The Priestly Messiah and the Royal Messiah

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by Neil Godfrey

In the previous post we looked at ancient Jewish concepts of multiple messiahs, each with a distinctive role. There was Davidic messiah who for most of existence lives like a destitute vagabond or beggar, despised, rejected and unrecognized in the streets of “Rome”.  Then there was a messiah from the tribe of Joseph who emerged as a warrior to lead Israel in a battle against the ultimate forces of evil but who was killed in that battle. His death was the cue for the Davidic messiah to emerge from obscurity and call upon God for the resurrection of the fallen messiah.

We also saw other messiahs, one from the tribe of Levi or family of Aaron, who was a priest-messiah. Associated with these messiahs was a prophet, Elijah.

We looked at some reasons for believing such ideas were familiar (if not unanimously embraced) by Jews prior to the fall of the Temple in 70 CE. In a future post I will look at additional evidence for assigning such beliefs as early as the period from 200 BCE to 70 CE. I will also address the midrashic processes by which Second Temple era Jews could well have arrived at such characters and scenarios according to Daniel Boyarin.

And most interesting of all, at least for me, I will post on how all of these ideas relate to what we read in the Gospel of Mark about the figure of Jesus and the reason for his crucifixion.

But in this post we will look at other types of messiahs, or at least one other: the priest-messiah and his subordinate companion (political) messiah from Israel or Joseph. 

Messiahs from Aaron and Israel

The Damascus Document discovered early in the last century testifies to a belief in a future messianic couple: one descended from Aaron (the first high priest and from the tribe of Levi) and the other generically “from Israel”, and this same idea was found on a scroll in the caves of Qumran:

They shall depart from none of the counsels of the Law to walk in all the stubbornness of their hearts, but shall be ruled by the primitive precepts in which the men of the Community were first instructed until there shall come the Prophet and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel. (1QS 9:11 — from Vermes, 1997)

Again there is a pecking order: the son of Aaron, the priestly messiah, is superior to the  lay messiah son of Israel.

When God engenders (the Priest-) Messiah, he shall come with them [at] the head of the whole congregation of Israel with all [his brethren, the sons] of Aaron the Priests, [those called] to the assembly, the men of renown; and they shall sit [before him, each man] in the order of his dignity. And then [the Mess]iah of Israel shall [come], and the chiefs of the [clans of Israel] shall sit before him, [each] in the order of his dignity, according to [his place] in their camps and marches. And before them shall sit all the heads of [family of the congregation, and the wise men of [the holy congregation,] each in the order of his dignity.

And [when] they shall gather for the common [tab]le, to eat and [to drink] new wine, when the common table shall be set for eating and the new wine [poured] for drinking, let no man extend his hand over the firstfruits of bread and wine before the Priest; for [it is he] who shall bless the firstfruits of bread and wine, and shall be the first [to extend] his hand over the bread. Thereafter, the Messiah of Israel shall extend his hand over the bread, [and] all the congregation of the Community [shall utter a] blessing, [each man in the order] of his dignity.

It is according to this statute that they shall proceed at every me[al at which] at least ten men are gathered together (1QSa 2:11-22 — Vermes)

Priest Messiah (of Levi) and King Messiah (of Judah)

Actually we didn’t have to wait for the Qumran discoveries to learn about this pre-Christian Jewish belief in multiple messiahs since it has been there in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Unfortunately the key passages were long misinterpreted as two opposing sided arguing over who should be considered the one real messiah. Rather than quote here the passages from the Testaments (they are all online, of course) I quote a summary of the various references by K.G. Kuhn:

So we see, side by side in Test. Rub. 67-12 the Anointed High Priest of Levi19 and the Eternal King of Judah. Levi has the highest rank, while Judah is subordinated to him. Especially interesting is the fact that it is the high priest title, already familiar to us from Lev. 4 which appears here in the same Greek translation as the Septuagint used in Lev. 45,16, 615, cf. 43. In Test. Levi 172, 3 the high priest of Levi is called the Anointed One (ho chriomenos = ha-mashiah).20

According to Test. Sim. 72, God will cause a high priest to arise from Levi and a King from Judah.21 It is from these that the salvation of God will come upon Israel (Test. Sim. 71; likewise Test. Levi 211; Dan 510; Gad 81; Jos. 1911).

Test. Levi 182-14 praises the high priest Messiah of the Last Days, the New Priest in a hymn. This is practically paralleled in Test. Judah 24 by the hymn in praise of the royal Messiah of Judah. That the worldly kingship belongs to Judah is stated in Test. Judah 124; 152-3; 173,5-6, 222-3; it is most clearly stated in 212-5:

“To me (Judah) God has given the kingship, to him (Levi) the priesthood; and the kingship he has subordinated to the priesthood.”

