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An Accidental Messiah

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Many Jews associate the idea of a messiah with Christianity. The truth is, the concept of a messiah is actually very Jewish. In fact, many people are unaware that in Jewish thought, there are two messiahs. One is known in rabbinic literature as Moshiach ben Yosef (Messiah son of Joseph) and the other as Moshiach ben David (Messiah son of David).
Each of these two Jewish messiahs has a distinct role to play in the final redemption of the Jewish people. Moshiach ben Yosef is understood to be the first of the two and is primarily responsible for the preparatory tasks of the final redemption, such as gathering the Jewish people from all four corners of the earth, leading them to Israel and vanquishing the enemies of Israel in battle. Moshiach ben David is generally thought of as the later appearing Jewish messiah. He has a more metaphysical role, including ruling over a redeemed world.

Dan Sofer doesn’t mention this distinction in his newest fantasy fiction novel called An Accidental Messiah. Like the first book in the planned series, An Accidental Messiah, is set in modern-day Israel. In the first book, An Unexpected Afterlife, the main character, Moshe Karlin, wakes up in the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, two years after he died.
The themes that were introduced in An Unexpected Afterlife, particularly the tensions that arise in present day Israel as a result of previously dead people coming back to life, are explored in greater detail in An Accidental Messiah. In Jewish mystical tradition, this process of the revival of the dead is called techiyat hameitim. It’s a real thing, although it is traditionally expected to be a late stage of redemption, not the first one, as it appears in Sofer’s novels.
An Accidental Messiah picks up where An Unexpected Afterlife left off. The main characters of the first novel reappear and their stories are fleshed out. New characters are introduced. Sofer structured An Accidental Messiah as a light mystery. Nearly every chapter ends with a cliffhanger or an unanswered question. Chapters alternate among multiple storylines.
One of several subplots includes a quest to identify the identity of the messiah by Rabbi Yosef Lev, who uses surprisingly familiar technology to conduct his search. “He opened his laptop on Moshe’s desk and loaded the spreadsheet he had created. The first worksheet contained a list of names he had gleaned from the Talmud and Midrash. He connected to the Internet, browsed to the Bezeq Online Directory, and searched for the first name on the spreadsheet: Menachem. A blue ball traced circle on the screen while he waited.”
In addition to fictional characters, real historical figures such as Theodor Herzl, the 19th century founder of modern political Zionism and the 12th century rabbinic sage known as Maimonides make appearances in the novel. Readers familiar with modern Israel, especially with Jerusalem, will recognize many authentic landmarks and details, such as the names of contemporary car models and actual restaurants, which Sofer sprinkles throughout his novel.
Even more than the first book, An Accidental Messiah ends with many questions and story lines unresolved. Sofer weaves in some Jewish knowledge, like the phenomenon of false messiahs throughout Jewish history. Nevertheless, the reader is cautioned not to depend on this novel to accurately represent the traditional Jewish perspective on the messianic process.
Keeping that caution in mind, An Accidental Messiah is a fun read, if you don’t mind the slight tension Sofer introduces or the unresolved story lines with which you are left as you close the back cover. A Premature Apocalypse, Book III of the series, is scheduled for publication in 2018.
An Accidental Messiah releases on October 24, 2017 and is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Book Depository.
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