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MOLKHO, SOLOMON (ca. 1500-1532).

False Messiah. Born in Portugal and died in Mantua, Italy, Molkho was born Diego Pires to Christian parents who were Marranos, or secret Jews. When David Reubeni, considered a forerunner of the Messiah, came to Portugal, Diego fell completely under his spell. He gave up a government post and returned openly to Judaism. He had himself circumcised and renamed Solomon Molkho; then he left Portugal secretly and went to Salonika, Turkey. He studied the Kabbalah and was drawn to Safed, a Kabbalist center in the Holy Land. Influenced greatly by Joseph Karo and the Safed Kabbalists, Molkho predicted that the Messiah would come in 1540.

Molkho was deeply mystical and came to believe in his mission as a Messiah, winning many followers. Italy, seat of the Pope, seemed to him the place to begin his mission. He came to Ancona in 1529, where despite opposition from some Jewish leaders, he preached to admiring congregations. Disguised as a beggar, he went to Rome, managed to see Pope Clement VII, and prophesied that the Tiber would flood its banks and that an earthquake would shake Portugal while comets showered from the sky. On October 8, 1530, the Tiber actually overflowed and on January 26, 1531, Portugal was indeed shaken by an earthquake and a comet appeared in the sky. The Pope was impressed by this visionary and protected Molkho even when some of his writings were found offensive to Christianity. He was condemned to death by the Inquisition, but the Pope helped him escape. Molkho joined Reubeni in Venice and went with him to Ratisbon in 1532. Carrying a banner inscribed with initials of the Hebrew words, “Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the mighty,” they appeared before Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, to persuade him to call the Jews to arms against the Turks. The Emperor put them both in chains and had them sent to Italy. There, Molkho was immediately condemned by the Inquisition as a renegade from Catholicism and sentenced to burn at the stake. Molkho refused to return to the Church and died in the flames of an auto-da-fe. Charles V had Reubeni sent to Spain where he was turned over to the Inquisition. (See also Messianism.)

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