Old Testament Prophesies and The Traditions Of Early Jewish Christians

Post 284 of 445




By Harold Smith, J.D.




The Nicene Creed chants that the “Lord Jesus Christ… was crucified… and was buried. And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures”. Many theologians gathered to write the Nicene Creed in the 4th century, and today, the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Churches still consider it a primary summary of basic Christian beliefs. This passage in the Nicene Creed corresponds to Saint Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

In turn, the disciples who told St Paul that the scriptures prophesied Christ’s resurrection received the teaching from Jesus. While Christians call both the Old and New Testaments “scripture”, when the Gospels refer to prophecies in “the scriptures” about Christ’s resurrection, they mean those in the Old Testament (Luke 24:44-46, John 20:8-10). That’s because they refer to prophecies written before the events described occurred.

But assuming that Jesus was the Christ, or “Messiah,” would His resurrection really be “according to the Scriptures?” In simpler terms: Does the Old Testament, or Holy Scriptures, indicate that the Messiah would rise from the dead?

Andrey Desnitsky, a Biblical scholar at the Russian Academy of Sciences, explains the problem in the journal Thomas, that “in the Old Testament we don’t find lines that which would look like mathematically exact proofs of the New Testament’s correctness. The prophet Isaiah or King David never said ‘Jesus will be crucified by Jerusalem’s walls and on the third day resurrect.’ …for then freedom wouldn’t have remained for people, and faith proposes a free choice: you can accept the words of the prophets, or you can reject them.” (Christ in the Old Testament, http://www.foma.ru/article/index.php?news=1418)

However, many people have uncertainty, doubts, and close-mindedness. Before Jesus Christ explained the Scriptures to the disciples journeying to Emmaus, he “opened he their understanding, that they might understand” them. (Luke 24:45).

We must keep an open mind to see the true meaning, whatever it may be and whatever our preferences. We must recognize that ancient Israelites and Jews wrote and kept the Scriptures, and that the apostles and early Church were predominantly Jewish, but also that modern Judaism could significantly differ from its ancient predecessor.

I believe, after a questioning search of reading the Holy Scriptures, comparing interpretations, and talking with people, that according to the scriptures the Messiah would resurrect. On the face of it, an English speaker should consider official Jewish translations of Jewish scriptures to see their official interpretation. Plus, if official Jewish translations show that the Messiah would resurrect, then it strengthens our belief in this interpretation.

So I will quote Tanakh (canonical Old Testament) passages from the Judaica Press Tanakh(JPT) translation, or from the 1985 Jewish Publication Society(JPS) translation, unless otherwise indicated. The 1917 JPS translation (1917 JPS) provides secondary translations. I will quote New Testament passages using the King James Version.


The “Tanakh”, the canonical Hebrew Old Testament


The Scriptures speak of the Messiah’s death in Zech 12 &13, and Daniel 9. They also speak of the Messiah’s everlasting rule in Daniel 7, and a general resurrection in Ezekiel 37, Isaiah 26, and Hosea 5-6. So in the most natural order of those events, the Messiah, whose kingdom is everlasting, would die and resurrect.

Zechariah 12: Mourning for the Pierced One

According to Zechariah 12:8-13 (JPT):

  1. On that day the Lord shall protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the weakest of them shall be, on that day, like David. And the house of David shall be like angels [or: “like a divine being” –1985 JPS], like the angel of the Lord before them.
  2. And I will pour out upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplications. And they shall look to me because of those who have been thrust through [or: “because they have thrust him through” -1917 JPS], and they shall mourn over it [or: “them/him”] as one mourns over an only son and shall be in bitterness, therefore, as one is embittered over a firstborn son.
  3. On that day there shall be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the Valley of Megiddon.
  4. And the land shall mourn, every family apart: The family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart.
  5. The family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of the Shimeites apart, and their wives apart

Note: The Hebrew pronouns used to refer to the pierced one(s) can translate as either “those/them” or “he/him”, so it isn’t clear whether the pierced one is singular or plural. Also, the JPT has: “thrust through [with swords]” with brackets in Zech.12:10. But the passage doesn’t actually specify the weapon used to pierce, and when Zechariah 13:3 uses the verb “shall thrust through,” the JPT doesn’t insert “[with swords]”.

Zechariah 12 sounds Messianic because it describes the destruction of Judah’s enemies, the House of David being like a divine or angelic being, God pouring out a spirit of grace on Jerusalem, and those/him who was pierced causing Jerusalem to look to God. The pierced one(s) would have been responsible for this national redemption, because the scriptures say God would bless the people with a national redemption if they fully looked to him. (eg. Hosea 5-6).

Speaking of the “mourning of Hadadrimmon”, Targum Jonathan (b.Meg 3a), a book of Rabbinical interpretations records that: “Rabbi Joseph [3rd century AD] said: Were it not for the targum of this verse, we should not know what it means. [the targum is]: ‘In that day, the mourning in Jerusalem shall be as great… as the mourning for Josiah son of Amon whom Pharaoh the Lame killed in the plain of Megiddo.'” St Jerome(4th century) considered Hadad-Rimmon to be a city in the valley of Megiddo, which was where Josiah was killed. So both the Targum and St Jerome relate Zech.12:11 to Israel’s annual ritual Lamentations over God’s destruction of Josiah, Israel’s most faithful king up to his time, described in 2 Chronicles 35 & 2 Kings 23. Instead of “Hadad-Rimmon,” the Aramaic copy of the Scriptures says “the son of Amon,” meaning Josiah. Zechariah’s comparison of Jerusalem’s ruling Houses’ mourning for the pierced one to mourning for King Josiah indicates that the pierced one is a most faithful king.

Some western scholars propose that Zech. 12:11 refers to ritual mourning for the Syrian’s chief god Hadad-Rimmon, allegedly a dying-resurrecting sun-god. Since the House of David is a godlike being with a “spirit of grace” in Zechariah 12, this interpretation indicates that the mourning is for a pierced godlike being.

Sukkah 52a of the 5th century Babylonian Talmud, or Rabbinical Oral Tradition, asks of Zechariah 12:10 : “What is the cause of the mourning? R. Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point. One explained, The cause is Messiah the son of Joseph who was slain, and the other explained, The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination.” The Talmud concludes: “It is best in accord with him who explains that the cause is the Messiah the son of Joseph who was slain, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse; but according to him who explains the cause to be the slaying of the Evil Inclination, is this an occasion for mourning? Is it not rather an occasion for rejoicing? Why then should they weep?”

Here, the Talmud refers to its idea that there would be two Messiahs: a “son of Joseph” and a “son of David.” But if Zechariah refers to a pierced Messiah, it’s more likely this means a “Messiah son of David”, because Zech 12:12 describes the House of David mourning like one mourns for an only son. Zechariah’s repetition of David’s name four times, and mention of Nathan and Shimei who were associated with David, indicate that the pierced one would be a Davidic Messiah. Plus, David and Joseph belonged to different tribes, and it doesn’t mention a “House of Joseph” mourning.

It’s unlikely that the pierced one(s) in Zechariah 12:10 was “pierced” in battle, because the rest of the chapter only describes Judah’s princes consuming enemy nations (Zech 12:6), rather than the enemies conquering Judah and killing its rulers. Plus, “thrusting through” is not the only way people are killed in battle: there are also swipes and chops with axes and swords.

Instead, the families’ mourning for “pierced one(s)” like one mourns for a son is reminiscent of families’ piercing their sons whom they saw as false prophets a few verses later in Zech:13:3. If the pierced one in Zech. 12:10 is a prophet pierced in Zech 13:3, he could still be a Davidic Messiah. 2 Samuel 23:2 says that God’s word was on David’s tongue, making him a prophet, and Zechariah 13 says that if any prophet shall prophecy, he shall be thrust through. Zechariah 12:8 describes David’s House in “that day” as a godlike being, and it would seem likely for a Davidic prophet to warn Israel of the coming troubles described of Zech. 13:8-9. So if the Davidic Messiah came during that time, He would likely prophesy and be pierced too.

Nonetheless, while the prophets’ “piercing” in Zech 13 provides context, it isn’t clear they include the pierced one(s) mentioned in Zech.12:10. For example, Zech 12 says that the mourning will be like mourning for an only son, instead of the mourning actually being mourning for an only son. Plus, as we shall see in the next section, it appears that the Messianic figure in Zech 13 is more clearly the Shepherd than the prophets, although they might not be mutually exclusive.

Zechariah 13: the Smiting of the Shepherd

Ezekiel, writing in the Babylonian captivity, and Zechariah, writing after it, gave three parallel shepherd stories about the Messianic Age in Ezekiel 34, and Zechariah 11 & 13.

Ezekiel 34
1. Bad shepherds and no primary Shepherd
2. God stops the bad shepherds from eating the sheep and takes the flock from them. The sheep have already thrust the weak sheep away with their horns.
3. God puts the Davidic Good Shepherd over them
4. Good Shepherd makes covenant of peace with sheep and protects them.
5. After the covenant’s enactment, they know God is with them.

Zechariah 11
1. Bad shepherds
2. Good Shepherd obeys God, comes, and fires the bad shepherds
3. Good Shepherd breaks his first staff, which breaks the covenant, and the poor of the flock recognize it as God’s word
4. Good Shepherd’s employment is severed
5. Good Shepherd breaks his other staff, which breaks the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.
6. A foolish shepherd comes who does not remember “Those that are cut off.”(JPT)
7. The Sword strikes the worthless shepherd’s arm and eye, drying up the arm and blinding the eye.

Zechariah 13
1. The parents of prophets who prophesy say to them that they lie, and thrust them through
2. The prophets give up their positions and “will not wear a hairy mantle in order to lie.”(JPT)
3. God’s sword smites “the Shepherd”
4. The Shepherd’s smiting causes the sheep to scatter.
5. 2/3 the sheep will be cut off and die, and the third shall be tried like gold.
6. The sheep recognize God, who takes them back.

The events in the stories line up and match to form the following chronological list:

  1. Israel has bad shepherds and no primary Shepherd (Ezek 34:2-6, Zech 11:3-5).
  2. The sheep thrust/gore the diseased/weak sheep away with their horns, and God later saves and/or judges them for this (Ezek 34:12,16,20-22). Parents thrust through “any” who still prophesy, all prophets cease prophesying and won’t wear robes to deceive (Zech 13:1-5)
  3. God saves the flock from the bad shepherds, brings in the stray sheep, “appoint(s) a single shepherd over them to tend them—My servant David. He shall tend them [“feed them” -1917 JPS], he shall be a shepherd to them”, and God gives them a covenant of peace protecting them from the gentiles forever (Ezek 34:16, 22-31 , 1985 JPS). God appoints a Good Shepherd who “feeds/tends” the flock and fires the bad shepherds (Zech 11:4-5,7-8).
  4. The Good Shepherd breaks his first staff to break the covenant, which makes the poor of the flock know that it was “the word of the Lord” -the first time any of the sheep acknowledge God. The Good Shepherd gets severance pay (Zech 11:6,9-14). After setting up the covenant’s protection, “they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and they are My people, the house of Israel” (Ezek 34:30, JPT). God tells “the Sword” to “awaken against My shepherd and against the man who is” God’s neighbor (amiyth= neighbor, relative, close companion, literally “equal”) (Zech 13:11, JPT).
  5. The Good Shepherd breaks his second staff, which breaks the brotherhood between Judah and Israel. In breaking his first staff, the Good Shepherd had said: “let… the one that is to get lost get lost” (Zech 11:9-14, JPS). Smiting God’s “Shepherd” causes the sheep to be scattered (Zech 13:7).
  6. A Foolish Shepherd comes who does not “miss the lost [sheep], nor seek the strayed, nor heal the injured, nor sustain the frail, but will feast on the flesh of the fat ones and tear off their hoofs” (Zech 11:16, JPS). “Throughout all the land, says the Lord, two parts of it shall be cut off. They shall perish, and the third shall remain therein.” (Zech 13:8-9, JPT).
  7. “The Sword” is “upon” the Worthless Shepherd’s “arm and… right eye,” shriveling the arm up and blinding the eye (Zech 11:17).
  8. God says: the surviving “third I will put into the fire, And I will smelt them as one smelts silver And… They will invoke Me by name, And I will respond to them. I will declare, ‘You are My people,’ And they will declare, ‘The Lord is our God!’” (Zech 13:9, JPS) “They shall know that I the Lord their God am with them and they, the House of Israel, are My people—declares the Lord God. For you, My flock, flock that I tend, are men; and I am your God—declares the Lord God.” (Ezek 34:3-31, JPS).

Thus, the Shepherd smitten in Zechariah 13 corresponds to the Good Shepherd of Zechariah 11 and the Davidic Shepherd of Ezekiel, who both have covenants with the sheep. While the Sword in Zechariah 11 merely shall be “upon” the arm of the Foolish Shepherd, the Sword “smites” the Good Shepherd himself, scattering the sheep. This indicates the Good Shepherd’s death. That the Good Shepherd broke the tools of his trade, and that his wages weren’t used for his own needs suggests his end. Ezekiel 34 and Deuteronomy 28 describe God’s covenant with Israel as one of safety from destruction, so when the Good Shepherd broke the covenant, he would no longer be under its protection. The Good Shepherd-king must have been killed if his protection was removed, and he was smitten by a Sword, causing his people to be scattered.

It appears that the time Zechariah 13:2-6 prophesied, when the religious establishment would perceive an absence of true prophets, had already come by Jesus’ time. Rabbi Shraga Simmons explains the Rabbinical view that: “Prophecy as a widespread phenomenon ceased with the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. After the time of Ezra and the Great Assembly (350 BCE), prophecy ceased completely from the Jewish people. In the future, prophecy will be restored with the coming of the Messiah, may it be speedily in our days.” (http://www.aish.com/h/9av/ht/48955796.html) And the Babylonian Talmud (Sotah 48b) says: “For our Rabbis have taught: When Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi died, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel”.

Daniel 9: The Anointed One Who Would Be Cut Off and Have Nothingness

Daniel 9 prophesies that an anointed one, or “Messiah”, would be “cut off and he will be no more.” Other translations of “cut off and he will be no more” are: “cut off and vanish”, “cut off and have nothingness,” or “cut off but not for himself.” These terms about being no more, having nothingness, and vanishing indicate that the anointed one would be killed.

The 12th century Rabbi Maimonides wrote in a letter to the Yemenite Jewish Community, Igeret Teiman: “Daniel has elucidated to us the knowledge of the end times. However, since they are secret, the wise have barred the calculation of the days of Messiah’s coming so that the untutored populace will not be led astray when they see that the End Times have already come but there is no sign of the Messiah.” (Igeret Teiman, Chapter 3 p.24)

In Daniel 9:24-27 (JPT), the angel Gabriel told Daniel:

23: In the beginning of your supplications, a word came forth, and I have come to tell it…

  1. Seventy weeks [of years] have been decreed upon your people and upon the city of your Sanctuary to terminate the transgression and to end sin, and to expiate iniquity, and to bring eternal righteousness, and to seal up vision and prophet, and to anoint the Holy of Holies.
  2. And you shall know and understand that from the emergence of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem until the anointed king [shall be] seven weeks, and [in] sixty-two weeks it will return and be built street and moat, but in troubled times. [Note that the original Hebrew lacks “the” in “the word”, and it lacks the commas limiting the time for the “Messiah prince”]
  3. And after the sixty-two weeks, the anointed one will be cut off, and he will be no more, and the people of the coming monarch will destroy the city and the Sanctuary, and his end will come about by inundation [or “its end will come through a flood” – JPS], and until the end of the war, it will be cut off into desolation.
  4. And he will strengthen a covenant for the princes [“a firm covenant with many” –JPS] for one week, and half the week he will abolish sacrifice and meal-offering, and on high, among abominations, will be the dumb one [“the appalling thing” –JPS], and until destruction and extermination befall the dumb one.

The “weeks” refer to periods of seven years, because the Hebrew word for a “week” is a “seven,” and Genesis 29:27-28, Numbers 14:34, and Ezekiel 4:6 describe seven years as a “week.” As Daniel 9:2 (JPT) explains: “In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, contemplated the calculations, the number of the years that the word of the Lord had come to Jeremiah the prophet, since the destruction of Jerusalem seventy years.”

But while Daniel prayed to request that the seventy years of Babylonian captivity would soon end, the angel Gabriel gave him a new, separate prediction of seventy weeks of years “to end sin… expiate iniquity… bring eternal righteousness, and to seal up vision and prophet.” The prediction of an end to sin, an atoning expiation of sin, and eternal righteousness sounds apocalyptic, suggesting that the anointed one in the prophecy is an apocalyptic Messiah who brings eternal righteousness.

The seventy total weeks to bring eternal righteousness are divided into three distinct periods: (1) the first seven weeks starting from [a/the] “word to rebuild Jerusalem,” (2) the next sixty-two weeks after which a Messiah will be cut off, the temple will be destroyed, and a flood or war (in Isaiah 8:7, flood=war) will occur, (3) the last week in which sacrifices will end.

Theologians calculate the 69 “weeks” (483 years) before the Messiah in different ways because there were several “words”, or proclamations, to restore Jerusalem.

Some scholars consider the “word” to be in Jeremiah’s prophecy from 594 BC in Jeremiah 30:1,18 (JPT): “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying: …So said the Lord: Behold I am returning the captivity of the tents of Jacob, and his dwellings I will pity, and the city shall be built on its mound and the palace on its proper site.” The calculation would be 594-483=111 BC.

Other scholars count from 539-537 BC, when God promises Daniel that Jerusalem would be rebuilt later (in Daniel 9:25) and Cyrus proclaims “the Lord God… commanded me to build Him a House in Jerusalem.” (2 Chronicles 36:23 & Ezra 1:2) The calculation is c.538 BC – 483 = from 56 to 54 BC.

Another count starts at 520-518 BC, when Darius ordered the Temple’s construction to be restarted in Exra 6:1-14, and an angel tells Zechariah to proclaim that God says “a plumb line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem.”(Zech 1:16) The calculation would be c.519 BC – 483 = from 37 to 35 BC. The problem with counting from 594 BC, 538 BC, or 519 BC is that at those times God’s word only predicted that the city would be built later, and Cyrus and Darius only proclaimed building the Temple.

Theologians often count from 459-457 BC., when Artaxerxes made an edict to restore Jerusalem as a legal Israelite entity: “from me-I, King Artaxerxes is issued forth an edict to all the treasurers who are on the other side of the river, that whatever Ezra, the priest, the scholar of the Law of the God of heaven, requests of you shall be done quickly… Whatever is with the authorization of the God of heaven shall be done… And you, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God, which is in your hand, appoint judges and magistrates who will judge all the people beyond the river.” (Ezra 7:21, 23, 25 -JPT) Ezra concludes that God: “put such a thought into the king’s heart… and I gathered from Israel chiefs to go up with me.” (Ezra 7:27-28). Since no “0 AD” exists, there are 483 years between 458 BC and 26 AD.

The latest count runs from Artaxerxes’ edict of 446-444 BC to rebuild Jerusalem. In Nehemiah 2:5-8,18(JPT), Nehemiah asked the king, “‘that you send me to Judea, to the city of the graves of my forefathers, and I shall build it.’ …it pleased the king, and he sent me… And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, may letters be given to me… to Asaph, the guardian of the king’s orchard, that he give me wood to make beams for the gates of the castle… and for the wall of the city and for the house to which I shall go,’ and the king gave me according to the good hand of my God… I came to Jerusalem…and the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the prefects… And I told them… the words of the king that he said to me. And they said, ‘Let us get up and build.'” Josephus in Antiquities XI v 8 reports that Nehemiah built Jerusalem’s walls, and Nehemiah 8:1-16 records that the squares and moat of Daniel 9:25 existed while Ezra was still alive.

483 normal sun years after 446-444 BC would point to 38-40 AD. However, some scholars use shorter “prophetic” 360-day lunar years to calculate from Artaxerxes’ 445 BC decree. The scholars base their idea of prophetic lunar years on the calculation of the days and months of the flood in Genesis 7:11,24 & 8:3-4. Daniel 1 dates the beginning of the Babylonian captivity to 605 BC, and Ezra 1 says Cyrus freed the captives in c.538-537 BC. Since Jeremiah prophesied a 70-year Babylonian captivity, and the Babylonian captivity was 67-68 solar years long instead of 70, Daniel’s prophecy probably used 360-day lunar years. 483 years x 360 days = 173,880 days = the number of days between 446 to 444 BC and 31 to 33 AD.

Therefore, after 69 weeks of years had passed from a word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, a series of events probably occurred wherein Jesus Christ was killed (30-34 AD) and the Roman leader Titus destroyed the city and Temple (70 AD) in a war. Daniel 9 predicted the death of a Messiah between 111 BC and the Temple’s destruction in 70 AD, and Jesus Christ’s death matches this description.
The Son of Man’s Everlasting Rule and the General Resurrection

Whether or not the scriptures prophecy the Messiah’s death, since Jesus Christ died, according to the scriptures he would resurrect, because the scriptures prophesy the Messiah’s everlasting rule and a general resurrection. If the Messiah died, He would naturally resurrect like others, and He would begin or continue the everlasting rule afterwards.

In Daniel 7:13-14 (JPT), Daniel says:

  1. I saw in the visions of the night, and behold with the clouds of the heaven, one like a man [“one like unto a son of man” -1917 JPS] was coming, and he came up to the Ancient of Days and was brought before Him.
  2. And He gave him dominion and glory and a kingdom, and all peoples, nations, and tongues shall serve him; his dominion is an eternal dominion, which will not be removed [“that shall not pass away -1985 JPS], and his kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”

In Hebrew, Daniel 7:13 refers to a “son of man” (kevar enash), rather than simply “a man”. The term “dominion” means rule, authority, or sovereignty. Since the passage says the one like a son of man has an eternal dominion, it suggests that he would rule forever or have authority forever, which in turn suggests he would live forever after.

