As Though Hiding His Face From Us

Shalom friends,

My name is Julia Blum. Thanks to the kind and generous words of Dr. Eli in the previous post, I don’t really need to introduce myself, as he has introduced me already.  I am privileged and honored to take over the administration of the Jewish Studies blog:  From my classes, I already know some of the students, so I know what an amazing, wonderful, excited and exciting audience we have! I am very grateful for each and every one of you – and I look forward to hearing from you! This blog has been a wonderful addition to your eTeacher experience and I hope and pray that it will continue to be a blessing to everyone who follows.

I would like to begin with my favorite topic – one that I spent many years researching, writing and praying over: The Hidden Messiah.  In the series of posts I’ll present here, we will first see the Messianic Secret of the New Testament against its Jewish background; then we will follow the idea of the hidden and revealed Messiah though Luke-Acts; and then finally, we will learn the profound lessons of the transitional chapter of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24). So – let the journey begin!

 Messianic Secret  of the New Testament against its Jewish background (Part 1): Messianic Secret 

“Any discussion of… Messianism is a delicate matter, for it is here that the essential conflict between Judaism and Christianity has developed and continues to exist”, Gershom Sholem wrote to begin his famous Messianic Idea in Judaism.  In the light of these essential differences, a consensus between Jewish and Christian scholars regarding the so-called Messianic Secret appears all the more striking. Scholars from both sides recognize the fact that in the Gospels Jesus is frequently portrayed as seeking to maintain an element of secrecy about his own person and work throughout the length of his public ministry (sometimes even openly discouraging use of the title ‘Messiah’). This feature of the Gospels is well-known and widely acknowledged; it is known today as the “Messianic Secret” – a term which derives from a classic study by William Wrede.
Let us have a look at some scriptures where Jesus directly forbade others to speak of Him as Messiah: He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered and said, ‘The Christ [Messiah] of God.’ And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one.[1] A similar ban accompanies all His healings of Israelites: the cleansing of the leper, the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and the healing of the two blind men, to name a few. These and many other stories are almost unavoidably accompanied by a concluding commentary: and He strictly warned him… and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone’;’[2] but He commanded them strictly that no one should know it;[3] and Jesus sternly warned them, saying, ‘See that no one knows it.’[4] He didn’t just recommend that they not say anything – He forbade them to talk about it, and almost always strictly or sternly.  Actually, the only thing that Jesus did sternly was to forbid people to discuss His Messianic identity and miracles. In fact, the only time in the entire New Testament that He reveals his Messianic identity is in the scene with the Samaritan woman in John 4. Just think of that! The only time when He speaks of it, is not to a Jewish person but to a Samaritan woman, and even then only at a time when His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food[5] – that  is, when there was not a single Jewish person in sight!  In the same way, the healing of the demon-possessed man from the Gentile country of the Gadarenes also presents a striking contrast to all the stories quoted above: In answer to his request to follow Him, Jesus tells the healed man, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.’[6]   Thus, Jesus was ready to reveal His identity to the Gentiles, but was very careful not to reveal it to the Jews.

It is important to distinguish between texts and history, and therefore, between two different audiences: the audience of the readers of the Gospels, and the audience of Jesus inside the Gospels. All the texts of the NT were written decades after His death and resurrection, and the Gospels’ authors, while turning to their contemporary readers, were repeating tirelessly that Jesus was the promised Messiah: But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20.31) – but that is not what we are talking about. We are not studying what the evangelists tell us about Jesus; what we are interested in is what Jesus of the Gospels says about himself, or allows/does not allow others to say about him to his own contemporaries. The Gospels consciously and purposely portray Jesus hiding and concealing his messiahship from His audience. In other words, the messiahship of Jesus is something the author and the readers know, but the original participants did not know.

This Messianic Secret – this contrast between the messiahship of Jesus and his injunctions to secrecy in the Gospels – undoubtedly requires some explanation. We will seek this explanation in the Jewish patterns of messianic expectations which Jesus and his followers may have made use of. Jesus was Jewish, and of course He was influenced by contemporary Jewish ideas – by His Jewish upbringing and the whole Jewish context of His life. We will try to identify those aspects of the Messianic Secret that may trace back to the time of Jesus, and even before that, to see this puzzling feature of the Gospels against its Jewish background and to seek an explanation of this New Testament quandary in Jewish thought of the time.

[1] Luke 9:20-21

[2] Mark 1:43-44

[3] Mark 5:43

[4] Mat. 9:30

[5] John 4:8

[6] Mark 5:19

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Brett Mousel

    Shalom Julia,
    Referring to your ‘The Story Of Flood You May Not Know (i)’ webpage, I see in your definitions of pardes exegesis that you defined remez with allegory, did you rather mean metaphor, and reserving allegory for derash? Now, I’m quite sure that you have the differences between ‘the elohim’ and indefinite ‘elohim’ discerned correctly; And, that Noach was hereditarily pure (from incursion influences). Is Ham pure as well? I’m unconvinced that post-deluge, nephilim are anything but exaggerations for motivating purposes; although, angels are required to separate the darnel (serpent’s seed)–please comment. What is your understanding of Cain’s paternity compared to his nurse-mate Abel’s, and Eve’s exclusivity with Adam?

    1. Julia Blum

      Wow, so many questions Brett. Regarding remez – it might be defined as an allegory (of course, the Jewish sages didn’t use this term). It is described as the deep allegoric meaning beyond the literal sense while derash designates the comparative (midrashic) meaning ( and not allegory).
      If Noah was pure ( and I am convinced that his wife was pure,too, otherwise God would not have chosen them), then Ham was pure as well. He had other problems as we know, but he was hereditary pure. Unfortunately, from the 20th century history we know very well that being “hereditary pure” doesn’t make you a good person, – still, I believe Ham was pure.
      As for Cain, I trust the Bible and what I read there: it says that Adam knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain. Of course, האדם can be read also as “the man” – but who is this other man at this pont? What do you suggest?