That Very Jewish Idea of a Suffering, Defeated, Davidic Messiah

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by Neil Godfrey

I know, I’ve addressed this question before, but I’ve just come across evidence from a new source so here we go again. It’s a rabbinic source but don’t be too quick to judge that it is late and therefore useless. Can anyone seriously imagine Jewish rabbis borrowing the following interpretations from Christians?

We read a discussion among rabbis of the following rabbinical midrash on the Book of Ruth:

“And Boaz said unto her at meal-time: ‘Come hither, and eat of the bread, and dip your morsel in the vinegar.’ And she sat beside the reapers; and they reached her parched corn, and she did eat and was satisfied, and left thereof (Ruth 2:14)”.

Several interpretations are offered and then we come to the fifth:

The fifth explanation for “come here” is the King Messiah. “Come here”: that is draw near to kingship. “And eat from the bread”: that is the bread of kingship. “And dip your morsel in the vinegar“: this is his chastisements, as it is said: “But he was wounded because of our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5)“.

David Boaz married Ruth. What did they produce? David: “who is skillful in playing, and a mighty man of valor, and a man of war, and prudent in affairs, and an attractive man, and Hashem is with him (1 Samuel 16:18)” (RR 4:3). — The Ruth Rabbah interprets all of those attributes spiritually so David is viewed primarily as a great sage and warrior against everything contrary to the Torah.
  1. It’s about the Messiah. (Elsewhere it is clear that it is the Messiah from David that is spoken about. After all, the Book of Ruth concludes with a genealogy showing how David descended from Ruth.)
  2. The Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53 is applied to the Davidic Messiah. 
  3. The dash of vinegar also looks interesting given what was put in Jesus’ mouth when he was on the cross.

Did the Rabbis learn and embrace that interpretation from their Christian neighbours?

As we read further on we find it even more difficult to accept a Christian influence here. The rabbinic interpreters discuss how long the kingship will be removed from the Messiah and no-one hits on a three-day eclipse:

“And she sat beside the reapers”: that is the kingship was taken from him for a time, as it is said “I have gathered all the nations against Jerusalem to wage war and the city will be taken (Zechariah 14:2)”.

“And they reached her parched corn”: that is his kingship was renewed, as it is said “and he shall smite the land with the rod of his mouth (Isaiah 11:4)”.

Rabbi Berechya said in the name of Rabbi Levi: “like the first redeemer so is the second redeemer. How did the first redeemer reveal himself and then returned and was hidden from them? How long was he hidden? . . . . 

the kingship was taken from him for a time, as Rav Huna said: “it was six months when David fled before Absalom . . . . (Ruth Rabbah, 5:1) — interesting that the gospels had the same event in mind when they portrayed Jesus ascending the Mount of Olives on the eve of his demise.

One rabbi calculates from Daniel 12:11-12 that the Davidic Messiah will be removed from his kingdom for 45 days. Another suggested a full three months (from a meeting of Moses and Aaron with the elders of Israel), another six months (from the time David fled Absalom). Another rabbi even suggested it spoke of Solomon who left his throne for a while to mingle unrecognized with the hoi polloi and that one woman even beat him for being a pretentious upstart when he tried to explain he indeed was Solomon.

We cannot prove that any of the ideas expressed in the Ruth Rabbah originated before the destruction of the Temple. It is difficult, though, to imagine such ideas taking hold among rabbis in a context of tortured relationships with Christianity. Further, it is not difficult to imagine the motifs we find in the gospels arising from an environment in which Biblical passages were explored in the sorts of ways we see here.


(Thanks to Nanine Charbonnel and Maurice Mergui for prompting me to revisit rabbinic literature and see how it deals with Messianic ideas.)

“Ruth Rabbah.” Accessed April 21, 2020. https://www.sefaria.org/Ruth_Rabbah. See especially chapter 5.

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Neil Godfrey

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One thought on “That Very Jewish Idea of a Suffering, Defeated, Davidic Messiah”

  1. Very interesting. I can’t say I’ve looked at this in any depth because late, as you say, but it is certainly suggestive.

    Midrash, pesher, et al. Whenever I read these things; whenever and wherever they are from; I think strong drink or mushrooms are involved. 🙂 I can see Paul’s allegories for what they are; I can see they have a connection to the biblical or intertestamental writing he is building from. Whether it be a pesher from the DSS or Barbara Thiering, or this Midrash, you must be joking. When you need interpreters to interpret the interpretation, you can swiftly get lost in the weeds.

    Having said that Ruth Rabbah, Petichta has hardly gone on a paragraph or two and you run into references to “standing ones” and “pillars”, bringing to mind Paul’s Jerusalem trio and Simon Magus.

    From Ruth Rabbah 1: “In the days the judges judged (Ruth 1:1)” … ‘Judge’ means one, ‘judges’ two, and ‘the judges’ three”.

    … “Rabbi Yudan says: “Even though I called you (Moses) a god to Pharaoh, I am your God and therefore above you”. “God, I am your God”: Rabbi Abba interpreted the verse with regard to Israel: “Even though i called you gods, as it says: “I said you are gods (Psalm 82:6)”, “I am your God”, know that I am above you”.

    I can recognise the same thought-world here as can be seen in Paul.

    We may not be able to show “… that any of the ideas expressed in the Ruth Rabbah originated before the destruction of the Temple.”; but we can say this kind of thinking existed before the destuction of the Temple. We see it in the Dead Sea Scrolls; we see it in the Epistle of Barnabas. Isn’t this all rather “No true Scotsman…”? Barnabas, Cephas, James, John, Paul, Peter, were all Jews from before the destruction of the Temple; as were Philo and the DSS authors. Whether they arrive at the same place or not, all these writings diplay the same kind of what we see as “crackpot thinking” – and it is ALL Jewish.

    I’m flummoxed. Does it have to match exactly, exactly for the point to be conceded? Nothing in the New Testament does. Against the synthetic conflation of Chtistianity that every Christian, and every Christian; non-Christian; post-Christian; and atheist-Christian theologian, carries around in their head as the collective inheritance of Christendom: none of the writings in the New Testament match on examination.

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