this light, Jewish eschatology concerns itself sequentially with the collective destiny of a Covenanted People and with the righteous communities of a covenanted world. The fate of the individual soul intertwines with the immortality of God’s purpose for mankind. The main thrust of Jewish eschatology propels expectation of greater things to come. YHVH’s (the One True God) assessment of His People and restoration of His Kingdom i.e., Law in a transformed rather than discarded world.
In Christian and Islamic eschatology, death interprets consciousness rather than terminating it; therefore, the emphasis of God’s analysis or judgment of the individual ergo life after death prevails as well as that of the communal destiny redeemed in the ambers of a destroyed wicked world. For the purposes of this year’s conference, this paper will focus on the relationship of signs for the community directed toward eschatological expectation.
Apocalyptic Tradition Source of Eschatological Information:
Each of the Abrahamic eschatological traditions anticipates the advent of dynamic guidance within the subtext of a troubled world dominated by a leader, leadership or system of ungodliness (indicating the lack of God’s presence in the world). The character of this wicked leadership represents the harbinger of the community ready for transformation. Each tradition manifests its greatest fears and perceptions of evil onto a unique archetype within the community – the adversary of the right path. The antagonist through guile and guise attempts to lead the world astray. Abrahamic tradition anticipates the ultimate defeat of the contender for leadership by the defender of God’s way, yet it is the destiny of man to aid the hero on God’s mission. Man’s duty is to root out the deceiver’s charade and remain steadfast to the laws of God. These traditions provide esoteric clues to the identity of the nature or character and timing of this charlatan associative with eschaton.
The metaphysical nature of religion in general and the concept of eschatology in particular find their greatest expression in an esoteric lexicon, which veils many concepts from merely one interpretation. However, their meanings are not maliciously hidden from us; rather they are often cloaked in poetic metaphor and mystery.
From a historiographical perspective, the intentional reliance upon ambiguous, allegorical references and cipher i.e. signs, particularly in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic prophecy and literature, suffices in part as self-censorship to protect the author from impunity for criticizing oppression. From the method of phenomenology, the ambiguity in eschatological language is derived in part from the fact that humanity cannot penetrate the veil of the unseen and its knowledge including the assigned hour or date when God will close this chapter of history. Qur’an says in Surah Yunus; 19, ‘The unseen is only for Allah to know. Then wait ye: I too will wait with you.” This facilitates God’s purpose for humankind; Messianic anticipation is as much about God waiting for us as the world waiting for its Messiah.
In Judaism and Christian, eschatological signs are believed to be encoded in apocalyptic literature as found in the Canonical Biblical Books of Isaiah, Daniel, Zechariah, Jeremiah, and Micah as well as the Book of Revelation. (Of these mentioned, the Book of Revelation belongs exclusively to Christian Canon.) In addition to the Biblical books, Judaism maintains extra-textual apocalyptic Pseudepigrapha works and within the text known as the Dead Sea Scrolls exists early Jewish apocalyptic writings as well.
The word Apocalypse denotes several connotations including the popular usage for a cataclysmic disaster/warfare as well as a genre of Judaic and Christian literature marked by the prominence of prophetic supernatural visions. Apocalypse comes from the Greek verb ποκάλυψις meaning to ‘reveal’ or literally lifting the veil. In the context of eschaton, the revelation or apocalypse pertains to future events. An Apocalypse in Jewish and Christian textual application purports to be a teleological disclosure of esoteric knowledge or a depiction of God’s will for the future.
The custom of eschatological visions was normative and expressed in many oral traditions of ancient peoples contemporary with the writers of Biblical apocalypse. Certain aspects of Jewish and Christian appear cognate with the fantastic imagery of Babylonian and Persian eschaton of the time suggesting influence. However, many ancient eschatological doctrines pessimistically saw the world as cyclic, unreformable. With emerging monotheism (primarily witnessed in proto-Zoroastrianism), a progressive worldview launched eschatology into a linear context, heralding man with the divinely ordained task of reforming the world in lieu of soteriological anticipation.
Perhaps invigorated by this budding optimism, Jewish apocalyptic tradition and by extension Christian displayed the intrinsic characteristic of God working through history to help humankind underscored by political motifs.
Jewish apocalyptic traditions flourished in the historical background of the exilic and post-exilic eras after the ‘gate of prophecy had been closed’. In this period, the Children of Israel remained under the domination of ‘foreign’ powers, subjugated to laws contradictory to their own in stark contrast to the Biblical Promises of pre-exilic Prophecy. Comparatively, the message or vehicle of prophecy conveyed primarily the necessity of immediate reformation and repentance while, the communication of an apocalypse rendered hope and reward in a much wider temporal scope, often by assessing the present despair through the guise of retelling the past and predicting the future.
