14 October 2010


Recently, in my post about the book Left Behind, I mentioned the Messianic prophecies. I thought that could bear more explication.

The Jewish Torah has numerous prophecies about the Messiah. These are characteristics and actions he will fulfill. They are numerous. The number most frequently thrown around is 425. That sounds like a lot, but they're very repetitive. They're mostly out of the book of Isaiah. Some are questionable in their wording.  And almost all are questionable in their application to Jesus of Nazareth - even if we take the words of the Gospels as gospel.  Here are the big ones:

Personal qualifications
  • A male descendant of King David and King Solomon. (Isaiah 11:1) Essentially unargued.
  • Born of a virgin. (Isaiah 7:14) Maybe. "הָעַלְמָה" is translated by Christians as "virgin" but by scholars of Hebrew as just "maiden."
  • Born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Maybe. This could very possibly just be another reference to being descended from King David, whose clan home was in Bethlehem.  But sure, whatever.
  • Persecuted. (A whole bunch) The Messiah will be whipped and pierced and beaten and given gall to eat and vinegar to drink and whatnot. It's not clear when it's literal and when it's metaphorical.
  • Eternal temple in Jerusalem. (Ezekiel 37:26) Whoops! Just a single wall there, these days. Muslims built a dome in the place of the rest.
  • Rides on an ass. (Zechariah 9:9) Or on a colt. Undisputed, but not terribly discriminating.
  • Brings peace to the world, global Judaism, all Jews will know the Torah without studying, crushes the skulls of his enemies, all Israelites returned to homeland, all dead will rise, etc. (A whole bunch) The Messiah will essentially be king of a new paradise on earth. These things about utopia are repeated a lot.
These prophecies are interpreted very specifically or generically, as needed by Christians. For example, it's prophesied the Messiah will have gall to eat and vinegar to drink. The consensus among Christians is that the vinegar Christ was given on the cross was a fulfillment of the prophecy... but that the gall part was metaphorical. And this is part of the same phrase!

Furthermore, the ones that Jesus clearly and obviously did not fulfill, such as global Judaism, are ascribed to a future "Second Coming." Now, it doesn't take a genius to realize that kind of bypasses the whole point of the prophecies. I could claim to to be the Messiah myself, for example: I'm probably related to Solomon somewhere down the line since it's been a couple millenia since he was kicking around, and I assure everyone I'll fulfill all the rest of the prophecies on my second coming.

Sometimes I just don't understand how Christian Biblical scholars maintain their beliefs - quite literally. It makes sense to me how so many Christians believe Jesus fulfilled these prophecies, because in almost all sects Bible study is not really encouraged except within a set of relatively interesting and on-message scriptures. The Gospels, Genesis, Acts, Ecclesiastes, Pslams, etc. And you're pretty well-schooled in how to interpret these. But serious scholars? How do they square these things?

I guess it shows the genius of the Second Coming. Jesus didn't fulfill the plain and oft-repeated achievements of the prophesied Messiah, so: he's going to come back and do it again! Isaiah was a pretty lousy prophet, since he didn't even mention it'd take two tries for the Messiah to get stuff done. For that matter, why not a Third Coming? Maybe Jesus just really likes it here.

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