I have been talking about how the view of a future resurrection of the body came from.  This idea, that we would live forever in our bodies (if we were among the “righteous”) was repugnant to just about everyone  in the ancient world.  But it became a widely held view among Jews, and was taken up with passion by the early Christians.  These Christians appealed to the Jewish Bible for support of their view, even though “resurrection” is actually only clearly taught in one passage (Daniel 12:1-3).

But they found other passages they claimed were relevant for the idea of resurrection.  And most strikingly, they turned to Isaiah 53.  Why do I call that striking?  Because it is the ONE passage, above all others, that has been used over the centuries by Christians to be a prediction that the messiah will suffer and die for the sake of others.  Every semester my students quote the passage to me and say “SEE!  Jesus really *is* the messiah predicted by Scripture, centuries before he came!”

But for most Jews — and indeed, possibly for the author himself — this is not at all what the passage was about.  It was instead about how God would “raise his people” from the dead.    I’ll explain more about how that is what the passage is really about in a later post.  For now I want to explain about why it is almost certainly not about a future suffering messiah.

Here is how I explain it in my undergraduate textbook, The Bible:  A Historical and Literary Introduction.  In this context, I have already explained (and shown the evidence for) why critical scholars are unified in thinking that this part of Isaiah (chs. 40-55) were not written by Isaiah of Jerusalem in the 8th century BCE, before the destruction of the northern part of Israel by the Assyrians, but by a different author in the mid 6th century BCE, after the destruction of the South (and Jerusalem) by the Babylonians, and the leaders of the nation of Judea, and many others, had been taken into exile into Babylon.  That context within which the author is writing very much matters for interpreting what he has to say in this passage (the context is almost always completely ignored by Christian apologists who read the passage in isolation, as if it were written in a historical vacuum as referring only to the distant future).


No passage of Second Isaiah has intrigued readers and interpreters – especially among Christians – more than the four passages that are dedicated to describing a figure known as the “Suffering Servant.” Some scholars have called these passages “songs,” or “songs of the suffering servant.” The passages are Isa. 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12. It is not known whether the author of 2 Isaiah has inherited these passages from an earlier tradition that he has incorporated into his book or if they are his own creation.

In these passages, the Servant of Yahweh is said to have suffered horribly for the sake of others; but God will vindicate him.  He, in fact, is the delight of Yahweh and will be used by him to accomplish his will on earth:  “I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations … He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth (42:1, 6).

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