1902 Encyclopedia > Messiah


MESSIAH (Dan. x. 25, 26), MESSIAS (John i. 41; iv. 25), are transcriptions (the first form modified by reference to the etymology) of the Greek Messias (Mesias, Meseias), which in turn represents the Aramaic _____ (meshiha), answering to the Hebrew ______ "the anointed."[53-1] The Hebrew word with the article prefixed occurs in the Old Testament only in the phrase ''the anointed priest" (Lev. iv. 3, 5, 16; vi. 22 [15]), but "Jehovah's anointed" is a common title of the king of Israel, applied in the historical books to Saul and David, in Lam. iv. 20 to Zedekiah, and in Isa. xlv. 1 extended to Cyrus. In the Psalms corresponding phrases (My, Thy, His anointed)[53-2] occur nine times, to which may be added the lyrical passages 1 Sam. ii. 10, Hab. iii. 13. In the intention of the writers of these hymns there can generally be no doubt that it refers to the king then on the throne, or, in hymns of more general and timeless character, to the Davidic king as such (without personal reference to one king);[53-3] but in the Psalms the ideal aspect of the kingship, its religious importance as the expression and organ of Jehovah's sovereignty, is prominent. When the Psalter became a liturgical book the historical kingship had gone by, and the idea alone remained, no longer as the interpretation of a present political fact, but as part of Israel's religious inheritance. It was impossible, however, to think that a true idea had become obsolete merely because it found no expression on earth for the time being ; Israel looked again for an anointed king to whom the words of the sacred hymns should apply with a force never realized in the imperfect kingship of the past. Thus the psalms, especially such psalms as the second, were neces-sarily viewed as prophetic; and meantime, in accordance with the common Hebrew representation of ideal things as existing in heaven, the true king remains hidden with God. The steps by which this result was reached must, however, be considered in detail.

The hope of the advent of an ideal king was only one feature of that larger hope of the salvation of Israel from all evils, the realization of perfect reconciliation with Jehovah, and the felicity of the righteous in Him, in a new order of things free from the assaults of hostile nations and the troubling of the wicked within the Hebrew community, which was constantly held forth by all the prophets, from the time when the great seers of the 8th century B.C. first proclaimed that the true conception of Jehovah's relation to His people was altogether different from what was realized, or even aimed at, by the recognized civil and religious leaders of the two Hebrew kingdoms, and that it could become a practical reality only through a great deliverance following a sifting judgment of the most terrible kind. The idea of a judgment so severe as to render possible an entire breach with the guilty past, and of a subsequent complete realization of Jehovah's kingship in a regenerate nation, is common to all the prophets, but is expressed in a great variety of forms and images, con-ditioned by the present situation and needs of Israel at the time when each prophet spoke. As a rule the prophets directly connect the final restoration with the removal of the sins of their own age, and with the accomplishment of such a work of judgment as lies within their own horizon; to Isaiah the last troubles are those of Assyrian invasion, to Jeremiah the restoration follows on the exile to Babylon; Daniel connects the future glory with the overthrow of the Greek monarchy. The details of the prophetic pictures show a corresponding variation; but all agree in giving the central place to the realization of a real effective kingship of Jehovah ; in fact the conception of the religious subject as the nation of Israel, with a national organization under Jehovah as king, is common to the whole Old Testament, and forms the bond that connects prophecy proper with the so-called Messianic psalms and similar passages which theologians call typieal, i.e., with such passages as speak of the religious relations of the Hebrew commonwealth, the religious meaning of national institutions, and so necessarily contain ideal elements reaching beyond the empirical present. All such passages are frequently called Messianic; but the term is more properly reserved as the specific designation of one particular branch of the Hebrew hope of salvation, which, becoming prominent in post-canonical Judaism, used the name of the Messiah as a technical term (which it never is in the Old Testament), and exercised a great influence on New Testament thought, —the term " the Christ" (o xP<-°~i"os) being itself nothing more than the translation of " the Messiah."

