One source usually referenced is תרגום יונתן / Targum Yonatan (Jonathan).
Missionaries will say that the Targum is a translation of parts of the bible (in this case נְבִיאִים / Nevi'im / Prophets) into Aramaic.
This is incorrect. A Targum / תרגום paraphrases and expands on the biblical text -- it is more interpretative and explanation than translation -- more midrash (homily and allegory) than p'shat (literal meaning). This fact becomes important as we discuss the misuse of this Targum by missionaries.
Once again we have missionaries presenting allegory as if it were literal.
The misleading quote missionaries use is "Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong: as the house of Israel looked to him through many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men" and then they comment "The early targums by Jonathan ben Uzziel show that he clearly believed in a suffering Messiah."
Thus the missionary is presenting this quote from the Targum as ‘proof’ that the ancient Rabbis believed that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 was the messiah.
It certainly seems that way given that the word "messiah" is used in the missionary quote, but again one must read the Targum itself and read it IN CONTEXT to understand that:
Missionaries presenting the single quote mislead their followers into thinking that "The early targums by Jonathan ben Uzziel show that he clearly believed in a suffering Messiah."
Also, the Targum never speaks of the messiah as a suffering messiah.
There is no concept of a suffering messiah in Judaism.
The Targum speaks of an EXALTED messiah.
Many missionaries equate the word "messiah" only with Jesus, as if he were the only messiah to ever live.
מָשִׁיחַ (moshiach / messiah) is the Hebrew word which is used thirty nine times in the T'nach to describe various people. They are all normal human beings. Aaron, Moses' brother, was a messiah. Kings David and Solomon were messiahs. They were all humans born of human mothers and fathers. When Jews speak of "the" messiah they refer to a king promised in the T'nach (bible) who will also be human and a descendant of King Solomon and the tribe of Judah.
Thus when the word "messiah" is used in the T'nach (bible) or in various Jewish sources one must first ask "which messiah is being spoken about?" In the Targum it does appear to be "the" messiah (moshiach ben David) -- as an exalted messiah, not a suffering messiah. Targum Yonathan speaks of an exalted messiah and a suffering Israel. Pay attention to the use of singular versus plural in the Targum.
To summarize: the Targum Yonatan is not a translation from Hebrew into Aramaic of Isaiah (and the other prophets). It is a midrashic, interpretive work. In Isaiah 53 the Targum sometimes refers to the suffering servant as the Jewish people (Isaiah 52:14, 53:2, 53:6, 53:8, etc.) and sometimes the nations (Isaiah 53:3, 53:4, 53:7, 53:9, etc.) and at times the exalted messiah (Isaiah 52:13, 52:15, 53:4, 53:12, etc.).
The missionary quote from the Targum also includes the phrase "who was bruised for our sins" -- but that is not actually in the Targum -- the missionaries added it.
The Targum is an interpretive rehashing in Aramaic of נְבִיאִים / Nevi'im aka Prophets. It speaks of Israel as suffering and the messiah as exalted and triumphant. Not exactly what the apologists say is it?
Comparing a translation of the Targum of Isaiah 53 with the Hebrew (or an English translation) and it is clear that the Targum is not translation at all. Below is the Artscroll Stone Edition translation of Isaiah 53 compared to an English translation of the Targum.
52:13 Behold, My servant will succeed; he will be exalted and become high and exceedingly lofty.
52:13. Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong:
52:14 Just as multitudes were astonished over you (saying) "His appearance is too marred to be a man's, and his visage to be human,
52:14. the house of Israel looked to him during many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men,
52:15 so will the many nations exclaim about him, and kings will shut their mouths (in amazement) for they will see that which had never been told to them, and will perceive things they had never heard.
52:15. so will he scatter many peoples; kings will be silent towards him, and put their hands upon their mouth, because they have seen that which was not told them, and they have observed that which they had not heard.
53:1 Who would believe what we have heard! For whom has the arm of HaShem been revealed?
53:1. Who believed this our glad tidings, that the strength of the mighty arm of the L-rd is upon him.
53:2 Formerly he grew like a sapling or like the root from arid ground; he had neither form nor grandeur; we saw him, but without such visage that we could desire him.
53:2. The righteous will grow up before him like blooming shoots, and like a tree which sends forth its roots to streams of water will they increase - a holy generation in the land that was in need of him; his countenance no profane countenance, and the terror at him not the terror at an ordinary man; his complexion shall be a holy complexion, and all who see him will look wistfully upon him.