In Ezekiel 37:1-14(JPT), God brings Ezekiel to a valley of dry bones and tells Him: “say to the spirit, ‘So says the Lord God: From four sides come, O spirit, and breathe into these slain ones that they may live.'” …Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are all the house of Israel. Behold they say, ‘Our bones have become dried up, our hope is lost, we are clean cut off to ourselves.’ Therefore, prophesy and say to them, So says the Lord God: Lo! I open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves as My people, and bring you home to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and lead you up out of your graves as My people. And I will put My spirit into you, and you shall live, and I will set you on your land, and you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and have performed it.”

Isaiah 26:19,21 (JPT) proclaims: “May Your dead live, ‘My corpses shall rise; awaken and sing, you who dwell in the dust, for a dew of lights is your dew… For behold the Lord comes forth from His place to visit the iniquity of the dweller of the land upon him: and the land shall reveal its blood and it shall no longer conceal its slain ones.” In the Talmud, Rabbi Gamaliel points to this as a prophecy of the general resurrection. (Babylonian San. vol 90b) And the 16th century Hebrew scholar Elijah Levita wrote in his dictionary, the “Tishbi”: “the word nevelah(corpse/carcass) is never used in Scripture but of the carcass of a beast… and never of a man that is dead, but of him that dies an unnatural death… and I greatly wonder at it, how he (the prophet) should call the bodies of the pure righteous ones a carcass; no doubt there is a reason for it… which I am ignorant of.”

Hosea 6 and the Third Day

I don’t think that the grammar of the sentence “He arose again on the third day according to the Scriptures” means that the scriptures specify a third day resurrection. After all, if my parents tell me to buy a lawn mower, I can say “I bought a mower the next day according to their instructions.”

Nonetheless, Hosea 5-6 prophesy a third-day resurrection. Hosea 5:12 (JPT) describes Israel collectively as having iniquity and not knowing God. God describes Judah as having dead parts, since dead flesh rots: “I am… like decay [“rottenness” –1917 JPT] to the house of Judah.” God says He will leave Judah until it admits its guilt and seeks Him, which He says they will in their troubles. Then, in Hosea 6:1-3 (JPT), God gives the words of someone returning to Him:

  1. Come and let us return to the Lord, for He has torn and He shall heal us; He smites, and He will bind us up.
  2. He will revive us from the two days, on the third day He will set us up[“raise us up” –JPS], and we will live before Him.
  3. And let us know, let us strive to know the Lord: like the dawn whose going forth is sure, and He will come to us like rain, like the latter rain which satisfies [“refreshes” -JPS] the earth.

At first glance, it appeared from Hosea 5 that God was describing Israel as partly “dead” in a poetic, metaphorical sense. But since the voices predict their resurrection to be at God’s coming “like latter rain that refreshes the earth,” they compare their resurrection to a “latter”, apocalyptic event. This suggests the general physical resurrection. Within the poetic image of the three days, it appears that the third day means the third day of the voices’ death. And the gospels record that Jesus Christ was of the tribe of Judah, became a physically dead part of it, and rose on the third day of his death.

Thus, Ezekiel 37 and Isaiah 26 describe the general resurrection of Israel’s slain ones, and Hosea 6 describes the resurrection of Judah’s dead “on the third day.” So Jesus Christ’s resurrection on the third day after being slain on a cross fits within the Scriptures’ descriptions of the general resurrection.

(Illustration: “Hymn”, by Mikaloyus Chiurlionis)


The Scriptures use David as a prophetic image for the Messiah, and David in the Psalms describes himself as someone who dies and resurrects.

The Messiah Son of David

The Scriptures say that the Messiah would be a descendent of David. In 2 Samuel 7:11-14(JPT), the prophet Nathan tells David: “the Lord has told you that the Lord will make for you a house. When your days are finished and you shall lie with your forefathers, then I will raise up your seed that shall proceed from your body after you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to Me a son; so that when he goes astray I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the sons of Adam. But My mercy shall not depart from him as I withdrew it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be confirmed forever before you; your throne shall be established forever.” 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 contains a similar promise, adding: “I shall station him in My house and in My kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.”

Isaiah 9:5-6(JPT) prophesies: “For a child has been born to us, a son given to us, and the authority is upon his shoulder, and the wondrous adviser, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, called his name, the prince of peace.’ To him who increases the authority, and for peace without end, on David’s throne and on his kingdom, to establish it and to support it with justice and with righteousness; from now and to eternity, the zeal of the Lord of Hosts shall accomplish this.”

Jeremiah 23:5-6(JPT) proclaims: “Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will set up of David a righteous shoot, and he shall reign a king and prosper, and he shall perform judgment and righteousness in the land. In his days, Judah shall be saved and Israel shall dwell safely, and this is his name that he shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness.”

It seems strange that 2 Samuel 7:14 describes the saving, righteous, everlasting, forever-reigning “Prince of Peace” for whom God will always have mercy as one who goes apart from God, whom God chastens with the “rod of men,” and who bears the “stripes of the sons of Adam.” But such an image reoccurs in Isaiah 53 where it oddly pleases God to bruise a nonviolent servant who bears the stripes of people who “went astray like sheep.”

David as an Image of the Messiah

Jeremiah 30:8-9,21 (JPT) prophesies:

  1. And it shall be on that day, says the Lord of Hosts, [that] I will break his yoke off your neck, and I will break your thongs, and strangers shall no longer enslave them.
  2. And they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will set up for them.[“raise up for them” -JPS]
  3. And their prince shall be from them, and their ruler shall emerge from their midst, and I will bring him near, and he shall approach Me, for who is it who pledged his heart to approach Me? says the Lord.

Thus, Jeremiah 30 says God will free them and raise up David as a future ruler. But it explains that he will come from the midst of the people, and Jeremiah 23 says that the ruler who saves the people would be David’s descendant. Therefore, the Messiah will be David’s son and David at the same time. This makes sense in that he shall be a “seed that shall proceed from [David’s] body.” (2 Samuel 7:12)

But the Messiah is not only David in a biological sense, or else the Scriptures would only refer to him as “David’s son.” Instead, Hosea 3:5(JPT)prophesies: “Afterwards shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God and David their king, and they shall come trembling to the Lord and to His goodness at the end of days.” Ezekiel 34:23-24(JPT) says: “I shall put up over them one shepherd and he will shepherd them, namely My servant David; he will shepherd them, and he will be for them as a shepherd. And I, the Lord, shall be to them for a God, and My servant David a prince in their midst.” Ezekiel 37:24-25(JPT) says: “My servant David shall be king over them, and one shepherd shall be for them all, and they shall walk in My ordinances and observe My statutes and perform them. And they shall dwell on the land that I have given to My servant, to Jacob, wherein your forefathers lived; and they shall dwell upon it, they and their children and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever.” Isaiah 55:3-4 (JPT) says: “Incline your ear and come to Me, hearken and your soul shall live, and I will make for you an everlasting covenant, the dependable mercies of David. Behold, a witness to nations have I appointed him, a ruler and a commander of nations.”

Even the Messiah’s title, “the Anointed one”, is connected with David. 2 Samuel 19:22, 23:1, and Psalm 132:17 call David God’s “anointed.” 2 Samuel 22:51(JPT), which matches Psalm 18:51, says: “He gives great salvation to His king, and He performs kindness to His anointed; to David and to his seed, forevermore.” Psalm 132:11,13,17 (JPT) says. “The Lord has sworn to David in truth, from which He will never turn back, ‘Of the fruit of your body I shall seat upon your throne’… For the Lord has chosen Zion… There I shall cause David’s horn to sprout; I have set up a lamp for My anointed”. Thus, the Scriptures use David as a poetic figure for the Messiah son of David, who shares with David related titles, biology, personal characteristics, experiences, and actions.

David as the Singer of the Psalms

1 Samuel 16:13(JPT) describes how “Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And a spirit of the Lord passed over David from that day forth.” 2 Samuel 23:1-2 records “these are the last words of David… the man raised on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, And the sweet singer of Israel. ‘The spirit of the Lord spoke in me, And His word was upon my tongue.'” Calling David “the sweet singer of Israel” indicates that he sang the Psalms attributed to him. Since David had God’s spirit and he spoke God’s word like prophets do, the scriptures indicate that his Psalms had a mystical, prophetic quality.

Descriptions of David more clearly refer to the prophesied Messiah when they are inside David’s Psalms, because they are prophetic, visionary passages about himself. That’s because if someone uses a metaphor to describe a person, it more clearly means that things inside the poetry apply to the person. For example, 2 Samuel 22:2 says: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress, and a rescuer to me”. This doesn’t mean God is made of rock crystals, or other things outside the poetry. This means that God is strong and protective like a rock and fortress, because it describe God as a rescuer.

Likewise, David and the Messiah share the attribute of having God’s Spirit, in which David sang the Psalms. (compare Isaiah 11:2 and 1 Samuel 23:1-2). They are also both prophetic figures and kings close to God (Isaiah 11:2; 55:4). So when David describes himself in his prophetic passages as being at God’s right hand (Psalm 16), or as telling Israel’s descendants to follow God, adding that all nations will worship God (Psalm 22), these passages presumably apply to the Messiah as well.

Besides kingship and being close to God, the Psalms emphasize suffering and salvation as other attributes of David. This helps explains how one can “stumble,” or “be feeble,” and yet still be like King David, when Zechariah 12:8(JPS) says about the Messianic Age: “the feeblest of them shall be in that day like David”. [or “he that stumbleth among them” -1917 JPS].

The first Psalm “of David” is Psalm 3, which introduces the reoccurring theme of David awakening thanks to the Lord, despite persecution. Psalm 3:1-6 (JPT) says: “A song of David, when he fled from Absalom his son. O Lord, how many have my adversaries become! …Great men rise up against me. Great men say concerning my soul, “He has no salvation in God to eternity.” With my voice, I call to the Lord, and He answered me from His holy mount to eternity. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord will support me.” Psalm 4:9 (JPT) continues: “In peace together, I would lie down and sleep, for You, O Lord, would make me dwell alone in safety.”

Psalm 16: God Would Not Abandon His Holy One to the Pit

Psalm 16:1,9-11(JPT) says:

  1. A michtam of David;
  2. I have placed the Lord before me constantly;

because [He is] at my right hand, I will not falter.

  1. Therefore, my heart rejoiced, and my soul was glad;

even my flesh shall dwell in safety.

  1. For You shall not forsake my soul to the grave [“will not abandon me to Sheol”-JPS];

You shall not allow Your pious one to see the pit [“godly one to see the pit”-1917 JPS].

  1. You shall let me know the way of life, the fullness of joys in Your presence.

There is pleasantness in Your right hand forever.

Note: Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary says “see the pit” is figure of speech for “experience decay”. And Strong’s Dictionary and the JPS translate verse 9 into the present tense.

The words “soul is glad” in verse 9 structurally correspond with the words “You will not abandon my soul to the grave/Sheol” in verse 10. The word “For” in verse 10 shows that his soul is glad because it was not abandoned to Sheol.

The words “flesh shall dwell in safety” in verse 9 structurally correspond with the words “godly one to see the pit” in verse 10. It makes more sense that his flesh would be safe because it didn’t “experience decay,” rather than simply avoiding a “pit”, as a pit would preserve it better than lying in the open.

So this passage means that David’s soul would not be abandoned to the nether-world and his flesh would not “experience bodily decay.” Further, verses 8 and 11 together mean that David is in God’s presence and would have “bliss for evermore,” suggesting eternal life.

Yet 2 Samuel 23 records that David did die. This contradiction must mean that David is prophesying his own resurrection in Psalm 16.

Psalm 21: The King Requests Life and Receives Eternal Life

Psalm 21:1-3,5-7(JPT) says:

  1. a song about David. [“of David” -JPS]
  2. O Lord, may the king rejoice with Your strength, and how greatly does he exult with Your salvation!
  3. You gave him his heart’s desire
  4. He asked You for life; You gave it to him, length of days forever and ever.
  5. His glory is great in Your salvation
  6. For You make him blessings forever; You shall make him happy with joy before You.
  7. For the king trusts in the Lord and in the loving- kindness of the Most High, that he should not falter.

This Psalm, like many other Psalms is apparently written or sung by David, because it calls itself a Psalm “of David”, and 2 Samuel 23 calls David the “singer of the Psalms.” One view about Psalm 21 could be that since David is singing about someone in the third person, he is not singing about himself, but another King with “length of days forever,” like the Messiah. In that case, David would be singing about his King, the Messiah.

The other explanation is that when Psalm 21 says it is “of David”, it means it is “about David”, as in “a Biography of Tolstoy”. In that case, David would be singing about himself in the third person, or a palace singer would be singing about David. In fact, the singer in Psalm 16 never refers to himself in the first person, which makes the distinction between the singer and the King less clear than it would be with “I, David” vs. “He, the King.”

This Psalm, written about David, serves to introduce Psalm 22, where David describes himself in the first person as experiencing the things in Psalm 21: asking for life, trusting in God, receiving salvation, and exulting in it. Psalm 21’s words about the king also match Psalm 16, where David says he takes refuge in God, receives joy, won’t falter, and that pleasures are at God’s right hand forever.

In Psalm 21, David’s request to God for life suggests that he lacked life or was faced with death. The scriptures record David’s death, but here Psalm 21 says that the days of his life would be forever. This indicates David would resurrect and have eternal life.

Psalm 22: From the Dust of Death to Praising in the Congregation

In Psalm 22:1,13-19 (JPT), David describes being killed:

  1. a song of David.
  2. My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? [You are] far from my salvation [and] from the words of my moaning.
  3. My God, I call out by day and You do not reply, and at night I do not keep silent.
  4. Great bulls have surrounded me; the mighty ones of Bashan encompassed me.

14 They opened their mouth against me [like] a tearing, roaring lion.

  1. I was spilled like water, and all my bones were separated; my heart was like wax, melting within my innards.
  2. My strength became dried out like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my palate; and You set me down in the dust of death.
  3. For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me, like a lion, my hands and feet. [“dug my hands and feet” -Septuagint]
  4. I tell about all my bones. They look and gloat over me.
  5. They share my garments among themselves and cast lots for my raiment.

David’s words that he spilled like water, his bones separated, his heart melted, and God laid him in the “dust of death” show that he is talking about his death, and his description of predators opening their mouths against him and sharing his clothes show that he was killed.

But after describing his death, David also describes God saving him and praising God among people in Psalm 22:9,20-26(JPT):

  1. One should cast his trust upon the Lord, and He will rescue him; He will save him because He delights in him.
  2. But You, O Lord, do not distance Yourself; my strength, hasten to my assistance.
  3. Save my soul from the sword, my only one from the grip of the dog.
  4. Save me from the lion’s mouth, as from the horns of the wild oxen You answered me.
  5. I will tell Your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise You.
  6. You who fear the Lord, praise Him; all the seed of Jacob, honor Him, and fear Him, all the seed of Israel.
  7. For He has neither despised nor abhorred the cry of the poor, neither has He hidden His countenance from him; and when he cried out to Him, He hearkened.
  8. Because of You is my praise in the great congregation; I pay my vows in the presence of those who fear Him.

After describing his death David says that he will praise God among his brothers and in the congregation, so he means that he would resurrect to do this. Since “hearts” refer to souls, as in Psalm 16:10-11, David speaks of the general resurrection when he says that their “hearts shall live forever” and those in the dust shall kneel in Psalm 27,30(JPT):

  1. The humble shall eat and be sated; they shall praise the Lord, those who seek him; your hearts shall live forever.
  2. They shall eat all the best of the earth and prostrate themselves; before Him shall all those who descend to the dust kneel, and He will not quicken his soul. [“all those at death’s door, whose spirits flag, shall bend the knee before Him.” -JPS]

David was not in reality killed by his enemies, so he is writing about himself poetically. Therefore, David describes himself as a poetic figure who is killed and resurrects. Since the scriptures use David as a poetic image for the Messiah, the Messiah would also match the poetic image of one who is killed and resurrects. Further, the 9th century rabbinic midrash Pesikta Rabbati (34-37) considers Psalm 22 to refer to the Messiah son of David suffering “for the sake of Israel.”

Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection matches the poetic description of David’s death and resurrection in Psalm 22. In Matthew 27:46, Jesus cried out the Psalm’s opening words, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” during the crucifixion. His suffering matched the poetic image of continuing both day and night, since he was condemned at night, crucified the next day, and there was darkness for three hours during the crucifixion. The strong soldiers who flogged and crucified him were like bulls and they cast lots for his cloak. While He was crucified, Jesus said He thirsted, and when a soldier pierced Him to see if He was dead, water spilled out.

According to Father James Bernstein, the son of an ultra-Orthodox Rabbi, born in Jerusalem, prophetic scriptures like Psalm 22 “convinced me beyond any doubt” that Jesus is the Messiah. (Fr. Bernstein, Surprised by Christ, p.18) He became a Christian as a teenager, lived with Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem, and later became an Antiochian Orthodox priest. Besides the above analogies, Fr. Bernstein discovered a parallel between:

The ridiculing of David in Psalm 22:8-9(JPS):

8 All who see me mock me; they curl their lips, they shake their heads.

9 “Let him commit himself to the Lord; let Him rescue him, let Him save him, for He is pleased with him.”

And the ridiculing of Jesus in Mark 15:29 and Matthew 27:41-43:

41 Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,

42 He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.

43 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.

Scholars disagree over whether Psalm 22:17 says “a band of evildoers has encompassed me, like a lion, my hands and feet” or ” a band of evildoers has encompassed me, they have dug/pierced my hands and feet.”

Most Masoretic texts that scholars use to translate the Bible into English say “like a lion” (in Hebrew: “ka’ari”). However, this translation has several problems. The phrase “like a lion, my hands and feet” is confusing and grammatically incomplete without a verb, although it’s true that the Psalm’s second verse about groaning is incomplete in Hebrew, perhaps for rhetorical effect to suggest groaning. Further, the other times the Bible expresses “like a lion” in the same form (ka’ari), the Bible mentions a verb to go with the phrase. (Isaiah 38:13, Numbers 23.24; 24.9; Ezekiel 22.25).

Since the grammar demands a verb, the JPS translation creates one in brackets: “like lions [they maul] my hands and feet.” And the Targum, or Rabbinical commentary, on the verse says: “they bite like a lion my hands and my feet”. This majority translation provides an analogy to Jesus’ crucifixion: when the soldiers nailed Jesus’ hands and feet, they acted like the evildoers who metaphorically bit his hands and feet like a lion.

Still, scholars have other reasons to doubt that the verse actually says “like a lion”(ka’ari). The other times the Psalms say “lion”, they use other words for lion (like “aryeh” instead of “ari”), including the other times Psalm 22 mentions lions. (Psalms 7:2, 10:9, 17:12, 22:13, 22:21, 35:17; 57:4, 91:13)

Further, unlike “like a lion my hands and feet,” the surrounding verses explicitly state the negative actions against the person’s body and clothes:

v.15: the person was “spilled”, the bones are “separated”, the heart “melts”;

v.16: the strength “dries out”, the tongue “cleaves”, God “sets down” David in dust

  1. 17: dogs “surrounded” him, evildoers “encompassed” him, the hands and feet “?”
  2. 18: He “counts/tells about” his bones, the bones “look” and “gloat” at him
  3. 19: They “share” the garments, they “cast lots” for the robe.

In this context, it seems that the verse should explicitly state an action happening to the hands and feet.

Instead of “like a lion” (ka’ari), two Masoretic manuscripts have an action: “they have dug” (karu). (Glenn Miller, “Did the Christians Invent the Pierced thing,” http://christianthinktank.com/ps22cheat.html) The Greek Septuagint copy of the text says “they have dug” (“oruksan” in Greek). Although the Septuagint was written in Greek, it has some reliability, because it dates from the 3rd century BC- the 1st century AD. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew term “karu” and the Greek term “oruksan” mean to digging a pit or well in the ground. However, in Psalm 40:6, the terms metaphorically describe God opening David’s ears by “digging” them. So Psalm 22 could use the term “digging” to metaphorically describe putting holes in his hands and feet.

And instead of “dug”, the Aramaic “Peshitta” copy of the Old Testament, produced for Syrian converts to Judaism in the 1st century BC, uses the Aramaic term “baz’w”, which means “pierce” or “hack off”. This may be the Aramaic translators’ metaphorical interpretation of the term “dig” (karu).

The Dead Sea Scrolls, and several other Masoretic texts appear to explain the confusion, as they use the word “ka’aru”, which looks similar to both “like a lion”(ka’ari and “they have dug”(karu). The Dead Sea Scroll that says “ka’aru” is the oldest remaining physical copy of Psalm 22, and dates from 50-135AD (XHev/Se4, f.11, line 4). To illustrate:

Hebrew Spelling יראכ וראכ ורכ
Transliteration(Hebrew reads right to left) I-R-‘-K U-R-’-K U-R-K
pronunciation Ka’ari Ka’aru Karu
meaning Like a lion ? dug
Sources Most Masoretic Texts Some Masoretic TextsDead Sea Scrolls 2 Masoretic TextsSeptuagint (says “dug”)

The difference between Ka’aru and Ka’ari is the “u” (“vav”, a long letter ו) and the “I”(“yod”, a short letter י). The Scroll appears below (from: http://www.torahresource.com/EnglishArticles/Ps22.16.pdf):

It’s clear that the Dead Sea Scroll says “Ka’aru”, spelled with a long “vav” letter, because: “we have a perfect example for comparison, since the very next letter following the word in question is a yod: “my hands” (hydy). The last letter of ka’aru is without doubt a vav when compared with the beginning letter of the next word which is clearly a yod.” (Tim Hegg, “Studies in the Biblical Text: Psalm 22:16 – ‘like a lion” or “they pierced’?” http://www.torahresource.com/EnglishArticles/Ps22.16.pdf). That is, the size of the surrounding “U”s and “I”s show that the writer intended to make a “U” in “Ka’aru.”

