Biblical Name Eshbaal Found Outside of the Bible

Courtesy of “Bible History Daily” from the Biblical Archaeology Society
Link: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/daily-life-and-practice/biblical-name-eshbaal-found-outside-of-the-bible/

Khirbet Qeiyafa excavators publish new Iron Age inscription
Robin Ngo   •  06/05/2015

qeiyafa-eshbaal

Ner was the father of Kish, Kish the father of Saul, and Saul the father of Jonathan, Malki-Shua, Abinadab and Esh-Baal.

—1 Chronicles 8:33 The Biblical name Eshbaal has been found for the first time in an ancient inscription. Incised before firing on a 3,000-year-old pithos (large ceramic storage jar), the inscription was discovered at the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa in Israel. Researchers Yosef Garfinkel, Mitka R. Golub, Haggai Misgav and Saar Ganor have published their study of this inscription in a forthcoming issue of the journal Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR).

The Eshbaal inscription reads “[ ] | ʾšbʿl | ˹bn˺ | bdʿ” (“ʾIšbaʿal son of Bedaʿ”) and was written from right to left in the Canaanite alphabetic script. The name ʾšbʿl, commonly translated as ʾIšbaʿal (or Esh-Baʿal—“man of Baʿal”), is known from the Bible. Eshbaal was the second king of Israel, King Saul’s son and a rival of King David (1 Chronicles 8:33; in 2 Samuel 2–4, this king is called Ish-Bosheth). The name Bedaʿ, however, is unique.

qeiyafa-mapRadiometric dating of the layer from which the Eshbaal inscription was unearthed dates the layer to c. 1020–980 B.C.E. The clarity and precision with which the inscription was written suggest, according to the researchers, that the inscription was the work of a skilled hand—perhaps a trained scribe.

“This new inscription marks a transitional stage between the writing system used for 800 years and the official, standardized Phoenician script used by kingdoms and states in Canaan by at least the 10th century B.C.E.,” the researchers wrote in their BASOR article.

The free eBook Life in the Ancient Worldguides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—throughout the Mediterranean world.

 

The Eshbaal inscription, along with five other inscriptions—two of which are also from Qeiyafa, offers evidence that the Canaanite script was used in the late 11th–10th centuries B.C.E. Included in this important corpus is the five-line Qeiyafa Ostracon, a prize find unearthed during the 2008 season at Khirbet Qeiyafa and possibly the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered.*

qeiyafa-ostracon

Excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, led by Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, were conducted from 2007 to 2013. Located about 18.5 miles southwest of Jerusalem, Khirbet Qeiyafa was occupied during several periods: Late Chalcolithic, Middle Bronze, Iron, Persian-Hellenistic and Byzantine. Qeiyafa’s main phase of occupation was during the Iron Age, when there was a heavily fortified city boasting a casemate wall, two gates and monumental buildings.In a Biblical Archaeology Review article, Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil explain the importance of the Iron Age city at Qeiyafa:

The seven seasons of excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa […] uncovered for the first time in the archaeology of the Holy Land a fortified city in Judah from the time of King David. The date of this site (1020–980 B.C.E.) is confirmed by olive pits sent to Oxford University for radiocarbon dating.

[…]

Khirbet Qeiyafa redefined the debate over the early kingdom of Judah. It is clear now that David’s kingdom extended beyond Jerusalem, that fortified cities existed in strategic geopolitical locations and that there was an extensive civil administration capable of building cities.

Read the BASOR article on the new Eshbaal inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa.

Riots on Mount Zion: Christians and Jews in Conflict

Some of you might remember the riots that broke out on Mt Zion last May when the Pope visited Jerusalem and held a Mass in the “Upper Room” or Cenacle, traditional site where Jesus ate his Last Supper. See the Jerusalem Post story here to refresh your memory.