53:3 He was despised and isolated from men, a man of pains and accustomed to illness. As one from whom we would hide our faces; he was despise nad we had no regard for him.
53:3. Then he will become despised, and will cut off the glory of all the kingdoms; they will be prostrate and mourning, like a man of pains and like one destined for sicknesses; and as though the presence of the spirit had been withdrawn from us, they will be despised, and esteemed not.
53:4 But in truth it was our ills that he bore, and our pains that he carried -- but we had regarded him diseased, stricken by G-d and afflicted!
53:4. Then he shall pray for on behalf of our transgressions, and our iniquities shall be pardoned for his sake, although we were accounted stricken, smitten from before the L-rd, and afflicted.
53:5 He was pained because of our rebellious sins and oppressed through our iniquities; the chastisement upon him was for our benefit, and through his wounds we were healed.
53:5. But he will build up the Holy Place, which has been polluted for our sins, and delivered to the enemy for our iniquities; and by his teaching shall his peace be multiplied and by our devotion to his words, our transgressions will be forgiven us.
53:6 We have all strayed like sheep each of us turning his own way and HaShem inflicted upon him the iniquity of us all.
53:6. All we like sheep had been scattered, we had each wandered off on his own way; but it was the L-rd's good pleasure to forgive the sins of all of us for his sake.
53:7 He was persecuted and afflicted but did not open his mouth; like a sheep being led to the slaughter or a ewe that is silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth.
53:7. He prayed, and he was answered, and ere even he had opened his mouth he was accepted; the mighty of the peoples he will deliver up like a sheep to the slaughter and like a lamb dumb before her shearers; there shall be none before him opening his mouth or saying a word.
53:8 Now that he has been released from captivity and judgment who could have imagined such a generation? For he had been removed from the land of the living, an affliction upon them that was my people's sin.
53:8. Out of chastisements and punishment he will bring our captives near; the wondrous things done to us in his days who shall be able to tell? For he will cause the dominion of the Gentiles to pass away from the land of Israel and transfer to them the sins which my people have committed.
53:9 He submitted himself to his grave like wicked men; and the wealthy (submitted) to his executions for committing no crime and with no deceit in his mouth.
53:9. He will deliver the wicked into the grave, and those that are rich in possessions into the death of utter destruction, in order that those who commit sin may not be established, nor speak deceits with their mouth.
53:10 HaShem desired to oppress him and He afflicted him; if his soul would acknowledge guilt he would see offspring and live long days and the desire or HaShem would succeed in his hand.
53:10. But it is the L-rd's good pleasure to try and to purify the remnant of his people, so as to cleanse their souls from sin; these shall look on the Kingdom of their messiah, their sons and their daughters shall be multiplied, they shall prolong their days, and those who perform the Law of the L-rd shall prosper in his good pleasure.
53:11 He would see (the purpose) and be satisfied with his soul's distress. With his knowledge My servant will vindicate the Righteous One to multitudes; it is their iniquities that he will carry.
53:11. From the subjection of the nation he will deliver their souls, they shall look upon the punishment of those that hate them, and be satisfied with the spoil of their kings; by his wisdom he will hold the guiltless free from guilt, in order to bring many into subjection to the law; and for their sins he will intercede.
53:12 Therefore, I will assign him a portion from the multitudes and he will divide the mighty as spoils -- in return for having poured out his soul for death and being counted among the wicked, for he bore the sin of the multitudes, and prayed for the wicked.
53:12. Then will I divide for him the spoil of many peoples, and the possessions of strong cities shall he divide as prey, because he delivered up his soul to death, and made the rebellious subject to the Law: he shall intercede for many sins, and the rebellious for his sake shall be forgiven.
The missionary ploy in referencing Jewish sources is to say that there are Jews who "see" the messiah in Isaiah 53. That is the wrong question -- throughout the ages many Jewish sources have applied the servant in Isaiah to many Jews including Moses, King David (who was a messiah), and the messiah himself using allegory and homily. The issue for a missionary should be: can Isaiah 53 possible fit Jesus? Not too long ago I wrote a blog post entitled "Can Isaiah 53 be about Jesus?" The answer to that question is "no" and I recommend reading that blog post for more details.
The mere fact that the Targum mentions the messiah does not "prove" the missionary assertion that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the messiah -- indeed the Targum rejects that claim. The Targum teaches that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the nation of Israel (the Jewish people), as Judaism teaches. The mentions of the messiah in the Targum speak of the triumphant, exalted messiah who will eventually redeem Israel and the world.
