Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messianism

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
TedM
Posts: 851
Joined: Sun Oct 13, 2013 11:25 am

Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by TedM » Sat Jan 10, 2015 11:43 am

Sheshbazzar wrote: Messianism arises in response to a perceived need. Few Jews of today, relatively wealthy and unmolested, feel any such need, and do not pray for nor seek the Messiah.
May that state long continue.

Sheshbazzar
That makes sense, but I certainly wasn't talking about today. I wonder when from the 1st century backward you might say there was no or little perceived need? I am under the impression that they were fairly constantly in turmoil during the 1000 years prior to the 1st century.

User avatar
neilgodfrey
Posts: 3578
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 4:08 pm

Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by neilgodfrey » Sat Jan 10, 2015 11:44 am

Sheshbazzar wrote:Jewish desire for a delivering Messiah King waxed and waned over the ages in proportion to their economic situation, and amount of oppression and persecution they were being subjected to. . .
This is the hypothesis one hears. Is there evidence to support it?
vridar.org Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science

outhouse
Posts: 3573
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 6:48 pm

Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by outhouse » Sat Jan 10, 2015 12:04 pm

neilgodfrey wrote:
outhouse wrote: Judaism so perverted by Hellenism, most do not understand the depth of diversity here.
Daniel Boyarin remarks, iirc in Border Lines, that most scholars of ancient Judaism nowadays see Judaism as another form of Hellenism.
It was. I agree.

But I also had divisions along Hellenistic lines. We even have noted divisions in Pharisaic traditions.


Zealots were against Hellenism, by my opinion.


I understand the current view to not divide Hellenism, but I still hold out that it had not permeated evenly, everywhere.

"If" Antipas due to Sepphoris, placed a heavy tax burden on the peasant class, there would have been steep divisions In Galilee between the rich living in Hellenistic opulence, and Aramaic Jews following a more pious and traditional Judams.

I also think there was a steep division of Hellenist in the temple elite, as no one dispute the Hellenistic Sadducees were hated.

outhouse
Posts: 3573
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 6:48 pm

Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by outhouse » Sat Jan 10, 2015 12:06 pm

Stephan Huller wrote:
outhouse: Judaism so perverted by Hellenism, most do not understand the depth of diversity here.
I am not so sure to what degree Judaism was 'perverted' by Hellenism given the level of Persian influence over the oldest strata of the Torah.

Well how about Hellenist just swearing off pagan deities, and that is all that was required to be a Jew , defined in Hellenistic circles ?

Multi cultural people had multiple traditions.

User avatar
neilgodfrey
Posts: 3578
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 4:08 pm

Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by neilgodfrey » Sat Jan 10, 2015 12:22 pm

I have been reminded of William Horbury's books.

From Messianism among Jews and Christians, 2003 -- I don't feel so lonely when I read here that the question has been raised and debated before. I'd be interested in following up some of the train of thought signposted here, especially with the tantalising statements about some scholars arguing one way one time and then on the opposite side another ......

pages 2-3
The importance of messianism in Judaism before and during the rise of Christianity was repeatedly both doubted and affirmed towards the end of the twentieth century. In modern biblical study this difference of opinion can be traced back continuously .... at least as far as the early nineteenth-century doubts of Bruno Bauer on the very existence of a pre-Christian messianism.

The doubts expressed by Bauer and others gained force among many who were personally more attached than Bauer was to Christian tradition, partly perhaps because a judgment on these lines could readily fit the dissociation of Christ from the Old Testament in the influential Christology of Friedrich Schleiermacher. Bauer himself had stated his doubts fully in 1841 in response to the ascription of vast mythopoeic influence to messianism by D. F. Strauss in his life of Jesus; among those who took them up later was one who urged the necessity of a knowledge of Judaism and Jewish scholarship for New Testament study, H. J . Holtzmann, although in the end he came to hold that messianic hope was widespread in the Herodian age.

