THE MESSIAH IN THE
A REVIEW ARTICLE
In October 1987 an international
symposium was held at
Theological Seminary on the general topic of "Judaism and Christian
Origins" and with the specific theme of messianism. The papers arising
from the conference have now been published under the editorship of
James H. Charlesworth, who also acted as chairman of the steering com-
mittee for the conference.1 The result is a major collection of essays by
a distinguished group of scholars from several countries. It is therefore
a significant volume in terms of both its topic and the contributors.
The book can be assessed from two angles. First, it can be seen as
a set of scholarly essays offering research on important aspects of the
topic of messiahship in the first century. Some of the essays deal with
messianism in the narrower sense, that is, the use of the term Messiah
and the associated concept of a royal or priestly Messiah in Judaism and
in early Christianity. Other essays are concerned with issues that are
messianic in a broader sense, such as the Son of Man. It is very impor-
tant to see the narrower concept within the context of the broader one.2
However, where essays in this book deal with the broader concept in a
way that is not too closely related to the more specific topic, we shall
pass over them fairly briefly in this review.
1 The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity: The First
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992).
2 Cf. J. D. G. Dunn, 381.
68 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Second, the book can also be seen as a plaidoyer for a particular
view of Jewish messianism. Charlesworth sets out the view which it is
the agenda of the book to attack: "that there was a set concept of the
Messiah, and that the Jews were looking for the coming of the Messiah
who would save God's people" (4 ["Jews" should be glossed to refer to
"all/most Jews"]). Or again, "there is a deeply seated and widely as-
sumed contention that the Jews during the time of Jesus were expecting
a Messiah, and that they had some agreement on the basic functions he
would perform" (6). It is then possible to see how Jesus fitted into this
pattern, with many scholars claiming that he accepted the role of mes-
siah but proceeded to alter the concept in various ways. The counter-
thesis is that not all Jews were looking for the Messiah and those who
did were not looking for the same kind of person. It follows that there
was no one pattern which Jesus could have fitted and that his disciples
could not have seen him as fulfilling this pattern.
The form and thrust of the book are very similar to those of another
recent publication,3 which is likewise concerned to document the variety
in Jewish thought and contains contributions by some of the same con-
tributors (B. L. Mack, S. Talmon, and J. H. Charlesworth, who thinks that
the book "should help to turn the tide of understanding regarding mes-
sianism"). The two books need to be read in conjunction with each other
since both are attempts to defend this consensus.4
The heart of the book is a set of twenty-four papers (if we exclude
for the moment the introduction by Charlesworth himself). They are
divided into five groups: (1) Messianic Ideas and the Hebrew Scrip-
tures; (2) Messianology in Early Judaism and Early Rabbinics; (3) "Mes-
sianism" in Social Contexts and in Philo; (4) "The Messiah" and Jesus
ment. This division is arbitrary and artificial in places (How do "social
contexts" and Philo form a coherent group? How do sections 4 and 5
differ from one another?). Since we are primarily interested in messi-
anism and the relationship between Judaism and early Christianity, we
shall follow a different division, first of all separating off those essays
which are of little relevance to this particular theme.
3 J. Neusner, W. S. Green, and E. Frerichs, eds., Judaisms and Their Messiahs at
the Turn of the Christian Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
4 In particular, see Charlesworth's essay, "From Jewish Messianology to Christian
Christology: Some Caveats and Perspectives" (225-64) for an important complement to his
presentation here. The book as a whole discusses the same areas of Judaism (Enoch; 1 and
Maccabees; the Maccabeean
A. Related Issues
A. F. Segal offers one of the lengthiest essays in the book on "Con-
version and Messianism: Outline for a New Approach" (296-340). I
regretfully forbear to comment on this fascinating account which is
especially significant for the study of Paul, for it is really concerned with
conversion in Judaism and in early Christianity and is not germane to
the origins of messianism.
J. G. Heintz provides "A Thematic and Iconographical Approach"
to "Royal Traits and Messianic Figures" (52-66) which is of specialized
interest to OT scholars.
J. Priest provides an extremely useful summary for those interested
in the topic in "A Note on the Messianic Banquet" (222-38), gathering
information and references that are not easily accessible elsewhere.
The article by B. M. Bokser on "Messianism, the Exodus Pattern,
and Early Rabbinic Judaism" (239-58) is concerned with the develop-
ment of Jewish thought in the post-NT period and does not really affect
our understanding of the earlier period which is more our concern.
Of a rather different character from the rest of the book is the con-
tribution by R. G. Hamerton-Kelly, "Sacred Violence and the Messiah:
The Markan Passion Narrative as a Redefinition of Messianology" (461-
93). This is concerned with a theory about violence based on anthropol-
ogy, and it is involved with theories propounded by R. Girard and
B. Mack. Since it falls outside the specific area of Messianism, I leave it
to one side, although again it deals with a highly significant topic.5
B. The Son of Man
Two papers are concerned specifically with the Son of Man and
stand apart from the discussion of the Anointed One, which is the main
theme of the book.
