Jewish Messiahs in a Christian Empire: A History of the Book of Zerubbabel

Jewish Messiahs in a Christian Empire: A History of the Book of Zerubbabel

by Martha Himmelfarb


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The seventh-century CE Hebrew work Sefer Zerubbabel (Book of Zerubbabel), composed during the period of conflict between Persia and the Byzantine Empire for control over Palestine, is the first full-fledged messianic narrative in Jewish literature. Martha Himmelfarb offers a comprehensive analysis of this rich but understudied text, illuminating its distinctive literary features and the complex milieu from which it arose.

Sefer Zerubbabel presents itself as an angelic revelation of the end of times to Zerubbabel, a biblical leader of the sixth century BCE, and relates a tale of two messiahs who, as Himmelfarb shows, play a major role in later Jewish narratives. The first messiah, a descendant of Joseph, dies in battle at the hands of Armilos, the son of Satan who embodies the Byzantine Empire. He is followed by a messiah descended from David modeled on the suffering servant of Isaiah, who brings him back to life and triumphs over Armilos. The mother of the Davidic messiah also figures in the work as a warrior.

Himmelfarb places Sefer Zerubbabel in the dual context of earlier Jewish eschatology and Byzantine Christianity. The role of the messiah's mother, for example, reflects the Byzantine notion of the Virgin Mary as the protector of Constantinople. On the other hand, Sefer Zerubbabel shares traditions about the messiahs with rabbinic literature. But while the rabbis are ambivalent about these traditions, Sefer Zerubbabel embraces them with enthusiasm.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674057623
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 02/20/2017
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Martha Himmelfarb is William H. Danforth Professor of Religion at Princeton University.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Text and Context 13

2 The Mother of the Messiah 35

3 The Messiah Son of David and the Suffering Servant 60

4 The Servant-Messiah beyond Sefer Zerubbabel 79

5 The Dying Messiah Son of Joseph 99

6 Sefer Zerubbabel after Islam 120

Conclusion 144

Appendix: Translation of Sefer Zerubbabel according to the Sefer Hazikhronot Manuscript 147

Notes 159

Acknowledgments 207

Index 211

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