The Secrets of R. Šim‘on ben Yohai were first published in Salonika in 1743 within the same anthology of midrashic texts that contains Sefer Elijah. This version of the text was reprinted by Adolph Jellinek, ed., Bet ha-Midrasch: Sammlung kleiner Midraschim und vermischter Abhandlungen aus der jüdischen Literatur (6 vols.; Leipzig, 1853-77; repr., Jerusalem: Bamberger & Wahrmann, 1938), 3:78-82. Jellinek’s text was subsequently reproduced by Yehudah Even-Shemuel, Midreshey Ge’ullah (2d ed.; Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1954), 401-403; using the various extant versions of this midrash, the same scholar also generated a suggested Vorlage for the Secrets (pp. 187-98) and also reproduced the variant recension (‘Atidot R. Šim‘on b. Yohai) contained within a larger eschatological work concerning the ‘Ten Kings’ which was first published by H. M. Horowitz in 1891. A. Z. Aescoly provides an abridged version of Jellinek’s text along with a brief commentary in his important anthology of Jewish messianic literature (Messianic Movements in Israel, Volume One: From the Bar-Kokhba Revolt until the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain [ed. Yehudah Even-Shmuel; 2d ed.; Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1987], 133-38.). A Cairo Genizah fragment of the opening section of the Secrets was published by S. A. Wertheimer, Batey Midrashot (2 vols.; repr., Jerusalem: Ktav wa-Sefer, 1980), 2:25-26; see also 2:506-507. A fifteenth-century manuscript version of Secrets is available in Munich Ms. Hebr. 222, a work which also features important editions of Pirqe Mašiah and Sefer Elijah. Unpublished manuscript fragments include Oxford Ms. Heb. f. 27 (2642) fols. 42-43 and Oxford Ms. Heb. d. 46 (2643) fols. 72-73. The present translation is based on the text reproduced by Jellinek.
These are the secrets that were revealed to R. Šim‘on b. Yohai when he was hiding in a cave on account of (the persecutions of) Caesar king of Edom (i.e., Rome). He stood in prayer forty days and forty nights, and began thusly: ‘Lord God, how long will you spurn the prayer of your servant?’ Immediately there were revealed to him the secrets of the eschaton and (various) hidden things.
He began to sit and expound (the passage) ‘and he beheld the Kenite’ (Num 24:21). When he perceived that the kingdom of Ishmael would come (and exercise dominion over Israel), he exclaimed: ‘Is it not sufficient what the wicked kingdom of Edom has done to us that we should also (suffer the dominion of) the kingdom of Ishmael!?’ Immediately Metatron the prince of the Presence answered him and said: ‘Do not be afraid, mortal, for the Holy One, blessed be He, is bringing about the kingdom of Ishmael only for the purpose of delivering you from that wicked one (i.e., Edom). He shall raise up over them a prophet in accordance with His will, and He will subdue the land for them; and they shall come and restore it with grandeur. Great enmity will exist between them and the children of Esau.’
R. Šim‘on answered and said: ‘From whence are they (understood as) our deliverance?’ He said to him: ‘Did not Isaiah the prophet speak thusly? “And should he see chariotry of a pair of riders, one riding an ass, (and) one riding a camel” (Isa 21:7).’ Why did he put the ‘rider of an ass’ before the ‘rider of a camel’? Should he not instead have said ‘rider of a camel, rider of an ass’? (No, the textual sequence means that) when the one who rides the camel (Ishmael or Muhammad) emerges, the kingdom ruled by the ‘one mounted upon an ass’ (Zech 9:9) has manifested (lit. ‘sprouted’) by his (i.e., Ishmael’s or Muhammad’s) agency. Another opinion: ‘rider of an ass’ (connotes) at the (same) time when he ‘rides upon an ass’ (Zech 9:9). Consequently they (Ishmael) are a deliverance for Israel like the deliverance (associated with) the ‘one mounted upon an ass’ (Zech 9:9).
