copyright 2008 Stephan Huller
The word mashiach (Heb ‘anointed one’ or ‘messiah’) appears in numerous places in the Jewish Scriptures. Nevertheless Daniel 9:26 is almost the only explicit reference to a future messiah in all the Books of the Prophets. Of course the rabbinic tradition now does not count Daniel among the prophetic writings. The universal acceptance of Agrippa as the mashiach of Daniel is certainly the reason for this puzzling assertion. Now the significance of that tradition is immediately diminished. One can’t say ‘Agrippa is the messiah of the prophets’ because Daniel is no longer part of the prophetic writings.
Indeed as we will see, when the sages aren’t identifying Agrippa as this mashiach they are warning people against inquiring too deeply into who this figure is. After all the necessary corollary of this original belief is now that the messiah has already come. In point of fact these two arguments form the foundation of the Yosippon, the Hebrew reinterpretation of Josephus which enjoyed immense popularity among the Jewish people for most of the last millennia. The whole point of the book was that Agrippa was indeed the messiah but that the wickedness of certain Jews caused the nation to forfeit its right to enjoy his blessings.
For the moment it is enough to point out that Daniel points out that near the end of a period of seventy times seven years (i.e. a concept intimately connected with the Jubilee) the messiah would be taken away from the nation of Israel. It is important to note that he is said to be an anointed leader,נגיד משיח . This is the status that our canonical gospels make Jesus explicitly reject (cf Mark XII: 35-37 and the parallels). What Jesus implicitly claims for himself is something quite different. It is for this reason that we see the early Christian commentators were right in saying the figure in Daniel can’t be Jesus, not only from the chronology of the seventy times seven year period, but also from the use of this term nagid (i.e. leader).
It is not surprising that when we look before Agrippa’s time, it was his grandfather Herod the Great who was first connected with this prophesy. In the Old Russian texts of Josephus (as well as the writings of Eusebius who might have used an early Greek version) we see the argument put forward that Herod was the nagid mashiach:
• At the time the priests mourned and grieved to one another in secret for they did not dare to do so openly out of fear of Herod and his friends. They said, “Our Law bids us to have no foreigner for king (Deut 17:15)… but of Herod we know that he is an Arabian uncircumcised. [Slavonic Josephus, Jewish War 1:370]
• Ananus the priest … spoke to them ‘I know all of Scripture. When Herod fought beneath the city wall I never had a thought that God would permit him to rule over us. But now I understand that our destruction is nigh. Study you the prophecy of Daniel. He writes (9:24f) that after the return from Babylon the city of Jerusalem shall stand for seventy weeks of years which are 490 years and after these years it shall be desolate.’ … but Jonathan answered and spoke ‘the number of years are indeed as we have said. But the Holy of Holies where is he? For Daniel cannot call the Holy one this Herod who is bloodthirsty and impure.’ But one of them by name Levi wishing to outwit them … fled to Herod and informed him of the speeches of the priests which they had spoken against him. But Herod sent by night and slew them all without the knowledge of the people lest they should be roused. [Slavonic Josephus Jewish War 1:370]
Of course these same arguments, almost down to the letter, eventually get applied to Agrippa [cf. Sotah 41]. The pre-existence of a messianic cult associated with Herod the Great only helps to pave the way for Agrippa’s claims.
The same tradition of Josephus for instance claims that when the Jewish temple was finally destroyed by Roman armies supporting Agrippa’s rule we hear that the rebellion itself was caused by a ‘misinterpretation’ of Biblical prophesy. This ‘ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings’ told that at ‘about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.’ Josephus adds that ‘the Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. There are about it several interpretations. Indeed some by this understood Herod, but others the crucified wonderworker, others again Vespasian." [Slavonic Josephus, Jewish War 6.312-313; in B. J. VI. v. 4] Notice again that the Agrippa appears here as ‘Herod’ as he does in many of his coins from the period.
Indeed if we look to coins from Herod the Great’s rule we see signs of yet another example of this messianic appropriation. It has been noted by scholars that early in his reign Herod the Great minted many coins with his name and the year of his rule and a symbol of a crown with a chi – or a Greek letter which resembles a cross. It is claimed that chi appears here because it is the first letter of the Greek word ‘christou’ which means ‘to anoint’ and ‘Christos,’ the messiah. The same symbol interesting appears in between the words ‘Markos’ and ‘evangelist’ in the throne inscription likely confirming the apostle’s status as the ‘anointed one’ of his community.
