Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messianism

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neilgodfrey
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Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messianism

Post by neilgodfrey » Thu Jan 01, 2015 4:41 pm

Occasionally when a reference appears here to popular messianic movements in the first half of the first century I have dropped what some seem to think is the equivalent of a flat-earth argument -- that we cannot be sure there was any such popular expectation in the times of Jesus.

I quote here something I read a little while ago that explains where I am coming from. Hopefully some of us will recognize the idea is not so weird as it seems to sound. It's from chapter one of Judaisms and their messiahs at the turn of the Christian era, "Introduction: Messiah in Judaism: Rethinking the Question" by William Scott Green. Bolding is my own:
These arguments, which are representative of a type, appear to suggest that the best way to learn about the messiah in ancient Judaism is to study texts in which there is none. . . .

The establishment of future hope as the subject of study has three important consequences. First, it makes it possible to collect an extraordinary number and range of biblical and postbiblical texts under a single "messianic" category and to treat their contents as species of a genus. Almost any textual reference to the future, or to eternity, or to an idealized figure - to say nothing of verses with unclear temporal limits - is an immediate candidate for inclusion. The absence of eschatology or of the title "messiah" is no barrier. With this rubric, Joseph Klausner could begin his history of the messiah idea in Israel not even with David, but with Moses!

Second, the use of future hope as the primary taxon of messianism also permits those varied texts to be arranged chronologically and cast as components of a continuous and unitary tradition. Indeed, the notion that messianic belief or expectation originated in Israel's experience and then developed in Judaism is the cornerstone of nearly every major scholarly treatment of the subject. This supposition has been relentlessly applied to the study of the messiah even when the evidence admittedly fails to support it or even contradicts it. For instance, Hesse concluded his survey of messianic references in biblical and postbiblical writings with the following claim:
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to reconstruct a history of the Messianic movement in Israel and post-exilic Judaism from these scanty passages, many of which cannot be dated with any certainty. There undoubtedly must have been such a movement. This is shown by the examples given and it may also be concluded from the fact that Messianism emerges into the clear light of his- tory in later centuries, not merely as a trend that has just arisen in Judaism, but as a movement with hundreds of years of history behind it.
If, by Hesse's own admission, the evidence is minimal and inconclusive, it is difficult to understand how to know that there "must have been" a messianic movement in Israelite religion and Judaism, much less that later versions of it were the product of "hundreds of years of history."

To violate ordinary scholarly principles of evidence and inference with such forced arguments requires powerful external motivations. It would be disingenuous and unhelpful to pretend that a question as significant and sensitive as the messiah has escaped the vagaries of theological interests, both Christian and Jewish.
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MrMacSon
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Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by MrMacSon » Thu Jan 01, 2015 5:04 pm

I'm not sure if this is directly relevant, but here goes ....

Theophany was a feature of Judaism and early Christianity (as Christophany).
A popular Christian understanding of the relationship between Melchizedek and Jesus is that Melchizedek is an Old Testament Christophany.[8] Romanos the Melodist interpreted the figure with whom Abraham spoke in Genesis 18 as being Christ himself.[9]

J. Douglas MacMillan suggests that angel with whom Jacob wrestles is a "pre-incarnation appearance of Christ in the form of a man."[10]

Some church fathers as Origen and later theologians as Martin Luther believed another example is the "Man" who appears to Joshua, and identifies himself as "the commander of the army of the LORD." (Joshua 5:13-15). The standard argument that this was in fact Christ is that he accepted Joshua's prostrate worship, whereas angels refuse such worship [1]; see Revelation 19:9-10. Additionally, he declared the ground to be holy; elsewhere in the Bible, only things or places set aside for God or claimed by him are called holy; see Exodus 3:5. Jewish commentators [2] reading the same text do not accept that this figure was Christ (or even Adonai).[11]

Jonathan Edwards identified an example in Daniel 3:25, when the fourth man in the furnace is described as “… and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God" or "like a son of the gods."[12] The "Suffering servant", from the Book of Isaiah is believed by many Christians to be Jesus. The vision of Isaiah (Is 6) may be regarded as a Christophany. It appears to have been seen as such by John the evangelist, who, following a quote from this chapter, adds 'Isaiah said this because he saw His glory and spoke of Him' (John 12:41).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopha ... brew_Bible
Other aspects of Christology reveal various messianic concepts developed separately or sequentially - Adoptionism was a feature before being made a heresy.

