Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The annunciation, the two Messiahs, and Divine Justice

There is a certain type of sermon one hears from time to time that has always bothered me. It goes roughly like this: "The reason the Jewish leaders of Jesus' own time rejected him was that their thoughts of the Messiah were earthly. They wanted a military Messiah who would set up a kingdom on earth. Therefore their minds were closed to recognizing and accepting Jesus for who he was."

The problem with this is that it gives the entirely false impression that an "earthly" concept of the Messiah was something manmade, that it arose simply out of the inexplicably "earthly" minds of the Jews of Jesus' time, and that it was their attempt to impose their selfish human desires onto God's plans.

But this is simply untrue. Consider the following passages, among many others.

Psalm 72 (passim):

He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment, the mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure...He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.

Jeremiah 23:3ff:

And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds...Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely, and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Micah 4:1ff:

But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow into it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord...And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares...

Micah 5:2

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel...

Is this enough to make the point? There was nothing at all presumptuous about an expectation that Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom, would rule Israel as a nation, and would bring them peace and safety by means of defeating their earthly enemies.

But when my slight irritation at confused sermons prompted me to think this way, I had a small problem of my own: Why, then, was it a problem for Jesus to be rejected as the Messiah? Was God playing some sort of trick on His people--giving them all these prophecies of one kind of Messiah and then saying, "Aha! But I'm going to send you something completely different"? Were Jesus' miracles during his lifetime supposed to overcome a prima facie case that he was not the Messiah, based on the whole corpus of the Messianic prophecies, because he showed no signs of ruling from the sea to the uttermost parts of the earth or of making Israel safe from her enemies? And isn't this asking rather a lot, especially of people who were not personally present to witness Jesus' miracles?

In fact, just to make things still tougher, listen to what the angel Gabriel says to the Virgin Mary, in Luke 1:31-33:

And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Well, goodness! What was Mary going to think after receiving that prophecy? She would quite naturally expect an earthly Messiah.

A similar point comes up in the Song of Zechariah (which has become part of the liturgy of Morning Prayer in the BCP). There is definitely a prophetic aura about that passage. Zechariah was struck dumb because of his unbelief when he spoke to the Angel Gabriel. He shows that he's "come around" by writing that his son should be named John, and his tongue is loosed then, miraculously. So there's something rather authoritative about his words:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us....That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. (Luke 1:68-75)

Sounds a lot like the Jeremiah 23 passage, doesn't it? The people of the time would have been steeped in such passages. But here we are, two thousand years later, and Israel still hasn't been saved from her enemies or from the hands of those that hate her! Nothing like. Nor did Jesus make any apparent move to do anything visibly like that during his earthly ministry.

It just shows the complete reasonableness of the disciples' question, just before Jesus' Ascension, "Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6) And it's hard not to feel a bit impatient with Jesus' brusque dismissal of the disciples as not having the right to know the times or seasons kept in the power of the Father (Acts 1:7).

It's all very well for us Christians to say with 20/20 hindsight that these prophecies are eschatological. How were Jesus' disciples to know that? And if we're honest, we'll admit quite frankly that we have no very good idea what their fulfillment will look like even in eschatological terms. How can the end of the world come but separate nations remain for Jesus to rule over as in the Old Testament prophecies? How can there be no more giving in marriage (as Jesus said in Matthew 22:30) while history appears to continue with an earthly kingdom? And what in the world does the Apostle Paul mean when he prophesies that "all Israel shall be saved" (Romans 11:26)? I have no idea.

So here we have the challenge, the accusation: Did God play mind games with His people Israel by giving them confusing prophecies and then sending a Messiah who did not fulfill them, at least not at that time?

No doubt by this time many of my readers will have been fidgeting in their seats and wanting to blurt out the answer. Yes: It's true. There is another entirely separate, and rather surprisingly different, set of Messianic prophecies, of a Messiah who does not rule (at least not when he's fulfilling this set of prophecies), who instead suffers.

Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?...They pierced my hands and my feet...They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

Zechariah 12:10

And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications, and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son...

Daniel 9:25-26 (NIV)

Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’...26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing [or, "but not for himself"].

