Notes from Limmud 2007
Would the Real Messiah Please Stand Up?
Rabbi Joel Zeff
[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed.]
The issue of validating a messianic claim is an important one: consider Shabbetai Tsevi, Jesus of Nazareth, Bar Kochba, Jacob Frank, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, etc, etc, etc.
How does the Tenach describe the Messiah? The Torah has very little to say about the Messiah, but Jewish tradition points to two sources.
Deuteronomy 30:3-30:5 דברים ל ג־דברים ל ה That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. ושב ה׳ אלהיך את שבותך ורחמך ושב וקבצך מכל העמים אשר הפיצך ה׳ אלהיך שמה׃ אם יהיה נדחך בקצה השמים משם יקבצך ה׳ אלהיך ומשם יקחך׃ והביאך ה׳ אלהיך אל הארץ אשר ירשו אבתיך וירשתה והיטבך והרבך מאבתיך׃
If this is a reference to the Messiah, where's the Messiah? It's a reference to the Messianic era. It's describing an ingathering of the exiles and prosperity, but we've had this before without the Messiah! Consider the last phrase. The Jerusalem Talmud makes the following suggestion:
He will make you more prosperous... than your fathers. Your forefathers, though they were redeemed, were again enslaved. But you, once you will be redeemed, you will never again be enslaved. והרבך מאבתיך׃ אבותיך אע״פ שנגאלו חזרו ונשתאעבדו, ואתם מכיון שתגאלו שוב אינכם משתאבדים׃
Hence, an unprecedented period of redemption.
The only other statement considered to be about the Messiah in the Torah is uttered by a non-Jewish prophet: Balaam.
Numbers 24:17 במדבר כד יז I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. אראנו ולא עתה אשורנו ולא קרוב דרך כוכב מיעקב וקם שבט מישראל ומחץ פאתי מואב וקרקר כל בני שת׃
Clearly Balaam is referring to something in the distant future. The Star out of Jacob is a Jewish leader. This may or may not refer to the Messiah taken at face value. The Jerusalem Talmud (תענית ב ה [or possibly ה ד]) says:
R. Shimon bar Yoḥai taught: R. Akiva interpreted A star [kochav] rises from Jacob as Kozba came forth out of Jacob. When R. Akiva saw Ben Kozba, he said: This is the King Messiah. תני ר׳ שמעון בן יוחי עקיבה ר׳ היה דורש דרך כוכב מיעקב דרך כוזבא מיעקב ר׳ עקיבה כד הוה חמי בר כוזבה הוה אמר דין הוא מלכא משיחא׃
He was identifying בר כוזבה as כוכבה—a star. The Bar Kochba revolt was initially so successful the Roman Empire had to bring troops all the way from Britain, two thousand miles away, to crush it.
The problem is nobody knows exactly what Bar Kochba's name was. The Talmud calls him Bar Kuzba, the Great Disappointment. There's an Arab village near Gush Etzion with a similar name, and he came from there. Or possibly he was really Bar Kochba but referred to as Bar Kuzba because the revolt failed. Or maybe he really was called Bar Kuzba but R. Akiva called him Bar Kochba to play on this verse.
Now, R. Akiva—one of the greatest sages ever—must have had some reason to identify him as the Messiah. What criteria did he have?
Before we come to this, a brief sampling of the many lines referring to the Messiah in the later Bible.
Micah 3:12-4:8 מיכה ג יב־מיכה ד ח Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest. But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it. For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever. In that day, saith the LORD, will I assemble the lame [sheep] and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted; And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the LORD shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever. And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem. לכן בגללכם ציון שדה תחרש וירושלם עיין תהיה והר הבית לבמות יער׃
והיה באחרית הימים יהיה הר בית ה׳ נכון בראש ההרים ונשא הוא מגבעות ונהרו עליו עמים׃ והלכו גוים רבים ואמרו לכו ונעלה אל הר ה׳ ואל בית אלהי יעקב ויורנו מדרכיו ונלכה בארחתיו כי מציון תצא תורה ודבר ה׳ מירושלם׃ ושפט בין עמים רבים והוכיח לגוים עצמים עד רחוק וכתתו חרבתיהם לאתים וחניתתיהם למזמרות לא ישאו גוי אל גוי חרב ולא ילמדון עוד מלחמה׃ וישבו איש תחת גפנו ותחת תאנתו ואין מחריד כי פי ה׳ צבאות דבר׃ כי כל העמים ילכו איש בשם אלהיו ואנחנו נלך בשם ה׳ אלהינו לעולם ועד׃
ביום ההוא נאם ה׳ אספה הצלעה והנדחה אקבצה ואשר הרעתי׃ ושמתי את הצלעה לשארית והנהלאה לגוי עצום ומלך ה׳ עליהם בהר ציון מעתה ועד עולם׃
ואתה מגדל עדר עפל בת ציון עדיך תאתה ובאה הממשלה הראשנה ממלכת לבת ירושלם׃
Here we see the idea that in the Messianic era, the nations shall turn to G-d, and peace shall be brought; that the Jewish monarchy shall return.
