Do the Prophets Speak of a Coming Mashiach, End Times, and Resurrection?

The Zadokim (Sadducees) were the legitimate priests of Israel and were much celebrated in the histories of the Jewish People. The Cohen Hagadol (high priest) Zadok was prominent during the lives of David and Shlomo remaining loyal to the Davidic family and to Hashem. The Prophet Yekhezkel (Ezekiel) would later endorse this priestly party to return to the leadership as the legitimate priests for the Second Temple (Yekhezkel 40:46, 43:19). This endorsement is not simply limited to their family lineage. The reasons the House of Tsadok is so celebrated in the scriptures are their strict adherence to the Torah and their service to Hashem (Yekhezkel 44:15, 48:11). Unlike other families of priests, Benei Tsadok rejected pagan practices and strange foreign rites and beliefs in favour of a strict reading of the scriptures. Nehemiah 11:11 confirms that the prophecy was fulfilled, when a descendant of Hilkiyah (Hilkiah) was placed in charge of the Temple. Hilkiyah was the Zadokite High Priest in the time of King Hizkiyahu (Hezekiah) of the (southern) Kingdom of Yehudah. Note the cycle of prophecy and fulfillment here.

The Sadducees


2
A mosaic that may be a depiction of Jewish priests meeting with Alexander the Great
Josephus and the Talmud indicate that the Sadducees of the late Second Temple period had continued to hold to their strict interpretation of the scriptures, even as this had become unpopular in the face of the fiery supernaturalism of the Essiyim (Essenes), and popular legalism of the Paroshim (Pharisees the forefathers of Rabbinical Judaism). The Tsadokim did not believe in an afterlife, a coming Moshiach (Messiah), or in an ultimate resurrection of the dead. They also did not believe in angels, which the Torah portrays merely as messengers from Hashem (often as men), rather than the supernatural beings imagined by mystics. It has often been argued that the Sadducees must have rejected the books of the prophets as they prophesy all of these supernatural ideas. Yet, Josephus states that there were 22 agreed upon books in the canon at the time (less Daniel and Shir Hashirim – Song of Songs– both added to the canon later). Josephus does not exclude the Sadducees from this accepted canon, nor should he, for it is precisely these prophets who called for the Zadokim to be the priests of the Second Temple! Several of these prophets were Zadokim themselves: Yeremyahu was the brother of the High Priest of his time and was himself a member of the Zadokite family, as was Ezra a descendant of Hilkiyah, and Yekhezkel was most likely a member of this family or at least of the priestly party.
How can the beliefs of the Zadokim be reconciled with the prophets? Perhaps a better question would be: why does our modern reading of the prophets not align with the views of the Zadokim who wrote them? The Zadokim viewed these prophecies as being historical in nature having applied to the times for which they were written and speaking of a return which took place when Ezra and Nehemiah returned to the Holy Land circa 500 BCE. I have read the prophets many times and have likewise found that the prophecies are all fulfilled or averted. Nehemiah makes it clear that he is fulfilling prophecy, as does Ezra, and the final prophet Zechariyah (Zachariah) says so rather explicitly. How can Jews today read so many ideas into the scriptures that just are not there? The answer lies is foreign influence and the willingness of Jews to mislead one another through the generations. Please review my articles on Zoroastrianism and its influence on Judaism, and on the centrality of Torah to the Jewish life. I will give several examples below of how these foreign ideas are read into the scriptures.

