June 3: Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1, 14-19

Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1, 14-19

In the Synoptic narrative, there are three references to the Spirit, connected with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry—the saying of the Baptist (Mk 1:7-8), the Baptism of Jesus (1:9-11), and the tradition of Jesus’ time in the desert following his baptism (1:12-13). The first two were discussed in the previous daily notes (June 1, 2); today I will be discussing the third of these, with special attention given to how the tradition is treated (and developed) in the Gospel of Luke.

According to the Synoptic narrative, immediately after Jesus’ baptism, once he has been ‘anointed’ by the Spirit of God, the Spirit thrusts him into a desolate area where he is tested by the Satan. This tradition is narrated only briefly in Mark:

“And straightaway the Spirit cast him out into the desolate (land); and he was in the desolate (land) forty days, being tested under the Satan, and he was with the wild animals, and the Messengers attended to him.”

The use of the verb e)kba/llw (“throw out, cast out”) sounds most harsh to our ears, and is not how we might expect God’s Spirit to treat His Son and Anointed One. The Matthean version softens this considerably:

“Then Yeshua was led up into the desolate (land) under the Spirit to be tested under the Diabo/lo$ [i.e. the Devil].” (4:1)

The Markan version unquestionably represents a more primitive form of the tradition. It is best to retain the literal sense of the verb e)kba/llw, understanding it as “thrust out”, rather than “throw out”. This properly reflects the violent character of the Spirit in Old Testament tradition, which would “rush” onto the gifted/chosen prophet or leader, like a powerful blowing wind (the fundamental meaning of Grk pneu=ma and Heb j^Wr alike). The violence of the action is also appropriate for the testing that Jesus will undergo in the desert—traditionally understood as the domain of dangerous spirits, in addition to wild animals. While Mark says nothing more of this “testing”, Matthew and Luke each include an extensive narrative account (Matt 4:2-10 / Lk 4:2b-12), drawn from a common line of tradition (the so-called “Q” material).

In terms of Jesus as a Spirit-empowered Messianic prophet (cf. the previous note), the desert locale may be particularly significant, in at least two ways:

    • Moses—the forty days and nights he spent on Sinai (Exod 24:18; 34:28; Deut 9:9), par. with the forty years spent by Israel in the Sinai desert (Exod 16:35; Deut 8:2ff). The Torah which Moses received from God on Sinai plays a central role in the Temptation narrative.
    • Elijah—of all the Old Testament Prophets, Elijah is most commonly associated with time spent in the desert; cf. especially 1 Kings 19:8, and the forty days and nights spent without food on Horeb (|| Sinai).

Following the Temptation scene in Matthew, Jesus properly begins his ministry, in Galilee. The Gospel writer marks this with a citation from Isaiah 9:1-2, presumably understood in a Messianic sense (4:12-16). Luke similarly narrates the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, though in a rather different way, with the episode at Nazareth (par Mark 6:1-6; Matt 13:54-58). It is important to realize how this episode is framed in relationship to the Baptism and the coming of the Spirit upon Jesus:

    • 3:21-22—the Baptism scene (descent of the Spirit)
    • 3:23ff—notice of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
    • 4:1-2a—the Spirit leads him into the desert
    • 4:2b-13—the Temptation scene
    • 4:14-15—Jesus returns in the Spirit, starting his public ministry (teaching)
    • 4:16-30—the episode at Nazareth

Scenes involving the Spirit (in bold above) alternate with narrative episodes and notices marking the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. This indicates a uniquely Lukan development of the traditional portrait of Jesus as a Spirit-inspired Prophet. I previously mentioned the two aspects of Jesus ministry (in the Galilean period) which directly relate to this (Messianic) prophetic role—(1) teaching and preaching, and (2) healing miracles which demonstrate his power over evil spirits. The second aspect was implicit in the Temptation scene (4:1-13), while the first aspect features in what follows (4:14-30). Consider especially how Luke develops the tradition in Mark 1:12—first, the notice in 4:1:

“An Yeshua, full of (the) holy Spirit, turned back from the Yarden (river) and was led (about), in the Spirit, in the desolate (land)”

Luke shares the Matthean idiom of Jesus being led by the Spirit (rather than “thrust out” into the desert, as in Mark), but has gone even further in emphasizing the role of the Spirit, and Jesus’ relationship to it. First, contrary to Mark and Matthew, only in Luke’s version of the Baptism scene is the expression “holy Spirit” used (3:22), and this usage continues here in 4:1. Moreover, we find here two phrases which occur elsewhere in Luke-Acts, regarding the role and activity of the Spirit:

Much the same is repeated by the Gospel writer after the Temptation scene, when Jesus returns from the desert to begin his ministry:

“And Yeshua turned back, in the power of the Spirit, into the Galîl {Galilee}” (4:14)

Jesus is thus identified as a Spirit-inspired prophet, a chosen representative of God, empowered to teach (proclaiming God’s word and will) and work miracles. This is the setting for the episode at Nazareth in verses 16-30. I have discussed this scene at length in earlier notes and articles; in terms of the Lukan development of the traditional material, including the role of the Spirit, please consult my article in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (there is also a series of notes you might find helpful). Here I wish to highlight certain points which relate specifically to the citation of Isaiah 61:1-2 and Jesus’ own Messianic identity.

First, there are the themes and motifs of Isa 40-66 (so-called deutero- and trito-Isaiah), those related to the restoration of Israel and the return of God’s people from exile. The Lukan Gospel contains allusions to a number of such Isaian passages, including in the Infancy narrative (cf. Lk 2:25-38), prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry narrated in chapters 3-4. These references occur in the context of a portrait of devout Jews who are waiting (to receive) the “consolation [para/klhsi$] of Israel” (v. 25) and the “redemption [lu/trwsi$] of Jerusalem” (v. 38). These passages are thus to be understood in a “Messianic” context, and generally reflect the expectations and hopes of many Jews of the period. By the first century B.C./A.D., the idea of the “restoration” of Israel (and its kingdom), was closely tied to the coming of a new (Anointed) Ruler who would re-establish the Davidic covenant (cf. 2 Sam 7/Psalm 89, etc).

Second, Isaiah 61:1ff was likely understood as a Messianic passage by many in the 1st century A.D. Evidence for such interpretation and application in Jesus’ own time is indicated by the Qumran text 4Q521. This text survives in several fragments, the largest of which (frag. 2 [col. ii]) contains a blending of several Old Testament passages, primarily Psalm 146 and Isaiah 61:1-2 (for a somewhat similar use of Isa 61:1f cf. also 11QMelchizedek [11Q13]). The role of the Messiah (line 1) in what follows is not entirely clear, but it is possible that he is the agent through whom God will perform “marvellous acts” (line 11ff). It is hard to be certain, but the remaining fragments (especially frag. 2 col iii with its allusion to Mal 4:5-6) suggest the Anointed One (see also pl. “Anointed Ones” in frag. 8) should be understood as a prophetic figure, in the manner of Elijah.

If we accept the historical accuracy and authenticity of the tradition in 4:17-21, then the Anointed (i.e. Messianic) figure with whom Jesus explicitly identifies himself is the prophetic herald of Isa 61:1ff. The accuracy of this self-identification would seem to be confirmed by the separate (and independent) tradition recorded in 7:18-23 (par Matt 11:2-6), where Jesus alludes to the same passage, applying it to himself and his ministry.

Isa 61:1, in its original context, referred to the prophet himself (trad. Isaiah)—the Spirit of Yahweh was upon him and anointed him to bring good news to the poor and oppressed; vv. 2-11 describe and promise the restoration of Israel, including a (new) covenant with God (v. 8) and (new) righteousness that will be manifest to all nations (vv. 9-11). Once the full sense of this “restoration” was transferred to the future, the speaker came to be identified with an Anointed eschatological (end-time) Prophet. Admittedly, prophets are not usually referred to as “anointed” in the Old Testament, but in later Judaism it became more common, and in the Qumran texts the word is used a number of times (especially in the plural) for the Prophets of Israel. On the role of the Spirit in Isa 61:1, in light of wider Old Testament (Prophetic) tradition regarding the Spirit of God and the restoration of Israel, cf. my earlier note in the series on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament.

June 2: Mark 1:9-11 par

Mark 1:9-11 par

Along with the saying of the Baptist (cf. the previous note), there is a related early Gospel tradition involving the Spirit of God (and/or the “holy Spirit”)—the famous narrative of the Baptism of Jesus. I have discussed the entire episode of Jesus’ Baptism at great length in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”; here, in this note, the discussion will be limited to how this narrative tradition reflects a development of the earlier lines of Old Testament and Jewish tradition, regarding the Spirit of God.

The core Synoptic narrative is best represented by the Markan version (1:9-11), with the descent of the Spirit described in verse 10:

“And straightaway, stepping up out of the water, he saw the heavens being split (open) and the Spirit as a dove stepping down unto him”

The Matthean version (3:16) is expanded, offering more precise (if blander) detail:

“And (hav)ing been dunked, Yeshua straightaway stepped up from the water, and see!—the heavens were opened (up), and he saw [the] Spirit of God stepping down, as if a dove, [and] coming upon him”

The Lukan version (3:21-22), by contrast, is briefer, but embedded within a complex syntactical structure that is difficult to translate; the relevant portion reads:

“…(an) opening (up) of the heaven and (the) stepping down of the holy Spirit, in bodily appearance as a dove, upon him”

The main details are consistent across the Synoptic tradition, and are also shared by the Johannine version (1:32ff), presented as an indirect narration by the Baptist:

“I have looked at the Spirit stepping down as a dove out of heaven, and it remained upon him”

The three key details, found in all versions, are: (1) the Spirit “stepping down” out of heaven, (2) the form/appearance as a dove, and (3) its coming “upon” Jesus. Let us briefly consider each of these.

1. “stepping down” (vb katabai/nw) out of heaven

This signifies the heavenly origin of the Spirit, implying that it comes from God in heaven. The Markan and Johannine versions specifically state that it came “out of” (e)k) heaven, while Matthew has “from” (a)po/) heaven. The dramatic opening up of the heavens (i.e. the skies) in Mark/Matthew makes clear the idea that the Spirit comes down onto the earth. The use of the verb katabai/nw (lit. “step down”, i.e. come down) has special significance in the Gospel of John, which uses both katabai/nw and the related a)nabai/nw (“step up”) in a uniquely theological (and Christological) sense. The “descent” of the Spirit marks the beginning of this descent/ascent motif—that is, the incarnation and exaltation of Jesus, respectively—in the Gospel (cf. 1:51, etc).

2. The Dove

Commentators continue to debate the significance of the dove appearance of the Spirit in this episode. Many ideas and associations have been suggested, but three seem particularly relevant:

    • The Creation account, which depicts the spirit (or breath) of God “hovering/fluttering” like a bird (Gen 1:2, cf. the earlier note); other Old Testament passages similarly describe God’s presence in creation (that is, among His people) using bird-imagery (e.g., Deut 32:11-13).
    • The fundamental meaning of both pneu=ma in Greek and j^Wr in Hebrew is that of wind, i.e. something blowing; this makes for a natural association with the image of a bird in flight. Similarly, the image of a bird in the expanse of the skies (or heavens) connotes freedom, exaltation, purity, and so forth. Many religious traditions worldwide depict the life-breath (i.e. soul, spirit) of a person as a bird.
    • The whiteness that characterizes many doves, and is traditional of the dove, serves as a natural symbol for the holiness (i.e. purity) of God’s Spirit.

Only the last of these relates specifically to a dove, and is particularly important to the baptism setting, with its emphasis on cleansing. It is worth remembering that the literal expression in Hebrew is, most commonly, “spirit of [God’s] holiness” (vd#q) j^Wr), rather than “holy spirit”; that is, the emphasis is squarely on holiness and purity as a divine characteristic.

3. Coming “upon” Jesus

The Markan version uses the preposition ei)$, which is somewhat ambiguous; literally, it could mean “into”, but most commentators would render it here as “unto”. In Old Testament tradition, this could be comparable to the idea of God’s Spirit coming (or “rushing”) to a person, using the preposition la#. By contrast, Matthew and Luke (along with the Johannine version) use the preposition e)pi/ (“upon”), corresponding to the Hebrew lu*. There are even more Old Testament passages which express the idea of God’s Spirit being (or coming) upon a person—cf. Num 11:17ff; Judg 3:10; 14:6; 1 Sam 10:6, 10; 11:6, etc (discussed in recent notes). Moreover, this was the basic idiom that was developed in later Prophetic tradition, involving the image of the Spirit being “poured out” upon a person (cf. the discussion below).

The Significance of the Baptism Scene

This needs to be considered from several vantage points:

    • The Baptism scene in the context of the early Gospel narrative
    • The language and imagery in the scene itself, especially the detail of the “voice” from heaven
    • How the scene was understood, in context, by the Gospel writers
The Context of the early Gospel narrative

This involves: (a) the baptism rite in the setting of John’s ministry, and (b) the saying of the Baptist regarding “the one coming”. Both of these aspects were discussed in the previous note, where I pointed out the significant parallels with the water-ritual performed for entrants into the Qumran Community. The ritual symbolized the person’s “spirit” being cleansed (and made holy) by God’s own Spirit; moreover, this cleansing was preparatory for the purification that would take place at the end-time. The Gospel narrative clearly indicates that the baptism rite, as performed by John, was for the cleansing of sin, and that it similarly anticipated the end-time Judgment of God—when the righteous/faithful ones would be purified, while the wicked would be consumed.

What is distinctive about the Baptist’s message in this regard, is the localization of this end-time cleansing with the Messianic figure of “the one coming”. On the derivation of this expression from the tradition in Malachi 3:1, as interpreted in a Messianic sense, cf. the previous note, along with my supplemental note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Implicit in the early Gospel narrative is that Jesus, with his initial appearance at his baptism, is being identified with this Messianic figure. The point is not made explicit at all in the simpler Synoptic narrative of Mark, but the connection is evinced, in different ways, by the other Gospel writers. For example, the inclusion of the Infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke establishes the Messianic identity of Jesus even prior to the Baptism, a point reinforced by Matthew’s citation of Isa 9:1-2 in 4:12-16. Luke sets the Baptism episode in the context of questions regarding whether John the Baptist might be the Anointed One (3:15ff); this is presented even more prominently in the Johannine Gospel (1:19-27).

The pouring of water in the baptism-rite also suggests the idea of anointing—indeed, both motifs were associated with the Spirit of God in Old Testament Tradition, as discussed in prior notes. In the ancient kingship traditions—going back to the earlier leadership of Moses, Joshua, and the Judges—the Spirit of God came upon the ruler, in a manner similar to prophetic inspiration (cf. 1 Sam 10:6, 11; 11:6, etc). In the case of Saul and David, there is a close connection between the coming of God’s Spirit and the anointing ritual (1 Sam 16:13f); even after the principle of Spirit-inspired charismatic leadership waned, the presence of the Spirit was still tied to the king’s anointing in the (Judean) royal theology. There is less evidence for the anointing of prophets; however, the expression “anointed one” (j^yv!m*, i.e. messiah) could be applied to prophets, as well as kings and priests. As mentioned in the prior note, the early Gospel tradition, during the period of his ministry, seems to have identified Jesus as a Messianic prophet rather than the Davidic ruler figure-type. Cf. Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The Voice from Heaven

The heavenly voice in the Baptism narrative primarily represents a theophany—that is, the manifestation of God among human beings (His people, or their chosen representative[s]). The main Old Testament example, of course, is the Sinai theophany, when the people heard the voice of God speaking (Exod 19:19ff; 20:18-21; Deut 4:10-12). In the Gospels, this theophanic voice relates specifically to key moments during Jesus’ ministry, demonstrating God’s relationship to him specifically. In addition to the Baptism and Transfiguration episodes (Mk 9:7 par; Lk 9:35 [v.l.]), there is a comparable occurrence in the Gospel of John (12:27-32). The heavenly voice at the Transfiguration essentially repeats the voice at the Baptism (in Matthew’s version they are virtually identical), and the parallel episodes serve to divide the structure of the Synoptic narrative:

    • The Baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry
    • The Transfiguration marks the end of that ministry, and the beginning of the events leading up to his Passion

The declaration made by the heavenly voice, and its precise significance, continue to be debated. There does seem to be an allusion to Psalm 2:7, which would strongly indicate an identification of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) of the Davidic ruler type—i.e., future/end-time king from the line of David. In some manuscripts of Luke 3:22, the voice actually quotes Psalm 2:7, an indication, at the very least, that early Christians had made the connection. However, it seems more likely that the primary allusion is to Isaiah 42:1, which clearly references the Spirit coming upon God’s chosen one (cf. my earlier note on the passage). The Greek word translating db#u# (“servant”) is pai=$, which literally means “child”, and so could easily be interpreted in the specific sense of “son” (ui(o/$). The Servant of the deutero-Isaian poems is best understood as an Anointed leader patterned after Moses, who will lead Israel in their return from exile (a ‘new Exodus’). He thus serves as a Messianic prophet-figure, parallel to the end-time Prophet patterned after Elijah (Mal 3:1; 4:5-6, cf. the previous note). In the Transfiguration scene, Jesus is associated with both Moses and Elijah.