Jeremiah 30:7-30:9 ירמיהו ל ז־ירמיהו ל ט Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it. For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him: But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them. הוי כי גדול היום ההוא מאין כמהו ועת צרה היא ליעקב וממנה יושע׃ והיה ביום ההוא נאם ה׳ צבאות אשבר עלו מעל צוארך ומוסרותיך אנתק ולא יעבדו בו עוד זרים׃ ועבדו את ה׳ אלהיהם ואת דוד מלכם אשר אקים להם׃
Here that monarchy is identified as Davidic. And just in case you thought the above referred to David himself:
Isaiah 16:5 ישעיהו טז ה And in mercy shall the throne be established: and he shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness. והוכן בחסד כסא וישב עליו באמת באהל דוד שפט ודרש משפט ומהר צדק׃
There's an interesting notion firmly rooted in rabbinic tradition, that there may be more than one Messiah: Moshiach ben David, but also Moshiach ben Joseph [quotation unattributed in the handout]:
By Your light do we see light [Ps. 36:10] What is the light that Israel awaits? It is the light of the Messiah, as it is said And G-d saw the light, that it was good, and G-d separated the light from the darkness [Gen 1:4].* This teaches that G-d foresaw the generation of Messiah and his deeds before the world was created and hid it for the Messiah and his generation under His throne of glory.
Satan said before G-d, Master of the Universe, for whom is the light hidden under Your throne of glory? He said to him, It is for he that is a destined to turn you away in shame. He said to Him, Show me him. He said to him, Come and see him. When he saw him, he was frightened and collapsed saying, This is certainly the messiah who is destined to cast me and all the princes of the nations into Gehinnom.
At that time the nations of the world were stirred and said to Him, Master of the Universe, Who is this that we are destined to fall into his hand, and what is his name and nature? G-d said to them, Ephraim, My Righteous Messiah, is his name. He will be of exalted stature and he will exalt the stature of his generation. He will enlighten the eyes of Israel and save his nation. No nation will be able to stand against him and all his enemies will flee from before him. Even rivers will be stopped by his right hand.†
* But the Sun was only created on the fourth day. So what was this first light? Answer: the light of the Messiah.
† Like Joshua stopping the Jordan. He's the right tribe. He symbolises, as does Moshiach ben Yoseph, the concept of the warrior messiah.
Since Ephraim is the son of Joseph, this is referring to Moshiach ben Yoseph. It's interesting that Joseph is associated with the warrior messiah. If you look at Joseph in the Bible and in Midrash, you'd associate Shimon or Levi with being a warrior; Joseph is portrayed as being an effeminate personality, whom the Midrash describes as spending a lot of time in the mirror combing his hair, and walking with a provocative gait.
So, why Joseph? Joseph starts out as a not very lovable personality, but he undergoes a dramatic transformation. This transformation starts with his encounter with the wife of Potiphar. The Midrash does not describe him as Joseph the innocent victim, but completely in on it. In his first encounter eith her, וימאן, he refuses, but the note on it is the שלשלת, hesitating, going up and down the scale three times. So the kind of heroism Joseph shows is moral: an internal hero. As Ethics of the Fathers puts it, "Who is a hero? Someone who is able to conquer themselves."
Let's go back to R. Akiva identifying Bar Kochba as Messiah. The following passage, also from the Jerusalem Talmud, deals with the downfall of the Bar Kochba rebellion. (There seems to be a fundamental dispute between the two Talmuds as to how we interpret the Messiah.)
R. Akiva would say, A star rises from Jacob. Koziva rises from Jacob, this is the King Messiah. R. Yonatan ben Torta said, Akiva, grass will rise from your cheekbones and yet the son of David will not yet have come.
