The Messiah Son of Ephraim
by Charles C. Torrey, PhD.
Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 66, No. 3 (Sep., 1947), pp. 253-277
With occasional added notes in green and important points in red.—R.S.
In this section Prof. Torrey delineates two messiahs: a “Son of Ephraim” (who is also known as “Son of Joseph”) and a “Son of David.” The former is essentially human, the latter essentially divine. The basic roles of these two different messiahs are as follows:
First in history will come the very human Son of Joseph/Ephraim (the precursor):
– In the last days of the world but before the Messiah Son of David (and, in a sense, ‘in preparation’ for the Messiah Son of David).
– The messiah Son of Ephraim heroically battles the evil forces of the world. His combat is an ethical one: “He will denounce [the evildoers] for their ungodliness and for their wickedness, and will display before them their contemptuous dealings… For the rest of my people he will deliver with mercy.” Yet the Messiah Son of Ephraim/Joseph valiantly dies in combat.
Then comes the divine Messiah Son of David (and Son of God):
– Like a “lion” with mighty armies cremating all the world that resists. Nothing is left but “the dust of ashes and the smell of smoke” (II Esdras 13:11). His justice is “like the destruction wrought by the atomic bomb” (Torrey).
It would appear from the above that we indeed have two Messiahs. The Messiah Son of Joseph/Ehpraim is essentially human, comes first, has a valiant career, and dies gloriously in combat; while the Messiah Son of David is essentially divine, comes second, and is the ‘final’ cosmic arbiter.—R.S.
Second Esdras (“IV Ezra”) 7:28–317
In certain respects [the following citation] is the most important of all the extant passages which deal with the doctrine of the lesser Messiah, Son of Ephraim:
(28) My son the Messiah will be revealed, together with those who are with him, and will rejoice those who remain, four hundred years. (29) After these years shall my son the Messiah die, and all those who have the breath of life. (30) And the world shall be turned into the primeval silence seven days, as in the very beginning, so that no man shall remain. (31) And after seven days the world, which is not yet awake, shall be roused, and all that which is corruptible shall perish.7
There are many enigmatic passages in this deeply reasoned apocalypse, but hardly another as startling as the one now before us. What is this new Messianic teaching?
The German scholar Kabisch, one of the best of all the commentators on IV Ezra, exclaims over the passage, saying that its author stands quite alone, among the Jewish writers, in his prediction that the Messiah will die! (Das vierte Buch Esra, 1889, p. 156).8 He quotes Friedrich Lticke’s remark, that the saying might be explained from the Jewish idea of the death of the Messiah ben Joseph, but objects, that no second Messiah appears in the passage, but only the judgment day and the blessed eternity.
True; but a Messiah who certainly seems to be the Son of David is pictured in chapter 13. There might have been a place for him in chapter 7, if the author could have wished to present here the entire scheme of eschatology.
There were two Messiahs, it must be insisted, and one thing that we know with certainty about the Messiah ben Ephraim is that he died in behalf of his people. A very different Messiah will appear in Chapter 13.
I would conjecture that Kabisch’s unwillingness to entertain the thought of this solution was because of the words, twice repeated, “My Son the Messiah.” He would object with good reason; for the uniform Jewish tradition makes it plain that the Ephraimite Messiah, though a majestic figure, was nevertheless subordinate, standing virtually in the service of the Son of David. From whatever testimony we possess, the title “My Son” appears so unsuitable here as to be under strong suspicion.
How trustworthy, now, is the attestation of this reading? I am not aware that the question has ever been raised, but it is important. Gunkel and Box give lists of variant readings—even Arabic readings—but they do not try to examine them closely. The reading “My Son the Messiah” is given by the Latin and Syriac versions, in both verses, 28 and 29; the Ethiopic version (normally a faithful rendering of the Greek) reads simply “my Messiah” in verse 28 and “my Servant my Messiah” in verse 29! This appears to make it plain that the Greek read: ho pais mou messias. The Latin and Syriac versions, profoundly Christian, choose the rendering “My Son the Messiah,” and the Latin has even “My son Jesus”; but it now seems clear that the Ethiopic translator was right.
Prof. Torrey’s remarks above and below propose the following ‘amended’ translation of the passage under examination (IV Ezra 7:28—31) without the word “son” (changes are signaled in italics and depend on the more authentic Ethiopic text):
(28) My Servant the Messiah will be revealed, together with those who are with him, and will rejoice those who are extant. (29) And after this, my Servant the Messiah will die, and all those who have the breath of life. (30) And the world shall be turned into the primeval silence seven days, as in the very beginning, so that no man shall remain. (31) And after seven days the world, which is not yet awake, shall be roused, and all that which is corruptible shall perish.7
Since the conception of the Ephraimite Messiah is with such good reason believed to have had its source in chapter 53 of Isaiah with its picture of the Servant of Yahweh suffering and dying in behalf of his people, one can hardly fail to recognize here in Second Esdras an echo of ho pais mou in Is 42:1 and in 52:13, where the Targum in both passages has ebedi mshiha, “my Servant the Messiah”.
