better understand Judaism’s response to the Yeshua, its important to
understand the source of inspiration. All three branches of
Christianity, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox,
look to the Bible as their source of authority, both Old
and New Testaments.
Where does Judaism look for its authority, the source of
revelation? The written words of Jewish authority are complex and
involve both a Written Law and an Oral Law, accompanied by
traditions and rabbinical rulings.
There are several books in Judaism not all with an equal
weight as far as authority is concerned. Judaism’s view of the
Messiah’s identity filters through the authoritative books of Judaism.
With some sects putting greater weight on some books then others. For
example, Orthodox Jews put more weight on the Talmud then Reform
Jews. Hasidic Orthodox followers might emphasize portions of the
Tradition plays an important role in Judaism, a Jew
investigating the Messiah, might want to know what a 2nd or
10th century Rabbi thought about a particular verse. Through
these filters, scripture, tradition and commentary, views of the Messiah
identity, are defined in Judaism.
By far, the most important Jewish text is the Torah,
the books of Moses, also known as the Pentateuch. The Torah is
the first five books of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.
Timeline of Books of Judaism (Click to Expand)
The word Tanakh is an acronym, combining the words
Torah (Books of Moses), Nebiim (The Prophets) and Ketubim
(The Writings). The Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament are
essentially the same book. The main difference is the order the books
are arranged. The Hebrew Bible is ordered by category, while the
Christian Old Testament has mainly a chronological order modeled after
Prophets revealed the Tanakh over a 1000-year period. From
the books of Moses revealed about 1400 B.C. to the book of Malachi
revealed about 425 B.C.
The Hebrew Bible has been preserved and transmitted by Jewish
scribes, in Babylon
and Palestine; these scribes in Palestine were known as the Masorites.
The manuscript source for the King James Bible is the
Masoretic Text, as copied from the St. Petersburg Manuscript
dated about 916 A.D.
When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, a portion of every
book of the Tanakh was found, except for the book of Ester, including
two complete versions of the book of Isaiah. When compared to the oldest
existing Masoretic manuscripts, the much older Dead Sea scrolls, dated
from 100-200 B.C., demonstrated a virtually flawless manuscript
transmission over the eleven hundred-years, which separated the two
The Mishna (“Repeated Study”)
Before the fall of the Temple, about A.D. 70, Johanan ben Zakkai,
a leader of one of the major Pharisaical schools was given
permission by the Romans to set up an academy in the city of Jamnia
on the Judean coast, before the fall of Jerusalem. His academy would become a driving force shaping
Rabbinic Judaism. This resulted in the survival of Jewish traditions
and customs maintained by the Pharisees, with the establishment of theMishna and Talmud.
after the fall of the Temple, 62-years later, in A.D. 132 the Emperor
Hadrian set up a Temple
to Jupiter on the Temple mount, and attempted to interfere with Jewish
tradition of circumcision. This caused a Jewish revolt, and the rising
of Bar Kochba who was proclaimed messiah. In the end, 580,000 Jews were
killed by the Romans, and Hadrian attempted to erase the memory of the
Jews by renaming the city of Jerusalem,Capitolina Aelia and the area of Judea, Palestine.
He prevented Jews from entering the new city. Jewish captives were
scattered throughout the Roman Empire, some sought refuge in the Persian Kingdom, in the
city of Babylon.
fall of the Temple and Jerusalem, the major emphasis of Judaism shifted
to teaching and prayer. This period became known as the tannaim—“teachers”,
the fragmentary Oral Law passed down from generation to generation was
assembled in a collection know as the Mishna. The codification
was given final form early in the 3rd century AD by Judah ha-Nasi
(The Prince) assembled the Mishna into six major sections, or orders (sedarim),
that contain 63 tractates (massekhtaot) in all, each of which is
further divided into chapters. The Mishna supplements laws found in the
Pentateuch, presenting legal traditions kept as early as the time of
Ezra (450 BC).