Bauer's doubts were rediffused, however, in the twentieth century, through the fascinating portrait of him in Albert Schweitzer's Quest of the Historical Jesus. Bauer had urged, on lines still often followed, that messianism left no clear traces in the Septuagint, the Old Testament Apocrypha, or Philo; apart from Daniel, then, a book which would also later be seen as ambiguous in this regard, it appeared only in post-Christian and possibly interpolated apocalypses like the Parables of Enoch and 2 Esdras, and in the Targums, which again were not so early as to give clear attestation of pre-Christian views. He ironically noted that Strauss' sceptical indication of messianic myth as the staple of the gospel narratives itself depends on the venerable Christian assumption that there fulfilled by Christ.

Questions have once again been put to this assumption in the later years now under review, wide-rangingly in J . Becker's Old Testament study (1977, ET 1980), and on particular aspects by many contributors to the collective volumes on messianism edited by J. Neusner, W. S. Green and E. S. Frerichs (1987) and by J . H. Charlesworth (1992); but some scholars have also been consistently re-emphasizing the importance of Jewish messianism as a factor in the rise of Christianity, for example J . C. O'Neill (1980, 1995, 2000) and N. T. Wright (1991, 1992, 1996), on the historical Jesus and New Testament theology, and C. C. Rowland (1982,1985,1998) and A. N. Chester (1991, 1992, 1998) on Christian origins. One encouragement to this approach was the long-term influence of Gershom Scholem's collected essays on messianism and his great book on Shabbethai Zebi, which had appeared in English in 1971 and 1973 respectively (see below).

Second Temple Period -- p. 40ff
. . . more strongly messianic texts in the L X X and the Pseudepigrapha.

These include the L X X Pentateuch in the third century; the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and the L X X Isaiah,
Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Twelve Prophets and Psalms in the second; and the Messianic Apocalypse (4Q521), the Psalms of Solomon and relevant parts of the Third Sibylline book in the first century B.C. Messianism is then important, from the time of Herod the Great onwards, in the series of apocalypses beginning with the Parables of Enoch (1 En. 3 7 - 71, not attested at Qumran) and including, after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, the apocalypses of Ezra (2 Esd. 3-14) and Baruch (2 Baruch, the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch); two further messianic works, the Fifth Sibylline book and the Christian Revelation of St. John the Divine, should be viewed together with this series.

The widespread silence of the Apocrypha on messianism, together with the ambiguity of Chronicles in this respect, has encouraged the view that a 'messianological vacuum' can be identified in Jewish literature between the fifth and the second centuries. This view is already questioned by the third-century material noted in the preceding
paragraph. The L X X Pentateuch, in particular, presents a messianic interpretation of the prophecies of Jacob and Balaam which is so strongly developed that it seems likely to be significant for the fourth century as well as the third, with regard to Chronicles and other possibly messianic material from the later Persian period. Yet part of the strength of the 'vacuum' view lies in its association of silence on messianism, even if the extent of this silence is debatable, with a theocentric emphasis in post-exilic Israelite religion.

This emphasis on 'God who lives for ever, and his kingdom' (Tob. 13.1) has sometimes been understood as involving an opposition to earthly Israelite monarchy which inspired the reapplication of messianic promises to the nation as a whole or to God himself, for instance in Deutero-Isaiah on the 'sure mercies of David' (Isa. 5 5 . 3 - 4) or Zech. 9.9-10 on the lowly king.17 Despite the close links of kingship with Israel and the kingship of God, the reapplication envisaged by exegetes in instances such as these is not beyond question. A more clearly marked aspect of theocentrism is the readiness to portray the deity himself as a warrior king which is evident throughout the Second Temple period; the two Songs of Moses (Exod. 15; Deut. 32) evince this outlook in a manner which will have been particularly influential, as is illustrated below, given their incorporation into the Pentateuch.
And the discussion continues. In the section on the second century the evidence and other historical factors are quite different from those available for the Second Temple era.

