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Leader, prophet, priest, or king?

16 January 2008

Robin Griffith-Jones finds ‘messiah’ to be a very stretchy concept


The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments
Stanley E. Porter, editor

THESE are the papers delivered at the 2004 H. H. Bingham Colloquium in New Testament, held at McMaster Divinity College in Ontario. The contributors cover the Pentateuch and “Writings” (in particular, the Psalms); the Prophets; Qumran and the apocalyptic literature; Mark and Matthew; Luke; John; Paul; and Hebrews and the General Epistles. In a closing chapter, Craig Evans responds to each of the papers.

Here is a useful survey of the ground, with few surprises but with lively and fluent presentations; the Colloquium itself must have been invigorating.

Messiah and Messianism are notorious for being “rubber-band” concepts, open to endless manipulation and expansion to embrace the interests of any scholar. Several contributors take time, helpfully, to explain their own use of the terms’ elasticity.

It is possible, even so, to wonder whether some contributors were really extracting sections from their longer works on a broader theme: the titles and roles, Messiah among them, of present and hoped-for leaders. Mark Boda observes that kings and priests and (less often) prophets were anointed, and then studies the conflicts between kingly, priestly, and prophetic leadership reflected in the redactions of Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah. (It is a fascinating chapter.)

Howard Marshall’s limpid paper might have flowed more naturally if he had been invited to speak on the overall views of Jesus as Son of Man, Son of God, and Messiah, to which Mark and Matthew bear witness. Tom Thatcher writes elegantly on John’s Christology as a whole (and its opponents), without particular attention to Jesus as the Christ.

Some of the earlier chapters on the Old Testament cast light on the New Testament in which the later chapters could have basked: the Temptation in Q (Matthew and Luke) and the Feeding of the Five Thousand in John both portray Jesus as prophet, priest, and king — and show him resisting the “tempta-tion” to accept, in any obvious, worldly sense, this seemingly messianic trio of roles.

Daniel’s dreams of liberation in the second century BC are invoked, but the Apocrypha’s are not. Stanley Porter (the volume’s editor) discusses the Walk to Emmaus, but does not turn the Maccabean key that opens a door on to its understanding. “All the nations will know”, said Judas Maccabaeus, in words that Jesus’s despondent companions will echo, “that there is one who saves and redeems Israel!” — said immediately before the triumphant Battle of Emmaus (1 Maccabees 4). Jesus’s disciples trudged to Emmaus in AD 33 as a Scottish Jacobite might have gone to Culloden in 1746.

But it will not do to be churlish. We owe a debt of gratitude to Professor Porter and all the contributors. The Colloquium was clearly stimulating, and was enhanced on all sides by the knowledge that its papers would be published. Such a volume will surely encourage more such symposia; we will all be the beneficiaries.

The Revd Robin Griffith-Jones is Master of the Temple, in London.

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