Jesus embodies all the Jewish Messiahs — continuing Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing the series  . . .

A Messiah to combine the different messianic visions

Nanine Charbonnel [NC] has been exploring various ways the Jesus figure of the gospels was drawn to embody certain groups of people and now proceeds to discuss the way our evangelists (gospel authors) also found ways to encapsulate the different Jewish ideas about the Messiah into him as well. I have posted many times on Second Temple messianic ideas and questioned a common view that there was “a rash of messianic hopes” in first-century Palestine. I post links to some of these posts that illustrate or expand on NC’s points.

Various Messiahs

Vridar posts on Second Temple Messiahs

Here are some tags linking to the posts. (As you can see, there is some overlap here that needs to be tidied up but this is the state of play at the moment):

Dying messiah 5 posts
Jewish Messianism 11 posts
Messiah 17 posts
Messiahs 11 posts
Messianic Judaism 2 posts
Messianism 15 posts
Second Temple messianism 41 posts

And a catch-all category

Messiahs and messianism 95 posts

NC lists different views of the messiah as listed by Armand Abécassis (En vérité je vous le dis):

  • the messiah would be a priest (said to be “the Sadducee” view — though I cannot vouch for all of these associations)
  • the messiah would be a royal heir of David (said to be “the Pharisee” view)
  • the messiah would be a scribe descended from Aaron (said to be an Essene view)
  • the messiah was related to a kind of baptist or purification movement (said to be the Boethussian view)

Among the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls are found at least three different types of messiah

1. the royal messiah, the branch or offspring of David, who is accompanied by a prophetic figure who is an interpreter of the law
2. the priestly messiah, an ideal priest from the line of Aaron

In some scrolls these two messiahs appear together. They are perhaps the idealistic corrective to historical kings and priests who were considered corrupt.

3. a “Son of God” figure, “probably a unique celestial figure”, appears to be divine, without a name assigned although in other manuscripts he is given the name Melchisedech, the agent of divine judgment against evil.

André Paul (whom NC is quoting) concludes that these three messianic figures were part of Jewish thinking in the century or century and a half preceding the time of Jesus of Nazareth.

Pre-Christian Jewish thought about these three different messiahs drew upon Scriptures to flesh out what they were to accomplish. The promise Nathan made to David in 2 Samuel 7 that his throne would endure “forever”, and the prophecy in Isaiah 11:1-5 that a “branch will arise from the stump of Jesse”, and that of Isaiah 61:1 that “he will heal the wounded and revive the dead and proclaim the good news and invite the hungry to feast”, and many others, were applied to their respective messiahs.

One striking example outside the biblical texts is found in the Messianic Apocalypse of the Dead Sea Scrolls. To translate Andre Paul’s observation (quoted by NC):

We are struck by the astonishing relationship between this description of future blessings linked to the coming of the Messiah and Jesus ‘answer to John the Baptist’s question in the Gospels:’ “The blind see, the lame walk ” (Matthew 11, 5 and Luke 7, 22). […] A tradition identifiable in other writings of ancient Judaism serves as their common basis. 

The gospel authors were doing what Jewish writers before them had done. They were creating their messiah by pastiching different passages from the Scriptures. The gospels were even copying or incorporating the works of earlier exegetes as we see in the example of the Messianic Apocalypse.

It is these three types of messiah that “Christianity” will unite: Mashiach-Christos, High Priest (in particular in the Epistle to the Hebrews), and Son of Man. It has long been known that in the period of Christianity’s establishment there were struggles over the titles to be given to Jesus Christ. Can we not think that far from depending on different “legends”, the Gospels are midrashim voluntarily composed with a view to celebrating an existing messiah (existing in texts) to unite these divergent expectations? Those who call themselves the disciples of Jesus will make him at the same time the prophet, the priest and the king “thus cumulating all the functions of society and guaranteeing them” (Abécassis p. 290), aided in this by traditions already anchored in the Jewish society of the time.

(Charbonnel, 278, my translation with Google’s help)

We further have texts that have long been known to us, those we label pseudepigrapha. Among these are the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Some of these (the Testaments of Levi and Judah) speak of messianic variants: see TLevi ch2 and TJudah ch4.

NC next turns to biblical scholars questing for the historical Jesus and the significance they attach to the contexts of and emphases on different messianic allusions and sayings in the gospels — all in an effort to attempt to discern what Jesus may have thought about himself vis a vis what others (contemporaries, later generations) thought about him. But the whole exercise collapses when one approaches the gospel Jesus as a literary creation woven from the many messianic threads known to Second Temple Judaism.

From Amazon. Disclaimer: I know nothing about this CD set apart from what is stated on the Amazon site. I chose it entirely for the sake of adding a quick and easy graphic to the post and do not suggest that the contents relate to the principle theme of the post.

Both the Messiah Son of David . . . .

The view that the messiah was to be a son of David is well understood: Isaiah 9:5-6; 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 30:9; etc …; Psalms of Solomon 17:21-43) — even if the details varied somewhat in the different writings. Matthew and Luke make Jesus a genealogical descendant of David; and whereas David was anointed with oil by Samuel Jesus was anointed directly by the Holy Spirit, and so forth. 

NC takes us in for a closer look at what it means to be a “Davidic” figure.

First: the name David means Beloved. At Jesus’ baptism we are to hear a voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s Beloved son (Matthew 3:17). (The name given for the Jesus figure in the Ascension of Isaiah is Beloved; further, see the series on Jon Levenson’s book The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son. There we learn that the “Beloved son” is virtually a technical term for an only or firstborn son who is destined for sacrifice. NC does not touch on this work, however.)

That Jesus was resurrected from the dead is another “Davidic” qualification given that a “Psalm of David” was interpreted by early Christians as a prophecy that “David” would not “be abandoned to Hades” — Acts 2:22-23.

(NC does not mention in this context other Davidic features of Jesus such as his ascent to the Mount of Olives in mourning for his life; his suffering of false and cruel persecutions by his former associates and family; his role as a meditative figure. See What might a Davidic Messiah have meant to early Christians?)

What NC does bring out, though, is the link with the nation of Israel itself being named by God as his Beloved. In the Septuagint we find Continue reading “Jesus embodies all the Jewish Messiahs — continuing Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier”


How Collective Messianic Figures Mutated into Jesus — continuing Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier

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by Neil Godfrey

Nanine Charbonnel casts a net back to catch an interesting observation by the nineteenth-century French Jewish scholar Joseph Salvador who wrote that since early Christian writings were in the tradition of Jewish writings they had to be interpreted in the same way as Jewish writings. That sounds mundane enough, but he went on to point out that Jewish literary figures like Adam, Israel, Esau clearly were constructed as personifications of humanity (Adam) and the peoples of Israel and Edom. The same for Abraham, Ishmael, Judah, Joseph, and so forth. (Their very names advertised that they were representations of collectives of people.) In the same way, Jesus was delineated to represent all of humanity, both “Jews and gentiles”. Jewish literary tradition was partial to the idea of a people rising up in vindicated glory after having suffered unjustly and cruelly at the hands of others. Indeed, who would not find such a myth appealing? From this perspective Jesus was read as a figure whom all peoples, in particular anyone or any collective who deeply felt a sense of unjust victimhood, could aspire to relate. The Jesus figure was likewise created as a representative figure, one whom all peoples could relate to in some significant way.

Yet the literary artifice has led generations of readers to think of all of these characters as individual (and historical) persons. Such is the nature and power of their stories.

The Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53

We see a very early debate over this same principle in Origen’s third-century writings against the Jewish critic of Christianity, Celsus. Celsus, Origen complains, does indeed claim just what Joseph Salvador wrote, that the Jewish writings cleverly wrote of whole nations through a literary individual. NC quotes the entire chapter 55 of Book 1 of Contra Celsum:

Now I remember that, on one occasion, at a disputation held with certain Jews, who were reckoned wise men, I quoted these prophecies; to which my Jewish opponent replied, that these predictions bore reference to the whole people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nations. And in this way he explained the words, Your form shall be of no reputation among men; and then, They to whom no message was sent respecting him shall see; and the expression, A man under suffering. Many arguments were employed on that occasion during the discussion to prove that these predictions regarding one particular person were not rightly applied by them to the whole nation. And I asked to what character the expression would be appropriate, This man bears our sins, and suffers pain on our behalf; and this, But He was wounded for our sins, and bruised for our iniquities; and to whom the expression properly belonged, By His stripes were we healed. For it is manifest that it is they who had been sinners, and had been healed by the Saviour’s sufferings (whether belonging to the Jewish nation or converts from the Gentiles), who use such language in the writings of the prophet who foresaw these events, and who, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, applied these words to a person. But we seemed to press them hardest with the expression, Because of the iniquities of My people was He led away unto death. For if the people, according to them, are the subject of the prophecy, how is the man said to be led away to death because of the iniquities of the people of God, unless he be a different person from that people of God? And who is this person save Jesus Christ, by whose stripes they who believe in Him are healed, when He had spoiled the principalities and powers (that were over us), and had made a show of them openly on His cross? At another time we may explain the several parts of the prophecy, leaving none of them unexamined. But these matters have been treated at greater length, necessarily as I think, on account of the language of the Jew, as quoted in the work of Celsus.

To which NC replies (translated):

Fascinating discussion, which only forgets that, if “there is no reason to apply to the whole people these prophecies which target a single individual”, it is because we ignore the full range of the text, of the speech, of the make-as-if rhetoric, not to mention the grammatical vagueness of the Hebrew language, which allows one to pass from the plural to the singular as it pleases as soon as one intends to refer to the collective. What may seem like a strong objection (how can the personification of the people be brought to death by the iniquities of the people?) is that the midrash mentality is not appreciated: without concern for contradiction, personifications can be those of different applications and aspects in the people.

We have an example in the Garden of Eden where God tells Adam (singular) that he can eat fruit from every tree in the garden but then switches to a plural form when issuing the command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Daniel Boyarin

The flux between singular and collective and back again has been part of the interpretative apparatus of Jewish exegetes from the earliest days. With respect to the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53 NC cites two scholars whose names are known to many of us, Daniel Boyarin and Charles Dodd.

Boyarin on Isaiah 53:

It has been generally assumed by modern folks that Jews have always given the passage a metaphorical reading, understanding the suffering servant to refer to the People of Israel, and that it was the Christians who changed and distorted its meaning to make it refer to Jesus. Quite to the contrary, we now know that many Jewish authorities, maybe even most, until nearly the modern period have read Isaiah 53 as being about the Messiah; until the last few centuries, the allegorical reading was a minority position. (152)

Dodd on the same and with an added note on the same singular-plural confusion with the Son of Man figure in Daniel:

Charles Harold Dodd

In the New Testament there is only one place where the Servant is unambiguously identified with Israel, Lk. i. 54. Elsewhere, even passages in which the original distinctly equates the Servant with Israel are directly applied to Christ (e.g. xlix. 3). Yet there are evidences that the corporate, or representative, character of the Servant-figure is not entirely out of view. Thus xliv. 1-2, which most emphatically declares Israel to be the Servant, is echoed in passages of the New Testament where his attributes, “the beloved,” “the chosen” are given to Christ; yet the promise of water to the thirsty (verse 3) is confirmed not to Christ but to His people, as the Spirit, even in the original, is promised to the “seed” of the Servant, and as in xliii. 1-5, xliv. 21-24 the assurances “I have redeemed thee,” and “I am with thee,” are made to Israel, the Servant, and fulfilled to the Church.

There is a certain parallelism here with the treatment of the “Son of Man” figure, which is in Daniel vii declared to be a personification of “the people of the saints of the Most High,” but in the New Testament is applied as a title of Christ, yet frequently in contexts where the collective or corporate aspects of the figure are clearly in view. We shall be confronted with similar phenomena in our next group of scriptures, taken from the Psalter. (96)

NC does not continue with Dodd’s discussion of this phenomenon in the Psalms (she is discussing the Isaiah 53 verse, after all) but I will quote two sentences. On Psalm 69, a psalm quoted by Paul and all four evangelists, Dodd writes, Continue reading “How Collective Messianic Figures Mutated into Jesus — continuing Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier”


Were Jews Hoping for a Messiah to Deliver Them from Rome? Raising Doubts

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by Neil Godfrey

My post “The Chosen People Were Not Awaiting the Messiah” led to more diverse comments than I had been expecting and I thought I should cover a little more of Akenson’s grounds for his view that there is no unambiguous evidence for popular messianic expectations as part of the background to the life of Jesus — or anytime between 167 BCE and 70 CE. I was attracted to this aspect of his larger discussion in Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds because it is a view I have addressed several times over the years here. It’s always nice to meet someone who agrees with us. Akenson could be wrong, of course, but I find the balance of evidence (or rather lack of evidence) coupled with what I think is sound analysis leaves me thinking that it is a myth that many Jews were eagerly anticipating a messiah to deliver them from the Romans. (The myth arose, I suspect, as a spin-off from the post 70 CE Christian narrative.)

So here is a fuller account of Akenson’s argument.

These arguments, which are representative of a type, appear to suggest that the best way to learn about the messiah in ancient Judaism is to study texts in which there is none. — William Scott Green

The Messiah concept in the “Old Testament” is a peripheral idea that has no clear relationship with our concept of a future conquering and redeeming saviour figure. “Anointed ones” (translatable as “messiahs”) referred to kings (good and bad ones), to prophets and mortal high priests. Yet scholars have tended to look for some notion of the later Christian and/or rabbinic idea of messiah in other places in the Tanakh where the word is not found. At this point Akenson makes a point and quotes a scholar I have also quoted several times to make the same point:

See the post Origin of the Myth that the Jews Expected a Messiah for a fuller discussion of the quote by Green.

Granted, there are such things as sub-texts and arguments-from-silence, but the forcing of Moshiah into places where the writers did not use the term is surpassing strange. As William Scott Green has noted, this forced exegesis seems to “suggest that the best way to learn about the Messiah in ancient Judaism is to study texts in which there is none.”

But what about the extra-biblical Judean writings between 167 BCE and 70 CE? Apart from the Dead Sea Scrolls there are only two surviving documents that mention the messiah. Of the passages in the Book of Enoch, or in those chapters (37-71 — the Similitudes or Parables) written during this period, Akenson writes

In two places (48:10 and 52:4), the term Messiah is used, but in a strangely subordinate form: as if referring to an archangel rather than to an independent figure. In the first instance, a judgement is announced against those who “have denied the lord of the Spirits and his Messiah,” and in the second, an angel explains to Enoch that at the final judgement Yahweh will cast a number of judgements, which will “happen by authority of his Messiah….” Apparently, in the latter case, Moshiah would not be an active participant in events, but rather, the guarantor of their authenticity.

Of the passage in the Psalms of Solomon,

In the Songs of Solomon, hymns number 17 and 18, there is found praise of “the Lord Messiah,” a future super-king of the Davidic line who will destroy Judah’s enemies and purge Jerusalem. Whether the voice here is closer to old-time classical prophecy or to later Second Temple apocalyptic rhetoric, is open to question. The clear point is that Messiah is a king who will reign in the manner of a powerful and righteous monarch. This is not a piacular or redemptive figure, but an Anointed One, in the same sense that King David was.

In sum, then, Continue reading “Were Jews Hoping for a Messiah to Deliver Them from Rome? Raising Doubts”


“The Chosen People Were Not Awaiting the Messiah”

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by Neil Godfrey

One widely held view that I have long questioned is that there were widespread expectations or hopes for a soon-coming messiah around the time of Jesus. One line of evidence often cited in support for this scenario are the scrolls from Qumran. I have posted regularly on the evidence and what various scholars have had to say about it, and now happily (for me) I have found one more scholar who has likewise questioned the prevailing assumption and specifically pointed to the failure of the Qumran scrolls to indicate the existence of messianic fervour or imminent hopes prior to the Jewish War of 66-70 CE. The author speaks of Judahism to distinguish the religious ideas and practices of later (200 CE – 600 CE Judaism).

