Neil Godfrey is at it again. I suspected from some of his recent posts that he had either misunderstood or was gearing up to misrepresent me – not to mention the field of Jewish studies. In his latest post, he writes the following:
“James McGrath claims all Messiah figures were expected to be conquering kings.”
Of course, Godfrey is either forgetting or deliberately ignoring things that I have not only written, but written to him, in the past. Here is one example:
Neil quotes several scholars whose conclusions reflect our mainstream understanding: there wasn’t one single concept of “the messiah” in the Judaism of this period, not every Jewish author or movement shows evidence of being interested in such a figure, and even those who did use the term did so in different ways. This is common knowledge to anyone familiar with the current state of our knowledge about ancient Judaism – and very much beside the point as far as my argument about the unlikelihood that any ancient Jews would invent a crucified Messiah.
In connection with my argument about the historical Jesus and the crucifixion (to which Neil was responding) what matters is that we do know a great deal about a range of mediator figures and human deliverers that a wide range of Jews were expecting. And those who were expecting God to restore an anointed one descended from David were expecting the restoration of the role denoted by that anointing (from which the terms “messiah” and “christ” derive), namely the institution of Jewish kingship. We have evidence for such “messianic” beliefs in the Judaism of this period, and conversely, we have no evidence whatsoever frompre-Christian Judaism for the view that the restored Davidic king would die at the hands of his enemies.
Is Godfrey failing to grasp that saying that the Davidic Messiah was typically expected to be X is not the same as saying “All expectations about any sort of Messiah included X”? Is he misunderstanding scholarly discussions about different kinds of Messianic figures (Davidic and Aaronic in particular), and the diversity of views about them, to mean that there was nothing common to what Jews wrote about one specific sort of Messiah? Or is he just trying to make me look bad? It is impossible to tell.
Perhaps Earl Doherty can clarify this for Neil Godfrey. Here’s something I wrote in discussing chapter 5 of Doherty’s book:
Doherty rightly accepts what some other mythicists I have interacted with deny, namely that there were some widespread expectations about the nature of the coming Messiah (at least, if the Davidic Messiah is in view) and that the arrival of this Messiah was inseparable from the arrival of all that the kingdom of God was expected to entail.
All of the above applied even apart from the obvious question one should ask about Godfrey’s recent post: In what way is the idea of a Davidic Messiah who is a conquering king at odds with what we find in 4Q521? Here is the text (in Michael Wise’s translation). You be the judge:
[the hea]vens and the earth will listen to His Messiah, and none therein will
stray from the commandments of the holy ones.
Seekers of the Lord, strengthen yourselves in His service!
All you hopeful in (your) heart, will you not find the Lord in this?
For the Lord will consider the pious (hasidim) and call the righteous by name.
Over the poor His spirit will hover and will renew the faithful with His power.
And He will glorify the pious on the throne of the eternal Kingdom.
He who liberates the captives, restores sight to the blind, straightens the b[ent]
And f[or] ever I will cleav[ve to the h]opeful and in His mercy . . .
And the fr[uit . . .] will not be delayed for anyone.
And the Lord will accomplish glorious things which have never been as [He . . .]
For He will heal the wounded, and revive the dead and bring good news
to the poor
. . .He will lead the uprooted and knowledge . . . and smoke (?)
There is even explicit mention of the connection of such a Messiah with the arrival of a kingdom – whether his, God’s, or one in which such a distinction is irrelevant. And whether God or his anointed one is the actor carrying out various activities is also clear. But why Godfrey sees in this text a vision of a Davidic Messiah incompatible with the inherent royal character of that figure is beyond me. Can you figure it out? If he approaches the Dead Sea Scrolls the way he approaches reading my blog posts, then the reason is clear: he is either misrepresenting them or misunderstanding them. Is there another possibility that I have missed?