“If You Are Not the King You Will Be Eventually … ”: Eastern and Western Prophecies Concerning the Rise of Emperors

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This article compares three literary-historical texts—two from the Jewish world and one from Mongolia—that record prophecies given to military commanders asserting that they will become the rulers of great empires and civilizations. In his The Jewish War, Josephus tells us that he prophesied that Vespasian would become emperor, an act that appears to have saved his life. A rabbinic tradition, related in several versions, similarly recounts that R. Johanan b. Zakkai prophesied that Vespasian would rise to power—he, too, thus being granted his freedom and the opportunity to rebuild his life and community in Yavneh. I compare Josephus and R. Johanan’s prophecies in the light of The Secret History of the Mongols. A chronicle describing the life of Temüjin, the founder of the Mongol Empire who gained fame as Genghis Khan (1162–1227), this tells how Temüjin, the young commander, was predicted to unite all the Mongol tribes and rule over a vast empire. The article analyzes the three prophecies, which occur in diverse genres, in the light of their historical background, hereby demonstrating the way in which written sources can serve anthropological phenomenological research and shed new light on ancient Jewish texts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Comparative phenomenology
  • Genghis Khan
  • Great civilizations
  • Josephus
  • Prophecy
  • Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai
  • Vespasian


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