TAAM: Torah Answers for Anti-Missionaries
This page deals with Torah Answers in the category:
Objections from Anti-missionaries : Tanach Passages that are Applied to Yeshua
(Last Update: 13-nov-13 )
1. "The virgin birth claim in Isaiah 7: 'Almah' in Tanach is simply a young woman."
2. "You rely on the Septuagint for Isaiah 7:14, but orthodox Jews consider the Septuagint a tragedy in Jewish history."
3. "Even accepting the Septuagint, the same Greek word was also used for Deena after Shechem raped her. So it cannot always mean virgin."
4. "What kind of a 'sign' is a 'virgin birth' anyway?"
5. "Isaiah 7 still wasn't about Jesus. It's about Pekeh and Resin in their war against Ahaz."
6. "When was Jesus ever called Immanuel, as the NT claims?"
7. "This chapter doesn't speak of Messiah; it speaks of the nation of Israel."
8. "The passage 'Unto us a son is given...' (Isaiah 9:6) refers to Hezekiah, not the Messiah.
9. "The passage 'From you shall come forth to Me the one who will be ruler...' (Micah 5:2, v.1 in Heb.) is not proof that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but only that he would come from David who came from Bethlehem."
[...check this page in the future for more passages, which will be added as time allows b"H...]
1. "A big issue for me regarding Yeshua's birth and lineage is the virgin birth claim. Ask any Israeli what the word for virgin is (I've tried it) and they will all say the same thing - 'BETULAH' - not 'almah'. 'Almah' in Tanach is simply a young woman.
This refers to Isaiah 7:14:
לכן יתן אדני הוא לכם אות הנה העלמה הרה וילדת בן וקראת שמו עמנו אל
Therefore my Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the almah is with child and bears a son, and she calls his name 'God with us'.
There is not always a clear connection between Tanach Hebrew and modern Hebrew. Ask Israelis how the word "Alem" applies to a young man (1 Sam.17:56, 20:22), and they will look at you blankly. "Alem" and "almah" are not familiar terms anymore, compared to "betulah". But it's clear that "almah" can mean either "virgin" or "young woman": Jewish translators have no trouble writing "virgins" for the "almot" in Song of Songs 1:3. And conversely, "betulah" doesn't always mean a virgin: Judah was portrayed as a "betulah" with both children and lovers (Lam.1:15-19, 2:13,19); so was Babylon (Isa.47:1-9).
But all this is a side-issue. Regardless of how Isaiah 7:14 is translated, Rashi's commentary on this verse implies that "the almah" was too young to give birth - she could not be anything other than a virgin. And Rambam (Maimonides) expressed annoyance at the sages of his day who believed that any woman could become pregnant by a Divine angel who would "enter the womb of the woman and form there the fetus". (See Moreh Nevochim, Part II, Ch.VI for the Hebrew original; go here to compare Dr. M. Friedlander's 1904 translation, p.270.) This is the only passage in all of Tanach that could provoke such an expectation.
2. "People who rely on the Septuagint translation of that verse, which uses the Greek word for 'virgin', are using a corrupted version of Isaiah that is not accepted by the rabbis. In fact, orthodox Jews consider the Septuagint a tragedy in Jewish history - the fast of the 10th of Tevet commemorates it."
It's true that modern orthodox Judaism mourns over the completion of the Septuagint, setting the date as the 8th of Tevet. For the standard explanation, see Aish Ha-Torah. where it is claimed "our sages compared it to the sin of the Golden Calf". This explanation omits the fact that Jewish rejection arose only 400 years after the fact. It stands in sharp disagreement with the earliest Jewish sages, including those who taught in the second Temple at Jerusalem. Following is the historical background (see Wikipedia for documentation).
Also known by the Roman numeral LXX, the Septuagint is so-named in honor of the 70 Greek-speaking Jewish scribes (some traditions say 72) were hired in Alexandria, Egypt, to translate the Torah and Prophets into Koine Greek. This language was shared by the ancient world almost as widely as English is today. In fact, Greek was declared the only language worthy of expressing the Scriptures other than Hebrew (R. Simeon b. Gamaliel, Megilla 9a).