The Mashiach (Messiah)


2
Or is he?

 

I will begin with the Messianic prophecies. No prophecy is more potent then that of Yeshaiyahu (Isaiah) chapters 7-9. We read of a future king who will be called Immanuel (G-d is with us). Note Yeshaiyahu 9:6: “And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, G-d’s Great Man (warrior), and Minister of Peace.” No passage in the scripture comes without context, however. What is the context of these passages? We begin with the commencement of this particular episode in Chapter 7. Ahaz King of Yehudah (the southern kingdom) is concerned because Pekah, the son of Remaliah, has overthrown the King of Yisrael (the northern kingdom) and has made an alliance with King R’tson of  Aram. In earlier years, King Hazael of Aram had defeated both Yisrael and Yehudah. The alliance between these two kingdoms to the north was highly disconcerting. Later, these two powers would try to coax Yehudah into an alliance against Assyria, which would have been devastating. Against the backdrop of this geopolitical crisis, there is a domestic crisis as well: King Ahaz has no male heirs. The Prophet Yeshaiyahu comes with a message of soothing to King Ahaz that he need not be concerned about this alliance or the succession crisis. The Assyrians are gathering strength still farther north and will soon sweep down and destroy both of these kingdoms. Better that Yehudah should live to fight another day, and they will. The Prophet also addresses the lack of a male heir.

Ahaz’ problem is more severe, however, than the mere lack of an heir: the reason he is in this predicament is that he sacrificed his only son and heir to Molech. This is an unforgivable act of idolatry and a further symbol of the disobedience to Hashem that has brought the Kingdom to so low a state. Hashem is still eager to bless His people. Yeshaiyahu calls on Ahaz to ask for a sign, which Hashem will perform for the populous to calm them. Ahaz refuses to ask. Because of Ahaz’ ongoing disobedience, Hashem sends a sign anyway, as Yeshaiyahu explains: a young woman, presumably one of the King’s concubines, will bear him a child who will be a great King. Indeed, a young man is later born to Ahaz, this young man is his successor King Hizkiyahu (Hezekiah).
Hizkiyahu will go on the defeat King Sencherev (Sennecharib) of Assyria in a great siege of Jerusalem. King Hiskiyahu’s victory, in which over 200,000 Assyrian soldiers are killed in one night, is one of the greatest events in the Biblical narrative. Indeed, King Hizkiyahu is a great builder, a great warrior, and a man who purifies the religious practices of the time. He is by far one of the greatest and most celebrated Kings in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and rightly so. Why was Hizkiyahu so great a success and Ahaz a miserable failure? The former served Hashem, His Temple, and opposed idolatry; the latter was disobedient and committed acts of horrid idolatry. Hizkiyahu was as great a King as his father was a miserable failure. One might say that Hizkiyahu was a “wonderful counselor,” a “Great Man (warrior) of Hashem,” and a “Minister of Peace.” The entire theme of Hizkiyahu’s reign beams “Hashem is with us” or Immanuel, the title that Yeshaiyahu ascribed to him.
Back to Yeshaiyahu chapters 7-9: we have the prophecy that a son will be born who will be a great King. Shortly after the prophecy is given, a great King is born. Hiskiyahu’s accomplishments dwarf even those of David and Shlomo (Solomon) in some ways, the military victory is certainly astonishing. A prophecy is given and it is fulfilled. I cannot see how these passages can possibly refer to any other historical event and certainly not to any event far in the future, or events that have yet to take place some 2700 years later. It disturbs me to no end that so many religious scholars look at this passage and seem to be utterly incapable of either reading the passage in its proper context or truly understanding its meaning, but then, when one comes to the scriptures with an agenda or with preconceived notions, one can read into these works whatever one wishes to rather than what is actually there.
The Valley of the Dry Bones

Engraving of the “Vision of The Dry Bones” By Gustave Dore

The vision received by Yekhezkel (Ezekiel) in chapter 37 verses 1-14, is one of several designed to impress upon Yekhezkel and the Israelites the power of prophecy and the limitless power of Hashem. In this particular vision, Hashem takes Yekhezkel out in a wind or “in spirit” to show him something; in other words this is a vision, not something that physically happened. Yekhezkel is shown a valley and dry bones therein. Hashem asks him if these bones are alive, Yekhezkel notes that Hashem knows better then he that they are lifeless. Hashem calls upon Yekhezkel to prophesy over them. Soon, the bones rise and assemble into people; sinews and muscles flow over them, and soon they are as men. Hashem then brings them back to life.

