Existence previous to earthly life or to Creation, attributed in apocryphal and rabbinical writings to persons and things forming part of the divine plan of human salvation or the world's government.

Preexistence of the Souls of the Righteous:

"Before God created the world He held a consultation with the souls of the righteous." This view, apparently, has been adopted from the Zend-Avesta, in which the holy "fravashis" (souls) of the heroes of Mazdaism have a cosmic character. With these Ahuramazda holds council before creating the world ("Bundahis," ii. 9; "S. B. E." v. 14; comp. xxiii. 170-230; Spiegel, "Eranische Alterthumskunde," ii. 91-98). Enoch speaks of an assembly of the holy and righteous ones in heaven under the wings of the Lord of the spirits, with the Elect (the Messiah) in their midst (xxxix. 4-7, xl. 5, lxi. 12); he mentions especially the "first fathers and the righteous who have dwelt in that place [paradise] from the beginning" (lxx. 4). In fact, it is a "congregation of the righteous" in heaven that will appear in the Messianic time (xxxviii. 3, liii. 6, lxii. 8), and "the Elect, who had been hidden, will be revealed with them" (xlviii. 6, lxii. 7). Likewise, it is said in IV Esd. vii. 28, xiii. 52, xiv. 9 that "the hidden Messiah will be revealed together with all those that are with him." Parsism casts light on the origin and significance of this belief also. In "Bundahis" (xxix. 5-6, xxx. 17) the immortals that come to the assistance of Soshians ("the Savior") are mentioned by name, and the number of the righteous men and damsels that live forever is specified as fifteen each (Windischman, "Zoroastrische Studien," 1863, pp. 244-249; comp. "the thirty righteous ones that stand before God all day preserving the world"; Gen. R. xxxvi.; Yer. 'Ab. Zarah ii. 40; Midr, Teh. Ps. v.; Suk. 45b has "the thirty-six righteous"). The Syriac Apoc. Baruch (xxx. 12) speaks of "a certain number of righteous souls that will come forth from their retreats at the advent of the Messiah" (comp. Yeb. 62a: "The son of David will not come until all the souls have left the cage" ["guf," "columbarium"]).

Moses and the Patriarchs.

Of the preexistence of Moses mention is made in Assumptio Mosis (i. 14): "He designed me and prepared me before the foundation of the world that I should be the mediator of the Covenant"; similarly in an apocryphon entitled "Joseph's Prayer," quoted by Origen in Johannem xxv., opp. iv. 84, where Jacob says, "I am an angel of God and a primeval spirit, the first-born of all creatures, and like me were Abraham and Isaac created before any other work of God. I am invested with the highest office in the face of God and invoke Him by His ineffable name." The Patriarchs are, indeed, declared to have been part of the Merkabah (Gen. R. lxxii. 7; comp. the bridal gown of Asenath, "prepared from the beginnings of the world").

An ancient baraita handed down in different versions enumerates six or seven persons or things created before the world came into existence: (1) the Torah, which is called "the firstling of His way" (Prov. viii. 22, Hebr.); (2) the throne of glory, which is "established of old" (Ps. xciii. 2); (3) the sanctuary—"From the beginning is the place of our sanctuary" (Jer. xvii. 12); (4) the Patriarchs—"I saw your fathers as the first ripe in the fig-tree at her first time" (Hos. ix. 10); (5) Israel—"Thy congregation, which Thou hast created from the beginning" (Ps. lxxiv. 2, Hebr.); (6) the Messiah—"Before the sun his name sprouts forth as Yinnon, 'the Awakener'" (Ps. lxxii. 17, rabbinical interpretation); also, "His issue is from the beginning" (Micah v. 1; Pirḳe R. El. iii.); (7) repentance—"Before the mountains were brought forth, or even thou hadst formed the earth and the world," Thou saidst, "Return [to God] ye children of men" (Ps. xc. 2-3).

To these seven some added: (8) Gan 'Eden—"The Lord God planted a garden in Eden from the beginning" (Gen. ii. 8, rabbinical interpretation of "mi-Ḳedem"); and (9) Gehenna—"Tofet is ordained of old" (Isa. xxx. 33). There is also a tenth mentioned in some sources: the Holy Land—"The first of the dust of the world" (Prov. viii. 26, Hebr.; Pes. 54a; Ned. 39b; Pirḳe R. El. iii.; Tanna debe Eliyahu R. xxxi.; Tan., Naso, ed. Buber, p. 19; Midr. Teh. Ps. lxxiv.; Ps. cxiii.; Gen. R. i. 3; Sifre, Deut. 37).

