In my recent review of “Is This Not the Carpenter” I discussed (in part II here) the legitimacy of calling the Sumerian goddess Inanna a “crucified god.” While I still think that such an outlandish characterization is disingenuous at best, mendacious parallelomania propaganda at worst, I neglected to mention the fuller context in which this snippet was wrenched from. The discussion of Inanna occurred within a discussion on whether the idea of a suffering, even crucified, messianic figure was already expected by some Jews or whether it was something novel to the first “Christians.”
While this may not seem directly connected to Jesus mythicism, it is in that some mythicists seemingly assert that if a belief that the messiah was going to die was already in vogue with some Jews before Christianity came along, then this undercuts the argument that a belief in a crucified messiah could have only arisen in Judaism if a person considered to be the messiah really was crucified. It boils down to this question: is it probable or improbable that first-century Jews would invent the claim that the messiah had been executed in the most humiliating and dishonorable way possible?
The prevailing attitude towards this issue is that first-century Jews were not expecting an executed messiah. This view can be seen in Bart Ehrman’s recent book which deals with Jesus mythicism:
Who would make up the idea of a crucified messiah? No Jew that we know of. And who were Jesus’s followers in the years immediately after his death? Jews living in Palestine. (Did Jesus Exist, 163)
In contrast to this position, co-editor and contributor to “Is This Not the Carpenter?”, Tom Verenna, says the following:
When scholars rely upon the probability of the historicity and crucifixion because they cannot understand how a Jew in antiquity would worship a crucified Messiah, they are really only showing how little they understand the socio-cultural landscape of the ancient world [...] Knowing now that the Messiah must undergo a humiliating, brutal and painful death was expected in some Jewish circles, and recognizing that such a motif had existed and been a part of Jewish culture prior to Christianity, it can be stated with some relative certainty that such a view would not have shocked or disgusted his audience the way some scholars believe it would. (Is This Not the Carpenter?, 143-44)
It was just prior to this that Verenna used the fantastical example of Inanna as being the precedent for how a Jew could worship a crucified messiah, because apparently this story of the Inanna can be shown to have “permeated Jewish society” based on Ezekiel 8.14. Unfortunately for the reader, there are no references provided for further support of the idea that the idea of a suffering and dying Messiah already existed in Judaism. Well, actually, there was a reference in a footnote to a book written by Richard Carrier in which he says that Daniel 9 reveals that “some Jews plainly expected a Messiah to be killed, even though innocent, and thus fail to rout Judea’s conquerors.” So I guess I should rephrase and say there was no legit references provided for further support. For more examples of Carrier displaying his incompetence in regards to biblical studies, I can only refer the reader to read Thom Stark’s brilliant and lucid critiques of Carrier’s attempt to demonstrate there was a belief in Judaism of a dying Messiah before Christianity came along (here, here, here, and here). Also, after quoting Carrier, Verenna then goes on to say that:
Some might argue that Dan. 9 is a reference to the High Priest, but all one needs to do is read 11Q13 (Melch) 2:18-20; the author is interpreting Isaiah via Daniel 9, discussing its messianic component which suggests that at least some early Jewish groups saw it as a messianic reference. (143, fn 40).
There is a faulty leap of logic occurring here. While the author of 11Q13 does connect Daniel 9 with Isaiah 52, what does this prove? Nothing at all about a dying messiah. I assume that Verenna has in mind the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53 when he speaks of the “messianic component” of Isaiah, yet this would be strange considering that there is no mention or allusion to the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 in 11Q13. If the reader desires an in-depth treatment of 11Q13, Daniel 9, and Isaiah, then I strongly recommend reading the critiques from Thom Stark I gave above. Edited to add: On second thought, I think Verenna may be saying that the presence of Isaiah in 11Q13 means that the quote from Daniel 9 is being interpreted messianically, in which case we still need to take a giant leap over a great chasm to say that 11Q13 is discussing a dying messiah. There is just simply no grounds for finding a dying messiah in 11Q13.
Was there any precedent for the idea of a suffering and dying Messiah in pre-Christian Judaism? Verenna provides the example of Inanna, saying she is an example of a pre-Jesus “crucified god”, and that knowledge of Inanna had already “permeated Jewish society long before Christianity.” A claim which is, of course, based solely on Ezekiel 8.14! This seems like quite a farfetched claim. Ezekiel 8.14 is evidence that the story of a “crucified” Inanna had permeated Jewish society way before Jesus? Really? Moreover, pointing to dying-and-rising deities is not the most felicitous piece of data considering that the earliest believers in Jesus did not even believe that he was god! Paul and other followers weren’t preaching about a crucified god! Instead, they were preaching about a crucified messiah who was resurrected by God and exalted by him as the son of God (see Rom. 1.3-4, Acts 2.36 and 13.32-33). Big difference. So instead of relying upon a supposed dying-and-rising Sumerian goddess, for which there really is no evidence that first-century Jews knew of her “crucifixion” and “ascension”, why not discuss the more pertinent data like, say, any evidence within Second Temple Judaism for a belief in a dying Messiah.
Is there evidence of a dying Messiah in Judaism prior to Jesus? Not that I know of. I can see, though, a potential for such a belief in the motif of a suffering righteous man (see e.g. Daniel 7, Wisdom of Solomon 2-3, 2 Maccabees 7). And this theme may have been actively pursued by some Jews in view of the Roman occupation. So even though we don’t see a concrete manifestation of a dying messiah in pre-Christian Jewish texts, it doesn’t mean it would have necessarily been very un-Jewish. Indeed, Jesus may have even anticipated his death as an eschatologically intensified illustration of Maccabean martyr theology. But without actual evidence that an expectation for a suffering and dying Messiah was being held by some Jews, I’m gonna have to side with Ehrman in that the concept of a dying messiah was a Christian innovation. All hail the criterion of dissimilarity!