Appendix – The Messianic Expectations of the Samaritans

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by Neil Godfrey



(To p. 142.)

The Messianic Expectations of the Samaritans.

The question whether the Samaritans were a purely pagan or a mixed people, formed from pagan and Israelite parts, is easily answered, if one appreciates the biblical data, the nature of the matter and the historical analogy. If the strict Chaldean conqueror took away only the most important families from Judah and left the mass of the people in their homeland, it is even less to be assumed that all citizens of the ten-tribe kingdom were transferred from their country to the eastern provinces of the empire after the conquest of Samaria by the Assyrians. It is easy to say that all the inhabitants were taken away, and to pronounce the word “all”, this so often “misused” hyperbole, costs little effort, but in reality the momentum of this hyperbole is very degraded, and to transfer all the inhabitants at once from a mountainous country, which offers so many places of refuge and hiding places, is impossible even for the greatest power. Not a few, but a great many of the Israelites will still have lived in their land when those five pagan tribes were transferred there by the Assyrians, since not even the religious zeal of the Hebrews had succeeded beforehand in completely cleansing the promised land of the original Canaanite inhabitants. It is also an absurd notion and only an exaggeration of the legend to say those five heathen tribes were sent into the completely deserted area of the early ten-tribe realm, in order to take possession of it and to inhabit it, it is much more probable or rather certain that they were sent there from the cities to keep in check the Israelites who had been pushed into the countryside and to render them forever harmless. But if we see in the whole course of world history how always the conquered peoples, when they were on a high standpoint of education and consciousness, spiritually subdued the invading conquerors, it explains to us how by living together with the Israelites the heathen tribes, which they were supposed to keep in subordination, were brought to the recognition of Jehovah. The foreign overlords were also not completely out of all religious relationship with the former owners of the land, their pagan nature service was not foreign to the Israelites and formed very easily the bond which would bring the victors and the vanquished closer to each other and unite them. But now the Israelites, as long as their separate kingdom existed, had united the thought of Jehovah with the figurative conception and with the service of nature, and as this thought, while the pleasure of the conception was satisfied in the natural, had become a meager abstraction, so it could also in the course of time and without effort be excluded from the foreign tribes and at first still merged with their idolatry, until it finally reached a kind of sole dominion. Certainly, it did not take the lions to make the foreign tribes fear Jehovah, and it is only the Jewish legend that sent the ravening beasts against the pagan colonists, because it only knew how to explain their conversion in an external way.


Although the Israelites who had remained behind had gained the spiritual upper hand over those heathen tribes, they were at the same time too weak spiritually to be happy about their victory and to assert it with consciousness. They themselves were not sure enough of their principle; the entire development of it that had taken place in the kingdom of Judah had remained alien to them and could not have had any effect on them, and they had not allowed themselves to be drawn into the movement that had started with David, so that they had only the unfinished and uncertain idea that, before David’s appearance, could only with difficulty hold its own against the hostile powers. They won, but unconsciously, by gradually growing together with the fresher life of the colonists, who now regarded themselves as the nucleus of the new nation-building and gave the newly formed masses the ambiguous consciousness that they were an independent people, originally alien to the law and yet again belonging to Jehovah. When the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity, this transformation had already taken place. The building of the sanctuary on Gerizim softened the feeling of the original alienation from the law and served to strengthen their claims, according to which they, like the Jews, thought they belonged to Jehovah, but it did not prevent them from remaining conscious of their special nationality and from perverting it when it seemed otherwise useful to them. Only in very late times, it seems, after the Jewish folk life had long since perished and a habit of centuries kept the Pentateuch connected with their view, did the idea that they were descendants of Jacob come to reign supreme among them.


When the Pentateuch reached the Samaritans, whether they received it from the Israelites of the Ten Tribes, or whether it was brought to them by the Jewish refugee Manasseh, is not our concern here, since the question of whether they were expecting the Messiah, as we will see shortly, is completely independent of the decision of this question.


The reason why the question of the messianic expectation has always been answered incorrectly is that the essence of the messianic ideas among the Jews has been so much misunderstood until now. That which was a conception that emerged in the utmost spiritual distress, but was again temporary in ordinary life, was regarded as a fixed, positive dogma *) and what even the prophets saw only momentarily, what the prophets never worked out and combined into a comprehensible unity and objectivity, was regarded according to this way of looking at things as a concept of reflection that had already formed the center of the general consciousness of the people long before the exile. Once the living movement of history is included in this mechanics, then it is self-evident that the citizens of the northern kingdom, who remained faithful to the law, also experienced everything that the prophets in Judah prophesied about the Messiah, that they willingly accepted this dogma and that also those Israelites, who remained in their country after the fall of Samaria and let themselves be reformed by Josias, professed the dogma of the Messiah and from now on held it steadfastly **). It is Sanballath who united the native, Israelite population of the northern kingdom and the immigrated strangers to one people by the arrangement of an independent cult on the mountain Gerizim and the people of the Samaritans who arose in such a way took care to derive from the Pentateuch the dogma of the Messiah which was already known and familiar to them ***).

*) Thus Frederick de Chrisologia Samaritanorum, 1821, speaks constantly of a decretum Messianum Judaeorum or of a dogma Messianum. E.g. p. 22- 61.

**) Friedrich, I. c. p. 25, 42.

***) Ibid. p. 61.


It does not change anything in the matter, but remains the same externality and incorrectness of the historical view, if one does not go so far back and lets the “dogma” of the Messiah reach the Samaritans only later *), for example after the establishment of the sanctuary on the Gerizim. The O. T. does not know dogmas, it knows only of commandments and, from the prophetic point of view, of views – but who will call these views, which break forth only momentarily in the highest historical collisions, which are neither fixed any prophet nor united around a fixed point, articles of doctrine, to which it is, however, only peculiar that they dominate consciousness in the form of objectivity and that they can also be communicated because of this objective relation? The transformation of the prophetic view into an intelligible concept of reflection, which we first find in the Chaldean paraphrase, and the appearance of Jesus are not far apart, and even if countless Jewish defectors from the time of Manasseh to the end of the second century before Christ had gone over to the Samaritans, they could not bring them what they did not have at home.

*) Like Hengstenberg, the authenticity of the Pentateuch, I, 30.

It seems very certain, however, that just in the century before the appearance of Jesus, that is, in the time when the most important prerequisite for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven was being formed and completed, the gulf between the Samaritans and the Palestinian Jews had become so wide that all spiritual contact between the two sides had ceased.

Meanwhile, a colony of Samaritans had come to Egypt through Alexander the Great, and in Alexandria, under the Ptolemies, Jews and Samaritans lived together *), certainly not only in dispute over the legality of their Temple service, but in such a way that both sides were drawn into the freer spiritual movement of that world school of philosophy and criticism. The religious conception of the Samaritans agrees with that of the Alexandrian Jews and Philo in the most important points, but especially in the fact that everything that seems to draw the divine down into the change and into the barrier of the finite is removed **); their dogmatic expression has similarity with that of the Egyptian Jews and their Pentateuch coincides with the Alexandrian translation of the Seventy in the essential features, as well as in a large number of smaller peculiarities. But if Hengstenberg ***) uses this correspondence to prove that the Samaritans had borrowed “the doctrine” of the Messiah from the Jews, he only proves how badly this unhistorical conceit stands. Was not the enlightened point of view of the Alexandrian Jews the farthest away from the conception of the Messiah and what does Philo know to tell about the coming of the Messiah? Nothing! His Logos cannot enter into the flesh and blood of the empirical history.

*) Joseph. Antiq. Lib. XI, c. 8, 6 XIII, c. 3, 4.

**) Gesenius, de Samaritanorum theologia p. 6.

***) ibid. p. 30.


If the Jews could so completely obliterate the traces left in their minds by a thousand years of history when they made friends with the Greek education in Egypt, and if they could bend the movement of the Principle, which was aimed at the condescension of the divine into the empirical present, and lead it into the abstract intellectual world, what could be expected of the Samaritans? What then was to be expected from the Samaritans, who without that historical mediation had appropriated only the abstraction of Jewish consciousness and must always have the feeling of alienation from the concrete Jewish world? The idea of the Messiah not only remained stranger to them than to the Alexandrian Jews, but reflection and enlightenment became even freer and more decisive among them, and when Epiphanius and Leontius say of them that they denied the resurrection and the angels, we have no reason to doubt these reports.