Six Orders of the Mishna
the first order of the Mishna, has 11 tractates. It begins by discussing
daily prayer and then devotes 10 tractates to religious laws involving
discusses the prescription that fields must periodically lie fallow, the
prohibition on plant hybridization, and regulations governing what
portion of a harvest is to be given to priests, to Levites (a priestly
clan), and to the poor.
2. The second order, Moʿed (“Festival”),
consists of 12 tractates that deal with ceremonies, rituals,
observances, and prohibitions related to the Sabbath, to religious
festivals, to fast days, and to such other days as are marked by regular
religious observance—e.g., periodic contributions to the Temple of
3. Nashim (“Women”), the third order of the Mishna, discusses married life
in seven tractates. Itthus explains religious laws concerning
betrothals, marriage contracts, divorce, bills of divorce, and certain
ascetic vows that affect married life.
4. Neziqin (“Damages”), has 10 tractates covering civil and criminal law as
related to damages, theft, labour relations, usury, real estate,
partnerships, tenant relations, inheritance, court composition,
jurisdiction and testimony, erroneous decisions of the Sanhedrin (high
court), and physical punishments, including death. Idolatry, which is
punishable by death, is also discussed. The tractate Avot (“Fathers”)
seems to have been included in the fourth order to teach a moral way of
life that would preclude serious transgressions of the law and thereby
diminish the necessity of punishment. It became one ofthe most popular
pieces of Talmudic literature; in English translations it is usually
called The Ethics of the Fathers.
5. Qodashim (“Holy Things”),
the fifth order, provides a detailed description of the Temple of Jerusalem
complex and discusses laws regulating Temple sacrifices, other offerings, and donations. It has 11
6. The last of the Mishna orders is Ṭohorot
divided into 12 tractates. It considers laws regarding the ritual purity
of vessels, dwellings, foods, and persons and deals with various rituals
of purification. The text also provides considerable information on
The Mishna resulted in
the creation of the Talmud, which is a commentary on the
Mishna. The words of scholars (amoraim) who studied the
Mishna, made comments explaining the Oral Law, this became known
as the Gemara or Talmud. Two separate collections developed, one
in Babylon the other in Palestine, hence their names, Babylonian
Talmud and the Palestinian Talmud. Today, in a broad sense
the collection of the Mishna and the Talmud is known as the Talmud.
In a technical sense the Talmud is a separate work from the Mishna,
with two distinct collections, the Babylonian Talmud and the
Palestinian Talmud (Talmud Yerushalmi or Jerusalem
The Palestine Talmud
From the time of the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple, Jews were able to
establish an academy in the north of Israel in Jamniah and
Tiberius regions. This area would become a center of leaning
instruction for the Diaspora.
The amoraim (Scholars who studied Mishna) would write down their
interpretations and comments on the Oral Law. As Christianity
took hold in the Roman Empire, the region of Palestine became unstable,
and at times unsafe for the remaining Jews. For this reason, the
Palestinian Talmud was much shorter and hastily collected by its
Palestinian Talmud is about 1/3 the length of the Babylonian Talmud.
The material was supposedly be edited by Johanan ben Nappaha
(A.D. 270), but material from later dates is included, so the closing
date has been set at A.D. 425, when the Tiberian school ended.
The Babylonian Talmud
To the east of
Palestine was the Jewish community of Babylon. Their history could be
traced back to Daniel’s time in 605 B.C., when Jews were taken captive
by the Babylonians. The Jews were allowed to return to Palestine, after
the Persian, Cyrus the Great defeated Babylon
in 539 B.C. Many Jews, remained in Babylon and a thriving community
continued even during Roman times. When Jerusalem fell, many Jews fled
back to the land of Babylon, establishing a center of Rabbinical
learning for the centuries to come.
of Jews in Babylon, under the Sassanids (Persians) was more tolerable
then in Palestine.
