Friday, January 31, 2020

Why was the Messiah expected to "tell us all things"?

Having completed my survey of Messianic prophecies and their applicability to Jesus (qv), I notice that I appear to have missed one of the Messianic expectations recorded in the Fourth Gospel. Look back at the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4.
[25] The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.
[26] Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. . . .
[28] The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, [29] Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?
The Samaritans had been expecting the Messiah to prove his identity by specific signs: by producing the ark of the covenant, the rod of Moses, and the omer of manna -- things that would prove that he was quite literally a "prophet like unto Moses" -- but the Samaritan woman said nothing about any of that. Her proof was simple: he "told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?"

In John 1, it is strongly implied that the Jews, too, expected the Messiah to be someone who could tell them things no one else could know.
[47] Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
[48] Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me?
Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
[49] Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
[50] Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.
Jesus knew, apparently by supernormal means, Nathanael's character and whatever it was that happened to him under the fig tree -- and that was enough to prove to Nathanael that he was the Messiah.

Nowhere in the prophecies I looked at is there anything that says the Messiah will be distinguished by his supernormal knowledge or his ability to "tell us all things," and yet both Nathanael and the Samaritan woman seem to take this for granted as a sign of the Messiah.

There is of course a sense in which any sufficiently impressive miracle would show that Jesus was someone very special and thus perhaps the Messiah. We could easily imagine someone seeing him walk on water and concluding that he must be the Messiah, even in the absence of any specific prophecy that the Messiah would do anything like that. This perhaps suffices to explain Nathanael's reaction, but not that of the Samaritan woman, who said, "I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things." This implies a specific prophecy. No one would have said, for example, "I know that when Messias is come, he will walk on water."

Now my survey of Messianic prophecies was not exhaustive. As I have explained in other posts, I wanted to find those few prophecies that define the Messiah -- that tell us what the claim "I am the Messiah" means -- not every single Old Testament passage that might conceivably be about the Messiah. My first thought, then, was to go back and comb through the prophetic books once again looking for this elusive "tell us all things" prophecy -- but then I remembered that this was the expectation of a Samaritan, which makes things much simpler. The Samaritans' only prophet is Moses, their only scripture is the Torah, and their only Messianic prophecy is in the 18th chapter of Deuteronomy. Nothing Isaiah or Zechariah or any other Jewish prophet may have written is of any relevance.

Sure enough, that chapter turns out to be the probable source of this prophecy. Here is Deuteronomy 18:18 as it reads in the King James Version:
I [God] will raise them [Israel] up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee [Moses], and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.
I propose that the bolded passage is the source of the prophecy alluded to by the Samaritan woman. English grammar requires that "that I shall command him" be a restrictive relative clause, so in English this cannot mean that the Prophet will tell them everything, but only everything-that-God-commands. But what if the distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive modifiers is less clear-cut in Hebrew than in English? What if the passage in question could also be translated as "he shall speak unto them all, as I shall command him"? If the relative clause does not restrict the scope of reference of the word "all," then here is our prophecy of a Messiah who "will tell us all things."

How grammatically defensible is this reading? Speaking as a linguist who is almost entirely ignorant of Hebrew, I have no idea. Setting those professional scruples to one side, though, and speaking as a Bible reader, I feel quite confident that the Samaritans simply must have read Deuteronomy this way. Where else could the prophecy have come from?

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Jesus and the Messianic prophecies: Summary and conclusions

Having surveyed what I understand to be the main Messianic prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah and Zechariah, as well as the Deuteronomy-based Samaritan Messiah, I shall now attempt to summarize what I have found and draw some conclusions.

Which prophecies I considered and why

First of all, I should perhaps say something about the apparent spottiness of my survey, which has excluded a great many passages commonly thought of by Christians as Messianic prophecies. Some few of these, such as the famous Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, I reject entirely as manifestly having nothing to do with the Messiah or with Jesus. Many others, though, such as the "suffering servant" prophecies of Deutero-Isaiah, may well have been intended as Messianic prophecies and may well have been fulfilled by Jesus, but have nevertheless been excluded from my survey. This is because my purpose has not been to list every single prophecy that may be about the Messiah or about Jesus, but rather to collect the prophecies that define the Messiah -- those that can tell us what exactly Jesus and his disciples were claiming when they claimed he was the Messiah.

Take Isaiah 53, for example, universally regarded by Christians as a prophecy of Jesus' atonement for sin ("he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: . . . and with his stripes we are healed"). It may well be just that -- but what it is not is one of the passages that help to define the idea of the Messiah. "Jesus is the Messiah" does not mean that Jesus was wounded for our transgressions and so on. Isaiah's "suffering servant" is not clearly and explicitly a Messianic figure. Rashi takes him to be a symbolic representation of the nation of Israel. The Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8 asks Philip about Isaiah 53, "I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?" So far is this chapter from being explicitly Messianic that his first thought was that it was about Isaiah himself!

I believe that the prophecies I included in my survey, in contrast, do define the Messiah. In other words, when Jesus said he was the Messiah, he was saying that he was the person referred to in these prophecies.

The centrality of the Messiah

I was impressed to discover just how major a theme the Messiah is in both the Old and New Testaments. All the major prophets and several of the minor ones wrote about the Messiah. If we include all the prophecies about the Messiah's work (the restoration of Israel), even those that do not focus on the Messiah as an individual, they account for an even larger percentage of the Bible's prophetic material. I have sometimes been tempted to think of the Messiah as being something like Hanukkah -- a relatively minor aspect of Judaism, the importance of which has been exaggerated as a result of Christian influence -- but that was a mistake. The centrality of the Messiah to the Old Testament is a manifest fact, not, as I have sometimes thought, an artifact of reading the book through the lens of Christianity.

Jesus and the writers of the New Testament were very, very familiar with these prophecies -- not just with the general idea of the Messiah, but with the detailed content of the Messianic writings -- and made numerous specific allusions to them, many of which would not be noticed by most modern readers (including myself before undertaking the present project). This has confirmed to me the importance of facing this issue head-on. Jesus Christ is first and foremost Jesus Christ, a Messiah claimant, and believing in him while at the same time sidelining the whole Messiah business is simply not an honest option.

David and Moses

The three most-mentioned personal names in the Bible are Jesus, David, and Moses, in that order. That fact in itself confirms what I have said about the centrality of the Messiah. The Jews were expecting the coming of a new David and a new Moses, and Jesus claimed to be both.

Among Jesus' contemporaries, opinion seems to have been divided regarding whether the new David and the new Moses -- the Messiah and the Prophet -- were to be two people or one. I come down on the latter side of the controversy. From the point of view of Old Testament prophecy, the Messiah ben David cannot be separated from the Prophet like unto Moses. The same things that make him a second David also make him a second Moses.

David ruled over a united and independent nation of Israel. The northern tribes seceded under the reign of his grandson Rehoboam, and this northern kingdom was destroyed and scattered by the Assyrians circa 722 BC. The Davidic dynasty continued to rule the southern kingdom of Judah until the conquest of Judah by Babylon in 597-586 BC. At that time, most of the Jews were deported to Babylon and lived in exile there; they would later return to their homeland, but not as a free and independent nation. The new David -- David's legitimate successor -- was to restore Israel to the situation it had enjoyed under David. That is, he was to bring the exiles (meaning the Ten Lost Tribes and, for prophets who wrote during that period, the Jews in Babylon) back to their homeland, free Israel from the rule of foreign nations (Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome), and establish himself as sovereign king of Israel.

But this is also a summary of what Moses did: He freed Israel from subjection to a foreign power (Egypt), and he led them back to the ancestral homeland from which they had been exiled -- well, almost brought them back. As we know, Moses himself died just before entering the promised land, and so the work of the exodus was completed by his successor Joshua -- or, to use the Greek form of his name, Jesus. Thus Jesus' very name has prophetic significance, suggesting one who would succeed Moses and complete Moses' unfinished mission of liberation and restoration. It also seems significant that his father's name was Joseph; in the Old Testament, it is Joseph who brings the Israelites into Egypt in the first place and Joshua/Jesus who finally brings them back to their own land. (Mary, for her part, has the same name as Moses' sister Miriam, the only woman to play a prominent role in the exodus.)

