Messiah (mâšîah, "the anointed one"): Jewish religious concept, a future savior who will, in some sense, come to restore Israel. The nature of both the Messiah and the restoration was a matter of debate, and there were several claimants.

Coin of Bar Kochba, with the Messianic star

The Hebrew word mâšîah means "anointed one" and can 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 and, in this sense, restore Israel; several of these prophecies were fulfilled when the Persian king Cyrus the Great did in fact allow their return (539).

In the early first 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 stated that the Messiah was a charismatic teacher who would give the correct interpretation of Mosaic law. A third theory identified the Messiah with the Son of Man who 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.

Messianism is related with, but should be distinguished from, eschatology, i.e., the idea that history is approaching a turning point and that the universe will return to its Paradisiacal origin. Both eschatology and messianism can be expressed in apocalypses, texts in which some kind of supernatural truth is revealed.

Overview of articles on "Messiah"

Roots of the concept

From "Anointed One" to "Restorer of Israel"