The internet has site after site quoting early Jewish sources who recognize that the suffering servant was the messiah. Perhaps one of the most famous missionary in modern times to misuse these Jewish sources is Michael L. Brown and his multiple "Jewish Objections to Jesus" book sieries. Most of the misquotes and mistranslations stem from a 19th century Christian book entitled The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters.
The only problem is that the various "proofs" given are either mistranslations, taken wholly of of context or 100% made up fiction.
In the next few blog posts I'll address the more commonly given sources including Targum Yonathan (Jonathan), Sanhedrian 98, the Zohar, Sefer Gilgulim, Nachmanides (the Ramban), R' Isaac ben Abraham, Moshe el Sheikh whose real name was Rabbi Moshe Al Sheich and others. This post will focus on the source for most of these distorted quotes as well as the missionary claim that originally Jews USED to say that Isaiah 52-53 was about the messiah but "changed" it to the nation of Israel because of the threat of Christianity during the time of Rashi (12th century CE) popped up in the 19th century.
Most of these quotes and that claim were the brainchild of a Christian named E. B. Pusey. He came up with the idea for a book entitled The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreter 2 vols. (1876-77). This books was authored by Driver and Neubauer, but it was Pusey's idea. The book was the product of a pious Anglican (Pusey), a liberal Anglican Christian who provided the Hebrew translations (Driver) and a non-practicing Jew, Neubauer. Even scholars of the 19th century were unimpressed with this work. The Scottis Orientalist, William Roberson Smith (1846-1894) wrote that "the outcome of the laborious and bulky collection is essentially negative."
Adolf Neubauer was a relatively young man when E.B. Pusey asked him to work on this book with Samuel Driver. He was not yet a teacher at Oxford. His co-author, Samuel Driver, wrote of Neubauer (the Jew) "He did not practice Jewish observances." Adolf Neubauer's education owed more to non-Jewish university studies in Prague and Munich than it did to Jewish sources. As for Samuel Driver, he was the canon of the university's Christ Church.
R' Moshe Shulman wrote an article discussing the bad mistranslations in this source in his article The Lies and Distortions of Driver in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters.
E. B. Pusey wrote a VERY long introduction to this Christian book purporting to give Jewish interpretations of Isaiah 53. This introduction contains many, many errors. Remember, Pusey was an ANGLICAN PRIEST! This is the source that so many Christians point to as a Jewish source! Pusey's image is at the top of this blog -- he is obviously NOT a Jewish source for all that missionaries insist this is a "Jewish source."
Two fellow Oxford men did the translations (Driver and Neubauer). They were very selective (as we will see) on the quotes they gave, and the sources are often mistranslated. Driver was also an Anglican priest. Driver was a was an British churchman and Regius Professor of Hebrew at Christ Church, Oxford. Doesn't sound very Jewish for one claiming to know all about Rabbinical teachings is he?
It gets even better.
The Hebrew Chair at Oxford was attached to a canonry of Christ Church -- so Pusey became an Priest of the Anglican church. THIS is the source quoted by Michael Brown and other Christians as JEWISH!!!!!
Adolf Neubauer was a sub-librarian at Oxford. Neubauer put the book The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters together and Driver translated it into English..
E. B. Pusey (again, a Christian trying to disprove the Jewish interpretation of Isaiah's servant and the man who asked that the book be created) wrote the original introduction to Driver & Neubeur's book. In it he claimed that pre-Rashi Jews said Isaiah 53 was about the messiah but Rashi "changed" the interpretation to say Isaiah 53 was about Israel and not the messiah. Pusey the predecessor to Driver at Oxford as the Regius Professor of Hebrew at Christ Church, Oxford -- so he, too, was a priest.
In Pusey's 35 page introduction he defends the work of Raymond Martini from the 13th century. Raymundus Martin (Raymond Martini) was an anti-Jewish Dominican priest from the 13th century CE. Pugio Fidei (Dagger of the Faith) and Capistrum Judaeorum was an anti-Jewish diatribe he wrote (amongst others).
One error, given here is an example, is that this Christian book purporting to give Jewish sources on Isaiah 53 claims to quote the Jewish source Midrash Tanchuma, but in reality the "quote" is from this anti-semitic 13th century Dominican priest. Neubauer would have eliminated it, but Driver insisted on including it. . .