Three characteristics of the apparently Messianic usage of the Damascus Document are noteworthy. First is the way that this Moshiah – whom one would expect to be central to the discussion – is only mentioned briefly, almost with a passing nod. The concept of Messiah is there, certainly, but the Damascus Document almost says that, really, it’s no big deal. This is very curious indeed. Secondly, there is the matter of the title “Messiah of Aaron and Israel,” or, more accurately, “Anointed One of Aaron and Israel.” This seems to apply directly to a future High Priest, for it is to Aaron that the competing high priestly lines traced their ecclesiastical ancestry. So the future Moshiah will be a High Priest with the proper credentials. This position, that Messiah will be a proper High Priest, is buttressed by a fragment from Qumran Cave No. 11 (again if, and only if one accepts that this document comes from the same belief system as does the Damascus Rule). This fragment is an apocalyptic piece in which Melchizedek is presented as the active agent of God, and Moshiah as the messenger of Melchizedek. Messiah is identified as the man “anointed of the spirit about whom Daniel spoke” (11Q Melchizedek 2:18). The reference almost certainly is to the high priest who is forecast in Daniel’s prophecy of the “seventy weeks.” Thirdly, in what seems to be a related Qumran document, one given the name “Rule of the Community,” or “the Community Rule,” there is a fleeting eschatological reference to the way the religious community in question was to be run “until the prophet comes, and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel” (Rule 9:11). Note the plural. From this many scholars have concluded that not one, but two Messiahs would appear to redeem the righteous. This belief in two Messiahs is injected thence into the Damascus Document, with the assertion that “Messiah of Aaron and Israel” really means Messiahs of Aaron and Israel, and is best differentiated as meaning “Messiah of Aaron” and “Messiah of Israel.”

This is not bad scholarship, but it certainly is confusing eschatology. What, indeed, did the texts in the Qumran library mean when they referred to Messiah? We must remain confused, because the authors of the documents were confused. The concept of Messiah in the Qumran documents is neither central, nor is it very well thought out, and these judgements hold whether one wishes to read the Qumran manuscripts as independent and unrelated items, or as texts that dovetail into one another.

Yet, consider the context in which these Qumran documents were found; in a library that included copies of various complex texts that were basic to the Judahist tradition. These ranged from entire sets of what later became the canonical Hebrew scriptures (save for the Book of Esther) and big and complex volumes, such as the Book of Jubilees and the Book of Enoch. This means that whoever wrote the four Qumran documents I have referred to above, almost certainly knew how to frame complicated and important concepts within the tradition of Judahist religious invention. Yet, despite this knowledge, the concept of Messiah is left so vague as to be almost evanescent. (That we cannot be sure whether the belief was in one or in two Messiahs is vague indeed.)

This leads to a simple conclusion, but one that most biblical scholars – especially those whose background is the Christian tradition – being dead keen to find any Messianic reference, resist: that the concept of Messiah was only of peripheral interest to later Second Temple Judahism.Even if one speculates that future scholarship on the Qumran libraries may produce from the remaining fragments as many as half-a-dozen more possible references to an Anointed One, or Anointed Ones, it still would not shake the basic point. As indicated by the contemporary texts – the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocrypha, and the Pseudepigrapha – Messiah was at most a minor notion in Judahism around the time of Yeshua of Nazareth. The Chosen People were not awaiting the Messiah. (175-76. Italics original. Bolding mine.)

Akenson, Donald Harman. 2001. Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds. New edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Horbury Argued Similarly: Jewish Messianic Ideas Explain Christianity

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by Neil Godfrey

For most scholars, Boyarin’s thinking is a complete paradigm shift and in many ways something that “just isn’t done.”74
74   Horbury, Jewish Messianism, argued similarly to Boyarín yet not as forcefully.

Those quotes are from Benjamin Reynolds, page 29 of his essay “The Gospel of John’s Christology as Evidence for Early Jewish Messianic Expectations: Challenges and Possibilities” for Reading the Gospel of Johns Christology as Jewish Messianism (2018). The hypothesis being advanced is that the Christology in the earliest Christian texts — a preexistent, heavenly messiah, sitting alongside God, was also the human messiah who died — can be explained with reference to messianic ideas in Second Temple Judaism.

Since I have been posting on Daniel Boyarin’s articles recently it is time to offer some “balance” and quote from William Horbury’s Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ (1998).

If you thought Daniel Boyarin is “too far left field” then perhaps the more conventional conservative image of William Horbury is more to your liking.

What can be the relevance of post Second Temple era rabbinic texts?

The Targums and rabbinic literature are considered from time to time among the evidence which may shed light on Judaism at the time of Christian origins. Most of their wealth of material is later, but when viewed in conjunction with the Septuagint and the writings of the Second-Temple period they can be seen to preserve much exegesis and tradition which will have been current then. (3)


What are the respective roles of Judaism and gentile beliefs in the development of the Christ cult?

Early Christianity also offers signs of continuity with the developed messianic expectation of ancient Judaism, especially in respect of conceptual links between spirit and messiah, and those narratives of advent and reign which make up a kind of messianic myth. These developments of an inherited messianism were encouraged by its parallel continuation in the Jewish community throughout the period of Christian origins, and by the importance of ruler-cult under both Greek and Roman rule. Within Christianity the Christ-cult developed side by side with the cults of the angels and the saints. For all three customs there were Greek and Roman counterparts, but the origins lay in Jewish practice which had already been influenced by the Greek and Roman world. In the case of the Christ-cult, messianism in particular formed the link between Judaism and the apparently gentilic acclamation of Kyrios Iesous Christos. (4)


What are messianic prophecies about?

[M]essianic prophecies are not simply predictions of deliverance, but affirmations of the ideal of the Israelite state as it should be. (14)


What Old Testament figures appear to have influenced the development of messianic ideas?


(a) Moses is represented as a king in Ezekiel the Tragedian (probably second century BC), Philo, and much rabbinic tradition. . . . . A royal interpretation of Moses seems to appear in any case in Isa. 63. 11 , where Moses is the shepherd of the flock, and Exod. 4. 20 LXX , where he receives his sceptre from God. . . . . At the heart of the Pentateuch, then, is a figure which could be and was interpreted as that of a royal deliverer. Note that his pleading for his people (e.g. Exod. 32. 11, 32) and his rebuttal by them introduce an element of suffering into this royal picture. (31)


(b) David emerges as a suffering and humiliated yet ultimately victorious king, notably in Ps. 18 = II Sam. 22; Pss. 21-22 , and the psalms associated in their titles with his flights from Saul and from Absalom into the wilderness (3; 54; 57; 59; 62; 142); . . . . he is an exorcist (I Sam. 16. 14-23) and an inspired prophet (II Sam. 23. 1-7 ; cf. I Chron. 28.12, 19). . . . .