 Hebrews 1:5 shows adoptionist tendencies in that God said, "You are my son. Today I have begotten you," - It is almost a direct quote from Psalm 2:7.

Psalm 2:7 (ESV)
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you."

Some say the doctrine of "the pre-existence of Christ" developed later, probably when adoptionism was made a heresy. Of course some of the so-called OT Christophanies are claimed as examples of the "pre-existence of Christ".

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arnoldo
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Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by arnoldo » Fri Jan 02, 2015 8:24 am

The willingness of certain Jews to attack the Roman Army (eventually leading to the destruction of the Jewish temple) would imply the expectation of divine intervention, if not the emergence of a Messiah, IMHO.

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neilgodfrey
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Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by neilgodfrey » Fri Jan 02, 2015 2:04 pm

arnoldo wrote:The willingness of certain Jews to attack the Roman Army (eventually leading to the destruction of the Jewish temple) would imply the expectation of divine intervention, if not the emergence of a Messiah, IMHO.
There is nothing unusual in historical annals of peoples being willing to attack or dig in and defend against what we can see are impossible odds eventually leading to their destruction. The historical reasons are probably wide and varied. Historically we might expect the events of the Maccabean rebellions to somehow figure as inspirations in this case. There is no explicit evidence that I know of for "popular messianic expectations" until after the fall of Jerusalem and only implicit evidence to testify of such during the final years of the Temple. What is pointed to as evidence even here is very often the product of circular reasoning pointed out by Green.

Besides, there is no evidence of any such willingness to defy Rome until at least a generation or two after the time of Jesus. (Local banditry was endemic across the empire and is not the same thing.)

It's uncomfortable for me to be of this view so I am very willing to change my mind. But I have not yet been shown or recognized the evidence that convinces me.
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Stephan Huller
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Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by Stephan Huller » Fri Jan 02, 2015 2:09 pm

We agree I think that the bar Kochba revolt was inspired by messianic expectations associated with a certain Simon. The only thing that can clearly be said about the first century revolt is that it was associated with heavenly observations and likely the cycle of sabbatical years and jubilees. I don't know that we can prove that it was inspired by someone claiming to be the messiah (although I think it is still likely).

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Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by arnoldo » Fri Jan 02, 2015 2:32 pm

So after the destruction of the Jewish Temple suddenly the Jews were hoping their Messiah would save them?
[wiki]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Messiah_claimants[/wiki]

Before the Common Era[edit]
Judas Maccabeus (167–160 BCE), leader of a successful revolt against Antiochus' Seleucid empire. Many considered him the Messiah because he freed the Jews from foreign domination[4] and many of the events in his life paralleled the prophecies in Daniel chapter eight.[5]
Simon of Peraea (c. 4 BCE), a former slave of Herod the Great, who rebelled and was killed by the Romans.
Athronges (c. 4–2? BCE), a shepherd turned leader of a rebellion with his four brothers against Herod Archelaus and the Romans after proclaiming himself the Messiah.[6] He and his brothers were eventually defeated.[7]
1st century[edit]

Judas of Galilee (6 CE), Judas led a violent resistance to the census imposed for Roman tax purposes by Quirinius in Iudaea Province around 6 CE. The revolt was crushed brutally by the Romans.[9]
Menahem ben Judah (?), the son or grandson of Judas of Galilee, was a leader of the Sicarii. When the war broke, he armed his followers with the weapons captured at Masada and besieged Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem, overpowering the troops of Agrippa II in Judea and forcing the Roman garrison to retreat. Emboldened by his success, he behaved as an "insufferable tyrant",[10] thereby arousing the enmity of Eleazar, the Temple Captain and de facto a rival Zealot rebel leader, who had him tortured and killed.[11] He may be identical with the Menahem ben Hezekiah mentioned in the Talmud (tractate Sanhedrin 98b) and called "the comforter that should relieve".

