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Basic Worldview:
104 Why Christianity?


Rabbinical Judaism Accepts
Christian Interpretations (Part 2)


Judaism and Christianity Introduction and History
History of Judaism Continued
Scholarly Objections and Historicity of Daniel (P. 1)
Historicity of Daniel (P. 2) & Judeo-Christian Syncretism
A Few Words on Gnosticism
Christianity - A Sect of Judaism (P. 1)
Christianity - A Sect of Judaism (P. 2) & Prophecy in Judaism
Is Jesus the Jewish Messiah? (P. 1)
Is Jesus the Jewish Messiah? (P. 2)
List of Messianic Qualifications & the Resurrection of Jesus (P. 1)
The Resurrection of Jesus (Part 2)
Study Conclusions and Overall Comparisons

Additional Material
The Sufferings of Eyewitnesses
Comparison of Mystical Religions to Judeo-Christianity
Rabbinical Judaism Accepts Christian Interpretations (P. 1)
Rabbinical Judaism Accepts Christian Interpretations (P. 2)
Rabbinical Judaism Accepts Christian Interpretations (P. 3)
Rabbinical Judaism Accepts Christian Interpretations (P. 4)
Rabbinical Judaism Accepts Christian Interpretations (P. 5)
Rabbinical Judaism Accepts Christian Interpretations (P. 6)

Introduction
| Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3




(Continued)

4. On a Suffering and Dying Messiah –
Typical Perception of Traditional Judaism:

New Testament Christianity erroneously interprets Isaiah 53 as a reference to the Messiah. Isaiah 53 is a reference to the nation of Israel as a whole. The Messiah will not suffer and die, but will be a conquering King. Likewise, Isaiah indicates that the Messiah will have children. Jesus did not have children, so Isaiah cannot be speaking of him. New Testament Christianity erroneously interprets Zechariah 12 as a prophecy of the Messiah. It is not. Likewise, Psalm 16 does not speak of the Messiah or resurrection from the dead.

Actual Interpretations of Talmudic (or Rabbinic) Judaism:

Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 53 prophesy that the Messiah, even the King Messiah, will suffer and die to atone for our sins as Priest, but he will be resurrected from the dead. The interpretation that Isaiah 53 refers to the nation of Israel as a whole and not to a specific individual is a relatively recent view that does not appear in rabbinic literature until the eleventh century A.D. For nearly a thousand years rabbinic tradition understood Isaiah 53 to refer to a specific Messianic individual. The reference in Isaiah 53 to the Messiah seeing his seed does not indicate actual physical descendents. For instance, this passage has been interpreted by some to refer to Jeremiah who was commanded by God not to marry or have children and to the late Lubavitcher Grand Rabbi who also had no children. Most likely, the passage is speaking of persons of the same spiritual qualities. Zechariah 3 does refer to the Messiah and identifies him with Joshua the High Priest through the use of the Messianic term “the Branch.” Zechariah 12 does prophecy that the Messiah will be pierced and die for the sins of Israel who will mourn for him as for a firstborn son. Psalm 16 does refer to the Messiah indicating that his body will not decompose. (Some of the ultra-orthodox Lubavitcher Hasidic movement taught that their deceased high rabbi, who they claimed was the Messiah, would be resurrected and return.)

4. This becomes even more interesting when we realize that the Jews who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls were looking for two Messianic figures, called the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel. 30 In addition to this, the important first-century document called the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, in particular the Testaments of Levi and Judah, also had much to say about this priestly Messiah, speaking of him in highly exalted terms. 31 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 1, Historical Objections, p. 85

Footnote 30: For refutation of the idea that the authors of the scrolls expected only one Messiah of Aaron and Israel, see John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (New York: Doubleday, 1995); note also L. H. Schiffman, “Messianic Figures and Ideas in the Qumran Scroll,” in The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity, ed. James H. Charlesworth (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 116-29. It is also noteworthy that in several other Qumran texts, there is reference to a Davidic Messiah and a priest (see Collins, Scepter and the Star, 74-101); note further b. Sukkah 52b, interpreting Zech. 1:20 with reference to the two Messiahs, Elijah, and the righteous High Priest.

Footnote 31: See conveniently Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts (Detroit: Wayne state Univ., 1979), 191-92, for important excerpts. For full editions of the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, see James H. CHarlesworth, ed., the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983), 775-828 (ed. and trans. by H. C. Kee, who dates the fundamental writing of the Testaments to around 100 B.C.E.); H. F. D. Sparks, ed., M. de Jonge, trans., The Apocryphal Old Testament (Oxford: Claredon, 1984), 505-600.

5. Interestingly, when the Rebbe [the Lubavitcher Grand Rabbi, Menachem Mendel Schneerson] died in 1994 without being revealed as the Messiah, many of his followers announced that his death served as an atonement for our sins, and they eagerly awaited his resurrection. 58 In fact, some Jewish leaders criticized them, stating that their views about the Rebbe sounded like Christian teaching about Jesus. They replied: “Not at all! The Christians got their ideas from us. These beliefs are really Jewish!” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 1, Historical Objections, p. 97

Footnote 58: In fact, the first major biography of the Rebbe put out by Lubavitch contained the Rabbinic prayer: “May his death serve as an atonement,” right in the front of the book; for more on this traditional Jewish concept that the death of the righteous atones, see vol. 2, 3.15.