The suffering aspect of the royal figure of David goes unmentioned for the most part in sources from the time of Christian origins, but its biblical prominence in the histories and psalms will have kept it in view, as is suggested by the reference to David’s flight in Mark 2.25-26 and parallels. This aspect of the figure of David will then have contributed, together with the suffering of Moses noted above, to the messianic interpretation of the suffering servant of Isaiah and the smitten shepherd of Zechariah. (32-33)

The Servant of Isaiah 53

(c) The servant of Isa. 53 is interpreted as messiah in the Targum, but as victorious rather than suffering. This interpretation is not unnatural, for the passage is preceded by a prophecy of [redemption and followed by a vision of restoration]. . . . The Israelite king appears as a suffering servant in Ps. 89. 39, and the messiah is God’s servant in Zech. 3. 8. . . . . It was perhaps originally formed on the model of the suffering king, and a messianic interpretation was probably current in the Second-Temple period, but the passage was not then regarded as obviously messianic. (33)

Smitten shepherd of Zechariah 13:7

(d) The smitten shepherd of Zech. 13. 7 forms part of a series of prophecies in Zechariah, beginning with the advent of the lowly king in 9. 9, which find a messianic interpretation both in the New Testament and in rabbinic literature. In the latter they are associated with Messiah ben Joseph or ben Ephraim, who fights Gog and Magog and dies in battle. The death of a messiah is already envisaged in II Esdras 7, at the end of the messianic age, and the cutting off of a rightful ruler called messiah is foretold in Dan. 9. 26, quoted already. The notion of a slain messiah is then likely to have been current in the Second-Temple period, partly on the basis of Zechariah, although it seems clearly to have been less prominent than the expectation of a great and glorious king. The objections of the disciples to Christ’s expectation of suffering, as depicted in the Gospels, might then be ascribed not to their total ignorance of the notion of a humiliated messiah, but to their unwillingness to accept that it might apply in this case. (33)

The Son of Man in Daniel 7

(e) The Son of man in Dan. 7 is viewed messianically in the earliest interpretation, ranging from the middle of the first century BC to the middle of the second century AD in the Parables of Enoch, II Esdras, the Fifth Sibylline Book, a saying attributed to R. Akiba, and Justin Martyr’s Dialogue. In its setting in Daniel, however, it is widely taken at present to represent an angelic deliverer, probably Michael, the patron of Israel, who is mentioned as such in 12. 1. . . . This is an attractive view, because human figures often represent angels, in Daniel and elsewhere, and the importance of angels as
regulating terrestrial affairs is clear not only in Daniel but also in the Qumran War Scroll. Nevertheless, the early messianic interpretation seems more likely to be right. Both angelic and human leaders functioned in the Exodus, both are mentioned in the War Scroll, and both can be envisaged without difficulty in Daniel. In Daniel 2, the coming of the kingdom of God, represented by the stone which breaks the image, can naturally be associated with a messianic figure, just as in the War Scroll the kingdom is said to belong to God pre-eminently at the moments when Israel is delivered by David, the kings of his line, or the messiah. In Dan. 7 the beasts represent kings or kingdoms (7. 17, 23-24), not the angel-princes who are the expected foes of Israel’s angel-patron (10. 13 , 20-21). Finally, the designation ‘Son of man’ is close to the use of various words signifying ‘man’ in pre-Danielic messianic oracles, including Num. 24. 17; II Sam. 23. 1 and Zech. 6. 12 , quoted above, and Ps. 80. 18, which has ben adam. (34)


Of these five figures, then, Moses, David, the smitten shepherd and the Son of man will have influenced the growth of messianism from the first. In each case they fitted well into the royal messianism which we have seen to predominate, despite the importance of dual messianism. In the end the servant of Isa. 53 also contributed to the picture of the messianic king. (34)

Continue reading “Horbury Argued Similarly: Jewish Messianic Ideas Explain Christianity”


A Pre-Christian Suffering Messiah Idea: Concluding a Case Against

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by Neil Godfrey

For a discussion of the old view of Israelite Kingship and comparison with today’s understanding:

Clines, David. 1975. “The Psalms and the King.” Theological Students’ Fellowship Bulletin 71: 1–6. (Reprinted in On the Way to the Postmodern: Old Testament Essays, 1967–1998, vol. 2 (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 293; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), pp. 687-700.)

The last part of H. H. Rowley’s argument against the views of Joachim Jeremias and others that at least some Second Temple Judaeans held the notion of a Suffering Messiah relates to views that are no longer extant, as far as I am aware, among biblical scholars today. My understanding is that few today continue to hold to the idea that Israel’s kings participated in annual rituals of humiliation and rebirth as representatives of a dying and rising divinity.

If, as was once widely understood, the king of Israel or Judah regularly enacted such a ritual,

This evidence would seem to justify the inference that the concepts of the Davidic Messiah and of the Suffering Servant alike had their roots in the royal cultic rites, though they developed separate elements of those rites. (87)

That is, the separate concepts of Davidic Messiah and Suffering Servant developed their own pathways after the demise of the kingdom and during the periods of Babylonian captivity and Second Temple era.

Rowley next step (along with other scholars) is to posit that these two separate strands of ideology were united in the teachings of Jesus himself. Why with Jesus? Because

There has been no success in all the endeavours made to find previous or contemporary identification of the Messiah with the suffering servant of Yahweh. (87)

Rowley is citing H. Wheeler Robinson, whose complete statement follows:

It is no exaggeration to say that this is the most original and daring of all the characteristic features of the teaching of Jesus, and it led to the most important element in His work. There has been no success in all the endeavours made to find previous or contemporary identification of the Messiah with the suffering servant of Yahweh. The Targum of Jonathan for Isaiah liii. does give a Messianic application to some parts of the chapter, but, by a most artificial ingenuity, ascribes all the suffering to the people, not to its Messiah. This is very significant for the main line of tradition. There is no evidence of a suffering Messiah in previous or contemporary Judaism to explain the conception in the consciousness of Jesus. (Robinson, 199)

“Most original and daring”? Do I detect a confessional bias leading to the conclusion that Jesus owed nothing to distinctive or innovative to any earlier Jewish belief systems?

It seems so.

One may wonder if Rowley’s arguments against the general views of Jeremias and others are influenced by religious faith so that they become very exacting in demanding unambiguous and explicit statements testifying to a pre-Christian suffering messiah view; but one must also concede that the arguments of Jeremias rest most heavily on inference and one’s own assessments of probability.

Postscript: Another point I have not addressed in these posts is raised by critics other than Rowley against the idea of a pre-Christian suffering messiah. That is, making a clear distinction between “suffering” messiah and a “slain” messiah. In sifting through the evidence some scholars would insist that we be careful not to assume that a messiah who is killed is necessarily one who suffers as in experiencing the sorts of torments apparently suggested in Isaiah 53.

I titled this post, “concluding a case against”, not “the” case. If I begin to see that Morna Hooker has added further significant arguments against the views of Jeremias I will post those here, too.

Previous posts in this series:

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

  2. Questioning the Claim of a Pre-Christian Suffering Messiah

And the series covering Jeremias’s case for a pre-Christian suffering/dying messiah:

Zimmerli & Jeremias: Servant of God (8 posts)

Robinson, H. Wheeler. 1942. Redemption and Revelation: In the Actuality of History. Library of Constructive Theology. London: Nisbet.

Rowley, H. H. 1952. The Servant of the Lord and Other Essays on the Old Testament. London: Lutterworth Press.


Questioning the Claim of a Pre-Christian Suffering Messiah

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by Neil Godfrey

Gog and Magog attack Jerusalem and kill Messiah ben Joseph

This post follows on from A Suffering Messiah Before Christianity? — the other side of the question. This series sets out the leading arguments (per Morna Hooker and H. H. Rowley) against the claims of some scholars that there existed among pre-Christian Jews a belief that a messiah was to suffer and/or die. So if you liked what you read last month about the pre-Christian ideas of a suffering messiah, take a breather and see if you change your mind after reading the following.

