Although there were various major religions in the ancient world, it remained for the small and despised Jewish nation to cradle the Essene cult, which would create an ideology capable of conquering the occident" (Martin Larson, The Story of Christian Origins, p. 195). This was possible because the Jews were dedicated to religion in a manner elsewhere unknown. Among other people, dependence upon the supernatural was only a single phase of life: but the Jews considered themselves the chosen of Yahweh and attributed to Him their every victory, defeat, or chastisement. If historical religion may be defined as a system of beliefs, doctrines, or rituals designed to please or placate the unseen powers, then the Jews were religious par excellence.
"Philostratus, agreeing with classical writers generally, declares that "the Jews have long been in revolt not only against the Romans but against humanity"; and that they are "a race . . . apart and irreconcilable" (Life of Apollonius of Tyana, V, xxxiii). This separation stemmed from, and then intensified, the Jewish faith. At least half a dozen times in three thousand years, their annihilation has been decreed; and it was partially executed by Sennacherib of Assyria, Ahasuerus (Artaxerses?) of Babylon, Antiochus Epiphanes, Titus, Hadrian, the Inquisition, and Hitler. It was experiences such as these which enabled the Hebrew genius to create a savior-cult which could defeat all others" (Ibid.).
The cherished records of the Jews amply reveal their own aspirations. The doctrine is repeated ad infinitum:
No other people has ever been so conscious of ultimate primacy through supernatural intervention. This has given them cohesion and courage to persevere in the face of persecution and decimation. The conviction that every Jew will one day share in his divine destiny as a member of the world's ruling race has made him proud and has enabled him to survive unassimilated among the nations of the earth. At the Passover meal, Jews still place wine upon their tables and leave their doors ajar, so that Elijah, who is to precede the Messiah, may enter and drink; and then they repeat this devout prayer: "May the Merciful One cause us to inherit a day which is all good. May the Merciful One permit us to live unto the days of the Messiah!" (The Haggadah of Passover).
What is important for our understanding is that in the face of such continued persecution and decimation by the non-Jewish nations of the world, the Jewish people, motivated by faith in the revelation of God at Sinai and before, looked to the fulfillment of the promises made to them by God and saw that such fulfillment was possible ultimately through Divine intervention and this was to be in the form of an "anointed" one sent from God himself. Such was their hope; their "Messianic hope." This Jewish Messianic had arisen even earlier than the Zoroastrian and was original with the Jews. What again is important for our study is that this "Jewish Messianic hope" was fundamentally different from the Persian; at least in the beginning. What we find, however, is that in the New Testament we have a "fusion" of both the Persian Messianic concept with the Jewish concept of this "anointed one." Without study and familiarity with the documents of both nations then it is impossible to read the New Testament and tell the difference between them.
But yet it is still not that simple. If one begins with Osiris, the Egyptian "soter" and savior, and begins a "chronological" study of Egyptian religious religious beliefs and how they were later assimilated and adapted by each succeeding nation who conquered or was influenced by the former nation, then one sees unmistakenly a "pattern" developing which will influence the subsequent religions of the non-Jewish world. Even the Jews, inspite of their "unique revelation" at Sinai, would be heavily influenced at times by these "world-religions" and the record of the Old Testament records how certain Kings did "good in the sight of the LORD" and how others "did evil in the sight of the LORD." Some kings led the nation of Israel into pagan worship while others caused the nation to repent of such evil. These "evils" of which we speak are nothing more than pagan religious worship which had been passed down since Egypt and adapted by each succeeding Gentile nation. For our study what is important to note is that these same "religious beliefs" as held by Israel's kings which "did evil in the sight of the LORD" will be found to be the core beliefs of the Essenes of Jesus' day! As if that was not enough, many of these Essene, or proto-Christian, beliefs will be found in the New Testament
If one wants to fully understand the "Messianic concept" in the New Testament then one must familiarize himself with Egyptian religion and how these religious beliefs were later assimilated and adapted by each succeeding Gentile nation throughout the history of mankind. If one undertakes such a study, as I did, then one sees a "pattern" developing in each successive Gentile nation which conquers another, or which is influenced by another though commerce and trade as the religions traveled from nation to nation through trade routes. One sees each successive nation assimilating portions of the previous nation's religious beliefs and fusing them with their own into a new amalgamation. If one begins with sun-worship, the earliest religion of mankind, and traces sun-worship in its various stages and manifestations through each succeeding nation throughout the history of mankind, then one sees the repetition of this "pattern" of worship through the history of mankind. If one begins with Egypt and Osiris, then this "pattern" can be seen reproduced in its entirety, or in part, in the subsequent Gentile nations and their religious beliefs; from Adonis, Aphrodite, Dionysus, Attis, Cybele, Demeter, Persephone, Orpheus, Zoroastrianism, Brahmanism, Buddhism, Pythagoreanism, Isis, Serapis, Mithra, etc. What will amaze the student is that the culmination of this "religious synthesis" can be found in Judaism as well, in particular the Essenes. This is of major importance when one understand that it is through Essenism that we have the New Testament today with its many "religious beliefs" which millions believe today to be "Divine and unique revelation from God in Heaven" when a little study will show that is is nothing more than Osiris re-invented. This makes it all the more important for a child of God, when reading the New Testament, to be able to discern the "truth from the fiction" for we are commanded to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. It would be a shame of unbelievable proportion to end our lives and before God hear that we have, like the prior Kings of Israel, "did evil in the sight of the LORD" because we worshiped like the pagans and never knew it because we accepted the New Testament without question or investigation as to if what is recorded there can be verified to be "truthful."
The ancient Jews never found it necessary to master the art of war. Yahweh would do everything for them and protect them from harm: at the command of Joshua, the sun stood still; at the sound of trumpets, the walls of Jericho fell; under the outstretched hand of Moses the waters of the Red Sea parted. As long as the Israelites were obedient to Yahweh, all was well; but when the people worshiped strange gods, Yahweh turned His face away, rain ceased to fall, pests devastated their fields, enemies defeated them, and universal desolation ensued. The Assyrians and the Babylonians were simply the instruments by which God chastised His disobedient children. Even though Yahweh would never destroy the Jewish race utterly, He would, because of their disobedience, visit upon them every punishment, including humiliation, captivity, slavery, poverty, dispersion, persecution, and reduction to a despised remnant. So thundered the Yahweh prophets. It was indeed a Judaeo-centric world.
Believe it or not the Egyptians had at one time their own prototype of Yahweh. Many today believe that the Jews obtained their concept of Yahweh from Egypt: indeed nothing could have been more natural. For we know that a great Egyptian school of philosophic theology flourished under Amenhotep IV, known as Ikhnaton; and that this gave to monotheism its first full expression. The abortive revolution of this young Pharaoh, who came to the throne in 1375 B.C.E. as a very young man and who died only seventeen years later, was overthrown at his death by the reactionary priests of Amen in coalition with the wealthy and imperialist elements of the nation. The Egypt priests of Amon rejected his grandiose and humanitarian principles, yet Ikhnaton's beliefs they were, we believe, absorbed in part by the Jews as later seen in their writings.