I think this passage in II Esdras 7 will eventually be recognized as giving the most important testimony to the doctrine of the “other” Messiah [the Son of Ephraim] to be found anywhere in the Old Testament literature, and this not merely because it confirms the belief that the doctrine had its origin in the picture of the martyr-“Servant” in Second Isaiah.
Consider especially the latter half of v. 28: “My servant the Messiah will be revealed,…and will rejoice those who remain, four hundred years.” Here is something new, at least in its definiteness. The Messiah ben Ephraim ben Joseph is more or less familiar as the warrior champion of Israel, at first conquering, at last struck down when his armies fail him, bitterly mourned by a repentant people (as in Zech 12); but is he the Lord’s Anointed for merely a brief and negative role? Is he given no triumphal reign? Here, at all events, a long time of triumph is predicted for him, and the number 400, as the commentators agree, is based on Hebrew scripture.9
Shall we say, then, that the author of this apocalypse gave the Son of Ephraim a reign of 400 years? Probably, though it is not quite certain that the true text of the document contained this number, which we get from the Latin; the Syriac says “thirty”; an Arabic version says “one thousand”; the Ethiopic gives no number at all, but simply says: “and he will rejoice those who are extant. And after this, my Servant the Messiah will die,” etc. It may be safest to be satisfied with this. As was said a moment ago, [after him there is a second Messiah ben David in the 13th chapter, originally the concluding chapter of this apocalypse.] As to his identity there can hardly be doubt. He cremates whole armies, “an innumerable multitude,” with the flaming breath of his mouth; nothing is left but “the dust of ashes and the smell of smoke” (v. 11). It is like the destruction wrought by the atomic bomb.
The case is different in chapters 11 and 12. Here, while Rome is still standing, and holding all the world in subjection, the roar of a lion is heard from the wood, and the beast appears, speaking with a human voice and announcing the end of the Roman empire—and indeed, of the present Age. The angel who interprets the vision says (12:31 f.): “This lion is the Anointed One, whom the Most High has kept unto the end of days.” Which of the two Anointed Ones? If the same man who wrote chapters 11 and 12 wrote also chapters 7 and 13, we can answer that question with some confidence. Since there are two Messiahs, this must be the Son of Ephraim:
(II Esdras 12:31) “And as for the lion whom you saw rousing up out of the forest and roaring and speaking to the eagle and reproving him for his unrighteousness, and as for all his words that you have heard, (32) this [lion, the Messiah Son of Ephraim] is the Anointed One, whom the Most High has kept unto the end of days, who will come and speak with them. He will denounce them for their ungodliness and for their wickedness, and will display before them their contemptuous dealings. (33) For first he will bring them alive before his judgment seat, and when he has reproved them, then he will destroy them. (34) For the rest of my people he will deliver with mercy, those who have been preserved throughout my borders, and he will rejoice them until the coming of the end, the day of judgement, of which I spoke to you at the beginning…”
There is more to be said, for we are not quite through with the passage (that is, 12:31-34). The angel goes on to say that the Messiah, after rebuking and destroying these arch-enemies, will have a time of triumph as ruler over the Israelites in their own land. “For the rest of my people he will deliver with mercy, those who have been preserved throughout my borders, and he will rejoice them until the coming of the end.” Here the very words of 7:28 are repeated, and we know with certainty that at the end of this triumphal reign (12:34) the Gentiles will again get the upper hand, and the Messiah will die.
This Messiah is NOT the Son of David, though most of the versions (but not the Latin) contain here a clause thus characterizing him. It is not easy to see how the Latin translator could have omitted a clause of this importance; and moreover, the Latin reading is more plausible, as the original, than that of the oriental versions. Observe also that, aside from this one passage, the Messiah is never spoken of as the Son of David—neither in II Esdras, nor in the Apocalypse of Baruch, nor in the book of Enoch. It is very easy to account for the insertion of the clause. The picture of the Messiah condemning and punishing the evildoers inevitably suggested the Judgment Day; but this is a very different scene!10
It is to be noted, then, that the doctrine of the Ephraimite Messiah is attested in Second Esdras not only in 7:28-31, but also in 12:32-34. It is all logical, self-consistent, and in agreement with the Rabbinical tradition.
7. The translation given here is from the standard text obtained from the Syriac and Latin versions, both of which were made from the Greek, now no longer extant. The Greek, as is now well known, rendered the original Semitic text, which, along with all the other extra-canonical texts, Hebrew or Aramaic, perished about the end of the first century of the present era. See the writer’s Brief Introduction to the Apocryphal Literature, pp.12-15. As will be seen, the readings given by these secondary versions cannot always be relied upon.
9. That is, on the combination of Ps 90:15 with Gen 15:13. The Hebrew people were “afflicted” for four hundredyears, now they will be “rejoiced” for the same length of time. The application of the number may well have been of this author’s own devising; but the idea of a triumphal reign of the warrior Messiah, whether brief or of long duration, can hardly have been new at this time.
10. The confusion caused here by the failure to recognize that the author of the apocalypse is dealing only with the Ephraimite Messiah is well illustrated in the notes on 12:32 and 34 in Charles’s Pseudepigrapha.