Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

The MOST Theological Collection: Catholic Apologetics Today: Answers to Modern Critics

"Chapter 22 The Jewish Messiah"


Browse by Title
New Search
Table of Contents for this Work

Is there any point in Jews becoming Christian since God Himself over and over in the Old Testament speaks of them as His people? The best and most direct answer is just to point out what we have proved in the body of this book thus far: Jesus, the Divine Messenger, did commission His Apostles and their successors to teach, and promised God's protection on that teaching. Hence, it is the will of God that all, including His ancient people, accept Jesus and His Church. In so doing, they are not rejecting Judaism and the ancient Patriarchs. Vatican II wrote, "The Church of Christ recognizes that the beginnings of faith and its being chosen are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses, and the Prophets... For the Church believes that Christ, our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles by His cross, and made both into one in Himself."134 Rabbi Israel Zolli, who had an international reputation as a master of Hebrew philosophy, Scripture and the Talmud, and who wrote many books on those subjects, became a Christian at age 65, though he was then Chief Rabbi of Rome, and knew it meant being reduced to poverty. After his conversion, he was asked if he still considered himself a Jew. He replied, "Once a Jew, always a Jew. Did Peter, James, John, Matthew, and hundreds of Hebrews like them cease to be Jews just because they followed Jesus the Messiah? Emphatically no.... I continue to hold unchanged love for the People of Israel."135

Jesus Himself said, "Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For Amen I say to you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all is fulfilled." (Matt. 5:17-18).

He told the Apostles, "... All things must be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me." (Luke 24:44).

As we stated earlier, the only proof needed for the statement that Judaism is fulfilled, not destroyed in Christianity, is what is worked out in the body of this book and in the words of Jesus just quoted. But it is still worthwhile to review some of the chief prophecies of the Old Testament which He fulfilled. We are well aware that many scholars today dismiss these prophecies as so vague that they could be understood only by hindsight, even though Jesus Himself pointed to the prophecies about Himself, even though St. Paul, trained as a Rabbi, spoke of Jesus as dying and rising "according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor. 15:3-4). In fact, Vatican I taught that, "Moses and the Prophets, and especially Christ the Lord, put forth many and most manifest miracles and prophecies."136 Let us see for ourselves how wrong these scholars are.

Protogospel: Genesis 3:15

Prophecy begins after the sin of Adam and Eve, when God speaks to them and to the serpent: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed. He will strike at your head and you will strike at his heel."137 Vatican II comments thus: "These primeval documents, as they are read in the Church and are understood in the light of later and full revelation, gradually bring more clearly to light the figure of the woman, the Mother of the Redeemer. She, in this light, is already prophetically foreshadowed in the promise given to our first parents who had fallen into sin, of victory over the serpent (see Gen. 3 15)."138

Notice the carefully qualified language of the Council. Passages such as Genesis 3:15 became clearer in time, and now, with the help of full revelation, we can see even the Mother of the Redeemer, as well as the Redeemer Himself, "prophetically foreshadowed." Leave aside for the moment the question of the identification of the "woman" of Gen. 3:15 as the Mother of the Redeemer. But notice that in some way the prophecy refers to the Messiah. Could this be a passage understood only later on?

In answering this question we are fortunate in having a great help that has been often ignored called the Targums. By the time of Christ many Jews no longer spoke Hebrew; their language was Aramaic. So in reading Scripture in the synagogues, there was need of the Aramaic version called the Targum. We are not sure of the date of the Targums which we now have, but many are likely to come within a century before or after Christ. The important point is that they do not depend on hindsight because the Jews who wrote them would not accept Christ, regardless of the time frame.

The Targums are really a free translation plus commentary. So we can see how Jews, without Christ, understood the Old Testament. The Neofiti, Pseudo-Jonathan and the Fragmentary Targums interpret Gen. 3:15 as Messianic. Their interpretation is partly allegorical, saying that the sons of the woman will observe the commandments of the Torah and will fight the sons of the serpent, who are disobedient. Further, the Targums see a victory for the son or sons of the woman. Thus Neofiti reads, "There will be a remedy [for his wound] for the son of the woman, but for you, serpent, no remedy."139 The other two Targums speak in the plural, i.e., of a remedy for them, rather than for the son, singular.