What does it mean when theologians unanimously conclude from the account of the fourth evangelist that the Samaritans expected the Messiah and thought of him as a prophet *)? It means nothing more than that the believing habit can remain trapped in the letter for thousands of years before it first examines it and brings it together with the life of the real events. But while the habit can still be excused by its age and its firmness, the guilt begins where the habit itself enters into reflection and adorns itself with thoughts about itself. For once one has crossed over into the realm of reflection, one falls even deeper into error if one does not seriously strive toward the goal, and one can finally only spread the error sentimentally. This false sentimentality and love is found in its whole development in the assertions that the Samaritans “were less held by the bonds of rigid Pharisaism, and therefore easily turned to the Gospel” **) and that among them “the political element of the Messiah idea, as among the Jews, was not opposed to the Gospel” ***). But Pharisaism was just the last Jewish consequence, the existence of the law developed to the subjectivity of a school, as such it proves just the ability of the Jewish spirit to develop, just as it sharpened the need of redemption in the end, since it drove the minds to the longing for liberation by the burden with which it weighed them down. What do the Samaritans have to show in a similar way? And as for the political element of the Messiah idea among the Jews, it was so far from being an obstacle to the Gospel that it rather prepared the historical place for salvation among this people, since it merged the immediate self-feeling of the nation with the Messianic idea. If it also stood in opposition to the Gospel of the Crucified, it was only what always happens in history, that precisely the closest historical preconditions are also most capable of opposing their higher result, while at the same time they make the historical world more receptive to the acceptance of the result. And how important has not the Jewish conception of the royal office of the Messiah become for the Christian community, since it contained the outline of the image of the Messianic reign, which the Lord had not yet assumed in his lowly appearance, but which he will exercise at his glorious return?

*) Z, B. Gesenius de Sam. Theol. p. 41.

**) Olshauscn, Comm. II, 121.

***) Neander, Gesch. der Pflanzung p. 49.


Simon Magus the Samaritan, his appearance among his countrymen, his preaching of himself as a great man, the Samaritans’ opinion of him as the great power of God (Act. 8, 10.): All this cannot prove in the least that the Samaritans were expecting the Messiah. Since the angels were regarded by the Samaritans as the abstraction of divine will and divine power, and since they were familiar with the image of the angel of Jehovah from the Pentateuch, it could well have happened that they, touched by the Christian idea, saw in Simon this power of the Godhead that had momentarily emerged in the angel of Jehovah in the past. But for this it was necessary to be touched by the Christian idea, and how unstable is this possibility. If we look at how the author of the Acts of the Apostles is familiar with the idea of the “power of the Most High”, how he lets the personality of Jesus be generated from this power (Luke 1:35), how Jesus is also a “Great One” to him (1:32), it is only too obvious how he is the one who used predicates, which according to his view belong to Jesus alone, to paint the false image of the true Messiah. Simon’s view of himself and that which his compatriots had of him have thus become completely unknown to us: and from an unknown greatness one would not want to dare to infer the ideas of the Samaritans? Simon Magus has thus become as unknown to us as if he had never existed, and he can no longer rise above the value of an unhistorical person. Only this much is certain that for the author of the Acts of the Apostles Simon Magus was already the same as he remained for the church, the lying image of the true Messiah and the arch-father of all heretics. Later teachers of the church have only enlarged and more closely defined the person of Simon and his blasphemous fame by themselves with their richer historical experiences. Jerome, for example, tells us that Simon said of himself: I am the Word of God, I am the Glorious One, I am the Paraclete, I am the Almighty, I am the All of the Godhead. It is a naive, but also a fearful – namely all historical view eclipsing – impartiality, with which Olshausen looks at this note of Jerome. “If this statement, he says, admittedly only belongs to the later Christianizing direction of Simon, it still shows what this man was capable of.” *) As if that note does not only prove what the later ecclesiastical writers were capable of when it was necessary to describe a heretic *).

*) Comm. II, 687.

*) Of course, we cannot consider more historical than Jerome’s note what Irenaeus I, 20 and Epiphanius 21, C. I report about Simon, namely that he pretended to be the father among the Samaritans and the son among the Jews. But in this note, as in some others that we find in the Church Fathers, we can see a certain historical instinct that really depicted historical circumstances in the mythical form of historical pragmatism. Thus, the legend of Simon’s sermon is certainly formed with the right tact, which found out that the religious consciousness of the Samaritans was not as far developed as that of the Jews and that the idea of the Messiah remained unknown to them.

424 [corrected from 224]

As a witness that the Samaritans expected the Messiah, Winer **) calls Justin Martyr. However, this apologist, who was himself a Samaritan ***), has no small importance in this matter. If now Justinus places the Jews and Samaritans as One group opposite the Gentiles ****), then this can neither alienate us nor be considered as a special instance for the present question, because as worshippers of the One they were after all closer to the Jews than to the Gentiles. But when Justinus – and Winer refers to this – at the same time describes the Jews and Samaritans as those who “possessed the word of God handed down through the prophets and always expected Christ”: this is a hyperbole which at least does not make us feel as if we were listening to a sober witness. How can it be said of the Samaritans that they possessed the word handed down by the prophets?

**) Biblical Real Dictionary II, -139.

***) Just. Mart. opp. p. 52, 349.

****) Ibid. p. 88.


Whoever speaks in this way immediately proves that his testimony is invalid. If Justinus had a better insight, then he fell at that point only involuntarily into the track of the later conception and language and the same happened to him what happened to the fourth evangelist when he described the stay of Jesus among the Samaritans. Since the law and the abstraction of the one connected the Samaritans with the Jews, since they were the next foreign circle to be opened to the gospel, this success of the doctrine of salvation among them could not be explained in any other way than by the idea that they had also accepted the prophetic promise with the law and were thereby prepared for the gospel. But if Justinus does not fall into the path of a priori talk, if he speaks from empirical experience, then he proves that he had in fact a better insight and that the matter was quite different. In the introduction to his dialogue with Trypho he tells how he himself was led to the prophets and to their testimony of the true God and of the Christ, and he presents this testimony as such, which until then had been completely foreign and unheard of to him *) – proof enough that the Samaritans also possessed no trace of messianic views.

*) Ibid. p. 224. 225.

When in more recent times the Samaritan Pentateuch came to Europe and with the later literature of the Samaritans became the object of thorough investigations, nowhere was there even a hint of messianic expectations. And yet it would have been at least possible that the Samaritans in the course of the centuries would have taken the idea of the Messiah from the outside, as it is certain, for example, that they have appropriated the idea of the resurrection *). As little as one can conclude from the late occurrence of this view a thousand years back, so little one could conclude, if in the so-called book of Joshua or in the chronicle of Abulphatach the expectation of the Messiah would be found, that the Samaritans at the time of Jesus would have hoped for the Messiah. But even later there is not the faintest hint that could lead to such a wrong conclusion. Hottinger, for example, who has thoroughly investigated the literature of the Samaritans known at that time, could not find any reliable information from which it would be certain that the Samaritans had excluded the expectation of the Messiah into the circle of their ideas. Reland knows nothing else to say in this regard than that “in the Samaritan chronicles there is also mention of a great angel and that by him the Messiah seems to be understood”. **). It is right that Reland presents this remark only as an assumption, because it is only too certain that by that great angel only the highest of the forces emanating from the Godhead is to be understood ***) and that Reland only came to this assumption because he could not think of it otherwise than that the Samaritans cherished messianic expectations, and now had to reach for the most remote to see the general prejudice apparently confirmed.

*) Hottinger, dissertationum theologico-philologicarum fascic.1660 p. 11.

**) Reland, Dissertationum miscell. pars II, p. 27.

***) Reland ibid. p. 21.


In the correspondence which some European scholars have maintained with the Samaritans since the time of Scaliger, one believes to be informed now quite definitely about the messianic conceptions of the same ****). But one should consider how dependent and unoriginal that sunk and never truly substantial people have shown themselves to be in these negotiations, how indefinite and vacillating their answers to the questions about their messianic ideas are, and how the questions of the European scholars are nothing but questions of suggestion, which are only repeated in the answer without the question mark.

****) Gesenius de Sam. theol. p. 41.


If the Samaritans were really expecting the Messiah, one would think that they would have spoken about it for sure, but they do not like to explain themselves about this “point” *). Of course, because they do not know anything about it and believe to do a favor to their supposed compatriots and to put themselves in their favor, if they answered them, what these approximately wished. For they certainly do not even know what they wanted to hear, what they thought of the Messiah **), so they can only help themselves with some vague phrases. As soon as the good scholars ask more specifically, the echo also gives a more specific answer and the Samaritans know how to speak in more detail. When, for example, Marshall *) tells them to tell him who that prophet is of whom the Lord spoke to Moses, and when the same scholar describes the Messiah according to the three classic passages of the Pentateuch (Gen. 49, 10, Num. 21, 17, Deut. 48, 15), it goes without saying that the Samaritans do nothing more in their answer than to repeat this description. “You speak, they answer, of the coming of that great prophet of whom God spoke to Moses, he is the one of whom it is written” – and now follow the quotations which they first learned to know through Marshall’s inquiry as proofs of the Messianic promise. But in order not only to repeat the words of the question, but at least to write something new, they say: “This is the very prophet who was promised to our father Abraham, when it is said (Gen. 15, 47) that there smoked an oven and a flame of fire **). One sees, it became hot to the Samaritans, before they found a new place of proof. If the Samaritans had hoped for the Messiah for two millennia and were limited only to the Pentateuch to prove their expectation as a divine promise, then they would have puzzled over a multitude of proofs, so they did not need to be led by European scholars to proofs and more definite ideas and they did not need to make themselves ridiculous, if they now also dared to enter the field of scriptural research.