It is nevertheless only after the Jewish War Agrippa completely appropriated his grandfather’s legacy as the mashiach of Daniel. A list of only some of the most notable references in the rabbinic writings relating to Agrippa’s status would have to include:
1. A tradition incorporated in the Mishnah (mid second century CE.) recalls the events surrounding the destruction of the temple where “the Daily Sacrifice was discontinued, the walls of the city were breached, and the Apostle burned the Torah and erected an idol in the Temple.” [Taanith IV. 6] Who else could this ‘apostolos’ be but Agrippa?
2. Seder ‘Olam Rabba (mid second century CE.), which has official standing as the authoritative chronology, has information not in the Mishnah and acknowledges Agrippa as the messiah of Daniel [see Montgomery ].
3. the Yosippon (second century CE., but the editing is probably late Amoraic) Agrippa is explicitly identified as the mashiach of Daniel. The tradition is more historically reliable and more authoritative within the Rabbinic tradition than is generally realized.
4. Epiphanius (fourth century CE.) declares that Jews have stubbornly persisted in recognizing “Herod” instead of Jesus as the Christ or the king announced by the prophets. [Panarion 20.2; the same idea appears in Eusebius Eccl 8 and various later Byzantine writers]
5. Jerome (fourth century CE.) identifies contemporary Jews who read Daniel 9:24–27 as if it already relates to “Christ the prince.” [Braverman, Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel p. 107 – 9]
6. Rabbi Abaye (fourth century CE.) says that prophecy of the messiah in Daniel 9:24–27 (which is universally agreed to refer to the destruction of the temple) was fulfilled "a long time ago" without explaining who exactly the messiah was [Sanhedrin 98b and 97a]
7. Samuel b. Nahmani (fourth century CE.) declares a curse on “those who calculate the end” from Daniel “[f]or they would say since the predetermined time has arrived, and yet he [the messiah] has not come, he will never come.” [Sanhedrin 97b]
8. pseudo-Saadiah Gaon (eleventh century CE.) implicates that Agrippa was the messiah of Dan 9:24-27 and says that the text identifies that “he will strengthen a covenant with the great ones.” [VeDeos ch 8]
9. Rashi (eleventh century CE.) commenting on Daniel 9:26, says this reference to the mashiach points to “Agrippa, the king of Judea, who was ruling at the time of the destruction, will be slain.” [Commentary on Daniel]
• Rashi further develops the historical context of the passage that “Israel should receive their complete retribution in the exile of Titus and his subjugation, in order that their transgressions should terminate, their sins should end, and their iniquities should be expiated, in order to bring upon them eternal righteousness and to anoint upon them (sic) the Holy of Holies: the Ark, the altars, and the holy vessels, which they will bring to them through the king Messiah.” [ibid]
• Rashi says further more that “[t]he monarch who will come” will destroy the Roman armies and their “end will come about by inundation. And his end will be damnation and destruction, for He will inundate the power of his kingdom through the Messiah.” [ibid]
• Rashi refers to a historical situation where the Messiah “will strengthen Titus [through] a covenant with the princes of Israel … He will promise them the strengthening of a covenant and peace for seven[ty] years, but within the seven[ty] years, he will abrogate his covenant. [H]e will abolish sacrifice and meal-offering” … and “[t]hrough a covenant of tranquility, he will destroy them [i.e. the Romans].” [ibid]
• Rashi concludes that the Messiah “will place the dumb one, the pagan deity, which is dumb … [and] the dumb one and the ruling of the abomination will endure until the day that the destruction and extermination decreed upon it [will] befall it, in the days of the king Messiah … and total destruction will descend upon the image of the pagan deity and upon its worshippers.” [ibid]
• Some Rabbinic commentators interpret Rashi’s ideas to mean that bar Kochba, the leader of the subsequent revolt against Rome, was Agrippa’s son [Shafranovich, The Halachic Status of the Herodian Dynasty 7]
10. Ibn Ezra (twelfth century CE.) explicitly identifies Agrippa with the messiah of Dan 9:26, as Montgomery notes, citing the Hebrew text of Josephus (vi. c. 30 (s. Shurer 1, 159) who gives a tradition of Agrippa’s martyr-death [Montgomery The International Critical Commentary on Daniel, p. 397]
11. Ibn Daud (twelfth century CE.) insists that Daniel’s messianic prophesies had already been fulfilled and therefore could no longer be applied in the future [Cohen, The Book of Traditions, p. 241]
12. Maimonides (twelfth century CE.) says that previous traditions similarly held that the messiah already came, viz. "Daniel has elucidated to us the knowledge of the end times. However, since they are secret, the wise (rabbis) have barred the calculation of the days of Messiah's coming so that the untutored populace will not be led astray when they see that the End Times have already come but there is no sign of the Messiah." [Igeret Teiman, Chapter 3 p.24]