Hashem concludes by imparting the lesson of the vision. Verse 11 includes this quote:

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; see that they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.”

The House of Israel, that is the Israelites living in that time, have complained of being dejected and cutoff from Hashem’s blessings. These Israelites were exiled by the Chaldeans (Babylonians) and Assyrians to modern day Iraq; now they are scattered over the entire region. Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) is in disrepair and the Temple is dilapidated and needs to be rebuilt. The Israelites are facing a very real state of dejection about very tangible and real world issues. The vision addresses their concerns in the very language they use to complain of their dejection. Verses 12 and 13 continue:

12 “Therefore prophesy, and say to them: Thus says your Lord YHVH: See, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.

13 And you will know that I am YHVH, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.”

The Israelites living in that time complain that they are as dead bodies and bones in graves. The ‘grave’ thus becomes their chosen metaphor for the exile. Hashem promises to raise them (the Israelites living in that time) from the grave and return them to the Holy Land. Hashem will demonstrate His awesome power by bringing the Israelites out of exile and returning them to the land; that they will know He was behind their return and they will serve Him dutifully, as their fathers did not.

Verse 14 concludes:

“And I will place My breath in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; and you will know that I YHVH have spoken, and performed it, said YHVH.”

To whom is this message given? The Israelites of that time, they are the ones to whom Hashem is speaking through Yekhezkel. It is those people whom he is addressing and their concerns, in that time. The people will return to the land and live there again with Hashem’s renewed blessing. In the remaining verses of the chapter yet another vision is given, this time, the piling of sticks to represent the reunification of the nation as one entity. Both of these visions came to pass when the Israelites returned from the Exile (out of their graves) and had new life breathed into them in the Holy Land. They were one nation once again, no longer separate tribes or a nation divided north against south. The metaphor meets a satisfying conclusion in the return from Exile.

It is worthy of note that Yeremyahu 7:31-33, whose prophecies precede those of Yekhezkel, makes mention of the “Valley of Slaughter” at Tophet, where the wicked practice of Molekh was performed. In verse 33 there is a reference to the carcasses of the nation being left out in this valley to be picked clean by animals and none of them to be shooed away. The nation had been so disobedient that Hashem would utterly destroy them:

31 “They have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in fire; which I did not command you, neither did it come into My mind.


32 Therefore in the days to come, said YHVH, it shall not be called Tophet any longer, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they shall bury [their dead] in Tophet, for lack of room elsewhere.


33 The carcasses of this people shall be food for the birds of the skies, and for the creatures of the earth; and no one shall frighten them away.”

In Yekhezkel Hashem takes the Prophet to just such a valley of now dry and picked-clean bones which He resurrects to life in the vision. This is just one example of how the Prophets weave various themes together, and how Hashem will offer an image of destruction and later reverse it into one of hope.

So where is the promise of resurrection? Where does this vision say that all Israelites who have ever lived will come back to life? The vision is powerful but it is still a metaphor for the exile and return, as are most of the words of the Prophets; it was still given in a particular time, in a specific context, to a certain group of people. The vision and passage cannot be divorced from this context any more than any other episode of the scripture. Further, why would Yekhezkel, likely a Tsadokite priest, give a vision of a resurrection in which his priestly party did not believe?
When the Israelites returned to the Holy Land with Ezra and Nehemiah, were they disappointed? Far from the dead rising from their graves, the return was a great deal of hard work under the constant threat of attack from the nearby peoples. Nowhere do we hear of the people losing faith or even questioning their faith over the matter. Perhaps they took a different meaning from these words then is commonly understood today? I might also ask why Yekhezkel would tell a group of Israelites in exile about an event that is to take place at least 2500 years in the future? What possible relevance would it have to them? This would be like telling Henry II that one day the British Empire would rule over ¼ of the Earth’s land surface. Of what relevance would this be to him? Perhaps he might prefer to learn of what his fiery wife Eleanore and oldest living son Richard are plotting? Where and in what force? Likewise, the Israelites would not have wanted to know about the distant future, they needed a powerful message of hope in a time of desperation. Yekhezkel delivered just such message and there is no more to take from it.