The conception of the sun-god had arisen during the reign of Amenhotep III, father of Ikhnaton. Egypt had just established a great and stable empire; and men had begun to think in universal terms. Amenhotep IV proclaimed himself the high priest of Aton, who was, however, something far more than the material sun and whose symbol was "a disk from which diverging rays radiated downward, each ray terminating in a human hand" (Ency. Brit., 12:77). It was as if the creator were clasping his children, all the inhabitants of the earth, in His protecting power. The plural "gods" and the name Amen were expunged from all public monuments; and Aton was proclaimed the benevolent father of all mankind, no matter of what speech, race, or color. He was the creator of the natural world and was "actively concerned for the daily maintenance of all his creatures, even the meanest" (Ibid.).
Ikhnaton and his religious campaign in Egypt was a profound revolution of sorts. Ikhnaton's monotheistic religion actually entailed a profound revolution among the Egyptian religious establishment. It called for a "naturalism" in art and living which attempted to throw off at a single stroke the traditions of two thousand years. Ikhnaton freed the slaves and released the convicts from the prison mines; he confiscated the huge landed estates of the Amen priesthood and gave them to the peasant-serfs in the form of freeholds; he attempted to establish schools, wherein all were to learn to read and write. And this was to be only the beginning.
One must understand what such actions had on the Osirian-Amenite priesthood who, up to Ikhnaton's time, lived in wealth, luxury, power, and ease; they were in possession of huge and magnificent temples, great treasure houses, and enormous influence among all classes of the people. Imagine, then, their frenzied rage when the new Pharaoh decreed the division of their lands, the confiscation of their wealth, the revocation of their income, and the dissolution of their order.
Ikhnaton attempted to banish the worship of Isis, Osiris, and Horns by discrediting the eschatology of their faith, which, as we have seen, was its central article and which, as it turned out, the people loved more than secular well-being.
Furthermore, Ikhnaton's program called for the dissolution of the Empire. If God is the universal father who loves all His creatures equally, irrespective of speech, color, or nationality, how can it be just for one nation to send soldiers to kill and oppress, and to collect tribute from another? As a result of this philosophy, the imperial armies received scant appropriations, and the empire withered away.
It is also natural that the beneficent principles of Ikhnaton should have taken some root among the Israelites who had been reduced to slave-laborers; and even more likely that various Egyptians of noble ideals continued to cherish his doctrines. What is again important for our understanding is that Ikhnaton lived just before Moses and Moses would have been influenced by Ikhnaton's history and legacy. It is likely that Moses was a royal Egyptian who, banished and ostracized from his own country, found in the Jews a people whose leader, lawgiver, and emancipator he could become.
But the Jews were not only to accept Ikhnaton's God; they were to alter him. It was natural enough that the Israelites should reconstruct the god of Ikhnaton according to their own needs. He remained the God of all the earth, but not equally of all men. Ikhnaton's [Akhenation] god was the Creator, more powerful than other gods; but the children of Jacob alone were to become His chosen race. He was infinitely ardent concerning Hebrew welfare, but indifferent to that of the Gentiles. The Chosen People were to bind themselves together by bonds of mutual solidarity, but all others they might deceive and exploit at will. To another Hebrew who was "waxen poor," monies must be loaned without interest; but "unto a stranger mayest thou lend upon usury" (Lev. 25:35-36). Aton was the father of all living creatures and he cared for all alike; but when Yahweh commanded, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," this was intended to apply only to "the children of their people'' (Lev. 19:18). After the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, the Jew continued no less conscious of his magnificent destiny, which caused the fervent author of Fourth Esdras to exclaim: "as for the rest of the nations which are sprung from Adam, you have said that they are nothing and are like spittle.... And now, Lord, behold, these nations . . . rule over us and devour us. But we, your people, whom you called your first-born, only-begotten, chosen, and beloved, are delivered into their hands. If it was for our sakes that the world was created, why do we not possess it as our inheritance?"
It is important we get a clear picture of the religious beliefs of the Jews at this time period of their history. In one respect, however, Judaism remained the child of its Egyptian parent:
Inspired by a great leader who organized their escape, the Jews later attributed to him their Law, which differs from other ancient codes principally by certain distinctive customs and by its great emphasis upon the worship of Yahweh. Many of its features, however, were reminiscent of Ikhnaton. For example, all debts were to be canceled and all Hebrew slaves freed in the sabbatical year (Deut. 15:12); no usury was to be exacted from Hebrews; and land was to be returned to the family of the original owner at the close of each jubilee (Lev. 24:12-13). Even though these provisions were never honored, we may believe that the original lawgiver was actuated by such ideals.
Israelite history from David to Bar-Cochba was little else than a series of national disasters perpetrated by the Gentile nations upon the Jews, yet these are of the utmost importance because through these the Jewish race developed characteristics which enabled it to re-create a religion of ultimate renunciation.
The descendants of Jacob burst into Palestine about the beginning of the twelfth century B.C.E., declaring that God had given them the land and had also commanded them to uproot and often wipe-out its inhabitants. Not only had they persuaded themselves that they were justified in robbing, killing, and expropriating: to them it was impious to refrain from so doing. And so the Jews lived precariously in the midst of Philistines, Canaanites, Ammonites, Moabites, Amalekites, Jebusites, and Edomites, virtually in state of perpetual warfare.
David finally gave his people a brief period of peace, glory, and national unity under a people's government; and the outward tranquillity continued under Solomon, the most crafty, splendid, and opportunistic king ever to rule over Israel. He had a sporting house of seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines; he imposed crushing tax-burdens throughout the empire; every social injustice began to flourish; and he built many altars to heathen gods.
Israel Kingdom would be divided because of Solomon's false worship. At his death, the submerged resentment flared above the surface. The Ten Tribes sent Jeroboam to plead with Rehoboam, the heir of Solomon, for a reduction in their taxes. But Rehoboam "answered the people roughly ... and spoke.... My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions'' (I Kings, 12:13-14). As a result, the nation divided into the northern kingdom of Israel, comprising the Ten Tribes with their capital at Samaria, and the smaller southern state, including only Judah and Benjamin, with headquarters at Jerusalem. From that day forward, there was almost continuous war between these two divisions of the descendants of Jacob (I Kings, 15:16, 32), and each was constantly making alliances with heathen nations against the other. This continued until the destruction and disappearance of Israel in 721 B.C.E.
Between 950 and 745 B.C.E., both Judah and Israel paid constant tribute to Egypt, Syria, or Assyria; and both Judah and Israel suffered invasions from Gentile nations who brought their gods with them and exerted religious influence upon the Israelites; wars, lootings, and destruction so many times and to such a degree that one becomes sick at heart merely in perusing the sanguinary record. There was a major catastrophe in almost every decade. The Assyrians laid siege to and captured Damascus in 742 B.C.E., carried away many into captivity, scattered them through Media and Mesopotamia, and replaced them with Assyrians. The Israelites, nevertheless, refused to humble themselves; Shalmaneser and Sargon II therefore besieged Samaria, 724-721 B.C.E.; and, after a fearful struggle, captured King Hoshea, utterly destroyed the city, and resettled the population in Media. Thus ended the kingdom of Israel; the Ten Tribes were scattered and forever lost. They intermarried with their new neighbors, forgot their ancestor Jacob, and disappeared from the stage of history. In the villages and the countryside of Galilee, however, some of the Chosen People continued for centuries; and it was from these that Jesus and His disciples were born.