R. Yoḥanan said, Eighty thousand trumpet blowers besieged Betar and Ben Koziva was there. He had 200,000 trooops whose fingers had been chopped off. The Sages sent to him, Till when will you make Israel blemished?* He said to them, How will they be tested? They said to him, Anyone who cannot uproot a cedar of Lebanon while riding on a horse shall not be enlisted in your battalion. He had 200,000 like this and 200,000 like that.
Hadrian would send against them legions and they would go out and kill them. They said, There will be no remedy until we bring the crown of Hadrian and place it on [Bar Kochba's] head and make him king. Once when they went out to war an old man chanced upon them and said to them, May the Lord be at your aid. Their mouths caused them to stumble and they said to him, Let him neither help nor discourage,† "But you have rejected us, O G-d; G-d, You did not march withour armies" [Ps. 60:12].
For three and a half years Hadrian encircled Betar. R. Eleazar haModai was there fasting, in sackcloth. Everyday he would pray, Master of the Universe, do not sit in judgement today!‡ Finally, Hadrian decided to retreat. A Samaritan came and set to him, My lord, As long as this hen** rolls in the ashes, you will not conquer it. Delay for me, and I will arrange it that you will conquer it today. He immediately entered into the gate of Betar and found R. Eleazar standing and praying. He posed as if he were whispering into the ear of R. Eleazar. They went and told Ben Koziva, Your uncle, R. Eleazar, is attempting to give over the city to Hadrian.†† He sent and had the Samaritan brought to him. He said to him, What did you say to R. Eleazar and what did he say to you? The Samaritan answered, If I were to tell you, the Emperor will kill me and if I don't tell you, you will kill me. It is better for me to kill myself and not reveal state secrets. Ben Koziva thought that R. Eleazar was attempting to give over the city. He had R. Eleazar brought to him. He said to him, What did that Samaritan say to you? He answered, I don't know what he said to me. I was engaged in prayer and didn't hear anything. And what did you say to him? R. Eleazar answered, Nothing. Ben Koziva became angry, kicking him once and killing him.‡‡ A voice rang out and said, "Oh the worthless shepherd who abandons the flock! Let a sword descent upon his arm and upon his right eye!" [Zechariah 11:17] It said to him, You shattered the arm of Israel and blinded their right eye, therefore, "His arm shall shrivel up; his right eye shall be blind." [Zechariah 11:17] Immediately the sins brought about the capture of Betar and Ben Koziva was killed.
* Bar Kochba only wanted real men in his army. And to prove that, you had to chop off a finger. But the rabbis don't like that because we don't own our bodies, we only rent them. Self-mutilation is not like in Jewish law. The Talmudic tradition is saying Bar Kochba's an arrogant meshuginne!
† I.e. we can manage without G-d's help!
‡ I.e. but for this, they would have lost!
** I.e. R. Eleazar haModai.
†† Why would people have thought that? The destruction of Jerusalem was still fresh at this time in people's minds. R. Yoḥanan ben Zakkai did do exactly that! The people are identifying with Zealots, and see rabbis as collaborators!
‡ This is a Greek tragedy—the heroic character is brought down by hubris!
Now, let's turn to the Rambam [Mishne Torah]. His understanding of this whole issue is largely influenced by the Jerusalem Talmud's account of the defeat at Betar, not the Babylonian Talmud's.
You should not consider that the King Messiah must perform wonders, cause novel events, or resurrect the dead or the like.* The matter is not like that, for R. Akiva was a great sage from among the sages of the Mishna, and he was a supporter of Ben Koziba the King, and he claimed that he was the Messiah, and he considered him, along with all the sages of his generation, to be the Messiah, until he was killed through sin. Once he was killed, it became known to them that he wasn't. Yet the sages never asked of him a sign or wonder. For the fundamental matter is as follows: the Torah, its laws and statues, are for eternity, there will not be added to them nor subtracted from them. ואל יעלה על דעתך שהמלך המשיח צריך לעשות אותות ומופתים ומחדש דברים בעולם או מחיה מתים וכיוצא בדברים אלו, אין הדבר כך, שהרי רבי עקיבא חכם גדול מחכמי משנה היה, והוא היה נושא כליו של בן כוזיבא המלך, והוא היה אומר עליו שהוא המלך המשיח, ודימה הוא וכל חכמי דורו שהוא המלך המשיח, עד שנהרג בעונות, כיון שנהרג נודע להם שאינו, ולא שאלו ממנו חכמים לא אות ולא מופת. ועיקר הדברים ככה הן, שהתורה הזאת אין חוקיה ומשפטיה משתנים לעולם ולעולמי עולמים ואין מוסיפין עליהן ולא גורעין מהם׃
According to the Rambam, R. Akiva represented the consensus of opinion of the sages of his era.
