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Jesus and the Messianic Prophecies – Did the Old Testament Point to Jesus?

In my previous post I started to explain why, based on the testimony of Paul, it appears that most Jews (the vast majority) rejected the Christian claim that Jesus was the messiah.

I have to say, that among my Christian students today (most of them from the South, most of them from conservative Christian backgrounds), this continues to be a real puzzle.

“But there were prophecies of Jesus being the messiah,” they argue. “Hundreds of Old Testament passages, such as Isaiah 53, describe him to a tee.”

They genuinely can’t figure it out.

What About Old Testament Messianic Prophecies?

In their view, the Old Testament makes a number of predictions about the messiah:

  • he would be born in Bethlehem
  • his mother would be a virgin
  • he would be a miracle worker
  • he would be killed for the sins of others
  • he would be raised from the dead

These are all things that happened to Jesus!  How much more obvious could it be?  Why in the world don’t those Jews see it?   Are they simply hard-headed and rebellious against God?  Can’t they *read*?  Are they stupid???

What is very hard to get my students to see (in most cases I’m, frankly, completely unsuccessful) is that the authors of the New Testament who portrayed Jesus as the messiah are the ones who quoted the Old Testament in order to prove it, and that they were influenced by the Old Testament in what they decided to say about Jesus, and that their views of Jesus affected how they read the Old Testament.

The reality is that the so-called “messianic prophecies” that are said to point to Jesus never taken to be messianic prophecies by Jews prior to the Christians who saw Jesus as the messiah.  The Old Testament in fact never says that the messiah will be born of a virgin, that he will be executed by his enemies, and that he will be raised from the dead.

Messianic Prophecies in Isaiah?

My students often don’t believe me when I say this, and they point to passages like Isaiah 7:14 (virgin birth) and Isaiah 53 (execution and resurrection).   Then I urge them to read the passages carefully and find where there is any reference in them to a messiah.   That’s one of the problems (not the only one).

These passages are not talking about the messiah.  The messiah is never mentioned in them.  Anyone who thinks they *are* talking about the messiah, has to import the messiah into the passages, because he simply isn’t there.

I should stress that no one prior to Christianity took these passages to refer to a future messiah.

Then why are they read (by Christians) as if referring to the messiah?  What happened is this:  ancient Christians (within a couple of decades of Jesus’ death) who believed that Jesus *was* the messiah necessarily believed that Jesus fulfilled Scripture.  They, therefore, began to read passages of the Old Testament as predictions of Jesus.  And so the interpretation of these passages was changed so that they were now seen as foretelling the birth, life, and death of Jesus.

Once those passages are read that way, it is very hard indeed to read them the way they had been read before.  When Christians read Isaiah 53, they simply can’t *help* but read it as a prediction of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  But for those who read the passage just for what it has to say, it does not appear to be about the messiah.  (You’ll note that the term “messiah” never occurs in it.)

Are These Prophecies Really Messianic?

So that is one problem with Christians using the Old Testament to “prove” that Jesus is the messiah.  They are appealing to passages that do not appear to be about the messiah.  The other is the flip side of the coin.  Christians who think that Jesus fulfilled predictions of the Old Testament base their views, in no small measure, on what the Gospels say about Jesus’ life:  He was born in Bethlehem.  His mother was a virgin.  He healed many people.  He was rejected by his own people.  He was silent at his trial.  And so on – there are lots of these “facts” from Jesus’ life, it is thought, that fulfilled Scripture.  But how do we know that these are facts from Jesus’ life?

The only way we know is (or think we know it) is because authors of the New Testament Gospels claim that these are the facts.   But are they?  How do we know that Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem?  That his mother was actually a virgin?  That he was actually silent at his trial?  And so forth and so on?   We only know because the Gospels indicate so.   But the authors of the Gospels were themselves influenced in their telling of Jesus’ story by the passages of Scripture that they took to be messianic predictions, and they told their stories in the light of those passages.

Take Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.  A couple of times on the blog I’ve talked about how problematic it is to think that this is a historical datum.  It’s true that both Matthew and Luke say that Jesus was born in that small village.  But Mark and John do not assume that this is true, but rather that he came from Galilee, from the village of Nazareth.   Moreover, Matthew and Luke *get* Jesus born in Bethlehem in radically different and contradictory ways, so that for both of them he is born there even though he comes from Nazareth.  Why don’t they have a consistent account of the matter?

It is almost certainly because they both want to be able to claim that his birth was in Bethlehem, even though both of them know for a fact he did not come from Bethlehem, but from Nazareth.  Then why do Matthew and Luke want to argue (in different ways) that he was born in Bethlehem?  It is because in their view — based on the Old Testament prophet Micah 5:2 — that’s where the messiah had to come from.  And so for them, Jesus *had* to come from there.  They aren’t recording a historical datum from Jesus’ life; they are writing accounts that are influenced by the Old Testament precisely to show that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament.

