Isaiah 53.10 more likely referring to Israel than to Jesus?

Originally written in 1998(?)... Added new material on Jewish identification of the Servant with the Messiah in Sept 2001

Someone sent this in, and I need to go through it piece by piece...Original submission in BOLD, mine in regular.

I recently got the following article from XXX, M. Div., a former Christian pastor who has relinquished his belief in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of both Jews and Gentiles... Since he doesn't claim to be an expert in ancient Hebrew, I would like somebody competent to go through the following article and tell me whether you think he is correct in what he says.



"The first thing we must face is that the Christian Bibles do not accurately translate the Hebrew of Isaiah 53 faithfully or accurately. Take a look at this and be amazed!

"I quote first from the Greek translation (that's a joke) of the Hebrew Scriptures which will become the foundation for almost all English Bibles. This Greek translation is called the Septuagint and follows:

There are two major problems already...

1. The LXX (a Greek translation BY Jews, FOR Jews, before the time of Christ!) has never been used as the 'foundation' for ANY English bibles!

a. All English translations before Tyndale in the 16th century used the Latin Vulgate for their basis:
  "All translations of the English Bible prior to the work of Tyndale... were done from the Latin text." [Complete Guide to Bible Versions, Philip Wesley Comfort]   b. the Latin Vulgate itself was not 'founded' upon the LXX, but on the MT (Massoretic Text):
  "Between 390 and 405 CE the church father Jerome (Hieronymous) translated the Bible into Latin...After some time Jerome began to realize the importance of what he called the hebraica veritas (literally: "the Hebrew truth," i.e., the truth emanating from the Hebrew text), and, with the help of Jewish scholars, he translated the Bible from Hebrew into Latin. The name Vulgata, "the common one," reflects the degree of popularity of this translation....The Hebrew source of V (tn: symbol for Vulgate) was almost identical with M (tn: symbol for Massoretic text) and the Vulgate closely followed its Hebrew source while preserving certain literary principles." [Emmanuel Tov, OT:TCHB:153]   c. From Tyndale on, all English translations have been from the Hebrew and Greek--not the LXX.  
2. Christian scholars KNOW that the LXX is actually weaker than the MT for 'our case'! "The Greek version of Isaiah 53 offers the Christian exegete considerably less support than the Hebrew versions for the doctrine of atonement from sin through Jesus' sacrificial death and resurrection. The LXX, like the Hebrew, contains numerous statements that the Servant bore the sins and weaknesses of the many and was reckoned without cause as one of them--a sinner. But taken in context, the LXX translators stopped short of seeing in the Servant's actions an atoning sacrificial death." [HI:JSS53:186]

"The LXX, after all, is a translation with all the strengths and weaknesses of a translation. A translation is sometimes influenced by theological bias, and that is the case with Isaiah 53 (LXX). The LXX translators manifest the kind of theological problem with the potential death of the righteous Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53 that many Jews of Jesus' day had with Jesus' death on the cross. To them God would not allow a truly righteous man to die like a criminal at the hands of his persecutors and certainly would not attach atoning significance to such a death. But that is precisely what the Hebrew versions say. The 'punch line' for the Christian gospel--the description of the Servant's divinely intended sacrificial death, his justification of the many, and allusions to his resurrection--occurs only in the Hebrew texts." [HI:JSS53:188f]

What this means is that his argument is already factually off-base. To use the LXX to describe the Christian position is misguided and close to a 'straw man' attack, so in that sense we could stop the article here--the writer is arguing an irrelevant position. As a Christian myself, I certainly wouldn't defend the LXX in Is 53--the Hebrew is much more robust and beautiful and powerful than it.

Apparently, the writer seems to be making an additional argument though. In addition to the argument that the LXX is 'bad' relative to the MT (which we agree on), he seems to be also arguing that Jesus could not be the fulfillment of 53.10 as it stands in the Hebrew version of 53.10. So, we can still interact with him over that line of discussion.

