Midrash Konen was a small allegorical publication, no earlier than the 11th century and possibly as late as the 16th century, which yet again missionaries take out of context, do not bother to explain to the reader that it is allegorical (and not literal).
Midrash Konen post dates Rashi who supposedly changed the subject of Isaiah 53 from the messiah to Israel (again, someone neglected to give this information to the author of Midrash Konen, which is also known as HaShem be-Ḥokhmah Yasad Areẓ).
This is a very stylized myth -- allegory -- not at all literal. In the midrash G-d takes a name out of the Torah and transforms it into drops of water, light and fire -- the elements He uses to create the world. Let's just read a bit of it, shall we? "The earth is stretched out upon the waters, and the waters on the pillars of hashmal (angels), and the pillars of hashmal (angels) on the Mountains of Hailstones, and the Mountain of Hailstones on the Storehouses of Snow, and the Storehouses of Snow on the Storehouses of Water and Fire, and the Storehouses of Water on the sea, and the sea on the deep, and the deep on chaos and chaos on the void and the void stands upon the sea, and the sea stands upon the sweet waters, and the sweet waters stand on the mountains, and the mountains stand upon the wind, and the wind upon the wings of the storm, and the storm is tied to the heavens, and the heavens are suspended from the arm of the Holy One, blessed be He."
Does that seem literal to you?
This is Jewish mythology, folks, which presents a discussion between a rabbi and angels. This is NOT literal and is not meant to be literal, yet the missionaries will claim that the midrash, referencing Y'shayahu / Isaiah 53:5, tells us that Elijah says: "Bear thou the sufferings and wounds wherewith the Almighty doth chastise thee for Israels sin;" and so it is written, "He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities" until the time when the end should come."
As we've seen before this missionary quote is from the 19th century Christian book The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters by Driver and Neubauer which is discussed in this blog post.
The midrash discusses how all of Israel, including Moshiach ben Yosef, will suffer before the messiah reveals himself. Moshiach ben Yosef (messiah from the house of Joseph) is a soldier who may appear in the day of the messiah -- and he will die in battle. This is not "the" messiah (that is Moshiach ben David, the messiah from the line of King David).
In other words, the midrash states that there will be suffering in the days before the real messiah comes. This suffering will visit all Jewish people (per Midrash Konen). Since the Messiah will be alive at this time, and since the messiah is Jewish, he will also be one of those suffering at that time, (according to these Midrashim).
What does any of that have to do with Isaiah 53 talking about Jesus suffering? What does it have to do with Isaiah 53 being about the messiah suffering even though it isn't "the end of days" or the messianic era?
It has nothing to do with it. Yet again the missionaries have just lifted something out of context to give the erroneous conclusion
Midrash Konen is allegory and it dwells on the last days and speaks of the suffering of ALL of Israel, including moshiach ben Yosef who will be alive in those days. Again, out of context, distorted and totally misunderstood. Not to mention that it is midrash aggadah.
Jews for Jesus also references Eliezer HaKalir in their "Jewish sources" whom they state say that the servant in Isaiah 53 was the messiah. Even Jews for Jesus starts out by remarking that the man was "one of (the) greatest Jewish religious poets."
Poets, by their nature, are POETIC and not literal!
Why are Jews for Jesus and other missionary sources including Michael L. Brown quoting from a פּיּוּטִ / payuut (poem) to "prove" something?
R' Elazar (also known as Eliezer Hakalir) was a Kabbalist - a mystic, a poet. His writings are "drash" -- mystical commentary. That is, by definition it isn't what the passage means in any ordinary sense. So once again we are dealing with Midrash Aggadah allegory. It is NOT meant to be taken at face value. It is homily -- not a literal interpretation that missionaries wish to present to unknowing believers in Jesus as "fact".
R' Elazar was one a very prolific liturgical poets and was the author of many of the kinot / lamentations for Tishah B'Av. How deceitful of Jews for Jesus to quote a poet for "proof" of anything.
