From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Preach to the choir
Icon religion.svg
Crux of the matter
Speak of the devil
An act of faith
The Messiah Is Not Coming — and He's Not Even Going to Call!
Israeli hit tune in 2001[1]

Depending on whether one reads the Old or the New Testament, the Messiah is either written as mashiach (מָשִׁ֫יחַ)[2] or as christos (χριστός).[3] The first is a Hebrew word found in the Old Testament and the second is a Greek word found in the New Testament. Mashiach calqued as christos is like saying the only way a king such as David can gather all the Jews back to Israel is by dying on the cross and ascending into Heaven. A Biblical literalist could argue that Jesus accomplished this as a belief in him enabled the Third Reich to promote Positive Christianity and one of the consequences of Nazi concentration campsWikipedia was the creation founding of modern-day Israel, but it involves a pretty disturbing way of looking at the world. In essence, it is arguing Jesus died on the cross so that people who believe in him will exterminate Jews and then feel guilty about it and this guilt will motivate them to help the survivors forge a country in Israel thus fulfilling biblical prophecy. Biblical literalists don't make this argument but it is a logical extrapolation of their belief system, if you ignore all the other requirements for mashiach that Jesus doesn’t fulfill. In any case, this page will concentrate on explaining how the concept of a Messiah originated.

Judaism's view of the Messiah (מָשִׁ֫יחַ)[edit]

The Jewish criteria expressed in the Tanakh about the Messiah's legitimacy and duties are summarized in the following paragraph (Ezekiel 37:21-28):

Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land:
And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all. […]
And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them.
And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children's children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever.
Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore.
My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
And the heathen shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.

Specifically, the Hebrew Scriptures (any translation will do) state that the REAL Messiah of the Jews will be recognized as the true one by fulfilling the following prophecies:

One of the central themes of biblical prophecy is the promise of a future age of perfection characterized by universal peace and recognition of the God of Israel by the entire world (Isaiah 2:1-4, 32:15-18, 60:15-18; Zephaniah 3:9; Hosea 2:20-22; Amos 9:13-15; Micah 4:1-4; Zechariah 8:23, Zechariah 14:9; Jeremiah 31:33-34).

Throughout the ages, since the fall of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, Jews have always felt the urge to re-establish their dominion on the Holy Land, but they failed a lot of times… at least, until 1948. During this constant wait, generations of rabbis, sages, theologians and thinkers tried to figure out what kind of person the Jewish Messiah is going to be, and most of all, when will he come.[4] The Messiah's coming has been one of the most enduring hopes for the Jewish people, and the majority of Orthodox Jews still believe in it.
However, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

It is widely supposed that Judaism is a messianic religion and that hope for the Messiah's appearance is the major focus of, and driving force behind, Jewish religious belief and behavior. […] These assumptions, however, need qualification. Judaism's Scripture, the Hebrew Bible, contains no doctrine of an eschatological redeemer and does not use the term messiah to refer to one. […] Additionally, the idea of the Messiah is barely present in the Mishnah, the foundation document of Rabbinic Judaism.
—Wendy Doniger (editor), Britannica Encyclopedia of World Religions, 2006, p. 722

Jewish views on Jesus' alleged messianship[edit]

Jews do not accept Jesus of NazarethWikipedia as the Jewish MessiahWikipedia for the following reasons:

Jesus was an impostor[edit]

If a man fails to fulfill even one of these conditions, then he cannot be the Jewish Messiah, but an impostor.

Given that no one has ever fulfilled the Hebrew Bible's description of this future King, Jews still await the coming of the real Messiah.[4][5] All past messianic claimants, including Jesus of Nazareth, Shimon Bar Kokhba, Shabbetai Tzevi, and Menachem Mendel Schneerson (not to mention the others…Wikipedia) have been rejected.[4][5]

Christians counter that Jesus will fulfill these in the Second Coming. Rabbinic literature shows that the Jewish Messiah will fulfill the biblical prophecies outright; in the Old Testament no concept of a Second Coming exists.

Christian faith is entirely based on the premise that Jesus is the savior sent by God to free humanity from sin once and for all, but people are still sinning even after Jesus' death, so nothing changed. This means that his alleged sacrifice was in vain.

Moreover, the Old Testament itself clearly explains that no other divine being exists before God, so Jesus couldn't be his son; in Isaiah 43:10-13 God himself says there is no savior and all men must contact him directly. Ergo, there's no need for a savior, and Jesus was, by default, a delusional cult leader, an impostor, and a false prophet.

