The Religious A priori


Suffering Servant

is Messiah

First couple of centuries after current era

[but these tradtions probably reflect ideas from Christ's time Edersheim argues]

the Babylonian Talmud:

The Messiah -- what is his name? . . . The Rabbis say, the leprous one; those of the house of Rabbi say, the sick one, as it is said, "Surely he hath borne our sicknesses." (Sanhedrin 98b)

"The Babylonian Talmud in Sanhedrin 98b states that the Messiah was the leprous one that bore our sicknesses. Actually the Babylonian Talmud is the oldest and "earliest indisputable, firsthand evidence of a rabbinic interpretation of Isaiah 53 which takes the servant as the Messiah, and attributes suffering to him." A date of about 200 C.E. for the tradition of this Talmud is suggested by the formula used to introduce this section."

-- AMF International Isaiah 53 ABout Whom Does it Speak?

by David R. Brewer

[The traditions for this quotation have been estimated to be roughly second century AD--Edersheim documents that this name, "lepourous one" is expressly related to Is. 53]

Shemoth R. 15 and 19

Edersheim documents Is. 52:12 applied to the Messiah.

Is. 52: 3 Sandhed. 97b

Ibid. 726

"...Messianichally applied in the Talmud (Sanhed. 97b)


"The Targums were Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Old Testament. They apparently circulated during Jesus' lifetime (there are Targums of Job and Lev. in the Dead Sea Scrolls). Although they were finally put into writing after the New Testament period, these represent typically VERY ancient understandings of OT passages. If the Targums interpreted OT passages messianically, this implies that the Jews pre-NT had similar understandings. We also know that targums circulated BEFORE the NT times, since some of them were found at Qumran."(Ibid)

Edersheim also defends the notion that these early Rabbinical writtings, from firt few centuries AD reflect older material and tradtions.

Targum, Isaiah 42.1-9 states:

"Behold, My servant, the Messiah, whom I bring near, My chosen one, in whom my Memra takes delight; I will place My holy spirit upon him, and he shall reveal My law to the nations..." Isa 43.10: "'You are My witnesses before Me', says the Lord, 'and My servant is the Messiah, whom I have chosen..."

Targum, Isaiah 43.10 states:

"'You are My witnesses before Me', says the Lord, 'and My servant is the Messiah, whom I have chosen..."

[Source: S.H. Levey, The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation, Monograph of the Hebrew Union College 2: Cincinnati: 1974.--cited with chart at Noncanonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation, Craig Evans, Hendrickson: 1992., p. 108.]

Targum Johathan (4th century)

[reference to Is 52:13]

"Behold, My Servant the Messiah ..shall prosper. He will be high and listed up.."

-- Targum ("Targum Jonathan") to Isaiah 52:13, various editions (such as Samson H. Levey, The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation; the Messianic Exegesis of the Targum." Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 1974, p. 63).

Targum ("Targum Jonathan") to Isaiah 52:13, various editions (such as Samson H. Levey, The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation; the Messianic Exegesis of the Targum." Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 1974, p. 63).

(also fuller vresion of the same quote)

Richmiel Fryland:

"But who is this Servant? Our ancient commentators with one accord noted that the context clearly speaks of God's Anointed One, the Messiah. The Aramaic translation of this chapter, ascribed to Rabbi Jonathan ben Uzziel, a disciple of Hillel who lived early in the second century C.E., begins with the simple and worthy words:

"Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong: as the house of Israel looked to him through many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men." (Targum Jonathan on Isaiah 53, ad locum)

Targum on Is 53:10

"Is. 53:10 is applied in the Targum on the Passage to the the Kingdom of the Messiah" (Edersheim 727)

First couple of centuries after Christian era Midrashim

The anti-missionaires try to undermine all of these quotations, but espeicially those from Midrash saying htat Midrash is just figurative, so they don't really mean it! But here are several quoations which sure sound as though they mean it.

Pesiqta Rabbati (ca.845)on Isa. 61,10:

"The world-fathers (patriarchs) will one day in the month of Nisan arise and say to (the Messiah): 'Ephraim, our righteous Anointed, although we are your grandparents, yet you are greater than we, for you have borne the sins of our children, as it says: 'But surely he has borne our sicknesses and carried our pains; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But he was pierced because of our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was laid upon him and through his wounds we are healed'(Isa.53,4-5)."

I. Indications that these are true opinions of the Rabbis

A. Stated bluntly that it is their opinon

Abrabanel (1437-1508) said earlier:

"This is also the opinion of our own learned men in the majority of their Midrashim."

it's taken to be their actual opinion not merely figurative. He's speaking of the interp of Suffering Servant as Messiah.

Rabbi MOSES Alschech(1508-1600) says:

"Our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion ..that the prophet is speaking of the Messiah, and we shall ourselves also adhere to the same view."

-- Driver and Neubauer, p. 258.