6. There was only one ingredient lacking from the story: the hope that the Rebbe would one day return. Here, too, the Rebbe’s followers have followed suit, with one of his disciples concluding his biographical sketch of Rabbi Schneerson by writing, “May we merit his immediate return, even before going to press.” 59 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 1, Historical Objections, p. 97

Footnote 59: Staiman, Waiting for the Messiah, 250.

78. Writing a few decades before Hai Gaon, an even more prominent scholar, Rav Sa’adiah Gaon, also addressed the question of the Messiah. He explained that there would actually be two Messiahs, the Messiah son of Joseph (mentioned explicitedly in the Talmud in b. Sukkah 52a), who was associated with a time of victory mixed with hardship and calamity, and the Messiah son of David, who would establish God’s kingdom on the earth. However, if the Jewish people would be God-fearing and obedient, it was possible that there would be only one Messiah, the son of David, and no Messiah son of Joseph, meaning less suffering for Israel. 354 J. I. Schochet provides a useful summary:

Quite significantly, R. Saadia Gaon (one of the few to elaborate on the role of the Mashiach ben Yossef) notes that the sequence is not definite but contingent! Mashiach ben Yossef will not have to appear before Mashiach ben David, nor will the activities attributed to him or his death have to occur. All depends on the spiritual condition of the Jewish people at the time the redemption is to take place. 355 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 212-213

Footnote 354: To this day there are many religious Jews who hold to this doctrine of the two Messiahs, which is quite understandable in light of the fact that this belief can be traced back to the Talmud; see below, 3.23-3.24.

Footnote 355: J. Immanuel Schochet, Mashiach: The Principles of Mashiach and the Messianic Era in Jewish Law and Tradition, expanded edition (New York/Toronto: S.E.E, 1992), 98.

87. There are many rich, beautiful, and theologically moving traditions in Jewish literature about the sufferings of the Messiah. In fact, the learned Jewish scholar Raphael Patai devoted an entire chapter to the subject in his unparalleled collection titled The Messiah Texts. 378 More than fifty years earlier, Gustaf Dalman, a Christian scholar of Judaica whose reference works are used by Jewish scholars to this day, devoted an entire volume to the subject of the suffering Messiah in Jewish tradition. 379 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 221

Footnote 378: See above, n. 84, for publication information. The section dealing with the suffering Messiah runs from 104-21.

Footnote 84: Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts [Detroit: Wayne State Univ., 1979], 319

Footnote 379: Gustaf H. Dalman, der leidende und der sterbende Messias der Synagoge im ersten nachchristlichen Jarhtausend (Berlin: Reuther, 1888). Cf. also idem, Jesaja 53: der Prophetenwort vom suhnleiden des gottesknechtes mit besonderer Berucksichtung der judischen Literatur, 2d ed. (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs’, 1914). For a thorough bibliography on the subject through the early 1980s, see Emil Schurer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C. – A.D. 135), rev. Eng. Vers. By Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar, and Matthew Black (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1973-1987), 2:547-49.

88. Patai makes this startling statement regarding the Messiah’s sufferings:

The sufferings Israel must face in the days of the Messiah are temporary and transitory. They will last, according to the Talmudic view…seven years; a later Aggada…reduces this period to a mere forty five days. The Messiah himself, on the other hand, must spend his entire life, from the moment of his creation until the time of his advent many centuries or even millennia later, in a state of constant and acute suffering. 380 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 221

Footnote 380: Patai, Messiah Texts, 104.

89. Summarizing the key Rabbinic teachings on the sufferings and afflictions of the Messiah, Patai writes:

Despised and afflicted with unhealing wounds, he sits in the gates of Great Rome and winds and unwinds the bandages of his festering sores; as a Midrash expresses it, “pains have adopted him.” According to one of the most moving and psychologically most meaningful, of all Messiah legends, God, when He created the Messiah, gave him the choice of whether or not to accept the sufferings for the sins of Israel. And the Messiah answered: “I accept it with joy so that not a single soul of Israel should perish.”…In the later Zoharic [i.e., mystical] formulation of this legend, the Messiah himself summons all the diseases, pains, and sufferings of Israel to come upon him, in order to thus ease the anguish of Israel, which otherwise would be unbearable. 381 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 221-222

Footnote 381: Ibid.