Theudas (?–46 CE), a Jewish rebel of the 1st century CE, at some point between 44 and 46 CE, Theudas led his followers in a short-lived revolt. Some writers are of the opinion that he may have said he was the Messiah.[12]
Vespasian, c.70, according to Flavius Josephus[13]

John of Gischala (? after 70), was a leader of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in the First Jewish-Roman War, and played a part in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70CE.[14]

18th century

Jacob Joseph Frank (born 1726 in Podolia; died 1791), founder of the Frankist movement, also claimed to be the messiah. In his youth he made contact with the Dönmeh. He taught that he was a reincarnation of King David and the Patriarch Joseph. Having secured a following among some Turkish and Wallachian Jews, he came in 1755 to Podolia, where the Shabbethaians were in need of a leader, and revealed himself to them as the reincarnation of the soul of Berechiah. He laid stress on the idea of the "holy king" who was at the same time Messiah, and he accordingly called himself santo señor ("holy lord"). His followers claimed he performed miracles; and they even prayed to him. His purpose, as well as that of his sect, was to uproot rabbinic Judaism. He was forced to leave Podolia; and his followers were persecuted. Returning in 1759, he advised his followers to embrace Christianity, and about 1,000 converted and became privileged Polish gentry of Jewish origins. He himself converted in Warsaw in November 1759. But the Catholic Church mistrusted his opinions, and he was imprisoned as a heretic, remaining, however, even in prison the head of his sect.
Eve Frank (1754–1816/1817), was the daughter of Jacob Frank. In 1770 Eve was declared to be the incarnation of the Shekinah, the female aspect of God, as well as the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary and thus became the object of a devotional subcult herself in Częstochowa, with some followers keeping small statues of her in their homes.[citation needed] Historian Jerry Rabow sees her as the only woman to have been declared a Jewish messiah.
. . . If so, then perhaps the jews best hope was the Emperor Julian (not listed above) who allegedly wanted to have the jewish temple rebuilt.

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MrMacSon
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Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by MrMacSon » Fri Jan 02, 2015 2:44 pm

neilgodfrey wrote:... There is no explicit evidence that I know of for "popular messianic expectations" until after the fall of Jerusalem and only implicit evidence to testify of such during the final years of the Temple.
This reference to Egyptian messianic claims/expectations ~200BC and Temple destruction is interesting -
The great revolt of the Egyptians (205–186 BC)

Although the Ptolemies were officially recognized as pharaohs by the temples and even crowned by the high priest of Memphis, [and] they supported Egyptian religion by subsidizing the cults and building great temples ... they remained fundamentally a foreign dynasty. Starting from 246 BC there are several native uprisings. During the most successful of these, all Upper Egypt revolted against Alexandria for almost twenty years (206–186 BC) under the leadership of two native pharaohs, called Hyrgonaphor (Haronnophris) and Chaonnophris.

The war against the Egyptians is one of the first historically documented guerilla wars, but at the same time it is a forgotten war because Greek historians, in the footsteps of Thucydides, considered it unfit for history; they needed clear–cut military and political turning points and this war apparently did not give these.

The Rosetta stone, dated 196 BC, is contemporary with the great revolt. It is an honorary decree, in the Greek tradition, dressed up by the Egyptian priests for king Ptolemy V after his victory of another native revolt, in the Delta. The young king is honored as a savior, a victor and a god. The text shows that in the early second century BC the Ptolemies had not only lost control in the South, but even in part of the Delta, close to Alexandria. The royal victory is brought about by a long and difficult siege of the city, contradicting Polybius' statement above that there were no pitched battles nor sieges. Again this is a forgotten war: the Rosetta stone duly celebrates the royal victory in the North, but does not even mention that at this very moment the whole South was in the hands of other rebels.