The Sassanids were Zoroastrians and looked favorable upon the Jews under
their dominion. The Babylonian Talmud was completed during the time ofRabina bar Huna (died A.D. 499), and the editing was finished
towards the end of the 5th century lasting 75-years.
“Translation,” or “Interpretation”), any of several translations of
the Hebrew Bible or portions of it into the Aramaic language. The word
originally indicated a translation of the Old Testament in any language
but later came to refer specifically to an Aramaic translation. This can
be traced to the time of Nehemiah (444 B.C.)
In Nehemiah 8, we
see a great gathering of Jews, listening to Ezra read the Law, he then
gives an explanation of what he reads.
So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law
of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the
reading. So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and
they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading. Nehemiah 8:8
Why would Ezra have to
explain what he just read? Many of the returning exiles, and younger
generation might not have been able to understand the reading. While in
exile, Aramaic became the language of use for many Jews in Babylon, and
Hebrew would not be easy for them to understand. Aramaic was the
language of the Babylonians, and the area of Mesopotamia.
We see the
influence of Aramaic, in the Hebrew lettering system, which uses the
Aramaic Square Script, rather then the Hebrew-Paleo Script
which would have been in use before the Babylonian exile. The book of
Daniel and Ezra both contain Aramaic portions, Daniel chapters 2:4b to
7:28, is written in Aramaic. All the books of the Hebrew Bible have
corresponding Targums (Aramaic translations) except Daniel and
Before the time
of the Roman period, Aramaic had become the common language of the
Jewish community. It had become customary, in each Sabbath synagogue
service, when reading a portion of the law, to read one verse of the
Hebrew, and then have someone translate into Aramaic with a certain
amount of explanation of the passage’s meaning.
became customary in the synagogue service to read a verse from the Torah
and then to have an explanation given orally in Aramaic. For many
centuries, it was not considered proper to read in synagogue service
anything except the actual Scripture, translations were given
extemporaneously, from memory, in the years to follow, Aramaic
translations became fixed. Aramaic translations were written down to be
used in the home for study. In the 2nd and 3rd
centuries A.D., many synagogues used the Aramaic translation in the
service, which terrified some rabbis.
course of time, Jews began to speak other languages and the Targums were
no longer used in synagogues. The Targums became a source of
interpretation. The Hebrew Bible has a three-part division, Torah,
Prophets and Writings. Each of these divisions had accompanying
Targums of the
known Pentateuch Targum was considered the Targum of Onkelos,
being one of the earliest written down, it was carried to Babylon
from Palestine. Onkelos, expresses Messianic interpretations for
Genesis 49:10 and Numbers 24:17. A large number of Onkelos copies have
Targums of the Pentateuch are longer such as the Pseudo-Jonathan
Targum, called pseudo because it was thought to be a translation ofJonathan Ben Uzziel a pupil of the great Rabbi Hillel.
Targums of the Prophets
known Targum of the prophets is the Targum of Jonathan (Jonathan
Ben Uzziel), which was carried into Babylon
after the fall of the Temple in A.D. 70.
translation of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the servant of the Lord is
designated as the Messiah, except for one verse, all verses referring to
his suffering are either dropped out or applied to the nation of Israel
or its enemies rather then the Servant.
Targums of the
The latest preserved
Targums are those of the Hagiographa, earlier ones have seemed to
disappear. In the Talmud there is reference to the Targum of Job used
by rabbis of the 1st century, and a portion has been found at
the Dead Sea Scroll site.
Uses of Targums
allow us to see rabbinic interpretations in the centuries following the
fall of Jerusalem. Targums are less literal and more paraphrased,
helping the reader understand the meaning behind the translation, from a
some of the targums have gone through editing, for example the
Palestinian Targum contains a specific reference to Constantinople, which was not founded until A.D. 325, and gives
Ishmael a wife and a daughter with the same name as Mohammed’s wife and
daughter, in the 7th century.
