What are other recommended scriptures from Maimonides

The messianism of Moses Maimonides. Analysis of individual writings of Maimonides and presentation of the historical development

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. A historical overview of Jewish messianism
2.1 ... in the Old Testament and in early Judaism
2.2 ... in rabbinical times and in the Middle Ages
2.3 ... in the present
Excursus: The “Jewish Jesus” today

3. The messianism of Maimonides
3.1 The letter to Yemen / Iggeret Teman
Excursus: Maimonides' attitude towards Christians
3.2 Mishne Torah

4. Final consideration

5. List of abbreviations and references

1 Introduction

The subject of this housework is selected writings by the Jewish theologian Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), which are to be examined with regard to his thinking on the Messiah and Messianism. The primary aim is to approach the topic of messianism in its historical complexity from a Jewish perspective and to grasp the messianic ideas of Maimonides and to locate them in Jewish history.

In a first step, an overview of the history of Jewish messianism with a focus on the rabbinical period is to be drawn as the basis for all further explanations. Then, in a second step, Maimonides' beliefs will be examined in more detail. Two of his most important works, the letter to Yemen and the Mishne Torah, serve as the main points of investigation. Furthermore, in the first-mentioned step, today's Jewish attitude towards Jesus will be examined and in a further excursus, based on the research on Maimonides, his attitude towards Christians will be briefly presented.

2. A historical overview of Jewish messianism

At the beginning it should be mentioned that in the present work only a brief overview of the history of Jewish messianism can be presented and no claim to completeness can be made. In addition to the limited scope of this work, the reason for this is one of the problems inherent in Jewish messianism: one cannot speak of the history of Jewish messianism, but rather of various messianic currents. Although the messianic views and convictions of the last millennia meet at one point, namely in the fact that the "Messianic expectations of all time [...] are about the hoped-for restoration of old and proven institutions of revelation and about changes to the present, as unjust, unsatisfactory, painful and displeasing to God [goes] "1, the ideas differ on both a synchronous and a diachronic level, as will be shown below.

A first basic insight into Jewish messianism is the fact that messianism was not inherent in Judaism from the beginning, but is a secondary phenomenon. For a long time, the Jews were firmly convinced that the people of Israel were chosen to establish the rule of God on earth, which was confirmed in a special way in the covenant between Yahweh and the people of Israel. The Messiah expectations and hopes therefore arose after the Babylonian exile (586-538) and were made possible by "the exilic-post-exilic prophets Ezekiel, Deutero- and Tritojesaja, Haggai and Zechariah" 2 awakened with the aim of creating new hope and trust in their religion in the desperate Jews due to their uprooting and Babylonian captivity. This was not necessary before the Babylonian exile, so that Judaism was only a "historically grown form"3 can be described as a messianic religion.

2.1 ... in the Old Testament and in early Judaism

In order to be able to grasp this messianic development of Judaism, it is helpful to first take a look at the term “messiah”. The Hebrew word meshîa ("anointed Yahweh") comes from the root mâshah and appears a total of 38 times in the Bible, accumulated in Samuel and in the Psalms4. meshîa here almost always refers to a royal person and refers either to the king in general or to Saul or David in particular, whereby here, too, the focus is always on their royal function and less on them as individuals.

Despite this originally royal use of the Messiah title, it still has a theological connotation from the start, since it is "always constructed in connection with YHWH [...]". "5 This is also confirmed by Hans Strauss, when he thinks that the designation as "a coined syntactic connection [emphasizes] the sovereignly electing, legitimizing action of Yahweh in the (Davidic) kingship in the people of God."6

In the course of this theological connotation, kings like Saul, David and Solomon were assigned various predications such as "war hero", "shepherd and guardian of his people", "savior" and "judge". Furthermore, God gave them especially virtuous abilities such as law and justice7 bestowed at their first ritual, the anointing with oil:

The biblical texts associate this anointing of the king with a grasp of the royal person by the Spirit of God. [...]. At the anointing, the Spirit of Yahweh enters the king like oil into the body and gives him superhuman strength.8

In the period that followed, the idea of ​​a hallowed king was transformed into the idea of ​​a coming Messiah, and the majority of the Jewish people expected a messianic king from the dynasty of David. Significantly for the entire history of Jewish messianism, there were also, in addition to the idea of ​​a messianic descendant of David, differing beliefs, which differ from the idea of ​​several Messiah figures about the view that the Messiah would be accompanied by companions such as Abraham, Jacob or Moses9 up to the complete lack of belief in a specific Messiah figure. With regard to the latter, reference should be made to a fundamental difference with regard to the basic Jewish understanding of the term “messianism”, which existed and continues on both a synchronous and a diachronic level: following the above, the majority of Jews shared and shared a belief in a personal one Messiah in the sense of a concrete Messiah figure10as Hans Strauss thinks to be found in the Old Testament:

