Questions 20-40
Questions 20-30 - Questions 30-40



     According to the sources, Rabban Gamaliel (the grandson of the Gamaliel who is mentioned in the NT) inquired among the sages who could formulate the proper wording for a 'blessing' (in reality, a curse) against the new Nazarene sect. This 'blessing'  (the 'birkhat haMinim') would be inserted in the daily prayers; those who refused to recite such a curse could therefore be expelled from the synagogue, since  they would be suspected of having 'Nazarene' tendencies.  The principal phrase ran something along the lines of a copy found in the Cairo Genizeh, '. . . may . . . the Nazarenes and the heretics perish in a moment and be blotted out of the Book of Life and may they not be inscribed with the righteous'. A further stipulation was added, that anyone who claimed he could not remember the correct wording of this prayer, or who stumbled while reciting it, was also to be suspect. (Ironically, Samuel the Small, who was the composer of this 'blessing', himself claimed only a year later that he could not remember it. He was not made suspect--though his memory lapse may in this case be considered to be very unusual.)
     As a result of this insertion into the prayers, the Nazarenes found themselves unable to participate in the regular synagogue services. This had been the intent of the new prayer. Earlier, other changes had been made as a reaction to the new sect. For example, the recitation of the Ten Commandments was dropped as part of the daily service (Mishnah Tamid V.1). Apparently this was done so that the followers of Yeshua could not claim that the rest of the halacha, the Oral Torah, was not of equal status. 'And why do we not recite them? Because of the misrepresentations of the heretics, that they might not say, 'These alone were given to Moses on Sinai' (Ber. 3c, Yerushalmi). 'Even in the surrounding districts (of Jerusalem) they sought to recite (them); but they had already discontinued it because of the carping of the heretics.' (Ber. 12a)  (In addition, there seems to have been an early--if unorthodox--opinion that the Ten Commandments at one time constituted the entire Law; but that after Moses was forced to come down the moutain a second time, the rest  of the Law was added, because the people had worshipped the golden calf. See Jakob Jocz, 'The Jewish People and Jesus Christ', pp. 48-49, note 225)
     Also, the benedictions were altered. The practice of saying in a soft voice 'Blessed be His Name, whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever' after part of the Shema was dropped. This was probably so that members of the new sect should not be able to include (in an equally soft voice) some surreptitious mention of the name of Yeshua haMoshiach during the prayer. 'They ordered that men should say it in a loud voice because of the carping of the heretics; but in Nehardea, where there are no heretics, they even now say it in a whisper.' (Pes. 56a)
    And finally, the use of the Septuagint was forbidden. In part this may have been due to anti-Hellenistic tendencies; but the Septuagint was also the Tanach version most in use among Greek-speaking adherents of the new sect--both Jewish and gentile. It was used for proof-texting. (Some authorities--such as Justin--also believed that it originally included passages which were later cut from the Hebrew text, allegedly because they were too supportive of the new sect's beliefs. Around the middle of the second century C.E., Aquila, a convert to Judaism, attempted a new translation into Greek, a kind of 'counter-version' which could be used by Greek-speaking Jews, but it failed to achieve popularity, largely because its grammar and syntax were strained and awkward and its Greek was sometimes 'barbarous'. )
     But these measures of themselves had not been enough, and so finally the 'birkhat haMinim' was introduced.  Thereafter synagogue members could be watched for their orthodoxy. Other tell-tale signs of the new sect (noted in the Mishnah Megillah IV. 8.9) possibly included anyone wearing their phylacteries on the palms of their hands (instead of on the inner side of the left arm), perhaps in order to reflect the manner in which Yeshua died. (For a fuller discussion, see Jakob Jocz, op. cit., pp. 5lff; and R. Travers Herford, 'Christianity in Talmud and Midrash', pp. 199ff, 'liturgical variations'.)
     Thus it was the older sect of Judaism, the Pharisaic sect, which, with the Nazarenes, was the only sect to survive the destruction of Jerusalem, which rigorously enforced a division between the two; it was never the Nazarenes who refused to meet with or join their fellow Jews in the synagogues. (And this pattern remains true to this day.)


