Jewish Leaders – Recognition of the Messiah?

Jewish leadership acknowledged the supernatural abilities and authority of Jesus of Nazareth…some even recognized him as the Messiah. It began at the time of his birth.

Magi saw signs that a special King of the Jews was to be born and began a quest traveling hundreds of miles not knowing exactly where to find him. None other than King Herod gave the Magi the birth location of the Messiah as it was provided to him by the Jewish religious experts.

Herod’s question to the chief priests and scribes was simple – where is the Christ (Greek for Messiah) to be born?  His question was based not on “if,” rather an assumption of fact asking “where” the Messiah was to be born? Their answer:  “In Bethlehem of Judea.”[1] Accordingly, Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem where they did indeed find the child, Jesus.

Eight days after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary took him to the Temple in Jerusalem a few miles away to comply with the Jewish laws to formally name him, to be circumcised, offer a sacrifice and for his father to bless him.[2] Simeon met them in the Temple, took the babe in his arms and blessed Jesus, too, saying:

LK 2:30-32 “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (NIV)

Previously Simeon had received a vision that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah.  Upon seeing the baby Jesus, Simeon acknowledged to God that His promise had been fulfilled and he was now ready to die. Before the new family left, Simeon foretold what to expect for the life of their child, Jesus:

LK 2:34-35 “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (NIV)

Anna was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel of the Asher tribe. Her husband had died after only seven years of marriage leaving her a widow for the next 84 years. Living a reclusive life, she never left the Temple fasting and praying day and night.[3]

Seeing Joseph, Mary and Jesus, Anna came up to them and began giving thanks to God. The prophetess then spoke of Jesus to all who came into the Temple interested in the “redemption of Jerusalem.”

Several groups of Jewish religious leaders are referenced in the Gospels typically in opposition to Jesus during his final three-year ministry – the rulers of the Sanhedrin, the High Priest, the Pharisees, the Herodians, the chief priests, the legal experts and the elders. While opposing Jesus as a threat to fundamental Judaism, they acknowledged the supernatural abilities and powers of Jesus through their criticisms thereby inadvertently corroborating that he possessed the characteristics of the prophesied Messiah.[4]

Sanhedrin was the ruling political body of the Jewish theocracy originally established by Moses.[5] The High Priest was the head of the Sanhedrin and political leader of all the Jewish people.[6]

Scribes were the legal experts of Jewish law, the lawyers of the day.[7] Chief priests were religious leaders from the Temple and members of the Sanhedrin.[8] Elders were valued in Jewish society for their wisdom in consultations.[9] Herodians were a minor religious faction although they shared a common enemy of Jesus.[10]

Chief priests, legal experts and elders acknowledged Jesus had the supernatural power and authority to cast out demons and to perform “signs” often translated as “miracles.” [11] Asking Jesus to identify the authority of his power “to do these things,” they could not answer a legal riddle posed to them and, in return, Jesus neither answered their question.[12]

Pharisees one of three predominate religious factions in Jerusalem and most noticeable throughout Judea and were  the primary nemesis of Jesus in the Gospels.[13] Inexplicably, they viewed Jesus as being on their level calling him “teacher” who taught “the way of God in truth” and took offense when Jesus dared to eat with the “sinners.”[14] Admitting Jesus performed “signs ” so amazing that “the whole world has gone after him,” they sought to kill him.[15]

Arresting Jesus, the Jewish leadership put him on trial when he admitted under oath to being the “Son of God.” The High Priest in charge of the trial, Caiaphas, reacted to the admission by tearing his clothes in a customary display of grief for hearing blasphemy exclaiming, “Why do we still need witnesses?”[16]

Not all the Jewish leadership shared the same disdainful views of Jesus. In one instance, Jesus was invited to dinner by a Pharisee named Simon.[17] While dining, an uninvited guest – a local woman “sinner” – washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and hair. Jesus forgave her many sins causing Simon and his guests to wonder who is Jesus to be able to forgive sins?[18]

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were identified as Jewish rulers who followed Jesus.[19] Nicodemus had met secretly with Jesus and once pushed back on unfair accusations of his ruling peers.[20] Joseph asked Pilate for the crucified body of Jesus and both Jewish rulers together buried him in Joseph’s unused tomb.[21]

King Herod believed as a result of the Magi’s visit through the words of his royal Jewish council that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. At the Temple, a Jewish prophetess and a priest recognized baby Jesus as the Messiah. Later, archenemies of Jesus acknowledged his supernatural abilities to heal, perform other miracles, and his authority of power over evil. Was Jesus the prophesied Messiah?

