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 passages in red.—R.S.
Apocalypse of Baruch, Chapters 29, 30, and 40
All those who have knowledge of the intimate relation existing between Second Esdras (IV Ezra) and the Apocalypse of Baruch will expect to find in the latter work the same Messianic teaching as in the former. And in fact, its representation of the lesser Messiah agrees in all respects with that which was given in the “Shealtiel Apocalypse” (II Esdr, chaps. 3-13).11
The material in Ap. Bar. taken over from Ap. Sheal. (i. e., from the core of II Esdr.) is often reproduced verbally, sometimes elaborated, and frequently given mere allusion. For the present purpose it is only necessary to show that the material of II Esdr 7:28-31 and 12:32-34 is here repeated (more than once) and expanded.
When the wickedness of the Roman Empire (the cedar in the vision of the forest, chap. 36) shall have reached its climax, a Messiah “will be revealed” (39:7, cf. II Esdr 7:28) who will defeat these arch-enemies, seize their leader, and put him to death in Jerusalem (as in II Esdr 12:33). Then a glorious time of unspecified duration will begin. “The earth will yield its fruit ten thousand fold, on one vine will be a thousand branches, each branch will yield a thousand clusters, each cluster will produce a thousand grapes, and each grape will produce a hundred gallons of wine. Those who have hungered will rejoice” (29:5 f.). Food is provided in the carcasses of Behemoth and Leviathan, which have been preserved for this time (II Esdr 6:49-52). Observe that this picture is repeated, in another form, in Ap. Baruch 72-74.
The only indication of time—the length of this season of Messianic triumph—is in verse 8. Manna will again be sent down from heaven, and those who at that time are extant (II Esdr 7:28) “will eat of it in those years”; that is, presumably, in the “400 years” announced in Second Esdras.
Chapter 30 proceeds: “After these things, when the time of the advent of the Messiah is fulfilled, and he returns in glory, thereupon all those who had fallen asleep in hope of him will rise again.”
All modern interpreters have of course regarded this Messiah as the same whose triumphal reign has just been described; the fact of the “two deliverers” has not been recognized. The Syriac text, however, makes it much more probable that the author has here passed on in his vision to the Son of David.”12 Charles understands “advent” here to mean “presence,” which puts a strain on the Syriac. In II Esdras, moreover, the death of the martyr Messiah is not followed by the resurrection, the Messiah of chapter 13 has yet to appear; and the eschatology of the Baruch apocalyptist seems to agree at all points with that of the earlier book. Finally, Charles has trouble with the words “in hope of him,” which indeed seem strange if they refer to him who has just died, but are quite in place if the great Son of David is meant.
The picture given in chapters 29 and 30 is further supplemented in chapters 39 and 40 (39:7-40:4). The vision of the forest in chapter 36, with the vine, the fountain, and the cedar tree, and with the interpretation of it all in chapters 39 and 40, corresponds in general to the vision of the eagle in II Esdras 11 and 12. It is a vision of the end of the Roman empire, and of the punishment visited upon it. In either case, whether in Baruch or in Esdras, it is the Messiah who inflicts the punishment. II Esdr 12:33 is the equivalent of Bar 40:1 and the first clause of verse 2. In Esdras the Messiah rebukes the Romans for their wickedness, and then destroys them. In Bar. the account is more specific: the Roman hosts are “put to the sword” (notice the purely human manner of doing away with them), and their leader (presumably the last emperor) will be taken to Jerusalem and put to death.
Thereupon follows the peaceful Messianic reign, called “The Age” in chapter 73. It is a kingdom “of temporary duration, belonging to the ‘olam hazzeh,” as Charles rightly insists. The reign of this Messiah continues without interruption “until the world of corruption is at an end” (40:3). Then the hostile nations assemble and attack Jerusalem, the Messiah is defeated and slain.
There is more to be said in regard to II Esdras, chapter 13. Its hero, as was remarked above, is plainly the Davidic Messiah. In the dream which is narrated he is introduced and thereafter referred to as “the man,” that is, the Bar enash of the book of Daniel. In Daniel’s vision he is represented as coming in the clouds of heaven; here in the dream he first comes up out of the sea.13a In the angel’s interpretation of the dream he is called “The Son,” or “my Son.” It is not easy to believe that he can have been thought of as the champion who was defeated and slain in battle with the Gentile hosts, or indeed that he had tasted death at all. Rather, this is the “Son” of Is 9:6 and Ps 2:7!
[Is 9:6-7; cf. Mt 1:23, 28:18; Lk 1:32-33]
For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
[Ps 2:7-9; cf. Mk 1:11, Mt 3:17, Lk 3:22, GEbi 4, GHeb 2]
I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”13b
It is he who consumed the enemies of Yahweh and Israel, a multitude, with the fire that issued from his mouth (II Esdr 13:9, 11). It was quite a different Messiah who fought with the sword, captured the leader of the Roman hosts, brought him to Jerusalem and put him to death (II Esdr 12:32 f.; Ap Baruch 40:1 f.)!
In II Esdras, then, both Messiahs are plainly brought before us, and are distinguished from each other. In the Apocalypse of Baruch, with its merely partial and fragmentary repetition of II Esdras, the two Messiahs are indeed present (if the above interpretation is correct), but the most important matters touching them are left out and taken for granted, as known to all. At all events, we have in these two apocalypses, composed in the first century of the present era (see the references given in the footnote above), complete corroboration of the Rabbinical dogma of the two Messiahs. It appears incidentally that the doctrine of a “Millennium” had its origin in the triumphal reign of the Son of Ephraim.14a The Christian writers, as a matter of course, would have nothing to do with this Messiah, yet they retained the belief in a millennium.