The Meaning of the Scene in the Gospels

Given the explicit notice that the purpose of John’s baptizing was for repentance and forgiveness of sin, it is interesting that the Gospel writers do not give any evidence of the theological implications of this in relation to Jesus. At the level of the historical tradition, the idea of Jesus’ sinlessness was not yet an issue, and, by the time the Gospels were written, the Baptism-tradition was so well-fixed that the writers were no longer free to comment on the matter. Only at Matt 3:14-15 is there any indication of an apologetic concern, expressed more in terms of Jesus’ apparent submission to John, than on his need for repentance.

Whatever the specific reasons or circumstances for Jesus being baptized, at the historical level, the Gospels quite clearly demonstrate that the scene is not about cleansing and purification, but of consecration and empowerment. The best parallel from Old Testament tradition is that of prophetic inspiration—that is, the Spirit of God coming upon the chosen/gifted spokesperson (ayb!n`) who will serve as God’s representative. The idea of Jesus as a Davidic (royal) Messiah is largely foreign to the first half of the Synoptic narrative (the Galilean ministry period); only with the journey to Jerusalem, and the events leading to his Passion, does the Davidic association come more clearly into view. Two aspects of Jesus’ ministry are most directly relevant to the ayb!n` (prophet) role:

    • Preaching and teaching—i.e. Spirit-inspired utterance, and
    • Healing miracles, demonstrating his power and authority over spirits of disease, etc.

Of the Old Testament Prophets, the working of miracles is associated most commonly with Elijah (and his successor Elisha), and also, to a lesser extent, with Moses. Inspired preaching is common to many of the prophets, though the specific idea of teaching, with its connection to the Torah, would be most closely related to Moses. Thus Jesus could well be viewed as an Anointed (Messianic) prophet patterned after both Moses and Elijah (cf. the Transfiguration scene). However, direct allusions in the Gospels are slight, and it is only in the Gospel of Luke that we find a clearer portrait of the kind of Anointed figure Jesus understood himself to be. This will be discussed in the next daily note.

June 1: Mark 1:7-8 par

For the daily notes beginning in the month of June, I will be following up on the earlier (pre-Pentecost) series on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. In the light of those studies, we will examine how this understanding of the presence and work of God’s Spirit—and, specifically, the idea of His “holy Spirit” —was developed in early Christian thought. It is a subject I have discussed, with regard to the Gospel Tradition, in a prior set of notes; here, however, the focus will be on how the earlier Old Testament (and Jewish) tradition regarding God’s Spirit was developed.

We begin with a core set of the earliest Gospel traditions (esp. the Synoptic Tradition); as these have already been discussed in some detail in the aforementioned series, the treatment will be more limited here.

Mark 1:7-8 par

The first passage referring to the (Holy) Spirit in the Synoptic Tradition comes from a saying/declaration by John the Baptist (Mark 1:7-8 par), which is certainly among the very oldest/earliest to be preserved in Christian tradition (cf. the articles on the Baptism of Jesus in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). The age (and authenticity) of the saying is confirmed by the fact that it is recorded no fewer than six times in the Gospels and Acts, having been transmitted independently in at least two (or more) strands of tradition. Moreover, while John the Baptist has a central place in the earliest Gospel narrative, he soon disappeared from Christian tradition generally—he is never mentioned in the New Testament outside of the Gospels and Acts, and only once in the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-150 A.D.), as part of a simple Gospel/creedal formula (Ignatius, Smyrneans 1:1, cf. Rom 1:3-4). Thus the prominence of John in the primitive Gospel narrative and kerygma is virtually a guarantee of authenticity.

Admittedly, some commentators have questioned the authenticity of such a reference to the “holy Spirit” by John the Baptist, considering the historical detail in Acts 19:1-3ff to the effect that disciples of John the Baptist were apparently unaware of the existence of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, however, the numerous occurrences of the expression “holy spirit” (= “spirit of holiness”) in the Qumran texts would tend to increase the likelihood that John, indeed, might make use of the same expression. In particular, there is a certain similarity between Johannine/Christian baptism and the water-ritual for entrants into the Qumran Community (cf. 1QS 3:6-9, discussed in a prior article), and the “holy spirit” of God plays a central role in both.

Mark’s short account of John the Baptist and his ministry (Mk 1:2-8), which precedes the Baptism of Jesus (vv. 9-11), climaxes with the core saying in vv. 7-8:

“The (one) stronger than me comes behind me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bend (down) to loosen the straps of (the shoe)s bound under his (feet). I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit [e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w|].”

Matthew and Luke provide a more extensive account, including additional sayings and teachings by John; the saying corresponding to Mk 1:7-8 is in Matt 3:11 / Lk 3:16. Here the three versions are presented side-by-side for comparison, with the main elements in Matthew/Luke which differ from Mark indicated by italics:

Mark 1:7-8 Matthew 3:11 Luke 3:16
“The (one) stronger than me comes behind me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bend (down) to loosen the straps of the (shoe)s bound under his (feet). I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit.” “I dunk you in water into a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance]; but the (one) coming behind me is stronger than me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bear/carry the (shoe)s bound under (his feet)—he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit and fire.” “I dunk you in water; but the (one) stronger than me comes, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to loosen the straps of the (shoe)s bound under his (feet)—he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit and fire.”

For more on the differences between Mark and Matthew/Luke, cf. my earlier note. Of special significance is that Matthew and Luke both add “and (in) fire [kai\ puri/]”. This emphasizes the coming/future Judgment of God upon humankind (cf. Matt 3:7ff par), and leads into the added saying in Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17. The common idea shared by the “holy Spirit” and “fire” is that of cleansing, which also happens to be the principal meaning of the baptism water-rite.

Moreover, the triad of water-spirit-fire all represent elements associated with purification and cleansing in Old Testament tradition. Cleansing by water is common enough (Num 8:7; 19:12; Ps 51:2; Ezek 16:4; 36:25; Zech 13:1, etc), and the imagery is occasionally extended to the (symbolic) pouring out of the Spirit of God (Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 36:25-26). Fire is also used as a symbol of purification; in addition to the idea of burning up garbage and refuse, there is the metallurgic imagery, whereby base metal is refined and its impurities removed through fire—cf. Psalm 12:6; Isa 4:4-5; 48:10; Dan 11:35; 12:10; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:2-3. Offerings and objects consecrated to God are also burned with fire (Ex 29:18, 34, etc; Deut 13:16; Josh 6:24). These three elements (water, fire, and the “holy spirit”) are combined in 1QS 4:20-21 from Qumran (cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX [AB vol. 28], p. 474); the following details are relevant to the setting of John’s ministry:

      • It will occur at the (end) time of God’s visitation—i.e., an eschatological setting
      • God will purge the deeds of humankind by His Truth
        • refining (by fire) a portion of humankind (i.e., the righteous/chosen ones)
        • removing every evil spirit from their flesh
        • cleansing them from wickedness with (the) holy Spirit
        • sprinkling them with the Spirit (as with water)
      • The righteous ones are cleansed with the Spirit of Truth

Let us look a bit more closely at the saying in Mark 1:8, which follows the second phrase of the saying in v. 7 by establishing a contrast between John and the “one coming”; here is the version in Mark:

“I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in [e)n] the holy Spirit”
e)gw/ e)ba/ptisa u(ma=$ u%dati, au)to\$ de\ bapti/sei u(ma=$ e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w|

For the other Synoptic versions (Matt 3:11 / Luke 3:16), they are very close to the Markan saying (as noted above), but share three key differences:

    • Both use a me\nde/ construction—i.e. “on the one hand…on the other…”
    • Each includes the saying corresponding to Mk 1:7 in the middle of the saying corr. to Mk 1:8—i.e. “I dunk you in water…, but the one coming… he will dunk you in the holy Spirit”
    • Each adds “and (in) fire”—”he will dunk you in the holy Spirit and (in) fire

The version in Acts (1:5, par 11:16) represents a saying by Jesus, indicating something which Jesus had told his disciples about John:

“(On the one hand) John dunked in water, but (other other hand) you will be dunked in the holy Spirit” (1:5)

The version in John (Jn 1:26 & 33) shows a more substantial reworking of the tradition; the reference to the holy Spirit does not occur until John the Baptist’s reporting of the baptism of Jesus.

The Development of Tradition

How does this saying of the Baptist relate to the Old Testament and Jewish traditions regarding the Spirit of God and the “holy Spirit”? Two points need to be considered:

    • The association of the holy Spirit with the water-ritual (dunking/baptism), and
    • Its significance in relation to “the one coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$)

The first point can be illustrated by the water-ritual of the Qumran Community (cf. above). As the physical ritual (sprinkling/bathing) with water is performed, it symbolizes the underlying reality of purification by God’s Spirit (“spirit of [His] holiness”), through which the entrant’s own “spirit” is made completely holy. This idea builds upon the earlier Prophetic tradition regarding the role of God’s Spirit in the future restoration of Israel. This is a theme we find in a number of the 6th century Prophets (Joel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah). In the coming New Age of Israel’s restoration, associated with the specific idea of the return of Israel/Judah to their land, the people will be given a “new heart” and a ‘new spirit’, purified and made holy (and obedient to God’s covenant) through the presence and work of God’s own spirit. The the “pouring out” of God’s Spirit upon His people is seen as a mark of the coming New Age (Isa 44:3; Joel 2:28-29; Ezek 39:29; cf. also Zech 12:10); for discussion of these passages, cf. the notes in the series on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament.

By the time of the Qumran texts, this restoration-theme had come to be understood in a strongly eschatological and Messianic sense. The Qumran Community viewed itself as the “remnant” of Israel, the faithful ones of the end-time, who would be delivered and led by the Anointed One(s) of God. By all accounts, John the Baptist’s preaching had much of the same flavor, proclaiming the coming of an Anointed figure (i.e. Messiah) who would deliver the faithful and usher in God’s end-time Judgment. The cleansing of his baptism rite was in preparation for this eschatological event, much as we see at Qumran (cp. 1QS 3:6-9 with 4:20-21). There is little reason to doubt the historical accuracy of this aspect of John’s ministry, given what we know of Jewish eschatology and Messianism from the Qumran texts and other Jewish writings of the period.

In this regard, John’s use of the expression “the one coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$) provides the key to the meaning and context of the saying in Mark 1:8 par. In Mk 1:7 (also Lk 3:16; cp. Acts 13:25), the Greek wording is “(one) stronger than me comes [e&rxetai]…”, but in Matthew (3:11) the wording is:

“the (one) coming [e)rxo/meno$]…is stronger than me”

This use of the participle also occurs in the question posed by the Baptist in Matt 11:3 / Lk 7:19:

“Are you the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$]…?”

The same expression occurs in the Baptist’s saying in Jn 1:15, 27. Most likely, it is derived from Malachi 3:1, and the last clause— “the Messenger of the covenant, whom you take pleasure in, see! he will come“. In the Greek [LXX] version, the form is e&rxetai, as in Mark/Luke (cf. above). In other words, “the one coming” [o( e)rxo/meno$] likely refers to the Messenger of Mal 3:1, a point I discuss in a supplemental note to the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. While the “messenger” (Ea*l=m^) of the original prophecy would have referred to a heavenly being who served as God’s representative (representing YHWH Himself), by the 1st century A.D. it would have been interpreted in a more distinctly Messianic sense. The origins of this interpretation can be found in the closing verses of the book of Malachi itself (4:5-6), identifying the “messenger” with a future appearance of “Elijah”.

Thus, it seems probable that John the Baptist envisioned the coming of a Messianic Prophet, according to the figure-type of Elijah, who would serve as God’s representative and usher in the Judgment. The New Testament evidence, regarding just who fulfills this expected Messianic role, is exceedingly complex. On the one hand, nearly all of the evidence—and certainly from the Galilean ministry period in the Synoptic narrative—points to Jesus as the Anointed Prophet like Elijah. Indeed, in Jn 1:20-21ff, John explicitly denies being the Elijah-to-come, presumably reserving it for another (Jesus). Yet, at the same time, in at least one tradition, Jesus states the reverse—that John is the Elijah-to-come (Matt 11:14; cf. 17:12-13 par). Subsequent Christian tradition followed the identification of John with Elijah, but this identification is by no means so certain in earliest strands of the Gospel tradition itself. I discuss the matter at some length in prior notes and articles (e.g., Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

What is the relation of the “holy Spirit” to this end-time Anointed Prophet—the role ultimately fulfilled by Jesus? The context of the saying in Mk 1:7-8, clearly indicates a comparison—the “one coming” is greater/mightier [i)sxuro/tero$] than John, but yet he will continue the Baptist’s work of cleansing God’s people, only in a more intense and complete way. Instead of using a water-rite that may symbolize cleansing by God’s Spirit, he will purify people with the Spirit itself, under the related image of fire.

As noted above, is likely that John himself had in mind the end-time appearance of God (coming to bring Judgment), through the work and presence of God’s own Messenger (Mal 3:1ff), who would be identified with Jesus. The main point of the contrast would seem to be that John’s ministry of washing/cleansing (by water) was preparatory for the end-time purification to be brought about by God (by Spirit/fire). That this greater “cleansing” reflects two sides, or aspects, of the Judgment seems clear from the “Q” version (and the parallel in the saying of Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17)—God’s Spirit/fire will burn up the wicked, but the righteous (i.e. the faithful ones who have repented, etc) will be purified and saved.

Interestingly, it is only in the Gospel of John that we actually read of Jesus doing anything like baptizing his followers in the Spirit; this is in Jn 20:19-23, the climactic scene of Jesus with his disciples after the resurrection:

“…even as the Father has set me forth from (Him), so I (am) send(ing) you. And saying this, he blew [i.e. breathed] in/on (them) and said to them: ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit…'” (vv. 21b-22)

This should be taken as indicating what the Gospel writer (and/or his tradition) understood by ‘dunking/baptizing in the Spirit’. Of course, in the traditions of Luke-Acts, this event is realized even more dramatically in the Pentecost scene of 2:1-4ff, though, in that narrative, the sending of the Spirit is less clearly presented as something that Jesus himself does. On the ambiguity of the Spirit being sent by God the Father, Jesus (the Son), or both—cf. especially the ‘Paraclete’ passages in the Johannine Last Discourse (chaps. 14-16). The dual-identification of the Holy Spirit with the Spirit of God, and also the Spirit of Christ, represents a uniquely Christian development, that will be discussed further in these notes.

 

May 19: Zechariah 4:6; 12:10

Zechariah 4:6; 12:10

In these notes we have been studying the references to the Spirit (j^Wr) of God in the Old Testament, from the earliest historical traditions in the Pentateuch to the Exilic and Post-exilic periods. The most recent notes have examined, in particular, the role of the Spirit in the restoration-message of the 6th century Prophets (Joel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Deutero-Isaiah[?]), and how this began to be realized in the Judean Community of the early (5th century) post-exilic period. The focus in Ezra-Nehemiah is very much upon the Torah as the foundation of this new (restored) Israelite/Jewish identity, and the recognition of the spirit-inspired character of the Torah (Neh 9:20ff, discussed in the previous note) confirms the close connection between the Spirit and the Torah in passages such as Jer 31:31-34 and Ezek 36:26-27. Preserving the covenant-bond with YHWH, demonstrated specifically by faithful observance of the Torah, is part of the “new heart” and “new spirit” given to the people, referenced in these restoration-oracles.

In a different way, the message of the earlier Prophets was continued in the post-exilic Prophetic writings of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, and this can be illustrated by the references to the spirit (j^Wr) of God in these texts. The situation surrounding the book of Zechariah is the most complex, due the composite nature of the work as it has come down to us. Most critical commentators would date chapters 9-14 considerably later than chaps. 1-8 (the visions and oracles of which are indicated as occurring 520-518 B.C.); the second half of the book would be dated after 515 B.C., and perhaps well into the 5th century (before 445?).

Zechariah 4:6 (Hag 2:4-5)

The oracle-vision in chapter 4 represents one of the earliest Messianic passages in the Old Testament—that is to say, it identifies present/future persons, according to a certain set of Prophetic traditions (regarding a coming king from the line of David, etc), as Anointed figures, in a manner that begins to approach the Jewish Messianism of the first centuries B.C./A.D. This foundational line of Messianic tradition (drawn from numerous passages in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, etc) was applied specifically to the ruler Zerubbabel and the priest Joshua. The Davidic lineage of Zerubbabel (whose name means something like “seed of Babylon”) is far from clear, a royal genealogy being indicated only in one late source (1 Chron 3:16-19). He is referred to as a hj*P# (i.e., governor of a city or small territory) in Haggai 1:1; 2:21, but his exact status in relation to the Persian Empire is not entirely clear. Certainly, however, he was a leader (along with the priest Joshua) of the Judean/Jerusalem Community in the early post-exilic period, being among a group of men who return to Judah, with permission from the Persian government, in order to rebuild the Temple (cf. Ezra 2:2; 3:2, 8; 4:2-3; 5:2). He is specifically paired with the priest Joshua in a dual-leadership role, in Haggai 1:12, a detail well-established enough to be preserved in later Jewish tradition (cf. Sirach 49:11-12).

