Bible Commentator


Rabbi Moshe Reiss

Marc Chagal - Jesus



     Slightly over three thousand years ago King David conquered Jerusalem, expanded Israel from Sinai to mid-Syria and united the Jewish people. For this he gained a Messianic status. One millennium later - to the year - a child was born. He was named Yehoshua, (a very popular Jewish name) the son of Joseph and Mary, probably in Nazareth, a small northern city in what was once part of the Kingdom of Israel. About thirty years later the man known in history from his Greek name - Jesus was crucified, a particularly tortuous form of death, usually reserved for rebels. Jesus was born a Jew, lived a Jew and died as a Jew. In fact the four Gospels tell us he died as `King of the Jews'. He became the most well known Messianic figure in history as a result after his death, of the founding of Christianity.


     Despite or perhaps because Christianity began as a Jewish sect, the history of Christian Anti-Semitism has been a family tragedy. Christians cannot exist without Judaism. Before Jesus became a Christian Lord he was a Jewish brother.


     It was not until 1963 that the Bishop of Rome, Pope John XXIII, conceded that his  ancestors, the Romans  executed Jesus. And not until Pope John Paul II, that the Bishop of Rome conceded (for Christianity) that the Jewish covenant with God remained valid. In between these almost two thousand years if Jesus had relatives, nephews, nieces or cousins they would have been murdered in the Shoah - the Holocaust, if not earlier under the crusades or the inquisition, by men calling themselves Christians.


During the lifetime of Jesus there were many sects accepted by Judaism. These include the Essenes, a monastic radical and apocalyptic group who rejected the existing Temple and its Priests, the Sadducees who rejected what the Hillelite Pharisees considered the basic beliefs of Judaism – the world to come and resurrection of the dead, the Priests who rejected the Books of Prophets, accepting only the Torah - in that way like the Samaritans, the Shammai Pharisees who were zealots in terms of law and politics, the Messianic Zealots, the Hellenists, the Romanists  and others. So why were believers in the Messiahship of Jesus non acceptable? They  seemed to be anti-Temple, anti-priest (like Jeremiah in the days of old) and religious zealots and apocalyptics like the Essenes  and religiously like the Hillelites.

It is impossible to understand Jesus - where he came from and where he believed he was going - without understanding this very complicated background written primarily through Hebrew and Aramaic texts. As David Flusser said in his preface to his book on Jesus ‘without the long preparatory work of contemporaneous Jewish faith, the teaching of Jesus would be unthinkable.’ 1 On the other hand for many Christians and many presentations of Christology one would not know Jesus was Jewish.


     About 150 years before Jesus’ birth, the second Jewish kingdom began - a Hellenistic Kingdom known in history as the Hasmoneum Kingdom. This Kingdom combined a synthesis of Jewish and Greek thought. Many Jews rebelled against this Hellenistic Kingdom and  wrote a series of Jewish books known as the Pseudapigrapha in which the idea of a eschatological (an end of time) Messiah was developed.


     Fifty years before the birth of Jesus the Romans conquered the land of Israel and ended this second Jewish Kingdom. The author of the Psalms of Solomon reflected on Rome's destruction of this Kingdom and wrote of a combined Restorer Messiah (one who like David would conquer and restore the Jewish Kingdom and center it in Jerusalem) with an Eschatological one.  About 85 years later Jesus was crucified by the Romans. Forty years later, several Restorer Messiahs, known in history as `Zealots' led a rebellion against Roman power (the `Great Revolt') and the Jewish Temple was destroyed. The Sadducees (the priestly aristocracy), most of the Zealots, those from Qumran and other sectarian Jews were destroyed. Within a generation a theological homogeneity among Jews was established - Rabbinic Judaism. Sixty Five years later another rebellion occurred led by another zealot Restorer Messiah - Bar Kokhba - and that rebellion was even more destructive to the Jewish people that the `Great Revolt'.  Perhaps one million Jews died and the Jews were exiled from Jerusalem and Judea.


     The Talmud has an expression called ‘Forcing the End’. It means forcing God to bring the Messiah - the Kingdom of God on Earth. Judaism assumed and assumes several different thoughts about the coming of the Messiah - we will discuss later on what Jews meant by the Messiah. One thought about his coming in the Talmud, is if every Jews obeys the commandment to remember one Sabbath. Alternatively and paradoxically if no Jew remembers to obey the commandment on any Shabbat. A third is when in His inscrutable mind He chooses. One believes he will come on Tisha B’Av, - the day commemorating the destruction of both Temples, thus he is primarily a nationalistic Messiah. Another date is the first day of Tishra, the birthday of God’s creating humanity, thus he is a universal Messiah.


     The Zealots in the Great  War and Bar Kokhba Rebellion all tried to ‘force the End’. Their expectation was political liberation. Jesus tried to bring the Kingdom of Heaven. He may have had a different reason - eschatological versus Zealotry -  but all had the same goal in mind. But for Jews 2,000 years ago political liberty was a religious ideal. There was no separation of State and Church. They were all activists for the Kingdom of God - some like the followers of Judas the Galilean and his descendants choose violence and some like Jesus did not.


     The Zealots clearly failed. Jesus in the mind of Jews, his co-religionist’s,  also failed, concrete reality had not significantly changed. Paul and the Evangicals  saw his crucifixion and resurrection as the beginning of the Kingdom of God, saw a different and a spiritual reality.


     Within fifteen years after Jesus' death, a Jew named Saul (renamed Paul) of Tarsus (who had never met Jesus) started writing letters about the man he came to revere as Jesus Christ. These letters were written primarily to Gentiles in various parts of the eastern and western Roman Empire. He was preaching the gospel of a Jewish Messiah and attempting to convert  pagan Gentiles to a belief in the one God. These 13 letters compose 25 % of the Christian Bible. 2 In these letters, the earliest documents in our possession about Jesus the term `Christos' - Greek for Messiah - occurs 316 times. 3 It is used as a designation for Jesus - not as a general term or even as a title but as if it were a proper name. Jesus' Messianic status was not a problem for St. Paul 4.Paul as we will note in a latter chapter on Paul also uses the title differently that the synoptic Gospels. He is not the Davidic Messiah but the resurrected savior Messiah


     Between 70 CE and 100 CE the four Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John) and the Book of Acts were written.  The Gospels describe the life of Jesus - particularly his public ministry.  The Gospels end with Jesus' death. The Book of Acts continues with Paul's role. These five books compose approximately 65% of the Christian Bible. The term `Christos' is used only 80 times in this section - written primarily after the Pauline letters. For these authors, the Messianic title of Jesus was a problem. In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus preferred title for himself was Son of Man; it is used over 60 times. 5 In the Gospel of John, the title Son of God is added to Son of Man. (This is not to deny the use of Son of God in the synoptic Gospels - in Mark chapter, 1 verse 1 he introduces Jesus as the Son of God - but that its importance is emphasized primarily in John.)


     What changed?  Why was the title Christ not a problem for Paul, but a problem for the Gospel writers. The Jews rebelled, against the might of Rome, the city of Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed. The great restorer Messianic outbreak was a total failure. Only Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, the leader of the anti-zealot party and his students escaped by leaving, with Roman permission, to go to Yavne and establish Rabbinic Judaism. All the other sects died in the ashes of the Temple. For Jews the restorer Messianic idea was a failure. The son of David was meant to slay Goliath not to lose his battle against the evil forces of Rome. Luke has Cleopas, a believer-in-Jesus - say of the crucified Messiah "Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free." (Luke 24:21) Most Jews expected the same of their Messiah. We know this from the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 CE) where Bar Kokhba was declared a Messiah by the great Rabbi Akiva, until he was defeated by the Romans. From a Jewish perspective Jesus is a ‘failed’ Messiah, but not necessarily a ‘false’ Messiah. Bar Kokhba is not considered a false Messiah, simple a failed one. Sabbatai Sevi who tried to change Judaism in the 17th century was a false messiah. Jesus in the synoptic Gospels and even in the Gospel of John did not reject Judaism. He stated that he did not come to change the Torah. His conflict with some Pharisees as we shall see was the interpretation of the Halakha, not its truth. He was a Prophetic Reformer in the sense of Isaiah or Jeremiah. He criticized the Jews ethical  behavior towards each other exactly as they did and told them the disastrous events that would transpire if they did not repent. Like them he was less concerned with the Temple cult.


     St. Paul, a Jew, was convinced that Jesus was the eschatological Messiah. His letters do not concern themselves with the life of Jesus but the crucified and risen Messiah. The synoptic Gospels coming from different oral traditions about Jesus, remembered him declining to state his Messianic status. To note the obvious there were no Gospels when Paul wrote his letters.


     We find in the Gospels stories of Jesus debating as if he were a `Sage' or `Rabbi' with other Jewish Sages or Rabbis called Pharisees. And in the Gospel of Matthew it is clear that the Law - Halakha in Hebrew - is the expression of God’s will. The law of Moses is still in force (Matt. 23:3) but the teacher of the law is Jesus (Matt. 23:8). In this way just as Moses is, for the Jews ‘Our Teacher’ Jesus is for Christians ‘Our Teacher’. As described in Matthew Jesus’ law is stricter that Moses’. It is not Pharisaic law that is being criticized but the ethics and hypocrisy of individual Pharisees. As David Flusser said in his preface to his book on Jesus ‘without the long preparatory work of contemporaneous Jewish faith, the teaching of Jesus would be unthinkable.’ 6


     All four Gospels tell us that Jesus was a miracle worker. Jesus was also asked whether he was a Prophet or the Prophet. Jesus died as `King of the Jews' according to all four Gospels. By being an activist toward the Kingdom of Heaven he was by definition a resister to Rome. Activists in the service of the Kingdom of heaven can and were called Zealots. It is worth noting as did the well known Christian thinker E.P. Sanders that ‘the combination of the titles ‘Messiah’ and ‘Son of God’ with the ability to perform miracles is a Christian one’ and not a Jewish one. 7 Son’s of God and miracle workers were known to Jews but neither they nor the community considered them more than human.


     After his death Jesus became known as the `Crucified Messiah'. This  was probably influenced by the `suffering servant’ of Isaiah and perhaps Chapter four of Ezekiel where that `son of man’ becomes an atonement for Israel’s sins. St. Paul saw the crucified Messiah as a problem. ‘We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews, and folly to Gentiles" (1 Corin. 1:23).


Thus from the Christian Bible we learn that Jesus was given a wide range of names, titles and roles as follows:

 I.    A Miracle Worker

II.    A Prophet

III.   A Sage

IV.   A Resister to Rome - Active or Passive

V.    A Son of Man

VI.   A Son of God

VII.  A Restorer Messiah or King of the Jews     

VIII. A Heavenly or Eschatological Messiah

IX.   The Crucified Messiah

The question addressed in this chapter is as follows: Is it possible that a Jew born - after the time of the growth and destruction of the Hellenistic Hasmoneum Kingdom, during the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire, and shortly before the destruction of the Second Temple and the Bar Kokhba Rebellion, - who lived and died as a Jew had made all or some of these claims? Or that people writing (some Jews and some Gentiles) in a Jewish environment during the hundred years after his death could think of him with these concepts in mind.

 1. A Miracle Worker

People believed Jesus performed miracles. The synoptic Gospels tell us that his ability to perform miracles and signs is why the people believed he was the Messiah.  "Today and tomorrow I shall be casting out devils and working cures;" (Luke 13:32).   When John the Baptist asks Jesus (through his disciples) "are you the one who is to come" Jesus tells John's disciples of the signs and cures (Matt. 11:3-5). 8

Are miracle workers different from other holy men?   Yes, rarely are they associated with the establishment; they are almost always associated with the poor. The religion of miracle workers and healers often is unofficial, unapproved and sometimes subversive towards established religion. Amongst Jews this kind of person is sometimes called a `Baal Shem Tov', a master of the good name.  A Baal Shem Tov is a healer - a miracle or wonder worker - as was the founder of modern Chasidism who lived in the Eighteenth Century.  He was called the BeSHT, an acronym of the initials.  He sometimes used prayer to cure people.  The claim of unique authority by the BeSHT resulted in his excommunication twice, by the leading Jewish Scholastics.  He was not a scholastic.  "How did he [Jesus] learn to teach?  He has not studied". (John 7:15) The BeSHT was called to the great Jewish Synod of the Four Lands to "judge by your own words whether you are learned in the law". 9  When Jesus was criticized for healing on the Sabbath he responded

"if someone can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses is not broken, why are you angry with me for making someone completely healthy on a Sabbath?"  (John 7:23)

A disciple came to the BeSHT and referred to a statement in Deuteronomy (21:10-18) about a disobedient and recalcitrant son (ben sora in Hebrew) and said his son was a ben sora. The punishment for such a disobedient son was death.  The disciple asked what he should do.  The BeSHT said "love him more".

As Sigmund Freud said about cures they only occur to those with faith. If you have "an inner conviction that the analysis will avail them nothing they will be none the better for it." 10

Geza Vermes who claimed Jesus was a Galilean Chasid 11 said there is an inevitable tension between these types and the leaders of institutional religion, because of the lack of conformity in certain religious practices and the threat posed by their unique authority.  What did people say of Jesus?

"Some said he is a good man; others, no, he is leading the people astray." (John 7:13)

Exactly the same was said of the BeSHT.

What are Miracles?

Joshua with a small army invaded and conquered the Land of Canaan. For this he is one of the conquering heroes of Judaism and especially of the State of Israel. According to the Bible he stopped the Sun in the sky. David defeated Goliath with a slingshot and became a Messianic figure. Is the conquering hero a miracle worker - an agent of God?

In our own lifetime the small Vietnamese people fought two of the most powerful armies on earth - the French and then the United States - and 3,000,000 of their people died in thirty years. The U.S. alone threw the explosive equivalent of almost 200 Atomic bombs on them. The Vietnamese won. For the Vietnamese Ho Chi Minh was a miracle worker - an agent of God!

With the exception of two pair of prophets, Jewish canonized prophets did not perform miracles.  The two who did were Moses/Joshua and Elijah/Elisha.  In certain important ways they parallel each other.  Both Moses and Elijah ascended to God, one visualized God in thunder and lightening (Moses) and one with a small still voice (Elijah).  Both split a body of water (Sea of Reeds and the Jordan).  Both miraculously fed people (manna to the Israelis and the food to the people of Sidon). Both cured people through forms of exorcism.  Elijah and Elisha resurrected the dead. Moses becomes a special prophet and Elijah a precursor Messiah.  Elijah/Elisha were northern miracle workers and created a tradition of northern miracle workers. Jesus' miracles fit into the Elijah/Elisha cycle of miracles.  Jesus resurrected the dead, cured people, created food and while not splitting a body of water, he walked on water.

In the Gospel of Mark (Mk. 11:14 & 20) and the Gospel of Matthew (21:18-19) a miracle is told about a fig tree that Jesus curses  and it withered.  In Luke the same story became a parable (Lk. 13:6-9). Does that tell us that miracles can be seen as parables elaborated, perhaps in a traditional way, about charismatic persons?