90. According to the Talmud (b. Sukkah 52a), this Messiah would perform many mighty acts of valor for his Jewish people before dying in the great war that would proceed the reign of Messiah ben David. In fact, Zechariah 12:10 (“They will look on me, the one they have pierced”), quoted with reference to the death of Yeshua in the New Testament, is applied to Messiah ben Joseph in this Talmudic text (for further discussion of Zech. 12:10, see vol. 3, 4.31). The Talmud also goes on to say that God would hear the prayer of Messiah ben David and would raise Messiah ben Joseph from the dead. 382 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 222

91. Later Jewish traditions expanded on the sufferings of Messiah ben Joseph. This Midrash, describing one of the houses in heavenly paradise, is typical:

…there sit Messiah ben David and Elijah and Messiah ben Ephraim. And there is a canopy of incense trees as in the Sanctuary which Moses made in the desert. And all its vessels and pillars are of silver, its covering is gold, its seat is purple. And in it is Messiah ben David who loves Jerusalem. Elijah of blessed memory takes hold of his head, places it in his lap and holds it, and says to him, “Endure the sufferings and the sentence your Master who makes you suffer because of the sin of Israel.” And thus it is written: He was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities (Isa. 53:5) – until the time the end comes. – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 222

92. Yet here the Midrash applies this text to Messiah ben Ephraim, exactly as the Zohar did with reference to the Messiah’s sufferings: “In the hour in which they [i.e., the souls of the righteous sufferers] tell the Messiah about the sufferings of Israel in exile, and [about] the sinful among them who seek not the knowledge of their Master, the Messiah lifts up his voice and weeps over those sinful among them. This is what is written, He was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities (Isa. 53:5). 384 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 223

Footnote 384: Zohar 2:212a, as translated by Patai, ibid., 116, his emphasis.

94. The Schottenstein Talmud, an extensive and highly valuable Orthodox commentary being published by Artscroll-Mesorah, offers this striking commentary on the passage:

They [namely, those sitting with Messiah] were afflicted with tzaraas – a disease whose symptoms include discolored patches on the skin (see Leviticus ch. 13). The Messiah himself is likewise afflicted, as stated in Isaiah (53:4):…Indeed, it was our diseases that he bore and our pains that he endured, whereas we considered him plagued (i.e. suffering tzaraas [see 98b, note 39], smitten by God, and afflicted. This verse teaches that the diseases that the people ought to have suffered because of their sins are borne instead by the Messiah [with reference to the leading Rabbinic commentaries]. 388 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 224

Footnote 388: Tractate Sanhedrin, Talmud Bavli, The Schottenstein Edition (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Mesorah, 1995), vol. 3, 98a5, emphasis in original.

95. In this regard, Patai noted that “the Messiah become heir to the Suffering Servant of God, who figures prominently in the prophecies of Deutero-Isaiah” (i.e., Isaiah 40-55). 389 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 225

Footnote 389: Patai, Messiah Texts, 104-5.

96. Even traditional Jewish commentaries referred Isaiah 53 to the Messiah, meaning the Messiah son of David. 391 What were some of the commentaries to which I referred? 392 Most prominently, I pointed to Moses ben Nachman (called Nachmanides or the Ramban), one of the greatest of all medieval Jewish scholars and famed for his Barcelona debate with the Catholic Jew Pablo Christiani (see vol. 1, 2.12). He claimed that Isaiah spoke of “the Messiah, the son of David…[who] will never be conquered or perish by the hands of his enemies.” 393 In spite of this victorious description of the Messiah, however, Nachmanides also spoke of his suffering:

Yet he carried our sicknesses [Isa. 53:4], being himself sick and distressed for the transgression which should have caused sickness and distress in us, and bearing the pains which we ought to have experienced. But we, when we saw him weakened and prostrate, thought that he was stricken, smitten of God.…The chastisement of our peace was upon him­ – for God will correct him and by his stripes we were healed – because the stripes by which he is vexed and distressed will heal us: God will pardon us for his righteousness, and we shall be healed both from our own transgressions and from the iniquities of our fathers…He was oppressed and he was afflicted [v. 7]: for when he first comes, “meek and riding upon an ass” [Zech. 9:9], the oppressors and officers of every city will come to him, and afflict him with reviling and insults, reproaching both him and the God in whose name he appears. 394 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 226-227

Footnote 393: Driver and Neubauer, Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah, 2:78,

Footnote 394: Ibid., their emphasis.

97. Quite strangely, when interpreting the verses that speak clearly of the Messianic servant’s death, Nachmanides goes out of his way to avoid the obvious fact that the servant did, indeed, die. Instead, he attempts to explain that the Messiah was willing to die, that he expected to die, that it would be reported that he was cut off by from the land of the living, and that evil Israelites, together with wicked Gentiles, would devise all kinds of deaths for him. 395 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 227

Footnote 395: See further vol. 3, 4.10-12, 4.14, on the prophesied death of the servant of the Lord according to Isaiah 53.