And probably the most important and striking suffering Messiah passage of all, Isaiah 52:13-53:12:

Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:...He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

The contrasts between these two views of the Messiah could hardly have escaped the notice of the people of Israel. It is therefore not surprising that a tradition developed that there would actually be two Messiahs. One, the descendent of David, would be the ruling Messiah, while the other, the son of Joseph (why Joseph I have not yet entirely figured out) would be the suffering Messiah.

Dating the origins of traditions found in the Talmud is about as difficult as herding cats, and I make no claim to be a Talmudist. It seems safe, however, to say that, while the Talmudic traditions were written down well into the AD period, they represent lines of thought that could plausibly go back to the BC period and the time of Jesus.

Here is a mention of the Messiah son of Joseph, who was to be killed, in a commentary on Zechariah 12:10. From Succah 52a, in the Babylonian Talmud:

What was the mourning for? R. Dosa and the rabbis differ: One holds that it was for the Messiah the son of Joseph, who was killed; and one holds that it was for the evil angel, who was killed. It would be right according to one who holds that it was for the Messiah the son of Joseph, because he explains as supporting him the passage [Zech. xii. 10]: "And they will look up toward me (for every one) whom they have thrust through, and they will lament for him, as one lamenteth for an only son, and weep bitterly for him, as one weepeth bitterly for the firstborn"


The rabbis taught: The Messiah b. David, who (as we hope) will appear in the near future, the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to him: Ask something of me and I will give it to thee, as it is written [Ps. ii. 7-8]: "I will announce the decree . . . Ask it of me, and I will give," etc. But as the Messiah b. David will have seen that the Messiah b. Joseph who preceded him was killed, he will say before the Lord: Lord of the Universe, I will ask nothing of Thee but life. And the Lord will answer: This was prophesied already for thee by thy father David [Ps. xxi. 5]: "Life hath he asked of thee, thou gavest it to him."

An editorial footnote to this edition of the Talmud, to the phrase "Messiah the son of Joseph, who was killed" says,

There was a tradition among the ancient Hebrews that two Messiahs would appear before the redemption of Israel[,] one of the tribe of Joseph and one of the tribe of Jehudah, a descendant of David[,] and the expression "who was killed" means who will have been killed.

In further support of a tradition of a suffering Messiah, here is Sanhedrin 98b:

The Rabbis said: His name is 'the leper scholar,' as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted.

Here is a suggestive passage from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which of course date a good deal earlier than the written compilation of the Talmud:

...his Wisdom [will be great.] He will make atonement for all the children of his generation. He will be sent to all the sons of his [generation]. His word shall be as the word of Heaven and his teaching shall be according to the will of God. His eternal sun shall burn brilliantly. The fire shall be kindled in all the corners of the earth. Upon the Darkness it will shine. Then the Darkness will pass away [from] the earth and the deep Darkness from the dry land. They will speak many words against him. There will be many [lie]s. They will invent stories about him. They will say shameful things about him. He will overthrow his evil generation and there will be [great wrath]. When he arises there will be lying and violence, and the people will wander astray [in] his days and be confounded.

- Dead Sea Scrolls, 4Q541, Column 4

And here is a fascinating quotation from a document that appears to be originally Jewish but interpolated with Christian commentary. Nonetheless it is quite ancient; fragments from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Notice the reference to Joseph in the Testament of Benjamin:

And thus Jacob cried out, My child Joseph, thou hast prevailed over the bowels of thy father Jacob. And he embraced him, and kissed him for two hours, saying, In thee shall be fulfilled the prophecy of heaven concerning the Lamb of God, even the Saviour of the world, that spotless shall He be delivered up for transgressors, and sinless shall He be put to death for ungodly men in the blood of the covenant, for the salvation of the Gentiles and of Israel, and shall destroy Beliar, and them that serve him.

Even if we assume that the reference to the "saviour of the world," etc., was a Christian addition, any Christian interpolator that existed seems to have been picking up on the Messiah son of Joseph tradition, for otherwise one would have expected him to relate this reference to the Messiah to Judah.