Who is the Messiah? The Messiah is a new David and a new Moses. This is the central unifying concept that underlies all the Messianic prophecies.

A summary of the Messiah's mission

The Messiah will, above all, reestablish the throne of David and rule on it forever. All the tribes of Israel will return to their ancient homeland and be reestablished as a single united kingdom, no more to be subject to foreign powers. The Messiah will be full of the spirit of the Lord and will rule with wisdom and justice.

Besides ruling specifically over Israel, the Messiah will also have dominion over the whole earth. He will bring peace, either by destroying the heathen nations (often referred to metaphorically as wild beasts) or by rendering them peaceful and harmless. He will abolish war and weapons of war. Israel will live in safety and have nothing to fear. He will also bring material prosperity, favorable weather, and an end to hunger.

The Messiah will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and reestablish the Levitical cult of animal sacrifice. The tabernacle of Moses may also be restored alongside the Temple. One prophecy speaks of the Messiah himself being a priest.

The Messiah will be a prophet like Moses. He will put an end to idolatry and cleanse Israel of their sins, and he will spread knowledge of the Lord over the whole earth.

A second coming?

There is not the slightest hint in Old Testament prophecy that the Messiah will come twice. His is a "second coming" all right, but a second coming of David.

I tend therefore to think of the Christian doctrine of the Second Coming as something of a cop-out, an facile way of dealing with Jesus' apparent failure to do what the Messiah was expected to do. Either Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecies, or he didn't. If he did, we must come up with some non-obvious but convincing interpretation of those prophecies, since if they are taken at face value he did not fulfill them. If he did not fulfill the prophecies, then he was not the Messiah, and the real Messiah is either still to come in the future or else was a delusion all along.

To my mind, to posit a Second Coming is simply to say that the Messiah has yet to come -- but that when he does come, he will be a second Jesus as well as a second David and a second Moses.

Jesus as the Messiah

Let's start with the easy part. Jesus was a undeniably a prophet, and a prophet of Mosaic and more-than-Mosaic stature. Like Moses, he led the way out of Egyptian slavery (though, ironically, the Egyptian to whom the people of his day were enslaved was -- Moses!). This aspect of the Messiah's mission fits Jesus perfectly.

As for putting an end to idolatry and spreading knowledge of the Lord over the whole earth, it can be argued that that process was set in motion by Jesus. The spread of Christianity put an end to the "idolatrous" pagan religions of the Roman Empire, and today "non-idolators" (comprising Christians, Muslims, Jews, and the non-religious) comprise some 70% of the world population. Even among those who do not profess to worship the God of Abraham, some degree of knowledge of that God is virtually universal. Christianity, if not Jesus personally, did "speak peace to the heathen," successfully assimilating the Roman Empire (not without some regrettable assimilation in the other direction!) and rendering the heathens nations no longer a threat.

As for the Davidic part of the Messiah's mission, Jesus certainly did not accomplish it in any literal sense. He did not gather Israel. The Jews were already living in their homeland in his time, though most of them had been driven out by the end of the 2nd century and did not return in large numbers until modern times. The Ten Lost Tribes remain lost. Jesus did not free Israel from foreign rule; it continued to be ruled by the Romans, and later the Arabs and the British. Israel is now an independent country again, but that did not happen until many centuries after Jesus, and its sovereignty over Jerusalem is still contested. Jesus did not restore David's throne, and the new Israel was founded as a modern democratic state with no king. Jesus did not rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, which had already been rebuilt centuries before and was still standing in his day. This Second Temple was destroyed in AD 70 and has never been rebuilt.

If, then, we wish to maintain that Jesus was the Messiah and accomplished the Messiah's mission, all this must be interpreted figuratively. Jesus was figuratively a king. He figuratively reunited the tribes of Israel in their homeland and freed them from foreign oppression. He figuratively rebuilt the Temple.

Jesus himself clearly claimed to be a king only in a figurative sense. Once, when a crowd of would-be subjects "would come and take him by force, to make him a king," he ran away from them and hid in the mountains (John 6:14-15). When questioned by Pilate about his pretensions as "King of the Jews," he said, "My kingdom is not of this world," and, "Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice." Jesus' kingdom is the kingdom of truth, and his subjects are all those who are "of the truth." Certainly it makes sense to say that Jesus is a leader, that he has authority -- and he holds that authority not by force like a tyrant, nor because it has been delegated to him by the people like a consul, but rather as a legitimate monarch, who has authority because of who he is -- and who his Father is.

Building the Temple of the Lord is also relatively easy to interpret figuratively, with reference to Jesus' role as what might loosely be called a religious reformer, as someone who brought humanity into a new relationship with God. Every Temple, every religious edifice, is sooner or later desecrated or destroyed, or is simply outgrown by new developments in human consciousness, and so people like Moses, David, Jesus, and Joseph Smith are necessary -- builders of temples -- people who, although they respect and build-upon existing foundations, fundamentally offer new wine in new bottles. By putting Jesus in a list with others, I in no way mean to imply that he was not absolutely unique -- but it was Jesus himself who, by calling himself the Messiah, claimed to be in some sense the same sort of thing that Moses and David were, and who also said there would be others like them to come. It may seem somewhat counterintuitive to put King David in the same category as Moses and Jesus, but I think it is justifiable. The great Psalmist introduced into the law-based religion of Moses something personal and conscious and lyrical -- almost "Romantic" avant le lettre -- and it was on this foundation, even more than on the stone tables of Moses, that Jesus was to build his Temple.

That leaves the gathering of Israel, the hardest aspect of the Messianic mission to apply to Jesus, even figuratively. My best guess is that it has to do with the establishment of Christianity as a universal religion, transcending the ethnic religion of Judaism. The Lost Tribes were thought of as being scattered throughout all the nations of the earth, and the Messiah was to set up an ensign to the nations that would draw God's people from every corner of the world. When Jesus said his disciples were to be "fishers of men," he was alluding to Jeremiah's account of the gathering of Israel -- first by fishers casting out their nets and drawing in the catch en masse, and then (the phase we are in now?) by hunters who would "hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks." We may see in the idea of the Lost Tribes a symbolic expression of the fact that God's people, or those who have the potential to become such, are not confined to one nation.

What did the prophets know?

I have given my understanding of what Jesus may have meant when he called himself the Messiah. Is it also what the prophets meant when they said that the Messiah was coming? There are several possible answers to that question, listed here in descending order of orthodoxy.

  1. God revealed Jesus' life and mission to the prophets. They knew who he was and what he would do, but they wrote about it in figurative language, which was later misunderstood by the Jews.
  2. God revealed to the prophets more or less what we see in the prophetic books -- that a new David was coming to gather Israel, rebuild the Temple, etc. God meant this all figuratively, and was in fact referring to Jesus, but the prophets themselves did not know that and wrote in the expectation that their prophecies would be fulfilled in a more literal manner.
  3. The prophets had only a vague knowledge that a "savior" was coming, an idea which they elaborated on based on their own beliefs and expectations, perhaps supplemented by a handful of specific but ill-understood precognitions.
  4. The prophets had no truly prophetic knowledge of Jesus at all. They wrote what they wrote for their own reasons, and were "inspired" to some degree, but Jesus and his mission played no causal role at all in the production of the prophetic books. Jesus, born among people who were expecting a Messiah, decided to cast himself in that role and to reinterpret the Messianic prophecies as references to himself. Had he been born in a different culture, he would have assumed the role of the Saoshyant or or the Mahdi or Maitreya Buddha or whatever, and would have read his own mission into those prophecies.
I consider option 1 to be clearly wrong. It is just not plausible that so many different prophets would have couched their prophecies of Jesus in the same, rather non-obvious, figurative terms. I tend to think that the truth lies somewhere between options 3 and 4, but really I'm not at all sure.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Messiah in the Minor Prophets

Micah 5:1-6
[1] Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops: he hath laid siege against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek.
[2] But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
[3] Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. [4] And he shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God; and they shall abide: for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.
[5] And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land: and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men. [6] And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof: thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our borders.
This is the source of the belief that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (where King David was born), motivating both Matthew and Luke to come up with (two different) stories about how Jesus of Nazareth was, despite appearances, actually from Bethlehem. But this Bethlehem-born Messiah's role is to "be ruler in Israel" and "deliver us from the Assyrian." The Assyrian Empire collapsed some 600 years before Christ, so this apparently has nothing to do with Jesus.