98. Other significant commentators interpreting this key passage with reference to the sufferings of Messiah son of David include Moshe Kohen Ibn Crispin (or Ibn Krispin), who first described the highly exalted nature of the Messiah (following a famous midrash to Isaiah 52:13; see above, 3.22) and then spoke of his sufferings in great detail, explaining that he would share Israel’s “subjection and distress” and be “exceedingly afflicted”:

…his grief will be such that the colour of his countenance will be changed from that of a man, and pangs and sicknesses will seize upon him…and all the chastisements which come upon him in consequence of his grief will be for our sakes, and not from any deficiency or sin on his part which might bring punishment in their train, because he is perfect, in the completeness of perfection, as Isaiah says (xi. 2 f.) 398

Commenting on some of the central verses, Ibn Crispin writes:

A man of pains and known to sickness, i.e., possessed of pains and destined to sicknesses; so all that see him will say of him. They will also, it continues, on account of his loathsome appearance, be like men hiding their faces from him: they will not be able to look at him, because of his disfigurement. And even we, who before were longing to see him, when we see what he is like, shall despise him till we no longer esteem him, i.e., we shall cease to think of him as a Redeemer able to redeem us and fight our battles because of all the effects which we see produced by his weakness.

…it will be as though he had borne all the sickness and chastisements which fall upon us…Or, perhaps…from his pity and prayers for us he will atone for our transgressions: and our pains he hath borne, viz., as a burden upon himself…i.e, all the weight of our pains he will carry, being himself pained exceedingly by them. And we esteemed him stricken, smitted by God, and afflicted. We shall not believe that there could be any man ready to endure such pain and grief as would disfigure his countenance, even for his children, much less for his people: it will seem a certain truth to us that such terrible sufferings must have come upon him as a penalty for his own many shortcomings and errors. 399 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 227-228

Footnote 398: Driver and Neubauer, Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah, 2:103.

Footnote 399: Ibid., 2:107-8, emphasis in original. Amazingly, Ibn Crispin ends his comments by saying, “This prophecy was delivered by Isaiah at the divine command for the purpose of making known to us something about the nature of the future Messiah who is to come and deliver Israel, and his life from the day when he arrives at discretion until his advent as a redeemer, in order that if any one should arise claiming to be himself the Messiah, we may reflect, and look to see whether we can observe in him any resemblance to the traits described here: if there is any such resemblance, then we may believe that he is the Messiah our righteousness; but if not, we cannot do so.” Even more amazingly, the scribe who copied out Ibn Crispin’s interpretation was troubled by it, although he hoped that “an answer may be found in it against the heretics who interpret it of Jesus.” And so he added that “it does not seem to me to be right or permissible to apply the prophecy to the King Messiah (for reasons which an intelligent man will easily find out); it must, in fact, be referred either to Israel as a whole, or to Jeremiah.” See ibid., 2:114.

99. Much more could be quoted, along with selections from the commentary of Rabbi Mosheh El-Sheikh (or Alshekh), who claimed that “our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah,” also referring to a midrash that stated that “of all the sufferings which entered into the world, one third was for David and the fathers, one for the generation in exile, and one for King Messiah.” 400 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 228

Footnote 400: Ibid., 2:259. According to Alshekh, the Jewish people will say of the Messiah, “We beheld a man, just and perfect, bruised and degraded by suffering, despised in our eyes, and plundered verily before God and man, while all cried, ‘God hath forsaken him;’ he must surely, therefore, we thought, be ‘despised’ likewise in the eyes of the Almighty, and this is why he hath made him ‘an offscouring and refuse’ (Lam. Iii. 45).” See ibid., 2:264.

100. In our own day, Isaiah 53 was applied directly to Menachem Schneerson, hailed as Messiah ben David by his devoted followers worldwide, with specific reference to his suffering. Thus, when Rabbi Schneerson (known simply as the Rebbe, in keeping with Hasidic tradition) suffered a stroke in 1992 and could not speak, his followers pointed to Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” When his paralyzed condition showed little or no improvement, they pointed to other verses in Isaiah 53 that speak of the sickness of the servant of the Lord. The Rebbe became sick, they claimed, so that we might be healed! When he died in 1994 at the age of ninety-two, some of his most loyal disciples proclaimed in writing that his death was an atonement for us, in keeping with the traditional teaching that the death of the righteous atones (see above, 3.15) – and then they began to pray fervently and wait expectantly for his resurrection and/or return. 401 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 228

Footnote 401: See the quote from Mordecai Staiman, below, 3.24, with reference to the Rebbe’s hoped-for return. Cohn-Sherbok, The Jewish Messiah, xv-xvi, summarizes some of the key events as follows: “When the Rebbe suffered a stroke, his followers were not deterred; indeed, the Rebbe’s incapacity fueled the flames of messianic enthusiasm. His illness was invested with redemptive significance: the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 was perceived as being a reference to the Rebbe’s debilitated state…Even the Rebbe’s death did not daunt those who were convinced of his Messiahship. He would return! In the view of one Israeli newspaper, those who had lost faith in the Rebbe were like the worshippers of the golden calf who had given up hope of Moses’ return from Mount Sinai. Within a few months of the funeral, two volumes appeared, explaining the grounds for continuing faith in his Messiahship. Eventually, as time passed, a number of messianists became convinced that the Rebbe had not in fact died: in their view he remains alive but concealed. Hence what happened on 3 Tammuz5754 (the Jewish date of his death) was an illusion. The Rebbe’s corpse, they argued, was a test for carnal eyes; but in truth there was no passing away or leave-taking at all.”