     How many Jews remained loyal during the days of Elijah? Only a remnant--7000. That's why it's called a remnant.  But there is substantial evidence that more than 'a handful' of the Jews of his day chose to follow Yeshua.
     First, there is the evidence of the extreme measures to which the opposition sect, the Pharisees, went to in order to exclude the Nazarenes from their own houses of worship. It is unlikely that they would have gone so far as to alter the liturgy and synagogue practices if the Nazarenes had been only a minor and sparse group. So great did the demand for separation become, in fact, that eventually even the very mention of the name 'Yeshua' would be forbidden; it was to be replaced by an indirect reference, such as 'that man', or 'an anonymous one', or 'a certain person', or even by 'Yeshu',  an acronym for 'may his name be blotted out'.  There was to be no discussion, no debate, the matter of Yeshua of Nazareth was not even to be spoken of in hushed whispers. This suggests the response of fear; that Yeshua must have aroused a great interest, one which the leader of post-destruction (ie, 70 C.E.) Judaism did everything in their power to forcibly stifle.
     The gospel of John records (John 12:42) that 'at the same time even many among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogues.'  An early Haggadah, cited by Edersheim (Appendix XVIII, 'Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah') recounts how the elders of Israel became concerned because the Nazarenes were increasing in numbers to 'thousands and ten thousands'; how 'twelve wicked men' went out and preached, and 'drew to themselves a large number from the children of Israel'. (To deal with this, the sages in the story selected one of their own number, Simon Peter, to go among the Nazarenes and separate them from Isreal. This he did by causing them to cease their Jewish observances. At his direction they were to substitute the Nativity for Sukkot; the Crucifixion for Pesach; and so on; thereby they become the new gentile church as represented by Rome, instead of another Jewish sect.) But the story still suggests that the new sect had proven very attractive to a great many in Israel.
     Other evidence of the pervasiveness of the Nazarenes can be found in the stories remembered about the famous sages of the period.  For example, Rabbi Eleazor ben Hyrcanus was once arrested by the Romans on suspicion that he was a Christian.  In this famous story, he was ultimately released (Av. Zar. 16b, 17a; T. Hull. ii.24)  But he recalls that 'Once I was walking in the upper street of Sepphoris and I found a man of the disciples of Yeshu the Nazarene, named Jacob of Kfar Sechanja. ' This Jacob and he conversed, and what some of what he said pleased R.Eleazor. (So, R. Eleazor concluded, it was for this that G-d had punished him by allowing him to be arrested by the Romans, because he had listened to the words of the heretic and not fled from him at once.)
     Jacob of Kfar Sechanja turns up in another story in which Ben Dama, whose uncle was Rabbi Ishmael, was bitten by a serpent. 'Then came Jacob the heretic of Kfar Sechanja to cure him (in the name of Yeshu); but R. Ishmael would not allow him.' Ben Dama dies, and R. Ishmael says, 'Happy are you, Ben Dama, for your body is pure and your soul has departed in purity.' (Av. Zar. 27b; T. Hull ii.22,23; Shab. 14d Yerushalmi)   The story in Avodah Zarah 27b also states, 'A man should have no dealings with the heretics, nor be cured by them, not even for an extra hour of life.'
     In Shabbat 14b, the grandson of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi gets something stuck in his throat. A man comes to him and whispers to him in the name of Yeshua, and he recovers. Rabbi Joshua asks the man what he said, and the man replies, 'a certain word' (probably the name of Yeshua). R. Joshua then said to him, 'It would have been better for him had he died.'
     In still another story, one Hanahjah, a nephew of Rabbi Joshua ben Hananjah, arrives in Kfar Nahum (Capernum) and a heretic 'casts a spell' on him, so that, among other things, he breaks the Sabbath. On account of this, he is told by his uncle (R. Joshua ben Hananjah) that he can no longer stay in the Land of Israel and must move to Babylonia (that is, his reputation has been ruined because he had contact with the heretics).
     These and many more such stories indicate the extent of the new sect of the Nazarenes throughout Eretz Israel, and the  insistance of the rabbis that there should be no contact between the two groups.