The Saoshyant (the Zoroastrian Messiah) and the Son of Man[edit]

One of the people touted by the Bible as the mashiach[2] (מָשִׁ֫יחַ) was Cyrus the Great.

Thus saith the LORD to his anointed (mashiach), to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates…
Isaiah 45:1

The reason Cyrus was considered to be a messiah was that he fulfilled one of the principal requirements for מָשִׁ֫יחַ, namely he returned the Jews to the land of Israel after his Persian empire conquered the Babylonians.

While under Persian governance, the Jewish people were exposed to Zoroastrianism on a daily basis. One of the religious ideas the Zoroastrians believe in is that there will be three future saviors of the world born of maidens who bathe in Lake Kansava where Zoroaster’s seed has been miraculously preserved (ew!). The first two saviors are called Hushedar and Hushedarmah. The third is called the Saoshyant and he is to lead humanity in Frashokereti,Wikipedia a final renovation of the universe when evil will be destroyed. The conception of the Saoshyant is described in Denkard 7.10.15ff.[10]

That maiden, who is Gobak-abu, walks up to the water; she that is the mother of that testifying Saoshyant who is the guide to conveying away the opposition of the destroyer…Then she sits in that water, when she is fifteen years old, and it introduces into the girl him 'whose name is the Triumphant Benefiter, and his title is the Body-maker… Not before that has she associated with men; nor yet afterwards, when she becomes pregnant, has she done so before the time when she gives birth.
—Denkard 7.10.15ff[11]

The Frashokereti is described in the BundahishnWikipedia where Ahura Mazda triumphs and will resurrect the dead through his agent, the Saoshyant, who was born from the virgin impregnated by Zoroaster’s miraculously preserved seed.[10][12]

The Jewish scriptures underwent religious syncretism during the time period they were under the influence of the Persians. One example of this was the inclusion of Cyrus as a messiah. Another was the concept of resurrection. Prior to the Zoroastrian influence, the Jews believed that their souls rested in sheol[13] without knowledge or feeling[14], but passages from works written during the later Persian and Greek periods such as Daniel 12:2 show that the Jews began to believe that the souls of the dead could be resurrected and be given everlasting life. In the Zoroastrian belief system, the awakening of the souls was done through Ahura Mazda's agent, the Saoshyant, and during this time period, cryptic references to a Saoshyant-like figure begin to appear in the Jewish literature. It was called the ‘Son of Man’. One such reference is found in Daniel.

I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
Daniel 7:13

The Jewish scripture that best describes the Son of Man is called the Books of Enoch. The devout believed this work was written by Enoch who walked with God (Genesis 5:24) and was Noah's ancestor. The Book of Enoch was widely known among early Christians before the Catholic Church decided that it was not canonical in the 4th century CE. The following is what the Jewish Encyclopedia says about this work in relation to the messiah.

The oldest apocalypse in which the conception of a preexistent heavenly Messiah is met with is the Messiological section of the Book of Enoch (xxxvii.-lxxi.) of the first century B.C. The Messiah is called "the Son of Man," and is described as an angelic being, his countenance resembling a man's, and as occupying a seat in heaven beside the Ancient of Days (xlvi. 1), or, as it is expressed in ch. xxxix. 7, "under the wings of the Lord of spirits…He is represented as the embodiment of justice and wisdom and as the medium of all God's revelations to men (xlvi. 3; xlix. 1, 2a, 3). At the end of time the Lord will reveal him to the world and will place him on the throne of His glory in order that he may judge all creatures in accordance with the end to which God had chosen him from the beginning.[15]

The key thing to note about Daniel and the Book of Enoch and their Son of Man references is that they were written before Jesus was said to have been born. Thus, prior to 1st century CE, the Jewish people already had an idea of a heavenly messiah who was to sit in judgment of them.

The Logos (the Greek philosophy Christians call the messiah) and Christos[edit]

By the time Alexander the Great conquered the Persians, the Jews already had candidates for the first two saviors of the world in David and Cyrus, and thus it was only natural for some of them to believe that Alexander the Great was the third prophesized messiah.[15][note 3] Alexander’s messianic status never became incorporated into the Bible, however. Instead a different idea of what the messiah was came into existence – the Greek philosophical concept of logos.