Accordingly, I will not spend any more time on the LXX issue (snipping his text where feasible), but confine my remarks to the 'fulfillment' issues of the MT.


"Masoretic: (1) HaShem desired to oppress him and he afflicted him; (2) if his soul would acknowledge guilt, (3) he would see his offspring and (4) live long days and (5) the desire of HaShem would succeed in his hand."

We have a couple of problems here in his translation.

a. The initial disjunctive Waw is omitted from the translation at the beginning of the verse, and the emphatic position of YHWH is not reflected here. The verse should begin with a strong adversative "Yet YHWH (it was who) willed to crush him". The reason this is important is that this contrast is made to the injustice done to the Servant in verses 8-9. In verse 8, the Servant dies ('cut off from the land of the living') childless ('his generation, who can tell it?'), a sign of being cursed by the Lord. In verse 9, the insult is extended even to his burial--with the wicked oppressors. But, this injustice and tragedy is not a mere freak of fate--it was God's plan all along, verse 10 tells us. YHWH is in control--the Servant's death for the sins of others will produce the benefits of salvation for all.

b. Section 2 is one of the more difficult exegetical passages in the chapter, but our writer has picked a translation of somewhat less probability. And there are two issues here:

1. The phrase "if his soul would..." has an oddity that forces us to make an exegetical decision. The verb shim (make/place/put) is either 2nd person masculine ('you') or 3rd person feminine ('she'). The word order runs "you/she make(s) guilt-offering his-soul". [Note: 'soul' is a feminine noun, and would take a feminine verb form like we have here.] Our two syntactical options are thus:
  - "If you (YHWH or the reader Israel) make his soul a guilt-offering..."

- "If his soul (=he, the Servant) makes a guilt-offering..."

Sapp has a good analysis of the options [HI:JSS53:182]:
  "Syntax favors the second-person masculine. The feminine would make the subject of the verb (in that case, 'his soul') come two words after the verb. The reader would have to wait until the second word after the verb to learn the verb's subject after having been primed to understand the second-person masculine 'you' as the subject from the verb itself when another subject does not immediately follow. 'His soul' works better as a second accusative object of the verb shim, which takes a double accusative with the meaning "make" (make something [into] something else), hence 'you make his soul an offering.' Similar syntax for nephesu, 'his soul,' occurs in v. 12c, where it is the object, not subject, of the verb and occurs two words after it: 'he poured out to death his soul.' This is not a critical issue, however, so I will treat both interpretations of this verb as we go through.

2. The second issue is his translation of shim asham. Shim is 'make' and asham is the word used for "guilt" and for a "guilt offering" (Leviticus 5.14ff). The 'making an offering' is NOT the same thing as "acknowledging guilt" at all--Hebrew has a word for "acknowledge" that is translated 'confess' in several places in the OT/Tanakh. The translation given by the writer above is an interpretive rendering, not a strict translation. There is no 'subjective' experience involved here in this clause--it is the language of Levitical law.

And, even if we allow the expansion to 'acknowledge guilt', we must be clear that the text never indicates that it is the Servant's guilt at all. The Servant could (like the Priest performing the guilt offerings of Lev 5) acknowledge guilt, but it would be the guilt of the person--not the priest's guilt.

In the Servant passages it is QUITE CLEAR that the sin/guilt that is laid upon the Servant is NOT his own. So, while I could allow 'acknowledge guilt' into the translation, the passage will not allow the guilt to be the Servant's own.

Okay, with these noted let's go ahead...

"The first part (1) says that YHVH desired to punish who ever this happens to be ("Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him"). Both Jesus and the Jews have been dealt with tragically if one examines the historical record.