The first is by E H. Borsch who offers “Further Reflections on 'The
Son of Man': The Origins and Development of the Title” (130-44). He
gives a good, brief summary of the course of recent study from the
Bultmann-Fuller-Hahn consensus to the Vermes-Gasey-Lindars type of
view. One quotation is interesting: "By the two toughest standards of
'authenticity' with respect to the traditions (dissimilarity and multiple
attestation), the Son of Man usage has much better than a prima facie
case for being taken seriously" (136). He then returns to his earlier sug-
gestion of influences from traditions within "a baptizing sectarianism in
the Palestine of Jesus' time" and suggests various avenues that deserve
5 Among recent
contributions to this area of discussion, see B. D. Chilton, The
of Jesus: His
Sacrificial Program Within a Cultural History of Sacrifice (
70 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
to be followed up. Sociological investigations are needed as to why there
are parallels between sayings about the Son of Man and those about
early Christian wandering disciples. Was the Jesus-movement related to
this sectarianism? What is the place of 1 Enoch? Is the pattern in Phil
2:6-11 with its Adamic typology related to the humbling and vindica-
tion of the Son of Man? Why are there parallels between the Synoptic
and Johannine Sons of Man but framed in quite distinctive language?
What is the significance of the persecution-vindication pattern? How do
we deal with Luke 12:8f.? (Here Borsch comments "I frankly find it
difficult to hear a speaker referring to himself by different means in the
same sentence" despite his earlier suggestion of a possible modern
example: "A man can't work miracles. What do you expect of me?"). All
of these are suggestions for further work rather than hypothesis--as
well as reminder that the author's earlier magnum opus on the Son of
Man should not be forgotten!6
A. Y. Collins considers "The 'Son of Man' Tradition and the Book of
Revelation" (536-68) and argues that Revelation bears witness to a very
early form of the tradition, post-resurrection but earlier than the for-
mation of "Q." This is an important piece of research, but it is tied in to
a hypothesis concerning Jesus' own view of the Son of man which
would find it very difficult to share, namely that Jesus thought of the Son
of man as a heavenly being, possibly an angel, but with whom he did
not identify himself.
C. The Old Testament and Judaism
J. J. M. Roberts discusses "The Old Testament's Contribution to Mes-
sianic Expectations" (39-51). This is a helpful review which lists the
material and discusses it in a fairly standard, critical manner. The con-
clusions reached are: 1.) The term "messiah" nowhere has a technical
sense as an eschatological title. 2.) The hope of a "new David" is of a con-
tinuing line rather than of one final ruler, although some passages were
open to the latter interpretation. 3.) Mythological language, drawn from
royal protocol, gave a basis for the later development of more mytholog-
ical conceptions of the Messiah. 4.) Jeremiah 33 and Zechariah provide
the basis for the later hope of a priestly Messiah. 5.) Malachi provided
the catalyst for speculation about the coming of future prophetic figures.
There are interesting points here that deserve discussion.
P. D. Hanson looks very briefly at "Messiahs and Messianic Figures
in Proto-Apocalypticism" (67-75) in an attempt to illumine their back-
ground in a situation of strife and tension.
6 Namely, E H. Borsch, The Son of Man in Myth and History (
Moving out of the Scriptures into Judaism, we start with a lengthy
contribution by S. Talmon on "The Concepts of MASIAH and Messianism
in Early Judaism" (79-115). Talmon is not easy going, but he appears to
be arguing that the messianic idea is to be seen primarily in a historical
setting in relation to the biblical institution of kingship; it has down-to-
earth political connotations and should not be over-theologized. He sees
three stages in the development of the messianic idea: historical realism
the monarchical period, conceptualization in the
Period, and idealization after 70 C.E. The Kingdom is oriented towards
nation-state of biblical
a temporal frame of reference and thus moves away towards universal-
ism. Neither the Pseudepigrapha nor the Samaritan literature fit into this
In line with a current trend which he himself has done much to
foster, Talmon traces a utopian and a restorative messianism in the
Scriptures and sees these two trends as significant for the further
He is especially interested in the
collegiate Messiahs. Here again he finds his twin conceptions. He
reminds us that in reality few Jewish texts from the turn of the era
mention the expectation of a Messiah at all. He adopts the disputed
view that he is a purely human figure. The vision remained realistic,
couched in terms of a return to the past.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are also discussed by L. H. Schiffman ("Mes-
sianic Figures and
Ideas in the Qumran Scrolls; 116-29). He finds a
riety of beliefs expressed, which may point to a historical development
or to parallel approaches or, as he favors, to a combination of the two.
He picks up the bifurcation detected by Talmon and also by G. Scholem
the utopian and the restorative approaches. Some
texts look toward a Davidic Messiah in a restorative fashion. Other
more utopian or apocalyptic passages tend to look to a priestly leader
accompanied by a temporal leader.