Moreover R. Šim‘on reported that he learned from R. Ishmael at the time when the latter learned that the kingdom of Ishmael was coming that (the kingdom of Ishmael) will measure the land with ropes, as Scripture says: ‘and the land will be apportioned for wages’ (cf. Dan 11:39; also Joel 4:2). They will make cemeteries pastureland for (grazing) flocks, and when one of them dies, they will bury him any place they please. They will then turn around and plow the grave and sow seed on it, as Scripture attests: ‘Thus the children of Israel will eat their food in a state of impurity’ (Ezek 4:13). Why so? Because (the location of) impure field(s) will be unknown.
Again ‘he beheld the Kenite’ (Num 24:21). What was the parable that wicked one (Balaam) pronounced? When he foresaw that his (i.e., the Kenite’s) descendants were destined to arise and enslave Israel, he began rejoicing and said: ‘“Ethan is your place of dwelling” (Num 24:21)—I see human beings who are occupied only with the commandments of “Ethan the Ezrahite” (1 Kgs 5:11; Ps 89:1).’
The second king who will arise from Ishmael will be a friend of Israel. He will repair their breaches and (fix) the breaches of the Temple and shape Mt. Moriah and make the whole of it a level plain. He will build for himself there a place for prayer upon the site of the ‘foundation stone,’ as Scripture says: ‘and set your nest on the rock’ (Num 24:21). He will wage war with the children of Esau and slaughter their troops and capture a large number of them, and (eventually) he will die in peace and with great honor.
And there shall arise a great king from Hasarmawet (cf. Gen 10:26), but he will exercise rule only for a few years. Warriors of the children of Qedar shall rise up against him and kill him, and bring to power another king whose name is Mry’w. They shall take him from following flocks and mule-herds and elevate him to the kingship. There shall arise from him ‘four arms’ who will make repairs on the Temple.
At the end of the reign of the ‘four arms’ there shall come to power another king. He will diminish measures for quantity, length, and weight, and enjoy three years of tranquility. A dispute will erupt in the world during his reign, and he will send out mighty forces against the Edomites. There (Byzantium?) they will die of hunger, even though they will have abundant provisions—he will refuse (sustenance) from them, (and) none will be given him. The children of Edom will prevail over the children of Ishmael and slaughter them. Then the children of Ishmael will arise and burn the provisions, and those who are left will flee and depart.
After this a great king will come to power and rule for nineteen years. These are his distinguishing marks (lit. ‘signs’): reddish-hued, squinty-eyed (?), and he will have three moles: one on his forehead, one on his right hand, and one on his left arm. He will plant saplings and rebuild ruined cities and tap subterranean waters to bring up water to irrigate his plantings so that his future descendants will have plenty to eat. All who arise to oppose him will submit to his power, and the land will remain undisturbed during his reign, and he will die peacefully.
Then another king will arise who will seek to cut off the waters of the Jordan. He will bring far-away peoples from alien lands to excavate and build a canal to bring up the waters of the Jordan to irrigate the land. The excavated portion of the land will collapse upon them and kill them. Their leaders will hear (about this), and then rebel against the king and kill him.
Another king will then arise—a strong (king) and warrior. A dispute will erupt in the world during his reign. This will be the sign for you: when you see that the western gyrwn has fallen—(the one) at the western side of (the place of) prayer of the children of Ishmael in Damascus—his dominion will have ‘fallen.’ They will be assembled and marched out to do forced labor, and indeed the kingdom of Ishmael will collapse. Scripture affirms concerning them: ‘The Lord has broken the rod of the wicked’ (Isa 14:5), where (the word) ‘rod’ signifies Ishmael. And who is this? It is Marwān. Warriors from the sons of Qedar will still remain with him, but the northeastern corner (of his kingdom) will rebel and come up against him. There shall fall from among his forces three great armies at the Tigris and at the Euphrates, and he himself will flee from them, but he will be captured and put to death. His sons will be hung upon wooden scaffolding.