The Torah was translated in the 3rd c. BCE (some sources say 246 BCE), while the Prophets were gradually completed over the following 200 years; most scholars agree that the LXX was complete before the 1st c. CE. The purpose was two-fold: to allow millions of Hellenist Jews to study the Scriptures in a language they knew well, and to aid proselytizing among the pagans (a much higher priority in ancient Judaism than today).
The quality of the LXX Torah was extolled in the Talmud (Megilla 9a-9b), which declared that the 70 (or 72) translators had been miraculously guided by G-d. The other books were of varying quality, according to modern scholars. But during 2nd Temple times, the Torah and Prophets widely used for teaching were apparently from the LXX along with (what later became) the Masoretic Hebrew text. In fact, there were several "Masoretic Texts" circulating, resulting in Midrashim that quote verses differently from what we have today (some examples are Zech.12:10, Zech.14:3-4 and Jer.31:32.
Modern scholarship is agreed that the Septuagint was a faithful translation of a Hebrew text that differed in quite a few places from the version chosen by the Masoretes some 800 years later, making the LXX an older version of the Jewish Scriptures. Also agreed is that some New Testament quotes of Torah and Prophets that differ from the Masoretic text were likely drawn from the LXX (or from its Hebrew source documents, still in use at that time). The same was discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls, where Tanach quotes follow the LXX rather than the Masoretic text. Jewish historians Philo and Josephus likewise quoted from the LXX.
Additional differences between the LXX and the Masoretes were the result of a variant reading of the same Hebrew word (a practice considered valid even today when studying the Tanach in yeshivot). Still other differences were matters of interpretation to make the meaning intelligible to Greek thinkers.
The decision of the LXX translators to render Isa.7:14 using the Greek word that explicitly means "virgin" ("parthenos") tells us that one of the above factors was in play: either the Jewish understanding of the "sign" in those days was literally a virgin giving birth, or the earlier Hebrew text actually said "betulah". Either way, they were not iinfluenced by the controversy that came so many years afterward.
Twenty years after the Temple's destruction (90 CE), the council at Yavne downplayed the LXX. In addition, they outright rejected some of the books accepted during Temple times (like Maccabees and Enoch). But even these rabbis didn't ban the Septuagint; they just declared it secondary to the Hebrew Tanach. The Jews abandoned the LXX only in the 2nd c. CE, when the Christians adopted it (for those who couldn't read Hebrew, it was the only Jewish Bible available). We know this was the reason for its rejection because of the Talmudic quote cited by modern rabbis whenever the issue of the Septuagint comes up:
Just as the golden calf had no substance, yet people worshipped it, so the Greek translation does not hold the true substance of Torah, yet the Gentiles believe they know the entire Torah through it. - Masechet Sofrim 1:7
Those same rabbis who made the above statement taught elsewhere that it is a violation of Torah for us to reject what the majority of sages considered worthy and right. It is also taught that those who had the privilege of studying Torah in the shadow of the Temple were on a higher plane of spiritual understanding than later generations. Rejection of the Septuagint was a rebellion against both these rabbinic standards.
This turnabout also brings into question the widespread teaching that rabbinic Judaism preserves an unbroken chain of Torah tradition transmitted from past generations. Even the generations mentioned in Pirkei Avot witnessed breaks in the chain. The abandonment of a Torah version validated by the Torah community for some 300 years is yet another.
3. "Even if we accept the Septuagint, the Greek word parthenos was also used to describe Jacob's daughter Deena after Shechem raped her. So it seems the word parthenos cannot always mean virgin."
This is an interesting anomaly, and it has an interesting solution. The verse in question is Gen.34:3, and the above argument is voiced by anti-missionary Tovia Singer who observes:
The Bible reports that after Shechem had violated her, "his heart desired Dinah, and he loved the damsel (LXX: parthenos) and he spoke tenderly to the damsel (LXX: parthenos)." Clearly, Dinah was not a virgin after having been raped, and yet she was referred to as a parthenos, the very same word the Septuagint used to translate the Hebrew word alma in Isaiah 7:14.