"The Messianism of the Parables of Enoch: Their Date and Con-
tribution to Christological Origins" is the theme taken by M. Black
(145-68). He restates his thesis of the apotheosis of the Elect Son of
Man: "The most significant theological result, however, of the discus-
sion of this composite Elect Son of Man Messiah in the Parables is the
recognition of the implications of his elevation to a place next to the
Lord of spirits, to be seated as eschatological Judge on a judgment
throne. Such an exaltation amounts, in effect, to apotheosis, similar to
what I have sought to maintain for 'the one like a son of man' = 'the
saints of the Most High' in Daniel, except that in Daniel the 'one like
son of man' is a symbol only, a cipher for
72 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Messiah, as well as symbol of the new
as head of the elect, but also as a cipher for the elect
Finally, Black discusses the date of the Parables and their possible
influence on the NT In the light of this he comments: "it is by no means
inconceivable that the tradition of Enoch as the Son of Man, preserved
in the Parables, was also known to Jesus of Nazareth, and similarly
interpreted and applied by him to his own role in his mission as a
prophet of the coming Kingdom--not in terms of an Enoch redivivus
Son of Man-Messiah, but as an Enoch--like apocalyptic teacher and
prophet adopting and adapting the classic Enoch tradition to the Son of
Mans futurist role as eschatological Judge, but first to his earthly min-
istry as the Servant of the Lord" (167).
A further discussion of "Righteous One, Messiah, Chosen One, and
Son of Man in 1 Enoch 37-71" follows from J. C. Vanderkam (169-91).
He gives a careful survey of four phrases used here--Righteous One
(1 Enoch 47:1,4), Anointed One (1 Enoch 48:10; 52:4), Chosen One
(some 16-17 times) and Son of Man (16 times). The Son of Man was
the object of pre-mundane election, but this does not require that he
was pre-existent; hence there is no difficulty in the identification of
Enoch as the Son of Man in 71:14. The four terms used are based on
biblical motifs (Daniel and 2 Isaiah): "The description of Enoch in
1 Enoch 14 would have suggested a connection with the one like a son
of man in Daniel 4 and the traits shared by the servant of the Lord and
this one in human likeness could easily have induced the writer to
combine them" (191).
D. Mendels writes on "Pseudo-Philo's Biblical Antiquities, the
‘Fourth Philosophy,’ and the Political Messianism of the First Century
C.E." (261-75). His main concern is to analyze Pseudo-Philo and show
that it is directed against the messianism of the Zealots and Sicarii. Its
author had messianic hopes but was opposed to a messiah in the present
and rejected the outlook of the sectarian, guerrilla groups.
Mendels relates his discussion to some different views of what was
going on in the first century. On the one hand, M. Hengel held that there
was a common front against the Romans and a common messianic
vision in the first century C.E. On the other hand, other scholars argue
for the existence of separate groups, few of which, if any, had a messi-
anic ideology. A special position is occupied by R. A. Horsley who thinks
that local messianic groups arose around various pretenders (Athron-
ges, Simeon, Menachem). Mendels notes that Josephus plays down first-
century messianism. The inspiration for messianism was largely in
terms of a Davidic figure, but it was possible to look for a future Davidic
messiah and reject the "local" messiahs who had no plausible relation
to the Davidic line.
He is immediately followed by R A. Horsley (" 'Messianic' Figures
Movements in First-Century
critical of the way in which Christians have used the Zealots or nation-
alists as a violent foil to the peaceable Jesus. Rather, there are two tra-
ditions of messianic figures. There were popularly elected or approved
kings (like Saul) who formed the inspiration for the first-century
"kings" who led freedom movements against the Romans. There was
also the Davidic tradition of imperial kingship which could easily be-
come the means of oppression of the people. Popular messianism was
to this monolithic imperialism (as practiced by
Horsley it is ironic that the Christians cast the imperialist mantle on
Jesus and eventually legitimated the domination of Christianity as the
imperial state religion.
Finally, we come to P. Borgen, "'There shall come forth a man':
Reflections on Messianic Ideas in Philo" (341-61). This essay is con-
cerned to show that Philo looked forward to the realization of the uni-
versal features of the kingship which he associated with the role of
Moses; nevertheless, what this really pointed to was "the eschatologi-
cal role of the Jewish nation as being the head of all nations."
D. Christian Beginnings
The remaining essays are devoted to Christian beginnings. We start
with a characteristically positive essay by J. D. G. Dunn ("Messianic
Ideas and their Influence on the Jesus of History," 365-81). He argues
that Jesus was influenced by current messianic ideas; he had to take
account of the current view of the royal messiah, but he did not find it
helpful and "may have attempted to redefine the content of the title in
terms of the role he saw himself as filling" (376).7 Dunn emphasizes
how much Jesus himself moulded the messianic concept by his own
teaching and activity. He also, incidentally, makes the very important
point that to concentrate on messianic influences on Jesus is one-sided
and refers to Jesus' unusual authority and sense of intimate sonship as
highly important elements in the roots of his self-understanding.
