Missionary Misuse of Jewish Sources on Isaiah 53, Ibn Crispin aka "Moshe Kohen, a 15th-century rabbi in Spain"
Jews for Jesus uses the description "Moshe Kohen, a 15th-century rabbi in Spain" for a person most missionaries name as "Rabbi Moshe Kohen "Ibn Crispin" of Cordova, Spain." The quote given is "This passage, the commentators explain, speaks of the captivity of Israel, although the singular number is used in it throughout. Others have supposed it to mean the just in this present world, who are crushed and oppressed now…but these too, for the same reason, by altering the number, distort the verses from their natural meaning. And then it seemed to me that…having forsaken the knowledge of our Teachers, and inclined "after the stubbornness of their own hearts," and of their own opinion, I am pleased to interpret it, in accordance with the teaching of our Rabbis, of the King Messiah."
In his second volume of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Michael L. Brown wrote "other significant commentators interpreting this key passage with reference to the sufferings of Messiah son of David include Rabbi Moshe Kohen Ibn Crispin (or Ibn Krispin)"
It took days (weeks) of research to find out that Ibn Crispin was a philosopher. "Ibn Crispin" was a title -- the man's real name was Moshe Cohen. He was a Yeminite poet who lived in the 14th century.
Yes, that is right.
Ibn Crispin was also a mystic.
Taking his writings as literal considering he was a mystic and poet is a flagrant missionary slight of hand and distortion.
Ibn Crispin's most famous book was "Sefer ha-Musar" which had major Averroistic themes. (The main concept was the marriage of religion and philosophy).
So Ibn Crispin was a mystical thinker using allegory and trying to quote him as if he is making psh'at (literal interpretation). If you can read French I highly recommend you read) 'A propos de l'Averrosme juif' (On Jewish Averroism), by Vajda, G. (1952).
Averroes (for those unfamiliar with him) was a MUSLIM philosopher of the 12th century named Abu'l-Walid Ibn Rushd. He came from Cordova (same as Ibn Crispin). Averroes tried to reconcile Aristotle's theories with Islam. His work was translated into Hebrew and it influenced a whole generation and Moshe Ibn Crispin was one of the MOST influenced.
Missionaries (like Michael Brown) who hold Moshe Cohen, aka Ibn Crispin, up as some great rabbinical source to “prove” that “the rabbis” relate the suffering servant in Isaiah 52-53 to the messiah (and not Israel) is far from the mark. Ibn Crispin was an obscure poet and a philosopher who followed a Muslim's teachings. This is an instance of missionaries taking the words of a Jew as "Jewish teaching" -- when nothing could be further from the truth.
Still, let's quote part of the lengthy entry from "Ibn Crispin" in the Driver and Neubauer book -- the quotes the missionaries either gloss over or do not quote: "My servant. . . in each (case it is used in scripture) it is plainly applied to the sons of men born of human parents. . . the expression cannot possibly be applied to the substance of the Creator himself, as is done by our opponents in their theory of the trinity, according to which, this man was of the substance of the Creator. . .
"For they (the Christians) hold that the whole (G-dhead) is of one substance, but that it is divided into three persons, the father, the son and the spirit, that the son took flesh and came down to the earth: now even granting all of this, which, though it is impossible to speak about, still less to conceive, you nevertheless maintain, how could he describe himself as 'my servant,' i.e. as one who devoted himself to serve 'me,' i.e. to serve himself? since, for a man to be called his own servant is a palpable absurdity. . .
"He shall be high, etc. These words afford likewise an answer to our opponents (the Christians); for they refer exclusively to the future. The prophet says, 'He will be high and exalted, and lofty exceedingly;' and this language clearly cannot be applied to G-d; for how could it be said of Him that, like a mortal man, he will at some future time be high and exalted, as though He had not been so before? Yet if G-d is G-d He is the same in the past as He will be in the future.
"If, now, they (the Christians) say that the word servant denotes the flesh in which He became incarnate in the world. . . but during the whole time that he is reported to have been incarnate (as Jesus), we do not find that exaltation or supremacy ever fell to his lot, even to the day of his death. . ."
Missionary Misuse of Jewish Sources on Isaiah 53, Rashi "changed" the Jewish interpretation from the messiah to Israel
This is an oft repeated missionary claim: the ancient Jewish sources all agreed that the messiah (moshiach ben David) was the subject of Isaiah 53, but that רבי שלמה יצחקי / R' Solomon Isaac aka Rashi (1040 CE - 1105 CE) changed the entire Jewish view of Isaiah 53 from the messiah to Israel as a direct response against Christianity.
