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The Grammar of MessianismAn Ancient Jewish Political Idiom and Its Users$
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Matthew V. Novenson

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190255022

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190255022.001.0001

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After the Messianic Idea

After the Messianic Idea

(p.1) 1 After the Messianic Idea
The Grammar of Messianism

Matthew V. Novenson

Oxford University Press

The modern study of ancient messianism has long been dominated by variations on the messianic idea hypothesis, a legacy of nineteenth-century metaphysical Idealism. Recent research has raised damning objections to this received paradigm, but no better, alternative account has yet emerged. This chapter suggests such an alternative account. It proposes that what we call messianism is most basically a way of talking about the world, a set of linguistic resources—and, equally important, linguistic constraints—inherited from the Jewish scriptures. Ancient Jewish and Christian texts about “messiahs”—from Second Isaiah to the Talmud Bavli, and at myriad points in between—are participants in one great ancient Mediterranean language game. If so, then rather than stipulating a definition of “messiah” and going in search of it in the sources, we ought to return to the sources and follow the way the words run.

Keywords:   Geistesgeschichte, Gershom Scholem, grammar, language game, messianic idea, metaphysical Idealism, scriptural interpretation

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