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.
R Moshe Alshich (on some missionary sites called "El Sheik" or "Al Sheik") lived from 1508-1593 CE in the Middle East, primarily in Safed, Israel, where he is buried.. R' Alshich lived 500 years after Rashi supposedly changed the Jewish concept of the servant from the messiah to Israel.
The missionaries claim that the older Jewish opinion was that Isaiah 53's suffering servant was the messiah but that the Jewish sage רבי שלמה יצחקי / R' Solomon Isaac aka Rashi (1040 CE - 1105 CE) changed the entire Jewish view of Isaiah 53 from the messiah to Israel as a direct response against Christianity. Jews for Jesus claims "Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki, 1040-1105) and some of the later rabbis, though, interpreted the passage as referring to Israel. They knew that the older interpretations referred it to Messiah. However, Rashi lived at a time when a degenerate medieval distortion of Christianity was practiced. He wanted to preserve the Jewish people from accepting such a faith and, although his intentions were sincere, other prominent Jewish rabbis and leaders realized the inconsistencies of Rashi's interpretation."
Rashi did not change the Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 53 from the messiah to the Jewish nation, this is a missionary claim originating in the 19th century and is easily disproved. Read the blog post "Rashi "changed" the Jewish interpretation from the messiah to Israel"
Returning to the missionary claim -- if Rashi "changed" the Jewish view of the servant from the messiah to the people of Israel (the Jewish nation) in the 11th century did someone forget to pass the message on to R' Moshe Alshich who lived in the 16th century? Why are missionaries quoting someone who lived 400 years after Rashi to "prove" that Rashi changed it?
A bit backwards, don't you think?
How do missionaries explain this major time discrepancy?
Missionaries are notorious for throwing out references and quotes with abandon hoping that there is so much mud thrown up that no one will bother to check each one of his facts -- or if they did the reader / listener would get so bored they'd tune out the truth.
Now if Rashi CHANGED the servant from the messiah to Israel 500 years before R' Ashlich then why would any Jew state as a fact that the servant is the messiah? Does this make any sense? Did Alshich not know the Jews had conspired to changed the interpretation missionaries such as Jews for Jesus or Michael Brown?
Already you can see this doesn't make sense. The literal meaning of the servant in Isaiah is Israel. Using homily the servant has been applied to many different people -- including Moses, Abraham and others.
How do we know that R' Alshich's commentary is not literal?
R' Alshich was a great Kabbalist. Indeed R' Alshich is considered one of the great darshanim (sermonizers) of the Jewish world.
Do you remember what the sage the Ramban (Nachmanides) told the King of Aragon (Spain) about sermons (aka midrash aggadot or stories)? He explained to the king: "We have a third book called Midrash, meaning sermons. It is just as if the bishop would rise and deliver a sermon, and one of the listeners whom the sermon pleased recorded it. In regard to this book, those who believe it well and good, but those who do not believe it do no harm." (Disputation at Barcelona).
The modern resource The Encyclopedia Judaica speaking of אַגָּדָה / aggadah: "The aggadah comprehends a great variety of forms and content. It includes narrative, legends, doctrines, admonitions to ethical conduct and good behavior, words of encouragement and comfort, and expressions of hope for future redemption. Its forms and modes of expression are as rich and colorful as its content. Parables and allegories, metaphors and terse maxims; lyrics, dirges, and prayers, biting satire and fierce polemic, idyllic tales and tense dramatic dialogues, hyperboles and plays on words, permutations of letters, calculations of their arithmetical values (gematria) or their employment as initials of other words (notarikon) – all are found in the aggadah."
Torah is understood on many levels -- this is called PaRDeS.
* P'shat (פְּשָׁט) - the "plain" ("simple") meaning of a passage
* Remez (רֶמֶז) - "hints" implied in the text but not explicit
* Drash (דְּרַשׁ) - which is a deeper or even midrashic meaning -- often inferred from other scripture
* Sod (סוֹד) - "secret" ("mystery") meanings
These four levels (PaRDeS) are all valid, but the meaning of a passage is always derived from the plain (pshat) reading. R' Alshich's quotes are Drash. Ergo Brown (and D&N and many other Chrstians who quote one section out of context) either don't understand PaRDeS or simply choose to lie to their readers and lead them to believe that what is pshat (plain meaning) is really drash (midrashic).