101. As Patai observes:

There can be little doubt that psychologically the Suffering Messiah is but a projection and personification of Suffering Israel…Similarly, the Leper Messiah and the Beggar Messiah [spoken of in the Talmud]…are but variants on the theme of Suffering Israel personified in the Suffering Messiah figure. And it is undoubtedly true in the psychological sense that, as the Zohar states, the acceptance of Israel’s sufferings by the Messiah (read: their projection onto the Messiah) eases that suffering which otherwise could not be endured. 402 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 229

Footnote 402: Patai, Messiah Texts, 105.

102. The final text we will read actually gives the fullest and most detailed description of the Messiah’s sufferings found anywhere in the major Rabbinic sources. I refer to chapters 34, 36, 37 of the important eighth- to ninth- century midrash known as the Pesikta Rabbati. In fact, the descriptions of the Messiah’s sufferings found there are possibly stronger than anything found in the New Testament. 403 Some scholars, basing their position on the fact that the Messiah is called Ephraim in these chapters, believe that the reference is to the Messiah ben Joseph. Others, however, point out that he is referred to as “My righteous Messiah,” which would normally be taken to mean Messiah ben David. Thus, Rabbi Schochet notes that “the term Ephraim, though, may relate here to collective Israel, thus referring to Mashiach ben David.” 404 In any event, what we have before us is indisputable: a Rabbinic text prized by traditional Jews and outlining in graphic detail the vicarious sufferings of the Messiah. Here are selections from Pesikta Rabbati chapter 36 as translated by Patai:

They said in the septenary [i.e., seven-year period] in which the Son of David comes they will bring iron beams and put them upon his neck until his body bends and cries and weeps, and his voice rises up into the Heights, and he says before Him: “Master of the World! How much can my strength suffer? How much my spirit? How much my soul? And how much my limbs? Am I not flesh and blood?...”

In that hour the Holy One, blessed be He, says to him: “Ephraim, My True Messiah, you have already accepted [this suffering] from the six days of Creation. Now your suffering shall be like My suffering. For ever since the day on which wicked Nebuchadnezzar came up and destroyed my Temple and burnt My sanctuary, and I exiled My children among the nations of the world, by your life and the life of your head, I have not sat on My Throne. And if you do not believe, see the dew that is upon my head….”

In that hour he says before Him: “Master of the World! Now my mind is at rest, for it is sufficient for the servant to be like his Master! 405

The Fathers of the World [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] will in the future rise up in the month of Nissan and will speak to him: “Ephraim, our True Messiah! Even though we are your fathers, you are greater than we, for you suffered because of the sins of our children, and cruel punishments have come upon you the likes of which have not come upon the early and the later generations, and you were put to ridicule and held in contempt by the nations of the world because of Israel, and your skin cleft to your bones, and your body dried out was like wood, and your eyes grew dim from fasting, and your strength became like a potsherd. All this because of the sins of our children. Do you want that our children should enjoy the happiness that the Holy One, blessed be He, allotted to Israel, or perhaps, because of great sufferings that have come upon you on their account, and because they imprisoned you in the jailhouse, your mind is not reconciled with them?”

And the Messiah answers them: “Fathers of the World! Everything I did, I did only for you and for your children, and for your honor and for the honor of your children, so that they should enjoy this happiness the Holy One, blessed be He, has allotted to Israel.”

Then the Fathers of the World say to him: “Ephraim, our True Messiah, let your mind be at ease, for you put at ease our minds and the mind of your Creator!” 406 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 229-230

Footnote 404: Schochet, Mashiach, 92-93, n. 2, where he also points out some overlap in terminology in the descriptive titles of the two Messiahs.

Footnote 406: Patai, Messiah Texts, 113-14.

115. Interestingly, the national interpretation is not found once in the Talmuds, the Targums, or the midrashim (in other words, not once in all the classical, foundational, authoritative Jewish writings). In fact, it is not found in any traditional Jewish source until the time of Rashi, who lived in the eleventh century C.E. 105 That is saying something! For almost one thousand years after the birth of Yeshua, not one rabbi, not one Talmudic teacher, not one Jewish sage, left us an interpretation showing that Isaiah 53 should be interpreted with reference to the nation of Israel (as opposed to a righteous individual, or righteous individuals, within Israel), despite the fact that these verses from Isaiah are quoted in the New Testament and were often used in Jewish-Christian debate. – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 41

Footnote 105: As we will see in 4.8, the Christian scholar Origen in the second century made reference to Jewish leaders who interpreted Isaiah 53 with regard to the people of Israel as a whole, and there is one midrashic reference to Isaiah 53:10 being applied to the righteous in general.

116. This servant is obedient and righteous, setting captive free, and according to the Targum, this servant is none other than the Messiah. 107 This is confirmed by Rabbi David Kimchi – one of the so-called “big three” medieval Rabbinic commentators – who also interpreted the words “Behold my servant” in Isaiah 42:1 with specific reference to “King Messiah.” 108 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 43

Footnote 107: The Aramaic reads, “Behold my servant the Messiah.”

