Interpretations of the Rabbis – the Messiah Prophecies 

Hebrew texts serve as the basis for both the Tenakh and Old Testament Scriptures, but when it comes to Messiah prophecies, interpretations vary. Christianity and Judaism disagree on some Messiah prophecies, especially those deemed to be fulfilled by the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Judaism’s interpretations are based primarily on the views of the Rabbi sages who are not always in agreement among themselves on which prophecies point to the Messiah. Differences in Christianity are no exception on such topics as baptism, worship, confessions – even salvation.

Some Rabbi sages became known for their prophecy interpretations documented in commentaries, letters or published works. Other Rabbis’ views are expressed in contributions to Gemaras in the Talmud.

Rabbi Rashi is one such renowned Jewish sage esteemed for his Scriptural commentaries. So much so, a mainstream Jewish Bible is named the Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary.[1]

Another prominent Jewish sage is Rabbi Maimonides, also known as Rambam, who authored the Mishneh Torah revered for formulating the Law into the 13 principals of Jewish faith.[2] His work is also regarded for codifying the halakhah or Jewish Law.[3]

Misheh Torah made Maimonidies famous and even in those days, he received fan mail. His response letters, known as Responsa (or Teshuvot), have become additional important texts of Maimonides’ Scriptural interpretations.[4]

One of the oldest Messiah prophecies is Jacob’s blessing of Judah in Genesis 49:9-10. Jacob foretold that Judah’s descendants would become a “like a lion” and the “scepter” will not depart from them until Shiloh comes. The blessing is recognized by Rashi as a prophecy establishing the foundation for the future Messiah.[5]

Rashi identified “Shiloh” as the “King Messiah, to whom the kingdom belongs.” The Hebrew word shebet is translated as “scepter” or “staff” and, according to Rashi, refers to the future royal lineage of “David and thereafter.”[6] The word shebet appears again in Balaam’s prophecy and Rashi interpreted it to mean “a king who rules dominantly” from the future lineage of David.[7]

Num 24:17 “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth.” (NASB)

Maimonides interpreted Balaam’s prophecy to be referring to “King Moshiach” (Messiah) who would come from the lineage of David.[8] Rashi believed this to be a prophecy about King David commenting he is one who “shoots out like an arrow” from Jacob and uproots the sons of Sheth or Seth (the son of Adam).[9]

Micah 5:2 seemingly unambiguously predicts the birthplace of the future ruler of Israel, yet the prophecy is challenged by some Jewish authorities.[10] Rashi interpreted the verse to be foretelling the Messiah would come from Bethlehem in the lineage Jesse and King David, then quoted Psalms 118:22, “The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone.”[11]

Some Rabbis in the Talmud Gemara Sukkah 52a believed the  Zechariah 12:10 prophecy refers to the death of the Messiah, others disagreed saying it had nothing to do with the Messiah. Rashi offered a third interpretation saying the prophecy is about Zerubbabel.[12]

Psalms 22 is a prominent Messiah prophecy recognized by Christianity predicting in detail the circumstances of the death of Jesus of Nazareth by a Roman crucifixion. Judaism focuses solely on the question in the second verse, “Why have you forsaken me?” as the interpretation basis for the Psalm being about the nation of Israel.[13]

My Servant” in the Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 parashah or passage is viewed by Christianity as predicting the suffering, death and Resurrection of the Messiah fulfilled by life of Jesus of Nazareth. Judaism generally treats “My Servant” as a metaphor of a single man representing the nation of Israel.[14] Yet Rabbi sages going back to the days of the Talmud, pointed to 6 different Messiah prophecies within the parashah: Isaiah 52:15, 53:2, 3, 5, 7, 15.

Talmud tractate Sanhedrin 98b quotes Isaiah 53:3 as the basis for one of the names of the Messiah.[15] In a responsa letter, Maimonides, referenced Isaiah 53:2 and 52:15 predicting the Messiah would be identified by his origins and his wonders.[16]

Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin from Spain was a renowned twelfth century Rabbi and poet. He is acclaimed in Judaism for his Jewish work entitled Sefer ha-Musar, the “Book of Instruction.”[17] Rabbi Crispin believed that “My Servant” in the Isaiah parashah refers to “King Messiah” while admitting his interpretation is in conflict with the prevailing Jewish position. His book gave surprisingly bold verse by verse commentaries defining expectations for the Messiah.[18]

