THE FIRST MESSIAH by Michael O. Wise


Investigating the Savior Before Jesus
Email this review


A cogent, fluidly written account of a dynamic pre-Christian messsianic figure in Israel. This book explores a prophetic figure from the first century b.c., a prominent Jerusalem priest named Judah. From Judah’s writings, preserved among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Wise (The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, not reviewed) teases out some compelling arguments about social tensions in Jerusalem a century before Christ. Amid the intense conflict among Jewish factions, Judah proclaimed himself a prophet who knew God’s mysteries, a certainty which propelled him to messiah status among his many followers. But Judah died in exile, leaving his millennial prophecies apparently unfulfilled, his followers scattered. His movement did not end there: a few years later, it exploded in growth because a war with Rome was at hand, and many turned to Judah’s prophecies to explain the crises of the age. Judah’s story is intriguing in and of itself, and even more so because it provided a paradigm for that more famous messiah figure who arose in Israel less than a century later. The book is wonderfully written for a scholarly tome, full of imagination and eloquent suspense, with compelling reconstructions of Judah’s life and especially his trial by fellow Jews for heresy and insurrection. Yet Wise’s book is strangely framed by an introduction and conclusion that focus on other “crisis cults,” or extreme millennial movements. Wise commits factual historical errors with some of these groups, claiming that the Millerites, for example, “disappeared almost overnight” after their prophecy failed in 1844. (What of the rise of Ellen Harmon White and the Adventist movement, which claimed thousands of Millerites by reinterpreting their prophecy of Christ’s return?) In short, the meat of the book is much better than the theoretical scaffolding Wise uses to structure it, and this broader investigation does little to enhance his already solid arguments about Judah and his followers.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-06-069645-1
Page count: 352pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999