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 he 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 views on his lineage, supernatural powers, and a comparison to the Messiah prophecies.

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

King David’s lineage is a key requirement for the Messiah cited in multiple prophecies by renowned Rabbi Rashi. Rabbi Maimonides concurred and added 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. In a phrase-by-phrase commentary, he said the prophecy 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, Maimonides described things that would disqualify anyone who might otherwise be viewed as the Messiah. The Rabbi sage 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 associating Jesus with “all the other proper and complete kings of the Davidic dynasty who died.”[3] Instead, Maimonides denounced “Jesus of Nazareth for aspiring 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.”

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?

 

Updated October 24, 2022.

 

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> Maimonides statue. Wikimedia Commons. image. n.d. <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maimonides_statue_-_Cordoba.jpg
[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>

 

“The Censor” – Mystery of the Dark Ages

 

“The Censor” of the Dark Ages – who was he? Two more questions to be added:  the why and the how. Censorship was focused squarely on information about Jesus of Nazareth.

Much like the explosion of information on the Internet today, invention of the Gutenberg press around 1500 AD opened up the Dark Ages with a burst of information to the masses. Aside from playing a key role in triggering the Renaissance, the Gutenberg press invention was a game changer in another way.[1]

Imagine – religious information became available to anyone who could read.[2] Elite institutions that had previously held exclusive control over religious messaging viewed this as a threat. In an effort to regain control, they resorted to censorship tactics.

“The Censor” mystery is deepened because there was not just one person behind it. The term is used liberally by religious scholars referring to the many perpetrators who performed the censorship, some known and mostly unknown.[3] Home-to-home searches imposed indiscriminate burning of scrolls and books, pages being torn out, and blacking out text.[4]

Blame is largely attributed to the Roman Inquisition for censorship of references deemed to be contradictory to the official teaching of Christianity. However, evidence also points to Jewish censorship exposed in newer publications of the Babylonian Talmud and other Jewish writings. Encyclopaedia Judaica explains censorship of the Talmud began in the late 1500s such as with Sanhedrin 43a, 106a and 107b.[5]

Irrespective of those who pulled the strings of “the Censor,” the once-expunged content is viewed today as being insightful to a deeper understanding of both Jewish and Christian teachings. At the forefront of the censored restoration is the publishing of the Soncino Babylonian Talmud.[6]

Soncino Editor Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein explained an attempt was made to reproduce a “clear and lucid” literal English translation of the Talmud. Missing content was restored either directly to the body of the text or, albeit more obscurely, within the footnotes. Sometimes the Rabbi Editor added clarifying context in brackets.[7]

One previously censored folio in the Soncino translation is Sanhedrin 43a containing direct references to Yeshu, a Hebrew name for Jesus.[8] Some of the original text was restored only in the footnotes:[9]

“…On the eve of the Passover Yeshu [34] was hanged …’”

“But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of Passover![35]

“Yeshu” footnote #34 references the original Munich manuscript, the oldest complete Talmud copy in existence, noting it included the following words “the Nasarean” referring to the home town of Yeshu.[10] The original Munich Talmud manuscript thus said: “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu, the Nasarean, was hanged.” (The Munich manuscript made other references to “Jesus the Nazarene” that were changed to “R. Joshua b. Perahiah” in its subsequent versions.)[11]

Footnote #35 on the phrase “eve of the Passover” notes a less than complete Florentine Talmud manuscript (200 years older than the original Munich Manuscript) includes the words “and the eve of Sabbath.”[12] Fully restored, the Talmud would thus read that Yeshu “was hanged on the eve of Passover and the eve of the Sabbath!

Uncensored, the Talmud validates the Gospel accounts reporting Jesus was hanged or crucified on the Friday leading into Passover on the Sabbath. There’s more in the 43a Gemara:

“With Yeshu however it was different, for he was connected with the government [or royalty, i.e., influential].”

At the end of the same Gemara paragraph appears the phrase “he was connected with the government” clarified by the Soncino editor by adding the bracketed words “[or royalty, i.e., influential].” Since Hebrew royalty only comes through the lineage of King David, an exception was made in the handling of Jesus because of his influential royal lineage.

