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

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.

Click here to read Part I of this review.

The next section contains three essays all of which are on the Messiah and Jesus of Nazareth. The first comes from J.D.G Dunn (365-81). Dunn looks at the way in which the historical Jesus interacted with various messianic ideas that were floating about in the first century. Some of these ideas, such as the royal conquering messiah, were ones that Jesus reacted against. Others, such as the suffering righteous man, were drawn upon by Jesus and tailored to his own understanding of his mission. Next up is N.A. Dahl (382-403) who investigates the relationship between messianic ideas and Jesus’ crucifixion and the diversity of christological vocabulary and concepts as applied to him. D.E. Aune (404-22) investigates the question of whether there is any indication that would suggest that the understanding of Jesus’ messianic status was justified by prophetic speech/visions of the earliest Christians in the early decades of the Jesus movement. This is achieved by culling through the early Christian literature for instances of Jesus’ messianic status being confirmed by supernatural means (e.g. Mk. 1.11; 1 Cor. 12.3; Acts 7.55-56; Rev. 1.14-16). In a nutshell, Aune concludes that the earliest revelatory visions of the resurrected Jesus most likely also involved a revelatory perception of his messianic status.

The final section of this book focuses upon the idea of the Messiah in the New Testament and contains six essays. The first contribution is from M.H. Hengel (425-48) and is on the different Christological titles to be found in the NT. Next is D.H. Juel’s (449-60) brief chapter which provides a look at the Christology in the Gospel of Mark. He looks at the concept of “the Christ” in Mark, the “Son of God” as a messianic epithet, and the origins of Mark’s Christology (particularly in how Mark used the tension between Jesus as the crucified Christ and the broader messianic tradition as an interpretive key for understanding Jesus). More thoughts on the Gospel of Mark are found in the next chapter authored by R.G. Hamerton-Kelly (461-93). This was definitely one of my favorite essays in the volume and I will quote a portion from the introduction to show you what the author is arguing for:

The Davidic ideology of Zion produced the concept of the messiah and placed the Temple at the center of the national life. Accordingly, Mark’s presentation links the concept of the messiah so closely to the Temple that one cannot understand the one without the other. By rejecting the whole order of sacred violence the the Temple symbolized, by which the traditional idea of a messiah was defined, Mark rejects the traditional idea. The rejection of the Temple may represent the history of Jesus, who in an act of prophetic symbolism drove out the money changers. In any case, Mark presents the Temple as the focal point for a rejection of the messiah of sacred violence and the revisioning of the messianic idea in a nonviolent form. (461)

The author then proceeds to read Mark 11-16 (guided by the thought of Girard) as the place where Mark clearly redefines the concept of the messiah. What more can one say about this essay? It is on the most important Gospel and had a focus on nonviolence! Good stuff!

The next chapter (494-511) was also one of my favorites and is from the pen of W.D. Davies. This contribution looks at the Gospel of Matthew by providing a broad outline of Matthew’s messianism and attempts to determine its origins. Davies sees in Matthew a messianism in which the figure of Moses is as prominent as that of David, i.e. Jesus is the greater Moses who wrought a new Exodus and brought a new Law. Davies also sees in Matthew a Davidic strand of messanism in which Matthew drew upon kingship ideology of the ancient Near East. These may not be terribly surprising to anyone familiar with the Gospel of Matthew. Though two others strands of messianism which Davies identifies in Matthew are probably not as easily perceived by the lay-reader of the Gospel. One strand is that of Jesus as the messiah who inaugurates a new creation. The other is the Abrahamic strand that attempts to break away from the narrow exclusiveness of the nationalism that existed in the author’s day, to instead affirm a more universalistic outlook which presents Jesus as the Son of Abraham, the Savior of the whole world and not just of Israel.

The final two chapters are that of H. Anderson (512-35) and A. Yarbro Collins (536-68). Anderson’s is on Jewish antecedents to the Christology of Hebrews. He specifically argues that the author of Hebrews enjoyed a worldview in which the principal determinant was Jewish eschatology rather than that of middle Platonism as mediated through Philo. Meanwhile, Collins opts to examine the “son of man” tradition as found in Revelation 1.7 and the language used in the epiphany of “the one like a son of man” in 1.9-3.22. This is done by a thorough look at the language employed by the author of Revelation in those passages compared to earlier Jewish texts that also speak of one “like a son of man”. Collins concludes that due to the author of Revelation using a different Greek form of “son of man” as found in Q and the Gospels, the son of man tradition known to the author of Revelation “has its roots in Palestinian Christianity in the early period after the experiences of the resurrection”, and that Revelation provides us with “an independent development of a very early christological tradition” (568).

Despite the fact that nearly a little over 25 years has passed since this symposium was held the research presented in this volume is still very valuable. Though, needless to say, many steps forward in our understanding of the issues discussed in the book have been taken since the symposium. The overarching point I took away from this book is that it is inappropriate and unwise to speak of a normative stream of Judaism existing throughout the Second Temple period which had a unified view on an eschatological messianic figure. Instead, there were diverse interpretations and beliefs regarding a future eschatological messiah that existed amongst the different streams of Judaism. This in itself was not news to me, but this book sure did a great job at hammering the point home by providing solid support for this in a fair interpretation of the data.

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