The Messiah Son of Ephraim
by Charles C. Torrey, PhD.
Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 66, No. 3 (Sep., 1947), pp. 253-277
With editorial material added in green and significant statements in red.
It was remarked above that in the Jewish tradition one passage of Old Testament prophecy has been expressly declared to refer definitely to the death of the warrior Messiah, the Son of Ephraim. This is Zech 12:10, a picture of bitter lamentation in Jerusalem for a slain hero. The whole chapter deals with the closing scenes of the great conflict of Israel with the hostile nations of the world.
Yahweh says in 12:9: “In that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.” Before this destruction takes place, however, there is an interlude, pictured in v. 10, in which the people are plunged in grief and remorse, mourning over the death of a leader who has fallen, one for whose fate they feel themselves to be in some way responsible. “They shall look on (him)18 whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddo.” The remaining verses of the chapter fill out the picture of distress, with every family in the land given over to lamentation.
Bear in mind that this is in the setting of eschatology, the whole chapter makes this plain;19 and also, that the picture drawn of the universal lamentation either points to a royal figure or else is intolerable exaggeration.
In the Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 52a, Rabbi Dosa (ben Archinos), mentioned above, is quoted as saying that the mourning predicted by the prophet Zechariah is for the Messiah son of Joseph, who was slain. The appended comment supports this, quoting the middle part of 12:10 with its mention of him “whom they pierced.”
Here is a perfect explanation of the mysterious scene depicted by Zechariah, which has never had any other plausible interpretation. Mark that this is only Jewish eschatology, not contemporary history. We already have before us, as an assured fact, the doctrine of the two Messiahs, and we have good reason to expect to find some trace of it in the later prophets. The all-important fact relating to the lesser Messiah, that he died for his people through no fault of his, but because they failed him, is clearly indicated in the present passage, as the commentators agree—though they vainly suppose the martyr to be a historical personage.20
The interpretation given by Rabbi Dosa ought not to be questioned. If this was what the prophet intended, and it was so understood by his hearers, the mystery of the strange picture is cleared away. The passage was sufficiently unambiguous to be preserved in the Rabbinical tradition of the Messianic time.
Zechariah 4, Before It Was Tampered With
There is another chapter in the book of Zechariah which calls for examination. This is chapter 4, apparently debarred from consideration by its supposed date, but in reality offering an important problem. The first eight chapters of the book form a definite group which is furnished with dates in the reign of a Persian King Darius, the one in whose time the temple at Jerusalem is said to have been built. The dogma of a Josephite Messiah would seem to be out of place in these surroundings; but on the other hand there are considerable portions of these chapters of Zechariah that likewise seem out of place in any writing of the date supposed; chapters containing such elaborate visions and filled with such “apocalyptic” imagery as is characteristic of the last centuries B. C.
Other considerable portions of the chapters are prosaic and in the style of stereotyped prophecy. In short, this section of the book, chapters 1-8, contains a mixture of two elements which may fairly be called incongruous. The “apocalyptic” stratum has some affinities with the latter half of the book, chapters 9-14, but differs very widely from it in literary character, and could never have been a part of the same composition.
It is important to observe that in the “mixture” here recognized as existing in chapters 1-8 the later element is the prophecy dated in the reign of Darius; as to this there can be no question, as will be shown. The original visions, and their symbolism, appear to have been considerably revised; in one instance only can the nature and extent of the revision be clearly seen, namely in chapter 4.
The vision in chapter 4 is of a golden candlestick with seven lamps and with an olive tree on either side. At the end of the chapter an angel tells the prophet, in answer to his request, what the lamps and the trees symbolize.
The brief chapter, in its original form, reads as follows:
1. And the angel who talked with me came again and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep.
2. And he said to me, What seest thou? I said, I have seen, and behold, a candlestick all of gold, with its bowl upon the top of it, and its seven lamps there-on; there are seven pipes to each of the lamps, which are upon the top;
3. and two olive-trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl, and the other on the left side.
4. And I said to the angel who talked with me, What are these, my Lord?
5. He answered, Knowest thou not what these are? I said, No, my Lord.
6. Then he spoke to me, saying,
[Skip interpolated verses 6b—10a]
10. These seven, they are the eyes of Yahweh, which run to and fro through the whole earth.
11. Then I said to him, What are these two olive-trees on the right side of the candlestick and on the left side?
[Skip interpolated verse 12]
13. And he said to me, Knowest thou not what these are? I said, No, my Lord.
14. Then he said, These are the two Anointed Ones, who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.
Into the middle of the little chapter is plumped a curious passage of five verses, giving the vision connection, in some way, with Zerubbabel and the building of the temple in Jerusalem. The inserted matter is so unsuitable, so disturbing to its context, that some commentators have felt that it could hardly be an interpolation, but must rather have entered the chapter by some accident. (See for example Marti’s Dodekapropheton, p. 412, bottom.) There is, however, no other place in the prophecy where it could possibly be brought under cover, nor any possible explanation of such an “accident” as this. On the contrary, it is deliberate interpolation, as verse 12, a part of the same undertaking, makes evident.