The most famous Talmudic miracle workers came from the Galilee. Hanina ben Dosa was born ten miles north of Nazareth. His teacher was Yochanan ben Zakkai, one of the disciples of Rabbi Hillel, the creator of Rabbinic Judaism and Hanina himself was one of the teachers of the great Rabbi Akiva. When Yochanan's son was ill, he asked Hanina ben Dosa to pray for him, and his son was cured.  His wife asked, why did he not pray to God himself, “is Hanina greater than you’?  He responded: Hanina is like a king’s servant, but I am like a king’s high official. Servants had a special relationship to God, that Yochanan himself, the great sage did not have. Presumably that gave him more power to influence God with his good wishes for Yochanan's son than Yochanan himself.

Rabban Gamaliel II's (the President of the Jewish Sanhedrin (legal assembly) and great grandson of Hillel) son was mortally ill. Two of his students were sent by Gamaliel to ask Hanina to pray for the son.  Unable to travel to Jerusalem Hanina prayed there and told them the boy was cured.  They incredulously asked are you a Prophet?  Hanina said no,

"if my prayer is fluent in my mouth, I know that He  accepted it; and if not I know He has rejected it. 12

The students noted the precise date and hour of Hanina's prayer, went back to Gamaliel. Gamaliel said

    "You have stated the time neither too soon nor too late, but so it actually happened."

In the Gospel of John an official's son was ill and he asked Jesus to `heal his son'.

"Come down before my son dies. Jesus said to him, `Go, thy son will live.' ... He left and `his servants met him and told him his son was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to mend, and they said to him, `Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him', the father knew that was the hour when Jesus said to him `Thy son will live.' (John 4:46-54)

The same story is told of a Roman Centurion in Matthew. (Matt. 8:5-13) The similarity with these Talmudic and Gospel tales is remarkable.

Hanina was told about a dangerous snake that was injuring people.  He walked over to the snake's hole and stepped on the hole, the snake bit Hanina and the snake died.  Hanina said `it is not the snake that kills, but sin.' Jesus cured a paralytic man by proclaiming ‘your sins are forgiven’ (Matt. 9:2-5, Mark 2:10). Another variant of the story is that Hanina did not notice the snake bite and said ‘As I live, I did not notice it because I was deep in prayer’. 13

Honi, ‘Ha’maggil’, the circle maker (First Century BCE), also a native of the Galilee, made the rains come.  He did this by making a circle in the sand, entering into it and saying to God:

"Lord of the world, your children have turned to me because I am a son of the house before you.  I swear by your great name that I will not move from here until you are merciful to your children."   14

At first mere rain drops appeared.  Honi said "Abba I did not ask for this, but for rains sufficient to fill cisterns, ditches and caves." So the rains fell in sheets.  Honi said "Abba I did not ask for this, but for rains of benevolence, blessing and graciousness." The rain came in the form he requested.  In the Talmud, Honi often addresses God as Abba - father.  We will discuss the use of Abba in discussing the concept of `Son of God' later in this chapter. Honi, as we read, was known as the `son of the house - the house of God. The Sages said of him ‘You will decree and it will be fulfilled (Job 22:28) - you decreed below and the Holy One, blessed be He, followed your word above.’ 15

Shimon ben Shetah, President of the Sanhedrin, said to him `

"what can I do with you, since even though you importune God, he does what you wish in the same way that a father does whatever his importuning son asks him?  Were it not Honi, I would excommunicate [you]".  16

This lack of respect for miracles can be seen in another well known tale of the Talmud. The great sage, Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus had his halakhic argument proven through miracles. That logic was refused and he was excommunicated. 17

But the real question is did Jews belief that the man called the Messiah needed to perform miracles? Joseph Klausner, a Jewish scholar who wrote of Jewish Messianic beliefs stated "the Messiah is never mentioned in the Tannaitic literature as a wonder-worker per se.” 18 Rudolph Bultmann, a Christian scholar, stated  "The Messiah himself was not thought of as a miracle worker." 19

II. A Prophet

In each of the Gospels Jesus is called a prophet (Mark 6:4, Matt. 21:11, Luke 1:76 and John 4:44)

Jesus compared himself to Elijah and Elisha (Luke 4:25-27). In the Shabbat services at his synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read from the Book of Isaiah about the prophet who would help the afflicted and the oppressed.  He then said "this text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening." (Luke 4:21)  When Jesus was informed that Herod, King of Galilee, was intent on killing him  Jesus replies  "it is unthinkable for a prophet to meet his death anywhere but in Jerusalem." (Luke 13:33 and Matt. 23:37)

What is a Jewish Prophet?  He is a man of God (1 Sam. 9:10) and a servant of God (2 Kings 21:10). He did not necessarily perform miracles and after Samuel and Nathan (David's prophet) was rarely an establishment leader.  The Prophet did not necessarily foretell the future although some did.  He was first and foremost a proclaimer of God's truth with a social message.  Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Heschel, Professor of Jewish Religious Philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York wrote about the prophets as follows:

* They speak with `immoderate excitement and intense  indignation'. 20

*They speak and act as if the sky were about to collapse 21.

*Their words are `a sharp sword' and a polished arrow' 22.

*To the prophet the moral state of society `is dreadful', `he seems unable to extenuate the culpability of man' 23.

The prophet is all this because his relationship is not to God the absolute but the God `of the divine interaction with humanity'. He experiences what he hears God say, he experiences a personal relation with God 24. He is `God intoxicated'. God interacts with history through people who are `God intoxicated'. He speaks through them and reacts to them. When `God intoxicated' men (or women) react to Him, He responds. When Abraham prayed to save Sodom and Gemorrah for 50 good people, 40, 30 and finally 10, God responded.

Prophets were men who by the nature of profession placed upon them were men of truth.  They were extremists and consequently they told the absolute truth.  They brooked no excuse, no compromise; they thundered their passionate denunciations and their demand for absolute justice. All of this can be said about Jesus.

Prophets were a bit mad.  Isaiah walked around Jerusalem naked for three years as a sign of portending disaster. (Is. 20:3)  Jeremiah wore wooden cattle yokes around his neck. (Jer. 27:2 and 28:10) Jesus' family thought him a bit mad.

"When his relations heard of this, [the cures] they set out to take charge of him; they said `he is out of his mind.'"  (Mark 3:21).

Prophets were imbued with messages against the establishment.  The prophet `challenges the apparently holy, revered, and awesome' 25. `The holy place is doomed when people indulge in unholy deeds' 26. For the prophet who `feels the blast from heaven' words are `a scream in the night' 27. Micah said:

"you rulers of the house of Israel, who build Zion with blood  and eat the flesh of my people because of you, Jerusalem  shall become a heap of ruins." (Micah  3:9-10)

Among the way they did this was by condemning the Temple and its sacrifices. Samuel (1Sam. 15:22), Amos (Amos 5:21-24), Hosea (Hos. 6:6) Isaiah (Is. 1:11-17, 61:1-2), Micah (Mic. 6:6-8) and Jeremiah (Jer. 6:20 and 7:21-23) all condemned the Temple. The destruction of the Temple was foretold by Amos, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah. Jesus both condemned the Temples sacrifices and foretold its destruction.

Amos was tried for treason by the Israeli High Priest Amaziah and banished (Amos 7:7ff). Jeremiah was arrested by the priests three times (Jer. 26:11 ff, 32:2ff, 37:15ff) and sentenced to death twice (Jer. 26:11ff and 38:4ff). He was saved by the King of Judea, the first time and by Nebudchadnezzer's conquering Jerusalem the second time. Nebudchadnezzer  appointed a Jewish Governor, Gedalia, one of whose prime functions was to protect Jeremiah.  We learn from Jeremiah that Uriyah, a prophet, was killed by the Jews (Jer. 26:20-23) and Gedalia who was to protect Jeremiah was also killed by the Jews.

The idea that Jews were awaiting a special or eschatological prophet comes from several sources.  Moses announces "the Lord your God will raise up a prophet from among you like myself" (Deut 18:18). Yet the Torah also writes "and no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses" (Deut. 34:10).  Clearly this prophet who God will raise up `like myself' must be very special.  In Acts, Peter specifically refers to this text in referring to Jesus.  (Acts 3:20)  In the speech made by Stephen before his execution, (Acts 7:1-53) he tells of the Jews disowning Moses (Acts 7:35) and then refers to the text in  Deuteronomy `God will raise up a prophet like myself'.  He criticizes the idolatry of the golden calf and the stubborn people with their uncircumcised hearts.  He makes a clear comparison between Moses to Jesus.

When Jesus meets John, the latter baptizes him.  This immediately raises the question if John is the Elijah of his age, who is Jesus?  The Gospels respond: Mark by seeing

    "heavens torn apart and the spirit, like a dove descending on him, and a voice came from heaven,     you are my son, the beloved; my favor rests on you." (Mark 1:10-11)

In the Gospel of Matthew, John asks "it is I who need baptism from you, and yet you come to me!" (Matt 3:14) And in Luke a dove descends as in Mark and "a voice came from heaven `you are my son; today have I fathered you."  (Luke 3:22) The voice is quoting the Psalms (2:7).

This eschatological prophet is consistent with all the synoptic Gospels which proclaim "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives Him who sent me." (Matt. 10:40, Mark 9:37 and Luke 10:16) It is also consistent with the, much later, idea of the Tzaddik in Chasidism.  Rabbi Elimelech a nineteenth century Chasidic Rabbi in his `No'am Elimelech' states that the Tzaddik (a saintly man) is higher than the Seraphim - angels - suggesting that the Tzaddik is God's representative on earth. 28

III. A Sage

A Sage is a Jewish teacher. Jesus as a teacher used parables and proverbs for his teaching. ‘These teachings are generally concrete, picturesque and somewhat elusive’ 29  As Brad Young has documented Jesus’ parables and proverbs were a typical Jewish way of teaching. 30 His themes grew out of Jewish concerns such as the Kingdom of God, loving of your neighbor (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:4) the ethical teaching of Jeremiah (among other of the prophets) and Hillel (a contemporary of Jesus). His disciples were all Jews who observed the commandments including the Temple sacrifices, his enemies were other Jews as well as Romans, his miracles fit the Jewish patterns and his conflicts with his Jewish compatriots were typically Jewish. Jews believed in several covenants - Noah’s, Abraham’s, Moses and David.  The idea of a new covenant comes from Jeremiah who believed the old one were insufficient. Jesus martyred death and resurrection as we shall see were also typically Jewish.

Josephus tells us that the Pharisees were the most influential sect of Jews.  They were, however, not a monolithic group, but interpreters of the written law with very different views.  Rabbis, legally were those who were members of the Sanhedrin - there could only be 70 members. Many are quoted in the Talmud are not called Rabbi’s not being members, but disciples of another Rabbi. We know use the term Sage to be more inclusive. But even then people were called  Rabbi’s who were not members but simply learned students or disciples. Mark used terms in Greek that have been translated into English as Rabbi, Teacher or Master - (Mark 4:38).

The most famous Pharisee who lived when Jesus was alive, was Rabbi Hillel, born in 65 BCE. The Talmud tells us he had a love of humanity, was gentle, modest, compassionate to the poor and promoted justice for the oppressed and favoring peace among all men.  When the sages met in Jericho they heard a heavenly voice (Bat Kol) "There is a man who is predestined for the holy spirit, except that his generation is not righteous for such. And they put their eyes on Hillel." 31 In reference to teaching Judaism, Hillel said "love peace, seek peace, love mankind and thus lead them to the law."

Hillel said "judge not your fellow man until you yourself come into his place".  Jesus said "do not judge, and you will not be judged" (Luke 6:37). Hillel said:

"it is time to act for the Lord.  In the time when men scatter, gather!  When there is no demand, buy then! In the place where there are no men there be a man."

Jesus said: "he who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters" (Luke 11:23; Matt. 12:30)

Hillel had a major pharisaical opponent, Rabbi Shammai.  They formed schools which could be called liberal and conservative, Hillel being the liberal. Among two of the issues they disputed were as follows:

The Torah says that a creditor cannot take a millstone as collateral.  A millstone is what farmers use to grind grain from wheat or corn in order to sell the grain.  Hillel said anything a man needed to make a living whether he was a farmer or an urban shoemaker could not be used as collateral; Shammai disagreed.

The shmita year, the seventh year during  which debts were annulled and the land lay fallow. It was meant to protect farmers and protect the land.  In an urban environment loans had different purposes and if they were annulled, no one would make a loan in the sixth year for fear of not being paid.  Hillel established that a creditor could declare the loan to the Sanhedrin and he could then collect during or after the shmita year.  Sammie opposed both of the above as legal shams.  32 The Gospels complain against exactly this.

"the Scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do and observe what they tell you, but do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach.  They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people's shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they!"  (Matt 28:2-5)

Jesus says:

"alas for you, Scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut up the kingdom of heaven in people's faces, neither going in ourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to." (Matt. 23:13).

He may have been referring to Shammai rejecting the Gentiles. The Talmud itself has similar statements. ‘There are those who preach well but do not practice well’. 33 David Flusser has pointed that the Dead Sea Scrolls accuse the Pharisees of being ‘lying interpreters’ and ‘seekers of deceit’ . . .who by there false teaching and their lying tongues and a deceitful lip lead many astray’, 34

When Jesus said ‘For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 5:20), could he have been referring to Hillel and his disciples? (We will discuss the relationship between Jesus and Hillel in a latter chapter.)

After the deaths of Hillel and Shammai there was a battle between their schools over the `eighteen measures', a method of separating Jews and Gentiles.  An unspecified number of members of the house of Hillel were killed by the zealots Shammaites. 35  Some of these dead were referred to as prophets in the Talmud. 36 The Gospels seem to refer to this. And then

"we would never have joined in shedding the blood of the prophets, had we lived in our ancestors day. .. And so you will draw down on yourselves the blood of every upright person that has been shed on earth."   (Matt 23:30,34)

In the Talmud the sages note "he who observes the teaching of House of Shammai deserve death".  37

In one case Jesus followed the Halakha of the more zealous Galileans.

"It was also said, `whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce;. But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress." (Matt. 5:31)

In the Galilee according to Larry Shiffman, divorce was forbidden; Jesus was from Galilee.  38  A document  found in Qumran forbids divorce.  39 According to Shmuel Safrai, the ‘commandments [were] being observed more scrupulously and strictly [in the Galilee] than in Judea’. 40 In other cases Galileans were less strict. As an example fowl is for Judean Jews was considered as meat, in the dietary laws, meaning it cannot be cooked with milk or milk products. For Galileans and Jesus fowl was considered like fish, neutral (called in Hebrew ‘parve’) for dietary laws and could be cooked with milk. Maimonides asks why chicken was considered a meat product and says it is not logical, but so is  the Halakha.