The Targum does not support the missionary claim that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the messiah.
There is nothing in the Targum that even remotely is connected with the Christian theology about a Messiah who dies for the sins of the world. The missionaries misuse the Targum by selectively quoting it to leave their followers with an erroneous conclusion.
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.
There are missionaries who tout early Greek translations of the T'nach (Jewish bible) as superior to the Hebrew. How one can insist that a translation of anything is superior to original is mind boggling -- would a Russian translation of Shakespear's Hamlet ("To be or not to be, that is the question?") as "to be alive or dead -- which is better" -- it "loses something in the translation" is an understatement!
Most missionaries who make this claim are woefully ignorant of Hebrew. I have read some of them saying the Septuagint (the name given to ancient Greek translations of the Jewish bible) is superior because it is "1000 years older than the Masoretic Text."
The thought "well, duh" comes to mind.
The Masoretic Text is NOT the Hebrew from ancient times -- the Masoretic text is not the oldest Hebrew we have either! What is the Masoretic text?
Hebrew is written only with consonants (there are no vowels). Think of how hard it would be to read English if words were written without vowels. Cn y rd ths sntnc (can you read this sentence)?
For learned Jews this is not a problem, as the vowel sounds are obvious in context. When it comes to the bible, we've been reading it for thousands of years without written vowels -- and if you ever attend a Synagogue where the Torah is read you will note if a reader "stumbles" on pronouncing a word many voices will correct him. . . everyone KNOWS the Torah!
There are lesser educated Jews, though -- and in the Diaspora (exile) Hebrew was used primarily in prayer and not in every day use. The Masoretes came up with their vowel notation method between the 8th and 12th centuries CE.
The oldest versions of the T'nach are in Hebrew, and one can only speculate as to why missioanries insist on referencing the Masoretic Text (MT) - ignorance of Hebrew is the most likely answer. . .
The LXX (Septuagint) was a translation ONLY of the תּוֹרָה / Torah / Five Books of Moses / Pentateuch (not נְבִיאִים / Nevi'im / Prophets and כְּתוּבִים / Ketuvim / Writings) were not part of the original Septuagint -- so the missionaries who tout the "Septuagint" reference Psalms or Isaiah -- and apparently are ignorant that they were not found in the Septuagint at all (since they are not in the Torah).
What is today called the Septuagint (which is the entire Jewish bible in Greek) are translations into Greek from persons unknown at times unknown. There was no quality assurance and as a result they became heavily corrupted over time. By the 5th century the Christians gave up on the LXX / Septuagint because it was so corrupt -- so why people now are debating this is really interesting. The term "self-serving" comes to mind. Origen, an early church father (died 232 CE) tried to piece together a decent translation by putting 6 different versions side by side (called the Hexapla). Here is what HE says about how bad the Septuagint had become "we are forthwith to reject as spurious the copies in use in our Churches, and enjoin the brotherhood to put away the sacred books current among them, and to coax the Jews, and persuade them to give us copies which shall be untampered with, and free from forgery." Origen, A Letter from Origen to Africanus, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 4.
There is also St. Jerome (early 5th century) who decided to re-translate from the Hebrew rather than rely on the Septuagint saying: "I was stimulated to undertake the task by the zeal of Origen, who blended (the Septuagint) with the old edition Theodotions translation."
Many of the "pro-Septuagint" missionaries are also "King James" translation enthusiasts. Yet the translators of the KJV (King James) also noted that the Septuagint (Greek translation) was corrupt. In the preface to the original KJV they wrote: "It is certain, that that Translation (e.g., the Septuagint) was not so sound and so perfect, but it needed in many places correction . . . . . the Translation of the Seventy (the Septuagint / LXX) was allowed to pass for current. Notwithstanding, though it was commended generally, yet it did not fully content the learned, no not of the Jews. For not long after (Jesus), Aquila fell in hand with a new Translation, and after him Theodotion, and after him Symmachus; yea, there was a fifth and a sixth edition, the Authors whereof were not known."
The Torah (Five Books of Moses) has very extensive rules around how it is written. A sopher (scribe) who writes a Torah must follow these rules. A Torah is prepared today exactly as it was in the days of Isaiah, David and Moses himself. The 'nach (Prophets and Writings) was codified by the Men of the Great Assembly between 410 BCE and 310 BCE. This is about 1000 years before the first Masoretes. All the Masoretes did (I say "all" but they did wonderful things to bring the oral tradition to written form) was add the vowel notations to make it easier for those less learned to read the text.
