Where does ‘Messiah’ come from?

The anticipation of a coming ruler ‘Messiah’ is central to conventional Jewish thought.  But where does the idea and the term ‘Messiah’ come from?  What is the relationship between ‘Messiah’ and ‘Christ’?  Is ‘Christ’ simply some sort of Christian term or idea?  It turns out that all these words have their origins in the Tanakh and in how it was translated thousands of years ago.  Here we look at where these words come from and what the Tanakh says about Messiah.  But first we survey the Torah on this Coming One.

Messiah in Torah

This Coming One is first introduced in the Torah (though without using the term ‘Messiah’).  In fact, the Messianic promise of a Coming One was first given back in the Garden of Eden.  At this early date, the promise of His victory in conflict is simply outlined.  But later, when the patriarch Jacob blessed his twelve sons before his death he foresaw a coming ruler.  In blessing Judah, Jacob said:

“Judah, your brothers will praise you;
your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
You are a lion’s cub, Judah;
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet.
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.  (Genesis 49:8-10)

Since the other sons of Jacob (i.e. the other Israelite tribes) would ‘bow down’ to Judah, and Judah would have ‘the scepter’ (symbolic of rule), this oracle promised a monarchy coming from the tribe of Judah – which was fulfilled when David came to the throne.  But the prophecy also looked further into the future.  Paradoxically, it predicted that rule would not depart from Judah until a ‘he’ comes – someone who has a right to the “ruler’s staff” (This ‘he’ is called שִׁילֹה literally ‘he whose it is’ or Shiloh). When the ‘he’ who has the right to rule finally comes, then rule will be removed from Judah!  This ‘he’ will also get ‘the obedience of the nations’  (so it is not about David).  Once again, as with G-d’s covenant with Abram, the nations are in sight, foreseeing that the nations will be ‘his’.

The later prophetic books in the Tanakh describe this coming one using the title ‘Messiah’ but that word does not appear in all translations.  To understand why, we need to touch on the history of Bible translation.

Translation vs. Transliteration

Known as transliteration, translators sometimes choose to translate by similar sound rather than by meaning. For example, ‘shalom’ is a transliteration from the Hebrew שלום which means ‘peace’. Translators can bring שלום into English as either ‘shalom’ (by transliteration of sound) or ‘peace’ (by translation of meaning).   For the Tanakh, translators had to decide whether words (especially names and titles) should be translated by meaning or through transliteration (by similar sound).  There is no hard rule; sometimes it is better to translate and other times one transliterates.

The Septuagint

The Tanakh was first translated into Greek between 250 – 132 BCE and this translation is known as the Septuagint (or LXX).  The Babylonian Talmud says that 70 rabbis translated this work in Alexandria, Egypt at the request of Ptolemy II.  Thus the Septuagint was an early translation work by Jewish scholars for Greek-speaking Jews of the diaspora and Gentiles who had an interest in the prophetic writings.

Translation & Transliteration in the Septuagint

The figure below shows this translation process and how it impacts modern-day Bibles

The translation flow from original to modern-day Bible
The translation flow from original to modern-day Bible

The original Hebrew Tanakh is shown in quadrant #1 and is available today as the Masoretic Text. The Greek Septuagint is in quadrant #2. The bottom half (#3) shows a modern language Bible (e.g. English). Because the Septuagint was a Hebrew-to-Greek translation the figure displays a blue arrow going from quadrant #1 to #2. For all steps (#1->#2, #1->#3, #2->#3) translators decided on transliteration or translation of names and titles as explained above, illustrated by labeling transliterate and translate around the arrows.

After the Septuagint was completed and used across the Jewish Diaspora in the Greco-Roman world, the Greek Brit Chadasha was written.  This was key in the development of the term ‘Messiah’.  Since the Brit Chadasha was written in Greek and had many quotations from the Tanakh it used the Greek Septuagint, rather than the Masoretic Hebrew, for its source of quotes.  This is illustrated in the next figure.

Brit Chadasha in the historical flow of language and translation
Brit Chadasha in the historical flow of language and translation

Messiah and Christ from the Bible

Now we focus on the word ‘Messiah’, following the historical process explained above.

‘Messiah’ comes from in the Bible
Where does ‘Christ’ and ‘Messiah’ come from in the Bible?

