This video discusses the ancient Hebrew tradition of Messiah Ben Joseph, a prophet (descended from Joseph of Egypt) that was to be a latter-day restorer and forerunner before the Messiah (known as Messiah Ben David) would come in His glory. The correlations between the traditions of Messiah Ben Joseph and the life of Joesph Smith are remarkable and another powerful evidence of the restoration.
On this Evidences video, I’m going to be talking about an ancient Hebrew tradition known as Messiah Ben Joseph. This was a second Messiah that was to come to lead the way for the true Messiah. Messiah Ben David, as they call it, the son of David, Jesus Christ in all His glory. There was to be a forerunner, a preparer, a restorer that was to come at the end of days. Fascinating.
We particularly have interest in this as Latter-Day Saints in understanding some of the origins of this. There is a lot of it that is shrouded in mystery. The original origins are by tradition that it came from Joseph of Egypt, and even Rachel, his mother, a part of this, but Joseph of Egypt prophecies about this, one of his descendants to be a restorer in the last days.
If you look in the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 4, Nephi talks about the prophecies of Joseph of Egypt, that there weren’t many greater than that, and that they were had in the brass plates.
If you look in the Bible, we don’t have this. We do have it in the Joseph Smith translation of Genesis 50. Verse 33 in particular refers to this, this latter-day restorer as somebody that will be named after Joseph and it will be after his father’s name there. We’re told that we actually have some of that prophecy in 2 Nephi 3, the Lehi shares there. It’s very powerful to think of the this Messiah Ben Joseph tradition in light of of that there, from the brass plates.
Also, I’m going to share with you many parallels with Joseph Smith’s life that come out of this.
Now, as I mentioned, the scholars and theologians have been unsuccessful in determining the origin of the tradition. “Without knowing where or from whom the tradition originated, one can only make a vain attempt to explain the ambiguities relating to the tradition. Coming to a full understanding of the tradition is difficult considering the fact that every rabbi and scholar have expressed different ideas or theories surrounding it.” There are quite a few nuggets that are fascinating I’ll share with it.
If you want to look back to the oldest writings that we have that have discussions of of Messiah Ben Joseph … I’m going to call him MBJ for quicker relation in the video here. There are four. If you look on the screen, the Talmud, which is a collection of rabbinical discussions that were recorded back to about 200 A.D., the Targumim, which was ancient translations of the Hebrew Bible. That goes back to the second temple period, 537 to to 20 B.C. The Kabbalistic writings, which are Jewish mystical traditions, and then the Apocryphal writings, which were extra-biblical texts resembling scripture. That was from 300 B.C. to 100 A.D. Several thousand years old, so very ancient, these traditions.
Now we can actually see some of this legend maybe come through in John, the gospel of John, John 1: 19 through 21, where the Jewish leaders are quizzing John the Baptist. It says, “And this is the record of John. When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who art thou?’ And he confessed and denied not, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Art thou Elias?'” In Greek, that’s Elijah. He was to come before the great and wrathful day of the Lord. “And he said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Art thou that prophet?'” Who are they talking about? He says and answered no. Interesting thought with Messiah Ben Joseph tradition.
Now there have been writings on this in the church from different scholars, but no one has gone as deep by a long shot to Trevan Hatch. He actually, I’m going to link this paper and use it in this video now, he presented this at a symposium at BYU in 2007. It’s now been published in the Religious Study Center at BYU. Extremely qualified. He looked at this tradition and said, nobody has gone really deep in a lot of the things that rabbis have said over the centuries on this and the parallels with Joseph Smith. He put together this paper, and it’s fascinating. What I’m going to do in this video now is I’m going to give you a bunch of nuggets from this paper and I’m just going to share some of the highlights. I’ve just underlined those. If you want to pause the screen, you can see the full text of some of the … Those were pulled out of his longer paper, but I may highlight just a few snippets from each of those.
Go on. First of all, Messiah Ben Joseph was to come to in what they called the Messianic Age. If you look on the screen here, People will know that the Messianic Age has arrived when they see an increase in miracles, works of evil, and great calamities. It could be upheavals in family life, worldwide warfare, increase in drunkenness and immorality. Youths will no longer respect their parents, the pious, and the aged.” It talked about Amos 8, where there’d be a famine in the land. It’s a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. They’ll seek the Lord, the word of the Lord, and shall not be able to find it. That will be the time when Messiah Ben Joseph will come, this Messianic Age.
Now, calamities around the birth of MBJ, such as earthquakes and plagues. Six years following Joseph’s birth, we had the seventh largest earthquake in US history in the Midwest in the New Madrid region. Five weeks later, a second earthquake of equal proportion. Two weeks later, the ninth largest earthquake in US history. Three years after that, we had one of the history’s largest volcanic eruptions. It exploded in Mt. Tambora in Indonesia, which had crop failures clear over here in 1815 and 1816, almost causing a famine. This is what actually led Joseph’s family to move to New York, if you recall that story early in the life of the prophet Joseph Smith.