According to the widespread understanding, the Messiah figure in the Old Testament includes threefold: first, that it is a king figure, second, that it brings salvation, third, that with it the end times dawn, so that briefly under 'Messiah' is to be understood as the 'eschatological saving king' be.11

A smaller part of the Jewish people, on the other hand, equated messianic hope with a salutary end to history in a political and social dimension. The latter is exaggerated, a messianism without a messiah, a messianic-eschatological hope.

Among these post-exilic Jews of Israel, waiting for a Messiah, there was extensive uniformity with regard to the end-time conceptions: Thus, the coming of the Messiah primarily saw the "return, reunification and perfection of the Israelite people, who were scattered in all directions and who had become partially invisible". 12 expected, since of the initially twelve Israelite tribes only the two southern tribes Judah and Benjamin were able to return to Israel after their exile. The collection of the exiles was called "the decisive sign of the end times"13 scheduled. Furthermore, the Messiah was expected to bring about the final lifting of the oppression on the part of the other peoples and to lead all Israelites and as many people from other peoples as possible to believe in the one God of Israel. In addition, it was hoped that the “confirmation of the singular election of Israel against all presumptuous competitors, suppressors and oppressors”.

However, when it became apparent that the ruling kings, all of them sinful, were failing, the Jews had to give up hope of the imminent coming of the Messiah and postpone their expectations of salvation into an unknown future14which had the consequence that messianism was removed from its previous central position in Judaism.

2.2 ... in rabbinical times and in the Middle Ages

During the rabbinical period, the status of messianism changed on the one hand in view of the destruction of the Second Temple around 70 AD, which was perceived as an existential threat to Jewish identity, and on the other hand in view of the non-appearance of the Messiah or the appearance of himself as a false Messiah showing Bar Kokhba around 130 AD. This time of hardship and distress did not go hand in hand with a disdain or abandonment of the messianic hopes, but precisely in view of this time of suffering, the belief in the Messiah came to the fore again. Numerous rabbinical writings dealt with him and drew apocalyptic scenarios and utopian-paradisiacal conditions: Israel will be free from pain, misery, foreign rule and peace and justice will reign among the Jews who, after the rebuilding of the Holy City and of the Jerusalem temple, will gather there. In short: the rabbinical era was primarily characterized by an immense spectrum of apocalyptic expectations of salvation, which ranged from the expectation of a military restoration of an ideal utopian state to the expectation of a catastrophic end of the world with subsequent re-creation. This "apocalyptic awareness of catastrophe [...] was so great that the Talmud could ascribe some rabbinical teachers the saying: 'May the Messiah come, but I do not want to see it'."15

It was precisely at this time that the so-called two-messiah doctrine arose, which describes the idea that two Messiah figures will be involved in the final redemption and that their appearance will be necessary for the realization of eschatological hopes. The first Messiah will be a warlike Messiah from the house of Joseph or Ephraim, who will wage war against the enemies of Israel and destroy them, but will succumb in the Gog and Magog war himself. He is intended to be the forerunner of the actual Messiah from the house of David 16 and acts as a prelude to the coming redemption through the Son of David, who will establish the rule of God and an everlasting time of peace and fellowship with God. This conception therefore provides for a clear separation of the messianic tasks: the failing Messiah will wage war and raise the earth, the successful Messiah will lead to lasting peace and a glorious age.

Nevertheless, the idea of ​​a purely Davidic messianism persisted, for example with Flavius ​​Josephus or with Philo v. Alexandria.

However, they all attached particular importance to the idea of ​​the Messiah as a human being and earthly savior and emphasized a carnal and unspiritual messianic idea, which is still one of the greatest points of discussion between Jews and Christians17.

This human nature of the Messiah is particularly evident in the mythical idea that in every generation a potential Messiah figure lives among people who is just waiting to be revealed, but the previous generations were not considered worthy of the Messiah's coming .18

The variety of messianic expectations in the rabbinical era was also evident in the various speculations about the consequences of the coming of the Messiah. Here, on the one hand, there are restorative expectations, which include a restoration of order as in the days of the federal union, and on the other hand, the hope for a complete transformation and renewal of the world.