Actually, let me point out one implication of the adversative force I noted earlier. In the backward reference to vs. 8-9, there is a reminder of the injustice of the Servant's punishment. In verse 8, Oswalt notes the implication of the injustice in the Servant's oppression (NICOT):

"The point is not that the Servant escaped from injustice (in death), but that his treatment was unjust from start to finish. This it was because of restraint of justice, or oppressive legal treatment, that the Servant was taken away to his death. This was certainly not the case for Israel. Both the northern and the southern kingdoms had been destroyed in complete justice. The prophets had warned the people about their behavior and had called them to return to God, but they would not, so what befell them was in no sense a miscarriage of justice. This is one of the central points of chs. 1-39. The coming of Assyria and then Babylon was not an accident of history; it was the unfolding of the just purposes of God." And, it has long been noted that in verse 8 the Servant is stricken for the 'transgressions of my people' (Israel). The Servant is again differentiated from Israel in that clause. [If the Servant were Israel in that verse, it would read "He was stricken for his transgressions"! And this would contradict the explicit righteousness of the Servant in the second half of verse 9.]

"Then we get to the part that gets interesting ("When you make his soul an offering for sin"): There are two key words in the second portion (2) : (1) Nephesh and (2) Asham. Nephesh is soul or breath, a breathing person, and Asham (Strong's # 817 comes from # 816 guilt: by implication, a fault).

"The KJV equates Asham with guiltiness (an offering for). From the Strong's description one would necessarily conclude that this person or people was required to acknowledge guilt. If so, this passage could not possibly be describing Jesus, as the suffering servant, for everyone knows according to Christian theology that Jesus never sinned! The Jews have by default this must be referring to the Jews.

There is an obvious problem here.

If the preferred translation ("you (YHWH) make his soul a guilt offering...") is true, then there obviously is no 'acknowledgement of guilt' on the part of the Servant.

If the secondary translation ("His soul makes a guilt offering...") is true, we still do not have a necessary reason to ascribe true 'guilt' to the Servant, since His guilt is not his own--it is someone else's guilt and punishment--that of His people:

4a(1): "bore our sufferings/sicknesses"
4a(2): "carried our pains/sorrows"
5a(1): "pierced on account of our transgressions"
5a(2): "crushed on account of our iniquities"
6b: "Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all" (note the connection to the sacrifices of Yom Kippur)
8b: "because of the transgression of my people..."
11c: "He will bear their sins"
12d: "He was reckoned among the transgressors" (although guiltless in verse 9!)
12e: "He bore the sin of the many"
12f: "He intercedes for the transgressors" (like the High priest did)
This means that the Servant--who is declared innocent and righteous throughout the Servant passages--doesn't acknowledge His own guilt, but the guilt of the people for whom He intercedes and for whom He dies as sacrificial substitute. There is no reason to add some element of 'true, acknowledged guilt of the Servant' to the text at all.

Long before Jesus' time (and for a long time after), the Jews believed that acts of extreme goodness (e.g. martyrdom for the nation) could 'atone' for sin, and be accepted as a sacrifice for the Nation--without imputing 'guilt' to the martyr. For examples:

"When he was now burned to his very bones and about to expire, he lifted up his eyes to God and said, 27 "You know, O God, that though I might have saved myself, I am dying in burning torments for the sake of the law. 28 Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment suffice for them. 29 Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs." (4 Macc 6:26-28)

"These, then, who have been consecrated for the sake of God, are honored, not only with this honor, but also by the fact that because of them our enemies did not rule over our nation, 21 the tyrant was punished, and the homeland purified-they having become, as it were, a ransom for the sin of our nation. 22 And through the blood of those devout ones and their death as an atoning sacrifice, divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been mistreated." (4 Macc 17.20-22)

Schechter explains the position of the Rabbis: "The atonement of suffering and death is not limited to the suffering person. The atoning effect extends to all the generation. This is especially the case with such sufferers as cannot either by reason of their righteous life or by their youth possibly have merited the afflictions which have come upon them. 'The death of the righteous atones just as well as certain sacrifices.' [Mechilta, 72b]... There are also applied to Moses the Scriptural words, "And he bore the sins of many" (Isa 53 12), because of his offering himself as an atonement for Israel's sin with the golden calf, being ready to sacrifice his very soul for Israel, when he said, "And if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book (that is, from the Book of the Living), which thou hast written" (Exod 32 32).' [Sotah, 14a and Berachoth 32a] This readiness to sacrifice oneself for Israel is characteristic of all the great men of Israel, the patriarchs and the Prophets acting in the same way, whilst also some Rabbis would, on certain occasions, exclaim, "Behold, I am the atonement of Israel"" [Mechilta, 2a; Mishnah Negaim 2.1] (Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology:310)   So, there is no reason to "disqualify" Jesus on this basis!

