Book Review – The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity (Part I)

messiahTitle: The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity

Editor: James Charlesworth

Bibliographic info: xxix + 568 + 26 pages of indices.

Cover: Soft

Publisher: Augsburg Fortress, 2009.

Buy it at Amazon

With thanks to Augsburg for the review copy

This book contains the proceedings of the First Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins held at Princeton Theological Seminary in October 1987. This was an international symposium that would attempt to examine the concept of the Messiah (and related issues) that existed in first-century Judaism and earliest Christianity. There are about two dozen essays in this volume and so I will just provide a brief overview of each one.

The volume begins with lengthy introduction from J.H. Charlesworth (pp. 3-35) that discusses problems that arise with defining messianology in early Judaism, specifically with there being no obvious portrayal that was widely accepted of who the expected eschatological Messiah would be and what exactly it is he would do. This probably isn’t the biggest shocker to those familiar with Second Temple Judaism, though Charlesworth’s presentation of the data supporting the lack of a normative messianology is a good primer on the issue for one unfamiliar with it.

The following three chapters each take a look at how the Hebrew Bible relates to messianic ideas. The first is by J.J.M Roberts (39-51) and focuses on the specific contributions to messianic expectations found in the Hebrew Bible. He looks at passages which acquired a later messianic interpretation e.g. ex eventu prophecies (Num 24.17), enthronement texts that had their original setting in Israelite or Judean kings (Psa. 2 and 110), restoration and dynastic texts  which envision a future ruler not yet on the scene, and postexilic texts. His findings can be summarized by saying that nowhere in the Hebrew Bible can one say the term משיח had already been laden with its later meaning of denoting an eschatological figure. Instead, he sees the expectations for a new Davidic king as being understood in terms of a continuing Davidic dynastic line, though traces the later expectations of a priestly Messiah to Jeremiah 33 and Zechariah’s oracles, with Malachi being the catalyst for further speculations about messianic and prophetic figures. The other two chapters are by J.G. Heintz (52-66) who provides a brief examination of the royal iconography of Mesopotamia and Syro-Palestine, and P.D. Hanson (67-78) who takes a look at messianic figures from the time of the Exile to that of Ezra and Nehemiah.

The next eight chapters are focused upon messianology in early Judaism and early rabbinics. The first contribution in this section, from S. Talmon (pp. 79-115), discusses messianism and the messiah in the thought of early Judaism (by which is meant the period from 1000 BCE – 70 CE). He approaches this task primarily through an examination of messianism as found in the Hebrew Bible and in the Qumran writings. Next, L.H. Schiffman (pp. 116-29) takes a closer look at messianism in the Qumran scrolls, specifically the Damascus Document, the Rule Scroll, the Pesharim, 4Q Florilegium, and 11Q Melchizedek. F.H. Borsch (pp. 130-44) then writes on the origin of “the son of man” title. Of course, since the writing of this essay, there has been a ton of literature published on the “son of man” problem. This does not exactly outdate Borsch’s contribution, as the thrust of this chapter (after providing a brief overview of the various views on the “son of man”) consists of him outlining seven avenues that could perhaps shed some light on the Son of Man issue and thus need further investigation.

M. Black (145-68) then provides a lengthy examination of the messianism found in the Parables of Enoch (1 En. 37-31), particularly as it relates to Christological origins (specifically the “Son of Man” title). Similarly, J.C. VanderKam (169-91) also inspects the Parables of Enoch for messianism. Instead of examining Parables for their relevance to New Testament Christology, VanderKam is focused on the use of the titles of “righteous one”, “messiah”, “chosen one”, and “son of man” in Parables. B.L. Mack’s contribution (192-221) tackles the claim of Jewish “Wisdom” being prevalent throughout early Judaism and Christianity. This is important for anyone interested in early Christology as the Jewish concept of Wisdom has been employed to explain developments in early Christology, due to Wisdom being found in early Christian literature e.g. in the humiliation-exaltation pattern in kerygmatic and hymnic formulations, and the Sophia-Christology to be found in Q and Matthew. The final two essays of this section are by J. Priest (222-38) and B.M. Bokser (239-58). The former is on the messianic/eschatological banquet, a theme that was common in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic thought (though not central to it). The latter examines the concept of messianism in early Rabbinic Judaism.

The next section is comprised of four chapters which deal with messianism in social contexts and in Philo. The first, by D. Mendels (261-75), focuses upon Pseudo-Philo’s Biblical Antiquities and its interpretation of Messianism. The second, by R.A. Horsley (276-95), takes a look at the popularity (or lack thereof) of an eschatological Messiah and messianic movements in late Second Temple Jewish literature. I will quote a brief snippet of Horsley’s conclusion: “It is becoming increasingly evidence that there was little interest in a Messiah, Davidic or otherwise, let alone a standard messianic expectation, in the diverse Palestinian Jewish literature of late Second Temple times” (295). The third chapter, from the pen of A.F. Segal (296-340), uses a sociological approach towards messianism through exploring the concept of conversion. This is seen in the conversion among diaspora Jewish groups, “god-fearers”, Pharisees, rabbis, as well as in how proselytism changed after the war against Rome. Segal then follows this up by utilizing what he considers a key to the relationship between conversion and messianism is to be found in early Christianity, specifically as seen in the Apostle Paul. The fourth and final chapter in this section, P. Borgen (341-61), investigates the concept of the Messiah and messianism in Philo, specifically the relationship between particularism, universalism, and eschatology in Philo’s On the Life of Moses and Exposition of the Law, with analyses of Vita Mos I:289-91 and Praem 93-97, 163-72.

Part II coming tomorrow.

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