In the period of the Hebrew monarchy the thought that Jehovah is the divine king of Israel was associated with the conception that the human king reigns by right only if he reigns by commission or "unction " from Him. Such was the theory of the kingship in Ephraim as well as in Judah (Deut. xxxiii.; 2 Kings ix. 6), till in the decadence of the northern state Amos(ix. 11) foretold the redintegration of the Davidic kingdom, and Hosea (iii. 5; viii. 4) expressly associated a similar prediction with the condemnation of the kingship of Ephraim as illegitimate. So the great Judaean prophets of the 8th century connect the salvation of Israel with the rise of a Davidic king, full of Jehovah's Spirit, in whom all the energies of Jehovah's transcendental kingship are as it were incarnate (Isa. ix. 6 sq.; xi. 1 sq.; Micah v.). This conception, however, is not one of the constant elements of prophecy; indeed the later prophecies of Isaiah take a different shape, looking for the decisive interposition of Jehovah in the crisis of history without the instru-mentality of a kingly deliverer. Jeremiah again speaks of the future David or righteous sprout of David's stem (xxiii. 5 sq.; xxx. 9) ; and Ezekiel uses similar language (xxxiv., xxxvii.); but that such passages do not necessarily mean more than that the Davidic dynasty shall be con-tinued in the time of restoration under a series of worthy princes seems clear from the way in which Ezekiel speaks of the prince in chaps, xlv., xlvi. As yet we have no fixed doctrine of a personal Messiah, but only material from which such a doctrine might by and by be drawn. The religious view of the kingship is still essentially the same as in 2 Sam. vii., where the endless duration of the Davidic dynasty is set forth as part of Jehovah's plan of grace to His nation.

There are other parts of the Old Testament—notably 1 Sam. viii., xii.—in which the very existence of a human kingship is represented as a departure from the ideal of a perfect theocracy. And so, in and after the exile, when the monarchy had come to an end, we find pictures of the latter days in which its restoration has no place. Such is the great prophecy of Isa. xl.-lxvi., in which Cyrus is the anointed of Jehovah, and the grace promised to David is transferred to ideal Israel (" the servant of Jehovah ") as a whole (Isa. lv. 3). So too there is no allusion to a human kingship in Joel or in Malachi; the old forms of the Hebrew state were broken, and religious hopes expressed themselves in other shapes.[54-1] In the book of Daniel it is collective Israel that appears under the symbol of a "son of man," and receives the kingdom (vii. 13, 18, 22, 27).