The conflict about eating on the Sabbath or healing on the Sabbath, issues greatly debated in the Gospel of Matthew (as well as other Gospels), were within the acceptable range of interpretations found in the many sides of Judaism in the first century. Jews are not allowed to hungry on the Sabbath and if one is hungry one would be allowed to pluck. On healing on the Sabbath when Jesus said to the man with a withered hand "hold out your hand" and he healed him (Matt. 12:13) he did nothing to violate Jewish law. Speaking is not a violation of any Jewish law on the Sabbath. Saving a life is allowed on the Sabbath 41 and even extinguishing the Sabbath candles if it disturbs a sick person. 42 There is nothing in Jesus' position regarding the Sabbath suggesting abrogating the law. He may have been more liberal than certain Pharisees but Hillel was more liberal than Shammai. He is doing what the Prophets did in criticizing sacrificing and the Temple, concentrating on the ethical content of Judaism rather than it's ritual law.

It is worth noting that many religions at the time of Jesus had similar rules: sacrifice to gods in temples; holy days; purifying oneself through water; food laws, although not necessarily ascribes to a god (Egyptian priests and followers of Ishmael did not eat pork); even circumcision was practiced by Egyptians and the followers of Ishmael.

One of the more telling incidents which suggests that Jesus was not held to be a violator of Jewish law by the Pharisees occurs at the trial of Peter which takes place after the death of Jesus.  The trial takes place because Peter and the other disciples preached about Jesus.  Peter responds to the `Sanhedrin' `obedience to God comes before obedience to men', certainly a typical prophetic response and a pharisaical one as well.

"One member of the Sanhedrin, however, a Pharisee called Gamaliel, who was a teacher of the law respected by the whole people, stood up and asked to have the men taken outside for a time.  Then he addressed the Sanhedrin.  `Men of Israel, be careful how you deal with these people.  Some time ago arose Theudas.  He claimed to be important, and collected about four hundred followers; but when he was killed, all his followers scattered and that was the end of them.  And then Judas the Galilean, at the time of the census, who attracted crowds of supporters; but he was killed too, and all his followers dispersed.  What I suggest, therefore, is that you leave these men alone and let them go.  If this enterprise, this movement of theirs, is of human origin it will break up of out of its own accord; but if it does in fact come from God you will be unable to destroy them.  Take care not to find yourself fighting against God.'  His advice was accepted;". (Acts 5:34-40)

Gamaliel is not simply a `teacher of the law', but the President of the Sanhedrin and a descendant of Hillel.  He clearly says implicitly that Peter and therefore Jesus did nothing to break Jewish law, did not commit blasphemy, nor break the Sabbath. The issue was not a religious conflict. As the official spiritual leader of the Jews and it was his responsibility to evaluate that, not that of the High Priest - as suggested by the Gospels.

Gamaliel tells us explicitly who the followers of Jesus are like.  They are like Theudas, the man called a prophet by Josephus who crossed the Jordan to escape from the Romans and was caught and beheaded.  Theudas was relying on a miracle not an army to overcome the Romans.  In fact Theudas died ten years after the trial of Peter. Obviously Luke who presumably wrote Acts in 80-90 CE had the wrong person, but the tradition of a prophet killed by the Romans was true since they killed many Jewish holy men.  Then Gamaliel compares Jesus to Judas the Galilean, the founder of the zealots whose family continued to lead them into fighting the Romans for 70 years. It is clear that Gamaliel thought of Jesus as either a zealot whose movement was against Rome or an apocalyptic believer in the coming of a miraculous Messianic age.   Since Peter's trial takes place several years after Jesus' death Gamaliel is implying that he believes that if God wills it Jesus can come back.  Thus the possibility of a Messiah being resurrected is potentially acceptable.  This belief was clearly held by the Jerusalem Church and possibly acceptable to some other Jews.

In the intramural debates among Jews conflict was frequent and not only between Shamaites and Hillelites. The Talmud lists seven kinds of Pharisees; five of which it is negative towards and two of which it is positive towards. 43  It was the Sadducees who were the natural enemies of Jesus.  But the Sadducees were also the natural enemies of Pharisees for both religious and political reasons.  The Sadducees were the rich merchants, government officials, the conservatives of their day; even collaborationist. The Sadducees, whose priestly power came from the biblical laws rather than the  oral law did not want the laws to change; in fact they did not accept the oral law which Jesus did accept. Politically the Pharisees represented the populists.  They opposed the hereditary elite of the priesthood and while they represented an elite of learning,  they believed in education for all.  

When a Pharisee asked Jesus what commandment came first

    "the first is `Hear O Israel, Lord our God is the only Lord'.... The second is this `love your neighbor     as yourself'. .. Master you are right."  (Mark 12:28-34) 

While Jesus' statements were a typical Pharisee proclamation like those stated by Hillel, the ‘Shmai’ was .also the motto of Judas the Galilean and his zealot followers. 44 During Jesus’ lifetime there was a Pietist movement in the Galilee which also included  Hanina ben Dosa, Phineas ben Yair and Abba Hilkiah, the grandson of Honi ha’maggel. 45 Most of these considered Hillel as their Rabbi. They thought of themselves as ‘ben bais’ the son of the house of God and feared heaven, were humble and modest. They were the ones who wrote in the Mishna ‘What is mine is theirs, what is theirs is theirs’. 46 There is an inherent conflict between charismatic holy men and the establishment. 47Both David Flusser and Geza Vermes believed Jesus to be part of that movement. 48

The famous Parable of the Good Samaritan tells us something of the conflict between

Jesus and the establishment. A man is beaten  and left half dead. A priest comes by and passes by on the other side of the rode. A Levite passes by and also passes by on the other side of the road. Then a Samaritan passes and bandages his wounds (Lu. 10:30-35). Samaritans believe in the Pentateuch but not in the oral law. The assumption is that Laws of Purity would require that priest and Levite avoid the possibility of the man’s death making them impure and this is an oral law. A dead person making a priest impure is a law of the Pentateuch and the purification process, by water is also defined there.  The Oral Law – the Talmud tell us that any law can be broken to save a life. 49 Thus this parable teaches us an ethical teaching. However if it intends to suggest that Jews or at least priests and Levites would rather let a man die than become impure it is incorrect according to Jewish law. The law required them to see to the man, bandage him and then be purified. If the man were indeed dead they were required to bury him.

It is worth noting that even today the majority of Christian scholars find that the disputes over the law led to Jesus' death while almost all Jewish scholars find them inconsequential. 50 E.P. Sanders, a Christian scholar, quotes Eduard Schweizer as a Christian scholar who stated that the disputes over the law led to Jesus' death and Geza Vermes as a Jewish scholar who claimed they were inconsequential. Sanders states "Schweizer's is without foundation, Vermes is hard to fault."51

The Qumran community was led by the Teacher of Righteousness who fought a man called in the texts a `Wicked Priest'. He may have been the High Priest in Jerusalem. 52  The `Wicked Priest' persecuted him and may have killed him.  The `Teacher' is also called the `interpreter of the law' and their Halakha - their law - was quite different than pharisaical Halakha. Their solar based calendar made all holidays fall on different days than the traditional Jewish lunar calendar. This difference in calendars is more important than any of the disputes discussed in the Christian Bible since it meant that communal life between the two groups was impossible. 53

During the time of Jesus there was no one Halakhic system. The differences between the Hillelites, the Shamaites, the Essenes, the Sadducees and the Galileans were quite significant. In addition the Talmud tells us of their acceptance of two pharisaic Halakhic systems, Hillel and Shammai and rejected five others not defined. So in addition to the five Halakhic we have defined there were apparently five others noted in the Talmud we cannot currently define. 54

IV. A Resistor to Rome

Jesus is not usually referred to as a zealot of any sort, certainly not a political zealot. 55  The Romans were an oppressive ruler to Jews and the Galileans rebelled against them often. Yet Rome and Romans were almost left out of the synoptic Gospels. The Gospels condemn both the Sadducees and the Pharisees, as well as scribes, elders and the Sanhedrin.  But there is no mention of the Zealots or the Qumran community. The Zealots were active militarily against the Romans. The Qumran community was textually active and may have had some association with the Zealots. 56 Was Jesus in fact associated with them even in a pacific way? (We will discuss this in a latter chapter.)

The synoptic Gospels were written after the `Great Revolt' had failed and the Temple destroyed. Most of the members of the Jerusalem Church - the direct disciples of Jesus led by his brother James - were also destroyed. Thus the intimate Jewish followers of Jesus died and the preaching of Paul to Gentiles succeeded. The Gospels writers whether Jews or Gentiles, were preaching primarily to Gentiles or sectarian Jewish believers-in-Jesus in an environment when the Jewish religion was no longer considered acceptable to Romans. Thus the Gospel writers eliminated even the word Roman in the Gospels 57 and certainly any concept that he may have been a Zealot. They also reduced the use of the title Messiah and proclaimed him the Son of Man and the Son of God.

Could Jesus have been a sympathizer of the Zealots?  Jesus' movement was composed of a rural people defined by the Talmud as am ha'aretzim, the people of the land. They had a deep suspicion of the rich and the elite.

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God". (Mark 10:24, Luke 16:13)

The Zealots of the north had armies and often rebelled against the imperialist Romans.  The Galilean family of Ezekias and his son Judas and his sons were military leaders for over one hundred years. They believed that the land of Israel and the Jewish people belonged to God.  Between the death of Jesus and the destruction of the Temple, only forty years later, there were nine separate insurrections against the Romans.  According to Brent Shaw  the kind of insurrections found in Israel were called banditry under Roman law, and were common.

"The law sanctioned the most brutal of the death penalties - throwing to the beasts, burning alive, and crucifixion as savageries that were necessary `to set a public example'. ...  The punishment of bandits was clearly viewed as a form of state retribution and public terrorism." 58

It would be hard for Jesus, the Galilean, not to be sympathetic to the Zealots.  Perhaps the most prominent message of Jesus to be found in the Christian Bible is the immediacy of the coming Kingdom of God. What is the basis of the Kingdom of God?

God rules in the Kingdom of Heaven (a synanom for the Kingdom of God)

In the apocalyptic books written after the Greek invasion and its attack on Jewish culture and not only on Jewish political life, we find many ideas of a new Kingdom on Earth , others a Kingdom in Heaven. 

In I Enoch, 59 a golden Messianic age on earth is described, "old age  ... shall [be] complete in peace" 60  Gentiles "will become righteous" 61 and "the soil will bring abundant crops". 62  The nations will be subservient to Israel after their defeat. 63  In the section called the Apocalypse of Weeks,  the first seven weeks (or thousand years) include the current age, the Messianic age comes in week eight, in week nine a kingdom in Heaven will come and after week ten will come the Day of Judgment for eternal life.

In the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs 64, the Messiah makes war on the enemies of Israel - the Patriarchs and other righteous ones will be resurrected, judgment will come to Israel and the Gentiles, the kingdom will be centered around Jerusalem which will never suffer desolation again nor will Israel. And all the righteous will glory in God.  This is still a heaven on earth.  

The Assumption of Moses 65 describes an apocalypse:

"and then His kingdom shall appear among all creatures.  And then Satan shall be no more and sorrow shall depart with him. ..  For the Heavenly One shall arise from the throne of his Kingdom, and he shall go forth from his holy dwelling place with indignation and wrath for his children's sake. And the earth shall tremble; to its ends shall it be shaken; and the high mountains shall be brought low and the hills fall.  The sun shall give no light and the moon ..  shall change into blood."  66

After the earthly  kingdom came, the Messiah will return to Heaven and

"the righteous shall rise to a blessed life ... receive their promised reward ... enjoy the glories to come .. but the unrighteous shall be cast into the torment of fire." 67

Kingdom of God

Zealotry is the history of the Kingdom of God Movement. From the Hasmoneums to Ezekias, his son Judah, the Galilean and his sons Jacob and Simon, his nephews Menachem of the `Great Revolt' and Eliezer of Masada.

The meaning of the kingdom to Jesus is unclear.  Daniel defines the Kingdom as follows:

‘The God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, nor will its sovereignty be left to any other people. It will break in pieces all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it will stand forever’ (Dan. 2:44).

It certainly meant that a new world era was about to begin - whether with an apocalypse or not. Just as God controls the heaven perfectly so the earth will be controlled by God and only by God. For some the ‘Kingdom’ was heaven after death; for some it was to come on earth and transform the world with or without an apocalyptic event; and for some it was already on earth among the ‘saving remnant’ (the Essenes may have felt that way). All of these were held by Jews and Christians.

Paul tells of a new age was about to come!

"... a lesson for us, to whom it has fallen to live in the last days of the ages. (1 Cor. 10:11)

Paul suggests that the Kingdom of Heaven was not of this world.

"For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the Archangel's call and with the sound of the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord." (I Thess 4:15-17)

This is a kingdom of God not on earth. The second verse of Thessalonians above, the Messiah rising, meeting with him in the clouds and being with him, while not directly found in Jewish texts, is not similar to Jewish texts noted above. There are Jewish texts about clouds (Daniel) and even physical resurrection of the dead (which while not stated is implied in this verse; if we who have bodies are to meet with the dead, they are likely to have bodies).

Jesus expected the Kingdom of God to brought about by a miraculous eschatological event.  And he assumed it would come soon. 

    "In truth I tell you, before this generation has passed away all these things will take place.  Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."  (Mark 13:30-31)

Did some of Jesus' disciples expect him to lead a military revolt? Were some zealots more active than others who were passive? The authors of the Qumran texts wrote a `War Scroll' which describes an army of angels descending from heaven to defeat their enemies - both the Romans and the illegitimate (in their eyes) ruling priesthood. They however did not actively pursue their zealotry. Jesus choose not retreat to a desert live, but to actively pursue his vision of the coming of the Kingdom of God. How active was he?

Our Father, our King was a typical  Jewish way of expressing a relationship with God.   When was the kingdom of God to come?  ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs observed’ (Lk. 17:20). It is God’s secret (Mk. 13:32; Mt. 24:36). But we also have ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Mt. 4:17; Mk. 1:15). Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Lk. 11:2; Mt. 6:10). But when and how? ‘The law and the prophets were until John [the Baptist]; since then, the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently (Lk. 16:16).

A Christian theologian from Oxford H.E.W. Turner developed the following from the Talmud.

‘Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy exalted Name in the world which Thou did create according to Thy Will. May Thy Kingdom and The Lordship come speedily and be acknowledged by all the world that Thy Name may be praised for all Eternity. May Thy Will be done in Heaven and also on earth do Thou give tranquility of spirit to those who fear Thee, yet in all things do what seemeth good to Thee. Let us enjoy the bread daily apportioned to us. Forgive, O Father, for we have sinned. Forgive also all who have done us wrong, even as we forgive all. And lead us not into temptation but keep us far from all evil, for Thine is the greatness and the power and the dominion and the glory and the majesty over all in heaven and on earth. Thine is the Kingdom and Thou art Lord of all beings for ever. ‘ 68

Several major scholars in controversial books, Robert Eisler, S.G.F. Brandon and Paul. Winter, 69 claim he was a Zealot. Jesus came from Galilee, the center of rebellious Jews.  He was primarily eschatological.  It would be hard to be Jewish, especially from Galilee, and not be opposed to the Roman oppressors and not be sympathetic to the zealots. 