Text 6
Second decree of Philae: demotic and hieroglyphic text on the outside wall of the mammisi (temple of royal birth) at Philae.
The best edition is that of W.M. Müller, Egyptological Researches III. The bilingual decrees of Philae (Washington 1920), pp. 59–88.
  • The rebel against the gods, Hr–wnf, he who had made war in Egypt, gathering insolent people from all districts on account of their crimes, they did terrible things to the governors of the nomes, they desecrated (?) the temples, they damaged (?) the divine statues, they molested (?) the priests and suppressed (?) the offerings on the altars and in the shrines. They sacked (?) the towns and their population, women and children included, committing all kinds of crimes in the time of anarchy. They stole the taxes of the nomes, they damaged the irrigation works.

    The king of Upper and Lower Egypt Ptolemy, loved by Ptah, has given many orders and showed considerable care for protecting the temples. He stationed Greek troops and soldiers of people who had come to Egypt, who obeyed his orders, being joined with him and being like people born with him. They did not allow the rebels, who had instigated war against him and against his father, to approach (?). His Majesty caused that great quantities of silver and gold came to the land to bring troops to Egypt, money from the taxes of the nomes, in order to protect the temples of Egypt against the impious men who violated them.
The Rosetta stone and the Philae decree are written by Egyptian priests and stress that the rebels destroyed the temples. The reality of this is confirmed by the fact that no temple building by the native pharaohs is attested and by some papyri, which explicitly mention that temples have been robbed. Let us not forget that the major temples played a role in the administration of the land both before and after the revolt: they were simply part of the system. Where the Ptolemies ruled, the temples participated in the royal cult of the Ptolemaic family. The temples received their land, the priests received their privileges and wages from the government. Therefore the large temples automatically collaborated with the Ptolemaic regime.

Ancient nationalism did exist, but it is usually colored by a religious inspiration. In our opinion the names of the Egyptian pharaohs were well–chosen to present a messianic message to the native population

"Hor" (which becomes Har– in compounds and receives a nominative ending Hor–os in Greek) is the archetypical royal god. He is often represented with the white and red crown as king of the whole of Egypt. Of the five official names of the traditional pharaoh, the very first one identifies him with the god Hor. In the first dynasties this was in fact the only name of the king. In mythology Horos is the son of Osiris, the last god–on–earth, who was killed by his wicked brother Seth. Seth cut up his brother's body into pieces and buried these all over Egypt, but Isis succeeded in puzzling together the body of her husband Osiris and to receive a son from her dead husband. This son, Har–po–chrates, or "Horos–the–child", was hidden in the Delta marshes and threatened by Seth, but in the end he vanquished his bad uncle and inherited the kingdom of his father Osiris, succeeding his divine father as the first human king on earth. Osiris himself became king of the underworld.

The story is well–known but one important detail should be added: when Osiris is presented as the divine king on earth, he is often addressed with his second name Wn–nfr, "the good being," rendered in Greek as Onnophris. In the Late Period, when Persians and Greeks have taken over the throne of pharaoh, the nameWn–nfr is often written in a royal cartouche, as if the priests wanted to say: our real king is not Xerxes, Alexander or Ptolemy, but it is the divine king Osiris. It is this divine name that the rebel pharaohs used as their throne name: Hor–onnophris is at the same time Horos and Osiris , Cha–onnophris renders Egyptian Ankh–wen–nefer "Onnophris is (still) alive" or "(long) live Onnophris". In short, the names of the rebel pharaohs contained a Messianic program of a return to the golden age, at the same time when other peoples in the Mediterranean were also expecting their delivery through a Messiah: not only the Jews, who eagerly waited for a king, but also the Romans, as is clear from Vergil's fourth Eclogue, celebrating the birth of a child and the Saturnia aetas, the golden era. Egypt belonged to the same world, where nationalistic feelings were expressed through religious imagery.

