Those quotes are from Benjamin Reynolds, page 29 of his essay “The Gospel of John’s Christology as Evidence for Early Jewish Messianic Expectations: Challenges and Possibilities” for Reading the Gospel of Johns Christology as Jewish Messianism (2018). The hypothesis being advanced is that the Christology in the earliest Christian texts — a preexistent, heavenly messiah, sitting alongside God, was also the human messiah who died — can be explained with reference to messianic ideas in Second Temple Judaism.
Since I have been posting on Daniel Boyarin’s articles recently it is time to offer some “balance” and quote from William Horbury’s Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ (1998).
What can be the relevance of post Second Temple era rabbinic texts?
The Targums and rabbinic literature are considered from time to time among the evidence which may shed light on Judaism at the time of Christian origins. Most of their wealth of material is later, but when viewed in conjunction with the Septuagint and the writings of the Second-Temple period they can be seen to preserve much exegesis and tradition which will have been current then. (3)
What are the respective roles of Judaism and gentile beliefs in the development of the Christ cult?
Early Christianity also offers signs of continuity with the developed messianic expectation of ancient Judaism, especially in respect of conceptual links between spirit and messiah, and those narratives of advent and reign which make up a kind of messianic myth. These developments of an inherited messianism were encouraged by its parallel continuation in the Jewish community throughout the period of Christian origins, and by the importance of ruler-cult under both Greek and Roman rule. Within Christianity the Christ-cult developed side by side with the cults of the angels and the saints. For all three customs there were Greek and Roman counterparts, but the origins lay in Jewish practice which had already been influenced by the Greek and Roman world. In the case of the Christ-cult, messianism in particular formed the link between Judaism and the apparently gentilic acclamation of Kyrios Iesous Christos. (4)
What are messianic prophecies about?
[M]essianic prophecies are not simply predictions of deliverance, but affirmations of the ideal of the Israelite state as it should be. (14)
What Old Testament figures appear to have influenced the development of messianic ideas?
(a) Moses is represented as a king in Ezekiel the Tragedian (probably second century BC), Philo, and much rabbinic tradition. . . . . A royal interpretation of Moses seems to appear in any case in Isa. 63. 11 , where Moses is the shepherd of the flock, and Exod. 4. 20 LXX , where he receives his sceptre from God. . . . . At the heart of the Pentateuch, then, is a figure which could be and was interpreted as that of a royal deliverer. Note that his pleading for his people (e.g. Exod. 32. 11, 32) and his rebuttal by them introduce an element of suffering into this royal picture. (31)
(b) David emerges as a suffering and humiliated yet ultimately victorious king, notably in Ps. 18 = II Sam. 22; Pss. 21-22 , and the psalms associated in their titles with his flights from Saul and from Absalom into the wilderness (3; 54; 57; 59; 62; 142); . . . . he is an exorcist (I Sam. 16. 14-23) and an inspired prophet (II Sam. 23. 1-7 ; cf. I Chron. 28.12, 19). . . . .