What is peculiar is that the Masoretic text does NOT use "almah" for this verse, but "na'arah", which is always understood as simply a young girl:
ותדבק נפשו בדינה בת-יעקב ויאהב את-הנער וידבר על-לב הנער
For the Septuagint translators to use the unambiguous "parthenos" (twice), the only reasonable explanation is that the Torah manuscript they were working with had contained a different word. It could not have been "betulah", the common word for "virgin", because Dina had obviously been violated; it was probably the more ambiguous "almah". But the idea of Moshe Rebbenu using even "almah" - the word used by Abraham's servant asking G-d to reveal Isaac's bride (Gen.24:14) - to describe a rape victim must have seemed intolerable to some scribes, causing them to change the word to "na'arah" (only without the "hay"). It was a custom among pre-Talmudic Jewish scribes to sometimes change Torah passages that caused discomfort, and the Talmudic era preserved lists of these "tikkunei sofrim".
Still, we are left with the same dilemma: how could the LXX translators use the word for "virgin" in describing a raped girl? Rather than assign an arbitrary new meaning to the word "parthenos", let's assume that the original word in Gen.34:3 was "almah" as in Isaiah 7:14, which would explain why the Greek word in Genesis was the same as the later translation of Isaiah 7:14 which used "parthenos". The long-standing Jewish tradition about Dina herself seems to support this assumption.
Targum Yonatan in his translation of Gen.41:45 identifies Osnat as “Dina’s daughter whom she bore to Shechem”. In spite of the tainted nature of her conception, Osnat became the wife of Yosef the tzaddik. As Yosef's soul mate, she was like him, sealed with complete sexual chastity. She moreover merited to become the mother of Efrayim and Menashe, two tribes considered equal in holiness to the sons of Ya’acov. This testifies that the inner essence of Osnat’s mother Dina remained unaffected and pure even when she was defiled by Shechem (Rav Tzaddok of Lublin, Yisrael Kedushin, 10).
R. Tzaddok of Lublin was a 19th c. Hasidic rabbi. His praise of Dina is echoed in Rashi's comment (Gen.32:23) that Dina's purity had the potential of bringing a person as wicked as Esau to repentance, also mentioned in Beresheet Raba 76:9. All of this emphasis on Dina's purity is strong evidence of an early Hebrew Torah text, which led the LXX scribes to deliberately call Dina "parthenos", and which was preserved in oral tradition for the next 1800 years (not in the written Masoretic text).
The core meaning of "almah" is not defined, but it can be assumed to denote spiritual purity, an inner quality that goes beyond the technical purity of a "betulah" (a physical virgin). This is based on the meaning of the root (a-l-m) which means to be hidden away. It reinforces the Jewish traditional call for women's modesty in dress and actions (quoting Ps.45:14): "The king's daughter is all glorious within."
Torah, on the other hand, places such a premium on a "betulah" that girls who intentionally lose their virginity were to be executed. Since Israel (and other peoples) were so prone to equate outer abstinence from sin with inner purity, we normally wouldn't consider a rape victim pure enough to be called "almah". It may be that "almah" was deliberately used by G-d in Torah for Dina, in order to show that she was still spiritually pure although she had been physically violated. She had not consented to sleep with Shechem, and G-d did not see her as defiled (although her brothers clearly did).
This idea is consistent with G-d's description of Himself (I Sam. 16:7): "Man looks on the outer appearance, but G-d looks on the heart;" with Messiah's character (Isa. 11:3-4): "He will not judge by what His eyes see... [but] will decide with fairness for the afflicted;" and with Yeshua's command to His disciples (John 7:24): "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."
4. But what kind of a "sign" is a "virgin birth"? The only person who knows if a woman is a virgin is the woman herself, or perhaps her midwife, and none of them are called as witnesses.
First let's pose the question from the opposite side: What kind of a "sign" is a "young woman" giving birth?? It happens every day -- and in fact it's the most logical person who WOULD give birth. So why would G-d even bother to choose it as a sign for the house of David?
Impossible births were signs of G-d's involvement before this point in Israel's history. The best-known example is of course Yitzhak. Granted, in terms of impossibility, a virgin birth would be a cut or two above a post-menopausal birth by a life-long barren woman within a year from the prediction. But only in terms of degree. They would both be miracles. Is one miracle "believable" while the other is not? The birth of Yitzhak was considered not quite believable by the future mother, and she received the gentle rebuke, "Is anything too hard for G-d?" (Gen. 18:14)
We saw above in Q1 that Rashi took for granted the miraculous nature of this birth. The rationalist Rambam ridiculed those who believed it as "fools" (סכלים), but he also confirmed that sages in his day viewed a miraculous conception as a demonstration of G-d's power and wisdom.