Torah.org states "It is certain that R' E' lived before the time of Rashi (died 1105) as Rashi quotes R' E's poems many times in both his Tanach and Talmud commentaries. Some say that the paytan / liturgist was R' Elazar the son of R' Shimon bar Yochai, one of the sages of the Mishnah in the second century. Others contend that he lived in the fifth century and is the R' Eliezer ben R' Shimon who is mentioned in Midrash Rabbah to Vayikra 23:40. Still others identify him as R' Elazar ben Arach, a member of the generation which saw the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash (the Second Temple) in the first century C.E. "
The poem quoted by Jews for Jesus and other missionary websites is the musaf prayer for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). As usual the missionaries are quoting, out of context, a tiny bit of a much larger poem (prayer / payyut). The passage is part of 'Az MeLifnei Beraishit' (Then before the world was created). Read the poem and it is quite clear that none of it is literal. There are four stanzas with each stanza of the piyyut relating to the קדושה / kedusha prayer. In the repetition of the עמידה / Amidah (Standing Prayer) Jews stand to say a special prayer called קדושה / kedusha prayer. This is a sanctification of G-d in which we declare that G-d is One and that He is holy, transcendent beyond anything in creation.
From R' Moshe Shulman's article on this topic is a partial translation of this prayer from the section missionaries selectively quote (and note the parts they do not quote!):
Then before Creation;
The Holy Temple and Yanin were prepared;
An exalted place of prayer from the beginning;
was prepared before there was any people or language.
It was strong for the Shechina to rest there;
Unintentional sinners were shown the upright way;
The wicked whose sins that were red;
were washed and purified to be as they were before.
If He was angry with an anger causing fear;
Holy One do not bring all your anger;
Even if we have continued to steal until this time;
Our Rock will not bring a plague on us.
Our righteous Moshiach (messiah) has been removed from us;
We are beaten and none is here to stand for our righteousness;
Our sins and the yoke of our rebellion are upon him;
He is wounded from our rebellion.
From the earth raise him,
From Seir rise up;
To gather us on Mount Lebanon,
again by the hand of Yanin.
Note that it says the messiah is wounded FROM our rebellion (not "for" -- no one can atone for your sins except you yourself). When read in context the missionary claim is clearly undercut. As R' Shulman wrote in his article: "The simple meaning of this prayer is that we had a Holy Temple for atonement, and now we are in exile, and when Moshiach comes he shall return us to the Holy Temple. (Mount Lebanon) When looking at this passage in full it is somewhat difficult to see what the missionaries are trying to say. Certainly seeing this passage in the context of those before and after, it is hard to see the point they are making."
This payyut is based on the teaching in the Midrash Tanchuma parsha Nasa 11, page 506 in the standard Hebrew edition. There it says: " Teach us, our Rabbi, how many things were created before the Creation of the world?' 'Thus taught our rabbis, "Seven things were created before the world was created. They are: (1) the throne of glory (2) the Torah (3) the Temple (4) the Patriarchs (Abraham Isaac and Jacob) (5) The people Israel (6) the name of the Messiah (7) repentance."
Notice that it is the name of the messiah. Also notice that it is Midrash.
In the Midrash the proof of this pre=existent name is based on the rabbinic interpretation of Psalms 72:17 which literally says: "His name should last forever, may his name last as long as the sun",
This was interpreted as meaning: "His name shall forever endure, before the sun (was made) Yanin was his name."
Remember this is Midrash -- not literal. The Rabbis many times took verses out of context to teach spiritual lessons, this is an example of that. Do not let the missionaries mislead you -- they seem to think that any mention of the messiah = Jesus. This ignores the fact that the real messiah is a Jewish king who will bring world peace and global knowledge of G-d. We do pray that this human king comes speedily and in our days -- as he is, like all of us, a servant of G-d. Many Jewish sources, using homily and allegory, relate the messiah (and King David and Moses and others) to the exalted servant of Isaiah 53 -- but the missionaries mislead their followers into thinking that our teachers relate the messiah to Jesus, and this is totally false.
