Early Jewish Messianism.
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The usage of the term mashiach (Hebrew) or christos (Greek), both refering to an anointed person. Christians are used to assuming that the OT is littered with prophecies about the future coming Messiah, but in fact if we are talking about the use of these precise terms, mashiach is never used in the OT of a future coming messianic ruler. The term is used of those who were Davidic kings in the past or present (Ps. 18.50; 89.20; 132.10-17), but it is also used of Cyrus in Is. 45.1 and in Hab. 3.13 it seems to be used of a presently
reigning king. It is clearly not a technical term in the OT for `the Messiah’, even though texts like 2 Sam. 7.8-16 expressed the clear hope that God would provide a better Davidic ruler. This stands in dramatic contrast to what we find in the NT where christos, when it is not a technical term, becomes almost a second name for Jesus and is used an enormous number of times.
When we examine the so-called intertestamental period, there are a few more references to the Anointed One than in the OT, though the terminology is still infrequent (cf. Ps. Sol. 18.5; 4Qpatr 3, CD 12.23-24, 14.19, 19.10-11; 1 En. 48.10, 52.4). As M. De Jonge has said, even here the term `messiah’ does not seem to have been “an essential designation for any future redeemer” Furthermore we find a variety of job descriptions assigned to the `Messiah’ in these sources. For example, in Ps.
of Sol. 17-18 we do indeed hear about a future political ruler who is also a spiritual leader as well. This reminds us that in early Judaism there was not normally any rigid distinction between a political and a spiritual figure when Jews thought about God’s coming Anointed One. In the Targums there are a considerable number of messianic passages including some rather militant ones such as the Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan where it comments on Gen. 49.11: `How noble is the King, Messiah, who is
going to rise from the house of Judah. He has girded his loins and come down, setting in order the order of battle with his enemies and killing kings...reddening the mountains with the blood of their slain. With his garments dipped in blood, he is like one who treads grapes in the press.’
Generally speaking the `Messiah’ in the intertestamental literature is not portrayed as a miracle worker although by the end of the first century A.D. there was Jewish literature which did so (see 4 Ez. 13-- in response to Jesus’ ministry perhaps?). There is some evidence from this same source that some early Jews believed that Messiah would come and die (rather than reigning forever), but 4 Ez. 7.29 does not suggest that this death was seen as an atonement of any sort, it simply marks the end of a period of history.
One of the more common themes in these few references to Messiah in early Jewish literature, whether from before or during the first century A.D., is that he would come and judge and/or destroy the wicked (Ps. Sol. 17-18; 4 Ez. 12, 2 Bar. 40,72) deliver God’s people (Ps. Sol. 17, 4 Ez. 12), and reign in a blessed kingdom (Ps. 17-18, 2 Bar. 40). This is not surprising in view of the fact that messianism arose in Israel in the context of disenfranchisement during the exilic and post-exilic periods and was apparently
further nurtured during the uneasy period of Roman occupation. As I have said, Messiah was the one looked for who would set the nation back on its feet as an independent entity with Davidic or Solomonic borders.