Monday, December 3, 2012
A Resurrected Mashiach?
A Resurrected Mashiach?
In Christian theology mankind's sole hope for salvation is based on the death and resurrection of the Messiah. The Nazarene's death is interpreted not as extinguishing any possibility of him being the Messiah but rather the central fulfillment of the messianic role. In contrast Judaism rejects the notion that one who has died without fulfilling all the prophecies could be considered Mashiach, and by no means must the Messiah die and be resurrected. But to support their beliefs missionaries appeal to the Talmud for support for a "resurrected Messiah" where we read, "Rav Nachman said, 'If from the living [the Mashiach] would be like me....' Rav said, 'If from the living he would be like Rabbenu HaKadosh, if from the dead he would be like Daniel." (Sanhedrin 98b)
Here we are presented with a passage from an authoritative Jewish text which seems to clearly suggest the possibility that Mashiach could come back from the dead. Furthermore it is in the middle of the primary section where the Talmud discusses the Mashaich. While it may superficially appear to support the missionaries perspective closer analysis will show that it does not.
The first noteworthy point is that unlike many other passages where Chazal (Our Sages) discuss Mashiach, or other topics, no scripture is linked to support the idea that Mashiach would be from the dead. The Gemara doesn't even link a text midrashically. There is zero evidence to suggest these Sages interpreted any Scriptural passage similar to the Christian understanding that Messiah would die and be resurrected. Quite to the contrary, since Chazal typically offered support from Scripture when ever possible their omission of Scriptural references suggested that they where not basing this point off of any specific Bible verses.
This is of little surprise since the topic of the passage clearly was not to establish that Mashiach was going to rise from the dead. The passage was to offer different example of what the Mashiach would be like. They where not offering an opinion or tradition that Mashiach would in fact be from among the dead, but speculating on who he would be like among those who had already passed away. As we see they give the equal possibility that the Mashaich be from among the living. The discussion of Mashiach being from the dead was hypothetical, and quite possibly simply for the sake of argument. The point was simply to describe the character of the Mashiach and to that degree it would be perfectly reasonable to compare him to those who have already died, even though in fact they did not actually accept the possibility that he would be from the dead. While one might assume that under such a circumstance if they felt there was reason to object to the notion of Mashaich coming from the dead they would have taken the occasion to do so, but insofar as it is a peripheral issue to the Mashiach's character I am not certain we can expect it.
Whenever missionaries appeal to sources outside the T'nakh one must be suspicious about their ability to do so using the T'nakh alone. The idea of a resurrected Mashaich is not found in T'nakh and our passage from the Talmud implicitly attests to that fact. Chazal did not discuss a mesorah, a tradition, they received that the Mashiach would be form the dead, but offered examples both living and dead to indicate the character of Mashaich. Furthermore it demonstrates that while Chazal felt certain historical figures where worthy of being the Mashiach they did not consider it appropriate to identify them with being the Mashiach since the Messianic prophecies have yet to be fulfilled (at very least).