Judah was to be submitted to Assyrian and Egyptian domination and religious influence. Judah, the sole organized remnant of Yahweh's people after 720 B.C.E., escaped extinction through abject submission and the payment of heavy and constant tribute to Assyria. About 607 B.C.E. Pharaoh Necho invaded Judah and slew the "good" King Josiah at the battle of Megiddo, put upon the throne his puppet-son, Jehoiakim, and required ruinous tribute.
Judah was to be submitted to Babylonian domination and religious influence. When the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at the decisive battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C.E., the Jews fell prey to a new empire. Nebuchadnezzar reduced Jerusalem and exacted heavy tribute. At the end of three years, in 598 B.C.E., the Jews rebelled; Nebuchadnezzar took the capital a second time, looted the treasure houses, and carried away several thousand captives. When the puppet-king Zedekiah revolted ten years later, the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. took the city, razed not only the Temple but the city generally and carried away the whole population, except a remnant who were left to till the soil as peasants. This was and remains the most overwhelming catastrophe in Jewish history.
Judah was to be submitted to Persian domination and religious influence. After the return from Babylon, the Jews continued in subservience to the Persians, whose religion they began to absorb.
Judah was to be submitted to Grecian domination and religious influence. When the Greeks arrived in 333 B.C.E., tribute was paid to them; when the Seleucidae were established at Antioch about 313 B.C.E., the Jews became at times their tributaries and at intervals groaned under the heel of the Egyptian Ptolemies. It is important for our understanding to note that "Ptolemies" is a term which refers to one of Alexander the Great's generals who acquired part of Alexander's lands upon his death; the name of this Greek general was Ptolemy.
And now a new threat to Judaism appeared, different from any that had preceded, but certainly no less potent. This was Greek culture, which penetrated and conquered almost everywhere. And perhaps it was only an accident that it was not victorious among the Jews also; for we learn from the First Book of the Maccabees that a great many Jews had begun to despise their own Law, and we know that Hebrew Hellenization was proceeding apace.
In 175 B.C.E., the eighth Seleucid king, the fanatical Antiochus IV Epiphanes, came to the throne. In 167 B.C.E., he took Jerusalem, looted and desecrated the Temple, established the Dionysiac-Eleusinian sacrifice there for three years, and systematically depopulated the city of all Jews who rejected Hellenic culture. This aroused the faithful more against their own apostates than against the foreign foe; and the Maccabaean wars, which resulted, continued with almost unabated fury for thirty years, when victory, peace, and unity, finally established under Simon in 142 B.C.E., gave the nation its second brief interval of independence.
Judah was to be submitted to Hasmonean political and religious control.
But the Hasmoneans were not the answer for Israel. Secularization under the Hasmoneans was just as damaging as had been the exposure to the prior Gentile cultures and religions. When the Maccabees began their revolt, they were imbued with a strong religious and crusading fervor. But as they succeeded beyond the expectation or aims of the pietistic Chasidim, who gave impetus to Mattathias and his five sons, known as the Hasmoneans, their government became more materialistic and political, and no longer coincided with the interests of the Pharisees, who had, in the meanwhile, developed from the Chasidim.
It was during the reign of John Hyrcanus, 134-104, that a profound change occurred. Quite suddenly, about 109 B.C.E., John Hyrcanus shifted allegiance from the party of the Pharisees to that of the Sadducees. This must have reflected the cooling of the Hasmonean fervor for Yahweh in favor of material progress. At all events, in spite of Pharisaic popularity (Josephus, Antiquities, XIII, xv, 5), the new development reached its climax under Alexander Jannaeus, 103-76 B.C.E. So bitter was the struggle between the rich and secularist Sadducees on the one hand and the primarily pietistic Pharisees on the other that the strife so engendered resulted in acts of unbelievable barbarism: "Alexander . . . ordered eight hundred [Pharisees] to be hung upon crosses in the midst of the city: he had the throats of their wives and children cut before their eyes; and these executions he saw as he was drinking and lying down with his concubines" (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, I, iv, 6). Such were the atrocities committed by the Jews upon each other only a few years after they had been freed from Syrian tyranny.
Judah was to be submitted to Roman political and religious control.
Shortly after the death of Alexander Jannaeus, we find his two sons, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, rivals not only for the throne of Judah but also for the favor of Pompey; but when Aristobulus, first favored by the Roman, dealt doubly with him, Pompey entered Jerusalem in 63 B.C., plundered the Temple, and desecrated the Holy of Holies. Thus ended the brief Hasmonean dynasty and the Jews became tributaries of Rome.
We must begin with the past. Successive invasions and indoctrinations and influences by pagan nations which used Israel not only as a land bridge from west to east, and east to west, as well as wars fought on their soil, as well as commerce and trade routes from the east to the west, and west to the east, made Israel a "melting-pot" of religious ideas and beliefs. With all the foreign domination and persecution the Jewish cup of sorrow now ran over; and the Messianic utterances of many centuries became the principal element in the national consciousness. No longer could the fervent hopes of Israel be limited to silent yearning or prophetic announcements. Israel needed to be delivered no less than when their forefathers were slaves in Egypt. The land of Israel was a boiling cauldron of Messianic expectation, and many were daily awaiting the Son of Man arriving upon the clouds and surrounded by myriads of angels, coming to establish the "everlasting kingdom."
In 37 B.C.E., Herod the Great came to the throne and ruled for thirty-three years. In the eyes of the Hebrew, he was "persona non grata" partly because he was half Idumean and only half Jew, and even more because he ruled by the grace of the Roman overlord. But he suppressed the universal robbers, maintained tranquillity, and rebuilt the Temple on lines exceeding the magnificence of Solomon. However, at his death, in 4 B.C.E., open disturbances again erupted. Josephus declares that "Judaea was full of robberies: and, whenever the several companies of the seditious found any one to lead them, he was created a king immediately. . . . Varus . . . crucified on this account two thousand" (Antiquities, VXII, x, 8-10).
In 7 A.D. Judas the Gaulonite, the originator of the fourth Jewish sect known as the Zealots, "whose doctrines infected the nation to an incredible degree"(Ibid., XVIII, i, 1), led an insurrection, which was crushed. But his movement only went underground. About 44 A.D., came a number of "such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretense of divine inspiration"(Wars, II, xiii, 4), including one Theudas the Egyptian, who led thousands into the wilderness and who was expected to march straight through the Jordan dry shod after the manner of Joshua (Antiquities, XX, v, 1). But these uprisings were drowned in Jewish blood.