It is interesting to recall the interpretation of Vatican II that the woman stands for the Mother of the Messiah. Really, this is obvious because if the text refers to the Messiah, then the woman whose "seed" the Messiah is must be His Mother. Yet modern commentators have been reluctant to acknowledge Mary in this verse. They point out that the only woman mentioned alive at all is Eve. To that we reply: (1) This is a prophecy, which can look ahead, beyond the time when it was given; (2) There was a tendency in ancient times to see prophecies as having more than one fulfillment. We see this in the New Testament. For example, in 2 Tim. 3:1, where most scholars take "the last days" to refer both to all time from the Ascension of Jesus until His return, and more narrowly, to the time just before His return.140 Again, St. Matthew's Gospel seems to take this attitude in Matt. 2:15 to understand Hosea 11:1 (which originally referred to the Exodus) and the return of the child Jesus from Egypt, and in interpreting Isaiah 7:14 to mean the virgin birth (Matt. 1:22-23). Some scholars think the entire mysterious Chapter 24 of Matthew follows this pattern too.

Similarly, Samson H. Levey, a Jewish scholar, in commenting on Exodus 12:42 says that the fact that the Targum links together Moses and the Messiah could indicate that the final phase of the history of Israel will be a type of repetition of the deliverance from Egypt at its beginning.141

In this light, we could easily say that the "woman" of Gen. 3:15 stands for both Eve and Mary. The Fathers of the Church over and over speak of Mary as the new Eve.142

The prophecy of the dying Jacob: Genesis 49:10

When Jacob was dying in Egypt, he gave a prophecy about his sons, and especially Judah: "The scepter shall not depart from Juda, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and his shall be the obedience of the peoples."143 There has been much discussion of the translation of this verse. Yet, the Targum Neofiti confidently renders it: "Kings shall not be lacking from the house of Judah... until the time at which King Messiah will come."144 Levey comments that this supposes the restoration of the dynasty of David and adds that other rabbinic sources, Midrashic and Talmudic, agree that the passage is Messianic.145

The question is raised: What of the fact that Judah fell under the rule of Babylonia, and that there were no kings of the line of David after the Babylonian exile? There are two replies: First, the tribe of Judah did maintain supremacy and power even after the exile, as David's tribe and as the place of the Temple, until Herod, the first foreign

born king, was installed in that land. Secondly, although God spoke in a seemingly absolute way to Solomon after the Temple was dedicated-"My eyes and my heart shall be there always" (Kgs. 9:3)-yet a few lines later, He warned, "But if you turn away from following me ... I will cut off Israel from the face of the land which I have given them ... and this house I will cast out of my sight." (Kgs. 6-8). This actually happened. Therefore we could say that the prophecy of Jacob was still realized, but not as fully as it would have been if the people had been faithful to God.

The virgin shall conceive: Isaiah 7:14

There was a period of crisis for the southern kingdom, Judah, in the years 735-33 B.C. A coalition of the kings of Israel, the northern kingdom, and Damascus wanted to overthrow King Ahaz of Judah, and put in a ruler who would join them in an alliance against Assyria. Ahaz was more inclined to ask Assyria for help. He was a wicked king who had burned his own son in sacrifice (2 Kgs. 16:3) probably not long before the day of his meeting with Isaiah the prophet just outside Jerusalem. Isaiah told the king he must put his trust in God, not in the Assyrians, and added that God would give the king any sign he might ask, whether in the sky or in the depths. Ahaz pretended to be too pious to accept because it would be "tempting" God. In reply, the prophet rebuked him and said he was tiresome not only to men, but even to God, "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name: Emmanuel." (Isa. 7:14).

Scholars have been divided on the meaning of Isaiah 7:14. Some have said the child promised is just Hezekiah, the son born naturally not virginally, to Ahaz. That birth could be taken as a "sign" in that it would be a continuation of the line of David. Others say the son is virginally born, and therefore is Christ. The solemnity of the whole scene suggests the birth of more than just an ordinary son-after offering a sign in the heavens or in the depths, to give just an ordinary child would not be striking, even though it would continue David's line. Further, God had promised (2 Sam. 7:11-16) that David's line would last forever. It was commonly thought that the Messiah would rule forever.146 When the Septuagint was made, centuries after Isaiah and Hezekiah, the translators believed the prophecy was still to be fulfilled-which is another indication that it referred to Jesus.