Further arguments for some degree of Jewish realization at the time of Christ that Messiah (or a Messiah) must suffer are these:

--The apostles began immediately to apply Isaiah 53 (at least, but also presumably other suffering Messiah passages) to Jesus, as we can see most explicitly in Philip's conversation with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8). Such applications are early implied when Peter preaches, "[T]hose things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled" (Acts 3:18). While some of this can of course be attributed to their newly confirmed zeal to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah (which we Christians of course attribute to their knowledge of the resurrection), it is not a far-fetched conjecture that in their preaching they were taking it as a given that there were acknowledged "suffering Messiah" prophecies.

--It seems implausible that the Messiah son of Joseph tradition would have first arisen de novo in the Christian era. If it were already firmly established that there was only a single, reigning Messiah tradition, this would have been the tradition to stick with in order not to cede any ground to the Christians.

--Circa AD 150, Justin Martyr records a stylized dialogue with Trypho the Jew which plausibly reflects the real state of Jewish-Christian debate at the time. Justin presses Isaiah 53 hard, and Trypho's response is not (at all) to deny its messianic nature nor that Messiah must suffer. Trypho says, "[W]e know that He should suffer and be led as a sheep" (Chapter XC) Rather, the sticking point for Trypho is the fact that the suffering took the form of crucifixion, and anyone who hangs on a tree is cursed in the law (Deuteronomy 21:23). It seems that even at this time the idea of denying a suffering Messiah altogether was not the preferred Jewish response, presumably because the prophetic texts make such a total denial very difficult. (Trypho also, I must note, does not try to divide the Messiah into two persons. Evidently that was only one possible way to resolve the apparent tension between the suffering and reigning Messianic passages. The more important point, however, is that he does not deny a suffering Messiah.)

If Jesus' lowly manner of life and lack of military ambition were puzzling in connection with the "ruling Messiah" prophesies, it would have been possible for the Jews during Jesus' ministry to advert to the suffering Messiah passages instead. The view that one Messiah would suffer and another Messiah would reign would make this even easier.

[Digression prompted by the coolness of this connection: In John 12:32, Jesus says, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." John glosses this as a reference to the literal "lifting up" in the crucifixion. The audience seems to have understood it that way too (perhaps it was an idiom), and they say in vs. 34, "We have heard out of the law that Christ [i.e. Messiah] abideth for ever, and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up?" So the people are clearly bothered by the notion of a crucified Messiah. Jesus responds by telling them (vss. 35-36) to walk in the light while they have it--apparently, to believe in him on the basis of the miracles he has performed while there is still time. John immediately afterwards says that they did not believe on him despite all his miracles and that this fulfilled Isaiah 53:1, "Who hath believed our report?" Now, here's the extra-cool thing, which I would not have known myself. It's discussed in Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, pp. 47ff. The word Jesus uses for "lifted up" is the same as the Greek word used in the Septuagint in Isaiah 52:13, when it says that the Servant of the Lord will be "exalted." It seems entirely plausible, and it would be quite in keeping with the Jewish love of plays on words, that Jesus was making a pun on the term "lifted up" or "exalted" to refer both to his final exaltation after his death and resurrection (see Philippians 2:9) and to the crucifixion itself. This would be in keeping with Jesus' reference, also in John, to his passion itself as his "glorification" (John 13:31-32). Here we see evidence both that Jesus' audience was fairly insistent on a successful and reigning Messiah who would not die (and especially would not be crucified) and also of Jesus' alluding to Isaiah 53--a passage that definitely indicates a suffering Messiah when taken as a whole. Jesus also did something that Christian liturgy and thought has done throughout the ages--he spoke of his death as a form of exaltation and triumph. End of digression.]

Prophecy in the nature of the case is often somewhat dark and understood only in hindsight. (Think even in fiction of the prophecy of the death of the Lord of the Nazgul in LOTR.) Two apparently quite different sets of prophecies about a person who might reasonably be expected to be a single person make matters more complicated still. But that very fact gives ample space for answering the charge of Divine injustice--at least on the assumption that Jesus gave some positive evidence that he was indeed the Messiah.

The contrast between the ruling and suffering traditions has yet another extremely nice evidential consequence: Let's go back to the account of the Annunciation in Luke. This passage is from a section of Luke in a Hebrew-influenced Greek style, quite different from Luke's usual style. (Luke's usual Greek style begins with the ministry of John the Baptist, in Luke 3:1. Something of the abrupt shift even comes across in the English, with the move from the narratives concerning Jesus' family to the historian's introduction: "Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee..." etc.)