And after this a king ‘strong of face’ (‘az panim) will arise for three months, and then the wicked kingdom (i.e., Rome) will rule over Israel for nine months, as Scripture says: ‘Therefore He will give them until the time the one laboring in childbirth has borne’ (Mic 5:2). And there shall sprout up for them the Messiah of the lineage of Joseph, and he will bring them up to Jerusalem. He will rebuild the Temple and offer sacrifices; fire shall descend from heaven and consume their sacrifices, as Scripture promises: ‘and the violent ones among your people will arise’ (Dan 11:14). If they are not worthy, the Messiah of the lineage of Ephraim comes; but if they are worthy, the Messiah of the lineage of David will come.
A wicked king will arise whose name is Armilos: bald, with small eyes and a leprous forehead; his right ear closed up and his left ear open. If a good person should speak to him, he will turn his closed ear toward him, and if a wicked person should speak to him, he will turn his open ear to him. He is the offspring of Satan and a stone (statue), and he will come up to Jerusalem and incite war with the Messiah of the lineage of Ephraim at the eastern gate, as Scripture states: ‘and and they shall look to Me about the one whom they pierced’ (Zech 12:10). Israel will go into exile into the uncleared wilderness to forage among the salt-plants and broom-sage roots for forty-five days, and then they will be tested and refined, as Scripture says: ‘I shall bring a third (of them) through the fire, etc.’ (Zech 13:9). The Messiah of the lineage of Ephraim shall die there, and Israel shall mourn for him. After this the Holy One blessed be He will reveal to them the Messiah of the lineage of David, but Israel will wish to stone him, and they will say to him: ‘You speak a lie, for the Messiah has already been slain, and there is no other Messiah destined to arise.’ They will scorn him, as Scripture says: ‘despised and abandoned (by) men’ (Isa 53:3). He shall withdraw and be hidden from them, as Scripture continues: ‘like one hiding faces from us’ (ibid.). But in Israel’s great distress, they will turn and cry out from (their) hunger and thirst, and the Holy One, blessed be He, will be revealed to them in His glory, as Scripture promises: ‘together all flesh will see’ (Isa 40:5). And the King Messiah will sprout up there, as Scripture says: ‘and behold with the clouds of heaven etc.’ (Dan 7:13), and it is written after it ‘and authority was given to him’ (Dan 7:14). He shall blow (his breath) at that wicked Armilos and kill him, as Scripture forecasts: ‘he will slay the wicked one with the breath of his lips’ (Isa 11:4).
The Holy One, blessed be He, will signal for and gather together all Israel and bring them up to Jerusalem, as Scripture says: ‘Let me signal for them and I will gather them’ (Zech 10:8). Fire will come down from heaven and consume Jerusalem up to three cubits, and uncircumcised foreigners and the impure will be removed from its midst. Then a rebuilt and decorated Jerusalem will descend from heaven; in it seventy-two precious stones will shine from one end of the world to the other. And all the nations will come to (bask in) her splendor, as Scripture affirms: ‘and the nations will come to your light’ (Isa 60:3). A rebuilt Temple will descend from the heavens—the one which was folded within Zebul, for thus Moses perceived under prophetic inspiration, as Scripture says: ‘You will bring it and You will plant it’ (Exod 15:17).