Meantime, however, the decay and ultimate silence of the living prophetic word concurred with the prolonged political servitude of the nation to produce a most important change in the type of the Hebrew religion. The prophets had never sought to add to the religious unity of their teaching unity in the pictorial form in which from time to time they depicted tire final judgment and future glory. For this there was a religious reason. To them the kingship of Jehovah was not a mere ideal, but an actual reality. Its full manifestation indeed, to the eye of sense and to the unbelieving world, lay in the future; but true faith found a present stay in the sovereignty of Jehovah, daily exhibited in providence and interpreted to each generation by the voice of the prophets. And, while Jehovah's kingship was a living and present fact, it refused to be formulated in fixed invariable shape. But when the prophets ceased and their place was taken by the scribes, the interpreters of the written word, when at the same time the yoke of foreign oppressors rested continually on the land, Israel no longer felt itself a living nation, and Jehovah's kingship, which presupposed a living nation, found not even the most inadequate expression in daily political life. Jehovah was still the lawgiver of Israel, but His law was written in a book, and He was not present to administer it. He was still the hope of Israel, but the hope was all dissevered from the present; it too was to be read in books, and these were interpreted of a future which was no longer, as it had been to the prophets, the ideal development of forces already at work in Israel, but wholly new and supernatural. The present was a blank, in which religious duty was summed up in patient obedience to the law and penitent submission to the Divine chastisements; the living realities of divine grace were but memories of the past, or visions of " the world to come." The scribes, who in this period took the place of the prophets as the leaders of religious thought, were mainly busied with the law; but no religion can subsist on mere law; and the systematization of the prophetic hopes, and of those more ideal parts of the other sacred literature which, because ideal and dissevered from the present, were now set on one line with the prophecies, went on side by side with the systematization of the law, by means of a harmonistic exegesis, which sought to gather up every prophetic image in one grand panorama of the issues of Israel's and the world's history. The beginnings of this process can probably be traced within the canon itself, in the book of Joel and the last chapters of Zechariah;[54-2] and, if this be so, we see from Zech. ix. that the picture of the ideal king early claimed a place in such constructions. The full development of the method belongs, however, to the post-canonical literature, and was naturally much less regular and rapid than the growth of the legal traditions of the scribes. The attempt to form a schematic escha-tology left so much room for the play of individual fancy that its results could not quickly take fixed dogmatic shape; and it did not appeal to all minds alike or equally at all times. It was in crises of national anguish that men turned most eagerly to the prophecies, and sought to con-strue their teachings as a promise of speedy deliverance in such elaborate schemes of the incoming of the future glory as fill the APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE (q.v.). But these books, however influential, had no public authority, and when the yoke of oppression was lightened but a little their enthusiasm lost much of its contagious power. It is not therefore safe to measure the general growth of eschatological doctrine by the apocalyptic books, of which Daniel alone attained a canonical position. In the Apocrypha eschatology has a very small place; but there is enough to show that the hope of Israel was never forgotten, and that the imagery of the prophets had moulded that hope into certain fixed forms which were taken with a literalness not contemplated by the prophets themselves. It was, however, only very gradually that the figure and .name of the Messiah acquired the pro-minence which they have in later Jewish doctrine of the last things and in the official exegesis of the Targums. In the very developed eschatology of Daniel they are, as we have seen, altogether wanting, and in the Apocrypha, both before and after the Maccabee revival, the everlasting throne of David's house is a mere historical reminiscence (Sirach xlvii. 11; 1 Mac. ii. 57). So long as the wars of independence worthily occupied the energies of the Pales-tinian Jews, and the Hasmonaean sovereignty promised a measure of independence and felicity under the law, in which the people were ready to acquiesce, at least, till the rise of a new prophet (1 Mac. xiv. 41), the hope that con-nected itself with the house of David was not likely to rise to fresh life, especially as a considerable proportion of the not very numerous passages of Scripture which speak of the ideal king might with a little straining be applied to the rising star of the new dynasty (comp. the language of 1 Mac. xiv. 4-15). It is only in Alexandria, where the Jews were still subject to the yoke of the Gentile, that at this time (c. 140 B.C.) we find the oldest Sibylline verses (iii. 652 sq.) proclaiming the approach of the righteous king whom God shall raise up from the East {Isa. xli. 2) to establish peace on earth and inaugurate the sovereignty of the prophets in a regenerate world. The name Messiah is still lacking, and the central point of the prophecy is not the reign of the deliverer but the subjec-tion of all nations to the law and the temple.[55-1]

With the growing weakness and corruption of the Hasmonsean princes, and the alienation of a large part of the nation from their cause, the hope of a better kingship begins to appear in Judaea also; at first darkly shadowed forth in the Booh of Enoch (chap, xc), where the white steer, the future leader of God's herd after the deliverance from the heathen, stands in a certain contrast to the in-adequate sovereignty of the actual dynasty (the horned lambs); and then much more clearly, and for the first time with use of the name Messiah, in the Psalter of Solomon, the chief document of the protest of Pharisaism against its enemies the later Hasmonaeans. The struggle between the Pharisees and Sadducees, between the party of the scribes and the party of the Hasmonsean aristocracy, has been described in ISRAEL (vol. xiii. p. 423 sq.). It was a struggle for mastery between a secularized hierarchy on the one hand, to whom the theocracy was only a name, and whose whole interests were those of their own selfish politics, and on the other hand a party to which God and the law were all in all, and whose influence depended on the main-tenance of the doctrine that the exact fulfilling of the law according to the precepts of the scribes was the absorbing vocation of Israel. This doctrine had grown up in the political nullity of Judaea under Persian and Grecian rule, and no government that possessed or aimed at political independence could possibly show constant deference to the punctilios of the schoolmen. The Pharisees themselves could not but see that their principles were politically impotent; the most scrupulous observance of the Sabbath, for example—and this was the culminating point of legality —could not thrust back the arms of the heathen. Thus the party of the scribes, when they came into conflict with an active political power, which at the same time claimed to represent the theocratic interests of Israel, were compelled to lay fresh stress on the doctrine that the true deliverance of Israel must come from God and not from man. We have seen indeed that the legalism which accepted Jehovah as legislator, while admitting that his executive sovereignty as judge and captain of Israel was for the time dormant, would from the first have been a self-destructive position without the complementary hope of a future vindication of divine justice and mercy, when the God of Israel should return to reign over his people for ever. Before the Maccabee revival the spirit of nationality was so dead that this hope lay in the background; the ethical and devotional aspects of religion under the law held the first place, and the monotony of political servitude gave little occasion for the observation that a true national life requires a personal leader as well as a written law. But now the Jews were a nation once more, and national ideas came to the front. In the Hasmonaean sovereignty these ideas took a political form, and the result was the secular-ization of the kingdom of God for the sake of a harsh and rapacious aristocracy. The nation threw itself on the side of the Pharisees; but it did so in no mere spirit of punctilious legalism, but with the ardour of a national enthusiasm deceived in its dearest hopes, and turning for help from the delusive kingship of the Hasmonasans to the true kingship of Jehovah, and to His vicegerent the king of David's house. It is in this connexion that the doctrine and name of the Messiah appear in the Psalter of Solomon. The eternal kingship of the house of David, so long forgotten, is seized on as the proof that the Hasmonaeans have no divine right.

