Leading up to Easter, I thought I’d trace the long-unknown concept found within ancient Judaism of a dying Messiah. In Messiah ben Joseph (review here), David Mitchell seeks to establish that the prominent and ancient Jewish tradition of a suffering, dying and rising Messiah was not a response to the life of Jesus, and certainly not that of Bar Kochba or Josephus. Rather, he is found within the Pentateuch itself. Mitchell’s two-pillar argument is found in deciphering the eschatological blessings of Jacob and Moses on Joseph’s seed in Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33. In this post, we will consider the first.

Genesis 49:22-26

22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough,
a fruitful bough by a spring;
his branches run over the wall.
23 The archers bitterly attacked him,
shot at him, and harassed him severely,

24 yet his bow remained unmoved;
his arms were made agile
from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
from there is the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,

25 by the God of your father who will help you,
by the Almighty who will bless you
with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that crouches beneath,
blessings of the breasts and of the womb.

26 The blessings of your father
are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents,
up to the bounties of the everlasting hills.
May they be on the head of Joseph,
and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.

According to Mitchell, verse 24b has suffered much in the hands of translators.

First, some have sought to smooth out the text by going against the Masoretic Text and Septuagint by following the Aramaic translation, replacing “from thence” with “from the name of”.

from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
from the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel

This results in Yahweh being identified as the Shepherd-Rock of Israel, rather than an unidentified individual expected to come from Joseph.

Second, since the Hebrew text has no verb and tense, features that other languages cannot allow, Jerome’s Vulgate supplied the past tense “went forth” to help bring clarity to the text.

This results in the following:

by the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob
whence a shepherd went forth, a rock of Israel

This past reading identifies the Shepherd-Rock as Joseph. However, the entire scope of Jacob’s Blessing is future-focused, having to do with the patriarch’s descendants, not the patriarchs themselves. This indicates that a Shepherd-Rock will come from Joseph in Jacob’s future.

Buy Messiah Ben Joseph