Friday, 6 November 2009

Jesus - A Nice Jewish Boy...?

So, let’s talk about Jesus.

It’s not a topic that comes up when Jews talk. Jesus does not feature in Judaism – not at all. But as many of us are asked by our Christian friends and colleagues what we ‘really think’ about him, let’s clarify:

Jesus occupies the same place in Judaism, as Mohammed does in Christianity. In other words: you could go to every synagogue on Earth, and I guarantee, you would never hear Jesus mentioned.

Many people find this strange; after all, millions of Christians proclaim Jesus as their ‘messiah’ and ’saviour’. Why on earth don’t Jews themselves attach any importance to this vital, most famous, and above all Jewish historical figure?

Well, let’s consider the context:

Back when Jesus was busy gallivanting around Judea, declaring himself as ‘'maschiach’, the Jews were living under Roman oppression. And it was rough. The Romans had a nasty habit of crucifying people – mainly Jews. Sometimes up to 100 Jews in a single day.

And as at other tough times in Jewish history, the Jews longed for their maschiach. They knew full well he could be right there, in their midst. After all, the Torah makes it clear: the Jewish maschiach is a normal, mortal man – he’s not ‘divine’ and he doesn’t have supernatural powers.

In short: he wouldn’t look any different from any other Jewish man.

So where was he?

Numerous young Jewish blokes believed themselves to be the maschiach. They too sauntered around Jerusalem, their faithful believers scuttling after them and hanging on every word. There was nothing unique about Jesus, he was one of many. Contrary to the way he’s portrayed, Jesus was not some ancient David Beckham of the middle east, known and adored by all!

Indeed, the vast majority of Jews had no awareness of Jesus. He simply led one of numerous small sects, there on the fringes of Judaism.

Christianity claims that Jesus fulfilled various messianic prophecies. It points to the ‘old testament’ in a bid to ‘prove’ this. There’s just one problem – the OT is not the Jewish bible. It never has been.

Think about it logically: why would Judaism define its own scriptures as ‘old’?

The OT is a Christian text.

It is a Church-approved, rearranged, and sadly often mistranslated version of the actual Jewish bible, the Tanakh. No Jew reads nor studies the OT.

So when Jews and Christians discuss the ‘Jewish bible’ they are usually referring to two entirely different texts. Many Christians assume, for the most part, that the OT is ‘jewish’. Jews then have to break the news that in fact, it is not anything to do with Judiasm.

And since, for the most part, Jews read the Tanakh in the original Hebrew, we are bemused when some Christians state that we are somehow ‘misinterpreting’ it, when we explain to them that no, Jesus does not appear in the Tanakh.

Historically, Christianity has also ignored something else when it insists that Jews have ‘rejected’ Jesus.

It has ignored that the very idea of ‘messiah’ originated with Judaism. The messianic prophecies and description of the Maschiach were written in Hebrew, by Jews, for Jews.

It seems logical to conclude that the people who first described the messiah, the people who studied the Hebrew scriptures, the people who read the messianic prophecies in Hebrew, were sufficiently intelligent to identify their own messiah!

But historically, Christianity has suggested that Jews managed, bizarrely, to misunderstand the Jewish bible!

One of the most well known examples of this is when Isaiah – according to Christianity – describes a ‘virgin birth’. A clear reference to Mary and Jesus, insist Christianity. A clear prophecy concerning the birth of Jesus. A clear example of Jews ‘ misinterpreting’ their own bible.

But the original Hebrew says nothing about a 'virgin birth'. Why would it? There is no such concept in Judaism.

What does Isaiah actually say, then...?

Isaiah uses the word ‘almah’. This means ‘young woman’. It has always meant ‘young woman’. It has never meant ‘virgin’.

If Isaiah had wanted to say ‘virgin’ he would have used an entirely different Hebrew word: ‘betulah’.

Recently, a few Christian bibles have been amended and brought into line with the original Hebrew. Here they are:

Recent altered Christian Translations of Isaiah 7:14

Revised Standard Version: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Revised English Bible Because you do, the Lord of his own accord will give you a sign; it is this: A young woman is with child, and she will give birth to a son and call him Immanuel.

New English Bible Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: A young woman is with child, and she will bear a son, and will call him Immanuel.

New Revised Standard Version: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures(Jehovah Witnesses) Therefore Jehovah himself will give you men a sign: Look! The maiden herself will actually become pregnant, and she is giving birth to a son, and she will certainly call his name Immanuel.

Good News Bible: Well then, the Lord himself will give you a sign: A young woman who is pregnant will have a son and will name him “Immanuel.”

The Jerusalem Bible: Readers Edition The Lord himself, therefore, will give you a sign. It is this: The maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel.

The Bible: A New Translation An omen you shall have, and that from the Eternal himself. There is a young woman with child, who shall bear a son and call his name “Immanuel” (G-d is with us).

The Bible: An American Translation:Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold! A young woman is with child, and is about to bear a son; and she will call him “G-d is with us.”

The International Critical Commentary:Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a damsel is with child, and shall bring forth a son, and call his name Immanuel.

The New Jerusalem Bible: The Lord will give you a sign in any case. It is this: The young woman is with child and will give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel.

The Layman’s Bible Commentary: In reply, Isaiah says that the Lord will provide a sign. It will be a most unusual and remarkable event. A young woman shall bear a son and name him “Immanuel."

World Biblical Commentary: Therefore my Lord himself will give you (pl) a sign. Behold, the woman shall conceive and bearing a son — she shall call his name “Immanuel.”

The Bible in Basic English: For this cause the Lord himself will give you a sign; a young woman is now with child, and she will give birth to a son, and she will give him the name Immanuel.

Thus many Christian authorities now admit that there is nothing about a ‘virgin birth’ in Isaiah – or indeed anywhere else in the Tanakh. Why would there be? The idea is totally alien to Judaism.

The Jewish G-d never, ever takes human form – and certainly doesn’t pop in to planet earth to impregnate a Nice Jewish Girl…!

Above all, though, Jesus did not fulfill any of the Jewish messianic prophecies.

Among other things, the Jewish Maschiach must:

- usher in world peace

- unite all Jews in Israel

- bring Torah to all the nations

- rebuild the temple

- REJECT doing miracles

- redeem Israel, and the world

- be from King David’s line

- create G-d’s kingdom, here on earth.

And the Jewish maschiach must achieve all 23 prophecies before he dies - in one normal, mortal lifetime. No 'second coming' in Judaism.

Now, did Jesus fulfill any of these before he died?

Answer: No.

Conclusion: Jesus was not – indeed could not have been – the Jewish maschiach.

To reiterate a key point: the concept of ‘messiah’ is a Jewish concept. Judaism was the first faith to articulate the idea. Christianity has revised the definition of ‘messiah’ so much that now, many Christians don’t even know that their messiah bears no relation to the original Jewish Maschiach.

So, what do Jews think about Jesus, when the topic arises?

Well, there’s no official line on him. Some Jews probably doubt he ever existed at all – remember, Jesus is not mentioned by any contemporary writers of his own time.

Many Jews regard Jesus as a young, charismatic preacher who sought to reform Judaism – but who never intended to ’start’ a new faith. Jesus taught basic Judaism. ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ appears first in the holy Jewish text, the Torah.

Yet he did apparently break the Jewish shabbat, which no truly observant Jew would do. And if he claimed to be ‘god’ that also violates Torah. Yet more reasons which prove he was not our maschiach.

In short, then, Jesus was just a Nice Jewish Boy. And let’s face it – if ever he should somehow return, he’d head straight for the nearest synagogue...!