"Rabbi Jose the Galilean said, 'Come and learn the merits of the King Messiah and the reward of the Just - from the first man who received but one commandment, a prohibition, and transgressed it. Consider how many deaths were inflicted upon himself, upon his own generation, and upon those who followed them, till the end of all generations. Which attribute is greater, the attribute of goodness, or the attribute of vengeance?'- He answered, 'The attribute of goodness is greater, and the attribute of vengeance is the less.' - 'How much more then, will the King Messiah, who endures affliction and pains for the transgressions (as it is written, 'He was wounded,'etc.), justify all generations. This is the meaning of the word, 'And the LORD made the iniquity of us all to meet upon Him' (Isa.53:6)."

R. Mosheh Kohen ibn Crispin (14th c.)

This Parashah the commentators agree in explaining of the Captivity of Israel, although the singular number is used in it throughout. . . .As there is no cause constraining us to do so, why should we here interpret the word collectively, and thereby distort the passage from its natural sense?. . . As then it seemed to me that the doors of the literal interpretation of the Parashah were shut in their face, and that "they wearied themselves to find the entrance," having forsaken the knowledge of our Teachers, and inclined after the "stubbornness of their own hearts," and of their own opinion, I am pleased to interpret it, in accordance with the teaching of our Rabbis, of the King Messiah, and will be careful, so far as I am able, to adhere to the literal sense.
-- Driver and Neubauer, pp. 99-100.

This quotation not only comes out and says "Hey this is litteral," But it also says that thsoe who don't think violate what the teachers have taught them! The same quotation finished below in another source.

(Chaim Night Web site:)

"Rabbi Mosheh Kohen Ibn Crispin: This rabbi described those who interpret Isaiah 53 as referring to Israel as those: "having forsaken the knowledge of our Teachers, and inclined after the `stubbornness of their own hearts,' and of their own opinion, I am pleased to interpret it, in accordance with the teaching of our Rabbis, of the King Messiah....This prophecy was delivered by Isaiah at the divine command for the purpose of making known to us something about the nature of the future Messiah, who is to come and deliver Israel, and his life from the day when he arrives at discretion until his advent as a redeemer, in order that if anyone should arise claiming to be himself the Messiah, we may reflect, and look to see whether we can observe in him any resemblance to the traits described here; if there is any such resemblance, then we may believe that he is the Messiah our righteousness; but if not, we cannot do so." (From his commentary on Isaiah, quoted in The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Ktav Publishing House, 1969, Volume 2, pages 99-114.)

After Rashi had popularized the view of Isaiah 53 as referring to Israel, Rabbi Don Yitzchak Abarbanel circa 1500, who did NOT interpret Isaiah 53 as Messianic, concedes the fact that the majority did.

He stated:

"The first question is to ascertain of whom this refers; for the learned among the Nazarenes expound it of the man who was crucified in Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple . . . Yochanan ben Uzziel interpreted it in the Targum of the future messiah; but this is also the opinion of the learned men in the MAJORITY [emphasis added] of the midrashim."

[Arthur W. Kac, The Messianic Hope (Grand Rapids: Baker House, 1975) p. 75]

Rabbi Naphtali ben Asher Altschuler (circa 1650):

"I will go on to explain these verses of our own Messiah, who, G-d willing, will come speedily in our own days. I am surprised that Rashi and R. David Kimchi have not, with the Targums, applied it to the Messiah likewise."

One Orthododox Rabbi of our present day, who applied messianic interpretation to both Isaiah 53 AND Psalm 2, wrote this recently concerning the passing of the one he expected to be Messiah:

"The only way these things can be understood is in light of the words of our Sages about the suffering of Moshiach, 'who suffers our illnesses and bears our pain.' From their words we derive our faith that very soon we will merit the fulfillment of the verse "I have begotten you this day," when G-d will create Moshiach as a "new creation" with the full and complete Redemption." (Rabbi Ginsburg of the Yeshivah Tomchei Temimim, Kfar Chabad, Beis Moshiach Magazine Online, ar8_83)

[When He created the Messiah (Ephraim, i.e., ben Joseph),] the Holy One, blessed be He, began to tell him of the conditions [of his future mission], and said to him: "Those who are hidden with you, their sins will in the future force you into an iron yoke, and they will render you like unto this calf whose eyes have grown dim, and they will choke your spirit with the yoke, and because of their sins your tongue will cleave to the roof of your mouth."

[These are frank admissions that these are true opions and not merely figurative speech, it these Rabbis understood the others as speaking figuratively, why would they bother to disagree? Or why would they not point that out?]

B. Curse on those who dont' accept it

R. Elijah de Vidas (16th c.) Since the Messiah bears our iniquities which produce the effect of His being bruised, it follows that whoso will not admit that the Messiah thus suffers for our iniquities, must endure and suffer for them himself.

--Driver and Neubauer, p. 331. **Here there is a warning that those who don't ACCEPT the sufferings of the Messiah as atonement must bear their own iniquity! Where have we heard this before?

Why pronunce a curse if it's just figurative?

(and say, doens't it sound familiar? Modern anti-missionaries will say "well that's fair, that's what Judaism says, each must bear his own iniquties, but apparently the older Rabbis didn't think that was such a good idea).

That doesn't sound real figurative to me. If you don't believe this you will suffer all these things too, but hey, this is just figurative, because what we want you to believe is just figurative, so figurative we are going to curse you if you don't believe it, but just believe it figuratively now!

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The Religious A priori