The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


III. Manasseh’s Exposition of Daniel 2; Illustrated by Rembrandt

[30] MANASSEH (MENASSEH) BEN ISRAEL (1604-1657), theologian, prolific writer, and statesman, was rabbi of the Jewish congregation at Amsterdam. For more than a century his ancestors had lived in Portugal as professing Christians. Manoel of Portugal reluctantly banished all Jews from his realm, except the Christianized Jews. In 1497, at the time of their Passover, Jewish children between four and fourteen were seized, and were to be baptized and brought up as Christians. 61 PFF2 232.2

The Marranos grew. Their success was phenomenal, until they virtually controlled the economic life of the country. They excelled as scholars, poets, explorers, jurists, professors, and physicians. But their Christianity was largely a mask. In the privacy of their own homes they practiced Judaism characteristically—observing the Sabbath, the Passover, and the Day of Atonement. In 1531 a papal bull established the Portuguese Inquisition, and in 1540 the first auto-da-fe 62 took place in Lisbon. This fundamentally altered the position of the Marranos. PFF2 232.3

At the close of the sixteenth century Holland cast off the Spanish Catholic yoke. The new toleration attracted many, including the father of Manasseh ben Israel, himself a Marrano. The parents had gone first from Lisbon to the Madeira Islands, so that Manasseh was born there in 1604, and was baptized Manoel Dias Soeiro. Thence the family moved to La Rochelle, France, and finally to Amsterdam, where they threw off the hitherto compulsory Christian mask and were henceforth known under Jewish names. Manoel Dias Soeiro, now called Manasseh ben Israel, grew up to become a teacher and rabbi. 63 His linguistic knowledge was phenomenal; he had facility in ten languages. A prodigious reader, he was familiar not only with Jewish writers but with the church fathers, and the Greek and Latin classics; moreover, there is some indication that he practiced medicine. 64 Manasseh attracted notice at a time when public attention was directed toward Biblical prophecy. 65 He functioned as a printer from 1626 to 1652, establishing the first Hebrew press at Amsterdam. This press turned out more than sixty works, including three Hebrew Bibles. 66 PFF2 232.4

Manasseh wrote in Spanish, often discussing seeming conflicts in the Old Testament. Four hundred of his sermons were printed in Portuguese. PFF2 233.1

Since mysticism was in the ascendancy at the time, and there was considerable stress, among Christian expositors, on the imminent second advent, linked with the expectation of, the speedy conversion of the Jews, many of the English religious leaders were interested in Jewish welfare and were friends of Manasseh ben Israel. 67 Among the Jews also there was widespread hope at this time. PFF2 233.2

In 1648 the Thirty Years’ War closed—a year that was regarded by many a Jew as the Messianic, or miracle, year. Manasseh was profoundly interested in Messianic problems. It was his conviction that the hour of redemption was at hand, waiting only for the complete dispersion of Israel throughout the world. 68 PFF2 233.3

It was this that led him to petition Cromwell for the read-mission of the Jews to England. On friendly terms with not a few noted men, Manasseh undertook to procure abolition of the legal exclusion of the Jews from England, petitioning Oliver Cromwell to this end. He went to London to negotiate with Cromwell, who appointed a commission to hear the petition in December, 1655. As a result the Jewish question became a national issue for some time. Manasseh returned to Holland and shortly afterward died a heartbroken man because the petition was not formally granted, yet the result was that the way was paved for the unopposed infiltration of Jews back into England. 69 PFF2 233.4

Title page of manasseh ben israel’s discussions of the prophecies of daniel identifying the four Kingdoms (upper left); rembrandt’s portrait of rabbi ben israel of amsterdam (upper right);prophetic statue of Daniel 2 and beasts of Daniel 7, illustrated by rembrandt, signed and dated(lower left and center); and reconstruction of rembrandt’s drawing (lower right)
Page 235

Manasseh ben Israel was opposed to Messianic calculation, but he believed that the Messiah’s appearance was nigh at hand. 70 This he averred on the basis of the Old Testament prophecies, even in his “Humble Addresses” to Cromwell. 71 PFF2 235.1

This conviction is pre-eminently set forth in his book Piedra Gloriosa o de la Estatua de Nebuchadnesar (The Glorious Stone; or, On the Image of Nebuchadnezzar), for which Rembrandt made four etchings. 72 The fuller understanding of the prophecies, Manasseh believed, was a sign of the Messianic times and a fulfillment of Daniel 12:4 : “Then shall knowledge be increased.” 73 The four beasts of Daniel 7, he declared, are the four monarchies of the statue of Daniel 2. The two legs, he believed, were Romanism and Mohammedanism, the ten toes, the ten subdivisions, and the stone the Messianic kingdom, filling the world. 74 He also believed that the Indians in the Americas were possibly the ten lost tribes. 75 His book received the attention of many Protestant theologians, who were likewise convinced of the speedy coming of the Messiah-only they looked for the second advent. PFF2 235.2