We've already noted the fact that the angel's prophecy to Mary and the Song of Zechariah are permeated with messianic prophecy and specifically with prophecies naturally understood to refer to an earthly messianic reign.

Now consider what this means concerning the origins of the passages. This material is found only in Luke, and it would be pretty tempting for a skeptic to claim that it was a later "mythical accretion" (after all, we have two miraculous conceptions in the space of a single chapter!) added to fill in a perceived gap in our knowledge of Jesus' birth and childhood. But if the passages were later fictional addenda, it would be much more natural for the prophecies in them to reflect what by that time was well-known concerning Jesus' actual life: He did not set up an earthly kingdom. He died on the cross. He was not a conqueror or a visible king. He was crucified by the Romans for claiming to be the king of the Jews. Even though the early Christians believed firmly in Jesus' resurrection, the reigning and conquering Messiah passages from the Old Testament remained unfulfilled and had to be presumed to be eschatological. A story that was a later accretion would have been much more likely to give the angel a prophecy relating Jesus' future to that of the "suffering Messiah"--something about suffering for the sins of his people. We would not expect all of this material about his unending kingdom and, in the Song of Zechariah, about his bringing safety to Israel.

The very oddity of the focus on the reigning Messiah in these passages is evidence for their authenticity. Independently, based on language alone, we might plausibly conjecture that Luke was working with a source document written in Hebrew, possibly from Jesus' relatives. The un-retouched reigning Messiah prophecies are further evidence for this conjecture and even for the truth of the narratives.

Sherlock Holmes used to say that the very fact that seems recalcitrant is often a clue to the whole mystery. Something a bit like that has happened here. The somewhat obscure and frustrating reigning Messiah prophecies seem to generate a problem for Divine justice in God's dealings with His people. That challenge can be answered, and, as a bonus, the insistence of the early chapters of Luke on applying reigning Messiah prophecies to Jesus is evidence for the accuracy of the narrative.

(My humble thanks both to Esteemed Husband and to Eric Chabot for help on this post. Eric provided numerous e-mails, books, links, and references, including the Bauckham reference among many others, with unstinting generosity. Interested readers may like to read a related post by Eric here. Eric is less inclined than I to think that a Jewish tradition of a Suffering Messiah in addition to the OT passages referring to a Suffering Messiah was in place by the time of Jesus, and I would not want to associate him with my conjectured conclusions on that point, but the difference between us is not large.)


The Masked Chicken said...

Well, with regards to the Reigning Messiah, Jesus answered this, after a fashion when he said (Matt 2025 - 28):

But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.
It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant,
and whoever would be first among you must be your slave;
even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Thus, it is that the Reigning Messiah is the Suffering Messiah, because the rule over all men that Jesus exerts (and Scripture does not contradict this) is a rule of love, not power. In none of the texts you cite is it established that the rule would be by power. It merely says that it will extend over the earth and it will, through the Church.

The problem is both in a misunderstanding of suffering and reigning: they are combined in the love of Christ. To suffer is to reign and to reign is to suffer, if either of them is to be done in the perfection of God. It often astounds unbelievers that Christians can suffer and still be joyful and yet that is a sign, is it not, that they have conquered the world?

One of the real reasons many of the Jews failed to recognize Christ as the Messiah is not because they were looking for an earthly ruler, based on a distorted understanding of the wielding of power, but because they failed to understand love. Jesus spent his entire earthly ministry correcting the Jew's notions of love. Had they understood that love did not involve merely obeying the Mosaic Law, which is its herald, but, rather, that love involved an impossible-for-them-to-conceive-of direct relationship with God, then they would have searched Scripture in order to understand what such a relationship between God and man might look like if it took flesh and they would have been led to Jesus.

The Chicken

Lydia McGrew said...

Well, Chicken, I tend to think that the reigning Messiah passages will still be fulfilled eschatologically. For example, Philippians says that every knee shall bow to him in heaven and earth, and I Corinthians 15 says that he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet. And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. There are similar indications in Revelation as well.

So I'm reluctant entirely to treat reigning and suffering as the same in terms of prophecies of Christ for the long term. It seems to me that the Biblical indications are that Jesus' visible reign when he makes all things new and when all rebellion against him is put down lies in the future. And, moreover, that it is _because of_ his willingness to suffer: "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him," etc.