Precisely how logos (λόγος)[16] became associated with mashiach[2] is difficult to understand as the two beliefs are nothing like one another, but there is no doubt that it did happen. The Trinity is dependent on logos and the messiah being one and the same. Moreover, there are Biblical passages such as John 1:1 that stresses the central importance of logos in the Christian belief system. The key figures important in this transformation are the Alexandrian Jewish philosophers. The first of these, Aristobulus, used passages such as Genesis 1:3 as proof that when God said something, it was the same as God doing something. For we must understand the voice of God not as words spoken, but as construction of works.[17] The Hebrew word Amar (אָמַר)[18] used in passages such as Genesis 1:3 was translated into Greek as logos.[19] Thus when the SeptuagintWikipedia was created and was read by Greek-speaking Jews, they could read for themselves why Aristobulus said Yahweh used ‘logos’ to create the world.

The other key Jewish philosopher was Philo of Alexandria and he did two things critical for the transformation of logos into the messiah. One was the elevation of logos to divine status and incorporating it into a metaphysical triad that would eventually lead to the trinity. The other was arguing that mankind was modeled after God’s logos.[20] If mankind was modeled after God’s logos, then it was only a small leap to believe that the prophesized messiah would be God’s logos. The author(s) of John incorporated the idea that logos becomes flesh.

And the Word (logos) was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
—John 1:14

Not only did the creation of the Septuagint translate the word amar[18] into logos[16], it also translated the Hebrew word masiach[2] into christos[3]. And it also translated the Hebrew name Yehoshua (Joshua)[21] which means delivererWikipedia into Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoûs).[22] Thus the name Iesous[22] Christos[3] means anointed deliverer and it could very well be a title rather than the name of a person — anointed deliverer is a good description of what the Saoshyant is.

Some Egyptian dude (one of many self-proclaimed messiahs) and Iesous Christos[edit]

The Seleucid EmpireWikipedia had been governing Israel but became weak when they got their butts kicked by the Romans and they had to pay them tons[note 4] of money. They also fought against Ptolemaic Egypt and the ParthiansWikipedia and therefore were distracted and in a process of decay when the Jews waged the Maccabean RevoltWikipedia and formed the Hasmonean dynastyWikipedia This Jewish independence ended when the Romans decided that they wanted Israel for themselves and conquered the Jews.

Unlike with the Persians and the Greeks where relations were fairly cordial up until the Maccabean Revolt, many of the Jews didn’t like the Romans at all. This led to a series of messianic revolts by self-proclaimed messiahs. The following is one account given to us by Josephus.

And now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God. And many that were prevailed on by them suffered the punishments of their folly; for Felix brought them back, and then punished them. Moreover, there came out of Egypt about this time to Jerusalem one that said he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the Mount of Olives, as it was called, which lay over against the city, and at the distance of five furlongs. He said further, that he would show them from hence how, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down; and he promised them that he would procure them an entrance into the city through those walls, when they were fallen down. Now when Felix was informed of these things, he ordered his soldiers to take their weapons, and came against them with a great number of horsemen and footmen from Jerusalem, and attacked the Egyptian and the people that were with him. He also slew four hundred of them, and took two hundred alive. But the Egyptian himself escaped out of the fight, but did not appear any more. Antiquities of the Jews 20.8:6[23]

According to the other wiki, Luke-Acts provides the only detailed account where Jesus’s ascensionWikipedia is described in the Bible and it takes place at the Mount of Olives, the same place where the aforementioned Egyptian prophet gathered people for a failed coup. The Mount of Olives is also where the Chapel of the AscensionWikipedia is at.

Josephus mentions a couple of other people who claimed that they were a prophet/king/messiah. One was Simon of Peraea, a former slave to King Herod, whose revolt led to the burning of the royal palace at Jericho and Simon’s beheading.[24] Another was Anthronges[25] who was described as a tall man with strong hands. Another was Theudas[26] who was also beheaded. Menahem ben Judah was yet another.[27]

These accounts are the closest thing that Josephus mentions about messiahs. The quotes from ‘Josephus’ that mention Jesus are interpolations added by Christians.

Jesus Christ and the Bible[edit]

So how did the messiah become incorporated into the New Testament? Well the answer to that question really depends on which part of the New Testament one reads. Essentially the New Testament is composed of two different messianic movements that occurred concurrently. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts primarily have their origins in the messianic movements that occurred in Judea. The Gospel of John is where the Jewish logos and pneuma philosophical movements become incorporated into the New Testament. It is not quite as clean cut as this because there are some references to logos and pneuma in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), and there are some references to Jesus as a messiah figure in John, but that is the basic idea.