"Thou, Lord, art our king for ever and ever. . . . Thou didst choose David as king over Israel, and swarest unto him concerning his seed for ever that his kingship should never fail before Thee. And for our sins sinners (the Hasmonamns) have risen up over us, taking with force the kingdom which Thou didst not promise to them, profaning the throne of David in their pride. But Thou, 0 Lord, will cast them down and root out their seed from the land, when a man not of our race (Pompoy) rises up against them. . . . Behold, 0 Lord, and raise up their king the Son of David at the time that Thou hast appointed, to reign over Israel Thy servant; and gird him with strength to crush unjust rulers ; to cleanse Jerusalem from the heathen that tread it under foot, to cast out sinners from Thy inheritance; to break the pride of sinners and all their strength as potter's vessels with a rod of iron (Ps. ii. 9); to destroy the law-less nations with the word of his mouth (Isa. xi. 4); to gather a holy nation and lead them in righteousness. ... He shall divide them by tribes in the land, and no stranger and foreigner shall dwell with them; he shall judge the nations in wisdom and righteousness. The heathen nations shall serve under his yoke; he shall glorify the Lord before all the earth, and cleanse Jerusalem in holiness as in the beginning. From the ends of the earth all nations shall come to see his glory and bring the weary sons of Zion as gifts (Isa. lx. 3 sq.); to see the glory of the Lord wdth which God hath crowned him, for he is over them a righteous king taught of God. In his days there shall be no unrighteousness in their iriidst; for they are all holy, and their king the anointed of the Lord (xpiffros Kvpios, mis-translation of miT fTK'IO). He shall not trust on horses and riders and bowmen, nor heap up gold and silver for war, nor put his confi-dence in a multitude for the day of war. 'The Lord is king,' that is his hope. . . . He is pure from sin to rule a great people, to rebuke governors and destroy sinners by his mighty word. In all his days he is free from offence against his God, for He hath made him strong by the Holy Spirit. . . . His hope is in the Lord; who can do aught against him ? Strong in deeds and mighty in the fear of the Lord, he feedeth the flock of the Lord in truth and righteous-ness, and suffereth not one of them to stumble in the pasture. . . . So it beseemeth the king of Israel whom God hath chosen to lead the house of Israel. . . . God hasten His mercy on Israel to deliver them from the uncleanness of profane foes. The Lord is our king for ever and ever."— Psalt. Sol. xvii.

