For Easter season this year, I will be presenting a series entitled “Yeshua the Anointed” (in conventional rendering, “Jesus the Messiah”) – focusing specifically on Jesus as the Anointed One, or Messiah. Within a generation (less than 30 years) after his death and resurrection, the term Xristo/$ (Christos, “Anointed [One]”) was being applied to Jesus virtually as a second name. Through the generations, right up to the present day, believers have been so accustomed to referring to him as “Jesus Christ” or “Christ”, that much of the original meaning of the title has been lost or forgotten. This began to change, to some extent, in the 20th century, largely as a result of more thorough critical study of the Jewish background of the New Testament (aided considerably by the discovery and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls), and we are now able to gain a clearer sense of what the term might have meant or signified for Jews and early Christians in the 1st century A.D.
The word “Messiah” is simply an Anglicized transliteration of the Hebrew j^yv!m* (m¹šîaµ), a substantive noun derived from the root jv^m* (m¹šaµ), which has the basic meaning to wipe, rub or otherwise apply a substance (such as paint or oil). It came to be used in the technical or ceremonial sense of the application of oil to persons or objects, as a means of consecration. More generally, in ancient Near Eastern culture, anointing with oil was often a way of bestowing honor or dignity upon a person (the use of oil typically being a sign and symbol of wealth), e.g. Psalm 23:5; Amos 6:6; Mic 6:15; Luke 7:46. Anointing with oil was also thought to be a means and medium for healing, i.e. of illness or disease (James 5:14; cf. Isa 1:6, etc); in addition, there was the ceremonial practice of anointing (or “embalming”) associated with burial ritual (cf. especially regarding Jesus’ burial in Mark 16:1; Matt 26:12; Luke 23:56; John 19:39).
Hebrew jv^m* is typically rendered in Greek by the corresponding verb a)lei/fw (aleíphœ), which likewise has the meaning “rub, wipe, smear” (used 8 times in the NT—Matt 6:17; Mk 6:13; 16:1; Lk 7:38, 46 [twice]; Jn 11:2; 12:3; Jas 5:14). However, when referring to the ritual/ceremonial practice of anointing rulers, priests, sacred objects, and the like, the verb xri/w (chríœ) is more common (LXX Exod 30:26; 40:10; Lev 8:11ff, et al); xri/w occurs 5 times in the NT (Lk 4:18 [quoting Isa 61:1]; Acts 4:27; 10:38; 2 Cor 1:21; and Heb 1:9 [quoting Ps 45:7]), with the compound forms e)pixri/w and e)gxri/w in Jn 9:6, 11 and Rev 3:18. The derived noun xristo/$ (christós) corresponds to j^yv!m*—both mean literally “anointed (one or thing)” (i.e. person or object). The related noun xri=sma (chrísma) refers to the application or anointing itself (LXX Ex 29:7; 30:25, etc), and is used in the NT (of believers) only in a symbolic, spiritual sense (1 Jn 2:20, 27, cf. 2 Cor 1:21).
Use of the noun j^yv!m*
The substantive noun j^yv!m* (m¹šîaµ) occurs 39 times in the Old Testament Scriptures (cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 76-77), and always in the ritual/ceremonial sense of a consecrated person (or object):
- Most commonly it refers to the reigning/ruling King generally—1 Sam 2:10, 35; 16:6; Psalm 2:2; 20:7; 84:10 (and Psalm 28:8; Hab 3:13 ?), or to a specific ruler, such as:
- Saul—1 Sam 24:7, 11; 26:9, 11, 16, 23; 2 Sam 1:14, 16, 21 (?), and cf. also 1 Sam 12:3, 5
- David—2 Sam 19:22; 22:51; 23:1; Psalm 18:51; 89:39, 52; 132:10, 17 (and/or the Davidic line)
- Solomon—2 Chron 6:42
- Zedekiah—Lam 4:20 (cf. 2 Kings 25:4-5)
- It may also be used of an ordained/officiating Priest (or High Priest)—Lev 4:3, 5, 16; 6:15
- References to anointed Prophets in the OT are rare or uncertain, but note 1 Chron 16:22, Psalm 105:5, and cf. also 1 Kings 19:16
- Only twice does the term clearly refer to a future, expected figure:
- Isaiah 45:1 (the Persian ruler Cyrus)
- Daniel 9:25-26 (of a military commander or “prince” [dyg]n`])—this famous passage will be discussed in due course
There are, of course, many references to the anointing of kings and rulers, priests, and sacred objects (i.e. of the Tabernacle), not all of which necessarily use the verb jv^m*: e.g., Gen 31:13; Ex 28:41; 29:7, 21, 29, 36; 30:25ff; 40:9-11ff; Lev 6:20, 22; 7:36; 8:10-12; 10:7; 16:32; 21:10, 12; Num 3:3; 7:1, 10, 84, 88; Judg 9:8, 15; 1 Sam 9:16; 10:1; 15:1, 17; 16:3, 12-13; 2 Sam 2:4, 7; 3:39; 5:3, 17; 12:7; 19:10; 1 Kings 1:34, 39, 45; 5:1; 19:15f; 2 Kings 9:3, 6, 12; 11:12; 23:30; 1 Chron 11:3; 14:8; 29:22; 2 Chron 22:7; Psalm 45:7; 89:20; Dan 9:24; and cf. also Zech 4:14.