Israel was on the verge of revolt against Rome due to the persecutions, heavy taxation, and horrible crucifixions carried out almost daily. Palestine was filled with robbers, and no man's life was secure. Any wide-eyed seditionist could procure a following through extravagant promises. The activities of the Zealots were supplemented by those of the Sicarii, a secret society of assassins who mingled with the multitude in the crowded streets especially during feast and holy days, and struck down their victims with daggers. The High Priest Jonathan was one of the first to fall. Life had become a species of universal terrorism (Wars, II, xiii, 3).
Josephus describes a succession of greedy and unscrupulous Roman procurators, of whom Florus was the worst; he licensed bandits to steal, murder, and plunder, on condition that he receive a share of the loot (Ibid., II, xiv, 2). Tension continued to mount, and, in 66 A.D., it could no longer be suppressed. The sorrow of the Jews approached a crescendo; like a tragedy of terrifying immensity, striding toward its denouement, came the war with Rome. As Tacitus observes (History, V, 10), Roman indignation was aroused since the Jews alone were rebellious. In due course, Vespasian reduced Galilee, marched into Judaea, and laid siege to Jerusalem, overflowing with its Passover throngs. Called away to accept the royal purple in Rome, he left his son Titus to prosecute the siege, in which three claimants to the Messiahship, John of Gischala, Eleazor the Zealot, and Simon of Gioras, conducted a triple war: first, against the rich Jews; second, against each other; and, third, against the Romans.
Civil war was inevitable for the Jews were divided. The narrative of Josephus reveals the social content of the conflict as well as the mutual ferocity of the Jewish leaders. Each Jewish sect and their respective religious leaders based their uncompromising hatred on the fact that each was certain of divine election and feared no human opposition. The three generals were leaders of various outlaw elements, all of whom took exquisite delight in murdering wealthy Jews. The enmity they exhibited toward the prosperous could have been born only of the fiercest ideological antagonism. Any Jew of means who so much as looked sorrowful when his dearest ones were murdered was himself put to the sword and his possessions were confiscated.
At the outset of the revolt, conservative Jews sent both to Agrippa (Jewish puppet king) and to Florus for help in suppressing the revolutionaries (Wars, II, xvii, 4) but they "set fire to the house of Ananias, the high-priest, and to the palace of Agrippa and Berenice; after which they carried the fire to the place where the archives were deposited, and made haste to burn the contracts belonging to their creditors, and thereby to dissolve their obligations for paying their debts; and this was done to gain the multitude of those who had been debtors and that they might persuade the poorer sort to join in their insurrection with safety against the more wealthy."
Again and again Titus offered generous terms for capitulation, which were scornfully rejected by men hourly awaiting the apocalyptic Messiah. Instead of uniting in a common defense, the warring factions within the city burned each other's food supplies, and so brought on a famine in which cow's dung became a delicacy and mothers cooked and devoured their infant children.
The Jews defended themselves behind their triple wall for nearly eight months; but in the end their courage was unavailing. Titus burned the Temple and the Cloisters, demolished the Antonia, and, in general, destroyed the city. According to Josephus, nearly 1,350,000 Jews were killed, or died of starvation, and several hundred thousand more were carried away into captivity or sold into slavery.
Thus perished the Jewish state: but not utterly or finally. In 132 A.D., under Hadrian, Bar Cochba, declared by the Rabbi Akiba to be the Star of Jacob, foretold in Numbers 24:17, began the final revolt of the Jews against the Roman power. The bitter war continued for three years, after which Jerusalem was razed and Jews forbidden to approach the site again.
From Solomon to Bar-Cochba more than ten centuries elapsed; during this immense period, the Jewish state enjoyed peace, unity, internal tranquillity, and independence less than a total of fifty years. In one millennium, Jerusalem was taken, looted, or destroyed twenty times; and it was saved from the same fate on many other occasions by abject surrender and heavy tribute. Had the kingdom of Israel not split about 975 B.C.E., had there been less enmity between them and their neighbors, had the Hebrews been able to live in harmony with themselves, and had they not looked so entirely to Yahweh for aid, they could have enjoyed centuries of prosperity, tranquillity, and independence. But then there would have been no apocalyptists, and there would never have been a New Testament.
The cult of Yahweh was proclaimed over a millennium from Samuel through Zechariah and Malachi by a succession of prophets who claimed divine inspiration, declaimed against social injustice, and proclaimed the inevitable supremacy of Israel or Judah. The triumph of this movement, consummated about 450 B.C.E., is of definite importance in the study of Christianity, because Jesus considered himself in direct line with these prophets and because substantial elements of his teaching seem closely in accord with theirs.
The Jews were not easily unified under the novel monotheism of Moses. For centuries they Jews were deeply contaminated by the neighboring cults, which were those common to the Semitic world. The prophets thundered against this debasement of the Yahweh worship, which even so became triumphant only after making enormous concessions to heathen rituals.
The Prophets were the hope of Israel, but few heeded their Divine words. In the books of Samuel, we first begin hearing a good deal about the prophets. Exactly who they were or what was their economic base remain obscure problems; but that they were poor and crude, hysterical and fanatical, and, at times, numerous and influential, is certain (I Sam. 19:20-24). According to Isaiah 20:2, they were clad in rough raiment or went "naked and barefoot." They spoke for the humble, the oppressed, the exploited, the outcast, as did the Buddhists of India; they hated the prosperous, the proud, the powerful. In fact, they may have been roving bands of robbers, from whom David recruited his following: "every one that was in distress and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became captain over them" (I Sam. 22:2).
We gain a vivid view of the prophets from I Samuel 19:20-24. The devotees of Yahweh were pariahs and malcontents who conducted frenzied religious rites known as prophesying. It was they who overthrew the judges, who anointed Saul, and who, when he became reactionary, replaced him with David. During peace and prosperity, they were driven back into their caves; but during periods of enslavement, captivity, and degradation they came into their own. For then the people listened to their fulminations against the rich and the wicked, and believed that their misfortunes resulted from disobedience to Yahweh. Ezekiel 6:9 declares that in captivity will Judah return to the Lord: and Jeremiah states (Lam. 1:7) that in the days of her affliction will Jerusalem remember.
David drew his initial strength from these fanatics and outlaws; and the chief "prophets," who were their leaders, held a quasi-legal status throughout his reign. Such men as Gad and Nathan continued to denounce him whenever he strayed from strict obedience to Yahweh and they relayed to him the threats and promises of the deity. With the advent of Solomon, however, the conservatives resumed power, and the Israelites returned to the immemorial worship of the agricultural god Baal and to that of the great Ashtoreth, Queen of Heaven.
