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Messianism in Linear and Cyclical Contexts

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The Messiah figure originates from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. In a linear setting it interprets his person and work politically, spiritually, and apocalyptically. The New Testament applies this Hebrew concept spiritually and apocalyptically to Jesus of Nazareth: he is unrepeatably and irreversibly the Messiah/Christ of both Jews and gentiles. In the Qu'ran Jesus is known as al-Masih, but there this term merely functions as a name. However, the Islam points to the coming of the Mahdi figure at the end of the times, comparable with the Second Coming in Christianity. Therefore, the Messiah/Christ/Mahdi figure, as a unique figure, is at home in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These monotheistic religions place him, each in their own way, in a linear frame. In modern times cultural anthropologists and other scholars in the humanities have extended the use of the terms 'Messiah' and 'Messianism' to figures and phenomena in cyclical contexts. They do not hesitate to speak about 'the Hindu Messiah' and 'Buddhist Messianism'. The present article explores the nature of both the cyclical and linear views of time and history, investigates the birth and growth of Messianism in these specific settings, with special reference to modern developments, and compares the linear concepts of the Messiah and Messianism with the cyclical ones. At the end the article questions whether the cyclical and linear views of the Messiah and Messianism can be harmonized by the use of the spiral as bridge.


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Affiliations: 1: Retired Professor Emeritus of Missiology, Department of Theology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands (b. 1938);, Email:


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