Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Messianic Expectations

It is often repeated that the Jews during the 1st Century AD were simply looking for a political messiah. I think it's one of those phrases that is thrown around without much thought. For instance, the findings at Qumran seem to indicate otherwise.

Another text that is of particular interest is The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Although most assuredly pseudepigraphical, it was in wide circulation during the 1st Century AD. The "Testament of Simeon" has a really striking passage -

Then shall Shem be glorified, because the Lord God, the Mighty One of Israel, shall appear upon earth as man, and saved by Him Adam. Then shall all the spirits of deceit be given to be trampled under foot, and men shall rule over the wicked spirits. Then will I arise in joy, and will bless the Most High because of His marvellous works, because God hath taken a body and eaten with men and saved men.

This sounds almost too Christian - in fact, I believe the second bit may be under suspicion as being a later addition by Christians. One thing that's interesting is the fact that Shem will be glorified. Why?

Shem in Hebrew is "name". Shem, in the Old Testament, had a dynasty. In fact, the slogan (if you will) in Gen. 11:4 is "let us make a name (lit. Shem) for ourselves." Shem is the father of Eber (from which we get "Hebrew"). Shem is also the only good firstborn son in Genesis. All of that put together really seems to prefigure Jesus. Jesus inherits a name (Heb 1:4). He is the fulfillment of the Davidic Kingship. He is a spiritual Father not to a race, but to all peoples. And He is the supremely good firstborn son. Perhaps the messianic expectations in the 1st Century were more rich than we realize.


Quixie said...

They were certainly more variegated than we usually allow.

Question, though:

Why go through the etymological pirouette regarding Shem and not even mention that it is also the root of the word "Semite"?


Josh McManaway said...

Because I wanted to give you something to ask.

James Pate said...

Yeah, N.T. Wright in Jesus and the Victory of God talks about a divine sort of Messiah. I forget the page numbers though, and he may appeal to the Enoch passages that many scholars attribute to Christians (though I could be wrong on this).

BTW, I wrote a post on Catholic eschatology. See what you think.

Michael Barber said...

In fact, ancient Jewish and Christian sources believed Shem was Melchizedek (see here), whom the New Testament sees as a type of Christ (especially Hebrews!).

Danny Garland Jr. said...

Wasn't Abraham a good firstborn son?

Josh McManaway said...

Haran was the firstborn son of Terah. I think Abram was either second or third. He's listed first because of his significance, not the birth order.

Todd Gwennap said...

The Shem/name theme is even further continued in Genesis. Even after the Babel story ("Let us make a name/Shem for ourselves) and Shem's genealogy, in Gen 12, God tells Abram that he will make his name/Shem great.

Like you said, all of that ultimately points to Christ, who inherits a name and whose name is exalted above every name.

Great post! I'm a seminary student at a Protestant seminary but I have a lot of love/sympathy/jealousy for Scott Hahn and FU at Steubenville.

South African said...

Does "Shem" occur with the article "ha"? I would think "Shem" is shorthand for the tetragramm, the equivalent of "Adonai".