In an earlier blog I remarked that in 1877 two men, Driver and Neubauer, published a book entitled The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. This book is often quoted by missionaries on the internet to "prove" that "rabbis" pre-Rashi (an 11th century Jewish sage) believed that the servant in Isaiah 53 was the messiah. They claim the rabbis "changed" the interpretation from the messiah to the Jewish people to discredit Jesus as possibly being the servant of Isaiah 53.
Although many internet sites use quotes from this book, many don't credit the source -- but if you do a quick search on the internet you can find copies of the book in PDF form to read for yourself. Be forwarned that it is nothing but an apologetic. Driver and Neubauer do not give their sources (so it is difficult to research the originals to check them for accuracy). The reference obscure Jewish sources (like Ibn Crispin who was nearly unknown before the missionaries, including Michael Brown, referred to him as a "significant commentator. . . interpreting this key passage with reference to the sufferings of the Messiah son of David." ”). Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus (Vol. 2 page 227). Ibn Crispin was not a significant commentator (he was so obscure it took some research to find out who he was!). He was a poet and a Yeminite poet who lived in the 14th century. He was into mysticism in a big way so to take his writings literally is to distort them. His most famous book was "Sefer ha-Musar” which had major Averroistic themes. (The main concept was the marriage of religion and philosophy).
Averoes (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). Averoes 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 by him. THIS is not a rabbinic source, and most certainly NOT a "significant commentator."
Just like the lists of 365 so called prophecies about Jesus in the T'nach (Jewish bible) impress casual readers by their sheer size, these lists of "rabbinical" and "significant" Jewish sources who the missionaries claim re-enforce the idea of the messiah as the servant in Isaiah 53 (thus pointing, they think, to Jesus) are highly inflated and either 1) mistranslated, 2) taken wholly out of context 3) the sources misrepresented (such as Ibn Crispin) and some of the "quotes" are made up completely.
I'm going to discuss Targum Yonathan (Jonathan) momentarily as it is one that is referenced -- but before I do let's go back a step.
The claim of Driver and Neubauer, in their 19th century missionary tome, was that an attempt to support the Christological interetation of Isaiah 53 using Jewish sources. The book based many of its “quotes” on the writings of a 13th century anti-Jewish Christian (Friar Raymond Martin). Raymundus Martin (Raymond Martini) was an anti-Jewish Dominican priest from the 13th century CE. Pugio Fidei (Dagger of the Faith) was an anti-Jewish diatribe he wrote (amongst others). Martin forged things and made up quotes that didn’t exist – and the same is true of the book Jacob quotes from. It is amazing how many of these missionaries who think they “quote” Rabbinical sources rely on these earlier missionaries without checking for accuracy. This is probably due to a lack of knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic by missionaries – so they are unable (or unwilling) to do primary research. Thus the same lies are repeated over and over again by today's internet missionaries (and book authors including Michael Brown's series of books).
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.
Martin is also the genius who came up with the made up name “Jehovah” even though Hebrew has no “j” sound. This “go to” guy who missionaries will assert was an expert on Hebrew was using a version of the Hebrew which included marks for vowels which apparently he didn’t truly understand because he didn’t know that the vowels for ‘Adon-ai’ are written below the letters of the G-d’s holiest name. This is done so that a reader doesn’t attempt to pronounce HaShem’s holiest name by mistake. Any 13 year old Jewish boy would have known this – let alone a “Hebrew expert.” Martin was clueless. For further information on the Driver and Neubauer book I highly recommend reading the article by R' Moshe Shulman entitled The Lies and Distortions of Driver in The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters.
Did the early Jewish sources say the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 was the messiah? Nope. An early church father, Origen, in 248 CE, speaks of Jews telling him the servant was Israel and not the messiah. Remember that Rashi (the one most missionaries say "invented" the idea that the servant is Israel lived in the 11th century -- some 700 or so years after Origen's comment).
Some background regarding Isaiah 53 and the suffering servant:
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. Puseys 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 (an army leader who will live at the same time as the messiah, but who will die in battle -- doesn't sound like Jesus when one realizes who this person is said to be, does it?).
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. The were a sect of Judaism which began about 1200 years ago so the Karaites are younger than the Christians - they are about as mainstream to Judaism as Christians or Muslims are as well! Yet nowhere does Driver and Neubauer identify for the reader that Karaites do not follow Jewish teaching. (The original Karaites were Jews, but the few thousand who exist today are, for the most part, not Jews). The Rambam's (11th century CE) position on the Karaites (as understood by the Bet Yosef - Yoreh De'a 159) is that Karaites are not to be treated like heretics (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De'a159:3) but that they are incorrect. What credibility does it give a book purporting to give Jewish sources when they are using very incorrect sources such as the Karaites?
This post will finish by focusing on one "source" the missionaries quote from Jewish sources, namely Targum Yonathan (Jonathan). Here is the quote found on a major missionary web site:
"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." Targum Yonathan (missionary quote).
The missionaries don't explain to readers that a תרגום / Targum is an Aramaic paraphrasing / interpretation (not really a translation). This is critical to understand: Targum Yonathan is not a literal translation of Isaiah 53 into Aramaic. Instead it is an interpretive document with parts that are midrashic in nature. Midrash aggadah are STORIES meant to make a moral point -- not literal meaning.
So missionaries are attempting to use an interpretative non-literal sources as if it were LITERAL and "proves" that the servant in Isaiah 53 is the messiah.
It doesnt. Because the Targum is not literal. “This is an excellent example of Targumic paraphrase at its best. It is not a translation, nor is it loose meaningless commentary, but a reworking of the text to yield what the Targumist desires it to give forth.” Levey was the Founding Director Emeritus of the Magnin School of Graduate Studies and Professor Emeritus of Rabbinics and Jewish Religious Thought at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. The quote is taken from ‘The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation; The Messianic Exegesis of the Targum”
Would it be a problem that missionaries quote the real words of the targum? Of course not! The problem is twofold: part of most of the quotes are not actually from the Targum. The second, and more serious problem, is that the missionaries do not explain to their readers that the quote is not the literal interpretation of the Jewish sources. It is as if a non-Christians gave a quote from Santa Clause to prove Christianity without ever explaining to the non-Christian who ther figure of "Santa Clause" is in Christianity! It would be as if Santa Clause and Paul were presented on an equal footing!
Another huge missionary problem is that the Targum doesnt speak of a suffering messiah at all. To quote R' Shulman in his article on the Targum concludes "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. No person reading the Targum objectively, from beginning to end, would make such a contention."
R' Shulman gives a translation of Isaiah 53 along with a translation of the Targum -- verse by verse. He states that doing so shows that "It will be easy to notice that this is not a translation at all. It is not a simple explanation of the verses. It is a Midrash."
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.