The original Hebrew title in the Tanakh was ‘mashiyach’ (משיח) which is defined as an ‘anointed or consecrated’ person.  Priests and kings in the First Temple Period were anointed (ceremonially rubbed with oil) before they took office, thus they were mashiyach.  But prophecies in the Tanakh predicted a specific mashiyach, anointed by G-d, who was coming. When the Septuagint was developed in 250 BCE, the rabbis chose a Greek word with a similar meaning, Χριστός (sounds like Christos, which came from chrio, which meant to rub ceremonially with oil).  Therefore the rabbis brought the original Hebrew ‘mashiyach’ into the Greek Septuagint through translating the word Christos by its meaning (not transliterated by sound). The Jewish writers of the Brit Chadasha understood Yeshua of Nazareth to be this person prophesied in the Tanakh, but since they wrote in Greek they used the Greek word Christos from the Septuagint, not ‘mashiyach’.

For modern-language Bibles (like English), the Tanakh was translated directly from Hebrew (#1 to #3).  Some translators chose to translate by meaning into variations of Anointed/Anointed One, and others transliterated by sound to Messiah.  So we can interchange Anointed with Messiah since they both come from the same Hebrew word ‘mashiyach’ (משיח) – one by transliteration and the other by meaning.  Similarly, Christos came via translation from the same Hebrew word ‘Mashiyach’ (#1 to #2).  This was then transliterated by similar sound from Greek to modern languages like English to make the term ‘Christ’ (#2 to #3).  So ‘Christ’ is a very specific title rooted in the Hebrew Tanakh, derived first by translation from Hebrew to Greek, and then by transliteration from Greek to modern languages.  It is the same as Messiah.

To summarize,

‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’=משיח

which was a specific prophetic title in the Tanakh.

Messiah in Psalms

Now we are ready to see where ‘Messiah’ comes in the Tanakh.  Psalm 2, penned by King David about 1000 B.C.E., introduces Messiah in this way:

The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.” (Psalm 2:2-3)

We can interchange this ‘Anointed’ with ‘Messiah’, or ‘Christ’.  What can we learn about this Messiah?  The Psalm continues.

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.
Ask me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron;
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.
12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2: 4-12)

We see here that Adonai calls the Anointed/Messiah ‘my son’.  G-d identifies His Messiah as ‘His son’.  This is therefore where the term ‘Son of God’ originates and is thus another equivalent term for ‘Messiah’.

Jews have historically been known to be waiting for their Messiah (or Christ). Why?  Because the Tanakh prophesied that He would come.

The Messiah anticipated in 1st Century

Herod the Great and Messiah

Below is the reaction of Herod the Great (4 BCE) when the Magi from the East came looking for the Messiah, part of the Nativity story. Notice, ‘the’ precedes Messiah.

When King Herod heard of this he became very agitated, and so did everyone else in Yerushalayim.

He called together all the head cohanim and Torah-teachers of the people and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?”  (Matthew 2:3-4)

The idea of ‘the Messiah’ was accepted between Herod and his religious advisors –and is used here without referring specifically to Yeshua. Why? Because Jews had been reading Psalm 2 for hundreds of years before Herod the Great was born.

Messiah and Son of God.

At his trial, Yeshua is brought before the High Priest who asks him:

The cohen hagadol said to him, “I put you under oath! By the living God, tell us if you are the Mashiach, the Son of God!” (Matthew 26:63)

We see by how the question is phrased that the Jewish High Priest effortlessly inferred ‘Son of God’ from Messiah.  Where did he get the idea that ‘Son of God’ is an extension of Messiah?  From Psalm 2.

Messiah in Tanakh: Specified like a lock-n-key system

The fact that the Tanakh explicitly predicts a coming Messiah makes it stand unique across the vast sea of literature that has been produced through history. It is like a lock.  Locks are designed in a certain shape so that only a specific ‘key’ that matches the lock can unlock it. In this way the Tanakh is a ‘lock’ with specifications that become more and more precise through the prophetic passages.  (Already we have seen some in Abraham’s sacrifice, Adam’s beginning, and Moses’ Passover).  This raises a very Jewish question: Is Yeshua the matching ‘key’ that unlocks the Tanakh?  We continue to explore this question later, but for now reflect on the paradox of the prophecy that Jacob gave to Judah.  Judah continued in self-rule (albeit under Roman supervision) in the land of Israel until shortly after the coming of Yeshua.  Forty years later the Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem and sent the Jews into worldwide exile – destined to live under the rule of other nations as Moses had foreseen.  All this while ‘the nations’ orbited into Yeshua’s teaching as per Jacob’s oracle.  A two-sided, synchronized fit between the ‘lock’ of that short prophecy and the ‘key’ of Yeshua.  Perhaps the question is worth looking into.