Mass Cenacle

This past Sunday, which was both the Christian Pentecost and the Jewish Shavuot, similar skirmishes and arrests took place as Jewish protesters tried to prevent the Christians from worshipping in the Upper Room–which just happens to be over the so-called “Tomb of David.” I have not seen this covered in either the Jerusalem Post, HaAretz, or the Times of Israel, as of this morning, and a Google search yields only this AP wire story:

June 1, 5:54 PM EDT: JEWISH PROTESTERS TRY TO BLOCK CHRISTIAN RITUAL AT HOLY SITE

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police say they forcibly removed dozens of Jewish protesters trying to prevent a Christian ritual from taking place at a holy site revered in both religions.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri says the skirmish took place Monday at a site revered by Jews as the tomb of the biblical King David and by Christians as the site of Jesus’ Last Supper.

On Sunday, dozens of Jewish protesters also attempted to block Christian prayer there for the holiday of Pentecost.

A status-quo arrangement permits Christian prayer at the site on specific holidays. The Vatican is lobbying Israel for more access to the site, which fundamentalist Jewish Israelis oppose. The Custodia of Terra Santa, a Vatican representative in Jerusalem, said the events were “grave.”

This controversial site is unique in all the Holy Land. In a single building, the foundations of which might go back to the 1st century CE. I would say just about every one of the 3.5 million tourists–whether Christian or Jewish–visit this site. The reason is the upper floor, dating back to Crusader times, marks the traditional place of Jesus’ Last Supper, and precisely below, on the ground floor, is the traditional “Tomb of David,” also dating to Crusader times. These two communities, separated by a floor, stream in and out of their respective places. Before the Six Day War (June 1967), this area of Mt Zion was outside the Green Line and thus remained under Israeli control. It was the nearest Jews could get to the Old City from 1948–when they were all expelled–until 1967. This gave the tomb of David site an incredible significance–next to the Western (“Wailing”) Wall, which could not be accessed, as a place of prayer. Christians continued throughout this time to visit the Cenacle, or Upper Room site. I remember first going there in 1962 when I was a teenager, on my first trip to the Holy Land. I found it very moving. Here are some reflections on that trip written 50 years later with lots of links to my subsequent work in the area, “Fifty Year Ago: My First Visit to Jerusalem.”

Those of us who “Dig Mount Zion” each summer are intimately familiar with the Cenacle, as we walk past it daily from our dig site, just a few hundred yards to the east, to access the public toilets during our days in the field!

The history of the Cenacle has been a focus of my interest and research for 25 years spurred by the important article by Bargil Pixner, “The Church of the Apostles on Mount Zion,” published in Biblical Archaeology Review in May/June 1990. You can read the article here, reproduced with permission. In July 1990 I first met the author, the late great Father Bargil Pixner and we became fast friends over the years.

In now over 50 of trips to Jerusalem I have studied the various sites and their traditions and my views have settled over time. I have given particular attention to the theories of the late Bargil Pixner, whose instructive book, With Jesus in Jerusalem has become a classic. I knew Bargil well and spent many pleasant hours with him on dozens of visits to Jerusalem.  I helped him edit his influential 1997 article in BAR magazine, Jerusalem’s Essene Gateway.  Even though Bargil and I held different views on several matters, especially the location of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and initial burial.  I have a photo from the early 1990s taken in Jerusalem where we were discussing some of these very matters. It is of great sentimental value to me. I came to love and respect Father Pixner very deeply. Shimon Gibson and I visited the area last June, just after the rioting, to visit Pixner’s grave.  We were saddened to see the burning and vandalism at the Dormitian Abby nearby–very senseless destruction of priceless items–it reminds one of Isis or the Taliban.

Pixner.jpg

Pixner's TombstoneRD

One of my graduate students, David Clausen, who just finished his degree in May, has produced a marvelous M.A. thesis on the history and archaeology of the Cenacle that will be published early next year with McFarland (www.mcfarlandbooks.com). I think it is the best thing available on the subject. Shimon Gibson and I were readers. I will keep you all informed.

