The Religious A priori


First Century Jewish

Expectations of Messiah

The Diversity of First century Judaism:"The Essenic movment and heterodox Judaism spread throughout the entire Jewish world. Reflecting the power of the 'splinded isolation' that gave rise to the Hasiedan movement.... Pharisaic Judaism and Christinity represent different offshoots of old Testament religion. The one emphasized the Law of Moses but in terms of oral tradition and adaptability of ancient revelation to contemporary conditions. The other places stress on prophecy and fullfillment of promises in terms of the Messianic fulfillment....It is clear that the Essenes were closer to the Jewish-Christian in terms of Messianic expectation and eschatological fulfillment, although they were at different points on the time table. Thus the people of Qumran awaited royal and preistly Messiahs, while in the New Testament the term "Messiah" is clearly of the Dividic King."

--Gallayah Cornfeld, Archaeology of The Bible Book by Book,
New York: Harper and Row, 1976, p. 265.

I. Diversity of Judaism in frist century Palestine.

Most Chrsitian arguments about fulfillment of Messianch prophesies seem unbelievable to skeptics, and that's because we really don't understand the way the early chruch looked at them. We tend to look at them and say "how could so many predictions be fulfilled? The odds are agaisnt it being a natural occurrence." Yet most of these things do not look like prophecies. This is because they did not have the notion of statistical probability. They didn't look at it in that way.They excepted Jesus as Messiah because of his teachings, his miracles and his character, plus some superficial fulfillments such as his linage and place of birth.But the real rason the early church looked at prophsey was to explain his death. Jesus died a shameful death, wehreas the Messiah was expected to reign in triumph. Upon closer examination they realized that there were deeper assumptions and that Jesus fit them, more importantly, his death was in the plan of God for the Messiah. As we look at these expectations which people in Jesus day had for the Messiah,we realize that the stroy they describe is the story of Jesus, right down to his death and ressurrection.

A. Diversity of Jewish Outlook.

It is alledged by Jewish expositors today that the verses sited in the Gospels pertaining to Jesus fulfillment of Messianic prophecy are not really Messianic verses. Hence, the expositors argue, Jesus did not fulfill any propheicies because the Jews did not expect a Messiah like Jesus. They argue the Messianich expectations were never applied to the verses that Christians have sited for 2000 years.

However, ther were many groups, with a diversity of expectations, that even verses wich don't seem to apply at all can be assumed to apply.After all, why whould the Jews of the first century be so daft as to just allow someone to come and tell them what their expectations were? Wouldn't they know? The main point of this page is to argue that he actual Messianic passages and expecations of the Messiah held by the Jews of Jesus day were not only fulfilled by him, but that they actually mark out the Jesus story as it is presnted in the Gospels, with the exception of those verses that pertain to the end of times, but even where those are concenred the Jews expected a gap between the first appearance of the Messiah and his eventual Kingdom.

Rabbinical tradition of Jesus' time was diverse. Judaism today is nothing like it was in the first century."Judaism has not stood still and what may apply for the fourth century may be wholly misleading if applied to the time in which Jesus lived." (Neil, 295). After the temple was destroyed in AD70 several sub-traditions and factions were swept away. Essntially only the Pharaseical tradition survived and became the mainstream of what we know as Judaism today. The Essenic type survived, and became the Hassidem, but they are less "mainstream." The Hassiedics are more fringe, being niether Orthodox, nor conservative, nor even liberal. The groups that were swept away were the bitter rivals of the pharasees. Their opinions are not recognized, and they are forgotten. We can see the efforts of the surviving tradition to change certian facts which favored Christian views. First, the LXX (Greek Translation of the Old Testament) was the favored text for Hellenized judaism before the destruction. It was also the Bible of the early chruch because it favored the Christian views of prophecy. Don't forget, it has already been documented taht the LXX renders Pslam 22 as "peirced hands and feet," and that the LXX is closer to the Dead Sea Scroll. In the early second century Judaism produced another Greek translation, "Aquilla's translation" which replaced the LXX and was taylored to be less Messianic (Steven Neil, The Interpritation of the New Testament).

B. Summary of Messianich Belief in Chronological Development

Glenn Miller's Chr. Think Tank

"The messianic figures range from king to priest to prophet. Indeed, several writers/communities have MULTIPLE messianic figures (e.g. Qumran, Testament of Levi). These figures can range from simple purely-human Davidic kings (e.g. Psalms of Solomon, 2 Baruch, Sibyl 3?) to the transcendent and pre-existent quasi-divine Savior Kings (e.g. I Enoch, Sibyl 5, Testament of Judah) and 'stuff in-between' (e.g. Philo, some of the Qumran materials). And this variety does not know any geographical boundaries. Palestinian sources are represented (e.g. Psalms of Solomon, Testaments) as well as Hellenistic Judaism (e.g. Philo, Sibyl, LXX). Most of the above materials, however, come from the 'unofficial' Judaism, so to speak. As generally being the writings of specific groups WITHIN Judaism, they cannot speak for the mythical 'mainstream' Judaism. The official documents of rabbinic Judaism, however, not only attest to wide usage of messianic titles and figures, but also demonstrates similar WIDE range of expectations. For example, we can contrast the relatively subdued acceptance of Bar Kochba by Akiba as the 'messiah' (a purely national political leader) with the theological discussion of how the Danielic exalted figure (coming on clouds) could POSSIBLY come on a donkey as well (b. Sanh. 98a). So, it is very easy to document a wide range of messianic expectation and, judging from the explosion of messianic materials in the period 200 BCE - 200 CE and the wide acceptance of popular messianic leaders, it is very easy to conclude that messianic expectations were widespread."