As far as who would know that the woman was a virgin: Besides the woman herself, G-d would certainly know. Could He be a witness? If He chose, He could proclaim it in any way He wanted to, and without waiting to called forward. Given the huge impact of such an event, it's hard to think He wouldn't care to confirm it; such an accomplishment could only be His own handiwork. Then it would be up to others whether or not to believe the woman and G-d.
The New Testament records that G-d did indeed testify through His angel that Yeshua was conceived in the way that Rambam's contemporaries expected (Matt.1:20, Luke 1:31,35). And as though to remind us of Yitzhak's miraculous conception, the angel echoed (Luke 1:37) the declaration in Genesis 18: "For with G-d nothing will be impossible." The apostles easily identified His mother Miriam as the "almah" of Isaiah 7:14 (Matt.1:23)
5. Fine, but that prophecy in Isaiah 7 still wasn't about Jesus. The passage goes on to speak of a child who is born in that generation.
The context clearly establishes that Isaiah's prophecy to Ahaz is fulfilled contemporaneously - and sure enough, Pekeh and Resin fall in their war against Ahaz and are murdered (II Kings 15: 29-30; II Kings 16: 5, 9). Also see Isaiah 8:18, where Isaiah declares that G-d has given him children for signs to the nation of Israel.
This objection refers to the continuation of the passage:
חמאה ודבש יאכל לדעתו מאוס ברע ובחור בטוב כי בטרם ידע הנער מאס ברע ובחר בטוב תעזב האדמה אשר אתה קץ מפני שני מלכיה
He will eat curds and honey at the time he knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread [Damascus and Samaria] will be forsaken. - Isaiah 7:15-16
For now , let's allow "almah" to mean "young woman", and try to make sense of the entire prophecy, which extends from Isaiah 7:14 into chapter 8.
First, we would have to recognize that the real "sign" is not that the "young woman" can give birth, for any number of them can. The sign is what comes afterward: the name she would give the son (Immanuel), and/or the age he would be (still too young to know how to choose good) when the kingdoms Ahaz feared would fall. Then we would have to assume that the identity of this particular "almah" was somehow so distinctive that Ahaz would recognize her among the millions of other young women giving birth in Israel, and would notice her child.
It doesn't help to identify the mother as Isaiah's wife, because we have no record of Isaiah calling any of his children "Immanuel". An older child was named "She'ar Yashuv" ("a remnant will return" - see 7:3). G-d gave Isaiah's next child the name "Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz" ("Swift is the booty, speedy is the prey" - Isaiah 8:3). In fact, no children are recorded anywhere in Tanach, or in rabbinic literature, as fulfilling this sign by receiving the name "Immanuel".
So whatever became of this "sign" G-d gave to Israel?
To complicate the question, G-d repeats the political side of the sign in Isaiah 7:14, and ties it explicitly to Isaiah's child "Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz":
ואקרב אל-הנביאה ותהר ותלד בן ויאמר ה' אלי קרא שמו מהר שלל חש בז כי בטרם ידע הנער קרא אבי ואמי ישא את-חיל דמשק ואת שלל שמרון לפני מלך אשור
So I approached the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. Then the L-RD said to me, "Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the boy knows how to cry out 'My father' or 'My mother,' the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria." - Isa.8:3-4
Immediately after this, G-d "speaks further" (v.5) and Isaiah mentions the mysterious "Immanuel" again:
ולכן הנה אדני מעלה עליהם את-מי הנהר העצומים והרבים את-מלך אשור ואת-כל-כבודו ועלה על-כל-אפיקיו והלך על-כל-גדותיו וחלף ביהודה שטף ועבר עד-צואר יגיע והיה מטות כנפיו מלא רחב-ארצך עמנו אל
Now therefore, behold, my Lord is bringing up on them the strong and abundant waters of the Euphrates, the king of Assyria and all his glory; and it will rise up over all its channels and go over all its banks. Then it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass through. It will reach even to the neck; and its wingspan will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel. - Isaiah 8:7-8
As before no father is identified, and the prophet addresses the child directly without acknowledging him as his son. Why does he speak as though the child owned or ruled the Land of Israel?