When the next great battle for Yahweh occurs, the scene has shifted northward from Judah and Jerusalem to Israel and Samaria. The leader of the Yahweh cult was Elijah, "an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins" (II Kings 1:8). We are told (I Kings 18:19 ff) that the wicked Queen Jezebel had 450 prophets of Baal and 400 of the grove, or Ashtoreth, who ate at her table, and that Elijah was the sole remaining prophet of the Lord (I Kings 18:22). Nor were conditions much better in Judah, for, concerning Manasseh, we read that "he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel.... And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord" (II Kings 21:3-6). It is clear that the priesthoods of Baal and Ashtoreth converted Solomon's Temple to their own use for centuries. Idolatry in Judah was nearly, but not quite, complete, down to about 700 B.C.E. And in the kingdom of Israel, conditions were even more deplorable; for there the worship of Yahweh had never really taken any root at all. That was the reason the Ten Tribes disintegrated and were lost when Tiglath-Pileser III and Sargon II carried them into captivity in 742 and 721 B.C.E.. They had never become deeply conscious of being the Lord's especial and chosen people.
It is however reasonable to believe that the destruction of the Ten Tribes exercised a powerful emotional influence upon Judah. For Hezekiah, who came to the throne in 726 B.C.E., with the ruin of Samaria before his eyes and with Sennacherib's army at his gates about 704 B.C.E., not only humbled himself before Assyria and paid enormous tribute (II Kings 18:14-16), but he also "removed the high places, and broke down the images, and cut down the groves.... He trusted in the Lord God of Israel" (II Kings 18:4-5).
Here was a tremendous event in the history of the Jews; at last and for the first time, about 700 B.C.E., the worship of Yahweh was officially and publicly triumphant in Jerusalem. However, that worship was neither pure nor undefiled; for Jeremiah (Jer. 7: 21-23) other prophets (Hos. 6:6; 8:13; 9:4; Micah 6:6-8) declaimed against the iniquity of blood sacrifices borrowed from the heathen. Isaiah, 1:11, exclaimed indignantly: "I am full of the blood offerings of rams.... I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats." The prophets continued to denounce the kings and the official priesthood with a ferocity similar to that once employed against the Baalim.
The Old Testament contains at least forty passages in which the Yahweh prophets denounce the temple groves of Ashtoreth (Ishtar) with their sacred prostitution; and it is obvious that the Israelites celebrated her ritual almost universally until the middle of the seventh century. It was her universal worship that Hezekiah removed when he "cut down the groves," and which his son Manasseh restored. It was because of this prostitution that the Mosaic Law specifically outlawed harlots and excluded money earned by them from the Temple (Deut. 23:18).
As soon as the priests of Yahweh seized control of the Temple ritual, they set out to consolidate their position. This required the commitment of their history, ceremonials, and sacerdotal law to writing. Thus it was that about 630 B.C.E. "Hilkiah the high priest . . . found the book of the law in the house of the Lord" (II Kings 22:8; II Chron. 34:3-7; 14; 21). Its complete novelty was emphasized by King Josiah when he heard its words read by Shaphan, because "he rent his clothes" (II Kings 22:11). The reaction of Jeremiah (Jer. 8:8), however, was quite different; for he made clear his conviction that the document of Hilkiah was a forgery from "the false pen of the scribes," or at least a corruption of the Mosaic Law. Nevertheless, all the vestiges of idolatry remaining from the days of Hezekiah were now destroyed by Josiah, who "brake in pieces and made dust of" the molten images (II Chron. 34:4-5).
From that day forward, the authority of the Mosaic Law was supreme among the Jews, whose unity was consolidated during the Babylonian captivity. Despite the Diaspora they remained thenceforth a separate race. Empires rose and fell, civilizations came and went, but the Jew continued his changeless way.
It was not until well after the return from the Captivity and the rebuilding of the Temple that the scriptures assumed their definitive form around 450 B.C.E. We are told that Ezra, or Esdras, was sent from Babylon to be governor of Jerusalem (Ezra 7:6 ff); much of the work of writing, assembling, and editing the sacred writings must be attributed to him.
When the Jews returned to Palestine about 545 B.C.E., they established a theocracy, or prieststate. Judah was from that time on as much a church as a nation.
The story of Ezra's horror at the intermarriage of the Hebrews with the neighboring heathen is related in Ezra 9, and is told in the apocryphal First Book of Esdras. Whereas in the days preceding the Captivity, the greatest crimes had been idolatry and social injustice, now we find that violation of racial purity had become the most heinous of all offenses. This was another great milestone in Jewish progress toward ultimate isolation.
When the Mosaic Law at last became the law of life, prophecy was forbidden. The new priesthood, with their symbols, their scrolls, their learned jargon, their ephods, their special costumes, their goodly incomes, their authority and power, their altars and their Temple, made short shrift of independent prophets claiming divine inspiration. The priests now possessed the Written Word, attributed to Moses himself: and this was to be the sole and final authority to be interpreted by the established priesthood and by none other. Prophecy was no longer to be tolerated: "When any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of the Lord; and his father and his mother . . . shall thrust him through when he prophesieth . . . neither shall they wear a rough garment to deceive" (Zech. 13:3-4).
This was the culminating act by which the religion of Yahweh was congealed into its final form. The prophets made prophecy a mortal offense.
Once it was established that prophecy was blasphemy, Jewish dissidents were forced into a novel expedient: in order to promulgate their ideology, they presented it as the vision of some ancient Hebrew. Such literature is known as the pseudepigrapha because the purported author had long been dead, and it commonly took the form of the apocalypse.
We must recognize revolt among the Israelites as of decisive importance because it is inextricably intertwined and inseparable with the Messianic hope as depicted in the Jewish writings as well as the New Testament. Out of constant strife, frequent defeat, and constant frustration germinated their Messianic aspirations, which were their peculiar contribution to Christian ideology.
Up to now we have dealt with oppression from without as the catalyst for the cries of the people for deliverance and a Messianic deliverer. Now we must look within the nation itself; to the very people and their divisiveness that fostered cries for their salvation from themselves.
The religion of Yahweh proclaimed the brotherhood of all Israelites; but this idea, which appealed to all during periods of universal slavery, became instead a divisive force when they were organized as an independent state. For, as such, they soon developed antagonistic social classes; and with the normal operation of these, the equalitarianism of the Yahweh prophets was incompatible. An irreconcilable struggle therefore developed and continued to the very end of the nation's existence. When successful Jews could exploit no one except others of their own race, the bond of solidarity was broken; as a result, there was always a revolutionary movement, until all were scattered in the Diaspora. Jesus considered himself one in the line of these revolutionary prophets; and had it not been for this long tradition of social revolt, the ministry of Jesus could never have developed in Galilee and Judaea.
The Jews began to oppress their brothers. About 880 B.C.E., Jehu, aided and abetted by Elijah and Elisha, led a revolt against the landowners in the northern or Samarian division of Israel. Ahab and his aggressive Baal-worshiping wife, Jezebel, had been dispossessing the small operators of their freeholds, which they consolidated into large estates. Such prophets as Amos, Joel, and Micah thundered against the injustice of this development. Micah declared that they "eat the flesh of my people and flay their skin from off them.... They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem shall become heaps" (Micah 3:3-12).