What does “Ka’aru” mean? It doesn’t mean “like a lion”, because Ka’ari used “ari”(lion) to make “like a lion”. More likely, “Ka’aru” is an alternate spelling of “Karu”. The difference is the added “a” (“aleph”, א) in Ka’aru. Sometimes ancient Hebrew an aleph to words as an alternate spelling. Hebrew professor James Price gives examples from Hebrew of other word variants with an added “aleph” (which he writes as instead of ‘a): “bo’r, bor (pit, cistern) from the verb bur (dig); da’g, dag (fish) from the verb dug (fish for); la’t, lat (secrecy) from the verb lut (be secret); m’um, mum (blemish); n’od, nod (skin); q’am, qam (he arose); ra’sh, rash (poor) from the verb rush (be poor);” (James Price, “Response to a Skeptic”, http://www.messianicart.com/chazak/yeshua/responsetoskeptic.htm) The scholars Keil and Delitzsch also note that Zechariah 14:10 and Daniel 7:16 have added alephs in the words ra’ama and ka’amaiya. (Keil and Delitzsch, “Commentary on the Old Testament”, Volume 5, page 319). ”The long-standing consensus has been that ka’aru is the Hasmonean-era spelling of the Hebrew word karu (ורכ), which means “they have dug.” At this time in history, spelling was not standardized, and Hebrew was heavily influenced by its sister language Aramaic, which could introduce the letter aleph.” (Ruben Barrett, Bible Q&A: Psalm 22, http://www.hadavar.net/articles/45-biblequestionsanswers/54-psalm22questions.html).

So one explanation is that the Hebrew originally said “karu”(dug), it later was written in the Hasmonean period as “ka’aru”. Then the Septuagint version found the word “karu”, or interpreted “ka’aru” to mean “karu” (“dug”), and the Peshitta version interpreted “dug” to mean “pierced.”

If the Hebrew said ka’aru, meaning “dug”, it can still apply to Jesus. Putting a hole in someone’s arm with a nail is not a simple piercing like with a spear, but a repetitive mechanical motion digging into the person’s arm. And since Psalm 40:6 has a metaphor of God “digging” someone’s ears, and the verses around Psalm 22:17 use metaphors for the person’s harm ( the person “spills”, the heart “melts”, the tongue “cleaves”, the strength “dries”, the bones “gloat”), it fits that Psalm 22:17 metaphorically describes the evildoers harmfully “digging” David’s hands and feet.

Additionally, the Hebrew word for “hand” here, “yod,” also means “hand/wrist/arm”, and Jesus Christ’s hands/wrists and feet were nailed to the cross.

King David the Sweet Singer


Isaiah 52:13-53 describes the Messiah as God’s Servant whose soul becomes a sacrificial “guilt offering,” after which the Messiah resurrects and rules.

The Lord’s Servant as the Messiah

The Book of Isaiah refers to both Israel and the Messiah as the Lord’s “servant.” In Isaiah 37:35, God says He will save Jerusalem “for the sake of My servant David,” and Isaiah 55:3-4 refers to the future Messiah as David : “I will make for you an everlasting covenant, the dependable mercies of David. Behold, a witness to nations have I appointed him, a ruler and a commander of nations.”

Isaiah 44:1 also calls Israel God’s “servant”. On the other hand, in Isaiah 20:3 God refers to “my servant Isaiah.” And Isaiah 49(JPT) says:

  1. listen closely, you nations, from afar; the Lord called me from the womb,
  2. And He said to me, “You are My servant, Israel,”
  3. And now, the Lord, Who formed me from the womb as a servant to Him, said to bring Jacob back to Him, and Israel shall be gathered to Him, and I will be honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God was my strength.
  4. And He said, “It is too light for you to be My servant, to establish the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the besieged of Israel, but I will make you a light of nations, so that My salvation shall be until the end of the earth.”

But Isaiah distinguishes himself, the “servant Israel”, from Israel itself by immediately adding: “the Lord, Who formed me from the womb as a servant to Him, said to bring Jacob back to Him, and Israel shall be gathered to Him” (49:5-6). As in Zechariah 11, where Zechariah prophetically envisions himself as the Good Shepherd, it appears that in Isaiah 49, Isaiah prophetically envisions himself as the Servant who plays a Messianic role, not only of gathering Israel to God, but of being a light to the nations.

Isaiah 53:2(JPT) speaks of a Servant who “came up like a sapling before [the arm of the Lord], and like a root from dry ground.” A better translation would be that the servant “came up like a ‘suckling twig’ (“yoniq” – a twig that sucks water from a stem, as in Ezekiel 17:22), and like a ‘root’s twig’ (a “verashoresh,” as opposed to a “shoresh” in Hebrew) from dry ground.”

Isaiah 11(JPT) describes the Messiah as a root’s twig who rises with God’s spirit from the root of David’s father Jesse.

  1. And a shoot shall spring forth from the stem of Jesse, and a twig shall sprout from his roots.
  2. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and heroism, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
  3. And he shall be animated by the fear of the Lord, and neither with the sight of his eyes shall he judge, nor with the hearing of his ears shall he chastise.
  4. And he shall judge the poor justly…
  5. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faith the girdle of his loins.
  6. And a wolf shall live with a lamb, and a leopard shall lie with a kid; and a calf and a lion cub and a fatling [shall lie] together, and a small child shall lead them.

Later, Isaiah 53:1-2(JPT) would specify that the twig will rise up before the arm or “hand” of the Lord. Similarly, Isaiah 11(JPT) describes the twig’s sprouting and then describes the Lord’s hand:

  1. And it shall come to pass that on that day, the Lord shall continue to apply His hand a second time to acquire the rest of His people, that will remain from Assyria and from Egypt and from Pathros and from Cush and from Elam and from Sumeria and from Hamath and from the islands of the sea.
  2. …and He shall gather the lost of Israel, and the scattered ones of Judah He shall gather from the four corners of the earth.

In Jeremiah 23:5(JPT), God likewise says: “I will set up of David a righteous shoot, and he shall reign a king and prosper, and he shall perform judgment and righteousness in the land.” Further, the 12th century Rabbi Maimonides explained in his “Letter to the South” that the root’s twig in Isaiah 53:2 refers to the Messiah: “for the Almighty… says, `Behold a man whose name is the Branch, and he shall branch forth out of his place’ (Zech. 6:12)… And Isaiah speaks similarly of the time when he shall appear, without father or mother or family being known, He came up as a sucker before him, and as a root out of dry earth.” (S. R. Driver and A. Neubauer, editors, “The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters”, Ktav Publishing House, 1969, Volume 2, pages 374-5).

The Song of the Ruins of Jerusalem on That Day

In Isaiah 52:6(JPT), God speaks of “That Day,” which in Isaiah 11:10-11 and Zechariah 12 refers to the Messianic Age, and promises: “Therefore, My people shall know My name; therefore, on that day, for I am He Who speaks, here I am.”

The events of Isaiah 52:6-53 refer to the Messianic Age, rather than the end of Assyrian or Babylonian captivity, since Isaiah 11:1,11-2 describes the root-twig Messiah as rising before the arm of the Lord is applied to acquire all of God’s people. Isaiah 11:11-12(JPT) reads: “on that day, the Lord shall continue to apply His hand a second time to acquire the rest of His people, that will remain from Egypt and from Pathros and from Cush… and from the islands of the sea… and He shall gather the lost of Israel… He shall gather from the four corners of the earth.” Such an in-gathering from Cush and the islands did not occur at the end of the Babylonian exile, and the Lost Tribes of Israel remain lost as of this writing.

Further, the Hebrew word for “hand,” “yod,” also means arm. The song of Isaiah 53:1 associates the twig-root’s rise with the “arm/hand of God”, and Isaiah 11 mentions the twig-root’s rise with God’s spirit and then says that the “arm/hand of God” would be applied a “second time” to gather Israel. So first the twig’s root would rise and then God would gather Israel. The Song of Isaiah 53 is actually in the past tense, including the opening words “he came up like a sapling before it [the arm of the Lord].” So Isaiah 52-53 describes “That Day,” a future Messianic Age, when Jerusalem will sing about God’s Servant, the root’s twig, who would have already come and suffered.

After Isaiah 52:6 promises “That Day” when God will speak, Isaiah 52:7-9(JPT) describes “that day” when God will come: “The voice of your watchmen- they raised a voice, together they shall sing, for eye to eye they shall see when the Lord returns to Zion. Burst out in song, sing together, O ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has consoled his people; He has redeemed Jerusalem.”

Then Isaiah 52:11-12(JPT) declares how the Lord will come to manifest himself: “Turn away, turn away, get out of there, touch no unclean one; get out of its midst, purify yourselves, you who bear the Lord’s vessels. For not with haste shall you go forth and not in a flurry of flight shall you go, for the Lord goes before you, and your rear guard is the God of Israel.” Those who bore the vessels for the Lord’s Temple in Jerusalem were the Levites, or priests (Numbers 1:50). In Isaiah’s day, the vessels were in Jerusalem, and Ezra 1 records that they returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. Plus, throughout Isaiah 51:17 – 52:12, God refers to Jerusalem as “you” and “yourselves” in the plural, so the vessel-bearers are Jerusalem and its people.

Thus God explains that first he will come as a vanguard, then Jerusalem and its people will come, and then God will come as the rearguard.

Immediately after Isaiah 52:6-12 explains Jerusalem’s song and the order of the procession comes the Servant Song, which lasts until 53:12. So the order of the singers of the Servant Song must be: first God as a vanguard (52:13-15), then Jerusalem and its people (53:1-10), then God as a rearguard (53:11-12). The song is long, passing through two chapters, because 52:11 says that the singers go “not with haste.”

The singer at the beginning of the Servant Song is God, since the speaker in 52:11 speaks of “my servant,” which elsewhere in Isaiah refers to God’s servant. Next, in 53:1-10, the singer changes from God, because he speaks of God in the third person: “to whom was the arm of the Lord revealed? … God’s purpose shall prosper in his hand”(53:1,10, JPT). Isaiah 52:12, which leads into Isaiah 53, says that “kings shall shut their mouths because of him.” The image of Him causing the kings’ mouths to shut runs against the image of their mouths being open to sing about the Servant in Isaiah 53. Further, the singers of Isaiah 53 say that while the Servant suffered, “We all went astray like sheep” (53:6). Psalm 44:12, Jeremiah 50:17, Ezekiel 34, and Zechariah 11 describe Israel as scattered sheep. It wouldn’t make sense for gentile kings to be sheep that scattered while Israel suffered. Actually, Isaiah never says that the kings are only gentiles.

In the last section (53:11-12), the singer is God again, since He once more refers to the Servant as “my servant.”

The Suffering Servant Is the Messiah in Place of Israel

In Isaiah 52:13-15(JPT), God distinguishes the Servant from Israel when He says:

  1. Behold My servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and he shall be very high.
  2. As many wondered about you[Israel], “How marred his appearance is from that of a man…”
  3. So shall he[God’s Servant] cast down[literally “sprinkle”] many nations ; kings shall shut their mouths because of him

Here in the song, God appears to be addressing “you”, Israel. That’s because Isaiah 52:14-15 analogizes people’s surprised reactions to the audience and Servant, and Isaiah 52 describes Israel as changing from being persecuted to being redeemed, and Isaiah 53 describes the Servant’s suffering and exaltation. Plus, throughout Isaiah 51:17 – 52:12, God addresses “you” as Jerusalem and Zion.

Further, verse 15 speaks of “him”, the Servant, “sprinkling” the nations. That’s because it uses the word “yazzeh”, which is the third-person singular form of the verb “nazah”, meaning “to sprinkle.” In all other 20 times when the Scriptures use the verb “nazah”, it clearly refers to sprinkling a liquid. (Exodus 29:21; Leviticus 4:6,17, 5:9, 6:20(2x), 8:11,30; 14:7,16,27,51 16:14(2x) 16:15,19; Numbers 8:7; 19:4,18,19, 21 ; 2 Kings 9:33; Isaiah 63:3). So by comparing “you”, Israel, to “him”, the Servant, in a single analogy, Isaiah 52:13-15 shows they are 2 distinct entities.

Further, since the singers in Isaiah 53:1-10 are the vessel-bearers of a collective Jerusalem, the Messiah suffers instead of Israel. Isaiah 53:8(JPS) says: “he was cut off from the land of the living Through the sin of my people, who deserved the punishment.” This passage uses the Hebrew phrase “nega’lamoh” (for them), so verse 8 more accurately reads: “there was injury for [because of] them.” In other words, the Servant was injured because of /for the singer’s people Israel.

Isaiah 53:9(JPT) says that the Servant “committed no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” Yet Isaiah does not see Israel as nonviolent or deceitless. Isaiah 48:1,8(JPT) says “Hearken to this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who… make mention of God of Israel, neither in truth nor in righteousness… I knew that you would deal treacherously, and you were called transgressor from the womb.” Isaiah 59:2(JPT) says of God’s people: “your iniquities were separating between you and between your God.” Isaiah 59:4-11(JPT) continues, speaking of everyone collectively: “No one calls sincerely, and no one is judged faithfully; trusting in vanity and speaking lies… their deeds are works of wickedness, and there is a deed of violence in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they hasten to shed innocent blood… We all growl like bears.” So in chapters before and after Isaiah 53, Isaiah calls Israel deceitful.

Further, Isaiah 53 compares the Servant to a lamb led to slaughter and speaks of Him as making an “asham,” which can mean either made “guilt” or made a sacrificial “guilt offering” (53:7,10). It doesn’t make sense that the Servant would “make guilt” and be rewarded for it. But the context of a lamb led to slaughter and the Servant bearing others’ sins matches the translation that the Servant made a sacrificial guilt offering.

Plus, a guilt offering must be blameless, as Deuteronomy 17:1(JPT) says: ”You shall not sacrifice to the Lord, your God, an ox or a sheep that has in it a blemish or any bad thing, for that is an abomination to the Lord, your God.” So for example, Leviticus 14:4 specifies that the birds used for a certain sacrifice must be “clean.” This goes against Israel acting as an asham, because Isaiah says that Israel’s hands were defiled with blood and its fingers with sin (Isaiah 59:3).

After describing Israel’s transgressions in Isaiah 59, Isaiah prophecies that God will wear “garments of vengeance… distress shall come like a river… And a redeemer shall come to Zion, and to those who repent of transgression in Jacob.”(59:18-20) In other words, Israel’s guilt and distress would continue at least until the Messianic Redeemer came to those who repented in Jacob. So Israel, with its guilt, could not serve as a guilt offering before the Redeemer came. And since the Redeemer is one who gathers Israel, he would not allow a redeemed Israel to be “cut off from the land of the living” like the Servant in Isaiah 53:8.

Even assuming that in the future Israel became blameless and faithful, God would not allow Israel to bear others’ sins or be destroyed as an “asham” like the Suffering Servant, since in Deuteronomy 28 and Ezekiel 34, God’s covenant was a promise that He would protect Israel if it followed Him. Deuteronomy 28 says:

  1. it will be if you obey the Lord, your God, to observe to fulfill all His commandments which I command you this day, the Lord, your God, will place you supreme above all the nations of the earth.
  2. And all these blessings will come upon you and cleave to you, if you obey the Lord, your God
  3. The Lord will cause your enemies who rise up against you, to be beaten before you; they will come out against you in one direction, but they will flee from you in seven directions.

Likewise, Hosea 5 and Zechariah 13 say that if Israel sought Him, he would call them “my people” again. Likewise, Jeremiah 50:5 predicts that Israel’s return to God would include an “everlasting covenant.”

The Midrash Tanchuma, a 7th-9th century AD rabbinical commentary, similarly considers the Servant to be a man because it calls him a “man.” It records that: <<Rabbi Nachman says: The Word “man” in the passage, “Every man a head of the house of his father” (Num.1,4), refers to the Messiah, the son of David, as it is written, “Behold the man whose name is Zemach” (the Branch) where Jonathan interprets, “Behold the man Messiah” (Zech.6:12); and so it is said, “A man of pains and known to sickness” (Isa. 53:3).>>

Midrash Tanchuma also comments that the words “Behold, My servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high” in Isaiah 52:13(JPT) mean that “He was exalted higher than Abraham, and was raised higher than Moses, and was made greater than the archangels.”

Thus, the suffering Servant cannot be Moses, since God rejected his request to atone for Israel in Exodus 30-33, and in Numbers 20:12 God said Moses “did not have faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel.” The Servant neither refers to the prophet Isaiah, nor to a “righteous remnant“ of good Israelites like Isaiah, since Isaiah spoke of everyone including himself when he criticized the Israelites: “No one calls sincerely, and no one is judged faithfully; trusting in vanity and speaking lies, conceiving injustice and begetting wickedness… We all growl like bears”, etc. (Isaiah 59:4,11 -JPT). Plus, Isaiah 53:2 refers to the Servant as a root’s twig (verashoresh) rather than several twigs, just as Isaiah 11 refers to the Messiah as a root’s twig, rather than several twigs. And God continues to addresses his words in Isaiah 48 to “you”, Israel, when the chapter refers to Israel as deceitful, when it describes Israel’s refinement, and when it describes the Servant Israel’s redemption, instead of dividing Israel into an unrighteous Israel and a separate, righteous one (eg. they vs. you).

The Healer of Jerusalem

The Hebrew word for disease, “choliy,” can mean malady, sickness, anxiety, affliction, anxiety, calamity, or grief. In Jeremiah 10:18-20(JPT), the prophet Jeremiah describes a pagan invasion of Judah, saying: “My tent has been spoiled, and all my cords have been broken; my children have left me and they are not here[“My children… are no more” –JPS] He describes the harm to him as a grievous (literally “sickly”) wound: “My wound is grievous,” adding poetically “This is but an illness, and I will bear it.”

Jeremiah 16:4(JPT) warns of those who shall die “Deaths of sicknesses… with the sword and with famine shall they perish.” Isaiah 3:11(JPS) seems to speak of illness as general badness: “Woe to the wicked man, for he shall fare ill.”

In Deuteronomy 28:61(JPT), Moses warns Israel that if it doesn’t follow God’s laws, “the Lord will bring upon you every disease and plague which is not written in this Torah scroll, to destroy you.”

Isaiah’s view is that Israel collectively is diseased, since he addresses them in the plural as “ye” and “them” in Isaiah 1:1,4-6(1917 JPS used to show 2nd person plural):

1 The vision of Isaiah… concerning Judah and Jerusalem…

4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that deal corruptly; they have forsaken the LORD, they have contemned the Holy One of Israel

5 On what part will ye yet be stricken, seeing ye stray away more and more? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint;

6 From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and festering sores: they have not been pressed, neither bound up, neither mollified with oil.

While Isaiah describes Israel as “stricken,” God says that he heals in Exodus 15:26(JPT): “If you hearken to the voice of the Lord, your God, and you do what is proper in His eyes… all the sicknesses that I have visited upon Egypt I will not visit upon you, for I, the Lord, heal you.”

Jeremiah 6:7-14(JPT) suggests that prophets can heal Israel’s sickness, but the prophets that “deal falsely” only give weak healing:

  1. As a well lets its water flow, so has she let her evil flow; violence and spoil is heard therein before Me continually; sickness and wounds.
  2. Be corrected, O Jerusalem
  3. For, from their smallest to their greatest, they all commit robbery, and from prophet to priest they all deal falsely.
  4. And they healed the breach of My people easily[“offer healing offhand” -JPS;“healed also the hurt of my people lightly” -1917 JPS], saying, “Peace, peace,” but there is no peace.

Isaiah 33:20-24 prophesies a future when God will save Israel. Just as Jeremiah 10:18-20 called a tent’s wartime destruction and the breaking of its cords “but a sickness,” Isaiah 33:20-24 describes a peaceful time when the tents and their cords will not be broken and no one will say “I am sick”. This suggests that the prophet Jeremiah understood Isaiah to use the term “sickness” to describe violent suffering. On the other hand, it seems that no one would be physically sick in the Messianic Age.

Isaiah 33:20-24(JPS) reads:

20 When you gaze upon Zion, our city of assembly, Your eyes shall behold Jerusalem As a secure homestead, A tent not to be transported, Whose pegs shall never be pulled up, And none of whose ropes shall break.

21 For there the Lord in His greatness shall be for us…

22 For the Lord shall be our ruler, The Lord shall be our prince, The Lord shall be our king: He shall deliver us.

23 Then shall indeed much spoil be divided, Even the lame shall seize booty.

24 And none who lives there shall say, “I am sick”; It shall be inhabited by folk whose sin has been forgiven.

As in Isaiah 33, Isaiah 52-53 describes a peaceful future Age when God lives with his saved people(52:6,8) and the spoil is shared(53:12), while describing healing from “sickness” alongside forgiveness of “sin.”

The words in Isaiah 53:4,9(JPS) “yet”[inserted by the JPT] and “Though” suggest that the Servant was wrongly despised for being afflicted and wrongly considered wicked:

  1. Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing… [“Yet” -JPT] We accounted him plagued, Smitten and afflicted by God
  2. And his grave was set among the wicked… Though he had done no injustice And had spoken no falsehood.

Isaiah 53:4 and 53:11-12 (JPT) speak in parallel form about the Servant bearing others’ diseases and sins:

  1. Indeed, he bore our illnesses, and our pains-he carried them
  2. their iniquities he would bear. 12. and he bore the sin of many

Similarly, Isaiah 53:5 and 53:10(JPS) speak poetically in parallel form, associating:

(A) the Servant being crushed by iniquity and disease and (B) God crushing him and making a sin-offering

(A) that this caused the speaker to be “made whole” and (B) this caused the Servant to have offspring and longer days

(A) that this caused the speaker’s healing and (B) this caused the Lord’s purpose to prosper:

5. But he was wounded because of our sins, 10. But the Lord chose to crush him by disease,
Crushed because of our iniquities. That, if he made himself an offering for guilt,
He bore the chastisement that made us whole, He might see offspring and have long life,
And by his bruises we were healed. And that through him the Lord’s purpose might prosper.