As the reader points out, although none of his children are "Immanuel", Isaiah does mention children of his who are signs from G-d. Yet the context of that declaration is a distressing time. "I and the children the L-rd has given me" are signs to a nation that has become offended and "snared" by G-d Himself; they have lost their access to both Him and His Torah:
את-ה' צבאות אתו תקדישו והוא מוראכם והוא מערצכם והיה למקדש ולאבן נגף ולצור מכשול לשני בתי ישראל לפח ולמוקש ליושב ירושלם וכשלו בם רבים ונפלו ונשברו ונוקשו ונלכדו צור תעודה חתום תורה בלמדי וחכיתי לה' המסתיר פניו מבית יעקב וקויתי-לו הנה אנכי והילדים אשר נתן-לי ה' לאתות ולמופתים בישראל מעם ה' צבאות השכן בהר ציון
It is the L-RD of hosts whom you will sanctify. And He is your fear, And He is your dread. Then He will be for a sanctuary; and a stone of striking and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel; for a snare and a trap for the inhabitant of Jerusalem. Many will stumble in them and will fall and be broken; and they will be snared and caught.
Bind up a testimony, seal Torah in my disciples. And I will wait for the L-RD who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob; and I will hope for Him. Behold, I and the children whom the L-RD has given me are for signs and wonders in Israel from the L-RD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. - Isaiah 8:13-18
Do we know of any signs and wonders shown by Isaiah's physical children? No, but that's okay, because he talks about his "disciples", which are rabbinically understood to be spiritual children. So do we know of any signs and wonders shown by Isaiah's disciples? There's no record of any such signs, or any disciples of Isaiah for that matter. On the contrary, Isaiah foretold of a time when the Torah teachers of Israel would be unable to interpret his prophecies:
ותהי לכם חזות הכל כדברי הספר החתום אשר-יתנו אתו אל-יודע הספר לאמר קרא נא-זה ואמר לא אוכל כי חתום הוא
The entire vision will be to you like the words of the sealed book, which they will give to one who is literate [or, who knows the book], saying, "Please read this," and he will say, "I cannot, for it is sealed." - Isaiah 29:11
So where is the Torah teacher who has unsealed the book of Isaiah? And where are the disciples who have learned its secrets, which G-d gives for signs and wonders? They are "in Israel", but during a time when "G-d is hiding His face from Israel" and is causing "both houses of Israel" to stumble.
6. So you are saying there would have to be two virgin births - one during Ahaz's time and again later. But when was Jesus ever called Immanuel, as the NT claims?
It's not necessary for there to be two "virgin" births. As we acknowledged, the word "almah" is flexible and could allow for a young woman or a virgin. It can easily be one of each, because it is a Jewish assumption that Tanach prophecies can be fulfilled more than once.
With regard to the question about Yeshua's connection with "Immanuel", in the Hebrew text this is not a single word, but a declaration: "G-d [is] with us". The fulfillment of this reality is a main theme in the New Testament - Yeshua bore the image of G-d so that He [the Father] could be made visible to man (see Colossians 1:15, John 1:14, John 14:7-11). It is a central characteristic identifying the Messiah, as sages such as Rashi taught.
7. "Isaiah 53 does not speak of Messiah, as followers of Jesus claim. Our sages teach that it is about the nation of Israel being persecuted by the goyim.
There is so much evidence in rabbinic literature that favors the "suffering Messiah" interpretation, we will simply refer readers to our collection of Jewish commentary on Messiah, where Isaiah 53 plays a major role. The second statement refers to an obscure alternate interpretation made popular by Rashi.
In rabbinic circles, no one expects an alternate interpretation of Torah and Prophets to replace an existing one, but only to enrich the discussion with another valid application. The Talmud is built around such multiple opinions. In this case, the alternate explanation for Isaiah 53 was used to refute Christians in debates, but was sidelined by the rabbinic majority when teaching within the Jewish community.
Nevertheless, certain sages who lived after Rashi's time (1040-1105) substituted the "suffering nation of Israel" interpretation, sometimes applying it to a suffering Tsaddik, but denying the "suffering Messiah" option. These included Abarbanel (1437-1508), who went so far as to say that Talmudic sages acknowledged the Messiah in Isaiah 53, but only as an earlier tradition which they had heard but did not necessarily accept as valid. (This claim presents a dilemma, since the validity of rabbinic authority depends on an "unbroken chain of tradition" received from the previous generations.)
