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”—this important writing was composed not by a King, but by a devout 1st century BCE Jew who witnessed terrible atrocities under brutal Roman rule.This crucial work tells us what a messiah is and what he must do.
Jesus directed his followers to search for “the messiah within” in his parables. Paul changed the concept of “the messiah,” to “the Christ,” when presented 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.
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.
"A significant and sensational work of scholarship. Truly religious dynamite."
– The Globe and Mail (Praise for HOW JESUS BECAME CHRISTIAN)
"Groundbreaking and sure to provoke considerable attention."
– Prof. Patrick Gray, University of Toronto (Praise for HOW JESUS BECAME CHRISTIAN)
"Beyond a doubt one of the most significant works on early Christianity to appear in decades. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and secularists will all find much of fascination and value in this provocative and important work."
– James D. Tabor, chair of the department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, author of The Jesus Dynasty (Praise for HOW JESUS BECAME CHRISTIAN)