Thus, the singers were sinful and sick, but were wrong to consider him sinful and to despise him as afflicted. The singers’ sins caused the sinless Servant to be crushed, and disease crushed the healthy Servant too. Since the singers were sinful and diseased, it seems that sin and disease perverted the singers and caused them to persecute the Servant.

The parallel between Isaiah 53:5 and 53:10 shows that the Servant is crushed so that He can work God’s purpose, and God’s purpose is to heal Israel’s sins and illnesses with His stripes.

Since the Scriptures describe Israel as sick, and only say that God or an honest prophet could heal disease, the Servant is not Israel, but more likely an honest prophet, which would certainly describe the Messiah.

The Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 98b, 5th century AD) asks: “What is his [the Messiah’s] name? — The School of R. Shila said: His name is Shiloh, for it is written, until Shiloh come. [Genesis 49:10] The School of R. Yannai said: His name is Yinnon, for it is written, His name shall endure for ever: e’er the sun was, his name is Yinnon.[Psalm 72:17] … The Rabbis said: His name is ‘the leper scholar,’ as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted.[Cf. Isaiah 53:4]…” [the Talmud continues to list other rabbis’ answers] Actually, Isaiah 53:4 says that the singers considered the Servant to be “stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” The Talmud probably assumes this means “stricken with leprosy,” because “stricken” in Leviticus 13:3-20 refers to skin disease. Since Isaiah 1:5 described Israel as “stricken,” and Isaiah 53:4 said the Servant was both “stricken… and afflicted,” adding “Surely our diseases he did bear,” the Servant would bear Israel’s diseases including its leprosy.

One counterargument could be that sometimes the Talmud cites a verse and makes a “midrash” or allegory loosely based on it. For example, Tractate Berakoth 5a, the Talmud comments: “Rava said in the name of Rav Sachorah who said it in the name of Rav Huna: Whomever the Holy One, blessed is He, desires, He crushes with afflictions as it is stated ‘And the one whom Hashem desires He crushed with sickness (Isaiah 53:10).’” Here in Berakoth 5a, Rava cited a verse about the Servant and then applied it to “whomever the Holy One desires.” So it could appear that in Sanhedrin 98, the rabbis could be similarly taking a verse about righteous Israelites in general and loosely applying it to the Messiah.

However, the problem with this counterargument is that in Sanhedrin 98, the verses the rabbis cite in their conversation describe: the Messiah(Genesis 49:10, Jer. 30:9, Ezek. 37:25), God(Psalm 72:17, Lam.1:16), God’s decision whether to keep and show favor to Israel(Jer.16:13), Israel’s nobles and governor who approaches God after its redemption(Jer.30:21). That is, the rabbis put Isaiah 53 together with other passages they see as relating to the Messiah, God, or God’s redemption of Israel. It’s humorous that the rabbis propose names- descriptive titles perhaps- for the Messiah that are connected with the names of each school’s leading rabbis (Shiloh, Yinnon, Haninah, Nachman, etc.) However, that doesn’t mean the verses they cite don’t seriously suggest attributes of the Messiah (enduring forever, showing favor, coming from among the Israelites, etc.)

Based on the image of the Messiah stricken with leprosy, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) gives a story or allegory where Rabbi Joshua ben Levi finds the Messiah “sitting among other paupers, all of them afflicted with disease. Yet, while all the rest of them tie and untie their bandages all at once, the messiah changes his bandages one at a time, lest he is summoned for the redemption at a moment’s notice”.

On another note, one problem with considering the Servant to be afflicted with a literal disease like leprosy is that He would be harder to distinguish from the Foolish Shepherd in Zechariah 11 whose smiting only causes his arm and eye to wither, as with an illness. Further, Jeremiah 10 & 16 and Isaiah 3 uses “disease” as a poetic expression for violence, suffering, and badness, suggesting that the poetic expression “crushed by disease” means that the Lord crushed the Servant by violence and suffering, instead of physical disease. Finally, Isaiah 53’s mention of the despised Servant undergoing imprisonment, judgment, and a sacrificial “guilt offering,” to which he was led like a passive lamb, suggests that the Servant was killed, rather than dying from a bacterial or viral disease in His own body.

The Suffering Servant’s Death

Isaiah 53:7-8(JPT) describes the “crushed” Servant’s death: “like a lamb to the slaughter he would be brought… From imprisonment and from judgment he is taken, and his generation who shall tell? For he was cut off from the land of the living; because of the transgression of my people…” As mentioned above, the verse then adds: “there was injury for [because of] them.”

The land of the living means not only the land of Israel, but the world of the living- that is, the state of being bodily alive. “Concerning the men of Anathoth, that seek [his] life”, Jeremiah writes in language strikingly similar to that of Isaiah 53: “For I was like a docile lamb Led to the slaughter; I did not realize That it was against me They fashioned their plots: ‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, Let us cut him off from the land of the living. That his name be remembered no more!’” (Jeremiah 11:19,21, JPS)

Further, in Isaiah 38:11-12 (JPS), King Hezekiah writes after recovering from a life-threatening illness: “I thought, I shall never see Yah, Yah in the land of the living, Or ever behold men again Among those who inhabit the earth. My dwelling is pulled up and removed from me like a tent of shepherds; My life is rolled up like a web And cut from the thrum. Only from daybreak to nightfall Was I kept whole”. Since the context is Hezekiah’s life-threatening illness, it appears that here the “land of the living” refers to the heavenly or earthly realm where God or Hezekiah live.

In fact, all the other references to the “land of the living” refer to the earthly realm where people live, not merely the people’s homeland in Zion (Ezekiel 32:23-32 & Ezek 26:20 contrast the “land of the living” with netherworld and “Pit”; Psalm 52;7: the context is a wicked person being broken; Psalm 142:6 David can’t flee anywhere and God is all he has in the “land of the living”; Job 28:13: the source of understanding is not in the “land of the living”)

Isaiah 53:9(JPS) says: “And his grave was set among the wicked, And with the rich, in his death”. But the verse probably more literally reads: “and with the rich in his deaths.” It sounds strange to describe the Servant as experiencing “deaths.” Even if the Servant is a poetic image for Israel and death means being conquered, describing Israel as one person with a single grave for many deaths outside the “land of Israel” doesn’t make sense. But in Ezekiel 28:8 (1917 JPS used to show the 2nd person singular), God tells the Prince of Tyre that because he made himself a god, “They shall bring thee down to the pit; and thou shalt die the deaths of them that are slain, in the heart of the seas.” And in Job 21:30,32(JPS), when Job tells Zophar “That the wicked man is reserved for the day of calamity… he will be borne to the grave”, the verse actually uses the plural, “graves.” The Sifre Rabbah, a third century AD Rabbinical midrash, refers to the “deaths of the first man” and contrasts them with the merits that “he who humbleth himself on the day of atonement” gives to future generations. (Driver & Neubauer, The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, http://www.archive.org/stream/fiftythirdchapte02neub/fiftythirdchapte02neub_djvu.txt)

Isaiah 53:10(JPS) says: “But the Lord chose to crush him… That, if he made himself an offering for guilt [“shim asham”], He might see offspring and have long life, And that through him the Lord’s purpose might prosper.” The words “shim asham” literally mean “to make a guilt offering,” and the context of Isaiah 53 is a sinless Servant bearing sins and suffering to heal others like a sacrificial “guilt offering” does. In a sacrificial sin-offering according to the Torah, the high priest kills a simple animal like a lamb in connection with cleansing sins. Isaiah’s comparison of the Servant to a lamb led to slaughter further suggests that the Servant’s soul undergoes a guilt offering. But just as the Servant acted like a lamb without being one, the guilt offering would function like a sacrificial sin-offering without literally being a ritualistic sacrifice.

Since the guilt offering would allow the Servant to see his seed and prolong his days, and it would make God’s purpose prosper, God’s prediction in Isaiah 53:12(JPT) that He would reward the Servant suggests that the guilt offering took place: “Therefore, I will allot him a portion in public, and with the strong he shall share plunder, because he poured out his soul to death”.

The phrase “he poured out his soul to death” [literally “poured out himself to death”] indicates that the Servant’s soul was “poured out” [“he’erah”] of His body to die. In Psalm 22:14(JPT), David portrays a similar image: “I was spilled like water”, although Psalm 22 uses another word, spilled (“nishpachti”). “Expose”, “uncover”, and “pour out” are the meanings of the root word “arah” is used to form the word “he’erah” in Isaiah 53:12.

The two other passages where the Old Testament uses “he’erah” better clarify its meaning in Isaiah 52:12. Isaiah 32:15(JPT) says: “Until a spirit be poured[he’erah] us from on high, and the desert shall become a fruitful field.” And Leviticus 20:18-19(JPS) says: “If a man lies with a woman in her infirmity and uncovers her nakedness, he has laid bare [he’erah] her flow and she has exposed her blood flow; both of them shall be cut off from among their people. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister or of your father’s sister, for that is laying bare [he’erah] one’s own flesh.” In other words, just as the sexual act uncovers protective flesh and frees the “flow”, the Servant’s soul is uncovered from the flesh and “freed”. Or just as a spirit is uncovered/poured from on high like rain that makes the desert fruitful, (Is. 32:15), the Servant’s soul is released. This image of “pouring out” the Servant is reminiscent of the Servant “sprinkling” the nations in Isaiah 52:15, since in both cases no physical liquid is clearly specified.

The images in Isaiah 53 also match images in Zechariah 12-13 about a Messiah’s death. Like God said in Zechariah 13:7(JPT) of the Good Shepherd, “Smite the shepherd, and the flock shall scatter,” Isaiah 53:5-6(JPT) reports with similar, slower language that the Suffering Servant was “crushed because of our iniquities; the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his wound we were healed. We all went astray like sheep, we have turned, each one on his way”. Thus, the Good Shepherd’s death parallels the Suffering Servant’s death.

Likewise, Isaiah 52-53’s prophecy of Jerusalem singing a lamentation “on that day” for the Servant who was cut off (Isaiah 52:6) matches God’s words in Zechariah 12:10-11(JPT) about how “on that day” there shall be “great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the Valley of Megiddon” and Jerusalem’s inhabitants ” shall look to me because of those[or “him”] who have been thrust through, and they shall mourn over it [or:“him”] as one mourns over an only son and shall be in bitterness, therefore, as one is embittered over a firstborn son.”
The Suffering Servant’s Life after Death

Isaiah 53:10(JPS) says: “the Lord chose to crush him… That, if he made himself an offering for guilt, He might see offspring and have long life”. If undergoing a “guilt-offering” leads to the Servant seeing offspring and prolonging His days, it must mean that the Servant resurrected after the sacrifice to do those things. Likewise, Isaiah 53:12(JPT) speaks of the Servant receiving a reward because he died: “Therefore, I will allot him a portion in public[“a portion among the great” -1917 JPS], and with the strong he shall share plunder, because he poured out his soul to death.”

Isaiah 33:20-23 describes the plunder’s division when God returns and Jerusalem is a “tranquil dwelling.” Prolonging the days of one’s life and sharing plunder with the strong are earthly actions, so the Servant would bodily resurrect to perform them.

The Isaiah Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls is the oldest surviving manuscript of Isaiah and dates from 335-100 BC. After describing the Servant being crushed and then seeing his offspring, the Isaiah Scroll says word-for-word in Isaiah 53:11: “Of the toil of his soul he shall see light, and be satisfied”. Here is the relevant section from the Scroll (“Isaiah Scroll 44”, http://www.ao.net/~fmoeller/qum-44.htm . Remember that Hebrew reads right to left):

The difference between the Dead Sea Scroll and the Masoretic text of Isaiah 53:11 is that the Masoretic text lacks the words “light, and”. The Masoretic text (JPT) says: “From the toil of his soul he would see, he would be satisfied” and misses specifying what the Servant would see. On this point of difference, the Dead Sea Scrolls match the Septuagint, which says in Isaiah 53:11: “from the travail of his soul, to sh[o]w him light, and to form Him” (Charles Thomson translation of the LXX).

Isaiah’s words that the Servant would see light suggest that the Servant would experience life, since “see” has a metaphorical meaning of experience (as we saw with Psalm 16) and light has a metaphorical meaning of life. For example, Isaiah 9:1(JPT) contrasts light and the shadow of death: “The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light; those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, light shone upon them” Psalm 56:14(JPT) has a parallel structure contrasting stumbling with walking and death with the light of life:

For You have saved me from death,

my foot from stumbling, that I may walk

before God in the light of life”.

Psalm 49(JPS) associates never seeing light with perishing:

20 yet he must join the company of his ancestors, who will never see daylight[“light”-JPT] again.

21Man does not understand honor; he is like the beasts that perish.

Similarly, in Job 33(JPT) being redeemed and brought back from the pit causes seeing light and being enlightened with the light of life. The passage has a pattern where “perishing in the pit” is contrasted with “seeing light”(underlined). And the phrase “soul from the pit” parallels with “the light of life”, associating the soul with the light:

  1. He redeemed his soul from perishing in the pit,

and his living spirit shall see the light.

  1. To bring back his soul from the pit

to be enlightened with the light of life.

The Makhzor, a prayerbook for the Day of Atonement, includes a prayer from the 6th – 10th centuries AD, called the Musaf. The Musaf says that the Messiah left the people, but God will make Him anew, which suggests the Messiah’s death and resurrection. A Jewish Christian, Arnold Frutenbaum, cites the poem in his article “Contradictions in Isaiah 53” (http://www.orhaolam.org/new/yeshua/Isaiah53.htm):

Our righteous Messiah departed us: horror grabbed us, there is none to justify us.

He was wounded for our sins and our crimes, he was made to suffer for our lawlessness

He bears ours sins on himself, that we may find pardon for our lawlessness.

We will be healed with his wounds when the Eternal one will make Him as a new creation.

Oh, make him ascend from the circle of the earth, raise him from the lands of Seir.

To gather us on the mountain of Lebanon a second time by the will of Yinnon.

Jesus Christ Matches the Servant of Isaiah 52-53

Like Jesus, the Messiah would have to be rejected by Jerusalem’s religious leaders. In Isaiah 53:3(JPS), Jerusalem and its vessel-bearers sing that the Servant “was despised, shunned by men, A man of suffering, familiar with disease. As one who hid his face from us, [“as one from whom men hide their face” -1917 JPS] He was despised, we held him of no account.” The same crowds that welcomed Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a humble donkey cried for His death when religious leaders told them that He was not the Messiah, but a weak, blasphemous, captured criminal.(Matthew 21&27).

Just as Jerusalem sings in Isaiah 53:3-4 that the Servant bore people’s illnesses while they considered Him stricken, Matthew 8:2-17 & 12:24 record that Jesus Christ bore away people’s illnesses, while the pharisees considered him afflicted with demons:

8:2. there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.

8:3. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

8:16. they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick:

8:17. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.

12:24. But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.

At first glance, one problem with relating Isaiah 53 to Jesus is that Isaiah 53:9(JPT) prophesies that the Servant was killed, although “he committed no violence.” Jesus Christ’s most seemingly violent act occurred in Matthew 21:12-14(KJV) when:

21:12 Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

21:13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

21:14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.

Technically, Jesus probably did not perform “violence,” since the Oxford dictionary defines violence as: “behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something,” and pushing someone away does not cause physical damage to them. His intent was not to punish the money changers, since he did not follow them out. Rather, his intent was to remove them because the pharisees would not.

Further, the term “violence” in Isaiah appears to mean unjust physical harm. The only other time he mentions the term, he writes that an “deed of violence” is in the people’s hands while ”Their feet run to evil, and they hasten to shed innocent blood… Therefore, justice is far from us” (Isaiah 59:3-9, JPT). For Isaiah, an “act of violence” means something physically destructive that removes justice. For example, firefighters, who pull people out of burning houses, do not commit “acts of violence” in the sense that Isaiah uses the word. Jeremiah and Ezekiel always use the word violence to refer to sinful or unlawful violence (Jer. 6:7,20:8,22:3,22:17,51:35,51:46; Ezek 7:11-23,8:17,12:19,18:7-18,28:16,45:9). The Scriptures(in particular the 1917 JPS) always uses the words “violence,” “violent,” and “violently” to suggest wickedness or unlawfulness, except for a mistranslation of Isaiah 22:18. (Isaiah 22:18 literally reads: “whirling He will whirl thee”.) Perhaps for this reason the 1985 JPS translates Isaiah 53:9 to say: “Though he had done no injustice”, rather than “no violence.” Likewise, the Septuagint transcript of the Scriptures says in Isaiah 53:9 that the Servant “had done no lawlessness”, instead of “no violence.”

The dove-sellers used the place of worship to profit from selling sacrificial animals to destitute people required to buy them. The money-changers charged a fee to exchange pilgrims’ Roman money with graven images into clean money. The dove-sellers only took Jewish or Tyrian money, which is funny because Tyrian money also had graven images, since they showed the Tyrian god Herakles. If Jesus was the Messiah, it would be lawful and righteous for him to “fire” the moneychangers profiting needlessly from God’s House.

Another apparent problem is that Christ spoke at His trial, but Isaiah 53:7(JPT) says that the Servant “would not open his mouth; like a lamb to the slaughter he would be brought, and like a ewe that is mute before her shearers, and he would not open his mouth.” In other words, the Servant lacked the ability to speak, like a mute female sheep, and did not open his mouth.

On the other hand, Ezekiel 3:26-27(JPS) records God’s spirit telling Ezekiel “you shall be dumb… But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth”. Ezekiel writes that later: “the hand of the Lord had come upon me… and He opened my mouth… thus my mouth was opened and I was no longer speechless.” (Ezek 33:22, JPS) Numbers 22:28(JPT) records an unusual incident where the prophet Balaam strikes his she-donkey, and “The Lord opened the mouth of the she-donkey, and she said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?’” During Jesus’ trial, a court officer struck Jesus, who also responded by asking His attacker why He was struck: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?”(John 18:23).

So while Isaiah 53:7 says that the Servant would be mute like a female sheep, the Scriptures talks about God opening the mouths of a mute prophet and a she-donkey. Christ’s mouth opened, and after hearing Him, “the high priest… saith ‘Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye?’ And they all condemned him to be guilty of death.”(Mark 14:63-64).

Another fulfillment was that Joseph of Arithmea put Jesus’ body in his wealthy family tomb. Isaiah 53:9(JPS) says: “his grave was set[“vaiyitten”] among the wicked, And with the rich, in his death”. The word “vaiyitten” comes from the root word, “nathan”, which means to set, as in to prepare or appoint (See: Joshua 20:2, 2 Kings 8:6, Ezra 8:20). The Sanhedrin might have arranged for Jesus to have a common grave with criminals, but Joseph of Arithmea later succeeded in requesting His body from Pilate for Joseph’s family tomb. Isaiah would have considered Joseph’s family to be wicked too, since Isaiah 58:1-4 & 59:1-4 describes everyone as wicked.

Jesus Christ’s Seed and Knowledge Fulfills Isaiah 52-53

Isaiah 53:8(JPT) says about the Servant: “From imprisonment and from judgment he is taken, and his generation who shall tell? For he was cut off from the land of the living.” In other words, Isaiah 53:8(NIV translation) asks rhetorically “who shall speak of his descendants,” and adds that it asks this because he was physically killed. That is, no one can speak of his descendants, “for” he was cut off instead of generating them.

Nevertheless, Isaiah 53:10(JPS) says “if he made himself an offering for guilt, He might see offspring[or “seed”]”. Interestingly, it does not say he might see his own physical seed. Only three verses later, Isaiah points to the contradiction of having children while lacking physical ones: “’Sing you barren woman who has not borne; burst out into song and jubilate, you who have not experienced birth pangs, for the children of the desolate one are more than the children of the married woman,’ says the Lord.”(Isaiah 54:1, JPT). Further, Genesis 38:8(JPS) shows that the term “offspring/seed”(in Hebrew, “zera”) doesn’t always refer to spiritual offspring: “Then Judah said to Onan, “Join with your brother’s wife and do your duty by her as a brother-in-law, and provide offspring for your brother.”

Jesus Christ’s spiritual children are the Christians who follow Him. If Jesus Christ is their father, then His father Abraham must be their father too. As St. Paul explained in Galatians 3:29(KJV), “if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” For this reason, St Paul saw nations becoming Christian as a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham “thou shalt be a father of many nations” (Genesis 17:4, Romans 4:17, KJV).

Since St. Paul’s time, many nations have received the knowledge of God and His laws through Jesus Christ. This fulfills the words of Isaiah 53:11(JPT) that “with his knowledge My servant would vindicate the just for many, and their iniquities he would bear.” More exactly, it says that the Servant’s knowledge will “make righteous the righteous” many (or “to the many” – JPS) and bear their iniquities. Similarly, Daniel 12:3(JPT) says that “those who bring the multitudes[“rabbiym”] to righteousness [shall be] like the stars forever and ever.” Isaiah 53:12(JPT) adds that the Servant “bore the sin of many.”

