“Jesus understood himself as designated by God as the Messiah of Israel.” This thesis may strike many historical-Jesus scholars as dangerously bold. But through careful study of the Gospels, Second Temple literature, and other period texts, scholar Michael Bird makes a persuasive argument that Jesus saw himself as performing the role attributed to the messiah—in the Scriptures of Israel—and believed that Israel’s restoration hinged on the outcome of his ministry.
Bird begins by exploring messianic expectations in the Old Testament and in Second Temple Judaism. In them he finds an evolving messianism that provides historical context for Jesus’ life and teaching. He examines the prevailing contention that the messianic claim originated not with Jesus himself, but in the preaching of the early church. Bird argues that such contentions lack cogency and often skew the evidence. Examining the Gospels and related literature, he shows that what Jesus said and did demonstrates that he believed he was Israel’s messiah. His career was “performatively messianic” in a way that shows continuity in eschatological terms between Israel and the church.
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Michael Bird tackles a question central to historical Jesus research and to understanding the development of the Christian confession: Who did Jesus say that he was? Thoroughly conversant with the extensive history of scholarship, Bird applies a rigorous critique to the dominant arguments used against attributing a messianic self-understanding to Jesus. He builds a substantial case for Jesus’ messianic self-understanding by analyzing the words explicitly spoken on this topic by or about Jesus during his earthly ministry and by examining the deeds Jesus chose to enact and the roles he would have been understood-—and would have understood himself—to embody by these deeds. Bird brings a fresh perspective and keen mind to this debate, painting a historically plausible picture of a Judean well versed in current messianic paradigms who crafted a ministry that reflected both an awareness of acting as God’s end-time agent and a particular understanding of what that agent was to accomplish.
—David A. deSilva, Trustees’ Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek, Ashland Theological Seminary
Michael Bird has written one of the clearest and most compelling treatments of Jesus and the messianic question that I have read. Ancient literature and modern literature alike are handled with great expertise and excellent judgment. Readers will find no long-winded, specious theories propounded here. On the contrary, this book lays out the evidence fairly and with economy and then consistently reaches sensible conclusions. In the end, Bird goes where the evidence takes him, concluding that Jesus understood himself as Israel’s Messiah, which explains the nature of the name of the movement that arose in the aftermath of Easter. I recommend this book highly.
—Craig A. Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College, Nova Scotia
[An] excellent and important new book. . . . Bird demonstrates convincingly that Jesus spoke and acted in ways that were deliberately designed to evoke messianic expectations and hopes. . . . Bird provides a fine overview of scholarship on the varied strands of messianic hope in the period of the Second Temple. He dismantles the classic arguments against a messianic self-understanding for Jesus with surprising ease. . . . In this book we witness the triumph of a plain sense reading of the New Testament in continuity with the teachings of the early Church. . . . Bird gives us a balanced and constructive alternative to the minimalist tendencies in recent scholarship. This book is highly recommended for those seeking to understand the historical Jesus in continuity with both Old Testament expectations and the Christological proclamation of the New Testament Church.
—Letter & Spirit
Bird has written a book that is crisp and clear, provocative and challenging, but most importantly which demands careful interaction. As is the nature of such a strong challenge to a prevailing consensus, this book is unlikely to change opinion overnight, but whenever scholars consider the question of whether Jesus had any self-conception of a messianic identity, Bird’s scholarly study will be one of the contributions to the debate which will be impossible to ignore.
This monograph is an exemplary historical tracing of an exegetical issue. Bird presents his arguments clearly, and his rhetorical style easily leads readers down his hermeneutical path.
—Catholic Biblical Quarterly