Jewish Messianism

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The belief in a Messiah, a person who will redeem the people Israel and usher in a better, more perfect era--the messianic age--is often thought of as one of Judaism's defining characteristics.

Interestingly, however, the Bible does not use the word Messiah to refer to an eschatological redeemer. The word Messiah is derived from the Hebrew mashah, to anoint, and in the Bible, refers to a king or priest with a special divine purpose. In fact, Isaiah 45:1 refers to the Persian King Cyrus as God's anointed, because God caused him to allow the Israelites to return from their exile in Babylonia.afterlife and messiah

Some of the latter prophets--Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Zechariah--do discuss a future age that will be marked by unprecedented peace and prosperity and will be ushered in by a descendant of King David. But they do not call this person "Messiah."

Though messianism is rarely discussed in the Mishnah, it is very much present in the Gemara and Midrash. Here, the redeemer is called "Messiah," and he is described in a multitude of ways. He is sometimes a military, political figure and other times a being with supernatural abilities. In another fascinating characterization, the Messiah is said to be on earth already, dressed like a blighted beggar, sitting at the gates of Rome, awaiting Jewish repentance.

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