Now, interestingly, the pun that I mentioned in the digression as well as Christ's references to being glorified in his death imply that we must also accept something of the mystery that you are talking about--the conjunction of suffering and exaltation in Christian theology. "If I be lifted up..." "My servant shall be exalted and very high." I think both interpretations of exaltation--both the mystery-of-exaltation-in-death and the eschatological one--are correct. They speak to different times in the history of God's salvation of mankind.

The Masked Chicken said...

They speak to different times in the history of God's salvation of mankind.

Part of the issue one runs into, here, is the problem that one is dealing with the hypostatic union - to a being who exists both in time and out of time. When time has ended, there will be one Reign and one Love that cannot be separated in the Divine Simplicity. When Christ reigns, he loves; when he loves, he reigns. It is true that, short of the Beatific Vision, these things will look separate and they may even seem to manifest themselves separately in time, but they must be united in eternity. I allow that the human nature of Christ might still manifest its glory in time, but only for the briefest moment when he returns (one does not know if the Final Judgment will occur in time or out of time), but in the final analysis, when time is destroyed, the two concepts must merge. People are in Hell specifically because they want to reign apart from love. So, while there may come a day when Christ will reign, briefly, again, on the earth, I suspect the true, reigning and conquest of Jerusalem will be Christ reigning in the New Jerusalem. It is possible that the use of Israel and Jerusalem in Issiah, etc. is the New Jerusalem, which could have been mistaken by the Jews. I am sure that when Simeon saw the Christ child, he beheld not the king of old Israel in a physical sense, but the king of the old Jerusalem in a metaphysical sense and the ruler of the New Jerusalem at the end of time. Jesus is to be, "a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel." Once, again, light and glory, suffering and reigning are linked. He reveals what true glory is to Israel.

The Chicken

Gerry T. Neal said...

There is a term for the theological position that states that the Jews were mistaken in looking for an earthly Messiah and that Christians are repeating that mistake when we look for a literal Second Coming of Christ. That term is preterism. Full preterists teach that all predictive prophecy in the Bible, including that found in the New Testament, was fulfilled completely in the first century. Preterism has gained popularity in the last two decades, probably as a backlash against the date-setting and speculation about how current events fit in to Bible prophecy that inevitably accompanies the beginning of a new millenium.

Scriptural orthodoxy, in my opinion, precludes both preterism and speculative date-setting. The Church Fathers who formulated the Nicene Creed got the balance right. The largest section of the Creed is the middle section about Jesus, and the focus of that section is upon His deity, His incarnation, and His suffering for our sins and resurrection. The Second Coming in Judgment is included, but only in the last sentence of the section about Christ. That Christ will return literally is sound doctrine, but it should not be our focus, it is not the heart of the Christian message.

Lydia McGrew said...

Chicken, I believe that at least some theologians hold that heaven itself has, or contains, another space-time continuum, because Jesus is now eternally Incarnate and yet clearly does not live within our space-time continuum. (It's not like he just went somewhere into outer space at the AScension.) I suppose one could place the entirety of a physical reign of some sort in that space-time continuum--a physical heaven populated with the resurrected saved, among other beings. At the same time, that does not seem to fulfill the prophecies about subduing the rebellious nations (Psalm 2--thou shalt break them with a rod of iron). So the whole thing remains at least for me in the realm of "I don't know." Which is okay.

Gerry, I learned about the existence of Preterism only a year or so ago. I still can hardly grok it. How can people believe such things?? If they claim to be Christians of any kind, that is. It's beyond me. But you may be right about a reaction to speculation.

Anonymous said...

Lydia, how do you reconcile the different houses from which the Suffering and Reigning Messiahs come? Doesn't that make it seem like they're two different people?

Lydia McGrew said...

jdf, sorry to have been unclear about that: The actual biblical texts portraying a suffering Messiah don't say that he is from a different tribe. Those particular biblical texts, in fact, don't mention a tribe at all (that I can recall).