Zechariah 3:8-10
[8] Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH. 
[9] For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. [10] In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree.
We have learned from the other prophets to see "Branch" as a Messianic title, referring to a righteous branch of the House of David. What follows -- the stone with seven eyes, the vine and fig tree, etc. -- is obscure and gives little information about what the Branch is supposed to do. Fortunately Zechariah returns to the subject later.

Zechariah 7:12-13
[12] And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord: [13] Even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.
The Branch (Messiah) will rebuild the Temple and will be both a king and a priest. Jesus did not rebuild the temple, which in his time had already been rebuilt and had yet to be destroyed again -- although he did say he could rebuild it in three days if it were destroyed. His disciples understood that "he spake of the temple of his body" -- but it would be quite a stretch to say that when Zechariah wrote "he shall build the temple of the Lord" what he actually meant was "he shall die and return to life."

Jesus was also neither a king nor a priest, although of course both titles could be interpreted figuratively.

Zechariah 9:9-10
[9] Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. 
[10] And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.
The Messiah will be a peaceful ruler, as symbolized by his riding on an ass and abolishing horses, chariots, and weapons of war. (Matthew in his ignorance misunderstood Zechariah's poetic parallelism as saying that the Messiah would ride on two asses simultaneously and claims in his Gospel that Jesus did just that!)

Jesus did ride an ass (or two!) into Jerusalem, apparently on purpose to fulfill this prophecy. As for the rest of it, I suppose Jesus was just rather than unjust, but it is hardly his most salient characteristic. "Having salvation" is of course very appropriate, but in fact the Hebrew may simply mean "victorious." The description of a king as "lowly" (i.e., humble, unassuming) is interesting, and may suggest that this person is not a literal monarch, as Jesus was not.

Jesus did not bring peace in any literal or worldly sense, but perhaps speaking peace to the heathen, and reigning from the river to the ends of the earth, can be interpreted in terms of creating a religion which embraced gentile as well as Jew and which spread over the whole world. Specifically, Christianity "conquered" Rome by renouncing violent resistance and "speaking peace unto the heathen."

Overall, I find this one of the most relevant-to-Jesus of the Messianic prophecies.

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing / If You Could Hie to Kolob

Only very rarely does music actually move me to tears, but this did.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Messiah and Son of Man in Daniel

The vision of Daniel 7,
from Beatus of Santo Domingo de Silos

Daniel is the only book of the Old Testament to use "Messiah" as a personal name, without the definite article (much as we use "Christ" today), and is thus the only place where the word "Messiah" occurs in most English translations of the Old Testament. (Elsewhere, the word is rendered "anointed," which is what it means, and does not always refer to the prophesied figure who would later come to be known as the Messiah.)

Daniel 9:24-27

If Daniel is unusually clear in calling the Messiah the Messiah, that is unfortunately just about the only thing that is clear about his Messianic prophecy (which he presents as something that Gabriel told him). Here it is.
[24] Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. [25] Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.
[26] And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. [27] And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
Prophecies such as these are a happy hunting ground for chronology cranks, the most illustrious of whom was Sir Isaac Newton. By Newton's reckoning, it was in 458 BC that Artaxerxes I gave the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, and it was exactly 70 "weeks of years" (i.e., 490 years) later, in AD 33, that Jesus was crucified and resurrected. (Of course Daniel also says the Messiah shall be "cut off" in what would in Newton's system be 24 BC, before Jesus was born.) The Internet is full of would-be Newtons with their own refinements of or alternatives to his chronology, but I shall resist the temptation to wade into that fray myself. I simply don't believe that precisely dated prophecies of the distant future are possible, and at any rate chronology is secondary. The questions at hand are: (1) what did Daniel say the Messiah would do? and (2) did Jesus do that?

At first glance, "to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness" sounds like an acceptable description of Jesus' mission -- but Daniel (or Gabriel) actually presents this as a list of things that the people of Israel must do, and the last item on the list is "to anoint the most Holy" -- that is, to acknowledge and "crown" the Messiah, anointing being the cultural equivalent of coronation. These are not things the Messiah is going to do, but things the people must do in order to be worthy of the Messiah. Except for this passage, the rest of the prophecy deals with the destruction of Jerusalem and desecration of the temple (presumably with allusion to the outrages of Antiochus Epiphanes) and the subsequent restoration and rebuilding. Some may see in "he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease" a reference to how Jesus' final sacrifice would put an end to the cult of animal sacrifice, but in context the cessation of sacrifice is temporary, and is a result of "the overspreading of abominations."

Daniel 7

While Daniel 7 is not an explicitly Messianic prophecy per se, it is relevant because it provides the prophetic context in which Jesus' contemporaries would have understood his references to himself as the "son of man."
[2] Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, . . . [3] And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. [4] The first was like a lion, . . . [5] . . . a second, like to a bear, . . . [6] . . . another, like a leopard, . . . [7] . . . and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: . . .
[9] I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. [10] A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. [11] . . . I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. [12] As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time.
[13] 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. [14] And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
Rashi's interpretation of this is that the four beasts are respectively Babylon, the Medes and Persians, Alexander's Hellenistic empire, and Rome -- four subsequent conquerors of the Jews -- that the Ancient of Days is God, and that the Son of Man is Messiah. Most Christians read it the same way, understanding the Messiah to be Jesus at his Second Coming. (Mormons differ slightly from others in understanding the Ancient of Days to be Adam rather than God.)

(Incidentally, the great beast of Revelation, with its seven heads and ten horns, is an amalgamation of Daniel's four beasts, which have among them a total of seven heads and ten horns.)

"Son of man" simply means "man" -- cf. the plural "children of men," or the way "son of Adam" is used in the Narnia stories. In contrast to the four great beasts that have preceded it, this latest apparition is of a human being. Elsewhere in the Bible, particularly in the Book of Ezekiel, "son of man" is used in the sense of "mortal man," as contrasted with God. Jesus' use of the title "son of man" would have been understood as alluding to Daniel (Mark and Matthew even have him refer to the son of man coming "with the clouds of heaven," making the allusion unmistakable) while at the same time maintaining plausible deniability; no one could accuse him of blasphemy for calling himself a son of Adam, a mere mortal.

What did Daniel himself understand his vision to mean? Well, it so happens that he asked for, and received, an interpretation from "one of them that stood by" (presumably an angel).
[15] I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me. [16] I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things. 
[17] These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. [18] But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever. . . . 
[21] I beheld, and [one of the horns of the fourth beast] made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; [22] Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom. . . . [27] And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
This certainly sounds as if the Son of Man represents "the saints of the Most High" collectively, rather than a single individual, the Messiah. After the successive dominance of the four heathen kingdoms represented by the beasts, God will intervene and give dominion over the world to Israel, a holy and therefore fully human kingdom. This kingdom will presumably have a king, who is the Messiah, but that is not emphasized in this prophecy.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Ezekiel's Messiah

Niels Larsen Stevns, The Good Shepherd

Here are the two Messianic passages in the Book of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel 34:22-31
[22] Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. [23] And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. [24] And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the Lord have spoken it.
This future David can only be the Messiah. Notice the shepherd imagery, later appropriated by Jesus. Calling himself the "good shepherd" was perhaps an indirect way of claiming to be the Davidic Messiah written of by Ezekiel.
[25] And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land: and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods.
This recalls Isaiah's prophecy that even beasts of prey will become peaceful.
[26] And I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing. [27] And the tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase, and they shall be safe in their land, and shall know that I am the Lord, when I have broken the bands of their yoke, and delivered them out of the hand of those that served themselves of them.
The Messiah brings material (or perhaps metaphorical?) safety and prosperity.
[28] And they shall no more be a prey to the heathen, neither shall the beast of the land devour them; but they shall dwell safely, and none shall make them afraid. [29] And I will raise up for them a plant of renown, and they shall be no more consumed with hunger in the land, neither bear the shame of the heathen any more.
This suggests that the "evil beasts" spoken of before are not literal animals but refer to "the heathen." (Cf. Daniel's prophecies, in which various heathen kingdoms are represented as lions, leopards, bears, etc.)
[30] Thus shall they know that I the Lord their God am with them, and that they, even the house of Israel, are my people, saith the Lord God. [31] And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord God.
The meaning of the Messiah is that Israel is God's people and is under his protection. There is no hint of the Messiah's being a savior of the world, only of Israel.