Jesus did not have an army and he never according to our texts, made military statements.  But he was also not a pacifist.  He used a whip in the Temple against the money changers and said

"do you suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword." (Matt 10:34)  70

Brandon notes that Jesus chose twelve disciples, one was called Simon the Zealot, another Judas Iscariot.  Mark calls Simon's by his Hebrew name `kananaios', meaning Zealot, but unknown to his Greek speaking readers.  Mark was writing just after the great revolt.  The zealots would not have been popular in Rome at the time. Scholars have difficulty determining the meaning of the name Iscariot; most think it from `sciarri', a group of terrorists associated with the zealots.  Most of the rest of Jesus' disciples were Galileans, the most rebellious of the Roman provinces in Israel.

Jesus' famous response about paying tribute to Rome would be an important issue for zealots.  Paying taxes to Rome recognized Roman sovereignty over Israel.  What does Jesus' response `pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God' mean? (Matt 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25 )  For the zealots the land of Israel belonged to God.  Jesus was saying to those who understood (the zealots) was that the land tax was illegal since the tax belonged to God not Caesar.  Judas the Galilee had said the same in slightly different words. 71  At Jesus' trial Luke has the `council' accuse Jesus of "opposing payment of the tribute to Caesar and claiming to be Christ a King" (Luke 23:2)  Jesus says `it is you who say it' (Luke 23:3, Mark 15:2, Matt. 27:11  and John 18:33-37) in response to Pilate.  Pilate's response `I find no case against this man' is a nonsensical response to one accused of opposing taxes and claiming Jewish kingship.

On the other hand one of the few things that all four Gospels agree on is that Jesus was sentenced and executed by the Roman governor for being `King of the Jews'.  The Romans executed Messiah’s and their leadership. It is likely that many Jews considered him the Messiah. 72  He was crucified with two other zealots.  The Gospel of John tells that the people in Galilee (the 5,000 who were miraculously fed) wanted to crown him King of the Jews. (John 6:15) The synoptic Gospels tell us that Jesus was in `a lonely place' and 5,000 people came who Jesus fed miraculously.  These are same people John tells us wanted to crown him.  Where did they come?  Were they a potential army of zealots waiting for him to lead them to overthrow Rome? John tells us Jesus withdrew to the hills; presumably to think about his role.  He apparently came back convinced that his role as a leader was to be a holy man and not a restorative Messiah.  For the lonely man of faith which he appears to be in the synoptic Gospels, he has no trouble gathering 5,000 men in Sidon and multitudes in Jerusalem.  For some of the disciples and apostles he was an eschatological figure, but for some others  he was a political if not a potential military hero.  What else could Luke have meant by `Lord will you now restore Israel?' (Acts 1:5) And what else could the 5,000 have thought?

The zealots were against the Romans and also against the Sadducee aristocrats who were both rich and collaborated with the Romans.  Jesus' cleansing of the Temple money changers (a treasury function) was a radical challenge not only to the Sadducees but to the Roman overlords who appointed and controlled them.  The Sadducees even created sacrifices to bless the Roman government.  The cleansing of the money changers would fit the goals of a zealot as it did when Jeremiah accused them of being den of robbers (Jer. 7:11).


According to the synoptic Gospels, the cleansing of the Temple money changers happened on the day of Jesus' triumphal entry to Jerusalem, when he was greeted by a multitude. Matthew said it sent the whole city into turmoil. (Matt 21:10)   What happened to the multitude and why did Jesus go alone (according to the Gospels) to the Temple to cleanse it? Certainly the `multitude' would have enjoyed and participated in cleansing the Temple of the money-changers.  The money-changers were the treasurers of the Sadducee administration who not only sold unblemished animals for sacrifices but collected huge amounts of money from the Jewish Diaspora, enough money for Kings and procurators to steal several times in this period of Jewish history.  If the multitude were part of a group of peasants who would have backed the zealots why would they not join Jesus?  Perhaps the evangelists were continuing to hide Jesus' as a resistor to Rome.

Mark and Luke mentions Barabbas' insurrection  apparently about the same time (Mark 15:7, Luke 23:19).  Could Jesus' cleansing and Barabbas' insurrection have been the same revolt?  Could it have been an abortive coup against the Temple authorities?  Both Brandon and Eisler consider the Temple cleansing an act of insurrection of a revolutionary reformer. The statement by Caiaphas, the High priest in the Gospel of John `It is better for one to die for the people' (John 18:14) suggest that he and the Romans were concerned  about an insurrection. 73 Caiaphas married the daughter of High Priest Annas, a renown  family of High Priests. The elder Annas was High Priest for an extended period and according to Josephus, all five of his sons became High Priests, an unprecedented event. Joseph Caiaphas  then became High Priests as did his son Elionaeus. Caiaphas name is noted in the Talmud and recent family tombs have been found. During the events of Jesus Annas was probably the power behind the High Priesthood. Both Josephus and the Talmud are very critical of heartlessness of the family. 74 They represented the ‘collaborating establishment’ versus the populace and Jesus’ faith was rightfully a threat to them. Josephus tells us that when the younger Annas tried to judge James, brother of Jesus, and have him stoned, the Pharisees managed to have Annas deposed. 75

All this would also help explain Jesus' foreboding during his last supper, and perhaps explain his disciples being armed. Of course when the Romans came with a `cohort', a minimum of 300 men, the disciples were overwhelmed. Brandon notes that in Mark the first person to comment as Jesus dies is the Roman Centurion who said

"and the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The centurion, who was standing in front of him, had seen how he had died, and he said, `in truth this man was son of God" (Mark. 15:38-39) 

The other two synoptic Gospels repeat this event, according to Brandon, taking it from Mark.  It is clear in Mark, although unstated, that Jesus died because  the Sadducees and Pilate were just doing their duty in calming down the populace.

Brandon and Eisler may have carried the idea that Jesus was a zealot too far as a number of scholars contend.  No zealot would say as Jesus did:

"so do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matt. 6:34)

For one who believed that the eschaton was in the immediate future this made sense. But his disciples thought he was a restorer Messiah.  He was killed because the Romans equally believed that.  But for a Messianic Jew born in Galilee, whose disciples were primarily other Galilean Jews, not to sympathize with the zealots would be inconceivable.

Jeremiah, the prophet who born 550 years before Jesus is sometimes known as the prophet of doom. He cried out at the gate of the temple stated that God would destroy the Temple and cared not for those who stated `the lying words ... the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord’ (Jer. 7:4).  He continued that if you oppress the stranger, the orphan and the widow (7:8); ...  `If this house which is called by my name, became a den of robbers’ (7:11) I will destroy it. Jeremiah who said what Jesus said 550 years earlier was almost killed by the priests (the equivalent of Jesus’ Sadducees) twice and imprisoned several times. Jeremiah was a zealot for God

V. A Son of Man

Raphael Jesus

Jesus preferred to be called the Son of Man. Jesus asks

"who do men say that the son of man is? " (Matt 16:14) 

Son of man is the most ambiguous and controversial of all the designations. The controversy concerns whether it refers to the Messiah or not.  F.H. Borsch said "`embarrassing' might be the kindest word for it [the status of the Son of Man problem]". 76 The embarrassment was that the idea of a Son of Man is not a traditional Jewish Messianic name but a heavenly person from an eschatological tradition or as in Ezekiel it is a circumlocution (meaning a reference to oneself). If that is the case the question is why did Jesus continually use it and not use the title Messiah?  The answer is that Jesus may have thought of himself as an eschatological Messiah, but he could not proclaim himself that, only God could do that.  This would explain his concern when Peter states that he is the Christ. Jesus said `they should tell no one’  (Mark 8:29-30 and Luke 9:20-21).

Thus he used a title, not a usual one,  but one known among  circles of eschatologists to imply his special  authority. In these circles, such as those that wrote the Similitudes of I Enoch, the term Son of Man meant Messiah.  Jesus being aware of these circles picked that title to describe himself. This would allow him to claim some special authority without which he could not fulfill his mission. The mission was to have people recognize that the current era was about to end and the Kingdom of God was about to begin. Since he may have believed his suffering was to begin the transition he used that term about his expected martyrdom. (Mark 8:31ff,9:31). 

In Hebrew and even more so in Aramaic, the term `man' or `son of man' was used  as a reference to oneself or to a person in general.  Rabbi Yehuda Ha'nasi who edited the Mishna in the Second Century, refers to himself as `bar nasha' (son of man in Aramaic) and Shimon bar Yochai similarly uses the term. 77 The only references  to it in the Jewish canon are Ezekiel and Daniel.  In Ezekiel God continually refers to him as `son of man' (ben Adam in Hebrew). It is clearly used as a circumlocution for Ezekiel. In Daniel (the Aramaic section) it is a vision of a heavenly figure who approaches God. (Dan. 7:13)

There are times when for Jesus the `son of man' clearly is a circumlocution for man.  `Who do men say that the son of man is?' (Matt. 16:13). Jesus could just as easily said `who I am' and in Mark (8:27) and in Luke (9:18) he does.  However when Jesus says `the son of man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his angels' (Matt. 16:27; 25:31)) and similarly in Luke (9:26) and Mark (8:38) he is referring to a Messianic figure. ‘The Son of Man has a superhuman, heavenly sublimity. He is the cosmic judge at the end of time.’  78

During the `trial' of Jesus he was asked by the `Sanhedrin' whether he thinks of himself as a ben enosh, a Son of Man, appearing on the clouds. The questioner was clearly asking whether Jesus thought he was an eschatological Messiah.  Clearly the questioner was referring to Daniel.

When the Psalms use the term  (Psalms 8:4, 80:18, 144:3) the Targum (the Aramaic text) translates the term as the Messiah.  In Enoch the `son of man, to whom belongs righteousness' is closer to a title. 79  As Fuller notes

    "He is a pre-existent divine being. He is hidden in the presence of God from before all creation. He is revealed `on that day', i.e. at the end. He appears in order to deliver the elect from persecution. He judges the kings and rulers who have persecuted the elect. He presides as a ruler in glory over the elect as a redeemed community in eternity." 80

It is clear from I Enoch, and  the Targum that the son of man is eschatological.  And it is probably a further development of Daniel's son of man. 81  Enoch refers to the elect righteous ones (plural, implying as does Daniel in his reference to the holy ones) to whom the son of man will appear. 82 He or at least his name was born before the world was created, again a Jewish tradition.  His job is to destroy the wicked and protect the righteous.  He comes at the end of the age i.e. he is eschatological. 

The most clear view of the Son of Man as an eschatological figure is in the Gospel of John. There it is used thirteen times.  "In all truth I tell you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending over the Son of man." (John 1:51)

According to John Ashton the use of Son of Man in the synoptic Gospels is `shadowy and insubstantial' but in the Gospel of John it becomes `total and immediate'. 83  He become the preexistent suffering eschatological man which John had taken from Isaiah's suffering servant and Daniel's Son of Man.

VI. A Son of God

Let us make man in our image in our likeness’ (Gen. 1:26).The Midrash states: ‘When The holy One Blessed be He, created the first man, the ministering angels mistook him for God and wanted to say before him ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord of Hosts. What did the Holy One Blessed be he do? He put him to sleep so that everyone would know he was merely man.’

For many present day Christian readers Son of God refers to the divinity of Jesus.  Is that how Jews in ancient times thought of the term?  The Bible refers to Angels (Gen. 6:2, Deut. 32:8), the Israelites (Ex. 4:24; Deut. 14:1.), Kings of Israel (II Sam. 7:4, Ps. 2:7), and Jewish holy men as sons of God. 

In the Book of Proverbs the person being addressed is called Beni - My son. Who is the speaker - "If you will hear My words and obey My commandments." (Prov. 2:1) My commandments can only refer to God. Thus God is referring to the Jewish people as `my son(s)'.

In the Psalms God says:

"you are my son, today I have begotten you.  Ask of me, and I shall make nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.  You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potters vessel.' (Psalm 2:7-8)

For both Jews and Christians this refers to the Messiah. For Jews this is one of the God's promises to the Davidic dynasty.

In the pseudapigraphic book the Wisdom of Solomon, written probably in the early first Century BCE

"For if the upright man is God's son God will help him and rescue him from the clutches of his enemy.. Let us test him with cruelty and with torture, and thus explore this gentleness of his and put his patience to the test. Let us condemn him to a shameless death since God will rescue him - or so he claims."  84

Not only is the righteous one called a son of God but he is to die a shameless death. The author from Alexandria was probably talking about righteous Jews persecuted by pagans. In the Psalms of Solomon holy people shall be known as "sons of their God". 85 The Book of Jubilees, written possibly as early as the  Fourth Century BCE referred to Jews with the holy spirit. "I will be their father and they shall be my sons.  And they shall be called the sons of the living god,".  Ben Sira tells those who you help widows "God will call you son" 86 No Jew ever thought those meant personal divinity.

The Talmudic Sages called God `father' as in the famous high holiday series of prayer avinu malkanu, Our father, Our king, first verses written by Rabbi Akiva.  If you call God father, you are his son. In another high holiday prayer the Jews ask God to treat them as his child or his servant.  Asking God to be their  avinu (Our father) means they are his children and malkanu (Our king) means they are his servants.  This is a typical Jewish position in prayer towards God.

The Talmud relates the story of a miracle maker, Yochanan, an ascetic and the grandson of Honi. People would send children to his cave to pray for rain `abba, abba bring the rain'.  He would say `Ribbono shel olam (Lord of the universe) do it for the children who cannot distinguish an abba who brings rain from an abba who can not'.  It did rain!  He reveals an interesting understanding of the different uses of the word abba referring to both a son of God and to a biological father. Another pietist we have discussed Hanina is told by a bas kol ‘The whole world will be nourished because of  my son Hanina - and a morsel of carob-bean will satisfy my son for a week’. 87

Mark in his first verse refers to Jesus as Son of God. It is not clear that he meant other than the traditional Jewish connotation. There is a debate among scholars about the Greek word usually described as ‘son’. Does it mean ‘son’ or ‘servant’ The idea is accepted by ‘Bousset, Cullman, Jeremias and  by a number of other scholars’ although the I.H. Marshall rejects it. 88 It may be that the Hebrew word ‘eved’ was used by the Jerusalem Church meaning as servant and by the Greek speaking Mark as son.

Jesus often refers to God as the Father. In the Gospel of Matthew, for example, God as the Father is referred to forty six times. Thirty two of the references are to `your' or `our' Father; a use exactly as the Jewish prayers above, and several times to the Father without a personal reference (Matt. 23:9, Matt. 24:36). Several times the reference is more personally to `My Father' (Matt 11:27, Luke 10:22). 