The “Messiah son of Joseph” idea developed entirely in extrabiblical tradition and apparently _did_ assume that the two Messiahs were different people. This was a fairly simple way to do it--just to attribute the prophecies from the Tanakh (the Bible itself) that refer to a suffering Messiah to one person and those that refer to a reigning Messiah to a different person. It resolved an apparent tension. One question is how early that bifurcation into two Messiahs developed. Another question is how early there was a definite extrabiblical recognition that Messiah must suffer--that is, a recognition by the people of Israel reading the Tanakh or their rabbis or some of their rabbis that the suffering passages _must_ refer to Messiah, with or without the conjecture that this was a different person from the reigning Messiah.

Answering these questions is, as my rather convoluted post indicates, somewhat difficult, and a huge part of the difficulty lies in the simple fact that the Talmudic records were written down so late but by their very nature record an older tradition that goes back much farther than the record of it. Moreover, the suffering Messiah passages in the Bible itself are pretty unequivocal, so it seems like someone must have noticed prior to Jesus and his disciples. And as I mentioned even Trypho as late as c. 150 doesn't seem to deny the prophecy of a suffering Messiah.

In any event, to clarify: The statement that a Messiah would come from the house of Joseph is meant definitely to indicate a second Messiah, but it is found only extrabiblically.

Lydia McGrew said...

I don't know enough to know whether a given person could be said to be “of” two different tribes. Prima facie, with so many ancestors involved, it would seem like it should be possible in some sense--to have an ancestral line through both the tribe of Judah and one of the tribes of Joseph (Ephraim or Menassah). This question might have been relevant had someone in Jesus' time wondered whether he might be Messiah son of Joseph. (And I suppose the Jewish mind might also have enjoyed the pun--that he was “son of Joseph” in the sense that Joseph was his legal father.)

But we don't know whether anyone did raise that possibility.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification, Lydia.

Gyan said...

Lydia, regarding the space-time continuum speculations, CS Lewis in Studies in Words notes that four different Latin and Greek words are translated into one English word World in Bible.

The Greek word that is translated into English as "new world" has sense in Greek of "epoch" thus CS Lewis says that for early Christians, heaven meant a new epoch where death would be no more and dead would be resurrected and Christ would reign.
Heaven being a entirely new space-time in this view is a later interpretation.

It would be wonderful to have your comments on this.

Lydia McGrew said...

jdf, I shd. add that the idea that the Messiah will be the descendant of David is thoroughly Biblical--all over the place, in fact. Not every single Messianic prophecy mentions it, and as I said above, I don't think it's specifically mentioned in the suffering Messiah passages (except in the sense that Psalm 22 is presumably Davidic in origin), but it's very widespread.

Gyan, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the early Christians did expect an eschatological earthly reign (Revelation 20 seems to describe one, though only a temporary one of a thousand years), and I'm sure Lewis is right about “new world” as “new epoch.” However, presumably Jesus is incarnate _now_ and went _somewhere_ at his ascension. I have never seen Lewis address this issue, but it's actually kind of interesting that Lewis's own “Narnian” idea (which philosophers like to play with as well) of different universes in the sense of separated space-time continua would do pretty well for talking about where Jesus is now.

Jeff Singer said...

Last night I printed out your blog post and shared it with my messianic Jewish friend. He took one look at the title and said to me "you mean Messiah ben David and Messiah ben Joseph"? As a Jew who believes in Jesus as the Messiah, my friend is no doubt very sensitive to this question of how the rabbis dealt with the actual suffering Messiah in the person of Jesus. I asked him to read your whole post when he had more time and give me feedback, so I'll let you know what he says.

In the meantime, I love the apologetic angle of this post. Once again, when we have a chance for the writers to create a credible forgery, instead we find the text saying something more mysterious and less flattering to the nascent Christian community than we would expect from a straight-forward fake. Good stuff!

Paul Cella said...

This is excellent, Lydia.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks much, Paul. It's been a fun thing to do. I've been enjoying a series of books by Michael L. Brown, called _Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus_, sent by Eric Chabot. Fascinating books. I'm not saying I agree with every word, but they're chock-full of useful info. And Brown's robustly evidential approach is really good.

Anonymous said...

Nice post Lydia. I think that it would really help the Christian community if more pastors/ministry leaders would teach on messianism. Also, I think it is important that Christians try to put themselves into the mindset of the Jewish people in the time of Jesus. We should try to not come to superficial conclusions about why the majority of the Jewish people at that time period didn't understand Jesus' mission.