Furthermore, there were different views regarding the announcement of the coming of the Messiah. Here there was the view that moral corruption heralds the coming of the Messiah or that moral corruption prevents the coming of the Messiah19. In the course of this, the idea developed among a minority of rabbis that the Jews could prepare or hasten the arrival of the Messiah, for example by keeping the commandments of the Torah. This idea was handed down into the 20th century and Shalom Ben-Chorin also pointed out that the Messiah will come when all Jews keep the Sabbath or no Jew will do so20. Alain Goldmann advocates the former and affirms that the coming of the Messiah will come after long preparation based on religious and moral progress. This therefore means that the conditio sine qua non is the conversion to God wholeheartedly and with all soul.21

The Jewish tradition was received particularly broadly that final salvation was preceded by a time of horror, the so-called “birth pangs”, the Chevelei Maschiach22 of the messianic age. Thus the rabbis were able to maintain the hope of the Messiah in the Jewish people even in times of suffering and distress by explaining to the people comfortingly that “the price for the coming of the Messiah will be as great a pain as that which a mother would pay for Birth of a child happens. "23 Thus the arrival of the Messiah was expected to a marked extent in particularly severe persecution, because “the worse the sufferings, the deeper the catastrophes and the greater the number of Jews who were affected, the louder and closer one believed the steps of the To hear the Messiah. "24

In the Middle Ages, messianic hope became more of a sporadic phenomenon, but continued to have a latent effect and was strongly based on the ideas of the rabbinical era. So there were always acute messianic movements, in the center of which there was usually a messiah pretender, who proclaimed himself the messiah, but was usually only able to mobilize a small number of followers, so that his appearance was usually only brief and temporary.

2.3 ... in the present

After this briefly outlined walk through history, the focus should now be on Jewish messianism in the present. What has been true for over 2000 years applies: Jewish messianism results in a life of waiting and hoping for redemption; all action is provisional: "the heart of messianism is the delay, the non-coming of the messiah."25. Gershom Scholem says: "So the messianic idea in Judaism forced life in postponement, in which nothing can be done and accomplished in a definitive way."26 Although the Jewish side always emphasizes that the shaping of the present life should be oriented towards the hope of the coming of the Messiah and that the present time should be viewed as the forerunner of the messianic time, all in all it is a stepping into the background of messianism and a decline in occupation to watch with him. Though devout Jews pray daily for the coming of the Messiah27, however, their focus is primarily on the present and on aligning their lives with the Torah. The idea of ​​Judaism without messianism and only with God himself as savior also continues to exist, as for example with Franz Rosenzweig: “For this is both the source and the culmination of all Jewish faith in the Messiah: that in the end God himself is the savior, himself and not one another." 28

The Reform Jews even hope that through the Jewish mission and "the self-perfecting of the human race" 29 the messianic age can and show themselves, like the Zionists, rather hostile to traditional messianism. In the course of this, Manfred Voigts paints a relatively gloomy picture for the future of Jewish messianism:

“In any case, it can be stated that the central themes of Jewish messianism no longer play a role in today's discussion: Neither the election of the people nor the formation of an alliance nor the promise of land or the lack of history of the Jewish people are currently being discussed. Jewish messianism is compromised [...]. "30

A radical, Jewish-messianic group, the Hasid sect, which with its teaching represents a drastic antithesis to the increasingly declining Jewish interest in the subject of messianism, is particularly negative in focus today. In their view, the coming of the Messiah must be actively brought about, through the means of arms. By conjuring up catastrophic wars based on the biblical-apocalyptic prophecies, the coming of the Savior is to be provoked and thus the biblical prophecies are to be fulfilled.The aim here is "the unification of all humanity in a world-encompassing God's state, which is centrally directed from Jerusalem."31

In conclusion, it should be noted that "the palette of messianic and quasi-messianic figures in Judaism may therefore be very colorful" 32 could and has remained until today. The most important characteristic of Jewish messianism in its entirety is the diversity of messianic expectations, both on a diachronic and synchronic level, which make Jewish messianism an elusive, but at the same time equally exciting phenomenon.

Excursus: The “Jewish Jesus” today

The opinions of contemporary Jewish believers also differ with regard to the person of Jesus. Strictly Orthodox Jews sometimes see Jesus as an apostate Jew and the founder of a destructive religion, sometimes they do not even recognize him as a person. The vast majority of modern Jews have seen a change in Jewish thinking about Jesus. In the last century a more intensive preoccupation with Jesus began, a development towards Jesus research could be noted and people showed more and more willingness to see in him a positive figure, a prophet, a great sage, a rabbinical teacher or a chosen one Servant of God, who came into possession of the Holy Spirit through baptism.