In Zech 4, an oracle regarding Zerubbabel (vv. 6-10) is presented within a visionary framework—the vision of a golden lampstand flanked by two olive trees. The lampstand represents the presence of YHWH, in a symbolic/spiritual sense, while the two olive trees signify two anointed figures (v. 14)—that is, the anointed ruler Zerubbabel and priest Joshua. Not surprisingly, the message of the oracle relates to the rebuilding of the Temple, providing assurance that, the work having been begun (by Zerubbabel), it will be brought to completion (vv. 8-9). This is part a wider declaration regarding the divine presence that enables (and protects) Zerubbabel’s work, stated memorably in verse 6:

“This is the word of YHWH to Seed-of-Babel {Zerubbabel}, saying: ‘Not by strength, and not by power, but by my spirit [j^Wr], says YHWH of (the heavenly) armies’!”

It is by God’s spirit that this (the rebuilding of the Temple) will be accomplished, in spite of any difficulties or opposition that may be faced. Here we have a different side to the same basic restoration-message found in Ezra-Nehemiah (cf. the previous note). There it was the spirit-inspired Torah that was being emphasized, here it is the association of the spirit of God with the Temple—both represent fundamental aspects of the Israelite/Jewish religious identity that is being renewed and restored in the post-exilic period.

Since the Temple represents the presence of God as he dwells with His people, the association with His spirit is clear and natural enough. This aspect is brought out even more fully in Haggai 2:1-9, in which a similar message of exhortation is given to Zerubbabel (along with Joshua, and all the people) from YHWH, promising divine providence and supervision over the rebuilding:

“‘You must be strong…and do (the work), for I (am) with you’ —utterance of YHWH of (the heavenly) armies— ‘(by) the word (of the agreement) that I cut with you in your going forth from Egypt, and my spirit [j^Wr] is standing with you, (so) you must not fear!'” (vv. 4-5)

As a side note, the idea of the “(heavenly) armies” reflects an ancient image, the origins of which had long been lost by the time the book of Zechariah was composed. It essentially refers to El-Yahweh’s control over the powers of the sky/heaven, to the point that they will fight (as an organized army) on His behalf, and at His command. We see vestiges of it in the theophany-image of God (YHWH) residing in a chariot (cf. the chariot throne vision of Ezekiel 1). The vision in Zech 6:1-8 likewise preserves this symbolism, together with the specific idea that these heavenly chariots transport the spirit (j^Wr) of God (v. 8).

Zechariah 12:10

The oracles in Zechariah 12-14 continue the restoration-message of the exilic Prophets, but in a more developed form, drawing upon early apocalyptic and eschatological traditions, similar to those found in the books of Joel, Ezekiel and Deutero-Isaiah. In other words, the restoration of Israel is presented as part of a larger set of future/end-time events which encompass the judgment of the nations, the establishment of a ‘golden age’ of peace and prosperity, and so forth. The second half of Zechariah (chaps. 9-14) also shows signs of the development of an incipient Messianism—i.e., the expectation for the coming of a future Davidic ruler who will oversee the judgment/defeat of the nations and a New Age for Israel.

The multi-part oracle in chapters 12-13 refers to “that day” (vv. 3ff)—i.e., the “day of YHWH” from the nation-oracle tradition of the Prophets, but now expanded to become the moment when all the nations are judged together (cf. Joel 3). The nations will gather to attack Jerusalem (cp. 14:1ff; Ezek 38-39), but YHWH will bring salvation for Judah, as He Himself protects His people and will destroy their enemies (vv. 8-9). The eschatological nature, and cosmic dimensions, of this conflict are indicated by the allusions to the Creation account in verse 1. The end is a reflection of the beginning, and the New Age will entail a kind of New Creation (cf. Isa 65:17; 66:22; Rev 21:1). Even as God, by his own Spirit/Breath, gave the spirit/breath (j^Wr) of life to humankind (cf. the earlier note on Gen 2:7; Job 33:4), so in the New Age will He “pour out” His Spirit on His people (v. 10).

This is a well-established prophetic image, as we have seen in the prior studies on Isa 44:3; Joel 2:28-29, etc, and the oracle alludes to it here, by the expression “a spirit of favor” (/j@ j^Wr)—that is, of God’s favor toward His people. The water-imagery associated with pouring is made explicit: God will provide a fountain (roqm*) of water, flowing from the ground, for the people (and rulers) of Jerusalem (13:1). The primary purpose of this water is to cleanse God’s people from sin and impurity; as a result, the “spirit of uncleanness” (ha*m=F%h^ j^Wr) will be taken away from the land (v. 2). The association of the Spirit with water and cleansing is part of a longstanding tradition, and would become an important aspect of the imagery surrounding the idea of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

These references only confirm the increasing tendency, throughout the writings of the exilic and post-exilic periods, to connect religious reform with the presence and activity of God’s spirit. One final passage in this regard, from the book of Malachi, may be cited in closing. As part of an exhortation for a return to covenant faithfulness and loyalty, the prophet introduces the traditional metaphor of fidelity in marriage (2:14). The covenant is compared to a marriage-union, where two people become united in spirit; and, as the bond here is between humankind and God, the union entails a joining with the spirit of God (v. 15, cp. 1 Cor 6:17). Since a breaking of the covenant-bond involves a failure by human beings, not by God, the restoration must occur with the human spirit. Therefore the exhortation in verse 16 calls on the people to “be on guard with your spirit” (i.e. guard your spirit). The word j^Wr is used in both instances in vv. 15-16, for the spirit of God and His people alike.

Saturday Series: Isaiah 8:23-9:6; 11:1-10 (continued)

Having approached the oracles in Isaiah 8:23-9:6 [9:1-7] and 11:1-10 from a general historical-critical standpoint (see last week’s study), we will here look at them from a literary-critical point of view. Working from the structure and form of the oracles, we will undertake a short exegetical survey, drawing out information, inductively, for each section and verse.

Isaiah 8:23-9:6 [9:1-7]

In terms of the form and structure of this passage, it is best understood as consisting of a prosodic introduction (v. 23 [9:1]), followed by a poem (9:1-6 [2-7]), though it is also possible to treat 8:23b-9:6 as a single poetic oracle (applying 8:23a to the previous section). The poem proper may be divided into 6 stanzas corresponding to each numbered verse (vv. 1-6 [2-7 in English translations]):

    • V. 1: Light shines for those in darkness
    • V. 2: Joy will be increased, with two-fold motif: (a) harvest, (b) army dividing spoils
    • V. 3: Three connected symbols of oppression—yoke, cross-bar, and rod/whip—will be smashed
    • V. 4: The signs and remains of warfare and conquest (shoes, blood-caked garments) will be burned
    • V. 5: Announcement of the birth of a child (son), along with symbol(s) of government and (royal) titles
    • V. 6: A promise to establish/maintain the greatness and (eternal) rule of the Davidic kingdom

It is a poetic oracle, the concluding piece of 6:1-9:6[7], a document consisting of unquestionably authentic Isaian material—oracles and historical-biographical traditions—from the period c. 740-701 B.C. (focusing especially on the Assyrian crisis of 735-732).

Isa 8:23 [9:1]

The context of the oracle is established in 8:23 [9:1], though it can be difficult to determine this with precision. Here a careful study of the text is important, but even then, scholars and commentators may be divided on the correct interpretation. Compare the translations in two leading critical commentaries (by J. J. M Roberts [Hermeneia, 2015, p. 144] and Joseph Blenkinsopp [Anchor Bible, 2000, p. 245-6]):

Roberts/Hermeneia

…Surely it will be without daybreak to the one distressed by it.

As at the former time he treated with contempt
<The Sharon and the land of Gilead,>
The land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali,
So at the latter time he has honored the way of the sea,
Trans-jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who were walking in darkness
Have seen a great light…

Blenkinsopp/AB:

There is no gloom for her who is oppressed. At that time the earlier ruler treated with contempt the territory of Zebulon and Naphthali, and the later one oppressed the way of the sea, the land across the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people that walk in the dark
Have seen a great light…

These differences are based, in part, on difficulties surrounding the Hebrew. Note the following two examples:

    • Isaiah 8:23am¹±û¸ can be derived from ±ô¸ (“fly, flutter”) or ±ô¸ (“be dark”); the former would indicate a negative situation (“there will be no flying/fluttering” [that is, release/escape, or perhaps poetically as “daybreak”]), the latter a positive one (“there will be no darkness”). The referent for the feminine suffix –l¹h is unclear: it could refer to any of the feminine nouns in verse 22 (°ereƒ [“land”], µ¦š¢kâ [“darkness”], or parallel ƒ¹râ/ƒôqâ [“distress, oppression”]), or it could look forward to the “land” of 8:23b/9:1. The preposition could have the sense of “for her” or “from/by her”.
    • Isaiah 8:23b—Does h¹ri°šôn (“the head” [i.e. the first, former]) modify the prior common/feminine noun ±¢¾ (i.e. “as at the first/former time, [when] he…”), or does refer to an implied (masculine) subject (i.e. “as at the time [when] the first/former one…”); this affects the parallelism with h¹°aµ¦rôn (“the following” [i.e. the later]): is it a former/later time or former/later person? The verbs qll and kbd (in the Hiphil) mean “make light” and “make heavy” respectively; the former can either have the sense of “treat with contempt/dishonor” or “lighten, make easier”, the latter “treat with honor” or “make heavier [i.e. more difficult]”. Then, is the parallelism synonymous or antithetical? In the historical context, how do these verbs relate to the territories of Zebulon, Naphtali, the Transjordan and Galilee?

Keeping in mind the overall context of Isa 6:1-9:6, which is set rather securely in the period c. 740-732 B.C., if this context still applies to 8:23, the regions mentioned (Zebulon, Naphtali, Transjordan [Gilead], Galilee and the northern coastal plain [“way of the sea”]) represent areas which suffered under Assyrian attack 734-732 B.C., and were effectively annexed to become Assyrian provinces. The message of 9:1-6 is directed, in part, to the Northern kingdom (“the people who walk in darkness”)—there is no indication that Samaria has fallen completely yet. Of course, Assyria still threatened the Southern kingdom of Judah, and would launch a devastating attack some years later (this will become the central event of the remainder of the first half of the book [up to ch. 39]).

Isa 9:1-2 [2-3]

In the first two stanzas of the poem, God promises to deliver Israel/Judah from her enemies, bringing a renewed period of peace and prosperity. This is expressed in the prophetic perfect: “he has increased joy”, “he has smashed”, etc. The contrast of darkness and light in verse 1 brings out symbolically this distinction between the suffering experienced by the Northern kingdom, and the imminent promise of future hope. This darkness and shadow specifically alludes to the threat of death, and evokes language associated with the realm of Death and the grave (see Job 10:21-22, etc). Light (as of the sun) is a corresponding image representing (new) life and salvation. It is naturally associated with God (as a divine attribute/characteristic), but applies just as well to the king/ruler who functions under God’s authority.

The imagery in verse 2 shifts to that of the harvest. The contrast (implied) is between the pain/toil involved in planting and the joy (´imµâ) that comes with the time of reaping. This is further compared, in the last line, with the rejoicing that comes after victory in battle. A small text-critical note: by reading haggîlâ (instead of haggôy lœ°) in the first line, the wordplay and parallelism of the stanza is properly preserved:

“You have multiplied the circling (with joy),
you have made great the (feeling of) gladness—
they are glad before your face,
like the gladness at the (time of) reaping,
like those who circle (for joy) in (the) dividing of plunder.”

Isa 9:3-4 [4-5]

The allusion to battle in the final line of v. 2 becomes the main theme of the next two stanzas. The promise of hope and salvation is defined precisely in terms of the defeat of Israel’s enemies. The image in verse 3 is that of an oppressive foreign power being overthrown, leading to freedom and independence for the people. Given the apparent historical context of the oracle (see above), it suggests the possibility that the Northern territories, turned into Assyrian provinces, would regain their independence. The “day of Midian” doubtless refers to the Gideon traditions in Judges 6-8, when the Northern tribes were similarly delivered from the control of a foreign power. Verse 4 gives a vivid and graphic depiction of a military defeat.

Isa 9:5-6 [6-7]

These verses, so familiar to many Christians, are almost always read completely out of their original historical context. Again, the historical setting of Isa 6:1-9:6 would seem to be the years leading up to 732 B.C. (and prior to 722). In this light, the standard Messianic interpretation of the child in vv. 5-6 [EV 6-7] is out of the question (in terms of the primary meaning of the passage). Can we then identify the child with a particular historical figure? The grandeur of the titles in v. 5, and reference to the “throne of David” in v. 6, would require, at the very least, a king of Judah (that is, from the Davidic line). The only person from Isaiah’s own time (c. 735-700) who seems to fit is Hezekiah, son of Ahaz. The birth and/or accession of a new king could be a time of great hope and promise, but also of tremendous danger, as princes and vassals may see the moment as an opportune time for revolt (cf. Psalm 2). Following the reign of his father, Ahaz (who “did not do what was right in the eyes of YHWH”), Hezekiah is a positive figure, even under the withering judgment of the book of Kings (2 Kings 8:3ff: he finally removed the “high places”, which his ancestors failed to do). He will also become a central figure in the book of Isaiah, and focal point of the key historical moment: the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem under Sennacherib in 701 B.C.

It is also possible that Hezekiah is to be associated with the title ±Immanû-°¢l (“God-with-us”) in the prophecies of 7:10-17 and 8:5-10. Certainly the name is suggestive of the words describing Hezekiah’s reign, in 2 Kings 8:7 (“and YHWH was with him…”). For a consideration of arguments against identifying Hezekiah with the child of 9:5-6, see my earlier article on the subject. In that article, you will also find a discussion of the divine titles occurring in vv. 5-6. There are four such titles: the first two have nouns in juxtaposition, the second two are effectively construct forms. They are included under the formula: “and he/they will call [or has called] his name…”.

It has been said that the weighty titles listed in Isa 9:5 are too lofty to be applied to a human king. However, similarly lofty, theologically significant names and titles were regularly applied to rulers in the ancient Near East. The most extensive evidence comes from Egypt, and the names applied to the Pharaoh during enthronement rituals (some of which are roughly parallel to those in Isa 9:5). No similar ritual is recorded as such for kings of Israel/Judah in the Old Testament, but there are a few hints in the Psalms and elsewhere; Psalm 2 is perhaps the most striking example, a setting similar to that in the Egyptian ritual, where the Deity addresses the new ruler as His “son” (Ps 2:7).

Isaiah 11:1-10

As in 8:23-9:6, a period of salvation and peace is tied to the rise of a new king from the line of David. If 11:1-10 represents an authentic Isaiah oracle (i.e. from the mid-late 8th century B.C.), then it may well refer to the same king (Hezekiah?) announced in the earlier passage. Many commentators, however, would assign the composition of chapter 11 to a later period. In the previous study, I discussed the critical theory that the document 6:1-9:6, having been included with the wider (Isaian) context of chapters 5-10, was subsequently placed in the later literary context of chapters 2-4, 11-12. Certain thematic and stylistic considerations suggest an exilic (6th century) or even post-exilic setting, though this is hardly decisive, and there are even some critical commentators (e.g., J. J. M. Roberts, cf. above) who would accept Isaian authorship, on the whole, for the oracles in chaps. 2-4, 11-12.

Isa 11:1-10 has a very precise (literary) structure, consisting of two main parts (or strophes), bracketed by references to the new Davidic king (using the idiom “root/trunk of Jesse”).

Verse 1

“And there will go forth a branch from (the) trunk of Yishay,
and a green (shoot) will bear (forth) from his roots”

The oracle opens with a simple parallel couplet, establishing the theme: the rise of a new king (over Judah) from the line of David. The similarity of language with Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15ff, suggests that a 6th-century/exilic setting is in view. On the other hand, a Davidic emphasis is present in the 8th century Isaian material (7:2, 13, and elsewhere in chaps. 2-39 [16:5; 22:22, etc]), and the Jeremiah references may have been inspired by earlier Isaian usage. An authentic Isaian oracle (from the 8th century) would only make more likely that Hezekiah is the expected king; or, in any case, that it is one who would come after (or in place of) the disappointing Ahaz.

Verses 2-5

The bulk of the poem (vv. 2-9) describes the reign of this new king as a ‘golden age’ of peace and prosperity for Israel (presumably a unified Kingdom), conveyed in ideal (and idyllic) terms. The first portion focuses on the theme of the justice that would be established throughout society during his reign. The wisdom and discernment with which he governs follows the ancient principle of Spirit-inspired leadership (v. 2, cf. my recent note on this point). It is marked by fairness and impartiality, reflecting the very character of God as Judge (v. 3). Of special importance is the way that he works on behalf of the poor and weak, protecting them from oppression and violence (v. 4). Righteousness and faithfulness (to YHWH) are the overarching attributes that explain and characterize the justice of his rule (v. 5).

Verses 6-9

The ‘golden age’ of the new king’s reign is described, in the second half of the poem (vv. 6-9), in more mythological terms, drawing upon the idea of a state of peace and harmony that may once have existed (and will once again) in the natural world. These are certainly among the most beautiful and memorable lines in the entire book. The emphasis of peace and security from wild animals, while drawing upon earlier lines of tradition (Hos 2:18 [20]), may be another indicator of a 6th-century/exilic date for the poem (compare Ezek 34:25-26).