* Contmeporaries of the Rambam thought he was saying he didn't believe in the resurrection of the dead. Rather, he was saying because there's no hint of the supernatural in the story of the destruction of Betar, and the downfall of the result was the lack of Divine providence through sin; you should not look for the supernatural to identify the Messiah. So what do you do?
The Rambam's older contemporary, R. Abraham ben David (the Raavad, 1120–1197), of Provence, wrote critical notes on the Rambam's Mishne Torah. These are normally printed in the text in microscopic Rashi script [on account of which I'm not sure I've transcribed all words correctly]:
But didn't Ben Koziva say that he was the King Messiah and the sages tested him to see if he could smell and judge and when he could not, they killed him!? ואל יעלה על דעתך וכו׳׃ א״א והלא בן כוזיבא היה אומר אנא הוא מלכא משיחא ושלחו חכמים לבדקו אי מורח ודאין או לא וכיון דלא מניד הכי קטלוהו׃
What is this a reference to? The Raavad is going by the quite different Babylonian Talmud's account:
Sanhedrin 93b סנהדרין צג ב Concerning the Messiah, it is written, "The spirit of the Lord shall alight upon him: a spirit of wisdom and insight, a spirit of counsel and valour, a spirit of devotion and reverence for the Lord. He shall sense [smell, והריחו] the truth by his reverence for the Lord." [Isaiah 11:2-3] R. Alexandri said: This teaches that he shall bear the commandments and affliction as a millstone. [ריחיים] Rava said, He smells [מורח] and judges. As it is written there, "He shall not judge by what his eyes behold, nor decide by what his ears perceive, thus he shall judge the poor with equity and decide for the lowly of the land." Baz Koziva reigned for two and a half years. He said to the Sages, I am the Messiah. They said to him, Concerning the Messiah it is written that he smells and judges. Let us see if he smells and judges. Once they saw that he couldn't smell and judge they killed him. משיח דכתיב ונחה עליו רוח ה׳ רוח חכמה ובינה רוח עצה וגבורה רוח דעת ויראת ה׳ וגו׳ וכתיב והריחו ביראת ה׳ אמר רבי אלכסנדרי מלמד שהטעינו מצות ויסורין כריחיים רבא אמר דמורח ודאין דכתיב ולא למראה עיניו ישפוט ושפט בצדק דלים והוכיח במישור לענוי ארץ בר כוזיבא מלך תרתין שנין ופלגא אמר להו לרבנן אנא משיח אמרו ליה במשיח כתיב דמורח ודאין נחזי אנן אי מורח ודאין כיון דחזיוהו דלא מורח ודאין קטלוהו
Here he claimed to be the Messiah, and was found wanting! Hence here if someone claims to be the Messiah, we expect, in order to validate his claim, that he can perform miracles and wonders.
The Rambam goes on to say:
If there arise a king from the House of David who meditates on the Torah, occupies himself with the commandments, as did his ancestor David, observes the precepts prescribed in the Written and Oral Law, prevails upon Israel to walk in the way of the Torah and to repair its breaches, and fights the battles of the Lord, it may be assumed that he is the Messiah. If he does these things and succeeds, rebuilts the santuary on its site, and gathers the dispersed of Israel, he is beyond all doubt the Messiah. He will prepare the whole world to serve the Lord with one accord, as it is written: For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name o the Lord to serve Him with one consent [Zeph. 3:9] ואם יעמוד מלך מבית דוד, הוגה בתורה ועוסק במצוות כדוד אביו, כפי תורה שבכתב ושבעל פה, ויכוף בה כל ישראל לילך בה ולחזק בדקה, וילחם מלחמות ה׳—הרי זה בחזקת שהוא משיח. אם עשה והצליח, ונצח כל האומות שסביביו, ובנה מקדש במקומו וקבץ נדחי ישראל—הרי זה משיח בוודאי, (ויתקן את העולם כולו לעבוד את ה׳ ביחד, שנאמר: "כי אז אהפוך אל עמים שפה ברורה לקרוא כולם בשם ה׳ ולעבדו שכם אחד")׃
Note that there is a two-stage process of recognition as Messiah here: assumption of being Messiah, חֶזְקַת מָשִׁיחַ, and the certainty of recognition, מָשִׁיחַ בְּוַדַּאי. (The criteria are from the various prophecies referred to above.) What the Rambam is doing here is asking how R. Akiva could make such an error as to recognise Bar Kochba as the Messiah. Bar Kochba was under the presumption of being Messiah, but because he was killed before completing the Messianic to-do list, he could not then have been the Messiah.