The suffering aspect of the royal figure of David goes unmentioned for the most part in sources from the time of Christian origins, but its biblical prominence in the histories and psalms will have kept it in view, as is suggested by the reference to David’s flight in Mark 2.25-26 and parallels. This aspect of the figure of David will then have contributed, together with the suffering of Moses noted above, to the messianic interpretation of the suffering servant of Isaiah and the smitten shepherd of Zechariah. (32-33)
The Servant of Isaiah 53
(c) The servant of Isa. 53 is interpreted as messiah in the Targum, but as victorious rather than suffering. This interpretation is not unnatural, for the passage is preceded by a prophecy of [redemption and followed by a vision of restoration]. . . . The Israelite king appears as a suffering servant in Ps. 89. 39, and the messiah is God’s servant in Zech. 3. 8. . . . . It was perhaps originally formed on the model of the suffering king, and a messianic interpretation was probably current in the Second-Temple period, but the passage was not then regarded as obviously messianic. (33)
Smitten shepherd of Zechariah 13:7
(d) The smitten shepherd of Zech. 13. 7 forms part of a series of prophecies in Zechariah, beginning with the advent of the lowly king in 9. 9, which find a messianic interpretation both in the New Testament and in rabbinic literature. In the latter they are associated with Messiah ben Joseph or ben Ephraim, who fights Gog and Magog and dies in battle. The death of a messiah is already envisaged in II Esdras 7, at the end of the messianic age, and the cutting off of a rightful ruler called messiah is foretold in Dan. 9. 26, quoted already. The notion of a slain messiah is then likely to have been current in the Second-Temple period, partly on the basis of Zechariah, although it seems clearly to have been less prominent than the expectation of a great and glorious king. The objections of the disciples to Christ’s expectation of suffering, as depicted in the Gospels, might then be ascribed not to their total ignorance of the notion of a humiliated messiah, but to their unwillingness to accept that it might apply in this case. (33)
The Son of Man in Daniel 7
(e) The Son of man in Dan. 7 is viewed messianically in the earliest interpretation, ranging from the middle of the first century BC to the middle of the second century AD in the Parables of Enoch, II Esdras, the Fifth Sibylline Book, a saying attributed to R. Akiba, and Justin Martyr’s Dialogue. In its setting in Daniel, however, it is widely taken at present to represent an angelic deliverer, probably Michael, the patron of Israel, who is mentioned as such in 12. 1. . . . This is an attractive view, because human figures often represent angels, in Daniel and elsewhere, and the importance of angels as
regulating terrestrial affairs is clear not only in Daniel but also in the Qumran War Scroll. Nevertheless, the early messianic interpretation seems more likely to be right. Both angelic and human leaders functioned in the Exodus, both are mentioned in the War Scroll, and both can be envisaged without difficulty in Daniel. In Daniel 2, the coming of the kingdom of God, represented by the stone which breaks the image, can naturally be associated with a messianic figure, just as in the War Scroll the kingdom is said to belong to God pre-eminently at the moments when Israel is delivered by David, the kings of his line, or the messiah. In Dan. 7 the beasts represent kings or kingdoms (7. 17, 23-24), not the angel-princes who are the expected foes of Israel’s angel-patron (10. 13 , 20-21). Finally, the designation ‘Son of man’ is close to the use of various words signifying ‘man’ in pre-Danielic messianic oracles, including Num. 24. 17; II Sam. 23. 1 and Zech. 6. 12 , quoted above, and Ps. 80. 18, which has ben adam. (34)
Of these five figures, then, Moses, David, the smitten shepherd and the Son of man will have influenced the growth of messianism from the first. In each case they fitted well into the royal messianism which we have seen to predominate, despite the importance of dual messianism. In the end the servant of Isa. 53 also contributed to the picture of the messianic king. (34)
How does the Septuagint translation change the Hebrew to introduce messianic prophecies?
I’ll discuss this question about the Septuagint’s messianic interest, including Horbury’s discussion, another time. There is too much to cover for this post.
What pre-rabbinic Jewish texts speak of the pre-existence, albeit humanity, and death of the messiah?