The main point of this imagery is that it will be an ideal time of peace for God’s people. This was also the theme in 2:2-5 (discussed in an earlier study), one of several literary parallels between chaps. 2-4 and 11-12. Roberts, in his commentary (pp. 180-1, cf. above), cites examples from Egypt and Assyria, where the accession of a new king is announced as a time of peace and security; however, in some ways, a closer parallel is to found in Virgil’s famous Fourth Eclogue, however far removed it may be from the ancient Near Eastern milieu.

Verse 10

The closing lines reprise the motif of the rise of a new Davidic king (from v. 1), forming an inclusio for the poem:

“And there will be in that day a root of Yishay {Jesse},
which, standing, (will be) for a n¢s of (the) people;
to him (the) nations will go in search,
and his resting(-place) will be worth(y).”

An important aspect of this king’s rule will be the way that the surrounding nations come to him. In its earlier form, this idea simply reflected the sovereign-vassal relationship that existed between the kingdom of Israel and a number of nations in the region, during the reigns of David and Solomon. This Israelite ’empire’ was brief, and collapsed shortly after Solomon’s reign, but would remain an ideal, in terms of Israel’s restoration, for centuries to come. However, during the later Prophets of the exile and post-exilic periods, this motif of the ‘gathering of the nations’ came to be expressed in a new way, as part of a developing eschatological (and Messianic) understanding of Israel’s future restoration.

This same eschatological aspect was seen in 2:2-5 (cf. the earlier study), centered around the Jerusalem Temple, and the outreach to the surrounding (Gentile) nations. As I have noted, the theme is typical of many of the Deutero-Isaian oracles in chaps. 40-66—see, for example, 40:9; 42:6-7; 45:14-23; 49:6; 51:4; 56:7; 57:13; 60:1-18; 65:11, 26; 66:20, etc. Most critical commentators would ascribe the Deutero-Isaian material, generally, to the exile or post-exilic period. A thematic comparison with texts from this period (e.g. Zech 2:14-16 [EV 12-14]; 8:20-23; Hag 2:7-9) would tend to point in this direction (cf. Blenkinsopp, p. 191). I have already noted the idea that the framing sections in chapters 2-4, 11-12, while likely containing earlier/older material, may well have been composed somewhat later. From the standpoint of the composition of chaps. 2-12, this would mean that the (earlier) Isaian message promising deliverance (for Jerusalem and a faithful remnant) from the Assyrian invasion could well have been applied to the setting of the Babylonian exile and the promise of a future restoration/return.

The new king will stand among his people, functioning as a n¢s for them. I left this word untranslated above; it essentially refers to something that is displayed prominently, serving as a rallying point for a group of people (such as a flag or banner). It also becomes a point around which other nations will gather as well, coming to the king (and his court) in search of truth and justice, etc. The religious emphasis of 2:2-5 (i.e. the nations joining Israel in worship of YHWH) is not as definite here, but it certainly would have been implied, in light of the language used in the rest of the oracle. There is likely a bit of wordplay in the final line, which could alternately be translated something like “and honor/worth will rest (on) him”. This honor/worth (Heb. k¹»ô¼, literally “weight”), in the context of the oracle, refers to the presence of God that is around the king, and the Spirit that comes upon him, gifting him with divinely-inspired wisdom (v. 2). Thus, in coming in search of Israel’s divinely-inspired king, they nations are effecting seeking after God.

Conclusion

Both of these remarkable oracles, however and whenever they were composed, announce the coming of a king (from the line of David) who will usher in an ideal time of peace and prosperity, bringing salvation and renewal to the people. A working critical hypothesis, based on the results of these two studies, might be outlined as follows:

    • The Isaian document of 6:1-9:6[7], composed sometime after 732 B.C., concludes with the announcement of deliverance for the Northern territories that had been conquered and annexed by Assyria. This was associated, most likely, with the birth (and/or accession) of Hezekiah, who did indeed make overtures to the North for them to join with him in a political and religious revival.
    • This hope, never realized during Hezekiah’s reign, came to be applied to the later context of the Babylonian threat in the early 6th century. As Jerusalem was saved from Assyrian invasion during Hezekiah’s reign, so the southern kingdom might be delivered under another faithful king from the line of David.
    • Ultimately, this ideal, and promise of future salvation, was reinterpreted from the standpoint of the Exile—i.e., the restoration of Israel in a post-exilic period as a golden age of justice and righteousness.

Such an outline would provide a veritable snapshot of Israel’s Messianic hope, in its early stages of development (captured within the complex literary structures of the book of Isaiah). It can be no surprise that Isa 8:23-9:6 and 11:1-10 came to viewed as Messianic prophecies subsequently in Jewish tradition, and that early Christians continued this process, applying the oracles to the person of Jesus as the Messiah. That such a Messianic interpretation is a secondary development, quite apart from the original context of the prophecy, should be clear enough. However, this does not in any way diminish or devalue the Messianic (and Christian) view. The inspiration of Scripture is wide and expansive enough to encompass all of these aspects.

May 11: Isaiah 42:1; 61:1

Isaiah 42:1; 61:1

In the previous note, we saw how the earlier traditions regarding charismatic (i.e., spirit-inspired) leadership and kingship were developed within the oracles and writings of the Prophets (in the 8th-6th centuries B.C.). The verses discussed (Isa 11:2; 28:6) were from the first half of the book of Isaiah (chaps. 1-39), which, on the whole, is firmly rooted in the oracles and historical traditions of the prophet Isaiah from the late 8th century (c. 740-701). The situation is rather different with regard to the second half of the book—the so-called Deutero- (chaps. 40-55) and Trito-Isaiah (chaps. 56-66). Most critical commentators would hold that the oracles and poems in these chapters, while inspired by the Isaian themes and traditions, were written considerably later, during the Exile and post-Exilic period. Certainly, the main setting and subject matter involves the restoration of Israel and the return of the Judean people from Exile (cf. the reference to Cyrus in 44:28; 45:1, among many other details). While some would defend a traditional-conservative view of Isaian authorship, the message of hope in these passages is more intelligible, and makes more sense for the people of the time, if the exile had already occurred.

In any case, we are looking here at two key passages which draw upon the association of the spirit (j^Wr) of God with prophetic inspiration. In previous notes, we examined early traditions where the divine spirit comes upon (or “rushes” to) a person, resulting in an ecstatic prophetic experience. Such a person is shown to be gifted as a prophet or spokesperson (ayb!n`) for YHWH, and the speech/action that comes out of the encompassing charismatic/ecstatic experience is a sign that the person is “acting like a ayb!n`” (the denominative verb ab*n` in the reflexive or passive stem). The main passages for this line of tradition are Numbers 11:17-29; 1 Samuel 10:5-13; 18:10 (19:9); 19:20-24.

Isaiah 42:1

The poem in Isa 42:1-9 is generally regarded as the first of the “Servant Songs” in (Deutero-)Isaiah, though the theme had been introduced already in 41:8-9. The couplets in the opening verse establish the focus of the poem:

“See! my servant—I hold firmly (up)on him,
my chosen (one), (in whom) my soul delights!
I have given my spirit [j^Wr] upon him,
(and) he shall bring forth judgment/justice for (the) nations.”

The precise identity and nature of this “servant” (db#u#) have been much debated by commentators throughout the years. In 41:8-9, the “servant” is identified as the people of Israel/Jacob (the “seed of Abraham”) as a whole; however, here, and in subsequent passages, a distinct individual seems to be in view. Perhaps the best explanation is that it is a ayb!n` (prophet/spokesperson), patterned after Moses. The term is used specifically (and in a special sense) of Moses in Num 12:7-8; Deut 34:5; Josh 1:1-2, 7, etc (cf. also Num 11:11; Deut 3:24). Moses was also the first (and supreme) ayb!n` of the early Israelite period (Num 11:17ff; Deut 18:15-18ff); on his role as spokesperson and intermediary between God and the people, cf. especially the tradition in Exod 20:18-21. Just as Moses led the people out of bondage in Egypt, so a servant/prophet like Moses will lead the people in their return from the Exile.

What is clear is that, like Moses, this “servant” will be specially chosen by God to lead, and that the spirit (j^Wr) of YHWH will be placed upon him. The spirit-inspired aspect of Moses’ leadership is surprisingly absent from the Pentateuch narratives, but there is at least one important passage where it is emphasized prominently—Numbers 11:10-30, discussed in an earlier note. The ideas expressed in that early tradition seem to relate in some way to the Prophetic theme of the Spirit being given to all the people (v. 29)—to the land and its people as a whole; this will be discussed further in the upcoming notes.

With regard to the poem in Isa 42:1-9, the initial theme in verse 1 is developed through the two main sections (or strophes) in different ways:

    • Vv. 1-4—here the focus is on the servant functioning as leader for the people (Israel), establishing justice—i.e., rendering right judgment (fP*v=m!), and setting that pattern throughout the whole society. This justice is based fundamentally upon the Instruction (Torah) of God (v. 4b).
    • Vv. 5-7—the Instruction given to Israel is aimed at the wider world—the surrounding nations—as well. This cosmic aspect is introduced with an allusion to the Creation in v. 5, including the important motif of the spirit/breath of God that gives life to all people (cf. the prior notes on Gen 1:2 and 2:7; Job 33:4). The “servant” will apparently play a role in extending God’s covenant with Israel out to the surrounding nations.

Isaiah 61:1

The opening of the oracle in Isaiah 61 is similar in some ways to that of 42:1-9; however, here there is a decidedly stronger emphasis on the idea of Israel’s return and restoration. The opening lines in verse 1 also speak of the spirit of God being given to a chosen ‘servant’:

“(The) spirit [j^Wr] of my Lord YHWH (is) upon me
in that He has anointed me to bring (good) news to (the) oppressed;
He sent me to provide wrapping for the (one)s broken of heart,
to call out release for (the one)s led away (into bondage)
and an opening up for (the one)s bound (in prison)”

Here we find again the theme of justice—especially for the poor and oppressed in society. Only now the role of the spirit-inspired figure is narrowed to that of giving a prophetic announcement. It is proper to refer to this individual as an “anointed herald”, similar in many respects to the “voice” ordered to call out a message of salvation and justice in the initial Deutero-Isaian oracles (chap. 40).

The kingship motif of anointing is present here (cf. the discussion in the previous note), only it has been applied specifically to a prophetic context. Scriptural evidence for the anointing of prophets is quite limited, but it seems to have been a perfectly valid line of symbolism. That there were Messianic (i.e. Anointed) Prophet figure-types in subsequent Jewish tradition is clear enough (cf. Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Indeed, the Anointed Herald of Isa 61:1ff is the Messianic figure-type that best fits Jesus during the time of his active ministry, and is the one with which Jesus specifically identified himself, according to the Gospel accounts. The authenticity of this self-identification would seem to be confirmed, on objective grounds, by its multiple attestation in at least two separate Gospel traditions (Matt 11:2-6 / Lk 7:20-23 [Q], and Luke 4:17-21ff). There is evidence for a similar Messianic interpretation of the passage at Qumran (cf. my article on 4Q521).

The Antichrist Tradition: Part 2

In Part 1 of this study, I explored the Old Testament background of the Antichrist Tradition, focusing on the “wicked tyrant” motif in the Prophetic nation-oracles, and, especially, in the book of Daniel, where the figure of Antiochus IV Epiphanes would serve as a type-pattern for subsequent eschatological traditions.

A number of post-Scriptural Jewish writings from the period c. 250 B.C. to 100 A.D. have survived, including a wealth of texts from Qumran with manuscripts that were actually copied and preserved during this time. To some extent, these writings bridge the gap between the Old Testament Scriptures and the years when the New Testament texts were composed. I have already discussed a number of key Jewish texts in earlier notes and articles (esp. throughout the series “Yeshua the Anointed”); within Judaism of this time, eschatology, apocalypticism, and Messianic thought all function together, and rarely can they be separated. Much the same is true for early Christianity; I discuss the relationship between Messianism and early Christian eschatology in a previous article.

Here, in Part 2 of the current study, we will survey the most relevant texts and passages which might relate to the background of the Antichrist Tradition, illustrating eschatological themes and motifs that would have been familiar among Jews and Christians by the middle of the first-century A.D.

An important note to keep in mind, regarding these Jewish apocalyptic writings, is that they tend to be pseudepigraphic, meaning that they purport to record the prophetic visions and oracles received by famous figures of the past (e.g., Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, etc). Commentators, however, are virtually unanimous in the opinion that such texts are not authentic records from the time of those legendary characters, but, rather, were composed much later on and set in the mouths of Enoch, et al, as a literary device. This does not mean that the writings are purely fictional, since they almost certainly contain older traditions, to varying degrees, but that the apparent historical setting is a literary device, and not genuine. Many critical commentators would hold that the book of Daniel (esp. chapters 7-12), as the primary apocalyptic writing in the Old Testament, is pseudepigraphic in just this way (cf. the discussion in Part 1).

This pseudepigraphic aspect of Jewish apocalyptic texts is important in the way that it frames the eschatological beliefs and expectations. End-time events, which, it was thought (or hoped), would soon take place in the lifetime of the readers, etc, are presented as prophecies of the distant future, uttered by persons who lived hundreds or thousands of years earlier. Gradually, this chronological-historical aspect would be expressed more systematically—i.e., the end-time as the final period in a long sequence of Israelite/Jewish history.

The Eschatological Pattern (c. 100 B.C.)

Our sources for the 2nd (and early 1st) century B.C. are extremely slight; some of the Qumran texts likely date from this time (cf. below), though the majority, it would seem, are from the later Hasmonean and Herodian periods. Even so, there is evidence that a literary and conceptual pattern, for expressing common eschatological expectations, had been established by c. 100 B.C. It is a rudimentary pattern, centered firmly on the traditional idea that the end of the (current) Age will be marked by widespread wickedness and corruption. While the current Age, as a whole, may be seen as wicked in this way, the evil and impiety among human beings increases dramatically as the end draws near. Most apocalyptic writings which express this sort of eschatology generally accept (and take for granted) that people are already living in this wicked end-time.

One of the earliest examples is found in the Book of Jubilees, a pseudepigraphic work with an ethical-religious, rather than eschatological, emphasis. Presented as a prophetic revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai (1:4ff), the book is actually a clever reworking of the historical narratives in the Pentateuch (Genesis and Exodus), designed to impress upon Jews (in the 2nd century) the obligation to live in obedience to the Covenant and the Torah. The need for such an exhortation is especially great given the wickedness of the current period of history, which corresponds to the end-time. The worldview of Jubilees was consonant with that of the Qumran Community (cf. below), so it is not surprising that the book was quite popular, at least for a time, among the Community, and may even have been regarded as authoritative Scripture.

The eschatological dimension of the historical survey in Jubilees is stated clearly in the introductory section (1:4-29), but otherwise does not feature prominently within in the narrative. One exception is chapter 23, an interlude between the Abraham and Jacob narratives, set in the context of the death and burial of Abraham. The rise of an especially evil and wicked generation is foreseen, which, at the level of the pseudepigraphic historical narrative, may refer to the sins of Israel in the wilderness, etc, but actually is describing the end-time period of wickedness (i.e. in the distant future). This wicked generation is described in considerable detail in vv. 16-21, leading to the great Judgment by God on humankind (Israel, specifically, vv. 22-25), after which there will be a New Age, a ‘Golden Age’ of peace and prosperity for God’s people (vv. 23-31). This plays on the historical theme (in the Prophets) of Israel’s restoration, a theme that, even in the later strands of Old Testament tradition, came to be understood in a definite eschatological sense.

The eschatological framework in Jubilees 23 is even more pronounced in the great Book of Enoch (1 Enoch), a lengthy composite work, produced over several centuries, and containing a wide range of traditional and literary material. The earliest portions date from the 2nd century B.C., while the latest elements, it would seem, were composed in the early/mid 1st century A.D. (cf. below). At its core, doubtless, are various ancient traditions regarding Enoch; however, around this developed a diverse collection of apocalyptic and eschatological writings. Like Jubilees, this book (some form of it), was popular with the Qumran Community, as evidenced by the numerous copies, and related writings, that have been preserved.

One of the oldest eschatological sections of 1 Enoch is the so-called “Apocalypse of Weeks” (93:1-10 + 91:11-17), which divides history (i.e. the current Age) into a series of “weeks”, periods marked by specific events and characteristics. With each week, evil and injustice will become ever greater (93:4), culminating in the wicked generation of the seventh week (vv. 9-10). After this comes the Judgment, with violent destruction of the wicked on earth (eighth week), and eternal destruction of all evil (ninth week), followed by the heavenly New Age of the tenth week that stretches into eternity (91:12-17). This basic historical-eschatological pattern appears in other sections of the book as well; we may note the references in 91:6-7 and 100:1-4, the last of which is particularly vivid in its description of widespread lawlessness and violence in the end-time.

