17 votes, average: 4.88 out of 517 votes, average: 4.88 out of 517 votes, average: 4.88 out of 517 votes, average: 4.88 out of 517 votes, average: 4.88 out of 5 (17 votes, average: 4.88 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.

Who Invented the Idea of a Suffering Messiah?

For this week’s readers’ mailbag I give a very interesting and important question.



Where did the idea of a Jewish messiah dying for the sins of mankind originate from? OT? Did Jews prior to Jesus’ existence believe this notion of the messiah dying for other’s sins?



I deal with this issue in a couple of my books.  Christians often point to messianic prophecy about Jesus in the Old Testament and suppose the suffering messiah was “right in front of the Jews’ faces” all along.  In fact, it wasn’t.

Here is one of my fuller discussion from Did Jesus Exist?, where I talk about the issue in connection with the question of why Paul originally opposed Christians before converting to the faith.


Why, as a highly religious Jew, did Paul originally persecute the Christians before he himself joined their ranks?   It appears to have been for one reason only: the Christians were saying that Jesus was God’s special chosen one, his beloved son, the messiah.  But for the pre-Christian Paul it was quite clear.  Jesus was not anything like God’s chosen one, the one selected to do his will on earth.  He did not enjoy God’s blessing.  Just the opposite.  He was under God’s curse.  Evidence?  He was hung on a tree.

But why would that be a problem?  Wasn’t the messiah supposed to suffer horribly for the sins of others and be raised from the dead?  Not according to ancient Jews.  On the contrary, the messiah was not supposed to be killed at all.  It is at this point that we need to consider what ancient Jews, including the pre-Christian Paul, thought about the messiah.


Ancient Views of the Messiah

The word “messiah” is Hebrew, and literally means “anointed one.”  The Greek translation of the term is “christos,” so that “Jesus Christ” literally means “Jesus the Messiah.”  The origin of the term goes back into the ancient history of Israel, to the time when the nation was ruled by kings, who were said to have been specially favored, “anointed,” by God.  In fact, the king was literally anointed during his inauguration ceremonies, when oil was poured on his head as a way of showing that he was specially favored by God, as seen in such passages as 1 Samuel 10:1 and 2 Samuel 23:1.

Other persons thought …

This is a meaty post, and you can read all of it if you join the blog.   It costs very little money and every thin dime goes to charity.  So why not join???

You need to be logged in to see this part of the content. Please Login to access.

Degrees of Punishment and Purgatory
The Unforgivable Sin and Purgatory



  1. Avatar
    Brand3000  April 10, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I was reading a new book on Jesus. Do you agree with this quote?

    “…the notion that Israel’s King would alone be raised from the dead after being executed by another power was utterly and completely unexpected – ridiculous, in fact. Yet, this is what Jesus followers believed God did.” – Peter Enns

  2. Avatar
    ericmac  November 22, 2019

    Hi BE – I just joined!
    Regarding why Paul persecuted the Church (cf Gal; Phil), which I think we can presuppose were Christian. You say it had to do with this Church proffering that Jesus was the Messiah. I can buy that, but I wonder if there was more. I wonder if this Church, which was likely made up of Jews who may have derived from the more Hellenized version of Jewy, were teaching that the Mosaic law was at an end: namely, that it was no long needed for Christian Jew or Orthodox Jew. After all this is what Paul eventually taught (Cf. Rom 10:4). It seems that this teaching would have been seen as a direct affront on the Jewish sense of both Religion and Nationalism. It seems that this idea creates a better basis for Paul’s persecution than whether some Jews believed that Jesus–as opposed to so many of the other potential candidates–was the Messiah.

    These thoughts began to brew after I read a bit of Schmithals.

    Your thoughts?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 22, 2019

      That’s often said, but I don’t see the evidence of that as being the grounds for persecution. WE don’t really know of followers of Jesus before Paul saying that Jews were not to keep the law.

You must be logged in to post a comment.