13. Nachmanides (thirteenth century CE.) identifies Agrippa as the messiah of Daniel 9:26, but, as Goldwurm notes, he also “imputes this information to the Sages, [but,] as the editor of [his work] notes, his sources are unknown.” [Goldwurm, Daniel A New Translation with Commentary, p. 264]
• Nachmanides, likely drawing from these ancient sources, argues that, at the time Agrippa was the messiah, Christianity was being formulated as a ‘Roman plot’ to subvert the Jewish religion, saying “[o]ur relationship with Rome and Edom [i.e. Christianity] is similar. We ourselves caused our falling into their hands, since they made a covenant with the Romans, and Agrippa, the last king during the Second Temple, fled to them for help. It was because of the famine that Jerusalem was captured by the Romans, and the exile has greatly prolonged itself over us.” [Commentary on Genesis 47:28]
• Nachmanides takes the passage in the Mishnah (late second century CE.) which refers to the “flattery” shown Agrippa by his contemporaries to be a covert reference to the new Christian doctrine – viz. “this being a reference to the exile in which we were expatriated to Rome because of the journey there of King Agrippa.” [Commentary on Deut 28:36]; Genesis Rabba (late second century CE.) identifies that “flattery,” hanif, is a codeword for “Christian heresy;” Muhammad was taught by a group of Christian ascetics called “the hanifim.”
• Nachmanides was put on trial by Catholics for his belief in “another messiah” beside Jesus identified in the Talmud. He was ultimately banished from Spain because of his beliefs. [cf. Wikkuach]
14. Abarbanel (fifteenth century CE.) similarly argued that Agrippa was the messiah of Dan 9:24 – 27 and, as Goldwurm notes, “though admitting he can find no source for [Nachmanides] statement, champions [his] assertion. [Nachmanides’] reputation is assurance enough that he had good sources for his statement though they have been lost to us.” [Goldwurm, Daniel A New Translation with Commentary, p. 264]
• Abarbanel speaks of the idea where "[t]he messiah will have to die in order to purify the generation and he will wait in a spiritual state in heaven until he rises from the dead as it says in the Talmud Sanhedrin 98b." [Yeshuot Moshicho Part 2, topic 2, chapter 1]
• Abarbanel became the touchstone of contemporary European attacks against the widespread Jewish belief in “Agrippa the messiah.” As Calvin notes, “Rabbi Abarbinel, who thinks himself superior to all others, rejects our idea of the spiritual reign of Christ as a foolish imagination. For the kingdom of God, he says, is established under the whole heavens, and is given to the people of the saints. If it is established under heaven, says he, it is earthly, and if earthly, therefore not spiritual.” [Commentary on Daniel Volume 2]
• Calvin identifies him as “[t]hat trifler Abarbanel … who thinks Agrippa has just as much right to be called a Christ” but whom Christians know “cannot by any means be called Christ, even though he had surpassed all angels in wisdom, and virtue, and power, and everything else. Here [the Church] is treated, and this will not be found in the person of Agrippa.” [ibid]
• Calvin is similarly scandalized by the fact that Abarbanel “allows [Agrippa’s] defection to the Romans, but states it to have been against his will, as he was still a worshipper of God. Although he was clearly an apostate, yet he treats him as by no means worse than all the rest, and for this reason he wishes him to be called the Christ.” [ibid]
• Luther notes the German Jews of his day entertained similar ideas writing, “Oh, how ridiculous it seems to these circumcised saints that we accursed Goyim have interpreted and understand this saying thus, especially since we did not consult their rabbis, Talmudists, and Kokhbaites whom they regard as more authoritative than all of Scripture. For they do a far better job of it. This is what they say… ‘And after sixty-two weeks the Messiah (that means King Agrippa) will be killed and will not be’ -- this means, will be no king … [yet] Agrippa was not killed after the sixty-two weeks – in brief, all that they [the Jews] say is a lie.” [On the Jews and Their Lies, Chapter 12]
• Luther again argues against the Jews that “[n]either can one produce a Messiah to whom the statement in Daniel 9 applies other than this Jesus of Nazareth, even if this drives the devil with an his angels and Jews to madness. For we heard before how lame the lies of the Jews regarding King Cyrus and King Agrippa are.” [ibid Chapter19]
15. The Metsudat David (a seventeenth-century commentary from Prague) agrees with the prevalent Jewish interpretation of Daniel 9:24–27 and adds “[w]hen the second temple will be destroyed, the righteous King Messiah will come and rule forever in everlasting.”
