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A messiah, literally, "the anointed" has come to be seen as a saviour or liberator of a group of people, most commonly in the Abrahamic religions. In the Hebrew Bible, a messiah (or mashiach) is a king or High Priest traditionally anointed with holy anointing oil. However, messiahs were not only Jewish, as the Hebrew Bible refers to Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, as a messiah for his decree to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple. The Jewish messiah is thought to be a leader anointed by God, physically descended from the Davidic line, who will rule the united tribes of Israel and herald the Messianic Age of global peace also known as the World to Come.
The translation of the Hebrew word Mašíaḥ as Χριστός (Khristós, from whence the term Christ comes) in the Greek Septuagint became the accepted Christian designation and title of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians believe that prophecies in the Hebrew Bible (especially Isaiah) refer to a spiritual savior and believe Jesus to be that Messiah.
Islamic tradition holds that Jesus, the son of Mary, was the promised Prophet and Masîḥ (مسيح) (Messiah) sent to the Israelites, and that he will again return to Earth at the end of times, along with the Mahdi, and they will defeat al-Masih ad-Dajjal, the "false Messiah" or Antichrist.
Messiah (Hebrew: מָשִׁיחַ, Modern Mashiaẖ Tiberian Māšîăḥ; in modern Jewish texts in English spelled Mashiach; Aramaic: משיחא, Greek: Μεσσίας, Classical Syriac: ܡܫܺܝܚܳܐ, Məšîḥā, Arabic: المسيح, al-Masīḥ, Latin: Messias) literally means "anointed one". In Hebrew, the Messiah is often referred to as מלך המשיח (Meleḵ ha-Mašīaḥ in the Tiberian vocalization, pronounced [ˈmeleχ hamaˈʃiaħ], literally meaning "the Anointed King."
The Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament renders all thirty-nine instances of the Hebrew word for "anointed" (Mašíaḥ) as Χριστός (Khristós). The New Testament records the Greek transliteration Μεσσίας, Messias twice in John.[Jn. 1:41][4:25]
al-Masīḥ (proper name, pronounced [mæˈsiːħ]) is the Arabic word for messiah. In modern Arabic, it is used as one of the many titles of Jesus. Masīḥ is used by Arab Christians as well as Muslims, and is written as Yasūʿ al-Masih (يسوع المسيح ) by Arab Christians or ʿĪsā al-Masīḥ (عيسى المسيح) by Muslims. The word al-Masīḥ literally means "the anointed", "the traveller", or the "one who cures by caressing". In Qu'ranic scripture, Jesus is mentioned as having been sent down by Allah, strengthened by the holy spirit, and hence, 'anointed' with the task of being a prophet and a "recipient of sacred scripture". The Israelites, to whom Isa was sent, had a traditional practice of anointing their kings with oil. An Imam Bukhari hadith describes Jesus as having wet hair that looked as if water was dripping from it, possibly meaning he was naturally anointed. Muslims believe that this is just one of the many signs that proves that Jesus is the Messiah.
The literal translation of the Hebrew word mashiach (messiah) is “anointed,” which refers to a ritual of consecrating someone or something by putting holy oil upon it.[1 Sam. 10:1-2] It is used throughout the Hebrew Bible in reference to a wide variety of individuals and objects; for example, a Jewish king,[1 Kings 1:39] Jewish priests,[Lev. 4:3] and prophets,[Isa. 61:1] the Jewish Temple and its utensils,[Ex. 40:9-11] unleavened bread,[Num. 6:15] and a non-Jewish king (Cyrus king of Persia).[Isa. 45:1]
In Jewish eschatology, the term came to refer to a future Jewish king from the Davidic line, who will be "anointed" with holy anointing oil, to be king of God's kingdom, and rule the Jewish people during the Messianic Age. In Judaism, the Messiah is not considered to be God or a pre-existent divine Son of God. He is considered to be a great political leader that has descended from King David. That is why he is referred to as Messiah ben David which means "Messiah, son of David". The messiah, in Judaism, is considered to be a great, charismatic leader that is well oriented with the laws that are followed in Judaism. He will be the one who will not "judge by what his eyes see" or "decide by what his ears hear".[Isa. 11:3-4]
Maimonides describes the identity of the Messiah in the following terms:
And if a king shall arise from among the House of David, studying Torah and occupied with commandments like his father David, according to the written and oral Torah, and he will impel all of Israel to follow it and to strengthen breaches in its observance, and will fight God's wars, this one is to be treated as if he were the anointed one. If he succeeded and built the Holy Temple in its proper place and gathered the dispersed ones of Israel together, this is indeed the anointed one for certain, and he will mend the entire world to worship the Lord together, as it is stated: "For then I shall turn for the nations a clear tongue, so that they will all proclaim the Name of the Lord, and to worship Him with a united resolve (Zephaniah 3:9)."