*) As even Silvester de Sacy must admit. Ueber den gegenwärtigen Zustand der Samaritaner, Franks, a. M. 1814. p. 5l.

**) e.g. already to Scaliger they write (Repertorium für bibl. und moiqenl. Literatur Th. 13. p. 291): Nos vero ignoramus, quaenam sit fides tua, an eadem sit, quam nos profitemur, an illa quam Judaci profitentur. In the letter they sent to Ludolf in 1684, they ask him (Epistolae Samarit Sicbem. ad Jobum Ludolfum Cizae 1688 p. 5): Nunc autem quaesumus a tu, o domine, ut nuncies nobis, quaenam revera tua sit religio? quisuam pro- pheta tuus? Num tu ex nobis Samaritanis? In the same letter they say that there was an exchange of letters between them and their brothers in England, but that they have not continued it for five years, adeo ut nun eerto eognoverimus veritatum religionis eorum et fidei illorum. (Ibid. p. 6.)

*) Repertorium for Biblical and Oral Literature. Lit. Ninth part. p. 12-14.

**) Ibid. p. 27.


If the word Messiah appears in the question, the Samaritan is embarrassed in answering whether he should use the same word. Why? Because the Samaritans know quite well that the expectation of the Messiah is peculiar to the Jews, and because after so many clumsy experiments they had finally become suspicious and uncertain about the views of the inquirers, so that they no longer knew quite what the latter wished to hear. How do they do it now? When their rich, powerful brothers speak of the Messiah, they remark at least casually in the postscript to the answer: “we know his (the prophet’s) name completely, as the rabbis call him ” or another time they indicate this name only by the initial letter ( מ) )*. The meaning of these answers is no other than: we do not really know how we are with you and what your view of the matter actually is, therefore, read out of our answers what you want and what you like – by the way, send us the contribution and the sum of money – these play a large and naive role in this correspondence – which you must send us if you are our brothers.

*) Silv, de Sach, op. cit. p 51.


But what about that Taheb, so celebrated in the biblical commentaries, that Messiah of the Samaritans, so spiritually conceived? In their letter to Scaliger they write: “you have asked about the Messiah: his name is none other than השהכ ” and with it they have given work to the scripture researchers and theologians for three and a half centuries. According to Hengstenberg this name designates the Messiah as the restorer, restitutor **), according to Gesenius as the convert ***), but the Samaritans themselves do not know anything definite about this name and if they are asked to explain, they do with the word secretly like people who do not want to let others notice their ignorance and embarrassment. “It is a great secret, the word of Taheb, who shall come” writes Salameh in the year 1810 *). If Taheb had indeed been the name of the Messiah among the Samaritans, it would have appeared in their writings, it would have been infallibly blackened by the careless nation in their Pentateuch, it would have been used much more often in their letters and they would have known exactly why it was the excellent name of the Messiah. However, they never mention Taheb in their letters when they give a detailed account of their religion and their faith, but only when the European scholars had forcefully pressed them to say what they thought of the Messiah, they touch this matter with a few words. In the first letter to Ludolf, who had certainly asked them very eagerly about the Messiah, because they ask him for information about who his prophet is, they give all the main points of their religion, but do not mention Taheb or Messiah with a single word. How striking it is, however, when in the same letter they rather call Moses their prophet and mediator in this world and on the day of the last judgment **). Only in the third – actually second – letter, after Ludolf had brought up the Messiah again, they write to him: “You ask whether the Messiah has arisen. He has not come yet, but when he comes, his name is Taheb.” *”). On the other hand, in the first letter, which they had sent to England a few years before, they write that one should tell them what the name “Haschaheb”[Taheb?], which is supposed to come, is *) – so perhaps they themselves do not know quite how they should use this word towards their supposed compatriots? Or do they first want to know how they want it to be used?

**) Christol. I, I, 69.

***) de Sam. theol. p. 44: reductorem vel conversorem i. e. prophetam homines ad meliorem frugem revocaturum.

*) About the present Just. p. 50.

**) Epist. Samar. Sichem. Cizae 1688 p. 9,

***) Repector, for bibl. and morgenl. Lit. 13 p. 281.

*) Ibid. p. 292. Nolices et etraits. T. XII. p. 181.


Four times the word Taheb occurs in the letters of the Samaritans – and it is fortunate that it appears more than once, otherwise one could too easily be driven to the suspicion that Ab Sehuta himself had formed the word for the Messiah, in order to be able to write something definite to Scaliger. Four times is not often, but just think how often a Jew of that time, if he should describe the religion of his compatriots, had mentioned the Messiah, how much he would know to say about him. It is true that the four times **) mentioning of the name must lose weight, because the Samaritans prove it too clearly in their letters, that they speak of the Messiah only of necessity, when the Europeans penetrate them too much, and then they know to assign to the Thaheb in the system of their religion much too little a fixed place. But nevertheless it remains striking that a century after Ab Sehuta in the letters of the Samaritans the name Thaheb appears again and then in the newest time in the letter of Salameh it is mentioned even if as an inexplicable secret. If this repetition were not there, one would be allowed to assume that Ab Sehuta had reached for some attribute of Jehovah and let it act as Messiah in a kind of personification. But if it is certain that this word must be of religious meaning, it is just as certain that it cannot designate any arbitrary attribute of the divine, but must contain a relation of the divinity to the world and to history, which is not altogether foreign to the conception of the Messiah.

**) In the Samaritan song in which Gesenius found the Thaheb, Messiah (de Samarit. theologia p. 45), the deity is rather addressed and asked that he may turn to his own. The word, in which Gesenius thought to find the Thaheb, is not the participle, which would then lack the article anyway, but the imperatio. Silvestre de Sacy, in the Notices et extraits.T. XII. p. 29. Gesenius hard also abandoned his explanation again: Berliner Jahrbücher 1830. no 82.


The mysterious word can not designate the Messiah as the return leader, converter or restorer, at least Hengstenberg can no longer want to give this meaning to the word, after he has again correctly noticed that never degenerates in transitive meaning” *). Hatthaheb therefore means the one who turns around, the one who returns.

*) The authenticity of Pent, I, 104.

The Samaritans often speak in their letters of a day of vengeance and retribution, of a time when Jehovah would step out of the distance and alienation in which he now held himself during their miserable, oppressed condition and turn back to them, and as the returning one, as the one who graciously turns back to his apostate and punished people, Jehovah had to appear to them, if they wanted to grasp him in his highest attribute. This attribute of the graciously turning Godhead must have been especially important to every Samaritan and could easily come to his mind when he was asked whether he believed in the Messiah. But it would have been impossible that the answer would have turned out three times always after the interval of a century as it happens in letters, if Hatthaheb == the returning one would have designated pure, so to say abstract attribute and not rather a more vivid manifestation of Jehovah. The idea of such a manifestation of the divine was very close to the Samaritans in their view of the angels, in whom the power of the divinity appeared directly, and if we now read that they believed in a great angel, who had especially protected the people, but had departed from them after the apostasy, then it is as certain as only possible that they expected in the return of the same the appearance of the divinity turning to them again. In the passage of the so-called Book of Joshua, in which this great angel is mentioned *), also Hottinger suspects an analogy with the Jewish messianic expectation: how, he remarks to the word “great angel,” if it meant the Messiah? but like Reland, he dares to express his assumption only tentatively. For there is too great a difference between the fixed reflective concept of the Messiah, as it was held by Jewish consciousness, and this shadowy, fading figure of the Great Angel, which disappears into the impersonal. In that concept of reflection of the Jews, the personality of the Messiah is so securely encompassed and so independent that we could almost say that it is a historical personality, namely historical in the world of consciousness, of which it really unites all relations in it. That great angel, on the other hand, has become so little an independent personality for the view that it rather disappears without inner support and core in the Godhead as its power.

*) If the people falls away from the law, Jehovah will leave it et recedent Angeli de latere vestro et nomen Angeli Maximi destituct vos auxilio, Hottinger, Smegma orieutale p. 491.


If we now summarize what has been said so far, how nothing in the testimonies of antiquity speaks for the existence of the view of the Messiah among the Samaritans, everything rather speaks against it, how in their more recent letters, when they develop their religion in detail, they know nothing to say about the Messiah, how only after the suggestive questions of their supposed compatriots, what they thought of the Messiah… they let fall a few words about a Thaheb, If they let fall a few words of a Thaheb, it cannot be called exaggerated doubtfulness or wilful denial, if that form of messianic expectation, which is usually attributed to the Samaritans, is denied to them.


