Defining Jewish Preexistence – part 2

In yesterday’s installment of my inquiry into the ways that Jews perceived the concept of ‘preexistence’ I examined two passages within Genesis Rabba.

Today I want to look at one of the targum readings from the biblical book of Zechariah. A targum is an Aramaic paraphrase/translation of the Hebrew text. The targum readings had their beginning around the inception of the second temple period where they would be spoken during times of worship. Eventually these oral readings of the Hebrew texts were put into written form. When one examines various targum readings of the Hebrew Bible, it becomes apparent that they regularly served as interpretations of how the respective passages were being read.

Orange-spaceThe targum reading which I am interested in for this post comes from Zech. 4:7. In this text an angelic intermediary is speaking to the prophet Zechariah. In the midst of an oracle concerning Zerubbabel the angel says, “What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!'” In this passage, the targumist latched onto the “top stone” which God promises to bring forth. In interpreting this top stone the targumist wrote:

“[God] will reveal His Messiah whose name is spoken from the beginning.” (my translation)

The topstone is interpreted as the promised Messiah. However, the targumist adds a noteworthy tidbit concerning this figure. The Messiah has had his name spoken from the beginning. This is similar language to what we observes in Genesis Rabba 1:4 where the name of the Messiah was contemplated before the creation of the world. I argued in that instance that the Messiah (or perhaps simply his name) preexisted notionally, that is, in God’s mind and purposes. The targumist uses similar terminology here when he speaks of the preexisting name of the Messiah. There is no indication here that the targumist thought that God’s Messiah literally preexisted. Rather, it was his name which goes all the way back to the beginning. For the targumist, God has already planned out a particular name for the Messiah who, from the perspective of the prophet Zechariah, is still yet to arrive on the scene.

Again I want to chalk up this text to Judaism’s understanding of the preexisting Messiah in a manner which is notional rather than literal. The Messiah’s name was planned from the beginning.


3 thoughts on “Defining Jewish Preexistence – part 2

  1. Hi Dustin,

    I hope you will elaborate on what sense you think the “name” of Messiah is being considered here. For example, in biblical Hebrew usage, a “name” could be proper (Genesis 2:14), or it could be a classification (Genesis 2:19), or it could be descriptive (Genesis 3:20), or it could be representative (Genesis 4:26), or it could mean reputation (Genesis 6:4).

    I’m also not sure I understand how you are trying to say that the “name” had a “notional preexistence” either. If a “name” is given or established at some point (in history), then why would it need to be said that it “preexisted” in any sense. For example, if the name, Jesus, was derived from the Hebrew, YHUShUO, then wouldn’t the name have “literally” existed long before it was given to the Christ?

    Rivers 🙂

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