In the meantime, see some of you at Mt Zion very soon! And if you can’t join us help us–see here: Mt Zion Dig: How You Can Participate.

Did Paul Invent the Virgin Birth?

Legendary stories of gods fathering humans, so common in  Greco-Roman culture, may well have contributed to accounts of Jesus’ miraculous birth in Matthew and Luke but I would suggest an alternative. I am convinced that the idea of Jesus’ birth from a virgin–without a human father–implicitly goes back to the apostle Paul.

Christians regularly affirm that Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” This faith is embedded as a cornerstone of all the major Christian creeds and is recited by hundreds of millions each week. Surprisingly, the gospel of Mark has no account of the birth of Jesus. It opens with Jesus as an adult, traveling from Nazareth down to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. Since Mark is our earliest gospel the question arises–what is the origin of the idea of Jesus’ virgin birth? When and where did it originate?

Adonis & Venus Vecellio

In contrast to Mark both Matthew and Luke give us different versions of the “Christmas story,” but they both agree on the source of Mary’s pregnancy. In Matthew’s account Joseph had a dream shortly after finding out about the pregnancy. In this dream an angel told him that her pregnancy was “by a holy spirit” and that he was to go ahead with the marriage regardless. He was to name her child Jesus. By marrying a pregnant woman who carried a child that was not his, and legally naming that child, he was in effect “adopting” Jesus as his legal son. The phrase “by a holy spirit” implies that the pregnancy came from the agency of God’s spirit but falls short of saying, outright, that God was the father of Jesus in the sense that, say, Zeus was said to be the father of Hercules by his seduction of his mother, Alkmene. In that sense the account is different from those miraculous birth stories so common in Greco-Roman mythology.

Nonetheless, scholars who question the literal truth of Matthew and Luke’s birth stories have suggested that they are a way of affirming the divine nature of Jesus as “Son of God” by giving him an extraordinary supernatural birth. This idea of humans being fathered by gods is quite common in Greco-Roman culture. There was a whole host of heroes who were said to be the product of a union between their mother and a god–Plato, Empedocles, Hercules, Pythagoras, Alexander the Great and even Caesar Augustus. In text after text we find the idea of the divine man (theios aner) whose supernatural birth, ability to perform miracles, and extraordinary death separate him from the ordinary world of mortals. These heroes are not “eternal” gods, like Zeus or Jupiter. They are mortal human beings who have been exalted to a heavenly state of immortal life. In the time of Jesus their temples and shrines filled every city and province of the Roman Empire. It is easy to imagine that early Christians who believed Jesus was every bit as exalted and heavenly as any of the Greek and Roman heroes and gods would appropriate this way of relating the story of his birth. It was a way of affirming that Jesus was both human and divine. Modern interpreters who view the stories in this way usually maintain that Joseph was likely the father and that these supernatural accounts were invented later by Jesus’ followers to honor Jesus and to promote his exalted status in a manner common to that culture.

These legendary stories from Greco-Roman culture may well have contributed to accounts of Jesus’ miraculous birth in Matthew and Luke but I would suggest an alternative. I am convinced that the idea of Jesus’ birth from a virgin–without a human father–implicitly goes back to the apostle Paul. Paul’s letters date several decades before our New Testament gospels and it is Paul’s understanding of Jesus as the pre-existent, divine, Son of God, that lays the conceptual groundwork for our Christmas stories.

