Evidence for Second Temple Judaism includes Jewish literature in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, as well as material and documentary data from the Land of Israel and the Diaspora (especially Egypt). Scholarship has tended to focus on the literature, and collections of primary sources in translation have been a major engine for the development of the subfield. Still hotly debated is the degree to which the Hebrew Bible itself is a product of the Second Temple period, but there is broad-based consensus that the translation, interpretation, and reception of the Torah/Pentateuch and other now-canonical writings were central for the development of Judaism in this period (see Major Themes). For the textual and other issues raised by our evidence for Greek translations (e.g., Old Greek, Septuagint), the commentaries in La Bible d’Alexandrie provide useful introductions. At the heart of modern research on Second Temple Judaism, however, are parabiblical and other writings outside of the Hebrew Bible. Foremost are those Jewish texts and traditions preserved primarily by Christians, as collected in modern times under rubrics like “Old Testament Apocrypha” and “Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.” Translations of a core set of these texts can be found in Charles 1913, which remains useful for research and reference; since then, the corpus has been further analyzed and extended, for instance, in the book series Jüdische Schriften aus Hellenistisch-Römischer Zeit, and in the collections Charlesworth 1983 and Sparks 1984. For the Dead Sea Scrolls, García Martinez and Tigchelaar 1997–1998 is the most accessible and comprehensive guide, with full text and English translations of the nonbiblical fragments. Excerpts from the writings of Jewish historians, chronographers, and poets preserved by Alexander Polyhistor and others are collected and translated in Holladay 1983–1996. Philo of Alexandria 1981 is a useful entry point into the works of Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BCE–50 CE), which constitute our most extensive source for ancient Jewish philosophical writings in Greek. For the work of Flavius Josephus (c. 37–100 CE)—our main source for the history of the period—the Brill Josephus Project (Mason 2000–) provides the most up-to-date translation and commentary.
La Bible d’Alexandrie series. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1986–.
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Series of French translations and commentaries on Greek biblical translations, featuring volumes by Marguerite Harl, Gilles Dorival, and others. Useful guide and supplement to critical editions such as the “Larger Cambridge Septuagint” (The Old Testament in Greek, according to the text of Codex Vaticanus, edited by Alan England Brooke, Norman McLean, and H. St. J. Thackeray [Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1906–1940]) and the Göttingen Septuagint (Septuaginta: Vetus Testamentum Graecum Auctoritate Academiae Scientiarum Gottingensis [Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1931–]).
Charles, R. H., ed. The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1913.
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English translations of (1) Jewish writings in Catholic and other bibles not included in Protestant bibles (i.e., “Old Testament Apocrypha,” or deuterocanonical literature) and (2) other anonymous or pseudonymous works transmitted by Christian tradents and possibly preserving Jewish material; Charles’s choices for the latter helped to delineate the “Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.”
Charlesworth, James H., ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. 2 vols. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983.
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Newer English translations of materials called “pseudepigrapha” in Charles 1913 and contemporaneous collections (e.g., E. Kautzsch, ed., Die Apocryphen und Pseudepigraphen des Alten Testaments [Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1900]), expanded with the addition of other related works, and further parabiblical writings posited to preserve Jewish traditions significant for the study of Christian origins.
García Martinez, F., and E. J. C. Tigchelaar, eds. The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition. 2 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997–1998.
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Comprehensive collection of texts and English translations of nonbiblical Dead Sea Scrolls, with bibliographical references to the relevant editions and facsimiles in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series and elsewhere. Includes a useful index of text designations.
Holladay, Carl R., comp. and trans. Fragments from Hellenistic Jewish Authors. 4 vols. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983–1996.
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Greek text and English translations of excerpts of Jewish (and possibly Jewish) historians, chronographers, and poets writings in Greek in the late Second Temple period, as preserved in the writings of Alexander Polyhistor via Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, and others. Includes materials attributed to Artapanus, Ezekiel the Tragedian, and Aristobulus.
Jüdische Schriften aus Hellenistisch-Römischer Zeit series. Gütersloh, Germany: G. Mohn, 1973–.
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Series of German annotated translations and analyses of Second Temple Jewish and related literature, as well as tools for their scholarly study.
Mason, Steve, ed. Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary. 12 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000–.
