1. I’m continuing my way through Randall Heskett’s Messianism Within the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah. Randall is discussing the topic of Cyrus as Messiah in Second Isaiah. There are plenty of scholars who have problems with the notion that Second Isaiah calls Cyrus God’s Messiah. Some say that “Cyrus” was added later into the text, for instance.
On page 24, Randall says that Second Isaiah doesn’t understand “Messiah” in terms of the “full-blown eschatological meaning that accompanied messianism in later Judaism”. Rather, Second Isaiah is saying that Cyrus is fulfilling the function that was performed by Israel’s pre-exilic Messiahs, her Davidic monarchs: to defeat Israel’s enemies as her champion. Cyrus is acting like David did. But was he seen as the Messiah, the one who would come and make everything right? No, Randall argues. That concept came later.
That could be. But allow me to ramble for a bit. Cyrus delivers Israel from exile, causing her to return to her land. Wasn’t that the eschatological understanding of the Messiah that came about in later Judaism: the Messiah would deliver Israel from exile? Isn’t that at least one reason that Randall does not believe that the concept of the Messiah could have existed before the exile: because the Messiah is supposed to deliver Israel from exile, as the Davidic monarchy is reconstituted, and such a concept would have been meaningless before the exile? I guess what I’m asking is this: Why not interpret Second Isaiah to mean that Cyrus is the Messiah? He’s doing some of the things that the Messiah of post-exilic Judaism would do.
At the same time, Randall’s thoughts have gotten me thinking about where Second Isaiah fits in among other Messianic texts (if they indeed are such). I guess what I’ve often assumed is that Second Isaiah is arguing against the notion the the Davidic monarchy would be reconstituted and deliver Israel from exile: he’s saying that Cyrus is functioning as God’s anointed, doing what God’s anointed would do. But that would mean that there had to be a Messianic understanding in his cultural repertoire, right? Could that have developed in exile?
But here’s a thought. I’m not much of an Isaiah scholar, but First Isaiah seems to me to be presenting a possible scenario: Judah would be exiled by the Assyrians, God would bring her back to her land, and a Davidic king would emerge who would preside over a time of peace and paradise. But that did not happen, for Judah was not exiled by the Assyrians. God delivered her from Assyria on account of her faith. But, if the parts of First Isaiah communicating that unfulfilled scenario of exile and restoration were written or promulgated before the exile, when the Assyrians were a threat, then we have a Messianic view that was pre-exilic. The exile didn’t have to occur for Israel to develop Messianism, for the possibility of exile was a looming threat even in pre-exilic times. But Messianism popped up again when Israel was in exile, or had returned from exile, for that was when it was most relevant to the Jews.
Second Isaiah could have been reacting against a pre-exilic Messianism, which was put on the shelf until it became relevant again: during the exile.
Clear as mud?
2. On page 84 of Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah, Jacob Neusner states:
Special testimony is paid to the testimony of normally unacceptable witnesses, e.g., women about their own husbands or the husbands of their sisters-in-law or daughters-in-law. In general a woman is believed who testifies about her own status, but not about the status of some other party to the marriage (M. Yeb. 16:2, 7).
James, this is a very sticky issue about Cyrus and Messiah. I think that the so-called Second Isaiah figure actually called Cyrus “Messiah” as a way of coming to terms with the death of the monarchy. But then Cyrus is then de-messianized in Isa 65:17-25.
Hi Randall. Thanks for commenting here! I agree with you on why Second Isaiah calls Cyrus the Messiah.