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In a work that challenges notions that have dominated New Testament scholarship for more than a hundred years, Israel Knohl gives startling evidence for a messianic precursor to Jesus who is described as the "Suffering Servant" in recently published fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Messiah before Jesus clarifies many formerly incomprehensible aspects of Jesus' life and confirms the story in the New Testament about his messianic awareness. The book shows that, around the time of Jesus' birth, there came into being a conception of "catastrophic" messianism in which the suffering, humiliation, and death of the messiah were regarded as an integral part of the redemptive process.
Scholars have long argued that Jesus could not have foreseen his suffering, death, and resurrection because the concept of a slain savior who rises from the dead was alien to the Judaism of his time. But, on the basis of hymns found at Qumran among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Knohl argues that, one generation before Jesus, a messianic leader arose in the Qumran sect who was regarded by his followers as ushering in an era of redemption and forgiveness. This messianic leader was killed by Roman soldiers in the course of a revolt that broke out in Jerusalem in 4 B.C.E. The Romans forbade his body to be buried and after the third day his disciples believed that he was resurrected and rose to heaven. This formed the basis for Jesus' messianic consciousness, Knohl argues; it was because of this model that Jesus anticipated he would suffer, die, and be resurrected after three days.
Knohl takes his fascinating inquiry one step further by suggesting that this messiah was a figure known to us from historical sources of the period. This identification may shed new light on the mystery of the "Paraclete" in the Gospel of John. A pathbreaking study, The Messiah before Jesus will reshape our understanding of Christianity and its relationship to Judaism.
Israel Knohl teaches at the Bible department of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He taught as a visiting Professor at Berkeley, Stanford, and Chicago. He is the author of The Sanctuary of Silence (1955), which won the Z. Shkop Award for Biblical Studies.
"This is a very significant, original, and daring book. It illuminates an important era in the history of the Jewish people as well as the background of Christianity, making full use of the new Qumran material."—Professor Emanuel Tov, Editor-in-Chief, Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project
"The importance of this thesis for the understanding and interpretation of the historical Jesus is something of which all students of Christian Origins should take careful note. The book places a square challenge before those persuaded by a less apocalyptic/messianc view of the man and his times. I am convinced this book will become a pioneering classic in terms of the slot it fills in the field."—James D. Tabor, author of Why Waco?
"This is a work of very high quality. . . . Knohl convincingly points out the historical event of a Messiah who predated the more famous one, Jesus Christ. . . . This is one of the most fascinating findings regarding the history of Jewish Messianism and the understanding of the emergence of Christianity. . . I am confident that it will mark a new phase in research of ancient Judaism."—Moshe Idel, author of Messianic Mystics
"This tiny book will turn many heads. Israel Knohl sifts through a vast range of ancient texts in order to weave together a new chapter in the story of Jewish Messianism."—Gary A. Anderson, Professor of Hebrew Bible, Harvard University
"Israel Knohl established himself as a first-rate scholar with his first book, The Sanctuary of Silence, on a classic problem of Pentateuchal studies. Here he ventures into entirely different territory and displays impressive erudition not only in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Talmud but also in classical antiquity. His bold and provocative theories are sure to elicit a storm of controversy."—John J. Collins, author of Between Athens and Jerusalem: Jewish Identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora and Jewish Wisdom in Helleniatic Age
"Fascinating. . . .Knohl's book is an original piece of research that defies some of the most solid beliefs of our time".—Avraham Burg, Chairman of the Keneset (Israeli Parliament).