After the second capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 598 B.C.E. the Jews, in sudden burst of piety, set free their slaves in accordance with the provision of the recently published Mosaic Law; however, the masters immediately repossessed their servants (Jer. 34:8-12). This enormity elicited a fierce denunciation from Jeremiah in which he declared that because of this iniquity, the Lord would "proclaim a liberty for you . . . to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine; and I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth" (Ibid., 13-17).
As we have seen, usury from Hebrews was strictly forbidden by the Mosaic Law. Jeremiah righteously avers, 15:10, that he neither gave nor accepted usury; but Ezekiel, 22:15, declares that God will scatter and destroy Israel for their many mortal sins, among which was this, At: that "thou hast taken usury and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbors by extortion, and hast forgotten me, saith the Lord."
Let me also mention that the permanent enslavement of Hebrews by Hebrews was a common practice even after the revolt of Bar Cochba (Bosker, Wisdom of the Talmud, p. 72). It is somewhat disconcerting to learn that when they returned from the Babylonian captivity, they carried with them 7,337 Hebrew slaves (Ezra 2:65). No wonder the prophets were unpopular among the wealthy Jews. And we know from the edict of Gregory the Great that, at the end of the sixth century, the Jews were still holding their brethren in slavery, because this prelate was constantly attempting to entice these bondmen to Christianity by offering them their freedom in return for apostasy from the faith of their fathers.
The sayings of Jesus are replete with echoes and quotations from the Psalms and the prophets. Although his social and ethical doctrines were in reality those of Buddha and Pythagoras, he thought of himself with some justification as one inspired by the Jewish prophets.
In Psalm 49:12, we read that man is like the beasts that perish; in 103:16, that his days are as the grass; in 115: 17, that the dead cannot praise the Lord; and in 143:3, that they dwell in darkness.
The Sadducaic Ecclesiastes treats the subject with gloomy finality: men are like beasts"as one dieth, so dieth the other"; man "hash no pre-eminence above a beast"; "all go into one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again," 3:19-20. We read also, 9:5, that the living know that they shall die, "but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward." All the dead, in short, have only an identical and semi-conscious existence.
Even so late a composition as Job, dealing as it does with the problem of good, evil, suffering, and undeserved punishment, never once surmises that there will be compensation hereafter for the inequities of this life. Quite the contrary: for Job emphasizes the inscrutability of God's way, and declares that there is no life beyond the present; men, 6: 18, "go to nothing, and perish"; "so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more," 7:9.
The orthodox Jewish eschatology was similar to the Homeric and modeled upon the Babylonian. The dead are bloodless shades which inhabit Sheol; among them there is neither vitality nor differentiation, neither any reward for the good nor punishment for the wicked. Yet they have an existence; for the witch of Endor was able to summon the reluctant ghost of Samuel.(I Sam. 28:7 ff). Euripides tells us that "The soul of the deceased, although it live no longer, yet cloth still retain a consciousness which lasts forever" (Helen). But, since nothing could be done to achieve happiness in the after life, the Jews, like the Homeric Greeks, evinced little concern over man's eternal and individual destiny.
During the Seleucid and the Hasmonean periods, under Greek and Persian influence, a new eschatology began to develop among the Jews. This "new eschatology" began in the second or possibly the third century B.C.E and contained within it:
These religious ideas and beliefs began to penetrate a segment of Jewish consciousness. The Sadducees certainly had a legitimate argument when they declared, as they must have done, that if all these things are realities, Yahweh would have revealed them through Moses, or at least through the Psalms and the ancient prophets; surely, He would not have left the Great Lawgiver, together with Isaiah, and Ezekiel, in complete ignorance!
The book of Isaiah, however, was composed over several centuries; and it is true that a late interpolation, 26:19, expresses a vague belief in a resurrection: "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead."
But the celebrated declaration of Daniel 12:2 is more definite: "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." Compare these passages: the first, probably written in the third century, simply implies that there will be a resurrection of Jews. The second, written in 163 B. C., declares that many not allwho have died, shall arise: some to eternal life, others to endless punishment. This is the oldest declaration of this concept in the Bible: there are, according to Daniel, three classes among the dead: first, those who will remain unconscious in the dust; second, those who will ascend to heaven; and, third, those who will be consigned to endless shame.
Let us note that while the Sadducees remained adamant in rejecting the new eschatology, the Pharisees did not remain immune; concerning this, Josephus is our principal authority, and a competent one, since he belonged to their sect. He states that, according to them, "all souls are incorruptible . . . the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies, but . . . the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment" (Wars, II, viii, 4). Josephus himself seems to have embraced this Brahmanic-Pythagorean doctrine, since he expresses the same theory in a speech to his soldiers at Jotopata to dissuade them from suicide while facing imminent death at the hands of the Romans (Wars, III, viii, 5). In another passage, he elaborates that, according to the Pharisees, all souls are immortal and subject to rewards and everlasting punishments after death; that the good "shall have power to revive and live again; on account of which doctrine, they are able greatly to persuade the body of the people" (Antiquities, XVIII, 1, 3)
The rabbis, who became the successors to the Pharisees, abandoned this Zoroastrian-Pythagorean eschatology, and returned to that of the Old Testament, possibly in part because of the conflict with Christianity. It is interesting to note that a Jewish colony, discovered in China about 1800 A.D., which had lived there in complete isolation since the first century, still believed in "Purgatory, Hell, Paradise, the Resurrection, and the Last Judgment" (Milman, History of the Jews, II, 178 ff). Thus we know that at least some of the Pharisees had embraced the Zoroastrian doctrine of purgatory six centuries before it appeared as a dogma in the Catholic Church.
As you can imagine having read the prior articles in this series, there are many forces which created the Messianic Concept. No disinterested scholar will deny that the surrender and frustration created among their subject peoples by the long Roman oppression prepared them for a religion of renunciation. Likewise, we believe that the innumerable sorrows and catastrophes suffered by the Jews over many centuries created the climate in which apocalyptic hope took precedence over every other. Out of these experiences grew the Messianic concepts of the Jews.
Because of persecution and oppression the Jews acquired an intense faith in the Messiah. The Messianic hope has been a major preoccupation of the Jewish mind for twenty-five centuries. Maimonides, 1135-1204 A.D., declared that belief in the expected Messiah was mandatory; after eighteen centuries in China, the small Jewish colony there was still awaiting its Messiah ((Milman, History of the Jews, II, 178 ff).
Just before and after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jews, in frenzied excitement, lived in daily anticipation of apocalyptic catastrophe and salvation. The Romans recognized that this hope was a political force with which they must reckon; and that the recalcitrancy of the Jews stemmed from their anticipation of a supernaturally endowed Messiah who would crush and destroy their masters (Tacitus, History, V, 13). For this reason, they executed any Jew professing Messianic pretenses.
There was not just "one" Messianic concept. There were many. Among the Jews, in different periods and among different groups, we find three principal Messianic concepts:
The first had been prevalent since the eighth century B. C.; it envisioned a great human leader, a descendant of David, a kind of second Moses (Deut. 18:18), who, supported by divine approval and perhaps by supernatural intervention, would gather the children of the twelve tribes into Judea, reconstitute them into a unified kingdom, and make Israel the center of a world-empire, to which all the Gentiles would offer allegiance and the religion of which all nations would at last embrace.