Ezekiel 37:21-28
[21] And say unto them, 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: [22] 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:
The northern kingdom of Israel (destroyed and scattered long before Ezekiel's time) and the southern kingdom of Judah (in exile in Babylon when this prophecy was written) will be restored to their ancestral homeland, and they will once more be a single united kingdom, as they were under Saul, David, and Solomon.
[23] Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwellingplaces, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God.
As in other prophecies, the return to Canaan is associated with a return to true religion. "Let me people go that they may serve me." This is so far the first Messianic prophecy that explicitly associates the Messiah's work with being cleansed of sin.
[24] 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. [25] 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.
People would have understood Jesus to be alluding to this prophecy when he said, "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd" (John 10:16). To anyone familiar with Ezekiel, this would be taken as an allusion to the Messiah gathering the Lost Tribes back to Israel, there to rule over them on David's throne.

"My servant David shall be their prince for ever" could be interpreted as a literal return of David, presumably as an immortal resurrected being, but it seems more likely that is a metaphorical reference either to the Messiah (the second David) or to the Davidic dynasty which the Messiah was to restore.
[26] 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. [27] My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [28] And the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore.
As both a second Moses and a second David, the Messiah will restore both the tabernacle of Moses and the temple of Solomon (built under Solomon but first conceived by his father David, as recorded in 2 Samuel 7). Again, the Messiah saves Israel specifically, not the world. The end result of the Messiah's mission will be that the heathen will recognize that Israel is a special nation under the special patronage of God.

Applicability to Jesus

These prophecies pose special problems in connection with Jesus. On the one hand, Jesus seems to have alluded directly to these specific prophecies and to have cast himself in the role of the Davidic shepherd. On the other hand, the content is typically Messianic — all about reuniting and restoring the kingdom of Israel, with few discernible references to anything Jesus actually did. I feel quite confident in stating that Ezekiel’s prophecies are not based on any specific foreknowledge of Jesus or his work. I say this not because I dismiss the idea of prophecy a priori but because — well, just look at the content! It just isn’t about Jesus.

Nevertheless, Jesus strongly implied that it was about him. Why did he do that, and what did he mean by it? But I shall defer tackling that big question until after I have completed my survey of Messianic prophecies.

The riddle of Higgins

"G" of the Junior Ganymede recently posted, without much comment, The Song of the Strange Ascetic by G. K. Chesterton.
If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have praised the purple vine,
My slaves should dig the vineyards,
And I would drink the wine.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And his slaves grow lean and grey,
That he may drink some tepid milk
Exactly twice a day. 
If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have crowned Neaera’s curls,
And filled my life with love affairs,
My house with dancing girls;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And to lecture rooms is forced,
Where his aunts, who are not married,
Demand to be divorced. 
If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have sent my armies forth,
And dragged behind my chariots
The Chieftains of the North.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And he drives the dreary quill,
To lend the poor that funny cash
That makes them poorer still. 
If I had been a Heathen,
I’d have piled my pyre on high,
And in a great red whirlwind
Gone roaring to the sky;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And a richer man than I:
And they put him in an oven,
Just as if he were a pie.
Now who that runs can read it,
The riddle that I write,
Of why this poor old sinner,
Should sin without delight—
But I, I cannot read it
(Although I run and run),
Of them that do not have the faith,
And will not have the fun.
Now I am well aware that to try to answer the riddle of Higgins is to miss the point of the poem (which is presumably to laugh at Higgins and feel superior to him) and to be something of a spoilsport, but that is nevertheless what I am going to do. "Higginses" -- irreligious folk who unaccountably drop the ball when it comes to eating, drinking, and being merry -- are common enough, and it seems worthwhile to try to understand them.

First answer: Most of the things that Chesterton imagines himself doing if he were a heathen, are things that very few people can do. The world is full of men who would very much like to "fill their lives with love affairs," but only those few with the natural gifts of a Casanova are actually able to live that life. Even fewer have the wherewithal to send armies forth in conquest, and of those that do, only a few successfully return with northern chieftains to grace in captive bonds their chariot wheels. A "heathen" lives life on worldly terms, and his success is dependent on his worldly gifts. If these are moderate, it makes more sense for him to pursue success in the modest arena of lecture-rooms and dreary quills than to try (and inevitably fail) to be Alexander the Great. A man of no special talents can be a good, even exemplary, Christian, but only a rather sad-sack heathen. That is why Nietzsche said Christian morality is suitable for slaves, and heathen morality for masters.

Second answer: Higgins, as a 19th- or 20th-century Westerner, is not a naive or natural heathen, but rather a post-Christian heathen. Whether or not he himself has ever been a Christian, his heathenism exists in the context of a Christian or post-Christian culture, and that makes a difference. Christianity has taught him, directly or indirectly, to scorn wine-bibbing, to disapprove of warlords and womanizers, and so on -- and all this has been internalized to the point that, even as a "heathen," he finds himself unable to pursue such a course in life with the proper gusto. Western culture has, historically, already understood the limitations of heathenism and moved beyond it, and any attempt to revert to that earlier state is bound to be highly artificial and ultimately unsuccessful. Higgins can no more be a proper heathen than he could be a proper hunter-gatherer.

Third answer: Higgins's heathenism is not at odds with his asceticism or pusillanimity; it is an aspect of it. Just as he denies himself the comforts of wine and dancing girls, so also he denies himself the comforts of religion. Just as he prefers a carefully regulated diet and a low-risk career, so also he prefers the perceived safety of trusting what Studies Have Shown over taking a leap of faith. Just as he is content with a humdrum life, so is he content with a humdrum view of life. It has never occurred to him to aspire to be a god, and so the idea of God has little appeal.

Fourth answer: Hedonism does not follow from atheism any more than any other way of life does. If there is no God, all is permitted -- including being a Higgins. A truly irreligious person has no sense of what kind of life he ought to lead, so he just leads whatever kind of life comes naturally to him. That is, he succumbs to his native vices. If he is boiling over with lust and passion and thirst for glory, then he gives those drives free reign and leads the sort of life Chesterton imagines his heathen self leading. If, rather than lust and pride and gluttony, his besetting vices are cowardice and sloth, he gives those free reign and leads an entirely different sort of life.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Jeremiah's Messiah

I have found three plausibly Messianic passages in Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 23:5-8
[5] Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. [6] In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
The Messiah will be a king, David's heir, and will restore the Israelite nation to independence and safety. (Jeremiah wrote during the Babylonian captivity.) At first it seems that the name "The Lord Our Righteousness" is being applied to this Davidic king, but in fact I think "he" refers to Israel, for reasons that will be explained below.
[7] Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; [8] But, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.
Jeremiah takes up Isaiah's theme that the restoration of Israel will be a second and greater Exodus -- and the Messiah, by implication, a second and greater Moses.

Jeremiah 30:4-9
[4] And these are the words that the Lord spake concerning Israel and concerning Judah. . . . [8] For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him: [9] But they shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them.
Nothing very new here. The Messiah is spoken of as the return of King David, and he will release Israel from captivity.

