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!
"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]
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
We have a couple of problems here in his translation.
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:
- "If his soul (=he, the Servant) makes a guilt-offering..."
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.
"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):
"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
sinned...so 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:
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:
"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)
"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
progeny--the Servant was supposed to die childless in verse 8, remember...
3. Isaiah even made the point that the covenant community would be expanded
the physical seed of Abraham (using titles that were reserved for Israel):
The Suffering Messianic figure of Psalm 22, is vindicated and rewarded. In verse 30 (31 in MT), one aspect of his reward is that
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
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]:
"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..."
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.
"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.]
But the earliest Jewish identification of the Servant was NOT with Israel but with Moses, in the Talmud (Sotah 14a):
"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:
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!
Let's try to summarize our analysis so far:
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:
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)
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.
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,
August 4, 1999