Jewish Messianic Expectations (4/4)

The Messiah – Different Thoughts from Pseudepigraphical Sources and Conclusion

     Another important study that bears much influence on the messianic expectations of the first century is the pseudepigrapha.  The Pseudopigrapha literally means “falsely attributed,” and refers to Jewish religious works from 300 B.C. to 300 A.D.  These are works which falsely attribute an author to a work of body he did not write.  The Pseudepigrapha is of theological interest because it shows what the “Jews before and about the time of Christ […] were expecting concerning the Messiah and Messianic times.”[1]  The Mishna is one such document.  It is a compilation of oral rabbinic laws that took written form in the middle of the second century A.D.  However, all scholars agree the Mishna represents Jewish ideas from a much earlier time.[2]  In the Mishna the word “messiah is used in reference to the high priest and it is also used to refer to the eschatological Messiah but only twice.[3]  The Mishna does not mention the Davidic messiah at all.[4]  This is because the Mishna is mostly a legal document and as such is not as concerned with Messianism.[5]

     Another important intertestamental document is the Psalms of Solomon (50 B.C.).  A portion of it reads:

He is the Son of David, who comes, at a time known only to God, to reign over Israel.  He is a righteous King, taught of God.  He is Christ the Lord; He is pure from sin and thus can rule His people, and banish His enemies by His Word.  God renders Him strong in the Holy Ghost, wise in council, with might and righteousness.  This is the beauty of the king of Israel.  Whom God hath chosen to set Him over the house of Israel to rule it.[6]

It also says in Psalms of Solomon 17:22-28 that the Messiah will remove the Gentiles from Jerusalem and distribute the land according to the tribes.[7]  The Psalms of Solomon was probably written in reaction to Roman domination and this caused a longing for a Davidic King.  Even though God is acting on behalf of this messianic king, he is still thought of as an actual ruler, a real king in Israel.[8]  It seems that the Psalms of Solomon is advocating a super-human Davidic messiah and it does not mention a priestly or prophet messiah at all.

The Sybylline Oracles (140 B.C.) describe an eternal kingdom that will be ruled by an apocalyptic king.[9]  In it the Messiah is described as “’the king sent from heaven’ who would ‘judge every man in blood and splendor of fire.’”[10]  This oracle describes a messianic king that will come to the throne and will battle the gentile kings and put them into submission.  Then they will all live in peace and the Jews and Gentiles will follow God’s law.[11] 

The Book of Enoch (150 B.C.) is another document that describes the coming of the Messiah and the kingdom of heaven in apocalyptic language.[12]  It seems in the intertestamental period in the pseudepighraical writings the tradition of the messiah grew to a much more apocalyptic eschatological messiah.  The Jews were no longer looking for a restored monarchy like they used to have, but they wanted a super-human messiah to come down from heaven and right all of their wrongs and establish for them a perfect kingdom to live in.  True messianism is not even present within Judaism until we reach these descriptions in the 2nd century B.C.[13]  He does not see the thoughts of wishing for an ideal king to be messianic.  Only when the more apocalyptic and eschatological messiahs are written about does he see a true messiah.

     Another way to see what the Jews believed about the messiah is to look at what they put their hope in and who they saw as a messiah figure.  By doing that a clear picture can be drawn of how they thought they might be delivered.  1 Maccabees was written in Hebrew around 100 B.C. and tells how the Hasmonean rule brought “national independence for the first time since the end of the monarchy, as a new salvation ordained by God.”[14]  In 2 Maccabees 1:10-2:18 describes Judas Maccabaeus as equal in rank with Moses (2:11), Solomon (2:12), and Nehemiah (1:18ff; 2:13-14).[15]  One reason so much hope was put into the Hasmoneans was because they defeated Jerusalem and fought against the foreigners as David had done in the past.[16]  They were excited to see a militant messiah to deliver them from oppression, much like Daivd had done for the Jews in the past.

     The Septuagint was written somewhere between the first and third century B.C.  It was written by seventy Jewish scholars in Egypt and was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.  The Septuagint changes words around or endings of words to give a verse a Messianic overtone.  By putting autos instead of auto after ana meson tou spermatos autns in Genesis 3:15 it interprets this verse in terms of a future redeemer.[17]  There was “messianization of passages by the translation they received in the LXX.  These messianic interpretations were hardly invented by the translators.  Almost certainly they reflect a traditional reinterpretation of the texts, as part of the development of the messianic ideas.”[18]

The messianic expectation was unique to the Jews.[19]  “While other ancient peoples yearned for golden ages of the past, Israel was unique in projecting golden ages of the future.”[20]  Only after one studies the Jewish messianic expectations in the first century is a person able to realize why most people back in the first century did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.  Isser declares that Jesus was able to create a new conception of a messiah/deliverer which would incorporate the major ideas of the Jewish messianic expectations and was able to be realized in Jesus himself.[21]  He did set up an eternal kingdom, yet it was not of this world.


[1] Alfred Edersheim, Prophecy and History in relation to the Messiah (Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1955), 342.

[2] Craig A. Evans, “Mishna and Messiah ‘In Context’:  Some Comments on Jacob Neusner’s Proposals,” Journal of Biblical Literature 112 (1993), 277.

[3] Evans, 274.

[4] Reuven Kimelman, “The Messiah of the Amidah:  A Study in Comparative Messianism,” Journal of Biblical Literature 116 (1997), 318.

[5] Evans, 275.

[6] Edersheim, 345.

[7] Evans, 277.

[8] Schiffman, 238.

[9] Edersheim, 344.

[10] Edersheim, 343.

[11] Schiffman, 238.

[12] Edersheim, 339.

[13] Becker, 50, 71.

[14] Becker, 84.

[15] Becker, 85.

[16] Becker, 84.

[17] Woude, IX:510.

[18] O’Doherty, 20.

[19] Clement, 11.

[20] Isser, 60-61.

[21] Isser, 66.

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