In the three synoptic Gospels references are to heavenly voices confirming God's proclamation of Jesus as his son. The Talmud refers to these voices as bat kol, not all that unusual in the Talmud.  There are numerous such voices enumerated in the Talmud.  According to Rab, a Babylonian Sage, Hanina ben Dosa is called by God his son. 89  Meir, one of  Akiva's favorite disciples and a convertee, is called in a bat kol by God `Meir, my son'.  90 There are several tales of demons accosting Akiva and they are told by a bat kol that he is protected by God.   None of these references was assumed by any Jew to think of Hanina or Meir or Akiva as divine, but rather as especially holy people whose lives were bound up with God.

In Luke there is the tale about the twelve year old child,  Jesus, getting lost on the way as a pilgrim traveling to the Passover feast.  His parents search for him and after three days  find him sitting with the teachers of law.  When asked were we was, he says "why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father's house". (Luke 2:41) This sounds like Honi, Hanina and Jonathan who feel a close familial relationship with God.  In fact Mark uses the term `abba' and not its Greek translation, a very familial word in Hebrew and Aramaic for God.

Jesus clearly had a very intense religiosity and relationship to God.  Edward Schillebeeckx has called this the `abba' experience. Others refer to this as God intoxicated. 91  Apparently in the Talmud several people had this experience.

Paul in Romans says the following: ‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God are Sons of God.  .  .  . When we cry Abba, Father it is that very spirit bearing witness   . . , that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, both heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ’ (Rom. 8:14-17).

The Gospel of John more concerned about theological and less concerned about history although paradoxically many people consider his history the most accurate. It is the story of the `revealer' or `proclaimer'. For John, Jesus has absolute authority. John's use of `I am' is a statement that can only be compared to God saying `I am' in the Bible.  It is in the Gospel of John that the Divine Son of God comes to fruition. ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ (John 20:17). In the synoptic Gospels Jesus is seen as a Jewish Rabbi who has a personal `abba-like' relation with God, even perhaps a special anointed relationship. This is more like the special relationship the ‘Teacher of Righteousness’ felt he had with God. ‘Through me You have illuminated the face of many, . . .For you have given me knowledge of Your marvelous marvels and has shown Yourself mighty with me. You have shown wonders before may for the sake of Your glory. 92

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is a mystic who has cosmic responsibility. It is this book that Messianology becomes Christology. It is there that Jesus descends from the heaven as God, is crucified as a man and then ascends back to heaven as a God. 

In the Gospel of John Jesus became coequal to God – the Incarnate God. The last verse of his prologue is "no one has ever seen God; it is only the son, who is close to the father's heart, who has made him known." (John 1:18)  John the Baptist ends his witness by stating that

"I did not know him myself, but He who sent me to baptize with water has said to me, `the man on whom you see the spirit come down and rest is the one who is to baptize with the holy spirit'.  I have seen and I testify that he is the chosen one of God." (John 1:33-34)

John, the Baptist is told directly by God about Jesus.  That may also explain why John denies he is Elijah.  He is not witnessing as Eliyahu, but because God told him directly.  If he were Elijah, then Jesus could be construed as the Jewish Messiah. The point of the writer of John is that Jesus is not the Jewish Messiah but the `Son of God'. The Gospel of John concludes (prior to the epilogue) "that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name." (John 20:31)

The author of John's Gospel is not interested in a Davidic Messiah, His Jesus is born in Nazareth and not in Bethlehem. His Jesus is the descendor from God, with a human father, Joseph (John 1:45; 6:42). His mission is to be the Lamb of God (John 1:29,36) and is executed as the Paschal lamb is about to be slaughtered. He is to expiate the world's sin and then ascend back to heaven. Whether Jesus the Jew would have that self understanding is doubtful. 93

One implication of the Christian `Son of God' is that he is highly chosen by God to be His intermediary between Heaven and Earth. In the Eighteenth Century, - the Chasidik Movement considered - the Tzaddik - the righteous one and their Rabbi - according to one great Chasidic writer Reb Elimelech, `higher than the Angels'. For another Reb Yaacov Yosef of Polnoy, who wrote the first book of Chasidic literature, he is the intermediary between Heaven and earth - `The Mediator'. Paul calls Jesus the Mediator. (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6, 9:15, 12:24). Even Paul said `For us there is one God, the Father and one Lord, Jesus Christ' I Cor. 8:6 also Phil. 2:11. Paul often says `the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Rom. 15:6; II Cor. 1:3, 11:31; Eph. 1:3,17; Col.1:3, I Peter 1:3).  And ‘all who allow themselves to be led by the spirit of God are sons of God (Rom. 8:14).  These Christian statements are comparable to the `Tzaddik’ being higher than angels.

The concept of the Tzaddik involved many sons of God - people with a touch of the divine in them. Some were more special than others. Isaac Luria, known as H'ari (1534-1572) was probably  the most influential Jewish Mystic ever. His name H'ari is an acronym for the ‘Divine Rabbi Isaac’. The BeSHT, a spiritual descendant of H'ari was also seen as a special son of God. Two of his disciples, Reb Nachman of Bratzlev (died 1811) and the Rebbe of Lubavitch (died 1994) are also seen as special sons of God. Ten thousand of Reb Nachman's disciples go to his gravesite in Uman, the Ukraine for Rosh Hashona (one of the most important Jewish holidays). In synagogues, the centerpiece is the holy Ark with the Scrolls of the Torah. The Ark always has a covering with the ten commandments or the Lion of Judah. In Reb Nachman’s  synagogues in Jerusalem and Tzfat, the Ark is covered with an illustration of the gravesite. Has he become an icon for his disciples?

The Rebbe of Lubavitch died at age 92 in 1994. He has not been replaced because some of his disciples, who claim he is the `King Messiah' believe he will return.

Jews mostly believe that Redemption is more important than the Messiah. Christians mostly believe that the Messiah is more important than Redemption. But some Jews tired of waiting - the believers of Reb Nachman and the Rebbe of Lubavitch - need the Messiah to come now. Both religions are Messianic religions.

Didier Pollefeyt quoted Paul Van Buren that the Jewish Son of God was a term of service, intimacy, fidelity and humility, while the Christological Son of God was a title of power, dominion and assertion. 94 It is also the difference between a Hebrew sense of sons of God and the Son of God as a Greek concept.

The Incarnate God

The incarnation of God means that God manifested Himself in a human being in the person of Jesus – Jesus became God.

The first time we have the beginnings (but not the fulfillment) of an incarnate God is

Paul statement ‘that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God, the father’ (Phil. 2:9). While Jesus is central to Pauline theology he is not yet the incarnate God as in the text God is clearly higher that Lord, Jesus is not equal to God. The centrality of Jesus (although not his incarnation) can be seen in various texts: ‘the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom. 6:23); ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation’ (2 Cor. 5:17); ‘you are the body of Christ’ (1 Cor. 12:27). But none of these makes Jesus divine. If these texts were understood to compare Jesus to God, the arguments in the synoptic Gospels (written after the Pauline epistles) would have been monotheistic theology and not about purity laws, eating with sinners and breakings of the Sabbath laws.

By the time we get to John as R.H.Fuller has stated:

"a full-blown doctrine of incarnation was evolved. The redeemer was a divine being who became incarnate, manifested the Deity in his flesh and was consequently exalted to heaven." 95

The Gospel of John created the idea of the Incarnation of God. The stated that ‘ the Word was God’ (Jn. 1:1), ‘the Word was made flesh and the Word was God’ (Jn. 1:14) and Jesus ‘called God his own Father, making himself equal to God’ (Jn. 5:18) and ‘I and the Father are one’ (Jn. 10:30). In the prologue ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). In this Gospel ‘ the deity and incarnation of Jesus  are unequivocally proclaimed’. 96 If Jesus had claimed these qualities he, as a Jew, would have been guilty of blasphemy.

The Synoptic Jesus does not make any of these or similar statements like them. There is nothing about mutual indwelling of Father and Son, nothing about Jesus’ pre-existence nor about his ‘post-resurrection functions of answering prayers and sending the Paraclete’.  Nor the ‘I am’ statements such as ‘I am the light of the world’ (Jn. 8:12), I am the Resurrection and the Life’ (Jn. 11:25) nor ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’ (Jn. 14:6). Why? 97 P.M. Casey has written that ‘John’s misleading picture of Jesus is at the centre of this. It makes him divine and infallible and has him condemn the Jews, to whom the historical Jesus preached, and from whom he selected his apostles and accepted his disciples and supporters. We cannot reasonable believe in all the results of that developmental process.’ 98 This could only come from a community and writers with a ‘Gentile self-identification’. In the Gospel of John Jesus’ opponents are called the ‘Jews’ more than 60 times despite all of Jesus disciples being Jews.  Jesus or the narrator stated ‘now the Passover of the Jews was near’ (Jn. 2:13), ‘your law’ (Jn. 8:17, 10:34) and ‘their law’ (Jn. 15:25). 99 In the Johannine community the ‘Jews’ are an alien people. It is not surprising that the Gospel of John is the most anti-Semitic of the Christian Bible.  100


What kind of Messiah were Jews expecting during the lifetime of Jesus? Most Jews expected a Messiah to restore the kingdom of Israel. Even Luke in Acts asks the resurrected Jesus "Will you know restore Israel?" (Acts 1:5)

The Bible uses the word Messiah 81 times. The first seventeen times it referred to the anointing of priests 101 forty nine times it referred to kings of Israel or Judea 102 (David 20; Saul 13; Solomon 5),  four to prophets 103, three to the Jewish people 104, three to warrior type figures, 105  and once to Cyrus, the Emperor of Persia 106. Of the remaining six references two are in 1 Samuel before David is even born; one predicting a Davidic type figure  (1 Sam. 2:10) and the second a Solomon-like figure you will build a House of Truth (1 Sam. 2:35). These were probably written during the reign of Solomon. The other four are in Psalms. One refers to those who are against God and his Messiah (Psalms 2:2) and is followed up by to the famous `You are my son today I have fathered you' (Psalms 2:7). The phrase is repeated in 1 Chronicles where it specifically refers to David (1 Chron. 17:13.)  The second refers to God's king and does not mention David, but implies a rich Solomon like wedding (Psalms: 45:7). The third reference is to a future David `who I [God] will light a lamp for', but otherwise we know nothing about him (Psalms 132:17).  The fourth reference is a plea to `see the face of the Messiah' (Psalms 84:10).

In the three `warrior types' noted above two are in Daniel referring to an anointed prince who then dies. The other in Psalms refers to God sending his Messiah in a `time of trouble' (Psalms 20:6).  A time of trouble implies a warrior savior.

In five of the references David refers to Saul as God's Messiah. In 1 Sam. (24:7) David tells his soldiers not to kill `YHVH's' anointed and then tells Saul that he saved the life of God's anointed (24:11). Later on in 1 Sam (chapter 26) Saul is again in David hands and he refuses to kill God's anointed (26:11). David then tells Saul's guard Abner (26:16) that he could have killed God's anointed but would not, and then David tells Saul himself (26:23) that he could not kill God's anointed. By the time of all these five references David himself has already been anointed by the prophet Samuel. Thus this conflict between David and Saul is between two of God's anointed. But given David's comment Saul in the senior agent being King of the Israel. In no case is it stated that the Messianic figure is a future redeemer or is the concept of redemption connected with him. The Messiah is, in the Bible an agent of God, as we have seen a priest, king or other who is "a present, political and religious leader appointed by God" 107 or a descendent to be anointed.

This was noted by twenty eight primarily Christian scholars.


 As we have seen we did not find a man called a Messiah as a redeemer in the Bible but we do find one described as a heavenly figure three times in Isaiah (chapters 7,9,11) and once in Daniel (Chapter 7).

Isaiah in Chapter 7 refers to seeing a young pregnant women in the consort of King Ahaz. He predicts a change in Jewish fortunes resulting from the birth, calling the unborn child `Immanuel', meaning a believer in God. The young expectant mother is not named nor is the father, allowing for vastly different interpretations of this incident. Most Jewish commentators identify the father as  King Ahaz and the unnamed mother as his wife. Most Christian commentators use that verse as a foreseeing of Jesus.

Isaiah in chapter 9 describes a heavenly son of David. He may be referring to the child he named Immanuel two chapters earlier.

" For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us. And authority has settled on his shoulder. He has been named `The Mighty God is planning grace, The Eternal Father, a peaceful ruler'.  In token of abundant authority and of peace without limit upon David's throne and kingdom, That it may be firmly established in Justice and in equity now and evermore." (Is. 9:6-7)

The term wonderful (`pele' in Hebrew) is used elsewhere as a divine  attribute, as in the song of Moses where YHVH is a worker of wonders.  `El gibor', the Hebrew for mighty God is often associated with God's might.  Eternal father refers to the everlasting covenant with the Jewish people with God as their spiritual father.  The peaceful ruler further confirms that God is the father and the Messiah is a Prince whose power comes from the King who is God.  Finally he will sit on the throne of David.  He has the skills of a heavenly Messianic figure.  While most Jewish interpreters consider that Isaiah is foretelling an idealized child of King Ahaz who was Hezekiah, this figure was sometimes seen by Jews as Messianic. Isaiah tells Ahaz that he shall call the son `Immanuel' (Is. 7:15) meaning faith or belief in God, and predicts he will defeat the King of Assyria, but he is not called a Messiah. Why Hezekiah was not called `Immanuel' is unclear.  Hezekiah was criticized by Isaiah for his arrogance in showing his wealth to the ambassador from Babylon. (Is. 39) In the repetition of history in Chronicles Hezekiah is likened to Immanuel. The term `immanu' is repeated twice in verses which then refer to Hezekia. (2 Chron. 32:7-8) And he is described Messianic terms.

" He provided for them on all sides. Many brought tribute to YHVH in Jerusalem, and gifts to King Hezekiah of Judah; and thereafter he was exalted in the eyes of all the nations." (2 Chron. 32:22-23)

Some Talmudic Sages refer to Hezekiah as a Messianic figure due to his defeat of Sennacherib's Assyrian army. 108

Isaiah describes the heavenly figure again in chapter 11, introducing him as `A shoot from the stock of Jesse' and concluding  with `the root of Jesse'. (Is. 11:10)

"The spirit of YHVH shall alight upon him;, A spirit of wisdom and insight, the spirit of counsel and valor, the spirit of devotion and reverence for YHVH. He  shall sense the truth by his reverence for YHVH. He shall not judge by what his eyes behold, Nor decide by what his ears perceive. This he shall judge the poor  with equity and decide with justice for the lowly of the land. He shall strike down a land with the rod of his mouth and slay with the breath of his lips." (Is. 11:1-5)

Again we have this doubling of power (as in chapter 9); wisdom and insight, council and valor, devotion and reverence. His power comes from God, not himself, from God's knowledge and his fear. But his power is from the wisdom of his mouth; he is truly a heavenly figure. It is not he who is supernatural; it is God who gives him these virtues. While the word Messiah is not mentioned the `stock of Jesse', an acronym for son of David, is mentioned.

It is only after the common era that we find some Jews referring to these figures specifically as Messianic. The Targum of Yonathan writing in  the first Century has a Messianic translation for the verses in chapter 9.