Are any of Holtzmann's works in English? I'd be most interested to see his "for" and then "against" arguments. Also Bauer's 1841 case.
vridar.org Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science

User avatar
neilgodfrey
Posts: 3578
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 4:08 pm

Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by neilgodfrey » Sat Jan 10, 2015 12:38 pm

Another from William Horbury, this time from Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ, 1998, p. 63
To summarize: consideration of the biblical writings of the Persian period, and then of three bodies of Jewish literature from the time of Alexander the Great onwards, has led to some conclusions which suggest the prevalence of messianism throughout the Second-Temple period. They may be briefly tabulated as follows.

(a) Biblical texts of the Persian period evince a rich complex of messianic hopes. Their impetus and influence were enhanced by the editing and collection of the Old Testament in this period.

(b) Particularly good signs of the centrality and widespread importance of messianic hopes soon after Alexander the Great are the messianic interpretations of the Pentateuch in the L X X , extending this element in the Hebrew text, linking the Pentateuch with the Prophets, and showing that messianic prophecy was thought to be part and parcel of the supremely
authoritative book of Moses; there is then an abundance of such interpretation in the L X X Prophets and Psalms.6 0

(c) The silence of many probably second-century books of the Apocrypha on messianic hope, during a period when such hope is being expressed in other writings, should not be interpreted as excluding messianism. The strength of Davidic expectation is impressively attested in Ecclesiasticus and I Maccabees. The richness of the expectation attested later on in the Psalms of Solomon and in apocalypses from the end of the Herodian period, including II Esdras, is not unprecedented.

(d) The Qumran texts, mainly reflecting the Hasmonaean period, confirm this point, and illustrate the elaborate development of a messianic narrative or myth. This development is already attested in the L X X Pentateuch and, after the period of most of the Qumran material, in the apocalypses just mentioned.
I'm not suggesting that all of the above cogently answers all of W.S. Green's questions that I raised earlier. There is clearly enough historic doubt on the question to avoid dogmatism either way, in my view. Obviously the trend has swung in favour of messianic expectations being part of the Second Temple era as a general cultural phenomenon but we also know the question is loaded with contemporary ideologies for many.

It seems relatively easy to find arguments "for" but I'd like to see in the same depth the arguments that have been raised against, too. Maybe till then I could study the details of the evidence cited above and apply a Bayesian analysis to each point! ;-)
vridar.org Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science

User avatar
neilgodfrey
Posts: 3578
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 4:08 pm

Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by neilgodfrey » Sat Jan 10, 2015 3:54 pm

After noting the absence of the concept of a descendant of David to take political power in Jerusalem and restore God's kingdom prior to the first century BCE -- citing J. J. Collins' chapter "Messianisms in the Maccabean Period" in Judaisms and their Messiahs -- Johannes Tromp writes:
The expectation of a future son of David, sent by God to rule as king, was not an isolated phenomenon, but part of a complex of ideals about the future of Israel as brought about by God. This complex may be called "Jewish eschatology." This complex should not be designated as "messianism," as was usual until the inappropriateness of this term was realized.

The term "messianism" suggests that a person called Messiah would in some way have to be part of the eschatological future, a necessary tool in God's hand for the salvation of Israel. However, the study of Jewish literature in the Greco-Roman era has shown beyond doubt that in many eschatological designs God could use other tools to that end, or no tool at all. Essential to Jewish eschatology (and distinguishing it from earlier forms of prophecy) is only the exclusively divine nature of the expected salvation: what was needed, the definitive restoration of righteousness, holiness and peace, could not be achieved by, or even with the aid of, any living human being. Humanity was too far gone to be able to produce improvement by itself.

However, it cannot be ignored that the idea that God would bring a son of David to royal power in Jerusalem did in fact exist, at least from the first century BCE.
This is from a chapter in Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Persectives edited by James M. Scott, 2001.

This is the position I started with. Yes, the concept existed but it did so alongside other concepts and there is no evidence that any one of these concepts was part of the psychological expectations of the general Jewish population in the time of Jesus.
vridar.org Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science

User avatar
neilgodfrey
Posts: 3578
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 4:08 pm

Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by neilgodfrey » Sun Jan 11, 2015 2:18 am

More support for the suspicion that popular messianic expectation has been an assumption, with various texts like the DSS interpreted through the prisms of later literature. . . .