Suffice to say that even as late as the 16th century, those who completely denied the tradition of the suffering Messiah in Isaiah 53 were considered heretical. Here is a representative comment, by Rabbi Eliyyah de Vidas, author of Tana d’ be Eliyyahu (1575), attributing the teaching to Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai:
The meaning of the words “bruised for our iniquities” [Isaiah 53:5] is that since the Messiah bears our iniquities, which produce the effect of his being bruised, it follows that whoso will not admit that the Messiah thus suffers for our iniquities, must endure and suffer for them himself.
(Quoted and sourced in The 53rd Chapter of Isaiah according to Jewish Interpreters, A. Newbauer and S.R. Driver, p.xl; see also the abridged reprint of this work [Jerusalem: Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 2011], p.214)
8. "The passage 'Unto us a son is given...' (Isaiah 9:6, v.5 in Hebrew) refers to Hezekiah who was already born, not the future Messiah.
The argument is that Isaiah was announcing events that had either happened already, or were shortly to happen in the days of Hezekiah. The Christians and Messianic Jews misapplied it as a prophecy about Yeshua, and likewise mistakenly gave to Messiah the exalted titles in the passage. Here is the pointed Masoretic text:
כִּי־יֶלֶד יֻלַּד־לָנוּ בֵּן נִתַּן־לָנוּ וַתְּהִי הַמִּשְׂרָה עַל־שִׁכְמוֹ וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ פֶּלֶא יוֹעֵץ אֵל גִּבּוֹר אֲבִי־עַד שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם׃
One anti-missionary, a prolific writer named Uri Yosef, translated it in two possible ways to avoid the Messianic interpretation:
For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us, and the authority was placed upon his shoulder, and He [G-d, the] Wondrous Adviser, Mighty God, Eternal Father/Patron, called his [the child's] name: Ruler of Peace.
For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us, and the authority was placed upon his shoulder, and he called his name: Wondrous Adviser, Mighty God [or, Mighty Hero], Eternal Patron, Ruler of Peace.
He then claims that these two options cover the "common interpretations of this verse by the Jewish Sages", who agreed that the Hebrew indicates past tense about a child already been born; that all the events associated with this child (continuing into the next verse) were fulfilled by Hezekiah; and that all the lofty titles belong to G-d, except for "Ruler of Peace"; or alternately, the titles simply referred to the remarkable but human accomplishments of King Hezekiah. Historically, he writes, Jewish interpretation never considered this passage prophetic of the Messiah. There are 4 claims here, which we will examine one at a time.
The Hebrew indicates past tense: This is only marginally correct, and it ignores the extreme flexibility of Hebrew. A brief scan of the Hebrew Tanach shows that the how easily the announcement of a child "born to" someone moves freely between future and past tenses. For example, the grammatical form of Isa.9:6 is used for past tense regarding the son "born to" Seth (Gen.4:26), and to Naomi (Ruth 4:17); but it was also to Samson before he was "born to" Manoah (Jud.13:8). By the same token, the more common Hebrew word for being born, נולד / "nolad", is used for those already born (Isaac, Gen.22:3; and Solomon, I Chron.22:9) and also used for those yet to be born (Josiah, I Kings 13:2; and a future generation, Ps.22:32). And the supposedly past tense of a woman giving birth (ילדה / "yaldah", as in Gen.21:9) is used for the future birth of Zion to her children after the nation is reborn (Isa.66:8). The same can be said for נתן / "gave or "given", and ותהי / "was" which the author insists to be always past tense: these commonly appear in descriptions of clearly future events (Isa.29:11-12, 35:2, 37:19, 30:8, to give examples from just one Prophet). As for ויקרא , the accepted translation is indeed "he called / he was called", but this only strengthens the Messianic nature of the passage (see below).
In recognition of this flexibility, widely accepted Jewish translations such as the original JPS (1917) and the Koren Jerusalem Bible (1983, based on M. Friedlander's translation of 1881) had put the entire verse of Isa.9:6 in a neutral present tense. Only very recently has any Jewish translation rendered this verse in past tense; they are the new JPS Bible, a paraphrased, gender-neutral version revised repeatedly between 1985 and 1999 (favored by Reform and Conservative Jews); and the Judaica Press Tanakh, published in 2005 (used by the Chabad website).
