Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

30 Mar 2012

Book Note: John J. Collins's The Scepter and the Star (2010)

Posted By

John J. Collins. The Scepter and the Star: Messianism in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls. 2nd edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010, xi + 298 pp.

Why was Jesus crucified as a messianic pretender (“King of the Jews”) or, upon his resurrection, declared by his disciples to be the enthroned messiah if, as Collins rightly notes, “little if anything in the Gospel portrait of Jesus…accords with the Jewish expectation of a militant messiah” (229)? The answer: “Christian messianism drew heavily on some of the minor strands (prophet, Son of Man)” (237) of messianic expectation and, in a handful of places, on the major strand, of davidic messianism (233). It is the identification and prioritization of these strands that form the burden of Collins’s book and help explain his subtitle—and, for that matter, his insightful first chapter, “Messianism and the Scrolls.” That is, the “minor strand” of a prophetic messiah is largely developed in the material from Qumran. There we read of an eschatological teacher—ostensibly a prophet—of righteousness (ch. 5, 110–48) (The other minor strand, the heavenly Son of Man, is developed elsewhere; cf. 1 Enoch 37–71 [Similitudes of Enoch] and 4 Ezra, ch. 8, 191–214.) Moreover, in the Scrolls we also find the expectation of an eschatological Davidic warrior king (61–77;  ch. 7, 171–90), an idea, Collins argues, that “constitutes the common core of Jewish messianism around the turn of the era” (78; see ch. 3 in its entirety; also 18–19).

Those looking for a thorough, even-handed, readable overview of early Jewish messianism should begin here. Collins’s book would make excellent supplementary reading for a course on the Gospels or Early Judaism.