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.

 

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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> 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>

 

A Simple Way to Check Integrity of the Gospels

 

Integrity of the Gospels, for many, is the first step in accepting its believability. Checking the integrity of the Gospels and its accounts can be as simple as comparing one Gospel account to another, a process known as “literary analysis.”[1]

Sounding complicated and boring, even intimidating – it is not! Chances are, literary analysis in its simplest form, is part of a normal routine personal activity. It happens naturally when reading a text such as books, magazine articles, Internet blogs, marketing ads, instructions, maps, etc. and mentally breaking it down to understand it better.[2] Almost anyone can do it at a basic level…and it can be fascinating.

In the case of the Gospels, literary analysis can be as simple as comparing two or more Gospels for such things as word usage, meaning, consistency, historical accuracy, theme, etc.[3] Performing any type of comparisons or cross references is a basic literary analysis technique.

A very close cousin to literary analysis is known as “textual criticism,” another term that seems intimidating and boring…and it probably is for most people. This technique is probably best reserved only for literary experts who are so inclined.

Understanding the theme is a key component by determining the central idea of the writing.[4] For the Gospels, is the theme intended to chronicle the birth, life, trial and execution of Jesus in the Judean Roman province – historical? Is the theme intended to teach a message of love and forgiveness – philosophical? Or perhaps, is the theme intended to convey a belief in Jesus as the promised Messiah exemplified by fulfillment of prophecies and Resurrection – salvation?

Determining the genre of the Gospels is key – are the Gospels fiction or non-fiction? Consider if the content is about real people, places and events (non-fiction) vs. content that is an invented story (fiction) written often for philosophical or entertainment purposes. To help figure this out, a reader can rely on some commonly recognized literary characteristic guidelines.

Fictions involve characters who are not real although they could believably be real people with resemblances to real persons. As a setting, the work may include real places, periods and events, but the story is always imaginary, artificial, not real. A big clue is the purpose of the author – was the intent to be entertaining, amusing, or enjoyable reading?[5]

Non-fictions, on the other hand, are written with the intention to be informative about real people, places or events based on historical, geographical or biographical facts. The central figure of the Gospels is Jesus – was he a real historical person? Non-fictions may also reflect the author’s recollection of witnessing events or facts often influenced by personal experiences.[6]

Characters in the story:  who are they – their gender, background, age, personalities, strengths and weaknesses, etc.? What did these characters say or how did they behave in various situations such as adversity, conflict, competition, challenges, interaction with others, etc.? Does it ring true – are their behaviors under the various circumstances what is to be expected by a normal person?

By now, natural investigative curiosity has kicked in…that urge to verify historical, geographical and biographical information to see if it is historically accurate.[7] In the case of the Gospels, was there a conspiratorial effort requiring coordination between four authors, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Gospels works of antiquity are multiplied by a factor of four authors written under varying times, places and circumstances thus setting direct answerability to the highest level.

Fact checking is very simple today using topical searches on the Internet to find reliable, unbiased secondary sources such as encyclopedias, historical websites, university library websites, etc. Texts of antiquity can even be referenced via the Internet such as by Jewish historian JosephusCaesar Augustus , and Roman historians Suetonius and Tacitus. The more knowledgeable about the subject matter, the better the analysis.

Performing literary analysis and literary criticism of the Gospels are a form of the scientific methodology. First, reading what has been written (observation); then gathering information (evidence, research, intuitive analysis) to identify the premise, determining the theme (hypothesis); and finally performing an assessment to see if it all stands up to scrutiny (testing, retesting).[8]

Using a scientific methodology approach allows for repeating the process to gain confidence in the outcome or conclusion. For some, a conclusion one way or the other about the integrity of the Gospels may come quickly; for many it will likely take longer.

In the end, the conclusion will be one reached on a personal level perhaps influenced by opinions, even biases weighed against observations, evaluation and factual accuracy.[9] Are the Gospels fictional or non-fictional? If they are found to be non-fictional, then the bigger question becomes:  is the central message of the Gospels believable?

 

Updated November 12, 2022.

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Jenkins, Rob. “Literary Analysis as Scientific Method.”  The Chronicles of Higher Education. 2012. <http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/onhiring/literary-analysis-as-scientific-method/30565>  Godin, Katherine. “How to Analyze a Literary Passage: A Step-by-Step Guide.” Study.com. 2019. <http://study.com/academy/lesson/how-to-analyze-a-literary-passage-a-step-by-step-guide.html>
[2] Godin. “How to Analyze a Literary Passage: A Step-by-Step Guide.”
[3] Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis?” Infomory.com.  August 21, 2011 <http://infomory.com/what-is/what-is-literary-analysis>   Ramlawi, Aisha. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.”
[4] Reade, Dan.  “Selecting topics for literary analysis.” Sophia.org. 2017. <https://www.sophia.org/tutorials/selecting-topics-for-literary-analysis>   Ramlawi,. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.”
[5] Ramlawi. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.”  Prabhat S. “Difference Between Fiction and Non fiction.” 2011. DifferenceBetween.net. <http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-fiction-and-non-fiction>   Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis?”
[6] “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment. <http://edsitement.neh.gov/sites/edsitement.neh.gov/files/worksheets/Critical%20Ways%20of%20Seeing%20The%20Adventures%20of%20Huckleberry%20Finn%20in%20Context%20-%20Introduction%20to%20Literary%20Criticism%20and%20Analysis.pdf> Cherran. “What is Literary Analysis?”
[7] “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment.
[8] Reade.  “Selecting topics for literary analysis.”   Jenkins. “Literary Analysis as Scientific Method.”  “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment.
[9] Cherran. “What is Literary Analysis?”