Paul never explicitly refers to Jesus’ virgin birth nor does he ever name either Mary or Joseph. What he does affirm is that Jesus pre-existed before his human birth and subsequently gave up his divine glory through his birth as a human being. He writes that Jesus “though existing in the form of God” emptied himself and took on human form, “being made in the likeness of humankind” (Philippians 2:6-7). He says further “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). He has to be referring here, metaphorically, to the “riches” of Jesus’ pre-existence with God, since all our sources have Jesus born of a poor peasant family. Paul also writes “In the fullness of time God sent forth his Son, made of a woman …” (Galatians 4:4). The implication of these texts is that Jesus’ mother was merely the human receptacle for bringing Jesus into the world. It is not a far step from these ideas about Jesus’ pre-existence to the notion of Jesus as the first-begotten Son of God–eliminating any necessity for a human father. Paul’s entire message centers on a divine not a human Jesus–both before his birth and after his death. For Paul he is the pre-existent Son of God, crucified, but now raised to sit at the right hand of God. Like the Christian creeds that jump from Jesus’ birth to his death and resurrection in single phrase, entirely skipping over his life, Paul paves the way for a confessional understanding of what it means to be a Christian. As Bultmann once put it, it is the “thatness” of the Gospel which interested Paul–that he was born of a woman, he died, that he rose, that he is coming again–with nothing inbetween.

The Jewish followers of Jesus later known as the Ebionites (see my previous post here) by the Orthodox Church Fathers, rejected Paul, used a version of Matthew in Hebrew that did not contain the account of the virgin birth in our present chapter 2 of the Greek text, and followed James the brother of Jesus in observing the Torah. It is difficult to imagine the virgin birth idea arising within these original Jewish circles whereas the perspectives of Paul lend themselves so easily to such mythology.

An alternative way of thinking about being a Christian is preserved in the gospel of Mark–our earliest narrative account of the career of Jesus. Mark mentions neither Jesus’ birth, nor any resurrection appearances on Easter morning (according to our earliest manuscripts that end with chapter 16:8). When a would-be follower addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher,” Jesus sharply rebukes him with the retort: “Why do you call me good, there is One who is good, God” (Mark 10:17-18). Mark emphasizes the suffering of Jesus on the cross, but only as a call to others to also “take up a cross” and thus give their lives as servants to others. In Mark Jesus defines true religion as loving God and loving ones neighbor, in contrast to all systems of religion. His version of the Jesus story is surely one that should not be forgotten despite the ubiquitous triumph of Paul’s theology.

Dig Mount Zion: How You Can Participate!

Our Mount Zion excavation begins two weeks from today. Here’s how you can participate if you can’t be on the site with us.

Mt Zion Logo

Sunrise MtZion RD

The magazine Popular Archaeology recently headlined our dig with the following update and you can read their full coverage here:

A team of archaeologists and students will be returning in 2015 to excavate at a site just below the ancient walls of Jerusalem not far from the Temple Mount, an area that has recently been yielding structures and artifacts that are beginning to show a slice of times both turbulent and peaceful in a city sacred to three great religions. Among the most recent finds are an Iron Age II (8th – 6th centuries CE) stamped pottery handle depicting a double-winged scarab with the Hebrew inscription, “le-Melek…” (of or belonging to the King) representing royal or state property; walls and structures from the late 1st century BCE to 70 CE, including a Jewish ritual bath and numerous coins; and more structures, features and artifacts from the Byzantine, Islamic, Crusader, and Ottoman periods.

We are very excited about our 2015 seasons and have over 60 participants from around the world joining us. It is not too late if any of you want to still join us–see digmountzion.uncc.edu for details and contact information.

Annual operational costs of our excavation run about $76,000 a year. We have already raised $56,000 from individual donors that we have approached directly but we need to close this $20,000 gap in the next two weeks. These funds are used directly for excavation costs, conservation, curating of finds, and post-excavation analysis–no personal salaries. The dig is under the academic oversight of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and is fully licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the National Parks, who administer the land.

We are not using any of the popular programs such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe since they extract fees for their services. We want 100% of what our supporters give to go directly to our excavation. Our vender for the past decade, The Foundation of Biblical Archaeology (TFBA) is administering this special campaign and they do not extract fees for such services–simply because they are dedicated to advancing the projects they represent in the most economical way possible. TFBA is a IRS-Approved 501 (C) (3) non-profit and contributions are tax-deductible. All donations are promptly acknowledged and annual statements are provided to donors.