The second concept was more overwhelming: it conceived of the Messiah as an all-powerful, supernatural being; Daniel called Him the Son of Man and saw Him in a vision surrounded by thousands of thousands of His ministers, coming to defeat and destroy the enemies of Israel, call the dead from their graves, conduct the last judgment, and establish the Jews in their everlasting kingdom.
The third concept retained the supernatural and apocalyptic Messiah coming on the clouds with glory and surrounded by multitudes of saints; but it transformed Him into the almighty moral judge of all mankind, who would establish the kingdom of righteousness on earth. This concept made the Messiah impartially international; it is not found in the Old Testament, which is consistently Judaistic; it occurs only among the Essenes and in the New Testament/
Perhaps the oldest expression of the primitive Messianic idea is found in Joel, where we find that agricultural pests and Gentiles would both be destroyed by supernatural intervention. But it is in the majestic poetry of Isaiah that we find the first fully-developed Messianic concept, which was the prophet's reaction to the final destruction of Samaria and Israel in 721 B.C.E. and the imminent dangers surrounding Jerusalem and Judah.
The first twenty-three chapters of Isaiah were composed in the eighth century and portray the kingdom of a purely human Messiah, under which the nations "shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isa. 2:2-4). We are told of the young woman who, though still a virgin, is soon to conceive and bear a child (Isa. 7:14-17) and before this child is old enough "to cry, My father, my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away by the king of Assyria" (Isa. 8:4). This, of course, was actual history, then recently consummated; the following genuine prophecy, however, like most of chapters 13-23, was never to be fulfilled: "For unto us a child is born . . . a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David . . . henceforth even for ever" (Isa. 9:6-7).
Before this child could become the warrior-king of Israel, Judah and Jerusalem must suffer great tribulation (Isa. 10:5-6). Yet a remnant would return (Isa. 10:10-21); the reconstituted tribes would become mighty; "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'' (Isa. 11: 1-12). Some have thought that this wonder-child was Hezekiah; but this is impossible, since the Messiah-to-be was still an infant in 721 B.C.E. when Samaria fell, and Hezekiah was born about 740 B.C.E. and became king of Judah in 726 B.C.E. Isaiah indeed calls him his own child, Mahershalalhashbaz (Isa. 8:3), born of a prophetess.
Micah is celebrated because of the prophecy concerning Bethlehem, which "though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler of Israel" (Micah 5:2). This mighty Messiah king, "the root of Jesse," shall lay his enemies prostrate before him (Micah 7:16-17), create the Jewish kingdom (Micah 4:6-7), and establish the Gentiles in the worship of Yahweh (Micah 4:1-3).
Zechariah reflects an elaborate ideology in which:
This conception continued substantially unchanged through Revelation and other Jewish apocalypses written as late as 100 A D.
As we have seen, prophets had been condemned. Henceforth, only one more could appear: Elijah, the harbinger. Generation after generation, the Jews awaited his appearance: no one could impersonate him with impunity, since he would be permitted only a brief ministry before the Messiah himself must be made manifest. And from him no mean accomplishments would be required: he would have to recall the scattered children of Israel from the four corners of the earth; establish a powerful and united government; defeat all the enemies of his people; bring the whole world under the rule of Jerusalem; attract all the Gentiles as proselytes to the worship of Yahweh, and establish universal peace and prosperity. Failing to accomplish all these objectives, he would be revealed as an imposter and a blasphemer, and his punishment would be death forthwith by stoning, as provided in Leviticus (Lev. 24:16). Understand prophecy might have been outlawed, but prophecy in the form pseudepigraphic writings flourished. We call them the inter-testamental writings and the Dead Sea Scrolls today.
One of the most pathetic and poignant concepts of the Jewish Messiah is that of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, which may have been this prophet himself. This was, furthermore, the model upon which Jesus consciously patterned his own career: "despised and rejected of men: a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief . . . wounded for our transgressions . . . bruised for our iniquities . . . the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.... He was oppressed and . . . afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth."
Ezekiel saw strange visions and imagined the twelve tribes re-established in Palestine under a new covenant. He even saw the vision of a new and glorious temple; and his prophecy closes with a description of the New Jerusalem, which prefigures the Holy City in Revelation. The most vital portions of Ezekiel, however, consist in his conception of himself as a sacrifice and atonement for the iniquity of Israel. He calls himself "Son of Man" ninety-four times. And this Son of Man (a title which Jesus was to apply to himself almost exclusively) was made a prophet, a teacher, and the vicarious savior of his people.
The atoning Son of Man concept of Zechariah, when merged with the corporate motif of a suffering nation of Israel at the hands of the Gentiles, whereby Israel's suffering is interpreted for the benefit of the non-Jew as depicted by Isaiah, it is easy to apply this "merged" concept not only to the Jews corporate, but to the quintessential Jew...the expected Messiah. Next, depending to whom one identifies as his Messiah, the concept is easily attributed to one such as the historical Jesus.
In addition to these concepts, there grew up under Persian influence in the period following the Captivity a new and fearful idea: a Messiah modeled upon the Zoroastrian Soshans, who would be a supernatural manifestation of infinite power who would appear suddenly in the dreadful day of the Lord surrounded by myriads of angels, and who would judge the wicked, destroy the enemies of Israel, and establish the kingdom of the righteous saints.
We turn, now, to Deutero-Isaiah, comprising chapters 40-55. The world-power is no longer Assyria; even Babylon has faded, and is now merely staked out for vengeance. Cyrus, who is called God's Anointed (Isa. 45:1), and Persia, now loom large. The probable date is about 536 B.C.E. Elijah, who will be succeeded by the Messiah himself, is about to appear as in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God;" after which "the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, all all flesh shall shall see it together (Isa. 40:1-5). This Messiah shall bring judgment upon the Gentiles and they shall become the slaves of Judah: "the labor of Egypt, and the merchandize of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine: they shall come after thee: in chains shall they come over, and they shall fall down unto thee and they shall make supplication unto thee" (Isa. 42:1; 45:14; 23).
Trito-Isaiah, consisting of chapters 56-66 probably composed in the fifth century, contains the oldest fully developed concept of the apocalyptic Messiah. There can be little doubt that this, like Daniel, reflects Zoroastrian influence; for there is to be a new heaven and a new earth. And no longer will the savior of Judah be a man, no matter how divinely endowed or supported; instead, he will be God Himself (Isa. 66: 15-16). And to house, as it were, this Messianic kingdom, "behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered" (Isa. 65:17-19). In this blessed new Jerusalem, there shall be universal peace (Isa. 65:25) and blood sacrifices will be abolished forever (Isa. 66:3). And God shall be the light and glory of the Holy City, even as in the Persian heaven (Isa. 60:19) and "the Gentiles shall come to thy light. And the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings minister unto thee.... For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish" (Isa. 60:3-12).