Rabbi Jose the Galilean is known both for his quoted contributions in Talmud Gemaras as well as for his independent commentaries.  He was a distinguished Rabbi leader and recognized authority on sacrifices and the Temple. The Rabbi independently wrote the Messiah would be wounded for our transgressions quoting from Isaiah 53:5 and 53.7.[19]

Frequently seen during the Christmas season in western cultures is Isaiah 9:6, deemed a Messiah prophecy, foretelling a son who would bear the full responsibility for the government and would be known by many names. Judaism generally disagrees saying the verse it is not a Messiah prophecy:

IS 9:6 “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (NKJV)

Rabbi Jose the Galilean declared, “The name of the Messiah is also ‘peace.'”as it is written ‘The prince of peace (Shalom), as it is written [Is. ix. 5]: “The prince of peace.” Gemara contributor Rabbi Jehoshua concurred stating, “The name of the Holy One, blessed be He, is also “peace” (Shalom).”[20]

In modern times came the publication of the Soncino Babylonian Talmud edition published in the early 1900s. Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein served as Soncino Editor intended to reproduce a “clear and lucid” literal English translation of the Talmud in a restored, uncensored version.[21] Censored or removed content was restored either in the body of the text or reintroduced within the footnotes.[22] A Glossary and an Abbreviation table added even more clarity.[23]

Studying and researching the Bible in its full context is a way to help determine the true meaning of the Messiah prophecies regardless of the interpretations. Which prophecies point to the Messiah and, in turn, set the requirements and expectations for the Messiah?

 

Updated March 16, 2022.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm>
[2] Maimonides. Mishneh Torah. Trans. Eliyahu Touger.  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/682956/jewish/Mishneh-Torah.htm>  Maimonides, Moses. The Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith. n.d. <https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/332555/jewish/Maimonides-13-Principles-of-Faith.htm>
[3] Rich, Tracey R. “Jewish Beliefs.” JewFAQ.org. n.d. <http://www.jewfaq.org/beliefs.htm>
[4] Neubauer, Driver & Rolles The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. pp XVI, 37, 374-375. <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=snippet&q=Galilean&f=false>
[5] The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Genesis 49:9-10 Rashi commentary.  Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 98a. CR Gensis 17:6, NASB.
[6] Rashi. The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Genesis 49:10.
[7] Rashi. The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary  Numbers 24:17.  Maimonides. “The Law Concerning Moshiach.” NetBible.org.  Hebrew text shebet <07626> <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=07626>
[8] Maimonides. “The Law Concerning Moshiach.”
[9] Rashi. The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary  Numbers 24:17.
[10] “Micah, Book of.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. “Contents and Unity.” <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10777-micah-book-of>
[11] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary. Micah 5:1
[12] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Zechariah 6:12.  Sukkah 52a. Halakhah.com. Trans. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. n.d. pp 74-77, footnote #1-3. <http://www.halakhah.com/rst/moed/16b%20-%20Succah%20-%2029b-56b.pdf>
[13] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary.  Psalms 22.
[14] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Isaiah 53:3-4.  Neubauer, Driver & Rolles.  The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. p 37.  Gold, Moshe. “Israel’s Messenger, The Suffering Servant of Isaiah – A Rabbinic Anthology.” Israel’s Messenger. 2009. Jewish Awareness Ministries. <http://www.jewishawareness.org/the-suffering-servant-of-isaiah-a-rabbinic-antholo>
[15] Isaiah 53:3. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. Sanhedrin 98b, footnote #31. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/index.html>  CR Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. pp 12-16.
[16] Maimonides. “Letter to the South (Yemen).”  Neubauer and Driver. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters.> p 374.
[17] Crispin, Moshe Kohen ibn. “Sefer ha-Musar.” Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. pp 99-101.  Marlowe, Michael.  Editions of the Hebrew Text of the Bible. Bible Research. “The Incunabula.” 2012. <http://www.bible-researcher.com/hebrew-editions.html>  Rosenau, William. Jewish Biblical Commentators. pp 87-91 n.d. <http://www.archive.org/stream/jewishbiblicalco00rose/jewishbiblicalco00rose_djvu.txtThe fifty-third chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. pp 99-100.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[18] Crispin, Moshe Kohen ibn. “Sefer ha-Musar.” Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. pp 99-101.
[19] Jose the Galilaean. Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. pp 10-11, R.
[20] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary. Isaiah 9:6.  The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Michael L. Rodkinson. 1918. Book 5: Tractate  Derech  Eretz-Zuta, “The Chapter on Peace.”  Internet Sacred Text Archives. 2010. <https://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t05/ere18.htm>   CR Judges 6:24. NetBible.org. Hebrew text “Y@havah shalowm”
[21] Epstein, Dr. Isador, Editor. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. “Introduction to Seder Nezikin:  General Character and Contents.” 1935-1948. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/nezikin.html>
[22] Epstein, Dr. Isador, Editor. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. “Come and Hear.”
[23] Epstein. “Come and Hear.” “Soncino Talmud Glossary” and “Abbreviations Used in the Soncino Talmud.”

