home   :    index    :    Judaea    :    Messiah    :    article by Jona Lendering

Messiah (9)

Coin of Bar Kochba, showing the Temple with a star on the roof and the Ark of the Covenant. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Jona Lendering.
 Coin of Simon ben Kosiba, showing the Temple with the Messianic star on the roof and the Ark of the Covenant inside (British Museum)

The Hebrew word mšah means 'anointed one' and may  indicate Jewish priests, prophets and  kings. During the sixth century BCE, the exiled Jews in Babylonia started to hope for a special Anointed One who was to bring them home; several written prophecies were fulfilled when the Persian king Cyrus the Great did in fact allow them to return. In the second century BCE, the Jews were again suffering from repression, and the old prophecies became relevant again. Some people were looking forward to a military leader who would defeat the Seleucid or Roman enemies and establish an independent Jewish kingdom; others, like the author of the Psalms of Solomon, stated that the Messiah was a charismatic teacher who gave the correct interpretation of Mosaic law, was to restore Israel and would judge mankind. Jesus of Nazareth was considered a Messiah; a century later, Simon bar Kochba. The idea of an eschatological king has been present in Judaism ever since.
The Messianic Psalms
Micah and Isaiah
From Josiah to Cyrus
The Maccabaean revolt
The Messiah as military leader
The Messiah as sage
The Messiah as high-priest
The 'prophet like Moses'
Balaam's prophecy
The 'son of'-titles
Other titles
The two Messiahs of Qumran
Messianic expectations
Catastrophic messianism
The eschatological king
From Messiah to Christ


The Messiah as high priest

Modern scholars discern four kinds of messianology in the years between 170 BCE and 140 CE.
  1. The Messiah as military leader
  2. The Messiah as sage
  3. The Messiah as high-priest
  4. The 'prophet like Moses'
In this part of this article, we will focus on the third kind of messianology, which probably has its roots in the administrative practice of the second half of the second century BCE. The early Hasmonaean leaders (Jonathan, Simon and John Hyrcanus) were high-priests and national leaders, and their position seems to have been the model of this type of messianology. This explains why texts about the priestly Messiah sometimes describe him as a warrior: an unexpected occupation for a priest, but an activity that the Hasmonaean high-priests were certainly familiar with. (One is also reminded of Psalm 110, quoted above.)

Take, for example, the following fragment, in which a fight is described between the archetypal priest Melchizedek and the evil forces, commanded by Belial.

And Melchizedek will avenge with the vengeance of the judgment of God [...] from the hand of Belial and from the hand of all the spirits of his lot. And to his help are all the heavenly ones on high. He [...] all sons of might and [...] this.
    This is the day of salvation about which God spoke through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah who said: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace, who brings glad tidings of good, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion: 'Your heavenly one is king.' [Isaiah 52.7]
    Its interpretation is this. The mountains are the words of the prophets, those who [saw the things ordained and] prophesied to all those who mourn in Zion. And who brings good news: this is the Messiah of the spirit, of whom Daniel speaks: He who brings glad tidings of good, who proclaims salvation. That is what is written concerning him, when He speaks [...] to comfort those who mourn in Zion to instruct them in all the ages of the world.
[11Q13 col.2, 13-20]
In other words, the priestly Messiah, Melchizedek, defeats the enemies of Israel and brings good news.

Other text that deserve attention are Psalms 2 and 20. In these songs, an idealized king, a 'son of God', is presented, who will defend  truth, humility and righteousness by defeating the enemies of Judah. Psalm 110 adds that this anointed one will be 'a priest for ever' and will judge the nations. Comparable texts assume that the priestly Messiah will restore the true Temple cult, which had been defiled when the high-priesthood had fallen into Hasmonaean hands. (They were no Zadokites, which created tensions. Go here for more information.)

The most important text containing a priestly messianology is the Letter to the Hebrews, which was written -probably before 70 CE- to an audience of Jewish Christians. Jesus of Nazareth is seen as someone who wanted to help mankind, has sacrificed himself and is now sitting at the right hand of God Himself, as an eternal high-priest.

Seeing then that we have a great high-priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high-priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
[Hebrews 4.14-16] 
Menahem ben Jehuda, who defeated a Roman army in 66 and was killed when he wanted to enter the Temple of Jerusalem, probably thought of himself as a priestly Messiah. It is tempting to see in Jesus' 'cleansing of the Temple' a similar attempt to behave according to the ideas about the priestly Messiah. 
Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine

 part ten    :    overview of all articles on Messiah
home   : index    :    Judaea