Many parallels are found in the various Apocryphal books. "The throne of glory was the first thing created by God" (Slavonic Enoch, xxv. 4). Paradise with all the treasures of reward for the righteous (Midr. Teh. Ps. xxxi. 20 [19]) is prepared from the beginning (Apoc. Baruch, iv. 6, lii. 7, lxxxi. 4, lxxxiv. 6; Slavonic Enoch, ix. 1, xlix. 2; Ethiopic Enoch, ciii. 3; comp. xxxviii. 3; IV Esd. viii. 52). Leviathan and Behemoth also are prepared from the beginning (Apoc. Baruch, xxix. 4; IV Esd. vi. 49; comp. B.B. 44b); and the glory or the light of the first day is prepared for the righteous (Apoc. Baruch, xlviii. 49, lix. 11, lxvi. 7; IV Esd. vii. 9, viii. 52; comp. Ḥag. 12a; Gen. R. iii. 6). So with Gehenna and its tortures, prepared for the wicked (Apoc. Baruch, lix. 2; IV Esd. vii. 84, 93; viii. 59; xiii. 36; Slavonic Enoch, x. 4). Jerusalem also has existed from eternity (Apoc. Baruch, iv. 3, 6; IV Esd. vii. 26, viii. 52). The Messiah shall bring all the hidden treasures to light (Enoch, xlvi. 3, xlix. 4, lxi. 13; IV Esd. xii. 32, xiii. 35, xiv. 9).

In the New Testament.

In the New Testament the same view is expressed regarding the preexistence of persons and things forming part of the divine salvation. When Jesus, in John viii. 58, says, "Before Abraham was, I am," allusion is made to the preexistence of the Messiah. So is the Kingdom—that is, the reward of paradise—"prepared for you [the righteous] from the foundation of the world" (Matt. xxv. 34; comp. Abot iii. 16). From Matt. xiii. 35 it appears that the "dark sayings of old" of Ps. lxxviii. 2 was understood to refer to Messianic secrets prepared from the foundation of the world. Similarly the names of the righteous are "written in the book of life from the foundation of the world" (Rev. xvii. 8).

But the blood of the martyr prophets was also believed to have been "shed from the foundation of the world" (Luke xi. 50); hence, also, that of the "Lamb" (Rev. xiii. 8; Heb. ix. 26). The Apostles claimed to have been, with their master, "chosen from the foundation of the world" (Eph. i. 4; comp. John xvii. 24; I Peter i. 20; Heb. iv. 3).

K.Preexistence of the Messiah:

This includes his existence before Creation; the existence of his name; his existence after the creation of the world. Two Biblical passages favor the view of the preexistence of the Messiah: Micah v. 1 (A. V. 2), speaking of the Bethlehemite ruler, says that his "goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting"; Dan. vii. 13 speaks of "one like the Son of man," who "came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days." In the Messianic similitudes of Enoch (xxxvii.-lxxi.) the three preexistences are spoken of: "The Messiah was chosen of God before the creation of the world, and he shall be before Him to eternity" (xlviii. 6). Before the sun and the signs of the zodiac were created, or ever the stars of heaven were formed his name was uttered in the presence of the Lord of Spirits (= God; xlviii. 3). Apart from these passages, there are only general statements that the Messiah was hidden and preserved by God (lxii. 6-7, xlvi. 1-3), without any declaration as to when he began to be. His preexistence is affirmed also in II Esdras (about 90 C.E.), according to which he has been preserved and hidden by God "a great season"; nor shall mankind see him save at the hour of his appointed day (xii. 32; xiii. 26, 52; xiv. 9), although no mention is made of the antemundane existence either of his person or of his name (comp. Syriac Apoc. Baruch, xxix. 3).

Thus also the Rabbis. Of the seven things fashioned before the creation of the world, the last was the name of the Messiah (comp. Ps. lxxii. 17; Pes. 54a; Tan., Naso, ed. Buber, No. 19; and parallels); and the Targum regards the preexistence of the Messiah's name as implied in Micah v. 1 (A. V. 2), Zech. iv. 7, and Ps. lxxii. 17.