Jewish commentators state that the section the missionaries love to quote is not about the messiah, but can be attributed to death of the righteous King Josiah or to King Zedekiah -- but yet again it must be emphasized that this is a POEM -- not a literal meaning of the passage in Isaiah 53. This particular poem is found in the מוּסָף musaf ("additional") service of Yom Kippur.
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. . ."
This particluar reference appears on the Jews for Jesus website on their page "The Rabbis Dilema, a Look at Isaiah 53." The dilemma really belongs to the folks at that website because the quote they give never even mentiosn Isaiah 53!
The quote given is "Who art thou, O great mountain?" (Zechariah 4:7) This refers to the King Messiah. And why does he call him the "great mountain?" Because he is greater than the patriarchs, as it is said, "My servant shall be high, and lifted up, and lofty exceedingly." He will be higher than Abraham who said, "I raise high my hand unto the L-rd" (Gen. 14:22), lifted up above Moses, to whom it is said, "Lift it up into thy bosom" (Numbers 11:12), loftier than the ministering angels, of whom it is written, "Their wheels were lofty and terrible" (Ezekiel 1:18). And out of whom does he come forth? Out of David."
Do you see Isaiah 53 mentioned there?
Neither do I.
The quote above comes from Jews for Jesus but the same quote is found in the book "The Real Kosher Jesus" (page 169) and Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus : Volume 2 also by Michael L. Brown (an apostate Jew who is now a Christian minister), ICLNET (a Christian resource), Mark Eastman's "text commentaries" of the Blue Letter Bible -- and since the quote is identical in all places (it is, after all a translation so one might expect some differences!) it all seems to be taken from that 19th century missionary book I mentioned when beginning the task to explore missionary misuse of Rabbinical sources on Isaiah 53. The book is The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters by Driver and Neubauer. I discuss it in this blog post.
Many missionary sites who misuse Jewish sources seem to quote from the same (generally 19th century) missionary sources. The Driver and Neubauer book is an oft used resource as are apostates of questionable expertise. I discussed this issue in the blog post Missionaries misuse Jewish Sources -- let's discuss how.
The reference given is actually to Zechariah 4:7 -- a verse which is not messianic. It says "Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you sink to a plain! He will bring out the stone of the main architect, with shouts of grace, grace to it."
The passage is about Zerubbabel -- but the Midrash uses it as a "jumping off" point to talk about the messiah and the messianic age.
This reference is מדרש תנחומא / Midrash Tanchuma which is primarily a collection of stories and rabbinic homilies, all connected with the Torah (Five Books of Moses), not Nevi'im (Prophets, which contains Isaiah and others). This Midrash is named for Rabbi Tanhuma.
As discussed in earlier blog posts there are two major types of midrash -- midrash halacha (legal discussions - and there is some of this in מדרש תנחומא / Midrash Tanchuma) and midrash aggadah (stories that are NOT literal and should not be used to "prove" anything theologically -- the bulk of this collection). Midrash aggadot are meant to make a moral point -- not to be taken at face value as literal. To understand Midrash I recommend reading "What is a Midrash?"
Midrash aggadah (like Midrash Tanchuma) are stories meant to make a moral point -- they are not literal. Note, also that this quote defintely fits the Jewish concept of the messiah (a very great prophet who will be a descendant of King David) -- but it does not fit Isaiah 53's suffering servant of Jesus as depicted in the Christian bible. Per the Christian bible Jesus was not even a descendant of King David according to Jewish law because Joseph (who was a descendant of David) was not his biological father.
In his article "The Lies and Distortions of Driver in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters" R' Moshe Shulman writes of another missionary misuse of מדרש תנחומא / Midrash Tanchuma: "(this) selection...is claimed to be from the Midrash Tanchuma. This selection itself is controversial as the source for it is NOT from the Midrashim that the Jewish people have, but comes from a work by Father Raymond Martini, Pugio Fidei. Driver (one of the authors of the book) defends his use of this work, even though his co-author Neubauer wished to have it rejected. I would not have mentioned it here because of this disagreement alone (although my rejection of it on those grounds is warranted.)