16. The messianic claimant Jacob Frank (eighteenth century CE.) seems to give a positive spin to the Rabbinic tradition attributed to the sages regarding Christianity as a Roman conspiracy. An oral tradition regarding Agrippa’s status was passed on to me by my grandfather.
It is worth noting that Montogomery notes that there exists a parallel Christian tradition identifying Agrippa as the messiah of Daniel emanating out of Alexandria [ ]. An overview of this tradition would take into account that:
• According to Coptic tradition, the great secret associated with Mark’s original gospel was that Mark placed himself as an unobtrusive character here and there in the text [cf Severus of Hermopolis, The Acts of Mark]. The Latin Muratorian Canon (late second century CE.) confirms this understanding when it declares “those things at which [Mark] was present he placed thus [in his gospel].” Scholars usually read the terse note of the Muratorian Canon as implying that Mark transcribed what he was present to hear Peter recount. But suppose it meant that Mark was an eye-witness and recounted his own reminiscences?
• One of the factors leading me to identify this apostolic Mark with the Herodian prince Marcus Agrippa is the striking fact that the Gospel of Mark is founded on the very messianic proof text which is used throughout the Rabbinic tradition to prove that Agrippa was the Christ. “Mark [at Mark 13:14] inserts his own comments about the abomination, suggesting the phrase was some kind of code between him and his audience. It is a quote from the Book of Daniel where it appears in 9:27” [
• As we already noted earlier the Alexandrian tradition, devoted as it was to Mark, shows remarkable agreement with the surviving Jewish interpretation of Daniel. Clement follows the methodology employed by the rabbis – only a thousand years before them – saying at one point "[i]n those ‘sixty and two weeks,’ as the prophet said, and ‘in the one week,’ was he [Christ] Lord. The half of the week Nero held sway, and in the holy city Jerusalem placed the abomination; and in the half of the week he [Christ] was taken away … [a]nd Vespasian rose to the supreme power, and destroyed Jerusalem, and desolated the holy place.” [Stromata 1:21]
• Clement’s successor Origen is similarly connected with the Rabbinic tradition’s interpretation of the passage in Daniel. As Montgomery notes, the messiah of Daniel 9:26 is for “Origen ‘Herod’ or ‘Agrippa’ [just as it is] for Eusebius ‘Herod.” [Montgomery The International Critical Commentary on Daniel, p. 399]
• Origen himself writes, "since the temple was destroyed, there exists no longer sacrifice, nor altar, nor priesthood… the weeks of years, also, which the prophet Daniel had predicted, extending to the leadership of Christ, have been fulfilled … [for] according to Daniel, seventy weeks were fulfilled until Christ the Ruler.” [De Principiis 4]
The amazing and almost completely unrecognized truth is that, in what is certainly the most important prophecy of the messiah, no Christian writer before the Protestant Reformation identifies the mashiach of Dan 9:26 with Jesus. There simply has to be an explanation for this omission, yet none is forthcoming. Almost all Christian interpretations of Daniel’s seventy weeks follow the original Jewish understanding which not only identifies the events as corresponding to the destruction of the temple [Mark 13:14] but which also identify the messiah as Mark. [Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews 8] The parallels with Jewish interpretation are completely stunning when we take into account Hippolytus’ [third century CE.] recognition that Daniel’s prophecy not only identifies the point at which “Christ is come” with the end of the Jewish religion in 70 CE., but also as the time when “the Gospel is preached in every place.” [Seventy Weeks] This not only parallels the “tradition of the [ancient Jewish] Sages” referenced in Nachmanides but also conforms to the time frame when most scholars date initial publication of the Gospel of Mark.
copyright 2008 Stephan Huller