These same missionaries will claim that most of the Dead Sea Scrolls (ancient Hebrew copies of most of the bible which are 2000 years old (some more, some less) agree more with the Greek translations. This is false. In Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls by world reknowned scroll expert Lawrence H. Schiffman he writes that "60% Proto-Masoretic texts, 20% Qumran style manuscripts, 10% Nonaligned texts, 5% Proto-Samaritan texts, and 5% Septuagintal type texts. Further more, the Qumran style manuscripts have their bases in the proto-Masoretic texts. The Masoretic type texts were dominant in the time of the Hasmonean period (about 160 B.C.E.)."
These "Septuagint is superior" folks will state that the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) agree with the Septuagint (LXX) more often than the Hebrew. This is also untrue. First of all only 5% documents found at Qumran (DSS) were Greek versions of the Jewish bible.
Of those 5% no one knows who made those translations or when -- or why. . . . we do know that there were multiple translators / translations and that the Christians maintained them (poorly, as they themselves admit).
Consider 4QJer.b which is the Book of Jeremiah in Greek from Qumran (the DSS) but it is missing large parts of the book. The DSS Jeremiah is missing 2700 words that are in the Jewish (Hebrew) bible. Speaking of Jeremiah in the Septuagint: "the Greek text itself is uneven, an unevenness which in the past has led scholars to posit that the two parts of the LXX (Septuagint) (1-28 and 29-51) were prepared by two different translators. Recently it has been proposed, with persuasive arguments, that the second half of the Greek translation is a revision of an earlier translation, the so-called Old Greek text, the latter having survived only in the first half of the text of the LXX." [Craige, Kelley, & Drinkard, WBC].
Sticking with Jeremiah, Jeremiah 23.7-8 comes after 23.40 in the Septuagint (so some copiest "moved" it). Anyone considering the Septuagint as reliable is deluding himself (or herself).
There are scroll fragments from Masada (contemporary with the DSS) and from Wadi Murabit (early 2nd C. CE) that are even closer to the Masoretic Text (MT) -- Hebrew albeit without the MT vowel notations. These ancient Hebrew versions are virtually identical to the Hebrew we have today; thus, proving the antiquity of the MT.
Do not let the Dead Sea Scrolls sidetrack you -- much of what was found was in Qumran was stored in a "graveyard." Just because they are old does not mean they are "better." Jews bury holy writings when they have errors or can no longer be maintained accurately. Thus finding an ancient Hebrew document which was buried or hidden may mean it was put away for the very reason that someone made a mistake in writing it (or it was irrepairable due to age). . . Still, most of the DSS supports the Hebrew versions, not the Greek versions / Septuagint - this includes the Great Isaiah Scroll which is one of the seven original DSS recovered by Bedouin shepherds in 1947. The scroll is written in Hebrew and contains the entire Book of Isaiah from beginning to end, apart from a few small damaged portions.
Not to mention that a Greek translation (however old) is STILL a translation! Why would Jews be relying on a translation versus the original Hebrew (and Aramaic)? Would you consider a translation of Shakespeare to be comparable to the original in English? Then why consider a Greek translation that is known to have insertions and forgeries as well as copious other errors to be a viable alternative?
Which brings up another point -- many of these "Greek is superior" folks will say that most Jews were speaking Greek, not Hebrew, 2000 years ago. This is also false. Schiffman makes that statement (above), but so did the famous Jewish historian, Josephus, who lived in those times (2000 years ago). Josephus was born in Jerusalem, he was a priest who worked in the Temple. He was also a General, who surrendered to the Romans and became a favorite of the Roman elite. Josephus is most famous for his histories of the Jews. He wrote: "….I have also taken a great deal of pains to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language, although I have so long accustomed myself to speak our own tongue (Hebrew), that I cannot pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness; for our nation does not encourage those that learn the languages of many nations. . ." Antiquities of the Jews 20:11:2.
Repeat that to those who insist that the Jews spoke Greek and not Hebrew. According to Josephus he had trouble learning Greek. Why? Because the Jews do not encourage learning other languages including Greek!