"The problem is that the translation does not agree with the Hebrew and had he translated it as the Hebrew has it, we would all see that this is a distortion and could not be from the Midrash at all. Here is the translation that we have from Driver: "R. Nahman says. The word ' man ' in the passage, Every man a head of the house of his fathers (Num. i. 4), refers to the Messiah the son of David, as it is written, ' Behold the man whose name is Zemah' (the branch); where Yonathan interprets, Behold the man Messiah (Zech. vi. 12); and so it is said, 'A man of pains' and known to sickness."
"Here is the literal translation from the Hebrew original that appears in that work itself: "R. Nahman says. The word ' man ' in the passage, refers to the Messiah the son of David, as it is written, ' Behold the man whose name is Zemah'; Targum Yonathan this man is the Messiah and so it says, 'A man of pains' and known to sickness."
"There are a number of minor differences in the translation, from what appears in the text, and problems with the text, whose implications are such as to significantly change the meaning:
As far as Driver’s using Yonason and dropping the word ‘Targum’ I do not know why he dropped it, hiding that the text explicitly said it was from the Targum Yonason. It is, however, a clear indication that this text IS NOT from the Tanchuma. The Tanchuma NEVER quotes from the Targum. While it would not have been unusual for the Tanchuma to cite a Rabbi, in that case he would have been referred to as Rabbi Yonason ben Uzziel, as he is in all Rabbinic literature. So in addition to all the other problems, this passage is not just bogus, but Driver seems to have tried to hide the fact that it was."
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.
Many missionary websites claim to present quotes from Jewish sources to claim that the Rabbis and sages support the idea that the messiah is Isaiah '53's suffering servant. These claims are often titled something like: "What the Rabbis say about Isaiah 53" or something similar.
These "Jewish sources" given by missionaries usually boil down to one of four areas:
The first oft referenced "quote" is taken from the Talmud. The missionaries will claim "The Messiah --what is his name?...The Rabbis say, The Leper Scholar, as it is said, `surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of G-d and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b)
This quote is:
The entire discussion in Treatise Sanhedrin is nothing but an academic exercise based on the clever application of various Scriptural verses, but it is not intended to be taken seriously; it can even be seen as mocking the christian obsession with the “name” of their pseudomessiah: for Jews, the messiah's name has never been important—the only thing that matters is whether he succeeds in accomplishing his prescribed list of tasks.
Bottom line is that Sanhedrin 98b is saying that no one knows who the messiah will be, or when he will come let alone what is name might be.
Do the missionaries know anything about the Talmud? Probably not.
Can most missionaries read the Talmud let alone understand how to study it? Definitely not!
Take another look at the small snipped the missionaries quote from Sanhedrin 98b: "The Messiah --what is his name?...The Rabbis say, The Leper Scholar, as it is said, `surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of G-d and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b)
This small portion of the passage mentions the "leper scholar" (the word was not really leprosy -- it related to many skin diseases not just what modern people think of as leprosy). The "leper scholar" was a real Jew and he is mentioned a few times in Talmud. Marguliout HaYom a commentary on the Talmud by Rabbi Reuven Margolious (an Israeli Talmudic scholar and head of the Rambam Library at Tel Aviv University) wrote: “Look at the Jerusalem Talmud Tractate Chagigah chapter 2 Halacha 1. There we see that Rabbi had a special תלמיד /talmid / wise student who taught on the ‘Work of the Chariot’, without the approval of Rabbi, and for that he was stricken with leprosy. This talmid who was stricken was called ‘the leper of the house of Rabbi.’ And they said about him, ‘Surely our diseases he did bear’”
The leper scholar mentioned in the Talmud was a real person, a "wise student." In this passage he is the butt of one of the jokes.
Why? Because of the out of context humours use of the phrase "he will bear our sins."
Leper is the English word chosen by translators for the Hebrew word צרעת / tzara’at. For missionaries wishing to apply this to Jesus they should know that the Hebrew term is not a physical disease (e.g. lepropsy). No, צרעת / tzara’at is spiritual in nature – caused by sin (not a physical cause).