The concept of anointing and anointed persons need not be limited to the use of the noun j^yv!m* (or the verb jv^m*), but it is helpful indeed to begin with these terms (and/or their Greek equivalents) when analyzing the idea of a “Messiah” in Jewish and early Christian thought.
Definition of Basic Terms
- “Messiah”—As a basic concept, I define the term as: a ruler or leader, specially appointed by God, and through whom God will bring about the restoration of Israel, in a political and/or religious sense. To this definition, several additional or qualifying points should be made:
- (1) The distinctive concept of a “Messiah” is primarily a product of the historical circumstances of the Exile, with the end of the old Israelite/Judean kingdoms, the conquest of the territory (and people), and the destruction of the Temple. Only in the Exilic and Post-exilic periods does the idea of the restoration of Israel come into view, and with it the hope of a divinely-appointed figure who will bring it about.
- (2) This future hope gradually came to be understood in an eschatological context—that is, the appearance of a “Messiah” (or the “Messiah”) will precede, or coincide with, the end-time Judgment of God, and will usher in the Age to Come.
- (3) While a “Messiah” may correspond to a number of different images or ideas (cf. below), the primary figure which developed in Israelite/Jewish thought was that of a Davidic ruler (i.e. from the dynasty or line of David) who will arise at some point (in the future) and restore the kingdom of Israel, subjugating the nations, and inaugurating a (worldwide) reign of peace.
- (4) It is worth noting the virtually all of the traditions associated with the idea of a “Messiah” in Jewish and early Christian thought are derived from a relatively small set of Old Testament passages. Apart from the verses where the specific word j^yv!m* is used (cf. above), these include Gen 49:10; Num 24:15-19; 2 Sam 7:11-17; 22:44-51 (= Ps 18:44-51); 23:1-3, 5; Isa 11:1-9; Amos 9:11; Jer 22:4-5; 23:5-6; 30:9, 21; 33:14-22; Ezek 17:3-4, 22-23; 34:23-24; 37:24-25; Zech 3:8; 4:11-14; 6:12-13; Dan 7:13ff, and perhaps a few others. These will all be discussed at various points in this series. Extra-Scriptural influence on the Messiah concept would seem to be slight indeed.
- “Messianic”: any belief, teaching, image, or motif which relates to, or is characteristic of, the idea of a “Messiah” as defined above.
- “Messianism”: a distinct set of “Messianic” beliefs or concepts which is relatively consistent, and may be expressed as such (with some degree of clarity) in tradition or writing. I do not find the term to be particularly helpful, and it really ought to be used sparingly, as little as possible.
Some authors and scholars, on occasion, will apply the terms “Messianic” and “Messianism” to similar religious-cultural phenomena outside of Judaism—i.e. ancient Persian, Egyptian (in the Roman period), Hindu, Islamic, etc. While one may legitimately consider “Messianism” or “Messiah” concepts under the larger umbrella of the Phenomenology of Religion—and, admittedly, there are any number of parallels in other cultures—it is best to reserve “Messiah” and “Messianic” specifically for Jewish (and early Christian) thought. The only (partial) exception is that I would, without hesitation, include Samaritan beliefs (associated with a future/coming Taheb [bht]) as “Messianic”.
Sources for Messianic thought (in the 1st century A.D.)
I would group these into four categories:
- The Old Testament Scriptures—for a list of the most relevant passages, see above.
- The Dead Sea Scrolls (from Qumran)—These texts span the period roughly 150 B.C. to 50 A.D., with the majority to be dated somewhere in the 1st century B.C. It is generally assumed that the scrolls found in the various caves belonged to a Community which resided at the site of Khirbet Qumrân. The corpus represented by the scrolls comprises a wide range of writings: documents related to the organization of the Community, copies of Scripture, commentaries, pseudepigrapha and other interpretive treatments of Scripture, and much more. A number of texts contain definite eschatological and/or Messianic passages, which will be introduced and discussed throughout this series.