Footnote 108: Note also that Metsudat David interprets Isaiah 42:1 with reference to King Messiah.

117. First, we must remember that many traditional Jewish interpreters – from the Targum until today – had no problem reading Isaiah 52:13-53:12 with reference to the Messiah, thus reading this section of Isaiah as a distinct passage in its own right. In other words, the passage was interpreted independent of the preceding context of the return from the Babylonian exile. Otherwise, how could followers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in our day interpret this passage with reference to their leader who lived and died twenty-five hundred years after the return from exile? Or how could the Targum paraphrase this passage to reflect the events of the Bar Kochba War, which took place more than six hundred years after the return of the exiles? 113 And why did Rashi begin his comments on Isaiah 52:13 by stating that the passage applied to the righteous remnant within Jacob who would prosper at the end of days? 114 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 45

Footnote 113: See Samson H. Levey, The Messiah, an Aramaic Interpretation: The Messianic Exegesis of the Targum (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College/Jewish Institute of Religion, 1974), 63-67.

Footnote 114: Note also Rashi’s comment on Isaiah 53:8: “For because of the transgressions of my people [this is allegedly a Gentile king speaking] this plague came to the righteous among them.”

118. So, for example, the Targum interprets the passage with reference to the Messiah – as a warring, victorious king, even to the point of completely twisting the meaning of key verses 117 – while the Talmud generally interprets the passage with reference to the Messiah, or key individuals (like Moses or Phineas), or the righteous (for details on this, see 4.8). Note also that Sa’adiah Gaon, the influential ninth-century Rabbinic leader, interpreted Isaiah 53 with reference to Jeremiah. This means that virtually without exception, the earliest Jewish sources – and therefore the most authoritative Jewish sources – interpret Isaiah 52:13-53:12 with reference to an individual, and in some cases, with reference to the Messiah. While it is true that Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Radak all interpreted the passage with reference to Israel, other equally prominent leaders such as Moses ben Nachman (called Nachmanides or the Ramban), felt compelled to follow the weight of ancient tradition and embrace the individual, Messianic interpretation of the Talmudic rabbis (found in the Midrash, despite his belief that the plain sense of the text supported the national interpretation). Noteworthy also is the oft-quoted comment of Rabbi Moshe Alshech, writing in the sixteenth century, “Our rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the Messiah, and we shall ourselves adhere to the same view.” This too is highly significant, since Alshech claims that all his contemporaries agreed with the Messianic reading of the text, despite the fact that Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Radak had all come out against that reading. Could it be that Rabbi Alshech and his contemporaries came to their conclusions because the text clearly pointed in that direction? The Messianic interpretation is also found in the Zohar as well as in some later midrashic works (for references, see below, 4.8). – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 49-50

Footnote 117: See above, n. 113 (Level); cf. further vol. 2, 3.23.

119. Most recently – really, from the early 1990s and right up to this day – Isaiah 53 has been applied to Menachem Schneerson (1902-1994), the Grand Rabbi of Lubavitcher Hasidic movement. Obviously, his followers had no problem applying the prophecy to him as an individual (as opposed to the people of Israel as a whole), in keeping with the most ancient Jewish traditions. – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 50

121. Most prominently, I pointed to Nachmanides (the Ramban), one of the greatest of all medieval Jewish thinkers, a commentator, a mystic, and philosopher, and a legal scholar. He claimed that Isaiah spoke of “the Messiah, the son of David…[who] will never be conquered or perish by the hands of his enemies.” 128 Other commentators have interpreted this key passage with reference to the sufferings of Messiah son of David. Moshe Kohen Ibn Crispin (or Ibn Krispin), first described the highly exalted nature of the Messiah (following a famous midrash to Isaiah 52:13, see vol. 2, 3.22) and then spoke of his sufferings in great detail, explaining that he would share Israel’s “subjugation and distress and be exceedingly afflicted.” 129 Rabbi Mosheh El-Sheikh (or Alshekh), claimed that “our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah” and also referred to a midrash that stated, “of all the sufferings which entered into the world, one third was for David and the fathers, one for the generation in exile, and one for the King Messiah.” 130 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 58

Footnote 128: See S. R. Driver and Adolf Neubauer, eds. and trans., Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters, 2 vols. (New York: Ktav, 1969), 2:78.

Footnote 129: For a more extended quote from Ibn Krispin on this subject, see vol. 2, pp. 215-16.

Footnote 130: Driver and Neubauer, Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah, 2:259.

