18 June 2015

Jewish messianic expectations, first century CE


In few cases in world history have humans forgotten the message for worshipping the creeds like they have in the case of the man known to most, in English anyway, as Jesus Christ.  That should really be “Jesus the Christ” because the latter is not a surname, but a title.  It is the Greek version of the Hebrew word meaning “The Anointed”, whose English rendering is usually “Messiah”.

What the creeds leave out completely, in their Hellenistic obsessions with doctrine and dogma and defining the undefinable which had little to do with the actually message and more to do with internal bickering, is the most important point of the Gospels, at least the Synoptics.  The undeniable goal of the writers of the gospels, and their later editors who interpolated and redacted and reorganized many parts of the originals, and their primary purpose, was to present Isho the Nazorean as the long-awaited Messiah ben David.

Before we get to that, however, we need a little lesson on what exactly a Messiah is, or at least was expected to be in Isho’s time.

The Four Craftsmen (or Four Carpenters)

In the first century CE, the Jews, most of them anyway, were waiting for not just one Messiah, but four, or at least four eschatological figures who’s coming would herald wars and rumors of wars ending in the establishment of the kingdom of heaven on Earth. 

This scheme of four figures was based upon the passage about the Four Craftsmen in the first chapter of Zechariah, verses 18-21.  According to the Talmud, since the time of Simon the Just (high priest Simon I in the late third century BCE), these four have been identified as Elijah the Prophet returned, the Messiah ben Joseph, the Messiah ben David, and the Righteous Priest. 

Interestingly, the Hebrew word kharash translated as “craftman” in this passage specifically refers to a “craftsman of wood”, or a carpenter, corresponding to the Greek word tekton used in that place in the Septuagint, as well as in the New Testament to describe the secular occupation of Isho the Nazorean.

Some of the pseudepigraphal and apocalyptic Jewish literature which flourished in the last two centuries BCE and the first century CE supply different, though related, designations for three of the four figures, all but Elijah.

The Prophet Like Moses, the Son of Man, are other eschatological figures that will be discussed later.

Elijah the Prophet

Elijah, the First Craftsmen to appear according to tradition, is to be the forerunner of the whole cycle of events.  Jewish mysticism holds that after being assumed into heaven, Elijah became the archangel Sandalphon, anchoring the root of the Tree of Life opposite his likewise-assumed predecessor Enoch at the top as the archangel Metatron.

The two main passages of the Tanakh used to indicate Eljah’s position as one of the Four Craftsman and as the Forerunner is Malachi 3:1-3 and 4:5-6. 

Pesach (Passover) and Matzot (Unleavened Bread) are the time of Elijah.  At the seder on Pesach (Passover), Jews set out a cup of wine in hopeful anticipation of his arrival.

Messiah ben Joseph

Also known as the Suffering Messiah and the Messiah ben Ephraim, the Messiah ben Joseph is the Second Craftsman.  His function is to prepare the way for the one who is to come after him by waging war against the Messiah ben David’s potential enemies.  Tradition holds that it will be he who leads the forces of righteousness against the armies of the “destructive one” in the war of Gog and Magog depicted in Ezekial 38-39, dying in the final battle. 

Rabbinic tradition names the leader of the armies of Gog and Magog as “Armilus”, whom the Gentile world worships as God and Messiah.  In Ezekial, Gog is the leader of Magog, but by the first century CE popular usage had turned Gog of Magog into Gog and Magog among Jews as well as members of the nascent Christian movement.

Most textual scholars have determined that passage on Gog and Magog is an interpolation from the second century BCE, reflecting the concerns and political situation of that time.  In Revelation, the war against Gog and Magog takes place after the thousand-year reign following the Battle of Armageddon against the Beast (Antichrist), False Prophet, and the Devil at the end of the seven-year Tribulation.

Two of the chief passages of the Tanakh with which the Messiah ben Joseph is identified are the Mourning for the “Pierced One” (Zechariah 12:10-14) and the Songs of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12, and 61:1-3).  Others are Psalms 22 and 44 and the vision of the Seventy Weeks in the ninth chapter of Daniel.

Shavuot (Feast of Weeks), or Pentecost, is the time of the Messiah ben Joseph.

Messiah ben David

The key messianic figure of most Jewish eschatology in the first century CE was the Messiah ben David, or the King Messiah, referred to in some eschatological literature as the Messiah ben Judah.  The Messiah ben David is the Third Craftsman.