 

Updated April 16, 2022.

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REFERENCES:

[1] Matthew 2:5.
[2] Luke 2:21-33.
[3] Luke 2:36-38.
[4] Exodus 18:25-26; Deuteronomy 1:15-17, 16:18-20; Matthew 12:9; Mark 11:18; Luke 6:6-11; John 11:46-48. Sanhedrin 49b. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. 1935-1948. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_49.html “Chief Priests.” Encyclopedia.com. 2019. <https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chief-priests>
[5] “Sanhedrin.” JewishEncyclopedia.com. 2011. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12291-portalis-comte-joseph-marie>
[6] “High Priest.” JewishEncyclopedia.com. 2011. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7689-high-priest>
[7] “Scribes.” JewishEncyclopedia.com. 2011. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13831-sofer>
[8] “Chief Priests.” Encyclopedia.com. 2019. <https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chief-priests>
[9]“Elder.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2021. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/elder>
[10] “Herodians.” JewishEncyclopedia.com. 2011.  <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7605-herodians>
[11] Mark 2:6; 3:22; Luke 6:7; John 11:47.
[13] “Pharisees.” JewishEncyclopedia.com. 2011. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articl s/12050-perushim >
[14] Matthew 22:16; Mark 2:13-16. Luke 5:30, 7:39, 15:2: John 8:3.
[15] Matthew 12:9, 22:15; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 5:21, 6:2, 11, 11:53; John 7:31-32, 11:47-50; 12:19.
[16] Mark 14:61-63. NET, NRSV. CR Matthew 26:63-65; Luke 22:70-71. O’Neal, Sam. Learn Religions. 2019. <https://www.learnreligions.com/why-people-in-the-bible-tore-their-clothes-363391>
[17] Luke 7:44.
[18] Luke 7:36-35.
[19] John 3:1, 7:50-51, 19:38-39.
[20] John 7:50-51.
[21] Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42.

Matthew’s Nativity – An Investigative Breakdown

Easy to forget, the Christmas Nativity story didn’t happen in a single night – it is a time-lapsed compilation of what took place over many weeks, if not months. Two Gospels, Luke and Matthew, are the sources of the Nativity story.[1]

Luke’s account starts just before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth ending when he was about a month old. Matthew’s account starts later, “Now after Jesus was born…”[2] No longer in a stable, “when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother.”[3]

Setting the scene in Matthew, King Herod of Judea was in his Jerusalem palace rather than one of his three other palaces in Herodium, Jericho and Caesarea.[4] Soon he would move to Jericho to live out his final days with a most miserable health condition…but not yet.[5]

As strange as it may seem to have purveyors of mysticism in the Jewish story of Jesus, Matthew writes, “Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,” translated as “Magi” in some Bibles. [6] According to the Talmud, Magi were from Persia, also known as “fire worshippers” and “Guebers.”[7] Magi had a long history of persecuting the Jews making them well-known, feared and disliked.[8]

Calling upon Herod at his palace, the Magi were promptly welcomed. After all, Magi were not only highly regarded in the former Persian and Greek Empires for their mysterious abilities, according to Plato, they were also known as “king makers.” [9]

Greek Hellenism accepted all religions, especially Zoroastrianism with its magian priests who had a reputation for their ability to read the stars and make accurate predictions.[10] Herod openly embraced Hellenism, such as incorporating Greek inscriptions and architectural features in the enhanced Jewish Temple, causing great consternation with the Jewish leadership.[11]

These Wise Men said something most alarming, shocking to King Herod. The Magi announced the reason for their visit and asked:

MT 2:2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” (NKJV)

Any king, especially Herod, would be distressed when these king-maker Magi said they were looking for a newborn “King of the Jews.” And, they didn’t use future tense; rather present tense – he was already a king. More disconcerting, the Magi said they had “come to worship Him” which seemed very likely the people might want to do the same.

Word leaked out to the people of Jerusalem of what the Magi had said. Not surprisingly they were also “troubled,” at the very least the rumor mill presented an air of uncertainty which always worries a populace. If the child was the foretold Messiah, such speculation certainly stirred the pot even more.

