Writing in Ha'aretz, Uzi Silber gives a good overview of the dozens of false and failed messiahs Jews had from the destruction of the First temple onward.
Here's what caught my eye:
Cyrus, Kooroosh in Persian, I believe, was thought by Jews to be the potential messiah, presumably because he allowed the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple.
Yet, Cyrus was not Jewish.
Another point Silber makes is the evolving Jewish idea of messiah:
The notion of a messiah, which means 'anointed', originally referred strictly to priests and kings. Following the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE the definition of a Messiah was expanded in Isaiah to mean 'savior', and was further developed after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE in Second Isaiah and Jeremiah into a sort of superhero who would lead us into a utopian era centered on a rebuilt Temple. Sitting by the rivers of Babylon, Ezekiel writes of a frightening pre-messianic 'End of Days' and a resurrection of the dead.
And we have gone from a messiah of flesh and blood who will physically redeem all Jews, fight literal wars to vanquish our enemies and then usher in an era of universal peace to a messiah who does these things only in the so-called mystical realm, where a synagogue building in Brooklyn is 'trasformed' in 'mystical' thought to the Third Temple itself.
But could the messiah have arrived right under our noses? A true messiah should be judged on accomplishment. If it was, our short list of candidates would consist of Herzl and Ben Gurion, two thoroughly unreligious Jews. They midwifed the Third Jewish Commonwealth into being, a startling achievement never to be approached by any would-be messiah, ever.
Silber then notes:
Some could argue with a degree of justification that messianic yearning has sustained the Jewish People during the long years of the Diaspora.
And perhaps it is so. Perhaps this political-religious idea born out of oppression and suffering has sustained us all these years.
But, as Silber also points out, it has caused many thousands of Jewish deaths and untold suffering as each of the dozens of messianic movements in our history erupted in flames.
Will our latest messianic movement do the same?
If history is any judge, it will.