II Esdras 3-14 (Apocalypse of Ezra)
Like the Parables of Enoch and the Fifth Sibylline book, it reflects the integration of Daniel, especially the vision of one like a son of man, with the traditions of a Davidic messiah in the Pentateuch, Prophets and Psalms. So in II Esdras the messiah is symbolized by a lion, clearly the lion of Judah’s blessing in Gen. 49. 10, who destroys an eagle, said to represent the fourth kingdom which appeared to Daniel (II Esdras 12. 11 ); he is to bring joy to his own for four hundred years in a messianic kingdom, but then to die before the last judgment (II Esdras 12. 34; cf. 7. 33); and he is symbolized again by a man flying with the clouds of heaven, who recalls by his form the man-like figure of Dan. 7, but whose deeds of judgment and redemption, including victory over the multitude of the heathen, are those expected of the Davidic messiah in Isaiah 11 and Psalms 2 and 110 (II Esdras 13. 1-53). (58, my highlighting)
The Parables of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71)
The Danielic Son of man is understood as the Davidic messiah, on an interpretation already attested in the Parables of Enoch, perhaps to be dated near the beginning of the Herodian period. This understanding implies the pre-existence and revelation of the messiah, notions already suggested by such biblical passages as Micah 5. 1 and Ps. 110. 3. As II Esdras shows in its present form, heavenly origins were not held to be inconsistent with an earthly reign of fixed length. The messiah rules from the top of mount Zion (13. 35). The specification of four hundred years itself implies that the thought of a messianic reign is already familiar, and its length a known topic of speculation. The length favoured in II Esdras 7 is one of a number suggested in rabbinic interpretation on the principle that the time of comfort and joy should correspond to the years of affliction, as Moses prayed (Ps. 90. 15); in this case it corresponds to the four hundred years of affliction prophesied in the vision between the pieces (Gen. 15. 13 ). Among factors contributing to expectation of the death of the messiah at the end of his reign is perhaps the influence of Dan. 9. 26 (compare the discussion of the smitten shepherd at the end of the previous chapter), and of the view exemplified in the Apocalypse of Weeks (I Enoch 91. 14) that this world is entirely dissolved before the new creation. The expectation attested in the apocalypse of Ezra is therefore rich, but by no means unparalleled. (58-59, my highlighting)
Was the messiah also believed to have been a pre-existent “angelic” being?
Pre-existence, then, is suggested by biblical oracles such as Isa. 9. 5(6) and Micah 5. 1(2) . . . .; and it characterizes the glorious messianic figure depicted with traits of the Danielic Son of man in the Parables of Enoch, II Esdras and the Fifth Sibylline book . . . . with special reference to II Esdras. This material has often been interpreted as presenting an angel-like messiah, with reference also to Septuagintal renderings including ‘angel of great counsel’ at Isa. 9. 5(6). The conception of an angelic messiah has sometimes been identified almost exclusively with the Jewish apocalypses; but the apocalyptic sources themselves show that the Danielic figure of the Son of man coming with the clouds of heaven had come to be associated closely with the series of messianic oracles in the Pentateuch, Prophets and Psalms. Bousset urged that the royal title ‘angel of great counsel’ in the LXX Isaiah is only one of a number of indications, in the LXX and elsewhere, that the messiah of the biblical oracles was envisaged as a preexistent angelic figure. (89-90)
. . . .
It seems likely, as A. M . Goldberg holds, that the temporal interpretation of Ps. 72. 5, 17 on the king and his name has influenced the Parables of Enoch on the royal Son of man: ‘And before the sun and the signs [cf. Gen. 1. 14] were created, before the stars of the heavens were made, his name was named before the Lord of spirits‘ (I Enoch 48. 3 ). The view that the psalm was already interpreted in this way before the end of the Second-Temple period is further supported by Ps. Sol. 17. . . . and by the similar Septuagintal and Targumic understanding of Micah 5. 1 . . . which arises very naturally from the Hebrew of Micah.
This view in turn bears on assessment of Ps. 110(109) LXX. Here a divine oracle of the enthronement and dominion of ‘my lord’, ‘on the day of your power, in the brightness of the holy ones‘, is understood to declare: ‘From the womb before the daystar . . . I have begotten you.’ . . . .
In the LXX Psalter, therefore, Ps. 72(71), and probably also Ps. 110, were texts taken in the Second-Temple period as prophecies attesting the view that the messianic king is a glorious pre-existent figure; Ps. 110 sets him beside a star in a way which recalls Num. 24. 17. (95-96 — I have omitted the lengthy and technical argument leading to this “therefore” conclusion.)
. . . .
The Fifth Sibylline book, compiled after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus . . . . In this book of the Sibyllines the pre-existence of the expected deliverer is implied by an oracle of the advent of the ‘blessed man’, sceptre in hand, ‘from the expanses of the skies’ (Sib. 5. 414-5) . . . . The combination of prophetic and Danielic allusions in the passage confirms that this is indeed the messianic ‘man’. (102-103)
. . . .