Even if the Samaritans had great hopes of coming into agreement with their European compatriots, they could not have gone so far as to write them nothing but a deliberate, pure lie. For this reason alone, because they did not really know how they would get along with them, they could not dare to present them with an arbitrary invention as their faith. The only thing they could do, and what they really did, was to reach for that which they could assume would most agree with the ideas of their countrymen.

Since the whole so-called messianic expectation of the Samaritans is based on the fact that they hoped that Jehovah would one day turn to them again graciously, free them from their miserable pressure, and that he would do it in the special form of the returning one, we need neither raise nor answer the question when this expectation was formed among them. For this expectation is nothing more than the simple view, which is found in the Pentateuch, according to which Jehovah turns away from his people, when they fall away from him, but turns back to him according to the counsel of his long-lasting grace. Only so much we would dare to assert that in the first time, which the Samaritan people experienced as such and in which it settled into its own cult with the freshness and with the self-confidence, which was at all possible for it, there was still no special occasion for this view of the Pentateuch to become particularly important to it. It is probable that only the pressure of later centuries and the resistance of the small, narrow family to the constant threat of ruin, along with the feeling of misery, revived the hope of return.




A Suffering Messiah Before Christianity? — the other side of the question

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

H. H. Rowley

Last month I posted an eight part series based on Joachim Jeremias’s 1957 book The Servant of God arguing for a pre-Christian notion among Second Temple Jews of a messiah who was expected to suffer and/or die. This view is not the prevailing one among New Testament scholars today so I want to set out some of the arguments that have been marshalled against Jeremias’s study. Statements like the following led me to think Morna Hooker’s Jesus and the Servant (1959) would be a good place to start:

Jeremias’s argument that the portrait of the messiah in Judaism of this era included the concept of vicarious suffering to expiate the sins of Israel has found little support.9

9. Among the more significant refutations are Morna Hooker, Jesus and the Servant (London: SPCK, 1959); and E. Lohse, Märtyrer und Gottesknecht (FRLANT, 64; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1966).

(Broadhead, 102)

A few decades ago it had become “almost an axiom of… New Testament study that most of the New Testament writers, and probably our Lord himself, were controlled in their Christological thinking by the figure of the Suffering Servant of the Lord.” In this respect the work of J. Jeremias was very influential . . . . Today, however, many scholars are of the opinion that the importance of the idea of the suffering servant for early Christianity has been greatly overrated; moreover, it is difficult to demonstrate that Jesus himself interpreted his destiny in light of this passage from Scripture. This has been shown convincingly by C. K. Barrett in an important contribution to the memorial volume for T. W. Manson and by Μ. D. Hooker in her Jesus and the Servant.

(Jonge, 48)

13 The influence of Isaiah 53 on the NT has been contested famously by Morna D. Hooker, Jesus and the Servant: The Influence of the Servant Concept of Deutero-Isaiah in the New Testament (London: Nisbet, 1959).  

(Jipp, 257)

So I got hold of Morna Hooker’s Jesus and the Servant and very soon read this buck-passing passage:

It is impossible to consider in detail here the arguments which have been brought forward in support of a pre-Christian suffering Messiah. On this question the discussion by Η. H. Rowley in his essay ‘The Suffering Servant and the Davidic Messiah’ (published in The Servant of the Lord and Other , Essays on the Old Testament (1952)) appears to be conclusive.

(Hooker, p. 179 — Interestingly 1952 was the same year Zimmerli and Jeremias’s The Servant of God was first published.)

Accordingly I will post the arguments of H. H. Rowley as an “answer” to the Jeremias series. You can compare and evaluate and decide which case you think is the stronger. Continue reading “A Suffering Messiah Before Christianity? — the other side of the question”


Summing Up a Case for Pre-Christian Exegesis of Dying and Suffering Messiahs by J. Jeremias (8)

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by Neil Godfrey

To sum up:

(1) messianic interpretation of the Deutero-Isaianic servant in Palestinian Judaism was limited to Isa. 42.1 ff.,332 43.10;333 49.1 f., 6 f.,334 and 52.13 ff.,335; with this New Testament data agree.336

(2) For Isa. 42.1 ff. and 52.13 ff. messianic interpretation is constant from pre-Christian times. Isa. 52.13 ff. is in this connexion regarded as a last judgement scene.337

(3) As far as the messianic interpretation of the passages about suffering in Isa. 53.1-12 is concerned, this can again be traced back with great probability to pre-Christian times.338 Here the suffering of the Messiah is thought of without exception up to the talmudic period as taking place before the final victorious establishment of his rule.339 When the meaning of messianic suffering is considered, the answer is that the Messiah suffers vicariously to expiate the sins of Israel.340

(pp. 77-78, my line breaks)

I have converted the footnote references to the relevant blog post below:


Isaiah 42.1 ff.

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”




Only in the Targ. ad loc. See

(Messianic exegesis of Isa. 43:10 is not found in the N.T.)

Isaiah 43:10

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
    “and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
    and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
    nor will there be one after me.




For pre-Christian messianic interpretations of Isa.49 see Posts:

Isaiah 49:1f, 6f

Listen to me, you islands;
    hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
    from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
    and concealed me in his quiver. [or, “hid me in the shadow of his hand”] 

. . . . . 

he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

This is what the Lord says—
    the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—
to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,
    to the servant of rulers:
“Kings will see you and stand up,
    princes will see and bow down,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Continue reading “Summing Up a Case for Pre-Christian Exegesis of Dying and Suffering Messiahs by J. Jeremias (8)”


Jewish Pre-Christian Prophecies of Suffering Servant Messiah (5)

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by Neil Godfrey

So far we have presented the following seven witnesses to a Jewish, pre-Christian, belief in a Suffering Messiah:

  1. Ecclesiasticus,
    • Interpreted the Servant Songs in Isaiah as references to a new coming of Elijah as the messiah.
  2. the Testament of Benjamin,
    • Attributed to a messiah from the tribe of Joseph the atoning death found in Isaiah’s Servant chapters.
  3. and the Parables of Enoch.
    • Describe a messianic figure whose attributes are taken from Isaiah’s Servant passages.
  4. the Peshitta
    • A pre-Christian translation portraying Isaiah’s Servant chapters as references to the messiah.
  5. the Gospel of Luke
    • The mocking expression “the chosen one” most probably derives from pre-Christian
  6. Aquila’s leprous messiah translation of the OT
    • the messianic servant bore our sicknesses, that is, became a leper
  7. Theodotion’s second century translation
    • to counter Christianity he translated Isaiah 53 as a judgmental messiah

The eighth piece of evidence is the Aramaic translation of Isaiah per the Targum on Isaiah. I quote Jeremias in full.

(θ) The Aramaic translation of Isaiah must be considered here from a chronological point of view, although the Targ. on Isaiah289 in its present form is not older than the fifth century A.D., for the text was fixed much earlier. The history of the oral tradition of translation, the result of which the Targ, represents, goes back to pre-Christian times.290 In particular it can be shown that the messianic exegesis of the servant texts Isa. 42.1 and Isa. 52.13 in the Targ, Isa. is old. Of the nineteen servant passages in the Heb. text (cf. p. 50) only three are messianically interpreted in the Targ, Isa.: 42.1; 43.10; 52.13;291 in all three texts the Heb. עבדי is rendered עבדי משיחא by the Targ.292 Our conclusions so far make it certain that the messianic interpretation of Isa. 42.1 and 52.13 rests upon ancient tradition (cf. pp. 57 ff.).293 The observation that the description of the Messiah as servant of God is to be found only in the pre-rabbinic layer of late Jewish literature (II Esd. [IV Ezra], Syr. Bar., cf. p. 49) but nowhere in rabbinic literature outside the Targ. (cf. p. 50), points to the same conclusion. Above all, the ancient date of the messianic exegesis of Isa. 52.13 in the Targ. is clear from the fact that Targ. Isa. explains the whole context Isa. 52.13-53.12 uniformly in a messianic sense; for the messianic interpretation of 53.1-12 cannot, as we saw (p. 64), have first arisen in the Christian era.

The Targ. Isa. 52.13-53.12 runs:

(52.13) ‘Behold my servant, the Messiah, will have success, will become exalted, great and strong.’

(14) ‘As the house of Israel have hoped in him many days when their appearance was overcast in the midst of the peoples and their brightness less than that of the sons of men;’

(15) ‘so will he scatter many peoples; for his sake kings will be silent, will lay their hand on their mouth; for they see what they had never been told and perceive what they had never heard of.’