The Hope of Israel is permeated with prophetic exposition. Declaring that the prophets speak of the approaching end of the age, which Manasseh believes will bring the close of the long captivity, he speaks pathetically of the injuries suffered by his people, especially under the Inquisition, and the long delay in the coming of the Messiah. Then he says: PFF2 235.3

“At this day it is said, that ALTHOUGH THE MESSIAH WERE LAME, HE MIGHT HAVE COME BY THIS TIME. Though we cannot exactly shew the time of our redemption, yet we judge it to be near. For, PFF2 236.1

“1. We see many prophesies fulfilled, and others also which are subservient to a preparation for the same redemption; and it appears by this, that during that long and sore captivity, many calamities are fore-told us under the four Monarchies.” 76 PFF2 236.2

Again stressing the “shortness of time,” and fervently hoping that the “scattering of the holy people” is about over, 77 Manasseh says of Daniel 12:4 : PFF2 236.3

“To these, let us adde that, which the same Prophet speakes, in ch. 12. ver. 4. That knowledge shall be increased; for then the prophecies shall better be understood, the meaning of which we can scarce attaine to, till they be fulfilled. So after the Otteman race began to flourish, we understood the prophesie of the two leggs of the Image of Nebuchadnezzar, which is to be overthrowne by the fifth Monarchy, which shall be in the World.” 78 PFF2 236.4

It is to be particularly noted that Oliver Cromwell thus had the prophecies brought to his attention through two radically different avenues—the persecutions of the Jews and the sufferings of the Waldenses. Just about this time the fearful massacre of the Waldenses greatly stirred Cromwell, who in 1655 appointed Sir Samuel Morland to investigate this bloody slaughter and intercede for these oppressed people. Morland’s published report to Cromwell stresses the same prophetic views as those held by the Waldenses. 79 PFF2 236.5


Early in 5415 a.m. (1655 c.e.) Manasseh published his treatise on the Glorious Stone which smites the image of Nebuchadnezzar. PFF2 236.6

In the dedicatory letter he states that this prophecy of Daniel 2 is the “most easily understood” and explained of all Daniel’s prophecies, manifesting the foreknowledge of God without any ambiguity, with the four world powers followed by the “fifth monarchy.” 80 Naming the temporal monarchies as “the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans,” he speaks of the “Messiah (who is the stone) [who] will destroy with temporal and earthly power all the other monarchies,” whose dominion will be “eternal according to this infallible interpretation of Daniel.” 81 In this exposition the Midrash and the Targum are cited, together with individual interpreters such as Rabbi Simeon ben Levi, Abravanel, Eliezer, and others. 82 PFF2 237.1


The “universal history” of the world, as presented “under the figures of animals,” as the same four powers of Daniel 7, is next brought in from supporting witness, citing the Targum Onke- los 83 Saadia, and Meir Hakohen. Then, continuing with the statue of Daniel, Manasseh declares: “Turkey and Rome are the two legs of the Statue, which comprise this last monarchy.” 84 PFF2 237.2


Turning to Daniel 7, and the four beasts from the “sea,” which is declared to be the “world,” Manasseh quotes from Augustine’s Civitas Dei. Proceeding with the exposition, he interprets the lion as Babylonia, citing Abravanel, then follows with the Persian bear and the Greek leopard, this time citing Aristotle. The notable horn of the he-goat is Alexander the Great, and the four divisions are Alexander’s “four captains,” as supported by citations from Simon the Just, and Josephus’ record of the meeting of the Jewish high priest and Alexander. 85 PFF2 237.3


Declaring the fourth beast to be Rome, later divided into “many parts,” Manasseh again cites Abravanel. 86? as regards the Little Horn that was against the saints, “changing the Sabbaths and festivals,” he differs from Abravanel’s application to the pope, “for the Pope is not a king,” and he presents this conclusion: PFF2 237.4

“For these reasons I rather agree with those who suppose it to be Mahomet, or Mohammed as others call him, who being at first a small horn, and having been born in Arabia, formerly subject to the Romans, in humble circumstances, in the days of the emperors Eraclius and Honorius, attained such strength that in a short space of time he and his descendants became lords of three-quarters of the world.” 87 PFF2 238.1


Of the establishment of the fifth monarchy Manasseh says: PFF2 238.2

“When the fourth monarchy ends, declares Daniel, as he saw the fifth given to the Messiah the King, descendant of the House of David, therefore he (the Messiah) must succeed immediately to the empire of the world.” 88 PFF2 238.3

Manasseh then parallels the climax of Daniel 2 and 7 in these words: PFF2 238.4

“I. ‘These great beasts, which are four, are four kings.’ It is described by all its circumstances, and its type was the image of Nebuchadnezzar. II. That the fourth monarchy should be divided into two nations, of diverse laws, whose division would bring about the little horn Mahomet, and that they are the two legs of the statue. III. That this Roman empire would be divided into ten kingdoms, which are the ten horns which arise from this beast, and the ten toes of the feet of the statue. IV. That when these kingdoms come to their end and are destroyed, the monarchy of Israel will follow, which constitutes the people of the saints and the stone that becomes a great mountain that fills the whole earth.” 89 PFF2 238.5