N. A. Dahl ("Messianic Ideas and the Crucifixion of Jesus," 382-
403) reaffirms his earlier thesis that “the crucifixion of Jesus caused a
radical alteration of the concept 'Messiah.'”8 He asks why the "prophet
death proclaimed by his disciples as the Messiah. He reaffirms that
7 In view of Dunn's acceptance of this position, it is hard to see why Charlesworth
is so scathing of it with reference to G. E. Ladd's statement of a very similar position (7),
8 P. 383. The reference is to his 1960 article "Der gekreuzigte Messias," reprinted
in English in Jesus the Christ (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991) 27-47.
74 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
“the resurrection experiences would not have led the disciples to affirm
that Jesus was the promised Messiah unless he had been crucified as
an alleged royal Messiah.” The term Messiah/Christ is largely absent
from the sayings collections, and this confirms that it belongs insepa-
rably to the crucifixion in early Christian tradition. Dahl raises ques-
tions about the complicated relationship between the titular and
nominal uses of Christ. It is unfortunate that his essay is more a series
of observations than a connected, coherent argument.
D. E. Aune (“Christian Prophecy and the Messianic Status of Jesus,”
404-22) wrestles with the interesting problem that in the letters in the
NT (except 1 John 2:22; 5:1) the messiahship of Jesus is something that
is assumed, whereas in the Gospels and Acts it is a matter for discus-
sion. He asks whether the recognition of Jesus' status was “legitimated
by prophetic speech or prophetic visions by early Christians during the
period ca. 30-50 C.E.” (407). He notes that normally a king was marked
by having been anointed, but that W. C. van Unnik argued that for
Christians the mark of messiahship was possession of the Spirit of God.
Thus the meaning of the term when applied to Jesus was determined
essentially by Christian conceptions. He then discusses the use of ora-
cles to legitimate kings. Various oracular legitimations of Jesus occur in
the Gospels, but these are judged to be “literary dramatizations” of the
status of Jesus rather than historical events. Aune then explores the
thesis that behind Mark 14:62 and Acts 7: 55f. (cf. Rev 1:14-16) lies a
vision by a Christian prophet concerned with the status of Jesus as the
exalted and enthroned Son of Man. The proposal is speculative, as Aune
admits, but it is significant that the role of visions in early Christianity
is taken so seriously.
M. Hengel (“Christological Titles in Early Christianity,” 425-48)
discusses a number of christological hymns and argues from them that
early Christian christological thinking “was much more unified in its
basic structure than New Testament research, in part at least, has main-
tained” (443). He holds that “Christ” figures as a title—“the Messiah
died for our sins” in the formula in 1 Cor 15:3-5. “Son of Man” is re-
garded as a cypher rather than a title; the resurrection appearances
confirmed the identity of Jesus as the heavenly Son of Man and led to
his being recognized as the Son of God. The development of a high
christology was completed within about 15 years.
D. H. Juel tackles "The Origin of Mark's Christology" (449-60) and
offers a very traditional interpretation which finds the answer uin the
history of Jesus of Nazareth." In an interesting appendix he states that
he found the conference largely confirmatory of his position, although
he feels that many of the participants did not draw similar conclusions
to his own. Rather “christology cannot be explained solely on the basis
of the history of ideas. There is no 'trajectory' within postbiblical
Judaism that can account for the widespread confession of Jesus as the
Christ” (460). Juel thus places himself firmly beside Dahl.
B. L. Mack in "The Christ and Jewish Wisdom" (192-221) proposes
a very different approach in that he argues that Jesus himself was
(merely?) a teacher in the wisdom tradition.9 The understanding of him
as prophet and the use of the "Son of man" figure arose in the secondary
stages of the development of the Q tradition by his followers, and "high
christology" was first developed by Mark. Meanwhile a "Christ cult"
developed elsewhere, using a wisdom myth and hence kingly imagery
for Jesus. Mark then took what he wanted from the Christ cult and
added it. to the Jesus traditions in order to justify the Jesus movement
to which he belonged. Thus on this view we are offered an alternative
to the usual apocalyptic hypothesis of Christian beginnings. It all began
with "an uncommon sage."
The assessment of this hypothesis need not be taken up in this
present context, since it has nothing to do with the nature of Jewish
messianism and its influence on Christianity; it contends for a different
strand of influence altogether. It rests on a thoroughly skeptical reading
of the Gospels so far as their historicity is concerned. Its basis in a mis-
interpretation of the Q material, analyzing it into successive strata with
different christologies, is sharply criticized in a monograph by E. P.
W D. Davies, co-author of the major commentary on Matthew in
the ICC series, discusses "The Jewish Sources of Matthew's Messian-
ism" (494-511). He sees various elements coming together: the coming
about of a new creation in Jesus; Davidic kingship ideology; the greater
Moses who works a new exodus and brings a new law; an Abrahamic
strand. He thinks that the suffering motif is connected with Moses. He
notes that Matthew has selected out of the variety of interpretation in
Judaism, discarding what he did not want--the political territoriality
and the priestly elements.
