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Chavez and the Second Coming?

[ by Charles Cameron — the final, astounding, Messianic-Mahdist word goes to Hugo Chavez! caught on video! ]


We now know, thanks to VOA and the Atlantic, this much:

The death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has prompted eulogies from around the world, but few of the messages have been as eccentric as the second-coming predicted by Iran’s president.

And as if returning to Earth alone was not enough, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad says Chavez will do so alongside some esteemed company.

“I have no doubt that he [Chavez] will return alongside Jesus Christ and the Mahdi [the Hidden Imam] to establish peace and justice in the world,” Ahmadinejad wrote in an emotional condolence message posted on his personal website. The Mahdi is a revered figure among Shi’ite Muslims, many of whom believe he will return to save humanity.

Not surprisingly, as reported by Reuters, these remarks drew rebukes from some senior Iranian clergy:

“The terms Mr Ahmadinejad used to describe the Venezuelan president are not appropriate for us,” the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Ghorbanali Dorri Najafabadi, a cleric and a senior member of the Assembly of Experts, as saying.

“One can naturally send a diplomatic letter without getting into religious discussions,” hardline Friday prayer leader Ahmad Khatami was quoted as saying by Iranian media, adding that he believed Ahmadinejad’s decision to do so was wrong.

According to the parliamentary news agency ICANA, lawmaker Mohammad Taqi Rahbar said on Thursday Ahmadinejad’s comments were “certainly wrong and exaggerated”.


Dr Timothy Furnish attributes this sort of blurring of theological categories to what he terms “ecumenical messianism” — for some quick context see his comments on the Lutheran Witness site. I’d suggest that is not just a fleeting idea but an area we should look into in some depth, if only because I myself was struck by an earlier incarnation of much the same idea, as expressed by the late Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who is quoted as having said:

The Mahdi is not an embodiment of the Islamic belief but he is also the symbol of an aspiration cherished by mankind irrespective of its divergent religious doctrines. He is also the crystallization of an instructive inspiration through which all people, regardless of their religious affiliations, have learnt to await a day when heavenly missions, with all their implications, will achieve their final goal and the tiring march of humanity across history will culminate satisfactory in peace and tranquility. This consciousness of the expected future has not been confined to those who believe in the supernatural phenomenon but has also been reflected in the ideologies and cult which totally deny the existence of what is imperceptible. For example, the dialectical materialism which interprets history on the basis of contradiction believes that a day will come when all contradictions will disappear and complete peace and tranquility will prevail.

In light of that quote, Ahmadinejad‘s interest in Hugo Chavez seems a little less far-fetched.


Okay, I’m no expert, but I do try to keep more or less on top of the swirling currents of contemporary Mahdism, which is from my POV understudied — and when studied in haste, often misunderstood — but I swear I never saw this one coming.

A further hat tip to Tim Furnish, then, for pointing us to this Iranian news report of a speech by Hugo Chavez himself in Masshad… the holy city in Iran where Imam Reza was martyred, indeed whose very name, mah-shahd, means “place of martyrdom”.. way back in 2009.

The Messiah [Jesus] and the Mahdi are not dead, they are alive and well and will soon return to spread justice over all the world. This afternoon Imam Khameini told us that as long as we two Presidents are united in our hearts and minds, as long as we pursue the same humanistic deeds together, and as long as we continue seeking justice, the Mahdi and the Messiah will emerge very soon. Therefore, we must struggle so that his holiness the Mahdi and the Messiah emerge to spread justice all over the world.

Dr Furnish’s Iranian source is Mehr News. I wonder if the Venezuelan press thrashed about it much, or whether they thought it was just diplo small talk?