"Now let us continue....

"In section (3) it is written, "He would see his seed or offspring."

"The key word in this third section is the Hebrew word "zera." Zera (#2233 is from Strong's #2232 seed). The KJV explains it as carnally, as in children. In other words the scripture is talking about "offspring" as in children, not as disciples which would use the word "ben." Jesus never had any children. Jesus wasn't even married. Can't be talking about Jesus here. Again by default this has got to be Israel or the Jews.

This is a travesty to treat the incredible poetry of Isaiah here this way! The image of eschatological 'seed' in Isaiah has little to do with physical progeny--the Servant was supposed to die childless in verse 8, remember...

1. The image of offspring is a more spiritual concept, when applied to this future.
  "Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband," says the LORD. (Is 54.1ff)
2. Isaiah announces in 66.21 that YHWH will even take some of the gentiles as "priests and for Levites", implying that even physical descent from Aaron and Levi is 'negotiable'.

3. Isaiah even made the point that the covenant community would be expanded beyond the physical seed of Abraham (using titles that were reserved for Israel):

"In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance." (Is 19.24)   4. And the text doesn't say "HIS seed"--the possessive pronominal suffix is not there. It just says "He will see seed, He will prolong days".

The Suffering Messianic figure of Psalm 22, is vindicated and rewarded. In verse 30 (31 in MT), one aspect of his reward is that

"posterity (zera) will serve him"
Rashi comments that 'zera' here refers to the nation of Israel (not to the seed of King Messiah), even though he understands the 'him' to refer to God.  
So, 'zera' (without the pronominal suffix) be easily referring to a looser group than physical descendents, or a simple posterity (as it is translated in Ps 22.30).

Again, there is no need to disqualify Jesus on the basis of this.

"Section four (4): "and live long days."

"This individual person or people would live a very long life, if, he or they would only acknowledge their guilt.

Quick note--remember, there is (1) no indication that it is the Servant's own guilt; and (2) positive indication that it is the guilt of others.

"Again by Christian theology this could not be Jesus. Jesus was executed by the Romans between the ages of 30-36: thereby, rendering passage four impossible.

Huh? It specifically said in verse 8-9 that the Servant would be 'cut off from the land of the living". So, whoever the Servant is, he will certainly die.

In fact, this tension in the text--between the Servant's death and the Servant's length of days--leads some OT commentators (e.g., Mowinkel, Young, Blocher) to conclude that a resurrection is implied in the text (if not actually hinted at).

In ancient Judaism, this death-then-life tension found expression in the messianic figure Messiah ben Ephraim or Messiah ben Joseph.

Patai summarizes the rabbinic data about this figure [MTJL:165ff]:

"Messiah ben Joseph, also called Messiah ben Ephraim, referring to his ancestor Ephraim, the son of Joseph, is imagined as the first commander of the army of Israel in the Messianic wars. He will achieve many signal victories, but his fate is to die at the hands of Armilus in a great battle in which Israel is defeated by Gog and Magog. His corpse is left unburied in the streets of Jerusalem for forty days, but neither beast nor bird of prey dares to touch it. Then, Messiah ben David comes, and his first act is to bring about the resurrection of his tragic forerunner.

"When the death of the Messiah became an established tenet in Talmudic times, this was felt to be irreconcilable with the belief in the Messiah as the Redeemer who would usher in the blissful millennium of the Messianic age. The dilemma was solved by splitting the person of the Messiah in two: one of them, called Messiah ben Joseph, was to raise the armies of Israel against their enemies, and, after many victories and miracles, would fall victim to Gog and Magog. The other, Messiah ben David, will come after him (in some legends will bring him back to life, which psychologically hints at the identity of the two), and will lead Israel to the ultimate victory..."