If missionaries think Jesus is "without sin" then he most certainly could not be the "leper scholar" of this passage even though missionary site after missionary site insists that the messiah must "touch a leper (HaDavar website). This is NOT a messianic requirement and these missionaries are clueless as to צרעת / tzara’at and the fact that this is caused by a serious spiritual sin primarily caused by Sinat Chinam – hatred of Jew against Jew without a reason.
So -- is Jesus a sinner, and a bad enough sinner that G-d would punish him with a rotting skin disease brought on only by spiritual failure?
If not, then this passage is not about Jesus.
צרעת / tzara’at can refer to discoloration on garments (Vayikra / Leviticus 13:47-59), homes (Vayikra / Leviticus 14:33-57) and body / skin (Vayikra / Leviticus 13-14). The Talmud lists seven reasons one might be afflicted with the disease: gossip, murder, perjury, forbidden sexual relationships, arrogance, theft, and envy (Arakhin 16a).
If the missionary insists, "no, of course not!" to that list they have just disqualified Jesus from being the "leper scholar."
The leper scholar is a figure in the Talmud who was struck by leprosy for teaching without Rabbi's permission suggests that it would be likely that comparing the leper scholar to the servant in Isaiah 53 was simply a joke. The complete expression is: חִיוְרָא דְבֵּי רַבִּי ḥivra d'bei rabbi / “the leper of the school of Rabbi [Yehuda HaNasi / Judah the Prince]. Translations of Sanhedrin 98b translate this word as “leper."
To see that this passage is in isolation, and that in whole this is a joke making fun of the fact that no one knows the name of the messiah let us read a bit more of the section from Sanhedrin 98b.
"R. Hillel, who maintained that there will be no Messiah for Israel, since they have already enjoyed him during the reign of Hezekiah."
Interesting that the missionaries do not quote THAT portion of the passage! So R' Hillel says the messiah has already come . . . continue
"What is his [the Messiah's] name? — The School of R. Shila said: His name is Shiloh, for it is written, until Shiloh come."
Jesus was not named Shiloh -- ergo this was not met by Jesus either. Again, the missionaries do not quote that bit!
"The School of R. Yannai said: His name is Yinnon, for it is written, His name shall endure for ever e'er the sun was, his name is Yinnon."
Yimon, not Jesus. . . Yet again -- this does NOT fit Jesus. . .
"The School of R. Haninah maintained: His name is Haninah, as it is written, Where I will not give you Haninah."
Yet another name. . .
"Others say: His name is Menahem the son of Hezekiah, for it is written, Because Menahem ['the comforter'], that would relieve my soul."
Jesus was not named Menahem either. . . then
"The Rabbis said: His name is 'the G-d scholar,' as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a G-d, smitten of G-d, and afflicted.
"R. Nahman said: if he [the Messiah] is of those living [to day], it might be one like myself, as it is written, And their nobles shall be of themselves, and their governors shall proceed from the midst of them.
"Rab said: if he is of the living, it would be our holy Master; if of the dead, it would have been Daniel the most desirable man.
"Rab Judah said in Rab's name: The Holy One, blessed be He, will raise up another David for us. as it is written, But they shall serve the L-rd their G-d, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them: not 'I raised up', but 'I will raise up' is said. R. Papa said to Abaye: But it is written, And my servant David shall be their prince [nasi] for ever (e.g., an emperor and a viceroy)."
R' Hillel's position is rejected because various prophets who lived after Hezekiah gave future predictions about the messiah (thus although Hezekiah could not be "the" messiah and R' Hillel was having a joke as he surely knew this). A few of the prophets who lived after Hezekiah were Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Haggai, Malachi to name some.
The fact that the first three schools mentioned presented names for the messiah based on plays on the names of their own teachers also makes it clear that the sages were making a joke -- hey, the messiah is named after ME!
The Talmud (there are actually two Talmuds -- Jerusalem and Babylonian) consists of the מִשְׁנָה / Mishna which was created to be a "cheat sheat" for a learned person -- the writing was kept to a minimum and meant only to serve as a aid to faltering memories who were taught to memorize the oral mitzvot.
