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:
It is clear from this passage [4QFlor 1:10-13], as well as others, that for Qumran the Branch of David was one of the principle agents of imminent eschatological fulfilment. He was expected to rescue Israel from domination by foreign rulers, even to achieve victory over the nations. He was to be honored with a glorious enthronement and was expected to rule over all peoples, as well as to establish justice within Israel. Here the priestly scribes at Qumran have picked up an important concern of the ancient tradition of kingship. (p. 104)
By the ‘ancient tradition of kingship’ Horsley is speaking of the tradition of the time of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah — ancient by the standards of Qumran, not just ancient by our standards. It should also be realized that the Qumran community does not represent popular ideology but is a cultic elite.
But here is the interesting bit he throws up for thought:
As strikingly as these passages indicate a revival of messianic expectations, such expectations by no means dominant ed the eschatological outlook of the [Qumran] community. Not only did the Anointed Priest and eschatological prophet or teacher have more prominent roles, but the Qumranites seem to have resisted placing messianic interpretations on what might appear to us as royal messianic texts. In one of the principal messianic passages of the Damascus Rule (7:14-21), for example, the fallen “tabernacle of David” (Amos 9:11) which is to be raised up is understood as “the books of the Law,” “king” is found to mean the Assembly, and the “Star” from Jacob is understood as referring to the Prince of the Congregation. The Qumran texts generally resist using the word “king” in reference to the Anointed of Israel, following the usage of Ezekiel who prefers “prince.”
Horsley has been describing the Qumran community in the generations leading up to the time of Roman conquest. He continues:
It would appear that in later Qumran literature, composed in Roman times, the royal figure is more prominent. Yet even in these texts the Branch of David will rule, not according to his own viewpoint, but as he is instructed by the priests, directly contradicting the Is. 11 text that is being interpreted (see 4QpIsa). In the priestly Qumran community, the anointed royal figure was always subordinated to their intense concern for careful interpretation of covenant law, as well as for calculating the historical application of God’s eschatological mysteries. (p. 104)
Psalm of Solomon 17
Horsley continues his discussion of the development of the idea in the elite literate class.
Toward the beginning of the Roman period there was also a resurgence of expectation of an anointed royal figure in other literate circles. In the Ps. Sol. 17, the focus is on the actual earthly establishment of the Kingdom of God, following rule by illegitimate usurpers and conquest by foreign nations. The psalm is an appeal for, and an anticipatory description of, the rule of the future king, the son of David. Thus,
Behold, O Lord, and raise up unto them their king, the son of David, at the time in the which Thou seest, O God, that he may reign over Israel Thy servant and gird him with strength, that he may shatter unrighteous rulers, and that he may purge Jerusalem from nations that trample (her) down to destruction. . . . . And he (shall be) a righteous king, taught of God . . . . He will rebuke rulers, and remove sinners by the might of his word. (Ps. Sol. 17:23-24, 35, 41)
Although the psalm is based on biblical texts it is not (Horsley is explaining) simply a repetition of biblical texts.
The expectations in this psalm focus exclusively on a royal figure: a son of David, a righteous king. He is expected both to end the reign of unrighteous rulers within the society and to liberate Jerusalem from foreign domination. He is expected to destroy foreign enemies and bring the heathen nations under his own righteous rule. Within Israel he will bring an end to injustice and oppression so that the whole society will dwell in righteousness. The fact that the future king will be the “anointed of the Lord” is directly connected with the anticipation that justice will finally be established in the society. (p. 15)
But then Horsley points out another observation of significant importance for the topic I am interested in:
Perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that the expectation is strongly spiritualized, particularly the political-military imagery: he shall not place trust in military forces and technology, but in spiritual forces. The anointed king will rebuke or destroy the unrighteous rulers by the word of his mouth. The Psalms of Solomon express an expectation of a teacher-king, a royal agent of eschatological Torah, an anointed one conceived, perhaps, in the author’s own image, who would be able to bring the true kingdom of God into effect. (p. 106, my emphasis)
Back to the question of anachronism (or metaphor)
I think Horsley’s study, as I’ve discussed in this and the previous post, obligates us to pause and think carefully about Jesus being described as the Son of David in a mid-first century setting.
- Was this really an expression of popular expectation?
- Does it make sense in the historical intellectual context as portrayed by Horsley to imagine disciples of Jesus being so disillusioned over Jesus as an apparent Davidic deliverer of “popular expectation” that they found solace by turning him into a spiritual one, let alone a “Son of David”?
- Did the early (first century?) Christian authors themselves introduce the concept and inject it into their narratives about Jesus?
- Or do the references to Son of David and House of David in the Gospels, Romans and Acts betray a second century influence, interpolation or even creation?
- Or if original in Romans then do we not have another perspective on spirituality of the concept as Doherty has argued?
Just thoughts. But one thing is sure. The questions are surely legitimate and worth thinking through.
Here are some of the passages that I have in mind —
 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,
 (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)
 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh
 And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging.
 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.
 And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.
 And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way.
 And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord:
 Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.
 And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple
 And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David?
 For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.
 David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.
 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
 Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.
 And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David?
 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
 And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.
 And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased,.
 Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?
 Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?
 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,
 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,
 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;
 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
 And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet.
 And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years.
 And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.
 Of this man’s seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus:
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