There is no reasonable basis for denying that some pre-Christian Jews would have expected at least one dying messiah, and some could well have expected his death to be an essential atoning death, just as the Christians believed of Jesus. . .
Such a concept was therefore not a Christian novelty wholly against the grain of Jewish thinking, but already exactly what some Jews were thinking — or could easily have thought. (Richard Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus, p. 77, 73)
What evidence does Richard Carrier cite for this claim?
Part (not all) of his evidence includes, ironically, texts that some assume have no relevance at all. So let’s first of all hear the justification for referring to passages that were written some centuries after the birth of Christianity:
There is no plausible way that Jews would invent interpretations of their scripture that supported and vindicated Christians. They would not invent a Christ with a father named Joseph who dies and is resurrected (as the Talmud does indeed describe). They would not proclaim Isaiah 53 to be about this messiah and admit that Isaiah there had predicted this messiah would die and be resurrected. That was the very biblical passage that Christians were using to prove their case. Moreover, the presentation of this ideology in the Talmud makes no mention of Christianity and gives no evidence of being any kind of polemic or response to it.
So we have evidence here of a Jewish belief that possibly predates Christian evangelizing, even if that evidence survives only in later sources. (pp. 73-74, my bolding and formatting in all quotations)
1. b. Sanhedrin 98b and 93b
Giddal said in Rab’s name: The Jews are destined to eat [their fill] in the days of the Messiah.
R. Joseph demurred: is this not obvious; who else then should eat — Hilek and Bilek? —This was said in opposition to R. Hillel, who maintained that there will be no Messiah for Israel, since they have already enjoyed him during the reign of Hezekiah.
Rab said: The world was created only on David’s account.
Samuel said: On Moses account;
R. Johanan said: For the sake of the Messiah. What is his [the Messiah’s] name? — The School of R. Shila said: His name is Shiloh, for it is written, until Shiloh come. The School of R. Yannai said: His name is Yinnon, for it is written, His name shall endure for ever: e’er the sun was, his name is Yinnon. The School of R. Haninah maintained: His name is Haninah, as it is written, Where I will not give you Haninah. Others say: His name is Menahem the son of Hezekiah, for it is written, Because Menahem [‘the comforter’], that would relieve my soul, is far. The Rabbis said: His name is ‘the leper scholar,’ as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted. (b. Sanhedrin 98b)
The passage continues to discuss God raising up a new David in a way that implies such a figure does not have to be a family relation to the original David. One detail that interests me in particular in the above passage is the indication that an earlier version of Isaiah compared the Messiah with a leper. If such a text had been known to the author of the Gospel of Mark we would have a new way of viewing Christ’s healing of the leper.
The Messiah — as it is written, And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge of the fear of the Lord. And shall make him of quick understanding [wa-hariho] in the fear of the Lord.
R. Alexandri said: This teaches that he loaded him with good deeds and suffering as a mill[is laden]. [This is a play of words on [H] (wa-hariho) and [H] (rehayyim)]. (b. Sanhedrin 93b)
2. b. Sukkoh 52-a-b
Not only Isaiah 53 but also Zechariah 12:10 (the messiah is to be pierced and slain):
And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart. . .
What is the cause of the mourning? —
R. Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point. One explained, The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, and the other explained, The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination.
It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son; but according to him who explains the cause to be the slaying of the Evil Inclination, is this [it may be objected] an occasion for mourning? Is it not rather an occasion for rejoicing? Why then should they weep? — . . .
Our Rabbis taught, The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to the Messiah, the son of David (May he reveal himself speedily in our days!), ‘Ask of me anything, and I will give it to thee’, as it is said, I will tell of the decree etc. this day have I begotten thee, ask of me and I will give the nations for thy inheritance. But when he will see that the Messiah the son of Joseph is slain, he will say to Him, ‘Lord of the Universe, I ask of Thee only the gift of life’. ’As to life’, He would answer him, ‘Your father David has already prophesied this concerning you’, as it is said, He asked life of thee, thou gavest it him, [even length of days for ever and ever]. . .