The eschatology of 1 Enoch also emphasizes the wickedness and arrogance of the nations (and their kings), who oppose God and refuse properly to acknowledge His authority. This aspect of the Judgment of the Nations (cf. the concluding section of Part 1) features in the historical survey at the end of the “Book of Dreams” (chaps. 83-90), the so-called “Animal Apocalypse” in chaps. 89-90—a collective assault by the Nations (vv. 16-19) precedes the final Judgment and beginning of the New Age (vv. 20-42).

The Psalms of Solomon (Ps Sol 17)

The “wicked tyrant” motif, inherited from the Prophetic nation-oracles, and emphasized in the book of Daniel (cf. the discussion in Part 1), is generally absent from the eschatological framework in Jubilees and 1 Enoch, outlined above. Perhaps the earliest example of its inclusion is found in the 17th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon. Most commentators would date these Psalms to the mid-1st century B.C., sometime after the year 63, based on the presumed allusions to the conquests by the Roman general Pompey (d. 48 B.C.), e.g., in the 2nd, 8th, and 17th Psalms. If this is correct, then Pompey would fill the “wicked tyrant” pattern in the 1st century much as Antiochus IV Epiphanes did in the 2nd (the Danielic prophecies in chaps. 7-12). Antiochus represented the Seleucids, partial heirs to the Hellenistic empire of Alexander, while Pompey represented the empire of Rome—the great world power of the time, in all its violence and corruption.

The wickedness of the current Age, the end-time (cf. above), serves as the context for Ps Sol 17. In particular, the Psalm describes how the faithlessness of the Israelite/Jewish people has led to the arrival of a powerful foreign ruler (i.e. Pompey), called “the lawless one” (v. 11), who lays waste to the land and inaugurates a period of intense wickedness, marked by a disruption of the social and natural order (vv. 15-20). The language of the “wicked tyrant” tradition is especially prominent in verse 13, where it is stated of this ruler that he “was a stranger, and his heart alien to our God, he acted arrogantly”. His corruption and desecration of Jerusalem, causing a disturbance of Israelite religion (vv. 14-15a), seems to echo the famous actions of Antiochus IV; as preserved in the prophecies of Daniel, it was this aspect of Antiochus that would play a significant role in the early development of the Antichrist Tradition (discussed in Part 3).

It is also noteworthy that “wicked tyrant” motif in Ps Sol 17 is more firmly rooted in Messianic thought and expectation, especially as related to the Davidic ruler figure-type (vv. 1-4, 21-25ff). It is the Davidic Messiah who will act on God’s behalf to defeat/subdue the nations and bring Judgment on the wicked. The New Age to come (vv. 30ff) is more properly a Messianic Age, according to the traditional theme of the restoration of the Israelite kingdom. The juxtaposition of Messiah (i.e. Christos) and wicked ruler provides the conceptual matrix for the very idea of anti-Christ.

Belial/Beliar

Important to Jewish eschatology in the first centuries B.C./A.D. is the figure of Belíal (Beli/al, variant spelling Belíar, Beli/ar), representing a complex line of tradition, the origins of which remain obscure. The name is a transliteration of the Hebrew lu^Y^l!B= (b®liyya±al), a (proper) noun occurring 27 times in the Old Testament. In the Greek Septuagint (LXX) version, it is always translated, rather than transliterated, except in the A-text of Judges 20:13. Unfortunately the exact meaning and derivation of the word remain uncertain (for more detail, cf. my article on “2 Cor 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls”). Ultimately, the meaning has to be determined by the context where it is used in the Old Testament. The oldest usage would seem to be preserved in several examples of early poetry, especially in Psalm 18:5[4] (= 2 Sam 22:5), where it is synonymous with “Death” (tw#m*, m¹we¾) and “Sheol” (loav= š®°ôl, see my earlier article for more on this term). The expression “deadly (poison) of Beliyya’al” (lu^Y^l!B= rb^D= d®»ar b®liyya±al) in Psalm 41:9[8] (also 101:3) likely stems from the same use of lu^Y^l!B= as a name for Death.

Much more frequent is the expression “son/s of Beliyya’al”, ben / b®nê b®liyya±al (Deut 13:14; Judg 19:22; 20:13; 1 Sam 2:12; 10:27; 25:17; 1 Kings 21:10, 13; 2 Chron 13:7), along with the parallel (and more or less equivalent) expression “man/men of Beliyya’al”, °îš / °anšê b®liyya±al (1 Sam 25:25; 30:22; 2 Sam 16:7; 20:1; 1 Kings 21:13; Prov 16:27), °¹¼¹m b®liyya±al (Prov 6:12); also “daughter [ba¾] of Beliyya’al” in 1 Sam 1:16. In Hebrew, the word ben (/B#, “son”) is often used in the sense of a person belonging to a particular group or category, i.e. possessing a set of certain characteristics in common, and so it must be understood in these instances. It refers to a Beliyya’al-like person, someone who “belongs” to Beliyya’al, with evidence (by his/her attitudes and behavior) of similar characteristics. The context of the passages cited above makes clear that a “son/man of Beliyya’al” essentially refers to a person who violates and disrupts the order of things—either in a specific social (or religious) setting, or within society at large. This relates to the idea of hostility, chaos, and confusion (i.e. disorder), rather than the more direct association with Death in the poetic references mentioned above.

It is hard to say whether, in the expression “son/man of Beliyya’al”, the word b®liyya±al is used in an abstract sense, or as a proper noun (i.e. personal name). Both are possible, though the parallel with Death/Sheol in Psalm 18:5, etc, suggests that an ancient (mythological) personification of death (and the grave) informs the usage. This figurative association would naturally extend to encompass the idea of chaos, confusion, and destruction—all related to the realm of death and “non-existence”, i.e. the primal condition of the universe (as a dark, formless mass [see Gen 1:2 etc]) prior to the establishment of the created order by God. At the same time, b®liyya±al is clearly synonymous with the more abstract concepts of “evil” (r¹±), “wickedness” (reša±) and “trouble” (°¹wen), especially in the Wisdom writings (Prov 6:12; 16:27; 19:28; Job 34:18). Most likely, this is a secondary development, from the expression “son/man of Beliyya’al”, and the characteristic of a such a person as a wicked trouble-maker (see the generalized usage, where the expression is implied, in 2 Sam 23:6; Nahum 1:11; 2:1 [1:15]). A wicked/evil thought, expressed by d¹»¹r b®liyya±al (Deut 15:9; Psalm 101:3 [?]), may involve wordplay with an older poetic expression “deadly (poison) [dbr] of Beliyya’al” (Ps 41:9, cf. above).

We do not encounter the word/name Beliyya’al again until the first centuries B.C., when it appears in a number of surviving Jewish texts of the period. (e.g., Jubilees 1:20). Already in Greek texts (and translations) of the time, the variant spelling Belíar (instead of Belíal) is attested as a transliteration of the Hebrew word. Most notably, b®liyya±al occurs frequently in the Qumran texts (discussed below), where it is used to refer to an evil figure opposed to God, personifying (and governing) the darkness and wickedness of the current (evil) Age. As such, the name is more or less synonymous with “(the) Sa‰an” or “Devil”. This is a significant development from the earlier Hebrew expression “son(s) of Beliyya’al”. Now, those who ‘belong’ to Beliyya’al are defined in a pronounced dualistic sense as the “sons of darkness”, opposed to God and to the “sons of light” (i.e. the Qumran Community); and the wicked “sons of darkness” will be destroyed (along with Beliyya’al) by God’s end-time Judgment that is about to be ushered in. As Paul in 2 Cor 6:14 exhorts and warns first-century believers:

“…choose for yourselves light or darkness, the Law of the Lord or the works of Belial!”

The Qumran Texts

The Community of the Qumran texts was fundamentally eschatological, its members believing firmly that they were the faithful remnant of God’s people, the holy ones of the end-time. They would be at the center of the end-time events, when God would send his Anointed One(s) to them, bringing about the great Judgment that would destroy the wicked and introduce the New Age. The figure of Belial (cf. above) was important to the world-view of the Community. He was the Evil One (akin to, but not necessarily identical with, the Satan), also known by the titles “Spirit of Deceit/Falsehood” and “Spirit/Prince of Darkness”; he was the prince, or leader, of the false/evil spirits, but he also exercises control over the world during the current, wicked Age. The world, and the inhabitants in it—i.e. the nations and the wicked/faithless of Israel—are called the “dominion of Belial” (1QS 1:18, 24; 2:19).

Members of the Community knew they had to contend with Belial on a regular basis, as the Community Rule document (1QS) states clearly (3:13-4:26; 10:21, etc). Belial has opposed God’s people all throughout the Age, from the time of Moses to the present (Damascus Document [CD/QD] 4:12-19; 5:17-19). Only at the end-time, with the Judgment, will his power finally be broken, but not before a period of intense activity, during the time of much greater wickedness that precedes the end (cf. above; CD 7:21ff; 12:2-3; 1QS 4:11ff, 18-23).

The end-time defeat of Belial is portrayed as a great eschatological battle in the War Scroll (1QM), a war between the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness”. The “Sons of Light” are the faithful ones of Israel—i.e. the members of the Community in its fullness—together with the holy ones of heaven (Michael and the Angels), while the “Sons of Darkness” are similarly comprised of wicked human beings (esp. the nations) along with evil spirits. For a similar juxtaposition of the earthly and heavenly realms, cf. chapter 12 of the book of Revelation (also 19:11-21). That the wicked nations are part of the “army of Belial” is clear from 1QM 1:1-2ff, 13: 15:2-3, etc; this makes Belial a great world-leader, a portrait that certainly influenced the later Antichrist tradition, as we shall see. Belial and his forces—human and demonic—will be defeated and destroyed in the battle (4:2; 13:10-12; 14:4-15; 18:1-5, etc). The “sons of darkness” who belong to Belial are a reflection of the older idiom “sons of Belial”, “men of Belial” (cf. above); these expressions are retained, in an eschatological context, in several other Qumran texts—e.g., the Florilegium (4Q174) on 2 Sam 7:11 and Psalm 2:1-2 (both Messianic passages, col. i. 1-9, 18-ii. 5), and the Testimonia (4Q175) on Josh 6:26 and the “Psalms of Joshua” (lines 21-29).

In the eschatological conflict, the Community is led by the Angel Michael (1QM 17:6-7), but also by Anointed (Messianic) figures—a Davidic Ruler (Anointed of Israel) and a ruling Priest (Anointed of Aaron). In this regard, Belial can literally be called an Anti-Christ (Anti-Messiah), one who is opposed to the Messiah. The idea of a direct opposition is expressed more clearly in several texts which involve the figure of Melchizedek, who may be characterized as a Messiah—the heavenly-redeemer figure-type (cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with the supplemental article on Hebrews). He also possesses attributes of the royal (Davidic) Messiah and Anointed Priest, based on the line of tradition deriving from Psalm 110:1-3. The Melchizedek of these texts (most notably 11QMelch) closely resembles the Angel Michael as a heavenly deliverer, and so it should be no surprise that his opponent, Melchiresha, resembles Belial. The name Melchiresha is patterned after Melchizedek, emphasizing wickedness (uv^r#, reša±) instead of righteousness (qd#x#, ƒedeq). In 11QMelch 11-14, Melchizedek is the one who exercises the Judgment on Belial, delivering the righteous (sons of God) from his power. Melchiresha holds a similar power over the “sons of light” in the current wicked Age (4Q544 frag. 2, lines 3ff, frag. 3, lines 1-3) and will likewise be judged in the end-time (implied in 4Q280 frag. 1, lines 1-2ff).

A different kind of eschatological opponent is described in the commentary (pesher) on Habakkuk (1QpHab), reflecting more directly the immediate history of the Community. The quasi-Messianic leader known as the “Teacher of Righteousness” (cf. Part 4 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”) was opposed by the “Man of Lies”, part of a pattern of opposition/persecution in the last days (2.1-9); similar labels and titles, including that of “False Prophet” are applied to these wicked persons (and their leaders), cf. 5.11; 8.16ff; 10.9. While this history is set in the end time and “last days”, it precedes the violent attacks by the nations (the Kittim, i.e. Rome); the wickedness described in 1QpHab relates to the corruption of the current Priesthood (9:4ff, etc), to which the Priestly leadership of the Community was utterly opposed.

The book of Daniel was enormously influential in the Qumran Community, to judge from the number of surviving manuscripts, as well as the so-called Pseudo-Daniel writings—texts which were inspired by the canonical book, or which resemble it in some way. Unfortunately, these texts (4Q242, 243-4, 245, 246) are all highly fragmentary, so it is impossible to get a clear picture of the overall content. Based on the apparent structure of 4Q243-4 and 4Q245, and the apocalyptic narrative pattern (cf. above), we may surmise that each of these texts would have concluded with an eschatological section—i.e. the final stage in the survey of Israel’s history (presented as prophecy). Fragments 16 & 24 of 4Q243 seem to resemble Daniel 7, and may refer to a “wicked tyrant” of the end-time, similar to that patterned after Antiochus IV (cf. the discussion in Part 1).

Also inspired by Daniel 7, it would seem, is the famous “Son of God” text (4Q246). Some commentators have suggested that the ruler called “Son of God” and “Son of the Highest” (col. ii, line 1) is a wicked ruler, who takes these divine titles for himself, in opposition to God and His people. If so, then this would be the clearest example of a Jewish precursor to the Antichrist tradition. However, the majority of commentators take the opposite view—that the person called by these titles is a positive, Messianic figure. I would tend to agree; I am not aware of any instance where such titles are used for (or by) a wicked ruler. The divine pretensions of rulers in the “wicked tyrant” tradition are expressed rather differently (as discussed in Part 1); it is most unlikely that such divine titles would be associated with a wicked ruler without any further qualification. Moreover, the close parallels with the Angelic announcement in Luke 1:32-33, 35 seem to confirm the positive, Messianic significance of these titles in context.

The early 1st-century A.D.

When we turn to Jewish eschatology in the first half of the 1st century A.D., a time contemporary with the earliest strands of the New Testament, there are several apocalyptic writings that are worth noting. We may begin with the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), a portion of the book of Enoch not attested among the Qumran manuscripts, and often thought to date from the early-mid 1st century A.D. The eschatological emphasis in the Similitudes is on the coming of the end-time Judgment, when the wicked nations shall be judged (along with their kings/rulers), and their kingdoms transferred to the rule of the righteous. The elect/righteous ones are represented (and personified) by the “Elect One” and “Righteous One”, a heavenly redeemer also called by the titles Anointed (Messiah) and “Son of Man”. It is he who will bring about the Judgment on God’s behalf.

The defeat of the nations and their kings is especially prominent. The second parable (similitude), chaps. 45-57, describes this in terms of a military attack (and defeat) that occurs in a great valley (53-56). The scenario is no doubt inspired by the oracle in Joel 3 (cf. the discussion in Part 1), and is likewise found in the book of Revelation (16:12-16; 19:17-21). The Similitudes are laced throughout with references and allusions to the book of Daniel (chap. 7, etc), and there can be little doubt that the (wicked) rulers of the nations are inspired by the “wicked tyrant” motif from the Old Testament Prophets.

The Assumption of Moses is another apocalyptic pseudipgraphon, with certain similarities to the book of Jubilees (cf. above). Moses utters a prophecy of Israel’s future history (chaps. 2-6) that concludes with a prediction of the end-time (chaps. 7-10), understood to be the author’s own time (the present). The end-time begins with a period of great wickedness, including the persecution and oppression of the righteous (illustrated by the martyrdom of the Levite Taxo and his sons). This time of wickedness, described vividly in 7:3-10, reaches its climax with the coming of a foreign king (“the king of the kings of the earth”), much like the “lawless one” in Ps Sol 17 (cf. above), who will brutally attack the righteous and desecrate the true religion (8:1-5ff). He thus very much resembles the “wicked tyrant” (Antiochus IV) in the book of Daniel, following that type-pattern, only his appearance is set within a more precise eschatological sequence.

The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs is a collection of Jewish pseudepigraphic writings, inspired by Genesis 49. The underlying material and tradition is Jewish, but there are signs of subsequent Christian editing and adaptation as well. The final (Christian) form dates from the 2nd century A.D., but the Jewish stratum must be considerably earlier. The Aramaic Levi document from Qumran, for example, is related in some way to the Testament of Levi. Of course the Christianized portions cannot be used as evidence for Jewish thought of the period; however, early Christians likely would not have adapted the material if they did not find in it a certain affinity to their own thought, with eschatology and Messianism that was amenable for application to Jesus (as the Messiah).

The name Belial (variant “Beliar”, cf. above) occurs frequently in the Testaments—nearly 30 times: Asher 1:8; 3:2; Benjamin 3:3, 5, 8; 6:1, 7; 7:1-2; Dan 1:7; 4:7; 5:1, 10-11; Issachar 6:1; 7:7; Joseph 7:4; 20:2; Judah 25:3; Levi 3:3; 18:12; 19:2; Naphtali 2:6; 3:2; Reuben 4:8, 11; 6:4; Simeon 5:3; Zebulun 9:8. The portrait is quite similar to that of the depiction of Belial in the Qumran texts (discussed above), with the overall emphasis being ethical rather than eschatological (cf. Peerbolte, Antededents, pp. 289-92). Beliar, now identified more directly with the Satan/Devil, is the leader of the evil/deceitful spirits, and will become even more prominent in the period of wickedness before the end (T. Issachar 6:1). His power will be broken in the eschatological Judgment (T. Levi 3:3; Zebulun 9:8), and this will be done by the God’s Messiah (i.e. Jesus)—T. Dan 5:10-11; Benjamin 3:8; Levi 18:12; Judah 25:3; Simeon 6:6.