The Pusey book never gives original sources, so it is hard to track down these quotes. In the case of R Moshe Alshich it comes from a very obscure work called Marot HaTsobeot" (Collected Visions), on the prophets and their prophecies. Marot HaTsobeot is an exegetical and 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 interpreation.
But even so the Pusey version is self serving and not true to the original at all. For example, the Pusey has R Moshe Alshich saying what Brown quoted him as saying: "our rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah and we shall ourselves also adhere to the same view."
That is not what R Moshe Alshich says. He doesn't say doesn't say "our Rabbis of blessed memory." R Moshe Alshich uses a common abbreviation: R"ZL. The usual assumption would be that that's what it means, but the abbreviation also stands for *my* Rabbis of blessed memory.
The missionaries are also lying to their readers by only partially quoting this passage. They leave out a very pertinent part of the quote: "Our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the Messiah, and we shall ourselves also adhere to the same view: for the Messiah is of course David, who, as is well known, was ‘anointed’, and there is a verse in which the prophet, speaking in the name of the L-rd, says expressly, ‘My servant David shall be king over them’. The expression my servant, therefore, can be justly referred to David."
We cannot emphasize this enough: R' Alshich is saying that King David is the messiah in question!
R' Alshich goes on to say that the suffering "which entered into the world, one third was for David and the fathers, one for the generation in exile (the Jewish people) and one third for the King Messiah."
R' Moshe was a mystic and using aggadah (homily) he was writing about the highly mystical homilies used by other mystics like himself. R' Alshich was not speaking literally (he references Midrash Tanchuma for one). Alshich divides this fourth servant song of Isaiah to correspond to the three divisions of the Midrash (so much for "literal") as his comments align with the Aggadah.
R' Alshich's comment (who he then states is King David) is made about Isaiah 52:13-53:1 (not Isaiah 53 in whole) and points to King David; Moses; and the Jews (Israel).
Missionaries, through selective quotation, mislead their readers about R' Alshich's true statements and the fact that they are clearly allegorical in nature (not literal).
Using allegory R Moshe equates the Messiah with King David (who was a messiah). He then writes about different worlds populated by angels.
He, R' Moshe was a mystic, writing in the center of Jewish mysticism, is transmitting a mystical interpretation of the text.
In other words this is not ps'hat (plain meaning).
It is not intended to be taken literally by anyone. It is simply homily and R Moshe says that HIS rabbis envision it (homiletically).
This makes the passage of my Rabbis of blessed memory" logical. He is explaining where his homily stems from. He is NOT saying "all the Rabbis who ever lived" as the missionaries infer.
Pusey and his translators may not have understood Jewish mysticism or they may simply have ignored context because they were trying to prove that Jews speak of the servant in Isaiah as the messiah. Their error (or they ignored it) was in misusing and mistranslating a common abbreviation: R"ZL.
R' Alshich states that the servant is Israel and then using Midrash (allegory) first says king messiah IS king David not Jesus or some other messiah, and BTW David was a messiah, an anointed king of Israel). Then R Moshe Alshich compares the servant to MOSES. Folks: this is midrash! Allegory!!! Midrashim were written in an allegorical style that was NEVER meant to be taken literally.
So R Moshe Alshich never meant for any of this to be taken literally, but using Kabbalist reasoning meant it to be viewed as allegory.
This particular part of the midrash explains that the messiah of whom R Moshe Alshich speaks is King David himself (who was a messiah): "The Messiah is of course David, who, as is well known, was "anointed", and there is a verse in which the prophet, speaking in the name of HaShem, says expressly, "My servant David shall be king over them" (Ezekiel 37:24). The expression My servant, therefore, can justly be referred to David."
He then goes on to say the following: "The Almighty, however, says that there is no need for surprise at their attitude of incredulity in the presence of these marvels [of the restoration of Israel], for who believed our report--the report, namely, which we made known to you from heaven, but which the kings had not heard of? So fearful was it, that in the eyes of everyone who did hear it [of the restoration of Israel], it was too wondrous to behold. . ."