Jeremiah 33:14-18
[14] Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. [15] In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. [16] In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The Lord our righteousness.
This is closely parallel to 23:5-6, but the differences in wording (the use of the feminine "Jerusalem" rather than the masculine "Israel") make it clear that in both passages the name "The Lord Our Righteousness" is being applied to Israel/Jerusalem and not to the Messiah himself.
[17] For thus saith the Lord; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; [18] Neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually.
This sounds less like the promise of a single personal Messiah and more like a promise that the Davidic dynasty will be restored. In fact, "a righteous branch" of the House of David most naturally refers to a genealogical line rather than to a single person.

Applicability to Jesus

I don't see anything here that is directly applicable to Jesus at all. In fact, I tend to think that Jeremiah was not predicting the coming of a particular individual at all, but simply the restoration of the Davidic monarchy.

Isaiah's Messiah

I, like others, am content to ignore the (supposed!) fact
that Isaiah never actually made this iconic juxtaposition.
Isaiah's main Messianic prophecy constitutes Chapter 11 of the book that bears his name, with a shorter, possibly Messianic passage in 9:6-7. (Isaiah 7:14 is also commonly cited as a Messianic prophecy, but it is very obviously nothing of the kind, and I shall dismiss it without further ado.) Nowhere does Isaiah actually say "the Messiah," but that is the conventional title that was later applied to the ruler whose coming is prophesied in passages such as these.

Isaiah 9:6-7
[6] For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. [7] Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
"Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" is one possible translation of a long prophetic name (Pele-joez-el-gibbor-abi-ad-sar-shalom) of the same sort as Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Like many Hebrew names, it contains theophoric elements, but no Jewish reader would understand this name to indicate that the child would be God himself. However, once we have decided this prophecy refers to Jesus, that meaning can certainly be read into it in retrospect.

As it reads, this is clearly a prophecy of a political leader: "the government shall be upon his shoulder." His sitting "upon the throne of David" refers to ruling over a reunited kingdom of Israel and Judah. He will reestablish Israel as a kingdom and establish a a just and peaceful government that will endure forever.

Against reading this as a Messianic prophecy, we have the fact that v. 6 refers to the child as having already been born, although his reign is still in the future. In this, he is similar to the other children who are given prophetic names in Isaiah 7-9, Immanuel and Maher-shalal-hash-baz, both of whom were clearly born in Isaiah's own days. Rashi's commentary in fact interprets this passage as referring to Ahaz's son Hezekiah, later to rule over Judah (including David's ancient capital, Jerusalem) in peace and righteousness, and understands "for ever" to mean "all the days of his life," as when it is said of Samuel (in 1 Samuel 1:22) that he will "abide for ever" in the Temple.

(Rashi also, I regret to report, reads the second part of v. 6 as "his name shall be called -- by the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father -- 'the Prince of Peace'" -- thus demonstrating the sort of tin-eared obtuseness which has, alas, so often been typically rabbinical.)

Isaiah 11

While Rashi believes 9:6-7 to be a non-Messianic prophecy about Hezekiah, he does see Chapters 11 as being about the Messiah.
[1] And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
Jesse was the father of David, so this refers to someone of the Davidic line.
[2] And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; [3] And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: [4] But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. [5] And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
While the reader might naturally assume that a king is being described, nothing in this passage says that directly. He will judge and reprove and smite, but it is not said that he will rule or reign. The obviously metaphorical bit about his smiting and slaying "with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips" leaves open the possibility that this Messiah will be primarily a teacher or prophet rather than an actual king.
[6] The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. [7] And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. [8] And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice's den. [9] They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
I would tend to interpret this is a hyperbolic way of saying that the Messiah will bring peace -- and he will bring it by spreading "the knowledge of the Lord" over the earth, not by exercising political power. Again, this is consistent with the Messiah's being a teacher and not a king.
[10] And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.
Commentators generally understand "his rest" to mean "the place where he lives" -- i.e., Judah.
[11] And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. [12] And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. [13] The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim. [14] But they shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines toward the west; they shall spoil them of the east together: they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab; and the children of Ammon shall obey them. [15] And the Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with his mighty wind shall he shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dryshod. [16] And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.
The Israelites will leave the lands where they now live scattered and will return to Israel, as happened in the Exodus. There is even a reference to the Red Sea being parted again. This seems to connect the Messiah with the prophet like unto Moses, suggesting that they are after all the same person.

Applicability to Jesus

The only thing about Isaiah 9:6-7 that would bring Jesus to mind is the name itself, with its implication that a child could be born who would be God himself. As I have said, I don't think it actually implies that in context, though, and nothing else in this brief prophecy has anything to do with Jesus. All in all, I think I agree with Rashi that, pace Handel, this was never intended to be a Messianic prophecy at all.

Isaiah 11 is indisputably Messianic in character, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how little in it suggests a literal king on the throne of David. Everything in vv. 2-5 is more or less consistent with Jesus. However, vv. 6-9, describing a peaceable kingdom in which even predators will cease to prey, is harder to apply to Jesus, who did not after all bring anything resembling world peace. The bit about how "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" seems to have been at least partly fulfilled by Jesus. Knowledge of the God of the Hebrews is now virtually universal -- that is, very nearly everyone in the world has heard of him and knows a bit about him -- and that happened because of Jesus. However, Isaiah seems to be predicting a "knowledge of the Lord" that runs deeper than mere information -- seems to be saying that people will really know the Lord and will thus become peaceful -- and that has not happened. In v. 10, we are told that the gentiles will turn their attention to the Messiah and his homeland, and that certainly came true because of Jesus. The remainder of the chapter, which is about the return of the scattered Israelites to their ancient homeland, arguably began to be fulfilled with the creation of the modern state of Israel, but that was long after Jesus' time. Many of the details of this prophecy refer to nations that were already irrelevant even in the time of Jesus, to say nothing of the 20th century.

I think it's safe to say that if Isaiah had consciously foreseen Jesus' life and work with any degree of clarity or accuracy, this isn't what he would have written. At best, he had a vague intuition that a "savior" was coming -- but what exactly that meant, and what he would save people from, was filled in by his own preconceptions, or possibly by prophetic inklings of other things to come, not directly related to the life of Jesus, which unintentionally got mixed up with his Messianic vision.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Messianic claims regarding Jesus in the Fourth Gospel

I don't think I can go any further with my study of the Fourth Gospel without dealing with the idea that Jesus was the promised Messiah -- which he seems to me very clearly not to have been. He did (as I understand it) essentially none of the things the Messiah was expected to do, and I am reluctant to follow mainstream Christianity in postulating a "Second Coming" at which he will come back and do all of those things after all.

As a preliminary step, here are all the references I have been able to find in the Fourth Gospel to Jesus' being the Messiah. I have included references to his being the Prophet like unto Moses, since this person seems sometimes to be conflated with the Messiah, but I have not included "Son of God" and "Son of Man" references since I think these titles can be easily dealt with without reference to the Messianic prophecies. Interestingly, the Messianic title "Son of David," used in all the Synoptics, does not occur at all in the Fourth Gospel.

1. The author writes, "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (1:17).

2. The first several disciples call Jesus the Messiah. Andrew tells Simon, "We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ" (1:41). Philip tells Nathanael, "We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (1:45) -- implicitly equating the Prophet (written of by Moses) with the Messiah (written of by the prophets). Nathanael says to Jesus, "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel." Jesus does not deny this but replies, "Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these" (1:49).

3. Informed of Jesus' success in making disciples, John says, "Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. . . . He must increase, but I must decrease" (3:28-30). The implication is that Jesus is the Christ.

4. A Samaritan woman says, "I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things." Jesus replies, "I that speak unto thee am he" (4:25-26). Later this woman says to the men of the city, "Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" (4:29). After hearing Jesus themselves, these Samaritan men say, "Now we believe . . . and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world" (4:42).

5. Jesus says, "For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me" (5:46).

6. After seeing Jesus feed the 5,000, the men say, "This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world." Jesus, thinking they "would come and take him by force, to make him a king," left them all and went into the mountains alone (6:14-15). He does not deny being the prophet or Messiah but shows by his actions that he rejects the kingly role they expect him to fill.