And, finally, H. Anderson explores "The Jewish Antecedents of the
Christology in Hebrews" (512-35) in an essay that can be profitably
compared with L. D. Hurst's book, The Epistle to the Hebrews: Its Back-
ground of Thought.11
9 Cf. his contribution, "Wisdom Makes a Difference: Alternatives to 'Messianic'
Configurations," in J. Neusner (et al.), Judaisms, 15-48.
10 See E. P. Meadors, Jesus the Herald of Salvation: A Study of Q and Mark
Jesus" Tyn Bul 43:2 (Nov. 1992) 235-57.
76 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Years ago the distinguished German Christian, Pastor Martin Nie-
moller, paid a visit
he told us of various episodes in his remarkable life story. At the con-
clusion of the address another guest, who, if I remember correctly, was
a prominent figure in the World Council of Churches, gave a vote of
thanks in which he summed up what the speaker had said in terms of
the church and ecumenism. Even to my youthful and untutored mind
it was obvious that he had an axe to grind, and as a result had very con-
siderably shifted the focus of a sermon which had been concerned with
the person of Jesus as Savior and Lord.
From the Introduction it becomes plain that the editor of this vol-
ume too has an axe to grind, and a key question is whether the rest of
the contributors belong to the same axe-grinding fraternity. Charles-
worth seeks to establish the existence of a consensus among the partici-
pants on a number of key issues and refers to a plenary session at the
conference which endeavored to formulate some agreed positions. The
general thrust of this consensus will emerge by quoting some sections
of the Introduction ("From Messianology to Christology: Problems and
Prospects," 3-35). Charlesworth rightly begins with definitions, and
uses "messiah" to denote "God's eschatological Anointed One, the Mes-
siah"; "messianic" is used to refer to "images, symbols or concepts either
explicitly or implicitly linked to ideas about the Messiah." The helpful
distinction which others (like F. Neugebauer) have made between mes-
sianology (Jewish ideas or beliefs about the Messiah) and christology
(reflection on Jesus as the Christ) is also accepted.12
Charlesworth then offers a list of conclusions which in his view rep-
resent a consensus among "leading specialists" both Jewish and Chris-
tian today.13 They are:
1. The term "Messiah" simply does not appear in the Hebrew
Scriptures. . . Of course, the title "the Anointed One" denotes in
the Hebrew Scriptures. . . a prophet, a priest, and especially a
12 Charlesworth claims (J. Neusner [et al.], Judaisms 225) that he created the neo-
logism "Messianology." He seems to be unaware of F: Neugebauer, "Die Davidssohn-
frage (Mark xii. 35-7 parr.) und der Menschensohn," NTS 21 (1974-75) 81-90, who also
uses the term ("Messianologie").
13 It is unfortunate that the book tends to give the impression that there is some-
thing wrong with scholars who differ from the editor on these points. I take strong ex-
ception to the patronizing comment on an opinion with which the writer disagrees: "The
quotation is from. . . (he) is a gifted scholar; his research is usually outstanding and pre-
cise" (19 n. 50). This kind of condescending remark is out of place.
2. The Hebrew Scriptures. . . certainly do contain some extremely
important passages that were implicitly messianic, such as
Psalm 2; 2 Samuel 7; Isaiah 7, 9, and 11; Zechariah 9; and Dan
9:26. These passages may be defined as "messianic" so long as
this adjective is not used to denote the prediction of an apoca-
lyptic, eschatological "Messiah."
3. These scriptures were interpreted with precisely this messianic
connotation by Jews during the two centuries before the
4. The noun, term, or title "the Messiah" appears rarely in the lit-
erature of Early Judaism or from roughly 250 B.C.E. to 200 C.E.
But it is also true that in the whole
Rabbinic Judaism "the Messiah" appears with unusual fre-
quency and urgency only during this period, especially from the
first century B.C.E. to 135 C.E.
5. Jesus' sayings reveal that his message was not about the coming
of the Messiah. His preaching focused on the coming of God's
Kingdom, not the kingdom of the Messiah.
6. Jesus never proclaimed himself to be the Messiah. He appar-
ently rejected Peter's confession that he (Jesus) was the Christ,
as satanic, because he did not wish for his mission and message
to be judged according to human concepts of the messiah.
7. The disciples are never portrayed as asking Jesus for his views
about the Messiah. Before his crucifixion in 30 C.E. they were
apparently not preoccupied with speculations about the coming
of the Messiah. It is far from clear what term they would have
chosen to categorize him.