Israel will dwell in peace for two thousand years. They will feast upon Behemoth, Leviathan, and Ziz. They will slaughter Behemoth; Ziz shall rend Leviathan with its ankles; and Moses will come and slaughter the ‘wild Ziz’ (Ps 50:11; 80:14). At the end of two thousand years, the Holy One, blessed be He, will sit upon a throne of judgment in the valley of Jehoshaphat. Immediately the heavens and the earth will wear out and fade away: the sun will be ashamed and the moon embarrassed; the mountains will shake and the hills will quake (cf. Isa 54:10), so that Israel will no longer have her sins recounted (by them) to her. The gates of Gehinnom will be opened in the Wadi Joshua, and on the third day the gates of Eden (will be opened) in the east, as Scripture attests: ‘He will revitalize us for two days; [on the third day he will raise us up and we will live before Him’] (Hos 6:2)—this (verse) refers to the days of the Messiah, which are two thousand years (cf. Ps 90:4). And this ‘third day’ is the Day of Judgment, and alas for the one who is among all those who perish during it! The Holy One, blessed be He, shall cause to pass before Him every nation, and He shall say to them: ‘You who worshipped gods of silver and gold—see now if they are able to deliver you!’ Immediately they shall pass by and be immolated, as Scripture states: ‘the wicked will return to Sheol’ (Ps 9:18). Israel shall come after them, and the Holy One, blessed be he, shall say to them: ‘Whom have you worshipped?’ They shall respond: ‘indeed You are our Father etc.’ (Isa 63:16). And the nations of the world will gripe from the midst of Gehinnom: ‘Let us see whether He will judge His people Israel like He judged us!’ Immediately the Holy One, blessed be He, will pass with Israel through the midst of Gehinnom, and it will be made like cool water before them, as Scripture attests: ‘and their king shall pass through before them’ (Mic 2:13), and it says: ‘when you walk through fire you will not be burned’ (Isa 43:2). At that time the transgressors among Israel will be dumped into Gehinnom for twelve months, but after that (period) the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring them up and settle them in Eden, and they will enjoy its fruits, as Scripture says: ‘and your people will all be righteous’ (Isa 60:21).
R. Šim‘on said: The Holy One, blessed be He, will signal to the bee who is at the end of the rivers of Egypt, and they shall come and wage war in the midst of Egypt. The first king who leads them and brings them forth is a slave who has rebelled against his master, as Scripture says: ‘Thus says the Lord … to the despised one, to the one loathed by the nation’ (Isa 49:7)—that is the one held abominable among the nations; namely, the Canaanites—‘to the slave of kings’ (ibid.). He shall rebel against his overlord, and others who have rebelled against their masters will be gathered to him, and they shall gradually go out and seize the kingdom by force. They will make war with the Ishmaelites, kill their warriors, and take possession of their wealth and property. They are repulsive men, dressed in black and coming from the East, and they are quick and impetuous, as Scripture says: ‘the nation cruel and impetuous’ (Hab 1:6). They will ascend the mountain of the height of Israel intending to tear down the Temple and to uproot the doors, but will (instead) weep bitterly (?).
Four kings shall arise over them: two of them will be princes and two of them chieftains. The first …(?) and the king who rules after them (sic!) will conduct himself humbly: his eyes will be attractive and his hair lovely, and he will die in peace, with no one in the world collecting tribute from him. After him there shall arise a king accompanied by strife. He will station armies by the Euphrates River, but all of them will fall in a single day. He will flee, but will be captured, and all the time he is held captive there will be peace in the world. His brothers will rule over all lands.
The fourth king who shall arise over them will be a lover of silver and gold. He will be a dark man and tall, old and shriveled (?). He will kill those whom they bring to him, and they will install him as king. He will build boats of bronze and fill them (with) silver and gold, and store them beneath the waters of the Euphrates in order to reserve them for his sons. But they are destined for Israel, as Scripture says: ‘I will give you treasures (concealed in) darkness and secret hidden things’ (Isa 45:3). During his reign the western quadrant will rebel, and he will dispatch there many troops, but he (the leader of the rebellion) will kill the easterners. Again he (the fourth king) will send out many troops, and they will come and slay the westerners, and take up residence in their land.
And this will be the sign for you—when you see that at the beginning of one week there is rain, and in the second (week) the loosing of the ‘arrows of hunger,’ and in the third a severe famine, and in the fourth no hunger but (also) no satisfaction, and in the fifth there is great satiety. A star shall appear from the east with a rod on top of it—this is the star of Israel, as Scripture says: ‘a star shall step forth from Jacob etc.’ (Num 24:17). If it shines, it is for the benefit of Israel. Then the Messiah of the lineage of David shall emerge.
And this will be the sign for you—when you see that the eastern gyrwn in Damascus has fallen, the kingdom of those in the East has fallen. Then deliverance will sprout for Israel. The Messiah of the lineage of David will come, and they (sic!) will go up to Jerusalem and rejoice over her, as Scripture says: ‘the lowly will take possession of the land and delight in an abundance of peace’ (Ps 37:11). May God in His mercy send to us the deliverer quickly in our era, amen!