This is the third and last installment of our study of the Jewish background of the Messianic secret. We will then take a break from this topic, and will come back to it later, to examine the theme of hidden/revealed Messiah in the New Testament. In our last post, we spoke about the Hidden Savior in the Apocalyptic and Qumran writings. We have to be aware, though, that both the Apocalyptic and Qumran writings come from authors living on the margin of ordinary Jewish life. The question is whether we have any additional evidence – whether we have something that can be taken as a true picture of the religion of this period where we can look for a hidden messiah?
Targums – Here the Targums, the somewhat free Aramaic renderings of the Old Testament for use in synagogues, come into the picture. In spite of the late dates of the final redaction of these texts (the basic redaction of the earliest Targums may be late second or third century CE, and many of the available texts are dated even later), the interpretative tradition they represent belongs to the period of the Second Temple. Do we find a hidden and revealed messiah here? When we turn to the texts and we will be surprised to find out how many times the Targums speak about messiah being revealed, although there is no word about hidden and revealed in the original Hebrew text. While in rabbinic writings we read mostly (though not solely) of the coming (בוא) of the Messiah, the Targums, when referring to the advent of the Messiah, speak of him as “being revealed” (אתגלי). Obviously, to translate also means to interpret, thus the very fact that the word revealed seemed the most appropriate verb to use in connection with the messiah, is very significant.
Let us look at some examples from the texts (targumic deviations from the Hebrew text are indicated by italics).
Genesis 35, 21: Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.
Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Genesis 35, 21: “from Migdal Eder “is King Messiah to be revealed (עתיד דאתגלי) at the end of the days”.
Jeremiah, 30.21: And their governor shall come from their midst (in Hebrew: ומשלו מקרבו יצא).
Targum Jeremiah, 30.21: “and their Anointed one shall be revealed from among them”.
Mica 4.8 : And you, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, To you shall it come
Targum Mica 4.8 : “And you, O anointed one of Israel, who have been hidden away because of the sins of the congregation of Zion, the kingdom shall come to you.”
Zechariah 3.8 : Behold! I will bring my servant the branch (In Hebrew:כי-הנני מביא את-עבדי צמח)
Targum Zechariah 3.8 : “Lo! : I will bring my servant the Anointed one, and he shall be revealed”.
Zechariah 4.7: and he shall bring forth the capstone…
Targum Zechariah 4.7: “And he shall reveal his anointed One whose name is told from of old, and he shall rule over all kingdoms”.
Zechariah 6.12: Then speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, saying: Behold, the man whose name is branch! From his place he shall branch out, and he shall build the temple of the Lord’.
Targum Zechariah 6.12 “And you shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus speaks the Lord of Hosts, saying, Behold, the man whose name is Anointed, will be revealed, and he shall be raised up, and shall build the temple of the Lord’”.
Rabbinic literature – This idea of the unknown or hidden Messiah also occurs in later Rabbinic literature. True, all the available rabbinic texts were compiled and edited much later than the NT period. However, of the teachers whose utterances are set down in these compilations, the earliest were disciples from the schools of Hillel and Shammai, from the first century BCE, and therefore some of these texts reveal the beliefs of Jews before the fall of Jerusalem. We see that different rabbinic texts play with this idea of Messiah being hidden for some time and then being revealed. Thus Midrash Tehilim (Midrash on Psalms) comments on Psalm 21.1: “… the king Messiah, David’s son … will remain hidden until the time of redemption.” Midrash Ruth Rabbah 5.6: “Just as the first redeemer was revealed to them in Egypt, and then concealed from them until it was time to reveal him again, so will it be with the final redeemer: the final redeemer would at first be revealed to them, and then be concealed from them for a while”. We read in Midrash Bereshit Rabba, Piska 36: “And God saw the light that it was good (Gen.1.4) This verse proves that the Holy One, blessed be He, contemplated the Messiah and his works before the world was created, and then under His throne of glory put away His Messiah until the time of the generation in which he will appear.”
We can therefore see that the rabbinic literature also bears a witness to the idea that messiah, when he comes, will be hidden, or not recognized, until the time when he is revealed by God. Isn’t it significant, for instance, that in later Jewish sources, the second Messiah becomes Son of Josef? The whole story of Josef is not so much about suffering, as about not being recognized. There are other people in scripture who suffered a lot, and if Messiah had to symbolize suffering and death, it would be much more logical for him to be called Son of Job – Job being a symbol of suffering in Tanach. However, the greatest story of the Hebrew Bible about being unrecognized (until he himself reveals his identity), is the story of Joseph. In this sense, the Messiah Son of Joseph of the rabbinic texts also bears witness to the fact that “the incognito” of messiah becomes an essential feature of later Jewish literature.
Conclusion – We can sum up our study with some preliminary results.
– All the evidence proves that almost every trend of Second Temple Judaism held some beliefs concerning the “hidden messiah”. We have seen some texts – mainly the apocalyptic ones, but also Targums – referring to a ‘hidden’ savior proper, to the one who was concealed from the beginning and will be revealed only when the appointed time comes. The texts of the second group are built around the ‘unrecognized’ motif: Messiah, when he comes, would be hard to identify; he will be “hidden, without esteem, unknown, his secret sealed up”. This motif is present to a certain extent in some Qumran texts. However, it becomes especially clear in the later rabbinic literature.
– We see something very intriguing in these texts: we see that in the book of Enoch, written approximately in the 1st century BC, Messiah is hidden in heaven, but then in the rabbinic literature beginning from 1AD, we see Messiah already hidden and unrecognized on the earth. We understand, therefore, that the theme of “Messiah hidden in heaven and then coming to the earth”, was a part of the intertestamental Judaism. I believe, it can help us understand better the history of Israel.
– If messiah is not recognized – and he is not supposed to be recognized – it means that he has to be silent about his messiahship. In effect, it means that the idea that when the Messiah comes, he would keep silence concerning his messianic status and would go unrecognized until God makes him manifest, becomes a current idea of Jewish religious thought at the turn of the era. The Messiah needed to remain hidden and could not reveal who he was. Thus we arrive to a new and deeper understanding of the messianic secret of the Gospels: we understand that the silence of Jesus of the Gospels was precisely what was expected of the Messiah when he should come.
It is at this point, with all these conclusions achieved, that we will move on to the New Testament …