The Servant’s knowledge means the knowledge of God, His ways, his law, and his truth. Isaiah 11:1-2(JPT) explains that “the spirit of the Lord.., a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord” will rest on the Messianic twig of Jesse’s root. Isaiah 11:5,9 explains that “righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins,” and “the land shall be full of knowledge of the Lord”. In Isaiah 58:2(JPT), God says of His people: “they wish to know My ways… they ask Me ordinances of righteousness.” Likewise, Isaiah declares “Hearken to Me, you who know righteousness, a people that has My Torah in their heart” (Isaiah 51:7, JPT). Together with the verses above, Hezekiah’s generalization while addressing God that “the father to the children shall make known Thy truth” suggests that the Servant will tell his spiritual offspring God’s truth. (Is.38:19, 1917 JPS best translates yovdia- “make known”)

Further, those who will be made righteous are both Israel and the nations. Isaiah says that “all the seed of Israel” will be made righteous in the Lord, that “like the earth, which gives forth its plants… so shall the Lord God cause righteousness… to grow opposite all the nations”, and that “when Your judgments [come] to the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn justification.”(Isaiah 45:25, 61:11, 26:9). Likewise, the many, or “rabbiym,” refers both to Israel and the nations. Isaiah 5:13-14; 8:14-17; 32:14 refer to Israel and Jerusalem as “many,” while Isaiah 2:4 & 17:12-13 describe “the nations” as “many.” Isaiah 52:14-15; 53:11-12 (JPS) reads:

14Just as the many were appalled at him…

15Just so he shall startle[“sprinkle”] many nations…

11-12 My righteous servant makes the many righteous, It is their punishment that he bears; Assuredly, I will give him the many as his portion, He shall receive the multitude as his spoil. For he… bore the guilt of the many…

One of the greatest proofs that Jesus is the Messiah is that “many nations” have learned of God and His laws through Him.


  1. Rabbinical Judaism’s Concept of Two Messiahs

Today, few know that since at least the 5th century AD, one common view in Rabbinical Judaism was that there would be two Messiahs- a “Messiah son of Joseph” from Ephraim and “Messiah son of David” from Judah. According to this view, the “Messiah ben Joseph” would gather Israel’s children, overcome hostile powers, reestablish the Temple, and die in a defensive battle. Within seven years, the “Messiah ben David” would come, finish the battle, and resurrect everyone, including “Messiah ben Joseph.” (See: Sukkah 52a, Sanhedrin 97a, Sefer Zerubabal OH page 160, Midrash Shir Hashirim 2.14, Pesikta Zetrusa parshas Balak, Otzar HaMidrashim OH pages 390-395, Derech Eretz Zuta 10, Emunah VaDeos book 8, Hai GOan OH page 387.)

The idea of a Messiah ben David from the tribe of Judah and a separate Messiah ben Joseph from the tribe of Ephraim is based on Ezekiel 37(JPS), where God tells Ezekiel:

  1. And you, O mortal, take a stick and write on it, “Of Judah and the Israelites associated with him”; and take another stick and write on it, “Of Joseph—the stick of Ephraim—and all the House of Israel associated with him.”
  2. Bring them close to each other, so that they become one stick, joined together in your hand.
  3. And when any of your people ask you, “Won’t you tell us what these actions of yours mean?”
  4. answer them, “Thus said the Lord God: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in the hand of Ephraim—and of the tribes of Israel associated with him, and I will place the stick of Judah upon it and make them into one stick; they shall be joined in My hand.”

But if one “stick” refers to one person, and the stick of Judah is Judah’s Messianic leader and the stick of Joseph is Ephraim’s Messianic leader, how can God make them one stick?(Ezek.17:17) It must mean that God will make Judah’s Messiah and Ephraim’s Messiah to be one person. Judah’s Messiah and Ephraim’s Messiah could be “one stick” if He was descended from both of them. He could also be the physical descendant of Judah and the spiritual descendant of Ephraim’s father Joseph.

Genesis 37-50 records that Jacob had 12 sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel. Judah’s descendants became the leading tribe. The tribe of Ephraim was descended from Jacob’s son Joseph, who was put in a pit, sold into slavery, and freed by Pharaoh. Just as “David” was a poetic image for the Messianic “Son of David,” the Rabbis might have considered that the “Messiah ben Joseph” would resemble his forefather Joseph. In Hebrew, “the pit” also means “the grave”, so perhaps the rabbis chose to describe the “Messiah ben Joseph” as one who died and resurrected because his forefather did both in a poetic sense.

Adherents of the “two Messiahs” view also point to Obadiah 1:18-19,21(JPT):

  1. And the house of Jacob shall be fire and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau shall become stubble, and they shall ignite them and consume them, and the house of Esau shall have no survivors, for the Lord has spoken.
  2. And [the inhabitants of] the southland shall inherit the mountain of Esau, and [the inhabitants of] the plain, the Philistines, and they shall inherit the field of Ephraim and the field of Samaria, and Benjamin [with the inhabitants of] Gilead…
  3. And saviors shall ascend Mt. Zion to judge the mountain of Esau, and the Lord shall have the kingdom.

However, the House of Jacob was the 12 twelve tribes, and Obadiah speaks of the Houses of Jacob and Joseph, not the Houses of Judah and Joseph like Ezekiel did. Further, the Hebrew word “saviors” also means “victors,” and Obadiah 1:17-21 describes military victories over the surrounding small tribes of Esau, Gilead, the Philistines, Samaria, and the South, rather than a Messianic Age victory over strong nearby nations like Egypt.

The “Two Messiahs” viewpoint could trace to a traditional interpretation in Ezekiel’s time. But the Talmud takes the “two-Messiahs” tradition from Rabbi Dosa, who lived at least 700 years after Ezekiel, and rabbinical Judaism has several conflicting traditions of the Messiah’s identity. (eg. Targum Jonathan considers the Servant of Isaiah 53 to be both the Conquering Messiah and suffering hostile nations.)

The idea of a suffering “Messiah ben Joseph” could be the confused echo of an original, simpler interpretation that Zechariah 12 and Psalm 22 prophesy the piercing of a Davidic Messiah, who escaped from a pit in Psalm 40:1-4 like Joseph did. Since the Scriptures nowhere explicitly mention a “Messiah ben Joseph,” the “two Messiahs” view seems to be an attempt to deal with two personalities ascribed to the Messiah: a suffering pierced resurrected Servant and a “commander of nations” who is victorious in conquest and gathers Israel.

However, since Psalm 22 describes someone who is killed and resurrects, it seems that at least in terms of scriptural interpretation, such a description of a person isn’t impossible. That is, from the scriptures’ point of view, someone’s death and apparent defeat doesn’t exclude the possibility of the person’s return and victory. Indeed, Ezekiel 37 seems to say that God would combine Joseph’s and David’s two personalities or lineages into one person.

  1. The First Christians

Jesus the Rabbi

Jesus Christ’s interpretation that the Scriptures prophesy the Messiah’s death and resurrection is one of the earliest interpretations that we have. Jesus understood the scriptures well and studied them since he was at least 12. Luke 2:46-47,51-52 records that once His parents lost Him and searched three days until “they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers… but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom”.

Luke 4:16 says that it was Jesus’ custom to teach in the synagogue on the Sabbath. In John 3:1-2(NKJV), “a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews” said to Jesus: “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God”. John 1:38 explains that the Hebrew and Aramaic word “Rabbi” means teacher. Jesus is called “teacher” by: a Scribe (Matthew 8:19); teachers of the law (Luke 11:45); Pharisees (Matthew 9:11, 22:36; Mark 12:32; Luke 10:25, 7:40, 19:39); Pharisees and teachers of the law (Matthew 12:38); Sadducees (Mark 12:19; Luke 20:27-39). By preserving the Hebrew title, John 3:2 suggests that Nicodemus, who came to Jesus under cover of night and later buried Him, called Jesus “Rabbi” out of respect, while other pharisees saw him as an ordinary teacher. The title “Rabbi” almost always refers to Jesus in the gospels, which thereby distinguish Jesus from the Pharisaic and Sadducee orders, who call him “teacher.”

Rabbi Jesus had insight into the Scriptures. Jesus’ discussion of “the deceitfulness of riches” leading to unfruitfulness (Mark 4:19 and Matthew 23:7), properly combines the 2nd and 4th phrases of Isaiah 53:9. Just as those phrases line up, Zechariah 11, Ezekiel 34, and Zechariah 13 line up to show that the Sword in Zechariah 13:7 smites the Good Shepherd, and in Mark 14:27, Rabbi Jesus applied Zechariah 13:7 to Himself as the Messiah.

Even before His crucifixion, Rabbi Jesus told His disciples: “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles… And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33, KJV) But when Jesus said that the Son of Man would rise from the dead, His disciples were confused, “questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean.” (Mark 9) Only after His Resurrection did they really understand.


Rabbi Jesus teaching in Nazareth’s Synagogue, icon in the Decani Monastery

Nicodemus the Pharisee and Patron of Jerusalem

Nicodemus, or “Nakdimon” in Hebrew, was a ruling Pharisee who accepted Jesus. He matches the description of one of Jerusalem’s wealthiest “counselors,” Nakdimon ben Gurion. (See: Lamentations Rabbati 1.5, Gittin 56). In the mid-1st century AD, Nakdimon provided water for Jerusalem’s festivals. The Talmud (Taanith, chapter 3) relates that Nakdimon once borrowed 12 wells of water from a heathen Master in a dry year, risking 297 kg of silver if the wells weren’t refilled by a certain date. On the day for repayment, he went to the Temple, wrapped himself in his cloak, and prayed: “Creator of the Universe! It is known to Thee, that not for the sake of glory for me… but for the glory of Thy name, that the pilgrims in Jerusalem might have water, did I borrow those wells.” Rain fell, the 12 wells refilled, but the day’s sun had already set, so the Master demanded the silver. Nakdimon returned to the Temple and prayed: “”Creator of the Universe! Announce to the world that Thou hast favorites here on earth!”, and the sun reappeared to satisfy the promise. The Taanith concludes: “We have learned in a Boraitha: His name was not Nakdimon, but Boni, and he was called Nakdimon because on his account the sun hastened. The rabbis taught: ‘For the sake of each of three men alone the sun shone, and they are Moses, Joshua, and Nakdimon ben Gurion.'”

John 3:1-2 records that Nicodemus, “a man of the Pharisees” and “ruler of the Jews” came to Jesus secretly by night. Nicodemus said “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” Nicodemus’ belief that miracles are real and show God’s favor matches Nakdimon’s beliefs in the Taanith. Jesus answered Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”, and referred to Nicodemus’ status as “a master of Israel”. (John 3:5,10)

At the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus cried “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water”, and afterwards the pharisees discussed punishing Him. (John 7:32-49). But Nicodemus told them “Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” The pharisees rebuked Nicodemus with “Art thou also of Galilee?” and left. (John 7:50-53). In fact, Tractate Erub 3(4):17 says that the Gurion family’s estates were in Ruma, Lower Galilee. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 43) says that they could not simply declare Jesus an enticer and kill him, “for he was connected with the government [or royalty, i.e., influential].”

The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, which the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906 ed.) dates to the 3rd century AD, describes Nicodemus telling Pilate that Jesus did miracles like the prophets and that “he is not worthy of death.” In response, the “rest of the Jews” raged against Nicodemus and said “Mayest thou receive his truth and his portion.” Nicodemus replied: “Amen, Amen: may I receive it as ye have said.”(Gosp. Nicodemus, chp. v.)

After the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arithmea took Jesus’ body and Nicodemus “brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.”(John 19:39-40). The Gospel of Nicodemus claims that the disciples scattered, and “Nicodemus alone shewed himself.” The “rest of the Jews” asked Nicodemus, “how durst thou enter into the synagogue who wast a confederate with Christ? Let thy lot be along with him in the other world.” Nicodemus answered, “Amen; so may it be, that I may have my lot with him in his kingdom.”(Nico. IX)

The Sanhedrin might have enforced this threat to Nicodemus, not only because he was Jesus’ “confederate”, but because he buried Jesus’ body and the body vanished as Jesus had predicted. After the Talmud says that Jesus was connected to “influential persons”, it says:

“Yeshu had five disciples, Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni and Todah. When Matthai was brought [before the court] he said to them [the judges], Shall Matthai be executed? …they retorted; Yes… When Nakai was brought in he said to them; Shall Nakai be executed? It is not written, Naki [the innocent] and the righteous slay thou not? Yes, was the answer, Nakai shall be executed, since it is written, in secret places does Naki [the innocent] slay … When Buni was brought in, he said: Shall Buni be executed? Is it not written, Beni [my son], my first born? Yes, they said, Buni shall be executed, since it is written, Behold I will slay Bine-ka [thy son] thy first born. (Sanhedrin 43)”

These trials occurred in 63 or 70 AD, when Christian tradition generally relates that the Sanhedrin stoned the Apostle Matthias. The Jewish Encyclopedia comments that the passage’s fourth “disciple” called “‘Boni’ [was] …probably the Nicodemus mentioned by John”. (Entry: “Jesus of Nazareth”, 1906 edition, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=254&letter=J&search=) And according to the Talmud, Nakdimon’s real name was Boni. Nicodemus could also be the disciple “Nakai”, since Nak– (innocent) is the prefix in the name Nakdimon. Christian tradition records no other disciples of Jesus named Nicodemus or Boni/Buni, but it does consider Nicodemus a martyr.

The Talmud (Ketubot 66-67) records that by the end of the Roman war (66-70 AD), Nakdimon’s close family was so poor his daughter pulled grain from dung to eat. It portrays their impoverishment as divine punishment because it says he was greedy. But it mentions the widespread belief that he was generous, and fails to explain exactly how his assets disappeared.

Thus, the gospel’s description of Nicodemus matches the Talmud’s description of Nakdimon as a generous ruling patron of Jerusalem from Galilee who believed in miracles. The Talmud describes Nakdimon as such a faithful person that God made the sun shine for him as He did for Moses and Joshua. Nicodemus’ belief in Jesus’ miracles made him believe that Jesus was “from God.” Nicodemus’ burial of Jesus, who was crucified under the title “King of the Jews,” and Nakdimon’s apparent martyrdom show that he accepted the concept of a dying and resurrecting Messiah.


Nicodemus talks with Jesus at night.

Joseph of Arimathea the Sanhedrin Counselor

Joseph of Arimathea was an “honorable counselor,” a “good” and “just man,” and a secret “disciple of Jesus.” (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50; John 19:38) The title “honorable counselor” refers to his membership in the Sanhedrin, as do the words regarding Jesus’ crucifixion that he “had not consented to the counsel and deed of them” regarding Jesus’ Crucifixion. (Luke 23:51).

That Pilate speedily entrusted Jesus’ body to Joseph on Joseph’s request further suggests Joseph’s authority. (Mark 15:43-45) Until Joseph made his request, the Romans would have prepared to bury Jesus with the criminals crucified next to Him. Instead, Joseph bought clean “fine linen,” wrapped the body with Nicodemus’ spices, and laid it in Joseph’s “own new tomb.” (Matthew 27:57-60, Mark 15:46, John 19:39-40). But while the Romans might have prepared for him to have a grave with criminals, and Joseph prepared for him to be buried with Joseph’s wealthy family, Jesus resurrected before sharing a grave with either. Joseph was not only Jesus’ secret disciple who “waited for the kingdom of God”, but he fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that “they made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich his tomb”, despite Jesus not sharing a grave with either.(Mark 15:42; Is. 53:9).


Joseph of Arimathea at Jesus’ Burial

Saint Paul the Pharisee

Saint Paul, or Saul of Tarsus, presented his earthly credentials in Philippians 3:4-6, calling himself “an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee.” At his trial, Paul addressed the Sanhedrin twice as “Men and brethren,” asserting “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee.”(Acts 23:1,6). So even as a Christian, Paul called himself a Pharisee. In Acts 26:4-5, Paul asserts that his “manner of life” came from staying in Jerusalem from his youth, and calls Phariseeism, “the most straitest sect of our religion.” In Acts 22:3, Paul tells threatening crowds that he was brought up “at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers.” Paul was certainly a pharisee, since the pharisees had 6000 members, Paul used his status as a defense before the Sanhedrin, and he said “all the Jews” knew of it.(Acts 26:4) When “zealous” crowds threatened him at the Temple, Paul addressed them in Hebrew, and “when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence” (Acts 22:2).

Paul’s conversion to Christianity is impressive because he had persecuted Christians. The religious authorities, with a few exceptions, saw Christianity as a blasphemy that sought to destroy the Temple and “change the customs” from Moses. (See Acts 6:11-14) The Talmud, based on pharisaic traditions, said that Jesus “enticed Israel to apostacy” and that they applied the saying “Neither shalt thou spare… him” to Jesus and five of his disciples. (Sanhedrin 43). Acts 5:34-39 records that one time when Gamaliel judged that there was a possibility that the apostles could be right, they received only a beating. But Paul was no longer at his “feet.” Instead, Paul says that he was as “zealous toward God” as the religious believers at the Temple that attacked him in Acts 22:3, and in Philippians 3:6, he says that personal zeal made him persecute the church.

Paul reports that “many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. I punished them oft in every synagogue”. (Acts 26:10-11). Acts 7:58-8:1 records that false witnesses “laid down their clothes at” Saul’s feet, stoned St Stephen for blasphemy, and “Saul was consenting unto his death”. Later, Saul, “breathing out… slaughter against the disciples”, requested more orders, and “went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests” to arrest more Christians.(Acts 9:1-2, 26:12).

But on the way, a bright light blinded Paul, and a voice said to him “in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”(Acts 26:14) Since Paul was persecuting the church, the question itself suggests that the church was part of Christ. In Damascus, Paul went to Saint “Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews”, and when Ananias prayed, Paul’s sight returned.(Acts 22:12). He realized that he had actually caused Christians to “blaspheme” when he forced them to recant. (Acts 26:11) Paul says that on returning to Jerusalem, “I prayed in the temple, …was in a trance… And saw” Jesus Christ, who said to preach outside Jerusalem.(Acts 22:17-18).

Paul’s prayer in the Temple shows that he continued to see himself as a devout pharisee. He saw Jesus’ bodily resurrection as part of the Pharisees’ belief in the bodily resurrection, in contrast to the Greek philosophy that the body is merely the soul’s prison, and the Sadducees’ rejection of resurrection. Thus, he explained at his trial: “I am a Pharisee… of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.”

By asserting in the present tense, “I am a Pharisee”, Paul asserted that he continued to be one. And since he described his faith in terms of belief in the resurrection, “there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees”, and the Pharisees’ scribes declared: “We find no evil in this man”. (Acts 23:6-9).

In Acts 13, Paul told the synagogue in Antioch that God’s words to “every one that thirsteth” that “I will give you the sure mercies of David” (Isaiah 55:3) concerned His raising of Jesus “up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption.” To explain this, Paul points to David’s words in Psalm 16:10: “Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” So avoidance of corruption is a mercy of David. Paul goes a step further and points out Jesus fulfilled Psalm 16:10 because His body avoided corruption, while David’s body did not.

Paul relates the Servant Song of Isaiah 52-53 to Jesus in Romans 2,4-5,10, & 15. He finds thus: “that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” shows God’s “love toward us”.(Romans 5:8) Next, Paul contrasts the one and the many like Isaiah 53:11-12 does. Paul refers to “Adam’s transgression” and says that “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin,” but that Adam “is the figure of him that was to come.”(Romans 5:12,14) Paul takes the theme of one justifying many from Isaiah 53:11-12, and explains: “But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.” (Rom. 5:15).

Then, Paul writes that he is coming to Rome because “I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation: But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.” (Isaiah 52:15, Romans 15:20-210) So Paul applies Isaiah 52:15 to the Romans, saying that they have not heard of Jesus, but they shall understand Him.

In Romans 9 and 11, Paul explains that non-Jewish Christians are part of Israel. In Romans 9:4, Paul says that the Israelites are God’s children by “adoption,” as opposed to physical birth. Then in Romans 9:6, Paul asserts: “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel”. In other words, those who are “of Israel” (Jacob) are not “all Israel.” Paul adds: “Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son”, referring to Sarah’s son Isaac. (Romans 9:7-9, Genesis 18:14). In other words, Abraham’s line only ran through Isaac, so being Abraham’s physical seed is not what makes people Abraham’s children. Thus, for God, adoption is as valid as physical birth, and Abraham’s seed is Abraham’s spiritual seed. As Paul concludes in Galatians 3:26-29, “ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus… There is neither Jew nor Greek… for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Referring to the “first fruit of the dead” Jesus Christ, the “root” of David’s father Jesse, and the “olive tree” of Israel, Paul writes: “For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.”(1 Corinthians 15:23; Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 11:16; Romans 11:16) Next, Paul tells the Romans how the Messiah adopted them: “thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree.” (Romans 11:17) Paul also warns against being “highminded” against Jews who disbelieve, saying that if God was able to graft non-Jews into the tree, “how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” (Romans 11:24). Paul concludes that “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved”. (Romans 11:25-26).

Therefore, Paul believes that God adopted Israel as His child, that God promised salvation to Abraham’s spiritual seed, that from Jesse’s root rose the “good olive tree”, and that the tree produced the Messiah as its “firstfruit.” Paul explains that Christians belong to Christ, so Christ adopted non-Jewish Christians and nations who believe in Him. Since the Messiah belongs to Israel, these people are grafted like branches and “wild trees” into the good olive tree, Israel, and among its branches, the Jews. God’s promises to the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:10 that He would “see seed,” and to Abraham in that “thou shalt be a father of many nations,” are fulfilled when nations become the Messiah’s seed, “come in” to Israel, and become the seed of His forefathers Jesse, Jacob(Israel), and Abraham. (Genesis 17:4, Romans 4:17).


mosaic of St Paul, Ravenna, Italy (source; http://8gym-perist.att.sch.gr/edu_material/ApostPavlos/pavlos.gif)

The Church of Jerusalem, also called the “Church of Zion” and the “Mother of All Churches,” was formed by Jesus Christ and His disciples. It included wise Pharisees, theologians, and many Jews. Today, it continues traditions from the first centuries of Christianity, including customs based on the Holy Scriptures’ concept of a resurrected Messiah.