Finally, in the Parables of Enoch and II Esdras, biblical theophany passages relating to God himself are sometimes strikingly applied to a messianic figure. Examples are Parables of Enoch 52. 6, where the hills melt like wax (Ps. 97. 5; Micah 1. 3-4) before the presence of the Chosen One; II Esdras 13. 3-4, where when the man from the sea turned his countenance to look, all things trembled (Ps. 104. 32), and those who heard his voice burned up like wax (Ps. 97. 5 again, probably in combination with the royal prophecy Isa. 11. 4). Outside these books, Isa. 66. 18-20, ‘they shall see my glory . . . they shall bring your brethren . . . as a gift to the Lord’, are significantly adapted in Ps. Sol. 17. 34-35(31-32), giving ‘to see his glory’ [the king’s] as well as ‘to see the glory of the Lord’. . . .
Such uses of the biblical theophany passages indicate a messiah endued with divine traits, which in the outlook of the Second-Temple period would have been classified as angelic characteristics; but they also suggest that some biblical theophanies could be understood to speak of an angelic messiah acting on behalf of God himself. These passages may then form an antecedent for the familiar New Testament phenomenon of the application to Christ of biblical texts which in their own contexts appear to refer to God. (103-104)
Can a pre-existent heavenly and an earthly human messiah be reconciled in Jewish thought?
Schürer and his revisers, in the carefully balanced estimate cited above, pointed out that both before and after the rise of Christianity the messianic figure was envisaged among Jews as fully human, but that the speculation reflected in II Esdras and the Parables of Enoch had moved in the direction of a supra-mundane figure, whose appearance is raised to the level of the supernatural. This depiction of the messiah might seem at first sight to reflect Christian influence, but can in fact be fully explained as an inner-Jewish development of Old Testament ideas. (104)
. . . .
[I]t is clear from II Esdras, as Vermes noted, that a markedly superhuman presentation of the pre-existence and advent of the messiah did not prevent his reign from being understood as that of a glorious but ultimately mortal king — exceptional though the reference to his death in II Esdras 7. 29 appears to be among messianic depictions. The coherence in principle of superhuman portraiture with mortality is underlined by the Sibylline oracles, where the king from heaven is depicted in a fashion which could also readily be applied to Ptolemaic or Roman rulers, as is evident in modern exegetical debate over the application of particular oracles. In the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (II Baruch), similarly again, the superhuman presentation is extended to the end of the messianic reign, which is concluded by the return of the messiah in glory to heaven rather than by a baldly-stated death (II Baruch 30. 1, probably expressing what is implied in I Cor. 15. 24-28); but the messianic advent is also considered as the climax of a series of good dispositions of affairs by past patriarchs and kings of Israel . . . (see II Baruch 56-74). These superhuman depictions accordingly seem to cohere with other depictions of a messianic figure more readily than might at first sight seem likely. They come from the same stock of biblical expectations of a coming king which can also issue in seemingly less elevated presentations of a messianic reign, such as the relatively matter-of-fact description of ‘the messiah’ at the dinner of bread and new wine in the ‘Messianic Rule’ of IQSa, or the glorious but ‘entirely human king’ of the Psalms of Solomon.
The spiritual messiah as outlined above then seems, in the light of the emphasis laid by Billerbeck, Moore and Vermes on the abiding humanity of the exalted figures, not to be incoherent with expressions of messianic hope in which superhuman features may appear less prominent – although it may be often be a question whether they are not implied. (105-106)
. . . . .
It is true that the superhuman and spiritual aspects of the descriptions do not abolish the humanity of the messiah; but it is also true that the messiah is widely, not just exceptionally, depicted with emphasis on his superhuman and spiritual aspect. The mainstream character of this depiction is indicated by its place in both scripture and tradition. This aspect of the messiah presents itself strikingly in the Hebrew Pentateuch, Prophets and Psalms, especially the royal psalms and oracles which were central to the discussion of messianic development outlined in chapter I, section 2, above; and this same superhuman aspect was perpetuated and developed in the interpretative tradition of the Hebrew scriptures, as witnessed above from the LXX , the apocalypses and the Jewish Sibyllines, the Targums and the midrash. (107)
. . . . .
