Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Afflicted and Oppressed

There are two very distinct lines of prophecy in the Scriptures concerning the Messiah which pose an interesting dilemma.  One line of prophecy portrays the Messiah as a humble and suffering servant, while the other line of prophecy depicts Him as a conquering king and redeemer.  The ancient rabbis recognized these competing functions and labored to resolve the two roles of the Messiah which seem to be at variance with one another.

When the death of the Messiah became an accepted tenet in Talmudic times, it posed a challenge to reconcile this idea with the belief that the Messiah was the Redeemer Who would usher in the Kingdom and the blissful Messianic age.  The dilemma was resolved by splitting the person of the Messiah into two persons: Messiah ben Joseph would raise an army against Israel's enemies only to fall in battle after many victories and miracles, while Messiah ben David would come after him and lead Israel to victory and ultimately triumph.   

This wasn't the only purpose this splitting of the Messiah achieved.  According to our Sages, the person of the Messiah is perfectly prefigured in Moses.  Mose died before he could enter the Promised Land, and so the Messiah, also, had to die before accomplishing His great task of ultimate redemption.  The solution was to let one Messiah, like Moses, die, and then assign the completion of the work of Redemption to a second Messiah.  

And every one who has been delivered from the evils that I have foretold shall see my wonders.  For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years.  And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath.  And the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days, as it was at the first beginnings; so that no one shall be left (4 Ezra 7:27-30).

And the land shall mourn, every family apart (Zech. 12:12).  What is the reason of this mourning?  R' Dosa and the rabbis differ about it.  R' Dosa says: "[They will mourn] over the Messiah who will be slain," and the rabbis say, [They will mourn] over the Evil Inclination which will be killed [in the days of the Messiah] . . . " (Sukkah 52a).

Our Rabbis taught, The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to the Messiah, the son of David (May he reveal himself speedily in our days!), ‘Ask of me anything, and I will give it to thee’, as it is said, I will tell of the decree etc. this day have I begotten thee, ask of me and I will give the nations for thy inheritance. 


But when he will see that the Messiah the son of Joseph is slain, he will say to Him, ‘Lord of the Universe, I ask of Thee only the gift of life’.’As to life’, He would answer him, ‘Your father David has already prophesied this concerning you’, as it is said, He asked life of thee, thou gavest it him, [even length of days for ever and ever] (Sukkah 52a).

Zechariah was said to be prophesying of the Messiah ben Joseph: 

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey."
(Zechariah 9:9)


He is depicted as the King of Zion and yet lowly and riding on a humble donkey.  This passage is quoted three times in the Babylonian Talmud and always in connection with the MessiahThe first occurrence is in a passage that is dealing with dreams: 

He that sees a donkey in his dream should expect salvation because it says: 'Behold, your King comes to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding upon an ass (Berachot 56b).

Another Talmudic reference is found in Sanhedrin 99a where a retort is given to Rabbi Hillel citing the Zechariah Scripture, noting that it prophecies about the coming of the Messiah.  Finally, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, referring to the Zechariah Scripture, said that if Israel is not worthy, then the Messiah will come lowly and riding upon an ass.  This is Messiah ben Joseph - the Suffering Messiah.  The rabbis also argued that the Messiah was not only humble, but oppressed as well:

'He is humble and riding upon an ass.'  This refers to the Messiah and He is called anee [poor, humble, and oppressed] because he was oppressed all those years in prison, and the sinners of Israel derided Him . . . (Pesikta Rabbati, Piska 35).  

The prophet Isaiah also wrote concerning the Messiah: 

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the L-RD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. (Isaiah 53:6-7)

There was no other way for the Messiah to come.  The Midrashim hold to the view that Isaiah is speaking of the Redeemer in this passage.  Concerning these chapters (i.e. Is. 52-53), Rabbi Moshe Alshekh, 16th century Sfat, commented:

[Our] rabbis with one voice, accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of King Messiah (Isaiah 53, According to Jewish Interpreters, Oxford 1899).  

