Messianic motifs: other titles

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.

Literary motifs: other titles

Up till now, we have read texts that mention explicitly the Messiah, quote Balaam's prophecy or speak about the Messiah using a "son of"-title. We will now discuss some other motives.

Lion of Judah / Shiloh

In the Fourth book of Ezra, composed c.100 CE, a vision is described in which a twelve-winged eagle (the first twelve emperors of Rome) is punished by a lion, who represents the Messiah.note This motif is not uncommon; it is also used in Genesis 49.8-12, where Jacob blesses his sons and predicts that the king of Judah will one day rule all tribes ("until he comes to whom the staff belongs"). The prophecy was perhaps written with an eye on king Josiah, and it may be pointed out that the lion was a common heraldic sign in the seventh century BCE.

Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as a lioness; who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his ass' colt to the choice vine, he washes his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes; his eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.

These lines were usually interpreted in a messianic sense, which focusses (a.o.) on the line "until he comes to whom it belongs". In fact, the text reads "until Shiloh comes", but nobody knows who this Shiloh is. Later generations have translated it as "he to whom it belongs" and identified the Shiloh with "the Messiah". When the messianic interpretation had become common, it was easy to adapt this fragment in other ways, as we have already seen in the Aramaic adaptation (above). In the early seventh century, Muhammad was considered to be the Shiloh.

The image can also be found in the Book of Revelation, where he is identified with the root of David.

I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?"
And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I wept much that no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, "Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth; and he went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne.note

In Qumran, the image of "a furious lion" has a very negative connotation. In 4Q169, a commentary on Nahum, the beast stands for the Hasmonaean king Alexander Jannaeus (r.103-76), who had ordered the crucifixion of several Pharisees during a civil war. Although the members of the Qumran sect hated the Pharisees, the author of 4Q169 clearly had pity with his executed enemies.

Since the "lion" can have both positive and negative meanings, it comes as no surprise to read that Hippolytus speaks of both Christ and the Antichrist as lions.note

Prince (nasi)

The title "prince" was first used by the prophet Ezekiel, as we have seen above. The prophet was speaking about some idealized ruler with almost messianic characteristics. At a later stage, the identification with the Messiah was taken for granted.

As is is written in the book of Isaiah the prophet, And felled will be the thickets of the forest with an ax, and Lebanon by a mighty one will fall. A shoot will arise from the roots of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. Its interpretation is [...] the branch of David. And they will judge the [...]. And the prince of the Community, the branch of David, will put him to death [...] with tambourine and with dancing. And the priest will command [...] the slain of the Kittim.note

Although the Messiah is not mentioned and the "prince of the community" can also be the leader of the Qumran sect, the identification with the Messiah can in this case be taken for granted, because the "prince" is identified with the Branch of David.

Simon ben Kosiba used this title in some of his letters, which have survived and can be read here. On his coins, he is called "Simon the Prince", and some show oil libation jugs, which indicate his messianic claims. Rabbi Yehuda, the author of the Mishnah, was nicknamed Nasi, "the Prince", too.

Other titles

There are several other messianic titles, which we have already encountered. For example, the Messiah can be called "the chosen one" (also used to describe Moses), "the elect" (e.g., 1 Enoch 40.5; 4QFlorilegium), or the "sun of righteousness" (Testament of Judah 24).

Another title, which was first used by Ezekiel, is "the servant" (above). Some later messianologies (from the first century BCE onward), refer to the Song of the suffering servant. We will discuss these theories below.