This concession is true to the interpretation of Daniel current in the second century in the apocalypse of Ezra and the Fifth Sibylline book. The messiah as king is close to the ‘gods’ in the form of angels, as is repeatedly shown by the ‘spiritual’ strand in the messianic depictions just noted, including the messianic understanding of biblical theophanies. This biblical and inherited strand in Jewish messianism was close in turn, as the Sibylline oracles show, to the court praise of the surrounding Greek and Roman world.
Lastly, the conception of the God of Israel as king of gods and powers was shared by the early Christian heirs of Jewish biblical tradition. This is one of the points which indicates, as suggested already, that the contrast between Jewish messianic depictions and early Christian messianism is overdrawn in the body of critical opinion just outlined. The emphasis on the divine being of Christ in the New Testament writings . . . must be viewed against this background, common to Jews, Christians and pagans, of a cosmos with a range of divine beings. Similarly, as noted already, conceptions of pre-existence, whether Christian or Jewish, did not leave the messiah in solitary state. Ancient Jewish presentation of the messiah as a glorious mortal king with spiritual and superhuman aspects is then not necessarily far removed from the contemporary New Testament and early Christian depictions of a crucified but spiritual and glorious ‘Christ’. Moreover, the Christian messianic depictions were influenced by the same interpretative tradition of the scriptures which has just been illustrated, and had some biblically-inspired elements which to later Christians looked archaic or even heretical, above all in the presentation of a pre-eminent yet still subordinate Christ. . . . The modification of an influential scholarly contrast between Judaism and Christianity which is being suggested here would allow more weight to be placed on apparent resemblances between ancient Jewish and early Christian messianism. . . . . (107-108)
. . . . .
Yet, to sketch a different view very briefly, ‘Son of God’ can be associated with widespread Jewish messianic application of biblical verses on the Davidic king as God’s son: II Sam. 7. 14 (see 4Q174 [Florilegium] line 11), its analogue in Ps. 89. 26-27, and especially Ps. 2. 7, from a psalm which came to be called ‘the chapter of Gog and Magog’ – the great foe(s) of the messiah.
Similarly, the pre-existent angel-like figure of Phil. 2 recalls . . . the lord begotten before the daystar in Ps. 110(109). 3 LXX, the messianic title ‘angel of great counsel’ (Isa. 9. 5 LXX), the Philonic link beween the heavenly Adam and the dayspring-man, and the pre-existent ‘spirit of the messiah’ in rabbinic exegesis from third-century Tiberias (Ber. R. 2. 4, on Gen. 1. 2, in the name of Resh Laqish); when compared with detailed messianic descriptions from the end of the Second-Temple period, the pre-existent figure can be linked with the assertion in the Psalms of Solomon that the beauty of the coming Davidic king of Israel is known (beforehand) to God (Ps. Sol. 17. 42 . . .), and seems particularly close to the exalted messiah described, with traits taken from Dan. 7, in the Parables of Enoch, II Esdras 13 and Sib. 5. 414-33. The depiction of the messiah in Ps. 110 and II Esdras 13 finds correspondence elsewhere in Paul.
Paul’s two statements, accordingly, reflect the presence of antecedents for both in psalms and prophecies which were messianically interpreted by Jews. These texts were woven into narratives of messianic victory and judgment . . . . notably in the combination of Pss. 2 and 110 with Dan. 7 in II Esdras 13 ; and probably, therefore, they were not thought to be mutually incompatible. (113)
Horbury, William. 1998. Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ. London: SCM Press.
Reynolds, Benjamin. 2018. “The Gospel of John’s Christology as Evidence for Early Jewish Messianic Expectations: Challenges and Possibilities.” In Reading the Gospel of Johns Christology as Jewish Messianism, edited by Benjamin Reynolds and Gabriele Boccaccini, 106:13–42. Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity. Leiden ; Boston: Brill.
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