The way to do so is to examine how the prophets of Nevi’im and Ketuvim (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Daniel etc.) specified the details forming the ‘lock’ for the Messiah.  These specifications have implications for us living 2500+ years later.  We take that up next.

Shoah in the Bible?

Two events have dramatically impacted the welfare of Jews in modern times.  The remarkable re-birth of the Nation of Israel, and its growing prosperity, today is the more visible of these two events.  But just a little further back in time lurks the second event – the Holocaust or Shoah.  This unspeakable evil saw the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators.  Yad Veshem is the best reference for the Shoah.  Here we want to explore whether the Bible had anything to say about it.  That may sound absurd since the last book of the Tanakh was written about 2400 years ago.  How can books written 2400 plus years ago say anything about what happened just over a generation ago?  The prophets of the Bible claimed that G-d inspired their writings, and as proof, made many detailed prophecies of the future.  The re-birth of Israel, even its date, and the six-day war of 1967 were predicted by these prophets of the Tanakh.  So is it conceivable that they also foresaw the Holocaust?

Moses had predicted the expulsion of the Jews from the land of Israel, which happened twice.  The prophecies of Moses, though matching these exiles, do not describe the Holocaust.

But Psalm 102 does.  We may not see it because it is written in the first person so we assume it is only describing the Psalmist’s life.  But other passages in the Tanakh are also written in first person but are not ultimately referring to the writer.  For example, Psalm 16, written by King David, states that G-d ‘will not abandon me to the realm of the dead’ (v.10).  But David has been buried in Jerusalem for 3000 years, so the ‘me’ must refer to someone else.  For this reason, many think that this is a Messianic Psalm, and not about David per se, even while it is written through his eyes.

The ‘I’ in Psalm 102 describes a communal experience.  Thus the ‘I’ could very well have the Jews in mind.  So let’s take a look at Psalm 102 to see if it describes the Holocaust.

Psalm 102

Hear my prayer, Lord;
let my cry for help come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.

For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.

The psalmist is in great distress.  His distress centers on his life vanishing up in smoke while his bones burn – bringing to mind the ovens of the death camps like Auschwitz where smoke rose continuously as the bodies – and bones – were burned.  Holocaust victims, being emaciated skeletons, fit the Psalmist description as being ‘withered’ and ‘reduced to skin and bones’.

6 I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.

At a recent Holocaust memorial service I heard a survivor describing his isolation as he hid for two years behind a false wall in the upstairs attic of a rundown mill.  Feeling like a ‘lonely bird on a roof’, the psalmist describes a similar experience of isolation.  The owl is an unclean animal (Leviticus 11:16-18).  The movie Zookeeper’s Wife describes how Jews were fed pork at the Warsaw zoo and how pork was smuggled into the ruins of the ghetto to feed the people.  Their choice was to be unclean or to starve in their ruined ghetto.

‘Among the ruins’ – a snapshot of the ruins of the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania
‘Among the ruins’ – a snapshot of the ruins of the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania

8 All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears

Under the Nazis and their collaborators the term ‘Jew’ was used as a curse and Jews across Europe were taunted while millions were reduced to ashes.

10 because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
11 My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.

The inescapable conclusion for those going through the Holocaust was that G-d had indeed thrown them aside in great wrath.  Approaching sunset (‘the evening shadow’) describes the psalmist’s desperate sense that his life will end shortly, and captures the same desperation felt by those in the Shoah knowing their days would end shortly.

12 But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever;
your renown endures through all generations.
13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to show favor to her;
the appointed time has come.
14 For her stones are dear to your servants;
her very dust moves them to pity.
15 The nations will fear the name of the Lord,
all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.
16 For the Lord will rebuild Zion
and appear in his glory.
17 He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;
he will not despise their plea.