(53.1) ‘Who hath believed this our message ? and to whom hath the strength of the mighty arm of the Lord thus294 been revealed ?’

(2) ‘And the righteous295 shall be great before him, yea, as sprouting branches and as a tree which sends out its roots beside water brooks, so will the holy generations increase in the land which was in need of him. His appearance is not like that of worldly things and the fear which he inspires is not an ordinary fear, but his brightness will be holy so that all who see him will gaze (fascinated) upon him.’

(3) ‘Then (he) will be despised and will (make to) cease the glory of all kingdoms.296 They will become weak and pitiable—behold, like a man of sorrows and as one destined to ills and as if the shekina had turned its face from us—despised and disregarded’.

(4) ‘Then he will make intercession for our transgressions and for his sake our iniquities shall be forgiven, though we were accounted bruised, smitten by Yahweh and afflicted.’

(5) ‘But he will build up the sanctuary which was desecrated because of our transgressions and surrendered because of our iniquities, and by his teaching his peace297 will be richly upon us, and when we gather to listen to him our transgressions will be forgiven us.’

(6) ‘We were all scattered as sheep, each one had gone his own way into exile; but it was Yahweh’s will to forgive the transgressions of us all for his sake.’

(7) ‘When he prays he receives an answer and hardly does he open his mouth, but he finds a hearing. He will deliver the strong from among the peoples to be slaughtered as a lamb, and as a ewe that is dumb before its shearers, and no one will (dare) to open his mouth and plead.’

(8) ‘He will bring our exiles home from their suffering and chastisement. Who can tell the wonders which will come upon us in his days? For he will remove the dominion298of the peoples from the land of Israel; he will lay to their charge299 the sins of which my people were guilty.’

(9) ‘And he will deliver over to hell the godless and those who have enriched themselves by robbery unto the death of (eternal) destruction, so that they who commit sin may not be preserved and may no longer speak cunningly with their mouth.’

(10) ‘And it pleases Yahweh to refine and purify the remnant of his people in order to cleanse their soul from transgressions. They shall see the kingdom of their Messiah; they will have many sons and daughters;300 they will live long, and those who fulfil the law of Yahweh will by his good pleasure have success.’

(11) ‘From subjugation by the peoples he will deliver their soul; they will see the punishment of them that hate them; they will be satiated by the plunder of their kings. By his wisdom he will acquit the innocent to make many servants of the law. And he will make intercession for their transgressions.’

(12) ‘Hereafter will I apportion to him the plunder of many peoples and he will distribute strong towns as booty, because he surrendered301 himself to death and brought the rebels under the yoke of the law. And he will make intercession for many transgressions and for his sake the rebellious will be forgiven.

It can be seen how, step by step, in Targ. Isa. 52.13-53.12 is depicted the glorious establishment of the messianic kingdom over Israel. The statements about the passion of the servant have been so radically and consistently removed by artificial contrivances that faint traces remain only in two places.302 Even allowing for the targumic translation technique, the section Targ. Isa. 52.13-53.12 stands out by the unusual freedom of its paraphrase in the context of Targ. Isa. 40-66,303 which elsewhere keeps more closely to the Heb. text. For this violent reinterpretation of the text there is only one possible explanation: we have here a piece of anti-Christian polemic.304 From the second century at the latest, Judaism was concerned in various ways to wrest Isa. 53 from its use by Christians as a christological scriptural text proof (cf. p. 75). The curious form of Isa. 53 in the Targ. shows to what extremes this attempt was carried through. The whole section was indeed messianically explained because the messianic interpretation of Isa. 52.13-53.12 was so firmly rooted that Targ. Isa. could not escape it, but the passages about suffering, in brusque contradiction to the original, are replaced by the current view of the Messiah. The fact that this thoroughgoing process of reinterpretation of Isa. 52.13-53.12 was applied to both the Greek (see pp. 65 ff.) and the Aramaic texts of Isa. 53 shows how firmly rooted in Palestinian Judaism was the messianic exegesis.

(pp. 66-71)

I would very much love to locate scholarly publications addressing Jeremias’s presentations, not only for, but especially against the thrust of his interpretation of the evidence. Any reader who can direct me in this quest please do so. Continue reading “Jewish Pre-Christian Prophecies of Suffering Servant Messiah (5)”


Jewish Understandings of a Suffering Messiah before the Christian Era (4)

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by Neil Godfrey

A free Vridar plug for a Rob Levinson book

The witnesses to a Jewish, pre-Christian, belief in a Suffering Messiah that we have heard from so far:

  1. Ecclesiasticus,
    • Interpreted the Servant Songs in Isaiah as references to a new coming of Elijah as the messiah.
  2. the Testament of Benjamin,
    • Attributed to a messiah from the tribe of Joseph the atoning death found in Isaiah’s Servant chapters.
  3. and the Parables of Enoch.
    • Describe a messianic figure whose attributes are taken from Isaiah’s Servant passages.
  4. the Peshitta
    • A pre-Christian translation portraying Isaiah’s Servant chapters as references to the messiah.
  5. the Gospel of Luke
    • The mocking expression “the chosen one” most probably derives from pre-Christian

6. Aquila’s “leper messiah” translation of the OT

Aquila’s agenda was to replace the Septuagint that was seen as allowing too much room for Christian interpretations of the messiah. We must accept that Aquila was drawing upon pre-Christian interpretations of the messiah “bearing our sicknesses” to justify his translation.

At the beginning of the second century A.D.263 Aquila completed in Palestine a new translation of the O.T. into Greek, designed to replace the LXX, as the latter offered Christians too much scope for the production of christological proof-texts.264 Aquila’s interpretation of the servant in Isa. 53 is to be inferred, inter alia, from his agreement with Test. B. 3.8 in the understanding of Isa. 53.5,265 and from his exegesis of 53.9 as referring to the judgement which the servant holds; messianism is implicit at both points.266 Further, Aquila translates (according to Jerome) נגיע (Isa. 53.4) by άφημένον267 (leprous, cf. Vulgate: quasi leprosum), a translation which is explained by the fact that the past participle of נגע in postbiblical Hebrew (Pu’al) and Aramaic (Pa’el) has the meaning ‘leprous’. For our question this translation is very illuminating because the exegesis ‘leper’ for Isa. 53.4 is met with also in rabbinic literature and is here referred to the Messiah.268

We are thinking of two places in B. Sanh. 98 which alone in the Talmud, along with a late Midrash text,269 have preserved the curious conception of a leprous Messiah.270 One text is B. Sanh. 98b, from circa A.D. 200.271 In an enumeration of messianic titles it is here said ‘And the teachers said “the leprous one”, those of the House of Rabbi272 said “the sick man” is his name, for it is written: “Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, but we thought him stricken with leprosy (? גגו ), smitten and tormented by God” (Isa. 53.4)’.273 The other text is B. Sanh. 98a (alleged experience of R. Jehoshua’ ben Levi, circa A.D. 250), where it is described how the Messiah sits outside the gates of Rome among the wretched people who ‘bear pain’ (cf. Isa. 53-4),274 and alone among them unbinds and binds just one wound at a time, so that without delay he may fulfil the summons to save Israel.

Aquila’s translation of Isa. 53 permits us to trace back this reference of Isa. 53.4 to the leprous Messiah as far as A.D. 100.275 But we must go back yet a step further; the messianic interpretation of Isa. 53.4 cannot have arisen first circa A.D. 100, for quite apart from the messianic exegesis of Isa. 53 in Test. B. (cf. p. 57) and Peshitta (cf. p. 60), it is completely out of the question that the Jews should have begun to interpret messianically the passion texts of Isa. 53 only at a time when Christians were already using Isa. 53 as the decisive christological proof text.276

(Jeremias, 63 f.)

To see how Aquila’s translation is dated to the beginning of the second century scroll down to the end of the this post where you will see the footnote #263. Continue reading “Jewish Understandings of a Suffering Messiah before the Christian Era (4)”


Modern Scholars on Pre-Christian Jewish Beliefs in Suffering Messiahs and Atoning Deaths

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by Neil Godfrey

I am currently sharing the evidence for a pre-Christian Jewish beliefs in a suffering servant, even dying, messiah set out by Joachim Jeremias, but in response to a reader’s comment I would like to list here some contemporary scholars who have presented similar or related arguments. I can only list the few whose works I have read and no doubt there are many more I am yet to discover.

In one or two of the linked articles below are citations by a contemporary scholar suggesting that the same evidence we have been reading from Jeremias is not “absolutely conclusive”; others, however, continue to see the evidence as more clear cut.

The first name to come to mind is the prominent Jewish scholar, Daniel Boyarim. Boyarim points out that Jewish ideas of a sacrificed messiah logically have to precede Christianity since the rabbis would never have copied the idea from the Christians.

