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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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Messiahs Born and Made

Messiahs Born and Made

(p.65) 3 Messiahs Born and Made
The Grammar of Messianism

Matthew V. Novenson

Oxford University Press

From as far back as we have texts about messiahs, many such texts attest a preoccupation with the ancestry of the messiah whereas others, conspicuously, do not. Beginning from this observation, this chapter examines the rhetoric of ancestry and of merit in ancient messiah texts about Zerubbabel ben Shealtiel, the Hasmoneans, Herod the Great, Jesus of Nazareth, Shimon bar Kosiba, and the rabbinic patriarch and exilarch. It argues that, because of the tension built into the biblical legend of the rise of David (and, mutatis mutandis, of the priests Melchizedek, Aaron, and Phinehas), all subsequent messiah language inherited and had to reckon with the twin ideological poles of ancestry and merit, rightful succession and divine inspiration. In actual practice, each messiah text navigates these poles in creative ways that suit its own rhetorical ends.

Keywords:   ancestry, charisma, David, institution, king, Max Weber, merit, priest

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