You can go through virtually all the alleged messianic prophecies that point to Jesus and show the same things: either the “prophecies” were not actually predictions of the future messiah (and were never taken that way before Christians came along) or the facts of Jesus’ life that are said to have fulfilled these predictions are not actually facts of Jesus’ life.

One fact about Jesus life is certain: he was crucified by the Romans.  And that was THE single biggest problem ancient Jews had with Christian claims that Jesus was the messiah.  There was not a Jew on the planet who thought the messiah was going to be crushed by his enemies — humiliated, tortured, and executed.  That was the *opposite* of what the messiah would do.  To call Jesus the messiah made no sense — i.e., it was nonsense – virtually by definition.   And that was the major reason most Jews rejected the Christian claims about Jesus.

Another Problem with Calling Jesus the Messiah
Readers’ Mailbag on Revelation: November 6, 2015



  1. Avatar
    godspell  November 8, 2015

    Bart, one thing I’ve read is that the Bethlehem in Judea may not have even been an occupied settlement at the time of Jesus’ birth. But that there may have been a smaller town of the same name in Galilee, not far from Nazareth. Where absolutely nobody believed the Messiah would come from. Anyway, what’s the latest thinking on that? I know what the present-day Bethlehem of Judea tourist board would say.

    One thing we do know is that it makes no sense to conduct a census by telling people with jobs to stick their heavily pregnant wives on a donkey and make a long arduous dangerous journey to their hometowns to be counted. Nor does the date of the actual census match up with other story elements in Luke. But it’s not as if Luke had a library or a newspaper archive he could go to and look this up. He couldn’t Google anything. We do come across as awfully superior, sometimes. We have the kind of information access nobody at that time could even dream of. And look at the use some of us make of it. ::sigh::

    • Bart
      Bart  November 9, 2015

      No, I’m afraid that one is just made up to try to explain Luke’s narrative.

      • Avatar
        godspell  November 9, 2015

        Since there is a Bethlehem in Galilee, I assume you’re talking about my second (and in retrospect, superfluous) paragraph?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 11, 2015

          The text of Matthew is quite explicit that he is referring to Bethlehem in Judea.

  2. Avatar
    Jon  November 8, 2015

    Why did Mark and John say Jesus came from Navareth? Was there a passage in the Old Testament that also said someone came from there? It’s surprising to me that John said Jesus came from Navareth because it seems like that book speaks more about his divine role. It should match up with verses from the Old Testament that early Christians read as messianic prophecy. A spin off question from here is why did Christians believe the messiah had to be god if the Old Testament doesn’t say that?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 9, 2015

      Probably because he really came from Nazareth.

      • Avatar
        Robert Wahler  November 9, 2015

        There isn’t any evidence for Jesus of Nazareth. It probably came from “Nazirite”. Why don’t you think Gospel authors were making this all up as they went along, Tanak in their laps?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 11, 2015

          As you probably know, I’ve written an entire book on this question.

          • Avatar
            RG959  September 21, 2018

            What’s the book and do you go into detail on Isaiah 53 in any of your books?

          • Bart
            Bart  September 21, 2018

            Did Jesus Exist? I deal with Isaiah 53 most extensively in the book I’m just finishing now, on the Afterlife (I argue that Daniel 12 — the first reference to a resurrection from the dead – is based on Isaiah 53)

      • Avatar
        Omar6741  November 10, 2015

        Could it be that Nazareth itself was named for some religious idea, such as that of the “branch” of David’s house mentioned in Isaiah?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 11, 2015

          We’re not sure why it was named, but there is no connection of it anywhere to the Davidic line.

  3. Avatar
    raypianoplayer  November 8, 2015

    Even though I am not an atheist, what you wrote is part of why I have moved away from Christianity. Good info Dr. Ehrman.

  4. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  November 8, 2015

    My students, particularly those that are fresh out of high school, have a very difficult time with making a claim and supporting it with evidence from a text. They misconstrue the meaning of texts all the time! They have not practiced, enough, the skill of close reading that involves a number of things: background information about the author, the intent of the author to the reader and audience, the historical setting of the author, etc. It takes a considerable amount of time, concentration, and patience. I spend a lot of my time anticipating what they’re going to misunderstand or make a fuss about and try to get a *jump* on it before it happens.

    Sometimes, I give students an errorless learning exercise to help them understand how an argument can be valid even though it may go against their beliefs. For example, I will give a writing prompt that asks them to agree or disagree. Most of the text suggests they agree because there’s not enough evidence in the reading to support disagreeing. I give them that particular prompt to show them that even though they may feel that they should disagree, they will not have enough evidence to support that position. I will also have them write a paper counter-arguing their own position on a subject. Basically, I box the students into taking an uncomfortable stance so they can see things from another perspective. It has to be presented in the right way though, or you could have a bunch of angry, non-compliant students. I’ve seen it backfire on some instructors, and it’s not pretty! Presentation is key.