Christian Pharisees and Disciples

Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Paul were not the only Pharisees who believed Jesus to be the Messiah. John 12:42 reports that “among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue”. Acts 6:7 reports that “a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith”, and Acts 15:5 records Pharisees in the Church of Jerusalem wanting to circumcise non-Jews.

Further, Jesus shared his authority as a Rabbi with His disciples. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.”(Luke 6:40, NKJV) The Early Church strove to be like Christ and emulate His wisdom and understanding.

St Peter applied the concept of emulating one’s teacher to Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.”(1 Peter 2:21-23, KJV). Here, Peter uses the terms “reviled” and “threatened” in reference to Isaiah 53:7’s prophecy that the Servant would not “open his mouth”. While Psalm 22:13 describes David’s enemies opening their “mouths against” him like a roaring lion, Isaiah 53:7 compares the Servant to a lamb and says He would not open his mouth. In keeping with the image of the Messianic Good Shepherd in Zechariah 11 and Ezekiel 34, St. Peter tells Christians: “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:25)

Besides Jesus’ disciples and Christian Pharisees, the early Church had many other Jewish Christian adherents. In describing the apostles’ evangelization soon after Pentecost, Acts 2:47 says that “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Acts 4:4 says: “many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.” The religious authorities threatened the disciples Peter and John for healing a lame man and preaching, but “they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done.”(Acts 4:21). Similarly, Acts 5:20-26 describes another time when the apostles taught in the Temple and the Temple officers arrested them but “brought them [to the religious council] without violence: for they[the officers] feared the people”.

The first century historian Josephus apparently confirms the wide spread of Christianity. The extant Greek version of Josephus’ work “The Antiquities of the Jews” (18:63-64) says that Jesus “was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin.” Historians doubt the authenticity of this chapter of “The Antiquities”, because it is worded as if the narrator was a Christian, unlike Josephus. (For example, the Greek version adds “He was the Messiah”) However, an earlier, 10th century Arabic copy of the passage, which appears more authentic and doesn’t portray the narrator as Christian, says Jesus’ “conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous [variant reading: his learning was outstanding]. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples.” (Oskar Skarsaune, “In the Shadow of the Temple”, p. 151)

Zion, the Mother of All Churches

When they went to Jerusalem, Jesus and the apostles stayed and gathered in a “guestchamber” that was a large, furnished “upper room.”(Mark 14:14-15; Luke 22:11-12). There, they celebrated the Last Supper, after which Jesus washed His apostles’ feet. (John 13:5). After Jesus’ Ascension, 120 of His disciples returned to Jerusalem, “went up into an upper room”, and chose St Matthias as one of the twelve apostles. (Acts 1:13-23). Christian tradition relates that this upper room was the first church.

The first Jewish Christian churches were called “synagogues”, which means “gatherings.” In fact, the Epistle of James refers to early Christian churches as “synagogen” (James 2:2). Similarly, the Greek word “ekklesia” is a synonym for “called together,” and the Church of Jerusalem is called the “Ekklesia Jerusalemon” in Greek.

Jesus said in Luke 24:47 that the gospel “should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Similarly, Isaiah 2:3(JPS) had prophesied: “the many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come, Let us go up to the Mount of the Lord, To the House of the God of Jacob; That He may instruct us in His ways, And that we may walk in His paths.’ For instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” St Paul implicitly pointed to the Church of Jerusalem’s authority when he questioned the power of the Church in Corinth to make independent decisions about important religious practices, asking the Corinthians: “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” (1 Corinthians 14:36, KJV). The Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople called Jerusalem the “Mother of all Churches”. Likewise, the Liturgy of St James (1st-4th centuries AD) declares: “We make offering for Zion, the mother of all churches.”

After Jesus’ Ascension, “James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles”, according to the 2nd century theologian Hegesippus. (Eusebius, History of the Church 2:23:4). Paul listed James first among the Church’s apparently three “pillars” who “gave to me… the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen” in Galatians 2:9. St Jerome recorded that James “ruled the church of Jerusalem thirty years” until his martyrdom by a Sanhedrin court (Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, chapter 2). The first century Jewish historian Josephus recorded disapproval by the Jewish public of James’ martyrdom. Josephus wrote that when the Roman procurator Albinus was away from Judea, the high priest Ananus assembled a court and stoned James. Josephus added that:

as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrin without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months… (Josephus, “Antiquities”, Book 20, Chp. 9).

The Council of Jerusalem (circa 50 AD) shows James’ leadership in the Church. At the Council, Peter and Christian pharisees debated whether non-Jews required circumcision. (Acts 15:10) After everyone was silent, “James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me”. (Acts 15:13). James quoted Amos 9:11-12, where God promised that in “That Day,” the future Messianic Age, he would rebuild the “tabernacle of David”, so that “all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called” “might seek after the Lord”. (Acts 16-17). This prophecy means that before the future Messianic Age, God’s name would be called upon non-Jewish nations. James concluded: “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.” (Acts 19-21). The Council sent their men with “our beloved” Paul, and greeted and wrote to the non-Jews: “we gave no such commandment”that “Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law”, but that non-Jews must still “abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication” in keeping with the law. (Acts 15:22-29).

James and Paul continued to see themselves as Israelites. Paul told King Agrippa that “our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come” unto the “promise made of God, unto our fathers”. (Acts 26:6-7). Likewise, James addresses his Epistle “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.” (James 1:1). Acts 2:46 records that the first Christians were “daily with one accord in the temple”. In Acts 3-4, Peter and John went to the Temple where they healed a lame beggar and preached to the people, many of whom believed them.

Later, when Paul returned to Jerusalem, he took four men who made Nazarite vows, and “purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.” (Acts 21:26). The Nazarite vows and offerings are prescribed in Numbers 6:1-21. But at the temple, crowds beat and tried to kill St Paul, after Jews from the province of Asia (where Paul had preached in Ephesus) claimed that he taught everywhere against the Jewish people, the law, and the Temple. (Acts 21:28). The latter accusation came from the apparently mistaken idea that Paul had brought a gentile into the Temple because he had been seen with one in Jerusalem.

Similarly, Jesus was accused of saying He would destroy the Temple (Mark 14:56-59). But instead, He actually prophesied His own death and the Romans’ destruction of the Temple (Matthew 24:2). Almost 40 years after His crucifixion, and 8 years after James’ martyrdom, the Roman army destroyed the Temple in 70 AD during the War between the Romans and Zealots. The Christians had fled to Jordan before the destruction in obedience to Jesus’ warning in Mark 13:14.

According to Euthychius, the 10th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Jewish Christians who escaped the destruction “returned to Jerusalem in the fourth year of the emperor Vespasian [73 AD], and built there their church.” (Migne, ed., Patrologia Latina (Paris, 1844), Vol. II 1, p. 985). The 4th century theologian St Epiphanius of Salamis described the Church of the Upper Room and the Christians in Jerusalem after the war of 70 AD. Epiphanius explained that when Emperor Hadrian visited Jerusalem in 129-132 AD before the Bar Kochba Revolt, he:

found the entire city devastated… [from the war of 70 AD] except for a few houses and the church of God, which was small, where the disciples, after they returned when the savior was taken up from the Mount of Olives, went up to the upper room. For there it had been built, that is, in the part of Zion that was kept from the destruction, and the blocks of houses around Zion itself, and seven synagogues, which stood alone like huts, one of which remained until the time of Maximona the bishop and Constantine the king [306-337 AD]… Aquila, [Hadrian’s translator] while he was in Jerusalem, also saw the disciples of the disciples of the apostles flourishing in the faith and working great signs, healings and other miracles. For they were such as had come back from the city of Pella to Jerusalem (Epiphanius, Treatise on Weights and Measures, Chp. 14-15).

Bishop Eusebius (c. 260-340 AD) also reported that: “the history… contains the remark that there also was a very big church of Christ in Jerusalem, made up of Jews, until the time of the siege of Hadrian” in 135 AD. (Eusebius, Demonstratio Evangelica 3.5)

The theologian Hegesippus relates a story about the Church’s leadership from this period. He records that the forces of the Roman emperor Domition, who ruled from 81-96 AD, arrested two grandsons of Jesus’ brother Jude. The Roman government suspected them of being rebel leaders since they were descended from David. When brought before Emperor Domition, the grandsons told him they were simple peasants, showed him the callousness of their hands from labor, and said that Christ’s kingdom “was not of the world… but heavenly and angelic”. The emperor considered them “men of no account [and] let them go free”. Afterwards, the grandsons “ruled the churches, inasmuch as they were both martyrs and of the Lord’s family; and, when peace was established, remained alive until Trajan”, who ruled as emperor from 98 to 117 AD. (Ecclesiastical History 3.20.6)

Eusebius recorded that up to Hadrian’s siege (135 AD), Jerusalem’s first 15 bishops, until Hadrian’s siege in 135 AD were circumcised Jews who “received the knowledge of Christ in purity” and “their whole church at that time consisted of believing Hebrews”. (Eusebius, Church History, Book IV, Chapter V). Biblical scholar Oskar Skarsaune notes that in the 73 years after James (died c.62 AD) until 135 AD there is not enough time for the 14 bishops Eusebius lists as following James, especially because the 2nd bishop, Symeon, ruled until c.100-110 AD. Skarsaune concludes: “Some of the last twelve names on [Eusebius’] list occur in an apocryphal Letter of James to Quadrutus, in which these names are said to be the names of the elders who assisted James in leading the church. This could mean that only the first three on Eusebius’ list succeeded each other as “bishops,” while the last twelve were members of a presbyter-circle formed on the pattern of the twelve apostles.” ( Oskar Skarsaune, “In the Shadow of the Temple”, 2002, p.196)

The 2nd century Bishop Saint Irenaeus wrote that Matthew “issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect.” (Irenaeus Against Heresies Book III, Chp. 1 ; See also: Eusebius, Church history, Book VI, Chp 25, Jerome, Illustrious Lives, III). Other early saints confirm the existence of a gospel of Matthew in the Hebrew dialect, but scholars debate whether this means the gospel was written in Biblical Hebrew, or in Aramaic, the common language of 1st century Judeans in the Holy Land.

Rabbinical writings also show Christians interacting with the 1st-3rd century Jewish religious community. The Talmud (Avodah Zarah Chapter 2, 27b) records that Rabbi Eleazar ben Damma wanted a Christian named Jacob of Sikhnin (or Kefar Sama, a nearby town) to heal him from a snakebite. The tractate’s next section (28a) adds that Jacob was an expert physician who prepared medicine for the leg of the distinguished Rabbi Abbahu. The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 16b-17a) also tells a story where Rabbi Eliezar ben Hyrcanus (c.40-120 AD), one of the most prominent rabbis of his time, couldn’t solve a problem of religious law. Jacob supplied the answer based on Jesus’ teaching, and it “pleased [Eliezar] very much”. The Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 14d) gives another story where the grandson of the famous 3rd century Rabbi Jehoshua ben Levi had something stuck in his throat. The grandson recovered after a Christian whispered a prayer in Jesus’ name. The Midrashic commentary on Ecclesiastes, also gives a story where “heretics” in Capernaum, apparently Christians, have the prominent 2nd century Rabbi Hanina ride on a donkey on the Sabbath (Rabbah Koheleth 1.8). However, each of these five rabbinical stories ends with authority figures calling the interactions forbidden. And in the latter story, Rabbi Hanina is exiled from the Holy Land for his behavior.

Consequently, a large portion of the Judaic religious authorities rejected Christianity, while more and more gentiles began accepted it. Christianity focused more on its universalist character “where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised” and on a common unity in Christ. (Colossians 3:11) This approach was welcoming to gentiles and by the 4th century a significant portion of the Roman Empire had become Christian.

Jerusalem’s Golden Age

Constantine the Great legalized Christianity in 313. And in 326-327, Constantine’s mother St Helena made a pilgrimage to restore Jerusalem’s sites. Consequently, the Church of the Nativity was built in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built at the traditional site of Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection. Bishops came from Greece, Armenia, Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt to consecrate all Jerusalem on September 13, 335 (Julian Calendar). They consecrated Jerusalem’s Resurrection Church (a chapel over the tomb) and its surrounding Basilica on September 13th and 14th, 335, respectively.

The other center of the Church of Jerusalem was the Church of the Upper Room. In 381-385, the Spanish pilgrim Egeria recorded that Jerusalem’s bishop regularly held a service in the church on Mount Zion where Jesus appeared to disciples after the Resurrection. She said he also regularly held a service there on Pentecost. In 382-394, Emperor Theodosius built an octagonal memorial church next to the Church of the Upper Room. Bishop John II of Jerusalem consecrated the memorial church in about 394 AD, and restored the Church of the Upper Room itself in c.415 AD.

Archeologists debate whether the 4th century Christians located and used the apostles’ real Upper Room or merely used a 1st century non-Christian synagogue. But it appears more likely that it was a first century Christian church. Below the church’s 5th century Byzantine mosaic floor is the original, late 1st century floor. The church’s foundational walls are made of magnificent, mismatched “ashlar” stones, like those of the Temple, which was destroyed in 70 AD. This is consistent with the theologian Euthychius’ description of the Church of the Upper Room built after the devastation of 70 AD. The archeological site also has a niche above the floor like synagogues had for Torah scrolls, and 1st century Jewish Christians worshipped in synagogues. Further, a 1st-century church could only be built as a synagogue when Christianity, unlike Judaism, was illegal. Even before Constantine’s time, Jerusalem’s successive bishops would have wanted to pass down the Upper Room’s real location because of its importance. (For a scientific discussion showing the building’s Christian origin, I recommend: Michael Germano, The Ancient Church of the Apostles, http://www.bibarch.com/Perspectives/Germano-Cenacle-Paper.pdf)

When on September 15, c.394 AD Bishop John II consecrated the new memorial church next to the Upper Room, he alluded to Jewish Christian images and praised the merits of Porphyrius the Israelite four times. In consecrating the altar, in Hebrew “kaporet” (the Mercy Seat or propitiatory), he connected the purification of lips (Isaiah 6:7) to the Holy Spirit’s descent into the church. The consecration was the day after the holiday of the Exaltation of the Cross, and John II focused on the theme of atonement.

In the ancient Israelite Temple, the propitiatory was “atoned for” or “covered” with the sprinkling of blood on the Day of Atonement. And in the homily, John II said he intended “to narrate worthily with holy words that mystery of this holy propitiatory and that divine dwelling betrothed through the prayers of all saints.” He said that the altar helped give Christians access to heavenly circles. In particular, John II described “eight spheres (1) the divine ether, (2) heavenly Jerusalem, (3) the Garden of Eden, (4) the arch of Shem and Noah, (5) Mount Moriah, (6) Mount Sinai, (7) the temple and (8) the Church.” He ended his description of each sphere “with a statement on the mediating power of the holy propitiatory”, except for his descriptions of the fifth and sixth spheres. “The passage on Mount Moriah [5] ends with a blessing on the foundation stone of the church. The passage on Mount Sinai [6] ends with the warning not to bring alien fire near, picking up the story of Nadab and Avihu (Lev 10; 16:1)”. (“The Impact of Yom Kippur on Early Christianity”, Daniel Stokl Ben Ezra, p.300)

The Christians theologian Origen had written that the Scriptures “do not speak of ‘seven’ heavens, or of any definite number at all” (Origen, Contra Celsus, vol. vi, 21). However, some theologians did think that the heavens had layers. The Judaic Talmud (Chagigah 12b) claims that there are seven heavens, and that God is in the seventh. But Ephesians 4:10 says that Christ “ascended up far above all heavens”. Perhaps for these reasons, Bishop John II’s sermon concluded that in the eighth heavenly circle, the Holy Spirit comes and enters into the “Upper Room.” (Michel van Esbrœck, “Une homélie sur l’Église attribuée à Jean de Jérusalem”, Le Muséon, vol. 86 , 1973).

The Council of Chalcedon (415 AD) made the Bishop of Jerusalem into one of the Church’s five Patriarchies, alongside Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch. In the 5th and 6th centuries, the Holy Land had hundreds of churches and monasteries, and most of if its inhabitants were Christian (Lloyd Geering, “Who Owns the Holy Land?” http://www.westarinstitute.org/Periodicals/4R_Articles/holyland2.html). The Jewish Encyclopedia criticizes this era, saying: “many joined the Church only to escape the penalty of the Jewish law”. (“Apostasy,” Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906 ed.) In fact, Christianity teaches that Christ’s sacrifice provides believers an escape from the penalty of the law, and the Church should treat repentant criminals with love and mercy (Romans 7-8:2 ; see: Life of Saint Moses the Black).

The Holy Land produced saints and theologians. St Hegesippus (2nd century) wrote five volumes on Christian tradition. Eusebius thought Hegesippus was a Jewish Christian because: Hegesippus knew Hebrew, quoted from the Aramaic “Gospel according to the Hebrews,” and mentioned passages from “the unwritten tradition of the Jews”. (Church History, IV, 22). Tradition claims that he journeyed to Rome and then returned to the Holy Land.

St Epiphanius of Salamis (c.310-403), also known as the “Oracle of Palestine”, was born in the Palestinian village of Besanduk to Jewish parents. According to legend, he became Christian after being healed by a Christian and seeing the charity of a monk who gave his own robe to a beggar. Epiphanius knew Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Egyptian, besides his native language of Aramaic. In 333, he founded a monastery near Ad in Palestine, where he then studied for 30 years. He wrote 2 three volume books called the “Panarion” and “On Weights and Measures”, which are important sources of information on Christian history. He later became the Metropolitan of Cyprus.

Joseph of Tiberias was a wealthy 4th century Sanhedrin member who worked for the Rabbi Hillel II. Joseph became a Christian and built churches in Jewish towns like Tiberias, Sepphoris, Nazareth, and Capernaum. (See: Epiphanius, “Panarion”, Chp. 30). The famous theologian St. Jerome lived in a monastery near Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity in 386-420, where he translated the Hebrew Scriptures into the Latin Vulgate.

St Porphyrius the Israelite (circa 347–420) was an ascetic who lived in the Holy Land’s wilderness and became Jerusalem’s first keeper of the Cross. Later, he became Bishop of Gaza, where he built a church. (Daniel Stokl Ben Ezra, “The Impact of Yom Kippur on Early Christianity”, p.299) About 1600 years later, Orthodox Christians still use Gaza’s church of St Porphyrius, where he is buried.

St John of Damascus (676 – c. 750), a priest at St Sabbas monastery above the Kidron Valley, helped develop the Octoechos, an 8 week cycle of hymns in 8 tones. His Easter hymn, or “Passover Canon,” set in the joyful Tone One, declares that “Christ God has brought us over from death to life”, an allusion to God bringing the Israelites from slavery to freedom in the Exodus. The hymn beautifully declares: “Enlightened, be enlightened, O New Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Dance now and be glad, O Sion”. (Isaiah 60:1, Septuagint translation used by St John Damascene).

Pilgrims journeyed to the Holy City, like the Jewish Christian “Pilgrim of Bordeaux,” who wrote an “Itinerary” of Jerusalem’s sites in 333. Another pilgrim, Egeria, also wrote of her journey in about 381-385. She wrote that on Holy Friday in Jerusalem the Patriarch brought out a piece of the Holy Cross for people to venerate. She added that next, “the deacon stands and holds Solomon’s ring, and the horn with which the kings were anointed; they [the people] kiss the horn and touch the ring”. Here, Egeria refers to the horn from which ancient Jewish kings were anointed with oil, and to Solomon’s ring, which according to legend had a five or six-pointed seal with magical powers. (“The Pilgrimage of S.Silvia of Aquitania to the Holy Places”, Translated by John Bernard) The seal is also known as the Star of David, and is found on 6th century Byzantine amulets, on a stone in an early Byzantine church in Tiberias, and on a marble slab from the northern Negev. (Magen David, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0013_0_12997.html; King Solomon’s seal, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/1990_1999/1999/2/King%20Solomon-s%20Seal). Solomon’s seal comes from Judaism, as it is found on ancient Jewish artifacts like a 7th century BC seal from Sidon and is described in the Talmud. (“Magen David,” http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0013_0_12997.html; Talmud: Tractate Gittin 68)

The Early Church Alive Today

The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem (http://www.jerusalempatriarchate.net; http://www.jp-newsgate.net/en; http://jerusalem-patriarchate.info/en/welcome.htm) is still the Church founded by the Apostles in an organizational sense. The Church chose each of its patriarchs in a line running back to the Apostles. It’s true that after the Jewish-Roman War of 132-135 AD, the pagan emperor Hadrian expelled the Jews from Jerusalem. However, the Church in Caesarea then sent Jerusalem a non-Jewish bishop, and Caesarea’s bishops ultimately came from the Apostles. Likewise, the Roman Catholic Crusaders expelled Jerusalem’s Orthodox Patriarch when they conquered the city in 1099-1187. But afterwards, the Orthodox Church in Constantinople sent Jerusalem another Patriarch.

The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem continues to hold many sites in the Holy Land from Byzantine times. Its most famous sites include Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity and Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulcher, which holds the relics of Jerusalem’s Patriarchs. It also has a seminary on Mount Zion. In the Old City of Jerusalem, the Church “owns much of the land from the Jaffa Gate down the street of the Greek Patriarchate, all the way to the Holy Sepulchre” (“Interview of His Beatitude Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III”, http://www.jp-newsgate.net/en/2010/08/01/910) The Church’s properties roughly corresponds with the location of Orthodox community, concentrated around Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the Galilee:

Map of the Orthodox Church’s properties in 1921, a high point for the Church’s growth (Itamar Katz & Ruth Kark, “The church and landed property”, Middle Eastern Studies, 43:3, p.386, http://geography.huji.ac.il/.upload/RuthPub/Num%20101.pdf

Further, the Orthodox Church’s general method in studying theology is to understand the theology of early Christianity. The early theologians are a source of authority to understand Christianity, and the Church values its traditions. As St Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:15: “I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.”