The Targum paraphrases:

Behold My Servant the Messiah shall prosper (Targum in Isaiah 52:13).

The Targum continues: 

He will build the Temple that was polluted because of our sins.  We all have been scattered like sheep, each was dispatched into captivity to his own way, but it was the will from before the L-rd to forgive all our sins for His sake . . . He removed the rulership of the Gentile nations from the land of Israel." (Targum on Isaiah 53)

No one was to build the Temple except the Messiah according to Jewish tradition.   Also, several of the sages in the Midrashim, understand the threefold expressions contained within those Scripture, "exalted, extolled, and to be very high." as an indication that the "Messiah shall be more exalted than Abraham . . . more extolled than Moses . . . and be very high . . . ; that is, higher than the ministering angels." (cf. Midrash Tanhuma and Yalkut vol. ii, para. 338, Edersheim, p. 727).
  
The Targum clearly paraphrases these verses as consistent references to the Messiah.  A tractate in Sanhedrin relates Isaiah 53 to the sufferings of the Messiah:

The rabbis say the Messiah's name is The Suffering Scholar of Rabbi's House [or the Leper Scholar] for it is written: 'Surely He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows, yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of G-d and afflicted.' (Sanhedrin 98a)

The upshot of all this is that the rabbinical authorities have been acutely aware of the clear teaching of Scripture concernng the suffering of a Messiah Who would die.  

"There is in the Garden of Eden a palace named the Palace of the Sons of Sickness.  This palace the Messiah enters, and He summons every pain and every chastisement of Israel.  All of these come and rest upon Him.  An had He thus not lightened them upon Himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel's chastisements for the transgressions of the law, as it is written: 'Surely our sickness He has carried.'" (Zohar II, 212a) 

10 comments:

  1. I was really wanting to engage on this, but I have a problem. In my bible Ezra chapter 7 only has 28 verses and it reads:

    Ezra 7:27-28

    Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to adorn the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, 28 and has extended lovingkindness to me before the king and his counselors and before all the king's mighty princes. Thus I was strengthened according to the hand of the LORD my God upon me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.
    NASU

    I'd like some clarification on the reference.

    Also, a couple of points come to my mind.

    First, some of the sources you quote occur after the advent of Jesus of Nazareth, in one case 1600 years after. Might not the scholars in question have their thinking influenced by, or at least be in partial response to the doctrines of the various Christian scholars they would no doubt have been familiar with?

    I think that a rabbi examining the claims of a Christian about TANAK passages would be forced on an intellectual level to admit that the messianic passages contain descriptions of the messiah that were counter to popular ideas in the 1st century. This might not have been enough to sway the rabbi to faith in the Christian position, but it may have influenced his thinking.

    If that is/was the case, the extra biblical texts may not reflect the true historic understanding of the messiah. Of course I would exclude any pre-Christian portions from this criticism. Your reference to Hillel being an example.

    Second, I've seen this " said that if Israel is not worthy, then the Messiah will come lowly and riding upon an ass." idea put forth several times. I would suggest that there has never been a period of time in which Israel was worthy of its Messiah.

    Is it your intent to put forward a description of current Jewish thought on the messiah or one based in a post Christian scholarship model, or are you elucidating your personal understanding of who the messiah(s) are?

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  2. "I'd like some clarification on the reference."

    Thanks for the catch. It was supposed to be 4 Ezra 7:27-30 (Apocryphal).

    "First, some of the sources you quote occur after the advent of Jesus of Nazareth, in one case 1600 years after.Might not the scholars in question have their thinking influenced by, or at least be in partial response to the doctrines of the various Christian scholars they would no doubt have been familiar with?"

    Certainly. Many rabbis (especially since Rashi) were responding to Christian polemics and were reacting against Christians using texts such as Isaiah 53 to demonstrate the Messiahship of Y'shua of Galilee. Many of these rabbis were determined to reinforce the belief that Y'shua was the "Christian Messiah" and could not possibly be the Jewish one. In doing so, it is my contention that these rabbis often distorted the picture of the Messiah presented by the Law and the Prophets as well as their own ancient oral traditions (Pesikta Rabbati, Talmud, Midrash, all of these are 3rd - 5th century BCE through the Second Temple period).