The resurrection texts of the OT (e.g. Is 26.19; Dan 12.2) portray the resurrected life as 'alive unto God' and 'everlasting'...This would generally count as 'prolonged days'...(smile).

Again, there is no reason to disqualify Jesus on this count.

"Lastly in section five (5): "The desires of YHVH would prosper in his hand."

"This could not refer to Jesus, since he died. The new religion that his followers created prospered. I am not so sure the religion which bears the name of Jesus fulfills the desires of YHVH. Actually, the killing and destruction wielded in the name of Jesus over the centuries does not seem to me to fulfill the desires of YHVH. On the other hand, through the Jews, the world has come to know YHVH, the Almighty G-d of the Hebrews

This is too subjective an argument to merit much attention. Abraham died. Jacob died. Moses died. David died. Ezra died. Did the will of YHWH not prosper in their hands?

Did the fact that of the 12 sons of Israel, 11 sold their brother into slavery, one had sex with his father's concubine, another had ritual pagan sex with a presumed sacred prostitute, mean that Jacob failed in the 'will of God'? Did the constant sin and rebellion (even sacrifice to goat idols, and pagan sexual worship at Peor) of Israel under the leadership of Moses, mean Moses failed in the will of YHWH? Did the failure of Israel to occupy the land (and subsequent apostasy of Judges) mean that Joshua failed in the will of YHWH? Did the excessive bloodshed of David (to the point of disqualifying him from building the temple) and his family practices that led to the Divided Monarchy mean that the will of YHWH did not prosper under him? Did the apostasy and captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel mean that Elijah and Elisha failed in the will of YHWH? Did the wickedness of Judah, including polytheism, social injustice/oppression of fellow Jews, and child sacrifice resulting exile, mean that the Former Prophets like Amos, Micah, and Isaiah failed in the will of YHWH? Did the half-hearted and conflicted response of the returned exiles, including re-enslavement of freed slaves, financial abuse of fellow Jews, and neglect of basic temple requirements, mean that Ezra, Nehemiah, and the post-exilic prophets failed in the will of God?

The subjectivity of this part of the argument should be obvious to all, and the last sentence, although inviting response, will have to pass by uncommented upon, except by referring the reader to Jesus' remark in John 4.22, the prophet Ezekiel's record of YHWH's comment in Ezek 36.21 (quoted in Rom 2.24), and Rabbi Shaul's observation in 1 Thess 2.16.

"Let's summarize:

"Jesus Israel

"Must be bruised------------------------------------fulfilled by both Jesus and Israel
"Must acknowledge guilt---------------------------fulfilled by Israel but not the Christian Jesus
"Will see his children ( from his loins)---------- fulfilled by Israel but not the Christian Jesus
"Will live a long life-------------------------------- fulfilled by Israel but not the Christian Jesus
"Desires of YHVH will prosper in hands------- fulfilled by Israel but not the Christian Jesus

Answer for yourself: Does this not suggest that this passage refers to Israel and not the Christian Jesus?

If so, the implication is that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is about Israel, not Jesus. Something to ponder.

By now, it should be clear that this chart is basically useless...

And part of the problem is that the Servant "songs" of Isaiah [42:1-4; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12] are an interplay of Israel, the remnant, and the Messiah. ALL of these three agents are visible in the text. Different aspects appear in different sections, and with different emphases, so all such all-or-nothing comparison charts will fail.

The Servant Song passages are notoriously complex, but the Servant designation is variously applied to Israel the nation AND to some individual/remnant group that 'ministers' to Israel (1st and 2nd Songs), and in the 3rd and 4th Songs, the emphasis seems to be on an individual (e.g. birth, obedience, suffering, death, triumph, sacrifice)-beyond the bounds of simple personification. [see ZPEB, "Servant of the Lord" and EBC, VI: 17-19.]