The Orthodox Church continues the art and musical styles of Christianity’s first centuries, with mosaics, painted icons, chanting, and the Octoechos cycle of hymns. Church services are sometimes in Hebrew or Greek. On St James’ Day, and on the first Sunday after Christmas, the Church uses the Liturgy of St James, developed in Jerusalem in the 1st-4th centuries. It is the oldest liturgy in continuous use, and reads aloud from the Old and New Testament scriptures.

Elements of ancient Judaic worship also match Orthodox Christian worship. For example, synagogues had a “seat of Moses”, which Jesus referred to as a sign or source of authority for its occupants to teach in Matthew 23:1-3. Like the synagogues that had a Moses’ seat, Orthodox churches have a bishop’s seat.

“In the early Church… The special authority of the bishop to preach the Gospel was expressed by the custom of the bishop preaching from his cathedra (Greek for “seat”), his seat of authority which was modeled on that of ‘Moses’ Cathedra’ mentioned by Jesus… [In the synagogues,] Moses’ Seat was to be occupied by someone with authority to safeguard the word of God, the Torah which had been given to Moses. Sitting on Moses’ Seat symbolized the succession of authority, starting with Moses, to officially expound the Torah to the people of Israel… This seat was located in the center of the synagogue on a raised platform called a bema. Thus the practice of bishops preaching from their cathedras as a sign of their authority is derived from the Old Testament Church. In fact, the word ‘cathedral’ comes from this Greek word cathedral: the cathedral is the church where the bishop has his cathedra.” (V. Rev. Michael Najim, T.L. Frazier, “Understanding the Orthodox Liturgy”, http://www.stnicholasla.com/frmichel/liturgyvid.pdf)

Besides the Moses’ seat / bishop’s seat, synagogues and Orthodox churches share similar features of a 7-branch candle (Menorah), incense, and building layout. As the synagogues’ furthest wall from the entrance had a model of the Ark of the Covenant behind a curtain, and the Temple had the Ark of the Covenant behind gates, Orthodox churches have a “holy table” behind an “Iconostasis”: a row of gates with a curtain. Although Jerusalem’s Temple priests kept its gates and curtain remained closed, Orthodox churches open their gates and curtain, as Jesus Christ revealed salvation to the world.

The central Orthodox Church service, the “Divine Liturgy”, follows the basic format of synagogue services: an opening litany of prayers, a confession of God’s faithfulness and mankind’s sinfulness, prayers requesting His intercession, Scripture readings, a sermon, and then a prayer of blessings. In the synagogue service, the Torah is carried around the synagogue in a ceremonial procession. Similarly, in the “Little Entrance” of the Orthodox Christian Divine Liturgy, before the Gospel is read, a deacon- with the priests behind him- carries the Gospel Book out through the northern side door of the Iconostasis’. From this side door the deacon carries the Gospel into the middle of the church and in front of the Iconostasis’ Holy Doors, where the priest prays.

The Orthodox Church continues to revere the patriarchs and prophets of Israel and Judah. Just as the Church assigns “feast days” to Christian saints (called saints’ days), it also assigns feast days to the ancient patriarchs and prophets. For example, the holidays for some of the famous prophets we have discussed are:

Julian “Old” Calendar Gregorian “New” Calendar Prophet
Sunday after Christmas Sunday after Christmas Holy Righteous King David (ruled c.1000 B.C.)
May 22 May 9 Prophet Isaiah (8th c. B.C.)
May 14 May 1 Prophet Jeremiah (650 B.C.)
Dec. 30 Dec. 17 Holy Prophet Daniel (600 B.C.)
Aug. 3 Jul. 21 Prophet Ezekiel (6th c. B.C.)
Feb. 21 Feb. 8 Prophet Zechariah (520 BC)


Besides reverence for the Old Testament righteous, another similarity between Judaism and Christianity is the concept of the sacrificial system. In Christianity, the sacrificial Passover lamb corresponds to the “lamb of God” Jesus Christ, and the Israelites’ Exodus from Egyptian slavery to freedom corresponds to Christians’ resurrection from the prison of death to eternal life. The “Feast of Firstfruits” was celebrated the day after the Sabbath during the Passover holiday, when the priest would wave the first fruits of the harvest before the Lord’s presence in the Temple. (Leviticus 23:9-15). Similarly, Christianity considers Jesus Christ the resurrected “first fruit” of the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Central to Christianity is the concept that the ancient high priest’s entrance into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, or “Yom Kippur”, corresponds to Jesus’ sacrificial entrance into God’s dwelling place. It also corresponds to the Christian Divine Liturgy’s Great Entrance and the offering for Communion. On Yom Kippur, the high priest completely wore pure linen, killed “the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself,” and entered the Holy of Holies with the bullock’s blood. Leviticus 16:14-16(JPT) records the instructions:

“And he shall take some of the bull’s blood and sprinkle [it] with his index finger on top of the ark cover on the eastern side; and before the ark cover, he shall sprinkle seven times from the blood, with his index finger. He shall then slaughter the he goat of the people’s sin offering and bring its blood within the dividing curtain, and he shall do with its blood as he had done with the bull’s blood, and he shall sprinkle it upon the ark cover and before the ark cover. And he shall effect atonement upon the Holy from the defilements of the children of Israel and from their rebellions and all their unintentional sins.”

After the high priest sprinkled the cover of the Ark, which held the Law, and effected atonement, he came out of the temple. The deuterocanonical Old Testament book Sirach 50:1-13 (King James Version) describes the momentary “coming out” of “Simon the high priest, the son of Onias” in godlike terms:

“How was he honoured in the midst of the people in his coming out of the sanctuary! He was as the morning star in the midst of a cloud, and as the moon at the full: As the sun shining upon the temple of the most High, and as the rainbow giving light in the bright clouds: And as the flower of roses in the spring of the year, as lilies by the rivers of waters, and as the branches of the frankincense tree in the time of summer: As fire and incense in the censer, and as a vessel of beaten gold set with all manner of precious stones: And as a fair olive tree budding forth fruit, and as a cypress tree which groweth up to the clouds… So were all the sons of Aaron in their glory, and the oblations of the Lord in their hands, before all the congregation of Israel.”

The Epistle to the Hebrews 9:7-28 connects the High Priest’s offering for Atonement to Jesus Christ’s offering for Atonement, commenting that:

“into the [inner tabernacle] went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us… For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us… So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”

In the Great Entrance, the Christian priest carries bread and wine mixed with water(Psalm 22:14; John 19:34) and stands in front of the gates and curtain of the church’s holy place. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was “once,” so the Church doesn’t make new sacrifices. Instead, the gates and curtain open, and the priest enters and places the Communion offering on the holy table. The priest prays that the Lord will make the offering Christ’s body and blood. (The changed nature of the elements is a mystery). Then the priest comes out with the Eucharist and announces: “With fear of God, with faith and love, draw near”, and the choir sings: “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord. The Lord is God and has appeared to us.” (Psalm 117:27 ; Liturgy of John Chrysostom, 5th century). Thus in the 3rd millennium, the Church of Jerusalem faithfully continues to celebrate the Eucharist in remembrance of Christ (Luke 22:14-20).

6th century map of Jerusalem from St George’s Orthodox Church, Madaba, Jordan


Palestinian Christians: Children of Zion, Sons of the Holy Land

The Church is more than theologians, bishops, buildings, organization, traditions, and services. In Exodus 19:6(JPS), God tells the Israelites “you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”, and Isaiah 61:6 says: “you shall be called ‘Priests of the Lord,’ And termed ‘Servants of our God.’”(Note that ‘Servants’ here is ‘mesharetei’: ministers/attendants) Since the Israelites will become priests, and the priests bear the Lord’s vessels, the Israelites are vessel bearers in the future Messianic Age.

Lamentations 4:2(JPT) compared God’s people themselves to vessels: “The precious children of Zion, praised with[‘comparable to’ -1917 JPS] fine gold; how they are regarded as earthen pitchers, the work of a potter’s hands”. In other words while they appeared to be vessels of earth, God made His people of something more valuable. David, who was filled with the Holy Spirit, also compared himself to a vessel in Psalm 22 &31. St Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 4:6-10: “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are… Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” Thus, Christians, as Israelites, are spiritual priests, who God made of something finer than earth and filled with His spirit.

100,000-150,000 Christians of the Church of Jerusalem live in the Holy Land today. They live mostly in and around Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Ramallah. Ramallah, or “Height of God”, was founded in 1550 as a Christian village by the Orthodox Christian Haddadin family. Bethlehem and the surrounding villages of Beit Sahour and Beit Jalal form the largest Christian enclave in the West Bank.

Some Palestinian Christian families connect ancestors and places in their villages to New Testament persons and events. The village of Abud has a tradition that Jesus traveled through it. The 3000 year old continuously-inhabited village had the 4th century Church of St Barbara. The vault of the village’s 5th century church of St Mary has an inscription in Aramaic, the everyday language of the Holy Land before the 8th century.

Further, a 2000 DNA study by researchers from the University of California, University of London, and Jerusalem’s Hebrew University showed that Palestinian Christians are descended from the Israelites. (Almut Nebel et al. “High-resolution Y chromosome haplotypes of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs reveal geographic substructure and substantial overlap with haplotypes of Jews.” Human Genetics, 107(6) Dec. 2000: 630-641). The researchers explained that in the Holy Land, “by the fifth century AD, the majority of non-Jews and Jews had become Christians.” The researchers also asserted that “Most [Palestinian] families in the rural regions have lived in the same local area for generations.” Palestinians’ Israelite descent makes sense because the region where they have lived for centuries generally matches the successive Kingdoms of Israel, Judah, and Judea that lasted until the 1st century AD.

The DNA study, which compared 119 Jews and 143 Palestinians, specifically found that: “Single-step microsatellite networks of [Palestinian] and Jewish haplotypes revealed a common pool for a large portion of Y chromosomes, suggesting a relatively recent common ancestry. The two modal haplotypes in the [Palestinians] were closely related to the most frequent haplotype of Jews (the Cohen modal haplotype)… the Cohen modal haplotype appears to be associated with the paternally inherited Jewish priesthood.” The study even found that many Palestinian Muslims were descended from Jews and Christians: “According to historical records part, or perhaps the majority, of the Moslem Arabs in this country descended from local inhabitants, mainly Christians and Jews, who had converted after the Islamic conquest in the seventh century AD… These local inhabitants, in turn, were descendants of the core population that had lived in the area for several centuries, some even since prehistorical times… Thus, our findings are in good agreement with historical evidence and suggest genetic continuity in both populations despite their long separation.”

Not only are Palestinian Christians descended from the Israelites, but they retain vocabulary from early Jewish Christians. The Israeli presidentBen Zvi wrote that in 1932, 277 Palestinian villages and sites, or almost 2/3 of those he found, had names corresponding to Judean villages there before 70 AD. (Ben Zvi, The Peoples of Our Land, 1932). In Jesus’ time, Jews spoke Aramaic, and some villages continued to speak Aramaic in modern times. For example, the Christian village of Taybeh spoke Aramaic as late as 1974. (David Shamah, The Lost Palestinian Jews, Jerusalem Post, Aug. 20, 2009, http://www.jpost.com/Home/Article.aspx?id=152408) After the 7th century Arab conquest, the people of the Holy Land began speaking Arabic, just as the Jews had once taken the Syrian language of Aramaic from their Assyrian conquerors. However, the Palestinian dialect of Arabic has Aramaic roots. (Palestinian Arabic, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_Arabic).

For example, the female form of the Palestinian Arabic word for “they” comes from both Aramaic and the Arabic of the Levant (the region around Palestine):

Henne (Palestinian Arabic)

Hunna (Classical Arabic)

Hennēn (Aramaic)

Hunne (Levantine Arabic)

The creator of modern Hebrew, Eliezar ben Yehuda “found 400 roots in Palestinian Arabic and Christian Lebanese Arabic only found likewise in the Mishna and Talmud and not in any other Arabic dialects” (See: Jack Fellman, “The revival of a classical tongue: Eliezer Ben Yehuda and the modern Hebrew language”, 1973, p.78)

Palestinian Arabic also shares some similarity to Hebrew. An example of this similarity appears in the suffix “you/your” spoken in the Palestinian area of Birzēt.

kem/ –ken (Birzēt, Palestinian)
-khem/ -khen (Hebrew)
-kum/ -kunna (Classical Arabic)
kōn / –kēn (Aramaic)
kon (Levantine Arabic)

Palestinian Christians also continue cultural practices handed down from the ancient Israelites, like ritual animal slaughter (in Arabic, “slaughter” and “sacrifice” are the same word). Besides the sacrifices on Passover and Yom Kippur, the ancient Israelites also sacrificed animals to God in connection with vows (Numbers 6, Leviticus 7:16-17) and as a peace offering for the Lord’s blessing(Leviticus 3, Leviticus 7:11-15). Similarly, Palestinian Christians may slaughter animals around holidays, on Church grounds, at shrines, or at the entrance of homes.

For example, on the Feast of St George, sheep are traditionally slaughtered on the grounds of St George’s monastery by the village of St George (Dr. Ali Qleibo, “El-Khader: A National Palestinian Symbol”, http://thisweekinpalestine.com/details.php?id=1519&ed=109). There, the priest considers that “the only sacrifice accepted by Christians is that of Christ”, so the monastery receives the meat as a donation, rather than an atonement sacrifice or Passover sacrifice. (“Al Khader”, http://www.leicester-holyland.org.uk/AlKhader_Bethlehem.htm) “Sheep are also slaughtered in the ruins of a very old church of Saint George in the Palestinian village of Taybeh” (Id.).

Palestinian-American journalist Ray Hanania wrote humorously:

I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. In fact, many Arabs I knew grew up in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, because Arabs and Jews actually have much in common… eating the same foods, sharing the same ties to biblical history (my last name is a Hebrew word that means “God has been Gracious”), and boasting the same kind of overbearing mothers… The Jewish national dance, the Horah, and the Palestinian national dance, the Debka, look exactly alike — a frenzied combination of a conga line and the hokey-pokey…

I could deal with most of the superstitions. But I drew the line when I bought my first home. Mom suggested we bring it good luck –by cutting a pigeon’s throat on the front porch… ‘Shu malak?’ she’d ask in Arabic. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ We finally settled on a Greek Orthodox priest –to bless the house, that is. (“Ya Habibi: An Arab Childhood”, Chicago Magazine, Nov. 1988, http://www.themediaoasis.com/yahabibi.htm)

So how did Palestinians shift from a Jewish identity to a primarily Arabic one?

When the Arab Caliph Umar conquered Jerusalem in 638, he made a treaty with Jerusalem’s Patriarch Sophronius, promising “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate… an assurance of safety for themselves… their churches… they will not be forcibly converted.” (Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, “History of the Prophets and Kings”, 9th century). However, in 1004-1016, the Egyptian Caliph al-Hakim destroyed many churches. In 1012, he decreed that Christians must convert to Islam or leave the Holy Land, and many threatened Christians converted. Several years later, the persecutions ended. One version of history says that in 1016-1020, al-Hakim had a change of heart, repealed his decisions, returned the Christians’ property, ordered all the churches rebuilt, and authorized the Muslim converts to return to Christianity, which many did. The second version says that the persecutions ended and the converts returned to Christianity when his son Ali az-Zahir became Caliph in 1021, or made peace with the Byzantine Empire in 1027. Today, some eastern Mediterranean Muslims still visit Christian sites and know that they have Christian ancestors.

Nonetheless, in 1922, Palestinian Christians still made up 9.5% of the Holy Land’s total population. (“The Population of Palestine Prior to 1948”, http://www.mideastweb.org/palpop.htm) Between 1927 and 1947, the number of Christians had grown steadily and strongly by about 97% to an estimated population of 153,621.(Id.). Had the population fully remained and its growth rate continued, the Holy Land would today have a Palestinian Christian population of about 770,000.

In the first half of the 20th century, many Christians also lived in Haifa, Jaffa, and the Galilee region. Jaffa had 2 Orthodox churches and an Orthodox monastery. (UN Conciliation Commission on Palestine, “Holy Places”, 1949, http://www.mideastweb.org/un_palestine_holy_places_1.htm). Census data show that the Palestinian Mandate districts roughly contiguous with the Israeli State proper, plus Western Jerusalem which the State annexed in 1948, had 96,280-106,280 Palestinian Christians in 1945. (Acre, Beersheba, Beisan, Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth, Ramla, Safad, Tiberias, Tulkarm, plus 10,000-20,000 of Jerusalem’s 31,330, http://www.mideastweb.org/palpop.htm)

In 1949, after many Christians had become refugees, the Israeli State proper had 34,000 Christians. 60 years later, those remaining had grown to 154,000 in 2009. (Christian Friends of Israel Newsletter, http://www.cfi.org.uk/newsletters.php?newsletter=34) A significant exception to this significant growth is Jerusalem, which had 31,400 Palestinian Christians in 1946, 12,900 in 1967, 11,800 in 1972, and 15,700 in 2005.

(“Population Statistics”, http://israelipalestinian.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000636).

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Mandate districts that roughly correspond to what would later become Jordanian Palestine, and afterwards the Occupied Territories, had 38,780-48,780 Christians in 1945. (Gaza, Hebron, Jerusalem, Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, minus 10,000-20,000 Christians in West Jerusalem, http://www.mideastweb.org/palpop.htm). Census data showed that Jordanian Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank) had 45,855 Christians in 1961, and had 42,494 Christians in December 1967 after many Palestinians became refugees that summer. (“Palestinian Facts, Figures, Trends”, http://www.diyar.ps/media/documents/pal_chr_booklet.pdf; “Stats”, http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/www.thejerusalemfund.org/carryover/stats/dist_pop_67.html). Since then, the Christian population in the Occupied Territories grew slowly to 51,710 in 2007-2008. (Id.)

The Galilean village of Bezeth was an ancient Jewish settlement that had early Christian burial remains. (Joe Seger, “Retrieving the Past,” p. 279). When the village’s language changed from Aramaic to Arabic, its name became Al-Bassa. Before the 1948 war, Al-Bassa was one of the largest villages in the northern Holy Land, with an Orthodox church and several Christian shrines. In 1945, 1590 of its residents identified as Christians, 1360 as Muslims, and 150 as Jews. (Government of Palestine, Village Statistics, 1945, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Bassa) After a battle during the 1948 war, 3 men tried to return. (Chaim Gans, “Israel and the Palestinian Refugees,” p. 111). A few decades later, “When a service road… was built, the remains of a Byzantine church with a mosaic in the Christian graveyard were discovered”. (“Sanctity Denied,” Arab Association for Human Rights, 2004). In 2011, the Christian group Sabeel cleared debris inside the Orthodox Church, prayed in it, and visited a Christian cemetery with unmarked graves. (“Galilee Trip,” http://www.sabeel.org/news.php?eventid=214). The village’s memory remains with its refugees, who still use the Church for baptism. (“I Come From There and Remember”, http://www.sabeel.org/datadir/en-events/ev69/files/Corner51F%20(2).pdf)

Taybeh is a fully Christian village northeast of Jerusalem in the West Bank. Joshua 18:23 describes it as “Ophrah” (or Ofrah), a town of the tribe of Benjamin, and it’s shown on the 6th century Madaba map as “Ephron also Ephraia where went the Lord.” (Dan Wooding, “Christian Village in Holy Land Keeps Memory of Jesus’ Visit”, http://continentalnews.net/christian-news/christian-village-in-holy-land-keeps-memory-of-jesus%E2%80%99-visit-6273.html) This refers to the time when, Jesus went to the town of Ephraim near the wilderness because the religious authorities planned to kill Him after He healed Lazarus. (John 11:54) Besides St George’s Orthodox Church, the town includes the ruins of a church built by St Helena during her pilgrimage in the 4th century. (“Taybeh’s Plea for the Last Christians of the Holy Land,” Road to Emmaus Vol. XI, No. 4, http://www.farahfoundation.org/UpdatedZine.pdf) In 1967, Taybeh had a population of 4000, and in 2007 its population was 1,452. (Taybeh municipality, http://www.taybehmunicipality.org/pages/history.html; “2007 PCBS Census”, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_PCBS/Downloads/book1487.pdf).

While the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem has 100,000-150,000 Christians in the Holy Land today, it has another 250,000-300,000 Christians abroad. The total number of Christians abroad is much higher, since when Orthodox Christians emigrate, they often join other Orthodox Churches, like the Antiochian, Greek, and Russian Orthodox Churches. Further, hundreds of thousands of other emigrants belong to other Christian sects.

The 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence announced that: “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual [and] religious… identity was shaped. Here they… gave to the world the eternal Book of Books… THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles.”

It is beautiful that descendants of Jews who emigrated centuries ago can return to live in their ancestral homeland. For that reason it would be beautiful for Palestinian Christians whose Jewish forefathers accepted Christianity to return to their ancestral homeland where they too gave the world the Scriptures.


The remains of

Al-Bassa and its Orthodox Church

A People As Silver, A Faith As Gold

While Christians emigrants wait and hope to return, Christians in the Holy Land keep the faith. The Church of Jerusalem celebrates Christmas on January 7 based on the 1st century BC Julian Calendar. At 11 PM on Christmas Eve, the Patriarch of Jerusalem comes to Manger Square in Bethlehem and leads a procession into the Church of the Nativity. There, he begins the holiday with prayers, which last until the early hours of Christmas morning.