    As far as the later sources are concerned (Rabbi Alshekh, Zohar, etc.), these sources demonstrate a consistency in ideas about the role and characteristics of the Messiah. The problem is the reluctance to apply these ideas and characteristics, ancient or modern, Biblical or extra-Biblical, to the carpenter from Galilee.

    The extra-Biblical texts (Talmud, midrash, etc.) are valuable in that they provide us with tremendous insight to how the rabbis, sages, a layperson thought about these things during the Second Temple period when Y'shua walked this earth.

    Y'shua is considered a heretic in the majority of Jewish circles and the idea of vicarious atonement and the Suffering Servant is, to put it mildly, downplayed if not categorically rejected. And yet the Law, the prophets, and their own oral traditions about the purpose and role of the Messiah contradict their 'modern' position.

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  3. "Second, I've seen this " said that if Israel is not worthy, then the Messiah will come lowly and riding upon an ass." idea put forth several times. I would suggest that there has never been a period of time in which Israel was worthy of its Messiah."

    Precisely. We are all unworthy, so there was no other way for the Messiah to come. Rav Sha'ul writes to the Corinthians that while we yet sinners the Messiah died for the ungodly, the righteous for the unrighteous. He did come riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. The Jewish people of his day would have been familiar with the Zechariah teaching. Not only does Y'shua fulfill the Scripture in Zechariah 9, He also fulfills the oral traditions and understanding surrounding the passage, traditions with which His contemporaries would have been very familiar.

    There is a tremendous misunderstanding oral tradition and oral law in Christendom. A misunderstanding I hope to address in the posts ahead. When Moses was judging the Israelites in Exodus and dealing with various issues, he didn't just sit around and quote the Bible all day. He applied it, he helped people understand how to walk it out. He taught them Torah - orally. All of the cases and issues he dealt with would have been unique. This is understood as halacha, literally, 'way of walking', specifically, walking out the Torah.

    Just a few verses in the Torah telling us to keep the Sabbath. Great, but how do we do this? How is it fleshed out?

    [I am sure you would agree that Christendom has an oral tradition all their own, though perhaps not as uniform and systematized, and denominations seem to have their distinctive traditions and unspoken understandings on any number of issues]

    When the Torah was being read publicly in Ezra's day, the Levites were giving the sense and helping the people to understand what they were hearing. There is an oral component to the Law. There are numerous examples in the Greek Writings where Paul is exhorting his audience to hold fast to the teachings and the traditions he passed down to them. What traditions would he have passed down?

    "Is it your intent to put forward a description of current Jewish thought on the messiah or one based in a post Christian scholarship model, or are you elucidating your personal understanding of who the messiah(s) are?"

    It is my intention to hold my learned Jewish brethren accountable for what is written in the Law, the Prophets, and the writings, oracles that have been entrusted to us, as well as the traditions of our forefathers. The stubborn refusal to consider the claims of the Messiah, Paul, John, Peter, James, et al, in light of the Tanakh and many of our own traditions, ancient or 'post-Christian', post-Talmudic, post-whatever, is intellectually dishonest to say the least.

    Many rabbi forbid Jews from studying the book of Daniel or Isaiah 53. There is a whole host of literature devoted to re-interpreting the role of the Suffering Servant and applying to Israel in hopes of refuting the proselytizers, whoever they may be. Isaiah 53 is no longer read as a haftarah portion at Pesach or in the weeks leading up to the fall holidays.

    Christians have historically done a poor job provoking the Jew to jealousy (Romans 9-11) and the Jews diligently search the Scriptures yet refuse to acknowledge the One about Whom those Scriptures (and many of their own traditions) testify.

    Both Christians and Jews are blinded in part to different aspects of the Torah - both written and living. May all of our eyes be opened.


