Jewish Messiahs in a Christian Empire

A History of the Book of Zerubbabel

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Martha Himmelfarb
  • Cambridge, MA: 
    Harvard University Press
    , February
     2017.
     232 pages.
     $39.95.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780674057623.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Joshua A. Blachorsky forthcoming.

Description

The seventh-century CE Hebrew work Sefer Zerubbabel (Book of Zerubbabel), composed during the period of conflict between Persia and the Byzantine Empire for control over Palestine, is the first full-fledged messianic narrative in Jewish literature. Martha Himmelfarb offers a comprehensive analysis of this rich but understudied text, illuminating its distinctive literary features and the complex milieu from which it arose.

Sefer Zerubbabel presents itself as an angelic revelation of the end of times to Zerubbabel, a biblical leader of the sixth century BCE, and relates a tale of two messiahs who, as Himmelfarb shows, play a major role in later Jewish narratives. The first messiah, a descendant of Joseph, dies in battle at the hands of Armilos, the son of Satan who embodies the Byzantine Empire. He is followed by a messiah descended from David modeled on the suffering servant of Isaiah, who brings him back to life and triumphs over Armilos. The mother of the Davidic messiah also figures in the work as a warrior.

Himmelfarb places Sefer Zerubbabel in the dual context of earlier Jewish eschatology and Byzantine Christianity. The role of the messiah’s mother, for example, reflects the Byzantine notion of the Virgin Mary as the protector of Constantinople. On the other hand, Sefer Zerubbabel shares traditions about the messiahs with rabbinic literature. But while the rabbis are ambivalent about these traditions, Sefer Zerubbabel embraces them with enthusiasm.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Martha Himmelfarb is William H. Danforth Professor of Religion at Princeton University.

Add New Comment

Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.

Log in to post comments