Mishneh Torah formulates the 13 principals of the Jewish faith written by the revered medieval sage RabbiMaimonides.[13] Heavy censorship focused on the last two chapters called Hilchos Melachim – the Laws Concerning Kings.[14] An example excerpt from the Sichos in English translation is found restored only in a footnote:

Text body:  “If a king will arise from the House of David, who, like David his ancestor, delves deeply into the study of the Torah and engages in the mitzvos as prescribed by the Written Law and the Oral Law; if he will compel all of Israel to walk in [the way of the Torah] and repair the breaches [in its observance]; and if he will fight the wars of G-d; – we may, with assurance, consider him Mashiach.”

Footnoted restoration: (continuing…) “If he did not succeed to this degree or he was killed, he surely is not [the redeemer] promised by the Torah. [Rather,] he should be considered as all the other proper and legitimate kings of the Davidic dynasty who died.  G-d only caused him to arise in order to test the multitude. As it is written [Daniel 11:35], “Some of the wise men will stumble, to purge, to refine, and to clarify, until the appointed time, for it is yet to come.”

“Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Moshiach and was executed by the court was also spoken of in Daniel’s prophecies [Daniel 11:14], “The renegades among your people shall exalt themselves in an attempt to fulfill the vision, but they shall stumble.”[15]

Was “the Censor” of Christian origin because Maimonides said Jesus was a renegade, an aspiring messiah (Moshiach) who stumbled?[16] Or was “the Censor” of Jewish origin possibly because of references to Jesus of Nazareth, his royal Davidic dynasty lineage, and his execution by the court?[17]

Censorship in the end was unsuccessful in hiding certain commonalities. Revealed is the Talmud’s agreement with the Gospels that Jesus of Nazareth was a legitimate royal descendant of King David who was condemned by the court and executed on the Friday leading into Passover on the Sabbath.

 

Updated November 14, 2022.

