The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Jesus

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9780060696450: The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Jesus
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In The First Messiah renowned Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Michael O. Wise brings to light the life of Judah, a forgotten prophet who predated Jesus as a messianic figure by a century and has had a profound impact on the course of Christianity and Western civilization.

Although Judah, known in the Dead Sea Scrolls as the Teacher of Righteousness, preached a message distinctly different from that of Jesus, the parallels between their lives are striking. Sharing with his successor a strong foundation in earlier written revelation, Judah came to believe--through meditation on Holly Writ--that he brought a divine message from God; like Christ, Judah's claims to messianic status led to his arrest and condemnation. Judah's warnings of Jewish apostasy and his apocalyptic prophecies, combined with powerful personal charisma, also built a movement that survived his death and even grew into an institution comprising bishops, priests, and laity.

Unlike Jesus, Judah left behind a personal testament, in his own words, of his relationship with God. By analyzing the Thanksgiving Hymns discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Wise uncovers the basis of a groundbreaking understanding of the prophetic mind. In so doing, Wise deepens our understanding of Christ, his impact on the Jewish community of his time, and even his interpretation of his own messianic role.

The parallels between Judah and Jesus blaze forth in sharp relief:

  • Both declared themselves prophets.

  • Both were hailed by followers as He Who Is to Come and worked attendant wonders.

  • Both founded vital and long-lasting movements before leaving this world.

In all these things, Judah was first, anticipating the far more famous prophet from Galilee. How can these similarities be explained?

A century before Christ, a man came to Jerusalem who became known as the Teacher of Righteousness. In The First Messiah, distinguished Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Michael O. Wise provides a detailed examination of Judah, a figure whose life and prophecies helped lay the foundation for the acceptance of Jesus as the savior. Drawing on ancient texts as well as contemporary anthropological thought, Wise reveals compelling parallels between early prophets such as Judah and Jesus, and messianic figures who have emerged through the ages to the current day in cultures around the world.

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Most Christians don't know what to think about the Dead Sea Scrolls except that they predate Jesus, and simple interpretations of history and textual authority claim that whatever existed first must have the greatest authority. Michael O. Wise, a leading Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, now offers a smart, accessible argument about the relationship between Jesus and the Scrolls. The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Jesus argues that Judah, a messianic figure described in the Scrolls, anticipated Jesus' coming in many respects--Judah was perceived by his contemporaries as fulfilling many of the same prophesies as Jesus, he taught many of the same principles Jesus taught, and after his death he inspired a movement that prefigured early Christianity. The First Messiah is not a hatchet-job on Jesus, however; Wise is not out to torpedo anybody's faith. Instead, he's offering readers a valuable lesson in humility. While respecting the possibility of Jesus' unique cosmic significance, he convincingly shows that Jesus' assumption of messianic status reenacts a social and religious drama that had clear historical precedents. This drama continues to be enacted by people around the world today. --Michael Joseph Gross

About the Author:

Michael Wise, who is among the foremost young scholars translating the Scrolls today, has been profiled in Time, The New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune. He is Scholar-in-Residence and Professor of Ancient Languages at Northwestern College, St. Paul, Minnesota.

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