OF THE FIRST CENTURY BCE
Since the first century BCE, Palestinian Judaism knew the concept of a descendant of the family of David who would in the future appear on the political stage to assume power and establish a kingdom of righteousness, holiness and peace in Jerusalem.1
A well-known example of texts expressing this expectation is Psalm of Solomon 17, but other texts are witness to its existence, too; 4Q161; 4Q174; 4Q252 and 4Q285 should be mentioned among the older examples. Obviously, the Jewish expectation of a son of David is most of all expressed in Christian texts. However, although early Christian authors were happy to suggest that Jesus was the fulfillment of everything pious Jews had always hoped for, namely the Messiah (e.g., Luke 2:25–26), this suggestion was only partially true at the most.
The expectation of a future son of David, sent by God to rule as king, was not an isolated phenomenon, but part of a complex of ideals about the future of Israel as brought about by God. This complex may be called “Jewish eschatology.”2 This complex should not be
1 On the absence of this concept before the first century BCE, cf. J. J.
Collins, “Messianism in the Maccabean Period,” in J. Neusner, et al. (eds.),
Judaisms and their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1987) 97–109; K. E. Pomykala, The Davidic Dynasty
Tradition in Early Judaism. Its History and Significance for Messianism (Early
Judaism and its Literature 7; Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1995). A different
view, assuming an unbroken continuity of messianic expectation in the exilic and
post-exilic period, is consistently elaborated by A. Laato, A Star is Rising. The
Historical Development of the Old Testament Royal Ideology and the Rise of
Jewish Messianic Expectations (International Studies in Formative Christianity
and Judaism 5; Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1997) 240–42, 285–89.
2 From a traditio-historical point of view, concepts about the individual life
after death should be clearly distinguished from this political or cosmic
eschatology; cf. N. Spineto, “L'escatologia nel mondo classico,” Annali di storia
dell' esegesi 16 (1999) 7–20 (esp. 19–20).