Interpretations of the Rabbis – the Messiah Prophecies

Tenakh and Old Testament Scriptures originate essentially from the same Hebrew texts, but when it comes to Messiah prophecies, interpretations vary widely. Christianity and Judaism disagree on any prophecy about the Messiah deemed to be fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth.

Among the authorities of Judaism, the Rabbi sages are not always in agreement on which prophecies point to the Messiah. Christianity is no exception where differences exist on such topics as baptism, worship, confessions – even salvation.

Some Rabbi sages  became known for their views documented in commentaries, letters or published works. Other Rabbis expressed themselves through their contributions to the Babylonian Talmud in its various Gemaras.

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

Fondly called Rambam, Rabbi Maimonides authored the Mishneh Torah known for formulating the Law into the 13 principals of Jewish faith.[2] The work is regarded for codifying the halakhah or Jewish Law.[3]

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 as an authority on sacrifices and the Temple.

Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin was a renowned twelfth century Rabbi and poet from Spain. His acclaimed contribution to Judaism is his Jewish work entitled Sefer ha-Musar meaning the Book of Instruction.[4]

Renaissance era Rabbi David Kimchi aka RaDaK is highly regarded by Jewish authorities of whom it is said “Where there is no Kimchi, there is no law.”[5] The Prophets edition of the Torah reveals RaDaK’s commentaries written in the margins.

Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein during the first half of the last century served as Editor for the Soncino Babylonian Talmud edition intended to reproduce a “clear and lucid” literal English translation in the restored, uncensored version.[6] Under his Editorship, bracketed words were added to clarify the text.[7] Censored or removed content was restored either in the body of the text or reintroduced within the footnotes. A Glossary and an Abbreviation table added even more clarity.[8]

One of the oldest Messiah prophesies is Jacob’s blessing of Judah in Genesis, recognized by Rashi as establishing the foundation for the future Messiah. The blessing foretells his son’s descendants, the Tribe of Judah, would become a like a lion where the “scepter” would remain until the coming of “Shiloh.”

Rashi identified “Shiloh” as the “King Messiah, to whom the kingdom belongs” and that the “scepter” refers to the royal lineage of “David and thereafter.”[9] Translated from the Hebrew word shebet as “scepter” or “staff,” it is the same word that appears in Balaam’s prophecy:[10]

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)

Providing more insight to the meaning of shebet, Rashi remarked the Messiah is one who “shoots out like an arrow” from Jacob and uproots the sons of Sheth or Seth (the son of Adam).[11]Maimonides, in the Mishneh Torah, expounded on Balaam’s prophecy. The Rabbi interpreted it to be referring to “King Moshiach” (Messiah) who would come from the lineage of David.[12]

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

Sanhedrin 98b quotes Isaiah 53:3 as the basis for one of the names of the Messiah.[14] Independently, Rabbi Jose the Galilean wrote the Messiah would be wounded for our transgressions quoting from Isaiah 53:5 and 53.7.[15] In a responsa letter from Maimonides, he referred to Isaiah 53:2 and 52:15 writing that the Messiah would be identified by his origins and his wonders.[16]

Rabbi Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin said in a counterview opinion that “My Servant” in the Isaiah 52-53 parashah refers to “King Messiah” while admitting his interpretation is in conflict with the prevailing Jewish position. In Sefer ha-Musar, Crispin gave surprisingly bold verse by verse commentaries defining expectations for the Messiah. [17]

Frequently seen during Christmas season in western cultures is Isaiah 9:6 foretelling a son who would bear the full responsibility for the government; one to be known by many names. Judaism generally disagrees it is 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)

One name, the “Prince of Peace,” is addressed by Rabbi’s in a Talmud Gemara found in “The Chapter on Peace.” Rabbi Jehoshua asserted the Prince was the “Holy One…called “Adonay-shalom” Rabbi Jose the Galilean declared “Peace” is the name of the Messiah, “as it is written ‘The prince of peace.’” Rashi viewed the prophecy to be about Kings David and Hezekiah.[18]

Micah 5:2 seemingly unambiguously predicts the birthplace of the future ruler of Israel, yet it is challenged by some Jewish authorities.[19] Rashi interpreted the verse to be foretelling the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, the son of Jesse, the son of King David.[20] Quoting Psalms 118:22, “The stone the builders had rejected became a cornerstone,” Rashi then revealed another name for the Messiah, “Yinnon,” who is older than the sun referring to Psalms 72:17.

Zechariah 12:10 predicts the Messiah is to be killed, the open question between Judaism and Christianity is the interpretation of the Hebrew word daqar as “pierced” or “thrust through.” Some Rabbis in the Talmud Gemara Sukkah 52a believed it to be a Messiah prophecy, but not all. Rashi offered a third interpretation saying the prophecy is about Zerubbabel while acknowledging others view it to be about the Messiah.[21]The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary and other Jewish Bibles interprets daqar as “thrust through.”

Psalms 22, along with the Isaiah 52-53 passage, is a preeminent Messiah prophecy recognized by Christianity predicting in detail the circumstances of the death of Jesus of Nazareth by crucifixion. Judaism, on the other hand, focuses solely on the second verse “Why have you forsaken me?” as the basis for the Psalm being about the nation of Israel.

