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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 Present and Absent

Messiahs Present and Absent

(p.114) 4 Messiahs Present and Absent
The Grammar of Messianism

Matthew V. Novenson

Oxford University Press

This chapter critically assesses the widespread scholarly notion of a “messianic vacuum”—that is, a period or periods in the history of ancient Judaism marked by a conspicuous absence of messianic expectation. The chapter considers in detail three classic literary sources commonly invoked in this connection: the works of Philo of Alexandria, Flavius Josephus, and the Mishnah. Against the messianic vacuum hypothesis, it is argued that talk about messiahs is simply one of a number of ancient Jewish discursive resources for solving one of a number of social problems. On this model, references to messiahs occur in some early Jewish texts and not in others, and there is nothing curious, remarkable, or deficient about the texts in which they do not. It is the expectation on the part of the interpreter that creates the problem.

Keywords:   absence, Joachim Becker, Josephus, messianic vacuum, Mishnah, Philo, silence

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