In The First Messiah: Investigating the savior before Christ, distinguished Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Michael O. Wise provides a detailed examination of a messianic leader he calls “Judah” [a “Teacher of righteousness” in the scrolls] a figure whose life and prophecies pre date Jesus by a century.
By analyzing the Thanksgiving Hymns in the Thanksgiving Scroll discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Wise uncovers the basis of a groundbreaking understanding of the prophetic mind. In so doing, Wise deepens our understanding of Christ, his impact on the Jewish community of his time, and even his interpretation of his own messianic role.
“[Who] has been despised like [ me? And who]
has been rejected [of men] like me? [And who] compares to
m[e in enduring] evil?
Who is like me among the angels?
[I] am the beloved of the king, a companion of the ho[ly ones].”
The figure represented in this hymn is complex and fascinating. We see a very marked dichotomy in the self-image of the writer. He he views himself in the image of the “suffering servant” in Isaiah 53. Of the “suffering servant” it is written: “He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). The writer of the hymn says:
And who] has been despised like [ me? And who] has been rejected [of men] like me?” 4Q491. (Cf The first messianic hymn—version 1: 4QHe frg. 1–2. ; The first messianic hymn—version 2: 4Q491 frg. 11, col. 1.; The second messianic hymn—version 1: 4QHa frg. 7, col. 1 and 2.)
The parallels between Judah and Jesus blaze forth in sharp relief:
* Both declared themselves prophets.
* Both were hailed by followers as He Who Is to Come and worked attendant wonders.
* Both founded vital and long-lasting movements before leaving this world.
Judah’s claims to messianic status led to his arrest and condemnation. Judah’s warnings of Jewish apostasy and his apocalyptic prophecies, combined with powerful personal charisma, also built a movement that survived his death and even grew into an institution comprising bishops, priests, and laity.
A common claim is that the idea of a savior—a “suffering servant”—was added later to justify the death of Jesus as Messiah. All these notions are now challenged with the evidence of the DSS Thanksgiving scroll and the Gabriel Stone.
The hero of the hymns claims divine status. He claims to be superior to the angels and describes himself as taking a seat in heaven surrounded by the angels, thus clearly comparing himself to the biblical God. Simultaneously, he depicts himself as “despised and rejected of men” and claims
Who has born[e all] afflictions like me? Who compares to me [in enduri]ng evil?
He thus identifies himself with the “suffering servant” in Isaiah. This combination of divine status and suffering is unknown in the history of the messianic idea prior to these hymns.
Jesus could have been just another messianic figure in a long line of messianic figures before him.
“Wise names the messianic figure at Qumran “Judah”. He was the first to see himself as a hidden Messiah [cf Messianic Secret in Mark], and Wise thinks he can recover significant bits of Judah’s biography especially through the Thanksgiving hymns. Wise thinks he can see Judah anticipate suffering and that violent men ( 1QH X), in particular Hycranus II, were seeking his life because of his beliefs about the Temple and it’s Pharisaic leadership ( esp. Shimeon Ben Shetah). These complaints of his are now written up as they were in a protest form now found in 4Q MMT. Judah was put on trial as a false prophet and exiled; shortly thereafter he died a violent death, smitten by the sword ( in 72BCE). But this Judah also believed that he was to fulfill the role of Isaiah’s suffering servant (1QH VIII-IX) and that it was he and not the Pharisees that was faithful to Gods covenant. God rewards him so his followers believe with glory at the right hand of God ( XXVI, 2-10)…… it’s unlikely Judah thought of his death as an atonement but Judah’s perception of death or at least his followers was much along the lines of Mark14:25 death could not thwart the divine plan.”
~Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory
By Scot McKnight,page89.
Knohl has hypotheses who this messiah was:
”The first of the two messianic hymns inserted in the Thanksgivings Scroll constitutes a sort of self-portrait of the messianic hero. ”the beloved of the king” is an unusual way to describe one’s relationship to God, and the description of the angels as the king’s sons is unprecedented. Why did the messianic hero choose to use such unusual expressions? It is surely not unreasonable to suppose that these metaphors reflect the life experience of the protagonist of the hymns. It seems that the messianic leader belonged to the court of an earthly king. Herod’s court could be the source of the metaphors used in the messianic hymn from Qumran. A special relationship that Herod had developed with Menahem the Essene”. Ant15.372-79; Jerusalem Talmud, Hagiga 2:2 (77b).
~Knohl, The Messiah before Jesus, page53.
SIMON OF PERAEA
Simon of Peraea was called the King of the Jews, believed to be a Messiah. Just before Passover, the Romans beheaded him and crucified many of his followers outside Jerusalem. But his name was not Jesus, it was Simon, a self-proclaimed Messiah who died four years before Christ was born. Now, new analysis of a three-foot-tall stone tablet from the first century B.C., being hailed by scholars as a “Dead Sea Scroll on stone,” speaks of an early Messiah. And could this tablet shake up the basic premise of Christianity?
ABOUT THE STONE:
• The tablet, called the Jeselsohn Stone, is three feet tall with 87 lines of Hebrew. It was found on the antiquities market a decade ago but not seriously studied by scholars until recently.
• Based on microscopic analysis of the soils and writing found on the stone, the tablet probably came from an area near the Dead Sea in Jordan and dates back to the late first century B.C.
• Its writing is unique because it is ink on stone in two neat columns, rather than ink on parchment or engravings on stone like so many other biblical artifacts.
• The stone is broken and much of the wording has been washed away over time. Many scholars believe the stone’s imperfect pockmarks and the ambiguity of the text itself actually validate the stone.
