Friday, July 11, 2008

New Messiah Stone

Over at CNN there is a good video clip on the New Biblical controversy around what can be called the "Messiah Stone" that appears to predict the death and resurrection of the Messiah. The question of whether or not a dying and rising Messiah was extant in pre-Christian Judaism was been a moot question in scholarship. In a footnote to a forthcoming book on the historical Jesus as a messianic claimant I note that:

It is possible that some Jewish texts refer to a suffering Messiah (Zech 13.7; Dan. 9.26; Tgs. Isa. 53; T.Benj. 3.8; 4Q541 frags. 9, 24; 4Q285 5.4; 4 Ezra 7.29-30; 2 Bar. 30.1; Justin, Dial. Tryph. 39, 89-90; Tg. Zech. 12.10; Hippolytus, Haer. Omn. Haer. 9.25; b.Suk. 52) and several scholars have inferred from this a form of intertestamental messianic expectation that provides the background to the messianism of Jesus and of the early church (Horbury, Jewish Messianism, p. 33; Hengel, ‘Messiah of Israel’, p. 37; Bockmuehl, This Jesus, 50; idem, ‘A “Slain Messiah” in 4QSerekh Milhamah [4Q285]?’ TynBul 43 [1992], pp. 155-69; R.A. Rosenberg, ‘The Slain Messiah in the Old Testament,’ ZAW 99 [1987], pp. 259-61). But if there was a well-known tradition about a suffering or dying Messiah, how could the hopes of the disciples be shattered after Good Friday (cf. Lk. 24.21)? If such a tradition was extant then, on the contrary, their hope that Jesus was the Messiah would have been confirmed not dashed. Likewise, the scandal of a crucified Messiah would dissipate if it was thought possible that the Messiah would suffer rather than conquer. Geza Vermes (Authentic Gospel of Jesus, p. 387) writes: ‘It should be recalled that neither the death nor the resurrection of the Messiah formed part of the beliefs and expectations of the Jews in the first century AD’. Belief in a suffering Messiah (Messiah son of Ephraim or Messiah son of Joseph) may have arisen in response to the failed messianic aspirations of Bar Kochba in the post-135 CE period; see also Vermes, Jesus the Jew, pp. 139-40; Wright, People of God, p. 320; idem, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 488; Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, pp. 540-41; Stuhlmacher, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 27; Schürer, History of the Jewish People, vol. 2, pp. 547-49; Evans, ‘Messianism’, p. 703; Collins, Sceptre and the Star, pp. 123-26.


Douglas Mangum said...

I agree with your conclusion and appreciate the breadth of sources that you note here. Can you give more information about the forthcoming book where these comments will appear? Thanks.

Michael F. Bird said...

It is from a book with Baker called (tentatively): "Are You the One Who is to Come?"

Mason said...

Michael thank you for making available the references you list and your thoughts on the topic. I think your correct, that in the main stream of Messianic thought the idea of a suffering Messiah was not what the people were hoping for but rather a Messiah who would free them from Rome.
However, I am open to the idea that even in Second Temple thought some, like whoever wrote on this stone, may have seen things differently. If they were a very minority position this would explaine why the 12 etc had such a hard time grasping what Jesus was saying on the issue, while at the same time providing evidence that this way of thinking has legitamicy and historical roots in Judaism.

Also, the link was well worth a watch

Michael said...

Dr. Bird,

I think this is my first post on your website. I am curious why Christianity is seen as a mutation arising from the Hebrew culture and scriptures, on the point of a suffering Messiah, when so many OT scriptures delineate this idea. Would it not be more fair to declare that the mutation is in fact the failed recognition of the Hebrews to perceive Jesus as the Messiah, who suffered according to God's written and wise plan—instead of declaring the mainstream understanding of the culture which runs cross to the Word as proper? Am I making this clear enough? I'm not as good with words as yourself and I certainly would not want to be anti-Semitic. I feel like the Jews are brothers and have great warmth for them in my heart.

I have (skim) read a couple of the news reports on the Gabriel Stone which declare that most scholars agree that a suffering Messiah runs cross with Jewish expectations and is unique to Christianity. But is this a fair statement, do you think, since the evidence for the suffering Messiah was rooted in the very story, God's Word, that has so richly leavened Jewish culture?

Undergraduate in Biblical Studies,

Papygraphile said...


Many thanks for sharing your insightful research in this area. By the way, and as always, our friend, Ben Witherington, has recently posted some remarks germane to this discussion on his blog.