"The Prophet announced to the house of David that: `a boy has  been born unto us, a son has been given to us, who has taken the Torah upon himself to guard it, and his name has  been called by the one who gives wonderful counsel, the  mighty God, he who lives forever; Messiah, in whose day  peace shall abound for us.  He shall make great the dignity  of those who labor in the Torah and of those who maintain  peace, without end; on the throne of David and over his Kingdom, to establish it and to build it in justice and in  righteousness from this time and forever.  This shall be  accomplished by the memra of the Lord of hosts." (Is. 9:6-7)  109

The Targum calls the `child' a Messiah, tells us that he studies Torah, is a descendant of David and will live forever.  The studying of the Torah - as if the Messiah was also a sage - is a new interpretation of the Messiah developed by the Pharisees. Daniel defines what some see as an eschatological Messianic figure in chapter 7.

"As I looked on; in the night vision! One like a human being came with the clouds of heaven, he reached the  ancient of days and was presented to Him.  Dominion, glory, and kingship were given to him; All peoples and nations of every languages must serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, And his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed." (Daniel 7:13-14)

The `one like a human being' is seen by most Jewish commentators as the righteous Jews coming before God (the ancient of days). Most Christian commentators see the verse as foretelling the coming Messiah. `One like a human being' in the Aramaic Daniel is `Kevar Enosh', very much like `Son of Man'.

In none of this these references (Isaiah and Daniel) is the heavenly man called in the direct text a Messiah.

Where the heavenly figure continues is in the pseudapigrapha, those Jewish books not canonized into the Bible.  These books began to be written after the Greek invasion of Israel and accelerated after the establishment of Hasmoneum kingdom. It is in this literature that an Eschatological Messiah developed.

In I Enoch 110 written between 100 BCE and 50 CE 111 the author speaks of the righteous one, the Messiah, the Son of Man, the Chosen One and the Elect One, as a pre existing heavenly being sitting in the throne of glory. He is the final judge. 

"And the Lord of spirits placed the elect one   on the   throne of glory, and he "shall judge all works of the holy above in the heaven ... the angels, ... sinners and unrighteous, all kings,  great men, and might ones, and all who dwell on earth ... all judgment is given to the Son of Man." 112

Then in Enoch we find;

"and there I saw one who had a head of days, and his head was white like wool, and with him was another whose countenance had the appearance of a man," 113

He is following Daniel;

"Thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His garment was like white as snow, and the hair of His head was like lamb's wool. (Daniel 7:9,13)

In chapter 48 the

"Son of Man was given a name ... even before the creation of the sun and the moon... For this purpose he became the Chosen One; he was concealed ..." 114

In the last verse of the chapter he is called the Messiah.  In I Enoch the idea that the Messiah will rule over a kingdom of heaven appears.

"On that day, I shall cause my Elect One to dwell among them, I shall transform heaven and make it a blessing of light forever. I shall transform the earth and make  it a blessing and cause my Elect One to dwell in her." 115

Thus we have three definitions of the Eschatology or the Kingdom of God. One that it was to happen in the future, second that some come in the present, a Kingdom of God on Earth and finally a first step in the present leading to a second coming of the Messiah with the Kingdom on Earth coming from the Heavens.

This question is also related to whether Jesus can be considered primarily an apocalyptic prophet.

Johannes Weiss wrote in 1892 ‘Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God’ which was the father of Albert Schweitzer famous ‘The Quest of the Historical Jesus’ published almost at the turn of the 20th century. 116 Weiss began the idea of a biography of Jesus. According to Weiss Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. Jesus according to Weiss believed that the current world was under the sway of Satan. Jesus was to fight that kingdom and this allow God to bring His own kingdom into the world. That required a redemptive lamb as a sacrifice. After his death as an atonement Jesus would become the Messiah and return to earth as God’s representative. Schweitzer as did Weiss confirm that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet.

The debate has continued through the 20th century and into the new millennium. John Dominic Crossan defines Jesus as a ‘Mediterranean Jewish Peasant’ 117 Marcus Borg, ‘Jesus A New Vision’ suggests that Jesus was a ‘sage’ 118 and  Stephen Patterson 119. A major opponent to these is Dale Allison stating that ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ was a ‘Millenarian Prophet’ 120.  A debate among these four has been edited by R.J.Miller 121

Dale Allison claims that Jesus fits into a wider cross-cultural known as millenarianism, an apocalyptic visionary and an eschatological prophet. He points out that both Jesus’ predecessor John, the Baptist and his successor Paul were apocalyptic thinkers; thus it seemed probable that he was as well. 122 If Jesus was influenced by the Essenes as we have noted it further the case of the apocalyptic Jesus. The key question, perhaps is what did Jesus think of himself? Certainly many Jews at the time believed that ‘the end’ was near. Does Rabbi Akiva’s work on Halakha preclude his believe in the Messiahship of Bar Kokhba?  Rabbi Schneerson (the Lubavitcher Rebbe) believe in the coming of the Messiah ‘now’ did not preclude his concern about a Palestinian State. Does an ‘apocalyptic framework’ fit Jesus better than others? Mark, the most apocalyptic of the synoptic authors is rewritten by Matthew and Luke. Why – did they disbelieve in the immediate ‘end’? Is this a latter stage in Christianity?

Marcus Borg accepts that both Jesus predecessor John, the Baptist and Paul, his successor were apocalyptic thinkers, but they were very different (as we will discuss).  Borg concludes that Jesus was not primarily an apocalyptic prophet but rather a Jewish experiential mystic (not unrelated to the merkava travelers)  wisdom teacher, a healer and social prophet. 123 Jesus differed from the John, the Baptist. Paul did know Jesus during his lifetime and his relationship was due to his vision and the Easter phenomena.  The idea of a second coming is part of the Easter activity. Jesus did speak of judgment, he did speak of repentance and he did speak of the Temple’s destruction but as Jeremiah did. While Ezekiel may be considered apocalyptic Jeremiah is not. He like Jesus spoke of many non-apocalyptic events and was more concerned with a ‘new covenant’. Even his prophecy of the destruction of the Temple was not eschatological – he does not imply ‘the end’.

Borg asks why if Jesus was primarily an Apocalyptic prophet there was no crisis in the early centuries? The theme of discipleship and following the ‘way’ appear in the Gospels and Paul. For Paul “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Gal. 2:19-20). This means to Paul following Jesus’ way, being a new person. 124 (Patterson would agree with this.)

J. D. Crossan also accepts that both Jesus predecessor John, the Baptist and his Paul successor were apocalyptic thinkers. But if Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet he was wrong! How come two thousand years later his position is stronger than after his death?

Early Christianity believed in the faith of the resurrection – the Easter phenomenon –did not imply the resurrection of all the dead, no more than Elijah’s flight to heaven implied that for everyone. Allison denies the connection between Jesus’ resurrection and eschatological resurrection for all. 125 Even if early Christianity was apocalyptic it changed. Borg believes the same. 126 Crossan asks whether Apocalyptic literature is meant to be taken literally or metaphorically?

    “the earth will belong equally to all, undivided by walls or fences. . .

    Lives will be in common and wealth will have no division.

    For there will be no poor man there, no rich, and no tyrant, no slave. 127

Would anyone believe that or it that simply Utopian?

Stephen Patterson believes Jesus was primarily a wisdom teacher, primarily as a result of the many ‘proverbs, aphorisms, parables, beatitudes, ect.‘ 128 used and the theological diversity of Early Christianity in texts and tradition. He agrees as a secondary matter Jesus was a prophet of the end time. Did Jesus think on Empire of God, present or future? Did he speak as an other-worldly heavenly figure? Was Jesus a descending/ascending redeemer? Would he return to Judge? Many of these and others can be seen in the traditions about Jesus.


Elie Wiesel in his autobiographical novel ‘Night’ recalled when as a young boy he watched two adults and a child being hung by the Gestapo. The man behind him whispered ‘Where is God?’ Wiesel said to himself ‘Where is He?  Here He is. He is hanging here on this gallows!’ 129

Jesus did not often call himself a Messiah and responded mainly negatively when questioned (which must have more often than mentioned in the Gospels).  The Gospels tell that he was asked about himself twice; once at Caesurae Philippi and secondly at his trial.

In the Gospel of Mark, in Caesurae Philippi, Jesus asks what people say about him; Peter responds by saying you are the Christ. Jesus tells them to be silent about him (Mark 8:28-30). In Matthew when Peter is asked about Jesus he responds:

"You are the Christ, the son of the living God.  [Jesus responds] blessed are you Simon bar Jona.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father who is heaven." (Matt. 16:16-17)

In Luke Peter said "The Christ of God" (Luke 9:21). Jesus responds to tell no one.  Jesus neither denied nor confirmed that he was the Messiah. He clearly did not proclaim his Messiahship. As he said to Peter only God anoints the Messiah. Thus he could only hear that from `my father'.

But what does Peter think a Messiah is to accomplish. When Jesus then tells Peter will suffer and die, Peter rebukes him and Jesus says "Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God thinks, but as human beings do." (Mark 8:31-33; Matt. 16:21-23) (Peter's response to Jesus statement of his dying does not occur in the Gospel of Luke.) Peter did not understand! He was expecting a restorer Messiah. How can a restorer Messiah die before his task of restoring Israel is done? Given Jewish history in that period it is unlikely that Peter would not think that a Jewish Messiah would be a restorer.

At the accusation the High Priest asks Jesus "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One? `I am' said Jesus, `and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven." (Mark 14:61-62). The same is told in Matthew (26:64-65) except that Jesus responds "It is you who say I am" and in Luke "It is you who say it" (22:67-69).  In the Gospel of John the High Priest was concerned  "that one man should die for the people, rather that the whole nation should perish". (John 11:50) This is repeated in John 18:14. Thus in the synoptic Gospels and John the concern from the High Priest is about a redeemer Messiah and  (except in Mark ) Jesus does not deny that he is although he also does not affirm it. In John the High Priest is concerned about an insurrection and the murderous reaction of the Romans.

In his trial when asked by Pilate are ‘You King of the Jews’ Jesus' response in all three synoptic Gospels to Pilate is "you say it".  (Mark 15:2; Matt. 27:11; Luke 23:3)  While for Pilate this is not a denial, it is certainly not a proclamation.  In the Gospel of John Jesus responds to Pilate

"Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. As it is, my kingdom does not belong here." (John 18:36)

This is an eschatological statement. Many scholars believe Jesus was unwilling to state his  Messiahship, thus his ‘you said it’.  William Wrede and Rudolf Bultmann, write that neither Jesus nor his disciples thought he was the Messiah. "The proclaimer became the proclaimed." 130  He who proclaimed the coming of the age of heaven became the Messiah. On the other J.C. O'Neill disputes that in a famous article. 131 A major part of his contention is all the Gospels say that Pilate executed the `King of the Jews'. Who is the King of the Jews if not the Messiah?  For Pilate a `King of the Jews' was simply a kingly pretender. It is certain that Pilate would not understand "my kingdom does not belong here" (John 18:36). That eschatological statement would only be understood by Jewish apocalypts.

Who was Pilate? According to Jewish sources a ‘cruel villain, a man of an inflexible, stubborn, and cruel disposition. . . [a man of] venality, thievery, assaults, abusive behavior, frequent executions and endless savage ferocity’. 132 Josephus stated that he ‘condemned [Jesus] to be crucified and to die’ as did the Roman historian Tacitus. 133 He particularly disliked the Jews, stealing from the Temple, erecting Roman standards bearing the Emperor on the Temple walls and killing thousands of Jews. Pilate’s cruelty

was finally too much and he was dismissed by his superior Vitellius as was Caiaphas, Pilate’s loyal ally.

That Jesus would not accept his Messiahship is not inconsistent with his thinking he was.  One does not proclaim oneself Messiah. Only God proclaims His Messiah. That Jesus could have died as a restorer while thinking he was a redeemer is also not inconsistent. Nor that his disciples were confused.  Mowinckel wrote,

"The Messiah conceptions of certain circle produced the picture of a Messiah who is predominantly this-worldly, national and political whereas the views of other circles produced the picture of a predominantly transcendental, eternal and universal Messiah." 134

Most Jews at the time were looking forward to a political and military leader who would defeat the Romans. We know that in the `Great Revolt' in 66-70 CE, Menachem and Simon, both leaders of rival armies were proclaimed by disciples as Messiahs. (Josephus actually mentions ten men who acted as if they thought they were the Messiah. 135) And sixty five years later the great Rabbi Akiva declared Bar Kokhba a Messiah. Bar Kokhba - a general - was for a while successful against the Romans. When he failed he lost his Messiahship.

As noted in the introduction in the letters attributed to Paul the word Christ is used as a proper name for Jesus 316 times and it is never otherwise used.  In the four Gospels and Acts the word Christ is used 80 times, only 16 times as a proper name and 64 times as a title such a Davidic King or an eschatological figure.136 Thus in the letters written before the Gospels there is no dispute about Jesus being the Messiah, while in the Gospels, written later, there is a problem about the designation.  Why would there be no problem in the earlier time and a problem in the latter time?  In the earlier time Paul is writing as a Jew to bring God to the Gentiles through Jesus. Paul developed a theology especially for Gentiles; it was based on his revelatory vision of the Messiah in heaven; an eschatological Messiah. He knows as a Jew that the title for an eschatological unique person is Messiah. His belief in the resurrection allows him to change the meaning of the designation. For his visionary and mystical personality that was not a problem. 

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day." (1 Corin. 15:3-)

This `Christ' is the name of his Messiah. He is also aware that his view presented a problem, "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews, and folly to Gentiles" (1 Corin. 1:23). Paul became possessed by the crucified Jesus.

"Now I want to make it clear to you, brothers, about the gospel that was preached by me, that it was no human message. It was not from any human being that I received it, and I was not taught it, but it came to me through a revelation of Jesus Christ. ... (Gal. 1:11-12)

Paul living shortly after Jesus' death, expected his immediate return.    

    "And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord." (1 Thess 4:15-17)

And in 1 Corinthians:

"...a lesson for us, to whom it has fallen to live in the last days of the ages. (1 Cor. 10:11)

His theology differed from that followed by the observant Jewish Jerusalem Church, led by James, the brother of Jesus. They were preaching to Jews. Paul and his disciples were mostly Jews preaching to pagans and bringing them to the Jewish God.