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  4. that Christendom has an oral tradition all their own,

    I would say that each denomination is a reflection of their own "oral" tradition.

    Thanks for the clarification. I wasn't sure what point was being made, or where it was coming from. I think the dualism idea is a mistake. As I've read various theological positions over the years, I've developed what I call a "reactionary approach" to theology. "Reactionary" in this case meaning "in reaction to". Historically one group will come along and develop a theology that is a reaction to the theology of another group. I was reading some of that into what you had written. It seemed to me that the incorporation of the "suffering servant" into the Jewish narrative was a reaction to Christian teaching on OT passages.

    I'm sympathetic to the understanding of a conquering hero. Had I been around at the time of Jesus that is probably what I would have been looking for too. Frankly what good Jew wouldn't have wanted that? Given the TANAK and what they had of their own history, its a reasonable position for them to hold, at that time.

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  5. "Frankly what good Jew wouldn't have wanted that? Given the TANAK and what they had of their own history, its a reasonable position for them to hold, at that time."

    I understand the sentiment as well. I think we so often mistake the symptoms for the disease. What we miss is that it was sin and death which needed to be conquered first, not Rome.

    It was similar to our redemption in Egypt. Initially, Moses only saw the external oppression of his people and set out to do something about it, but failed miserably.
    Later, after approaching Pharaoh the first time with the request to let the Israelites go, he complains to G-d that not only have things gotten worse since he went to Pharaoh, but he goes on to accuse G-d of not delivering them at all.

    G-d saw and heard something to which Moses' eyes and ears were not attuned: the sin and idolatry of the Israelites which was oppressing them in Egypt.

    “Will you judge them? Will you judge them, son of man? Then confront them with the detestable practices of their ancestors and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign L-rd says: On the day I chose Israel, I swore with uplifted hand to the descendants of Jacob and revealed myself to them in Egypt.

    With uplifted hand I said to them, “I am the L-rd your G-d.” On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of Egypt into a land I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most beautiful of all lands.

    And I said to them, “Each of you, get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the L-rd your G-d.”

    “‘But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; they did not get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and spend my anger against them in Egypt.

    But for the sake of my name, I brought them out of Egypt. I did it to keep my name from being profaned in the eyes of the nations among whom they lived and in whose sight I had revealed myself to the Israelites. Therefore I led them out of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness.

    I gave them my decrees and made known to them my laws, by which the person who obeys them will live. Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord made them holy. (cf. Ezekiel 20)

    Our Conquering hero is about return, this time with a sword out of His mouth and His garments bespattered, not with His own blood, but with the blood of His enemies.

    Bo Mashiach!

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  6. What we miss is that it was sin and death which needed to be conquered first, not Rome.

    I agree. However to a Jewish kid growing up with stories of his God leading his nation, a return to that would have been appealing. More importantly, he would have had the promise of blessing here on earth to look forward to as part of his heritage. I absolutely see how they would have looked for a physical deliverance to a political problem.

    One of the aspects of prophecy that is often over looked is that it is best understood after the events have occurred. Even predictive prophecy is clearer after the events foretold have happened.

    Our Conquering hero is about return, this time with a sword out of His mouth and His garments bespattered, not with His own blood, but with the blood of His enemies.

    I suspect that the POV that holds to two comings of the same messiah is correct. The suffering servant is one incarnation and the conquering hero is the other. I don't see how a Jew living at the time of Christ could have come to that conclusion on his own from reading the TANAK. Someone today, reading the NT with the OT could reach that conclusion but only because the additional writings shed light into things that were written but not fully explained.

    Jesus asked people to believe in Him. That was the test while He was alive and remains the test today. In His ministry He preformed many signs and miracles to demonstrate His right to claim to be Messiah.

    Which is better, real time super natural events or documented and vetted written material? While I think it would have been cool to see it all happen in real time, it seems easier to believe in what we can study and comfortably evaluate and reevaluate at our leisure.

