ANTICHRIST, Gr. ʾΑντιχριστος, a term first occurring in the Johannine epistles in the New Testament (I John 2:18, 22; 4:3; II John 7). It refers to an eschatological figure, the opponent of God, the pseudo-messiah who will be revealed at the end of days as the great enemy of Jesus. According to II Thessalonians 2:2–4 the second coming will be preceded by apostasy, and the "man of lawlessness" will be revealed, the "son of perdition" so evil that "he shall sit in the Temple of God, showing himself to be God." Perhaps this figure too is to be identified with Antichrist, and he is destroyed by "the breath of the Messiah's mouth" (cf. Isa. 11:4, Targ. ibid., and many other places in Jewish writings).
The background to this figure lies in Jewish eschatology, where the ideas of the wicked king of the last generation and of the rise of evil to the highest point preceding salvation are found at an early period (cf. Ezek. 28:2; Dan. 7:24–25; 11:36; cf. 9:27). Another form of the same idea can be found in the eschatological battle in which the forces of evil and their leader are finally to be overcome (QM xviii:1; 1QS iv:18–19; Test. Patr., Levi 3:3, et al.). Peculiar to the Christian form of this tradition in which the term Antichrist developed is the anti-messianic aspect of the figure. Thus, in a later Christian apocalypse he is described in the following terms: "His knees are unbending, he is crippled in his eyes, with wide eyebrows, crooked [sickle] fingered, with a pointed head, gracious, boastful, wise, sweet in laughter, visionary, clever, sober, gentle, mild, worker of signs, bringing close to him the souls of the corrupt, bringing forth bread from stones, [making] the blind to see, the lame to walk, he will move mountains from place to place…" (Seventh Vision of Daniel, ed. Z. Kalemkian, 1892, pp. 25 ff.). The description of his ugly physical appearance is similar to those found in other Christian apocalypses, such as Testamentum Domini, the Greek Esdras Apocalypse and others. But in the Daniel Apocalypse quoted, certain of the characteristics of Antichrist are directly inspired by those of the Christ. Descriptions of the physical form of this figure also occur in later Jewish apocalypses such as Sefer Zerubbavel (ed. Ibn Shemu'el, 79 ff.), there ascribed to *Armilus.
Another element which entered into this complex of ideas is that of Nero redivivus. Here the eschatological wicked ruler took on the characteristics of the Roman emperor who represented the very epitome of all conceivable evil. The idea of *Nero's eschatological reappearance developed and is to be found in the Sibylline Oracles (e.g., 4:119–39) which constitute the most extensive early source for this idea. In this book the demonization of the Nero figure is complete (5:361–70) and it is very clear further (5:28–34), where of his return it says (33f.): "Then he shall return, making himself equal to God, but [God] shall convince him that he is not." The same concept is also to be found in Revelation 13:17. There, too, the antidivine arises in the form of a dragon, the "primordial serpent called Satan" (12:9), and of two beasts, one of which is generally associated with Nero (13:17–18). The Church Fathers also speculated about Antichrist, but their interest was more in his theological aspects than in the mythical features dear to the apocalyptic writers. So, for example, both Irenaeus in his treatise Adversus haereses and Hippolytus in his "On Christ and Antichrist" and his fragmentary commentary on Daniel reflect this interest and for them II Thessalonians 2:2–4 is most important. The later developments of this legend are
In the Antichrist figure of Christianity, therefore, elements of Jewish thought were given particular formulations as they crystallized. The idea of the rise of evil to its height before the coming of salvation, the embodiment of this evil in the eschatological king (cf. Test. Patr., Dan. 11:36, 37; Ass. Mos. 8), the overweening pride and blasphemy of the figure (Test. Patr., Dan. 7:11, 20; II Thess. 2:2–4, etc.), all these are old Jewish motifs. Their combination in the figure of the wonder-working pseudo-messiah or Antichrist is apparently a Christian development, and one which, in turn, may have influenced later Jewish ideas. It is clearly possible that this Christian formulation, which often bears distinct anti-Jewish traits, grew in part from the reaction of Christianity to continuing Jewish messianic hopes. It might be added that Jewish tradition about this eschatological figure may have been more highly developed and earlier than is generally recognized, as the primarily Jewish material in the fragmentary Coptic Elijah apocalypse indicates.
Boehmer, in: Jahrbuecher fuer deutsche Theologie, 4 (1859), 405–67; W. Bousset, The Antichrist Legend (1896); L. Ginzberg, in: JE, 1 (1901), 625–7, S.V. (contains bibliography); J. Kaufmann, in: EJ, 2 (1928), 906–10, S.V. (contains bibliography); B. Rigaux, L'antéchrist et l'opposition au royaume messianique (1932); D. Flusser, in: EH, 4 (1952), 466–9, S.V. (contains bibliography).
[Michael E. Stone]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.