From the horse's mouth! The scholarly Encyclopedia Judaica wrote of what is today called the Septuagint:
"what we term the Septuagint is in fact an almost accidental gathering together of texts from diverse sources. . .scholars are struck by the very different ways in which translators approached their Hebrew. . . .We cannot even be sure of exactly what the LXX (Septuagint) "canon" contained. . .
For the most part, our earliest texts for this Greek material derive from codices (manuscripts in book form, rather than scrolls) from the third and fourth centuries C.E.; in particular, Codex Vaticanus, Codex Alexandrinus, and Codex Sinaiticus. The codices are uncials (that is, written in all capital letters) from important Christian scriptoria; therefore, they contain the LXX as part of their "Bible" (the New Testament completes it for them). . .it is certain that all sorts of scribal changes led to many differences, some substantial, between what the codices contain and what the earliest Greek (or Old Greek) read. . .
A reasoned and important conclusion from an analysis of all of this material is that what we term the Septuagint is in fact an almost accidental gathering together of texts from diverse sources.
. . . we simply do not know why translators treated their material as they did or why one Greek version of a book was chosen over another (when competing versions were available)."
Some mistranslations are innocent -- and others appear self-serving.
Nowhere in Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53 is there a mention of sin -- yet various Christian translations use that word, perhaps because so many want to believe that Jesus was without sin, and yet a sin sacrifice and use this famous passage to support that belief.
They are being lied to, plain and simple.
Consider Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:5 in the following Christian translations:
"He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed." NET Bible.
"But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed." Douay-Rheims Bible.
"He was wounded for our rebellious acts. He was crushed for our sins. He was punished so that we could have peace, and we received healing from his wounds." G-d's Word Translation.
Yet the word for "sin" does not appear in this verse.
The Hebrew is מֵעֲוֹנֹתֵ֑ינוּ (for our impulsive, lustful wrongdoings). Most Christian translations choose the word "iniquity" here, and that is more honest than the translations above. An avon / עוון / transgression is when a person does whatever he wants, but not to anger G‑d. The sinner is intent on enjoying forbidden things he desires -- he knows it is wrong but does it any way. . . Thus an avon is worse than "sin."
The Hebrew word translated as “sin” is חֵטְא / cheit -- a mistake (a missing of the mark). You tried to do the right thing (it wasn't willful or knowingly doing something wrong). "Sin” is a חֵטְא / cheit -- an unintentional sin through carelessness — a “missing of the mark."
Making mistakes (trying to do the right thing and missing aka sin) is all about learning from your mistakes and making up for them via apology, repayment, etc. G-d tells Cain way back in B'reshit / Genesis 4 that he can over come sin (this is "after" Adam and Chava (Eve) sinned, so OOPS there goes the idea of "original sin").
An avon / עוון is not a mistake (it is more serious than sin) -- it is a knowing violation of the rule of law -- the commission of a crime from an impulsive (think lustful) action.
Translating avon / עוון as "sin" is not only incorrect -- it has to be intentional as the words are not at all similar.
Note, too, that most Christian translations of verse five say: "he was pierced for our transgressions" NIV.
The Hebrew word translated as "pierced" is מְחֹלָ֣ל. It is conjugated in a singular 3rd-person masculine passive verb form commonly translated as "he was wounded". A similar term, - m'holelet, conjugated in a singular 3rd-person feminine active verb form is found in Isaiah 51:9. It is commonly translated as "[she] wounded." Pierced is a stretch -- but the general meaning has to do with being wounded by a sword, so pierced is a possible, but not a preferred, translation.
Far more misleading is "he was crushed for our iniquities" NIV.
The verse does not say, “He was wounded for our transgressions and iniquities -- which might lead a reader to "he died FOR my sins." The proper translation is “He was wounded because of our transgressions, and crushed because of our iniquities.” The servant is suffering because of the evil done by others, not "for" them as an act of vicarious atonement. Hebrew uses prepositional prefix-letters ב (b), כ (k), ל (l) and מ (m) to convey prepositions. In this passage the preposition is a מ (mem) in the word מִפְּשָׁעֵנוּ mip'sha'énu. It is never translated as “for” which would incorrectly indicate a vicarious atonement.
There are additional places in Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53 where many Christian translations use the word "sin" although it does not appear in the text.
"All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left G-d's paths to follow our own. Yet the L-RD laid on him the sins of us all." New Living Translation, Isaiah 53:6.