Rabbi Maimonides & Jesus of Nazareth – the Messiah?

Affectionately known as Rambam in Jewish circles, the Rabbi brought clarity to Jewish Law with some calling him “the second Moses.” Born during the Medieval era in 1135 AD, Moses Ben Maimon, as a Rabbi became known by a single name, Maimonides. He authored Mishneh Torah, considered to be a monumental Jewish work that formulated the 13 principals of Jewish faith. [1]

Messiah or stumbling block? The famed Rabbi Maimonides expounded his view on this question about Jesus of Nazareth as well as his views on the lineage, supernatural powers, and a comparison to the Messiah prophecies.

Two chapters, sometimes called “The Laws Concerning King Moshiach,” focused on the Messiah – what characteristics would identify the Messiah and what characteristics would disqualify anyone purporting to be the Messiah?[2] Considered controversial, his statements became a focus of the Censor.

King David’s lineage is a key requirement for the Messiah cited in multiple prophecies by renowned Rabbi Rashi as well as Rabbi Maimonides adding that anyone who denies the Messiah is denying the prophets, Moses, and the Scriptures:

“In the future, the Messianic king will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty.”

“Anyone who does not believe in him or does not await his coming, denies not only the statements of the other prophets, but those of the Torah and Moses…”

Unlike Rashi who only implied it, Maimonides explicitly identified Balaam’s (Bilaam) prophecy as messianic. The prophecy, he said, was in reference to “Mashiach,” Hebrew for Messiah:

“Reference to Mashiach is also made in the portion of Bilaam who prophesies about two anointed kings: the first anointed king, David, who saved Israel from her oppressors; and the final anointed king who will arise from his descendants and save Israel in the end of days. That passage Numbers 24:17-18 relates:

‘I see it, but not now’ – This refers to David;

‘I perceive it, but not in the near future;” – This refers to the Messianic king;

‘A star shall go forth from Jacob’ – This refers to David;

‘and a staff shall arise in Israel’ – This refers to the Messianic king…

Maimonides then addressed the supernatural powers of performing miracles, wonders, and resurrection of the dead without directly mentioning the Gospels or Jesus of Nazareth:

“One should not presume that the Messianic king must work miracles and wonders, bring about new phenomena in the world, resurrect the dead, or perform other similar deeds. This is definitely not true.”

Paying close attention to what the Rabbi said … performing supernatural abilities would not necessarily distinguish the Messiah; however, he did not deny that such miracles had occurred. Pivoting, he went on to describe characteristics that would identify the Messiah:

“If a king will arise from the House of David who diligently contemplates the Torah and observes its mitzvot as prescribed by the Written Law and the Oral Law as David, his ancestor, will compel all of Israel to walk in (the way of the Torah) and rectify the breaches in its observance, and fight the wars of God, we may, with assurance, consider him Mashiach.”

Next, he described things that would disqualify anyone who might otherwise be viewed as the Messiah. Maimonides pointedly called out Jesus of Nazareth by name:

“If he did not succeed to this degree or was killed, he surely is not the redeemer promised by the Torah. Rather, he should be considered as all the other proper and complete kings of the Davidic dynasty who died. God caused him to arise only to test the many, as Daniel 11:35 states: ‘And some of the wise men will stumble, to try them, to refine, and to clarify until the appointed time, because the set time is in the future.'”

“Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Mashiach and was executed by the court was also alluded to in Daniel’s prophecies, as ibid. 11:14 states: ‘The vulgar among your people shall exalt themselves in an attempt to fulfill the vision, but they shall stumble.'”

“Can there be a greater stumbling block than Christianity?”