• Much of the text describes a vision of the apocalypse transmitted by the angel Gabriel.
• The stone is controversial because it could speak of a Messiah who will show signs after three days dead, based on line 80, “Messiah ben Yosef, by three days, signs”.
• If this reading were accurate, it would imply that a Messiah who shows signs from the dead after three days predates the time of Christ — providing a missing link between Judaism and Christianity, since it suggests Jesus’ death and resurrection is of the same trope.
ABOUT SIMON OF PERAEA:
• A former Jewish slave, Simon of Peraea crowned himself king, claiming to be the redeemer of Israel, the Messiah.
• He led a failed rebellion against Rome in 4 B.C. before Passover and set fire to one of King Herod’s palaces at Jericho and several other royal residences.
• Soon after the rebellion, Simon was captured in a remote canyon and beheaded; his corpse was left to rot amidst the rocks. For Jews of the time of Simon of Peraea, not burying a corpse was the ultimate humiliation.
• In the wake of his death, many of his followers were crucified.
• Dr. Knohl believes that Jesus knew the story of Simon’s death.
• Accounts by the ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus may be the only literary evidence from the time that either Simon of Peraea or Jesus existed.(Ant17.10.6; 18.3.3).
Messiah Ben Yosef:
Jesus to be called Joseph’s son in the gospels is a later misinterpretation of Jesus’ title as the Galilean Messiah. Just as “Jesus the Nazorean” need not refer to having roots in Nazareth but may instead imply membership in the pious Nazorean sect (see Acts 24:5), “Jesus son of Joseph” may be a messianic title. My guess would be that, once the southern idea of Jesus as a descendant of David caught on, someone tried to reinterpret his northern messianic identity, reinterpreting the epithet “son of Joseph” by making Joseph refer to the immediate, diate, if adoptive, father of Jesus, instead of his remote ancestor, whose prophetic dreams promised him that the sun, moon, and stars would one day bow before him (Genesis 37:9).~Price, Deconstructing Jesus
In this pre-Christian Jewish text, Knohl finds references to two different concepts of the messiah—one, the Messiah son of David; and the other, the Messiah son of Joseph (Ephraim). The return of the messiah of David would involve a military victory. Indeed, the Davidic messiah will institute the messianic age with a “day of battle.” He will make his enemies “a footstool.” The Messiah son of David is a triumphal messiah. Ephraim, or the Messiah son of Joseph, is a very different kind of messiah and reflects a new kind of messianism. This kind of messianism involves suffering and death. In the new Dead Sea Scroll in stone, Knohl sees a messiah who suffered, died and rose.~ commentary on Knohl’s The Messiah before Jesus.
Significance of Gabriel’s stone:
A first century B.C. stone tablet discovered a decade ago near the Dead Sea in Jordan has been translated, showing it to be an apocalyptic description attributed to the angel Gabriel.
Due to its date and geographical location Knohl has associated it with Simon of Peraea. It does seem to be messianic in its focus (see line 72 and its mention of “David the servant of YHWH). The text of the tablet makes clear references to the Messiah who will destroy evil and bring in righteousness. This Messiah comes from Ephraim, or the “ Messiah son of Joseph”. (line 16). In the stone tablet, Gabriel commands the Messiah to show signs after three days, a clear trope to the resurrection of Jesus.
The text of the stone seems to draw heavily upon the Book of Daniel. Scholars know from the work of Josephus that many Jews immediately before and during the time of Jesus focused on the Book of Daniel because of his prophecies related to a messiah coming to usher in a Kingdom of God.
His mission is that he has to be put to death by the Romans to suffer so his blood will be the sign for redemption to come,” Knohl said. “This is the sign of the son of Joseph. This is the conscious view of Jesus himself. This gives the Last Supper an absolutely different meaning. To shed blood is not for the sins of people but to bring redemption to Israel.
Ephraim, or the Messiah son of Joseph, is a very different kind of messiah and reflects a new kind of messianism. This kind of messianism involves suffering and death.
All agree that the passage describes an apocalyptic vision of an attack on Jerusalem in which God appears with angels on chariots to save the city. The text expresses anxiety over the fate of Jerusalem and reflects the crucial role of angels as intermediaries. The central angelic character is Gabriel, the first angel to appear in the Hebrew Bible. “I am Gabriel,” the writing declares.
The slaying of Simon, or any case of the suffering messiah, is seen as a necessary step toward national salvation, he says, pointing to lines 19 through 21 of the tablet — “In three days you will know that evil will be defeated by justice” — and other lines that speak of blood and slaughter as pathways to justice.
It’s role in helping to understand the roots of Christianity in the devastating political crisis faced by the Jews of the time seems likely to increase.
Much of the text, a vision of the apocalypse transmitted by the angel Gabriel, draws on the Old Testament, especially the prophets Daniel, Zechariah and Haggai.
Yardeni, who analyzed the stone along with Binyamin Elitzur, is an expert on Hebrew script, especially of the era of King Herod, who died in 4 BC The two of them published a long analysis of the stone more than a year ago in Cathedra, a Hebrew-language quarterly devoted to the history and archaeology of Israel, and said that, based on the shape of the script and the language, the text dated from the late first century BC.
After the Messiah’s death his believers created a “catastrophic” ideology. The rejection of the Messiah, his humiliation, and his death were thought to have been foretold in the Scriptures and to be necessary stages in the process of redemption. The disciples believed that the humiliated and pierced Messiah had been resurrected after three days and that he was due to reappear on earth as redeemer, victor, and judge.”~Knohl, The Messiah before Jesus,45