8. In the early Palestinian Jesus Movement, according to Acts 3:20,
and in Paul's letters, "Christ" is a proper name for Jesus of Naza-
reth. In the Gospels it is a proper name or title (Matt 1:1; Mark
1:1; Luke 2:11; John 1:17).14
This list should be read in conjunction with what appears to be a
list of resolutions agreed unanimously by members of the symposium:
[1.] The term and the title "Messiah" in the Hebrew Bible refers
to a present, political and religious leader who is appointed by
God. It was applied predominantly to a king, but also to a
priest, and occasionally to a prophet.
[2.] There was no single, discernible role description for a "Messiah"
into which a historical figure like Jesus could be fit (sic). Rather,
each group which entertained a messianic hope interpreted
14 Charlesworth, Messiah, 11f.
78 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
"Messiah" in light of its historical experiences and reinterpreted
[3.] It is inappropriate to speak of a single normative stream of
Judaism in the postexilic period or throughout the period of
tions were entertained by different groups.15
Read carefully, it would seem that these three statements do not go
as far as the eight theorems that Charlesworth enunciates. We should
not therefore assume that the scholars present would necessarily share
his position in every detail. For example, the essay by J. D. G. Dunn sum-
marized above appears to take a somewhat different line.
We may begin with a methodological point. Charlesworth asserts
the only sources we have for the ideas of Jews in
A.D. 70 are their writings, which he then surveys. Contrast this remark-
able statement by A. F. Segal:
In violation of the usual scholarly methods, I would like to use Christian
documents to explore larger issues within the Jewish community. After all,
rabbinic Judaism has left us documents of uncertain origins in oral tradition
from the third century and later, while the New Testament, while also hav-
ing oral roots, was in written form by the beginning of the second century.
The New Testament is hence much better evidence for the history of Juda-
ism than is rabbinic Judaism for the origins of Christianity(299, my italics).
Granted that this statement is about rabbinic Judaism and not about
earlier Jewish literature, one may still ask why it is assumed by so
many scholars that the NT is no guide, or a thoroughly unreliable guide,
to at least some aspects of first-century Judaism. It is interesting that it
takes a Jewish scholar to say this!
We can now make some comments on this set of "agreed beliefs."
1. In the first statement the term "the Messiah" is defined as "God's
eschatological Anointed One." Now of course the Hebrew term "the
anointed one" appears in the Hebrew Scriptures. Charlesworth evi-
dently wants to distinguish in English between "the Anointed One" and
"the Messiah" as two different references of the same Hebrew phrase.
It is generally agreed that the use of the term with an eschatological ref-
erence (i.e. to refer to a future figure) is not found (cf. 39-41).
But this generally accepted statement may be in need of some
modification. In a significant essay, J. L. Mays has argued for a messi-
anic understanding of certain of the Psalms.16 He achieves this, if I un-
15 Charlesworth, Messiah, xv.
16 J. L. Mays, "'In a Vision': The Portrayal of the Messiah in the Psalms," Ex Au-
ditu 7 (1991) 1-8. The whole of this issue was devoted to papers on "Christology and
derstand him correctly, by arguing that we are to see the Psalms as part
of the Scriptures. He recognizes the validity of the form-critical and
cult-functional research methods in studying the Psalms, but wishes to
go on to a further stage of investigation. "In their transmission and
shaping and collection as items in the Book of Psalms, they with all the
other poetry of the Psalms 'ascended' into another genre. They became
Scripture, texts whose hermeneutical context is the literary scope of
book in which they stand and the other books of
It is in this identity that they "worked" in relation to Jesus and the com-
munity in which the New Testament was written." The significance of
this statement is that as a canonical collection the Psalms existed by the
time of Jesus in a form in which they were interpreted messianically,
even if the original reference had been to the existing ruler of the
people (or an immediate successor). It is, therefore, legitimate to claim
that there was a use of the actual phrase "the Anointed One" in the
Scriptures to refer to the Messiah as a future, eschatological figure. If
we regard the final editing and collection of the Psalms as part of the
process of composition of the Scriptures rather than as part of a sub-
sequent process of interpretation, then Mays' verdict and approach are
fully justified. On this basis Mays develops the messianic significance
of Psalms 2, S, 18, 72, 89, 110 and l32.
2. Charlesworth allows that some passages were “implicitly mes-
sianic,” but says that they did not predict "an apocalyptic, eschatological
'Messiah.'" It is not clear what he means by "implicitly" in this context.
He wants to rule out the idea that an OT writer literally predicted the
Messiah, and to say that some passages could be read by later post-
biblical authors as being true of the Messiah (on the grounds that
whatever was true of an earthly king would a fortiori be true of the
Messiah?) What, then, does Charlesworth make of the passage cited
later by Roberts which "do in fact envision a future ruler not yet on the
scene"? Even if some of these may envisage a future line of rulers
described in the magnificent language of royal protocol ("He will
endure as long as the sun.. . ," Ps 72:5) rather than a single final ruler,
the hope of a future ruler raised up by God is still present.