Several passages in the Tanakh relate to the Messiah ben David in Jewish tradition.  The most important are Psalms 2 and 110, but Psalms 45, 72, 89, and 132 are also associated with the Messiah ben David, if not quite as directly.

Among the most relative of many passages in Isaiah include 2:2-4 (about the future “house of God”); 7:10-16 (the Immanuel verses); 9:1-7 (about the righteous coming king); and all of chapter 11 (about the future peaceful kingdom).

The relevant passages in Jeremiah include 23:5-8 (about the righteous branch, or descendant, of David); 31:31-34 (foretelling the new covenant); 33:14-18 (combined prophecy of the righteous branch and the covenant with David).

The coronation of the Branch, the scion of the House of David, is foretold in Zechariah 6:9-15.

The vision of the two sticks in Ezekial 37:22-28 prophesies that Joseph and Judah will be reunited as one under the Messiah ben David.  This follows immediately after the vision of the valley of dry bones.

The Messiah ben David is represented in the vision of the menorah and two olive trees in the fourth chapter of Zechariah as one of the latter.

Sukkot (Feast of Booths) has been identified with the coming of the Messiah ben David since at least the first century BCE.  This is based on the passage in Zechariah 14:16-21 which follows the description of the “Day of the Lord”, the final battle when “all nations” come against Jerusalem and the people of Judah, and Yahuweh takes his stand on the Mount of Olives.  Then the survivors of the nations come to Jerusalem to keep the feast of Sukkot.

The hymn at the beginning of the fourth chapter of Micah (and the near identical passage at the beginning of the second chapter of Isaiah) is another passage associated with the expected kingdom of the Messiah ben David.  This passage contains the famous line, “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore”.

The Righteous Priest

In the interpretation contemporary with the time of Isho the Nazorean, the Righteous Priest, elsewhere called the Messiah ben Levi and the Priestly Messiah, was expected alongside the Messiah ben David but subordinate in authority to him.    The Righteous Priest is the Fourth Craftsman.

The chief passages identified with the future Righteous Priest are 1 Samuel 2:35, Zechariah 4:11-14 (the two anointed ones), and Zechariah 6:12-14 (where he becomes high priest).

The fourth chapter of Zechariah tells of the rebuilding of the temple of Yahuweh, represented by a lampstand with seven branches (a menorah).  On either side of the menorah are two olive trees which represent two “anointed ones”: the Messiah ben David and the Righteous Priest who will oversee the temple.  The menorah itself represents the rebuilt temple of Yahuweh in which the Righteous Priest will lead the worship of Yahuweh.

In the original prophecy the olive trees stood for Zerubbabel the governor of the Iranian province of Yehud (Judah) and Joshua (Iesous in Greek, or Jesus), but had been repurposed by the second century BCE to indicate the Messiah ben David and the Righteous Priest.  The author of the Revelation of John the Divine later repurposed the motif yet again for the “two witnesses” in the first half of his “Great Tribulation”.

The figure of the Righteous Priest was/is identified with the mysterious Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of El Elyon (God Most High) whom Abraham encounters in Genesis 14:7-24.  The Targum and the Talmud further identify Melchizedek with Shem son of Noah.

Prophet like Moses

The Samaritans to this day await the Taheb, their name for the Prophet Like Moses foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-19.  Not much was said about this eschatological figure in the time period in which we are talking about.

Son of Man

The seventh chapter of the pseudepigraphal, apocalyptic, predictive, retrodictive, canonical (for Christians), and deuterocanonical (for Jews) work called Daniel introduced the figure of the “Son of Man” as an eschatological figure.  The vision of the Son of Man comes after the vision of the Four Beasts, which represent four great empires.  But here the Son of Man serves merely as a representative figure.

In the final verses of the chapter, the author prophesies that his Son of Man will destroy the fourth empire, which is unlike the other three, and bring its ruler before his throne in Jerusalem for judgment.  This fourth empire has always been equated with Rome, which probably places this passage no earlier than the first century BCE, though the previous century is possible, as the Roman Republic was the ally who forced Antiochus IV of the Seleucid Empire to turn back from his invasion of Ptolemaic Egypt in 168 BCE.

His stopover in Jerusalem on the return to Damascus occasioned the alleged “abomination of desecration” in which Antiochus supposedly erected a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies in the temple.  In real life, Menelaus the high priest claimed that he stole the money from the Corban, the money dedicated to the temple, from the treasury, which would have been considered a desecration, especially by the avaricious priests.  What actually happened was that Menelaus used the money to pay the back debt he owed Antiochus for enthroning him over his brother Jason, whose bribe was less “sufficient”.