  5. Avatar
    rbrtbaumgardner  November 8, 2015

    In addition to what you write, Bart, it often strikes me how much unconscious assumptions about the availability of information seems to play in how believers understand Jesus. Of course, Jesus was the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament. You can see that anywhere in the media. So, why didn’t the ancient Jews know that? It reminds me of a line sung by Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar”:

    “If you’d come today, you’d have reached a whole nation / Israel in 4 B. C. had no mass communication.”

    I doubt that is actually true. He’d gotten maybe a news cycle and then drowned out by noise.

  6. Avatar
    doug  November 8, 2015

    The Messianic Prophecies

    How do they know it’s so?
    Because they KNOW they know.
    The wish is father to the thought,
    And other views just count as nought.

  7. Avatar
    stabbles  November 8, 2015

    Can’t the OT passages have multiple (allegorical) meanings?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 9, 2015

      Yes, indeed! Christian readings are precisely those kinds of meanings.

  8. Avatar
    Jana  November 8, 2015

    Why was it important to link the Old Testament to the New thus creating false but convenient interpretations?

  9. Paulette
    Paulette  November 8, 2015

    Being Jewish I agree with you logic. In my opinion, Jesus was a rural rabbi, probably married, as most rabbi were and still are today, who taught peace in a time of turmoil. Being a god, is just beyond reason,let alone the Messiah.

    • Avatar
      christinegibbons  December 22, 2015

      “Being a god, is just beyond reason, let along Messiah”

      There being a god is just beyond reason, let alone there being a Messiah. Care to explain why the first statement is reasonable and the second not?

  10. Avatar
    anberry  November 9, 2015

    Hey Bart, in my interactions with an apologetics group on campus, two arguments keep cropping up. One, all the original disciples were martyred for proclaiming the risen Jesus. Two, that Luke never mentioned Paul’s martyrdom in Acts, so Luke must have been writing before Paul’s execution (around 64 AD I believe). Now I have read some of the stories of the martyrdoms of the disciples and pretty much all of them come from late accounts with obvious legendary fabrications. It seems like many scholars seem to accept Paul was martyred around 64 AD. How can we know that he was martyred for sure and how do we know the date with decent confidence? It seems we only have late Church tradition attesting to his martyrdom as well as legendary accounts from places like the Acts of Paul. It seems the only original disciple we can say with confidence was martyred was the James mentioned in Josephus.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 9, 2015

      Some time ask them what *evidence* they have for how the followers of Jesus died…..

  11. Avatar
    Robert Wahler  November 9, 2015


    ‘One fact about Jesus life is certain: he was crucified by the Romans.’

    OK. You said it. Now prove it!
    The Gospels are not ‘proof’. They’re Helenistic-style biographic fiction. Josephus is Christian interpolated. Luke borrowed from Virgil, Homer and Josephus. Etc., etc. Mark fathered the other three. Not much here, Bart! You’ve got … Mark. That’s IT. Might as well be Mark TWAIN. (No, I can’t do that to Samuel. He is more readable and humorous.)

    ‘Why don’t they [the Gospels] have a consistent account of the matter?’

    Because the authors made it all up! Surely you know. Price makes a good case for the Tanak origins of the life stories –no oral tradition, no history. Carrier — A DOCTORATE of Ancient History — shows probabilities of details of his life and miracles are an impossibility. Doherty, no historian – sure, but a great master of logic, shows Jesus cannot have lived. Maccoby ditto on Judas. Eisenman ditto on Judas. Spong ditto on Judas, ALL experts — therefore no Jesus. No Betrayal — no Jesus of the Gospels, no sacrificial savior — just what the author of the Gospel of Judas said. (Judas is the sacrifice! NOT JESUS.) This stuff is all literature, not history! ALL of it.

    “And so the interpretation of these passages was changed …” (Feign surprise)

    We know the correct theology: Science of the Soul.org. Here can be found an Eastern Mysticism corpus of dozens of titles — printed at cost and shipped worldwide for free — both by and about recent Masters, ‘saviors’ composing IN ENGLISH. Why are scholars not reading it? Why haven’t you gone there yet? This should be our standard, not some silly romance novella collection from twenty centuries ago. All conundrums are answered, all loose ends tied. Living humans who can answer here and now, IN PERSON. The truth within these Teachings is ‘beyond the wildest imagination’ (quoting one recent Master). Yes, even the problems of Evil and suffering, solved. (They are rather easily explained.)

    • Bart
      Bart  November 9, 2015

      I’d suggest you read my books where I discuss the matter at length.

      • Avatar
        Robert Wahler  November 9, 2015

        Why do you say that? Because you think I haven’t? As it so happens, I am right now rereading your book on the Gospel of Judas. I have read five or six others of yours. Orthodox Corruption is one of my three favorites of ANY books on spirituality. I told you about the Sant Mat corpus for your benefit, not mine. I know Mysticism (aka, for the most part, ‘Gnosticism’) in ways that can lead you to an understanding of ALL these texts as you have not seen them before. I want to have a discussion with you! What is it that you want me to know about what you think are the reasons Jesus is historical? I read Misquoting Jesus, Jesus Interrupted, Lost Scriptures, Lost Christianities, Apocalyptic Prophet, Forged, God’s Problem, probably one or two I forgot besides Orthodox Corruption. I absolutely LOVE what you write! (Except “Did Jesus Exist?”, the one you probably want me to read. For that I read Carrier and Price, who have more expertise on the subject than you do.) That is why I told you about the Science of the Soul corpus online. What I can tell you about Mysticism will infill what you know. We all know things others don’t.