The same is said in Text. (sic) Iss. 57. The subordination is also stressed in Test. Judah 251-2; Napht. 53-5. If we add Test. Sim. 55-8; Levi 814; Dan 54, 7; Napht. 66; 82, in all of which we find Levi’s priesthood and Judah’s kingship, we have named all of the messianic passages of the Test. XII Patr.22 All of them exhibit, with complete unanimity, the concept of the priestly Messiah of Levi and the political and royal Messiah of Judah, the latter ranking after the former. (Kuhn, pp. 57-8)

It is not hard to recollect passages like the two anointed ones, priest and governor, in the Book of Zechariah, to appreciate Boyarin’s explanation that such ideas can be traced to a midrashic reading of the Scriptures.

But why would we read of a priestly messiah from Levi teaming up with a subordinate royal messiah from the tribe of Judah in these early writings but of something somewhat different — a superior Davidic messiah teaming up with a warrior messiah from Joseph or Israel in later texts?

We will also look at a possible early link between the Messiah of Joseph and a second (messianic) Joshua.


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Neil Godfrey

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14 thoughts on “The Priestly Messiah and the Royal Messiah”

  1. Shalom & Boker tov, on this Hol ha’Mo-ed Pesach…I have never found the Geza Vermes translations useful, or especially accurate when studying the Judaean Desert scrolls. When comparing the original scroll texts (all of which, of course, have been photographed), I find the only translation that parallels them is:

    Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Edward Cook, translations/commentary, 2005. The Dead Sea scrolls: a new translation (HarperSanFrancisco, revised & updated edition), 1-662

    Of use, too, is:

    Martin Abegg, Peter Flint, Eugene Ulrich, translations/commentary, 1999. The Dead Sea scrolls bible (HarperSanFrancisco), 1-649

    Daniel Boyarin’s work on natz’rut is problematic. Peter Schaefer, while I disagree with his supposition that Yeshu benMiriam/’Jesus’ existed, in his 2012 The Jewish Jesus (Princeton University Press) explores early messianism ‘in statu nascendi’, and, in 2012, he published a devastating critique of Daniel Boyarin in The New Republic. To paraphrase the film Footnote, what Boyarin offers as ‘new’ is painfully incorrect, and what little is correct is not new.

    It seems to me, you are predicating some of your hypotheses by using natz’ri texts vs contemporaneous Yehu’dit scholarship published during the past 50 years. Michael Fishbane and Israel Knohl, among others, have been exploring the idea of a mashiach in the 2nd Temple period more thoroughly than the ill-disguised proselytising of natz’rut ‘scholars’.

    I remain unconvinced that during the 2nd Temple period the idea of a Mashiach was pivotal to unfolding ‘Judaisms’. In fact, during the appearances of the Enoch/apocalypse literatures and the Hekhalot literatures, a Mashiach was being rendered superfluous. A fabricated Yeshu benMiriam (there were no natz’rim in Judaea or the region in the 1 century CE because there existed no Yeshu) was important to strengthen the phantasies of the early churches who nurtured all of the ideas of a salvific ‘messiah’.

    STEPHAN PICKERING / חפץ ח”ם בן אברהם
    Torah אלילה Yehu’di Apikores / Philologia Kabbalistica Speculativa Researcher
    לחיות זמן רב ולשגשג


    1. The Wise, Abegg, Cook translations and commentary says exactly the same as the phrase I quoted — “the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel” (p. 131) — as do all the scholars who discuss this question.

      Fortunately Boyarin grants his critics their due and revises his views accordingly — unlike some who crusade for apologetic belief systems without any valid methodology, Stephan.

    2. On Schafer’s review of Boyarin:

      What’s really going on here is that Schäfer has his own popular book out, The Jewish Jesus: How Judaism and Christianity Shaped Each Other which argues some themes very similar to Boyarin’s book. But Schäfer’s book has been a bust (#107,387 on Amazon) while Boyarin’s book has been relatively successful (#7,102 overall, and #1 in Judaism-Theology, #4 Judaism-History of Religion, and #24 in books on Jesus). Sour grapes.

      And again,

      Boyarin is part of this larger trend that includes many other authors, both clerical and academic. Schafer himself just released a volume on the topic The Jewish Jesus: How Judaism and Christianity Shaped Each Other (Princeton University Press).and this seems like academic rivalry. It seems he agree in the basic thesis but thinks his approach is the better way.

  2. “The Damascus Document discovered early in the last century testifies to a belief in a future messianic couple: one descended from Aaron (the first high priest and from the tribe of Levi) and the other generically “from Israel”…”

    All of the references to the Messiah of Aaron and Israel in the Damascus Document are singular, as Chester notes here:

    “All four of these passages from the Damascus Document refer to the coming of the Messiah of Aaron and Israel (in three cases in what is a stereotypes formula). In contrast to 1QS 9.9-11, the term ‘Messiah’ is here used throughout in the singular, not plural, form” (though he argues that it still refers to two messiahs).