3. Charlesworth's third point may perhaps be linked with what
Mays was saying. However, there may be a significant difference:
what Mays was doing was to say that the messianic interpretation was
part of the text--the canonized meaning, whereas Charlesworth
appears to be saying that it was a separate tradition of interpretation
to be traced in post-biblical sources. For Mays the point seems to be
Incarnation; the theme of the 1991 North Park Symposium on Theological Interpreta-
tion of Scripture.
80 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
that the messianic interpretation was in fact the meaning of the text
at the point of collection and canonization of the Psalms.
4. There can of course be no quarrel with point four. Writing in
1976, on the basis of the important article by M. de Jonge, I made the
same point.17 However, it is important to observe that Charlesworth is
in danger of confining attention to the actual use of the term, whereas
the concept may often be present without the use of the term. He dis-
cusses "only documents that actually contain the noun 'Messiah' or
'Christ'" (17) in order to avoid confusion. Granted the need to be pre-
cise, it still must be emphasized that there is here a danger of drawing
conclusions about the concept purely from the use of the word "Mes-
siah," both in the OT and in Jewish literature. A passage can be in the
fullest sense messianic in that it is about "God's eschatological Anointed
One" even though the actual word is not used.
What is extremely difficult to establish is just how far "the Jews"
held messianic expectations or indeed expectations of any kind of inter-
vention by God in their earthly life. It has to be remembered that the
amount of literature which has survived is limited and much of it is
linked to individual groups. We are also dealing with a society in which
oral teaching and tradition were highly significant, and in the nature of
things such teaching has not survived in any systematic kind of way. Nor
do we know much about how the mass of the people thought, just as is
the case with the mass of ancient peoples. We can-to be sure-choose
to ignore the occasional hints given by some first-century writers (Luke
2:25,38; 23:51; cf. also D. Mendels, 263).
All this means that generalizations about "the Jews" are fraught
with danger. The trouble is that it is much easier to make general state-
ments than to provide all the hedging qualifications that we should
offer (evangelists find it easier to say 'The Bible says that. . ." than
"There are some passages in the Bible which say, more or less,
that. . .").
Charlesworth's interpretation of the evidence is open to some
doubt: The Samaritans did expect a "prophet like Moses," the belief
which later developed into the coming of the "Taheb; but the evidence
is not all as late as is suggested: John 4:25 should be taken seriously.18
It is well-known that Josephus probably played down first-century
messianism (D. Mendels, 261), although the significance of this is de-
batable (cf. R A. Horsley's essay which argues that the terms "Messiah"
"messianic' are not helpful in the discussion of
17 The Origins of New Testament Christology (Leicester: InterVarsity, 1976) 84.
18 Cf. H. G. M. Williamson in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, J. Green,
Judaism). A somewhat more optimistic view of the value of the Tar-
gums for first-century Jewish belief is held by B. D. Chilton,19 and a
sweeping rejection of them is hardly justified. The almost complete ab-
sence of messianology from the Mishnah (but see B. M. Bokser's essay)
is explicable in a work that is essentially legal in its genre. Charles-
worth's discussion of the Pseudepigrapha is flawed by his exclusion of
material that possibly reflects messianic beliefs but does not use the
actual word. His discussion of the Dead Sea Scrolls rightly recognizes
the development and diversity present, but again tends to play down
the significance of their location.
The question is whether these comments merely affect details in
the presentation or suggest that the thesis needs serious modification.
My view is that there is sufficient evidence to show that the concept of
a Messiah did exist and was more widespread than Charlesworth
allows. It is not surprising if there was vagueness about his nature and
functions. What needs explanation is the similarities as well as the
differences between the various forms of Jewish expectation. More-
over, there is the question posed by Charlesworth: "If most Jews were
not looking for the coming of the 'Messiah,' and if Jesus' life and teach-
ings were not parallel to those often or sometimes attributed to the
coming of 'the Messiah' or 'the Christ; then why, how, and when did
Jesus' earliest followers contend that he was so clearly the promised
Messiah that the title 'Christ' became his proper name by at least 40
C.E. or ten years after the crucifixion?" (10). Perhaps this question is in-
deed the Achilles' heel of the case. Can the rise of Christian messianic
interpretation of Jesus be adequately explained apart from the exis-
tence of a Jewish expectation? It may be suggested that the major
weakness of this book is precisely that it offers no credible solution to
this problem.20 The contributions by J. D. G. Dunn and D. H. Juel both
tend to assume the existence of messianic ideas as part of the equation
while emphasizing rightly that it was the creative effects of the career
and teaching of Jesus himself, as understood by his followers, which
led to the prominence of messiahship and the new understanding of it
that arose in early Christianity. Perhaps also one should pursue the
hints offered by N. A Dahl that Jesus and the early Christians went
back to Scripture itself rather than to current Jewish ideas for their
messianism and christology.
19 Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 800-804.
20 Charlesworth raises the question more fully in his contribution to J. Neusner (et
al.) Judaisms, 251-54; here he is more hospitable to the existence and influence of "deep
and variegated beliefs regarding the Messiah n which were "part of the first-century
Palestine Jewish Zeitgeistn He goes on, however, to deny that Jesus or the early Chris-
tians thought of him as Messiah.