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Known as the Brill Josephus Project. Major translation project of Josephus’s writings. Overseen by Steve Mason, it includes translations by Mason, John Barclay, Christopher Begg, Louis Feldman, and Paul Spilsbury. Commentary, maps, and essays make the volumes especially useful for the study of the history, politics, literature, and biblical interpretation of Second Temple times. Earlier translations, printed with facing Greek, can be found in H. Thackeray’s, Feldman’s, and others’ volumes for the Loeb Classical Library.
Philo of Alexandria. The Contemplative Life, The Giants, and Selections. Translated by David Winston. Classics of Western Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1981.
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Accessible selection in English translation of Philo’s writings, ideal as an entry point into this complex corpus. Comprehensive translations, printed with facing Greek, can be found in F. H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker’s volumes for the Loeb Classical Library (Volumes 226–227, 247, 261, 275, 289, 320, 341, 363); note also the Cerf book series Philon d’Alexandrie.
Sparks, H. F. D., ed. The Apocryphal Old Testament. Oxford: Clarendon, 1984.
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Compact collection of English translations of twenty-five core “pseudepigrapha,” printed with no commentary but each prefaced by a handy introduction. Although six translations are merely revisions from Charles 1913, the nineteen fresh translations include expert contributions like Michael Knibb’s 1 Enoch, Marinus de Jonge’s Testaments of the 12 Patriarchs, and Sebastian Brock’s Psalms of Solomon.
Second Temple Period
Messiah in Rabbinic Thought
The Doctrine of the Messiah in the Middle Ages
In Modern Jewish Thought
The word Messiah is an anglicization of the Latin Messias, which is borrowed from the Greek Μεσσιας, an adaptation of the Aramaic meshiḥa (Aram. מְשִׁיחָא), a translation of the Hebrew (ha-melekh) ha-mashi'aḥ (Heb. הַמָּשִׁיח [ְהַמֶּלֶך]), "the Anointed [King]"; a charismatically endowed descendant of David who the Jews of the Roman period believed would be raised up by God to break the yoke of the heathen and to reign over a restored kingdom of Israel to which all the Jews of the Exile would return. This is a strictly postbiblical concept. Even *Haggai and *Zechariah , who expected the Davidic kingdom to be renewed with a specific individual, *Zerubbabel , at its head, thought of him only as a feature of the new age, not as the author or even agent of its establishment. One can, therefore, only speak of the biblical pre-history of messianism. It may be summarized as follows: Stage I. At the height of David's power there appears the doctrine that the Lord had chosen David and his descendants to reign over Israel to the end of time (II Sam. 7; 23:1–3, 5) and had also given him dominion over alien peoples (II Sam. 22:44–51 = Ps. 18:44–51; Ps. 2). To quote II Samuel 22:50–51 (= Psalm 18:50–51; all the arguments against dating this composition later than the age of David seem forced):
(50) For this I sing Your praise, O Lord among the nations/and hymn Your name://
(51) "He who grants wondrous victories to his king/and deals graciously with his anointed (mashi'aḥ), with David, and with his offspring, evermore."//David is here, as Saul was before him (I Sam. 24:6; 26:9; II Sam. 1:14, 16), and as he expects descendants of his to be after him, the Lord's anointed in the sense that he was anointed as a sign of consecration to the Lord (see *Kingship , *Oil ), not, of course, in the sense of "the Messiah" described at the beginning of this article. Because anointing is an act of consecration, Deutero-*Isaiah speaks of Cyrus as the Lord's "anointed" in the purely derived sense of a non-Israelite-king chosen by the Lord for a great destiny and a great mission (Isa. 45:1). Thus "Stage I" of the prehistory of messianism is the doctrine that David's present position of power will endure throughout his lifetime and be inherited by an endless chain of succeeding links in his dynasty. Stage II began with the collapse of David's empire after the death of Solomon. There arose the doctrine, or hope, that the House of David would again reign over Israel as well as Judah and again exercise dominion over neighboring nations. This hope was expressed
(a) probably by reinterpretation of compositions like Psalm 18 in a prophetic sense and
(b) in so many words in prophecies like Amos 9:11–12; Isaiah 11:10; Hosea 3:5 (the phrase – a Judahite interpolation – "and (the Israelites will seek) their king David"); Ezekiel 37:15ff., especially verses 24ff. (and see *Isaiah A, Panel 3, Field A, on Isa. 9:1–6 [2–7]). Stage III. Isaiah's shifting of the emphasis from the perpetuity of the dynasty to the qualities of the future king: the foundation of his throne will be justice, he will be distinguished by his zeal for justice, and, finally, he will be charismatically endowed for sensing the rights and wrongs of a case and for executing justice. (See not only the passage in *Isaiah just cited on Isa. 9:1–6 [2–7], but also Isaiah B I, 4 on Isa. 16:4–5 and, in particular, *Isaiah A, Panel 3, Field B on Isa. 11:1ff., where the origins of this idea are discussed). The " *Immanuel prophecy" in Isaiah is completely irrelevant, so far as one can see and the echoes of ancient Canaanite-Ugaritic mythology that have been "discovered" there are as dubious as those in the figure of the Ancient of *Days in Daniel 7. Without "stage III" in its biblical prehistory, the development of the postbiblical idea of "the Messiah" would not have been possible.