Common attributes of Servant of the Lord and Davidic Messiah

Rowley challenges the significance of one scholar’s table setting out a list of attributes shared by the Suffering Servant of Isaiah and the Davidic Messiah. Before we look at Rowley’s contrary arguments here is the list he cites. It is from an appendix in T. W. Manson’s The Servant-Messiah:

Isa. xlii. 1. “Behold my Servant.” Ezek. xxxiv. 23 f. “My Servant David”; Zech. iii. 8. “I will bring forth my Servant, the Branch.”
Isa. xlii. 1. “I have put my Spirit upon him.” Isa. xi. 2. “The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him. the Spirit of wisdom, etc.”
Isa. xlii. 3. “He shall bring forth judgement.” Isa. ix. 7. “Of the increase of his government… there shall be no end upon the throne of David… to uphold it with judgement”. Jer. xxiii. 5. “I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and he. shall reign as king … and shall execute judgement.”
Isa. xlii. 6. “I the Lord … will give thee for a covenant of the people.” Ps. Lxxxix. 3. “I have made a covenant with my Chosen … sworn unto David my Servant.” Ezek. xxxiv. 23 f. “I will set up … my Sen-ant David … and I will make with them a covenant of peace.” Cf. xxxvii. 24. 26.
Isa. xlii. 6. “for a light of the Gentiles.” Cf. xlix. 6. Isa. ix. 1-2. “No gloom to her that was in anguish… A great light….”
Isa. xlii. 7. “to bring out the prisoners.” Ezek. xxxiv. 27 (a Davidic passage). “When I have broken the bars and delivered them, etc.”
Isa. xlix. 1. “The Lord hath called me from the womb.” Isa. vii. 14 f. and ix. 6. “Unto us a Child is born.”
Isa. xlix. 2. “He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword.” Isa. xi. 4. “He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth.”
Isa. xlix. 6. “to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the tribes of Israel.” Jer. xxiii. 8 (.A. Davidic passage). “As the Lord liveth which brought up … the seed of the house of Israel… from all the countries whither I had driven them.”
Isa. xlix. 7. “Him whom man despiseth…. whom the nation abhorreth” Ps. Lxxxix. 50 (The Anointed, God’s Chosen, speaks). “Remember. Lord … how I do bear in my bosom (the reproach of) all the might}· peoples; wherewith thine enemies have reproached. 0 Lord, wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of thine Anointed.”
Isa. xlix. 7. “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall worship.” Cf. lii. 15. “Kings shall shut their mouths at him.” Ps. Lxxxlx. 27. “I will also make him the highest of the kings of the earth”; Lxxii. 10 f., “All kings shall fall down before him”; ii. 10. “Now. therefore, be wise. 0 ye kings…. Kiss the Son.”
Isa. lii.13 — liii.12. The sufferings and reproaches which fall on the Servant. Ps. xviii. 4-6. cxxxii. 1. “David and all his afflictions”; Lxxxix. 38. “Thou hast cast off and abhorred. thou hast been wroth with thine Anointed”; Lxxxix. 41, “He is become a reproach to his neighbours.”
Isa. liii. 2. “He grew up as a tender plant and as a root out of a dry ground.” Isa. xi. 1. “There shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit.” Jer. xxiii.5. “I will raise unto David a righteous Branch.”
Isa. liii. 2. “He has no form … no beauty.” Ps. lxxxix. 44. “Thou hast made his brightness to cease, etc.”
Isa. liii. 6. “All we like sheep have gone astray.” Ezek. xxxiv. 22-24. Jer· xxni· 3-5. Israel, the scattered sheep of God, is to come under the rule of “David, my Servant.”
Isa. liii. 8. “As for his genera tion. who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living?” Ps. lxxxix. 45. “The days of his youth thou hast shortened…”; 47 f., “0 remember how short my time is.”
Isa. liii. 10. “He shall see his seed.” II Sam. vii. 12-16. The promise to David’s house. Ps. lxxxix. 4. “Thy seed will I establish for ever”; 36 f.. “His seed shall endure for ever, etc.”
Isa. liii. 12. “Numbered with the transgressors.” Ps. Lxxxix. 50. Quoted above in the parallel to Isa. xlix. 7.

Rowley acknowledges that there are many points in common but denies that we have here evidence that anyone before the emergence of Christianity went so far as to think that the Suffering Servant was to be identified with the Davidic Messiah. Other biblical figures likewise share some of those attributes: e.g. Moses, Caleb, David, Job, Isaiah, Nebuchadrezzar, Zerubbabel are all designated “Servants of God”; Bezalel, Balaam, Joshua, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, Saul, David are all said to have the Spirit of God; both Israel and Jeremiah were “called from the womb”; Jeremiah, Job, and many Psalmists are known to have suffered — yet none of these others are confused with the Messiah.

All that the evidence collected by Manson establishes is that it was not without reason that the concepts were brought together in the New Testament, and not that they had been already brought together before the time of our Lord. (p. 68)

Continue reading “Questioning the Claim of a Pre-Christian Suffering Messiah”


Further on Origins of Belief in a Dying and Resurrected Messiah

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by Neil Godfrey

Matthew Ferguson once again has an interesting post that serves as an apt sequel to my previous post on the meaning of martyrdom among pre-Christian era Judaeans: The Rationalization Hypothesis: Is a Vision of Jesus Necessary for the Rise of the Resurrection Belief?. It is a guest post written by Kris Komarnitsky, author of Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection.

Komarnitsky writes from the position of acceptance of the historicity of some form of belief in Jesus’ resurrection arising among his disciples (as distinct from my own view that there is no methodological justification for assuming a “historical core” behind our gospel narratives or a gospel narrative behind 1 Corinthians 15) when he introduces the question:

The origin of the resurrection belief is a captivating historical puzzle and the lack of a satisfying answer motivated my inquiry into this topic. Ironically, the lack of a satisfying answer for the rise of the resurrection belief subjected me to the same basic cognitive process that I will suggest led to the resurrection belief. . . . 

The conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead is found in the earliest evidence of Christian origins and appears to have come about almost immediately after Jesus’ death. How does one account for the rise of this extraordinary belief if the later Gospel accounts of a discovered empty tomb and corporeal post-mortem appearances of Jesus are legends, as many scholars believe is the case?

Subheadings give an idea of what to expect (I have not yet had an opportunity to more than quickly skim the article):

  • Introduction
  • What is Cognitive-Dissonance-Induced Rationalization?
  • Model #1: Leon Festinger’s Cult Group Study
  • Model #2: The Millerites
  • Model #3: Sabbatai Sevi
  • Model #4: The Lubavitchers
  • Conclusion from Models
  • Preconditions to a Rationalization of Jesus’ Death
  • Jesus Died for Our Sins and Will Return Soon
  • The Resurrection Belief
  • From the Resurrection Belief to Visions of Jesus to the Early Creed
  • Summary of the Rationalization Hypothesis
  • A Critique of the Bereavement Vision Hypothesis
  • Conclusion

It looks like a significant contribution to further testing of various hypotheses accounting for Christian origins.

I have been critical of the cognitive dissonance theory to explain a historical turning point leading to Christianity but Komarnitsky obviously explores this psychological explanation in a depth that I have not considered before. Some of his points coincide with the reasons I have dismissed the validity of the theory, but he adds so much more that I have yet to read more carefully and consider. From what I have noticed at this point, some of the data and proposals of Komarnitsky may well have a relevance to alternative modes of Christian origins, that is, even apart from a historical background to the gospel resurrection narratives.

Almost at random, some interesting passages that I have noticed by chance:

The answer to the second question – why did the Messiah have to die – could have been formed from Jewish beliefs about measure-for-measure recompense and vicarious sacrifice when dealing with God. An example of such beliefs can be found in the aqedah story, Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac in return for God’s blessing and favor (Gen. 22.1-19). By the first century, this story had become embellished to emphasize that Isaac was a willing sacrifice: “[Isaac] was pleased with this discourse.…So he went immediately to the altar to be sacrificed” (Ant. 1.13.4).

. . . .

These new beliefs were a creative interpretation and reconfiguration of Jewish beliefs about measure-for-measure recompense and vicarious sacrifice when dealing with God, great prophets ascending to heaven, the final immortal body, the state of existence of souls in heaven, and possibly Jesus’ apocalyptic teachings and some minor Hellenistic influences. 

. . . .

However, once one integrates cognitive-dissonance-induced rationalization into the bereavement vision hypothesis, the question posed by this article logically follows: Is a vision of Jesus even necessary for the rise of the resurrection belief? 

I look forward to engaging with the post as soon as opportunity permits.



Messiahs and Eschatology in Second Temple Judaism

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by Neil Godfrey

Some readers will be interested in what Martin Goodman had to say about Jewish concepts of the Messiah in the Second Temple era. As much as I’m tempted to add my own comments I will restrain myself. I have written enough of my own perspective on this question other times I have addressed “messianic expecations” (as distinct from messianic speculations). I have replaced endnote numbers with citations.

