This post is written by a member of the Messianic community in Israel or guest contributor. The opinions and views expressed are solely those of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of Kehila News Israel.

Trumpets and halos over Jerusalem? A Wake-up call

On October 1, 2016, shortly before Rosh Hashanah (the traditional Jewish New Year), strange sights and sounds were reported in the sky over southwestern Jerusalem, supported by an amateur Israeli video. The significance was self-evident: while clouds streamed around a perfect circular opening in heaven, a sustained sound of multiple shofars (ram’s horns) could be heard rising and falling, all in advance of the Feast of Trumpets (the Biblical name for Rosh Hashanah).

The earliest verifiable distributor was World Gatekeeper (WGK), which uploaded the 90-second clip on Oct. 6. Four days later an Israeli news source exposed it as a CGI, a computer-generated image. But it was too late; the global race to broadcast the “miracle” had already left the starting gate.

That race shifted into turbo-drive with the release of a second 20-second clip by WGK sometime between Oct. 6 and 10.  Many who hesitated to forward a single account of this event were encouraged by the news that two “eyewitnesses” had captured footage of the incident from different angles.

Israelis Fuel the Rumor

Besides scores of charismatic Christians abroad, several rabbinic sources in Israel joined the stampede, catapulting the twin clips into the “viral” zone by Oct. 9.

Prominent among the latter was Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi, who not only promoted the first “Jerusalem shofar” video, but used it to create his own screenshot (no longer available on Mizrachi’s Facebook page but reproduced here by Breaking News Israel) featuring a shofar shape crudely outlined in the clouds. Over that is printed a messianic prayer in Hebrew, “Blow a great shofar to save us.” Other Torah-related sites that follow Mizrachi’s teachings credited him for their decision to share the video.   

It wasn’t the first time Rabbi Mizrachi attached messianic significance to rumored “shofar sounds in the sky”. He appeared in a 2014 teaching video, where he claimed that a similar event had happened in Israel at that time (August 2014), that shofars were being heard all over the world, and that the Talmud predicts when the Messiah will come. He anticipated that the upcoming Shmittah (the seventh year of rest by the Jewish calendar, beginning September 2014) would usher in worldwide apocalyptic destruction, which he illustrated with melodramatic scenes borrowed from thriller movies.

Incidentally, Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi is better known to KNI readers as an anti-missionary who published videos denouncing believers in Yeshua. After some of his objections were answered by Messianic Israelis Moti Vaknin and Eitan Bar, Mizrachi declared the “two clowns” worthy of death.

Another Israeli promoter of the fabricated “miracle” was Tamar Yonah, a radio personality with the Torah-affiliated news service Arutz 7. She shared one video on her Facebook page (Oct. 9), under the skeptical label, “Real or ‘doctored’?”  Yonah’s source was a non-religious Israeli site called “Pishpishuk” (Oct.7). They were decidedly evangelistic after discovering the second video: “For all the sceptics. We got another point of view of the amazing phenomenon in Jerusalem.”

The folks at “Pishpishuk” got the news from “Tov-li-virali” (Oct. 6), which approached the issue scientifically: “An additional angle of the phenomenon from Shabbat, 1/10/16 from the Jerusalem area. If someone else filmed it, he is invited to forward it to us.”  

However, the source for the sensible-sounding “Tov-li-virali” was the above-mentioned World Gatekeeper… which upon inspection proved to be a collection of videos claiming to show UFO activity. Site owner Bruce Kornel listed publishing dates of Oct. 6 and 12 respectively, noting that both were “captured” on Oct.1, but he did not credit the cameraman. Nor did he respond to a request from KNI to identify the source(s) of these clips.

Mystery Solved, but the Myth Rolls On

By October 10, four days after the videos surfaced, the Israeli news outlet Nana-10-Online confirmed them as CGIs by locating and interviewing their creator. The lead paragraph in the Hebrew article, entitled “Phenomenon in the Skies of Jerusalem: The Truth Behind the Virtual Clip That is Driving the Country Crazy”, expressed frustration with the gullibility of the clip promoters:

“It seems it will never end. Again we have a fabricated story with no basis in reality, which put down roots and became a giant monster with thousands of followers…. One million views on YouTube and Facebook (with innumerable uploads)…. Meet the virtual silliness that is conquering Israel and the world.”

The article focused mainly on the 90-second video, mentioning in passing that the second video “popped up suddenly” a few days later. Both clips were accompanied by many comments applauding them as authentic supernatural events heralding the Last Days. According to Nana, these comments also included the claim that the shofar was simultaneously heard elsewhere in the world, and that mainstream media was suppressing the story.

The incredulous response: “Do you really think that shofar sounds would be heard throughout Jerusalem, and two videos of less than half a minute [sic] would be the only evidence?”

