Messiah (məsĪˈə) [key] or Messias məsĪˈəs [Heb., = anointed], in Judaism, a man who would be sent by God to restore Israel and reign righteously for all humanity. The idea developed among the Jews especially in their adversity, and such a conception is clearly indicated in Isaiah 9. Messianic expectations generally focused on a kingly figure of the house of David, who would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5.2). However, a second Messianic figure, the Messiah son of Joseph, was said to precede the Messiah son of David, preparing the way for him by combating the enemies of Israel and reuniting the twelve tribes for the return to Jerusalem where he would die in combat with the enemies of God before the final redemption under the Davidic Messiah. Jesus considered himself, and is considered by Christians, to be the promised Messiah to whom the whole Old Testament pointed; the name Christ is Greek for Messiah (Mat. 16.16). The Christian ideal of the Messiah is fundamentally different from the early Jewish conception in the aspect of suffering; the common idea of Jesus' time was that the Messiah should reign in glory as an earthly king, a political figure sent by God, not a savior in the Christian sense. The expectation of the second coming of Jesus is similar to the Jewish belief in the Messianic advent. The idea of a messiah, a redeemer sent by God, is common among many different peoples throughout history and may reflect a universal psychological pattern. Ancient Middle Eastern texts foretell the coming of savior-kings. Buddhists, Zoroastrians, and Confucians believe in the redemption of humanity, or the advent of a golden age, through the arrival of a Holy One. In Islam, the coming of the Mahdi is closely related to the messiah concept. Other peoples also believe in messiah figures; among the Native North Americans, Wovoka is the most famous.
See W. D. Wallis, Messiahs, Their Role in Civilization (1943); J. Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel (1955); A. H. Silver, A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel (1955); V. Lanternari, The Religions of the Oppressed: A Study of Modern Messianic Cults (1963); and G. Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism (1971).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.