Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Elijah Forerunner Concept as an Authentic Jewish Expectation

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Elijah Forerunner Concept as an Authentic Jewish Expectation

Article excerpt

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Past scholars generally agreed that ancient Jewish texts expressed the expectation that Elijah's coming would precede the coming of the messiah. Morris M. Faierstein and Joseph A. Fitzmyer, however, reexamined earlier scholars' argumentation and use of the primary evidence and concluded, to the contrary, that the expectation of Elijah is not widely attested in Second Temple Jewish literature.1 Faierstein suggests that the expectation developed in Christian circles.2

The methodologies used by scholars on both sides of this issue, however, are problematic. Proponents of both views depend on inferences and assumptions about the evidence that negatively impact their evaluation of the sources. I argue that, although early direct evidence supporting Jewish origins is lacking, Jewish origins are still more likely because of early and late circumstantial evidence?

I.Review of Literature

Scholars who hold to the traditional view-that Jews expected Elijah to be the forerunner of the messiah-appeal for support to the Hebrew Bible, the Apocrypha, Qumran writings, the New Testament, rabbinic sources, and Justin Martyr. Many find this concept adumbrated in Mal 3:23-24 (MT; LXX 3:22-23; Eng. 4:56), developed in Sir 48:10-12, and explicitly stated in Matt 17:10 and rabbinic literature such as b. cErub. 43a-b.4 These scholars find additional support in Justin Martyr, Dial. 8.49-51.5

John A. T. Robinson argues against the idea of Elijah as a forerunner.6 He contends that John did not see himself as Elijah but rather believed that Jesus was Elijah (Mark 1:7). Like Elijah (1 Kgs 18:30-39), Jesus was a man of fire (Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16).7 According to Robinson, Acts 3:12-26 contains a primitive Christology that associates Christ with Elijah (3:26). In addition, Robinson accounts for the portrayal in the Synoptic Gospels of John as Elijah by asserting that these narratives originally referred to Jesus, not John. For example, he views Luke 1:69, which alludes to a "horn of salvation" raised up from the house of David, as a reference to Jesus, not John.8

Faierstein, likewise examining the primary evidence, especially Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho,9 sums up his critique of the traditional view by concluding that (1) Justin Martyr's Dialogue cannot be used to substantiate the traditional view because its trustworthiness is yet to be established; (2) late rabbinic passages that hope for the coming of Elijah and the messiah but do not specify the relationship between the coming of Elijah and the messiah do not prove the traditional view; and (3) the New Testament does not prove the traditional view because, as he states, it "is a case of circularity."

Dale C. Allison argues that, although the primary evidence may not suggest that this concept was widely held, the evidence still indicates that the concept originated among Jews, not Christians.10 His argument is fivefold. First, he states that Faierstein does not adequately handle Mark 9:12-13, since he does not explain why Christians would attribute their own eschatological doctrine to the scribes. Second, Allison claims that Faierstein's conclusion about b. cErub. 43a-b is correct; namely, this passage does not demonstrate that this concept was widespread. This passage does demonstrate, however, that at least some rabbis believed this doctrine. Third, Allison remarks that the association of the messiah with the day of the Lord makes the traditional view a logical inference from Mal 3:23-24. Fourth, Allison asserts that rabbinic literature may have suppressed this doctrine because Christians adopted it. Fifth, Allison warns that fragmentary evidence should caution scholars against making statements about the extent to which the concept was known.

Fitzmyer responded to each of Allison's comments and concluded that Allison's argument does not undermine Faierstein's thesis.11 First, Fitzmyer argues that Mark 9:12-13 does not discuss the concept of Elijah as the forerunner but refers to the idea that Elijah precedes the rising of the dead or the rising of the Son of Man. …

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