The Nana report noted the unusual power of this myth, despite the flimsy evidence: “Generally, a story like this would have ended quickly, if it hadn’t been for all kinds of rabbis who jumped on the subject.” However, the only rabbi identified is Yosef Mizrachi. The rest of the journalist’s ridicule was reserved for the “Christian Messianic priests [sic] who jumped on the virtual bandwagon, and all kinds of other disturbed people, who claimed on YouTube that these were official proof of the return of Jesus to earth.” These comments were supported by several examples.

Unfortunately, the Nana exposé remained in Hebrew only. The discredited miracle story continued to travel abroad in other languages, with alarming success. One YouTube site has garnered 1.6 million views to date.  Another enthusiast posting the videos on Facebook prompted 38,000 “shares” and over 3000 personal comments.

English speakers first learned of the fabrication on November 11, when the myth-busting site Snopes posted an advisory. But by then the “miracle” had lost its original context, replacing a page in the book of Revelation with a vindication of the Republicans (heavenly trumpets celebrating Trump’s election). The original myth as a harbinger of Jesus’ second coming barreled onward through November and into December. As of this writing, new sites continue to sprout, and most are greeted with starry-eyed talk-back about this “sign from God”. One December blogger took the liberty of splicing the video together with support of Revelation prophecy AND the Republican party.

Strange Responses from the Biblically Literate

One peculiar aspect to this wildfire replication was the large number of Bible believers attaching spiritual significance to the footage, while at the same time expressing doubts about its authenticity. Many introduced it with the advice to “watch the videos and decide for yourself” whether it was true or not; yet the promoters themselves refused to decide. This tendency to evade one’s personal responsibility to “examine all things” (1 Thess.5:20-22) by passing the job to others is an unbiblical practice which cripples the Body of Messiah in areas beyond the issue of miracle stories.

Another disturbing phenomenon was the widespread confidence in digital media as reliable evidence of a miracle (or anything else). In an age when even amateurs can learn how to create lifelike fantasy on a blank screen, it’s astonishing how many people are prepared to believe what they see in videos. Being confronted with one that was clearly manipulated doesn’t shake this misplaced trust, as illustrated in an article published by Breaking Israel News on Nov. 22, seven weeks after the “Jerusalem miracle” videos were debunked.

Drawing on the Hebrew Nana report, BIN dutifully described the viral videos as fabricated. But after acknowledging that the clips had “fooled” religious Jews as well as Christians, the article succumbed to optimistic ambiguity. The writer suggested that these CGIs “will become a tradition, a precursor to the Jewish holidays, part prank, and part wake-up call.” Yet “a similar rash of videos” surfacing last year was uncritically promoted by BIN under the suggestive title: “Mysterious Trumpet-Like Sounds Around World Leave Many in Hope of Messiah’s Arrival”.

 

Even more troubling was the article’s closing sentence: “But one day, it could be that a similar video will surface, filmed by an average bystander, showing the arrival of the Messiah. And that time, it won’t be edited.” In other words, if such a video can be verified as genuine, we can assume it is showing the truth.

End-time prophecy indicates that any “messiah” whose arrival will be announced by videos uploaded to social media cannot possibly be Yeshua, who promised that His return will be with the hosts of Heaven, “as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west” (Matt.24:27, Luke 17:24). And can anyone imagine that during the real event there will be “bystanders” with nothing better to do than to angle their smart-phones at the glorified Lamb of God?!  We are told (Rev.6:15) that the world’s leaders will be trying to hide under rocks!!

A false messiah, on the other hand, will excel in performing miraculous, lying wonders for the cameras. It will be real footage, with no need for special-effect “green screens”; yet it will deceive the world, and “if possible, even the elect” (Matt.24:24).

Who Started It, and Why?

The Nana exposé concludes by introducing the original source of both videos:

“We succeeded in reaching the one who created these clips, and he sounded a bit shocked from all the uproar [Heb: balagan]. In speaking with us, he confirmed the facts but refused to be identified, since he wants only to wish ‘a Good Decree for this year and an easy [Yom Kippur] fast’ to all the people of Israel.”

The unnamed producer did not explain to Nana why he made the videos. If (as suggested in the BIN article) they were simply creative Rosh Hashanah greetings to his friends, two pieces of evidence are missing: any mention of the holiday in the clips, and a clear conscience on the part of the clip-maker.  

From other sources KNI has deduced his identity and his possible motives for making the videos.

The earliest tip-off was an obscure YouTube site which, ironically, solved the mystery the same day it appeared. The Israeli site owner posted the “shofar miracle” video on Oct. 6, using the WGK version but acknowledging that “the original” belonged to fellow-Israeli Ronen Barany.

