The Human Jewish Messiah

 

The Hebrew term Mashiaḥ means the “anointed one.” Its origin is the practice of pouring oil on an object to mark its dedication to God, or on the head of a person to denote God’s support of the anointed person for a particular mission or position of leadership.

The Old Testament uses the term “Messiah” 39 times, applying it to a number of different individuals who held various positions. Kings (1 Sam. 10:1, 1 Sam. 16:12-13), priests (Exo. 40:12-15), and prophets (Isa. 61:1; 1 Kings 19:15-16) were anointed. The people of Israel are also called “Messiah” (1 Chr. 16:15-22; Ps. 105:8-15). This title is applied in the Old Testament even to a non-Israelite, King Cyrus of Persia. After defeating the Babylonians, Cyrus allowed the Jews, who had been taken from Jerusalem into exile in Babylon by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, to return to their homeland.

All of these historical “anointed” individuals were human beings. The Old Testament does not suggest any of them had any divine quality, so the term “Messiah” is not associated with any form of divinity.

The Old Testament also contains a number of prophecies about future figures who would come to defeat Israel’s enemy and re-establish the lost kingdom of the chosen nation of God. Unlike the historical Messiahs discussed earlier, none of these future salvational figures of Israel was given the title “Messiah” in the Old Testament. These scriptural passages started to be spoken of as “messianic” prophecies or expectations only after the saviours they talk about started all to be seen as representing one anointed eschatological figure whose coming would usher a new world order.

Like the historical figures called Messiahs, none of these military future saviours were given any divine attributes. The human nature of these kings is implied by the fact that they were all descendants of David.

Other Jewish sources portray different Messiahs. For instance, the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE, talk about two awaited Messiahs. In addition to the one who descended from David the king, the other Messiah is a descendant of Aaron, Moses’ brother, the priest. Again, both Messiahs are clearly descendants of human beings.

So Jewish sources do not attribute to anyone that it calls “Messiah” or associates with messianic expectations any form of divinity. This is natural because Judaism believes in one God only.

          

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