St. Matthew (Matt. 22-23) quotes this prophecy and says it was fulfilled in Jesus. We noted above that Matthew, and other parts of Scripture, at times see multiple fulfillments of prophecies. This is just such a case since the child promised was both Hezekiah and Jesus.

Still further, Isaiah 7:1 through 12:6 is often called the book of Emmanuel. It seems that the child spoken of in Isaiah 9:6 is the same as the child of Isaiah 7:14. Plus, there is an indirect help in our interpretation from the Targums, for they see Isaiah 9:6 as Messianic. Levey says that all versions take the line as Messianic.147 Hezekiah hardly matches the description of Isaiah 9:5.

A child is born: Isaiah 9:6

It was earlier established that the Targums do consider Isaiah 9:6 as Messianic. However, there is a problem in that verse, which does not affect its messianic character. The problem is whether or not the child is called God.

The translation of this verse is much debated, and with reason, for the implications can be astounding. Levey twists the sentence structure to avoid a statement of divinity. In his translation, God calls the newborn child "Prince of Peace."148 The Soncino version, another scholarly Jewish publication, reads it, "And his name is called 'Pele-joez-gibbor-abi-ad-sar-shalom.'" Thus the critical words are turned into an extremely long name, which means: "Wonderful in counsel is God the Mighty, the Everlasting Father, the Ruler of Peace."149 The New American Bible for the same words has: "They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace." The Protestant Revised Standard version is: "And his name will be called 'Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.'"

The Hebrew text will allow any of these translations-though the New American Bible strains the usual sense of El-gibbor, "God the Mighty." The Targums also present problems in translation. Levey translates in a manner parallel to his twisting of sentence structure in the Hebrew. He claims to follow the Targumic sentence structure beyond question.150 But J. F. Stenning of Oxford thinks it is not beyond question. He translates: "And his name has been called from of old, Wonderful counsellor Mighty God, He who lives forever, the Anointed one (or, Messiah) in whose days peace shall increase upon us."151 Again, the Aramaic will allow either translation.

The Septuagint greatly reduces the wording, and omits the phrase "Mighty God." It reads, "And his name shall be called, messenger of the great council." One wonders if the Septuagint is, as Shakespeare puts it, "protesting too much" to avoid saying the child is to be God.152 For the Hebrew El gibbor means God in every occurrence in the Old Testament. To put it mildly, it would be a great problem for an ancient Jew to find a prophecy saying the Messiah would be God. It would seem to violate the truth that was so strongly hammered in that there is only one God. Those who had had no hint of the Blessed Trinity would have immense difficulty.

However, as we said above, in spite of all this, the Targums do clearly consider Isaiah 9:6 as Messianic,153 and so, since the child of Isaiah 7:14 seems to be the same as the child of Isaiah 9:6, we have another proof that the child of 7:14 is the Messiah, virginally born.

The suffering, atoning servant: Isaiah 53

One of the most striking prophecies is that of Isaiah Chapter 53, which tells of the atoning, suffering and death of the Servant of God who will have "no form or comeliness," who will be "despised and rejected by men," who "has borne our griefs ... [and] was wounded for our transgressions ... was oppressed and afflicted, yet did not open his mouth ... like a lamb being led to the slaughter."

But when we turn to the Targum, we have the clearest case of Shakespeare's example of protesting too much. For while the Targum clearly makes the servant of God to be the Messiah, as Levey says, it does extreme violence to the sense, giving the text the very opposite meaning. Instead of the meek sufferer, like the lamb led to the slaughter, the Targums show a proud, arrogant man who brings ruin to the enemies of Israel, and who overcomes mighty kings.

For example, in verse 3, the Hebrew says, "He was despised and rejected by men." But the Targum says, "Then the glory of all kingdoms will be despised and cease."154 Verse 5 says, "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities." But the Targum says, "He will [rebuild the sanctuary, polluted because of our sins, [and] handed over because of our iniquities." Where the Hebrew in verse 7 has that He was "like a lamb being led to the slaughter," the Targum says instead, "He will hand over the mighty ones of the peoples, like a lamb to the slaughter."