Martha Himmelfarb discusses pre-Christian interpretations of a dying messiah.
Other scholars such as Jacob Neusner point to similar views but their works can hardly be said to be still “contemporary”.

Thomas L. Thompson, whose thesis on the nonhistoricity of the Genesis patriarchs at first excluded him from academia but has now become a mainstream view, has in various publications argued that

  • the first royal messiah died and David poured out a lament over him
  • the Pentateuchal high priest was an anointed, a messiah, whose death led to the return of certain exiles
  • the Davidic messiah figure is depicted as a pious man who suffers greatly, even faces death, yet is ultimately vindicated

Matthew Novenson in his book, Christ Among the Messiahs, rejects the idea that pre-Christian Jews could only conceive of a conquering royal messiah and argues that Paul, far from being completely at odds with Jewish thought of his day, uses χριστός within the range of conventional Jewish understanding of the Messiah.

Leroy Huizenga agues that the author of the Gospel of Matthew based his Christ figure upon Isaac who was offered as a sacrifice to atone for all the sins of (future) Israel. Some Jews interpreted the Genesis account to mean that Abraham did in fact kill Isaac and shed his blood but then brought him back to life again. His shed blood was to cover the sins of God’s people.

Jon Levinson similarly argues for the centrality of the early Jewish belief in the atoning power of the blood actually shed by Isaac in his sacrifice prior to his return from the dead.

Crispin H.T. Fletcher-Louis points to indicators of an early Jewish belief in a messianic high priest offering a ransom and that one “like a son of man” in Daniel was believed to have been sacrificed to the Ancient of Days and that these interpretations found their way into the gospels.

David C. Mitchell posits the belief that Zechariah 12:10 applied to a future Messiah ben Joseph to come in the last days and be slain at the dawn of the messianic age and that this belief was at extant before the destruction of the temple in 70 CE.

Joshua Jipp has pointed out that the messianic (pre-Christian) Psalms of Solomon 17-18 are based on our canonical Psalm 2 which refers to a royal son of God facing threats to his life by early rulers.

Of course most readers are aware of Richard Carrier and his arguments, similar in some ways to those of Thomas Thompson.

Other posts of relevance, though some of their references are to scholars from around the same time as Jeremias.



Evidence for Belief in a Suffering Messiah Before Christianity (3)

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by Neil Godfrey

So far we have seen evidence for a pre-Christian belief that the “suffering servant” passages in the Book of Isaiah spoke of a future Messiah in three sources:

  1. Ecclesiasticus,
    • Interpreted the Servant Songs in Isaiah as references to a new coming of Elijah as the messiah.
  2. the Testament of Benjamin,
    • Attributed to a messiah from the tribe of Joseph the atoning death found in Isaiah’s Servant chapters.
  3. and the Parables of Enoch.
    • Describe a messianic figure whose attributes are taken from Isaiah’s Servant passages.

We have dusted off a 1957 book with yellowing pages, The Servant of God, and are following the trail of evidence according to the book’s co-author J. Jeremias. Where I can I have been supplementing the posts with critical information from more recent scholarship.

4. Peshitta

Next witness to take the stand, the Peshitta. The Peshitta is a Syrian translation of the Bible but we are interested in its translation of the Suffering Servant passages in the Book of Isaiah, probably dating from the of)early second century. Jeremias:

The next source which gives us information about the exegesis of ‘ebed texts in late Judaism is the Peshitta; it is probably of pre-Christian origin.257 Peshitta explains Isa. 53 — including the passages about suffering — in a messianic sense.258 This is clear from the passages where Peshitta discloses its understanding of Isa. 53 by deviations from the Heb. text. Thus Peshitta saw in the servant

  • a figure awaited in the future (52.14)
  • who shall ‘cleanse’ many peoples (52.15);
  • this figure is denied (53.2),
  • despised (53.3)
  • and slain (53.5)
  • but exalted by God
  • and (at the last judgement) will convey forgiveness (53.5: healing).

These statements can only refer to the Messiah.259

(Jeremias, 60 f. My formatting and highlighting)

The devil is usually found in the detail so here are the relevant footnotes:

257 P. Kahle, The Cairo Geniza, 1947, 184, 186; also Hegermann, 22-27.
258 Hegermann, 127.
269 Hegermann, ibid.

Unfortunately I have no further information on the “pre-Christian origin” of the Peshitta’s translation of the ‘ebed (Servant) texts in Isaiah. I present Jeremias’s statement “as is”. If anyone has more up to date corrective or confirming information feel free to add it to the comments.

5. The Gospel of Luke 

Continue reading “Evidence for Belief in a Suffering Messiah Before Christianity (3)”


A Pre-Christian Jewish Suffering Messiah (2)

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by Neil Godfrey

Can anything good come out of such an old and dowdy looking book, one retrieved from an off-site library stack, and with no more than 100 yellowing pages of text?

In the previous post we saw the first two items of evidence for a belief among pre-Christian Jews in a suffering messiah to come. This post looks at a third item, the Parables of Enoch. Follow up posts will address several more.

I begin by presenting Jeremias’s argument in his own words but in the next section of the post I update his terminology and the state of the discussion to accord with current terms and scholarly views concerning the dating of the key passage.

Joachim Jeremias’s third item of evidence is a section from the Ethiopic Book of Enoch. His references to Deut. Isa are to the second (deutero) part of Isaiah, chapters 40 to 55. I have reformatted Jeremias’s text to allow for easier following of each of the points where Enoch draws upon an Isaiah servant passage:

(γ) The next relevant source from the point of view of time is the so-called Visionary Discourses of the Ethiopian Enoch (chs. 37-71) which are certainly pre-Christian. Here the Messiah is depicted to a quite striking extent by means of traits drawn from Deut. Isa. Apart from the titles ‘son of man’ and ‘Messiah’ he bears constantly the name ‘the chosen one’ but only occasionally that of ‘the righteous one’. ‘The chosen one’ is, however (Isa. 42.1), the title of the servant of God and the same applies to ‘the righteous one’ (Isa. 53.11). Thus we are led straight away to those two sections of Deut. Isa. which, also in the subsequent periods, are the ones interpreted messianically: Isa. 42.1 if., 52.13 ff.

In En. 48.4 the son of man is called ‘the light of the peoples’; this is an attribute of God’s servant (Isa. 42.6; 49.6).

It is said further that his name was named before creation ‘in the presence of the Lord of spirits’ (En. 48.3); this is an amplification of Isa. 49.1: ‘my name he named when I was not yet born’.

Then he was ‘hidden before God’ (En. 48.6, cf. 62.7) which is a reference to Isa. 49.2 (‘He hid me in the shadow of his hand’).

Again, in the description of the revelation of the son of man the Visionary Discourses constantly depict the humiliation of kings and the mighty before him with a reminiscence of Isa. 49.7; 5 2.15. It is said that they will see him in his glory (En. 55.4; 62.1, 3), rise before him (En. 46.4; 62.3), and cast themselves down (48.10 v.l.; 62.9; cf. 48.5), thus with an allusion to Isa. 49.7; ‘Princes and kings will see it and arise and cast themselves down’.

It is said further that their countenance will be fallen (En. 46.6; 48.8) alluding to Isa. 52.15: ‘Kings will shut their mouths before him’.

In particular in En. 62.1 ff. the conduct of kings, the mighty and those who possess the earth, is depicted in close connexion with Isa. 52.13 ff.; thus En. 62.5 f.: ‘They will be afraid (cf. Isa. 52.14), they will lower their eyes (cf. Isa. 52.15), and pain will seize them when they see the Son of Man sitting on the throne of his glory; kings (cf. Isa. 52.15), the mighty and all who possess the earth will glorify, praise and exalt him who rules over all (cf. Isa. 52.13), who was hidden (cf. Isa. 52.15)’.

Again it is the passages Isa. 42.1 ff.; 52.13 ff. (cf. p. 59) which are messianically interpreted; together with 49.1-2, 6-7.

Finally there are the following statements which have a loose connexion with Deut. Isa. The chosen has the spirit of righteousness (En. 62.1 f; cf. [besides lsa. 11.2,4] 42.1: ‘My chosen . . . I have laid my spirit upon him’). He executes judgement (En. 41.9; 45-3; 49.4; 55.4; 61.9; 62.2 f.; 69.27; cf. Isa. 42.4 Ά, Θ, Targ.). En. 48.4b: ‘He will be the light of the peoples and the hope of the sad’ combines Isa. 42.6 (‘fight of the peoples’) with its context (42.7: salvation of the blind and wretched).

The son of man of the Visionary Discourses is thus to a large extent depicted with traits which are borrowed from servant passages of Deut. Isa. (42.1-7; 49.1 f., 6 f; 52.13-15; 53.11).