In chapters 38-71 of the pseudepigraphal, apocryphal, apocalyptic, and canonical (for the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox) work known as 1 Enoch, the Son of Man develops into a pre-existent figure who dwells with Yahuweh.  In this the figure corresponds somewhat to the concept of the Logos as interpreted by Julius Philo Judaeaus.

Also called the Chosen One, the Righteous One, and the Anointed One (or Messiah), in this section (called the Book of Parables or the Similtudes).  Since Messiah is one of this figure’s titles and Yahuweh makes him king and judge of all the earth, there can only be one Anointed One with whom to equate him: the Messiah ben David.

In the thirteenth chapter of the deuterocanonical work 2 Esdras, the vision of the Man from the Sea, the figure representing the motif of the Son of Man (and therefore the Messiah ben David, though the author does not make that precise connection) transforms into an individual concrete person, pre-existent and dwelling with Yahuweh but now also human. 

Son of God

In the Similtudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71) again, we find the Chosen One first referred to as the “Son of God”, though not in the same coequal sense of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.  For one thing, “Son of God” was a ceremonial titles of the Davidic kings, and may have been used by their successors, the exilarchs (or nasis) of Babylon.  And the presentation in 1 Enoch is of one who is divine but not deity.  From the kingly Messiah who was a mere mortal scion of the line of David ruling over just the restored and reunited Israel, the journey to a divine universal savior (some might say rather “journey to the dark side”) was now complete.


When Philo borrowed the Platonist nomenclature of the Logos in formulating his philosophical explanation of Judaism for Gentiles, he undoubtedly drew from Hellenistic Jewish philosophy as seen in 1 Enoch, as I mentioned above, which ties it to the expected Chosen One.  In the mystical terminology of Rabbinic Judaism, this designation became “Memra”.  Both terms can be translated “Word”, though they can also be used to stand for “Reason”.

Philo presents his Logos as a mediator between Heaven and Earth, an instrument or Hand of God on one hand and an advocate for humans on the other.


The Nehushtan derives from the Torah passage named “Parashah Chukat” (Numbers 19:1-22:1), in which Yahuweh send fiery serpents (nachashim) to plague the Israelites until they repent and save themselves by looking toward a bronze serpent fashioned by Moses mounted atop a pole, upon which the poison would vanish.  The full name in Hebrew for the Nehushtan was Nachash Bareach

The earliest Qabbalistic works described the Teli being that around which the stars and everything revolve; rabbis identified this Teli with the Nachash Bareach as well as with the Messiah, who is often called the Nachash ha-Kodesh, or “Holy Serpent”. 

Though these particular Qabbalistic works were published centuries after the first of the Common Era, strong evidence demonstrates the ideas were already around, perhaps through the Merkava.  The Merkava is the body of literature revolving around mystical philosophy about Elijah’s Havenly Chariot and the beasts who pull it.

Expectations of the Essenes

The Damascus Document, found in Old Cairo decades before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, in which fragments of it were also found, relates that the community at Qumran, for which the name Damascus is code.  This colony, along with the extinct sect of the Essenes, was founded 390 years after the Babylonian Exile, or in 196 BCE, and that the Teacher of Righteousness came twenty years later, in 176 BCE. 

The Essenes considered the Teacher of Righteousness to be Moses incarnate (the prophet like Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18-19), and they also wrote of him as the Suffering Priest.

For the future, the Essenes did not look for Elijah, but they did look for a priestly Messiah ben Aaron (Deuteronomy 33:8-11) and a kingly Messiah ben Israel (Numbers 24:15-17).  In their scheme, the Messiah ben Aaron would take precedence over his more secular counterpart.

Expectations of the Samaritans

The only eschatological figure for whom the Samaritans of the first century CE looked was the Prophet like Moses, whose cult never gained much traction among mainstream Jews, at least not in the first century CE.  However, that is till this day the sole future savior looked for by the Samaritans.  They refer to this figure as the Taheb.

Isho as Messiah

Elijah is the only Jewish eschatological figure with which Isho is never identified in any work of the New Testament, that role early on having been assigned to John the Baptist.

Isho as the Messiah ben Joseph

Isho is indirectly identified with the Messiah ben Joseph in the story of Philip and Simeon the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40.  Here, Simeon is in his chariot reading about the Suffering Servant and Philip explicitly identifies Isho (Jesus) with that figure.  In fact, all four gospels, 2 Corinthians, 1 Peter, Romans, Hebrews, and Galatians quote the Servant passages, particularly the fourth, in reference to Isho the Nazorean in some way.