Eric Chabot

Neil Shenvi said...

Just a thought. I had to skim the post and the comments as I'm working so I apologize if this question has been answered already. You began the post with the observation that it is incomplete to claim that the Jews rejected Jesus merely because they had an "earthly" Messiah in mind and could not grasp the idea of a "spiritual" Messiah. I think that's a great observation. But I'm not sure whether this line of thought was continued. In other words, why did the Jews refuse to accept Jesus as the suffering Messiah ben Joseph? Why reject him altogether if such a concept was present in their minds?

Here, I had what I thought was an important realization which, as I reflected on it, seemed to bring innumerable passages of Scripture to mind. The Jews expected both Messiahs to be on their side. That, to me, seems like the crucial stumbling block and one that we see reappear throughout the gospels and Acts. The religious leaders rejected John the Baptist because he had the audacity to claim that Jews, not just Gentile proselytes, needed to be repent and be baptized to prepare for the coming of the Lord. The people of Nazareth tried to push Jesus off a cliff when he reminded them of God's dealings with the Gentiles during the time of Elijah. Paul was continually met with rejection and jealously when he preached the gospel to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews.

All of this explains the Jewish rejection of Jesus. And it also explains our own rejection of Jesus. At heart, it is the same, spiritual issue. We think the Messiah, if he exists at all, should be on our side. He should be for us and against those who we don't like. The fact that Jesus has the audacity to embrace our enemies and call us both to repent is what makes us reject him.

I think this explanation not only fits the biblical data but also connects it to the universal problem of sin.

Lydia McGrew said...

Neil, I do apologize that it took me a while to approve your comment. No heavy meaning there. I just was waiting until I had a bit of time to answer it.

To clear up any unclarity in the main post, I didn't mean to imply that the Jews' rejection of Jesus had nothing to do with their looking for an earthly Messiah. What I did mean was that it was somewhat understandable that they _were_ looking for an earthly Messiah, becasue there is a set of definitely earthly-sounding Messianic prophecies that they would understandably have had in mind.

Where blame comes in is, I think, chiefly in the Jewish leaders' ignoring Jesus' signs and wonders, which Jesus himself strongly implied (in response to John the Baptist's disciples) were evidence of his being the Messiah.

Moreover, they (here, to be fair, along with Jesus' own disciples) were not making use of the "despised and rejected of men" prophecies, which were also there in the Old Testament. I am quite certain that on the road to Emmaus and in his other post-resurrection meetings (see Luke 24:26 and 46) Isaiah 53 was one of the passages that Jesus expounded when he explained that "it behoved Christ [Messiah] to suffer" as foretold by prophecy.

As far as Christ's "not being on their side," I'm not sure I see the same pattern there that you see. Certainly he went out of his way to be confrontational with some of the leaders, and his words about Elijah, the widow, and Naaman certainly appear to have been a deliberate insult to Jewish sensibilities and sense of superiority. (So, too, the parable about the vineyard.) But what more often roused them to fury were his claims of divine prerogative, and this was the accusation upon which they ultimately found him worthy of death in the Sanhedrin court. This was blasphemy, and these were, not to put too fine a point on it, fanatics on the subject of blasphemy. Certainly there was envy there as well, as Pilate discerned--the leaders didn't like the fact that the people followed Jesus in such numbers. But I really don't think that Jesus' love of Gentiles was the greatest cause of offense. He himself said that he was sent to the lost sheep of the tribe of Israel, and it took some time and a special revelation to Peter before the inclusion of Gentiles in the Church began to be understood.

Kristor said...

Great post, Lydia, thanks. Don't know how I missed it when you published it. I love this stuff.