    In my own teaching I've started challenging the concept of "they should have known" that I see in the church. How could they have known in the sense we do today? Most of the time they couldn't. The idea that "they didn't get it" is often flouted too. I don't think very many people ever "get it" in real time.

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  7. "I don't see how a Jew living at the time of Christ could have come to that conclusion on his own from reading the TANAK . . . "

    The apostles saw it differently:

    "As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said."

    "Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women."" (Acts 17)

    "When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah." (Acts 18)

    “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord . . (Acts 3)

    But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26)

    It may have been difficult and we may cite 'blindness' and 'ignorance' or 'political expectations', but the fact remains: there was no New Testament to back their claims and prove who the Messiah was and that Y'shua fit the bill.

    Y'shua expresses genuine amazement when talking with Nicodemus who, as the teacher in Israel, did not grasp the concept of being 'born again' and 'born from above'. Y'shua takes us to task for diligently searching the Scriptures (i.e. the Tanak) and yet failing to recognize the one about Whom these Scriptures testify.

    We constantly ask for a sign, Y'shua gives sign after sign after sign, and we still reject Y'shua's claims out of hand. I share Paul's anguish for my brethren, which is one of the reasons I simply cannot let them off the hook. No where do I see evidence of the apostles ever excusing the misplaced hopes in a conquering king. G-d will only overlook a man's ignorance for so long.

    "Someone today, reading the NT with the OT could reach that conclusion but only because the additional writings shed light into things that were written but not fully explained."

    I find this line of reasoning to be faulty. The early believers relied solely on the Tanach for their teaching and proof-texts - and multitudes came to believe, and not a small number of Gentiles, as you know. The Israelites also had the gospel message preached to them (as did Abraham, who rejoiced), but did not combine the message with faith.

    The Sages tell us that the entire Torah is only for the sake of revealing the Messiah. I am just seeking to hold them accountable for sayings like this. Let's take an honest look, shall we, even though we may not like what we see.

    No need to behave like obnoxious proselytizers telling Jews that they are accursed Christ-killers who should have known better. Let's just do a better job of working from within the framework of that Book that the People of the Book purport to love and hold in such high esteem. The apostles seemed to be modestly successful in that regard.

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  8. The apostles saw it differently:

    Not at first. Saul didn't even start his ministry till some where between 3-5 years after Pentecost. His writings were even latter.

    What's the big question on the apostles mind when we start the book of Acts?

    Acts 1:6
    So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
    NIV

    Even the closest people to Jesus on earth thought that he was going to be the conquering hero even after the cross. They expected him to return in their lifetimes. They got worried when he did not 1Th 4:13-15.

    BTW I'm not disputing your point about the Tanak being the scripture for the church, it was/is the basis for demonstrating the identity of Jesus.

    Nobody "got it" in real time. Only after Pentecost and only after inspiration and revelation of the Holy Spirit did people start to catch on. For the next 42 years God allowed both systems to coexist. That's a generation grace period for Israel to search scripture and evaluate the claims of living witnesses. NT writers point out that at the time of writing those people still lived.

    The harder question (I would think) for a modern Jew is why hasn't there been a verifiable Aaronic priest for 1,700 years? Why no temple or temple worship? Even in captivity they had priests and knew who they were. There can be no keeping of the Torah apart from the priesthood. Judaism can not be the religion described in scripture without a son of Aaron to officiate.

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  9. "Not at first."

    Agreed. Y'shua would often have to remind people that His time had not yet come and resisted a number of attempts to crown Him king while here on the earth. Y'shua spoke often of the suffering that He was going to endure at the hands of the Gentiles, something that the disciples challenged and tried to deny.

    Perhaps this why Y'shua and later the apostles would go to such great lengths to ensure that people understood that the Messiah MUST suffer, die, and rise again according to the scriptures.

    For a people longing for deliverance from a Messianic figure, Y'shua's determination to highlight His suffering must have been discouraging to say the least.

    People are wont to hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest.



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  10. Perhaps this why Y'shua and later the apostles would go to such great lengths...

    Good point.

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