Neubauer DID NOT want to include the passages that appear from Martini as they are forgeries. However Pusey insisted that they appear (as he states in his introduction) and so there now appears a text that is claimed to come from the Talmud Sanhedrin, which disagrees with all texts of Sanhedrin, and is IN FACT taken from Martini.
The preface of the missionary book discusses the issues around Raymond Martin. “Either Martini was what he has hitherto been accounted, an able and laborious and conscientious man with vast resources at his command, which have since been lost, or he was a forger, a liar and a hypocrite. . .” Many of Martin’s supposed “Jewish sources” are non-existent – so the latter seems more likely than the former.
Read the introduction to The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreter and you will see that Neubauer DID NOT want to include the passages that appear from Martini as he knew they were forgeries. However Pusey insisted that they appear (as he states in his introduction) and so there now appears a text that is claimed to come from the Talmud Sanhedrin, which disagrees with all texts of Sanhedrin, and is IN FACT taken from Martini.
In other words Pusey wasn't above lying to make his point that the Jews had interpreted Isaiah 53 as being about the messiah. His use of Martini over even Neubauer's objections shows this.
This issue of falsification and distortion is a common one. The Targum Yonathan is quoted for verse 52:13 but not 52:14 or 53:1.
The Zohar (II 212) is quoted in part but NEVER in full where it would contradict what the quoter is trying to prove. The same could be said about the Ramban (who says that the simple meaning of the passage is that it is about Israel) or the Alsheich who mentions the messiah, but says that the messiah he means is King David. etc etc.
This, then, is the source that proves we Jews changed the meaning of the servant from the messiah to Israel. Hardly bullet-proof and yet time and again we must refute it. These supposed Jewish "proofs" now rebound all over the internet.
Although the title of their book speaks of Isaiah 53, the misquotes often ignore that chapter, and often Isaiah itself, to glean misquotes and distortions from various sources. The internet has site after site "quoting" early Jewish sources who recognize that the suffering servant was the messiah. The only problem is that this is not the truth.
1. Isaiah clearly identifies the servant as Israel (there are no chapters in the original document).
2. An early church father, Origen, in 248 CE, speaks of Jews telling him the servant was Israel and not the messiah.
3. Pusey's 19th century book states we Jews changed it from the messiah to Israel with Rashi, circa 12th century CE yet many of the quotes he uses as proof are dated long after Rashi as late as the 16th century CE.
4. The book throws in quotes from midrash aggadah, zohar and targum as if they were pshat (plain meaning) without educating the reader to the mysticism, allegory and story telling inherent in the different formats.
5. Apologists will quote a sentence where a source speaks of a messiah without stating they have also identified the servant as Israel (or Moses or someone else) and ignoring the messiah in question is moshiach ben Yosef not David. Nowhere do they explain who moshiach ben Yosef IS.
6. The book quotes Karaites as Jewish sources. Karaites are about as representative of Judaism as Mormons are of mainstream Christianity. Karaites do not follow the oral law. Yet nowhere does the book identify for the reader that Karaites do not follow Jewish teaching.
This whole idea that the Rabbis “changed” their interpretation to Israel as the servant in Isaiah 53 from the messiah is disproved by a quote from a very famous Christian indeed. Origen was a famous church father of circa 235 C.E. He is quoted as saying in his book Contra Celsus Book 1 Chapter 55:
"Now I remember that, on one occasion, at a disputation held with certain Jews, who were reckoned wise men, I quoted these prophecies (Isaiah 53); to which my Jewish opponent replied, that these predictions bore reference to the whole people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among numerous heathen nations."
So, no, Rashi, who lived in the 11th century CE -- some 900 years after Origen -- did not "invent" the idea that the suffering servant is the Jewish nation.
So this book, written by Christian clergymen NOT Jews, is playing fast and loose with the facts.
Tomorrow I will begin discussing some of the references given by Driver and Neubauer and put them in context.
Sophiee Saguy has been countering false missionary claims about Judaism and the T'nach (Jewish bible) for nearly twenty years. You may find her on FaceBook and at the Messiah Truth forum.