The main interpolation begins with zeh davar yahweh Zech 4:6, and ends with beyad zerubbabel in 4:10. Verse 12, commonly recognized as a secondary element in the chapter (thus by Wellhausen, Nowack, Marti, and many others), seems to have been inserted in order not to disturb the already accepted interpretation of the two olive-trees, see below. When the two false insertions are omitted, everything is in perfect order.
Modern exegesis, ignoring the violence done to the chapter, and taking it for granted that the first half of Zechariah (chapters 1-8) was a prophecy composed at the time of the building of the second temple, has interpreted the two olive-trees as symbolizing Zerubbabel and Jeshua, and this was plainly the intent of the interpolation. The title “anointed ones,” however, does not naturally suggest either Jeshua or Zerubbabel, and the early Jewish exegesis did not take this view. The Targum says, “Two divine beings,” and there is strong reason for believing that this is what the author of the chapter intended. The Jewish exegetical tradition, down to a much later date, continues to support this view; thus the Yalkut Shim’oni (see above) has the interpretation at the beginning of the chapter, at the first mention of the olive trees in verse 3: “These are the two Messiahs, one the anointed for war, and one the anointed for King over Israel.” Is there any other plausible interpretation?
With the closing words of the vision, in Zech 4:14, “These…who stand by the Lord of the whole earth,” we may compare the clause in Enoch 90:38, quoted above: “And the Lord… rejoiced over them both.”
A word may be added in further confirmation of what was said above, that we have here in chapters 1-8 a purposeful revision; a prophetical work of an apocalyptic nature, consisting of a series of visions and their interpretation, having been made over and expanded into a prophecy of Zechariah the son of Iddo relating to Jeshua and Zerubbabel and the building of the temple.
The visions are seven in number:
The four horses, 1:8 ff.;
The four horns and their fate, 2:1-4 (English version 1:18-21);
The man with a measuring line, 2:5 ff. (English version 2:1 ff.);
The seven lamps and the two trees, chapter 4;
The flying roll, 5:1-4;
The ephah and the woman, 5:5ff.;
The four chariots, 6:1-8.
These visions all have one and the same interpretation, namely, that Yahweh is deeply concerned about his people, is keeping close watch of them, and will soon accomplish his purpose to rescue them from their oppressors.
Chapter 3 of course falls out of the list. It belongs to the later prophecy, whose disturbing presence has perhaps been sufficiently demonstrated. It has indeed the form of a vision—it could not have been given any other form, in this context, but it is in its manner very unlike the other visions. The fact that it lies outside the sacred number, seven, adds a little weight, if more were needed.
The revision of this series of pictures, to obtain a prophecy dating from the building of the temple, need not have been extensive, though it certainly was pervasive. The example in chapter 4 is an extreme instance and yet typical. That which in this case is done rather violently is elsewhere accomplished by means of slight changes and additions. The building of the temple is first mentioned in 1:16, Jeshua is introduced in chapter 3, Zerubbabel in chapter 4, and through the transforming of this chapter, 4:14 is made to refer to both of them.
Another result of the revision in the interest of the prophet Zechariah is easily overlooked. The dating, so conspicuous and so important in the prophecy, must of course apply to the whole. This made necessary the omission of the beginning of the apocalypse. The fact of this omission is obvious enough. When the man who sees the visions is introduced, in 1:8 f., he happens to mention the angel who was talking with him. The angel? Did every prophet who had a vision have an angel talking with him? There was also a man, mounted on a red horse, who stood “among the myrtle-trees which were in the hollow.” What hollow? What myrtle-trees? These are all properties of the vision that were introduced and explained in its introductory portion, which, of course, had to be omitted. The unusual manner of the transition from 1:7 to 1:8 gives further evidence.
After 6:8 there is no trace of the definitely apocalyptic manner, no vision similar to those characteristic of the previous chapters. All the remainder of the document, 6:9 to 8:23, seems quite homogeneous as the conclusion of the Zechariah prophecy.
19. The eschatological (not historical) nature of the events relative to the slain Messiah “Son of Joseph” certainly influenced the Christian view of their Messiah Jesus, son of Joseph. This is strong vindication of the Doherty thesis that “Jesus” was originally slain in the purely spiritual realm. Nevertheless, it does not eliminate the possibility that a prophet also walked in Palestine towards the close of the era who taught many of the logia and parables contained in Gnostic and Christian scripture. Christianity may, indeed, be a fusion of both the eschatological and the historical.—R.S.
20. The astounding parallels between the slain Messiah Son of Joseph/Ephraim and the slain Messiah Jesus of Christianity cannot escape the reader. One conception certainly proceeded from the other, and which was the original is clear from chronology. In this article Torrey has clearly described the Josephite messiah as existing already in Hellenistic-Hasmonean times. This was well before Christianity, and thus we can be sure of one monumental conclusion: the Christian conception of the slain yet innocent messiah owes principally to the Jewish conception of the slain Messiah Son of Ephraim.—R.S.