The tone and perspective of the Psalm now changes.  The focus is on Hashem who will ‘rebuild Zion’ at the ‘appointed time’ and use the nations to do so.  Though it would have been impossible to imagine it in the depths of the Holocaust, barely three years after it was over, Israel was born, through a mandate of the nations in the UN.  Shortly thereafter, Zion itself was restored to the Jews and they have rebuilt it.  The Psalmist’s abrupt and unexpected transition from the horrors of his affliction to the rebuilding of Zion, foresaw the same abrupt and unexpected transition from the horrors of the Shoah to the building of the modern state of Israel.

18 Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the Lord:
19 “The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death.”
21 So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion
and his praise in Jerusalem
22 when the peoples and the kingdoms
assemble to worship the Lord.

The Psalmist clearly states that the Psalm was not written for himself or for his generation.  It was written for a ‘future generation’ – for those who were not yet a people, or nation.  This Psalm was written for the generation just before Israeli Independence (‘A people not yet created’) who would see the creation of the nation centered on Zion (Jerusalem).  That was the generation that lived through the Holocaust, those that were ‘condemned to death’ but were ‘released’ so that G-d could be praised in Zion.  We see the future-focus of the Psalm here as well as a communal emphasis.  No longer is it an ‘I’ but it is ‘a people’ released from death.  It anticipates the Jewish generation that survived the Holocaust to see the state of Israel born.

In the course of my life he broke my strength;
he cut short my days.
24 So I said:
“Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days;
your years go on through all generations.
25 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
27 But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
28 The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.”

The Psalmist closes with the reminder of the unchanging nature of G-d, even as all things in the physical world wear out and decay.  Then it is promised that the ‘children’ of the servants who passed through the great affliction (i.e. the Jews born after the Holocaust) will be ‘established’ before this unchanging G-d.

The description of the afflictions, the abrupt transition to the rebuilding of Zion, and that it was specifically ‘written for a future generation’ which would see G-d ‘release those condemned to death’ make it reasonable that the Psalmist was, thousands of years ago, foreseeing the affliction of the Shoa.  Of course, many of us today find it difficult to  accept the idea of prophetic foretelling.  But given that the warnings in the Tanakh about exile into foreign Gentile lands, the re-gathering back to Israel and Jerusalem, including even the timing, are verifiable prophecies, we should at least be open-minded about it.

If there is even a possibility that Psalm 102 was prophesying the Shoah and subsequent rebuilding of Zion then that leaves an important question for us.  After all, the Psalm does conclude with

The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.

It is essential for the ‘children of your servants’ (the generation after the Holocaust) to understand what it means to ‘live in your presence’ and to ‘be established before you’.  After all, Psalm 102 moves to this conclusion.  Perhaps the Divine Author inspiring the human Psalmist is calling those on the Post-Holocaust side of history to seek out His Presence.  Here is His Promise for those who do:

You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:11)

Perhaps a good place to start is with Abraham.


The Brit Chadasha (New Testament) – How to approach this Jewish writing?

The inventory of ancient Jewish writings eclipses that of other nations.  Even classical Roman and Greek writings dwarf compared to Jewish writings.  The Talmud alone (completed about 500 CE) is about 6200 printed pages long.  The website earlyjewishwritings.com also lists the Tanakh, the Maccabean writings (often called the apocrypha), the voluminous writings of Josephus (1st century CE) and the writings of Philo in their catalogue of ancient Jewish writings.  In the Middle Ages, Jewish scholars like Maimonides kept adding to this impressive list of writings.  Today Jewish writers stake out positions and forge new ground in almost every area of human thought.  They are often at odds with each other, disagreeing in heated exchange in politics, ethics, philosophy, and directions for the nation of Israel.  Apart from the sheer magnitude of the writings is the diversity of viewpoint that is passionately argued in almost every direction.

What about the Brit Chadasha?

Since Jews have this heritage of extensive and diverse writings it makes their unfamiliarity with, and distance from, the Brit Chadasha writings all the more noticeable.  Further, it is ironic that the Brit Chadasha is arguably the most read collection of writings outside the Jewish world.  What to make of this?  Before delving into this here are some facts about the Brit Chadasha – also known as the New Testament of the Bible.

Where does ‘Brit Chadasha’ come from?

