Saturday, November 10, 2012

Moshiach Ben Ephraim/Moshiach Ben Yosef

In Jewish tradition there appears a figure identified as Moshiach ben Yoseph (Messiah son of Joseph), also known as Moshiach ben Ephraim, who precedes the coming of Moshiach. This individual is a descendant of the Biblical Patriarch Yoseph (Joseph) and his son Ephraim, by whose name he is identified. While Moshiach is from the tribe of Yehudah and the Davidic monarchy, Moshiach ben Ephraim is connected to the tribe of Ephraim which the king of the Northern Kingdom typically came from after the Jewish people split following the death of Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon). Moshiach ben Yoseph's preparatory role is therefore symbolic of the renewed Jewish unity which culminates in the coming of Moshiach ben Dovid (Messiah son of David), who sits as the King over the united kingdom as did the great kings Dovid (David) and Shlomo.

We are told that Moshiach ben Yoseph will die in battle, only to be resurrected by the Moshiach. Because of this aspect the tradition concerning Moshiach ben Yoseph, many missionaries have appealed to it as a polemic tool to argue that their view of a suffering Messiah is indeed legitimate. They argue that this tradition is a "theory" which attempts to reconcile the passages which they identify as predicting the Nazarene's sufferings with those passages from the T'nakh which in actuality foretell Moshaich ben Dovid.
Virtually no ancient rabbinical writer denied that the subject of the two lines of prophecy was a Messianic figure. However, they simply could not envision how one individual, in one lifetime, could both rule and reign on the throne of David forever and ever, and yet be despised rejected, suffer and die. Consequently , they conceived to split the Messiah in two, creating one Messiah for each line of prophecy. However, as we shall see, one individual could accomplish both lines of prophecy. This requires one caveat: He would have to come twice.! (The Search for Messiah, Eastman, Smith, page 119,120).
They conclude that history has shown that there are not "two Messiahs" but one Messiah with two missions and two "comings".

Now the contention by some in the Christian world that this so-called "Theory" is a post-Christianity reaction to the Nazarene is unjustified, "This theory did not appear in the Talmud until the 3rd century A.D. Up until then everyone agreed there was only one Messiah" (Yeshua the Messiah, page 60).1 Traditional Judaism did not commit traditional teachings to written texts until after the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdosh made it necessary lest they became forgotten. Therefore traditional teachings such as those found in the Talmud and the Midrashim where transmitted orally until after the time of the Nazarene. By definition then, any traditional teaching not explicitly written in T'nakh does not have textual confirmation until after the time of the Nazarene. The tradition of Moshiach ben Ephraim , while not mentioned in the Mishnah which deals mainly with halachah (law), it is recorded in the Gemora (Succah 52b), and other sources which represent the earliest traditional sources committed to writing. Furthermore these sources have no indication of counter-Christian polemic other than the obvious fact that they disagree with Christian teaching!

When we examine the primary source material of the Moshaich ben Ephraim tradition we see that the missionary assertion that it is in response to Christian Biblical interpretation is absurd. While the Gemora in Succah, representing the primary source for this tradition, cites several verses from T'nakh and several others are added in other texts, there is only one which is applied to the Nazarene by Christians (Zechariah 12:10).2 And while Zechariah 12:10 may seem to address a major point in Christian polemics, it is not used as such by Christian Scriptures and we hope to show that contextually it fits the tradition of Moshaich ben Ephraim much better since the passage suggests someone who dies in battle like Moshaich ben Ephraim but unlike the Nazarene.

Among the other verses cited as the Biblical source for this tradition we see that it is impossible that Moshaich ben Dovid and Moshiach ben Ephraim to be a single individual with two roles. One source in T'nakh is the prophecy in Zechariah 2:4 which describe four "craftsmen" who battle the four nations who oppress Israel. These "craftsmen" are identified in the Gemora Succah 52b as Moshiach ben Dovid and Moshiach ben Yosef, Eliyahu, and as the "Kohen Tzedek" Malchizedek. Contrary to the missionary assertion to the contrary the tradition of Moshiach ben Yosef is not a theory derived from ambiguous references to a single Messiah with two apparently conflicting roles, but rather based on Biblical sources which explicitly describe multiple individuals involved in the redemption of Israel from its enemies.

Another source which indicates that the final Messianic redemption will not be the exclusive work of Moshiach ben Dovid himself is Obadiah 1:21 which says, "And saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge the Mountain of Esau, and the kingdom will be Hashem's." The plural reference to "saviors" precludes the possibility of this tradition being summarily dismissed as being, "in actuality", one individual with two missions. Obadiah earlier in verse 18 describes the House of Yoseph as being a flame which will devour Edom like straw. This means that the Messianic redemption must have participation from the descendants of Yoseph, a qualification not met by Mashiach ben David.