122. The Rabbinical evidence is as follows:

Targum Jonathan interprets Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (which for simplicity in this discussion, we will simply call Isaiah 53) with reference to the Messiah, despite the fact that the Targum virtually rewrites the servant’s sufferings so that they speak instead of the suffering of the nations. This means the Messianic interpretation of the passage must have been quite prominent when the Targum was being formed, since it would have been much easier to not add the explicit reference to the Messiah (in 52:13) rather than to virtually rewrite the verses that seemed to contradict the expected role of the Messiah. 131

The Talmud interprets various verses in this section with reference to righteous individuals within Israel (including the Messiah) but never once with reference to the nation of Israel as a whole. 132 The Jerusalem Talmud (Shekalim 5:1) applies 53:12 to Rabbi Akiva, while the Babylonian Talmud applies 53:4 to the Messiah in Sanhedrin 98b, 53:10 to the righteous in general in Berakhot 5a, and 53:12 to Moses in Sotah 14a.

Midrash Rabbah interprets 53:5 with reference to the Messiah (Ruth Rabbah 2:14) while interpreting 53:12 with reference to Israel in exile (Numbers Rabbah 13:2). This last interpretation, offered in a passing interpretation of Song of Solomon 5:1, is the one and only time in the first thousand years of recorded Rabbinic literature that any portion of any verse in Isaiah 53 is applied to Israel as a nation.

Yalkut Shimoni (a thirteenth-century compilation of earlier midrashic writings) applies 52:13 to the Messiah, stating that the Messiah – called the great mountain according to Yalkut’s interpretation of Zechariah 4:7 – is “greater than the patriarchs…higher than Abraham…lifted up above Moses…and loftier than ministering angels” (2:571; see also 2:621). Isaiah 53:5 is applied to the sufferings of “King Messiah” (2:620), 133 while 53:12 is applied to Moses (2:338), as in the Talmudic passage referred to above. – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 59-60

Footnote 131: Cf. the discussion in Levey, The Messiah, an Aramaic Interpretation; see further Pinkhos Churgin, Targum Jonathan to the Prophets, repr. With Leivy Smolar and Moses Aberbach as Studies in Targum Jonathan to the Prophets (New York: Ktav, 1983).

25. The Stone edition renders Isaiah 53:4b as, “but we had regarded him diseased [nagu’a], stricken by God, and afflicted!” It is this verse – in particular the word nagu’a (rendered here as “diseased”) – from which the Talmud drew the concept of the “leper Messiah” (see b. Sanhedrin 98b). 150 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 73

Footnote 150: the portion of the Talmudic text in question is dealing with Rabbinic speculation about the name of the Messiah. One opinion of the sages is that “his name is the leprous one [Aramaic, hiwwra’] of the house of Rabbi”; Isaiah 53:4 is quoted as support.

126. Not surprisingly, when reading the text in terms of Israel, the three most respected Rabbinic commentators, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Radak, saw numerous references to the servant’s death. Radak, for example, claimed that 53:8 spoke of the fact that the people of Israel “used to be put to death in many ways: Some were burnt, some were slain, and others were stoned – they gave themselves over to any form of death for the sake of the unity of the Godhead.” 152 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 75

Footnote 152: As rendered in Driver and Neubauer, Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah, 2:53-54.

127. It is also interesting to note that after the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s death his followers pointed to Isaiah 53, claiming that it spoke of his death, which is not surprising, given the clear sense of the original Hebrew. Thus, they rightly interpreted it as a prophecy of the death of the Messiah but wrongly interpreted the identity of the Messiah. 153 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 76

Footnote 153: See the relevant discussion about Messiah ben Joseph in vol. 2, 3.23.

129. According to the standard Hebrew lexicon of Brown, Driver, and Briggs, in cases such as these, seed means “as marked by moral quality = persons (or community) of such a quality,” 158 thus, “a seed of evildoers” would really mean “a community of evildoers” or “evildoers to the core.” In the context of Isaiah 53:10, this would mean that the servant of the Lord would see godly, spiritual posterity, true disciples transformed by means of his labors on their behalf. As Isaiah 53:10 explains, this is tied in with his “prolong[ing] his days,” referring to his resurrection (see above 4.13). – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 84

Footnote 158: Francis Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (repr., New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1959), 283.

130. Third, the weakness of this argument is seen when we realize that no less a traditional Jewish authority than Sa’adiah Gaon applied Isaiah 53 to Jeremiah the prophet, yet God command Jeremiah never to marry or have children (Jer. 16:1; see above, 4.6). More recently Isaiah 53 was applied to the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, yet he and his wife were unable to have children. How then could this be applied either of these two candidates? Obviously, the text does not explicitly state that the servant of the Lord had to bear children of his own, hence the passage could be applied to either of these other Jewish leaders, albeit incorrectly. (In other words, many of the other specifics of the text cannot possibly apply to either Jeremiah or the Rebbe, while they apply perfectly to Yeshua.) – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 84

143. In fact, David Kimchi, interpreted David’s words in verse 9 (“my body rests secure,” my translation) to mean that “when the Psalmist dies his body will not decompose.” 224 As Rosenberg and Zlotowitz explain:

The Talmud points out that seven biblical heroes were preserved whole in the earth: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, and Benjamin. Regarding David this is a difference of opinion as to whether the expression, “my body” includes David among the others, which would make eight or that David’s prayer was wishful thinking (B.B. 17A). 225 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 115-116

Footnote 224: Martin S. Rosenberg and Bernard M. Zlotowitz, The Book of Psalms: A New Translation and Commentary (Northvale, N. J.: Aronson, 1999), 79.