. . . There is no evidence of an agreed coherent eschatology within any ancient Jewish group. It is, however, striking that expectation of some dramatic change in the world was so widespread. Even the philosopher Philo, whose interpretation of the Torah generally focused firmly on the psychological need of the individual worshipper to concentrate on the higher meaning of the laws, still let slip an uncharacteristic hope that God would one day bring to an end ‘the enmity of wild beasts which is activated by natural antipathy’ and produce an age in which nature will be at peace:

When that time comes I believe that bears and lions and panthers and the Indian animals, elephants and tigers, and all others whose vigour and power are invincible, will change their life of solitariness and isolation for one of companionship, and gradually in imitation of the gregarious creatures show themselves tame when brought face to face with mankind … Then too the tribes of scorpions and serpents and the other reptiles will have no use for their venom.

Philo did derive a moral message from the analogy between these wild beasts and the wild beasts within the soul, but it seems likely that this idealized picture, so close to the prophecy in Isaiah of the lion lying down with the lamb, owed more than a little to popular conceptions of the perfect time when the last days arrive. [Philo, On Rewards and Punishments 85, 89-90]

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]

In other texts, however, the Messiah is described as a supernatural figure, as befits the events in which he is involved. So the author of 2 Baruch, a description of a series of visions alleged to have been experienced by Baruch, amanuensis of the prophet Jeremiah, but in fact composed by a Jew, probably in Hebrew, in the late first century CE and now preserved only in Christian translations into Syriac and Arabic:

And it will happen after these things when the time of the appearance of the Anointed has been fulfilled and he returns with glory, that then all who sleep in hope of him will rise. And it will happen at that time that those treasuries will be opened in which the number of the souls of the righteous were kept, and they will go out and the multitudes of the souls will appear together, in one sole assembly, of one mind … The souls of the wicked, on the contrary, will waste away completely when they shall see all these things. [2 Baruch 30:1-2, 4]

Among the Dead Sea sectarians are to be found varied and conflicting ideas about the nature of the Messiah. Sometimes the scrolls envisage just one royal, Davidic, triumphant Messiah, but sometimes a Messiah of Israel was contrasted to a Messiah of Aaron, who in turn was differentiated from ‘the Prophet’: Continue reading “Messiahs and Eschatology in Second Temple Judaism”


How Early Did Some Jews Believe in a Slain Messiah son of Joseph?

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by Neil Godfrey

If you are more interested in

  • why a second messiah in the first place? and
  • why the tribe of Joseph for a second messiah?

skip to the end of this post where I cite one of several explanations.

I don’t know the answer to the question in the title (in part because much depends upon how we define and understand the origins of “Christianity”) but I can present here one argument for the possibility that there was a belief among various Judeans prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE that a future messiah was destined to be killed. (This post goes beyond previous posts addressing messianic-like interpretations of the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53 that we find in Daniel and the Enoch literature and builds upon other earlier posts addressing the evidence in later rabbinic and other Jewish writings.)

We focus here on a 2005 article by David C. Mitchell in Review of Rabbinic Judaism, “Rabbi Dosa and the Rabbis Differ: Messiah Ben Joseph in the Babylonian Talmud“. I find a number of aspects of the article questionable, but nonetheless Mitchell does present a somewhat technical argument in support of the possibility of a pre-Christian belief in a slain messiah.

Recall that in my recent post, Suffering and Dying Messiahs: Typically Jewish Beliefs, we read a Jewish narrative from the early 600s CE describing a Messiah son of Joseph being slain in battle against end-time forces of evil. The earliest surviving reference to the Messiah ben (=son of) Joseph is in the Talmud. If you are like me your first reaction to hearing that will be “How can writings up to several centuries into the Christian era possibly be used as reliable sources for events and ideas in first century Palestine?” But also if you are like me you will be at least open to hearing the case being made. So here it is as I understand it.


Talmud: Rabbinic writings made up primarily of two parts, the Mishnah and the Gemara.

The Mishnah purports to be the written collection of oral traditions of rabbinic debates and teachings. The Mishnah was completed around 200 CE.

The Gemara is rabbinic commentary on the Mishnah and is said to have been composed between 200 CE to 450 CE.

There are two broad chronological eras represented in the Talmud: the Tannaitic and the Amoraic.

The Tannaim is identified by Hebrew text and represents ideas prior and up to 200 CE.

The Amoraim is identified by Aramaic text and represents the period subsequent to 200 CE.

In the Mishnah we sometimes read both Hebrew and Aramaic text in the one section. We understand that the Aramaic text has been added by rabbis post 200 CE to fill out or clarify the earlier Hebrew account.

It will help to know some important terms relating to the Talmud. I explain these (hopefully not misleadingly simplified) in the side box.

The earliest known references to Messiah ben Joseph are found in a section (or tractate) called Sukkah. (Scroll through the Talmud page at http://www.halakhah.com to see where it sits in the broader collection.) The Sukkah tractate relates to the Feast of Tabernacles (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukkot).

I copy the first of these passages, Sukkoth 52a, as Mitchell himself sets it out, with the later Aramaic passages in italics, but I have added bolding to make it clearer:

“And the land shall mourn family by family apart. The family of the house of David apart and their women apart” (Zech. 12:12). They said: Is not this an a fortiori conclusion? In the age to come, when they are busy mourning and no evil inclination rules them, the Torah says, “the men apart and the women apart.” How much more so now when they are busy rejoicing and the evil inclination rules them. What is the cause of this mourning? Rabbi Dosa and the rabbis differ. One says: “For Messiah ben Joseph who is slain;” and the other says: “For the evil inclination which is slain.” It is well according to him who says, “For Messiah ben Joseph who is slain,” for this is what is written, “And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him like the mourning for an only son” (Zech. 12:10); but according to him who says, “The evil inclination which is slain:” Is this an occasion for mourning? Is it not an occasion for rejoicing rather than weeping?

I understand from Mitchell’s discussion that the highlighted words above are translations of Aramaic text. The remainder is rendered from Hebrew.

Accordingly we have in this section of Mishnah, typically dated prior to 200 CE, later rabbinic additions in Aramaic. But the Aramaic text is quoting references to Messiah ben Joseph that are in Hebrew text.

Mitchell argues that the Aramaic script is the work of Amoraic (post 200 CE) rabbis commenting on a tradition from the Tannaitic era (prior to 200 CE). He disagrees with another scholar (Joseph Klausner) who believed we should interpret the passage as indicating that the tradition of Messiah ben Joseph itself originated some time in the later Tannaitic era (200-450 CE).

Let’s back up a little. Let’s see what light the broader context might be able to shed on the question of dating.

Immediately prior the section mentioning Messiah ben Joseph we read about worshipers at the end of the first day of the Feast going down to the Court of Women at the Temple where a significant change is encountered: Continue reading “How Early Did Some Jews Believe in a Slain Messiah son of Joseph?”


Suffering and Dying Messiahs: Typically Jewish Beliefs

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by Neil Godfrey

So Easter is here again and everybody is mourning the death of Tammuz and rejoicing in the new life to hatch from digested easter bunny eggs. But let’s be serious and respect the meaning of the season. Let’s talk about messiahs, especially suffering and dying ones.

Daniel Boyarin

There’s much to write about but I’ll try to keep to just a few highlights. They have a common theme: the idea of a suffering and dying messiah was not uniquely Christian; it was very much a Jewish idea. Let’s begin with the opening lines of Jack Miles‘ Foreword to a little book by Daniel Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ:

“Daniel Boyarin,” a prominent conservative rabbi confided to me not long ago, “is one of the two or three greatest rabbinic scholars in the world,” and — dropping his voice a notch — “possibly even the greatest.” The observation was given in confidence because, quite clearly, it troubled the rabbi to think that someone with Boyarin’s views might have truly learned Talmudic grounds for them. As a Christian, let me confide that his views can be equally troubling for Christians who appreciate the equally grounded originality of his reading of our New Testament. . . . .