7. Simon Peter says to Jesus, "And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus neither confirms nor denies this, but says, "Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" (6:69-70).

8. Some at Jerusalem said, "Is not this he, whom they seek to kill? But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ? Howbeit we know this man whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is." Jesus responded by saying in the Temple, "Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not" (7:25-28).

9. Many in Jerusalem said, "When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?" (7:31).

10. Many people in Jerusalem said of Jesus, "Of a truth this is the Prophet." Others said, "This is the Christ." But some said, "Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?" (7:40-42). Notice that the Prophet and the Christ are not considered to be the same person.

11. The Jews say to Jesus, "How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answers, "I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me" (10:24-25). While he doesn't answer the question directly, the implication is that he is the Christ.

12. Martha says to Jesus, "I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world" (11:27). Jesus says nothing to disabuse her of this notion.

13. Jesus enters Jerusalem and is met by crowds crying, "Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord." Jesus, after being so greeted, goes and finds an ass to ride on -- apparently on purpose to fulfill a Messianic prophecy (12:12-15). This is strong evidence that Jesus actively wanted people to think he was the Messiah. (The significance of the Messiah's riding on an ass rather than a horse is that he was to be a "prince of peace" and not a warrior.)

14. Jesus says, praying to God in the presence of his disciples, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (17:3). This is the first time anyone but the author uses the familiar name-title "Jesus Christ."

15. Pilate asks Jesus, "Art thou the King of the Jews?" Jesus replies, "My kingdom is not of this world." Pilate asks, "Art thou a king then?" Jesus replies, "Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth" (18:33-37). Translators and commentators differ on the import of "Thou sayest." Some gloss it as "You are right to say"; others as "You are the one saying." In other words, Jesus may or may not be claiming the title of king here. Pilate and the Roman soldiers thereafter refer to Jesus as "the King of the Jews" (18:39; 19:3, 14-15, 19-21).

16. The author closes by saying he has written the Gospel in order "that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" (20:31).

The next step will be to go back into the Old Testament and the intertestamental apocalyptic literature to get a more solid idea of what precisely "Messiah" meant to the Jews of Jesus' time. (I have already discussed what it meant to the Samaritans.) Then I will (I hope) be prepared to tackle the big question: Why did Jesus claim to be the Messiah, and what did he mean by that claim?

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Further thoughts on Jesus at Jacob's well

Woman at the Well, Jun Jamosmos

Because everything has more than one meaning . . .

Jacob's well represents tradition, our spiritual heritage, everything that was revealed in the distant past and has been handed down to us. In days of old, when giants walked the earth, certain of our fathers dug down even to the waters of truth, from which we today may drink, provided we have something to draw with. To try to duplicate their feat on our own would be foolhardy, and anyway, why reinvent the wheel? Art thou greater than our father Jacob? Gimme that old-time religion, it's good enough for me.

To these old-time wells came even Jesus himself and said, "Give me to drink." Even Jesus himself scorned not to sit at the feet of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions.

But Jesus went further, because he was greater than Father Jacob -- and he challenged us to be greater still. ("He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do.") To him, the corn of God's revealed word was not merely something to consume -- for man doth not live by bread alone -- but to plant, that it may bring forth fruit an hundredfold. Vary the metaphor from food to drink, and we have the well of water within oneself, springing up unto everlasting life.

"The hour cometh," said Jesus, "when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him."

He was announcing the end of temples, the end of holy sites, the end of ritualized or institutional worship -- not that those things are bad, but the hour cometh, and now is, when they are simply no longer possible. When Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple, his words had a meaning beyond the literal. It was the idea of the Temple that would, inexorably, be destroyed -- leaving spirit and truth as the only viable modes of worship.

The key thing about spirit is that it is active and creative, as opposed to passive and receptive matter -- and it is in this sense that "God is a spirit," and that they who worship him must (now) be spirits, too. Only what is done in spirit can be done in truth, since truth is a property of free and creative thought, the prerogative of spirits. Nothing secondhand, nothing abstract, nothing institutionalized can be true in the fullest sense; the law came by Moses, but grace and truth by Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Samaritan understanding of the Messiah

My post on Jesus and the Samaritan woman raised the question of whether the Samaritans really used the term Messiah, and if so what they meant by it. A bit of digging led me to what I was looking for: a slim volume entitled The Messianic Hope of the Samaritans, consisting of a 1906 letter by Jacob ben Aaron, High Priest of the Samaritans, together with his responses to some specific questions put to him by his Protestant correspondents. I quote some relevant passages.
The reference concerning the establishment of the Second Kingdom, affirming the appearance of "THBH" [Taheb] or a Prophet at the end of time of whose appearance we have a promise, is found in Ex. xx, in the last verses, which are not found in the Torah of the Jews. It reads, "They said well. Let their consciences uphold my fear, and the keeping of my commandment, all the time: so that it may be done well unto them and their children. I shall set up for them a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and I shall put my words into his mouth and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And it shall be that the man who harkens not to the words which he speaks, I shall make him thereto responsible." These words concern the prophet in whose coming we believe. Again, "The prophet who dares to address words in my name and speaks what I have not commanded him, and he that speaks in the name of foreign gods shall be killed." The same is stated again in Deuteronomy, as also one may find in the Torah of the Jews, Deut. xviii. 15.
This passage from Deuteronomy (duplicated, apparently, in the Samaritan version of Exodus), is the sole scriptural basis for the belief in the Taheb.

The High Priest explains, with numerous scriptural quotations (and some rather strained interpretations!) that the primary role of this prophet will be to restore Israel to power in their ancestral lands, where they will rule over everything from the Nile to the Euphrates. He then lists the signs by which the prophet -- or Messiah -- may be known.
As to the Messiah, with whose coming we are promised, there are proofs and demonstrations in regard to his coming. As our learned men have explained in their voluminous commentaries, he will rise and perform miracles and demonstrations; he will uphold religion and justice. Among other proofs he will produce the following three:
1. The production of the ark of testimony, which is the greatest attestation for Israel. [. . .]
2. He will produce, at his hand, the staff which was given by the Creator (who is exalted) to our lord Moses (upon him be peace), about whose attribute a reference is made as follows: "And this shall be to thee as a sign," in order that miracles be performed thereby.
3. He must produce the omer of manna which our fathers ate, while in the wilderness, for forty years. This is the greatest proof, because, after all this period, it will be found to have undergone not the slightest change. When our ancestors, in the days when manna used to fall, would keep some of it till the morrow, it would become rotten and wormy. Therefore, it would be a proof none could deny if it should appear sound after this long interval and remain in its sound state. Thus the people of the second kingdom might see it and confess reverently and increase in exalting and glorifying the Creator (who is exalted), for the power of producing such a marvel.
These three proofs must be verified by the Prophet; and without them his claim would be considered illegal.
The title Messiah was used, then, for the Taheb, at least by the Samaritans of the early 20th century. The three signs generally amount to an expectation that the Messiah would do what Moses did.

The quotations that follow are from William E. Barton, reporting some questions that were put to the High Priest and his answers.
In the little treatise the Messiah was depicted as a prophet. But the Christian Messiah is spoken of as "Prophet, Priest and King." It seemed an interesting question whether the Messiah of the Samaritans were to be more than a prophet. The High Priest answers this inquiry:
"There is nothing in prophecy to say whether he will be of the priestly line or not. Some of our learned men say he will come from the children of Aaron, and be a priest. Others say that he will be of the children of Joseph and 'like unto his brethren.' My own private opinion is that he will be of the children of Joseph."
Of course the Samaritan hope is not colored by any of the Jewish memories of the throne of David, and the treatise gave no hint as to any kingly role. Asked concerning this, the High Priest answers:
"The Messiah will be a prophet, and will be acknowledged as a prophet. That will be his title, as the prophecies give it. But he will also be a king."
Asked about Genesis 3:15 and 49:55, generally understood by Christians to be Messianic prophecies, the High Priest replied that they had "no Messianic significance whatsoever."