He even references Moses in relation to Isaiah 53: "And he made his grave with the wicked. I will show you an instance of this in the chief of all the prophets [Moses], who, by still suffering after his death, endured a heavier penalty than others who had suffered for their generation. Moses was buried away from the Promised Land."
The Rav goes on at length relating Isaiah to Moses. In other words: to try and say the interpretation of el-Sheikh is that Isaiah is speaking of the messiah and only the messiah is untrue and simplistic -- and in the case of Christian missionaries deceptive.
R' Moshe Shulman has an article about this often used personage by missionaries. Read his article Rabbi Moshe Al Sheich and Isaiah 53. Here is a snippet:
The Al Sheich is not approaching this as a literal commentary, but as a non-literal sermon. We cannot use what he says, no matter how interesting it is, to draw conclusions as to what the Rabbis think Isaiah 53 means. Another proof (if we need it) that he is abandoning the literal meaning is that he quotes a famous Midrash and gives an interesting explanation: Our Rabbis say that of all the suffering which entered into the world, one third was for David and the fathers, one for the generation in exile, and one for the King Messiah. . .
he is explaining Isaiah 53, in the context of the Midrash dealing with suffering. He divides Isaiah 53 into three to correspond to the three divisions of the Midrash. The first part of the Midrash (David and the fathers) is 53:9-12 - Moshe. The second part (generation in exile) is 53:2-8 - the righteous of Israel. The third part (for the King Messiah) is 52:13-53:1 – the Messiah."
Missionary Misuse of Jewish Sources on Isaiah 53, Rashi "changed" the Jewish interpretation from the messiah to Israel
This is an oft repeated missionary claim: the ancient Jewish sources all agreed that the messiah (moshiach ben David) was the subject of Isaiah 53, but that רבי שלמה יצחקי / R' Solomon Isaac aka Rashi (1040 CE - 1105 CE) changed the entire Jewish view of Isaiah 53 from the messiah to Israel as a direct response against Christianity.
Jews for Jesus claims "Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki, 1040-1105) and some of the later rabbis, though, interpreted the passage as referring to Israel. They knew that the older interpretations referred it to Messiah. However, Rashi lived at a time when a degenerate medieval distortion of Christianity was practiced. He wanted to preserve the Jewish people from accepting such a faith and, although his intentions were sincere, other prominent Jewish rabbis and leaders realized the inconsistencies of Rashi's interpretation."
This is a very interesting claim given that there is source after source after source pre-dating Rashi by nearly 1000 years which state the exact opposite of this missionary statement -- made (you will note) as if it is a factual statement and not their opinion.
In 248 CE -- 792 years before the birth of Rashi -- early church father Ὠριγένης / Origen (184 CE - 284 CE) wrote that ancient Christians knew that the literal meaning by Jews was that the servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people. “bore reference to the whole [Jewish] people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nations.” Origen, 248 C.E., Contra Celsum.
So much for the missionary claim that "the older interpretations" (of Isaiah 53) referred it to Messiah."
Did Origen miss the missionary message?
If Rashi did not invent the idea that the servant in Isaiah was Israel, why do so many missionaries claim that he did?
It all goes back to that 19th century book written by the missionary E.B. Pusey The idea that Jews USED to say that Isaiah 52-53 was about the messiah but "changed" it to the nation of Israel because of the threat of Christianity during the time of Rashi (12th century CE) -- as mentioned even on Jews for Jesus as quoted above -- popped up in the 19th century thanks to the book The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters by Driver and Neubauer.
Missionaries so often just repeat a claim made by other missionaries. Isn't it interesting that the quote in the previous post (about Midrash Tanchuma) appears in so many missionary locations? It might add credibility to the missionaries if they chose differing quotations -- but they all parrot the same misuses!
Aside from the Christian Origen (2nd century CE) do we have any other proofs that the Jewish sages noted that the servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish nation?
Of course we do.
