A welcome, updated edition of Collins’ 1995 study of “Messiahs” (“Messianism” in the 2010 edition) in the light of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Although only chapter six of the original nine has been rewritten (because of Israel Knohl’s theories and the newly published “Vision of Gabriel”), the footnotes and bibliography have grown considerably. The expanded bibliography of Collins’ own works now includes forty-three rather than the original twenty-two.
The work retains its original structure: it starts and ends with the contrast between Judaism’s and Christianity’s differing notions of Messianism: chapter one, a general discussion of Messianism, especially in late Judaism and the formation of a Canon—to situate the documents at Qumran. Chapter nine concludes with the Christology of the early Church. In each chapter in between, Collins begins with an aspect of messianism (“Fallen booth of David”, “Stump of Jesse”, the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel), as well as important biblical and Qumran texts. The he explores the political context and difficulties of the text or texts where it appears. Since many interpretations are dependent on controversial readings of extremely fragmented Qumran texts, the value of Collins’ work is in guiding the reader through the history of scholarly readings and interpretations of these texts. His own balanced scholarly judgments are based on his vast knowledge of the conflicting strands of messianic hopes: the dominant notion of a Davidic messiah as king who would restore Israel, but also the minor strands: a priestly messiah of Aaron, an anointed prophet (like Isaiah) or a heavenly Son of Man (as in Daniel 7)
The value of this work for a generalist such as myself—teaching courses in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament—is first the abundant source material that helps understand the emergence of Jewish ideas about the Messiah (clarified by and clarifying Qumran texts) and, secondly, its methodology in using these sources to gain a clearer understanding of early Christian claims that Jesus is the Messiah. The final chapter, entitle “Messianic Dreams in Action”, does an admirable job of this: to determine whether the claim that Jesus was Messiah is “absurd” (Donald Juel) or plausible considering the kingdom Jesus had in mind, Collins examines Jewish messianic ideas, including a text from Qumran (4Q521) that seems to confirm Luke’s presentation of Jesus, the “anointed”, Spirit-filled Jesus inaugurating his kingdom. He then notes that this prophetic ‘anointed one’ still doesn’t explain why he was crucified as King of the Jews or regarded as Son of David. After reading this chapter, a teacher of the New Testament will be much more careful in presenting the gospels portraits of Jesus or the triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, “your king comes humbly, seated on a beast of burden”. The modern Christian reader will now understand more clearly the complicated interplay between the historical Jesus (his actions and message about the ‘kingdom of God’) and the early church’s role in using paradigms to interpret him, the ‘suffering messiah.’