Again, the word in verse 6 is עֲוֹ֥ן / avon (iniquity / impulsive wrongdoing) -- not חֵטְא / cheit (sin). The sentence itself (that G-d laid on him the sins of us all) infers vicarious atonement (e.g., Jesus dying for your sins) -- and it is yet another mistranslation. The verse actually says "We all went astray like sheep, we have turned, each one on his way, and the L-rd accepted his prayers for the iniquity of all of us."
The fact that prayers can atone for iniquity does not "fit" the Christian concept that Jesus has to die for your sins, ergo the passage is mistranslated.
Want proof? The verb לִפְגֹּֽעַ literally means “to encounter” or “to come across by chance”, but it can also mean “to beg”, “to plead [with]”or “to pray [to]”. It takes an indirect object governed by the preposition ב־ (compare the usage in B'réshıt / Genesis 28:11 and Y'rmyahu / Jeremiah 7:16). The word בּוֹ literally means “in him”, “with him”, “through him” (or, in the context of Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53, “in them”, “with them”, “through them”) etc, and the meaning of וַיְיָ הִפְגִּֽיעַ בּוֹ אֵת עֲוֺן כֻּלָּֽנוּ in verse 6 is “We all went astray like sheep, we have turned, each one on his way, and the L-rd accepted his prayers for the iniquity of all of us." See also Rashi's commentary.
Some Christian translations use the word "sin" in association with sacrifices in Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:10.
This is perhaps the worst of the misuse of the term "sin" in all of Isaiah 53 as the word "sin" does not appear, let alone a sin sacrifice. Yet the NIV has: "the L-RD makes his life an offering for sin." and the KJV has "thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin."
This is translated to say that the servant is a SACRIFICE -- an offering for sin. This is totally unbiblical and a terrible distortion. Yet again the word for sin does not appear in the text at all.
The word mistranslated as "sin offering" is אָשָׁם֙ / asham. An אָשָׁם֙ / asham is not a "sin offering." The various sacrifices are discussed in the book of Vaykira / Leviticus. A sin sacrifice is the חַטָּאת / chatat was for a missing of the mark (you tried to do good but missed). It is discussed in Vayikra / Leviticus 4.
Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:10 does not speak of the sin sacrifice at all. The word which is used is אָשָׁם / asham.
The word אָשָׁם / asham can be translated as "guilt" (as in you are guilty of something) or to speak of the guilt sacrifice. It is quite clear from the context of that the use of in this verse means "guilt" and not "guilt sacrifice."
How can we be so certain that Isaiah is not speaking of the guilt sacrifice? Because there are only a few violations that one could bring a guilt sacrifice to atone. None of them "fit" the suffering servant. An avon/ עוון (unless it falls under the אָשָׁם תָּלוּי / asham talui or or אָשָׁם גְּזֵל֣וֹת / asham g'zelot) cannot be rectified with a qorban (sacrifice). So what are these two sacrifices which can be brought for an avon/ עוון? They are discussed in Vayikra / Leviticus chapter 5.
Those were the only two types of Avon / עוון (translated by Christians as iniquity) which a person could bring a sacrifice for (an asham / guilt sacrifice). Any other type of Avon / עוון must be atoned for with other actions including charity, prayer, repentance.
Knowing this take a look at the use of the word אָשָׁם / asham in Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:10. "G-d desired to oppress him and He afflicted him. If his soul would acknowledge guilt, he would see offspring and live long days, and G-d’s purpose would succeed in his hand."
One may now understand why Christian translations have either "offering for sin" or "guilt sacrifice" instead of the proper translation that the servant must admit his own guilt to have the reward of having children and living a long life.
Jesus did not admit guilt.
Jesus did not have children.
Jesus did not live a long life.
Read about the אָשָׁם / asham for yourself. Check the passage and see that the word used is in fact אָשָׁם / asham and not "sin." Look up the אָשָׁם / asham sacrifices for yourself and see if any of them fit the concept most Christians have about "sin" or Jesus atoning for sin. . .
In other words, folks, use this blog as a starting point. Do your own research.
If so many errors, so many seemingly on purpose and self-serving to make this passage seem to "fit" Jesus, in Isaiah 53 are apparent, how many more passages are being used to mislead innocent Christians seeking G-d into a form of idolatry worshiping a man as G-d?
Translation is not an exact science, even when translating between two languages that are similar one to the other. Hebrew is not similar to Greek or English -- or indeed to any other language, with the possible exceptions of Aramaic and, to a lesser degree, Arabic.