[Harold Louis Ginsberg]
Second Temple Period
The title "Messiah" (Heb. משיח) as a designation of the eschatological personality does not exist in the Old Testament; it occurs only from the time of the Second Temple after the Old Testament period. However for ancient Judaism the idea of eschatological salvation was more important than the concept of Messiah. Hence there are books from the Second Temple period where the Messiah does not occur, even if they refer to eschatological salvation. Such a book, for instance, is the Book of *Tobit , in which the salvation of Jerusalem, the return of the Diaspora, and the conversion of nations to the God of Israel is described but a personal Messiah is lacking. The same also applies to the Book (Wisdom) of Ben *Sira and probably the Book of Daniel. In the latter, the messianic figure of the son of *man is explained as a symbol for the holy ones (or saints) of the Most High (chap. 7). In the Assumption of *Moses (chap. 10) the eschatological figure is the angel of God but a human agent of the salvation is not mentioned. It seems also that in the more ancient form of the Amidah a personal messiah was not mentioned, but only the hope of the return from the Diaspora and the building of the eschatological Jerusalem and the Temple. Even in such ancient Jewish prayers where the concept of Messiah occurs the word mashi'aḥ is lacking.
In the time of the Second Temple there was a greater variety of messianic figures than later. The Old Testament Book of Zechariah already makes mention of two messianic figures, the high priest and the messianic king. This idea did not disappear from the rabbinic literature where the priest of righteousness (Kohen ẓedek) is sometimes mentioned together with the Davidic king Messiah. These two figures, the priest and the king, are important for the eschatology of the Dead Sea *Sect , the eschatological high priest being more important than the scion of David. The third figure occurring in the Dead Sea *Scrolls with the two messiahs is the prophet of the Last Days. Thus in the Dead Sea Scrolls there are three messianic figures which correspond to the three main functions of the ideal Jewish state, in which kingdom, priesthood, and prophecy shall exist (see I Macc. 14:41). The three eschatological figures of the Dead Sea Scrolls are therefore based upon a broader ideological concept. These three figures are reflected later in the theological concept of the ancient Jewish sect of the Ebionites (see Jewish Christian *sects ) according to which Jesus united in himself the function of king, priest, and prophet. The importance of the Davidic Messiah in Judaism who weakened or caused the disappearance of the other messianic figures was the outcome especially of the Old Testament heritage because the eschatological king is hinted at in the Hebrew Bible.
The oldest description of the eschatological king is in the third book of the Sibylline Oracles (c. 140 B.C.E.) and in the Vision of Seventy *Shepherds in the Book of Enoch which was written approximately a decade earlier. However the prevalence of the Davidic Messiah in the apocryphal literature became common from the time when the Maccabean Aristobulus I accepted the title of a king. This was seen as a usurpation of the rights of the family of David; hence as a reaction, the Davidic Messiah received his central importance as can be seen from the Psalms of Solomon written approximately in 63 B.C.E. (especially in the 17th Psalm). The other component of the political messianic hope in Judaism was caused by the Roman occupation, and so in later books the Davidic Messiah is the only figure which occurs. He thus appears in IV Ezra and in the Syrian Apocalypse of Baruch. A further proof of the expectation of the Davidic Messiah can be found in the New Testament where Jesus is identified with the Davidic Messiah. Even the name "Christians" and the word "Christos" are Greek translations of the word "Messiah" (Christos = the anointed one). This hope was not only an abstract one: from the first century C.E. there were messianic *movements centered on messianic pretenders. Such a list of messianic pretenders occurs in Acts 5:36–37. One of the names there is Judas the Galilean, who was the founder of the *Zealots . Thus this movement was centered on a family with messianic pretensions. Josephus (Wars 2:444–448) states that Judas' son, Menahem, was murdered in the Temple, being "arrayed in royal robes." Apparently after Judas' death his partisans transferred the status of pretender to the kingship to his son.