- Other Jewish writings c. 250 B.C.–100 A.D.—These include:
- Pseudepigraphic works with an apocalyptic and/or eschatological emphasis, especially—
- The Psalms of Solomon (mid-late 1st century B.C. [sometime after 63 B.C.]), esp. the 17th and 18th psalms
- The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, which appears to be a Christian expansion (or adaptation) of earlier Jewish source material (mid-2nd century B.C.?). The presumed Christian additions likely date from the early/mid-2nd century A.D. The Qumran text 4QTLevi is related in some way to the Testament of Levi.
- The Sibylline Oracles (esp. portions of Books 3 and 5), which contain much Jewish material (variously dated from the mid-2nd century B.C. to the late 1st century A.D.), along with Christian additions and adaptation.
- The Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), date uncertain, probably early-mid 1st century A.D.
- The Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch), late 1st century A.D.
- The deutero-canonical 2/4 Esdras (or “4 Ezra”), late 1st century A.D.
- Several passages in the books of Jubilees and Sirach (both typically dated early/mid-2nd century B.C.)
- Philo of Alexandria shows little interest in eschatology or Messianic ideas (but cf. On Rewards and Punishments §§165-9). As for Josephus, his pro-Roman viewpoint made him averse to popular Messianic expectation, but he does bear witness to several would-be “Messiah”-type figures who appeared and had some influence (Antiquities 18.85; 20.97, 169-172; War 7.437ff). That Messianic expectation was relatively widespread is indicated by Josephus’ report of a prophecy that a world-ruler would come out of Judea (War 6.312ff, and cf. Tacitus, Histories 5.13.2; Suetonius, Vespasian 4.5).
- We might also include texts and inscriptions associated with the Bar-Kokhba rebellion (132-135 A.D.)
- Pseudepigraphic works with an apocalyptic and/or eschatological emphasis, especially—
- Later Jewish Literature, from the 2nd century A.D. on into the middle ages—these writings may contain earlier traditions, but one must be extremely cautious about trying to read them back into the time of Jesus. There is a wide range of material, including:
- Later Pseudepigrapha, such as so-called “Hebrew Enoch” (3 Enoch)
- The Targums, Aramaic translations of Scripture which are often highly interpretative and expansive
- Traditions contained in the Midrash and Talmuds
- Collections of Midrashim (such as the Midrash Rabbah) and other Rabbinic writings
j^yv!m* in Jewish writings 1st-century B.C./A.D.
It is instructive to list the relevant passages where the noun j^yv!m* (m¹šîaµ), or the corresponding Greek xristo/$ (christós) etc., is used in Jewish writings of the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D. (including the New Testament). For Old Testament passages using j^yv!m, cf. above.
The Dead Sea (Qumran) Texts (cf. “Qumran-Messianism”, pp. 191-4), including the so-called “Damascus Document” which, in addition to the fragments from Qumran (QD), is attested also in later versions or copies found previously in Cairo [CD]:
- It is often used of a political/military leader (presumably, if not explicitly, Davidic):
- “Anointed (One) of Israel”
CD 12:23-13:1; 14:19 (= 4Q266 10 i 12); 19:10-11; 20:1
1QS 9:11 (passage apparently missing from 4Q259 1 iii 6)
1QSa 2:14-15, 20-21; and also 4Q382 16 2
- “Anointed (One)”
1QSa 2:11-12; 4Q252 5:3-4; 4Q381 15 7; 4Q458 2 ii 6
- “Anointed (One) of Israel”
- It is used similarly of a priestly leader (Priest/High-priest):
- “Anointed (One) of Aaron”
CD 12:23-13:1; 14:9; 19:10-11; 20:1; 1QS 9:11 (all parallel to “Anointed [One] of Israel”)
- “Anointed Priest”
4Q375 1 i 9; 4Q376 1 i 1
- “Anointed (One) of Aaron”
- It frequently refers to the (historical) Prophets, always in the plural (“Anointed Ones”):
- CD 2:12; 5:21-6:1 (= 4Q267 2 6 / 6Q15 3 4); 1QM 11:7-8; 4Q270 2 ii 13-14; 4Q287 10 13; 4Q521 8 9
- And similarly of Moses: 4Q377 2 ii 4-5, and cf. CD 5:21f
- It is used of an Elijah-like Prophet figure in 4Q521 1 ii 1, 7 3 (drawing upon Isa 61:1ff and Ps 146)
- It is used of an Anointed “herald” (r?bm) in 11QMelch 2:18, referring specifically to Daniel 9:25
Pseudepigrapha (cf. “Qumran-Messianism”, pp. 29-43)—the key passages are:
- Psalms of Solomon 17:32; 18:5, 7 (and cf. the context of 17:21-33)
- The Similitudes of Enoch—1 Enoch 48:10; 52:4 [Ethiopic]
- The Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch) 29:3; 30:1; 39:7; 40:1; 70:9; 72:2 [Syriac]; and note esp. the context of chs. 72-74.
