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The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Jesus Hardcover – February 17, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Most Christians don't know what to think about the Dead Sea Scrolls except that they predate Jesus, and simple interpretations of history and textual authority claim that whatever existed first must have the greatest authority. Michael O. Wise, a leading Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, now offers a smart, accessible argument about the relationship between Jesus and the Scrolls. The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Jesus argues that Judah, a messianic figure described in the Scrolls, anticipated Jesus' coming in many respects--Judah was perceived by his contemporaries as fulfilling many of the same prophesies as Jesus, he taught many of the same principles Jesus taught, and after his death he inspired a movement that prefigured early Christianity. The First Messiah is not a hatchet-job on Jesus, however; Wise is not out to torpedo anybody's faith. Instead, he's offering readers a valuable lesson in humility. While respecting the possibility of Jesus' unique cosmic significance, he convincingly shows that Jesus' assumption of messianic status reenacts a social and religious drama that had clear historical precedents. This drama continues to be enacted by people around the world today. --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly

In a mix of historical research, sociological analysis and fiction, Wise (The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered) tells a story about a messiah called the Teacher of Righteousness in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Wise names this messiah Judah, and claims he is "the first messiah known to history [and] in a certain way the most important messianic claimant ever, because he was the first." Throughout the book, the author reminds readers that the life and work of "Judah" can be paralleled with the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. Confusion reigns in this book, however, because it is difficult to sort out the story of "Judah" from Wise's commentary, his commentary from historical research, historical research from the author's reconstruction and the author's reconstruction from textual evidence. Even the endnotes, which are intended to provide some scholarly support to Wise's conjectures, are full of assumptions based on little evidence. While the book contains interesting insights into myths and dreams, the central thesis that "Judah's" influence shaped Jesus and, in turn, the whole of Christianity is an incredible leap of logic and faith.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1st edition (February 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060696451
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060696450
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #772,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By on January 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a truly remarkable book. Wise offers an interpretation of the enigmatic figure of the Teacher of Righteousness, who figures as a unique teacher and interpreter of the Bible in central texts of the Qumran scrolls. Many scholars have ascribed a large part of the Thanksgiving Hymns to him. Alphonse Dupont-Sommer regarded him as a forerunner of Jesus. Wise goes much further. Based on a close examination of the Hymns and other Qumran literature, Wise is able to reconstruct the life and career of the Teacher, who started out as a high-ranking Jerusalem priest, and ended up as an exiled rebel, but deriving strength from his firm belief that he is the Messiah of God. As a careful and highly respected scholar, Wise naturally realises that such a reconstruction has to be speculative. He therefore presents it as a kind of historical novel. The result is astounding But it is largely convincing. The story of the First Messiah comes to life. Wise presents us with a detailed picture of the inner life of a great religious figure. He starts his account with a review of various Messiahs of the modern world, finding several common characteristics. He ends by comparing the First Messiah with the Jesus of the New Testament, finding many parallels between them. But he derives the similarities rather from the psychological mind-set of all Messiah figures, not from more direct influences. Remarkably, he never even mentions the Essenes, considered by most modern scholars as the religious group responsible for the Qumran Scrolls, and thus the community in which the Teacher was working.Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By S. E. Moore on April 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book, along with Israel Knohl's "The Messiah Before Christ" (see my review) present conflicting but very credible theories concerning the Qumran Teacher of Righteousness and how he may have been a catalyst for Jesus' self understanding as the Messiah of Israel.

Wise identifies the Teacher as an individual named Judah who started a breakaway movement about 76 b.c. in opposition to the Pharasaic takeover of the Temple. We can surmise that this may be the Essene leader of the same name mentioned in Josephus but Wise leaves that up to the reader.

Wise goes through each of the hymns he believes were written by Judah which gives us the only authentic self portrait we have of a Jewish messianic leader almost contemporaneous with Jesus. These writings are crucial to our understanding of Jesus and the New Testament. Rather than undermining the New Testament, which so many sensationalists have done, the Thanksgiving Hymns actualy support the claims that were made about Jesus. They also explain why Jesus may have been so hostile to Pharisees since these were Judah's antagonists as well.

Wise claims that the "Self Glorification Hymn" was probably written after Judah's martyrdom by his followers which is strikingly similar to what Jesus' followers handed down to us in the New Testament.

Even if you don't agree with Wise's theories, he gives us an outstanding and in depth overview of the Dead Sea Scroll community. The Damascus Document gives us a history of the community similar to the Book of Acts. The progression of the hymns written by Judah reveals how his own movement progressed and was in danger of collapsing when many of his followers turned on him.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dr. James Gardner VINE VOICE on August 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Michael Wise's 1999 book is subtitled "Investigating the Savior before Christ." As the subtitle suggests, it seeks to identify the first Jewish "messiah", upon whom Jesus and more than a dozen other individuals based their own ministries. Previous attempts to identify this "original cause" are represented in the works of Knohl and Ellegard to name a few.

Chapter 1 of Wise's book is entitled "Of Messiahs and Myth Dreams" and it covers the history of messiahs and crisis cults. This chapter is well written, interesting, and provocative. Unfortunately Wise is merely descriptive. Had he used the case material he presents as a road map to construct a theory of messianic aspirations, this would have been a seminal text. Instead it is merely a great read.

Beginning in Chapter 2, Wise develops his theory. The original Messiah was the Essene "Teacher of Righteousness". He was 60 years old and his name was Judah. He lived during the late 1st Century BCE, at which time the Jewish nation was at war with itself - Alexander Jannaeus and the Sadducees vs. the Pharisees. Following Alexander's death, the nation was ruled by his widow (Alexandra) and her eldest son, Hyrcanus II. Wise believes that Judah was the author of the Thanksgiving Hymns, written in 76 BCE. He opposed the new rule by the Pharisees, calling them "seekers of accommodation". Eventually he was tried (deserted by his colleagues) and exiled to the wilderness of Damascus. He took with him some 150 followers, and they lived by brigandry (a very interesting section in Wise's book). Eventually the cult withered to a mere handful and the Teacher died in 72 BCE. His followers searched the OT to make sense of his life/death, eventually producing the Manual of Discipline (aka Community Rule) and the Damascus Document.
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