        Engage with me! This is where we last broke down on the Gospel of Judas. You said “I think your theory is fatally flawed [that Judas is James the Just, and ‘the sacrifice’, not Jesus]”. And that’s all — nothing further. Don’t you realize how frustrating that is for your poster? I am trying to tell YOU something. You don’t agree, but also do not tell me WHY. I know — not just think — I know that I can help you to understand Gnosticism. Not because I am so smart and you aren’t. But because my unique life experience has shown me things that yours has not. I so wish I had been in that Roman ruin outside Geneva for your interview with NGS, because I could have given you the REAL story on the importance of the Gospel of Judas for the world. History would have been made by now and the world would never be the same. Don’t contend with me. Engage me. I know sources you don’t, and I I am trying to help you learn of them! Trying to talk to you is like making love to a porcupine. How to do it?

        I just passed the point where you quote Luke in Acts 1. Did I tell you that is the passage that started all this? Dr. Eisenman pointed out that ‘Judas’ was evidently a stand-in for James here from several references: “Joseph Barsabbas JUSTus” (son of father Joseph), for James THE JUST; “his office let another take” (another forced ‘prophecy’ of historicity) which is episcopate of Jerusalem — not apostle — which is no office; and most tellingly Judas “falling headlong”, the very wording used by Clement of Rome in his Recognitions 1:70 for the death OF JAMES. (The “bread” also, he points out, goes to James in the ascension passage in Gospel of the Hebrews, not “the disciples” or “them” as in the Synoptics’ Last Supper). This is only the start. Several other characters cover James (Eisenman says ‘Stephen’ and ‘Nathaniel’, for instance). I show that ‘the Betrayal’ has much more on James and ‘Judas’ as successor, inverted. The Gospels are not what you think! Let me show you how. Just because I am not a biblical scholar doesn’t mean that I don’t know. You can check this stuff yourself.

      • Avatar
        Robert Wahler  November 9, 2015


        Another thing > make it possible to correct a post. A post looks different in the typing dialogue box than it does in the finished column form. I meant to say: “The bread goes to James in Gospel of the Hebrews, not TO JUDAS as in John, nor the disciples or “them” as in the Synoptics.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 11, 2015

          You need to do your own proofreading, ahead of time!

          • Avatar
            Robert Wahler  November 11, 2015

            So does this mean you are not commenting on the post?

          • Bart
            Bart  November 12, 2015

            I’m not able to reply to long and detailed arguments — I simply don’t have enough hours in the day! But I can certainly respond to shorter ones and try to regularly. I am not interested in carrying on an extended back and forth with anyone though. We have over 3000 people reading these posts every day, and so you can imagine what it would be like having a long conversation each day with every one of them.

  12. Avatar
    willow  November 9, 2015

    😉 You’re wading through waters infested with piranha, aren’t you, Bart, when you mention Isaiah 53?

    God knows, coming to terms with the entire book of Isaiah, in particular chapters 41-53, caused me much grief, as a Christian. Letting go is never easy. For once I wept long and hard over how despised and rejected of men my Jesus was, and oh but how he suffered for worthless me, per church teachings, only to become involved in a long study of Isaiah in which the long suffering servant of God turned out not be my Jesus, rather and specifically named – Israel. God’s suffering servant – Israel made clear.

    But you, O Israel, my servant… -Isaiah 41:8
    Isaiah 44:1: But now listen, O Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen…
    Isaiah 44:21: Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant…
    Isaiah 45:4: For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen…
    Isaiah 49:3: “You are my servant, Israel…”

    It doesn’t get any plainer. There is no mention of a Messiah, there, nor anywhere in Zechariah 8:23 which reads:

    “In those days (the last days) ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, “Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.”

    Nor in Ezekiel:

    Ezekiel 37:11-14: Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

    The “we are cut off” got to me, for as strongly as I believed it couldn’t be but Jesus who was cut off; but then it became painfully clear that the church wasn’t but picking and choosing passages of Scripture that supported the cause, and never encouraging anyone to read further.

    I lost a whole lot of friends confronting such things, and remain at odds with numerous family members who continue to pray for the restoration of my faith and the salvation of my soul.

    So where do you go from here? Celsus? Can’t wait!