The most important historical messianic figure was surely Bar *Kokhba , though he himself did not sign as king and names himself only nasi. He was already seen by others as the messiah, and it is important that on his coins his name also occurs with that of a priest Eleazar. Both Josephus and the Talmud also mention other messianic pretenders from the first and beginning of the second centuries C.E. The first messianic interpretation of a biblical verse occurs in the Greek translation of the Pentateuch (Num. 24:17) where the word "scepter" is translated in the Greek by "man" (see also the Greek translation of Num. 24:7). The Greek translation of the Pentateuch dates back to the third century B.C.E. Possibly the designation of the Messiah as "man" is a proof that the special concept of son of man already existed in the early third century B.C.E. Philo, who did not like to refer explicitly to the eschatological hopes of Israel, mentions the hope of the coming of the Messiah in connection with this Greek interpretation of the biblical verse. The above shows that messianic concepts were manifold in the time of the Second Temple, and there were even numerous aspects to the function of the Messiah. All depended upon the spiritual and theological approach of the various Jewish trends, but the Messiah or messiahs were always human beings, even if sometimes supernatural qualities were connected with them. The political aspect, if it prevailed, did not always eliminate the supernatural. However, the Messiah was always an agent of God and never a savior in the Christian meaning. The Davidic origin of the kingly Messiah was supposed; but, as it seems, the messianic pretender had to prove his authenticity by his deeds – in the period of the Second Temple Davidic descendants were not traceable.
Messiah in Rabbinic Thought
In rabbinic thought, the Messiah is the king who will redeem and rule Israel at the climax of human history and the instrument by which the kingdom of God will be established. While the Bible stresses the nature of the age called the "end of days," the rabbis focus as well on the person of their regent, who gives the messianic age (yemot ha-mashi'aḥ) its very name. "Messiah" (Mashi'aḥ) means "anointed" and in the Bible can refer either to a king or a priest. The aggadah restricts the term to the eschatological king, who is also called malka meshiḥa ("king messiah") in the Targums, ben David ("son of David"), and mashi'aḥ ben David ("Messiah, son of David"). The Messiah was expected to attain for Israel the idyllic blessings of the prophets; he was to defeat the enemies of Israel, restore the people to the Land, reconcile them with God, and introduce a period of spiritual and physical bliss. He was to be prophet, warrior, judge, king, and teacher of Torah.
A secondary messianic figure is the Messiah, son of (i.e., of the tribe of) Joseph (or Ephraim), whose coming precedes that of the Messiah, son of David, and who will die in combat with the enemies of God and Israel. Though some (e.g., Torrey, Segal) claim that this figure is described in pre-Christian apocalyptic and apocryphal works, most scholars note that the first unambiguous mentions of this doctrine occur in tannaitic passages of uncertain date (Suk. 52a) and in the Targums (Pseudo-Jon., Ex. 40:11; Pesh., Song 4:5). The genetic function of the doctrine is similarly unclear: Messiah ben Joseph has been seen as the symbolic embodiment of the reunification with the ten tribes of Israel, as the Samaritan Messiah, and as a figure whose martial character and death testify to the impact of the abortive revolt under Bar *Kokhba upon the Jewish imagination.
There are a number of developmental accounts of the messianic idea. Klausner argues that the nationalist-naturalist base of the idea was "spiritualized" after the political and military debacle of the Bar Kokhba revolt; Mowinckel claims virtually the same results due to the acceptance of apocalyptic and spiritualizing elements. It is true, on the whole, that the later Midrash is more extravagant and inventive than the earlier sources in the elaboration of many messianic motifs; the relative sobriety of the earlier sources contrasts markedly with the portrait drawn in the apocalyptic literature. The earliest sources speak little of messianic origins. Subsequently there is the belief that he was born at Beth-Lehem (cf. Micah 5:1) or Jerusalem on the day of the Temple's destruction. He is then hidden – either in Rome or (in the later Midrash) in heaven, where he pines over the agony of people and his own impotence – to come forth at the time of the Redemption. Some have him present at the creation of the world; for some the "name" (i.e., concept) of the Messiah existed before creation; in yet others (assumed late), the Messiah himself exists before the world (PR 36:161).
