Daily Archives: 2011-07-21 08:52:21 GMT+0000

“Son of David” as an anachronism (or metaphor?) in the Gospels, Paul and Acts?

Updated with NT passages for reference

This follows my previous post that set me thinking along a related line. The verse for the day is Horsley’s sentence that I quoted there:

It would thus appear that the supposedly standard Jewish ideas or expectations of the messiah are a flimsy foundation indeed from which to explain early Christian understanding of Jesus.

Now if it is the case that the notion of a Davidic Messiah was something that was only on the horizon of literary elites, and if even there it was an idea to be realized only in a vague and remote future time, and if the idea of a Davidic Messiah was a metaphor and not a genetic son of David, — recall Horsley’s other observation that “Like the title ‘Messiah,’ the explicit term ‘Son of David’ simply does not occur with any frequency in Jewish literature until after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.” — then should not we raise a questioning eyebrow when we see Jesus being hailed as the Messianic Son of David in the Gospels, and when we read in Romans the claim that Jesus was a Son of David? (Son of Belial, we all know, means  a bad person, not a literal son.)

Now in my previous post I pointed out that Horsley said the idea of a Davidic messiah was very rare and confined to literary elites in the time prior to Jesus. Here I look at his discussion of these exceptions.

Qumran — the exception proving the rule

My earliest questioning as I read Horsley was related to Qumran. But here is what Horsley wrote in expectation of my question: read more »

Did the Jews before Christ expect a national Messiah?

The answer is, I think, no. In this post I quote a few sections from Professor Richard Horsley‘s work Bandits, Prophets & Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus.

(Since there is currently a discussion under way at the Freeratio Discussion Board that relates to this question, and since this is a topic I have discussed a few times already, this is a good opportunity to bring out another work I don’t recall using as much as I should have before.)

Horsley notes that common views today about ancient Jewish beliefs about the messiah have been “heavily influenced by western christological doctrine.” (p. 89) That’s never a good sign. Religious bias getting in the way again?

He writes bluntly:

[R]ecent studies have made clear that in pre-Christian times there was no general expectation of “The Messiah.” Far from being uniform, Jewish messianic expectations in the early Roman period were diverse and fluid. It is not even certain that the term messiah was used as a title in any literature of the time. There was no uniform expectation of “the messiah” until well after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., when it became standardized as a result of scholarly rabbinic reflection. In fact, the term is relatively rare in literature prior to, or contemporary with, Jesus. Moreover, the designation messiah is not an essential element in Jewish eschatological expectation. Indeed, a royal figure does not even occur in much of Jewish apocalyptic literature. Thus it is an oversimplification and a historical misconception to say that the Jews expected a “national” or “political” messiah, whereas early Christianity centered around a “spiritual” messiah — statements frequently found in New Testament interpretation. It would thus appear that the supposedly standard Jewish ideas or expectations of the messiah are a flimsy foundation indeed from which to explain early Christian understanding of Jesus. (pp. 90-91, my emphasis)

Davidic King Not Necessarily a Son of David read more »