The "Spirit of God" which "moved upon the face of the waters" (Gen. i. 2) is the spirit of the Messiah (Gen. R. viii. 1; comp. Pesiḳ. R. 152b, which reads as follows, alluding to Isa. xi. 2: "The Messiah was born [created] when the world was made, although his existence had been contemplated before the Creation"). Referring to Ps. xxxvi. 10 and Gen. i. 4, Pesiḳta Rabba declares (161b): "God beheld the Messiah and his deeds before the Creation, but He hid him and his generation under His throne of glory." Seeing him, Satan said, "That is the Messiah who will dethrone me." God said to the Messiah, "Ephraim, anointed of My righteousness, thou hast taken upon thee the sufferings of the six days of Creation" (162a; comp. Yalḳ., Isa. 499). The preexistence of the Messiah in heaven and his high station there are often mentioned. Akiba interprets Dan. vii. 9 as referring to two heavenly thrones—the one occupied by God and the other by the Messiah (Ḥag. 14a; comp. Enoch, lv. 4, lxix. 29), with whom God converses (Pes. 118b; Suk. 52a).

Abode in Heaven.

The "four carpenters" mentioned in Zech. ii. 3(A. V. i. 20) are the Messiah ben David, the Messiah ben Joseph, Elijah, and Melchizedek (Suk. 52a). The Messiah will not come on the Sabbath-day, which is observed in heaven as well as on earth ('Er. 43a); and because of the transgressions of Zion he is hidden (Targ. Micah iv. 8), remaining so in heaven until the end ("B. H." ii. 55), where he sits in the fifth of the seven chambers (ib. ii. 49, top). With him are some who have not tasted death—Enoch, Moses, and Elijah (II Esd. vi. 26, xiii. 52), and it is he who comes with the clouds of heaven (ib. xii. 3, based on Dan. vii. 3). Like heaven itself, he is made of fire (ib. xiii. 27-28; comp. Pesiḳ. R. 162a, based on Isa. l. 11), and he is accordingly regarded as a star (Targ. Num. xxiv. 17). The frequent expression, "The son of David shall only come" (Sanh. 38a et passim), presupposes his abode in heaven, and the statement that the world exists only to delight him (and David and Moses) implies his preexistence (Sanh. 96b); but he will not appear until all the souls have left the treasury ("guf"; 'Ab. Zarah 5a; comp. Weber, p. 350). His names, Son of the Stars (Ta'an. iv. 7-8 and parallels), Son of the Clouds (Sanh. 96b; comp. "B. H." iv. 20, 4, vi. 70, 5, following Tan., Toledot, 14, and I Chron. iii. 24), "He who dwelleth in the clouds" (Targ. I Chron. l.c.), "the Eternal" (following Jer. xxiii. 6 and Lam. R. i. []), "Light" (Dan. ii. 22, Lam. R. i., and Gen. R. i. 6), and "Tinnon" (Ps. lxxii. 17: "before the sun was created his name was"; Sanh. 98c and parallels), imply his origin and preexistence in heaven. He therefore stands higher than the ministering angels (Yalḳ. ii. 476), and he lives throughout eternity (Midr. Teh. ii.; Yalḳ. l.c.).

  • Buxtorf, Lexicon Hebraico-Chaldaicum, ed. Fischer, ii. 642-644 (containing passages from the Targum);
  • castelli, Il Messia Secondo gli Ebrei, pp. 207 et seq., Florence, 1874;
  • Dalman, Die Worte Jesu, i. 105 et seq., 107, 245-248, Leipsic, 1899;
  • Drummond, The Jewish Messiah, etc., London, 1877;
  • Frank, Kabbala;
  • Hamburger, R. B. T. ii. 790-792;
  • Hühn, Die Messianischen Weissagungen des Israelitisch-Jüdischen Volkes bis zu den Targumim Historisch-Kritisch Untersucht, pp. 89, 108, 111 et seq., 129 et seq., Freiburg, 1899;
  • Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc. xii. 731-735;
  • Schürer, Gesch. ii. 496-498, 528-530;
  • Weber, Jüdische Theologie, Leipsic, 1897.
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