The cry of Isho from the cross in Matthew and Mark, “My  God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, likewise identifies Isho with the Messiah ben Joseph, along with other references to Psalm 22.  The passages in which the writers of the gospels show Isho predicting his own suffering and death also point to this Messiah rather the Messiah ben David.

Abraham Abulfia, one of the two founders of Ecstatic Qabbalah who lived in thirteenth century Spain before fleeing to Messina, Sicily, then Malta, accepted Yeshua ben Yosef (Isho, or Jesus) as the Messiah ben Joseph.  Abulfia identified himself as both Messiah ben David and as Melchizedek, the eschatological figure of the Righteous Priest.

As a side note, the other founder of Ecstatic Qabbalah, was Isaac ben Samuel, originally of Spain and later of Acre in the Levant.  He is also noted for stating that the universe was, as of his own time, 15,340,500,000 years old, seven centuries before any scientist posited anything close (it’s actually 13,800,000,000 years old).

Isho as the Messiah ben David

This being the main focus and central point of the gospels collectively, these points will be discussed elsewhere.

Isho as the Righteous Priest

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews explicitly identifies Isho the Nazorean with how many interpreted the Righteous Priest in verses 5:10 and 6:20, and in the entirety of chapter 7.  However, the exact wording he uses, “high priest after the order of Melchizedek” ties the term to the definition of the Messiah as priest-king in Psalm 110.

In Peter’s speech at Solomon’s Portico after he has healed a lame beggar in Acts 3:11-26, the author portrays Peter referring to Isho as the prophet foretold by Moses (in Deuteronomy) who would be like him.

In the speech of Stephen the protomartyr before the council of the high priest in Acts 7, the lead character of the periscope refers to Isho as the Son of Man and as the Righteous One, both titles straight out of 1 Enoch.

Isho as the Son of Man

The title Son of Man as used in 1 Enoch is overwhelmingly the favored title of Isho the Nazorean in the gospels, coming in at being used to refer to him eighty-seven times to the seventeen uses of “Son of David” and the thirty-two uses of “Son of God”. 

Clearly, 1 Enoch had a huge influence over the writers of the gospels, both the original authors and their editors, most so than indicated by its rejection from the canon, although one could make the case that is has indirect canonicity through the statistic just cited.  In addition, the work is quoted in the Epistle of Jude and the Epistle to the Hebrews, influenced the secondary and tertiary stages of the development of Christian soteriology, and was cited by the  Church Fathers Tertullian, Origen, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, and several more.

Isho as the Logos

As for Isho’s identification with the concept of the Logos, the Second Editor of the Gospel of John clearly does so, as does the interpolator who inserted after “There are three that testify:” in 1 John 5:7 this: “There are three that testify in heaven, the Father, the Word (Logos), and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.  And there are three that testify on earth:”.

Isho as the Nehushtan

The editor/contributor of the Gospel of John who wrote the third chapter lines “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15) explicitly identifies Isho with the Nehushtan, and also bears witness that this concept of the Messiah existed then.

Isho as Chrestus

Literally meaning “good one”, “good servant”, or “useful implement”,  Chestus in Latin, or Chrestos in Greek, was a common name among Gentiles that could simply mean “good”.  It is used this way seven times in the New Testament.

In Greek, the word frequently followed the name of a deity as an epithet, as in Osiris Chreistos, Helios Christos, or Mithras Chrestos.  It was also used on tombs of dead humans.

Because of its similarity in spelling, this word was often confused, even by devout and in some cases quite knowledgeable believers, with Christos, the Greek translation of Messiah, for which there was no equivalent in Latin, unlike Chrestos-Chrestus.  Also, many who did know the difference still used the two words interchangeably.

In Book 2 of his Stromata, Clement of Alexandria wrote “All who believe in Chrestos (a good man) both are, and are called, Chrestianoi, that is, good men (Chrestoi).”

In the famous acrostic in the Sibylline Oracles of which the initials spell Icthus, or “fish”, the title is spelled “Chreistos” as in Iesous Chreistos Theoi Uios Soter Stauros (“Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, Cross”).  Here, Chreistos could correctly be translated either way.

Justin Martyr also referred to himself as a Chrestianos, rather than a Christianos.

