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Messiah  Definition

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Messiah (Hebrew - "Annointed One") -

1.  In Jewish tradition, a person of the line of King David (a "ben yishai" - son of Jesse, father of David) who will return the Jews from exile, rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and initiate a period of prosperity and peace. In that sense, belief in Messiah was simply belief in restoration of Israel and an end to present troubles. The Messianic idea became prevalent and gained adherents in times of extreme desperation, such as the conquest of Judea by the Babylonians, the Roman conquest, the rule of Hadrian and various periods in the Middle Ages. Additional beliefs associate the messiah with the resurrection of the dead, supposed to occur at the end of days, and with supremacy of Judaism. 

2. An "Ephraitic Messiah" - that is a forerunner of the true Messiah, son of David, who foretells the coming of the Messiah. This concept existed in ancient Judaism and the Book of Zerubavel, written in the Middle Ages apparently, tells of a woman, named Hephzibah, who accompanies Messiah ben Joseph into war with the enemies, where he is killed. After his death, she will save Jerusalem in anticipation of her son's, Messiah ben David's, rule. In other traditions, the prophet Elijah will announce the coming of the Messiah.

3. In Christian tradition, the Christ, a divine personage who will initiate the kingdom of God on earth.

4. Any of numerous Jewish false pretenders to the messianic crown, such as Shabbetai Tzvi, David Alroi, Isaac Luria and his disciples and in our own time, the deceased Rabbi of the Lubavitch (Chabad) Hassidim, who is worshipped as Messiah.

The concept of Messiah is not part of biblical Judaism and developed as an informal folk tradition with many variants and different understandings. Messiah is the subject of numerous folk tales and Hassidic songs. One concept of the Messiah is given by Maimonides  (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), in his commentary on tractate Sanhedrin, of the Babylonian Talmud:

"The Messianic age is when the Jews will regain their independence and all return to the land of Israel. The Messiah will be a very great king, he will achieve great fame, and his reputation among the gentile nations will be even greater than that of King Solomon. His great righteousness and the wonders that he will bring about will cause all peoples to make peace with him and all lands to serve him.... Nothing will change in the Messianic age, however, except that Jews will regain their independence. Rich and poor, strong and weak, will still exist. However it will be very easy for people to make a living, and with very little effort they will be able to accomplish very much.... it will be a time when the number of wise men will increase...war shall not exist, and nation shall no longer lift up sword against nation.... The Messianic age will be highlighted by a community of the righteous and dominated by goodness and wisdom. It will be ruled by the Messiah, a righteous and honest king, outstanding in wisdom, and close to God. Do not think that the ways of the world or the laws of nature will change, this is not true. The world will continue as it is. The prophet Isaiah predicted "The wolf shall live with the sheep, the leopard shall lie down with the kid." This, however, is merely allegory, meaning that the Jews will live safely, even with the formerly wicked nations. All nations will return to the true religion [monotheism, although not necessarily Judaism] and will no longer steal or oppress. Note that all prophecies regarding the Messiah are allegorical - Only in the Messianic age will we know the meaning of each allegory and what it comes to teach us. Our sages and prophets did not long for the Messianic age in order that they might rule the world and dominate the gentiles....the only thing they wanted was to be free for Jews to involve themselves with the Torah and its wisdom."

The understanding of the "End of Days" in Isaiah is more ambitious:

ISA 2:1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and
ISA 2:2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
ISA 2:3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
ISA 2:4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

While Isaiah does not mention a Messiah in that passage, a later passage does:

ISA 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
ISA 9:7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
ISA 9:8 The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel.
ISA 9:9 And all the people shall know, even Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria, that say in the pride and stoutness of heart,

It is not certain that the later passage refers to the "End of Days" mentioned in the first passage. In Jewish history, the repeated outbreaks of Messianic fervor and Messianic cults expressed the yearning of the people to return to the land of Israel and Jerusalem, an event which became synonymous for most Jews with the end of days and the Kingdom of God on Earth, both concepts that are probably not Jewish in origin. The most famous and infamous of the false Messiahs was Shabbetai Tzvi.

Synonyms and alternate spellings: Meshiach, Messias, Moshia'h,

Further Information:  Shabbetai Tzvi

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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This work and individual entries are copyright 2005 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not reproduced in any form without permission unless explicitly noted otherwise. Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel


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