Also worthy of mention are the Sibylline Oracles, a mixture of Jewish, Christian, and pagan (Greco-Roman) material, even more complex and difficult to date than the Testaments. Books 3-4 are generally considered to be Jewish, having reached their current form by the end of the 1st century A.D. In all likelihood the Jewish material and traditions in these books go back to at least the early part of the century, and perhaps as far back as the 2nd century B.C. There are a number of passages which refer to the coming (end-time) events; while not presented in a systematic format, they show the development of a number of key eschatological themes (cf. Peerbolte, Antecedents, pp. 327-31):

    • A period of suffering and distress for humankind, marked by disruptions (chaos) in both the social and natural order—3:635-651, 796-806
    • This will be a time of great wickedness, preceding God’s Judgment on the world—4:152-161
    • It will be marked by the rise of a powerful and wicked world-ruler, a foreign monarch—3:75-92, 611-615
    • The nations will attack the people of God, and also the Temple in Jerusalem—3:657-668

All of these components feature in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus, discussed further in Part 3. The figure of Beliar also occurs in at least two passages (2:154-173; 3:63-74), but in terms of a more personal manifestation or incarnation(?) during the end-time period of wickedness. The idea of Belial incarnate as a Satanic/demonic miracle-working figure (and ruler) in the end-time almost certainly influenced the subsequent Antichrist Tradition (cf. the discussion in Part 3).

2 Baruch and 2/4 Esdras (late 1st-century)

The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch), and the work known as 2 Esdras (or 4 Esdras / 4 Ezra), were both written in the latter part of the 1st century A.D. They are thus contemporary with the book of Revelation, and, indeed, they each resemble Revelation, in terms of its visionary narrative and symbolism, in a number of important ways. These two texts may be said to represent the pinnacle of the development of Jewish eschatology in the first centuries B.C./A.D. Portions of the Sibylline Oracles (cf. above) likely date from this same period.

Space does not permit a detailed treatment of the eschatology of 2 Baruch; it will suffice to offer a general survey and summary. Especially noteworthy is the vision-cycle in chapters 53-77, which utilizes the apocalyptic pattern of presenting the end-time as the final stage in a sequence of periods of Israelite history. The time immediately preceding the coming of the Anointed One will be a period of great distress and suffering—wickedness, violence, chaos and upheaval, etc (chaps. 69-70)—to climax with the defeat of the nations by the Messiah (i.e. the Judgment, chaps. 70-72). Similar descriptions of the end-time period of suffering and wickedness are found in 48:26-41 and 83:9-21 (cf. Peerbolte, Antecedents, pp. 317-9).

In chapters 36-40 there is a vision of four natural features—forest, cedar tree, a stream, and a vine—which, much like the visions in Daniel 2 and 7, are interpreted as a series four great kingdoms that are to follow, one after the other. Each will be more powerful (and wicked) then the one prior, with the fourth being the most evil and brutal of all. The reign of this kingdom corresponds to the great end-time period of wickedness and distress, which will come to an end when it is finally defeated by the forces of the Messiah. The ruler of the fourth kingdom resembles the “little horn” of the fourth beast/kingdom in the Daniel 7 vision (cf. also in Dan 8), and very much follows the “wicked tyrant” motif as developed in Daniel (with the type-pattern of Antiochus IV, cf. Part 1).

Mention should also be made of the use of the symbolic figures of “Leviathan” and “Behemoth” in 29:3-4, as mythic/demonic creatures who represent the (primeval) forces of chaos and disorder. Just as darkness and chaos preceded the establishment of the first Creation (Gen 1:2), so also there will be a time of chaos before the coming of the New Age (the new Creation). The same basic tradition occurs in 1 Enoch 60:7-8 and 2/4 Esdras 6:49-52 (cf. below). The application of this line of symbolism in the book of Revelation (i.e. the Sea- and Earth-creatures of chapters 13ff) suggests that it is at least marginally relevant to the Antichrist Tradition.

Finally, in the apocalypse of 2/4 Esdras, we find perhaps the most developed form and presentation of these eschatological themes and motifs. It is also the Jewish writing of the period which most closely resembles the book of Revelation and early Christian eschatology c. 70-100 A.D. The earlier apocalyptic pattern (cf. above) is now presented with much greater precision, following the same basic sequence as we see in the Assumption of Moses and 2 Baruch (above): a period of suffering and wickedness, chaos and disorder, which reaches its climax with the rise of a wicked (world) ruler; after this follows the defeat of the nations (by the Messiah) and the great Judgment, bringing about the New Age of peace and righteousness.

The end-time period of distress is described vividly (and at length) in the two visions of chapters 5-6 (cf. especially 5:1-12; 6:18-24); similar eschatological signs (cp. the Eschatological Discourse, Mark 13:4-8ff, 24-25 par) are given in 8:49ff; 9:3-6; 14:16-18 (cf. Peerbolte, Antecedents, pp. 304-8). There is a brief allusion to a coming end-time ruler, during this time of wickedness, in 5:6-7. A clearer description is found in the vision of chapters 11-12, of the Eagle and the Lion, inspired at least in part by the visions in Daniel 7-8. The eagle, with twelve wings and three heads, like the Sea-creature of Revelation 13ff, rather clearly symbolizes the Roman Empire—the great (and wicked) world-power of the time. The last of the three heads is the final ruler of the kingdom, and the time when it is defeated by the Messiah (the Lion), 12:31-34, at the height of its arrogance and ungodliness (i.e., the “wicked tyrant” motif). Attempts have been made to identify these three heads with specific Roman emperors, much as in the case of the heads of the Sea-creature in Revelation (cf. Part 3, and the relevant daily notes).

Finally, the great vision of the “man out of the sea” in chapter 13 should be noted. In Daniel and Revelation, it is the wicked kingdom (beast/creature) that comes out of the Sea, while here in 2/4 Esdras it is God’s Messiah (also called his “Son”, vv. 32, 37) who rises from the midst of the Sea. It is at this time that the nations, assembled together for attack, are defeated and destroyed, marking the coming of the Judgment. For more on this Judgment of the Nations motif, cf. the concluding section in Part 1.

Birth of the Messiah: Early Christian Tradition

The final article of this Christmas-season series will examine traditions related to the Birth of Jesus in the late-first and second centuries, insofar as they may reflect earlier or established Jewish tradition regarding the Messiah. This short study will be divided into three sections:

    • Revelation 12 and Early Christian Eschatology
    • The Protevangelium and other early Infancy narratives
    • Justin Martyr & Origen: Second Century Debates with Judaism

Revelation 12 and Early Christian Eschatology

There are only three passages in the New Testament that refer to Jesus’ birth, outside of the Infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke. Two of these have already been discussed (Rom 1:3-4 and Gal 4:4-5); the third is the vision of the Woman giving birth in Revelation 12:1-6. I have dealt with this passage in my (ongoing) notes on the book of Revelation (cf. the earlier note). There can be no doubt that, within the context of the visionary narrative, verse 5 refers to the birth, life, and ultimate exaltation to heaven. However, the story-pattern of the vision is wider than this narrow (historical) application. It has legendary, fabulous details common to a number of myths of the time, most notably the tale involving the the Python-serpent, opponent of the god Apollo, which sought to kill his mother Leto (Hyginus, Fabulae 140; Koester, p. 545). Moreover, the brief notice of the child being taken up to heaven does not entirely fit the historical situation of Jesus’ life, which here is compressed to include only the birth and ascension (cp. Justin Martyr First Apology 54.8). This raises the likelihood that an earlier story-pattern has been applied to Jesus, relating to it only those elements of his life which fit the pattern. It is worth considering whether this story-pattern, as adopted in the vision, originally related to the Messiah.

Certainly, Rev 12:1-6 is not simply a story about the birth of Jesus, but of his identity as the Messiah—that is, the Anointed Davidic ruler figure-type. This is especially clear from the wording in verse 5:

“And she produced [e&teken] a male son, who is about to shepherd the nations in [i.e. with] an iron staff. And her offspring [te/knon] was seized/taken (up) toward God and toward His ruling-seat [i.e. throne].”

The words in italics, of course, derive from Psalm 2:9, blended with the Messianic shepherd-imagery taken from passages such as Ezek 34:23. It is possible that Micah 5:2-4 is specifically in mind here, with its combination of elements:

    • The coming forth of God’s chosen ruler (v. 2)
    • The motif of a woman in labor (v. 3)
    • The ruler as a Shepherd who will be great over all the earth (v. 4)

The use of Mic 5:2ff in the Matthean Infancy narrative (Matt 2), with its description of Herod’s attempts to kill off a new-born Messiah, certainly seems relevant as well. However, it is by no means clear that a reference to this specific Gospel tradition is intended. The narrative motif of the wicked ruler seeking to kill a chosen (male) child as soon as he is born, is found in many traditional tales and legends worldwide. It is perhaps enough to view the motif here as indicating that the ‘dragon’ wishes to destroy the child before he can exercise his chosen position of rule; the implication being that the ‘dragon’ is already (currently) exercising rule over the nations, or may have the opportunity to do so.

Is it possible that there was a tradition in existence that the Messiah, following his birth, was taken up into heaven, to be kept hidden away until the moment when he should appear at the end-time? There are, in fact, Jewish traditions suggestive of this idea, however their existence as early as the first century A.D. is quite uncertain. The work known as 2 Enoch (or Slavonic Enoch) has been dated to the late-1st century A.D. by some scholars, based on internal considerations; if correct, it would be roughly contemporary with the book of Revelation. Chapters 71-72 describe the birth of Melchizedek—a miraculous (virgin) birth from the wife of Noah’s brother. To save him from the Flood, he is taken up into God’s heavenly paradise by the angel Gabriel; eventually Melchizedek will return to become the head of all priests that are to come, and will return again (in a second form?) at the end-time. While not referred to by the title “Anointed One” (Messiah), Melchizedek certainly has Messianic characteristics and features, as he does in several of the Qumran texts (cf. the article on 11QMelchizedek), blending elements of the Priest-Messiah and Heavenly Deliverer figure-types (cp. his application to Jesus in Hebrews 5-7).

In the Jerusalem Talmud, there is a tradition regarding the birth of the Messiah (in Berakot 5a, cf. also Midrash Rabbah on Lamentations 1.51 [on Lam 1:16]), which I have previously noted. In this story, a Jewish farmer, at the time the Temple is destroyed, learns that the Messiah (Menahem ben Hezekiah) has been born in the “royal city” Bethlehem. He finds the child’s mother, who expresses her wish to kill the infant, blaming him for the suffering that has come on her people. Eventually, the child is rescued from this threat, by “strong winds” (implying a divine/heavenly source , cp. 2 Kings 2:11) that snatched him from his mother’s arms. The implication is that he will be kept (in heaven) until the time he is to be revealed. There is no way of knowing how old this tradition is. To be sure, the setting of the story is the first century (70 A.D.), but whether it is an authentic tradition from this time is doubtful.

The setting of the Talmudic story (the destruction of the Temple) for the birth of the Messiah likely has some bearing on the traditional expression “birth-pains of the Messiah” (j^yv!M*h^ yl@b=j#), referring to the period of suffering and distress which immediately precedes the Messiah’s appearance. The background for this expression is ancient, as the pain of women in childbirth often was used to symbolize suffering, typically in relation to God’s Judgment—Psalm 48:6; Mic 4:9-10; Isa 13:8; 21:3; 26:17; 42:14; Jer 4:31; 6:24; 13:21; 22:23; 30:6; 48:41; 49:22, 24; 50:43; Rom 8:22; 1 Thess 5:3. It is used notably in the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus, in the context of the destruction of the Temple, for the period of distress that precedes Jesus’ end-time appearance and the coming Judgment (Mark 13:8 par; cf. also Luke 23:28-29). The same image of childbirth can also emphasize deliverance from pain/suffering—Mic 4:10; 5:3; Isa 65:23ff; 66:7-9; cf. also John 16:21. Cf. also the childbirth motifs in Isa 7:14 and 66:7, both passages which have been given a Messianic interpretation.

Even more uncertain is the theory that chapters 11-13 of the book of Revelation were influenced by an apocalyptic writing called the Oracle of Hystaspes. This work, in existence by at least the early 2nd century A.D., is Persian—or, at least, it has a Persian setting and provenance—but also appears to contain elements of Jewish apocalyptic. Unfortunately, its contents are only known from the Institutes of Lactantius (book 7) in the early 4th century, and even then only sketchily presented. The similarities between chapters 11 & 13 of Revelation and what Lactantius provides of the Oracle are clear and striking. Like the book of Revelation, it was a fiercely anti-Roman work, directed against the Roman Empire, and expressing the people’s hopes that God would deliver them from its evil control. It is conceivable that the birth of the “great King” who is to come was part of this Oracle, corresponding to Rev 12:1-6, though no mention is made of it by Lactantius, and the connection remains highly speculative.

The Protevangelium and other early Infancy narratives

Following the composition of the Matthean and Lukan Infancy Narratives (c. 70-80 A.D.), similar works narrating the birth (and childhood) of Jesus came to be produced. For the most part, these are imaginative expansions of the earlier (canonical) Gospel narratives, but they also can include separate traditions which have come down from an early period. It is worth considering whether some of these may reflect Jewish traditions regarding the Messiah.

By far, the oldest and most important extra-canonical Infancy Narrative is that of the so-called “Proto-Gospel” (Protevangelium) of James. Composed sometime during the early 2nd century, it contains at least one significant early tradition—that the birth of Jesus took place in a cave on the desolate outskirts of Bethlehem (17:3-18:1). This detail is attested independently by Justin Martyr in the mid-2nd century (Dialogue with Trypho 78.5, cf. also Origen Against Celsus 1.51). The main additions to the Matthean/Lukan narratives in the Protevangelium involve the role of Mary as the virgin who gives birth to Jesus. Indeed, much of what relates to Jesus as the chosen one (and Messiah) of God extends to include the person of Mary as well. Her birth and childhood (chaps. 1-16), in many ways, parallels that of Jesus himself. This tendency within early Christianity is best described as a strengthening or enhancing of the Messianic and Christological traditions. The following points of emphasis may be noted:

    • The sanctification of Mary and her identity as one specially consecrated to God. This is established two ways:
      • Her association with the Temple (7:1-12:1)—this is an important emphasis in the Lukan narrative as well (1:8-11ff; 2:22-24, 25ff, 41-51)
      • Application to Mary of the traditions regarding the birth and childhood of Samuel (1 Sam 1-3), even as they are used to shape the Lukan narrative of Jesus’ birth and childhood; in the Protevangelium, Mary is raised in the Temple under the guardianship of priests, just as Samuel was.
    • Mary’s Davidic lineage—that she is a descendant of David is specified (chap. 10), leaving no question whatever as to Jesus’ Messianic pedigree as being truly from the line of David. There is no trace of this in the Matthean and Lukan narratives, where Jesus’ descent from David is legal, not biological; the genealogies (Matt 1:2-16; Lk 3:23-38) clearly belong to Joseph, not Mary (cf. also Matt 1:20; Lk 2:4). Indeed, the information in Luke 1:5, 36 indicates that Mary was from the tribe of Levi, not Judah. However, Paul’s wording in Romans 1:3 (compared with Gal 4:4), suggests a biological birth from David, and later Christian tradition followed the Protevangelium in making Mary unequivocally a descendant of David. If nothing else, Protevang. 10 shows how important the association with David remained, among early Christians, for confirming that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah.
    • The virginal conception (and birth) of Jesus. The Protevangelium goes considerably further than the Matthean and Lukan narratives in emphasizing that Mary was a virgin (6:1; 7:2; 8:2ff; 9:1ff; 10; 11:2; 13:1-3; 15:2-3; 16; 19:3-20:4). By the time the Protevangelium was written, this had become more of a matter of Christian apologetic (cf. below), than of the (Messianic) interpretation of Isaiah 7:14 so vital to Matthew’s narrative (1:22-23). However, there are still strong echoes of Isa 7:14 as a Messianic prophecy (see esp. the wording in Protevang. 19:3)

Perhaps the most striking scene in the Protevangelium, for modern readers at least, is in 18:2, where Joseph, while walking outside in search of a midwife, sees all of nature momentarily come completely still. This supernatural intervention in the natural order corresponds with the moment of Jesus’ birth, when a theophanous cloud of glory enters the cave and fills it with light (19:2). Such phenomena are fitting to the traditional identification of Jesus as the Messiah, at his birth, following similar signs and wonders marking his Baptism and Resurrection/Exaltation as the moments when he was ‘born’ as the Messiah and Son of God (for more on this, cf. my recent notes).

