My nonconversion story. Part 5: He’s not the Messiah…

This is the fifth part of my multi-part story of how, as a non-believer, I spent years in my teens and twenties looking at all the evidence for and against Christianity as fairly as I could, eventually concluding it wasn’t true. The introduction is here, and I’ll link all the parts back there as I write them.

At this point in the story, I was still in sixth form (the last two years of school).

The Messiah

One thing that did strike me as notable about Christianity was that it hadn’t, in general, convinced the Jews. Specifically, the Jewish people had rejected the claim that Jesus was the Messiah. Which struck me as an important point; I knew that Judaism regarded the Messiah as vitally important and believing Jews were really looking forward to him turning up, so it sounded as though they’d have been thrilled had they actually thought he’d done so. Which meant that they must have had good reason to believe that Jesus wasn’t the one they were waiting for. I concluded it would be worth finding out what that reason was.

Of course, the traditional Christian explanation of this was that the Jews had failed to recognise their Messiah when they saw him as he didn’t fit their incorrect expectations of what the Messiah would be. Yup; Christianity’s explanation for this awkward point was that the Jews were wrong about a key part of their own religion. This was still more than two decades before the coining of words like ‘mansplaining’ and ‘whitesplaining’, so I did not think of this as ‘Gentilesplaining’ when mentally shaking my head at it; but I got the concept even if I didn’t have a term for it. So, no, I wanted to hear what Judaism had to say about the Messiah and why they thought Jesus didn’t fit the bill.

Since this was also several years before the Internet, this was not particularly easy. I spent a lot more time looking through the religious sections of all available libraries, and eventually found a book with the information I needed. I’m afraid I can’t at this stage remember either what the book was or precisely what information on the subject I got from that book as opposed to what I’ve learned from numerous sources since, so some of this I might not have picked up until later; therefore, on this key point I’m going to have to be a bit vague. However, the gist is that ‘messiah’ (which is an Anglicised version of ‘mashiach’, the Hebrew word for ‘anointed’) is on one level a term that Judaism used for any king or priest, but that the Messiah was a title used for a particular king and descendant of King David, who was supposed to rule over Israel in a time when Israel’s enemies had been miraculously and permanently defeated and Israel herself was living in a time of peace and plenty.

That seemed pretty conclusive. Since Jesus clearly didn’t fit the definition of the Messiah, it seemed entirely logical that the Jews had concluded that he was not, in fact, the Messiah. Sadly, I don’t think I thought of the Monty Python quote at that point, so that was a good cue missed; but the message was still clear enough.

So where did this leave me?

Thinking about it now, I’m really not sure why this wasn’t the end of the argument for me. Christianity claimed that Jesus was the Messiah. He clearly wasn’t the Messiah. That’s a pretty basic point on which to be wrong. I genuinely can’t remember how I excused this to myself; I guess I was so determined to give Christianity a fair hearing that I gave them a free pass on this blatant inaccuracy.

Next up: More of the same sort of thing, but this time during my medical school years.


  1. Katydid says

    As a child/teen, the church my family attended (Methodist) almost never mentioned other faiths. The only thing I remember them saying about the Jews is that they, too, loved God and showed it by following the rules as they understood it, so they would go to heaven. That’s the same thing they said about Buddhists.

    It wasn’t until I went to college and wound up living with fundagelical whackaloon rooomates that I heard that Jews “love sinning”, which is why they were going to hell. Everyone except them “loved sinning”. And the King James Bible was the perfect and inerrant word of god (who spoke medieval English).

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    You can find lots of predictions about The Messiah™, and “Jesus” indeed failed to fulfill practically all of them.

    Therefore the goyim claim J really was the messiah?!?

    Where do you see prophesies for the fetishized martyr/towel shoulder/avenger that “Jesus” eventually actually became?

  3. moarscienceplz says

    “Christianity’s explanation for this awkward point was that the Jews were wrong about a key part of their own religion.”
    Well, every religion thinks that all other religions are wrong. That’s why we have so damned many of ’em. To my mind, that fact alone is enough to make an atheist out of any thoughtful person. If there really is an omnipotent god, why can’t he/she/it/they just tell us in plain language what we are supposed to do?

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    moarscienceplz @ # 4: What the heck is a “towel shoulder”?

    You are – if you’ve ever tried to console someone weeping on your shoulder.

    Lots of gods suffer martyrdom or take vengeance on whomever they consider evil, but very few go around sympathizing with everybody’s pain.

  5. Owlmirror says

    I’m a bit surprised that no-one took the easy step of posting:
    “. . . He’s a very naughty boy!”
    in response to the title.

    Well, that’s done…

  6. Owlmirror says

    I want to point again to:

    Judaisms and Their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era, edited by Jacob Neusner, William Scott Green, Ernest S. Frerichs,

    I think you should be able to at least read the introduction in the Google Books preview

    It is no longer possible to justify the standard, homogenous reading of the varied Jewish writings or to assume that different Jewish groups, even within Palestine, shared a single outlook, social experience, or religious expectation simply because they were Jews. The evidence in this book shows that preoccupation with the messiah was not a uniform or definitive trait, nor a common reference point, of early Jewish writings or the Jews who produced them. As a speculum for the analysis and understanding of early Jewish religious life, the category “messiah” probes less obliquely, and with rather less precision and discernment, than we have come to suppose.

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