All the things to be done by this child were fulfilled by Hezekiah: This is wildly off the mark when compared with the testimony of Tanach. The "child born to us" would carry "the authority on his shoulder", would "increase authority and peace without end", and finally would establish the throne and the kingdom of David "with justice and righteousness, from now until eternity" (including verse 7, 6 in Heb). It was indeed the position of Rashi that Hezekiah had fulfilled all this, although Rashi was forced to downgrade "from now until eternity" (מֵעַתָּה וְעַד־עוֹלָם) to the lifetime of Hezekiah. But even during Hezekiah's days, he suffered ridicule of his authority (2 Chron.30:10), interruptions to his peace (2 Chron.32), a devastating illness that nearly killed him (2 Kings 20), followed by a miracle that caused him a pride problem (2 Chron.32:24-26). He himself knew that his descendants would lose the throne and serve the king of Babylon (2 Kings 20:18, Isa.39:7). Last but not least, Hezekiah's own son, Menashe, was the farthest from "justice and righteousness" of any king of Judah; he corrupted Israel even more than the nations G-d had destroyed (2 Kings 21:9, 2 Chron.33:9), and according to the Talmudic sages (Sanh.90a) he has no portion in the world to come.
The Talmud itself (Sanhedrin 94a) examines this prophecy and discusses the idea that Hezekiah could have been appointed the Messiah, but he was found deficient in his praise and the Holy One decided against it . In response to protests, G-d says cryptically (quoting Isa.24:16), "It's My secret," causing Isaiah to wail that Israel would have to continue waiting for the Messiah.
The rabbinic sages agreed that all the exalted titles in the verse belong to G-d, and only the last one refers to the child: Again, this was the interpretation of Rashi (11th c. CE), which other rabbis have followed. But virtually all admit that this position is taken specifically in reaction to Christian pressure. The author writes with confidence, "No true prophet of Israel nor any true Israelite would ascribe terms such as The mighty God or The Everlasting Father to a person." This shows a lack of exposure to the full range of rabbinic thought. There were different commentaries through the ages, such as Midrash Mishle (contemporary with Rashi) and Targum Yonatan (traditionally dated 1000 years earlier), which clearly applied these exalted titles to the Messiah who was to come (go here for the quotes and sources).
As for ויקרא ,Targum Yonatan applies its past tense this way: "' And there was called his name from of old: Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty G-d, He who lives forever,' the Messiah in whose days peace shall increase." This reflects not only a firm belief in the Messiah being the "child" prophesied, but also echoes the rabbinic consensus that the name of the Messiah (here understood to be composed of several attributes) was established from the six days of Creation (go here for details).
Alternately, the remarkable titles can be understood as simply describing King Hezekiah's leadership. The attempts to prove this become awkward, in light of the Scriptures that use these descriptors. The term פלא / "peleh" is reserved for G-d's own activity (Isa.25:1, 29:14; Ex.15:11; Ps.77:12,15, 78:12, 88:11,13, 89:6, etc.). The term יואץ / "yo'etz" can be either G-d or man as Counselor; but it's problematic to claim that this human Counselor, no matter how "wonderful", can also be called אל גבור / "El Gibbor"; the JPS tries to solve the dilemma with, "Wonderful Counselor of the mighty God", but Isaiah himself is emphatic (40:13) that no human being can function as G-d's counselor. The author of this study tries to translate it as "mighty hero", since "gibbor" can be merely a mighty man; yet Isa.10:21 identifies "El Gibbor" as the One to whom the remnant of Jacob will return, and Jeremiah prayed to האל הגדול הגבור / "ha-El ha-gadol ha-Gibbor" (32:18). "Gibbor" itself is sometimes used to describe G-d (twice in Ps.24:8). The term אבי עד / "Avi Ad" is acknowledged to literally mean "Father (Progenitor) of Eternity"; but somehow the title morphs into an unlikely "Eternal Patron" (implying a clan patriarch who is uniquely immortal), a title not attempted by any accepted Jewish translation. The term שר שלום / "Sar Shalom" as "Prince of Peace" is insisted to be a mistranslation (recommending "ruler" or "minister" instead), but the Even-Shoshan (Tanach concordance) equates "sar" with "nagid" (prince), and the reason for the objection is unclear. Regardless, "prince" is the choice of Judaica Press and JPS for this word, as well as for "sarim" in Num.21:18, Jud.5:15, Esther 1:3, 6:9, Ps.45:17, etc.