It is interesting to note that when God stripped the Ten Northern Tribes from the House of David, He appointed Jeroboam as king. Jeroboam was from the tribe of Ephraim (1 Kings 11:26) and God promised him that if he was obedient then he too would have an enduring dynasty like King David (1 Kings 11:38). While he ultimately failed to obey God and lost his opportunity, this promise (which I have no doubt God's promise was sincere) is much easier to reconcile with the notion that the Mashaich is a righteous king from the line of David (who could rule along side a righteous king from Ephraim) than the unique theoanthropic deity of Christian belief.

So we see that while David Chernoff's assertion that, "Nowhere in the entire Word of God or Tenach is the Messiah ever spoken of in the plural" (Yeshua the Messiah, page 61) and the similar claim "As one examines all known Old Testament Messianic prophecies e would find that there is no direct scriptural evidence for multiple Messiahs. In each case only singular personal pronouns are used to describe the origin, ministry, and destiny of the Messiah." (The Search for Messiah page 121) may be technically correct it doesn't lead to the conclusion he proposes that there is one Messiah with two roles. The fact is that nowhere in the Jewish Bible is Messiah named such, or the Hebrew equivalent Mashiach. The term is of post Biblical origin, even according to Christian interpretation there are at most two or three "Messianic" passages that use the term translated as Messiah in reference to the Messiah, "It is noteworthy that the word "messiah" does not appear at all in the OT (the AV of Dan. 9:25 is incorrect; it ought to read "an anointed one") and only rarely in the intertestamental literature" (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, page 710). But while the nomenclature may not be used there are scriptural indications that suggest more than one active participant in the final redemption, and particularly participation from those who descend from Yoseph. Indeed with respect to the actual use of the term "Messiah":

It remained to the Psalms of Solomon (ca. 48 B.C.) to provide the one confirmed and repeated evidence of the technical use of the term [Messiah] in the intertestamental literature. This literature demonstrates, therefore, a diffuse expectation about the Messiah. It speaks of a Messiah of David, of Levi, of Joseph, and Ephraim. The Dead Sea Scrolls add to the confusion by referring to a Messiah of Aaron and Israel. (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 711)

Furthermore the whole terminology of "Two Messiah's" used by Missionaries is, it seems to me, largely of their own invention. While Scripture and tradition allude to such a figure, he remains of secondary importance (certainly in authoritative, traditional sources, I am not familiar or interested in Psalms of Solomon or the Dead Sea Scroll which really don't reflect Rabbinic Judaism, the context this argument is generally brought up in). He is a "moshiach", anointed one, not THE Moshiach. He is a mashiach in the sense that it is used throughout the T'nakh, a leader. In contrast Mashiach unqualified refers to the final redeemer from the House of Dovid who will lead Israel out of exile and reunite them under the throne of Dovid. So while Mashiach ben Ephraim in Jewish tradition may be "a moshiach", like many other leaders of the Jewish people mentioned in T'nakh it is quite correct to say that their is unequivocally ONE Melech HaMoshiach found in both Scripture and Jewish tradition: Mashiach ben David.

Mashiach Ben Ephraim was, and is, a legitimate part of the Orthodox Jewish tradition. And while his death represents a bleak representation of the Messianic redemption it is not inevitable. Saadia Goan tells us in The Book of Beliefs and Opinions that these events, like other prophecies of punishment, need not come to pass if we repent properly before the coming of Moshiach. These events are not part and parcel of the Messianic redemption but a possible out come if we do not properly ready ourselves for the Messianic era. They certainly are not a Jewish spin on the numerous prophecies Christianity misapplies to the Nazarene, we see elsewhere that their context generally provide an obvious enough explanation. The Biblical sources for the Moshiach ben Yoseph tradition are almost entirely unrelated to missionary proof texts and in and of themselves deny the possibility of one individual as being the subject. The only supposed similarity we see in the source material of the "Moshiach ben Yoseph" tradition is that he dies and is resurrected...something both Jewish and Christian tradition assign as the fate of all righteous individuals. For a missionary to draw parallels between Christian dogma and the tradition of Moshiach ben Yoseph is unjustified and misleading, particularly they capitalize on the unrelated fact that Mary's husband's Hebrew name was Yoseph, when the name in truth refers to the patriarch Yoseph.

1 Hal Lindsey, at least, seems identify this "theory" as one developed "Before Jesus lived on this earth" (The Promise, page 93).
2 See Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, page 222, "In fact, Zechariah 12:10 (‘They will look on me, the one they have pierced’), quoted with reference to the death of Yeshua in the New Testament, is applied to the Messiah ben Joseph in this Talmudic text".


Katriel P said...

How is it that Haben Ephraim is to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash if his hands are stained with blood through the conquering of his enemies? (1 Chron. 22:8)

Katriel P said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Yirmiahu said...


Thanks for your questions. I would like to take a little more time to consider your first comment.

Regarding your second comment, I'm not quite sure it is on topic here but needless to say there is no contradiction between being a son of David and being born of a women. In fact Solomon and all of David's other children were born of a women.

That being said I think it would be worthwhile for you to reconsider your understanding of Genesis 3:15.
Furthermore Isaiah 7:14 doesn't refer to Mashiach ben David.

It might also be worthwhile for you to check out this post.