It seems clear to me that the tradition that the suffering Messiah would be the son of Joseph arose from the fact that Joseph was effectually murdered by his brothers (in those days, banishment was tantamount to a death sentence), was in the pit, was sold, was lost and then apparently rose from the dead and ruled both Egypt and Palestine (which was at that time a client/satellite/vassal/possession of Egypt). We know that kings of the isles and of Tarshish – Minoan Crete and its Maltese and Portuguese colonies in Tarshish – paid tribute (or maybe just tariffs) to Pharaoh. A further clue: Joseph's coat of many colors is a type of the vestment of the High Priest, and of the veil of the firmament that separated the Chariot Throne Room from the rest of the Temple (from the created order). Like the vestments and the veil on the Day of Atonement, Joseph's coat was splattered with the blood of a sacrifice. From the perspective of the intertestamental Temple cult, the story of Joseph was a type of a High Priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement *and disappearing,* presumably consumed by the glory of the Shekinah present on the Cherubim Throne, so that his blood stained vestments were all that remained to be presented to the King, Jacob. The possibility that the High Priest might himself thus form the matter of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement was a basic feature of the Temple cult. The High Priest's vestment was adorned with little bells at the hem so that the other priests could hear him moving within the veil, and know that he still lived.

Priests were, like Kings and Prophets, all anointed. They were all christs. So the notion that Christ would be both victim and priest was old long before the Incarnation. In the Jebusite days of the Temple at Zion, the High Priest Melchizedek – whose priestly order (predating that of Aaron) Jesus reestablished, to which all Christians are ordained – was also King of Salem. The Kingly and High Priestly sacrifice were coterminous.

In re "lifted up" and exaltation/coronation, one of the things that happened to the sacrificial victim at his consecration was that, as dedicated to the god and therefore the god's property and slave, he also became the god's angel, a local incarnation of the god himself. The victim being the possession of the god, he was possessed by that god in the way we indicate by saying of someone that he is demon-possessed. The effect, so far as the victim was concerned, was glorious theosis and raising to the mountain temple of the god, there to reign with the god (as Metatron, the raised human mystic who had assumed angelic form and stood thereafter beside (meta) the Throne (tron). Thus the tradition that the victim became a star, a god, as with Dionysous (literally, “begotten son of God”). It was the consecration that triggered this process of deification, and the actual sacrifice that consummated it.

Where this connects up with the reigning Messiah is that coronation, like many rites of passage, involved a symbolic death of the old man and the resurrection of his soul as a divine being, the incarnation of the ba'al of the nation. So coronation had a sacrificial aspect (so, for example, did the initiation to knighthood).

Finally, one last riff: bloodstained priestly vestments of Joseph/Shroud of Turin. Empty, both of them. No body.

Bruce said...

It has been suggested that a choice for naming the second/alternate Messiah (what I as a Christian understand as one side of Jesus' Messiahship) comes textually out of Ps.80.

Consider the first two vv, which mention Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh prominently. Consider the lament-nature of the Psalm. Consider reference to the Branch, v15, which is burnt and cut down, v16; and to the Son of Man in v17. Judah or David is unmentioned in the Psalm.

The order of the Psalms has come in for some recent scholarly discussion; and I mention this only because the final ordering of the Psalter is probably just as canonical and theologically relevant as the content of individual Psalms. It is with that in mind, I also point out the close before Ps.80 is Ps.78, which vv67-70 speaks of the rejection of Joseph/Ephraim, and the exaltation of Judah/David. In between is Ps.79, which bewails the annihilation of Jerusalem.

So, is the Josephic Son of Man in Ps.80 the agent of redemption? Then Ps.81 begins as a song of salvation and rejoicing, and again mentions Joseph in v5; by the end astonished at the resistance of the nation to hear the Word, v13. The last vv sound a lot like Mt.23:27.

Lydia McGrew said...

That's an interesting possible reference. But of course the Shepherd of Israel who *leads* Joseph doesn't have to be *from* the tribe of Joseph. I should probably have mentioned somewhere in the main post that "Joseph" or "Ephraim and Manasseh" are sometimes used as a synecdoche for Israel as a whole, harking back tot he time when they represented the ten tribes as opposed to the two tribes (Judah and Benjamin). So "Joseph" represented the larger part of Israel. J. J. Blunt has a fascinating, long discussion in his book on undesigned coincidences of the historical series of events leading up to the north kingdom/south kingdom split. He points out how the ten tribes were at first much more powerful and came to think of themselves as a political unit and how "Judah" (aka Judah and Benjamin) came to think of themselves as a political unit, how the two units came to compete with each other and feel separate from each other, and how all of this happened gradually, just as one would expect in real history.