    • Avatar
      Robert Wahler  November 9, 2015

      But you gain some, too. I can help a lot. I used to be a Believer, and then I learned about Mysticism. There are saviors here today. Just as you show Israel is the Servant, Jacob is “Israel”. In the Gospel of Judas there is a new fragment (you will need Marv Meyer’s book “On a Night with Judas Iscariot” to see it, as it is new and not online or in the older texts) that says, on page 55, “Israel will come, bringing Israel out from Egypt”. This is in the future, so cannot be the great Patriarch, Jacob. I think it is the namesake James (the Just), which is English for Jacob, who “will come”. The Gospel of Judas is all about James, who sacrifices HIMSELF, not his Master, to become the new leader at 56,20. No scholar recognizes this, including Bart. Judas has a vision at the bottom of page 44 where he is stoned *by fellow disciples*, as was James in Josephus, and by Saul (Paul), a fellow disciple,in Clement’s Rec. 1:70. The First and Second Apocalypses from Nag Hammadi are about succession of James (a version of it – James – immediately precedes Gospel of Judas in the Codex Tchacos). It says flat out, The disciples said, “He is the new Master”. Can’t get any plainer than that! No wonder the Orthodoxy squashed the Gnostics. You can find a living savior (they say — not just me saying – that the world is never without at least one) at http://www.rssb.org. I can answer any question you may have. Or go to Science of the Soul.org for at cost books, written by Masters, in English.

    • Avatar
      billw977  December 6, 2015

      Willow, I very much identify with what you said in your post. I am just at the very beginning of this and have much to read and learn. Isaiah 53 has always been one of the “glues” to keep me believing in an otherwise hard to believe story. I haven’t even got to what Prof. Ehrman says about it yet, just your post alone gives me a hint at what is coming.

  13. Avatar
    hmltonius  November 9, 2015

    Why do you think the Jewish scholars who translated Hebrew texts into the Greek Septuagint choose parthenos as the correct translation of the Hebrew word almah? The translation was centuries before Jesus so was parthenos ever used in any other example to describe a woman who was not a virgin?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 9, 2015

      Yes, it could be used that way.

    • Avatar
      mitchftd  November 20, 2015

      The Rabbis never translated the prophets only the 5 books of the torah. However the word parthenos was used to describe Dina after she was rapped ,hard to say it means virgin

  14. Avatar
    maryhelena  November 9, 2015

    Bart: ”One fact about Jesus life is certain: he was crucified by the Romans”.

    That is the central claim of Christianity; the central claim of the gospel story. It is not a historical fact until it can be established historically. And, as we all know, it is impossible to do so for the Jesus figure in the gospel story. That does not mean that the gospel story is not reflecting a historical Roman crucifixion/execution; a Roman execution of a figure relevant to the writers of the gospels. The question is who was that figure? A suggestion:

    Historical accounts indicate that the last King and High Priest of the Jews, Antigonus Mattathias II was executed by the Romans in 37 b.c.e.

    Cassius Dio’s Roman History records: “These people [the Jews] Antony entrusted to a certain Herod to govern; but Antigonus he bound to a cross and scourged, a punishment no other king had suffered at the hands of the Romans, and so slew him”. Josephus relates that Antigonus was beheaded. Antigonus was ”humiliated, tortured, and executed” by the Romans. Around 70 years after Antigonus captured Jerusalem, 40 b.c.e., the Lukan writer begins his Jesus story.

    It is possible to look behind the gospel prophetic interpretations and let history play it’s own role in understanding the gospel Roman crucifixion story – the Carrier/Doherty mythicists notwithstanding. The gospel crucifixion story was anathema to the Jews not because Rome executed a suffering messiah figure but that the messiah figure was crucified, hung on a cross/stake/pole. (Gal.3.13). An executed suffering messiah figure could be viewed as a martyr. A crucified, hung on a tree, messiah figure could not. Although Josephus relates that Antigonus was beheaded – there was only one way open to Herod in order to turn the Jews against Antigonus and not view him as a martyr. Have him hung on a tree, crucified, prior to beheading.

    Antiquities book 15.ch.1

    ”And Strabo of Cappadocia attests to what I have said, when he thus speaks: “Antony ordered Antigonus the Jew to be brought to Antioch, and there to be beheaded. And this Antony seems to me to have been the very first man who beheaded a king, as supposing he could no other way bend the minds of the Jews so as to receive Herod, whom he had made king in his stead; for by no torments could they be forced to call him king, so great a fondness they had for their former king; so he thought that this dishonorable death would diminish the value they had for Antigonus’s memory, and at the same time would diminish the hatred they bare to Herod.”

    ”A ”dishonorable death” Jewish death required more than simply beheading – it included the humiliation of being strung up on a cross/stake. That was the curse of the Law. Josephus, seemingly, upheld Jewish sensitivities in this regard and records only the beheading.

    Greg Doudna: ‘’What has long been overlooked is that a Qumran text, widely acknowledged to have been authored at about this very time, speaks directly of a Jewish ruler being “hung up alive”—just like Dio Cassius’s account of the fate of Antigonus Mattathias. This is found at 4QpNah 3-4 i 8-ii 1, which is a pesher unit consisting of a biblical quotation followed by its interpretation. The text introduces this unit with the words: “concerning the one hanged up alive on a stake it is proclaimed:”, or “to the one hanged up alive on a stake he (i.e. God) proclaims:”.