Today there are even more voices that not only accept Jesus as a Jewish personality, but also consciously emphasize his Jewish roots, such as Leo Baeck:

Most of the performers of the life of Jesus fail to point out that Jesus is a genuine Jewish character in every one of his traits, that a man like him could only grow up on the soil of Judaism, only there and nowhere else. [...]. He was a Jew among Jews; A man like him could not have come out of any other people, and a man like him could not have worked in any other people.

This positive connotation is particularly evident in Shalom Ben-Chorin, who is strongly committed to a Christian-Jewish dialogue:

For me, Jesus is the eternal brother, not just the human brother, but my Jewish brother. I feel a brotherly hand taking hold of me to follow him.33


1 Clemens Thoma: The Messiah Project, p. 113.

2 Ibid., P. 119.

3 R.J. Zwi Werblowsky: Magic, Mysticism, Messianism, p. 238.

4 Numerous other dispensation and Messiah expectations can be found in Isaiah and Micah. Cf. Isa 9,5.6; 11.1-10; 11.2-5; 32.1-8; Micah 4,1-3; 5.4; Jer 23, 6; 33.15; Ez 37,24-28; Sach 14.9.

5 Ernst Joachim Waschke: “Messiah / Messianism. II Old Testament ”, in: RGG 5 L-M (2002), p. 1145.

6 Hans Strauss: “Messiah / Messianic Movements. I Old Testament ”, in: TRE 22 Malaysia-Minne (1992), p. 618.

7 See Henry Cazelles: Old Testament Christology, p. 51ff.

8 Ibid., P. 62f.

9 Cf. Clemens Thoma: The Messiah Project, p. 166.

10 See Ibid., P. 113.

11 Hans Strauss: “Messiah / Messianic Movements. I Old Testament ”, in: TRE 22 Malaysia-Minne (1992), p. 617.

12 Clemens Thoma: The Messiah Project, p. 115f .; the following expectations of salvation also come from this source.

13 Ibid., Pp. 170f.

14 Cf. Manfred Voigts: Jüdischer Messianismus und Geschichte, p. 39f.

15 See R.J. Zwi Werblowsky: Magic, Mysticism, Messianism, p. 239.

16 See Theologische Realenzyklopädie, p. 625.

17 See R.J. Zwi Werblowsky: “The post-biblical Jewish understanding of the Messiah”. In: Hans-Jürgen Greschat [among others]: Jesus - Messiah? Expectation of salvation among Jews and Christians, p. 83.

18 See Michael L. Brown: Handbuch Judentum, pp. 58f.

19 Cf. Francesca Yardenit Albertini: The conception of the Messiah in Maimonides and the early medieval Islamic philosophy, p. 411. The following is cited from the symbol KMM.

20 Manfred Voigts: Jewish Messianism and History, p. 13.

21 Alain Goldmann: “The messianic vision in rabbinic Judaism.” In: STEGEMANN, Ekkehard [Hrsg.]: Messiah ideas among Jews and Christians, p. 65.

22 R.J. Zwi Werblowsky: “The post-biblical Jewish understanding of the Messiah.” In: Hans-Jürgen Greschat: Jesus - Messias? Expectation of salvation among Jews and Christians, p. 77.

23 Alain Goldmann: “The messianic vision in rabbinic Judaism.” In: STEGEMANN, Ekkehard [Hrsg.]: Messiah ideas among Jews and Christians, p. 60.

24 Manfred Voigts: Jewish Messianism and History, p. 46.

25 Manfred Voigts: Jewish Messianism and History, p. 67.

26 Gershom Scholem: "To understand the messianic idea in Judaism." In: Manfred Voigts: Jüdischer Messianismus und Geschichte, p. 21.

27 The traditional, daily, Jewish prayer, which was formulated by Maimonides, is as follows: "I believe with full conviction in the coming apparition of Meshiach, and whether he will soon, I still wait every day that he will come." In: Maimonides: Prayers of the Israelites. Revised, clearly arranged edition. Tel-Aviv, Israel: Sinai Publishing House, 1988, p. 125.

28 Franz Rosenzweig: “Jehuda Halevi. Ninety-five hymns and poems. ”In: Manfred Voigts: Jüdischer Messianismus und Geschichte, p. 24.

29 Michael L. Brown: Handbuch Judentum, p. 60.

30 Manfred Voigts: Jewish Messianism and History, p. 93f.

31 http://www.kreuzer-siegfried.de/texte-zum-at/messias.pdf. Status: 07/30/2012.

32 Clemens Thoma: The Messiah Project, p. 167.

33 Shalom Ben-Chorin: Brother Jesus. The Nazarene from a Jewish perspective, p. 9.

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