Barton reports the High Priest's replies to several more questions.
To Christians it will be interesting to know whether the Samaritan Messiah is expected to be in any sense divine. The High Priest answers: 
"The Messiah will not be in any sense a Son of God. He will be a prophet like Moses and like his brethren, as it is told in Deut. xviii. 15-22 [. . .] This is the passage of the Torah which tells us what the Messiah will be, and I hope you will read it with a clear eye, as you always read everything." 
Another thing was asked of the High Priest, namely, what would be the attitude of the Messiah toward Christians and other nations. He answers: 
"The Messiah will be a prophet, as I have told you, and will no doubt work signs to prove his mission. There will be unusual signs and wonders, which I described in the little book. But he is to be a king, and rule the earth from Shechem, the ancient seat of power, and from his holy mountain, Gerizim. He will call all the world to acknowledge him, and they will do so. He will bring blessings to all nations that acknowledge him." 
Still one thing more was asked the High Priest as he sat in his tent while the fires were heating the ovens for the sacrifice of the lambs for the Passover, Will the Passover continue after the Messiah comes? 
He answered: 
"The Passover will continue after the Messiah comes. It is a perpetual feast. It has no reference whatever to the Messiah."
 Barton closes the volume by summarizing what the High Priest has said thus:
So far as the treatise indicates, the Samaritans do not look for any vicarious sacrifice on the part of their Messiah. His career, when he comes, would appear to be one of victory and tranquil rule, primarily religious, but with some political significance. The sacrifices are declared not to be prophetic of his mission. The passages quoted by Christians from the Pentateuch as Messianic are held not to refer to him. Practically the whole content of Samaritan Messianic prophecy appears to be derived from Deut. xviii. 15-22, in which the Messiah is a prophet like unto Moses, raised up from among the people, and one of their own brethren.
Assuming (and, yes, it is a bit of an assumption) that the beliefs of the 1st-century Samaritans were transmitted more-or-less intact to their 20th-century descendants, these comments by the High Priest help us understand what the Samaritan woman would have understood Jesus to be claiming when she said, "I know that Messias cometh," and he replied, "I that speak unto thee am he."

Monday, January 13, 2020

Jesus and the Samaritan woman (Notes on John 4:1-26)

Woman at the Well, Carl Heinrich Bloch
[1] When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, [2] (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) [3] He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee.
This may be the first reference in this Gospel to Jesus as "the Lord," though some manuscripts say "Jesus" instead.

The use of "Jesus" (rather than "he") for the second reference strikes me as highly unnatural -- borderline-ungrammatical in English, though I can't be sure about Greek. My first thought was that this probably indicated that the text had been tampered with, that the first reference to Jesus had been added later, that perhaps the original was something like "When therefore the Pharisees had heard . . ." -- but that would leave the "he" in v. 3 without a plausible antecedent. All in all, I think the most defensible reading is to imagine quotation marks around "Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John." This was, apparently, a quasi-proverbial statement that was going around -- roughly analogous to "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands" -- and which the Pharisees had heard. Since John's name was synonymous with baptism, "baptized more than John" would have an effect similar to "more Catholic than the Pope."

Did Jesus actually baptize anyone? Although John 4:2 says he did not, John 3:22 says he did: "After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized." Given the parenthesis in John 4:2, I think we are to understand that "Jesus baptized" only in the same loose sense in which we might say "Khufu built the Great Pyramid" or "Scipio destroyed Carthage" -- in other words, that those who did the actual baptizing did so under his direction.

Another possibility is that "and baptized" in John 3:22 is an interpolation, and that the rumor the Pharisees had heard was incorrect. (After all, in none of the other Gospels do Jesus or his disciples baptize anyone at all during his mortal ministry,  although both Matthew and the longer version of Mark have him instructing his disciples to go out and baptize after his resurrection.) Under this interpretation, Jesus' disciples were baptizing of their own initiative (unsurprisingly, given how many of them had been disciples of John), and while Jesus must have at least tacitly approved of this, it was not something that he was personally doing or promoting.

Apropos of this, it is also interesting to note that the Fourth is the only Gospel that never uses John's title "the Baptist." There are several ways to interpret this fact. It could be because Jesus is also a "baptist" in this Gospel, so that the title is no longer unique to John, or it could be because the apostle called John does not appear in this Gospel, making the disambiguating title unnecessary -- but another possibility is that the omission of the conventional title is a way of de-emphasizing baptism, just as St. James is rarely referred to as "the Moor-slayer" now that Moor-slaying has gone out of fashion. It may be for similar reasons that the Fourth Gospel (uniquely) omits any direct reference to Jesus' being baptized by John.

Why did Jesus leave Judaea as soon as he became aware of the rumors that he "baptized more than John"? Apparently to get off the Baptist's turf and avoid the appearance of competing with him. Jesus did not want to interfere with John's ministry, as they had complementary roles. Perhaps that is what we are to understand from the fact that his disciples baptized -- that these disciples of John continued to practice his teachings even after they became disciples of Jesus, because Jesus saw no conflict or contradiction between John's movement and his own. Once he realized that he might be stealing John's thunder, he decided to do his preaching elsewhere.

[4] And he must needs go through Samaria.
Samaria was not a political division in the time of Christ, but constituted the northern part of the Roman province of Judaea. It corresponded roughly to the ancient territories of Ephraim and Manasseh west of the Jordan (the modern West Bank). Judaea proper was to the south, corresponding to ancient Judah and Benjamin; while Galilee consisted roughly of the lands formerly belonging to the northern tribes of Naphtali, Issachar, and Zebulun. Thus the need to pass through Samaria to get from the one place to the other.

[5] Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.
Joseph was the father of Manasseh and Ephraim, whose ancestral lands later became Samaria. Most Samaritans were, or believed themselves to be, members of the (otherwise "lost") Tribe of Manasseh.

Sychar has not been conclusively identified, and the language ("a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar") suggests that it was not an important or well-known place.

[6] Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour.
The Old Testament account of Jacob does not connect him with any particular well. This was an oral tradition.

Though he apparently had paranormal powers, Jesus was not Superman. After walking a long distance, he was tired and had to sit down and rest. He didn't just stop to let the disciples rest; he himself was tired, too. Whatever we mean when we say he was "God," we don't mean that he was superhuman in any absolute sense. His powers had limits. He may have been able to walk on water on occasion, but even his ability to walk in the ordinary way only went so far.

Hours were counted from dawn, so the sixth hour was around midday.

[7] There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. [8] (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.) 
[9] Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.
Samaritans were (and are; there are still a few hundred around) Israelite schismatics with a smaller Bible (Torah only) and a different holy site (Mt. Gerizim, not Jerusalem). They and the Jews went their separate ways either (according to the Jews) during the reign of Artaxerxes I or (according to the Samaritans themselves) centuries earlier, in the time of the biblical judge Eli. Samaritans were not considered Jews, and Matthew 10:5-6 implicitly excludes them even from "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" even though they certainly were Israelites. Elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel, "Samaritan" seems to be used as a general-purpose insult: "Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?" (John 8:48). All in all, I think we would not be far wrong to say that the Jews of Jesus' time viewed Samaritans in much the same way that Christians have often viewed Jews.

I suppose that "for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans" is a parenthetical explanation by the author, not something the woman herself said. Such an explanation (like the author's explanations of the terms "rabbi" and "Messiah" elsewhere in the Gospel) would not have been necessary for Jews, which suggests that the author had gentile readers in mind. This in turn suggests that the Gospel was written at a time when gentiles had begun to convert to Christianity in large numbers -- and thus not shortly after Christ's ascension. (Alternatively, of course, the parenthetical explanations for non-Jews could have been added by later editors.)

[10] Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. 
[11] The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? [12] Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?
The woman's response (much like Nicodemus's "Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb?") makes her seem stupidly literal-minded. It's irrelevant that Jesus has nothing to draw with and that the well is deep because, whatever he might mean by "living water," he obviously can't be offering to give her water from the same well he just asked her to give him water from! The fact that Nicodemus, a highly educated man, makes the same sort of seemingly-stupid response suggests that this was simply an accepted way of speaking at that time and place, and that it means, in essence, "Well, you obviously can't mean what you seem to be saying, so what do you mean?"