     The extent (and what must have been the attractiveness)  of the new Nazarene sect forced the rabbis to take extreme measures to prevent anyone from even hearing about it. (In other words, there seems to have been a fear even of debating it in the open, where its claims could have been asserted, and then refuted or not by the sages.) Instead, it was to be silenced as though it did not exist.
     Tosefta Shabb. 13.5 says, 'The margins and the books of the heretics (ie, Nazarenes) they do not save (from fire), but these are burnt in their place, they and the Divine Names in them. Rabbi Jose the Galilean says, 'On a weekday one cuts out the Divine Names and hides them, and burns the rest.' Rabbi Tarphon said, 'May I lose my sons!--if they come into my hand I would burn them and the Divine Names in them as well. If a pursuer were coming after me, I would enter a house of idolatry rather than into their houses. For the idolators to not acknowledge G-d, and speak falsely concerning Him; but these (heretics) do acknowledge Him and speak falsely concerning Him. . . R. Ishmael said, 'Since, in order to make peace between a man and his wife, G-d says, 'Let My Name which is written in holiness be blotted out in water ' (compare Numbers 5:23), how much more should the books of the heretics, which put emnity and jealousy and cause strife between Israel and their Father who is in heaven, be blotted out, with their Divine Names, too. And concerning them, the scripture says, 'Do I not hate them, O L-rd, which hate You, and I loathe them that rise up against You. I hate them with a perfect hatred, and they have become to me like enemies'. (Ps. 139:21) And just as men do not save (these books) from burning, so they should not save them from falling, from water, or from anything which destroys them.' (It is important to remember that the usual practice is to respectfully bury scrolls which contain the Divine Name so that this will not be defiled. Yet here, even though the Divine Name is written in these books, they are permitted to be burned or destroyed.)
     Gittin 45b says, '. . . Learn from this, that one may read from a Sefer Torah which is found in the hands of an idolator. Should it, perhaps, be hidden (ie, buried)? Rav Nachman said, 'We have recieved a tradition that a Book of the Law, if written by a heretic, is to be burnt; if written by an idolator, it is to be hidden (buried); if found in the hands of a heretic, it is to be hidden; if found in the hands of an idolator, some say it is to be hidden, some say it may be read. . . 'Thus, a Book of the Law written by a Nazarene is to be considered worse than a Book of the Law written by an idolator.
     In Shabbat 116a, a discussion is held about those who go to Be Abidan and Be Nitzaphi. One of these is probably a description of the 'House of the Nazarenes' ('Beit Notzri'); the other may be a reference to a theater, an 'odeum', where sometimes philosophical discussions were held. At the end of the section Rabbi Meir refers to the book of the Nazarenes as 'Aven Giljon'. Rabbi Yohanan calls it 'Avon Giljon'. Both of these are probably puns on the word, 'Evangelium', or gospel. Rabbi Meir's expression probably derives from 'a worthless book', and possibly 'an idolatrous book'.  R. Yohanan's words probably mean something like 'a book of iniquity' (For a fuller discussion, see Herford, op. cit., pp. 161ff.)
     Tosefta B. Mez 2:33 says, 'Gentiles and those who keep and breed small cattle (ie, goats) are neither helped out of (a pit) nor cast into one. The heretics and the apostates and betrayers are cast in and are not helped out.'
     Tosefta Hull. 2.20, 21 rules, '. . . slaughtering (of food) by a heretic is idolatry, their bread is Samaritan bread, their wine is wine offered to idols, their fruits are not tithed, and their books are books of witchcraft, and their sons are bastards. One does not sell to them, or receive from them, or take from them, or give to them; one does not teach their sons trades, and one does not obtain healing from them, either healing of property or healing of life.'
     Such rules, and many, many more, were meant to enforce the separation from the Nazarenes. Obviously the two groups must have been living in close contact, or such stringent requirements would not have been necessary. And it is noteworthy that even philosophical discussions or religious debates with the Nazarenes are apparently to be avoided (wheras, it is never noted that the Nazarenes fear to go among other Jews, or to have their own views tested; or that they are in fear that some of their own number may 'turn away' and join the opposing sect, and that for this reason they must avoid all contact with them).


     Curiously, both Talmuds record the reason for the destruction of the Temple as being' hatred without a cause' among the people. This phrase immediately calls to mind Psalm 35, especially verse 19: 'Let not those gloat over me who are my enemies without cause; let not those who hate me without reason maliciously wink the eye'; and Psalm 69, especially verse 4: 'Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs on my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me.' It is more than probable that the writers of the Talmuds were familiar with scripture, and especially the Psalms, and that they therefore understood the allusion made to these Psalms. (Their earlier predecessors,  Qumran writers, for instance, constantly quote the Psalms and other scriptures without even giving the source, merely assuming that the reader will catch the reference at once.) And both these Psalms--and particularly Psalm 69--were considered by the Nazarenes to be references to Yeshua.
     In the Tosefta (end Menahot) this hatred is futher explained. There it is said that each man hated his fellow man; but that, in the end, when the Third Temple is rebuilt, 'There shall come a day that the watchmen on Mt. Ephraim will cry,'Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion to the L-rd our G-d'. (Jer. 31:6)  The word for 'watchmen' here is 'notzrim', the same word used for 'Nazarenes'.   Thus this may be an indication of who will be welcomed back to Zion. (To be sure, this had to be said by indirection; but the writers likely would have been aware of the double-meaning of this word.)
     Thus, these may be indications that not all of the leaders were antagonistic to the Nazarenes, and that there is regret expressed that they were driven into separation.