    A Narrative Argument that the Teacher of Righteousness was Hyrcanus II


    The gospel writers, in developing their Jesus crucifixion story, had Jewish history as their template. From the tragic history of Antigonus they were able to create a new context in which the curse of the Law would become a positive instead of a negative principle. A spiritual/intellectual context in which ‘crucifixion’ and death had value.

    The gospel Jesus story is of course much more than a reflection of the historical Roman execution of Antigonus. The gospel writers sought to reflect, to incorporate, a ‘man of peace’ figure alongside an executed/crucified ‘man of war’ figure. Thus creating a political allegory that allowed them to retain their prophetic interpretations of their Jewish history while living under Roman occupation.

    • Avatar
      Robert Wahler  November 9, 2015


      Your link was down. Have you read Eisenman on the Righteous Teacher?

      • Avatar
        maryhelena  November 12, 2015

        Hi Robert

        Sorry about the link – hope it works this time. Otherwise google the name of the article and it will get you to the Bible and Interpretation website. Or just visit the Bible and Interpretation website and search for Greg Doudna – he has a number of articles there.


        No, I’ve not read Eisenman – I just have a general idea of what his ideas are. I’m more interested in the work of Greg Doudna. Greg has worked with Eisenman in the past – but has now taken a different route……

        • Avatar
          Robert Wahler  November 15, 2015


          I looked at the Doudna article, which concluded that “we cannot romanticize the figure of the R.T. to what we today might like him to be” etc. I met Eisenman personally, and was very impressed, which came after reading all his published work, which I found impressive beyond *anything* I have ever read – in any field. I approach this topic from a privileged point of view. That’s the only way I can think to adequate frame it. I have the great advantage of knowing and being an initiate of a perfect living Master, Majaraj Charan Singh. His line is not your everyday Indian Guru line. These are unique as can be in the world. What they teach resonates mightily with Eisenman’s work, and that’s truly amazing considering how far apart in world view they are: Satsangi Master and nationalist Jew. His scholarship is a thing to behold, just for the way his peerless mind works! It is a tremendous inspiration to me, and I say that even though he has scant regard for me. He misapprehends who and what I am. I wrote a book and credited him extensively, even using a title of one of his works in my subtitle. He thinks of me as “a ripoff artist”. I was saddened to hear someone tell me he told him that, as I thought he would be pleased I held his work in such high regard. I think he may be getting a little senile. He knows so many sources and juggles them into a coherent conclusion that it is hard to argue him. I’m so impressed! He shows how Ananus is the Wicked Priest and no one but James can be the R.T., and only Paul the “Spouter of Lying”. I count it all as a MAJOR breakthrough in biblical studies.

          What he concludes is that James equaled ‘Jesus’ in station and stature, which harmonizes perfectly with the serial Mastership taught by modern Mystics at the Radha Soami Satsang Beas, which is Charan Singh’s line. I wrote my book trying to tie all this together. People in the West, like Bart, find this superficial and unscholarly, but the Mystics I have known are beyond impressive. They completely changed my life. All traditions make perfect sense in their interpretation. I will try to get my own thread here to show what I have learned from the Masters and from Eisenman. It is all I do now. The NT is a coverup of serial Mastership, and *nothing* more. This is in my opinion the greatest story of all time *of any kind*. I will do what i can to relate it as best I can. Masters come here all the time, and teach a method of actual hearing of WORD or Shabd (Hindi/Punjabi). The sacrificial salvation in the NT is a corruption of SELF-sacrifice the Gnostics practiced.

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            maryhelena  November 15, 2015


            I’ve no interest in Eisenman – nor in mysticism.

            Each to their own 😉

  15. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  November 9, 2015

    The index in my study Bible does not list the word “Messiah” as being anywhere in the Old Testament. and, so far, I have not found it anywhere in the Old Testament.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 11, 2015

      It’s there. It’s actually used of the king of Persia, Cyrus, in Isaiah 45:1!

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      Lms728  November 4, 2016

      It depends on which translation one uses. The word “messiah” doesn’t appear anywhere in the NRSV translation of the Old Testament. Instead, the literal meaning of the Hebrew word “mashiach” (or some derivation)–“anointed one” is used. In Daniel 9:25, however, the the Hebrew phrase “nagid masiah” is sometimes translated “Messiah the Prince,” but, read in context, it can hardly be seen as a reference to Jesus.

  16. Robert
    Robert  November 9, 2015

    All good Jewish pesher exegesis of the prophets, not unlike what can be found at Qumran regarding the Teacher of Righteousness, only the early Jewish followers of Jesus stopped exegeting individual books of the prophets and started using several books of the prophets to tell the story of Jesus.