The second part of the Talmud are discussions around the Mishna's teachings. These discussions may discuss the finer points of Jewish law (מִדְךְשׁי הֲלָכָה / Midrash Halacha), but there are also stories and humor as well. This מִדְרַשׁ־אַגָּדָה / Midrash Aggadah -- which means telling a story. מִדְרַשׁ־אַגָּדָה / Midrash Aggadah is not prophecy or meant to be taken literally. . . a word or sentence is lifted from the bible to make a moral point. However, prophecy is NEVER based on these flights of fancy. The missionaries are taking story telling -- humor -- and trying to present it as "the rabbis literally meant that the messiah's name is XYZ and that the messiah is Isaiah 53's suffering servant."
This is wrong, and it is deceitful. Whether or not the missionaries misusing this passage realize they are distorting it is open to question. Most of them probably do not know anything about the Talmud or Judaism let alone מִדְרַשׁ־אַגָּדָה / Midrash Aggadah.
This out of context quote, indeed most of the missionary quotes used to claim that Isaiah 53 in Jewish teaching historically was bout the messiah, are false. These claims appear to have stemmed from a 19th century book that 'was the brainchild of a Christian named E. B. Pusey. This book is entitled The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreter 2 vols. (1876-77).
This book was authored by Driver and Neubauer, but it was Pusey's idea.
-The book was the product of a pious Anglican (E. B. Pusey), a liberal Anglican Christian who provided the Hebrew translations (Samuel Driver) and a non-practicing Jew, Adolf 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."
Perhaps this post might explain why Smith had that conclusion.
Although missionaries claim that there are many "prophecies" about Jesus in the T'nach it often seems that Isaiah 53 is often the #1 missionary "go to" proof that Jesus was the messiah.
Traditionally Judaism states that Isaiah 53's suffering servant is the Jewish nation, referred to in the singular. Missionaries try to find any "proof" that some Jew somewhere pointed to Isaiah 53's servant as the messiah (or someone else) as if this "proves" that Jesus was the suffering servant.
We will discuss Isaiah 53 in my other blog, 365 Prophecies, and point out that Jesus did not have a long physical life, did not admit guilt, did not have children, etc. as the servant will. There are also places in Isaiah 53 where the servant is referred to in the plural (which doesn't fit Jesus either).
My intention here is to simply address the missionary contention about Isaiah 53 and what Jewish sources have to say about it. 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.
Go back to early Christianity. An early church father, Origen, in 248 CE, speaks of Jews telling him the servant was Israel and not the messiah.
"Now I remember that, on one occasion, at a disputation held with certain Jews, who were reckoned wise men, I quoted these prophecies; 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." Origen, Contra Celsum, Book 1.Chapter 55.
Most missionaries try to claim that Jews before Rashi (1040 - 1105 CE) said the servant in Isaiah 53 was the messiah and "Rashi changed it to the Jews." How do they explain Origen's quote from the 3rd century CE? How do they explain these sources (all pre-Rashi) which all state that the servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people (Israel):
Eliyahu Rabbah (3 citations)
Yalkut Shimoni II 476
Bamidbar Rabbah chapter 13.2
Zohar (numerous places)
Poems by R. Shlomo Ibn Gavriel
The answers to missionaries trying to prove that Jesus was not (and could not have been) the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 haven’t changed in the 2000 years that Jews have been trying to educate Christians. You can read the same answers (about Isaiah 53 for example) in the Disputation of Barcelona where the Ramban debated a Christian in front of the King of Spain in 1263 CE.
”Friar Paul (the Christian) claimed: “Behold the passage in Isaiah, chapter 53, tells of the death of the messiah and how he was to fall into the hands of his enemies and how he was placed alongside the wicked, as happened to Jesus. Do you believe that this section speaks of the messiah?
(The Ramban) said to him: “In terms of the true meaning of the section, it speaks only of the people of Israel, which the prophets regularly call ‘Israel My servant’ or ‘Jacob My servant.’ ”
Friar Paul said: “I shall prove from the words of your sages that it speaks of the messiah.”
