The following is from some notes that I took in Professor Jim Davila’s class on the Dead Sea Scrolls this week. I sit in on this undergraduate class of his just to get more exposure to his great knowledge and expertise on this topic. The way the class is set up, at least at this stage in the semester, all the students have prepared essays on a certain topic concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls, Qumran, etc. This week, a student (I won’t give his name as I didn’t ask for his permission) presented on Messianism and the Dead Sea Scrolls. His paper was great and covered the major instances where the texts from Qumran seem to be referring to a messianic figure.
I won’t quote from or go into the content of his paper, but I wanted to present some of the notes I took from Professor Davila’s remarks after the presentation. He said some interesting things that are helpful for understanding how some Jews, in the couple of centuries leading up to the life of Jesus Christ, thought about the role of the Messiah. My notes are far from a complete and accurate rendering of what Professor Davila said, so please bear with me.
Messianism in Second Temple Judaism is a very messy problem because the problem of Jesus is bigger than the problem of messianism when you define Messiah simply as “anointed one” — for the case of Jesus, we also need to look at the early Jewish ideas surrounding divine mediator figures, principal angels, charismatic spiritual leaders, etc.
(See Davila’s article “Of Methodology, Monotheism and Metatron: Introductory Reflections on Divine Mediators and the Origins of the Worship of Jesus” in The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism (Leiden: Brill,1999) and also his online outline Methodology for Studying Divine Mediators)
The idea of a “messiah” encompasses two ideal figures: the Davidic King and the High Priest. However, these two characters became very complex in Second Temple Judaism:
- The High Priest can be eschatological or celestial
- Davidic king ideal can draw from Past — King David or Melchizedek
- Melchizedek can be both eschatalogical and celestial
- and so on…
In Gen. 14, Melchizedek is both a king (of Jerusalem) and a priest who offers sacrifice — he was a human being originally (like Jesus).
In Psalm 110 — a “royal psalm” — the only other reference to Melchizedek in the Hebrew Bible — the Davidic king is enthroned at the right hand of God, and made a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek — the Davidic king is a Melchizedek priest sitting at the right hand of God (heavenly ascent, although not explicit, can be read into this)
Melchizedek is a human being who was exalted to be a god, which has connections to Jesus.
Anciently, both king and priest were anointed — so Melchizedek is anointed on two accounts. He would certainly be considered an “anointed one.”
The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (Dead Sea Scrolls) are also of interest. They likely refer to Melchizedek as a priestly angelic figure, which reinforces 11QMelch.
Margaret Barker thinks that Jesus was aware of this Melchizedek tradition — the 70 weeks (10 Jubilee periods) mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls is supposed to have ended at the Great Revolt (according to Gospel writers and Josephus) — the 10th Jubilee was supposed to be “the end” — Jesus was aware that at the beginning of the 10th Jubilee, the Messiah was supposed to be active — he saw himself as the Melchizedek figure.
Qumran seemed to believe in messiahs (plural) of Aaron and Israel. [One of the big questions that was discussed in the student paper and in class was whether Jesus fit either or both of these conceptions of the messiah of Aaron -- a priestly, atoning messiah -- or the messiah of Israel -- the conquering Davidic king. The student had concluded, based on his research, that Jesus didn't fully fit either tradition.]
In the pre-exilic period you had the king and a Zadokite priest under him. In the post-exilic period, the Jews were under Persian overlords, so there was no king — there was a governor, Zerubabbel, and a high priest, Joshua. Zerubabbel was of the line of David, but not allowed to be king. The people began to want to be independent (ca. 520 BC) and shirk Persian control. In the last verses of Haggai, Zerubabbel is the “messiah” — he will be the true king:
Haggai 2:21–23 1 Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth; 22 And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother. 23 In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the LORD, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the LORD of hosts.
We should note that Haggai seems to be cut short abruptly. Zechariah has similar themes:
Zechariah 6:11–13 11 Then take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest; 12 And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD: 13 Even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.
The instruction is to set crowns (plural) on the high priest Joshua, who appears to be called here “the Branch”. However, it seems more likely that the Branch should have been Zerubbabel (the Davidic king as a tree was an ancient idea), but he was later omitted in the text. Zerubabbel then disappears from history and the governors are never from the line of David again. The High Priest remains as the ruling figure in Jewish society.
The Qumran texts are looking at this history of kings and priests and the early pre-exilic diarchy (king and high priest ruling together), and saying that this is the ideal. There must be two messiahs — one priestly (Aaronic) and the other a Davidic king (depicted as a conquering warrior). The Qumran texts seem to make the priestly Messiah more important. Why?
Interestingly, the Jewish pseudepigrapha don’t generally mention a priestly messiah. Also, the Rabbinic texts don’t have a priestly messiah, only Davidic. There may be many reasons for this. The Dead Sea Scrolls do seem to have the two messiahs idea.
4Q285 — “they will kill the prince of the congregation” — this used to be taken as “suffering Messiah” text, but now is not generally accepted as such.
4Q174 — the “teacher of law” is called the “star” that comes out of Jacob
The Book of Revelation should not be ignored in this matter. Jesus is not only the priestly, atoning messiah, he is there depicted as an eschatalogical warrior. Mark 13 and parallels paint Jesus as the Son of Man coming as a conquering figure — this is more evidence for Jesus as the Davidic messiah figure as well.
My (brief) thoughts on this subject:
I believe that the Aaronic (priestly) vs. Davidic messiah dichotomy is post-exilic. The pre-exilic “messiah”, who was the Davidic monarch, was both a priestly figure (connected to atonement) and a royal warrior figure (connected to the battle against the nations). He was associated with the figure of Melchizedek. The conception of the priestly messiah should likely have originally not been connected to Aaron at all (this is a post-exilic invention), but should have been the priest after the order of Melchizedek, as Christ is described in the Epistle to the Hebrews. I think this is where 11QMelch comes into play — Melchizedek, the ancient example of the ideal priest-king, would have embodied both messianic expectations — the priestly and the royal. The Davidic kings were anointed following the example of Melchizedek — as both priest and king (see Psalm 110). This is the pattern that we see in Jesus as the Messiah — he would have been considered to be the two conceptions of messiah in one — the atoning High Priest and Davidic King. However, Christians believed that his role as conquering warrior would only be fully accomplished with his Second Coming. The fact that this role was not apparent during his lifetime may be one of the main reasons he was not accepted as the expected Messiah. Furthermore, the fact that he was not an Aaronic high priest, but claimed to be after the ancient (and repudiated) order of Melchizedek, was probably another reason why the Jewish leadership felt so threatened by his claims.
(For more on the background for these politics of the priesthood, see my post here.)