     In the New Testament it is assumed that such a possibility was known to the people. Yeshua refers constantly to his coming crucifixion and death, which must occur, 'in order that the scriptures be fulfilled'.   On the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27), 'He said to them, 'How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself.'  These, plus the many references to the messiah's death in the letters of Saul (Paul), the section in I Peter 2:22ff, which virtually recapitulates Isaiah 53 for the reader--all these would have made no sense if they were appealing to a strange doctrine which the hearers had never heard of before.
     In the 'Dialogue with Trypho',  Justin (c. 150 C.E.) records his Jewish counterpart as saying:

     '. . . But whether the messiah should be so shamefully crucified, this is what we doubt. Because whoever is crucified is said in the Law to be accursed, so that I am extremely incredulous on this point. It is very clear, indeed, that the scriptures declare that the messiah had to suffer; but we will have to learn if you can prove to us that it was by a form of suffering which was cursed in the Law.'

After Justin's answer, Trypho then continues:

     '. . . we know that he had to suffer and be led as a sheep.   But prove for us whether or not he had to be crucified and to die so disgracefully and so dishonorably and by a death which is cursed in the Law. Because we cannot bring ourselves even to think such a thing.' (Dialogue 90.1)

And Justin also has Trypho saying:

     '. . . Granted, as you say, that it was foretold that the messiah would have to suffer, and that he is called a stone, and that after his first coming, in which it was foretold that he would suffer, he would come again in glory and be the final judge of all--an everlating king and priest. (But) now show us that this man (ie, Yeshua) is the one.' (Dialogue 39.7)

     It is impossible to know whether in these (and other) passages the words really represent Jewish thinking at the time of Justin, or if they are merely words put into Trypho's mouth and reflect Justin's own views.  Elsewhere in the Dialogue Justin does in fact faithfully reproduce other Jewish objections to Yeshua, objections which can be recognized and still obtain today. Yet in these passages, if one listens to the modern critics, Justin must be manufacturing his opponent's arguments for him. Modern critics, who must rely on the record left by post-destruction (ie, post 70 C.E.) Judaism, will assert that there was no such Jewish belief in a suffering messiah at this time. But the most can be said is that there is no such reference preserved within the Tanaatic literature (which was not put to paper until the fourth century--that is, not until after the triumph of Christianity over the Roman Empire). And that the Tanaatic literature, as has been shown, is not a reliable guide to the entire scope  and diversity of Jewish beliefs before the Revolt.)
     In other literature which is roughly contemporary (late first century), IV Maccabbees (6:27-29) contains the prayer of Eleazor: '. . . Be gracious to Your servant, being satisfied with our punishment in their behalf. Make my blood a sacrifice for their purification, and take my life as a substitute for theirs.' Of course this may reflect nothing more than a patriotic impulse. (IV Maccabbees is largely in the style of a Greek oration in honor of heroes.)  Yet it does demonstrate that the concept of dying as a substitute for someone else--or for the nation--existed in the thoughts of the culture, and in the examples of their heroes. IV Maccabbees (17:20-22) goes on to say, '. . . These, therefore, being sanctified for the sake of G-d, were honored not only in this way. . . (for) they have become, in effect, a substitute, dying for the sins of the nation, and through the blood of these godly men and their propitiatory death, divine Providence saved Israel. . . '
     And in a fragment from Qumran (4Q541) there is the following:

     'He will atone for all the children of his generation and he will be sent to all the children of his people. His word is like a word of heaven and his teaching is in agreement with the will of G-d. . . They will speak much against him, and they will invent many lies and untruths against him and say shameful things about him. Evil will overthrow his generation. . His situation will be one of lying and violence and the people will go astray in his days. . . '

     There is no indication in this passage as to who is the one who will make the atonement, nor how this will be accomplished. The above may refer only to a priest who will make an offering in the Temple. On the other hand, it seems to speak of an extraordinary figure; and we know that later Judaism (in the medieval period) did expect that a suffering messiah (the 'Son of Joseph') would appear in an evil generation. Does this indicate that a similar belief was held in the period before the destruction fo the Second Temple? Or is this only a reference to the Essene's Teacher of Righteousness? We cannot be certain.  But the possibility cannot be arbitrarily ruled out.