"As to the identity of the Servant in Isaiah 53 the fundamental issues that we noted at the outset of this survey still remain. These concern the seeming fluctuation between the collective identification of the Servant of the Lord, in association with such titles as Israel and Jeshurun, and detailed description of the fate of an individual prophet-teacher. On this issue it certainly appears that we must accept and accommodate such fluctuations and tensions without destroying, or denying, the reality of both aspects. An individual may embody and represent the destiny of a nation, as we see in the Deuteronomic emphasis upon the representative role of Moses, the obedient leader who nevertheless suffers along with his people." [HI:JSS53:53].   The main textual reasons that the Servant is often understood as an individual, as opposed to (the collective) Israel include: 1. The Servant in the songs is righteous, as opposed to Israel.
  His suffering is "though he had done no violence..." (53.9), and he was "not rebellious" (50.5). Although eschatological Israel will be righteous (1.26f; 32.16f; 53.11; 60.21; 61.3; 62.2,12), Isaiah repeatedly stresses that contemporary Israel is a sinful people who suffer on account of their own transgressions (40.2; 42.18-25; 43.22-28; 47.7; 48.18f; 50.1; 54.7; 57.17; 59.2ff). [This also applies to the remnant: 43.22; 46.3, 12; 48.1, 8; 53.6, 8; 55.7; 58.1ff; 63.17; 64.5-7.] 2. There are passages in which the Servant is distinguished from either the nation Israel or the remnant:
  a. 49.3 calls the servant 'Israel' but in vss. 5,6 he is distinguished from another Israel (the remnant).
  He said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor." 4 But I said, "I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the LORD's hand, and my reward is with my God." 5 And now the LORD says- he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself,
b. 42.3 has the servant ministering to the needy and tender-conscienced Israelites:   A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.   c. 42.6 has the Servant be a covenant for 'the people'
  I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,   d. 49.8 also has the Servant as a covenant for the 'the people'
  I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances,  
3. The "we" versus "he" passages:
  "throughout Isaiah whenever the pronouns 'we', 'our', or 'us' are introduced abruptly, as in 53:1ff. (that is, without an explicit identification of the speakers, as in 2:3; 3:6; 4:1; etc.), it is always the prophet speaking on behalf of the people of Israel with whom he identifies (1:9f; 16.6; 24.26; 33.2, 20; 42.24; 59:9-12; 63:15-19; 64:3-11; etc.). Accordingly, if the 'we' or 'us' in 53:1ff is the prophet speaking on behalf of Israel, then the 'he' or 'him' of these same verses cannot also be a reference to Israel." [HI:JSS53:110]  
Jewish interpreters over the ages have identified the Servant with historical Israel, the faithful remnant, Ideal Israel, and various historical characters (e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses, Zerubbabel, Cyrus, the Messiah).

But the earliest Jewish identification of the Servant was NOT with Israel but with Moses, in the Talmud (Sotah 14a):

"R. Simlai expounded: Why did Moses our teacher yearn to enter the land of Israel? Did he want to eat of its fruits or satisfy himself from its bounty? But thus spake Moses, 'Many precepts were commanded to Israel which can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel. I wish to enter the land so that they may all be fulfilled by me'. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, 'Is it only to receive the reward [for obeying the commandments] that thou seekest? I ascribe it to thee as if thou didst perform them'; as it is said: Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bare the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. 'Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great' - it is possible [to think that his portion will be] with the [great of] later generations and not former generations; therefore there is a text to declare, 'And he shall divide with the strong', i.e., with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who were strong in Torah and the commandments. 'Because he poured out his soul unto death' - because he surrendered himself to die, as it is said: And if not, blot me, I pray thee etc. 'And was numbered with the transgressors' - because he was numbered with them who were condemned to die in the wilderness. 'Yet he bare the sins of many' - because he secured atonement for the making of the Golden Calf. 'And made intercession for the transgressors' - because he begged for mercy on behalf of the sinners in Israel that they should turn in penitence; and the word pegi'ah ['intercession'] means nothing else than prayer, as it is said: Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to Me." (Soncino)   But the Talmud ALSO identified the Messiah with this Servant!!!!!!! (Sanh 98b)::
"What is his [the Messiah's] name? — The School of R. Shila said: His name is Shiloh, for it is written, until Shiloh come. The School of R. Yannai said: His name is Yinnon, for it is written, His name shall endure for ever: e'er the sun was, his name is Yinnon. The School of R. Haninah maintained: His name is Haninah, as it is written, Where I will not give you Haninah. Others say: His name is Menahem the son of Hezekiah,for it is written, Because Menahem [‘the comforter’ ], that would relieve my soul, is far. The Rabbis said: His name is ‘the leper scholar,’ as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted. [Soncino]