The Midrash (To Search)
Hebrew word “Midrash” occurs only two times in the Hebrew Bible. First
in 2 Chronicles 13:22, regarding the prophet Iddo, second in 2
Chronicles 24:27. The RSV translates the first as story and the second
Now concerning his sons, and the many oracles
about him, and the repairing of the house of God, indeed they are
written in the annals (Midrash) of the book of the kings. Then Amaziah
his son reigned in his place.
2 Chronicles 24:27
is material, which sought to explain and shed light on material found in
the Bible. The earliest type of explanation of biblical literature can
be traced back to Ezra, who “had set his heart to study and to teach his
statutes and ordinances in Israel”
(Ezra 7:10). When the Jews returned from Babylon, the Torah was the
sole authority, but the people needed to understand and apply the
meanings to the new situations following the fall of Babylon.
The Midrash and Targums helped them to apply the Torah to their lives.
The Pharisees used (Midrash) to explain the Oral Law, which the
two types of Midrashim (plural for Midrash) , Halakhic
(Law) and Haggidic (Commentary). Halakhic Midrash
explains the Law making application to the principles of biblical law.
The second, Haggidic, sought to interpret the Bible in terms of ethics
and devotion. Midrashim were transmitted orally for generations before
being written down. The earliest collection of Halakhic Midrash written
down was in the 2nd century, and the earliest of Haggidic was
written down in the 3rd century
important Halakhic Midrashim are Mechilata (Aram. “Treatise”)
to Exodus, the Sifra (book) to Leviticus, and the Sifra to
Numbers and Deuteronomy. The most important Haggidic
Midrashim are Midrash Rabboth to the whole Pentateuch and the
five scrolls (S. of Sol, Ruth, Lamentations, Eccl, Esth), Tanhuma
(homilies to the whole Pentateuch) and the Pesikta de-Rav Kanana
(homilies concerning the holy days and other special occasions). These
writings became a source of preaching for the rabbis, rivaling the
The Zohar (Splendor)
This book was added in
the 13th century to the collection of important Jewish works,
this book has been a major influence on the Jewish understanding of
Messiah. In fact, the Zohar had a major role in at least two false
Messiah’s in Judaism, Shabbetai Zvei (1626-1676) and Jacob
Frank (1726-1791). Both appealed to the Zohar, to justify
their actions. Today, the Hasidic branch of Orthodox Judaism and
Kabbala both look to this book for instruction and guidance.
The word Zohar means,
“splendor”, taken from Daniel 12:3, regarding the appearance of the
resurrected ones. Mystical Judaism dates back to the first century;
however, this book gave new life to mystical Judaism. Many
Kabbalists, accord the Zohar with equal authority of the
Torah and Talmud.
The Zohar makes appeal
to the inner meaning of the biblical texts, referring to the literal
understanding as outward clothing, hiding the deeper inner meaning.
The homilies of the Zohar center around Simeon ben Yohai (2nd
and his disciples. However, research has shown Moses de León
(1250–1305) of Spain
as the most likely author, not ruling out the incorporation of earlier
The Zohar consists of
several units, the largest of which—usually called the Zohar
proper—deals with the “inner” (mystical, symbolic) meaning of biblical
texts, especially those taken from the first five books of the Bible
(Torah), from the Book of Ruth, and from the Song of Solomon. The
lengthy homilies of the Zohar are mixed with short discourses and
parables, all centered on Simeon ben Yoḥai (2nd century AD) and his disciples. Though the text
names Simeon as the author, modern scholars are convinced that the major
portion of the Zohar should be credited to Moses de León
Spain. They do not rule out the possibility, however, that earlier
mystic materials were also incorporated into the present text.
were expelled from Spain in 1492, Jews turned to the Zohar for hope,
looking for the coming of the Messiah and Jewish eschatology. Leading
the way for several false messiahs to be accepted within Judaism.