While it is true as Paul said that Jesus’ death was a stumbling bloc to Jews, that does not mean it was unthinkable to Jews that someone - a scapegoat - if we do not derogate the term - is unthinkable. Jesus, in fact knew better. He quotes the Psalm ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’ (Ps. 118:22). His death, his martyrdom would not hinder his success. Even that his martyrdom would expiate sins was a Jewish idea. 137

The concept that someone or something could take on his own body the sins of the people was not unknown either to Judaism or to Ancient cultures. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement the high Priest will take two goats one as a sin offering and one for ‘Azazel’. ‘Aaron will then lay both his hands on [the Azazel] goat and confess all the guilt of the Israelites, all their acts of rebellion and all their sins . . .and the goat will bear all their guilt away into some desolate place’ (Lev. 16:21-22). The Mishna tells that the man will take the one scape-goated and dedicated to Azazel  to cliff and thrown him over to die. 138

The concept of a public scapegoat was common in ancient cultures. Evil could be spread from infected people, which could be stopped by death or punishment of a public person or animal. In Rome on the day before the Ides of March a man clad in white was taken out to the limits of the city boundary and beaten to drive out the evil from the city. 139  The mocking acclamation of Jesus clothed in purple as ‘King of the Jews’ with Pilate saying ‘Behold the Man’ (John 19:5) is explained by David Flusser. It meant the same as the cry of ‘crucify! Crucify him by the men of the High Priest as noted in the synoptic Gospels. 140 The combination of Pilate’s cruelty and Caiaphus establishment bias made Jesus death almost a certainty.

Jesus and the goat dedicated for Azazel are innocent of any crime. They stand in place of sin as its symbol and their death is an act of repentance. 

In the Qumran scrolls a mention of the ‘Evil Priest’ who ‘hung men alive’. As they note ‘the Wicked Priest who rebelled and violated the precepts of God and persecuted the Teacher of Righteousness. And they set upon him in virtue of wicked judgments and evil profaners committed horrors upon him and vengeance upon his flesh’. 141

In the Hymns of Thanksgiving we read as follows:

‘I was as a man forsaken . . . no refuge had I. . .

Grievous was my pain, and could not be stayed.

My soul was overwhelmed, like them that go down to Sheol, and my spirit was sunken low among the dead. . . .

For all my strength had ceased from my body, and my heart was poured out like water and my flesh melted like wax and the strength of my loins was turned to confusion, and my arm was wrenched from my soldier.

I could not move my hand, and caught in a shackle, my knees were dissolved like water.

I could take neither pace nor step; heaviness replaced my fleetness of foot; my steps were trammeled.

My tongue was tied and protruded; I could not lift my voice in any articulate speech to revive the spirit of stumbling, to encourage the faint with a word. 142

This reads like it was referring to Jesus, but it seems to be the Teacher of Righteousness. The point is that many Jews - Jesus, the Teacher of Righteousness included were crucified as political rebels. And often those included religious reformers or religious zealots, activists for the Kingdom of Heaven, who were seen as political rebels.

This all changed with the `Great Revolt'. The Jews rebelled, against the might of Rome, the city of Jerusalem and it's Temple were destroyed. The great restorer Messianic outbreak was a total failure. Only Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, the leader of the anti-zealot party and his students escaped by leaving, with Roman permission, to go to Yavne and establish Rabbinic Judaism. All the other sects died in the ashes of the Temple. For Jews the restorer Messianic idea was a failure. 

By the time several Jewish and Gentile communities of believers-in-Jesus grew after 70 CE, the immediate expectation of Jesus' return as a Davidic Messiah was no longer feasible. These communities, included mostly pagan Gentiles from a Hellenistic background.  For them a Son of God who dies and is resurrected was not a failure as a Davidic restorer Messiah was for most Jews.

Communities of believers-in-Jesus lived in conflict with the emerging Rabbinic Judaism developed their own theologies. But the idea of a restorer Messiah had failed - the term Messiah itself signified failure. After the Temple's destruction the title `Messiah' was no longer the preferred title. Not being able to completely reject the Messianic motif both Matthew and John reinterpreted him. As Albert Schweitzer wrote:

"The inconsistency between the public life of Jesus and his Messianic claims lies either in the nature of the Jewish Messianic concept or in the representation of the Evangelist". 143

The Evangelist Matthew took the Torah as his matrix and developed a new Torah, a new Covenant and a new community for the Son of Man. The Evangelist John took the competing and overlapping Messianic expectations as his matrix and the Hellenistic culture as a background and created a new Christology for the Son of God. The Father/Son relationship occurs primarily in the gospel of John. And in the three letters of John, whether written by the same author or members of his community - Christ no longer signifies Messiah but only the Son of God. 144 For the communities of Matthew and John, Son of Man and Son of God better signified Jesus than did Messiah. For those Jews expected a restorer his death was his failure. But Paul was not preaching to the Jews so this failure is less relevant. And Paul was preaching a redeemer Messiah. The evangelists of the Gospels were preaching to primarily Gentiles after Judaism had failed to a Roman revolt. The whole concept of the Messiah had failed. While they were also preaching a redeemer, the term Messiah was not longer an acceptable title - Son of Man - an apocryphal title - and Son of God was.


What is surprising about Jesus is not that he was rejected as the Messiah by the Jews, but that he was accepted by the pagan Gentiles. The idea that a crucified man could be the Messiah was a totally unique idea and as a Martin Hengel, wrote for a heavenly being to suffer was "an offense without analogy." 145 Why did Jesus’ movement not die as had happened many times in the past. When Judas the Galilean was crucified, his children mourned, continued his movement but never thought their father was the Messiah.  One of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, had a vision, he saw Jesus alive at the right hand of God. Luke tells us that the disciples in Jerusalem speak of an appearance to Peter on Easter Sunday and or again a week later and then in the Galilee. Then the vision was seen by twelve and then to five hundred persons. Paul had his own vision. Once believed this vision changed from the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven to the coming of the  risen Jesus. Easter, the day of the resurrection became the cornerstone of Christian belief.  At the beginning for believers like Peter and Jesus’ brother James life had not really changed. They moved back to Jerusalem and as for other Jews the Temple and probably their own Synagogue were the center of their existence. After the execution of Stephen and the expulsion of his Greek-speaking followers that the movement began preaching to Gentiles.

As Paul said ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile’ (I Cor. 15:17).  On the other hand  Ellis Rivlin, a Jewish scholar wrote:

"Yet we know, Jews no less than Christians, that the cross was the beginning, not the end.  It was the birth of a viable and vital Messianic idea, an idea proclaimed by Jews, for Jews, and out of the stuff of regnant Judaism.  What gave life to the crucified messiah was the Pharisaic belief in the resurrection of the dead . . . It dawned on them [the disciples] that the proof of Jesus; claim to be Christ was his resurrection."  146

All four Gospels include resurrection appearances (although they are different and in fact inconsistent 147) as well as Paul in 1 Corinthians (15:3-8). Paul also equates his vision as a resurrection appearance. Heavenly vindication and resurrection were certainly Jewish and gentile beliefs at the time. As J.D. Crossan has written ‘that the dead could return and interact with the living was a commonplace of the Greco-Roman world’. 148

It is not unreasonable for a Jewish eschatological Messiah to think of himself as representing the Jewish people and suffering for them. It is likely that he saw himself as the `suffering servant' of Isaiah. Jews may have thought of the `suffering servant' as Jewish martyrs.  Jesus, if he saw himself as an eschatological Messiah, may have originated the idea of a suffering crucified Messiah. In Ezekiel the `Son of Man is told that he will suffer for the sins of Judea and Israel (chapter 4:5-6). Similarly in Micah we find "Do not gloat over me, my enemy: though I have fallen, I shall rise; though I live in darkness YHVH is my light. (Mic. 7:8)

Martyrology was certainly a prevalent Jewish idea at the time.  "For thy sake are we killed all the day; we are accounted as sheep for your slaughter" (Psalm 44:23). Luke emphasizes Jesus' suffering.  "It was necessary that the Christ should suffer". (Luke 24:26)  Why was it necessary for Jesus to suffer?  For "repentance for the forgiveness of sins",  (Luke 24:47) for salvation of the world or a ‘righteous one for the unrighteous’

(I Peter 3:18)  Rabbi Nachman, a Jewish Messianic, who died in 1811, had a dream in which he expected to be sacrificed for atonement of the Jewish people.  "I had a dream that on Yom Kippur I would be sacrificed by the high priest to atone for the sins of the Jewish people."  149  Furthermore Rabbi Nachman also claimed the ability to forgive his disciples sins. "But I do penance for you, and God gives me the power to repair all that you have damaged." 150  While he is much later than Jesus, the point is that this kind of thinking was not impossible later nor then, although it is more original at the time of Jesus.

That the concept of a crucified Messiah - despite Rivlin - was difficult for others to concede we know from Paul. It was also difficult for most Jews who prayed for a Restorer Messiah to accept a crucified Messiah. They were looking for a successful general who would defeat the Romans not be crucified by them. We know that from the proclaimed restorer Messiahs during the great revolt (Menachem and Simon) and during the Bar Kokhba rebellion. When each of them died his Messiahship was by definition defeated. The son of David, the great conquering hero of Judaism, was to defeat the Romans not die. These failures deepened the tragedy of Jewish history. And as a result the Talmud forbade actively pursuing a Messianic end of the age.  For the many Jews who believed and prayed for a restorer Messiah Jesus, Menachem, Simon and Bar Kokhba failed. Their deaths tragic though they were, did not solve the Jewish problem. For those few Jews who believed in an eschatological Messiah they were expecting an apocalyptic end of the world and a new beginning. Most of those did not see Jesus' crucifixion realizing that end. A few of those who believed in his resurrection noted that his death did not mean the end of his role. By one hundred years after Jesus' death most of the believers were Gentiles with a pagan Hellenistic background and the idea of a dying and resurrected god was not that strange to their culture. For them the dead and resurrected Son of God was not the contradiction of a failed Messiah to the Jews. 

If Jesus said at his death "Eli, Eli, lama sebachtani - My God, my God, why did you abandon me" (Mark 15:34, Matt. 27:46) 151  he may have been stating his believe that he was a restorer Messiah. If he said "Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit!" (Luke 23:46) he may have been calmly stating his belief that he was an eschatological heavenly bound Messiah.

There is another significant difference between Mark/Matthew and Luke, the former are concerned with proving that the Jews abandoned Jesus, Luke does not have that agenda.  In Mark/Matthew Jesus’ enemies are the ‘scribes (Mk. 15:31; Mt. 27:41), the elders (Mt. 27:41), the high priests  (Mt. 27:41; Mk. 15:31) ), those who passed by (Mt.27:39) and bystanders (Mk. 15:33; Mt. 27:47). Jesus’ friends are the Roman Centurion (Mk, 15:39), many women from Galilee who followed him and ministered to him (Mk. 15:40; Mt. 27:55), no Jews who did not already adhere to him. 152

In Luke the friends of Jesus include the great multitude of people and women who bewailed and lamented him (Lk. 23:27), daughters of Jerusalem (Lk. 23:28), people who stood by watching (Lk. 23:35) and all the multitude (Lk. 23:48). The enemies are only the rulers, Roman soldiers and one of the criminals who scoff, mock and railed at him (Lk. 15:35-39). In Luke there are no mocking Jews. 153 In fact the Jewish ‘crowd empathizes with Jesus in his suffering and death. In Mark we only hear of the deriding and maliciously mocking Jews . . . all non-Christian: ‘Jews are enemies of Jesus.’ 154

In Mark Jesus died ‘in a hostile world’ . . . [while] in Luke the ‘Jewish crowd mourns  Jesus of Nazareth’. 155

Did the Jews reject Jesus?

Certainly the Sadducees, the collaborators to the Romans did - for political reasons.

Certainly the Shamaite Pharisees did - for theological reasons .

It is highly unlikely that the Hillelite Pharisees did.

It is highly unlikely that Galileans did.

Every true and uncompromising Jewish believer had opponents - especially Galileans.

And Jesus certainly never rejected his own people - the Jews!

How did the did a religious man become the object of religion? 156

As for Jesus’ death and resurrection, the idea of resurrection was already accepted by Jews, particularly the Pharisees. How can those who believe that Elijah was raised to Heaven via a chariot, not believe in the possibility of Jesus’ resurrection. Based on Maimonides three times a day Orthodox Jews today state the prayer ‘Blessed are You, O Lord who revives the dead’.  Maimonides himself wrote ‘All these matters which refer to Jesus of Nazareth  . . .only served to make the way free for the King Messiah and to prepare the whole world for the worship of God’ 157 A great Orthodox commentator Rabbi Samuel Hirsch (19th C.) noted ‘In order that Jesus’ power of hope and greatness of soul should not end with his death, God has raised in the group of his disciples the idea that he rose from death and continues to live. He continues living in all those who want to be true Jews’. 158


The Jewish Messianic ideology as we have seen included a theological-political role, an Eschatological Prophet, an Eschatological High Priest, a heavenly son of man. If Jesus considered himself as a theological-political Messiah, the most likely meaning for Jews at the time, he (based on the Gospels) never revealed himself as such.

All names, titles, roles and concepts used by the Christian Bible and described above for Jesus were all used by some in the many forms of Judaism that existed in the centuries before the death of Jesus. 159  That is really not surprising given that Jesus was born a Jew, lived a Jew and died as a Jew. Jesus was an historical Jew who became after his death, for some, an Eschatological Messiah. As Rudolf Bultmann said ‘As a historical person, Jesus should be thought of within the sphere of late Judaism and not as the inaugurator  of Christian faith. Christian faith began with Easter; that is the rise of the belief that God made the crucified one Lord’. 160

The role of Jesus as the Crucified Messiah obviously did not occur until after his death and was rejected by most Jews.  For pagan Gentiles who after the `Bar Kokhba Revolt' made up most of the Christian communities the crucified Messiah was less of a problem than Jews seeking an outward change in Jewish history. They wanted a Davidic Warrior Messiah who would defeat the Romans.

Leonardo da Vinci - The Last Supper


1 Flusser, D., Jesus, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1998) pp. 13.

2 St. Paul is generally considered to have written seven of these letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon) between the years 45-65 CE, and his disciples wrote the six others (Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus) shortly after St. Paul's death.

3 Charlesworth, J.H., ed. The Messiah, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1992) article by D. A. Aune, Christian Prophecy and the Messianic Status of Jesus, P. 405.

4 In Acts written by Luke about the life of Paul we find two mentions of the word Christian 11:26 and 26:26. The only other use of the word Christian is in 1 Peter 4:16; we do not know who wrote that nor when it was written.

5 Son of Man is an apocryphal name (coming from Daniel and I Enoch) suggesting the end of the world and the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.

6 Flusser, D., Jesus, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1998) pp. 13.

7 Sanders, E.P., The Historical Figure of Jesus, (Allen Lane, London, 1993) pg. 133.

8 The question is not so much did Jesus or any other miracle worker perform miracles, but did people believe they performed miracles. Since most miracles involved cures, Howard Clark Kee's comparison of miracles and magic is instructive. "Miracle embodies the claim that healing can be accomplished through appeal to, and subsequent actions by the gods, either directly or through a chosen intermediary agent. Magic is a technique, through word or act, by which a desired end is achieved ... If the technique is effective of itself in overcoming a hostile force, then the action is magical.  If it viewed as the intervention of the god or goddess, then it is miraculous."  (Kees, Howard, Medicine, Magic and Miracles).

9 Weiss J., Studies in Eastern European Jewish Mysticism, (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985),  P.15.