Notice that the woman does not say, "Living water? How can water be alive?" She seems to take the concept for granted. I strongly suspect (although no translation I've seen seems to back me up on this) that "living water" was a common way of referring to running water, as opposed to the still water of a well or cistern. (It is in the same spirit that mercury is called "quick," or living, silver.) That's why she asks if he thinks he's greater than Jacob. Just digging another well, as Jacob had done before him, would not require him to be greater. But Jesus is apparently offering to produce a river, or at least a fountain. The implied subtext of her question is, "Who do you think you are -- Moses?"

[13] Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: [14] But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
[15] The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.
This brief exchange is all that is said about the living water. After v. 15, the subject is dropped and never returned to. Understanding what Jesus is talking about here is, then, a matter of guesswork or direct inspiration, as not much can be extracted from the text itself. He seems to be talking about resurrected life -- "a well of water springing up into everlasting life" -- and yet he has told the woman (in v. 10) that if she had asked, he would have given her this water, and resurrection is not very well something he could give to someone who is still alive.

The woman's response again seems stupidly literal-minded. Obviously Jesus can't be talking about literal water and literal thirst. He himself is thirsty and has asked the woman for water, so he clearly doesn't have the power to make drinking water forever unnecessary. I think we must again think of this as simply an accepted way of speaking, perhaps tinged with gentle sarcasm.

[16] Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.
[17] The woman answered and said, I have no husband.
Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: [18] For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.
The interpretation of this little exchange hinges on whether we think Jesus already knew the woman's rather irregular marital situation when he said, "Go, call thy husband" -- which, in turn, depends on whether and in what sense we think Jesus, as fully divine, "knew everything."

If Jesus already knew the woman had no husband, his question must have been, I don't know, a test of her honesty or something. She apparently was in a relationship with some man she was not married to ("he whom thou now hast is not thy husband"), so she could have produced this man and presented him to Jesus as her husband had she been so inclined.

I tend to think, though, that Jesus did not "know everything" during his mortal life, at least not in any straightforward sense. After all, this chapter begins with "When therefore the Lord knew . . ." -- implying that he found out something he had not known before. I tend to think that Jesus simply assumed the woman had a husband and made his request in good faith, and that only when she had said "I have no husband" did he see everything. This strange mixture of normal ignorance and supernormal insight is in fact typical of "psychics," as anyone with any experience in that field will know. My impression is that Jesus knew everything only potentially. If he looked, he could see, but he had to look.

Why, then, did he respond to the woman's request for living water by asking her to bring her husband? Apparently the living water, whatever it was, was something that could only be given to a married couple, not to an individual.

[19] The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.
This is a much stronger statement coming from a Samaritan than from a Jew, as the Samaritans acknowledged only one prophet, Moses -- with a second one (or perhaps a return of the first) to come in the future. This was the Taheb, the prophet like unto Moses whose coming is prophesied in Deuteronomy 18, and belief in whom was a pillar of the Samaritan religion. (The Taheb was supposed to be a descendant of Joseph. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, but perhaps the fact that his father's name was Joseph made him a possible claimant.) I would thus suggest the reading, "I perceive that thou art the prophet" -- which, while not a literal translation, perhaps does better justice to what this sentence would imply coming from the lips of a Samaritan, whose creed was "One God, one prophet, one holy book, one holy site."

Already the Samaritan woman has recognized in Jesus' offer of "living water" a pretension to Moses-like status. Now, with this statement, we see the next step in her dawning realization that the man with whom she has been conversing may be the Taheb himself.

[20] Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. 
[21] Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.
[22] Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.
[23] But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. [24] God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
Realizing that this man -- a Jew, not a Samaritan -- may be the promised Taheb, the woman very naturally asks him about one of the points of disagreement between those two creeds. And Jesus, as we would expect, takes a stance that transcends the parochial: True worship takes place neither on Mt. Gerizim nor in the Jerusalem Temple, but in the heart of the individual believer.

In this context, v. 22, where Jesus takes sides and says Judaism is better than Samaritanism, feels like an interpolation. If it is in fact an authentic saying of Jesus, it is not clear what he meant by it. After all, the Samaritans worshiped Yahweh as revealed by Moses in the Torah, just as the Jews did. Perhaps he felt that later prophets (not accepted by the Samaritans) had revealed God's character more fully than Moses had done.

By the way, v. 24 is a common anti-Mormon proof text, familiar to me from my missionary days, because it seems to contradict the Mormon doctrine that God has a body of flesh and bone. The standard (and, I think, rather clever) response is that God is indeed a spirit -- housed in a body -- and that the verse goes on to say "they that worship him must worship him in spirit," obviously not meaning that our spirits must leave our bodies in order to worship God. What this really shows is that the Bible won't read itself, and that even as straightforward as statement as "God is a Spirit" is subject to interpretation based on metaphysical assumptions.

[25] The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.
This can only mean the Taheb, since the Samaritans did not believe in a "Messiah" as such. Remember that their Bible was limited to the five books of Moses and did not include the prophetic books and psalms from which the idea of the Messiah arose. The basic idea of the Messiah was that he would be a second King David, and the titles Messiah and Christ both refer to the anointing that was part of a Hebrew king's coronation ceremony. (Robert Graves was not wrong to translate "Jesus Christ" as "King Jesus.") The Samaritans, who (according to their own history) separated from the Jews in the days of the judges, before David or any of the other kings, had never been David's people and were not anticipating the coming of a second David.

While Christians believe that the Messiah and the prophet like unto Moses are one and the same, the Jews of Jesus' time did not. In John 1:25, for example, they say that John is "not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet" -- clearly understanding these to be three different figures. The Samaritans anticipated the coming of the Taheb, the prophet like unto Moses. The Jews did, too, and they also anticipated the coming of two other figures: Elijah and the Messiah. So while we today might naturally describe the Taheb as "the Samaritan Messiah," it seems unlikely that a first-century Samaritan would have drawn that equivalence. She would have known that "Messiah" was not just the Jewish way of referring to the Taheb but referred to (what the Jews believed to be) a separate figure.

Or perhaps she wouldn't. If Jews and Samaritans really had no dealings with each other, their mutual understanding of one another's beliefs would naturally be quite limited. Perhaps she thought that Jews and Samaritans were awaiting the coming of the same person but that the Jews used a different name, Messiah, for him. Her use of the Jewish lingo, then, would have been a conscious attempt to transcend cultural and religious differences and address her interlocutor on his own terms -- a bit like if a Christian were to use the word "Allah" instead of "God" when explaining his own beliefs to a Muslim.

Another possibility is that the woman actually said "Taheb," and that this was amended by the author or by a later editor on the grounds that it would be easier for most readers to understand, and that the two are (for Christians) the same figure anyway. Against this interpretation, we have the references to "that prophet" (i.e., the prophet like unto Moses, or the Taheb) in John 1, which were not edited out.

Yet another possibility is that the Samaritans really did use "Messiah" as a title of their Taheb. I know that the Jews were later to call him "Messiah ben Joseph" (as contrasted with the "Messiah ben David," or the Messiah properly so called). I consider Samaritan use of this designation to be unlikely, because Messiah properly means "king" -- David's title, not Moses's -- but who knows.

UPDATE: For further information on this question, see my post "The Samaritan understanding of the Messiah."

[26] Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.
But the woman already knows this by this point in their conversation, which is why she brought up the "Messiah" in the first place. Jesus is just confirming what she has already deduced.

This is this Gospel's first record of Jesus' making a direct claim to be the Messiah, and it is interesting that this momentous declaration was made in an isolated place, with no witnesses, to a Samaritan who may have had a very different understanding of what "Messiah" meant. In context, Jesus is not here claiming to be the Messiah of the Psalms and prophetic writings but rather the prophet like unto Moses. He would later repeat this claim publicly, in the Jerusalem Temple: "For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me" (John 5:46).

Five cornerstones

I recently received another batch of emails from a correspondent who keeps encountering repetitions of the number 5 (55, 555, etc.). This ma...