The prophetic books do not all assume a personal messiah, nor do they identify him. The rabbis agree he is of Davidic lineage (based on Hos. 3:5 and Jer. 30:9), nor is this idea necessarily post-Bar Kokhba. Some expected a resurrected David, and others a messiah named David. Hezekiah, king of Judah, was a potential messiah: Johanan b. Zakkai announced the "coming" of Hezekiah in what some take to be a messianically oriented deathbed declaration. The name Menahem b. Hezekiah, which may refer to an anti-Roman patriot rebel or may simply be symbolic of "comfort," is also found. Various amoraim derive the name of the Messiah from the names of their masters; there is also a puzzling identification of the Messiah and Judah *ha-Nasi (Sanh. 98b). The messianic "name" is sometimes meant descriptively, as when Yose ha-Gelili said that the Messiah's name is Shalom ("peace"). The early sources do not mention a "suffering Messiah." In the Targum to Isaiah 53:3–6 suffering is the historical lot of the people, who are reconciled to God by the prayers of Messiah; the toils of Messiah are those of constructive achievement. Third-century sources speak of a suffering Messiah, or a leprous Messiah; still later, his suffering atones for Israel (Sanh. 98b; PR 37:162b). The vicarious atonement of all righteous for the wicked is a general aggadic theme, however.
The Messiah is generally assumed to be man, though writ large. As such, he can come either riding a donkey, in subdued fashion (cf. Zech. 9:9), or triumphantly riding the clouds (Dan. 7:13). That the Messiah is fully human is dramatically shown by Akiva's knowledgement of the rebel leader, Bar Kokhba, as the Messiah. (Yet Akiva also declared that the Messiah would occupy a throne alongside God). One talmudic source does apparently attribute immortality to Messiah (Suk. 52a), and the Midrash (mostly later) singles him out among the immortals of Paradise. The Messiah does not displace either God or Torah in rabbinic thought. Thus, Hillel (fourth century) can deny the coming of Messiah (for which he is rebuked), though he doubtless expected Israel's redemption. So too, the Midrash can declare that the ultimate author of redemption is not Messiah but God, and His kingship is stressed in the liturgy as well (Mid. Ps. to 31:1; 36:1; 107:1).
[Gerald J. Blidstein]
The Doctrine of the Messiah in the Middle Ages
Jewish ideology in the Middle Ages did not receive from the ancient period a coherent, unified concept of the Messiah, messianic times, and the signs of the messianic age. Apocalyptic literature of the Second Temple period (see above) differed greatly from the biblical concept of the Messiah and his times, and talmudic literature and the various Midrashim included many contrasting views about this problem. In the Middle Ages messianic ideas were a product of medieval thought and experience, based on some ancient sources, but developed within medieval Hebrew literature and thought. During the last decades of Byzantine rule in Palestine, in the last years of the sixth century and the beginning of the seventh century, the political upheavals in the Middle East – especially the continuous wars between the Byzantines and the Persians – gave rise to a body of messianic literature, which was destined to play a major role in shaping the image of the messianic age in the eyes of medieval Jewry. The most important work which was written at that time was the Book of *Zerubbabel . In this pseudepigraphical work Zerubbabel, the last ruler of Judea from the House of David, tells his visions concerning the happenings at the end of days and the time of the Messiah. According to this work, the appearance of the Messiah will be preceded by the appearance of a satanic king of Rome, who will be the son of Satan and a stone sculpture of a woman; his name will be *Armilus (= Romulus, the first king of Rome whowill also be the last). Armilus will conquer the whole world, vanquish all the traditional enemies of Rome, especially Persia, and will unify the whole world under his religion. He will be a spiritual Satan as well as an emperor. According to the descriptions, the writer seems to see in him a new incarnation, or a new appearance, of Jesus. The whole world will believe in him and see him as god and emperor, except the Jews. The war of the Jews against this monster will be conducted, at first, by the Messiah son of Joseph, assisted by a woman named Hephzibah. The Messiah son of Joseph will gather all the Jews to Palestine and Jerusalem, but Armilus will overcome him and kill him; Jerusalem will be saved by Hephzibah. Then Hephzibah's son, the Messiah son of David, will arise, overcome Armilus, and the messianic age will begin.
