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“Az mi-lifnei vereishit”: The Suffering Messiah in the Seventh Century

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Chapter Summary

Suffering is a central aspect of the career of the Christian messiah, whose pain and death on the cross are understood to provide redemption for his followers. The Hebrew Bible does not know a messiah in the sense that Jews of the later Second Temple period came to understand the term, but the Christian understanding is deeply informed by the poems about the suffering servant in the Book of Isaiah and passages from the Psalms in which the speaker calls to God in anguish and pain. In the early seventh century, a suffering messiah appears as a central figure in three Jewish texts composed in the Byzantine Empire: Sefer Zerubbabel, an apocalyptic narrative; Pesiqta Rabbati, a collection of homilies for the holidays and special Sabbaths of the year; and "Az mi-lifnei vereishit", a piyyuṭ for the musaf qedusha of Yom Kippur by the great seventh-century Palestinian payyeṭan Elʿazar be-rabbi Qillir.

Keywords: Az mi-lifnei vereishit; Book of Isaiah; Byzantine Empire; Christian messiah; Jews



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