Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Starting Neusner's Messiah in Context

I started Jacob Neusner's Messiah in Context.  My impression of what Neusner is arguing (and I'm open to correction) is that the Messiah was not central in the Mishnah, whose focus was more on an a-historical order of rituals.  But what about after 70 C.E., when a significant locus of rituals----the Temple----was destroyed?  Wouldn't that open the door to Messianic hopes, as Jews would anticipate Messianic restoration of the Temple?  Neusner's answer appears to be "no", or "not at first" (my words).  For one, a passage in the Tosefta (which, for Neusner, was a supplement to the Mishnah) holds out hope that the Temple will be rebuilt without the Messiah.  Second, a belief eventually took root after 70 that said that restoration would come as Israel obeys the Torah, and so the focus is thrown back onto the Torah----obeying it, studying it, heeding the rabbis, etc.  Even King David was portrayed as a rabbi.

On page 88, Neusner notes in his discussion of Jerusalem Talmud Sheqalim 3:3 that there is a reference in that passage to the resurrection from the dead but not to the Messiah.  Neusner states: "The absence of the Messiah here, then, proves one of two things.  First, the third- and fourth-century rabbis in the Land of Israel did not perceive the Messiah as the central figure of the eschatological drama; or, second, the Messiah was simply not linked to resurrection of the dead.  It adds up to the same thing."  But Neusner later on the same page says that "Everyone knew, for one thing, that the Messiah would come at the end of time and raise the dead", and that "These commonplace ideas were widely held beyond the circle of sages behind Mishnah or the Talmud of the Land of Israel", which is why they "appear routinely".  So I'm not sure what to say.

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