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History is full of supposed Messiahs and Saviors who founded religious movements and/or identified themselves as saviors (e.g. Joseph Smith and Raël). (By contrast, some messiahs were only venerated posthumously, possibly obscuring their actual wishes and intentions.)

Haile Selassie is a possibly unique example of an involuntary living messiah. Rastafarians considered his ascension to the Ethiopian throne to fulfill predictions of Marcus Garvey and the Book of Daniel. Selassie treated his unorthodox adherents respectfully, meeting them when he visited Jamaica in 1966 and allowing some to move to Ethiopia. He arranged to send an Ethiopian Orthodox mission to Jamaica and had no direct involvement in the Rastafarian movement.

Did anyone else happen to find themselves identified as a messiah for thousands of believers during their lifetime? Of course, a similar story was the premise of the comedy film "Life of Brian". Let's exclude quasi-religious subjection in the form of the divine right of kings or celebrity worship syndrome.

Or was Haile Selassie the world's only involuntary messiah?

H.I.M.

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    I instantly thought of Life Of Brian too... – jwenting Nov 18 at 7:09
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    While maybe not truly a messiah, where do your question stand on the Dalai Lama reincarnations? Is this applicable as Tibetan Buddhists acknowledge that you cannot will yourself to incarnate as the reincarnated DL? – Flater Nov 18 at 13:30
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    "Let's exclude quasi-religious subjection in the form of the divine right of kings or celebrity worship syndrome" I think this is overly restrictive. How do you expect an unwilling messiah to spawn a religion, if not by either pre-existing authority (right of kings) or popular support (celebrity)? The involuntary nature of the messiah inherently suggests that others attribute messiah-ness to this person, thus inherently making them a celebrity. – Flater Nov 18 at 13:32
  • @Flater I think you're party right, in that there is a line that gets crossed somewhere where it's no longer quite so "quasi". Unfortunately everyone will see a different line. – Spencer Nov 18 at 14:08
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    @LangLangC: however controversial IMO you should undelete your answer. – Denis de Bernardy Nov 19 at 19:35
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Another movement with an involuntary divinity - not exactly a Messiah - is Prince Philip Movement. Some people in a village in Vanuatu seem to believe that the Duke of Edinburgh is a divine being.

  • My first impression on reading this answer was..."Wasn't that where they had the cargo cult?" (...reads link...). "Ha!" – T.E.D. Nov 20 at 22:08
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Jiddu Krishnamurti was believed to be a sort of messiah (the 'World Teacher') by the Theosophists. In the 1920s he disavowed this idea and dissolved the organisation that had been established to support it.

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You are asking about people who were regarded literally as "the Messiah", not as a "saviour" or "divinity", right? Then we need to mention the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, whose followers regarded him as the Messiah, a claim which he rejected. An involuntary Messiah.

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