Few words of any language have one and only one sense (or meaning) - most words in most languages have several different meanings. For example, the Hebrew word רֹאשׁ / rosh means head, but it can also mean top, and it can also mean the most important part of something. Rosh is often mistranslated as "new" (leading to the mistranslation of "new year" for רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה / Rosh HaShanah -- literally translated as "head of the year" not "new year").
This variance in different languages makes translating the T'nach (Jewish bible) from Hebrew into English more art than science as a translator must choose the meaning of a Hebrew word, which may itself have multiple meanings, with an English word which also may have multiple meanings and not be a "perfect" match to the Hebrew.
A good example of this is the Hebrew word יוֹם / yom which is often translated as "day." This causes many missionaries (particularly evangelical missionaries) to insist that B'reshit / Genesis must be speaking of a 24 hour "day" in the creation chapter. However, the word יוֹם / yom can have different meanings other than a 24 hour day. The precise meaning of יוֹם / yom in the T'nach has 4 meanings depending on the context.
There is an additional issue when considering English translations. In English some words have changed meaning over time. This issue is also true of Greek words which were used in early translations of the T'nach into Greek.
A word chosen in translation 1800 years ago may mean something different than the word means today.
Consider the argument that the word in Y’shayahu / Isaiah 7:14 means “virgin” when it does not – it more properly translates to “young woman” and does not even suggest virginity or a lack of virginity. The Greek translations of 2000+ years ago (translators unknown, but maintained by Christians) chose the Greek word παρθένος / parthenos.
Today the Koine Greek word παρθένος / parthenos is usually translated as virgin – and thus many a missionary will argue that the word in Y’shayahu / Isaiah 7:14 must be “virgin” (this is complicated by the fact that the Christian bible uses this passage as the “prophecy” that Jesus will be a virgin birth). Yet, 2800 years ago παρθένος / parthenos did not mean virgin. The ancient Greek poet Ὅμηρος / Homer (1200 - 800 BCE) wrote in his Iliad. 2.512-515 that a 'parthenos' gave birth ('teken') to two children: “Ascalaphus and Ialmenus, sons of Mars, led the people that dwelt in Aspledon and Orchomenus the realm of Minyas. Astyoche, a noble maiden (parthenos), bore them in the house of Actor son of Azeus; for she had gone with Mars secretly into an upper chamber, and he had lain with her.”
The ancient Greek translation of B’reshit / Genesis 34:3 states that Dinah is a "parthenos" after her rape by Sh'chem – obviously after rape Dinah was no longer a virgin.
In the misuse of παρθένος / parthenos as "virgin" rather than "young woman" the English translators may well have been innocent. It seems that the word παρθένος / parthenos came to mean "virgin" over time. . . . but originally it did not mean virgin. The Hebrew in Y’shayahu / Isaiah 7:14 is הָעַלְמָה (the young woman). Jews have been trying to correct this Christian mistake for nearly as long as Christianity has existed! Indeed, Justin Martyr (100 CE, so VERY EARLY Christinan) wrote in "Trypho the Jew" that Jews of his era said: "you (Jews) and your teachers venture to affirm that in the prophecy of Isaiah it is not said, 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive,' but, 'Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son."
Missionaries who insist they do not need to learn Hebrew to understand the “bible” are fooling themselves.
Missionaries who fool themselves into thinking that the King James Version (KJV) is "as good" as the original are deluding themselves.
When one relies on translations one is allowing the translator to be interpreter – for that is what a translator must be. . . Whether words in early English translations no longer have the meaning they had in the 17th century when the King James Translation was first completed (and contains the word “unicorn” along with “virgin!), or whether there are mistranslations due to poor choices or even deceitful choices the reader is an innocent victim of the translator.
Since translation is more art than science the trick is in finding the word in the target language which is the closest in meaning to each word in the source language. Modern translators have the added problem that if they want people to buy their translation it must also “match” what people expect to see.
Thus modern translations often use earlier mistranslations, perhaps because readers expect to see them. The “proof” texts are particularly vulnerable to this “borrowing” from earlier translations.
Not all Christian translations of the 20th and 21st centuries are guilty of the same mistranslations – but most are. Take for example Daniel 9:25. The King James Version (KJV) has “the Messiah the Prince.” The KJV puts the definite article "the" in front of the translation they chose for the Hebrew word מָשִֽׁיחַ / (moshiach). They chose to translate מָשִֽׁיחַ / moshiach as "the messiah” in Daniel 9:25 although the Hebrew word for "the" does not appear at all ('ha").