Another important holiday is “Theophany.” It is celebrated on January 19 and commemorates Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist. The day before Theophany in 2010, Patriarch Theophilos III led a procession from St John’s Monastery to the traditional site of Jesus’ Baptism, at Qasr el Yahud near Jericho. While bells tolled and pilgrims sang, the Patriarch threw branches into the water and released white doves, commemorating the Holy Spirit’s descent like a dove at Jesus’ Baptism (Luke 3:22). “The site of Qasr el Yahud… is also believed to be the spot where the Israelites first entered Canaan, under the leadership of Joshua after the Exodus from Egypt” (Ron Friedman, “Pilgrims celebrate Feast of the Epiphany on Jordan River”, http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=204259) The site also has churches and monasteries dating to the 4th century. The Ministry of Tourism estimates about 60,000 people visit it annually, and that if restrictions visits were lifted, the number would “rise to the millions” (Aron Heller, “Mine fields circle Jesus’ traditional baptism site”, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700101720/Mine-fields-circle-Jesus-traditional-baptism-site.html)

When Jerusalem’s Temple still stood, many Jews journeyed to Jerusalem for Passover, or “Pesakh”, in accordance with the commandment for all males to gather together to make offerings on Passover “before the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). Similarly, many of the Holy Land’s Christians traditionally came to Jerusalem for Easter, or “Paskha.” Yusef Daher, director of the World Council of Churches’ Jerusalem Inter-Church Center, estimated that in 2010, 2,000-3,000 Palestinian Christians came to Jerusalem. (“Israel Restricted Easter Celebrations in Jerusalem,” Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme, http://www.eappi.org/en/news/eappi-news/se/article/4834/israel-restricted-easter.html). On March 4, 2010, the Arab Orthodox Society, the Middle East Council of Churches’ Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees and the MECC’s Gaza office, Sabeel, Jerusalem’s Arab Orthodox Union Club, International Christian Committee, YMCA, and its National Christian Association, and Bethlehem’s Al Liqa’ Center wrote in an open letter(http://www.imemc.org/article/58203): “Throughout the Ottoman, British Mandate and Jordanian times thousands of local faithful and pilgrims took part in the celebrations… Tens of Greek Orthodox families traditionally carry their family banners in the ceremony and are among the first to receive the holy fire” in previous years.

Traditionally, Christians walked in a 5.5 mile Palm Sunday procession from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Even some Muslims participated in Christian celebrations. However, the procession has vanished, probably due to the Israeli “Separation Wall,” checkpoints, and permit system.

To show their desire to visit Jerusalem, the Holy Land Trust, an affiliate of the Middle East Council of Churches, led a procession from Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity towards Jerusalem, on Palm Sunday, March 28, 2010. The march’s 200-300 participants brought 2 donkeys and a horse, and carried palm fronds, but lacked entry permits. The Israeli guards didn’t try to stop them, so they walked through the Separation Wall’s gate, continued walking, and gave speeches in different languages. The celebrants’ message was that “walls and barriers will not succeed in preventing believers of all religions from exercising their right of worship”, and desired that “all residents of this area will be able to mark the feast of freedom.” (“Passover and Easter Procession in Bethlehem”, http://www.taayush.org/?p=1262). When they turned around, Israeli soldiers violently dispersed them, forced some to the ground, and significantly injured 4 marchers. The soldiers confiscated the animals and detained 10 marchers for 5 days. Apparently in retaliation for the procession, the Israeli State banned Palestinian ID-carriers from Jerusalem’s Old City for the first two days of the “Holy Week” that runs from Palm Sunday to Paskha Sunday. But Military judge Dahan released the “Bethlehem 10,” adding: “the march was not violent… except for the force used by police officers during the arrests”. ( http://www.labournet.net/world/1004/wbmil1.html).

The Church of Jerusalem celebrates Paskha as a “Feast of Freedom,” a celebration of Christians’ freedom from death through Christ’s Resurrection, as well as a celebration of the Israelites’ freedom from Egyptian slavery through the Exodus. On the Thursday before Paskha Sunday, Jerusalem’s Patriarch washes priests’ feet in front of the Church of Holy Sepulchre, just as Jesus washed His disciples’ feet after the Last Supper.

That Friday night, some Christians go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and light candles early the following morning, on the “Sabbath of Light.” That Saturday afternoon, church bells ring, and the Patriarch leads a procession with Jerusalem’s ancient Orthodox families, who carry banners. They walk from the Patriarch’s residence to the Tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Patriarch walks around the Tomb three times, and enters it wearing only his white tunic. In the Tomb, a flame is lit, which he brings out with 2 candles. He spreads the light to the rest of the people, who carry candles, and bells ring. Palestinian boy scouts lead a procession through the Christian Quarter, where the light spreads to more candles. The light spreads from village to village, where crowds gather, greeting eachother with “al-Massih Qam!”, “The Messiah is Risen!”

In Ramallah, the city’s Orthodox Christian mayor Jennet Michael receives the flame. She walks with Palestine’s boy and girl scouts carrying drums and banners, and with altar boys carrying icons and crosses, to the Holy Transfiguration church. (Maria Khoury, “Easter Behind the Wall,”

http://arabwritersgroup.wordpress.com/2009/04/18/easter-behind-the-wall-04-18-09). After Ramallah’s procession, each boy scout group carries the flame to its village.

After the flame is received at St Elijah’s Monastery near Bethlehem, it is taken to Bethlehem, and the villages of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour. In Beit Sahour in 2010, the Patriarch himself delivered the flame to the village’s church, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad came. As people walked to the church, scouts played 40 bagpipes and people threw candy from balconies. (Marie Raedergard, “The Light from Jerusalem”,

http://marieredergard.blogspot.com/2010/04/light-from-jerusalem.html). Meanwhile, pilgrims carry the light around the world. For example, the Russian “St Andrew Foundation” carried the flame to Moscow’s New Jerusalem monastery in 2010.

According to Exodus 12, the ancient Israelites ate a Seder feast from a sacrificed lamb to celebrate Passover. As Judaic tradition developed, the Seder came to use a lamb bone and a salted hard-boiled egg, or “beitza,” to represent the sacrifice at Jerusalem’s Temple. (“Beitzah”, http://www.chabad.org/kids/article_cdo/aid/1835/jewish/Beitza-Egg.htm). Similarly, on Paskha Sunday, after a Saturday vigil from 8 PM to midnight and a Sunday liturgy from 3 AM to sunrise, Palestinian Christians traditionally eat lamb and colored, boiled eggs. (Journal in the Holy Land, http://www.saltfilms.net/zababdeh/apr01.html) The “Easter egg” is an analogy to Christ’s Resurrection because its shell is like the sealed tomb and contains a dormant life. Palestinian Christians eat rice balls, date pastries, and crushed-walnut pastries that analogize the spear, the sponge, and the crown of thorns at the Crucifixion. Lebanese and Egyptian Judaic communities also eat date pastries on Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah, and nut pastries on Purim.

Christmas and Easter aren’t the only big Christian holidays in the Holy Land. On May 5, the day before St George’s Day, hundreds of Christians and Muslims come to St George’s Orthodox monastery near Bethlehem to share a picnic under its olive trees and pray. Early the following morning, Christians from Beit Jala and Bethlehem walk in procession to the monastery. Many Christians baptize their children at the monastery. Some Muslims take their sons to the church for the priest to simply bathe them in the baptismal font, which probably reflects many Palestinian Muslims’ Christian roots. A visiting French priest, Father Jean Moretain, mentioned the tradition in 1848: “Many Muslims had their children baptized in El-Khader, because tradition maintained that a child baptized there would be strong.” (“Al Khader”, http://www.leicester-holyland.org.uk/AlKhader_Bethlehem.htm).

On the Prophet Elijah’s holiday, August 2, Christians walk from Bethlehem to the 5th-6th century St Elijah’s monastery. They give bread to monks, who bless and distribute it to the travelers, who picnic under the monastery’s olive trees.

On the holiday of the Dormition, or “falling asleep,” of Christ’s mother Mary, August 28, Christians walk from Bethlehem to the Church of the Dormition on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives. The sunrise procession goes from 2 AM in Bethlehem until 7 AM, when the travelers reach the 1st century AD burial caves where tradition says Christ’s mother reposed. There, they pray and light candles along the 100 steps to Christ’s mother’s resting-place.

During the 1989 Easter season, Jerusalem’s Patriarch Diodoros and other Christian leaders made an open statement (http://www.al-bushra.org/hedchrch/1989.htm): “We demand that the authorities respect the rights of believers to enjoy free access to all places of worship on the Holy Days of all religions.”

On November 14, 1994, Patriarch Diodoros and other Christian leaders described Jerusalem’s importance in a Memorandum (http://www.al-bushra.org/hedchrch/memorandum.htm):

Jerusalem has had a long, eventful history. It… has been destroyed time and again, only to be reborn anew and rise from its ashes…

In the Acts of the Apostles, Jerusalem is the place of the gift of the Spirit, of the birth of the Church (2), the community of the disciples of Jesus who are to be His witnesses not only in Jerusalem but even the ends of the earth (1,8). In Jerusalem, the first Christian community incarnated the ecclesiastical ideal…

The earthly Jerusalem, in the Christian tradition, prefigures the heavenly Jerusalem as “the vision of peace.” In the Liturgy, the Church itself receives the name of Jerusalem and relives all of that city’s anguish, joys and hopes. Furthermore, during the first centuries the liturgy of Jerusalem became the foundation of all liturgies everywhere, and later deeply influence the development of diverse liturgical traditions, because of the many pilgrimages to Jerusalem and of the symbolic meaning of the Holy City.

Jerusalem is the place of roots, ever living and nourishing. In Jerusalem is born every Christian. To be in Jerusalem is for every Christian to be at home. For almost two thousand years, through so many hardships and the succession of so many powers, the local Church with its faithful has always been actively present in Jerusalem. Across the centuries, the local Church has been witnessing to the life and preaching, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ upon the same Holy places, and its faithful have been receiving other brothers and sisters in the faith, as pilgrims, resident or in transit, inviting them to be reimmersed into the refreshing, ever living ecclesiastical sources. That continuing presence of a living Christian community is inseparable from the historical sites. Through the “living stones” the holy archaeological sites lake on “life.”

Jerusalem is a symbol and a promise of the presence of God, of fraternity and peace for humankind, in particular for the children of Abraham.

In November 2009, Archbishop Theodosios of Sebastia (birthname: Atallah Hanna), who heads the Patriarchate’s Arabic Department, Nora Kort, President of the Arab Orthodox Society, and other Palestinian Christian leaders expressed their faith in the Kairos Document (http://www.kairospalestine.ps), published by the World Council of Churches. They wrote that the Holy Spirit:

“helps us to understand Holy Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, showing their unity, here and now. The Spirit makes manifest the revelation of God to humanity, past, present and future. We believe that God has spoken to humanity, here in our country: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets…” (Heb. 1:1-2). We… believe… that Jesus Christ came in order to fulfil the Law and the Prophets. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and in his light and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we read the Holy Scriptures… We believe that our land has a universal mission. In this universality, the meaning of the promises, of the land, of the election, of the people of God open up to include all of humanity, starting from all the peoples of this land… It was the initiation of the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God on earth. God sent the patriarchs, the prophets and the apostles to this land so that they might carry forth a universal mission to the world… It is God’s land and… God has put us here as two peoples, and God gives us the capacity, if we have the will, to live together and establish in it justice and peace… Our presence in this land… is not accidental but rather deeply rooted in the history and geography of this land, resonant with the connectedness of any other people to the land it lives in.”

Further, the authors asserted that Christian emigrants “have been waiting for their right of return, generation after generation.” They also asserted that: “The Church in our land… does show certain signs of hope. Our parish communities are vibrant and most of our young people are active apostles for justice and peace… The Resurrection is the source of our hope. Just as Christ rose in victory over death and evil, so too we are able, as each inhabitant of this land is able, to vanquish the evil of war. We will remain a witnessing, steadfast and active Church in the land of the Resurrection.”

A month later, Patriarch Theophilos III and Jerusalem’s other church leaders responded that they heard“the cry of hope that our children have launched… We support them and stand by them in their faith… We also support the call to all our faithful as well as to the Israeli and Palestinian Leaders, to the International Community and to the World Churches”.

Besides Palestinian Christians, the Church of Jerusalem includes Jewish Orthodox Christians. Since 1948, 300,000-400,000 baptized Orthodox Christians of Jewish descent have immigrated to the Holy Land. They immigrated based on the 1970 Israeli “Law of Return,” anyone with a Jewish spouse, parent, or grandparent may immigrate to Israel, so long as the person did not change his/her own religion from Judaism. (“Law of Return”, Amendment No. 2, 5730-1970, Sections 4A-4B, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Politics/Other_Law_Law_of_Return.html). It would be beautiful if Jews who become Christian could also immigrate to Israel, since it is just as much their ancestral homeland.

Archpriest Winogradsky (birthname: Avraham ben Baruch), who grew up memorizing the Psalms in Hebrew and became Christian, serves the Church of Jerusalem’s Hebrew-speaking Christians. He explains that The Church was born from first century Jewish Semitic Christendom, and thus the Greek Scriptures used by Orthodox Christians contain a lot of Semitic phrases or expressions”, adding: “the Lord’s Prayer begins as Jewish prayers often do: “Our Father Who art in Heaven – Avinu shebashamayim”. (“OCMC supports Fr. Alexander” http://abbaaw.blogspot.com/2008/08/ocmc-supports-fr-alexander-winogradsky.html). Fr. Winogradsky writes that “Some authors track back Hebrew in the Church to the 9th century” and says: “I serve the Liturgy about 80 percent in Hebrew.” (“Hebrew for the Churches?” http://www.etrfi.org/Docs/Anniversary.pdf; “Working in the Holy City”, http://www.ocmc.org/images/PDFs/Magazine_Vol21_No1.pdf)

Holy Fire Saturday: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Christians parading in Ramallah (AP Photo)


We must keep an open mind to understand the Scriptures, and think critically to find the truth. The simplest reason that Jesus Christ’s resurrection would be according to the Scriptures is that it fits within the general resurrection. Ezekiel 37 describes the general resurrection of Israel’s slain ones, Isaiah 26 describes the resurrection of Israel’s righteous dead, and Hosea 6 describes the general resurrection of Judah’s dead “on the third day.”

I Chronicles 17 says that the Prophet Nathan told King David, who ruled in 1000 BC, that the Messiah would be David’s descendant. The Scriptures also describe the Messiah as a poetic “David” who would come from the Israelites’ midst and become a ruler of nations. Psalm 16 poetically describes David as one whose soul isn’t abandoned to the netherworld and whose body doesn’t decay, and Psalm 21 says he would have eternal life. Psalm 22 describes David as one who feels forsaken and is surrounded by enemies who divide and cast lots for his clothes. It says that the enemies dig into or poetically bite his hands and feet. The chapter also says that he spills like water, his heart melts and his strength evaporates, and he was laid in the dust of death. But it says that when David called on God for salvation, God answered him, and David would praise God to his brothers and in the congregation. Thus, the prophesied Messiah son of David would match the poetic image of a killed and resurrected poetic “David.”

The Book of Isaiah (8th-6th century BC) calls the Messiah God’s Servant, a shoot and twig from the stem and root of Jesse (Isaiah 11). It says he brings Israel to God and rises up before God’s hand. Isaiah 52 describes a future time, “That Day”, when God will appear and speak, and Jerusalem will sing. They will sing about a Messiah who had come, been rejected, was cut off and killed, assigned burial[s] with the wicked and rich, seen His children, prolonged his days, made multitudes righteous with His knowledge, and shared in a spoil. Jerusalem’s people will sing that the Messiah suffered for their sins and bore their sicknesses, and they scattered. The song compares the Messiah to a lamb, says he would be a sacrificial offering for sin, and indicates that he was crushed to heal sins.

The Book of Daniel (6th-2nd century BC) gives Daniel’s vision of a Messianic “son of man” who would rule all nations forever (Daniel 7). Daniel 9 records that the archangel Gabriel said 490 years were decreed to end and atone for sin, bring eternal righteousness, and seal up vision and prophet. After 483 of the 490 years, anointed one, or “Messiah”, would die and then Jerusalem and its temple would be destroyed. Like Isaiah 53, Daniel 9 refers to the Messiah’s death as being “cut off.” The 483 years run from “word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” until sometime in 111 BC – 70 AD. Normal 483 year calculations from the two words in the Scriptures that most clearly say to restore or rebuild Jerusalem (458 and 445 BC, respectively) point to 25-27 and 38-40 AD. Calculations from the two “words” using round 360-day “lunar years” point to 18-20 AD and 31-33 AD, respectively.

Zechariah, writing in 520-518 BC after the Israelites’ return from Babylonian captivity, prophesied that in a future age, the Israelites would have bad leaders and thrust through all their prophets. (Zechariah 11 &13) The God would appoint the Messiah as a Good Shepherd who would care for the Israelites, fire the bad leaders, and break the covenant. God’s Sword would smite the Messiah and the Israelites would scatter. 2 of 3 parts (not necessarily 2/3) of the Israelites in the Holy Land would be “cut off.” The Antichrist would come, forget those who are cut off, fail to feed the Israelites, and consume prosperous Israelites, and God’s Sword would disable his arm and eye. God would bring the third part through fire, refine them as Silver, and try them as Gold, and they would call on God’s name, and He would say: “It is my people.”

Zechariah 12 predicts “That Day,” when the House of David- the family of David and the Messiah- would be like a godlike being. At that time, the Israelites would look to God because of the Messiah whom they thrust through. Jerusalem would have a spirit of grace and mourn for the pierced Messiah like one has for a first-born only son. The mourning would be so epic it would probably be like the annual Lamentations for Israel’s most faithful king, Josiah.

The earliest known official Christian and Judaic interpretations of Messianic prophecies date to the 1st-5th centuries AD. One of the most widespread views in Judaism from this period identified a “Messiah son of Joseph,” who would suffer and die, and a non-suffering “Messiah son of David,” who would resurrect him and rule. The view is based partly on Ezekiel 37, saying that God would combine a stick for Joseph and a stick for Judah into one stick in God’s hand. However, since the view considers a stick to mean a lineage or person, the simpler meaning would be that God would combine Joseph’s suffering figure and Judah’s ruling figure into the Messiah’s person. Another common Judaic tradition, based on Isaiah 53, identified only one Messiah, a “leper scholar” who would suffer from leprosy, wouldn’t be killed, and would rule.

Christianity, on the other hand, resolves the contradiction between prophecies of the Messiah’s death and eternal rule by declaring His Resurrection. It was only after the Resurrection that the apostles strongly understood the prophecies.

According to the New Testament, Jesus of Nazareth, a descendant of David, rose from the Israelites’ midst and was rejected. In 20-33 AD, He was crucified, wherein His arms and feet were nailed, His body was pierced and blood and water spilled, and the crucifying soldiers divided His clothes. He was killed as a criminal for the sins of many, Joseph of Arimathea later received permission to bury Him in a rich tomb, and his followers scattered. He resurrected on the third day and visited His gathered disciples. The leaders who had rejected Jesus- the Roman leader Pilate, the Jewish king Herod, and the Sanhedrin leaders subsequently lost their jobs. In 70 AD, Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed. Since then, multitudes have come to know the Scriptures by knowing Jesus.

Like the rabbis and schools of Judaism, Christianity has the credentials to interpret the Scriptures: rabbis, theologians, famous Jewish converts, almost 2000 years of tradition and organizational continuity, synagogues, synagogue rites, Hebrew, descendants of ancient Israelites, and love for the Scriptures. Jesus Christ grew up studying the Scriptures, taught in the synagogue, and had disciples.

St Paul, a Hebrew-speaking Pharisee responsible for persecuting Christians, was blinded, healed, and became an apostle of Christ. Paul continued to consider himself a Pharisee and saw non-Jews accepting Christianity as fulfillment of the prophecy that Abraham would father many nations. Paul explained that adoption was as valid as physical descent, so non-Jews become Abraham’s seed and join Israel by accepting Israel’s Messiah.

The Church of Jerusalem has former Sanhedrin members like Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Joseph of Tiberias; Jewish Christian saints like St James, St Peter, St Paul, St Hegesippus, and St Porphyrius the Israelite; and theologians like St Jerome and St John of Damascus. In the 2nd century, the Holy Land had many Jewish Christians, and in the 5th-6th centuries, it was mostly Christian. The Church of Jerusalem worships in Christian synagogues called “Ekklesia”, meaning “congregations” in Greek. It maintains the art and music of early Christianity, its services have basic elements of synagogue worship, and the churches’ designs have basic elements of synagogues like a curtained “Holy of Holies”, a holy table, and menorah.

After almost 2000 years, the Church of Jerusalem, made predominantly of descendants of Jews, still holds the faith. Many Palestinian Christians live in villages and worship in churches that date to Christianity’s first centuries. Similarly, Palestinian Arabic has roots in the Aramaic language from that time. DNA tests show Palestinian Christians, and many if not most Muslim Palestinians, have Jewish ancestry. Today, most Palestinian Christians live outside the Holy Land, and many long to return. Those who remain celebrate their faith, especially at “Paskha,” meaning Passover or Easter, when some visit Jerusalem and others yearn to. The Church includes almost as many recent Orthodox Christians immigrants of Jewish descent.

The Scriptures are riddles and mind puzzles. It is a challenge to think critically and to question. What happened to the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah when they criticized? The rejected prophets thus prefigured the Messiah whom they prophesied. Rocks whom the builders rejected have formed cornerstones.

The discovery that according to the Scriptures, the Messiah would resurrect is only the beginning of our journey of faith. Are the kinds of miracles in the New Testament real? Will there be a general resurrection? More challenges and quests lay before us.


Mr. Harold Smith joined St Michael’s Orthodox Church in Mount Carmel, Eastern Diocese of Pennsylvania, OCA, at the age of 17. He visited churches and holy sites in Russia, Greece, Belarus, and Ukraine, and participated in the Teen Retreat at St Tikhon’s Monastery, the New Year’s Retreat at Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ellwood, PA, and the College Conference at the Antiochian Village. In college and law school He attended the Orthodox Christian Fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh, and he also belong to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.