The Jewish Messiah

In general, debates over whether or not Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah seem pretty silly to me.
Different religous tradtions apparently have different criteria - job descritions, if you will. Different
criteria will yield diffent conclusions when applied to the same referent.

I accept that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christian Messiah. My Christian friends assure me that Jesus is
their Messiah, and I have no reason to call into doubt their words about their Messiah.

Oddly enough, at a recent study session at a Mosque I found that Jesus of Nazareth is called Messiah
by Muslims - who also believe (according to my Musim friends) that Jesus will come back at the end
of time to judge the living and the dead. So it may be that Jesus of Nazareth is the Islamic Messiah.

Jesus of Nazareth may be the Messiah for many religions but Jesus of Nazareth cannot be the
Jewish Messiah.

Why not?

This page presents some of the qualifications of the Jewish Messiah, as understood by normative
Judaism for several millennia. Note that criteria listed below have been applied to many plausible Messiahs,
including Jesus of Nazareth, Shimeon Bar Kochba, and Shabbatai Tzvi.

All have been found wanting.

[This list of criteria is loosely based on a list by an organization called "Jews For Judaism".
Intellectual theft does not imply endorsement...]

If you accept these criteria, then when anyone claims to be, or is claimed to be, the Jewish Messiah,
you must ask the obvious questions:

If you apply this set of criteria, Jesus of Nazareth cannot be the Jewish Messiah.

Let's look at the first criteria. Here's what Micah (4:3, JPS translation) says the Messiah will do:

Jesus did not usher in age of universal peace - nation shall not lift up sword againts nation! Wars cannot happen after the Messiah comes.
There was war in Jesus's lifetime. Wars have continued nearly unabated since his lifetime.

We do not live in an age of universal justice or freedom from fear - and none shall make them afraid. The Holocaust cannot
happen after the Messiah comes! Can there be any doubt about that?

Pogroms cannot happen in an age of universal justice - whether against the Cambodian people, the people of Darfur, or the Jews.
Can anyone say of the residents of Darfur they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid?

Can any serously argue that the Jewish Messiah would issue in an age where his followers would sing his prayer - the Lord's Prayer - while
burning Jewish children alive?

Therefore - by the very first criteria - the Jewish Messiah has not come.

I understand that the criteria for a Christian Messiah are different from the criteria for a Jewish Messiah.

The Christian definition of their Messiah may include things like being an atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind,
being a member of the Holy Trinity, etc.- none of which are part of the Jewish definition.

The Christian definition of the Christian Messiah may include a reverence for virginity, even though celibacy is not
a Jewish virtue and violates a mitzvah - the First Commandment of the Torah. The Greeks were fascinated with celibacy,
particularly celibate women - witness Artemis and Athena - the Jews were not.

The Christian definition may also include bringing salvation only to those who believe his message - while the Jewish
definition of the work of the Jewish Messiah includes not only all of mankind, but even the animals!

The Christian definition also includes some genealogical claims very similiar to the Jewish definition, but Christians define genealogy
differently. For example, to be of a particular tribe - by Jewish law - a man must have a biological father who is a member of that
tribe. By Jewish law, your status as a Jew is determined by your mother, while your status as a member of tribe - Judah - is determined by
your father. If Joseph was Jesus's father - by Jewish law - Jesus was of the tribe of Joseph. If Joseph was not Jesus's father - by Jewish law -
Jesus was not of the tribe of Joseph (unless Jesus was the biological son of some other member of he tribe). Christians may assert a differnet
set of genealogical laws - and by those laqs, Jesus is of the line of David. Christians are not required to accept Jewish laws.

Not only is the case that the Christian is not the Jewish Messiah, when the Messiah for whom we are waitng comes, he will
not be the Christian Messiah. He will neither be born of a virgin - he would have no father in David's line, not can G-d be his
father, for G-d is not in the line of David. He may carry th sobriquet "Son of G-d", as pious men do in the Torah, but he must have a
biological father who is a (patrilineal) descendant of David. He will be the fruit of intercourse between a man and a woman, because that
is the sacred design of the Almighty.

So the <Christian Messiah is not the Jewish Messiah, and the Jewish Messiah is not the Christian Messiah.

How can this be the case?
Differnet groups of people and different religions may define Messiah differently. I cannot and would not object
to a different definition - definitions are inherently axiomatic.

The fact that the Jews and the Christians both base their understanding of what is it to be a Messiah on interpretations
of verses in the Torah does not mean the the definitions are equivalent. The Torah is capable of many different interpretations.

In fact three groups of people have read the same Torah, and found three different Messiahs! The Jews read the Torah and are still waiting,
The Mandeans (followers of John the Baptist who did not become Christians) read (some portion of) the Torah, and find John the Baptist.
Christians read the Torah and find Jesus of Nazareth.

It is even the case that at least one group of people - Muslims - read a different holy text and find Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah -
albeit a diffent Messsiah than the Christians.

The fact that two peoples share some text, or some part of a text, does not imply that they have the same understanding of that text.
Conjunct lineage is not consistent lexicon.

I do not object to various defintions of Messiah that do not conform to the normative Jewish reading(s) of the Torah, but neith do I embrace
those definitions. And most Jews not done so since the time of Jesus. The most well educated Jews who had direct contact with the living
Jesus of Nazareth - Jews with deep knowledge of Torah and immediate knowledge of the man and his teachings - men desparately seeking a
Messiah during difficult times - tested those claims. And they found those claims wanting. They did not accept Jesus of Nazareth to be the
Jewish Messiah.

I think that my Christian friends would agree that the spectacular growth of the apocalytic communities of the early Christian church was
demographically a gentile phenomenon - precisely because those well educated Jews seeking a Messiah on a daily basis did not
accept the claim that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah.

Millions of Jews have died for their rejection of the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah.

The interpretation of the Torah that claims that Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah is not the Jewish interpretation of those verses.

For a calm - and I think respectful - explanation of why an educated Jew in the time of Jesus of Nazareth might have rejected the
teachings and message of Jesus of Nazareth, see
Jacob Neusner's "A Rabbi Talks with Jesus"

I am a Jew.

I read the Torah as a Jew reads the Torah.

I am still waiting for the Jewish Messiah.

Mike P Wagner
Mike's Home Page

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