The author of the Parables of Enoch interpreted Isaiah’s servant passages, including those passages announcing a suffering servant, as references to a future messiah.
Continue reading “A Pre-Christian Jewish Suffering Messiah (2)”


Evidence of a Suffering Messiah Concept before Christianity (1)

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by Neil Godfrey

When I recently posted Further Evidence of a Pre-Christian Concept of a Suffering Davidic Messiah I was patiently waiting for a certain book to be collected from an off-site library stack. I had two reasons for wanting to read that particular work. The first was from a Mormon scholar, hence slightly dubious, but nonetheless I was curious . . .

Robinson, Stephen E. 1977. “The Apocalypse of Adam.” Brigham Young University Studies 17 (2): 131–53.
Pre-Christian Judaism had a doctrine of a suffering Messiah as Jeremias has shown 21

21 Walter Zimmerli and Joachim Jeremias, The Servant of God, Studies in Biblical Theology, no. 20, (London: SCM Press, 1957), pp. 57ff

And again, this time from an article that seemed somewhat of a turning point in discussions of the Apocalypse of Adam:

MacRae, George W. 1965. “The Coptic Gnostic Apocalypse of Adam.” The Heythrop Journal 6 (1): 27–35.
Böhlig has suggested that in the redeemer-myth that appears here we have a confrontation of Iranian notions of a redeemer and the Jewish idea of the suffering Servant-Messiah which J. Jeremias has shown to have been accepted in pre-Christian Judaism.2

2 Cf. W. Zimmerli and J. Jeremias, The Servant of God, Studies in Biblical Theology 20 (London, 1957), pp. 57 ff. . . .

That settled it. I had to locate Zimmerli and Jeremias’s The Servant of God.

Now that I have it, it is clear that there is too much content for a single post so I’ll write it up here one, maybe two, arguments at a time.

The first piece of evidence given for a pre-Christian Jewish concept of a suffering messiah is found in Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach).

(c) Messianic exegesis (Isa. 42.1; 43.10; 49.6; 52.13; 53.11.) Messianic interpretations of certain Deut. Isa. servant passages can most probably be traced back to pre-Christian times (cf. p. 41).

(α) In Ecclus 48.10 one of the three tasks of the returning Elijah (cf. TWNT, II, 93 3,12 ff.) is described as להכין שבטי ישראל; the expression comes from Isa. 49.6 where the ‘ebed receives the mission of להקים ואת־שבטי ןעקב. The restoration of the twelve tribes is a messianic task and its assignment to Elijah must have marked the latter as the coming saviour. But since only a broad allusion to Isa. 49.6 is in question, conclusions about a messianic interpretation of Isa. 49.6 from Ecclus 48.10 alone are not quite secure (but cf. n. 305). In any case it is significant that Ecclus. explained the servant in Isa. 49.6 in an individual sense.

And here is Isaiah 49:6

And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.

For anyone like me who is not familiar with Ecclesiasticus 48:10 here it is in context

1 Then stood up Elijah the prophet as fire, and his word burned like a lamp.
2 He brought a sore famine upon them, and by his zeal he diminished their number.
3 By the word of the Lord he shut up the heaven, and also three times brought down fire.
4 O Elijah, how wast thou honored in thy wondrous deeds! and who may glory like unto thee!
5 Who didst raise up a dead man from death, and his soul from the place of the dead, by the word of the most High:
6 who broughtest kings to destruction, and honorable men from their bed:
7 who heardest the rebuke of the Lord in Sinai, and in Horeb the judgment of vengeance:
8 who anointedst kings to take revenge, and prophets to succeed after him:
9 who wast taken up in a whirlwind of fire, and in a chariot of fiery horses:
10 who wast ordained for reproofs in their times, to pacify the wrath of the Lord’s judgment, before it brake forth into fury, and to turn the heart of the father unto the son,and to restore the tribes of Jacob.

But note the next point:

The pre-Christian Testament of Benjamin is said to draw upon the “suffering servant” passage in Isaiah when it speaks of the future Messiah. And for those readers who (like me) are quick to claim that the Testament of Benjamin is riddled with much later Christian interpolations, do read on….

(β) In the Testament of Benjamin (second or first century B.C.) the patriarch at the beginning puts forward his brother Joseph as a model because he made intercession for his brothers with his father Jacob. In this connexion it is said in Test. B. 3.8 (Armenian):

In thee (Joseph) will the heavenly prophecy be fulfilled which says that the innocent one will be defiled for the sake of the guilty and the sinless one will die for the impious.

The heavenly prophecy must mean Isa. 53. The possibility that Test.B. 3.8 (Armenian) is a Christian interpolation does not come into the question, for nowhere is there ascribed to Jesus descent from the tribe Joseph-Ephraim, but always Davidic descent (cf. υίος Δαυίδ) from the tribe of Judah (Heb. 7.14). Since further the idea of a vicarious atoning death of the patriarch Joseph himself is nowhere else attested, the phrase

‘in thee will the heavenly prophecy be fulfilled’,

probably refers not to Joseph himself but to his posterity (cf. for this type of phrase I Sam. 3.12-14), i.e., the Messiah from the house of Joseph.

In Test. B. 3.8 we have probably the oldest testimony to the expectation of a Messiah from the tribe of Joseph. This passage should therefore be regarded as the oldest witness to the messianic exegesis of Isa. 53 (next to LXX, cf. p. 41).

In summary

We know that many Christians have always interpreted the Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah as prophecies of the suffering messiah Jesus. Jeremias’s chapter offers several lines of evidence that before Christianity some Jews likewise interpreted those Isaiah passages messianically. The first two of those arguments are

  1. Ecclesiasticus, a pre-Christian text, suggests that at least one messianic function of an Isaiah servant passage applies to a future appearance of Elijah, presumably as the messiah;
  2. The Testament of Benjamin, another text believed to be pre-Christian in its original form in one surviving manuscript line (Armenian) applies a suffering servant passage in Isaiah to a coming messiah descended from Joseph.

(Two down, eight to go. Then I will need to locate and dig out scholarship that has since, presumably, shown Jeremias’s case to be flawed.)

Zimmerli, Walther and Joachim Jeremias. 1957. The Servant of God. Revised edition. London : SCM Press.



Further Evidence of a Pre-Christian Concept of a Suffering Davidic Messiah

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by Neil Godfrey


It is commonly recognized that the Gospels depict Jesus’ crucifixion as an ironic royal enthronement.

We know the evidence for this statement: the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem; the riddle of Psalm 110 over the messiah being David’s Lord; the parable of the pounds; the dressing up of Jesus in royal garb; the ironical mocking of Jesus as a messiah and king when he is on the cross; and the Gospel of Mark’s ironical Roman triumph  and mock acclamation of Jesus as emperor. Some have questioned whether pre-Christian Jews ever contemplated the idea of a messiah who suffers. I have posted some of the reasons we have to think that some Jews did speculate on the possibility of a suffering messiah and this post will be one more addition to that archive.

The point is not so much that David is the paradigmatic example of a “righteous sufferer” so much as he is the “righteous suffering king.”
William Hole. David fleeing from Jerusalem, cursed by Shimei. Wikipedia Commons

I recently posted an excerpt from Martin Goodman’s discussion of Second Temple Jewish beliefs about a coming messiah:

In some Jewish texts the central figure in these events of the last days is called the Messiah, ‘the anointed.’ Some texts, like the Psalms of Solomon, describe the Messiah as a human figure, descended from David:

Behold, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to reign over your servant Israel in the time which you did foresee, O God. Gird him with strength to destroy unrighteous rulers, and purge Jerusalem from the nations who trample her down to destruction … And he will be a righteous king over them, taught by God. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy, and their king shall be the anointed Lord. [Psalms of Solomon 17:21-22, 32]

Interestingly another scholar, Joshua Jipp, has pointed out that that messianic Psalm of Solomon is based on our canonical Psalm 2 which speaks of a suffering messiah.

One may ask if there are any specific examples of pre-Christian messianic appropriation of the psalms. Psalms of Solomon 17 and 18 use Psalm 2 in their description of a coming Davidic Messiah. Moreover, one could describe Ps. Sol. 17:21-32 as a midrash on Psalm 2. For example, the coming Davidic figure is depicted as bringing forth punishment ἐν ῥάβδῳσ ιδηρᾷ (“by an iron rod”; Ps. Sol. 17:24), an exact replication of Ps 2:9.

The vocabulary of Ps 2:9 of σκεῦος κεραμέως συντρίψεις αὐτούς (“you will crush them into pieces as a potter’s vessel”) is echoed in Ps. Sol. 17:23b-24a with ὡς σκεύη κεραμέως . . . συντρῖψαι.

The use of Psalm 2 by Psalms of Solomon, therefore, provides further evidence of the eschatological and messianic nature of Psalm 2.