The title ‘Brit Chadasha’ is a Jewish term direct from the Tanakh.  The prophet Jeremiah foresaw a day in the future of the people of Israel when G-d would establish a new covenant (Brit) which would be different than the covenant of Mt. Sinai underwhich was given the Law (Torah):

Jeremiah 31:31-34 Orthodox Jewish BibleJeremiah 31:31-34 New International Version
Hinei, the days come, saith Hashem, that I will cut a Brit Chadasha with Bais Yisroel, and with Bais Yehudah;

32 (31) Not according to the Brit that I cut with their Avot in the day that I took hold of their yad to take them out of Eretz Mitzrayim; which My Brit they broke, although I was Ba’al (Husband) to them, saith Hashem;

33 (32) But this shall be the Brit that I will cut with Bais Yisroel; After those days, saith Hashem, I will set My Torah in them inwardly, and I will write ketuvim on their hearts; and I will be their Elohim, and they shall be My People.

34 (33) And they shall teach no more every ish his re’a (neighbor), and every ish his brother, saying, Know Hashem; for they shall all have da’as of Me, from the katon of them unto the gadol of them, saith Hashem; for I will forgive their avon, and I will remember their chattat no more.

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel  and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant  I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant,  though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

According to this scripture (and confirmed in history compiled by Jewish writers mentioned above) the problem with the Sinai covenant (Brit) was not with the covenant itself, but the fact the law had great difficulty being internalized. So G-d promised that in the future a new covenant (Brit) would come that would be ‘in their minds’ and ‘on their hearts’ and would entail that G-d ‘forgive their iniquity and transgression’.  Since this was specifically promised by G-d for the ‘people of Israel’ it is entirely appropriate for Jews to be on the lookout for this new covenant.  The only set of writings that have appeared since Jeremiah’s prophecy was uttered (ca 590 BCE) that even claim this role is what today we know as the New Testament or Brit Chadasha.  This is:

Brit Chadasha fast facts:

  • The Brit Chadasha, like the Tanakh, is a collection of writings (27 in total) all authored by devout Jews (with the possible exception of Luke/Acts).
  • The Brit Chadasha is organized into 3 groups. As the Tanakh is grouped into the Torah, Neviim and K’tuvim, the 5 books of the Gospels and Acts correspond to Torah, the 21 letters correspond to K’tuvim, and the book of Revelation corresponds to Neviim.  They were written in the period 50-90 CE, roughly the same time as Josephus’s works.
  • The main character of the Brit Chadasha is Jesus (or Yeshua) of Nazareth, also a devout Jew.  Though he himself did not write any of the books in the Brit Chadasha, his followers did.  They presented Yeshua as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.

Jewish Problemds with Yeshua (Jesus)

Of course, once the person of Yeshua, or Jesus, is raised, we understand why the Jewish writings about him, the Brit Chadasha, are overlooked and often ignored by Jews.  Among the reasons that come up:

  • Jesus was not able to be the Messiah, so was a pretender and false.
  • Doctrines associated with Christian followers of Jesus, such as the divinity of the Messiah and the Trinity of G-d are incompatible with Judaism.
  • The followers of Jesus, Christians, have persecuted Jews since they viewed Jews as guilty in the execution of the innocent Jesus.
  • There is such an incompatibility between the Brit Chadasha and Jews that the very essence of Jewishness is threatened by it – so best to shun it.
  • Whether we are observant Jews or not, the issues surrounding Jesus happened so long ago, and Jews have so moved on, that there is no use in opening up old scars.

It may well be that Yeshua was a false Messiah.  But Wikipedia reports a long list of Jews who have claimed to be Messiah down through history, including Bar Kochba, whose rebellion against Rome in 132-135 CE was a Jewish disaster; the Roman Emperor Vespasian (who led the war that destroyed the 2nd Temple) claimed as Messiah by the Jewish Josephus; down to the 20th century Schneerson (died 1994) in Chabad Messianism.  Though we probably reject these (and the many others) claims as false, the claimants are not rejected as un-Jewish.  Wrong yes, but within the Jewish family still.

It is true that Christians have persecuted Jews down the centuries.  But this persecution was not rooted in the Brit Chadasha.  On the contrary, as shown below, both Yeshua and Saul of Tarsus (Apostle Paul) spoke favorably and kindly towards the Jewish people, even though there was disagreement between them and the Jewish religious leaders of their day.  Because of the long history of Christian persecution of Jews, modern-day Jews often forget that their people have faced persecution from many other sources as well.  Almost all empires and ideologies have had episodes of Jewish persecution.  The anti-Semitism reported in the Tanakh (Egyptian infanticide in time of Moses, Assyrian obliteration of Samaria, Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, Persian persecution under Haman), the violent Greek wars of the Maccabean period, the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (66 – 135 CE), Islamic rivalry with Israel today especially over the Kotel, reveal a more complex root of anti-Semitism than simply Christianity.

