Messiah #2: Sage or teacher

Messiah (mâšîah, "the anointed one"): Jewish religious concept, a future savior who will, in some sense, come to restore Israel. Both the nature of the Messiah and the restoration were matters of debate.

The Messiah as a sage

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"

The second kind of messianology is the subject of the present article. The first type was based on king David, the great military leader of early Judaism; this second type found its inspiration in David's son Solomon, who was famous for his wisdom. The following fragment is taken from a collection of poetry from the second half of the first century BCE.

Taught by God, the Messiah will be a righteous king over the gentile nations. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy and their king shall be the Lord Messiah.
He will not rely on horse and rider and bow, nor will he collect gold and silver for war. Nor will he build up hope in a multitude for a day of war. The Lord himself is his king, the hope of the one who has a strong hope in God.
He shall be compassionate to all the nations, who reverently stand before him. He will strike the earth with the word of his mouth forever; he will bless the Lord's people with wisdom and happiness.
And he himself will be free from sin, in order to rule a great people. He will expose officials and drive out sinners by the strength of his word.note

In this text, the Messiah is presented as a wisdom teacher, who can rule the world "by the strength of his word" and does not need the horses, riders and archers that were a prerequisite for the military Messiah. What kind of wisdom the Messiah had to possess, was another question, but it may be assumed that the claim of the Talmudic sages that the Messiah was to give the true interpretation of the Law of Moses, was already current in the first century BCE.

However, in Antiquity, wisdom was considered to be more than being wise. A true sage was also able to predict the future and cure diseases (cf. the Cappadocian sage Apollonius of Tyana). This last aspect of the messianic capacities can be illustrated from a recently published fragment from the Qumran library.

The heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, will obey God's Messiah, who will not turn aside from the commandments of the holy ones. Take strength in his service, you who seek the Lord. Will you not find the Lord in this, all you who wait patiently in your hearts? For the Lord will visit the pious ones, and the righteous ones He will call by name.
Over the meek His spirit will hover, and the faithful He will restore by His power. He will glorify the pious ones on the throne of the eternal kingdom. He will release the captives, make the blind see, raise up the downtrodden. Forever I shall cling to Him, and I shall trust in His loving kindness and His goodness. [...] of holiness will not delay [...] And as for the wonders that are not the work of the Lord, when He [...]
Then he will heal the slain, resurrect the dead and announce glad tidings to the poor. He will lead the holy ones; he will shepherd them; he will do [...] and all of it [...].note

This text is remarkably similar to a better known text.

When the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus, they said to him: "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"
At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers: "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."note

Although both texts quote from Isaiah (35 and 61), the selection from this model and sequence is identical. Therefore, they cannot go back to the same source, but the youngest text (Q, the source of the gospels of Luke and Matthew) goes back to the oldest, 4Q521, which dates back to the first half of the first century BCE. Of course it is possible that Q quotes Jesus' own words, in which case Jesus referred to a Qumran-document.

The Messiah-sage was not only supposed to give an interpretation of the Law of Moses and to cure people, but also to predict the future. An example can be found in the famous War Scroll (1QM), which describes the eschatological war of the "children of light" and the angels against the devil Belial and the "children of darkness". The latter are sometimes called Kittim, a word that usually stands for the Romans. This war ends with the destruction of the evil forces and the beginning of God's personal rule of the universe.

The Messiah is not directly mentioned in the War Scroll, but the prophecy of Balaam is quoted in a prayer:

Yours is the battle! From You comes the power; the battle is not ours. Not our might nor the strength of our hands display valor; as You declared to us in former times, A star has journeyed from Jacob, a scepter has arisen from Israel; and he shall crush the temples of Moab and overturn all the sons of Seth. And he shall rule from Jacob and shall cause the survivors of the city to perish. And the enemy shall become a conquered land and Israel shall display its valor. And by the hand of your Messiahs, the seers of things ordained, You have announced to us the times of the battles of Your hands, in which You will be glorified.note

This fragment may contain two surprises. In the first place, it uses the plural "Messiahs" (explained below); in the second place, it mentions them as prophets who have seen "the things ordained". In a War scroll, one would have expected that they would be presented as warriors. The explanation is that the War scroll was composed from several sources, one of them being a description of an eschatological war and another being a collection of prayers. These two sources were written after the Maccabaean revolt (c.165 BCE) and were joined after Judah had been subjected to the Romans (63 BCE). Therefore, the Messiahs do not really belong in the text about the eschatological war.

The Messiah/sage/healer/prophet could be called "son of David". At the beginning of the common era, it was widely believed that the legendary king had been able to cast out demons (e.g., he had cured Saul) and prophesy.note According to a postscript to the Dead Sea scroll known as 11QPsalmsa, the songs were written by divine inspiration:

All these psalms David spoke through prophecy which was given him from before the Most High.

Summing up, we may assume that there was a messianology in which the Messiah was the sage that would one day give the right interpretation of the Law of Moses, would heal ill people, and could predict the future. For a long time, Jesus of Nazareth was considered to be the first example of this category, but the seventeenth Psalm of Solomon (quoted above) proves that the ideas were older. Most messianic claimants from the Middle ages and more recent centuries belong to this category, although the type of wisdom has undergone enormous changes.