The Afterlife


The Torah makes death an unclean thing. Dead bodies and bones are not to be touched. Death is the ultimate punishment. All of its commandments address the living during this life. If there is to be an afterlife, the Torah certainly gives no indication of it. The story of Shaul seeking out Shmuel’s spirit is often cited with regard to the afterlife. This episode, found in 1 Shmuel chapter 28 involves Shaul going to a diviner. The Torah forbids us from seeking out the dead, diviners can manipulate the living by giving them “messages” purported to be from the dead. Why does the diviner feel her life is in jeopardy in this episode if it is not that she knows her activities are forbidden? In this unique case, Hashem chooses to send Shaul a vision of Shmuel to explain why Shaul has been forsaken. Hashem would certainly prefer to give a message to Shaul from a man whom he knew and trusted, since Shaul had refused to listen to Hashem. This is far from proof of an afterlife, but is instead yet another example of Shaul’s malfeasance.

There are also those who believe that the references to She’ol in the Torah and elsewhere in the scriptures constitute a reference to the afterlife. She’ol means “dark place” or “pit” and in context refers to the grave. B’reishit (Genesis) 42:38 gives the word a meaning of the grave in context:

“Then he [Yakov] said: ‘My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he [Binyamin] only is left; if harm were to befall him on your journey, then will you will bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. [sh’olah – she’ol]”

In Yeshaiyahu (Isaiah) the word refers once again to the grave, going along with maggots “beneath the trees,” (see Yeshayahu 14:8) and the imagery of decomposition. Verse 14:11 states:

“Your pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of your prayers; the maggot is spread out beneath you, and the worms cover you.”

Verse 9 of the same chapter mocks the concept saying that the grave is opened for the former kings who have been raised from their thrones:

“The grave beneath you is moved to meet you at your coming; the shades are stirred for you…”

That the shades (rephaim) are stirred for them; often mistaken for spirits of the netherworld, these likewise refer to darkness, the grave, and the process of decomposition in context. Given the large number of anthropomorphic descriptions of She’ol, that is the attribution of human characteristics to the concept, a number of scholars believe that this may refer also to a Canaanite deity.

Daniel and the Maccabees

I have already written a critique of Daniel elsewhere. The latter chapters of the Book of Daniel refer to the events that surround the Maccabee Revolt. Chapters 7-12 address the rise of Alexander, the breakup of his kingdom and the rise of Antiochus Epiphanies. Daniel was not a prophet, he received visions that were to be sealed until the time that events those visions described had come to pass. That we can read this book means that our ancestors believed that these events had indeed come to pass.

This book only barely made the canon. Given the scriptural hierarchy of the Torah followed by the Neviim (Prophets and Histories), then by the Kethuvim (writings), Daniel cannot be a source for major doctrine in our belief system. Our beliefs must all be founded in Torah, then explained by the Prophets. What is found in neither the Torah nor the prophets cannot be added by a book in the Writings; which is made up of prayers, laments, proverbs, and later histories.

Hashem’s Righteous Priests

The Tsadokim were celebrated and empowered by Hashem because of their dutiful observance of the written law. So close to the Law did they remain that these foreign ideas never significantly polluted their beliefs. There are degrees to which we can live modern lives, learn modern science and philosophy, as the Tsadokim did, and still remain true to the one written Torah; and this should be our goal. Supernatural nonsuch can only distract us from Hashem’s divine law.

3 thoughts on “Do the Prophets Speak of a Coming Mashiach, End Times, and Resurrection?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s