Brit Chadasha: Jewish lens on Yeshua (Jesus)

Two thousand years of Christianity has also created a heavy non-Jewish footprint on Yeshua and the Christian church has filtered him so that most Jews can hardly recognize his Jewishness.  But herein lies the advantage of the Brit Chadasha.  They are first and foremost Jewish writings.  The word ‘Christian’ appears only 3 times in the whole Brit Chadasha – and 2 of those times the words are simply recorded from pagan Gentiles.  The Brit Chadasha provides the reader with first-hand access to Yeshua and his immediate Jewish followers so we need not view him second-hand through the Christian filter.

It is also true that Jesus, through the pens of the Brit Chadasha writers, is especially critical of the Jewish leaders of his day, and that there is a sharp conflict between them, culminating in his death.  But does this make the Brit Chadasha anti-Semitic or un-Jewish?  The prophets are also at times critical of the Jewish people.  For example, note the censure of G-d, through the pens of Moses and Jeremiah, towards the Jewish people in these passages.

I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. …

21 “‘If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve. (Leviticus 26:19, 21)

The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. (Deuteronomy 28:20)

But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,” declares the Lord.   (Jeremiah 3: 20)

The criticisms of the Jews in both the Tanakh and the Brit Chadasha have been used by anti-Semites as pretexts to rouse hatred against Jews.  But that does not make these writings in themselves anti-Jewish or un-Jewish.  Note the heartfelt longing for the Jews expressed by both Jesus and by Paul in these passages from the Brit Chadasha

As he (Jesus) approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19:41-42)

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit—  I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. (Paul in Romans 9:1-4)

Christendom has persecuted Jews down the centuries, but the incitement was not prescribed in the Brit Chadasha.  Jesus and the authors of the New Testament took a very Jewish approach – they argued, debated, wrote and expressed their viewpoint.  Even if we do not accept their arguments, their approach was commendable – letting each person choose by conscience according to whether they were persuaded or not.

The Torah and Jesus

And their debates were also very Jewish.  The Gospels record Jesus as saying:

If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. (John 5:46)

Jesus and the Jewish leaders of his day debated interpretations of the Torah. That approach allows us even today to examine his life and claims against the standard of the Torah – if nothing else, a very Jewish standard.

One need not solely be motivated by piety regarding Jewish issues, but also for insight on present-day concerns.  Since 1967 when Jerusalem was regained by Israel it has become a focal point for all sorts of tension.  The words of Jesus, penned somewhat before the Roman legions first destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE are pertinent and implicate all of us today, whether orthodox, conservative or secular.  In the Gospels Jesus predicts the coming Roman destruction of Jerusalem, but also looks far beyond when he said

They (i.e. Jews) will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:24)

Jesus predicted that the time for the Gentiles to ‘trample’ Jerusalem would one day end, indicating that Jews would one day regain it.  Since this happened in 1967, and the impact of this affects all of our lives, it may be worthwhile to digest his further teachings.  After all, this one prediction, fulfilled after almost 2000 years, does pass the Torah test for prophecy, given to separate the false from the true.

You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed. (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)

Brit Chadasha and Jews today

Now think back to that original prophecy in Jeremiah quoted above which foresaw the coming of the ‘Brit Chadasha’.  Just prior to those verses, Jeremiah foresaw ‘when’ the Brit Chadasha would take its place within Israel

Jeremiah 31:27-28 Orthodox Jewish BibleJeremiah 31:27-28 New International Version
27 (26) Hinei, the days are coming, saith Hashem, that I will sow again Bais Yisroel and Bais Yehudah with the zera adam (human seed, i.e., repopulation), and also with the zera behemah (animal seed, i.e., replenishing livestock).

28 (27) And it shall come to pass, that just as I watched over them, to uproot, and to tear down, and to overthrow, and to destroy, and to bring catastrophe; so will I watch over them, to build, and to plant, saith Hashem.