From John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: Messianism in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1995, p.3ff (my formatting)
A Common Jewish Hope?

My concern in this book, however, is primarily with Jewish messianism, both as an interesting phenomenon in the history of religion in its own right and as the context in which the earliest acclamation of Jesus as messiah must be understood. Jewish messianism, too, has been a subject of controversy in recent years. The traditional assumption, at least in Christian circles, has been that messianic expectation was ubiquitous and had a consistent form. Consequently, the question of whether Jesus was the messiah admitted of a clearcut answer. There has been a growing recognition in recent years that this view of the matter is heavily influenced by Christian theology. The Gospels portrayed Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Those who did not perceive the correspondences were "foolish and slow of heart" (Luke 24:25). Traditional Christianity construed Judaism as a religion in waiting, and this construing of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity has had long-lasting repercussions in Christian scholarship. Its influence can still be seen in major scholarly, historical works in this century.

The classic scholarly view of these matters is presented in the handbooks of Emil Schurer and George Foot Moore. Both Schurer and Moore proceeded on the assumption that there was a uniform system of messianic expectation in ancient Judaism.

This approach is still in evidence in the revised edition of Schurer's classic, which provides "a systematic outline of messianism." The system, however, is inevitably constructed from late sources.

Moore's discussion is primarily a description of the rabbinic sources. The account in the revised Schurer is "based on all the intertestamental sources, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, but presented according to the pattern emerging from the apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra since it is in these two late compositions that eschatological expectation is most fully developed."

The apocalypses in question, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, were written at the end of the first century CE. It is obviously problematic to infer from them the pattern of messianic belief throughout the so-called intertestamental period. Yet the sources available to (the original) Schurer and Moore included little other evidence of messianism in this period.

Only two other documents in the Jewish Pseudepigrapha refer to a messiah. One, the Psalms of Solomon, written after Pompey's conquest of Jerusalem in 63 BCE, resembles 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch insofar as it speaks of a royal, Davidic, messiah. The other, the Similitudes of Enoch, is very different, and only uses the term "messiah" incidentally to refer to a preexistent, heavenly figure who is primarily patterned on the "one like a son of man" in Daniel 7.

In recent years there has been a sweeping reaction against the kind of synthesis presented by Schurer and Moore.
  • James Charlesworth reports that "No member of the Princeton Symposium on the Messiah holds that a critical historian can refer to a common Jewish messianic hope during the time of Jesus. . . ."
  • J. D. G. Dunn discerns "four pillars of Second Temple Judaism," monotheism, election, covenant, and land. Future hope does not rank with the pillars, much less messianism.
  • E. P. Sanders provides an outline of the future hopes of "common Judaism," but he emphasizes that "the expectation of a messiah was not the rule."
  • Burton Mack warns that it is wrong "to think of Judaism in general as determined by messianism, the desire for a king."
Even the editors of a volume on messiahs find "powerful reasons to ditch" the established consensus, and emphasize instead the diversity of "Judaisms and their Messiahs." The distinguished German scholar Johann Maier goes so far as to ban the words "messiah," "messianic" etc. from the discussion of the Scrolls, on the grounds that they entail a projection of Christian interests onto the material. He would speak instead of "anointed" figures.


Several factors have contributed to this rather dramatic shift in the assessment of Jewish messianism around the turn of the era. Jews and Christians alike have been sensitized to the theological distortions of past generations. Liberal Christians are eager to avoid anything that might smack of supersessionism. Moreover, messianism, and eschatology in general, have become something of an embarrassment in modern culture. They conjure up images of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, or, on a more respectable level, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his followers. But there are also serious scholarly reasons for the shift. Our documentation for Judaism around the turn of the era is spotty, and explicit documentation of messianic expectation is relatively rare. Nonetheless, there are reasons to believe that the pendulum of scholarly opinion has swung too far.

vridar.org Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science

User avatar
neilgodfrey
Posts: 3578
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 4:08 pm

Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by neilgodfrey » Sun Jan 11, 2015 12:26 pm

What does the evidence in the Book of Enoch suggest about the thesis of a messianic expectation prior to the end of the Second Temple era?