Herod’s next action clearly demonstrates he believed the Magi when he “gathered all the chief priests and scribes together asking them where the Christ was to be born.”[12] A difference in language is of special note. The Magi inquired about the birth of a “King of the Jews” while Herod’s quote uses the Greek word Christos meaning Messiah.

Whether this difference in language is attributable to the author of Matthew or if Herod connected the dots concluding the King of the Jews meant the Messiah, it didn’t make any difference. The chief priests and scribes understood what Herod was asking as evidenced by their specific answer.

Jewish chief priests and scribes – members of the Jewish leadership – reported to Herod that a Ruler was prophesied to be born “In Bethlehem of Judea.” Unambiguous, their answer included a quote from the prophecy of Micah 5:2:

MT 2:5-6 “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Reaction by Herod was telling. For this ruthless King, based on the answer by the Jewish religious experts, there was only one course of action – eliminate the threat.

Previous mention by the Magi of observing “his star” was initially not an attention-getting detail. Herod accepted the Magi’s declaration that they had seen “his star,” but this detail was overshadowed by the bombshell announcement there was another King of the Jews.

Upon further contemplation after the Magi’s visit, Herod realized details about the “star” were important – the time of the star’s appearance would determine the child’s age. Undoubtedly, they saw something in the night sky compelling them to travel hundreds of miles “from the East;” however, the Magi they didn’t say when they had seen “his star.” 

Wanting this single detail, Herod “secretly called the wise men” to another meeting – to “determine from them what time the star appeared.”[13] The Magi, who still hadn’t yet received an answer to their own question, agreed to meet with Herod again.

Information from the secret meeting served to be useful to both parties. Herod “sent them to Bethlehem” thereby providing the Magi with the location of the child. In return, Herod was able to determine when the Magi saw “his star” and thus the age of the child.[14]

Cunningly, Herod told the Magi, “when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” Herod worshiped no one or thing – the trap was set. As for the Magi:

MT 2:9-10 “When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.”

A second appearance of the “star” is a definitive clue that opens the door for the science of astronomy to plausibly explain the “star.” In one scenario, an extremely rare series of stellar conjunctions occurred during an 18-month period in 3-2 BC centered around Jupiter.

June 17, 2 BC, nine months after the first Jupiter-Venus very close conjunction, Jupiter, known as the king star, came into an occultation conjunction (overlapping/fused) with Venus, known as the Queen or mother star.[15] Jupiter’s celestial path continued its odyssey and moved into a retrograde U-turn in the southwestern sky.

From the vantage point of Jerusalem, Jupiter appeared to stop over Bethlehem beginning December 25, 2 BC, lasting until January 2, 1 BC.[16] Minimal nightly movement would have been visually indistinguishable giving it the illusion of stopping in its position.[17]

It becomes clear why Herod wanted to determine the age of the child. The King, who had undoubtedly believed the Magi, realized they had deceived him whereupon he took the drastic action of commanding all the children 2 years old and younger in the districts of Bethlehem to be killed. The 2-year range to remove any room for error fits Herod’s ruthless, cruel profile.

Finding the child in Bethlehem was probably not difficult – in a small town, everyone knows what’s what, just ask. Finding Jesus, the Magi “fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented expensive gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Now it becomes clear why Herod wanted to determine the age of the child. He took dramatic, merciless action to eliminate the threat to his kingdom.

MT 2:16 “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men

When the King realized the Magi were not returning, he commanded that all the children 2 years old and younger in the districts of Bethlehem to be killed. True to the reputation of Herod’s ruthless, cruel profile, the 2-year range covered any room for error.

More than capable of such evil deeds, there were no bounds for Herod. He had tortured people for mere suspicions and killed countless Jews, not to mention killing his brother, three sons, a former Jewish High Priest, and plotted to have all the “principal men” of Judea killed upon his own death.[18]

King Herod’s drastic action confirmed five points – the King believed the Magi; his royal Jewish council; the Micah prophecy; Christos had been born…and in Bethlehem. Herod died a few months later and oft overlooked is a key critical detail provided by Matthew:  Archelaus is named as the successor to King Herod, a fact consistent with secular history.[19]

At least 20 specific details are laid out in a logical sequence in 22 verses, much that is corroborated by history and science. Does this strengthen the credibility to Matthew’s Gospel account about the birth of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

Updated August 31, 2022.

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REFERENCES:

All Bible quotes are from the New King James Version.