And the Lord showed me four craftsmen. Who are these ‘four craftsmen’? —
R. Hana b. Bizna citing R. Simeon Hasida replied: The Messiah the son of David, the Messiah the son of Joseph, Elijah and the Righteous Priest. (b. Sukkah 52a-b)
3. Apoclypse of Zerubbabel (Sefer Zerubbabel)
The Apocalypse of Zerubbabel from the seventh century prophesies two messiahs, one of David and the other of Joseph. The Messiah son of Joseph will be slain but resurrected when the second messiah (son of David) appears.
Michael, who is (also) Metatron, answered me saying: ‘I am the angel who guided Abraham throughout all the land of Canaan. . . . As for you, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, whose name is Jeconiah, ask me and I will tell you what will happen at the End of Days.’
Then he said to me: ‘This is the Messiah of the Lord: (he has) been hidden in this place until the appointed time (for his manifestation). This is the Messiah of the lineage of David, and his name is Menahem ben ‘Amiel. He was born during the reign of David, king of Israel, and a wind bore him up and concealed him in this place, waiting for the time of the end.’ . . .
Zerubbabel spoke up and said to Metatron and to Michael (sic) the prince: ‘My lord, I want you to tell me when the Messiah of the Lord will come and what will happen after all this!’
He said to me, ‘The Lord’s Messiah—Nehemiah ben Hushiel—will come five years after Hephsibah. He will collect all Israel together as one entity and they will remain for years in Jerusalem, (where) the children of Israel will offer sacrifice, and it will be pleasing to the Lord. . . . But in the fifth year of Nehemiah and the gathering together of the ‘holy ones,’ Šērōy the king of Persia will attack Nehemiah ben Hushiel and Israel, and there will be great suffering in Israel. . . .
. . . Then he said to me, ‘This statue is the [wife] of Belial. Satan will come and have intercourse with it, and a son named Armilos [a Hebraicism for Romulus, i.e. Rome?] will emerge from it, [whose name in Greek means] “he will destroy a nation.” He will rule over all (peoples), and his dominion will extend from one end of the earth to the other . . . . He will come against the holy people of the Most High, and with him there will be ten kings wielding great power and force, and he will do battle with the holy ones. He will prevail over them and will kill the Messiah of the lineage of Joseph, Nehemiah b. Hushiel, and will also kill sixteen righteous ones alongside him. Then they will banish Israel to the desert in three groups. . . .
He said to me: ‘Menahem b. ‘Amiel will suddenly come on the fourteenth day of the first month . . . Menahem b. ‘Amiel will say to the elders and the sages: “I am the Lord’s Messiah: the Lord has sent me to encourage you and to deliver you from the power of these adversaries!” The elders will scrutinize him and will despise him, for they will see that despicable man garbed in rags, and they will despise him just as you previously did. But then his anger will burn within him, “and he will don garments of vengeance (as his) clothing and will put on a cloak of zealousness” (Isa 59:17b), and he will journey to the gates of Jerusalem. . . . All the elders and children of Israel will come and see that Nehemiah (b. Hushiel) is alive and standing unassisted, (and) immediately they will believe in the Messiah.’ . . .
On the twenty-first day of the first month, nine hundred and ninety years after the destruction of the Temple, the deliverance of the Lord will take place for Israel. Menahem b. ‘Amiel, Nehemiah b. Hushiel, and Elijah the prophet will come and stand by the Mediterranean Sea and read the prophecy of the Lord. All the bodies of those Israelites who had thrown themselves into the sea while fleeing from their enemies will emerge: a sea-wave will rise up, spread them out, and deposit them alive within the valley of Jehoshaphat near the Wadi Shittim, for there judgment will transpire upon the nations. (Sefer Zerubbabel)
That’s the late evidence. What to make of it?
Next, the textual evidence prior to Christianity . . . . .
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