I am not suggesting that Enoch is any more than just one part of the available resources to study in connection with this question and that more has been written since the Neusner-Green book (as I've pointed out in other comments above) -- but it is nonetheless still data to be addressed.

Nickelsburg's chapter in the Neusner-Green volume of Judaisms and their Messiahs, "Salvation without and with a Messiah: Developing Beliefs in Writings Ascribed to Enoch" raises the following question.

It's references to the Messiah appear only in the Parables section, a section generally believed to be its latest strata.
The findings of this paper have at least two general implications for the
study of early postbiblical Judaism.

First, belief in a Messiah was not a sine
qua non for Jewish theology in the Second Temple Period.
Other savior
figures of nonroyal status had ascribed to them attributes and functions
that are traditionally called "messianic." In such cases, however, the use
of this adjective may be deceptive, because it may wrongly imply that
these attributes and functions derived from speculation about a divinely
appointed king.

Second, speculations about such a king, where they do
occur, often differ greatly from one another. The king is not always
thought of as a human being descended from the Davidic line. He may
be an exalted transcendent figure. He may be described in language drawn
from speculation about nonroyal figures. The title "Anointed One" may
or may not be prominent in the descriptions of the figure. (p. 65)
What Nickelsburg shows is that in the earlier versions of the book messianic functions of a later period (post 70) were assumed by other entities and not "The Messiah".

If this book incorporates different layers of teachings and beliefs as they emerge in different historical situations (such as the Parables being post-70 compositions) then we would expect it to include references to the "messianic expectations" in the earlier strata if they were indeed part of the general theological views of Jews at the time.

This is certainly not proof that there was no general messianic expectation prior to 70, but it is a point weighing against the view that there was.
vridar.org Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science

User avatar
neilgodfrey
Posts: 3578
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 4:08 pm

Re: Questioning the Historicity of Early 1C Popular Messiani

Post by neilgodfrey » Fri Jan 23, 2015 1:50 am

Stephan Huller wrote:It doesn't come down to slogans like 'If we don't have evidence for X then we can't argue a case for or base a hypothesis on X.'
That's a slogan? What's the alternative?
Stephan Huller wrote:He like some on this board assume that there is a default 'position' which everything goes back to - in this case that everyone in antiquity 'rebelled' in the same way. But this is studying history with a sledgehammer.
You have misread me or I have explained my point very badly. I do not and never have said that all rebellions are the same. My words are being twisted, I think.
Stephan Huller wrote:The facts are that EVERYTHING in the lives of Jews of antiquity was regulated by God via a priesthood.
That's a statement that needs explanation, clarification. First of all let's clarify who exactly we mean by "Jews of antiquity" and secondly what we mean by "was regulated by God via a priesthood". Give clear examples to illustrate and clarify.

THEN let's see what evidence we have for this scenario. I presume there will be conclusive evidence to make it a "fact".
Stephan Huller wrote:Nor can we be absolutely certain that the Jews even knew who that messiah would be. Perhaps they were waiting to see him manifest on the battlefield. I don't know. But to argue that it wasn't present in a period leading up to a Jubilee with 'signs in the heavens' and with the Jewish cultural mindset the way it is seems rather incredible. Everything in the life of a Jew is regulated by God - even rebellion against the state.
Again you have misread me. I am not arguing that there was no such expectation. There may have been. But I don't know or understand yet the evidence that establishes that there was. It makes a difference -- is this something we can confidently build other hypotheses upon or not?

What evidence do we have that the Jews of the mid first century were conscious of an approaching Jubilee? And if so, what evidence do we have that this would involve anything more than "routine" changes in slavery status and debts etc for some? What evidence do we have for "a/the Jewish cultural mindset" at this time? What evidence do we have that describes it for us?

If you think these are heavy-handed ways to do history then I can only say I don't know any other way to do it. I don't know of any serious historians who do it any other way -- at least in their claimed ideals.
vridar.org Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science

Post Reply