Levitical Messianology In Late Judaism: Origins, Development And Decline -- By: Terry L. Donaldson
JETS 24:3 (September 1981) p. 193
Levitical Messianology In Late Judaism: Origins,
Development And Decline
The apocryphal and pseudepigraphal literature of the intertestamental period bears witness to a striking development in Jewish messianic expectation—namely, the emergence of the idea that the Messiah, or at least one of the eschatological figures associated with the coming of the end, would be a priestly member of the tribe of Levi. This Levitical messianology represents a radical departure from traditional thought but is quite understandable against the background of the historical situation. Or, to speak in figurative terms, the stream of messianic thought wanders somewhat from its usual course during this period, but this diversion of the stream can be understood when one takes into account the topography of the times.
Three points in particular should be noted about this background. First, ever since the return from exile the high priesthood had been the most significant office in Israel, an office that combined both religious and political authority. In the post-exilic nation Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the Davidic governor stand together as “the two anointed ones who stand by the LORD of the whole earth” (Zech 4:14). The term that the RSV translates as “anointed” is not a derivation of mā̄s̆aḥ but is bᵉnê-hayyiṣhār (“sons of oil”). Even if mā̄s̆aḥ had been used here it would not be proper to see in this an explicit messianic reference. The point, though, is that from the reconstitution of the nation of Israel the role of the high priest was an important one. And after the Davidic hopes that Zerubbabel had inspired had died with him,1 the high priest alone remained as the de facto head of the Jewish nation.2 The hymn of praise to the line of Aaron in Sir 45:6–26 is clear evidence of the esteem in which the high priesthood was held in the Ptolemaic period. And although the high priest and his followers were largely responsible for the Hellenizing crisis in the mid-second century B.C., for three and a half centuries before the Maccabees the nation of Israel had been under the rule of a member of the line of Aaron, not of David. The impact of this on messianic expectation should not be underestimated.
Second, although many of the priests were among the first to adopt Hellenistic customs (e.g. 2 Macc 4:11–17), nevertheless the resistance to the Hellenization ...
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