Attendant with the summon for reform, Biblical prophecy issued the consequence or fate of divine insight ignored which in many senses achieved a putative quality of prophecy fulfilled; for example, the various defeats and eventual subjugation of the Biblical nation Israel represent the consequence or God’s judgment on the people for their infidelity to Him. In this perspective, the Children of Israel realized their prophesized transgressions and actualized judgment all the while awaiting the promised renewal. Apocalyptic literature of Judaism is the progeny of the unfulfilled prophecy of glory and redemption - a bridge between reality and promise. R. Bauckman (1980, p.74) elaborates,
In the extended period of contradiction between God's
promises and the reality of Israel's historical
experience, the apocalyptists sought to assure the
faithful that God had not abandoned his people, that
the promised salvation was coming. To this end they
stressed the divine sovereignty over history: God has
predetermined the whole course of world history and
the End will come at the time he has appointed.
Some of the characteristic traits of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature include Pseudonymity, the practice of disguising actual authorship, attributing it to eminent sages and prophets of the past as necessitated by the end of Jewish Prophecy and the inherent ‘historical’ quality of apocalyptic literature. Revelation through vision or dream born by an angel of future cataclysmic events in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and establishes His dominion.
Guise, veiling a present source of malevolent oppression and agitation as a future focus for God’s wrath (i.e. representation of The Empire of Babylon as a whore, the Empire of Rome as a beast). This is also achieved primarily through Symbolical mystical imagery, metaphoric language employed to describe persons, events and times in an effort to either obscure identity or enhance meaning through allegory. Examples include creatures and abominations described in grotesque features with distinctive markings (i.e. horns, numbers, and special eyes) as representational of evil. Apocalyptic literature relies on the thematic motif of God’s elect conquering or destroying the symbols of abomination. All of these characteristics bear the hallmark of messianic anticipation in the flux of religious/political oppression.
A diverse wealth of Jewish eschatological signs exists in the prevalence of works labeled apocryphal . Originally, the word apocryphal indicated ‘secret or esoteric’ writings, rejected for liturgical purposes . However, the connotation now implies texts outside of canon, which interject minimal dogmatic/theological value; but feed the far greater hunger for detail and extrapolation into the mysteries of religion. These works include the Books of Enoch, Noah, Elijah and other apocryphal books including The Ascension of Moses, The Testament of the XII Patriarchs, etc.
The preponderance of Apocalyptic literature both Canonical and Apocryphal in Judaism stems largely from the psychological effects of a people in Exile, in the case of Christianity; the oppression and martyrdom of members during the early days of the nascent religious movement. In such times of tension and crisis, many treasured apocryphal writings often preferring them to canonical books. Apocryphal books infused profound occult hope into the most pessimistic hours of monotheistic history. The darker life grew and the more desperate the political situation, the more eagerly many turned to find promises of the end to such strife and a brighter future.
This heightened level of tension figures less predominately in the clarification of Islamic Eschatology as a whole. Perhaps the Passion of Kabala correlates to a crisis so intense it generated a literary form to galvanize generations to come. Out of the pathos of Karbala emerged a poetic oral tradition sublimely expressing the struggle and suffering of the Shiite Imamate to preserve Islam. Reciting Marsiya (مرثیہ , an elegiac poem written to commemorate the martyrdom and valour of Imam Husayn and his comrades) to this day remains an important ritual in the remembrance of what Shi’a see as the supreme sacrifice made in guardianship of Islamic Deen ergo; divine law. Deep within the poetic ethos of Shi’a sacrifice foments a sentiment of anticipation for deliverance from the suffering. The Marsiya like the apocryphal books of Judaism and Christianity, extol Muslims to conceptualize the potential for liberation from oppression.
Within the tradition of Islam, the signs of the eschaton share some of the qualities found in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature, in particular the agency of angelic vehicle of revelation and dreams ( Hadith relates that the Prophet of Islam had dreams or visions of the Dajjal (Islamic antichrist)).
In Qur’an, there is the mysterious imagery of a powerful beast associative with punishing those who do not believe in the Way. Similarities also include prophesized cataclysmic events such as the atrocities of Yajuj and Majuj , as well as the destruction of evil, and to a lesser extent the use of guise, (Dajjal will disguise the truth until Hell resembles paradise and Paradise appears to be Hell). Like Judaism and Christianity, many signs abound in the Qu’ran, with extra textual references found in Hadith. Hadith, a corpus of traditions and wonts of the Prophet, flesh out details lacking in the Qur’an, much like the Oral Tradition of Judaism elucidates the Torah with details not incorporated in the scripture.