Life & Culture

The messiah and his seven wives

A much-married horse trainer claims he’s a Jewish patriarch. Is he for real?


He lives in East Sussex and trains race horses, which is not the most likely occupation for a middle-aged Jewish man. But that is the least odd thing about Philip Sharp, who for the past 10 years has been living with his seven "wives" and considers himself a Jewish patriarch.

The wives - who are not married to him by law but have all changed their surnames to Sharp by deed poll - are aged between 29 and 64 and have given him nine children to add another five from a former, convectional, marriage.

The 49-year-old Sharp is a messianic Jew and met his wives at "synagogues", some of which he helped to establish after he was ordained as a rabbi within the movement. He was born halachically Jewish, but now believes that Jesus is the messiah.

He insists his unusual domestic arrangement - he met the first of the seven nine years ago - was motivated by a wish to give protection to women. "I'd probably be on to my next seven if it was just about sex," he says. "In certain situations man is obligated to take a woman as a wife. Judaism believes a woman should never be without a protector, and she is under her father's care until she marries."

He compares his family set-up with that of a kibbutz, saying all the members of his household have their own responsibilities in the home and businesses. As far as the sleeping arrangements go, the wives take it in turn. "If a wife didn't have my attention for many months she would get jealous, but we have regular meetings so this is the sort of thing that gets discussed," he says.

It took time, he adds, for him to feel comfortable with his unusual household. "It took me a while, but, for me, this is the proof that it was good because I didn't try to convince anyone to live with me. All my wives had their own revelations."

Sharp grew up in Stanmore, in the North-West London Jewish heartland, and sang in Edgware Reform Synagogue choir. He attended Stanmore Maccabi youth club. In the 1970s he was a well-known radio DJ who entertained at Jewish dances at the Portman Hotel in London.

"I was heavily involved in that scene," says Sharp, who gets the bulk of his income from a family-run haulage company, allowing him to focus on training his 10 horses. "I was well known in the Jewish community. I achieved a lot of success at a very young age. I was 17 and 18, I was paying a mortgage on a house. I probably achieved too much too quickly and I became really disillusioned with life. The Judaism I knew didn't give me anything. It was all parrot fashion.

"I literally gave my business away. I left the country, got a backpack and went to Europe. To cut a long story short, a Catholic mate asked me to come to a church service. I had never been to church in my life. So I said: ‘Why not?' It touched a nerve. And then it hit me. I thought, Jesus is our messiah - why don't we realise that? My faith began to grow but I never became a Christian. I always remained a Jew and what happened was that meeting Jeshuah [Jesus] threw me into Judaism."

Sharp keeps all the Jewish festivals and Shabbat. He says God called upon him to be a patriarch. "I had a visitation from God. I saw the re-establishment of the Nation of Israel - that of ruler of the world. I'm not saying I'm the messiah, I'm a messiah, or anointed one."

And what do his biological family think about his unconventional set up? "Both my mum and dad are dead unfortunately. My two sisters tolerate it. After all is said and done I'm an embarrassment to them, but I have always been an embarrassment to them."

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