Second Century Debates with Judaism

A number of the Christian authors from the second and early-third centuries, whose works have survived, are called “Apologists”, as they sought to provide a proper account or defense (a)pologi/a, “apology”) of the faith, in the face of increasing challenges from Judaism and Greco-Roman paganism alike. At least two of these works contain significant discussions regarding the birth of Jesus as the Messiah.

Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho

Justin’s Dialogue, written sometime after 155 A.D., is presented, as the title indicates, as a dialogue (that is, the literary format, used by Plato, etc) between Justin and a Jew named “Trypho”. To whatever extent this “Trypho” represents a real person, we may safely regard the words placed in his mouth as reflecting the view of Jews at the time—their objections to the Christian belief in Jesus as the Messiah, and the way that the Scriptures are interpreted in support of this belief. His Dialogue is a long and rambling work, awkward and unconvincing in detail, but valuable for the light it sheds on Christian thought (and apologetics) in this early period. The question of Jesus’ birth—and, in particular, the application of Isa 7:14 as a Messianic prophecy—is introduced in chapter/section §43, then after leaving it for a while, Justin picks up the subject again at §66. It remains the point of discussion, off and on, through to §78. The question of Isa 7:14 (and Jesus’ birth) is really part of a wider—and more important—debate regarding how the Old Testament Scriptures are to be interpreted, and whether the Christian approach, advocated by Justin, is reasonable and consistent.

Discussions of this sort, between Christians and Jews, had been going on since the original apostolic mission, as we can see from the numerous references in Luke-Acts regarding the importance of demonstrating from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah (Lk 24:27, 45; Acts 5:42; 9:22; 17:2-3, 11; 18:5, 28; 26:22-23). For the earliest (Jewish) Christians, the main sticking point was the suffering and death of Jesus, since that did not at all fit the general portrait(s) regarding the Messiah, and was an obvious impediment for Jews in accepting Jesus. By Justin’s time, this had evolved into a more general apologetic, covering a wide range of Scriptures, adopted by Christians as referring to Jesus, in a way that many (if not most) Jews would find hard to accept. Isaiah 7:14, as a reference to the miraculous (virginal) birth of Jesus, was one such passage, and, here, the extended discussion about it demonstrates that it remained of considerable significance as a Messianic prophecy (about Jesus). In objecting to the Christian use of the passage, “Trypho” raises certain critical points, including how the Hebrew word hm*l=u^ is to be translated (cf. my earlier study), which Justin is not particularly well-equipped to address. Even so, the dialogue between the two remains interesting and enlightening to read, even today.

Origen’s Against Celsus

Origen’s extensive writing Against Celsus remains one of his most popular and widely-read works. Written in the early-mid 3rd century, toward the end of his life, it addresses the arguments of Celsus, who was perhaps the most formidable Greco-Roman intellectual opponent of Christianity in the second century. Origen’s lengthy apologetic response to Celsus’ book The True Account (a)lhqh\$ lo/go$) continues to be of considerable historical interest today, for several reasons. Most significant, for the purposes of this article, is the fact that The True Account, based on Origen’s references to it, was framed as a dialogue between a Christian and a Jew, and thus Celsus cleverly makes use of Jewish objections to Christianity as a starting-point for his own arguments. Some of these objections centered around Jesus’ birth, and the Christian identification of him as the Messiah (an identification which otherwise would have been of little interest to a pagan like Celsus).

Celsus’ work argued against the deity of Jesus, and made use of the (supposed) facts surrounding his birth and life as a bar against the Christian belief in Jesus’ identity as the incarnate (Son of) God. Celsus was relatively well-informed regarding Christian beliefs, and seems to have had some familiarity with Jewish traditions as well. He attacks the virgin birth as something invented by Christians (comparing it with similar details in Greek myths and legends), and the Jew in Celsus’ Dialogue brings up Jesus’ illegitimate birth (from the adulterous union between Mary and a soldier named Pantera), and his years as a lowly day-laborer in Egypt (where he also learned the magic arts), as all quite contrary to the Gospel record, and unworthy of a belief in Jesus’ deity (I. 28-29ff, 32-33, 69); the Gospel genealogies (including Jesus’ Davidic ancestry) are similarly disregarded as Christian inventions (II. 32).

As it happens, the tradition regarding Jesus’ adulterous birth (as the illegitimate son of the soldier Pantera, ben-Pantera) is known from later Jewish sources (Babylonian Talmud Sabbath 104b, Sanhedrin 67a; Tosephta Hullin 2.22-23; Jerusalem Talmud Aboda Zara 40d, Sabbath 14d, etc). Its inclusion in Celsus’ work (written sometime before 180 A.D.) demonstrates that the tradition was in circulation by the mid-2nd century A.D. Tertullian was similarly aware of the charge that Jesus was the son of a prostitute (De Spectaculis 30.6). Cf. Brown, Birth, pp. 535-6.

It is quite possible that this all traces back to the basic historical traditions, recorded in the Gospel Infancy narratives (Matt 1:18-20), of the unusual (and potentially scandalous) circumstances of Jesus’ conception and birth. Almost certainly, these rumors of illegitimacy, which coalesced in the Pantera-tradition, would have been used by Jews at the time as a strong argument against identifying Jesus as the Messiah. While Jewish sources in this period do not say much regarding how the Messiah’s birth might take place (cf. the earlier articles in this series), the details of Jesus’ birth, according to the Pantera tradition, certainly would not be considered worthy of the Messiah. Celsus develops this further to argue that it is also not worthy of one considered to be the Son of God.

In other references to Jesus’ birth, Celsus draws primarily from the Gospel narratives (i.e. the Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke). Interestingly, though he attacks the virgin birth, Celsus apparently made no mention of the prophecy in Isa 7:14 (Matt 1:22-23), nor the Jewish critique of the Christian use of it (cf. above). Even so, Origen feels compelled to introduce the subject (I. 34), touching upon the critical question of translating the Hebrew word hm*l=u^ as parqe/no$ (“virgin”), as well as providing a rudimentary (for the time) historical-critical assessment of the passage (I. 35). While the main issue for Origen is a defense of the Christian belief in the virgin birth, his continued emphasis on Isa 7:14, following that of Justin Martyr decades earlier, illustrates the abiding force of that key Scripture as a Messianic prophecy. It also makes vividly clear the uniquely Christian development of the Messianic idea, whereby the birth of Jesus was regarded as, not only the birth of the Messiah, but also the birth of the Son of God.

“Brown, Birth” refers to Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1977, 1993).
“Koester” above refers to Craig R. Koester, Revelation, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 38A (Yale: 2014).

Birth of the Messiah: Qumran and Pseudepigrapha

This series on the theme of the Birth of the Messiah concludes with a pair of articles. The first will examine (in more detail) the passages in Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. referring in some way to the Messiah’s “birth” as God’s Son. The second will deal with the early Christian evidence, outside of the Matthean/Lukan Infancy narratives, insofar as it may relate to the wider (Jewish) traditions regarding the Messiah. I begin here with the Jewish writings—passages in both the Qumran texts and several other writings of the period. Some of these have been touched upon in the previous articles, but is worth given them a more extensive treatment. The Qumran texts will serve as the starting point.

1Q28a [1QSa]

The text 1QSa [28a] is one of the key Rule documents for the Qumran Community, and should be studied in connection with the more famous Community Rule (1QS). It is referred to as the “Rule of the Congregation”, and also sometimes as the “Messianic Rule”, in light of the passage that is to be discussed here. What survives of this text is comprised of a lengthy fragment in two columns. It is clearly eschatological in orientation, with column 1 beginning “This is the rule of all the congregation of Israel in the final days…”. As such, it is certainly Messianic in significance as well, and not simply because of the wording in 2.11-12 (cf. below). The Community of the Qumran texts saw itself as the true Israel and people of God, the faithful remnant of the last days, and their Messianic expectations were centered around their own Community life and organization. The regulations in 1QSa reflect the organization of the Community, in its ideal form, in preparation for the end-time action by God, to be realized through the mediation and leadership of several different Messianic figures. I discuss these figure-types in the earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”; they include an Anointed Priest in addition to the more familiar Anointed Ruler/Prince from the line of David.

The Qumran Community appear to have expected that it would be joined (and led) by these two Anointed figures (Messiahs), sometimes specified in the Rule texts as “the Anointed (Ones) of Aaron and Israel” (1QS 9:11; CD/QD 12:23-13:1; 14:19; 19:11; 20:1; 1QS 9:11). This is the case in 1QSa as well, though only one figure called “Anointed” (jyvm) is named as such—the “Anointed of Israel”, i.e. the Davidic Ruler. He is mentioned in lines 11-21 of column 2, beginning as follows:

“In a s[it]ting of (the) men of the name, (the) [ones called] (to the) appointed (meeting) for (the) council of the Community, when [God] gives birth to the Anointed (One) with them, the head Priest of all the congregation of Yisra’el will come…” (lines 11-12)

The italicized words in Hebrew are generally recognized as jyvmh [t]a [la] d[yl]wy; however, the reading of the verb form dylwy (“he causes to be born, he gives birth”) has been disputed by some scholars, due to the fragmentary (and faded) condition of the manuscript. Some prefer the restoration iylwy (“he brings/leads”), while dyuwy (something like, “he makes [them] meet at the appointed [place]”) has also been suggested. Probably the majority of commentators, especially those who have (re)examined the original photographs (when the leather was in better condition), today accept the reading dylwy. But what does it mean to say that God “causes the Anointed (One) to be born”?

Certainly, the context does not suggest anything like an actual human birth, such as is described of Jesus in the Gospel Infancy narratives. Instead, the “birth” must be understood in a more symbolic sense, and the best guide for this is Psalm 2:7 (discussed in an earlier article), where the verb dl^y` is similarly used of the “Anointed One” (j^yv!m*, v. 2). In the original context of Psalm 2, this “birth” refers to the inauguration (coronation and/or enthronement) of the Israelite/Judean king. In the Messianic setting of the Qumran texts, this has to be translated in terms of the Anointed One beginning his period of rule (i.e. over the Community). Here, the Messiah (“the Anointed One of Israel“) has a subordinate position to the “head Priest” (2.13-14, 40), which suggests that this is a priestly Messiah (i.e., “the Anointed One of Aaron“). By all accounts, both Messianic figures were human beings (not supernatural/Angelic beings), who were specially appointed by God to serve in those end-time roles of leadership. Their positions reflect a two-fold division of the Community, at least in terms of their end-time assemblies—(1) the “men of the name”, led by the Priest, and (2) the “thousands of Israel”, led by the Davidic ruler, the Anointed One of Israel.

This sense of the Messiah’s “birth”, with its allusion to Psalm 2:7, provides an interesting parallel with the baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition. Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of his earthly ministry, just as here the “birth” of the Messiah signifies the beginning of his period of rule over the Community. The divine voice from heaven (Mark 1:11 par) at the baptism alludes to Psalm 2:7, and, indeed, in some manuscripts and versions of Luke 3:22 it is a direct quotation (“You are my Son, today I have caused you to be born”).

4Q246

I have discussed the remarkable Aramaic text in earlier studies (including an article in the “Dead Sea Scrolls Spotlight” feature). According to the scenario in the two columns of the extensive surviving fragment, a king is troubled by a vision he has experienced, and a seer approaches the throne and offers to provide an interpretation similar to that of the vision in Daniel 7 (7:15-18ff): great distress upon the earth, with nations fighting each other, etc. The climactic portion of column I reads:

7 [Then shall arise a king, and he shall be] great upon the earth.
8 [All peoples sh]all make [peace with him]; they shall all serve
9 [him. Son of the gr]eat [king] he shall be called, and by his name he shall be designated
Reconstruction & translation from Fitzmyer (1993/2000) and Zimmerman (1998) [see below]

Column II then begins:

1 Son of God he will be hailed, and Son of the Most High they will call him. …

A major point of dispute among commentators is whether the figure called “Son of God” and “Son of the Most High” is a positive (Messianic) figure, or a negative figure, i.e. a ruler who takes/accepts these divine titles wickedly for himself. The majority of scholarly opinion today favors the Messianic interpretation. Scholars have found very little Jewish evidence (particularly in the pre-Christian period) for titles such as “Son of God” or “Son of the Most High” being used of enemy kings (such as Alexander Balas, Antiochus IV, Roman emperors, etc [cf. Jos. War II.184]), whereas the anointed (Davidic) king is already referred to as God’s “son” in the Old Testament (Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:14). It is in early Christianity, with the development of the “antichrist” concept (partly in reaction to the Roman Imperial cult), that divine names and honors are shown being appropriated or claimed falsely by evil/satanic figures (cf. 2 Thess 2:3-4; Rev 13, 17; and esp. Didache 16:4). Therefore, it is most likely that a ‘Messianic’, divinely favored (or appointed) figure is meant in I.9-II.2ff. The correlation between “Son of God” and “People of God” may be drawing specifically upon the parallel in Daniel 7, where one “like a Son of Man” comes to receive an everlasting rule and kingdom (7:13-14) and the “people of the Most High” receive the sovereignty and kingdom of God (7:27). By the mid-late 1st century A.D., “Son of God” and “Son of Man” are both titles which come to be applied to heavenly Messiah-figures of the end-time who will judge/defeat the nations and restore/deliver Israel (cf. below, and Part 12 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

A Messianic interpretation would also seem to be confirmed by the extraordinary parallels with the Annunciation scene in the Lukan Infancy narrative (1:32, 35):

aura lu hwhl br[ ] “[he will be] great upon the earth” (I.7)
rmaty la yd hlb “Son of God he will be hailed” (II.1)
hnwrqy /wylu rbw “and Son of the Highest he will be called”
<lu twklm htwklm “his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom” (II.5)
ou!to$ e&stai me/ga$ “this (one) will be great” (Luke 1:32)
klhqh/setai ui(o\$ qeou= “he will be called | Son of God”
kai\ ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai “and Son of the Highest he will be called” (1:35)
kai\ th=$ basilei/a$ au)tou= ou)k e&stai te/lo$ “and of his kingdom there will not be an end” (1:33)

The application of the title “Son of God” to this Messianic figure likely reflects the same general influence of the royal theology (in Psalm 2:7) discussed above; only in this sense can we speak of the Messiah’s “birth” in this text.

4Q369

This highly fragmentary text is almost certainly another apocalyptic work, with similarities to other Jewish pseudepigrapha of the period. An ancient ancestor of Israel (Enosh has been suggested) prophecies the Israelite history, from the earliest period down to the end-time (i.e. the current time of the author/audience). Thus, like all such apocalyptic works, the emphasis is eschatological, presenting the future hopes and expectations (including Messianic expectation) of people as the sure fulfillment of ancient prophecy. The context of the work is established in column 1 of fragment 1, including a genealogy of the ancestors through Enoch. In column 2, it would seem that there is a prophecy of the establishment of the Israelite kingdom (at Jerusalem) and the Davidic line; the language used reflects Judean royal theology, and almost certainly has Messianic significance in such a context:

“…your Name. You allotted his portion to cause your Name to dwell there […] It is the glory of your earthly land. And on it dw[ell your people …] your eye is on it, and your glory will be seen there fo[rever …] to his seed for their generations an eternal possession. And al[l …] and you have made clear to him your good judgments […] in eternal light. And you made him a first-bo[rn] son to you […] like him for a prince and ruler in all your earthly land [… …the] cr[own of the] heavens and the glory of the clouds [you] have set [on him … …] and the angel of your peace among his assembly. And h[e … gave] to him righteous statutes, as a father to [his s]on [… …] his love your soul cleaves to for[ever. …] because by them [you established] your glory […]”
Translation by Craig A. Evans, Qumran-Messianism, p. 147.

It is noteworthy how heavenly/Angelic attributes are combined with the royal/Davidic motifs and traditions, very much suggesting that a Messianic figure is in view. The idea of the Messiah as God’s “first-born son” (rwkb /b) would be a development of the tradition of the faithful (Davidic) king as God’s son in Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:14. The images of “eternal light” and the “glory of the clouds” are vaguely reminiscent of the scene of Jesus’ baptism, as also of his exaltation to heaven; in both contexts Psalm 2:7 was applied to Jesus, identifying him as both the Anointed One (Messiah) and God’s Son. Possibly, the Messianic/ruler figure in 4Q369 1 col. 2 is similarly understood to be “born” as God’s son through a dramatic heavenly manifestation that confirms his kingship.

The remaining fragments of the text (2-4), while tantalizing, are too small for much meaningful interpretation or reconstruction of the work as a whole.

4Q534

Another fascinating (and, unfortunately, highly fragmentary) text is 4Q534, an Aramaic word sometimes called the “Elect of God” text, due to the striking description in lines 8-11 of column 1 of the surviving fragment:

“…he will know the secrets of man. And his wisdom will reach all the peoples. And he will know the secrets of all living things. [And al]l their plans against him will come to nothing, although the opposition of all living things will be great. […] his [p]lans. Because he is the elect of God, his birth and the spirit of his breath […] his [p]lans shall be forever.” (Translation Martinez-Tigchelaar, p. 1071)

It has been suggested that, in the literary context of the work, this is a prophecy of Noah’s birth (the Flood is apparently mentioned in column 2, line 14). The language certainly indicates a special figure, with a status and place in the world that has been established by God. These are characteristics that could apply just as well to a Messianic figure, and it is possible that such an association is intended. The expression “the spirit of his breath” may allude to Isa 11:4, a popular passage that influenced the Messianic Davidic ruler figure-type in Jewish writings of the period. There is a gap in the text presumably where something would have been stated regarding the birth of this person, and conceivably could have read “his birth and the spirit of his breath [are of God]”, or something similar (Evans, Qumran-Messianism, p. 145 [citing J. A. Fitzmyer]). If more of the text had survived, we might be able to determine if there is genuinely Messianic significance to this passage, or if the similarities are coincidental.

