My understanding is that first century Jews in Judea, Jerusalem, etc, would have known that Jesus could not possibly be the messiah, because the messiah was expected to be triumphant in life, and no prophecies regarding the messiah suggested that he would be humiliated, tortured, and murdered in the most appalling manner imaginable by the pagan Romans. Indeed, crucifixion was the most humiliating and degrading form of execution in the eyes of Romans and Jews living under the Roman yoke alike; this is the opposite of what was expected of the messiah.

I imagine the conversation would go like this1:

Disciple: "Hello, fellow Jewish person, I want to tell you about the messiah, Jesus."

Jewish person: "Okay, I'm willing to listen. I hadn't heard that the messiah had already shown up."

D: "Oh, yes, he came. Then he did some miracles, and the Romans killed him by crucifixion, but then..."

J: "Let me stop you right there. Did you just say that the messiah was crucified?"

D: "I sure did, but the best part is that...."

J: "Okay, I have to stop you again. If you really believe that the messiah was killed, you have clearly never read the scriptures"

D: "Well, no, I haven't, because I'm actually illiterate, but.."

J: "I'm leaving now. Goodbye."

1: This is obviously not meant to be taken entirely seriously, although it conveys my point pretty well. It is a humorous illustration of the idea that a Jew would immediately know Jesus wasn't the messiah upon hearing that he had been crucified.

Am I correct in this understanding? Would the fact that Jesus was humiliated and defeated by pagans automatically disqualify him from being a messiah? Is there any scriptural reason to believe that the messiah would suffer such a fate?

Note: I know that the question of why modern Jews don't believe in Jesus has already been asked here, and that is not my question. I am interested in the views of Jewish people at the time in which Jesus lived and died, specifically in relation to the expectations regarding the messiah.

Full Disclosure:

I'm an atheist, but I'm interested in the history of the early church, early Christology, biblical hermeneutics, textual criticism of the bible, and Patristic theology. I'm auditing courses in these subjects at Princeton Theological Seminary. On a personal level, I have more respect for Judaism than Christianity, because Jews don't use their religion as an excuse to meddle in the affairs of other people.

My personal view is that Jesus was entirely Jewish, and had no intention of starting a new religion; he didn't believe himself to be the Son of God in any literal sense. I believe that Christians have badly misunderstood Jesus' message and mission. In my understanding, Jesus was not the Jewish messiah, and might not have claimed to be such (although it does seem likely that he did call himself a messiah, at least in private).

I am well aware that "the Jews" as such did not kill Jesus, the Romans did, and the only Jews who played a role in this were the Temple authorities who arrested him. I also believe that he brought it on himself to a large degree, by provoking the authorities at the most tense and dangerous time of year, Passover.

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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya, Wad :)
    – MTL
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 0:29
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    Re "Jews don't use their religion as an excuse to meddle in the affairs of other people", see judaism.stackexchange.com/q/59266. :-)
    – msh210
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 3:03
  • @msh210 - I like the answers. Proselytizing is one thing, legislating is another. :)
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 3:04
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    With respect, this sounds like a question for the History Stackexchange...
    – Shimon bM
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 3:46
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    @ShimonbM - I am certain that they would migrate it here. This isn't about history as such, it is about the definition of "messiah" as first century Jews understood it. That is, it is the history of Jewish theology, not really "history" full stop.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 3:48

1 Answer 1


I'll answer part of the question. (About partial answers: What to do when you only have a partial answer So the moderater says it's fine.)

Is there any scriptural reason to believe that the messiah would suffer such a fate?

In the famous Disputation of Barcelona in 1263, where the Ramban, one of the leading Rabbi at the time, whose works are still learnt today by many, was ordered by the king to answer a priests accusations on Judaism. The priest tried proving that the Messiah needs to be killed by his enemies. The Ramban disproved him. Read here for this part of the debate: http://www.judaismsanswer.com/Ramban.htm One part, which answers your question, is this:

however they don’t ever say that he is killed by his enemies. We do not find anywhere in the books, the Jewish books, neither the Talmud nor the Haggadah that Messiah the son of David will be killed, never. Nor that he would be given into the hands of his enemies, or buried with the wicked. Even the Messiah that you have made for yourselves was not buried.

  • What is the source for being buried with the wicked?
    – JJLL
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 18:21
  • @JJLL if you go to the link, you'll see that the verses which the priest was bringing, claiming then to be about Messiah, which the Ramban refuted, one of the verses spoke about him being placed among the whicked. The Ramban proved that the verses are talking about the Jews, but he's showing the priest that even according to his (the priest's) belief, the verse doesn't work-he wasn't even buried.
    – user613
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 22:02
  • I did read your link @user613. Thank you for providing it. What I am asking is from what source did Father Paul come to his conclusion concerning Psalm 53? Was there a Chrisitian document from, say, the same times time of the Talmud, that substantiated his interpretation? The citation (Diver, 1999) given by the author of the article was written close to 1000 years AFTER the debate between Ramban and the priest took place.
    – JJLL
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 23:12
  • @JJLL idk. But the footnotes says reprinted in 1999. Reprinting is not when it's originally written
    – user613
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 23:23
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    @JJLL I don't know, I don't know much about Christianity, and I don't really want to know much about it. Just one point, it's not psalms
    – user613
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 23:49

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