  17. Avatar
    flcombs  November 9, 2015

    This topic is the one that first opened my eyes for myself years ago through my own studying of the claims. Christians generally claim that God/Jesus loves everyone and wants everyone to be saved even if they don’t take the opportunity. The whole Bible, including the Old Testament, is supposed to be the inspired and often the literal word of God (here in the South anyway). Yet the claims for Jesus as Messiah involve having to interpret vague verses or at least non-Messianic ones as “proof”. If this caring God wanted people to know who the Messiah was and these verses to be known as related to the Messiah why wouldn’t he just clearly say they are? Why hide it? It is ironic to me that the “proof” of Jesus being the OT Messiah appears to be based on a position that the OT God just didn’t give the Jews the right information or knowledge and “God’s people” and what they wrote were just wrong. He apparently didn’t “care” enough about people to give a clear message so they would recognize the Messiah and be saved. And how can they blame the Jews for not recognizing Jesus when even God didn’t make it clear to the Jews to begin with?

    • Avatar
      prestonp  June 14, 2018

      “This topic is the one that first opened my eyes for myself years ago through my own studying of the claims. Christians generally claim that God/Jesus loves everyone and wants everyone to be saved even if they don’t take the opportunity.” flcombs


      “The whole Bible, including the Old Testament, is supposed to be the inspired and often the literal word of God (here in the South anyway). Yet the claims for Jesus as Messiah involve having to interpret vague verses or at least non-Messianic ones as “proof”.” flcombs

      Verses abound that present Christ as the Messiah.

      “If this caring God wanted people to know who the Messiah was and these verses to be known as related to the Messiah why wouldn’t he just clearly say they are?” flcombs

      God makes clear that Jesus is the Messiah through numerous verses. Why not examine those and determine what they mean?

      • Avatar
        flcombs  June 25, 2018

        “Christians claim God wants everyone to be saved…”: of course the claim is made, but then many Christian explanations for this and that issue talk about how hidden and hard the knowledge is. We shouldn’t have to try to figure out events and accounts 2000 years ago to get a clear message for such a caring God.

        “Verses abound that present Christ as the Messiah.”: Christ and Messiah are the same word for “anointed one” in Greek and Hebrew so of course. As to Jesus, many of the verses claimed actually don’t mention “the” Messiah at all. Given the context of the verses and a loving God who would not obscure his message, many or all don’t apply. Of course in the NT, where Christians are trying to convince people to believe, they would claim it. We just have to take the writer’s word for it.

        “God makes clear that Jesus is the Messiah through numerous verses. Why not examine those and determine what they mean?”: You mean first assuming the Bible is true and correct and one set of interpretations is correct, which you have not established. I have examined them many times over many years with many groups and grew up in conservative Christianity. In many cases the explanation is based on the OT being “wrong”. Jews, with many verses saying they were God’s chosen people and given the truth, were apparently given a different meaning by God than retroactive Christian interpretations. Since you agree that God wants everyone to be saved, obviously verses that don’t clearly talk about the Messiah should not be applied to him. That kind of God would have no purpose in obscuring his message and identification of the Messiah.

        You do realize that (as one example) the Quran has many verses that authenticate it as the word of God, Muhammad his true prophet, etc. RIGHT? So “if it is written it must be so”, others have just as valid a claim as Christianity.

  18. Avatar
    john76  November 9, 2015

    Here is Dr. Daniel Boyarim’s claim:

    [W]e now know that many Jewish authorities, maybe even most, until nearly the modern period have read Isaiah 53 as being about the Messiah; until the last few centuries, the allegorical reading was a minority one.
    Aside from one very important — but absolutely unique — notice in Origen’s Contra Celsum, there is no evidence at all that any late ancient Jews read Isaiah 52-53 as referring to anyone but the Messiah. There are, on the other hand, several attestations of ancient rabbinic readings of the song as concerning the Messiah and his tribulations.

    In the Palestinian Talmud there is an amoraic [i.e. from between 200 and 500 CE] passage (Sukkah 5:2 55b) discussing the meaning of a verse in Zechariah:

    And the land shall mourn (Zechariah 12:12)

    One opinion expressed is that this refers to the Messiah — that is, that the land will mourn over the Messiah. (The other view is that it refers to the death of sexual desire in the messianic age.)

    Other traditions appear in the Babylonian Talmud from a later period (300 to 600 CE) “but very likely earlier”. One of these is from Sanhedrin 98. The question is there asked “What is the Messiah’s name?” Different rabbis offer various answers.

    After several views, we find: “And the Rabbis say, ‘the leper’ of the House of Rabbi is his name, for it says, ‘Behold he has borne our disease [the word here means ‘leprosy’], and suffered our pains, and we thought him smitten, beaten by God and tortured’ [Isa. 53:4].”

    So here we find Jews interpreting Isaiah 53 as a prophecy of the vicarious sufferings of the Messiah.

    Boyarin then mentions that on the previous page in the Talmud is a scene of the Messiah sitting among the diseased and poor at the gates of Rome, and understanding that he has a saving role to perform for these wretched sufferers by identifying with them.