    Regarding this emendation, Wacholder notes:

    “Conventional scholarship emends CD’s reading … [of a singular messiah in] (6:1) to a plural … and understands that it is alluding to two messiahs … A distinction should be drawn between these clauses containing the word [messiah] in the plural [in other Scrolls] and that of … (the Messiah from Aaron and Israel) which occurs four times in MTA (CD 12:23-24; 14:19; 19:10-11; 20:1), wherein the term “messiah” is in the singular. The plural refers to those that have been sanctified with oil, set apart for a particular task within historical Israel, whereas the singular pertains to the anticipated Messiah of the future.”


    The Damascus Document also refers to a singular root of planting “from Israel and Aaron,” and while Blanton argues that there were two messiahs in the Damascus Document, he notes that:

    “The designation of the “root” as arising out of “Israel and Aaron” connotes the military/political authority on the one hand, and the priestly authority on the other, that the sect claimed it would embody at the end of the “last days,” but there is nevertheless only one sect or “root of planting.”


    1QS is the only DSS that mentions plural messiahs of Aaron and Israel, and as Eric Mason notes, “this key phrase is omitted -along with several lines of its context- in 4Q259 (4QS), a copy of this document dated on paleographical grounds to 50 to 25 B.C.E.”


  3. Another copy of 1QS (4Q259) also omits this passage, and Xeravits argues that, “In our view, the reading of 4Q259 is not due to scribal omission … The text gives an intelligible reading even without this unit … The analysis of the whole corpus confirms the opinion of those scholars who consider 4Q259 as transmitting an earlier version … By accepting this solution, the “messianic” passage of 1QS turns out to be a secondary addition to the material of the Rule of the Community.”


  4. Which all goes to point towards a range of views over the decades among different groups — and to how different scholars interpret the data differently according to various views of what they believe Judaism was like then. Evidence is very clear — as per the post — that there were beliefs extant in multiple messiahs with different functions and appearing in a plotted sequence.

  5. But there is only one future Messiah in the Damascus Document.

    And regarding 1QSa, there is no “(Priest-) Messiah” in the Hebrew, only “the Messiah” as can be seen in Martinez’s translation. And the appearance of the word yolid (begets) is arguably derived from Ps. 2:7, which is generally understood to mean a Davidic Messiah (“This day I have begotten you”).

    “…when God begets the Messiah with them: [the] chief [priest] of all the congregation of Israel shall enter, and all [his] br[others, the sons] of Aaron, the priests [summoned] to the assembly, the men of renown, and they shall sit be[fore him, each one], according to his dignity. After, [the Mess]iah of Israel shall [enter] …”


    So there is only one Messiah (“the Messiah of Israel”) in 1QSa as well, versus the one variant of 1QS that mentions the coming of two messiahs, which is argubaly due to a scribal error and why it is omitted in other copies of 1QS.

    1. I’m not sure what it is you are trying to emphasize. I don’t see how the DSS make any difference to the argument in the post. I’m sure you’re not suggesting that the DSS trump all other literature and beliefs of the day.

  6. I appreciate your larger observation that there are multiple messiahs in other Jewish writings, I just don’t agree that the Damascus Document and 1QSa testify “to a belief in a future messianic couple: one descended from Aaron (the first high priest and from the tribe of Levi) and the other generically “from Israel,” is all.

    1. If you have sources that differ from the ones I have then I would be interested in doing a thorough study of all the sources and seeing why they differ and what the grounds are for each claim.

  7. Today I picked up a copy of The Grammar of Messianism by Matthew Novenson. On pages 59-60 he writes:

    Much of the discussion of this text has centered on the verb in the subordinate clause of the first sentence, which Vermes translates “engenders,” reading יוליד , from the root ילד , “to beget.” This reading is contestable on paleographic grounds, but both early and recent interpreters have tended to support it. For our purposes, it does not matter. The important thing is the cast of characters and the scene. We have, first, the messiah of Israel, who is not a priest but a lay ruler; he is coordinated with the chiefs of the clans of Israel. And we have, second, the (high) priest, who is coordinated with his brothers, the sons of Aaron, the priests. He is not here called the messiah of Aaron (see 1QS 9:9-11; and cf. CD 12:22-13:1; 14:18-19; 19:10-11; 19:33-20:1); but he is apparently identical with the messiah begotten (or sent) by God in line 1. Hence Vermes’s gloss “(Priest-) Messiah” is on the right track. Because we have here both a (priest) messiah and the messiah of Israel, it seems to me that lQSa presupposes the Qumranite motif of the two messiahs of Aaron and Israel.

    In this Rule text, their job is to preside (the priest messiah at the head, the messiah of Israel his attache) at the ritual meal in the last days.

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