82 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
5. Point five makes a false distinction between focus on the King-
dom of God and the general content of the message of Jesus, as if
focusing on the Kingdom excluded any reference to the coming of the
Messiah. There is no real doubt that the focus of Jesus' message was
ruled on God's behalf by his Agent, then there would be nothing
surprising in references to the Messiah alongside references to the
Kingdom. Where God's Kingdom is associated with the coming of a
Messiah, there is no need to refer to it as the Kingdom of the Messiah,
although this expression did come into use in early Christianity. There
is a danger of establishing false alternatives here.
6. It is true that Jesus did not proclaim himself as the Messiah
(although we should not overlook John 4:25f.). But this by no means
excludes the possibility that (if he accepted this role) he could have
indicated it to his disciples in ways less explicit than proclamation. In
particular, the view that he rejected Peter's confession as satanic rests
on an exegesis of the passage in Mark 8 which has not found support
among recent commentators.21 How Charlesworth can uphold this dis-
credited theory as part of a consensus is hard to see.22
7. But why should the disciples have asked Jesus for his view about
the Messiah? On the whole, they are not portrayed as asking him about
anything, except for explanations of what he has just said. The fact that
the Gospels contain nothing comparable with the "Who is this 'Son of
Man'?" (John 12:34) in respect of "the Messiah" may indicate that they
did have some understanding of what the term might connote.
8. It is true that "Christ" appears as a proper name for Jesus in
much of the NT. What Charlesworth does not pursue is the question
(see point four immediately above) of how and why it came to be used
in this way. Somewhere the statement is made that "Christ" was not a
confessional title like "Lord," but this is mistaken (cf. M. Hengel, 444-
46). The evidence clearly shows that "Jesus is the Christ" and "the
21 See, for example, M.
D. Hooker, The Gospel According to St
C. Black, 1991) 202f.; J. Gnilka, Das Evangelium nach Markus (
Neukirchen: Neukirchener, 1979) II. 18, likewise rejects this view of the passage; he re-
gards the confession by Peter as post-Easter, but insists that Jesus had a messianic self-
consciousness. Cf. also R Pesch, Das Markusevangelium (Freiburg: Herder, 1977) II.
The position taken by D. Luhrmann, Das Markusevangelium
Mohr, 1987) 144f. is anything but clear, but even so he does not accept the hypothesis
that originally 8:33 was a response to 8:29 by Jesus.
22 It should, however, be made clear that elsewhere Charlesworth has committed
himself quite explicitly to the statements that "some messianic self-understanding may
well have been part of (Jesus') self-understanding" and that "he thought of himself as a
son and perhaps... as God's son" (Jesus Within Judaism: New Light from Exciting
Archaelogical Discoveries (London: SPCK, 1989) 155, 152.
Christ is Jesus" were two forms of statement that arose in the early
church.23 We have evidence for the two statements "the Christ is Jesus"
(Acts 18:5, 28) and "Jesus is the Christ" (Acts 2:36; 17:3; 1 John 2:22;
5:1). From the former statement we can easily see how "the Christ
(namely) Jesus" could arise and from the latter "Jesus (who is) the
Christ." We may have an example of the former phrase in Acts 5:42,
which the NIV translates "proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the
Christ," but REB has "telling the good news of Jesus the Messiah." In
any case it would seem that the currency of both "Jesus Christ" and
"Christ Jesus" is best explained in terms of development from the two
Where does all this leave us? It is right to recognize the variety of
beliefs about the future and about a messianic type of figure in Juda-
ism. But this simply does not lead us to the view that there was no sort
of messianism for Jesus and his followers to react to. It is inconceiv-
able that the idea was not alive. Equally it is clear that the teaching
and career of Jesus gave a fresh shape to messianism.
Charlesworth is in danger of pushing a reasonable hypothesis too
far to the point where a recognition of variety, diversity and develop-
ment in a concept leads to the disintegration of the concept. It would
seem that not all the other contributors to the book would wish to
accompany him all the way. The list of three consensus statements
(xv) quoted above do not go as far as Charlesworth's own iconoclastic
list. With some qualifications they are quite acceptable, and they say
nothing new. It follows that this book is not destined to be earth-
shaking. Its value rather is as a compendium of scholarly research into
different aspects of messianism conducted by Jewish and Christian
scholars in concert. We can only be grateful for the mass of industrious
scholarship gathered together so conveniently in this volume.
23 The presentation by W. Kramer, Christ, Lord, Son of God (London: SCM, 1966)
is not satisfying on this issue.
24 There may be some analogy in Luke's use of the two orders, "Caesar Augustus"
(Luke 2:1) and "Tiberius Caesar" (Luke 3:1), where we have a similar type of problem
but with "Caesar" making the reverse transition from a proper name to a title.
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