Jews for Jesus claims "Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki, 1040-1105) and some of the later rabbis, though, interpreted the passage as referring to Israel. They knew that the older interpretations referred it to Messiah. However, Rashi lived at a time when a degenerate medieval distortion of Christianity was practiced. He wanted to preserve the Jewish people from accepting such a faith and, although his intentions were sincere, other prominent Jewish rabbis and leaders realized the inconsistencies of Rashi's interpretation."
This is a very interesting claim given that there is source after source after source pre-dating Rashi by nearly 1000 years which state the exact opposite of this missionary statement -- made (you will note) as if it is a factual statement and not their opinion.
In 248 CE -- 792 years before the birth of Rashi -- early church father Ὠριγένης / Origen (184 CE - 284 CE) wrote that ancient Christians knew that the literal meaning by Jews was that the servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people. “bore reference to the whole [Jewish] people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nations.” Origen, 248 C.E., Contra Celsum.
So much for the missionary claim that "the older interpretations" (of Isaiah 53) referred it to Messiah."
Did Origen miss the missionary message?
If Rashi did not invent the idea that the servant in Isaiah was Israel, why do so many missionaries claim that he did?
It all goes back to that 19th century book written by the missionary E.B. Pusey The idea that Jews USED to say that Isaiah 52-53 was about the messiah but "changed" it to the nation of Israel because of the threat of Christianity during the time of Rashi (12th century CE) -- as mentioned even on Jews for Jesus as quoted above -- popped up in the 19th century thanks to the book The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters by Driver and Neubauer.
Missionaries so often just repeat a claim made by other missionaries. Isn't it interesting that the quote in the previous post (about Midrash Tanchuma) appears in so many missionary locations? It might add credibility to the missionaries if they chose differing quotations -- but they all parrot the same misuses!
Aside from the Christian Origen (2nd century CE) do we have any other proofs that the Jewish sages noted that the servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish nation?
Of course we do.
The missionaries reference Targum Yonatan (Jonathan) to prove that ancient Jews spoke of the messiah in Isaiah 53 and reference the Targum for proof. Well and good, but the Targum also speaks of the servant as being Israel (the Jewish people) -- something the missionaries never seem to mention! The messiah (in this allegorical story using Isaiah 53 as its "jumping off" point) is an exalted messiah -- not the suffering Jesus concept. Nowhere in Targum Yonatan does it speak of a suffering messiah. It speaks of an EXALTED messiah. The suffering servant in the Targum is Israel -- Jews. There is a blog post on the missionary misuse of Targum Yonatan.
So much for the missionary claim that Rashi "invented" the idea that Isaiah's suffering servant is Israel rather than the messiah. It simply is not true.
We needn't rely on a Christian source or even the Targum Yonatan to show that the primary consensus among Jewish sources is that in the ps'hat (plain meaning) the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people -- there are plenty of other sources pre-dating Rashi which state the same thing.
In the Babylonian Talmud, בְּרָכֹות / Berachot 5a, pre-dating Rashi by at least 500 years, states that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people "If the Holy One, blessed be He, is pleased with Israel or man, He crushes him with painful sufferings. For it is said: And the L-rd was pleased with [him, hence] He crushed him by disease (Isa. 53:10). Now, you might think that this is so even if he did not accept them with love. Therefore it is said: "To see if his soul would offer itself in restitution" (Isa. 53:10). Even as the trespass-offering must be brought by consent, so also the sufferings must be endured with consent. And if he did accept them, what is his reward? "He will see his seed, prolong his days" (Isa. 53:10). And more than that, his knowledge [of the Torah] will endure with him. For it is said: "The purpose of the Lord will prosper in his hand" (Isa. 53:10). It has been taught: R. Simeon b. Yohai says: The Holy One, blessed be He, gave Israel three precious gifts, and all of them were given only through sufferings.. These are: The Torah, the Land of Israel and the World To Come."
Note that Jews for Jesus and the other missionary sources somehow miss this Talmudic quote regarding Isaiah's suffering servant!
A noted scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls and early Christianity in the first century of the common era, Geza Vermes, wrote "Neither the suffering of the messiah, nor his death and resurrection, appear to be part of the faith of first century Judaism." (Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels, page 38). Vermes was a British scholar of Jewish Hungarian roots who became a Catholic priest, and even accumulated many accolades as a Christian scholar while a Roman Catholic priest. Geza Vermes was born a Jew to Hungarian parents who were Jews and were murdered by the Nazis. He was taken in by Catholics (I think nuns) and raised as a Roman Catholic. So, when he, as adult, found out about his heritage, he decided to RETURN to Judaism.
Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu Rabbah (Midrash, so not a literal interpretation), has three citations referencing that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 refers to the righteous of Israel (chapters 6, 13, 27).
