False Prophets and Messiahs Jan Bockelson or John of Leiden

About the false prophet or messiah Jan Bockelson or John of Leiden, biography and history of the man.



The son of a Leiden merchant, Bockelson was a tailor by trade before joining the radical Dutch Anabaptist movement as a disciple of Jan Matthyson. In 1534 the two engineered a revolt against civil and religious authorities in Munster, Westphalia, and they and their followers expelled the city's ruler, Prince-Bishop Francis Von Waldeck. They set about persecuting Catholics and Lutherans, and proclaimed the city a new Jerusalem. Upon the death of Matthyson shortly thereafter, Bockelson assumed command. Very persuasive and especially attractive to women, he told his followers that God had chosen him to be the new Messiah. With the city continuously under siege by troops representing outraged Protestants, several German princes, and disenfranchised Munster merchants, he roused his people to build a communist theocracy directed by his word alone. He decreed that men could now take multiple wives and that women must, under penalty of death, submit to whichever men chose them. For his part, Bockelson chose 16 wives and used a pegboard system to keep track of whom he was sleeping with each night. He tore down church steeples, communized all property, and minted fresh coins bearing his likeness and the legend "The Word Was Made Flesh." He staged lavish banquets while the people of the city were starving under the effects of the siege. In June, 1535, troops under the aegis of the former prince-bishop recaptured the city. Bockelson was taken into captivity and, like Christ on the cross, was ridiculed by his captors for not saving himself if he was really the Messiah. Sentenced to death, in 1536 he was shackled to a stake, scorched with heated pincers, and detongued. The coup de grace was a hot knife through the heart. His body was then displayed in a cage at St. Lambert's Church. Other Anabaptist leaders in the city were similarly tortured to death.

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