It is possible that this story, which is rich in detailed descriptions of the persons and the wars, and contains detailed dates for all the occurrences included in it, was written under the influence of the great victories achieved by the Byzantine emperor, Heraclius, against the Persians; for a Jew living in Palestine at that time it seemed that the emperor was about to conquer the whole world and reunite the empire with the Christian religion. The author believed that the Messiah was not going to overcome an enfeebled, divided Roman-Christian empire, but that his victory should be against an empire which would be physically and spiritually as strong as possible. Only after such unity is achieved by a Christian "messiah" can the Jewish Messiah appear and overcome the enemy.
A vast literature developed around the Book of Zerubbabel – apocalyptic literature describing the end of the Diaspora, the wars of the Messiah, and the final victory. It is difficult to date the various works in this literature; some of them may even be earlier than the Book of Zerubbabel. One of the most important works in this apocalyptic literature is the "Otot Mashi'aḥ" ("The Signs of the Messianic Age"), in which ten occurrences are described as foreshadowing the imminent appearance of the Messiah. This literature had an enormous impact upon medieval Jewry.
One of the main characteristics of this apocalyptic literature is the complete absence from it of any doctrinal religious or ideological elements. In these works the future is described as an inevitable end of the world as known and the beginning of a new one. In none of these works is there any explanation as to why anything is going to happen, or what a Jew should do in order to help in the great task of bringing about the redemption. The apocalyptic future is given as a story, not as a theological doctrine. This fact became very meaningful in the Middle Ages, when Judaism was divided between conflicting ideologies and theologies; there was nothing in this apocalyptic description which could make it unacceptable to any Jewish ideology. A philosopher, an Ashkenazi Ḥasid, a kabbalist, or a rabbinic traditionalist, could accept the apocalyptic future as described in the Book of Zerubbabel and related works. Thus the appeal of this body of literature became universal to all Jews, in all countries, in both medieval and early modern times. Another characteristic which helped these ideas to be accepted and believed by all Jews is that this literature contained many elements taken from biblical and talmudic sayings about the messianic age. There was no conflict between the texts from ancient times and the apocalyptic literature of the early Middle Ages; what was fragmentary and incomplete in the ancient texts was developed in the latter into a complete, coherent picture, in which it was as easy to believe as if it sprang directly from the traditional sources.
This does not mean that other, non-apocalyptical concepts of the messianic age did not exist in the Middle Ages among Jewish thinkers. Thus, for instance, whereas Eleazar *Kallir , in describing the messianic age, used images similar to those in the apocalyptic literature, his predecessor and probable teacher, the paytan *Yannai , used more quiet, non-apocalyptical images in referring to the redemption. Most of the philosophers did not accept the apocalyptic picture, even though Saadiah *Gaon , the first systematic Jewish philosopher, included in his Book of Beliefs and Opinions a paraphrase of the Book of Zerubbabel when describing the messianic age. *Maimonides and his followers regarded the coming of the Messiah as a political deliverance of the Jews from the rule of the gentiles, without any upheaval in the order of the world and without any apocalyptic elements. Maimonides also opposed messianic speculation, and rejected rumors from Yemen and other places that a Messiah had come (see Messianic *Movements ). However, other philosophers held different opinions. Abraham bar Ḥiyya, a rationalist philosopher with neoplatonic tendencies, wrote a major work, Megillat ha-Megalleh, attempting to establish, by astrological calculations, the date of the coming of the Messiah.
Messianic speculation and attempts to find such dates were a constant feature of Jewish culture in the Middle Ages and early modern times. Dozens of dates were proposed as the dates of the beginning of the redemption, which was divided into many stages; sometimes different dates for different stages were also given. Sometimes the dates set for redemption coincided with great upheavals in the world and terrible persecutions of the Jews – like the beginning of the persecutions by the crusaders (1096), the years of the Black Death in Europe, the Expulsion from Spain (1492), or the persecutions in Poland and the Ukraine (1648). But, even though one date after the other was refuted, the explanation was that the Jews were not sufficiently righteous to accept the Messiah, and a new date was set. The generations preceding and following the Expulsion from Spain were especially rich in such speculations, but in fact every age engaged in such speculations, with very little differences in method and ideological concepts.
