I was thinking recently about some apparent prophecies scattered about in the writings which are not considered Scriptural or Canonical by the Catholic Church, and yet which are of Jewish origin and written before the coming of Christ. This raises certain problems for those who think that there is something particularly unique about Old Testament prophecies which are ‘clear’ predictions which we can tally up and paint a pretty clear picture of Jesus with (without the New Testament). I feel that that whole approach to the Old Testament is naive and arrogant, and moreover that approach to prophecies is completely disrespectful and hopelessly out of touch with the early Patristic exegetical hermeneutic. However, prophecies did in fact play a huge role in Patristic apologetics, as the Fathers maintained that the ways in which they were reading the text were, in fact, not merely possible ways, but correct ways.
However, this got me thinking recently about those writings which seem to ‘fit’ with a Christian hermeneutic of Jewish literature as prophetic literature about Christ, and yet which are not included into the Canon of Scripture. For instance, in the book of Enoch there are prophecies of Christ, and the book of Enoch is actually quoted in the New Testament (Jude 14-15). Of course, to my knowledge it is also included in some Christian Bibles, such as the Coptic Orthodox canon, but I digress. The point is that there are prophecies about the Messiah outside of the Catholic Bible which supply a picture of the messiah which comes curiously close to the Christian view. I don’t have the time to offer a survey of them right now, though I can direct anyone to references if they should like.
I propose that there can be prophecies in the Pseudepigraphal texts. At least in one sense. I believe that the anticipation of the Messiah was not simply a ‘way to read’ some passages in the Tanakh, but rather something which the Jewish people had a ‘sense’ of. Perhaps it is better to say that they retained this sense in their oral tradition. The Oral as well as the written tradition retained an anticipatory element. Therefore, when the pseudepigraphal writers use religious, liturgical or historical imagery to make a point about the coming ‘Messiah’ they were speaking not from direct inspiration. Instead, in writing about the Messiah they bear witness to their tradition; what they tell us is a testament to the commonplace oral tradition of the Jews before the time of Christ. This is where things become interesting…
If this is true, then what we need to do is compile the various references (outside of the Old Testament) to the coming Messiah and see what kind of picture(s) we get. I expect that we will get various images of the Messiah, representing, perhaps, different schools of thought. That might explain something like the ‘War Scroll’ in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and its ‘synthesis’ of two radically different images for ‘Messiah’ by positing two figures who together will be the one Messiah. Then the truly interesting question will be to examine how these schools of thought relate, not only to each other, but to the orthodox Christology of the Catholic Church. If I had time to do this, I would look for references in the Pseudepigrapha, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in authors such as Philo of Alexandria, and perhaps in some early Gnostic texts (depending on whether we have good reason to believe that Gnosticism – or some form of Gnosticism – had its roots in schools of Judaism). I would also read the New Testament and other early Christian documents (Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, Proto-evangelion of James, etc) critically with an attentive eye for implicit or explicit caricatures of the Messiah. Everyone knows that the prevailing school of Rabbinic Judaism (an evolution of pharisaic Judaism) would have had the Messiah be a political figure restoring the Davidic kingdom of Israel. However, I know that that is not only superficial, but to imply that this was the only competing view of the Messiah in the time of Jesus is laughable. What other images might we find – and more: might we find a particularly ‘Christian-Friendly’ picture of the Messiah as a divine being?