This is the third post working through Jesus the Messiah by Gordon Johnston, Herbert Bateman and Darrell Bock. Read the introduction post to get the gist of their approach to Messianic prophecy, and Johnston’s chapters on the Messiah in the Old Testament. The next section is by, Herbert Bateman on the messianic expectations (or lack thereof) in the intertestamental literature.
Jesus the Messiah in the Intertestamental Literature
Jesus the Messiah intends to “trace the concept of messianism chronologically” (p211), so it makes sense to survey what the Jewish literature between the Old and New Testaments had to say about the Messiah. Bateman has two goals in his section: 1) identify four obstacles that obscure our study of messianism in the second temple literature, and 2) observe the variety of messianic portraits in this literature.
In his first chapter, Bateman points out four obstacles (or as he says, three and then one) that must be overcome to understanding messianic expectation in the second temple period. These obstacles are:
- Limited resources. Despite much being written during the 550-year-long second temple period, the literature that’s useful for reconstructing messianic expectations is limited. Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), there were only thirteen relevant documents from this time. The DSS adds nineteen texts or fragments to this list, but it still remains limited.
- Blurred vision. Our understanding of these texts is hindered by two elements: a) our familiarity with the New Testament and b) our distance from Judaism and its way of thinking. In regards to the former, we can read NT teaching about Jesus anachronistically back in to the literature. In regards to the latter, from the early days of the church we have become unfamiliar with Jewish thinking. The early church’s increasing Gentile presence, influence and “polemic against Judaism created a wedge between Christianity and Judaism which resulted in an even greater lack of familiarity with second temple period Messianic expectations” (p215).
- A lack of second temple historical and social sensitivities. In the longest section of the chapter, Bateman reveals that, contrary to common misconceptions, not every Jew yearned for the coming of the Messiah. To understand messianism, we need to know our history. When one surveys the texts and history of the second temple period, it becomes clear that many were indifferent to messianism and expectations became mostly dormant under the rule of the Persians and Greeks (539-164 BC). It wasn’t until dissatisfaction with the rule of the Hasmoneans that messianic expectations flared up again. In fact, “the earliest literature that speaks of an expected ‘messiah figure’ dates from after 150 BCE when Jonathan, the first Hasmonean, came to power” (p241). Next came the Romans, and in a great line from Bateman, “though Hasmoneans evoked the flames of messianic expectation, Rome managed to create a full brush fire.” (p241).
- The final obstacle is left until a final paragraph. It is a lack of interest in the literature and mindset of second temple period.
With all this in place, in the next three chapters Bateman surveys “anticipations of the one called messiah” (ch. 9), “anticipations of the one called branch and prince” (ch. 10), and “anticipations of the one called son” (ch 11). It is impossible to survey the content of these chapters, but the takeaways are as follows.
First, Bateman does an excellent job of introducing the reader to (probably) unfamiliar texts, showing their importance, and explaining what it is they are contributing to messianic expectation. Scattered throughout these chapters are numerous tables, graphs and maps that really help keep things clear. These chapters would serve as an excellent textbook introduction to the second temple period.
Second, it becomes clear that there is no one messianic expectation; instead it is almost as if these texts take Old Testament ideas and branch them off into different paths that lead to very different destinations. Some expected a heavenly figure. Some expected multiple messiahs (priest and king, for example). Others didn’t expect a messiah at all.
There are some shortcomings in these chapters, however in approachability and editing.
First, while these chapters are very well laid out, at times the content calls into question whether Jesus the Messiah is “not intended to be an overly technical work” (p35). For example, while the history in Bateman’s first chapter was essential for what followed, there is a lot of detail that seemed irrelevant for the later chapters. Also, on page 236 there are a few sections of Greek. While the Greek is translated, it is unclear why its there in the first place, given the intended audience. All in all, Bateman’s laudible thoroughness may work against his good intentions for accessibility.
Second, I mentioned numerous typos in Johnston’s chapters and unfortunately the same is the case with Bateman’s. For the sake of space, I will only draw attention to what is perhaps the “best” editing mistake I’ve ever come across! A sentence on page 303 reads as follows.
Nevertheless, second temple reflections of Should this be capitalized?scripture and longings for a messianic “son” […]
Unfortunately, this happens again on page 327!
Yet equally grounded in Should this be capitalized?scripture is one debated and contradictory element.
Aside from the quirky editing issues, these chapters are an excellent survey of messianism in the intertestamental literature. Both those familiar and those unfamiliar will get something from these chapters.
Many thanks to Alban books for providing a review copy of Jesus the Messiah. Their generosity has not affected my opinion of this book.