To participate you can go to the link here and give via Paypal or with a Credit/Debit card (add a note that your contribution is for Mt Zion), or you can send a check made out to TFBA/Mt Zion to:

The Mount Zion Excavation Fund
The Foundation for Biblical Archaeology
2175 Dahlonega Highway
Cumming, GA 30040

There can be great strength in numbers and we hope that hundreds of our friends who have dug with us in the past or followed our progress along the way will pitch in and help with whatever amount they decide to give. Please contact me via e-mail with any questions: jdtabor@uncc.edu.

MtZionDig.jpg

Waiting for the Messiahs–One, Two, or Three?

Who are you? Are you the Messiah? Or the Prophet? Or Elijah?

One of the ideas I explore and develop in my 2006 book, The Jesus Dynasty, was the notion of two Messiahs. I had no idea it would become sensational–much less controversial. It actually became headline news, with a cover story in USNews & World Report and special segments on ABC’s Good Morning America, 20/20, and Nightline!

Jews and Christians today have come to focus on the appearance of a single Messiah–a descendant of the lineage of David who is to reign as king in a messianic kingdom over the entire earth. These expectations are based on a dozen or more texts in the Hebrew Prophets that predict the reign of such a future scion of David (Isaiah 11, Micah 5, Jeremiah 23:5-6).

Lucas Cranach John & Jesus

 

One of the Thirteen Principles of the Jewish Faith as formulated by the great Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1135-1204 CE), known by the acronym “the Rambam,” states:

I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though he may delay I will wait daily for his coming.1

The Messiah expected is the Davidic King and this affirmation is sung daily in the Yigdal, a song based on the Ramban’s Thirteen Principles. One of the petitions of the Amidah, which is the heart and soul of Jewish daily prayer, beging: “May the offshoot of Your servant David soon flower.”2

Christians affirm that Jesus of Nazareth, crucified but raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God, is this Davidic Messiah or King and that he will return in glory “with the clouds of heaven” in a Second Coming to establish his reign over all the earth.

SideBar: One question early Christians had to face, in declaring Jesus to be the King Messiah, was who anointed Jesus? Traditionally this was to be done by a Prophet. John the Baptist might be a candidate but we have no record of any such ceremony. Luke has Jesus “anointed of the Spirit,” picking up on Isaiah 61, rather than the traditional anointing with oil. Ebionites declared that Jesus was made “Son of God,” a term used for the Davidic messiahs, at his baptism by the Voice from heaven. But there is another surprising possibility some have suggested–more on that in a future post.

What few realize is that this expectation of a single Davidic Messiah had not so solidified in the time of Jesus. In text after text, in a diverse variety of of expectations reflected in a scattered range of primary texts from the period we read about any number of redemptive figures. In terms of “Messiahs,” what we find most commonly is not one but two Messiahs who are to usher in the Kingdom of God. One is to be a kingly figure of the royal line of David, but at his side will be a priestly figure, also a Messiah, of the lineage of Aaron from the tribe of Levi. The word “messiah” refers to one who is “anointed” or appointed. In ancient Israel both the kings and the priests were anointed with oil and were thus called “Messiahs.”  The verb mashach means to “smear with oil,” and a Moshiach or “Messiah” in English is one so smeared or “anointed” as we say in English. Technically speaking the “first” messiah was Aaron, brother of Moses, anointed with oil by his brother Moses in a formal ceremony that made him the Priest of Israel (Exodus 29:7). The first anointed king was Saul, anointed with oil by the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 10:1). When Saul lost favor with God David was likewise anointed by Samuel as king (1 Samuel 16:13; 2 Samuel 2:4). Both priest and king were accordingly “messiahs” or anointed ones. This means that the notion of two messiahs was the norm in ancient Israel and this norm, of the dual messiahs was, of course, the one that was projected into the future once the nation begin to be dismantled by the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions in the 8th-6th centuries BCE.