Creative Commons License

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Chase, Jeffrey S. “The Gutenberg Printing Press.” Duke University|Department of Computer Science.  n.d.  <http://www.cs.duke.edu/~chase/cps49s/press-summary.html>  
[2] Whipps, Heather. “How Gutenberg Changed the World.”  2008. <https://www.livescience.com/2569-gutenberg-changed-world.html>   “The impact of the printing press.” Skwirk.com. n.d.  <http://www.skwirk.com/p-c_s-56_u-422_t-1108_c-4280/the-impact-of-the-printing-press/qld/the-impact-of-the-printing-press/renaissance-and-reformation/the-reformation>
[3]Valentine, Carol A. “Do Not Censor the Talmud, Please.” 2003.  Come and Hear. 2010. <http://come-and-hear.com/editor/censorship_1.html>  “Euphemism” and “Censorship of Hebrew Books.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5906-euphemism> and <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4170-censorship-of-hebrew-books>  Censor. PrivateInternetAccess. image. 2017. <https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/chinese-censorship-red-1200×1045.png
[4] “Censorship of Hebrew Books.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.  Maimonides.  “The Law Concerning Moshiach.” Ed. Yechezkal Shimon Gutfreund, “Publisher’s Forward.”  Valentine. “Do Not Censor the Talmud, Please – Returning to Ezra the Scribe.” “Church Censorhip.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2008. <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/censorship>
[5] “Jesus.” Encyclopaedia Judaica.  Pages 249-250.  Segal, Eliezer. A Page from the Babylonian Talmud.  “Mishnah” – “Redaction.” n.d.  <http://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/TalmudPage.html#Page>; “The Gemara (Talmud)” – “Redaction.”  <http://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/TalmudMap/Gemara.html#Redaction>   Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Ed. Isidore Epstein based on the Wilna Romm Edition. 1935 – 1948.  <http://come-and-hear.com/tcontents.html>   The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson transalation.  Internet Sacred Text Archives. 2010.  <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm>  “The Gemara (Talmud).” Valentine. “Do Not Censor the Talmud, Please.”  “Euphemism” and “Censorship of Hebrew Books.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.
[6] Valentine. “Do Not Censor the Talmud, Please.” “Jesus.” Encyclopaedia Judaica.  Pages 249-250. Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Ed. Epstein.
[7] “Talmud.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. “Hebrew Manuscripts.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2008. <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/hebrew-manuscripts>  Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Ed. Epstein. “Method and Scope.” 
[8] Yassif, Eli. “The Jewish Jesus Story.” Tablet. 2017. <http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/220567/the-jewish-jesus-story>   KjaerHansen, Kai. “An Introduction to the Names Yehoshua/Joshua, Yeshua, Jesus and Yeshu.” 1992. Jews For Jesus. 2017. <https://jewsforjesus.org/answers/an-introduction-to-the-names-yehoshua-joshua-yeshua-jesus-and-yeshu>
[9] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Tractate Sanhedrin, Folio 43a. “Who will emerge from Bethlehem.”  Teshuvas HaMinim. 2011. Archived URL.  Archive.org. 2 Sept. 2012.  <http://web.archive.org/web/20120902023316/http://www.teshuvashaminim.com/michah51.html>
[10] Net.bible.org. Greek text – Matthew 2:23; 26:71; Mark 1:24; 14:67; 10:47; Luke 4:34; John 18:5.  Strong.  “Nazarenos <3478>  The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.  “Nazarean” and “Nazarene.”  Merriam-Webster. 2017 <http://www.merriam-webster.com>   “-an” suffix. Dictionary.com. 2017.  <http://www.dictionary.comSoncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin, Folio 43a, footnote #34.   Shachter, J. and Freedman, H.  “Sanhedrin.”  Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Epstein. “Introduction.” Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Abbreviation” ref. “MS.M”.&nbsp
[11] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sotah 47a, footnote #11, 27 & 28.
[12] “Babylonian Talmud.”  Word Digital Library | Library of Congress. 2017. <https://www.wdl.org/en/item/8910>  Pasternak, Nurit. “The Material Context of 15th-Century Hebrew Florentine Manuscripts.” 2013. Academia.edu. 2017. <https://www.academia.edu/4320985/The_Material_Context_of_15th-Century_Hebrew_Florentine_ManuscriptsSoncino Babylonian Talmud.  Sanhedrin 43a.  “Talmud.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.
[13] Rich, Tracey R.  “Jewish Beliefs.”  JewFAQ.org. n.d. <http://www.jewfaq.org/beliefs.htm>  Maimonides.  Mishneh Torah.  Trans. Eliyahu Touger.  “Moses Ben Maimon.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.  Furst, Rachel. “The Mishneh Torah – Maimonides’ halakhic magnum opus.”  MyJewishLearning.com. 2010.  <http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-mishneh-torah/>   Seeskin, Kenneth. “Maimonides.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2006, revised 2017.  <https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/maimonides/>
[14] Schneerson, Menachem M.  From Exile to Redemption. Volume 2.  Chapter 4, “Studies in Rambam, Hilchos Melachim, Chapter 5, Chapter 11”, footnotes #551, #558, #559, #602, and Chapter 12.”  <http://www.sichos-in-english.org/books/from-exile-to-redemption-2/02.htm>  “Melachim uMilchamot – Chapter 11.” <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1188356/jewish/Melachim-uMilchamot-Chapter-11.htm>  Maimonides. “The Law Concerning Moshiach.”  Footnote #5.  Kesser.org. n.d. <http://www.kesser.org/moshiach/rambam.html#SIE>  “Mishneh Torah.” MishnahTorah.com. n.d. <http://web.archive.org/web/20161105145530/http://www.mishnehtorah.com:80>  Shulman, Moshe. “The Rambam on Isaiah 53.”  “Mishneh Torah.” MishnahTorah.com.  Maimonides.  “The Law Concerning Moshiach.” Kesser.org. “Publisher’s Forward.” Ed. Gutfreund,
[15] Maimonides.  “The Law Concerning Moshiach.” Sichos In English translation.
[16] Segal. A Page from the Babylonian Talmud. “Mishnah” – “Redaction” and “The Gemara (Talmud)” – “Redaction.”  Schneerson, From Exile to Redemption. Volume 2. Chapter 11,” footnote #559.  “Melachim uMilchamot – Chapter 11.” Maimonides.  “The Law Concerning Moshiach.” Kesser.org. Footnote #5. Kesser.org.
[17] Rich, Tracey R. “Mashiach: The Messiah.” JewFAQ.org. n.d. <http://www.jewfaq.org/mashiach.htm>