The text continues, as follows, though it's absent from any traditional edition of the Mishne Torah: The following paragraphs are preserved in old MSS from Arab countries. They don't appear in the versions of Christian lands: the text has been censored.
And if he does not succeed or is killed, then it will be known that this is not the one of whom the Torah has assured us, rather he is like all the kings of the house of David who were whole and fit but died. G-d has established his in order to test the multitudes, as it is is said, "Some of the knowledgeable will fall, that they may be refined and purged and whitened until the time of the end, for an interval still remains until the appointed time." [Dan. 11:35]
Even Jesus of Nazareth, who imagined that he would be the messiah and was killed by the court,* Daniel had already prophesied concerning him, as it is said, "the lawless sons of your people will assert themselves to confirm the vision, but they will fail." [Dan. 11:14] Is there any greater failure than this? For all the prophets spoke that the messiah will redeem Israel and save them, and gather in their outcasts and strengthen their observance of the commandments, but this one caused the destruction of Israel by the sword, the dispersal of their remnant and their downfall and the exchange of the Torah and the leading into error of most of the world, to worship a god other than the Lord.†
ואם לא הצליח עד כה, או נהרג, בידוע שאינו זה שהבטיחה עליו תורה, והרי הוא ככל מלכי בית דוד השלמים הכשרים שמתו. ולא העמידו הקדוש ברוך הוא אלא לנסות בו רבים, שנאמר: "ומן המשכילים יכשלו לצרוף בהם ולברר וללבן עד עת קץ כי עוד למועד" (דניאל יא, לה).
אף ישוע הנצרי, שדמה שיהיה משיח ונהרג בבית דין, כבר נתנבא בו דניאל, שנאמר: "ובני פריצי עמך ינשאו להעמיד חזון ונכשלו" (דניאל יא,יד). וכי יש מכשול גדול מזה? שכל הנביאים דיברו שמשיח גואל ישראל ומושיעם ומקבץ נדחיהם ומחזק מצוָתן, וזה גרם לאבד ישראל בחרב, ולפזר שאריתם ולהשפילם, ולהחליף התורה, ולהטעות רוב העולם לעבוד אלוה מבלעדי ה׳.
* Now, for the last two thousand years Jews have been saying they didn't kill Jesus, the Romans did. But Maimonides thinks the Sanhedrin did!
† Jesus and Bar Kochba were not in the same category. Bar Kochba was a failed Messiah—but Jesus was the anti-Messiah; he achieved the exact opposite of the Messianic to-do list!
Having now offended the Christian world, the Rambam now goes on to offend the Muslim world, and modern Orthodox Judaism as well!
But man does not have the capacity to comprehend the thoughts of God, for our ways are not His ways and our thoughts are not His thoughts, and all these matters of Jesus of Nazareth and of that Ishmaelite who arose after him are solely in order to pave the path for the King Messiah and to prepare the entire world to worship the Lord together, as it is said, "For then I will make the peoples pure of speech, so that they all invoke the Lord by name and serve Him with one accord." [Zeph. 3:9]*
How so? The world has already been entirely filled with the concept of the messiah and the concept of the Torah, and the concept of the commandments, and these concepts have spread to far-away continents and to many nations of uncircumcised hearts. And they discuss these concepts and the commandments of the Torah, some saying that these commandments were true, but have become nullified now and were not operative forever, and some saying that there are hidden things in them and they are not to be understood in their simple meaning and the "messiah" has already come and revealed their mystery. When the true king messiah will arise, and will be successful and will be exalted, they will all repent and know that they have inherited lies from their forefathers, and that their "prophets" and ancestors led them astray.