    One more passage is brought forth as a witness although Boyarin advances it with some caution. It is known only from “a polemic Testimonia (of a thirteenth-century Dominican friar)”. If genuine, it would be evidence that from the third century that rabbis interpreted the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 as the Messiah who must suffer to atone for sins. This is the passage:

    Rabbi Yose Hagelili said: Go forth and learn the praise of the King Messiah and the reward of the righteous from the First Adam. For he was only commanded one thou-shalt-not commandment and he violated it. Behold how many deaths he and his descendants and the descendants of his descendants were fined until the end of all the generations. Now which of God’s qualities is greater than the other, the quality of mercy or the quality of retribution? Proclaim that the quality of goodness is the greater and the quality of retribution the lesser! And the King Messiah fasts and suffers for the sinners, as it says, “and he is made sick for our sins, etc.” ever more so and more will he be triumphant for all of the generations, as it says, “And the Lord visited upon him the sin of all.”

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      john76  November 9, 2015

      It is possible that after Jesus’ death, his desperate disciples went to Hebrew scriptures such as Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 and Wisdom of Solomon to interpret what happened. But it would only make sense that the first Christians would go to these scriptures because people at that time thought they could be interpreted as referring to the Messiah. The writers of the New Testament wouldn’t have used, for instance, Isaiah 53 to shape Jesus’ passion story unless they believed it referred to the Messiah. You wouldn’t write a story about a Messiah using silent allusions to Hebrew scriptures (such as Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and Wisdom of Solomon) unless you thought those Hebrew Scriptures referred to the Messiah. What other reason could there be for the silent allusions? You wouldn’t be making those allusions for no reason.

      • Bart
        Bart  November 11, 2015

        I don’t think I agree. Someone had to be the first to apply these terms and texts to the messiah — not *everyone* had forerunners who did it before them! Since we have no solid evidence that any Jews did, but solid evidence that Xns did, well… that’s the math

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      john76  November 9, 2015

      This is from a post at Vridar

    • Bart
      Bart  November 11, 2015

      Yes, Danny Boyarin does make arguments like these!

  19. David
    David  November 9, 2015

    Ah yes, the supposed messianic prophecies. Unlike you, Bart, who left the faith primarily due to the problem of suffering in the world, for me it was this issue of prophetic fulfillment in the life of Jesus. I think no one attempts to use OT “prophecy” to prove Jesus’ Messiahship more than the author of Matthew’s gospel. The trouble is, if you actually go back into the OT and read the passages that Matthew refers to, it becomes abundantly clear that they either were not prophecies at all, or, even if they were, they had nothing to do with Jesus of Nazareth. One of my favorites is Matthew’s claim that Jesus and his parent’s return from there sojourn in Egypt was a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1 (out of Egypt have I called my son.) What Matthew conveniently leaves out, however, is the first part of that verse which reads: When ISRAEL was a child, I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. It is clearly referring past tense to the Exodus, not future to a singular “son” of God. This is further confirmed in Exodus 4:22 where God clearly refers to the nation of Israel as his firstborn son. And don’t even get me started on Isaiah 7:14 LOL. Then, of course, there are Jesus’ own failed prophecies of his return to take place within his present generation. This whole issue of prophecy fulfillment in the life of Jesus, upon thorough investigation, came crumbling down around me, and was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me in my evangelical Christian life. As you have pointed out many times, Bart, if one is to be true to oneself, he must follow the truth….wherever it leads.

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      readyforchange  November 12, 2015

      I think another problem with attempts to interpret this passage as being about Jesus is the following verse, Hosea 11:2 (NRSV): The more I[a] called them,
      the more they went from me;[b]
      they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
      and offering incense to idols.

      If Jesus is the son, did Jesus (who is supposed to be sinless) sacrifice to the Baals and offer incense to idols? This is clearly referring to the nation of Israel as the son.

  20. Avatar
    jrhislb  November 9, 2015

    Was it a general expectation that the Messiah would be from Bethlehem or something Christians came up with?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 11, 2015

      Micah 5:2 does say that a deliverer will come from there. It’s because it was the birthplace of king David.

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        Robert Wahler  November 11, 2015

        Eastern Mysticism (and the Tanak) has THOUSANDS of such references to “the Deliverer”. The Deliverer is the Spirit WITHIN the particular Master. In Micah’s case, David. In “the man that bears me” at 56,20 in Gospel of Judas, “me” is the Spirit of Christ within Judas, for example, NOT JESUS. Does this make sense to you? Read 36,1-3 with that in mind if it doesn’t.

        I’m trying to help you understand Gnosticsm (Mysticism). I hope you appreciate that. You know of the Messiah ben Aaron and Messiah ben David in the Scrolls. The “ben Aaron” is the Spirit, “ben David” is the particular Master. Make sense? They are not two saviors! They are One. “I *and my Father* are One.” Christians mucked this all up to create a separate religion and now no one gets it.

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        mitchftd  November 20, 2015

        The verse in Micah says the Messiah we come from Bethlehem [ Me Kedem ] from ancient days.Not that the Messiah himself would be born in Bethlehem but he would be a descended from David who was born in Bethlehem.

    • Avatar
      Robert Wahler  November 11, 2015

      He did come from Bethlehem. He was DAVID (at that time).

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