This passage14b comes at the very end of the section, chapters 85-90, which gives a picture of the history of the world in which men are symbolized by animals. As the end of the present age approached, Enoch narrates:
I saw that a white bull was born, with large horns, and all the beasts of the field and the birds of the air feared him and made petition to him continually. And I saw till all their kinds were transformed, and they all became white cattle. And the foremost among them was the wild-ox,15 and that wild-ox was a great animal, and had great black horns on its head. And the Lord of the sheep rejoiced over them, and over all the cattle.
The white bull, as all the interpreters agree, represents the Davidic Messiah. The symbolism of the wild-ox, on the other hand, waited long for a plausible explanation. The suggestion made by Charles in his first commentary (1893), that the white bull was transformed into a wild-ox with black horns, was widely adopted, though always with hesitation. Aside from the fact that the supposed transformation would be senseless, it is not given countenance by the Ethiopic text. Nothing implies that the white bull (the Davidic Messiah) was changed in any way; while on the other hand according to the Ethiopic, our only witness, the bull and the wild-ox are distinct beings: “the Lord of the sheep rejoiced over them and over all the cattle.” Who are referred to in the words “over them”? The footnote in Fleming’s Ethiopic text, after remarking that all the manuscripts have the plural suffix, expresses surprise since “one would have expected the singular number.” This surprise is expressed also in the German translation by Fleming and Radermacher, and in the footnotes to Georg Beer’s treatment of Enoch in Kautzsch’s Apokryphen. Why the plural? Charles in his latest translation (in his Pseudepigrapha, p. 260) ignores the Ethiopic and writes “it” instead of “them.” But the text is right.
Let these come on the head of Joseph,
on the brow of the prince among his brothers.
A firstborn bull, majesty is his!
His horns are the horns of a wild ox;
with them he gores the peoples,
driving them to the ends of the earth;
such are the myriads of Ephraim,
such the thousands of Manasseh. (Deut 33:16b—17)
Now the wild-ox, with the great horns, has suggested to all commentators the cited passage Deut 33:16 f., in the blessing of Joseph; a passage… which some Christian scholars, observing the traditional Jewish interpretation, have even supposed to have been the source of the doctrine of the lesser Messiah.
The Rabbinical exegesis of these two verses in Deuteronomy has good illustration in the Midrash and elsewhere. The great horns, with which the wild-ox will strike in all directions, “are the emblem of Messiah ben Joseph” (Jewish Encyclopedia, VIII, 512). Sifre (Venice ed., 1545, p. 246, above), quoting the words of v. 16, “Let it come on the head (rosh) of Joseph,” says: “He came first (berosh) in Egypt, and he will come first in Messianic times.” The Yalkut Shim‘oni says: “The wild-ox is the warrior Messiah.” (See Edward G. King, The Yalkut on Zechariah, Cambridge, 1882, p. 92.)
It thus seems assured, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the “great animal” of Enoch 90:38, destined to appear in the very last days, is the Messiah ben Joseph. It is not by accident that the words with which he is introduced: “and the foremost among them (the cattle) was the wild-ox,” repeat the beginning of Deut 33:17: “The firstling of his herd… his horns are the horns of the wild-ox.” The author of Enoch, who knew the Jewish tradition, intended by his “wild-ox” the divine-human scion of Joseph’s house. With the wild-ox, yet above him, stood the white bull, the Anointed One of David’s line; “and the Lord of the sheep rejoiced over them both.”
This example takes us back nearly a century before the beginning of the present era; and, even then, the belief in two Messiahs is plainly a long-familiar dogma.
11. Concerning the relation of this apocalypse to the Apocalypse of Baruch, see my The Apocryphal Literature, pp. 123 f., and especially the article “A Twice-Buried Apocalypse” in Munera Studiosa, Studies Presented to Prof. W. H. P. Hatch (1946), pp. 23-39.
12. The change here, without warning, from the one Messiah to the other is one of several instances (such as Dan 12:1, see below) in which the transition is so disturbingly abrupt as to seem at first sight incredible. The apocalyptist is dealing with familiar scenes and properties, and is in no danger of being misunderstood.
13b. Of particular interest is the union of divine and human attributes already prefigured in these passages and later in the Book of Daniel. The Messiah Son of David exhibits a similar union (a view vehemently repudiated by orthodox Judaism): his cosmic mandate is to destroy the enemies of Yahweh, yet he is referred to as “the man”, “the son,” and “my son,” and is to be identified with the bar enash of the Book of Daniel. The union of man and god is quintessentially gnostic, bridging as it does the chasm between humanity and the Godhead, a chasm which constitutes an essential feature of normative Judaism. On the other hand, this gnostic and already pre-Christian union has critically informed the figure of Jesus in the New Testament.—R.S.
14a. This is clear from 4 Ezra 7:28 ff., where “the millennium” = 400 years: “For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years. And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath… And the earth shall give up those who are asleep in it… And the Most High shall be revealed upon the seat of judgment…”—R.S.
14b. This passage was first claimed for the Josephite Messiah by the present writer in an article entitled “Notes on the Greek Texts of Enoch,” published in the Journal of the Am. Oriental Society 62 (1942) 52-60. It was there shown, with abundant illustration, that the original language of the book of Enoch was Aramaic.
15. The Ethiopic version, which alone has preserved this part of the text, reads in both instances “the word” (!), a curious mistranslation which has been variously explained. Since the original language of the book was Aramaic (see the footnote above), it would appear that the Greek translator read memra, “word,” when that which was actually written was raima, “wild-ox.”