Joseph’s birth itself was fascinating. It was on December 23rd of 1805, which was the day after the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. Where Joseph lived, this was the greatest night of darkness in a sense, and where we start to look to the light was when Joseph was born, the day after the winter solstice. If you think about it, the darkness is at its depth for three days and so 22nd, 23rd, 24th Christmas Day, the light begins to then come about and days begin longer at that time. Fascinating.
If you think about, Joseph’s name itself means to add or to increase. That’s what it means in Hebrew. It’s fascinating to think of the symbolism possibly with that, even with Joseph’s mission of helping those on the other side of the veil. If you think about that time of Christ where He went to go to preach to the spirits in prison between His death and His resurrection. I love symbolism and I think there’s symbolism in everything around us. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some symbolism in there.
Messiah Ben Joseph, let’s look at this. “God will send His prophet and His anointed king.” In fact, that word king might be confusing here. I will share this. On April 11th, 1844, Nauvoo, Illinois, George Albert Smith recorded in his diary under the date of May 9th, 1844, that “Joseph Smith had been installed as king over the immediate House of Israel by the Council of 50. A revelation from the Lord to the Council of 50 on June 27th, 1882, verified that Joseph Smith had been called to be a prophet, seer, and revelator to my church and kingdom and to be a king and ruler of Israel.” Kind of an interesting insight. “Regarded as a prophet who will restore.” What would need to be restored? One thing is that Amos 8, being able to hear the word of God or even find it. MBJ “will restore belief in the supernatural and that angels and miracles will accompany the Messianic Age. He will also restore the understanding of the doctrine of repentance.” Fascinating.
Okay. Joseph Smith and the restoration. Moroni quoted Isaiah 11 and said it was about to be fulfilled. Isaiah 11 refers directly to the Messianic Age and the gathering of Israel. In the teachings from the ancient prophets and rabbis, a trumpet was used to symbolize the preaching of the Gospel, the gathering of Israel, and the coming of the Messiah. We think about our temples, the statue of the angel Moroni with the trumpet pressed to his lips. This is fascinating. This rabbi here, mid third century A.D. talked about “precious stones will be used during the Messianic Age. It was Joseph Smith who used precious stones to translate the gold plates.”
What was the significance of when Joseph got the plates? September 22nd, 1827, This day happened to be one of the Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah, also known as the Feast of the Trumpets. On this Jewish holiday, the trumpet, ram’s horn, or Shofar, is sounded in celebration of the future gathering of Israel, the rebuilding of the temple, and the coming of the Messiah Ben David.”
Okay, gathering of Israel. Messiah Ben Joseph and the gathering of Israel. “Preaching the Gospel is directly related to the gathering of Israel. The rabbis taught that MBJ will work to gather the lost tribes.” In fact, they use the term ensign and gather, which is in D&C 113: 6. Those exact words are used by the Lord in talking about the work here, the ensign and the gathering.
Moses appeared. April 3rd, 1836, in the Kirtland Temple and “committed unto us the keys to the gathering of Israel”, Joseph said in D&C 110. In 1841, Joseph sent Orson Hyde to Jerusalem for the purpose of dedicating the land for the return of the Jews. “This he did fulfilling the prophecies of the prophets and teachings of the rabbis, that the MBJ would do a great work in gathering the lost tribes and restoring the Jews to the Holy Land.” The Jewish Encyclopedia states that MBJ “will not gather all the tribes during his lifetime, but will be instrumental in gathering part of the ten tribes. The gathering will continue throughout the Messianic Age.”
Okay, now return of Elijah. “Jews also taught that the return of Elijah would occur during the Messianic Age. According to one modern scholar, when Elijah returns, he will appear on the top of a mountain. This is intriguing for Latter-Day Saints as well as Jews who believe that the tops of the mountains, or mountain of the Lord’s house refers to the Lord’s Temple. Elijah appears to Joseph Smith on April 3rd, 1836, in the Kirtland Temple. This day, the 16th of Nisan, was the second day of the Passover season in the year 1836. Elijah returned during the Passover season and more specifically on the second day of Passover, a day some Jewish sects open their doors to Elijah and hold another Seder feast for a second consecutive day.”
Here’s my little commentary on this, is that this was Easter Sunday. He appeared the next day and it was Easter Sunday. Think about the great ushering in of the work on the spirit world that was made possible through the Resurrection. It would almost make sense that it would come on Easter Sunday, and it was a Sunday, Easter Sunday. It was still during Passover.
“When Elijah appeared in the Kirtland Temple, he bestowed upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery sealing powers that would unite families for eternity. Klausner states that Elijah will be a maker of peace among families. Interestingly, Moses and Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on the same day in 1836. We find in rabbinical commentary of the second century BC a passage stating that Moses and Elijah would arrive together at the end of time or in the Messianic Age.”