Let me repeat that: “the messiah” does not appear in Daniel 9:25. There is no “the” in front of the word מָשִֽׁיחַ / moshiach / messiah / anointed one.
The KJV also capitalizes the “m” in “messiah” (there are no capital letters in Hebrew), thus making it appear to “fit” Jesus.
Let's discuss the word "messiah" -- how is it used? What does it mean? How often is it found in the T’nach (Jewish bible)?
The term מָשִֽׁיחַ / moshiach is usually used to speak of priests and kings who have already lived – not “the messiah.” It means “anointed one” and is used often to speak of Aaron, Moses’ brother, who was a messiah – an anointed priest. It is found 39 times in the T’nach (Jewish bible).
34 times the usage is as a noun (messiah) and 5 times the usage is as an adjective (smeared with oil).
Yet most Christian translations only use the word “messiah” once or twice (usually in Daniel 9, sometimes in T'hillim / Psalm 2). . .
Isn’t that amazing?
The word appears 39 times in the תַּנַ"ךְ / T'nach (Jewish bible) – yet it is not translated as “messiah” 39 times by the Christian versions.
Knowing now that the King James has altered Daniel 9:25 to say “the Messiah” when it truly says “messiah” (or “anointed one”) – and that the KJV uses the word “messiah” in Daniel 9, but not in the other 37 locations in appears in the T’nach (Jewish bible) one can begin to see how translators are liars (whether they mean to be or not).
Let’s just look at a few Christian translations for Daniel 9:
None of them use the word “messiah” in the other 37 locations (39 in all) the term actually is found in the T’nach (bible). This selective translation (mistranslation?) misleads their innocent readers.
Perhaps you can see why it is impossible to rely on English translations to truly read the T’nach (bible).
Even Jewish translations are not perfect. Since translation is more art than science the trick is in finding the word in the target language which is the closest in meaning to each word in the source language – consider the example I gave early in this post that the Hebrew word רֹאשׁ rosh means head, but it can also mean top, and it can also mean the most important part of something.
Hebrew is often poetic, and some subtle nuances of meaning may well be lost in the translation, while in other instances false meanings may be presented even with the best of translators. Consider the Hebrew verb לִשְׁמֹר li-sh'mor. This verb is normally translated as to guard, but it can also mean to keep, or even to observe or to fulfill (a law).
However the verbs "to observe" and "to fulfill" also have other meanings: "to observe" can also mean to witness or to watch something happening, and "to fulfil" can also mean to bring something to completion - but the Hebrew verb לִשְׁמֹר li-sh'mor cannot have any of these secondary senses. G-d frequently commands us in the Torah to "keep His mitzvot!"
וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם מִצְוֹתַי וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם “keep my commands and do them" (Vayikra / Leviticus 22:31), and לְאַהֲבָה אֶת יְיָ אֱלֹהֶיךָ... וְלִשְׁמֹר מִצְוֹתָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו "(to) love HaShem your G-d... and (to) keep His commands, His inexplicable rules and His judgements..." (D'varim / Deuteronomy 30:16).
Any of the identical verbs mentioned above (keep, observe, fulfill) could be chosen to translate there verses but, if "fulfill" were used, it would have to be made clear that it was not being used in the sense of complete/bring to completion because the Hebrew verb לִשְׁמֹר li-sh'mor cannot mean this. Thus, when Matthew reports (5:17) that Jesus claimed that he had come to "fulfill the Torah and the Prophets" it is misused.
Hopefully this post will encourage some of you to begin to learn Hebrew – but even for those of you who cannot dedicate the time to learn the language, just be aware that you need to double check any translations you might use. All translations have issues – even Jewish translations. Yet, many of the Christian translations, even the modern ones, have “built in” prejudices which can lead the reader in error (Daniel 9 and Isaiah 7 are perfect examples of such mistranslations).
The Judaica Press translation of the T'nach is considered by many to be an excellent translation. It is available online free, with or without the commentary of Rashi -- רבי שלמה יצחקי (R' Shlomo Yitzachi / Solomon Isaac), 11th century CE.
The Living Torah is an excellent translation of the Chumash (Torah and Haftarah) by R' Aryeh Kaplan (Z"L). This is also available free online in English, Spanish and Russian.
The Artscroll Stone Edition T'nach (or Chumash) is available for purchase at the Artscroll website.
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.