His achievement is . . . a bold rereading of the rabbis and the evangelists alike, the results of which are so startling that once you — you, Jew, or you, Christian — get what he is up to, you suddenly read even the most familiar passages of your home scripture in a new light. (p. ix)

Now read what Boyarin has to say about the commonplace idea that Christians reinterpreted Jewish scriptures to find in them their suffering messiah, supposedly an idea highly offensive to Jews. He is discussing that famous Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53 (my own formatting and emphasis):

10Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.  11Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. 

If these verses do indeed refer to the Messiah, they clearly predict his suffering and death to atone for the sins of humans, but the Jews allegedly always interpreted these verses as referring to the suffering of Israel herself and not the Messiah, who would only triumph. To sum up this generally held view: The theology of the suffering of the Messiah was an after-the-fact apologetic response to explain the suffering and ignominy Jesus suffered, since he was deemed by “Christians” to be the Messiah. Christianity, on this view, was initiated by the fact of the crucifixion, which is seen as setting into motion the new religion. Moreover, many who hold this view hold also that Isaiah 53 was distorted by the Christians from its allegedly original meaning, in which it referred to the suffering of the People of Israel, to explain and account for the shocking fact that the Messiah had been crucified.

This commonplace view has to be rejected

This commonplace view has to be rejected completely. The notion of the humiliated and suffering Messiah was not at all alien within Judaism before Jesus’ advent, and it remained current among Jews well into the future following that—indeed, well into the early modern period.4 The fascinating (and to some, no doubt, uncomfortable) fact is that this tradition was well documented by modern Messianic Jews, who are concerned to demonstrate that their belief in Jesus does not make them un-Jewish. Whether or not one accepts their theology, it remains the case that they have a very strong textual base for the view that the suffering Messiah is based in deeply rooted Jewish texts early and late. Jews, it seems, had no difficulty whatever with understanding a Messiah who would vicariously suffer to redeem the world. Once again, what has been allegedly ascribed to Jesus after the fact is, in fact, a piece of entrenched messianic speculation and expectation that was current before Jesus came into the world at all. That the Messiah would suffer and be humiliated was something Jews learned from close reading of the biblical texts, a close reading in precisely the style of classically rabbinic interpretation that has become known as midrash, the concordance of verses and passages from different places in Scripture to derive new narratives, images, and theological ideas. (pp. 132-33)

But notice that little detail of an endnote reference in there. What does that say? It’s a call for support from Martin Hengel (whose applicable work I have discussed in How Did Daniel Understand Isaiah’s Suffering Servant?):

Martin Hengel

4. See Martin Hengel, “The Effective History of Isaiah 53 in the Pre-Christian Period,” in The Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 in Jewish and Christian Sources, ed. Bernd Janowski and Peter Stuhlmacher, trans. Daniel P. Bailey (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), 137-45, for good arguments to this effect. Hengel concludes, “The expectation of an eschatological suffering savior figure connected with Isaiah 53 cannot therefore be proven to exist with absolute certainty and in a clearly outlined form in pre-Christian Judaism. Nevertheless, a lot of indices that must be taken seriously in texts of very different provenance suggest that these types of expectations could also have existed at the margins, next to many others. This would then explain how a suffering or dying Messiah surfaces in various forms with the Tannaim of the second century c.e., and why Isaiah 53 is clearly interpreted messianically in the Targum and rabbinic texts” (140). While there are some points in Hengel’s statement that require revision, the Targum is more a counterexample than a supporting text, and for the most part he is spot on.

So the argument rests on its explanatory power. I won’t repeat here the rabbinic texts Boyarin has in mind since they can be found in my earlier post, Suffering Messiah is a Very Jewish Idea. In that earlier post I also look at the evidence for the developing idea of a suffering messiah, one who identifies with martyrs, in Second Temple era books attributed to Daniel and Enoch.

But don’t think you’re wasting your time by reading a repeat post here. There is much more to add. Continue reading “Suffering and Dying Messiahs: Typically Jewish Beliefs”


Myth of popular messianic expectations at the time of Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

From http://jewishatheist.tumblr.com/post/32262109582/prayer-messiah-fail

I am copying here a post I just submitted on another forum, so with apologies to readers who have already seen this . . . .

This topic is not about “Jewish prophecies of the messiah’s arrival”. It is not about the second century Bar Kochba rebellion. Nor is it even about popular beliefs and attitudes at the time of the 66-73 CE Jewish war.

It is about the historical evidence we have or don’t have (that is the question) for:

  • widespread/popular expectations
  • of the appearance of a messiah figure to liberate Judea from Rome
  • in the early years of the first century, let’s say up to around year 30 CE

I often read and hear scholars and lay people alike saying that Palestine or the Jews generally were strongly anticipating a messianic figure to appear around the time when, lo and behold, Jesus happened to appear. This is so often said in a way that assumes it is a well-known and indisputable fact of history. But some years ago when I started looking for the evidence supporting this claim (I fully expected to find plenty) I found the task was not so easy. What was cited as evidence so often appeared to me to be vague, imprecise, ambiguous at best and very often simply not relevant — not the sort of data that historians usually like to use as foundations for hypotheses.

I have since been reassured that I was not crazy or blind by discovering several reputable scholars who do say as much: that there is scant to no evidence for

  • widespread/popular expectations
  • of the appearance of a messiah figure to liberate Judea from Rome
  • in the early years of the first century, let’s say up to around year 30 CE

I recently set out details of this [absence of] evidence in a series of blog posts responding to Richard Carrier’s arguments and supporting citations attempting to establish a popular messianic “movement” in early first century Palestine.

The details are covered in that series of posts but I will outline them here:

The Dead Sea Scrolls

Yes, there are messianic references found in some of these. But they are in fact very few compared with the total number of scrolls and surviving manuscript fragments. This relative “fewness” does not lead us to think that messianism was a particularly major preoccupation of the sectarians producing or using those scrolls (assuming “sectarians” of some sort were responsible for them).

Moreover, the messianic references that do exist do not, if I recall correctly, give any indication that a messiah was to appear “within a few years/generation” around the early first century (or any specific period). One could write of a doctrinal belief in a messianic future without being hung up about it and getting everyone around enthused to expect it to happen “any day now”.

Besides, one has to ask the extent to which the contents of the DSS throw a light on the beliefs and attitudes of the more general illiterate population.

Other Second Temple writings

The main criticisms — especially relative fewness of the references, and their generalised (nonspecific) character — raised re the DSS also apply here.

Often these writings speak of God himself directly acting in some future day of judgment. We are so accustomed to think of God doing this through a messiah that we sometimes read a messianic figure into these passages. But like the OT books, most prophecies about the “last days” do speak of God directly acting in the world and make no mention of a messianic intermediary.

Besides, is it not a giant leap to impute to the illiterate population at large certain emotional or psychological attitudes towards passages in these texts that attract our attention?

Were not those who read, studied and discussed such texts just a tiny fraction of a percent of a tiny fraction of a percent of the entire population?

The OT books

Much the same criticisms as above apply here, too. Continue reading “Myth of popular messianic expectations at the time of Jesus”


Questioning Carrier and the Conventional Wisdom on Messianic Expectations

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by Neil Godfrey

Here for convenience is an annotated list of the recent posts on “the myth of messianic expectations”.

1. Questioning Carrier and the Common View of a “Rash of Messianism” at the time of Jesus

Carrier’s claim “Palestine in the early first century ce was experiencing a rash of messianism” is introduced. His assertion that “The early first century ce was in their prediction window” is tested against his footnoted authority, “The Expectation of the End in the Dead Sea Scrolls” by John Collins.

2. Questioning Claims about Messianic Anticipations among Judeans of the Early First Century

Carrier’s claim that “That Jewish expectations of some kind of messiah in the early Roman Empire were widespread, influential, and very diverse . . . has been well established by experts on ancient messianism” is tested by examining seven of the nine “experts in messianism” cited by Carrier.