As a key undisputed prophetic requirement that the Messiah must be born in the royal lineage of David, Maimonides did not disqualify Jesus as the Messiah on the basis of his lineage; rather, he associated Jesus with “all the other proper and complete kings of the Davidic dynasty who died.”[3] Instead, Maimonides denounced “Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Mashiach.”[4]

Mishneh Torah launched Maimonides into Jewish celebrity status prompting letters sent to him with questions. His response letters, known as Responsa (or Teshuvot), have become additional important texts of Maimonides’ Scriptural interpretations.[5]

One Responsa was to Yeminite Rabbi Jacob al-Fayumi, known as the “Epistle Concerning Yemen.” Maimonides established the “My Servant” parashah of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as a messianic prophecy when he cited Isaiah 52:15 and 53:2 foretelling the Messiah could be identified by his origins and his wonders:[6]

“But the unique phenomenon attending his manifestation is, that all the kings of the earth be thrown in terror at the fame of him – their kingdoms be in consternation, and they themselves will be devising whether to oppose him with arms, or to adopt some different course, confessing, in fact their inability to contend with him or ignore his presence and so confounded at the wonders which they will see him work, that they will lay their hands to their mouth; in the words of Isaiah, when describing the manner in which the kings will hearken to him, At him kings will shut their mouth; for that which had not been told them have they seen, and that which they had not heard they have perceived. [Is. 52:15]

“What is to be the manner of Messiah’s advent, and where will be the place of his first appearance?

…there shall rise up one of whom none have known before, and the signs and wonders which they shall see performed by him will be the proofs of his true origin; for the Almighty where he declares to us his mind upon this matter, says, ‘Behold a man whose name is the Branch, and he shall branch forth out of his place’ (Zech. Vi. I2). And Isaiah speaks similarly of the time when he will appear, without his father or mother or family being known, He came up before him, and as a root out of the dry earth [Is 53:2], etc.”

One subtle factor. “Jesus of Nazareth” broke from traditional Jewish family name association where he normally would have been called “Jesus ben Joseph,” meaning Jesus son of Joseph.[7] Instead, Jesus is identified devoid of any family association. The name of Jesus of “Nazareth” belies his family heritage in the lineage of David, even born in the King’s home town of Bethlehem.[8]

All four Gospels are consistent with the Messiah characteristics defined by Maimonides. Jesus performed many wonders and miracles; diligently taught the people of Israel to walk in the way of God; rectified the abhorrent exploitation of the Temple and taught the Scriptures; and yet he was still executed.

Was Jesus of Nazareth a fulfillment of the Messiah prophecies or merely a stumbling block test sent by God?

 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Maimonides.  Mishneh Torah.  Moznaim Publications.  Jewish year 4937 (1177 AD). Chabad.org.  2015. “Sefer Shoftim” > “Melachim uMilchamot.” <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/682956/jewish/Mishneh-Torah.htm> Rich, Tracey R.  “Jewish Beliefs.”  JewFAQ.org. n.d. <http://www.jewfaq.org/beliefs.htm>  “Moses Ben Maimon.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.  <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11124-moses-ben-maimon> Furst, Rachel.  “The Mishneh Torah.”  MyJewishLearning.com. 2010.  <http://mobile.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Rabbinics/Halakhah/Medieval/Mishneh_Torah.shtml>  Seeskin, Kenneth.  “Maimonides.”  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2006, revised 2017. <https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/maimonides>
[2] Maimonides.  Mishneh Torah.
[3]  Josephus, Flavius. Against Apion. Book 1 #6-7. The Complete Works of Josephus.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[4] Mangel, Nissen. “Responsa.” Publisher:  Kehot Publication Society. 2008. Chabad.org. 2014.  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/107783/jewish/Responsa.htm>
[5] Mangel. “Responsa.”
[6] Maimonides. “Letter to the South (Yemen)”. p374.  Neubauer and Driver.  The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1&hl=en#v=onepage&q=advent&f=false>
[7] Rich, Tracey R. “Jewish Surnames.” Judaism101. 2011. <http://www.jewfaq.org/jnames.htm>  Weiss, Nelly. “The origin of Jewish family names : morphology and history.” p15. 2002. <https://www.scribd.com/doc/170261214/The-Origin-of-Jewish-Family-Names-Morphology-and-History-ebooKOID
[8] Maimonides. “Letter to the South (Yemen)”. p374.