In order to understand this last statement of Rabbi, we refer to the commentaries of the Pnei Moshe and Korban Ha’edah to the Jerusalem Talmud (Ketubot ad loc.), who explain Rabbi’s statement as follows: If R. Huna, the Exilarch, would come to Eretz Yisrael, I would place him above me because he is from Judah while I am from Benjamin; he is from Judah from his father’s side, but I descend on my father’s side from Benjamin. I descend from Judah, from the House of David, only on my mother’s side. R. Huna’s lineage is therefore more esteemed than mine.
Thus we see that Rav Sherira Gaon not only testifies to Rabbi’s Davidic lineage – albeit from a maternal line – but to his excessive humility as well. He describes Rabbi’s strictness in adhering to the honor of his station, which he would cede to no one else, save for R. Huna.
Further verification of Rabbi’s royal lineage comes from a discussion in the Babylonian Talmud about Moshiach (Sanhedrin 98b) which assumes him to be a scion of the house of David. R. Nachman states: “If he is from the living, then he is like me, as the verse (Jeremiah 30:21) states: ‘ve’haya adiro mimenu u’moshlo mikirbo yetze – his leader will be from his midst and his ruler will emerge from within him.’” Rav states: “If he is from the living then he is like Rabbi; however, if he is from the dead, then he is like Daniel [the prophet and sage].”
Rashi (Sanhedrin ad loc. sv “Iy min chayei…”) explains Rav’s statement: If Moshiach is presently living, he is Rabbi because of all the illnesses he suffered and his extreme piety. However, if he is from the dead, then he is Daniel who underwent much suffering and was also extremely pious. Rashi clarifies: Moshiach won’t come from the dead; rather, if we had to compare him to someone from an earlier generation, we would compare him to Daniel.
The Maharsha (on Sanhedrin 98b) notes regarding R. Nachman’s statement and the verse in Jeremiah that he cites: Moshiach has to not only come from the house of David, but must also rule even in the exile – like R. Nachman (a son-in-law of Rabban Gamliel) who apparently descended from the house of David. He also notes that Rabbi ruled in the days of the Roman Emperor Antoninus. Similarly, Daniel ruled in exile under Nebuchadnezar.
Thus, we see that even the Babylonian Talmud agrees that Rabbi’s Davidic lineage was sufficient for him to have possibly been Moshiach ben David. Therefore, he had reason enough to protest the Hasmoneans (who didn’t descend from David) ruling the Jewish people and reason enough to omit mentioning them – or the events leading to their ascent to power (i.e., the story of Chanukah) – in the Mishnah.
Let us hope that through this discussion of Moshiach we will merit his arrival, speedily in our days.