This Codex Sinaiticus, one of the earliest almost complete collections of the books of the New Testament, sheds some light on Tacitus’ use of “Chestianoi” rather than the more modern “Christianoi”.  There are three families of ancient manuscripts of the New Testament which scholars have classified by their text-type which also share certain phrases and passages not found in later texts, and they are missing some too, such as the Pericope Adulterae (story of the Adulterous Woman).  These three families of manuscripts have been designated the Alexandrian family, the Western family, and the Byzantine family.

The Codex Sinaiticus belongs to the Alexandrian family, the one almost universally recognized as generally being least tampered with by perpetrators of “pious fraud” to create a foundation for later ideology (this also applies to the Western family in some cases).  Where texts such as those of the Western and Byzantine families have the word “Christianoi” in the three places in the New Testament translated into English as “Christians” (Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16), the Codex Sinaiticus has the word “Chrestianoi”.

Some argue that these discrepancies are a sign that the whole thing was made up.  I would just the contrary; that these discrepancies are a sign that the existence of a human individual upon whom the religion of Christianity is a reality, and that the nascent movement did not come from a mass production factory or a replicator.

Messianic pretenders of the Roman era

In terms of royal succession to a throne, to be a pretender means merely that one is a claimant, without judging the validity of the claim.  For instance, Charles Stuart, known as Bonnie Prince Charlie to his supporters, was called the Young Pretender, and by the rules of primogeniture he certainly had a better claim to the throne of Great Britain than the sitting monarch, George Welph (George I).

Several messianic pretenders rose up during the Roman era of  Palestine in the decades preceding and succeeding the time of Isho the Nazorean.

The first was Hezekiah ben Garon, a general of the former Hasmonean king Hyrcanus II, who rose against the Roman procurator Antipater, a Jew of Idumean descent, in 47 BCE, proclaiming himself King of the Jews.  His rebellion was put down by Herod the Great, then governor of the province of Galilaea.

After the death of Herod the Great, King of the Jews, in 4 BCE, revolts broke out in Iudaea (Judea), Galilaea, Peraea, and Idumaea.  Those in Peraea and Iudaea were led by messianic pretenders: Simon, a former slave of Herod, in Peraea, a man named Anthronges in Iudaea, and Judas ben Hezekiah (aka Judas the Galilean) in Galilaea.  The one in Idumaea was led by Herod’s cousin Achiab, who claimed the throne through that link.

The messianic pretender Judas the Galilean was back out in 6 CE, this time leading a revolt against Iudaea having been made a province under direct Roman rule.

Those were the rebellions led by a messianic pretender that took place in the decades before the time of Isho the Nazorean; several came after.

The Samaritan Prophet led his people in a rebellion against the prefect, Pontius Pilatus, taking his final stand atop Mount Gerizim, near Shechem (now Nablus), in 36 CE.  The brutality with which he put down this insurrection led to Pilate being sent back to Rome.

The revolt of the messianic pretender Theudas in Iudaea took place in 45 CE under procurator Cupius Fadus.

In 46 CE, Jacob and Simon, sons of Judas the Galilean, revolted against the procurator Tiberius Julius Alexander, a Jew from Alexandria.  The uprising lasted two years.

In 58 CE, a messianic pretender known to history as the Egyptian Prophet led a revolt that ended with a climactic battle on the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem.

Led by an unnamed messianic pretender, the Sikarii came out in 59 CE against procurator Porcius Festus, who made sure his troops slew them to the last man.

Three of the many, often infighting, leaders of the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE were messianic pretenders.  First was Simon bar Giora, a peasant leader from Iudaea.  Second was Menachem ben Yehuda (Judas the Galilean), leader of the Sikarii and grandson of Hezekiah ben Garon.  Third was John ben Levi of Giscala, leader of the Galilean Zealots.

In 115, a messianic pretender named Lukuas rose up in Cyrenaica, leading his armies in a swath of devastation that left Libya virtually depopulated, the two Jewish sections of the five in Alexandria burned, and inspired uprisings in Cyprus and Mesopotamia, before he was killed an his army destroyed near Jerusalem.

The last major Jewish revolt against Rome under a messianic pretender, Simon bar Kokhba in this case, broke out in 132, lasting until 135.

One of the two leaders of the revolt against the Roman empire under Heraclius (614-629) during the last Roman-Sassanian war, Nehemiah ben Hushiel, was a messianic pretender.  He was the son of the Exilarch, or Nasi, of the Jews of Babylon, and therefore of Davidic descent.

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