30 March 2013

A plethora of Jewish messiahs

Christians’ idea of a Jewish messiah, literally “anointed one”, is limited to their interpretation of prophecies which for the most part for Jews have never interpreted in that way or else have interpreted as foretelling a figure other than the Messiah ben David.

All the kings and priests of Samerina (Samaria) and Yehud (Judaea) were anointed, so they all could be called messiahs.  In the sense of “deliverer”, before the 2nd century BCE through 1st century CE era two figures outside either entity were considered “messiahs” of Yahweh:  Cyrus the Great of Iran, who by destroying the power of Babylon freed the Jews (and Samaritans) from its domination, and Alexander the Great of Macedon, who a little over two centuries later freed them from the chaos into which the Achaemenid Empire of Iran had fallen into after the coup d’etat by Bagoas, vizier to Shahanshah (“King of kings”) Artaxerxes III.

In this turn of the era period, mainstream Judaism taught that there were going to be not one but two apocalyptic figures with the title messiah.  This scheme is still the one taught by Rabbinic Judaism even now.  One was the Messiah ben David, an idea with which Christians are very familiar, and the other was the Messiah be Joseph.

Since its beginning, Christianity has identified with Jesus bar Joses passages such as Zechariah 12:10, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, and Psalm 22.  At the same time they believe him to be the Messiah ben David and have even fabricated two separate geneaologies for him from the mythical David figure, one having him descend from David through Solomon in 28 generations (Matthew 1), the other from David through Nathan in 42 generations (Luke 3).

There are two problems here.  First, these passages and others refer not to the Messiah ben David but to his predecessor, the Messiah ben Joseph.  Second, the geneaologies trace to or from Joseph, who according to Christian doctrine is not Jesus’ father, rendering these geneaologies meaningless even had they not been fabricated.

It is the Messiah ben Joseph who is sacrificed as an atonement for sins, but of the sins of Judah, or Yehud, as opposed to Ephraim or Samerinam not the sin of the whole world.  The Messiah ben Joseph is the Lamb of God, not the Messiah ben David, and he will be slain by Gog and Magog according to Jewish myth.

After the death of the Messiah ben Joseph, a time of trial will come for Israel, then the Messiah ben David will appear.  At the turn of the era, the belief of the this messiah’s role was that he would restore kingdom of David; gather the exiles; usher in world peace and knowledge of Yahweh; end death and disease; raise the dead to new life; and spread the Torah. 

Before this, however, the Messiah ben David would first defeat the last ruler of the fourth kingdom (in the schema in Daniel), interpreted as the empire of Rome, and have him brought before his throne in Jerusalem to be judged.  After this last emperor’s sins are enumerated, according to the belief, the Messiah ben David, Yahweh’s Anointed and Vicar on earth, will pronounce sentence and slay the Roman himself, with his own hands.

They don’t mention that part of the doctrine in the Gospels, which, if they even knew about it, would supply a reasonable explanation the reaction of the Romans and for the crucifixion of Jesus bar Joses between two rebels, dubbed bandits in the gospels though they probably called themselves freedom fighters.  Like the Taliban.

Of course, even within the Gospels themselves, their protagonist (Jesus) not only denies being “the Messiah”, but also that the Messiah is David’s son.  If you don’t believe me, just “ask” him:  Matthew 22:42-44:

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David.  He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?

The Essenes, or at least those at Qumran, did not teach or believe in either of the two above-mentioned messiahs.  Their documents solely or preferentially speak of a priestly messiah.  The Damascus Document speaks of one Messiah of Aaron and Israel while the Manual of Discipline speaks of two, a Messiah of Aaron and a Messiah of Israel.

The pseudepigraphal Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs teaches of three messiahs: a Messiah ben Ephraim, a Messiah ben Judah, and a Messiah ben Levi, who will be first in authority.

Another eschatological figure for whom the Jews looked at the turn of the era was the “Prophet like Moses”, supposedly foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-16:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”  

Paradoxically, Christians, clearly not well-versed in Jewish doctrine, many even being proudly completely ignorant of it, also assign this role to Jesus bar Joses.

Among the Samaritans, the “Prophet like Moses” was, and still is, called the Taheb, and he is their only eschatological figure.

Further rabbinic doctrine from the turn of the era teaches that two witnesses will take an active role in events of the end times.  These two are Enoch and Elijah, the latter of whom has his own prophecy in Malachi (chapter 4:5-6 –  Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse).  Lumped together with these two is Melchizedek, priest of El Elyon, who appears to Abram in Genesis after the battle of five kings.

Another pseudepigraphal book of interest is 1 Enoch.  This book, part of the canon of the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church, introduces an eschatological figure it calls the “Son of man”, who is expected to preside over the final judgment of sinners and righteous and deliver the former over to angels for punishment.  The only other known turn-of-the-era instance of the phrase “Son of man” being used in this sense is in the Gospels, always when Jesus bar Joses is speaking.  Given this, one wonders why 1 Enoch was rejected by most Christians when so much other questionable material (such as the certainly pseudepigraphal 1 Timothy2 TimothyTitus2 ThessaloniansEphesiansColossianswas accepted into Christian canon.

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