[1] Matthew 2; Luke 2.
[2] Matthew 2:1.
[3] Matthew 2:11.
[4] Burrell, Barbara; Gleason, Kathryn L.; Netzer, Ehud. “Uncovering Herod’s Seaside Palace. BAS Library. 1993. <https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/19/3/7>  Geva, Hillel.  “Archaeology in Israel:  Jericho – the Winter Palace of King Herod.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2019. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jericho-the-winter-palace-of-king-herod>  “Herodium-King Herod-s Palace-Fortress.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2000. < https://mfa.gov.il/mfa/israelexperience/history/pages/herodium%20-%20king%20herod-s%20palace-fortress.aspx>  Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews.  Trans. William Whitson. Book XV, Chapter XI. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Trans. William Whitson. Book I, Chapter XXI.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Herod the Great.” Bible History Online. 2016. <http://www.bible-history.com/herod_the_great>  “Herod.” Jewish Virtual Library. n.d. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/herod>
[5] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.
[6] Matthew 2:1. Netbible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=1>
[7] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. The Soncino Press. 1935-1948. Sanhedrin 98a.  <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.html#98a_22> Sanhedrin 74b. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_74.html>  “Babylonia.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10263-magi>
[8] Segal, Eliezer. “The Menorah and the Magi.” Sources. 1997. <https://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/Shokel/971219_MagiMenorah.html> Missler, Chuck. “Who Were the Magi?” Idolphin.org.1999. <http://www.ldolphin.org/magi.html>
[9] Plato. Alcibiades 1. Trans. W.R.M. Lamb. c. 390 AD. 1 121e-1232. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0176%3Atext%3DAlc.%201%3Asection%3D122a>  “Herodotus. The Histories.  Book 3, Chapters 30, 60-79.  Missler. “Who Were the Magi?” Plato. Republic. Trans.Paul Shorey. 9.572e. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D9%3Asection%3D572e>   Herodotus. The Histories. Book 1, Chapters 107-122. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0239%3Abook%3D1>  Polybius. Histories. Book 34, Chapter 2. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0234:book=34:chapter=2&highlight=magi> Herodotus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herodotus-Greek-historian>
[13] Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. 8.1; 9/7. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0258:book=9:chapter=7&highlight=Magians%2C> “Pythagoras.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pythagoras>  “Cyrus takes Babylon.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2018. <http://www.livius.org/sources/content/herodotus/cyrus-takes-babylon> “Democritus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Democritus> Diogenes. Lives. 9.7.
[10] “Zoroastrianism.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/15283-zoroastrianism>
[11] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapter VIII; Book XVI, Chapter V; Book XVII, Chapters VI; VIII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXI.  “Hellenism” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7535-hellenism>
[12] Matthew 2:4. Greek text. NetBible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=4>
[13] Matthew 2:7.
[14] Matthew 2:8, 16.
[15] Phillips, Tony.  “A Christmas Star for SOHO.”  NASA Science | Science New. 16 May 2000.  <http://web.archive.org/web/20170516003444/https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2000/ast16may_1>  “Venus And Jupiter Will Pass 42 Arc seconds Apart On May 17.” Press Release – Marshall Space Flight Center. SpaceRef.com. 2000. <http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=1819>  Carroll, Susan S. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”1997. Twin Cities Creation Science Association. n.d. <http://www.tccsa.tc/articles/star_susan_carroll.pdf>
Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. Associates for Scriptural Knowledge. 2003. Chapter 4.  Larson, Frederick A. The Star of Bethlehem. 2014. <http://www.bethlehemstar.net/setting-the-stage/why-are-we-hearing-this-now>  Haley, A. S. “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.” Anglican Curmudgeon. 2009.   <http://web.archive.org/web/20171016111146/http://www.newmanlib.ibri.org/Papers/StarofBethlehem/75starbethlehem.htm> Bunson, Matthew.  Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. “Jupiter.” 2002. <https://archive.org/details/isbn_9780816045624>
[16] Martin. The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 4.  Larson. The Star of Bethlehem. “The Starry Dance.”  Carroll. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”
[17] Martin. The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 4.  Haley. “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.” “The Star of Bethlehem.” Northern Ireland Amateur Astronomy Society. 2006. <http://web.archive.org/web/20120103020452/http://www.eaas.co.uk/news/star_of_bethlehem.html>   Carroll. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”
[18] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapters III-VII, IX, XIII, XVI; Book XVI, Chapter XI; Book XVII, Chapters VI, IX.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapters X, XXVII, XXXIII.
[19] Matthew 2:22.