אבל מחשבות בורא העולם—אין כוח באדם להשיגם, כי לא דרכינו דרכיו ולא מחשבותינו מחשבותיו. וכל הדברים האלו של ישוע הנצרי, ושל זה הישמעאלי שעמד אחריו, אינן אלא לישר דרך למלך המשיח, ולתקן העולם כולו לעבוד את ה׳ ביחד, שנאמר: "כי אז אהפוך אל עמים שפה ברורה לקרוא כולם בשם ה׳ לעבדו שכם אחד" (צפניה ג, ט).
כיצד? כבר נתמלא העולם מדברי המשיח ומדברי התורה ומדברי המצוות, ופשטו דברים אלו באיים רחוקים ובעמים רבים ערלי לב, והם נושאים ונותנים בדברים אלו ובמצוות התורה, אלו אומרים: מצוות אלו אמת היו, וכבר בטלו בזמן הזה ולא היו נוהגות לדורות, ואלו אומרים: דברים נסתרים יש בהן ואינן כפשוטן, וכבר בא משיח וגילה נסתריהם. וכשיעמוד המלך המשיח באמת, ויצליח וירום וינשא, מיד הם כולם חוזרים ויודעים ששקר נחלו אבותיהם, ושנביאיהם ואבותיהם הטעום:
* So apparently Jesus is the redemptive anti-Christ!
Hence Jesus and Muhammad are G-d's messengers in truth, in moving the planet forward, albeit in their misguided ways, away from pagan idolatry. There's a certain kind of tolerance, hence, in the Rambam's view. This could give a lesson today about tolerating movements of Judaism we don't agree with.
Maimonides was a supremely self-confident person. However,
Be that as it may, neither the exact sequence of those events nor the details thereof constitute religious dogmas. No one should ever occupy himself with the legendary themes or spend much time on midrashic statements bearing on this and like subjects. He should not deem them of prime importance, since they lead neither to the fear of G-d nor to the love of Him. Nor should one calculate the end. Said the Rabbis: Blasted be those who reckon out the end. (B. San. 97b) One should wait (for his coming) and accept in principle this article of faith, as we have stated before. ועל כל פנים אין סידור הווית דברים אלו ולא דקדוקיהם עיקר בדת, ולעולם לא יתעסק אדם בדברי ההגדות, ולא יאריך בעניינים אלו וכיוצא בהם, ולא ישימם עיקר, שאין מביאין לא לידי יראה ולא לידי אהבה. וכן לא יחשב הקצין. אמרו חכמים תיפח רוחם של מחשבי הקצים. אלא יחכה ויאמין בכלל הדבר, כמו שביארנו.
Hence the rabbinic tradition is confusing; the Tenach cryptic. We've got better things to do than try and interpret it.
If you thought the Rambam's conception of the Messiah was very naturalistic—no miracles required:
The Sages and Prophets did not long for the days of the Messiah that Israel might exercise dominion over the world, or rule over the heathens, or be exalted bt the nation, or that it might eat and rink and rejoice. Their aspiration was that Israel be free to devote itself to the Law and its wisdom, with no one to oppress or disturb it, and thus be worthy of life in the world to come.
In that era, there will be neither famine nor war, neither jealousy nor strife. Blessings will be abundant, comforts within the reach of all. The one preoccupation of the whole world will be to know the Lord. Hence Israelites will be very wise, they will know the things that are now concealed and will attain an understanding of their Creator to the urmost capacity of the human mind, as it is written: For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. (Isa. 11:9)
לא נתאוו החכמים והנביאים ימות המשיח לא כדי שישלטו על כל העולם, ולא כדי שירדו בגויים, ולא כדי שינשאו אותם העמים, ולא כדי לאכול ולשתות ולשמוח, אלא כדי שיהיו פנויים בתורה וחכמתה, ולא יהיה להם נוגש ומבטל, כדי שיזכו לחיי העולם הבא, כמו שביארנו בהלכות תשובה׃
ובאותו הזמן, לא יהיה שם לא רעב ולא מלחמה ולא קנאה ותחרות--שהטובה תהיה מושפעת הרבה, וכל המעדנים מצויין כעפר. ולא יהיה עסק כל העולם, אלא לדעת את ה׳ בלבד. ולפיכך יהיו חכמים גדולים, ויודעים דברים הסתומים העמוקים; וישיגו דעת בוראם כפי כוח האדם, שנאמר: כי מלאה הארץ, דעה את ה׳, כמים, לים מכסים׃
Or, to be slightly facetious, one long Limmud Conference. :o)