The Grammar of Messianism: An Ancient Jewish Political Idiom and its Users

ISBN : 9780190255022

Matthew V. Novenson
384 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Jun 2017
Send mail

Messianism is one of the great themes in intellectual history. But for precisely this reason, because it has done so much important ideological work for the people who have written about it, the historical roots of the discourse itself have been obscured from view. What did it mean to talk about "messiahs" in the ancient world, before the idea of messianism became a philosophical juggernaut, dictating the terms for all subsequent discussion of the topic? In this book, Matthew V. Novenson gives a revisionist account of messianism in antiquity. He shows that, for the ancient Jews and Christians who used the term, a messiah was not an article of faith but a manner of speaking. It was a scriptural figure of speech, one among numerous others, useful for thinking kinds of political order: present or future, real or ideal, monarchic or theocratic, dynastic or charismatic, and other variations beside. The early Christians famously seized upon the title "messiah" (in Greek, "Christ") for their founding hero and thus molded the sense of the term in certain ways, but, Novenson shows, this is nothing other than what all ancient messiah texts do, each in its own way. If we hope to understand the ancient texts about messiahs (from Deutero-Isaiah to the Parables of Enoch, from the Qumran Community Rule to the Gospel of John, from the Pseudo-Clementines to Sefer Zerubbabel), then we must learn to think in terms not of a world-historical idea but of a language game, of so many creative reuses of an archaic Israelite idiom. In The Grammar of Messianism, Novenson demonstrates the possibility and the benefit of thinking of messianism in this way.


1. After the Messianic Idea
2. Oil and Power in Ancient Israel
3. Messiahs Born and Made
4. Messiahs Present and Absent
5. The Quest for the First Messiah
6. The Jewish Messiah-Christian Messiah Distinction
7. The Fate of Messiah Christology in Early Christianity
8. The Grammar of Messianism
Index of Subjects
Index of Ancient Sources
Index of Modern Authors

About the author: 

Matthew V. Novenson is Senior Lecturer in New Testament and Christian Origins at the University of Edinburgh. He has also been a visiting professor at Dartmouth College and Duke University and a visiting research fellow at Durham University. He is the author of Christ among the Messiahs (Oxford University Press, 2012).

The price listed on this page is the recommended retail price for Japan. When a discount is applied, the discounted price is indicated as “Discount price”. Prices are subject to change without notice.