Even though the eventual coming of the messiah is a strongly upheld idea in Judaism, trying to predict the actual time when the messiah will come is an act that is frowned upon. These kinds of actions are thought to weaken the faith the people have in the religion. This happened once when Shabbatai Tzvi, from Smirna (now İzmir, Turkey), claimed that he was the messiah that the Jewish community have been waiting for. So in Judaism, there is no specific time when the messiah comes. Rather, is the act of the people that determines when the messiah comes. It is said that the messiah would come either when the world needs his coming the most (when the world is so sinful and in desperate need of saving by the messiah) or deserves it the most (when genuine goodness prevails in the world).
A common modern rabbinic interpretation is that there is a potential messiah in every generation. The Talmud, which often uses stories to make a moral point (aggadah), tells of a highly respected rabbi who found the Messiah at the gates of Rome and asked him, "When will you finally come?" He was quite surprised when he was told, "Today." Overjoyed and full of anticipation, the man waited all day. The next day he returned, disappointed and puzzled, and asked, "You said messiah would come 'today' but he didn't come! What happened?" The Messiah replied, "Scripture says, 'Today, 'if you will but hearken to His voice.'"[Ps. 95:7]
A Kabbalistic tradition within Judaism is that the commonly discussed messiah who will usher in a period of freedom and peace (Messiah ben David) will be preceded by Messiah ben Joseph, who will gather the children of Israel around him, lead them to Jerusalem. After overcoming the hostile powers in Jerusalem, Messiah ben Joseph, will reestablish the Temple-worship and set up his own dominion. Then Armilus, according to one group of sources, or Gog and Magog, according to the other, will appear with their hosts before Jerusalem, wage war against Messiah ben Joseph, and slay him. His corpse, according to one group, will lie unburied in the streets of Jerusalem; according to the other, it will be hidden by the angels with the bodies of the Patriarchs, until Messiah ben David comes and brings him back to life.
The Greek translation of Messiah is khristos (χριστος), anglicized as Christ, and Christians commonly refer to Jesus as either the "Christ" or the "Messiah." Christians believe the Messianic prophecies were fulfilled in the mission, death, and resurrection of Jesus and that he will return to fulfill the rest of Messianic prophecy.
The majority of historical and mainline Christian theologies consider Jesus to be the Son of God, or God the Son, a concept of the Messiah as "the Word made Flesh" fundamentally different from the Jewish and Islamic concepts. In each of the four New Testament Gospels, the only literal anointing of Jesus is conducted by a woman. In the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John, this anointing occurs in Bethany, outside Jerusalem. In the Gospel of Luke, the anointing scene takes place at an indeterminate location, but context suggests it to be in Galilee.
In the Complete Jewish Bible (a Messianic translation) Isaiah 9:5-7 is paraphrased, "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; dominion will rest on his shoulders, and he will be given the name Pele-Yo‘etz El Gibbor Avi-‘Ad Sar-Shalom [Wonder of a Counselor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace], in order to extend the dominion and perpetuate the peace of the throne and kingdom of David, to secure it and sustain it through justice and righteousness henceforth and forever. The zeal of Adonai-Tzva’ot will accomplish this."
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The Quran identifies Jesus as the Messiah (Masih), referring to him as "Isa". Jesus is one of the most important prophets in the Islamic tradition, as well as Abraham, Noah, Moses, and Muhammed.[Quran 33:7][Quran 42:13-14][Quran 57:26] In Islamic theology, Jesus is the only prophet and messenger of end times. Muslims have great respect for Jesus, but do not see him as both the complete prophecy and God. Prophecy in a human form is adequate in Islam, but does not represent the true powers of God as Jesus does in Christianity.
The Quran states that Isa, the Son of Mariam (Arabic: Isa ibn Maryam), is the Messiah and Prophet sent to the Children of Israel.[Quran 3:45] The birth of Isa is described Quran sura 19 verses 1-33,[Quran 19:1-33] and sura 4 verse 171 explicitly states Isa as the Son of Mariam.[Quran 4:171] Muslims believe Isa is alive in Heaven and will return to Earth to defeat the Masih ad-Dajjal (false Messiah), a figure similar to the Antichrist in Christianity, who will emerge shortly before Yawm al-Qiyāmah ("the Day of Resurrection"). After he has destroyed al-Dajjal, his final task will be to become leader of the Muslims. Isa will unify the Muslim Ummah (the followers of Islam) under the common purpose of worshipping Allah alone in pure Islam, thereby ending divisions and deviations by adherents. Mainstream Muslims believe that at that time Isa will dispel Christian and Jewish claims about him.
Narrated Abu Hurayrah: The Prophet said: There is no prophet between me and him, that is, Isa. He will descend (to the earth). When you see him, recognise him: a man of medium height & reddish dusky complexion, wearing two light yellow garments, looking as if drops of water were falling down from his head though it will not be wet. He will fight for the cause of Islam. He will break the cross, kill the swine, and put an end to war (in another Tradition, there is the word Jizyah instead of Harb (war), meaning that he will abolish jizyah); God will perish all religions except Islam. He [Isa] will destroy the Antichrist who will live on the earth for forty days and then he will die. The Muslims will pray behind him.
