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Finding Jesus in Zechariah


Philip Jenkins - published on 06/15/15

Deutero-Zechariah also had a potent influence on Revelation, and Rev. 1.7 recalls Zech. 12.10.

So how do we explain this? Obviously, many readers through the centuries have seen these texts as a straightforward messianic prophecy. Zechariah, or perhaps some later “Deutero” author, had a vision of Jesus’s career, and wrote down the prophecy. That idea in itself is credible for anyone who accepts the idea of prophecy, but it does have problems, in that other portions of the Deutero-Zechariah text seemingly have no relevance whatever to Jesus or the Christian story.
Suspicious of any form of supernatural explanation, most modern critics see the passages differently, arguing that early Christians like Matthew took Deutero-Zechariah and used ideas and episodes from it to frame the narrative they told. Arguably, for instance, that is where we get the whole story of Judas receiving the thirty pieces of silver.

Actually, the two models are not mutually exclusive. You could, for instance, argue that some earlier prophet really did see the messianic future, and those words inevitably resonated with later evangelists. The source influenced later writers, but did not cause them to create the narrative out of whole cloth.

Robert Graves, though, draws in the scholarly speculations of his day (not least Albert Schweitzer) to offer another interpretation altogether. What if Jesus knew and valued those Deutero-Zechariah passages, and acted them out deliberately and consciously as a means of provoking the End Times? When we read that he says “Strike the shepherd,” this was not a retroactive reading by a later evangelist who was trying to place Jesus in the context of ancient prophecy. It was rather an actual quotation from a Jesus who had placed himself in the role of a character in the Zechariah story.
It’s a seductive idea, and one that actually makes excellent sense of other more allusive Zechariah passages that are less familiar.

Let me explain further in my next post.

Philip Jenkinsis a Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor Universityand author of The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade.

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