Barany’s clip is no longer available at the link listed there. But the same information was posted in the above-mentioned Snopes report, which added that Barany is a professional moviemaker who specializes in special-effect videos.

Why Barany refuses to be associated with his wildly successful videos is not known for certain. But professional CGI clip designers are expected to demonstrate their skills, and it’s likely that the videos were originally launched as a publicity stunt. Never expecting the hysterical reaction in the local religious community about “Messiah coming”, Barany cannot be blamed for trying to keep a low profile – especially when the hysteria was led by a rabbi who has declared his intention to “strike down” others who he views as sinners.

Whatever Happened to Spiritual Discernment?

Like the epidemic of fires that swept through Israel recently, reports of “miracles in Israel” periodically race through the charismatic Christian world faster than anyone can track them… much less verify them. The wildfire stories have a similar range of causes, in roughly the same proportions as physical wildfires: some are carelessly lit by jumping to conclusions, many are ignited by a deliberate misrepresentation of events, and a few are factual reports of events beyond human control, acts of God.

Yet to judge by the online Christian chatter, nearly all miracle rumors are instantly assumed to be supernatural – as well as “prophetic signs” confirming the imminence of the Rapture, the Battle of Gog and Magog, Jacob’s Trouble, the arrival of the Anti-Christ… or some other end-time disaster about to hit Israel.

Even among those who wish only good for the Jewish state, the inability of Yeshua’s followers to discern between real and fictitious miraculous events in/around/concerning Israel surfaces with distressing regularity. The desire to see God in action seems to overpower God’s command to “examine all things” (1 Thess.5:20-22).

The fact that charismatic Christians and Messianic Jews are not alone in this fixation is no comfort. It’s true that the Jewish community harbors a similar trend in the Hassidic-Orthodox sectors, which attribute miraculous events to the power of favorite rabbis or the performance of religious commands. The “trumpet-halo” hoax had the unique distinction of being accepted as a harbinger of the Messianic Era by both Christians who love Yeshua and Jews who hate Him. But if we who have the Holy Spirit can show no greater discernment than those who are avoiding Him, where is the advantage of our faith?  

A Second Round of Miracle Hype

Before the “Jerusalem trumpets-and-halo” story has fully faded, a new “Israel cloud miracle” is already rising on the Internet horizon, this time in a video from the Golan Heights showing what came to be called a “Biblical pillar of cloud“. The earliest known version is from Israel News Online, which posted it to their Facebook page on Dec.1, the day the video was made (the source was not identified). The explanation: “This strange storm of what appears to be dust, cloud and rain did NOT cross the border fence into Israel. It sat like a barrier between ISIS and Israel.”

Within three days, the story had been “shared” 140,000 times (according to this enthusiastic promoter).

The small crowd pointing their phones at the sky marks the cloud itself as authentic. But to the truth-loving observer, there is once again reason for hesitation.

One clue is that the soldiers hardly seem awestruck, as we might expect when facing a “Biblical pillar of cloud“. It’s no wonder, given the absence of any “pillar” formation, let alone any hint of God revealing Himself in the cloud. It’s a winter storm-front rolling past – certainly dramatic, but not uncommon for Israel’s Golan region. Israelis are treated to such magnificent displays every winter; for example, here, here, and here. The footage that allegedly shows the soldiers “in shock” is merely documenting the Israeli fondness for capturing these winter moments to share with friends.

Another awkward problem is the context. Despite widespread Christian media insistence that the cloud halted precisely on Israel’s border and darkened only the Syrian side, the 45-second video is not long enough to support such a conclusion. On the contrary, this storm system did cross into Israel, causing floods and wind damage from the Golan down to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and beyond.

But this new viral video serves one valuable purpose: it proves that if there had been anything unusual in the sky over Jerusalem on October 1, Israelis by the hundreds would have been outside recording it!

Conclusion

Isn’t God guarding Israel’s borders? Of course. Does He not watch over Jerusalem day and night? Absolutely! But isn’t the vibrant life in Israel for 68 years, amid constant threats of annihilation, miracle enough to prove that?

Why do God’s people need sensational signs in the sky to reassure themselves of God’s faithfulness? “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign.” (Matt.12:39)

May all those who long for Messiah’s coming repent and adopt new priorities worthy of the Kingdom.

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Hannah Weiss
Hannah Weiss lives in Israel with her husband Hillel, their three children and two grandchildren. Besides writing on issues relevant for followers of Yeshua, she also works as an English writer, editor and translator for Israeli exporters and academics. Hannah is part of a small home fellowship, Restorers of Zion, which serves the Body of Messiah by focusing on neglected or dysfunctional areas of Scriptural teaching and practice.

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