A few other quick nuggets. MBJ is to rebuild the temple of Israel and restore its true worship. Also, MBJ is to be a warrior. Now, that might take us by surprise with Joseph. There’s some spiritual aspects I’ll mention next, but it is interesting to note that on March 10th, 1841, Thomas Carlin, governor of the State of Illinois, commissioned Joseph to the rank of Lieutenant General over the Nauvoo Legion, which is estimated to have been 5,000 man strong. It was not only the largest military unit in the state of Illinois, but it was second only in size to the U.S. army in the entire United States at the time. Kind of interesting.
Now, on a spiritual level though … This is the war with Gog and Magog and the death of MBJ. “The rabbis taught that during the lifetime of NBJ, a war will ensue with Gog and Magog. This war will not be a physical war as much as it will be a spiritual one, and it will be fought between the forces of good and evil. Now listen to this. Remarkably, on on the night that Joseph received the the plates, Rosh Hashanah, another fascinating event occurred. A group of people, including Heber C. Kimball, who was unknown to Joseph Smith at the time, saw a vision in the sky of two armies engaged in a great battle. Perhaps this vision was given as a sign in the forthcoming war to be fought between the forces of good and evil, a war in which MBJ would participate. MBJ was also to use a sword on the spiritual battleground to fight his enemies.” “The sword, which will be the chief weapon of the righteous army, will be that of prayer.” “It was the prayer of Joseph Smith that brought about the restoration. The rabbis expected the war to begin shortly following the return of Elijah.”
“Armilus means the son of Satan or the anti-Messiah. MBJ will die by the hand of Armilus shortly after being captured by him and taken as a prisoner.” Think of Joseph taken to Carthage Jail and three days later he was killed. “Following the death of MBJ, Armilus will drive the remnants of Israel into the wilderness. Enoch in vision saw this take place. He saw them riding in chariots traveling from the east. Klausner translates chariots as wagons.” “After the death of Joseph Smith in 1844, the Saints were indeed driven from their homes into the wilderness.”
Now in conclusion, “We must keep in mind that the rabbis were not prophets, at least not in the traditional sense, therefore these legends and traditions must be considered as just that, traditions.” I will say there’s even another tradition that I’ll link to here of how the Messiah Ben Joseph could have been Jesus Christ even. There is a write up of that about ten years ago in the Biblical Archaeology Review. It was published at the blog By Common Consent. I’ll link to that. There’s a lot of things that don’t fit with a lot of these things that we just talked about here. Take that for what it is. Again, it’s still controversial.
“However, the fact that scholars and rabbis had been teaching and believing in a Messiah Ben Joseph, one who will be born into the world to restore God’s kingdom and prepare the way for the Messiah is remarkable. Joseph Smith appeared to have fulfilled many of the Jewish expectations of MBJ. He claimed to be a prophet and a restorer, and he was visited by Elijah and Moses during his lifetime. He saw the Messiah in vision. His work raised fury in the land of Christendom, and he was killed in direct association with his divinely appointed mission.”
One quick story John Tvedtnes told. He said “In the late 1970s while teaching with the Brigham Young University Jerusalem program, I was invited to give a series of lectures in Hebrew on the subject of Mormonism at the University of Haifa. In one of the lectures, I displayed a chart outlining Joseph Smith’s major accomplishments. I intended to speak about each item on the list and at the end suggest that Joseph Smith fit the qualifications for the Messiah of Joseph expected by the Jews, but that turned out to be unnecessary. By the time I got through the top third of the list, I heard whispering among a group of Orthodox Jewish students in the audience. They were saying ‘Messiah Ben Joseph, Messiah, the son of Joseph.'” Fun story.
Lastly, I want to close with this quote from Joseph Fielding McConkie who wrote on this. He says, “Our prophet bears the right name, he was of the right lineage, he was in reality anointed, he did the right works, he taught the right doctrines, and he died the violent death anticipated by the traditions. All of this he did without ever hearing of the legends of which we speak, and in doing so, he stood singularly and uniquely alone among the religious leaders of the world. Not since the days of the Bible has there been one like him.”
I hope you enjoyed the video. Subscribe for more.
Trevan Hatch’s paper: https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/selectio…
Joseph F. McConkie’s paper: https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/isaiah-a…
The Legend of Messiah Ben Joseph https://studylib.net/doc/6827748/the-…
By Common Consent blog https://bycommonconsent.com/2008/08/3…
Latter-day Saints’ Q&A is a video series not produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by me, an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an independent voice, with a passion for studying Church history and defending the faith. In this series, I provide evidences for the restoration, and address tough questions posed by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offering faithful answers based on accurate research and historical references which will be posted at the end of each video.