Additional sources pre-dating Rashi:
Yalkut Shimoni II 476
Bamidbar Rabbah chapter 13.2
Zohar (numerous places)
Poems by R. Shlomo Ibn Gavriel
Isaiah himself often refers to the Jewish people as G-d's servant. Chapters are a Christian invention -- but even so in chapters 41, 44, 45, 48 and 49 Jacob (another name for the Jewish people) and Israel (another name for the Jewish people) are stated repeatedly to be G-d's servant.
Finally, the missionary argument that early Jewish sources referred to Isaiah's servant as the messiah and we "changed" it is false -- but it is also a straw horse. It is a diversion from the true question at hand, to whit -- can Isaiah 53 possibly be about Jesus? The answer to that question is a resounding "no." Jesus did not live a long life. He did not have children. He was not exalted in life. He did not die multiple deaths. . .
There are Jewish sources who view the servant in Isaiah 53 as the Jewish people, as the messiah, as Moses, as David -- there are many interpretations (most not meant literally). The consensus of Jewish opinion is that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people -- but if it can be applied to others as well it cannot be applied to Jesus -- and that is the question a Christian must ask as they read the T'nach (Jewish bible) for what it truly says -- not what taking a word or sentence out of context forces it to seem to say.
The internet has site after site quoting early Jewish sources who recognize that the suffering servant was the messiah. Perhaps one of the most famous missionary in modern times to misuse these Jewish sources is Michael L. Brown and his multiple "Jewish Objections to Jesus" book sieries. Most of the misquotes and mistranslations stem from a 19th century Christian book entitled The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters.
The only problem is that the various "proofs" given are either mistranslations, taken wholly of of context or 100% made up fiction.
In the next few blog posts I'll address the more commonly given sources including Targum Yonathan (Jonathan), Sanhedrian 98, the Zohar, Sefer Gilgulim, Nachmanides (the Ramban), R' Isaac ben Abraham, Moshe el Sheikh whose real name was Rabbi Moshe Al Sheich and others. This post will focus on the source for most of these distorted quotes as well as the missionary claim that originally Jews USED to say that Isaiah 52-53 was about the messiah but "changed" it to the nation of Israel because of the threat of Christianity during the time of Rashi (12th century CE) popped up in the 19th century.
Most of these quotes and that claim were the brainchild of a Christian named E. B. Pusey. He came up with the idea for a book entitled The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreter 2 vols. (1876-77). This books was authored by Driver and Neubauer, but it was Pusey's idea. The book was the product of a pious Anglican (Pusey), a liberal Anglican Christian who provided the Hebrew translations (Driver) and a non-practicing Jew, Neubauer. Even scholars of the 19th century were unimpressed with this work. The Scottis Orientalist, William Roberson Smith (1846-1894) wrote that "the outcome of the laborious and bulky collection is essentially negative."
Adolf Neubauer was a relatively young man when E.B. Pusey asked him to work on this book with Samuel Driver. He was not yet a teacher at Oxford. His co-author, Samuel Driver, wrote of Neubauer (the Jew) "He did not practice Jewish observances." Adolf Neubauer's education owed more to non-Jewish university studies in Prague and Munich than it did to Jewish sources. As for Samuel Driver, he was the canon of the university's Christ Church.
R' Moshe Shulman wrote an article discussing the bad mistranslations in this source in his article The Lies and Distortions of Driver in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters.
E. B. Pusey wrote a VERY long introduction to this Christian book purporting to give Jewish interpretations of Isaiah 53. This introduction contains many, many errors. Remember, Pusey was an ANGLICAN PRIEST! This is the source that so many Christians point to as a Jewish source! Pusey's image is at the top of this blog -- he is obviously NOT a Jewish source for all that missionaries insist this is a "Jewish source."
Two fellow Oxford men did the translations (Driver and Neubauer). They were very selective (as we will see) on the quotes they gave, and the sources are often mistranslated. Driver was also an Anglican priest. Driver was a was an British churchman and Regius Professor of Hebrew at Christ Church, Oxford. Doesn't sound very Jewish for one claiming to know all about Rabbinical teachings is he?
It gets even better.
The Hebrew Chair at Oxford was attached to a canonry of Christ Church -- so Pusey became an Priest of the Anglican church. THIS is the source quoted by Michael Brown and other Christians as JEWISH!!!!!
Adolf Neubauer was a sub-librarian at Oxford. Neubauer put the book The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters together and Driver translated it into English..
E. B. Pusey (again, a Christian trying to disprove the Jewish interpretation of Isaiah's servant and the man who asked that the book be created) wrote the original introduction to Driver & Neubeur's book. In it he claimed that pre-Rashi Jews said Isaiah 53 was about the messiah but Rashi "changed" the interpretation to say Isaiah 53 was about Israel and not the messiah. Pusey the predecessor to Driver at Oxford as the Regius Professor of Hebrew at Christ Church, Oxford -- so he, too, was a priest.