This conception is traced in lines too firm to be those of a first essay; it had doubtless grown upas an integral part of the religious protest against the Hasmonaeans. And while the polemical motive is obvious, and the argument from prophecy against the legitimacy of a non-Davidic dynasty is quite in the manner of the scribes, the spirit of theocratic fervour which inspires the picture of the Messiah is broader and deeper than their narrow legalism. In a word, the Jewish doctrine of the Messiah marks the fusion of Pharisaism with the national religious feeling of the Maccabee revival. It is this national feeling that, claim-ing a leader against the Romans as well as deliverance from the Sadducee aristocracy, again sets the idea of the kingship rather than that of resurrection and individual retribution in the central place which it had lost since the captivity. Henceforward the doctrine of the Messiah is at once the centre of popular hope and the object of theological culture. The New Testament is the best evidence of its influence on the masses (see especially Matt, xxi. 9); and the exegesis of the Targums, which in its beginnings doubtless reaches back before the time of Christ, shows how it was fostered by the Rabbins and preached in the synagogues.[56-1] Its diffusion far beyond Palestine, and in circles least accessible to such ideas, is proved by the fact that Philo himself (De Praem. et Poen., §16) gives a Messianic interpretation of Num. xxiv. 27 (LXX.). It must not indeed be supposed that the doctrine was as yet the undisputed part of Hebrew faith which it became when the fall of the state and the antithesis to Christianity threw all Jewish thought into the lines of the Pharisees. It has, for example, no place in the Assumptio Mosis or the Book of Jubilees. But, as the fatal struggle with Rome became more and more imminent, the eschatological hopes which increasingly absorbed the Hebrew mind all group themselves round the person of the Messiah. In the later parts of the Book of Enoch (the "symbols" of chaps, xlv. sq.) the judgment day of the Messiah (identified with Daniel's " Son of Man") stands in the forefront of the eschatological picture. Josephus (B. J. vi. 5, § 4) testifies that the belief in the immediate apjiearance of the Messianic king gave the chief impulse to the war that ended in the destruction of the Jewish state; after the fall of the temple the last apocalypses (Baruch, 4 Ezra) still loudly proclaim the near victory of the God-sent king; and Bar Cochebas, the leader of the revolt against Hadrian, was actually greeted as the Messiah by Rabbi Akiba (comp. Luke xxi. 8). These hopes were again quenched in blood; the political idea of the Messiah, the restorer of the Jewish state, still finds utterance in the daily prayer of every Jew (the Sh'mone Esre), and is en-shrined in the system of Rabbinical theology; but its his-torical significance was buried in the ruins of Jerusalem.[56-2]

But the proof written in fire and blood on the fair face of Palestine that the true kingdom of God could not be realized in the forms of an earthly state, and under the limitations of national particularism, was not the final refutation of the hope of the Old Testament. Amidst the last convulsions of political Judaism a new and spiritual conception of the kingdom of God, of salvation, and of the Saviour of God's anointing, had shaped itself through the preaching, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As applied to Jesus the name of Messiah lost all its political and national significance, for His victory over the world, whereby He approved himself the true captain of salvation, was consummated, not amidst the flash of earthly swords or the lurid glare of the lightnings of Elias, but in the atoning death through which He entered into the heavenly glory. Between the Messiah of the Jews and the Son of Man who came not to be ministered to but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many, there was on the surface little resemblance; and from their standpoint the Pharisees reasoned not amiss that the marks of the Messiah were conspicuously absent from this Christ. But when we look at the deeper side of the Messianic conception in the Psalter of Solomon, at the heartfelt longing for a leader in the way of righteousness and acceptance with God which underlies the aspira-tions after political deliverance, we see that it was in no mere spirit of accommodation to prevailing language that Jesus did not disdain the name in which all the hopes of the Old Testament were gathered up. The kingdom of God is the centre of all spiritual faith, and the perception that that kingdom can never be realized without a personal centre, a representative of God with man and man with God, was the thought, reaching far beyond the narrow range of Pharisaic legalism, which was the last lesson of the vicissitudes of the Old Testament dispensation, the spiritual truth that lay beneath that last movement of Judaism which concentrated the hope of Israel in the person of the anointed of Jehovah.