(The Ramban) said to him: “It is true that the rabbis in the aggadah (stories not meant to be taken literally) explain it as referring to the messiah. However, they never said that he would be killed at the hands of his enemies. For you will find in no book of the Jews, neither in the Talmud nor in the Midrash, that the messiah, the descendant of David, would be killed or would be turned over to his enemies or would be buried among the wicked. Indeed even the messiah whom you made for yourself was not buried. I shall explain for you this section properly and clearly, if you wish. There is no indication that the messiah would be killed, as happened to your messiah. They, however, did not wish to hear.”
The truth is the truth. It doesn’t change — and it may seem “tired” when one hears the same truths over and over again.
Friar Paul, the Christian, (in the debate with the Ramban in front of the King) then cited a (Midrash) aggadah (stories not meant to be taken literally). . . The Ramban told the King
"This is analogous to the bishop standing and giving a sermon, with one of the listeners deciding to write it. In regard to this book, those who believe it well and good, but those who do not believe it do no harm.”
Midrash aggadot are like sermons — not meant to be taken literally, yet the missionaries quote from aggadot on Isaiah 53 as if it WERE literal. The 19th century book called “The Fifty-third chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters” by Driver and Neubauer (Christians) began this missionary myth which is repeated by so many missionaries. This untruth is found all over the internet, because they simply do not understand (or if they do understand, they don’t explain to their readers) what Midrash Aggadot really is about. That book also quoted Karaites (considered apostates!), obscure poets and such are quoted in that book as if they were Jewish sages. . . and no sources are given so it is very difficult to trace what is a bad mistranslation versus an outright fable. . .
As the Ramban said to the King of Spain
“We also call this book aggadah, that is, stories, meaning that these are only things which one person tells another.”
And yet these stories are repeated by missionary after missionary as “proof.”
Proof like a castle built out of sand.
My answer is the same as that of the Ramban, 800 years ago. It is old. It is tired. I dearly wish I did not have to repeat it.
But the truth does not change.
The original 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) popped up in the 19th century. It was the brainchild of a Chrstian named E. B. Pusey. He came up with the idea for a book entitled The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters. He wrote a VERY long introduction which in itself contains many, many errors.
Two fellow Oxford men did the translations -- which are very selective (as we will see in future posts) and often mistranslated. The translations were courtesy of Driver and Neubauer. These supposed Jewish "proofs" now rebound all over the internet. (usually uncredited).
Although the title speaks of Isaiah 53, the misquotes often ignore that chapter, and often Isaiah itself, to glean misquotes and distortions from various sources. Missionaries quote all the old standards that come from the Driver and Neubauer book and are found all over the internet. E. B. Pusey was a Christian theologian who lived in the 19th century. So he wasn't Jewish and his knowledge of "Jewish interpretation" of anything was limited (to be kind). Pusey read Hebrew, German, Aramaic and Arabic - but he was not learned in Judaism.
Read the introduction to the book itself and you will see that 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.
This issue of falsification and distortion is a common one. The targum Jonathan is quoted for verse 52:13 but usually not 52:14 or 53:1.
Why because that destroys the premise that the servant in Isaiah is the messiah!
The Zohar (II 212) is quoted in part but NEVER in full where it would contradict what the quoter is trying to prove. The Zohar is mysticism -- allegory not literal meaning so quoting it for "facts" is a total distortion. It shouldn't be used to "prove" anything -- but they do use it to try to prove that Jesus could be the messiah, and then they misquote it ignoring the parts that disprove their contention (dishonest at best).
The same could be said for their quotes from the Ramban (Nachmanides, 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 19th century book, 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. Quotes from it are found all over the internet (usually without crediting the original source).
Over time I may discuss a number of the sources used by missionaries, most taken from Driver and Neubauer -- sources including Sanhedrin 98, the Zohar, Targum Yonathan (Jonathan), Sefer Gilgulim, etc. For now -- consider the source! In the meantime I suggest reading the article "The Lies and Distortions of Driver in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters" by Rabbi Moshe Shulman.
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.