Among the theological movements in the Middle Ages the ideas of apocalyptical eschatology clashed with the ideas of personal eschatology, the personal reward that a devout person will receive upon his death in the next world. Evidently, when emphasis was put upon personal redemption in the Garden of Eden the descriptions of national deliverance upon the coming of the Messiah tended to be somewhat blunted. This may have been one of the reasons why Maimonides and his school de-emphasized the apocalyptic nature of the redemption. However, among the masses of the people, belief in the apocalyptic redemption did not diminish.
A good example for this conflict can be found in the movement of the Ḥasidei *Ashkenaz in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. In their popular works the teachers of Ashkenazi Ḥasidism, Judah he-Ḥasid and Eleazar b. Judah of *Worms , explained the dangers of engaging in messianic speculation and in the belief in false messiahs. Several passages in the Sefer Ḥasidim are dedicated to this question. However, from other sources, esoteric works, and contemporary documents, a different picture is obtained. It was believed that Judah he-Ḥasid knew when the Messiah was to come, but he died before he could reveal it to his disciples. Judah himself explained in one of his esoteric works that there are a few righteous people in every generation who know this date, but they have to keep it a secret; there is no doubt that he included himself among them. A passage describing the appearance of the Messiah was deleted from the Sefer Ḥasidim, but is found in manuscripts. There is a document from the Cairo Genizah from which it can be learned that when a person appeared claiming to be the Messiah, the community appealed to Eleazar of Worms for advice, and he seemed to believe in the veracity of the miracles worked by that person. Even though Ashkenazi Ḥasidism put the main emphasis on personal redemption, belief in messianic speculation and the imminent appearance of the Messiah was still very strong even among their leaders.
From the 13th century on, especially after the publication of the Zohar, messianic speculation and messianic belief was centered in kabbalistic literature, and culminated in the great kabbalistic-messianic movement, Shabbateanism.
In Modern Jewish Thought
Classical Reform in the 19th century reinterpreted the doctrine of the Messiah in two ways. First, it substituted the belief in a messianic age for the belief in a personal Messiah. Secondly, the messianic hope was severed from its traditional associations with a return of the exiles to Zion, these associations being viewed as too particularistic. The destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people were seen not as calamities but as affording greater opportunities for the fulfillment of Judaism's "mission" to all mankind. The whole world would become perfected and, through the example of Judaism, monotheism would be the religion of all men. Progress in the Western world, in terms of greater liberalism, Jewish emancipation, social reforms, and better educational facilities, was hailed as the dawn of the messianic age of which the prophets had dreamed. References to a return to Zion were erased from the prayer book. The principles regarding the Messiah in the Reform "Pittsburgh Platform" (1885) read: "We recognize in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect the approaching of the realization of Israel's great messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice, and peace among all men. We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state."
The Reform vision of messianism as a perfect world just around the corner and of the Jews as the brave carriers of a universalistic message ready to be heeded by all was rendered hollow by the rise of Zionism with its stress on the Jews as a nation and its emphasis on a physical return to Palestine, culminating in the emergence of the State of Israel; the threat of antisemitism and the Holocaust in which six million Jews were murdered; and the disillusionment that set in after the two world wars. Even as early as 1937 the "Pittsburgh Platform" was considerably modified by a conference of Reform rabbis in Columbus, Ohio. A statement by the conference dealing with the messianic question reads: "In all lands where our people live, they assume and seek to share loyally the full duties and responsibilities of citizenship and to create seats of Jewish knowledge and religion. In the rehabilitation of Palestine, the land hallowed by memories and hopes, we behold the promise of renewed life for many of our brethren. We affirm the obligation of all Jewry to aid in its upbuilding as a Jewish homeland by endeavoring to make it not only a haven or refuge for the oppressed but also a center of Jewish culture and spiritual life. Throughout the ages it has been Israel's mission to witness to the Divine in the face of every paganism and materialism. We regard it as our historic task to co-operate with all men in the establishment of the kingdom of God, of universal brotherhood, justice, truth and peace on earth. This is our messianic goal."