Footnote 225: Ibid. The abbreviation B.B. refers to the Talmudic tractate b. Baba Bathra.

152. Let’s focus in on Zechariah 3:4, “Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.” The Targum renders this closing phrase as, “Behold I bring my servant the Messiah.” The Branch – understood to be the Branch of David – is the Messiah. Abraham Ibn Ezra provides an interesting interpretation on the identity of the Branch:

He is Zerubbabel, as it is said, “His name is branch” [Zech. 6:12], and the end of the passage proves it, [stating] “before Zerubbabel” [Zech. 4:7]. And many interpreters say that this branch is the Messiah, and he is called Zerubbabel because he is from his seed, as in, “and David my servant will be their prince forever” [Ezek. 37:25[. And I too can interpret this homiletically [derek derash], for tsemach [branch] by Gematria [i.e., numerically interpreted] equals Menachem, that is, Ben Ammiel [in the Talmud Menachem Ben Ammiel is a name for the Messiah; see b. Sanhedrin 99b, and notes of Ibn Ezra that the numeric values for the Hebrew words branch and Menachem are identical, both equal to 138]. 291 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 144

153. Zechariah 12:10 is discussed in the Talmud in b. Sukkah 55a. The verse – read with a singular, not plural, subject – is first interpreted to mean that it is the evil inclination (i.e., the sinful tendency in man) that was slain, and the people wept when they saw how easily it could have been overcome. The second interpretation states that the people wept over Messiah son of Joseph who was slain fighting in the last great war (i.e., the last great future war) for his people, after which Messiah son of David asked God to raise him from the dead, and his request was granted. From this we learn two significant points: (1) The Hebrew was understood to be speaking of an individual person or thing, not of a plural subject (in other words, the one who was pierced through and slain, not those who were pierced through and slain); and (2) there was an ancient Jewish tradition interpreting the text in terms of a Messiah figure who died and then was raised from the dead. Recently, the Stone edition and the NJPSV translated Zechariah 12:10 with a plural subject: “They shall look toward Me because of those whom they have stabbed; they will mourn for him” (Stone); 301 and, “They shall lament to Me about those who are slain, wailing over them” (NJPSV). 302 But these interpretations are not reflected in some of the most ancient Jewish sources (cf. the Septuagint and the Talmud, b. Sukkah 52a; the Targumic rendering is similar to those just cited), nor are they a grammatically natural reading of the text. – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 148-149

Footnote 301: The footnote to the translation reads, “The salvation will be so complete that people will be astonished if even one man is killed by the enemy (Radak).”

Footnote 302: A note to the word “lament” states that the meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain, which is odd, since the Hebrew wehibitu simply means “they shall look.” Apparently the translators saw something else in the text that made them think the Hebrew here was ambiguous.

154. Either the text shifts from the first person (lit., “look to me”) to third person (lit., “mourn for him”), something that is not uncommon in biblical texts, 305 or we should follow the reading preserved in some Masoretic manuscripts, reflecting the tiniest variation in the Hebrew but resulting in a very different translation in English, namely, “they shall look to him whom they pierced.” 306

Footnote 305: It is actually so common that the preface to the NIV states that “the Hebrew writers often shifted back and forth between first, second, and third personal pronouns without change of antecedent, this translation often makes them uniform, in accordance with standard English style and without the use of footnotes” (cited in the EBC endnote to Zech. 7:13, providing a case in point). Note also that in Zechariah 12 the Lord speaks in the first person a number of times, as cited above, but alternating with third-person language as well – in other words, going from “I” to “the Lord;” cf. verses 7-9.

Footnote 306: The difference in the Hebrew is from ‘elay (“to me”) to ‘elayw (“to him”). This reading is also supported in John 19:37. As to why this is quoted in John’s gospel as a past event (“These things happened [i.e., the Messiah’s crucifixion] so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken,’” and, as another scripture says “They will look on the one they have pierced.”), cf. George R. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1987), 355.

161. We have addressed this objection elsewhere (see vol. 1, 2.1 and vol. 2, 3.23), demonstrating that the Hebrew Bible pointed to a suffering then-reigning Messiah, while many Jewish traditions also spoke of a suffering Messiah. Recently, some prominent biblical and Semitic scholars, Israel Knohl of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Michael Wise of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, have argued that even before the time of Jesus, there was a Jewish belief in a suffering Messiah, something which scholars have debated for many decades. 331 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, Messianic Prophecy Objections, p. 167-168

Footnote 331: Michael O. Wise, The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Jesus (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1999); Israel Knohl, The Messiah Before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Berkley: Univ. of California Press, 2000); for a summary of research through the mid-1980’s, see Emil Schurer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 b.c-a.d. 135), rev. ed., Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar, and Matthew Black (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1973-87), 2:547-49.

(Continued...)


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