Zechariah, the 6th century BC Hebrew prophet, foretold of a man called “the Branch” who would bear royal honor and sit on his throne, but he adds, “There shall be a priest by his throne with peaceful understanding between the two of them” (Zechariah 6:13). Here is a clear picture of the Davidic King and his counselor, the anointed Priest. Zechariah refers in another vision to “two sons of fresh oil” (i.e., “anointed ones” or “messiahs”) who “stand before the Lord of the whole earth.” He likens them in his vision to two “olive branches” that stand before the Menorah, the seven-branched oil lamp that symbolized God’s Spirit and presence (Zechariah 4).

This ideal vision of two messiahs became a model for many Jewish groups that were oriented toward apocalyptic thinking in the 2nd to 1st centuries BC. The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, dating from the 2nd century BC puts things succinctly: “For the Lord will raise up from Levi someone as high priest and from Judah someone as king.” (Testament of Simon 7. 2). Throughout this influential work there is an emphasis that salvation for Israel will come jointly from the tribe of Levi and from the tribe of Judah, the tribe of King David. The Priest Messiah receives more attention than the King Messiah and in many ways he stands superior to the Davidic figure. In fact, the patriarch Judah himself declares, “For to me the Lord gave the kingship and to him the priesthood, and he set the kingship under the priesthood” (Testament of Judah 21:1-2). The book of Jubilees, coming from about the same period, pronounces a perpetual blessing upon Levi as the progenitor of the priests, and Judah as the father of the “prince” who will rule over the Israel and the nations (Jubilees 31). It seems, based on these texts, that the notion of “Two Messiahs” was the ideal structure of Jewish leadership. It is for this reason that the Maccabeans or Hashmoneans, in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, who could claim only the Levitical priestly bloodline, were never really able to effectively establish themselves in the eyes of the populace as “kings,” despite massive political and military power. Ingrained in the Jewish imagination the ideal future in which both a Priest and a King would rule together.

John the Baptizer identified himself as the “messenger” who was to prepare the Way based on a prophecy from the book of Malachi. The version we read in our modern Bibles today is as follows:

“Behold I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming says Yahweh of hosts, but who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” (Malachi 3:1-2).

This translation is based on the standard Hebrew text (Masoretic), the oldest copy of which dates to the 9th century AD. We now have a version of this very passage from Malachi found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This scroll dates to the 1st century BC, so it is a thousand years older than our standard Hebrew text. Notice carefully the differences in the pronouns:

“Therefore behold I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me. And they will suddenly come to his temple, the Lord whom you seek and the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire; behold he himself comes, says Yahweh of hosts, but who can endure them when they come?”3

This ancient version of Malachi has two figures that are to come jointly—a messenger of the covenant who prepares the Way, but also one called “the Lord whom you seek.” The word translated “Lord” (‘adon) is not the Hebrew name for God—Yahweh, but a word that means a “master” or ruler of some type. It may well be that Jesus and John the Baptizer were familiar with this version of Malachi with the plural pronouns, and identified themselves accordingly. This was certainly the understanding of the sectarian community that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In one of the oldest founding documents of the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Community Rule, the community is expecting the coming of a prophet they called the Teacher, but also the “Messiahs of Aaron and Israel.” They imagined a future in which the Priest Messiah would preside over a “Messianic banquet,” with the King Messiah of Israel, whom they call the “Prince of the congregation,” or the “Branch of David,” as his companion. There are many references in the Dead Sea Scrolls to their fervent expectation that these two Messiahs would appear. As important as the “Branch of David” was to be, they nonetheless had the most extravagant hopes for the coming priest. In a text called the Testament of Levi we read the following:

“He will atone for the sons of his generation and he will be sent to all the sons of his people. His word is like a word of heaven and his teaching is according to the will of God. His eternal sun will shine, and his fire will blaze in all the corners of the earth. Then darkness will disappear from the earth and deep darkness from the dry land” (4Q541).