9. "The prophecy, 'From you shall come forth to Me the one who will be ruler...' (Micah 5:2, v.1 in Heb.) is not proof that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but only that he would come from David who came from Bethlehem."
In a very long analysis (found on "Kosher Judaism", a members-only discussion forum), the main argument was: "The entire verse is spoken in the masculine, and there is no instance where a town or city is addressed in the singular masculine." Therefore, concluded the teacher, the "you" ( אתה / "Atah") whom G-d is addressing as צעיר / "Tza'ir" (both of these being singular masculine) must be David. For reference, here is the entire verse:
ואתה בית-לחם אפרתה צעיר להיות באלפי יהודה ממך לי יצא להיות מושל בישראל ומוצאתיו מקדם מימי עולם
The JPS and Judaica Press translate it with the understanding that G-d is indeed speaking to Beit Lechem:
But thou, Beth-lehem Ephrata, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall on come forth unto me that is going to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.
And you, Bethlehem Ephrathah - you should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah - from you [he] shall emerge for Me, to be a ruler over Israel; and his origin is from of old, from days of yore.
The forum teacher, however, tries to help his case by inserting a word, making it read: "And you of Bethlehem...". In Hebrew this would have been ואתה מבית-לחם / "ve-atah me-Beit-Lechem" (compare Ezra 1:3, "you of all His people"); or possibly אתה הבית-לחמי / "atah ha-Beit-Lachmi" (the Bethlehemite, as it appears in Lecha Dodi). His assertion was that "when a personal pronoun preceeds the name of a town, it often designates a resident of that town...."; but the examples given used a noun, not a pronoun (1 Chron.2:51: "father [of]..."), and in fact there is no such example in Tanach.
The insistance on consistency of gender shows ignorance of the way Tanach Hebrew often assigns the "wrong" gender to a word - understood by the rabbis not as a mistake, but rather a flag that something is being expressed that is unusual, miraculous or from the unseen spirit realm. In this specific case, the objection is strange indeed, given the fact that not only are cities sometimes referred to in masculine gender, but the city in question - Beit Lechem - is one of these! Observe how Torah reports where Rachel was buried:
ותמת רחל ותקבר בדרך אפרתה הוא בית לחם
And Rachel died and was buried on the road of Efrata (or, on the way towards Efrat); that is Beit Lechem. - Gen.35:19,
The Hebrew pronoun for "that", which is pointed to read as feminine ("hee") for public reading, is actually masculine singular (הוא / "hu"). And if this were not enough, when Jacob remembers the event, he describes the place exactly the same way:
ואני בבאי מפדן מתה עלי רחל בארץ כנען בדרך בעוד כברת-ארץ לבא אפרתה ואקברה שם בדרך אפרת הוא בית לחם
And I, in my coming from Padan, Rachel died on me in the land of Canaan, on the way with yet a little distance to come to Efrat; and I buried her there on the way to Efrat: that is Beit Lechem. - Gen.48:7
Again, the nikud for public reading makes the masculine singular "hu" into a feminine "hee", in recognition that the normal gender for a city is feminine; but the masculine is left intact for study purposes. (Rashi technically misquotes the above verse by writing the pronoun as היא.) We have the same phenomenon for Hevron (Gen.23:19, 35:27) and Beit El (Gen.35:6).
Oddly, only the beginning of the verse was considered problematic by the anti-missionaries debating the "birthplace of Messiah" issue. No discussion was invested in the implications of a "ruler in Israel whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting" - not even after Rashi confirmed the long-established but now-neglected tradition that Messiah existed before creation: "Before the sun, his [Messiah's] name is Yinnon." (Ps.72:17) Neither did the anti-missionary expert address Rashi's remarkable application of Ps.118:22 to Messiah ben David: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Both of these rabbinic comments ought to have raised serious questions for Torah guardians who believe that a pre-existing Messiah and a rejected Messiah are only misguided Christian notions.
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