The oldest of the works is Mark[28] and most scholars date it to around 66–70 CE. So who was the Iesous Christos mentioned in this work? Was this a name of someone specific that Josephus didn't mention? (Josephus may have only mentioned some of the more prominent messianic claimants.) Was Iesous Christos a title used in a way similar to the way the mysterious title Son of Man was used in Daniel, the Book of Enoch, and the Gospel of Mark? Was Iesous Christos a title used by one of the messianic claimants Josephus did mention such as Theudas, Anthonges, Simon of Perea, or the Egyptian dude?

Dennis MacDonald makes an interesting argument that the Gospel of Mark was essentially the Jewish equivalent of the Aeneid. Or, in other words, someone of Jewish descent used the Iliad and the Odyssey to create the Gospel of Mark just as Virgil used those works to create the Aeneid and thus Iesous Christos is essentially the Jewish equivalent of Odysseus.[29] This argument is along the lines of the hero pattern, that heroes in mythology follow certain patterns, sharing a common origin in the human imagination. The truth is we will probably never know for certain whom Iesous Christos was or wasn't as too much history has been lost to the ravages of time.

Other messiahs and messianic movements[edit]

A lot of time has been spent explaining the Christian messianic tradition but it should be recognized that Iesous Christos is not the only messiah people believe(d) in and there are other messianic movements. Some of them are as follows:

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Observance and obedience to the Mosaic Law was the regulatory requirement for all the Jews since the Babylonian Exile, both living in Roman provinces of Palestine and in the Diaspora:
    [...] it seems beyond dispute that above all outside of Jerusalem, the practice of the Law was the distinctive element of Jewish spirituality more than the cult of the temple was. It is precisely the very lively polemics that exploded among the Galilean followers of Jesus with the Hellenists and with Paul that demonstrate it beyond any doubt. And the insistence of Paul on the fact that he was a Pharisee and on his past in Judaism is a further confirmation. It is in the observance of the Law that Jewishness is shown fully.
    —Giorgio Jossa, Jews or Christians? The Followers of Jesus in Search of their own Identity (2006), p. 31, Mohr Siebeck, Tubingen, ISBN 3-16-149192-0.
  2. See also Sacrifice and Scapegoat.
  3. And let’s face it. If there ever was a conqueror anointed by God, it was Alexander the Great.Wikipedia That guy kicked some major butt.
  4. 450 tonnes of silverWikipedia to be precise


  1. Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, p. 277.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 mashiach
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 christos
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Mashiach: The Messiah, Judaism 101.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Ariela Pelaia, Chaviva Gordon-Bennett; The Jewish View of Jesus - Who Was Jesus? (2016),
  6. However, there have been Jewish scholars that viewed Jesus' Jewishness and the claims of his messianship in different ways; according to Hyam Maccoby (Revolution In Judea: Jesus And The Jewish Resistance, 1980), Jesus was a progressive Pharisee that simply opposed the Roman rule over Judea.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Christian Proof-Texting: Misquoting Texts, Jews for Judaism.
  8. See also Christian evangelism, Lying for Jesus and Pious fraud.
  9. James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (2006), pp. 43-46, Eerdmans, ISBN 978-0802844231.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Saoshyant
  11. Denkard
  12. Bundahishn
  13. Sheol
  14. Jewish Encyclopedia Sheol
  15. 15.0 15.1 Jewish Encyclopedia Messiah
  16. 16.0 16.1 Logos
  17. Praeparatio Evangilica Book 15 Chapter 14
  18. 18.0 18.1 Amar
  19. From Logos to Trinity Marian Hillar (page 36-39)
  20. Questions and Answers on Genesis II 62
  21. Yehoshua
  22. 22.0 22.1 Iēsoûs
  23. Antiquities of the Jews 20.8:6
  24. Antiquities of the Jews 17.10:6
  25. Antiquities of the Jews 17.10:7
  26. Antiquities of the Jews 20.97-98
  27. War of the Jews 2.17:8
  28. See the Wikipedia article on Gospel of Mark.
  29. The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark by Dennis R. MacDonald (2000) Yale University Press. ISBN 0300172613.
  30. Haile Selassie