10 N.Y. Times Book Review July 18, 1993, pg. 3.

11 Vermes, Gaza, Jesus the Jew, (Fontana/Collins, London, 1977).

12 Babylonian Talmud (BT) Berakoth 34b.

13 JT Berakoth V. 9a.

14 Mishna Taanith 3:8.

15 BT Ta’anit 23a.

16 ibid

17 Bialik, H.N. and Ravnitsky, Y.H., Sefer Ha-aggadah, (Schocken Books, NY, 1992) Pg. 223- 224.

18 Klausner, J., The Messianic Idea in Israel, Translated by W.F. Stinespring, Macmillan & Co., NY, 1966) Page 506. Tannaitic literature was composed by Talmudic authors before the middle of the second century CE.

19 Quoted in Martyn, J. L. History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, Tennessee, 1968) Page 98.

20 A.J., Heschel, The Prophets, Vol. I (Harper & Row, NY, 1969) Pg. 3.

21 ibid Page 4.

22 ibid Page 7.

23 ibid Page 9.

24 ibid Vol. II, Page 264.

25 ibid Page 10.

26  ibid Page 11.

27  ibid Page 16.

28 op cit, Weiss, Studies, P. 189.

29 Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. in Reumann J., ed. The Promise and Practice of Biblical Theology, (Fortress Press, Minn., 1999) pg. 74.

30 Young, Brad.

31 Tosefta Sotah 13:3.

32 Hillel also developed another legality. Since fruits and vegetables grown on Jewish ownedland during the shmita year can not be sold, he allowed selling or renting the land to non-Jews during that year. It is interesting that current day Shammaites reject this Halakhically approved option., reiterated by Rav Kook in the early years of the 20th century.

33 JT Hagigah 2:1 and Yevamot 8:7, quoted in Winfield, M., Immanuel 24/25, pg. 53.

34 David Flusser quoted by Winfield, pg. 56.

35 Jerusalem Talmud (JT) Shabbat 1:4.

36 BT Sukkah 28a and BT Bava Batra 134a

37 BT Berachot 1a and JT Berachot 1:4

38 Lee, B., The Galilean Jewishness of Jesus (Paulist Press, NY, 1988) Page 115.      

39 11 Q Temple 57:17-18.

40 Lowe, M., The New Testament and Christian-Jewish Dialogue, Studies in Honor of David Flusser, Immanuel, 24/25, 1990, pg. 178.

41 BT Yoma 85a.

42 Mishna Shabbat 2:5

43 Quoted in Flusser, D., Jesus, (Herder & Herder, NY, 1969) P. 53, from BT Sota 22b and BT Berachot 14b.

44 Carmichael, J., The Birth Of Christianity, (Hippocrene Books, NY, 1989)  chapter 2.

45 Safrai, Immanuel, pg. 180.

46 Safrai, S., Pietism in the Mishnah, The Journal of Jewish Studies, Vol. 15, no. 1-2, pp. 15-33.

47 The author has noted that both Jeremiah and Job were attacked by the orthodox establishment, see the website ‘’ at its chapters of Jeremiah and Job.

48 Flusser, D., Jesus, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1998) and Vermes, Geza Jesus the Jew, (Fontana Collins, London, 1977) and The Religion of Jesus, (SCM Press London, 1993).

49 BT

50 King David committed many serious laws including three from the Ten Commandments (adultery, conspiring to kill and breaking the Sabbath) and no one ever  suggesting he deserved a death penalty.

51 Sanders, E.P., Jewish Law From Jesus to the Mishna, (SCM Press, London, 1990 Page 2).

52 The Wicked priest may have been King Alexander Janneus (a latter Maccabean King) or his earlier ancestors Jonathan or perhaps his brother Simon, the High Priest. See Charlesworth, Jesus and Dead Sea Scrolls, Pg. 144.

53 And yet despite the importance of this difference, after the end of the Hasmonuem Kingdom in 60 BCE, the two groups lived separate but peacefully until their destruction at the Great Revolt.

54 Quoted in Flusser, D., Jesus, (Herder & Herder, NY, 1969) P. 53, from BT Sota 22b and BT Berachot 14b.

55 As noted above prophets are religious zealots.

56 Driver, G.R. Judean Scrolls, (Blackwell, Oxford, 1965)  Pg. 236ff.

57 With the exception of noting Pontius Pilate as Governor and the Roman Centurion who sees Jesus at his death as God's son (Mark 15:38). Few scholars find this statement on the Centurion's lips during Jesus’ execution as original.

58 Quoted in Crossan J.D., The Historical Jesus, (T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1993) P. 172 from Shaw, Brent, Bandits in the Roman Empire.

59 Chapters 6 -36

60 I Enoch 10:17 and 25:6.

61 ibid 10:21.

62 ibid 10:19.

63 I Enoch 90:18 and 30.

64 Written in the Second Century BCE.

65 Dating from the turn of the common era (possibly earlier, possibly later)

66 Charles, C.H. Apocrypha, (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1913), Assumption of Moshe (10).

67 ibid in II Baruch, Charles, Apocrypha.

68 Turner, H.E.W., Jesus Master and Lord, (Mawbray, London, 1970) pg. 133.

69 Eisler, Robert, The Messiah Jesus, (Krappe, London,  1931); Brandon, SGF, (Manchester University Press,   Manchester, 1967) and Winters, Paul, On the Trial of  Jesus, (Berlin, 1961).

70 Not all Jews were unambiguously favorable to the Temple. Note David Flusser in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1988) in the chapter on `No Temple in the City' notes the prophets, the Essenes, the Book of Jubilee and some Midrashim; Page 454-463.

71 Carmichael, Birth, pg. 34.

72 Flusser, Jesus, pg. 131.

73 Many historic minded scholars regard the trial of Jesus as presented in the Gospel of John as having the most truth. See article by Fergus Millar in Davies, P.R., White, R.T., eds. A Tribute To Geza Vermes, (JSOT, 100, Sheffield, 1990) pp. 355-381.   

74 Quoted in Flusser, Jesus, pg. 198-199.

75 Josephus, Antiquities, 20:200-203, quoted in Flusser, Jesus, pg. 203.

76 Borsch, F.H., The Son of Man in Myth and History quoted in Charlesworth J.H., The Messiah, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1992) article by L. Schiffman, Messianic Figures and Ideas in the Qumran Scrolls, Page 130.

77 Vermes,  Jesus The Jew,  Page 166-167.

78 Flusser, D., Jesus, pg. 129-130.

79 I Enoch 46:3.

80 Fuller, R.H., New Testament Christology, (Fontana Library, London, 1969) Page 39-40.

81 The Bible puts Daniel in the `writings' not in the prophets,   suggesting that Daniel was a wisdom writer and that the canonizers knew that at least part of the book was written after the Jews considered the age of prophecy over. The church put him in the prophet section thus making the Son of Man creator a prophet predicting Jesus as an eschatological figure.  

82 Enoch 38:1.

83 Ashton, J., Understanding the Fourth Gospel, (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991) Page 372.

84 Wisdom of Solomon 2:18-20.

85 Psalms of Solomon 17:27.

86 Ben Sira also referred to as Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, 4:10.

87 BT Ta’anit, 34b, underline added.

88 I.H. Marshall, ‘Son of God Or Servant of Yahweh’ New Testament Studies, 15, pg. 327.

89 BT Ber. 17b

90 BT Hag. 15B

91 Schillebeeckx, Jesus, ?????? Page 256-271.

92 Flusser, D., Jesus, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1998) pg. 119-120.

93 ibid.

94 Pollefeyt, D., ‘The Challenge of the Christological Question for the Contemporary Jewish-Christian Dialogue, pg. 4.

95 Fuller, New Testament Christology, Page 232.

96 Casey, pg. 23.

97 Casey, pgs. 25-26.

98 Casey, P.M., From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God, (James Clarke, Cambridge, 1991) pg. 178.

99 Casey, pgs. 27-28.

100 Anti-Judaism and the Fourth Gospel, eds. Bieringer, R., Pollefeyt, D., Vandecasteel-Vanneuville, F., (Royal Van Gorcum, The Netherlands, 2001)

101 Exodus: 28:41; 29:7; 30:29; 40:13,15; Leviticus: 4:3,5,16; 6:13,15; 8:12; 10:7; 16:32; 21:10,12; Numbers: 3:3; 35:25.

102 1 Samuel: 9:16 Saul; 10:1 Saul; 12:3,5 Saul; 15:1,17 Saul; 16:3,6,12,13 David; 24:7,11 Saul; 26:9,11,16,23 Saul; 2 Samuel: 1:14,16 Saul; 2:4,7 David; 3:39 David; 5:3,17 David; 12:7 David; 19:11 Absalom, 19:22 David; 22:51 David; 23:1 David; 1 Kings: 1:34,39,45 Solomon; 5:15 Solomon; 19:15 Hazaei King of Aram; 19:16 Jehu King of Israel; 2 Kings 9:3,6,12 Jehu; 11:12 Jehoash. Psalms 18:51 David; 89:21,39,52 David; 132:10 David. 1 Chronicles 11:3 David; 14:8 David; 29:22 Solomon; 2 Chronicles: 6:42 David; 22:7 Jehu; 23:11 Jehoiada.

103 1 Kings 19:16 Elisha; Isaiah     61:1 Isaiah the prophet; Psalms 105:15; 1 Chronicles 16:22.

104 Psalms: 28:8; Habbakuk: 3:13; Lamentation: 4:20.

105 Daniel 9:25,26; Psalms 20:7.

106 Isaiah 45:1. God's calling of Cyrus, a Gentile, is an interesting case in point about a Messiah. Isaiah says of him that "I [God] will    give thee the treasures of darkness, and the hidden riches of     secret places, that you may know that I, the Lord, which call  you by name am the Lord." (Is.45:3) Are the `treasures of  darkness and the hidden riches'  wisdom?  "My shepherd ...   You [Jerusalem] will be rebuilt and ... You [the Temple] will be refounded." (Is. 44:28). Thus Cyrus is called a Messiah  because he has wisdom and he will rebuilt Jerusalem and  refound the Temple. Could Isaiah by calling a Gentile the Messiah, be emphasizing that God is the redeemer and anyone He chooses, Jew or Gentile can be his agent?

107 Charlesworth, Messiah, P. XV. In the same volume Professor J.J.M. Roberts notes the thirty nine times the word Messiah is used as a noun and concludes that "not one of the thirty nine occurrences ... refer to an expected figure of the future whose coming will coincide with the inauguration of an era of salvation." Pg 39.

108 BT Sanhedrin 99a.

109 Is. 9:6-7, Levey S., The  Messiah, an Aramaic Interpretation (Hebrew Union College Press, Cincinnati, 1974) Mashiach is Aramaic for Messiah.

110 In the Similitude section; Chapter 37-71.

111 Charlesworth, J.H. Editor, The Old Testament Pseudapigrapha, (Doubleday & Co., Garden City, NY, 1983) Page 6 and Stone, M., Editor, Jewish Writings of the Second Temple, period (Fortress Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1984) Page 399.

112 I Enoch 61:8, 68:8, 41:9, 62:2, 69:27.

113 I Enoch 46:1.

114 I Enoch 48:2,3,6,10.

115 I Enoch 45:4-5.

116 Schweitzer, A., The Quest of the Historical Jesus, (

117 Crossan, J.D., The Historical Jesus; The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (   1991) and Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (1994)

118 Borg, Marcus, Jesus: A New Vision (1987) and Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (1994).

119 Patterson, St., The God of Jesus (1998)

120 Allison, Dale, Jesus of Nazareth, Millenarian Prophet (1998).

121 Miller, R.J., The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate (Polebridge, Sanat Rosa, California, 2001).

122 Miller, pg. 32.

123 Miller, pg. 35.

124 Miller, pg. 133.

125 Miller, pg. 87.

126 Miller, pg. 109.

127 Sibylline Oracles 2, 2:319-20, 321-24, quoted in Miller, pg. 139.

128 Miller, pg. 143.

129 Wiesel, Elie, Night, (Hill and Wong, NY, 1969) pg. 76.

130 Bultmann, R., The Theology of the New Testament, (Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1957) Page 32. See also Wrede, W. The Messianic Secret, (J. Clarke, Cambridge, 1971) and Gunther Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth, (Harper and Row NY, 1960).

131 O'Neill, J.C., The Silence of Jesus, New Testament Studies, Vol. 15.

132 Philo, quoted in Josephus by Flusser, Jesus, pg. 153-154.

133 Flusser, Jesus, pg. 157-158.

134 Mowinckel, S., He That Cometh,  Page 467.

135 O'Neill, The Silence of Jesus, Page 165.

136 Charlesworth, Messiah, article by D. A. Aune, Christian Prophecy and the Messianic Status of Jesus, P. 405.

137 Flusser, Judaism, pg. 619.

138 Mishna Yoma 6:2-6.

139 Frazer, J.G., Scapegoat

140 Flusser, Jesus, pg. 207-220.

141 Kee, H.C., Jesus In History, (Hracourt, Brace and World, NY, 1970) pg. 46.

142 Kee, op cit, pg. 47.

143 Schweitzer, A. The Quest for the Historic Jesus, (Blackwell, London, 1954) Page 335.

144 Painter, Quest, Page 19.

145 Charlesworth, Messiah, article by M. Hengel, Christological Titles in Early Christianity, P. 428.

146 Rivlin, E., USQR Pg. 398.

147 Casey, pg. 98-99

148 Crossan, J.D., The birth of Christianity - Prologue

149 Rabbi Nathan of Breslov, Tzaddik, Translated by Avraham Greenbaum, (Breslov Research Institute, Jerusalem, 1987) Page 212.

150 Quoted in Arthur Green, Tormented Master, (Schocken Books, NY, 1981) Page 183.

151 One of the very few statements quoted in Hebrew in the Greek written Christian Bible.

152 Flusser, Jesus, pg. 227.

153 Flusser, Jesus, pg. 229.

154 Flusser, Jesus, pg. 230.

155 Flusser, Jesus, pg. 233, 235.

156 T.W. Manson, Quoted by Vermes, Geza, Jesus and the World of Judaism, (SCM Press, London, 1983) pg. 44.

157 Maimonides, Mishnah Torah (Hilkhot Melakhim, XI, 4)

158 Lapide, Pinchas, The Resurrection of Jesus, (SPCK, London, 1983) pg. 137.

159 This despite one Rabbi Abbahu in the Talmud stating `If a man should say to you, `I am God’ he is lying; If he should say, `I am the Son of Man’, he will repent it finally; if he should say, `I am rising to heaven’, he may say it, but he will not fulfill it’. Rabbi Abbahu lived 300 years after the death of Jesus and thus the Rabbi was criticizing Christianity. Quoted in Reventlow, H.G., eds., Eschatology in the Bible, (JSOT series 243, Sheffield, 1984), article by Gottfried Nebe, Son of Man, Pg. 111.

160 Kees, Jesus pg. 108, quoting Bultmann, R., Primitive Christianity, (World, Cleveland, 1956) pp. 86-93 and Bultmann, R., Theology of the New Testament, Vol.1, pp. 302-303.