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Yeshua in Context » Background to Gospels, Messiah » Suetonius and Messianic Expectation

Suetonius and Messianic Expectation

Some have claimed that there was no popular expectation of a messianic figure in Yeshua’s time. They say only some esoteric groups such as the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls had such beliefs. They especially doubt the idea that popular expectation was of a political-deliverer-messiah whereas Yeshua revealed a different kind of Messiah, a suffering figure who would inaugurate God’s kingdom in a different way.

Under the “Messiah” category, I am accumulating some evidence in support of the popular messianic expectation theory. See for example this post in which Josephus explains some of the rationale for the First Jewish Revolt which started in 66 CE as being related to a messianic notion.

Now, let me share a little Suetonius.

Suetonius (c. 70 – 130 CE) is a Roman historian best know for his De Vita Caesarum, The Lives of the Caesars. In his biography of Vespasian, the emperor who besieged Jerusalem in the First Jewish Revolt, he says:
An ancient superstition was current in the East, that out of Judea would come the rulers of the world. The prediction, as it later proved, referred to two Roman Emperors, Vespasian and his son Titus; but the rebellious Jews, who read it as referring to themselves, murdered their Procurator, routed the Governor-general of Syria when he came down to restore order, and captured an Eagle. To crush this uprising the Romans needed a strong army under an energetic commander, who could be trusted not to abuse his plenary powers. The choice fell on Vespasian.

The idea that messianic hopes in Jewish thought actually referred to Vespasian and Titus and not to a Jewish-Davidic king may have come to Suetonius from Josephus, who similarly changed in his interpretation and made that very claim (Jewish War 6.5.4).

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