Rashi interpreted the verse this way: “They are destined to go into exile, and David recited this prayer for the future.” Later in verse 27, “The humble shall eat and be sated; they shall praise the Lord, those who seek him; your hearts shall live forever,” the Rabbi remarked about its meaning: “at the time of our redemption in the days of our Messiah.”[22]

Studying and researching the Bible using the ancient Hebrew texts is one good way to determine the true meaning of the Messiah prophecies. Which prophecies point to the Messiah that, in turn, set the requirements and expectations for the Messiah?

 

Creative Commons License

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>
[3] Rich, Tracey R. “Jewish Beliefs.” JewFAQ.org. n.d. <http://www.jewfaq.org/beliefs.htm>
[4] Crispin, Moshe Kohen ibn.  “Sefer ha-Musar.”  Neubauer, Driver & Rolles.  The 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>
[5] “Kimhi” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9320-kimhi>  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.txt>  Mindel, Nissan. “Rabbi David Kimchi – RaDaK.” Chabad.org. 2020. <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/111880/jewish/Rabbi-David-Kimchi-RaDaK.htm>
[6] 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>
[7] Epstein, Dr. Isador, Editor. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. “Come and Hear.”1935-1948. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/index.html>
[8] Epstein. “Come and Hear.” “Soncino Talmud Glossary” and “Abbreviations Used in the Soncino Talmud.”
[9] Rashi. The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Genesis 49:10 Rashi commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8244/showrashi/true>  Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 98a.
[10] Numbers 24:17. NetBible.org. Hebrew text shebet <07626> <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=07626>
[11] Rashi. The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary  Numbers 24:17 Rashi commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9952/showrashi/true>
[12] Maimonides. “The Law Concerning Moshiach.”  
[13] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Isaiah 53:3-4 Rashi commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15984/jewish/Chapter-53.htm/showrashi/true>  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>
[14] Isaiah 53:3. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 98b, footnote #31. CR Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. pp 12-16. <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=snippet&q=Galilean&f=false>
[15] Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. p 11. 
[16] Maimonides. “Letter to the South (Yemen)”. p 374. Neubauer and Driver. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters
[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.
[18] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary.  Isaiah 9:6.  Rashi commentary. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10777-micah-book-of>  The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Michael L. Rodkinson. 1918. Book 5: Tractate  Derech  Eretz-Zuta, “The Chapter >on Peace.”  Internet Sacred Text Archives. 2010. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm> CR Judges 6:24. NetBible.org. Hebrew text “Y@havah shalowm” <03073>.
[19] “Micah, Book of.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. “Contents and Unity.” <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10777-micah-book-of>
[20] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary.  Micah 5:1 Rashi commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16191/showrashi/true>
[21] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Zechariah 6:12 Rashi commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16210/showrashi/true>
[22] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary.  Psalms 22. Rashi commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16243/showrashi/true>

Maimonides and Jesus of Nazareth – the Messiah?

Messiah or stumbling block? Famed Medieval Rabbi Maimonides had an opinion about Jesus of Nazareth on this question as well as his lineage, supernatural powers, and a comparison to the Messiah prophecies.

Affectionately known as Rambam in Jewish circles, he brought clarity to Jewish Law with some calling him “the second Moses.” Born in 1135, Moses Ben Maimon, later becoming known as Maimonides, authored Mishneh Torah. Considered a monumental Jewish work, it formulated the 13 principals of Jewish faith.[1]

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

King David’s lineage is a key requirement for the Messiah cited in multiple prophecies, by renowned Rabbi Rashi and by Maimonides who went further adding 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…”

Calling out Balaam’s (Bilaam) prophecy as messianic, unlike Rashi who stopped short, Maimonides explicitly referred to “Mashiach,” Hebrew for the 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 … his said that performing supernatural abilities would not definitively 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?”

With a key prophetic requirement that the Messiah must be born in the royal lineage of David, Maimonides did not disqualify Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah on that basis. He easily could have, if it were true, using the meticulous Jewish genealogy records maintained in the Temple.[3] Instead, in denouncing “Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Mashiach,” Maimonides acknowledged that Jesus was born in the House of David.[4]

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

One response to Yeminite Rabbi Jacob al-Fayumi is known as the “Epistle Concerning Yemen.” In it, Maimonides established the “My Servant” parashah of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as a messianic prophecy by citing Isaiah 52:15 and 53:2 saying the Messiah could be identified by his origins and his wonders:[6]

“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, etc.”

“Jesus of Nazareth” as a name broke from traditional Jewish family name association where he would have been called “Jesus ben Joseph,” meaning Jesus son of Joseph.[7] Instead of being known by his family association, he is known for his standalone reputation and image as Jesus of Nazareth devoid of any family association. Moreover, born in the lineage of King David in his home town of Bethlehem, the name of Jesus of “Nazareth” belies his family heritage.

“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.

All four Gospels report Jesus performed many wonders and miracles; diligently taught the people of Israel to walk in the way of God; despised and reacted to the exploitations of the Temple and the Scriptures by its keepers. The circumstances of his birth and life are consistent with the Messiah prophecies recognized by both Rabbis and Christian authorities.

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

Creative Commons License
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>