27 The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals. 28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord.

Then just after the promise of the Brit Chadasha, the following….

Jeremiah 31:38-39 Orthodox Jewish BibleJeremiah 31:38-39 New International Version
38 (37) Hinei, the days are coming, saith Hashem, that the Ir shall be built unto Hashem from the Migdal Chananel unto the Sha’ar HaPinnah (Corner Gate).

39 (38) And the measuring line shall yet go forth straight ahead to Garev Hill, and around to Goah.

38 The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. 39 The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah.

Three “the days are coming…” given in quick succession.  The first (population, building and agricultural production of Israel rekindled) and the third (the city of Jerusalem rebuilt and expanded) after two thousand five hundred years are happening right now.  Surely then this is the time for Jews to examine the specific ‘the days are coming…’ announced by G-d sandwiched right between these two – the promise of the establishment of the Brit Chadasha.

This is the approach I started to take many years ago.  To examine Jesus and the Brit Chadasha in the standard of the Torah, the Nevi’im and Ketuvin, both to be informed and also to be like the tribe of Issachar who in the last book of Tanakh were described as

…men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do (1 Chronicles 12:32)

Surely we have nothing to lose and only to gain if we approach taboo topics in this manner.  A good place to start is to learn where the term ‘Messiah’ comes from.

What was the History of the Jewish People?

Jews are one of the most ancient peoples in the world. Jewish history is recorded in the Bible, by historians outside of the Bible, and through archeology. We have more facts about Jewish history than that of any other nation – which we will use to build a timeline to summarize the history of the Jews.

Abraham: The Jewish Family Tree Begins

The timeline starts with Abraham, the founder of the Jewish people, who lived about 2000 BC.  He is even named outside the Bible in ancient clay tablets, dated around 1950 BC in contracts between him and kings in Babylonia.

“The name of Abram – Abu-ramu ‘the exalted father’ – is found in early Babylonian contracts”  AH Sayce. The ‘Higher Criticism’ and the Verdict of the Monuments. 1894 SSPCK  p. 159

Abraham and Patriarchs in Historical Timeline

Abraham was a real historical figure, as well as the man who believed promises from G-d, blessed be He, of a land and a people.  The timeline continues with the green bar when Abraham’s descendants were slaves in Egypt. This period of time started when Joseph, great-grandson of Abraham, led the Israelites to Egypt, where later on they became slaves.

Moses: The Israelites become a Nation under G-d

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt with the Passover Plague, which destroyed Egypt and allowed the Israelite Exodus from Egypt to the land of Israel.  Moses wrote the Torah, and at its end, Moses prophesied Blessings and Curses on the Israelites.  They would be Blessed if they obeyed G-d, blessed be He, but experience a Curse if they did not.  These Blessings & Curses were to follow the Jewish people ever after.

From Moses to David the Israelites lived in the land of Israel, but without Jerusalem and with no king

For several hundred years the Israelites lived in their land but they did not have a King, nor did they have the capital city of Jerusalem – it belonged to other people in this time. However, with King David around 1000 BC this changed.

Living In land of Israel with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem
Living In land of Israel with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem

David establishes a Royal Dynasty at Jerusalem

David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city. He received the promise of a coming ‘Messiah’ and from that time Jews have awaited Messiah’s coming.  David’s son Solomon succeeded him and Solomon built the First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The descendants of King David continued to rule for about 400 years and this period is shown in aqua-blue (1000 – 586 BC).  This was the period of Israelite glory – they had the promised Blessings.  They were a powerful nation, had an advanced society, culture, and their Temple. But the Tanakh also describes their growing corruption and idol worship during this time.  The Israelites split into two different countries.  Many prophets in this period warned the Israelites that the Curses of Moses would come on them if they did not change. But these warnings were ignored.

The First Jewish Exile to Babylon

Finally around 600 BC the Curses happened. Nebuchadnezzar, a powerful Babylonian King came – just like Moses had predicted 900 years before when in Torah he wrote:

The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away … a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. … They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28: 49-52)

Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, burned it, and destroyed the Temple that Solomon had built. He then exiled the Israelites to Babylon. This fulfilled the predictions of Moses that

You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. (Deuteronomy 28:63-64)

Conquered and exiled to Babylon
Conquered and exiled to Babylon

So for 70 years, the period shown in red, the Israelites lived as exiles outside the land promised to Abraham and his descendants.