There is a tendency among some modern Jewish thinkers to invoke once again the traditional idea of messianism as a direct, divine intervention, in which a "new heart" will be created for men, rather than as automatic human progress towards an ideal state. Even a determined non-supernaturalist like Mordecai Kaplan can write (Questions Jews Ask (1956), 183): "We can no longer believe that any person or semi-divine being, is divinely destined to rule as the Messiah and usher in the millennium. Nevertheless, the idea of the Messiah can still figure symbolically to express the valid belief in the coming of a higher type of man than this world has yet known." Will Herberg (Judaism and Modern Man (1951), 227–35) is typical of the new school of thought. History cannot redeem itself. It proceeds and ends in catastrophe from which it must be redeemed by God. Even the most perfect world state could do no more than enforce peace throughout the world, but the hatred and conflicts among men would remain. The "peace" in the messianic age dreamed of by the prophets is, on the other hand, an inner harmony that needs no external sanctions. To attempt to reduce the prophetic vision of perfection to the level of perfectionist utopianism is to throw confusion into both practical politics and the ultimate insights of religion. It is not surprising, therefore, to find voices raised, also outside the Orthodox camp, in favor of retaining the doctrine of the personal Messiah sent by God.
Orthodoxy retains unimpaired the traditional doctrine. The Messiah is a scion of the House of David. He will reign in Jerusalem, will rebuild the Temple, and will reinstitute the sacrificial system. Many Orthodox rabbis were at first opposed to Zionism in that it seemed to substitute a purely human redemption for the redeemer sent by God. But with the establishment of the State of Israel the widely held Orthodox view was to see the events in Israel as atḥalta de-geulla, "the beginning of the redemption," i.e., the foundations laid by humans, under God's guidance, ready to receive the building to be erected by God's direct act. Among Orthodox rabbis there is no lack of speculation on the meaning of contemporary events in the light of the messianic hope. Thus M. Kasher (No'am, 13 (1970), end) has tried to read: "Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed; for the Lord of hosts will reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before His elders shall be glory" (Isa. 24:23) as a prophetic vision in which the moon landings coincide with the establishment of the State of Israel. In the writings of A.I. Kook the argument is advanced that the Jewish people had become too "spiritual," too remote from the world. To pave the way for the Messiah the concrete realities of a modern state based on Jewish principles of justice and compassion are essential. Kook accepted the theory of evolution even in the moral sphere in that it is evidence of the movement of the whole of creation toward its ultimate fulfillment, as in the messianic hope (Orot ha-Kodesh (1938) V, 19–22).
GENERAL: J. Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel (1955); A.H. Silver, A History of Messianic Speculations in Israel (1927); S. Mowinckel, He That Cometh (1956); Kaufmann Y., Toledot, 3 (1960), 626–56; G. von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 1 (1962), 306–24; 2 (1965), 165–79; H.L. Ginsberg, in: Conservative Judaism, 22 no. 1 (1967), 2–11. SECOND TEMPLE PERIOD: D. Flusser, in: IEJ, 9 (1959), 99–109; M. Hengel, Die Zeloten (1961); J. Liver, Toledot Beit David (1959); E. Sjöberg, Der Menschensohn im aethiopischen Henoch buch (1946); P. Volz, Die Eschatologie der juedischen Gemeinde im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter (1934); M. Zobel, Gottesgesalbter; der Messias und die messianische Zeit in Talmud und Midrasch (1938); F. Hahn, Christologische Hoheitstitel (1964); IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, 7 (1938), 306–9 (index); J. Even-Shemuel, Midreshei Ge'ullah (19542); G.F. Moore, Judaism, 2 (1927), 323–76; W.D. Davies, Torah in the Messsianic Age (1952), 50–85; Baron, Social2, (1952), 351f.; 5 (1957), 138ff.; Kaufman, in: Molad, 16 (1958), 197–203; E.E. Urbach, Ḥazal, Pirkei Emunot ve-De'ot (1969), 639 (index): J. Liver, Toledot Beit David (1959). DOCTRINE OF THE MESSIAH IN THE MIDDLE AGES: J. Even-Shemuel, Midreshei Ge'ullah (19542); A.Z. Aešcoly, Ha-Tenu'ot ha Meshiḥiyyiot be-Yisrael (1956); B.Z. Dinur, Yisrael ba-Golah, 2/3 (1968). 358–453; J. Dan, Torat ha-Sod shel Ḥasidei Ashkenaz (1968), 241ff.; idem, in: Ha-Ummah, 30 (1970), 237–55; G. Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism (1971); IN MODERN JEWISH THOUGHT: J.H. Greenstone, The Messiah Idea in Jewish History (1943); S.S. Schwarzschild, in: Judaism, 5 (1956, 123–35; L. Jacobs, Principles of the Jewish Faith (1964). 368–97.
Source: Louis Jacobs, Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.