C. Christianity emmerged from Heterodox Jewish factions.

quoting from Robert Eisenman (Pof. of Middle East Religions and chair of Religious Studies Department at California state University Long Beach) and Michael Wise (Arimaic, University of Chicago) "So what do we have in these manuscripts? Probably nothing less than a picture of the movement from which Chrsitiantiy sprang in Palestine. But there is more--if we take into consideration the Messianic nature of these texts [Dead Sea Scrolls] we delieniate it in this book, and allied concepts such as 'righteousness,' 'piety,' 'works,' 'justification,' 'the poor, ' 'mysteries,'was we have is a picture of what Chrsitinatity actually was in Palestine....we cannot really speak of a Chrstianity per se in Palestine in the first century. The word was only coined as Acts 11;26 makes clear, to describe a situation in Antioch in Syria in the fifties of the present era. Latter it was coined to describe a large portion of the over seas world that became 'chirstian,' but this Christiaintiy was completely different form the movement..." (Rober Eisenman and Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, Shaftisburry, Dorset: Element, 1992, 10)

Eisenman and Wise go on to point out that the Christiantiy of James' circle was legalistic, law oriented, and that their vocabulary was right out of the Scrolls of Qumran; their concepts, their orientation to life, while the Pauline group was its mirror opposite transforming law orieneted notions into Grace. They then go on and speak of the movement which produced the Scrolls, wheather it be called "Saducess, Essene, or Zealot, terms which they find all have some applicability but all really miss the Mark. The Qumran community was warlike, militant, but bore commonalities with all these groups including the Jewish Chrsitians. The say of the movment of which Qumran must have been a part:

"IT is for these reasons that we felt it more appropriate to refer tot he movmeent we have before us [Qurman] as a'Messianic' one, and its literature as the literature of 'the Messianic Movement' in Palestine. In so faar as this literature resembles Essenism, it can be called, Essene, Zealotism, Zealot';Sadduceeism, Sadducee; Jueish Christiantiy--whatever might be meant by that term--Jewish Chrsitian." (11)..
"In fact what one seems to have reflected in this Qumran literature is a Messianic elite retreating or 'separating' into the wilderness as per Isa. 40:3's make a straight way inth eWilderness for our God.'

Though they differ in many detalis, this conclusion has much in common with that of John Allegro who demonstrated many parallels between the Qumran community and the early Chruch, espeically in their view of the Messiah (Dead Sea Scrolls, Pelican, 1956). There is, therefore, no basis for the charge that the early chruch made up any of its Messianich claims.

Clearly there were many diverse vews and many groups: The Essens, the Theraputae, Ebionites. Elkasites, Sadducees, and many more. Jesus fullfilled totally the expectations of many of these groups, as the Elkasties and Ebionites became Christian.

A great deal of the evidence in this section comes form a priceless work of great scholarship The Life And Times of Jesus The Messiah An old 19th century work by Alfred Edersheim; an English Jew who converted to Christianity and became a Cambridge scholar. Edersheim compillied a list of 458 passages which rabbinical authority sites as Messianich. He uses theTargumim, the two Talmuds, The most ancient Midrashim but not the Zohar. Also the uses a work called Yalkut, a collection of 50 of the oldest writtings in rabbinical tradition. Most, but not all of what Edersheim quotes comes from the second century or latter. But he argues that is still an indication of the some ideas floating around in the popular quarters in Christ's time, especially ideas which show up in the NT since we can discount chrsitian influence upon Talmudic Judaism. But the evidence from Qumran and Psuedapigrapha is clearly prior to, or contemporanious with, the time of Jesus.

D. Jesus understood in light of these expectations.

After their discussion that the "two Messiahs" theory is not really clear in the materials they use, Eisenman and Wise go on to demonstrate that the material indicates the single Messiah that most Jews and Chrsitians would find more familiar. They state: "the very strong Messianic thrust associated with many of the materials of Qumran has been largely overllooked by commentators, particularly the presence in the published Corpus in three different places of the 'world ruler' or 'Star prophecy' form Numbers 24:17 --that 'a star would rise out of Jacob, a Sceptor to rule the world'--in the Damascus Document, the War Scroll, and one of the compendiums of Messianich proof Texts known as the Messianic Florilegium. There can be little doubt that the rise of Chrsitiantiy is predicated upon this prophecy." (18)

Listen to the language of Eisenman and Wises' translation of a passage they call "The Messiah of Heaven and Earth:" He shall release the captives, make the Blind see, rise up the down trodden...he will heal the sick, raise up the dead, and to the meek announce glad tidings..." (23). They point out inthe Damascus Docmuent that "His Messiah making known the Holy Spirit,"(25) is another parallelism overlooked. Internet Jewish apologist have argued taht Jesus bestowal of the Holy Spirit is not consistant with any Messianich prediction, but, clearly Jesus conformed to the Messianic especations of his day.

Next:Page 2, More Expectations

The Religious A priori