Return from Exile under the Persians

After that, the Persian Emperor Cyrus conquered Babylon and Cyrus became the power of the world. He permitted the Jews to return to their land.

Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire, 2nd Temple period begins
Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire, 2nd Temple period begins

However they were no longer an independent country, they were now a province in the Persian Empire.  This continued for 200 years and is in pink in the timeline. During this time the Jewish Temple (known as the 2nd Temple) and the city of Jerusalem were rebuilt.  Esther (from which Purim is celebrated) and Ezra & Nehemiah lived in this time period.

The period of the Greeks

Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and Jews had a province in the Greek Empires for another 200 years. This is shown in dark blue.  Later Greek rulers tried to force Greek worship upon the Jews, resulting in the Maccabean revolt, and semi-independence until the Romans came.  Hanukkah is celebrated from this time period.

Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires
Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires

The Roman Period

The Romans became the dominant world power. The Israelites again became a province in this Empire and it is shown in light yellow. This is the time when Yeshua (Jesus) lived, from whom the Messianic hope spread mostly to Gentiles in what is known today as Christianity.  This explains why Romans and Roman government is so prominent in the New Testament – because Rome ruled supreme at that time.

 Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire
Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire

Second Jewish exile under the Romans

From the time of the Babylonians (600 BC) the Israelites (or Jews as they were called now) had not been independent as they had been under the Kings of David. They were ruled by other Empires.  Resentment of this finally boiled over and the Jews revolted against Roman rule.  The Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem (70 AD), burned down the 2nd Temple (only the Kotel remains to this day), and deported the Jews as slaves across the Roman Empire. This was the second Jewish exile. Since the Roman Empire was so large the Jews were scattered across the whole world.  The tragedy of Masada occurred in this revolt.  A further revolt in 135 AD led by Simon bar Kokhba again resulted in defeat and Jews were not permitted to remain in the land.  Rome renamed Judea as Syria Palaestina (where we get the modern word Palestine) and Jerusalem (still in ruins from 70 AD) to Aelia Capitolina.

 Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile
Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile

And this is how the Jewish people lived for almost 2000 years: dispersed in foreign lands and never accepted in these lands. In these different nations they regularly suffered anti-semitic persecutions.  Persecution of the Jews was particularly true in Christian Europe.  From Spain (all Jews expelled from Spain in 1492), across Western Europe, to Russia (intense pogroms by the Tsars in 1880’s) the Jews lived often in a dangerous situations in these kingdoms and also in the Islamic caliphates. The Curses of Moses from 1500 BC were accurate descriptions of how they lived.

… Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:65)

The Curses against the Israelites were given to make peoples ask:

All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

And the answer was:

“ … the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land…” (Deuteronomy 29:24-25)

The timeline below shows this 1900 year period. This period is shown in a long red bar in a timeline extending to modern-day.

Historical Timeline of the Jews - featuring their two periods of exile
Historical Timeline of the Jews/Israelites – featuring their two periods of exile

You can see that the Jewish people went through two periods of exile but the second exile was much longer than the first exile.

The 20th Century Holocaust

Anti-Semitism reached its peak when Hitler, through Nazi Germany, tried to exterminate all the Jews living in Europe with the Shoah. He almost succeeded but he was defeated and a remnant of Jews survived.

Modern Re-birth of Israel

The fact that there were people who identified themselves as ‘Jews’ after many hundreds of years with anti-semitic persecutions and without a homeland and language was remarkable. But this allowed the final words of Moses in the Torah, written down 3500 years ago, to come true.  In 1948 the Jews, through the United Nations, saw the remarkable re-birth of the modern state of Israel, as Moses had written centuries before:

…then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. (Deuteronomy 30:3-4)

It was also remarkable since this state of Israel was birthed in spite of great opposition. Most of the surrounding nations waged war against Israel in 1948 … in 1956 … in 1967 and again in 1973. Israel often was at war with five nations at the same time. Yet not only did Israel survive, but the territories increased. In the war of 1967 Israel regained Jerusalem, their historic capital city David had founded 3000 years ago.  The ongoing conflicts with surrounding peoples has created one of the most difficult security problems in the world today.  Though Abraham’s descendants now have an independent state, the blessing promised so long ago to Abraham seem elusive still.