In Pusey's 35 page introduction he defends the work of Raymond Martini from the 13th century. Raymundus Martin (Raymond Martini) was an anti-Jewish Dominican priest from the 13th century CE. Pugio Fidei (Dagger of the Faith) and Capistrum Judaeorum was an anti-Jewish diatribe he wrote (amongst others).
One error, given here is an example, is that this Christian book purporting to give Jewish sources on Isaiah 53 claims to quote the Jewish source Midrash Tanchuma, but in reality the "quote" is from this anti-semitic 13th century Dominican priest. Neubauer would have eliminated it, but Driver insisted on including it. . .
Neubauer DID NOT want to include the passages that appear from Martini as they are forgeries. However Pusey insisted that they appear (as he states in his introduction) and so there now appears a text that is claimed to come from the Talmud Sanhedrin, which disagrees with all texts of Sanhedrin, and is IN FACT taken from Martini.
The preface of the missionary book discusses the issues around Raymond Martin. “Either Martini was what he has hitherto been accounted, an able and laborious and conscientious man with vast resources at his command, which have since been lost, or he was a forger, a liar and a hypocrite. . .” Many of Martin’s supposed “Jewish sources” are non-existent – so the latter seems more likely than the former.
Read the introduction to The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreter and you will see that Neubauer DID NOT want to include the passages that appear from Martini as he knew they were forgeries. However Pusey insisted that they appear (as he states in his introduction) and so there now appears a text that is claimed to come from the Talmud Sanhedrin, which disagrees with all texts of Sanhedrin, and is IN FACT taken from Martini.
In other words Pusey wasn't above lying to make his point that the Jews had interpreted Isaiah 53 as being about the messiah. His use of Martini over even Neubauer's objections shows this.
This issue of falsification and distortion is a common one. The Targum Yonathan is quoted for verse 52:13 but not 52:14 or 53:1.
The Zohar (II 212) is quoted in part but NEVER in full where it would contradict what the quoter is trying to prove. The same could be said about the Ramban (who says that the simple meaning of the passage is that it is about Israel) or the Alsheich who mentions the messiah, but says that the messiah he means is King David. etc etc.
This, then, is the source that proves we Jews changed the meaning of the servant from the messiah to Israel. Hardly bullet-proof and yet time and again we must refute it. These supposed Jewish "proofs" now rebound all over the internet.
Although the title of their book speaks of Isaiah 53, the misquotes often ignore that chapter, and often Isaiah itself, to glean misquotes and distortions from various sources. The internet has site after site "quoting" early Jewish sources who recognize that the suffering servant was the messiah. The only problem is that this is not the truth.
1. Isaiah clearly identifies the servant as Israel (there are no chapters in the original document).
2. An early church father, Origen, in 248 CE, speaks of Jews telling him the servant was Israel and not the messiah.
3. Pusey's 19th century book states we Jews changed it from the messiah to Israel with Rashi, circa 12th century CE yet many of the quotes he uses as proof are dated long after Rashi as late as the 16th century CE.
4. The book throws in quotes from midrash aggadah, zohar and targum as if they were pshat (plain meaning) without educating the reader to the mysticism, allegory and story telling inherent in the different formats.
5. Apologists will quote a sentence where a source speaks of a messiah without stating they have also identified the servant as Israel (or Moses or someone else) and ignoring the messiah in question is moshiach ben Yosef not David. Nowhere do they explain who moshiach ben Yosef IS.
6. The book quotes Karaites as Jewish sources. Karaites are about as representative of Judaism as Mormons are of mainstream Christianity. Karaites do not follow the oral law. Yet nowhere does the book identify for the reader that Karaites do not follow Jewish teaching.
This whole idea that the Rabbis “changed” their interpretation to Israel as the servant in Isaiah 53 from the messiah is disproved by a quote from a very famous Christian indeed. Origen was a famous church father of circa 235 C.E. He is quoted as saying in his book Contra Celsus Book 1 Chapter 55:
"Now I remember that, on one occasion, at a disputation held with certain Jews, who were reckoned wise men, I quoted these prophecies (Isaiah 53); to which my Jewish opponent replied, that these predictions bore reference to the whole people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nations."
So, no, Rashi, who lived in the 11th century CE -- some 900 years after Origen -- did not "invent" the idea that the suffering servant is the Jewish nation.
So this book, written by Christian clergymen NOT Jews, is playing fast and loose with the facts.
Tomorrow I will begin discussing some of the references given by Driver and Neubauer and put them in context.
Sophiee Saguy has been countering false missionary claims about Judaism and the T'nach (Jewish bible) for nearly twenty years. You may find her on FaceBook and at the Messiah Truth forum.