And the 2nd oldest Jewish source--the Jewish Targum of Isaiah--identified the Servant as the Messiah:

"Behold, My servant the Messiah shall prosper; he shall be exalted and great and very powerful. ( Targum Isa 52.13) and treated the Servant as an individual (not a collective) throughout [HI:JSS53:73]

F.F. Bruce points to a striking Jewish prayer from the first millenium, in which the passage was also applied to Messiah [NT:NTDOTT:94]:

"More striking still is a passage in a hymn by the poet Eleazar ben Qalir (variously dated from the late seventh to the tenth century A.D.) which is included in the additional prayers for the Day of Atonement:
Our righteous Messiah has departed from us; we are horror-striken, and there is none to justify us.
Our iniquities and the yoke of our transgressions he carries, and is wounded for our transgressions.
He hears on his shoulder our sins to find pardon for our initquities may we be healed by his stripes!


And, for Palestinian Judaism, the identification of the Servant was always with an individual up until the Middle Ages!

"in contradistinction to Hellenistic Judaism and medieval Jewish sources, in early Palestinian Judaism the Servant of Isaiah 53 was (as far as we know ) never interpreted as an collective entity but as a (presumably messianic) individual" [HI:QCM:71]   ................................................................................................................................................

Let's try to summarize our analysis so far:

1. The points about the LXX and the English bibles were factually incorrect.

2. The translation he used (as opposed to made, since he admitted limited knowledge of Hebrew) omitted a couple of important textual items, and didn't mention a major interpretive issue in 53.10;

3. The assumption that the Servant acknowledged his own sin is without textual basis, and actually is contradicted by several specific items in text in which the Servant is suffering for the transgressions of others.

4. He is apparently unaware of ancient Jewish history and theology:

a. That the ancient Jewish teachers believed that an exceptional soul could offer itself as an offering for the sins of others;

b. That some ancient Jewish teachers believed that the Messiah had to die and be resurrected;

c. That the death of an individual messianic figure didn't disqualify them from being considered the Servant (e.g., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses, Zerubbabel, Cyrus, the Messiah);

d. That all 'conservative' Jewish interpretations up until the Middle ages believed that the passages were about an individual--NOT collective Israel (e.g., Talmud, Targums)

5. His approach to the text is too mechanistic--he misses the messianic nuances of zera and somehow ignores the data from the other Songs (e.g., the explicit death of the Servant, the innocence of the Victim).

6. Some of the argument is too subjective (e.g., will of YHWH didn't prosper), makes questionable assumptions (e.g., length of days does not allow death/resurrection of Messiah), or betrays no familiarity with the corporate-individual theology of the Hebrews (e.g., the representative head of the nation).

7. The exegetical data of the Servant Songs in favor of an individual interpretation of the Servant is quite strong: the contrast in righteousness, distinctions made between Israel and the Servant in close texts, and the 'we-he' passages.

So, I basically find the data decisively against his position...

If he is a recent convert to Judaism, this might explain  his lack of knowledge of Jewish history and maybe his lack of Hebrew language skills (depending on where he got his M.Div), but whoever 'converted him' and taught him these factual errors and erroneous exegetical approach 'needs work'...

Hope this helps,
Glenn Miller
August 4, 1999

The Christian ThinkTank...[] (Reference Abbreviations)