Both Sunni and Shia Muslims agree that al-Mahdi will arrive first, and after him, Isa. Isa will proclaim that the true leader is alMahdi. A war will be fought—the Dajjal against alMahdi and Isa. This war will mark the approach of the coming of the Last Day. After Isa slays alDajjāl at the Gate of Lud, he will bear witness and reveal that Islam is indeed the true and last word from God to humanity as Yusuf Ali's translation reads: "And there is none of the People of the Book but must believe in him before his death; and on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness against them."[Quran 4:159] A hadith in Sahih Bukhari (Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:55:658) says:
Some scholars outside of mainstream Islam reject all the quotes (Hadith) attributed to Muhammad that mention the second return of Jesus, the Dajjal and Imam Mahdi, believing that they have no Quranic basis. However, Quran emphatically rejects the implication of termination of Jesus’ life when he was allegedly crucified. Yusuf Ali’s translation reads "That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";― but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not.― (157) Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. (158) Verses [Quran 4:157] imply that Jesus was not killed physically but it was made to appear so. Verse [Quran 19:33] "So Peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)"! implies that Jesus will die someday. The unified opinion of Islam maintains that the bodily death of Jesus will happen after his second coming.
The Quran refutes the crucifixion of Jesus, claiming that he was neither killed nor crucified.[Quran 4:157] The Quran also emphasizes the difference between the Allah—the God in Islam and the Messiah: "Those who say that Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary, are unbelievers. The Messiah said: "O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord... unbelievers too are those who have said that Allah is the third of three... the Messiah, son of Mary, was only a Messenger before whom other Messengers had gone; and his mother was a godly woman".[Quran 5:72-77]
In Ahmadiyya theology, the terms "Messiah" and "Mahdi" are synonymous terms for one and the same person. The term "Mahdi" means guided by God, thus implying a direct ordainment by God of a divinely chosen individual. According to Ahmadiyya thought, Messiahship is a phenomenon through which a special emphasis is given on the transformation of a people by way of offering suffering for the sake of God instead of giving suffering (i.e. refraining from revenge). Ahmadis believe that this special emphasis was given through the person of Jesus and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908). among others.
Ahmadis hold that the prophesied eschatological figures of Christianity and Islam, the Messiah and Mahdi, were in fact to be fulfilled in one person who was to represent all previous prophets. The prophecies concerning the Mahdi or the Second Coming of Jesus are seen by Ahmadis as metaphorical and subject to interpretation. It is argued that one was to be born and rise within the dispensation of Muhammad, who by virtue of his similarity and affinity with Jesus, and the similarity in nature, temperament and disposition of the people of Jesus' time and the people of the time of the promised one (the Mahdi) is called by the same name.
Ahmadis believe that the prophecies concerning the Mahdi and the second coming of Jesus have been fulfilled in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908), the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement. Contrary to mainstream Islam, the Ahmadis do not believe that Jesus is alive in heaven, but that he survived the crucifixion and migrated towards the east where he died a natural death and that Ghulam Ahmad was only the promised spiritual second coming and likeness of Jesus, the promised Messiah and Mahdi. He claimed he was an incarnation of Krishna, and stated that the founder of Sikhism was a Muslim saint, who was a reflection of the religious challenges he perceived to be occurring. Ghulam Admad wrote the Barahin-i Ahmadiyya, in 1880, which incorporated Indian, Sufi, Islamic and Western aspects in order to give life to Islam in the face of the British raj, Protestant Christianity, and rising Hinduism. He later declared himself the promised messiah and the Mahdi, receiving a divine relevation in 1891. Ghulam Admad argued that Jesus had appeared 1,300 after the formation of the Muslim community and stressed the need for a current Messiah, in turn claiming that he himself embodied both the Mahdi and the Messiah. Ghulam Ahmadwas supported by Muslims who especially felt oppressed by Christian and Hindu missionaries.
One of the most offensive claims that Ghulam Admad made toward Muslims was in 1901 when he declared that he too was a prophet, not just Muhammad. The Quran states that Muhammad will have two manifestations: one of majesty in the name Muhammad and a second of beauty through a reflection of him in the name of Ahmad. However, support for the Admadiyya theology did not decline after Ghulam Ahmad’s death, as a the success of its missionary work is highly recognized. Followers elected Mawlana Nur ad-Din as Ghulam Ahmad’s successor. When Ghulam Ahmad died the believers of Ahmadiyya theology split. Most remained in Qadiyan, acknowledging Mirza Ghulam Admad as the messiah. The other half of Ahmadis see Mirza Ghulam Admad as a reformer, who began the ahmadiyya anjuman ishaat-i Islam movement in Lahore, Pakistan.
Ahmadis were declared heretical by the Pakistani government in 1974, with penalties of jail time up to three years for practicing Muslim beliefs and rituals, such as publicly reciting the Quran. The Ahmadiyya has a rigid hierarchical structure, and is therefore making it more organized than most other Muslim sects, strong connections exist around the world, and many followers remain.
The following are works in which the concept of a messiah as a leader of a cause or liberator of a people is used.
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