This amazing text seems to match the high view in which Jesus held his teacher John the Baptizer where he says that “among those born of women there is none greater than John” and that he was not just a “prophet” but “much more than a Prophet” (Luke 7:26-30)4 It is the very opposite of the theological overlay that our New Testament gospels in their final edited forms project in their effort to make Jesus greater than John. It certainly supports the historical probability that Jesus did view John as his teacher as well as the priestly Messiah of Aaron of whom the prophets had spoken. For those reasons Jesus would have deferred to John’s leadership and direction, a point completely lost in our gospels other than in the collection of Jesus’ earliest teachings that many scholars call Q.

The Dead Sea Scroll community waited a long time for the fulfillment of these central expectations. They had retreated to the Judean desert sometime in the 2nd century BC in response to the prophetic Voice they heard through the prophecies of Isaiah, Daniel, and Malachi. They became convinced that “this was the time” of the preparation of “the Way.” They were the community of the “Last Days” responding to Isaiah’s call to prepare the Way in the desert (Isaiah 40:3). Sometime in the 1st century BCE an influential figure arose among them who had great spiritual and interpretive gifts. They refer to him in the Scrolls as the “Teacher of Righteousness.” We don’t know his name but many events of his life, and even some of his writings, are preserved in the Scrolls. Michael Wise’s wonderful treatment of both the leader and the group, with the provocative title, The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Christ is one I highly recommend. The community saw him as a type of “Prophet like Moses” who had called them into a “new covenant.” They viewed themselves as a remnant group of faithful Israelites who had turned from their sins and separated themselves from the ungodly society around them. They considered the religious establishment of their day, whether Pharisee or Sadducee, to be hopelessly corrupt and compromised. They lived by the strictest interpretation of the laws of the Torah and firmly believed they were living in the “last days.” They believed that their Teacher had given them the definitive inspired interpretation of all the secrets of their prophetic writings.

When their teacher was killed, probably sometime in the mid-1st century BCE, they were convinced the final countdown had begun and that the two Messiahs would soon appear. There are some texts that speak of a final period of “forty years,” following the death of their Teacher. The forty years passed but there is no record in any of the Dead Sea Scrolls that the two Messiahs ever appeared. It was as if all their hopes and expectations were stopped in time and put on hold. For more on these disappointed hopes see my paper “Dead Messiahs Who Don’t Return“). A small group of their community still lived at the settlement we know as Qumran in the 1st century CE, and if they are indeed the people we know as the Essenes, they were scattered in communities all through the land of Palestine. They did not die out despite the failure of their original expectations. It is likely that they were partly responsible for keeping alive the hope of the coming of the two Messiahs.

Given these deeply rooted hopes and expectations among these Messianic Jews one can scarcely imagine the excitement and fervor that John the Baptist and Jesus would have stirred as they prepared their next moves in the spring of 27 CE. John as a priest from the tribe of Levi and Jesus as a descendant of David from the tribe of Judah must have stirred the hopes of thousands who had come to expect the arrival of the two Messiahs as a sure sign of the end. Even Herod Antipas soon felt the sting of John the Baptizers’ blistering message of repentance. Christians are prone to imagine a “meek and lowly” Jesus who seldom raised his voice but the evidence will show that he learned well from his teacher and that like John the Baptizer, Jesus’ radical message divided households and villages and shook the religious and political establishment.

I have prepared a special handout titled “Two Messiahs-The Evidence,” for classes and lectures that pulls together all the primary sources and fills out more details.  You are welcome to download this, print it out, and use it for your own study.


  1. The Koren Siddur, trans. and commentary by Rabbi Sir JonathanSacks, p. 204 

  2. The Shemoneh Esreh, The Koren Siddur, p. 124 

  3. See Martin Abegg, Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), p. 477. 

  4. In my view the qualification “but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John,” is a later gloss by gospel editors, shocked by the implications that Jesus was here putting John even ahead of himself.