- 2/4 Esdras (4 Ezra) 7:28-29ff (throughout ch. 7); 11:37-12:34; and see also 13:3-14:9
New Testament—here I list out only those verses where xristo/$ is clearly used in the general sense of an expected (future or end-time) figure; square brackets indicate references which are slightly less certain, or which may be colored more by early Christian belief about Jesus. Naturally enough, nearly all of these come from the Gospels and Acts.
- Mark 8:29; 12:35; 13:21; 14:61; 15:32 (and parallels in Matt/Luke)
- Luke 3:15; 4:41; 23:39; [24:26, 46]
- Matthew 2:4; [11:2; 24:5]
- John 1:20, 25; 3:28; 4:29; 7:26-27, 31, 41-42; 10:24; 11:27; 12:34; [20:31]
- Acts [2:31]; 3:20; 5:42; [8:5]; 9:22; 17:3; 18:5, 28; [26:23]
- [Romans 9:5]
- 1 John 2:22; 5:1
In John 1:41; 4:25, j^yv!m* is transliterated (as Messi/a$), rather than translated by Xristo/$.
Messianic Figures or Types
I would highlight five distinct figures or types associated with the Messiah-concept in Jewish and early Christian tradition:
- The Davidic King—a political/military ruler, usually understood to be a ‘descendent’ of David, though this does not necessarily mean biological descent.
- The True or Ideal Priest—a priestly ‘descendent’ of Levi/Aaron who will oversee the religious restoration of Israel; this figure is associated especially with the Messianic beliefs and expectations of the Qumran Community.
- The Coming Prophet—an end-time miracle-working and/or teaching prophet whose appearance will precede the Judgment of God; there are two strands of tradition which developed:
(a) A Moses-figure (from Deut 18:15-19)
(b) An Elijah-figure (from Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6)
- A Teacher of Righteousness/Holiness—who will bring divine revelation and instruction, especially with regard to a proper understanding of the Law (Torah); a distinctive feature of the Qumran texts.
- A Heavenly/Angelic Deliverer—associated as well with the end-time Judgment of God; best known in terms of the “Son of Man” concept, as developed (it would seem) from the brief reference in Daniel 7:13f.
These are best understood as specific types or roles—it may be possible for a single person or figure to fulfill more than one role. As we shall see, all five of these can be seen as being fulfilled by Jesus in various ways, and this as been expressed at different points throughout the history of Christian belief and tradition.
Outline for this Series
Here is the outline I will be following for this series:
- Part 1: Introduction
- Part 2: The Coming Prophet
- Part 3: The Coming Prophet: Moses and Elijah
- Part 4: The Teacher of Righteousness
- Part 5: The Kingdom of God
- Part 6: The Davidic King: Overview and Background
- Part 7: The Davidic King: Detailed Analysis
- Part 8: The Son of David
- Part 9: The True Priest
- Part 10: The Son of Man
- Part 11: The Death and Resurrection of Jesus
- Part 12: Messiah and the Son of God
In each article I will attempt to examine: (a) the Old Testament background, (b) Jewish believers or traditions which are likely to have been in existence during the 1st century A.D., (c) how it relates or applies to Jesus at the historical level and in Gospel tradition, and (d) how it further was understood in early Christian thought.
Bibliographic Note: There are many books and articles which survey Messianic beliefs in the Qumran Texts (Dead Sea Scrolls); I found three to be especially useful, which I will be citing frequently during this series:
* John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] 1995)—referenced as “Collins”.
* Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins ([Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature], Eerdmans: 2000), esp. pp. 73-110—referenced as “Fitzmyer”.
* James H. Charlesworth, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Gerbern S. Oegema, editors, Qumran Messianism: Studies on the Messianic Expectations in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Mohr Siebeck: 1998)—referenced as “Qumran-Messianism”.