I poked around the web a bit, and this looks to be a tape of a similar interview:


4 Responses to “Chavez and the Second Coming?”

  1. Charles Cameron Says:

    Reza Kahlili (see here for my own estimate of the fellow) has a version of the same video up on WND and writes: 

    Chavez, in a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian National Authority, talked of his belief in the Coming of Mahdi, according to the video, and said, “The ultimate war of them all is the war in Gaza.”
    In the video, which is not dated, but appears to have been captured during a signing of agreements at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Nov. 27, 2009, Chavez told his audience “Quds (Jerusalem) is a holy place for all of us Christians. I spoke with (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad about the day that Islam’s Quran says both (Mahdi and Christ) will return. Jesus, holding hands with the 12th Imam, Mahdi. … Then peace will come upon the world. I tell Christ and Mahdi to come sooner, rush now, come sooner … because we witness the threats posed to the world, my God!”

    I much prefer this partial translation to the more stilted one on the tape, which reads thus:

    Al-Quds in Jerusalem is a sacred place for us real Christians of the world
    We are going over the verses of the Quran with Ahmadinejad and the holy verses tells
    That at the end of times, Mahdi, the Hidden Imam will come back holding hands with Jesus
    Yes he (Jesus) will return with Mahdi
    Only then will peace be spread at all corners of the world
    I ask Jesus and the Mahdi, the Hidden Imam to hasten their arrival. Please hurry your arrival. The world is truly filled with so much danger that we can no longer await their return.
    The new world that will soon be created will be joyful as today all the hatred in the world is concentrated in Gaza.
    I believe that all the wars of history will culminate in Gaza.
    We fight for Palestine. This struggle is for Venezuela and in fact, for all of Latin America.

    I think there are defects in this translation, that the “new world” will be “born” rather than “created” for instance — but you get the drift…
    A hat-tip to Joel Rosenberg, about whom I hope to blog shortly, for pointing us to Kahlili’s piece on his own “flash traffic” blog
    If Kahlili is correct as to the place and date of this particular speech, then it was given on a planet not so very far away on, as it happens, my birthday. All of which proves, of course, Yoda am I.

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    FWIW, the source of my own version of the video, Freedom Messenger FB page, has a cartoon depicting Chavez thus:

  3. Guillermo Says:

    The translations proposed here are completely wrong. Chaves does not say “I believe that all the wars of history will culminate in Gaza”, he says that in Gaza today converge all conflicts and strugles, meaning that the solution to the problem of Gaza has a high priority for mankind. Besides that, any person with a little knowledge of Chavez’ rethorics knows that “I ask Jesus and the Mahdi, the Hidden Imam to hasten their arrival. Please hurry your arrival” is just an expression fo hope, like when we say “God willing” and nothing more.

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Guillermo — Good to read you here.  
    I asked around for help with a translation before posting here, but should have thought of you and contacted you directly.  I’d be very interested to read your translation of the whole clip if you had the time…
    As to Chavez’s comments being “just an expression of hope .. and nothing more” — I think that’s a partial truth.  That’s the way his words would be read by Venezuelans not interested in Islamic eschatology, no doubt — but they send a very different signal to those for whom that eschatology is a live religious and political concern.
    I see the situation as paralleling that described by Hugh Urban in his book The Secrets of the Kingdom: Religion and Concealment in the Bush Administration:

    Much of Bush’s public discourse, as Bruce Lincoln has shown, involves a form of “double coding” of religious themes in relatively innocuous-sounding rhetoric. That is, they often contain specific references to particular biblical passages, hymns, and Christian themes, which are clearly heard by those who are steeped in Scripture but largely missed by most American listeners. Thus Gerson “filled George W. Bush’s delivery system with phrases that, while inoffensive to secular voters, directed more specific religious messages to the faithful. Examples …  included ‘whirlwind’ (a medium for the voice of God in the Books of Job and Ezekiel), a ‘work of mercy,’ … and phrases like ‘safely home’ taken from hymns and gospel songs.”

    I don’t think that’s particularly surprising or malign, I just think it’s a rhetorical technique for addressing multiple audiences. And obviously Chavez knows it will win him the applause he does in fact receive.
    So my point isn’t about what Chavez himself believes — I wouldn’t even know if he really thinks of himself as an “authentic Christian” though he calls himself one — it’s about what Richard Landes calls the “semiotic arousal” that’s a standard feature of the apocalyptic mind, and which Chavez plays into. 

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