The noun “messianism” and the adjective “messianic” have in recent years been given a rubber-band extension. They have been made at times to include all sorts of expected figures in Jewish and Christian history. To point up the issue, I cite the often-used Dictionary of the Bible of J. L. McKenzie:
In general messianism includes those ideas which represent the Israel of the
future as identical with the universal kingdom of Yahweh. It is not quite the
same as eschatology, which deals with the end of history as accomplished
by an intervention of Yahweh, although messianism is at least partly escha-
tological; nor is it quite the same as apocalyptic thought, which represents
the end of history as a world catastrophe, although some forms of mes-
sianism contain apocalyptic elements. In spite of the derivation of the
word, messianism does not always include the idea of a future king or deliv-
erer; some scholars insist that the term should be so restricted in order to
distinguish messianism from eschatology.1
I class myself among those scholars whom McKenzie mentions in the last half of the last sentence.
1. J. L. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1965) 569. McKenzie
makes use of the article of A. Gelin, “Messianisme,” DBSup 5 (1957) 1165–1212. Cf. J. J.
Collins, “Messiahs in Context: Method in the Study of Messianism in the Dead Sea
Scrolls,” Methods of Investigation of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Khirbet Qumran Site: Pres-
ent Realities and Future Prospects (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 722; ed.
M. O. Wise et al.; New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 1994) 213-29, esp. 214. See
now also J. J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and
Other Ancient Literature (ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1995).