     Yeshua's own suffering mirrored the suffering of Am Yisrael. It would not be fitting for a well-fed rich king to be set over a nation that went through the Exile and that would later go through the destruction of Jerusalem and the Shoah. Such a messiah just would not fit a nation of suffering. No, G-d sent a king who fitted Am Yisrael, a compassionate messiah who would suffer along with B'nei Yisrael. Like many of B'nei Yisrael, he would be killed by gentiles, and suffer great pains for his obedience to G-d.


     There is a constant refrain in the literature of Qumran about the suffering which someone (perhaps their Teacher of Righteousnes) receives at the hands of the unrighteous. They scorn him and gnash their teeth at him. Those who have eaten his bread have lifted up their heel agaisnt him (Psalm 41:9). They persecute him and plan evil against him. And yet, they do not understand that it is G-d who is permitting them to attack him, in order that the wicked may suffer judgement (on account of this). He is a test for the wicked. And it is only by the mercy of G-d that he is able to resist all that is planned against him, for there are even those who would seek his life.
    It is not know exactly who this 'Teacher of Righteousness was. Qumran writings suggest (though the matter is not certain by any means) that he was a high priest during the Maccabbean period, who was deposed when the Maccabbean kings usurped his office. (There are many candidates who could fit this picture.)  In any event, this 'Righteous Teacher', or 'Right Interpreter of the Torah' was then forced into a desert exile with those of his party, while the Temple and its services were taken over by their opponents.
     Among the writings found at Qumran are a series of 'Hymns', called the 'Thanksgiving Hymns', because most of them start with the phrase, 'I give you thanks, L-rd', which scholars believe may be depicting the struggles and suffering of this Teacher at the hands of his persecutors. A great many allusions are made in these Hymns to Psalms 22 and 69, which also depict a righteous sufferer.  This indicates clearly that the people of that era were familiar with these Psalms and their content; and so it would naturally occur to them to apply them to any righteous sufferer--they did not have to go hunting later for something which they might connect them with Yeshua; such a connection was natural.
     And there is a possible use of a portion of Isaiah 53 in one of these Hymns (Hymn 14, according to the Geza Vermes numbering), where the sufferer is said to be 'familiar with disease, forsaken in his pain, his wounds are terrible, the strength has left his body, he can no longer speak, he is silent, close to death--and yet he has not been cast aside by G-d.'
     The speaker also declares here that G-d has hidden the truth for a little while, but that in the end the sufferings and punishments G-d has inflicted on him will be turned to joy, and his diseases to eternal healing and happiness. The mockery of his enemies will be made into a crown of glory, and G-d will make the speaker's light shine forth from the darkness he has endured.
     That these same themes occur in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah and in the same order make it seem possible that the author was drawing on this chapter as a model. The earlier part of the Hymn speaks of a planting of G-d, made in an arid land, which brings forth a shoot, a fountain of everlasting truth, and a Branch of glory. (Again, this recalls the opening of Isaiah 53, 'He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, like a root out of dry ground.')  this planting--which may refer only to the Teacher's exile in the wilderness--is, however, according to the Hymn, a mystery, and its meaning is hidden. Not all will understand it, nor will they be allowed to approach the fountain of life. (Isaiah 53 says, 'Who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the L-rd been revealed?')
    (It should be noted that the sufferings of the speaker in the Hymns do not bring forth redemption. Others are not forgiven because of what he has endured. Instead, his enemies are punished, and he is justified. There is no concept of a substitutional offering.) However, the terms 'Branch', 'Shoot', and 'Planting' used here do recall certain messianic passages in which the coming messiah is announced as the 'Root', the 'Branch', and the 'Shoot of David'.  These allusions would have been immediately obvious to the Essenes, who were familiar with the scriptures.
    If--and this remains uncertain--the speaker here does indeed intend that this opening passage should be taken of the messiah, it would possibly indicate that he intends the entire Hymn to refer to the messiah as well. (And if this were correct, then it would be evidence of a pre-Christian suggestion of a suffering messiah). Since there are also references to the contents of Psalm 22 in this Hymn, a connection of that Hymn with the messiah might also have been made.
     But to be clear: we do not know who wrote this Hymn. We do not know who the intended speaker is; perhaps it is about the Teacher of Righteousness, or perhaps it is about the coming messiah, or perhaps about neither. The content does not tell us. We do not know if the Hymn intends to speak of the messiah or only of one who, because of his sufferings