Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Trump: The New Messiah?

In recent Facebook postings, evangelicals have boasted of their love of President Donald Trump and their belief that he epitomizes the idea of a messiah.

That just proves they don’t understand the messianic concept.

To begin with, the term is a simple Greek transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning “anointed king.” It refers totally to a new human ruler who has blessed olive oil dripped on his head as a way of passing along God’s supposed approval.

Samuel anoints David
The concept was borrowed from the Egyptians, who anointed all of their pharaohs. 

Basically, the ritual differentiated an ordinary king (“melek”) from one who was acceptable to God (“meshiach”)

So, Saul, the first king of Israel, was anointed by Samuel, who later anointed David, Saul’s successor.  The remaining kings of Israel and Judea were also anointed until the last one was carted off to Babylonian captivity in the 6th century. However, before Saul, the individuals called Judges in the Bible were not anointed.  They may have ruled ancient Judea; they just were run-of the-mill rulers, not special ones.

After that, Jews longing to be free of whatever foreign country dominated their land – Babylonia, Assyria, Egypt, Greece and Rome – prayed for a new king to arise to defeat their enemies.  The messianic concept was boosted by the Essenes, religious fanatics two millennia ago who hoped for the return of their leader, who they called the Teacher of Righteousness.  That was at least 100 years before Jesus.

Ruins of Essene town of Qumran
The Essene concept of a monarch sent from heaven represents the next evolution of an idea of an anointed mortal king.

By the way, the Essenes were decimated by the Romans around 70 C.E. and disappear from history.  Their messiah never came.

Christians later picked up the concept and applied it to Jesus, who is proclaimed today as the messiah, but not as an anointed king.  He wasn’t anointed and wasn’t a king.  Biblical authors tried to tie him genealogically to David, accepting the prophetic claims that the new king would arise from the line of David.  Prophets (not all, but most) were sure the new king would be related to David since kings of Judea were part of the Davidic dynasty for more than 400 years. 

However, John, the fourth Gospel, flatly says Jesus was not a distant relative of the second king. 
Moreover, a Roman emperor later rounded up descendants of David and then released them, concluding they were just ordinary, inconsequential people.

After Jesus died, followers were sure he would have to return to claim the throne and create a Jewish theocracy.  As such, the term “messiah” took on other-worldly dimensions, becoming the concept that evangelicals are bandying about. They are thinking of.not some everyday king, but someone designated by God to lead them to the “promised land” of complete control.  That’s what the Jews wanted, too.  Of course, if evangelicals succeed, they would try to forcefully convert Jews – and everyone else who doesn’t buy into their rigid beliefs.
Coins minted during Bar Kokhba revolt

Because of the elevated status accorded the term, since the time of Jesus, multiple people have claimed to be the messiah.  The most famous ancient one was Simon Bar Kokhba, a Jewish general who led a Judean revolt against the Romans in the second century and, after brief success, was killed around 135 C.E.  Others are mentioned in the New Testament and by Josephus, the Jewish historian of the day.

More have arisen in the last 2000 years.  Some are living right now.  Over the years, messianic claimants have ranged from would-be prophets, cult leaders, rabbis and truly mentally deranged individuals.

Trump is in fine company.

However, he clearly isn’t a messiah.  He has not been anointed.  He is not king.  In fact, the impeachment trial is all about his efforts to exercise authority as if he were ruler of the country and not an elected official.

As such, under the circumstances, he’s about as far from a messiah as anyone can get.

Not that the distinction  matters to evangelicals.  They have yoked themselves to the Trump messianic bandwagon without regard to either the reality of the concept or any plausible reason.  In the end, they will discover that Trump isn’t a messiah.  No one is or has been since priests stopped dripping blessed olive oil on some regal head.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University.   He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at He is the author of the recently published novels Revelation! (Southern Owl Press) and The Great Seer Nostradamus Tells All (Bold Venture Press) as well as a variety of nonfiction books, including The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information and Comparative Religion for Dummies.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

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