3. Questioning Carrier and the “Myth that the Jews Expected a Messiah” (#3)

An examination of the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gospels and various purported “messianic” figures (the Samaritan, Theudas, the Egyptian and the anonymous “imposter”) in Josephus. Argues that reading what Josephus does say about the prophetic role of these figures, as opposed to what he does not say about their supposed messianic role, has too often been overlooked.

4. Origin of the Myth that the Jews Expected a Messiah

I put Richard Carrier’s arguments on hold to point out what J. H. Charlesworth calls “the myth that Jews expected a Messiah and knew what functions he would perform.” I would even say William Scott Green‘s “Messiah in Judaism: Rethinking the Question” . . . is obligatory reading and discussion for anyone interested in this question.

5. How Do You Spot a Messiah? — Myth of Jewish Messianic Expectations continued

Examines Carrier’s dismissal of Horsley, Freyne and Goodman’s views; shows Carrier inconsistencies in the application of his definition of “messiah”; and surveys Goodman’s analysis of the “ambiguous oracle” in Josephus and messianism in the first Jewish war with Rome, and the evidence for “messianism” between 70 and 132 CE.

6. Questioning Carrier: Was the Book of Daniel Really a “Key Messianic Text”?

Another look at origins of the “myth of messianic expectations” in the “apocalyptic hypothesis”; a companion argument to Green’s discussion in post #4 Origin of the Myth. Considers the evidence used to claim Daniel was a popular messianic text in the early first century. Also refers to evidence for attempts to calculate the time of the arrival of messiah from Daniel’s prophecies.

The posts also stress the difference between apocalypticism and messianism. Apocalyptic literature was for most part unconnected with messianic expectations.

Note, also, that there is no dispute about the existence of a wide variety of messianic concepts. In fact it is the research into these that has been a significant contributor to undermining the conventional view that Second Temple Jews were experiencing messianic fever.



Questioning Carrier: Was the Book of Daniel Really a “Key Messianic Text”?

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by Neil Godfrey

Johannes Weiss first proposed the apocalyptic hypothesis in Die Predigt Jesu Reiche Gottes, 1892.

I expect this post will conclude my series challenging Richard Carrier’s arguments in On the Historicity of Jesus attempting to justify the common belief that early first century Judea was patchwork quilt of messianic movements. This belief has been challenged by specialist scholars* (see comment) especially since the 1990s but their work has still to make major inroads among many of the more conservative biblical scholars. We have seen the Christian doctrinal origins of this myth and I discuss another aspect of those doctrinal or ideological presumptions in this post. Carrier explicitly dismissed three names — Horsley, Freyne, Goodman — who are sceptical of the conventional wisdom, but I think this series of posts has shown that there are more than just three names in that camp. Many more than I have cited could also be quoted. Their arguments require serious engagement.

Richard Carrier sets out over forty social, political, religious and cultural background factors that anyone exploring the evidence for Christian origins should keep in mind. This is an excellent introduction to his argument, but there are a few I question. Here is one more:

(a) The pre-Christian book of Daniel was a key messianic text, laying out what would happen and when, partly inspiring much of the very messianic ferver of the age, which by the most obvious (but not originally intended) interpretation predicted the messiah’s arrival in the early first century, even (by some calculations) the very year of 30 ce.

(b) This text was popularly known and widely influential, and was known and regarded as scripture by the early Christians.

(Carrier 2014, p. 83, my formatting and bolding in all quotations)

The current scholarly approach to the origins of Christology has been guided by the apocalyptic hypothesis. The apocalyptic hypothesis is that Jesus proclaimed the imminence of the kingdom of God, a reign or domain ultimately imaginable only in apocalyptic terms. Early Christians somehow associated Jesus himself with the kingdom of God he announced (thinking of him as the king of the kingdom) and thus proclaimed him to be the Messiah. If Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, as the logic seems to have run, it was only natural for early Christians to conclude that he must have been the expected Messiah and that it was therefore right to call him the Christ.

With this hypothesis in place, the field of christological “background” studies has naturally been limited to the search for “messianic” figures in Jewish apocalyptic literature.2


2. A theological pattern has guided a full scholarly quest for evidence of the Jewish “expectation” of “the Messiah” that Jesus “fulfilled.” Because of the apocalyptic hypothesis, privilege has been granted to Jewish apocalyptic literature as the natural context for expressing messianic expectations. The pattern of “promise and fulfillment” allows for discrepancies among “messianic” profiles without calling into question the notion of a fundamental correspondence. Only recently has the failure to establish a commonly held expectation of “the” Messiah led to a questioning of the apocalyptic hypothesis.

(Mack 2009, pp. 192-93)

Part (b) is certainly true. Part (a), no, not so. The apocalyptic book of Daniel was popular but it was not a key messianic text.

The book of Daniel was a well known apocalyptic work but most apocalyptic literature of the day contained no references to a messiah. Apocalypticism and messianism are not synonymous nor even always conjoined. Messiahs were not integral to the apocalyptic genre. It was more common in apocalyptic writings to declare that God himself would act directly, perhaps with the support of his angelic hosts. Very few such texts contain references to a messiah. Even when reading Daniel you need to be careful not to blink lest you miss his single reference to an anointed one (messiah). And even that sole reference, as we learn from the commentaries and to which Carrier himself alludes, is a historical reference to the high priest Onias III. There is nothing eschatological associated with his death.

Yes but, but ….

…. Didn’t the Jews in Jesus day believe that that reference was to a messiah who was soon to appear?

This is where a search through the evidence might yield an answer.

The evidence supporting “this fact”?

According to Carrier there is an abundance of evidence supporting “this fact” — by which he appears to mean both parts (a) and (b) in the above quotation.

This fact [i.e. a+b] is already attested by the many copies and commentaries on Daniel recovered from Qumran,45 46 but it’s evident also in the fact that the Jewish War itself may have been partly a product of it. As at Qumran, the key inspiring text was the messianic timetable described in the book of Daniel (in Dan. 9.23-27). (pp. 83-84) . . . .

. . . .

45. See Carrier, ‘Spiritual Body’, in Empty Tomb (ed. Price and Lowder), pp. 114-15, 132-47, 157, 212 (η. 166). The heavenly ascent narrative known to Ignatius, Irenaeus and Justin Martyr (see Chapter 8, §6) may have alluded to this passage in Zechariah, if this is what is intended by mentioning the lowly state of Jesus’ attire when he enters God’s heavenly court in Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 36.
46. On the numerous copies of Daniel among the Dead Sea Scrolls, including fragments of commentaries on it, see Peter Flint, ‘The Daniel Tradition at Qumran’, in Eschatology (ed. Evans and Flint), pp. 41-60, and F.F. Bruce, ‘The Book of Daniel and the Qumran Community’, in Neotestamentica et semitica; Studies in Honour of Matthew Black (ed. E. Earle Ellis and Max Wilcox; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. 1969). pp. 221-35.

I suspect some oversight at #45 because I am unable to locate a related discussion in Empty Tomb. So on to #46. I don’t have Bruce’s book chapter but I do have Peter Flint’s. Here is his chart setting out the Daniel texts in the Qumran scrolls (p. 43):

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 10.30.22 amNotice what’s missing, apart from any certainty regarding Daniel 9 as explained in the side-box. There is no Daniel 9:24-26. No reference to the anointed one. (We might see a flicker of hope with those few verses from chapter 9 in that table but sadly Flint has this to say about those:

However, the eighth manuscript, 4QDane, may have contained only part of Daniel, since it only preserves material from Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9. If this is the case — which is likely but impossible to prove — 4QDane would not qualify as a copy of the book of Daniel. (Flint 1997. p. 43)

But wait, it may not be lost, because another scroll, 11Q14 or the Melchizedek scroll, has a line that stops short where we would expect to find it, or at least a few words of it: Continue reading “Questioning Carrier: Was the Book of Daniel Really a “Key Messianic Text”?”