Clearly, the Targumist had no notion of a suffering Messiah, even though he knew the servant was the Messiah.155 However, the Targum does make the passage Messianic, and by its extreme reverse of meaning gives away the truth. Even some modern Jewish scholars are candid enough to admit that the Targumists at times deliberately distorted the sense of such prophecies to try to keep the Christians from using them.156 A very prominent modern Jewish scholar, H. J. Schoeps, admits the same thing: "... it was felt to be undesirable to lend support to the Christian interpretation. Again with the same motive and in order to eliminate the reference of Isaiah 53 to Christ, atoning power was imputed to the death of Moses."157

Bethlehem: Micah 5:1-3

When the Magi came to King Herod and asked where the King of the Jews was to be born, Herod, "assembling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, inquired of them where the Christ should be born." (Matt. 2:4). Without hesitation "They said to him: In Bethlehem of Juda. For so it is written by the prophet: And you Bethlehem of the land of Judah are not the least among the rulers of Juda: for out of you shall come forth the captain who shall govern my people Israel." (Matt. 2:5).

They were, of course, quoting Micah 5:2: "And you Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are little to be among the thousands of Judah, from you shall come for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from the days of eternity." The Targum Jonathan is quite clear: "From you will come forth before me the Messiah ... whose name was spoken from days of old, from the days of eternity." 158In fact, the last part of verse 2 in the Hebrew could suggest even a pre-existence for the Messiah: "Whose origin is from of old, from the days of eternity." The Targums concur: "whose name was spoken from days of old, from the days of eternity."159


There are many other prophecies that the Targums recognize as Messianic. We have cited enough to show that even in ancient times, Jews did understand that the Messiah was foretold to our first parents, and that He was to come when the dominion had finally passed from Judah (to Herod), and that He would be born in Bethlehem. We gathered with their help that He would be born of a virgin, and if we accept the normal Hebrew sense of "El gibbor" in Isaiah 9:6 ("God the Mighty") and Stenning's translation of the Targum Jonathan, that He would be divine. His divinity was hinted at in Micah 5:2 where the Hebrew says His "origin is from old, from the days of eternity" which, as we saw, can mean pre-existence.160

We gathered too, because of the very distortion of the Targum on Isaiah 53, making the meek lamb into an arrogant conqueror, that the Messiah would suffer from our sins.

All these things, of course, Jesus fulfilled most clearly and abundantly. Again, we emphasize that He came not to destroy, but to fulfill the law, the prophets and the hopes of His people Israel.


134 Vatican II, On Non-Christian Religions § 4, alluding to Eph. 2:14-16.
135 Cited in A. Klyber, Once a Jew, pp. 144-45.
136 DS 3009.
137 Translated from the Hebrew by the author.
138 Vatican II, On the Church § 55.
139 Translated by the author from the Aramaic text in: Alejandro Diez Macho, Targum Palestiniense Neofiti, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Madrid, 1968. Cf. Genesis Rabbah 20.5, which also sees this verse as Messianic.
140 Jerome Biblical Commentary II, p. 359. Cf. also W. Most, Free From All Error, Prow Press, Libertyville, 1985, pp. 25-30.
141 Samson H. Levey, The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, 1974, p. 13. Cf. p. 135.
142 Cf. for example, St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 100; St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.22.4; 5.19.1 and Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 33; Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ 17; St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis 12.15; St. Jerome, Epistle 22.21; St. Ambrose, Epistle 63.33, and On Luke 4.7; St. Augustine, Sermon on Psalm 149.2 and On the Christian Combat 22.24 and On Holy Virginity 6.6.
143 RSV as modified by the author.
144 Translated by the author from Targum Neofiti.
145 Levey p. 8.
146 Levey pp. 108, 114.
147 Levey p. 46.
148 Levey p. 45.
149 I. W. Slotki, Soncino Books of the Bible: Isaiah, Soncino Press, London, 1957, p. 44.
150 Levey p. 45.
151 J. F. Stenning, The Targum of Isaiah, Oxford, 1949, p. 32.
152 In Hamlet. By the Queen, Act III, Scene II.
153 Cf. Levey, pp. 45-46.
154 Translated by the author from the Aramaic in: Brian Walton, Biblia Sacra Polyglotta, Akademische Druck, Graz, Austria, 1964, III.
155 Cf. Levey p. 67.
156 Cf. Levey p. 152, n. 10.
157 H. J. Schoeps, Paul, tr. H. Knight, Westminster, Phila. 1961, p. 129.
158 Translated by the author from Biblia Sacra Polyglotta.
159 Cf. Levey p. 93.
160 Ibid.

To Most Collection home page