Josephus marveled at the accuracy of Daniel's "prophecies" (Antiq. X, xi, 7) which describe the events of several centuries, and adds that herein we have a refutation of the Epicureans, who deny the existence of providence. He noted however that some of Daniel's predictions remained unfulfilled. But modern scholarship has established that the first chapters of Daniel were written about 238 B.C.E., and the last six in 164-163 B.C.E., or nearly four hundred years after the purported date. This afforded the author a long period of history to present as prophecy.
The book as a whole uses the standard method of apocalyptical revelation, which came into common usage in the second century B.C.E. Some personage was chosen from Hebrew traditionEnoch, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Ezra, Baruch, etc.and a vision was attributed to him. In this, history is accurately portrayed as prophecy down to the moment of writing; at that point, it passes abruptly from the known to the unknown, and, with the authority established by previous authenticity, seeks to gain credence for actual predictions, never to be fulfilled.
Although certain portions of Daniel remain obscure, the references for the most part are clear enough. For example, we can guess but cannot establish just who were the ten horns or kings preceding the "little horn" who was Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Nor is it possible with certainty to unravel the mystery of the seventy weeks (Daniel 9:24-27). On the other hand, the kingdoms referred to in dreams or visions are unmistakable; it is obvious that the northern and the southern kingdoms, the wars of which are discussed at such length in chapter 11, are those of the early second-century Seleucids and Ptolemies. There are at least eight specific references to Antiochus, who was the great enemy of Israel from 171 to his death in 163 B.C.E. and these run like a red thread through the last six chapters.
We note that the author has a much more accurate knowledge of Seleucid history than of Babylonian. First, there was never a king Belshazzar; second, Babylon was taken, not under Darius, but under Cyrus; third, Darius succeeded Cyrus, not vice-versa; fourth, history knows no Ahasuerus, and if Artaxerxes is meant, Darius was not his son, but his grandfather; and, fifth, had Daniel lived into the reign of Darius Hystaspes, he must have been well over a hundred years of age when the Great King set him "over the whole realm" (Daniel 6:3).
We must also point out that Daniel departs so sharply from his Hebrew predecessors that he is, in reality, only semi-Judaic; he represents a thoroughgoing amalgamation of Jewish aspirations with Zoroastrian eschatology. In him, for the first time, we hear of archangels, immortality, a general resurrection, a last judgment, a book in which the names of the redeemed are written, a system of rewards and punishments after death, and eternal regions of bliss and shame. The Messiah, too, is transformed and becomes much more like the Saoshyant than the descendant of David who is to occupy a temporal throne. In fact the Son of Man is a supernatural agency of the Supreme God, who has very little resemblance to Yahweh; there is not the slightest indication that the Messiah has any human ancestry or relationship; he is not of the root of Jesse, but the effulgent Word of God. Daniel rejects the whole Judaic concept of the Messiah, but retains the conviction that the Jews are the saints and the Chosen People. He reflects foe first great penetration of paganism into Jewish theology and this document stands midway between the most ancient Isaiah and the depiction of the Messiah in the New Testament.
In the second chapter, Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the Great Image, of which the head was gold, the breast silver, the belly brass, the legs iron, and the feet partly clay and partly iron. As we know, this was a common Zoroastrian metaphor. Finally, all these, which represent the Babylonian, the Median-Persian, the Greek, and the Seleucid-Ptolemaic empires, down to 240 B.C.E. , are to be swept away as dust, to be followed immediately by the Messianic Jewish kingdom, which is to be like a great mountain, or as a stone "cut out without hands" (Daniel 2:34), and which will destroy and replace all the preceding empires (Daniel 2:35).
As to the time of fulfillment, there is no evasion. The eternal kingdom of the Messiah is to be established "in the days of these kings'' (Daniel 2:44); that is, of the Seleucids and the Ptolemies of the third century, B. C.
Beginning with chapter 7, we have a series of true apocalyptic visions of the highest and most elaborate category. In December, 167 B.C.E., Antiochus Epiphanes, as we have noted, desecrated the Temple and established there the Eleusinian ritual. The second portion of Daniel was written immediately after the restoration of the Jewish worship in December, 164, but probably before the death of Antiochus, April, 163 B.C.E.
The eighth chapter describes the ram with the two horns, Media and Persia, which was overcome by the rough goat, Grecia. This beast had a great horn, who was Alexander; when this was broken, four kingdoms arose in its place, headed by his four generals, who divided the Empire. In due time, there comes "a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences'' (Daniel 8:23). This king (Antiochus) shall vent his fury upon the holy covenant, shall enter into league with the apostate Jews, shall bring tribulation upon the saints, shall desecrate the sanctuary, and "shall place the abomination that maketh desolate" for three and a half years (Daniel 7:25; 11:30-32). This is the fearful tribulation which must precede the Saoshyant, the resurrection, and the Last Judgment (Daniel 12:11-12).
There is an elaborate vision which culminates in the accession of the Son of Man, and in which we find a variant version of the four empires (Daniel 7: 3-8). In order passed before him the Lion (the Babylonian Empire), the Bear (the Median-Assyrian Empire), the Leopard (the Persian Empire), and then "a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible," with "great iron teeth," which was the Greek Empire. And from this had issued ten horns, or kings, and the eleventh, "another little horn," who was Antiochus Epiphanes, presently to be destroyed and consigned to the burning flame (Daniel 7:11). The Ancient of Days now appears on His throne, and He gives the Son eternal dominion over the saints: "I beheld one like the Son of Man" who "came with the clouds of heaven ... to the Ancient of Days.... And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him," whose "dominion is . . . everlasting . . .But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even for ever and ever" (Daniel 7: 9-18).
And when shall all this come to pass? "From the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days" (Daniel, 12:11-12). Thus, logo days were to elapse between the beginning of the desecration and the establishment of the Messianic kingdom, which according to this computation, was due in July or August, 163 B.C.E. The desolation itself actually endured for a period of 1095 days; there were, therefore, to remain some six months between the restoration of the worship and the advent of the Soshans. The apocalypse was due in less than a year after the second half of Daniel was composed.
The Messiah of Essenes and the Christians is a Messiah of universal and moral judgment. Among the earlier prophets we find everywhere the orthodox Jewish concept of a purely human Messiah, which was never accepted by Jesus himself, but which often intrudes in the New Testament and from which his original disciples could never free themselves. This was the age-old idea inseparable from Jewish tradition; but with the advent of Zoroastrian influence, the Messiah became a supernatural power; and out of this, when absorbed by Jewish theology, grew the doctrine of the Parousia
One great Messianic doctrine remains to be developed: that the final judgment shall be on ethical and not on Jewish national or racial lines; that the Messianic kingdom will be international, will be based on moral regeneration, and will not simply constitute a division of humanity into saintly Jews and Jewish proselytes on the one hand and wicked Gentiles on the other.
We shall see how this concept was completed by the Essenes and appropriated by the followers of Jesus in the New Testament in subsequent studies.