It would carry us too far to consider in this place the details of the Jewish conception of the Messiah and the Messianic times as they appear in the later apocalypses or in Rabbinical theology. See for the former the excellent summary of Schürer, NTliche Zeitgeschichte, §§ 28, 29 (Leipsic, 1874), and for the latter, besides the older books catalogued by Schürer (of which Schoettgen, Horae, 1742, and Bertholdt, Christologia Judaeorum, 1811, may be specially named), Weber, Altsynagogale Theologie (Leipsic, 1880). For the whole subject see also Drummond, The Jewish Messiah (London, 1877), and Kuenen, Religion of Israel, chap. xii. For the Messianic hopes of the Pharisees and the Psalter of Solomon see especially Wellhausen, Pharisäer und Sadducäer (Greifswald, 1874). In its ultimate form the Messianic hope of the Jews is the centre of the whole eschatology, embracing the doctrine of the last troubles of Israel (called by the Rabbins the "birth pangs of the Messiah"), the appearing of the anointed king, the annihilation of the hostile enemy, the return of the dispersed of Israel, the glory and world- sovereignty of the elect, the new world, the resurrection of the dead, and the last judgment. But even the final form of Jewish theology shows much vacillation as to these details, especially as regards their sequence and mutual relation, thus betraying the inadequacy of the harmonistic method by which they were derived from the Old Testament and the stormy excitement in which the Messianic idea was developed. It is, for example, an open question among the Rabbins whether the days of the Messiah belong to the old or to the new world (_____ or _____), whether the resurrection embraces all men or only the righteous, whether it precedes or follows the Messianic age. Compare MILLENNIUM.

We must also pass over the very important questions that arise as to the gradual extrication of the New Testament idea of the Christ from the elements of Jewish political doctrine which had so strong a hold of many of the first disciples—the relation, for ex- ample, of the New Testament Apocalypse to contemporary Jewish thought. A word, however, is necessary as to the Rabbinical doctrine of the Messiah who suffers and dies for Israel, the Messiah son of Joseph or son of Ephraim, wdio in Jewish theology is distinguished from and subordinate to the victorious son of David. The devel- oped form of this idea is almost certainly a product of the polemic with Christianity, in which the Rabbins were hard pressed by argu- ments from passages (especially Isa. liii.) which their own exegesis admitted to be Messianic, though it did not accept the Christian inferences as to the atoning death of the Messianic king. That the Jews in the time of Christ believed in a suffering and atoning Messiah is, to say the least, unproved and highly improbable. See, besides the books above cited, De Wette, Opuscula; Wünsche, Die Leiden des Messias, 1870. The opposite argument of King, The Yalkut on Zechariah (Cambridge, 1882), App. A, does not really prove more than that the doctrine of the Messiah Ben Joseph found points of attachment in older thought. (W. R. S.)


53-1 The transcription is as in Gessour [Gk.], Gessir [Gk.] for _____ [Heb.], Onomastica, ed. Lag., pp. 247. 281, Bas. b [Gk.] ii. 3. For the termination as [Gk.] for _____ [Heb.], see Lagarde, Psalt. Memph., p. VII.

53-2 The plural is found in Psalm cv. 15, of the patriarchs as consecrated persons.

53-3 In Ps. Ixxxiv. 9 [10] it is disputed whether the anointed one is the king, the priest, or the nation as a whole. The second view is perhaps the best.

54-1 The hopes which Haggai and Zechariah connect with the name of Zerubbabel, a descendant of David, hardly form an exception to this statement.

54-2 See JOEL, vol. xiii. p. 706, and Stade's articles "Deuterozacharja," Z. f. ATliche Wiss., 1881-82. Compare Dan. ix. 2 for the case of the older prophecies in the solution of new problems of faith.

55-1 In Sibyll., iii. 775, neon [Gk.] must undoubtedly be read for uion [Gk.].

56-1 The Targumic passages that speak of the Messiah are registered by Buxtorf, Lex. Chald., s.v.

56-2 False Messiahs have continued from time to time to appear among the Jews. Such was Serenus of Syria (circa 720 A.D.). Soon after, Messianic hopes were active at the time of the fall of the Omayyads, and led to a serious rising under Abu 'Isa of Ispahan, who called himself the forerunner of the Messiah. The false Messiah David Alrui (Alroy) appeared among the warlike Jews in Azerbijan in the middle of the 12th century. The Messianic claims of Abraham Abu-lafia of Saragossa (born 1240) has a cabalistic basis, and the same studies encouraged the wildest hopes at a later time. Thus Abarbanel calculated the coming of the Messiah for 1503 A.D.; he year 1500 was in many places observed as a preparatory season of penance; and throughout the 16th century the Jews were much stirred and more than one false Messiah appeared. For the false Messiah Sabbathai, see vol. xiii. p. 681.

The above article was written by: Prof. William Roberston Smith.

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