The missionaries reference Targum Yonatan (Jonathan) to prove that ancient Jews spoke of the messiah in Isaiah 53 and reference the Targum for proof. Well and good, but the Targum also speaks of the servant as being Israel (the Jewish people) -- something the missionaries never seem to mention! The messiah (in this allegorical story using Isaiah 53 as its "jumping off" point) is an exalted messiah -- not the suffering Jesus concept. Nowhere in Targum Yonatan does it speak of a suffering messiah. It speaks of an EXALTED messiah. The suffering servant in the Targum is Israel -- Jews. There is a blog post on the missionary misuse of Targum Yonatan.
So much for the missionary claim that Rashi "invented" the idea that Isaiah's suffering servant is Israel rather than the messiah. It simply is not true.
We needn't rely on a Christian source or even the Targum Yonatan to show that the primary consensus among Jewish sources is that in the ps'hat (plain meaning) the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people -- there are plenty of other sources pre-dating Rashi which state the same thing.
In the Babylonian Talmud, בְּרָכֹות / Berachot 5a, pre-dating Rashi by at least 500 years, states that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people "If the Holy One, blessed be He, is pleased with Israel or man, He crushes him with painful sufferings. For it is said: And the L-rd was pleased with [him, hence] He crushed him by disease (Isa. 53:10). Now, you might think that this is so even if he did not accept them with love. Therefore it is said: "To see if his soul would offer itself in restitution" (Isa. 53:10). Even as the trespass-offering must be brought by consent, so also the sufferings must be endured with consent. And if he did accept them, what is his reward? "He will see his seed, prolong his days" (Isa. 53:10). And more than that, his knowledge [of the Torah] will endure with him. For it is said: "The purpose of the Lord will prosper in his hand" (Isa. 53:10). It has been taught: R. Simeon b. Yohai says: The Holy One, blessed be He, gave Israel three precious gifts, and all of them were given only through sufferings.. These are: The Torah, the Land of Israel and the World To Come."
Note that Jews for Jesus and the other missionary sources somehow miss this Talmudic quote regarding Isaiah's suffering servant!
A noted scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls and early Christianity in the first century of the common era, Geza Vermes, wrote "Neither the suffering of the messiah, nor his death and resurrection, appear to be part of the faith of first century Judaism." (Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels, page 38). Vermes was a British scholar of Jewish Hungarian roots who became a Catholic priest, and even accumulated many accolades as a Christian scholar while a Roman Catholic priest. Geza Vermes was born a Jew to Hungarian parents who were Jews and were murdered by the Nazis. He was taken in by Catholics (I think nuns) and raised as a Roman Catholic. So, when he, as adult, found out about his heritage, he decided to RETURN to Judaism.
Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu Rabbah (Midrash, so not a literal interpretation), has three citations referencing that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 refers to the righteous of Israel (chapters 6, 13, 27).
Additional sources pre-dating Rashi:
Yalkut Shimoni II 476
Bamidbar Rabbah chapter 13.2
Zohar (numerous places)
Poems by R. Shlomo Ibn Gavriel
Isaiah himself often refers to the Jewish people as G-d's servant. Chapters are a Christian invention -- but even so in chapters 41, 44, 45, 48 and 49 Jacob (another name for the Jewish people) and Israel (another name for the Jewish people) are stated repeatedly to be G-d's servant.
Finally, the missionary argument that early Jewish sources referred to Isaiah's servant as the messiah and we "changed" it is false -- but it is also a straw horse. It is a diversion from the true question at hand, to whit -- can Isaiah 53 possibly be about Jesus? The answer to that question is a resounding "no." Jesus did not live a long life. He did not have children. He was not exalted in life. He did not die multiple deaths. . .
There are Jewish sources who view the servant in Isaiah 53 as the Jewish people, as the messiah, as Moses, as David -- there are many interpretations (most not meant literally). The consensus of Jewish opinion is that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the Jewish people -- but if it can be applied to others as well it cannot be applied to Jesus -- and that is the question a Christian must ask as they read the T'nach (Jewish bible) for what it truly says -- not what taking a word or sentence out of context forces it to seem to say.
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.