There are even fewer references to the Messiah’s “birth” as God’s Son in other Jewish writings in the first centuries B.C./A.D. Indeed, I am only aware of two passages which can reasonably be cited, and neither refers to the Messiah’s birth per se.

Psalms of Solomon 17-18

The 17th and 18th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon represent the earliest depiction of the Messiah (that is, the Davidic rule figure-type) in any detail. These hymns are usually dated to the mid-1st century B.C. (sometime after 63 B.C.). There is no specific mention of the Davidic Messiah as God’s Son, but there are several references, in close proximity, which illustrate how such traditional birth/sonship motifs could come together and be applied within the same Messianic context.

In 17:21, God is called on to “raise up” this king, whose Davidic origins are clear in the reference to him as “the son of David”; he is to be revealed to the world, and to God’s people, in the time known only to God. This manifestation of the Messiah, could, in similar contexts, be referred to as his “birth” (cf. above, on 1QSa 2.11-12). Moreover, an allusion to Psalm 2 follows in verse 23, which suggests that Ps 2:7 (and the Messiah’s “birth”) may also be in mind when referring to his end-time appearance. The Messiah’s unique relationship to God’s people at the end-time is also emphasized in vv. 26ff, with the traditional identification of the faithful ones of God’s people as His “sons” or “children”; this association is made in v. 27b:

“For he [i.e. the Messiah] shall know them, that they all are (the) sons of their God.”

If the faithful ones who obey the Messiah are sons/children of God, then it certainly follows that he is God’s “son” as well. The close (filial) relationship between the Anointed king (Messiah) and God is developed in vv. 31b-34: he is righteous, will be taught by God, will be called Lord and Anointed One (Lord Messiah), and God (the Lord) Himself is the Messiah’s own king.

Psalm 2 is again in view in Ps Sol 18, where the people will be shepherded under the rod of the Messiah (v. 6). This “rod” is also expressed in terms of the discipline shown by a father (God) to his son (Israel); indeed, in v. 4, Israel is described as a “firstborn son, an only child”. Again, if the people can be called God’s (firstborn) son, then surely this applies to their king Messiah as well (cf. above on 4Q369).

2/4 Esdras 13

The writing known as 2 (or 4) Esdras, like many of the surviving Jewish pseudepigrapha, was preserved and edited by Christians, but is ultimately based on Jewish materials. Indeed, the core of this work (chapters 3-14), the portion typically referred to as “4 Ezra”, is thoroughly Jewish and dates from the latter part of the 1st century A.D.—thus making it contemporary with much of the New Testament. The work is apocalyptic, presented as a prophecy of things which are to occur at the end-time. As an eschatological Jewish writing, it thus evinces a strong Messianic orientation, especially of the Davidic ruler figure-type who will appear to deliver God’s people and usher in the Judgment on the nations. In chapter 13, there is a vision of a man arising out of the sea (vv. 5ff); in the explanation of this vision that follows in vv. 25-38, a divine/heavenly voice tells the seer (Ezra) about the coming deliverance. Prior to the coming of the Messiah, there will be a period of intense suffering and distress, including wars among the nations (vv. 30-31); then it is related that:

“when these things come to pass and the signs occur which I showed you before, then my Son will be revealed, whom you saw as a man coming up from the sea.” (v. 32)

According to the Messianic traditions studied above, based primarily on Psalm 2:7, this revealing of God’s Son, his rising up “out of the sea”, could properly be referred to as his “birth”, though that particular wording is not used here. The conflict with the nations and their Judgment certainly corresponds to the traditional Messianic interpretation of Psalm 2. In verses 33-34 it is describes how the nations ultimately gather together with the intent of conquering the Son, but the result is that

“he will stand on the top of Mount Zion. And Zion will come and be made manifest to all people… And he, my Son, will reprove the assembled nations for their ungodliness…and will reproach them to their face with their evil thoughts…and he will destroy them without effort by the law (which was symbolized by the fire)” (vv. 35-37, ellipses mine)

Again the revelation of God’s Son is mentioned in verse 52: “no one on earth can see my Son or those who are with him, except in the time of his day”.

Translations and references above marked “Martínez-Tigchelaar” are to Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, Brill/Eerdmans: 1997-8.
Those marked “Qumran-Messiasm” are to Qumran-Messianism: Studies on the Messianic Expectations in the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. by James H. Charlesworth, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Gerbern S. Oegema (Mohr Siebeck: 1998). “Zimmerman” is the article by Johannes Zimmermann, “Observations on 4Q246 – The ‘Son of God’, pp. 175-190; the article by Craig A. Evans is “Are the ‘Son’ Texts at Qumran ‘Messianic’? Reflections on 4Q369 and Related Scrolls”, pp. 135-153.
“Fitzmyer” refers to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins (Eerdmans: 2000).
The translation of 2/4 Esdras is that of Bruce M. Metzger in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1983).

Birth of the Messiah: Micah 5:2

Micah 5:1 [2]:
The Messianic Bethlehem Tradition

The strongest passage in the New Testament regarding the birth of the Messiah is the treatment of the Bethlehem tradition in the Matthean Infancy narrative (2:1-12)—in particular, the citation of Micah 5:1 [2] within the narrative (vv. 4-6). The tradition regarding Jesus‘ birth in Bethlehem is quite strong, on objective grounds; it is one of the few elements of the Infancy narrative shared by Matthew and Luke (though presented quite differently). Only Matthew relates it to the prophecy in Micah 5:1 [2], and in such a way as to indicate that it was regarded as a Messianic prophecy prior to its application to Jesus. Here is how the Gospel writer frames the citation:

And (hav)ing brought together all the chief sacred officials and (expert)s on the writings [i.e. scribes] of the people, he [i.e. Herod] inquired (from) alongside of them where the Anointed (One) comes to be (born). And th(ey) said to him, “In Beth-Lehem of Yehudah—for so it has been written through the Foreteller: ‘And you, Beth-lehem, land of Yehudah, not even one (bit the) least are you among the leaders of Yehudah; (for) out of [i.e. from] you will come out a leader who will shepherd my people Yisra’el'”.

The Matthean Infancy narrative in chapter 2 may be divided into two halves—the second having a tri-partite structure:

    1. The visit of the Magi (vv. 1-12)
    2. The Flight to Egypt—a triad with a Scripture citation in each part:
      • The Dream of Joseph, warning of Herod, and flight into Egypt (vv. 13-15)
        “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1)
        • Herod’s killing of the infants in Bethlehem (vv. 16-18)
          “A voice was heard in Ramah…” (Jeremiah 31:15)
      • The Dream of  Joseph speaking/warning of Herod, and return from Egypt (vv. 19-21[23])
        [“He shall be called a Nazarene” (citation uncertain)]

It is also possible to separate it into two halves, each with a bi-partite structure (containing a main and secondary Scripture passage):

    • The visit of the Magi to the child Jesus in Bethlehem, in the threatening shadow of Herod (vv. 1-12)
      “And you O Bethlehem…” (Micah 5:2)
      • The Dream of Joseph and flight into Egypt (vv. 13-15)
        “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos 11:1)
    • Herod, ‘tricked’ by the Magi, slaughters the children in Bethlehem (vv. 16-18)
      “A voice was heard in Ramah…” (Jer 31:15)
      • The Dream of Joseph and return from Egypt (vv. 19-21[23])
        [“He shall be called a Nazarene”]

One might also add 1:18-25 to create three-part structure for the entire Infancy Narrative, each with a central Scripture passage and dream ‘visitation’:

The Scripture citations are central to the narrative, as also to the identification of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Savior of Israel. Unlike the other citations (1:22-23; 2:15, 17-28, 23), here the Scripture is quoted by a character (priests and scribes together) in the narrative, rather than as an aside by the author. Critical scholars would still view this as a Matthean citation, little different from the others in the Gospel; however, if we are to accept the narrative at face value, along with the underlying historical tradition, then Micah 5:1 [2] would have been understood as having Messianic significance at the time of the events recorded (end of the 1st century B.C.), prior to being applied by early Christians to Jesus decades later. To be sure, the original context of the passage (cf. below) is much closer to having an actual ‘Messianic’ connotation than the other Scriptures cited by Matthew (Isa 7:14; Hos 11:1; Jer 31:15; and those underlying Matt 2:23). Even so, there is (as yet) no direct evidence for a Messianic interpretation of Micah 5:1 [2] in the first centuries B.C./A.D., outside of the New Testament itself.

If one looks honestly at the original historical context of Isa 7:14 [see the previous note and earlier articles on this passage]; Hos 11:1; Jer 31:15, etc., it must be admitted that they have little to do with a future Messiah-figure. It is conceivable that Isa 7:14 could have been understood in this way, but there is no real evidence for it in Jewish literature contemporaneous or prior to the New Testament. The case may be somewhat different for Micah 5:1 [2], based on the following factors:

    • Unlike the oracles of Isaiah 7:10-17 and 9:1-7, which are presented in a relatively precise historical context (the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah, the Syro-Ephraimitic crisis and impending invasion by Assyria, c. 740-701 [esp. 735-732] B.C.), Micah 5:1-6 [MT 4:14-5:5] has a rather more general setting of coming judgment (military attack implied) followed by restoration. The themes (as well as language and style) of the these oracles in Micah are quite similar to those of Isaiah, but without some of the accompanying historical detail.
    • Assyrian invasion is mentioned in 5:5[4], and is presumably the source of judgment to hit Judah and the Northern kingdom (there is no clear indication Samaria has yet fallen, 722-721 B.C.); however, there is nothing like the precise (imminent) timing found in the predictions of Isa 7:15-17; 8:4. The implication of Micah 5:5-6 would seem to be that the Davidic ruler of 5:2 will lead (Judah’s) troops against the Assyrian invasion, which will lead to the gathering in of the remnant of Jacob (the Northern kingdom?). There is thus a closer parallel to the oracle in Isa 9:1-7, which is also more plausibly ‘Messianic’ (in its original context) than Isa 7:10-17.
    • The reference in Micah 5:3 [2] that God will give Israel/Judah up to judgment “until the one giving birth has given birth” is far more general (and symbolic, cf. the reference in 4:10) than that of the virgin/woman of Isaiah 7:14 (or Isa 8:3); this fact, in and of itself, makes application of the passage to an archetypal or future ruler much more natural.
    • The reference to Bethlehem (in Judah), while possibly intended (originally) to refer to a specific coming ruler in Micah’s own time, also makes likely an archetypal reference to the Davidic line (cf. also references to the “house of David” and “throne of David”, Isa 7:13; 9:7, etc).
    • While one can consider the language in 5:2b as similar to the exalted honorific titles given to ancient Near Eastern rulers (see my notes on Isaiah 9:6-7 in this regard), there is a dynamic, almost ‘mythological’ quality to the phrasing, which, when removed from the immediate context, would certainly suggest divine origin. Once the specific ritual sense of king as God’s “son” (cf. Psalm 2) has ceased to be relevant in Israelite history, the way is paved for the idea of a future/Messianic ruler as “son of God”.

Matthew’s citation of Micah 5:2 differs in several respects from both the Hebrew (MT) and Septuagint (LXX) versions:

Hebrew (MT) [5:1]

And you, House-of-Lµm {Bethlehem} of Ephrath,
Small to be (counted) with the ‘thousands’ [i.e. clans] of Yehudah {Judah},
From you shall come forth for/to me
(One) to be ruling/ruler in Yisra°el {Israel},
And his coming forth is from ‘before’ [<d#q#]
—from (the) days of ‘long-ago’ [<l*ou]

LXX

And you, Beth-lehem, house of Ephrathah
Are little to be in/among the thousands of Yehudah;
(Yet) out of [i.e. from] you will come out for/to me
The (one) to be unto (a) chief [a)rxwn] in Yisra’el,
And his ways out are from (the) beginning [a)rxh]
—out of [i.e. from] (the) days of (the) Age

Matthew 2:6

And you, Beth-lehem, land of Yehudah,
Not even one (bit the) least are you in/among the leaders of Yehudah;
(For) out of [i.e. from] you will come out a leader
Who will shepherd my people Yisra’el

There are three major differences (and one minor) between Matthew’s citation and that of the LXX and Hebrew MT:

      • Instead of the reference to Ephrath(ah), Matthew specifies “land of Judah”; this may be an intentional alteration to avoid mention of an unfamiliar clan name (though the place name Ramah is retained in the citation of Jer 31:15 [Matt 2:18]).
      • Instead of calling Bethlehem small/little [LXX o)ligosto$], Matthew uses the expression “not even one (bit the) least” [ou)damw$ e)laxisth, i.e. ‘not at all’, ‘by no means’]—in other words, Bethlehem is actually great. Is this a variant reading (from a lost Hebrew or Greek version), or an intentional alteration (by the Gospel writer)?
      • Instead of the ‘thousands’ [or clans] of Judah, Matthew reads “leaders [h(gemwn]” of Judah. This is a relative minor difference, and may conceivably reflect a different reading of the consonantal Hebrew text; or it may be an attempt to emphasize rule (rather than the constitution) of Judah.
      • Matthew has omitted the final bicolon (“and his coming forth…”), inserting at the end of the prior line (replacing “of Israel”): “who will shepherd my people Israel”. This appears to be a quotation from 2 Samuel 5:2 (LXX): “you will shepherd my people Israel”, joined to Mic 5:2. The inclusion of this Scripture would strengthen the citation as a reference to the Davidic ruler figure-type.

Messianic Interpretation of Micah 5:1 [2]

The historical tradition in Matt 2:4-6 evinces a belief, or expectation, by Jews of the time, that the Anointed One (that is, the Davidic Messiah) would be born in Bethlehem. There can be little doubt that this underlies the core Gospel traditions in the Infancy narratives. Both the Matthean and Lukan narratives emphasize the association with David, though this is stronger and more pervasive in Luke (cf. Matt 1:1ff, 17, 20; Lk 1:27, 32-33, 69ff; 2:4, 8ff, 11). The historical detail of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is part of this Davidic Messianic tradition. The fact that the Bethlehem tradition is presented so differently within the two narratives demonstrates that it pre-dates both of them.

Indeed, there is evidence that the Bethlehem tradition (and also Micah 5:1 [2]) had been independently applied to the Messiah, in Judea, prior to the writing of the Gospels. This can be inferred fairly from John 7:41-42:

“Others said [i.e. regarding Jesus], ‘This is the Anointed (One)’, and (yet) others said, ‘No, for the Anointed (One) does (not) come out of the Galîl {Galilee}, (does he)? (Has) not the Writing said that out of the seed of Dawid and from Beth-Lehem the Anointed (One) comes?'”

The historical context in John at this point is ambiguous enough to virtually guarantee that we are dealing with a Jewish (rather than early Christian) tradition. It could be derived simply from the historical details surrounding David’s life, but more than likely the reference in Micah 5:2 is assumed as well. The tradition of the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem is established in the subsequent Rabbinic literature—most notably, Jerusalem Talmud Berakot 5a [2:4], and the Midrash Rabbah to Lamentations §51 (on Lam 1:16). However, these passages are considerably later than the first century, and evidence from the first centuries B.C./A.D. is scant indeed. Sadly, the surviving fragments of the Qumran Commentary (Pesher) on Micah (1Q14) do not cover the relevant portion of the book (4:14-5:5 [5:1-6]). A separate text, 4Q168, with two small fragments, may be a similar Micah pesher (the surviving portion deals with 4:8-12), but too little is preserved to provide much by way of interpretation.

According to Origen, in his work Against Celsus (1.51), Jewish scholars in his time (and prior) had removed or suppressed the Bethlehem tradition—i.e., the expectation that the (Davidic) Messiah would be born in Bethlehem—to avoid giving support for the Christian belief in Jesus as the Messiah. However accurate this bit of apologetic may (or may not) be, it could be seen as providing independent confirmation of the Bethlehem tradition by perhaps the mid-2nd century A.D. Around the same time may be dated the Aramaic Targum (Jonathan) on the Prophets, which glosses/paraphrases Micah 5:1 [2] to say specifically that the Messiah comes out of Bethlehem. Unfortunately, the Jewish evidence cannot be dated, reliably at least, any earlier than this. Even within the later Rabbinic writings, the Bethlehem tradition is not very widespread; there is, for example, no reference to Bethlehem in the Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 52a where the Messiah’s birth is alluded to. This may be partly because of the complex character of the Messianic figure-types, alternating between ordinary human and supernatural/heavenly figures, sometimes even suggesting a (re)incarnation of David or Elijah himself. In the New Testament we actually have more detail regarding the birth of Jesus as the Messiah than we typically find elsewhere in Jewish tradition regarding the Messiah.