Searching for the Messiah: Unlocking the Psalms of Solomon and Humanity’s Quest for a Savior by Barrie Wilson 2020
About the Author
Barrie Wilson is a professor emeritus of religious studies at York University in Toronto, where he specializes in early Christianity. His book How Jesus Became Christian was longlisted for the Cundill International Prize in History and won the Joseph and Faye Tanenbaum Award. He is the co-author of The Lost Gospel, with Simcha Jacobovici. Wilson lives in Toronto.
About the Book
An award-winning historian of religion examines the role a “messiah” plays in Western culture, from its pre-Christian roots to modern interpretations of a savior.
Over the centuries, people have longed for a messiah, whether a religious figure such as Jesus, a political leader, or even in popular culture. The messianic quest emerges most acutely during difficult times when people experience a sense of powerlessness and desperation. But the concept of a messiah—a savior—has its root in the writings of ancient Judaism and early Christianity, evolving from an anointed leader to universal savior. Wilson turns to a little understood pre-Christian text, “The Psalms of Solomon,” which set the stage for messianic expectation just prior to the birth of Jesus.
Known today only to a handful of scholars—in marked contrast to the “Song of Solomon”—these important pslams were composed not by a King, but by a devout 1st century BCE Jew who witnessed terrible atrocities under brutal Roman rule. This crucial work encourages us to ask: what is a messiah? Who is a messiah? How would we recognized one should he or she appear? And what is a messiah supposed to do?
In his own lifetime, Jesus directed his followers to search for “the messiah within” in his parables. Later, Paul changed the concept of “the messiah,” to “the Christ,” when presenting his message to Gentiles instead of Jews. Jesus was no longer a Jewish messiah but a Hellenistic divine avatar.
In Searching for the Messiah, Wilson reveals how this collective search for messiahs throughout modern human history has been fundamentally flawed. Jesus himself rejected the idea of an external fixer, instead formulating his teachings to focus on the role of the individual, their choices, and their actions.
Searching for the Messiah is revelatory and illuminating work of scholarship that will challenge and inspire.
“A serious historical analysis of what a messiah is, from the time of King David, through Jesus, Paul and on into modern times with pop culture rescuers. The book challenges us to think critically about what it means to be a messiah, how we would identify one should one appear. Wilson’s use of biblical evidence flows naturally and offers a comprehensive perspective of messianic expectations and demands. Detailed and enjoyable. Of especial interest are the number of female saviors he identifies along the way. Full of insights, well written and serious readers will come away with a better understanding of who is—and who is not—a messiah. The ending is surprising…and shocking!” — Dr. Carla Ionescu, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario
“Wilson recruits his wide-ranging knowledge of Christianity,and admirable literary writing skills to lead us to his surprising conclusion. His analysis of the supposedly messianic biblical figures, showing they are just powerful political charismatic human beings; his engagement with the earthly King-Messiah in the Psalms of Solomon, as well as with modern political Saviours and film super-heroes, carries us to the book’s thought-provoking final sermon. Important and relevant.” — Rivka Nir, Open University, Tel Aviv, and author of The First Christian Believer: In Search of John the Baptist
Summary of Preface
For millennia, people around the world have embraced the search for a rescuer or messiah.
The search for a messiah has never been timelier, or more important, than right now.
Since people and governments have made such a mess of things, people search for a way out.
Where’s messiah when we need him the most?
If the messiah were to appear, how would we recognize him?
And yet, Christians claim that Jesus is not just a messiah, but the messiah.
What did Jews of Jesus’s time understand by the term “messiah”?
Why did some say Jesus was the messiah and others say that he was not?
The search for a messiah is not just rooted in religious contexts.
These include not only dictators such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Fidel Castro who held out hope for their people, but also visionaries such as Woodrow Wilson who was hailed as the “Savior of Humanity” for his work helping to end World War I.
Why do we look to religion, politics, and pop culture for a messiah, savior, or rescuer?
The book explores the hopes and dreams generated by messiahs, superheroes, and other saviors who promise better times, coming soon.
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