Temples are not only religious institutions for the cult of the gods, but also economic organizations and wheels in the administrative machine … the temples were part of the organization of the state. In the South of Egypt the king collects his taxes through the temples: a large part of the land in Upper Egypt nominally belongs to the gods. The farmers who cultivate this land pay part of the produce to the local temple. Here it is used for the cult of the gods (and for the wages of the priests) but the temple itself cedes part of its produce, in grain, papyrus, fine linen etc. to the king. After the revolt things change and now a "modern" Greek administration is set up, also in the South ie. taxes are collected directly through the tax administration, not indirectly through the temples. But even then the temples preserve most of the land they used to have. The public auctions do not take away the land from the temples, but sell the long–term right to cultivate it to the highest bidder. The farmers cultivating temple land felt as if they were still owners of the land, under the general supervision of the temple. But in the new system they pay their rent/tax no longer to the temple administration, but to the royal administration. The king then passes on part of what he receives to the temples, which therefore lose part of their power in the process.

http://tebtunis.berkeley.edu/lecture/revolt
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Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by neilgodfrey » Fri Jan 02, 2015 2:53 pm

arnoldo wrote:So after the destruction of the Jewish Temple suddenly the Jews were hoping their Messiah would save them?
I simply return to my opening post. There is no evidence I can think of that the names you cite are symptomatic of popular messianic hopes at all, let alone in the early first century.

As Green points out -- interpreters have a preconceived idea of what a messianic hope would look like and immediately interpret any indications of those looks into messianism. It's circular.

And yes, the first direct and explicit evidence for popular messianic hopes/expectations is indeed only found after the destruction of the Temple. The Bar Kochba episode is that direct and explicit evidence. The hope was for the restoration of the Temple. No need for such hopes while the Temple stood.

I don't deny the likelihood of such hopes from the 60s on, though I am not sure if the evidence even there is more than ambivalent. I'm much more open on that one. But I see no evidence for popular messianism prior to then. I don't know how the names you list support the view without the fallacy of circularity.

(It has also been noted that some of the talmudic references to "past" messianic hopes being dashed or finding disfavour appear to have emerged after the failure of the fourth century hopes to restore the Temple of Jerusalem, for whatever that bit of info contributes to this.)
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Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by neilgodfrey » Fri Jan 02, 2015 2:59 pm

MrMacSon wrote: In short, the names of the rebel pharaohs contained a Messianic program of a return to the golden age, at the same time when other peoples in the Mediterranean were also expecting their delivery through a Messiah: not only the Jews, who eagerly waited for a king, but also the Romans, as is clear from Vergil's fourth Eclogue, celebrating the birth of a child and the Saturnia aetas, the golden era. Egypt belonged to the same world, where nationalistic feelings were expressed through religious imagery.
As Thompson makes clear in The Messiah Myth that sort of messianism was part and parcel of royal/imperial ideology for all ages and regions of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. It had more to do with political propaganda and popular worship/adoration of the rulers than any "popular expectation of a future messiah".
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Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by MrMacSon » Fri Jan 02, 2015 3:04 pm

neilgodfrey wrote:
MrMacSon wrote: In short, the names of the rebel pharaohs contained a Messianic program of a return to the golden age, at the same time when other peoples in the Mediterranean were also expecting their delivery through a Messiah: not only the Jews, who eagerly waited for a king, but also the Romans, as is clear from Vergil's fourth Eclogue, celebrating the birth of a child and the Saturnia aetas, the golden era. Egypt belonged to the same world, where nationalistic feelings were expressed through religious imagery.
As Thompson makes clear in The Messiah Myth that sort of messianism was part and parcel of royal/imperial ideology for all ages and regions of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. It had more to do with political propaganda and popular worship/adoration of the rulers than any "popular expectation of a future messiah".
Sure; and that passage says "other peoples in the Mediterranean were also expecting their delivery through a Messiah" and " Egypt belonged to the same world, where nationalistic feelings were expressed through religious imagery".

I thought the tie with temple revolts and temple destruction was pertinent, particularly with ties to my other thread-post on Serapis and Christian overlays.

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