Perhaps most important, however, is the psalms’ frequent depiction of a Davidic figure, under intense duress and persecuted by his enemies. While suffering and hostility at the hands of one’s enemies are potentially common to all humanity, it is King David who is portrayed as the righteous, royal sufferer par excellence (Pss 7:4; 69:4; 109:3). His enemies surround him to mock and afflict him (e.g., Psalms 22; 69; 89). David’s plight frequently brings him to the point of despair, wondering if God has abandoned and forsaken him, giving him over to death and Hades (Pss 22:14-18; 38:5-8; 69:16-20). Yet despite his sufferings and persecution, David maintains his fidelity and hope in God. In the Davidic psalms one finds the paradoxical combination of kingship and righteous suffering. The point is not so much that David is the paradigmatic example of a “righteous sufferer” so much as he is the “righteous suffering king.”21 This anomaly, namely, that David, God’s anointed one, undergoes persecution and suffering, has great importance for Luke’s conception of Jesus, the suffering Anointed One.

21 In other words, though the psalms’ characterization of David as a “righteous” sufferer is extremely significant, it is his royalty and kingship that are crucial for Luke’s appropriation of the Davidic psalms. 

(Jipp, 258f)

Continue reading “Further Evidence of a Pre-Christian Concept of a Suffering Davidic Messiah”


Is Josephus Evidence that a Messianic Movement caused the Jewish War?

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by Neil Godfrey

A historian specializing in the study of Josephus, Steve Mason, presents a case that the war that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple was not prompted by any messianic movement among the people of Judaea. Rather, Mason suggests that the prophecy of a ruler to come out of the east and rule the entire world was a product of hindsight and that there is little reason to think that there was a “messianic movement” propelling the Jews to rebel against Rome.

I can’t hope to cover the full argument set out by Mason in A history of the Jewish War, AD 66-74 in a single post but I will try to hit some key points from pages 111 to 130 here.

To begin. It is a misunderstanding to think that we can read the works of Josephus as if they were a chronicle of facts happily shedding light on the background to the rise of Christianity.

History as Tragedy

To get the most reliable data from Josephus we need to study his works in the context of other historical writings of his day. In that context it is evident that Josephus is writing a “tragic history” — a narrative that he presents as a tragedy, a form of narrative with which his Greco-Roman audience was familiar. As a tragedy Josephus seeks to elicit tears of sympathy from his audience by using all of his rhetorical skills to portray graphic suffering and misfortune. In War Josephus opens with the proud Herod whose hubris is brought low by the misfortunes that follow. The audience knows how the story ends and knowing that only adds to their awareness of the tragedy in each scene. The irony of temple slaughter at Passover time would have been as clear to Roman as to Jewish readers: Passover was known to have been the festival of liberation.

A tragedy needs villains and Josephus fills his narrative with an abundance of “robbers” or “bandits” who polluted the temple, just as per Jeremiah 7:11 said they would.

Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?

Josephus was in good literary company since we find the same motif being drafted by the Roman historian Tacitus when narrating the destruction of the central temple in Rome:

Thus the Capitoline temple, its doors locked, was burned to the ground undefended and unplundered. This was the most lamentable and appalling disaster in the whole history of the Roman commonwealth. Though no foreign enemy threatened, though we enjoyed the favour of heaven as far as our failings permitted, the sanctuary of Jupiter Best and Greatest solemnly founded by our fathers as a symbol of our imperial destiny . . . was now, thanks to the infatuation of our leaders, suffering utter destruction. (Hist. 3.72 — I am using my Penguin translation and not the one used by Mason)

Josephus blends Jewish and Greek literary motifs in his tragic narration (Mason, pp. 114-121). A stock motif in tragic narrative were omens of imminent disaster and ambiguous prophecies that would mislead the hapless victims.

Tragedy’s Stock Omens and Prophecies

A motif that was virtually universal in ancient historiography was that a change of ruler should be preceded by omens and prophecies. We see it in the history of Tacitus describing the ascent of Vespasian (I quote from LacusCurtius, Histories, Book 2.78- the extract is not quoted by Mason): Continue reading “Is Josephus Evidence that a Messianic Movement caused the Jewish War?”


The Hidden Messiah

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by Neil Godfrey

Just another mild-mannered reporter

Tim recently cited a few of my old posts in which I draw attention to evidence that Jewish ideas about the Messiah were far more varied in the Second Temple era than commonly supposed. Another variant I have not covered in any of those posts was “the hidden messiah”, the view that the messiah was thought to have been born and waiting somewhere in the wings, unrecognized, until the critical moment when God would bring him to the fore to answer a climactic hour of need.

In other posts I have addressed Jewish writings of the seventh century (CE, late antiquity) positing a messiah who was born a while back but was being kept hidden by God for “the right time”. But what I am interested in here is the Jewish idea that the messiah was born incognito and living somewhere on earth unrecognized. Not even he himself knew he was to become the messiah.

I refer to William Wrede’s discussion of “the hidden Messiah in Judaism” in The Messianic Secret. Wrede is addressing the possibility that the author of the Gospel of Mark knew of an existing idea that the messiah would live for a time on earth without anyone being aware of his true identity.

The first witness Wrede calls upon is Justin and his “Dialogue with Trypho” (written early to mid second century).

The idea is clearly expressed in Justin. Trypho the Jew says in the Dialogue, ch. 8:

But even if the Christ has already been born and lives somewhere (kai esti pou) he is unknown, and does not even know himself. Nor does he have any sort of power until Elias has come, and anointed him and revealed him to everybody.

Similarly in ch. 110 Justin cites as a Jewish idea the notion that even if the messiah had come nobody would know who he is but that they would rather learn this only when he is made manifest and appears in glory, hotan emphanes kai endoxos genetai.

(Wrede, p. 213)

That is, Superman has not yet appeared but a few people in Smallville, Kansas, know a Clark Kent who is an entirely ordinary nobody.

Wrede points out a similar idea in the Gospel of John:

A related idea is presupposed by the Gospel of John when in 7.27 the Jews say “When the Christ appears no-one will know where he comes from.” The hiddenness of his origin appears as a characteristic of the messiah. 

(Wrede, p. 214)

So we can conclude that the idea was known as early as the time the Gospel of John was being put together.

How much earlier? Wrede warns that Jewish ideas and speculations would have been influenced by Christian beliefs, but one must ask how likely it is that the Jews would have moved their ideas in the direction of accommodating Christian ones.

It appears, then, that at the time the gospels were being composed some Jews did hold a notion that the messiah was possibly alive somewhere, hidden, not recognized (yet) as the messiah.

(Does Mark’s claim that there would be false claims that the Messiah was to be found “there” or “over here” tie in with such an idea? Mark 13:21 — “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it…”)

Wrede, William. 1971. The Messianic Secret: Das Messiasgeheimnis in Den Evangelien. Translated by J. C. G. Greig. First Edition edition. Cambridge: James Clarke.


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.  Continue reading “The Priestly Messiah and the Royal Messiah”


Well I never knew that was in the Bible

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by Neil Godfrey

Circle of Juan de la Corte (1580 – 1663)
Title: The Burning of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s Army

Despite having been familiar with the Bible for many years I have had to confess that much of my understanding has been at a layman’s level and only sporadically informed by more thorough scholarly insights. One assumption that most lay readers are likely to bring to the Bible is that it speaks with a uniform voice about a future time when a Messiah figure descended from King David will once again restore Israel to a power exceeding the comparable status she held in the days of King Solomon.

So I was taken aback when I read that one of the contributors to the book of Isaiah had no such vision about a future Davidic messiah, but on the contrary accepted that David’s dynasty had finished, been terminated. But don’t we read in 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 89 that God promised an everlasting dynasty for David? Did our Isaiah writer not know of this prophecy? How could that passage be included in the canon if it contradicted other “sacred scriptures”?

Part of the answer emerged when I recollected my earlier post, How Bible Contradictions Began. Notice what our author does to God’s eternal promises.

That second Isaiah was keen to reinterpret what he could of Isaiah’s oracles can be seen in his handling of the Davidic convenantal tradition. Though political realities would not allow him to simply repeat Isaiah’s promises to the Davidic monarchy, he skillfully actualizes this tradition by “democratizing” it, and applying the Davidic promises to the entire nation (55:1—5). (David Meade, Pseudonymity and Canon, 1986. p. 34)

Again 5 pages later,

We already saw how the Davidic promises were applied by second Isaiah to all Israel (55:1— 5).

If you’re confused by the above reference to “second Isaiah” then understand that scholars have long believed that the 66 chapters of our book of Isaiah are a composite of different writings: “first Isaiah” wrote chapters 1-39 during the time of the Assyrian empire; “second Isaiah” wrote the rest at the time of the Babylonian empire. Some even add a “third Isaiah” responsible for chapters 55-66.

The New Living Translation of the key passage: Isaiah 55:1-5 Continue reading “Well I never knew that was in the Bible”

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