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Stealing the light

Centuries ago, the sages of Israel removed almost every Messianic prophecy quoted in the New Testament from the weekly synagogue readings. As shocking as this may seem, this is not a conspiracy theory but the conclusion of Jewish Biblical Scholars, as Mike Moore reveals.

I was once introduced to a Jewish lady called Doris who was concerned about the state of the world. The wars, the crime, the immorality and violence seemed to be increasing by the day and that distressed her. When I asked if there was an answer to the mess the world was in, Doris told me that the Messiah would set everything right.

I asked how Doris would recognise the Messiah when he came and she told me she didn’t know. ‘Don’t the Scriptures tell us how to recognise the Messiah?’ I asked. Her face lit up. Scripture had been her favourite lesson at school and she had been top of the class in the subject. When I responded that, at the very least then, Doris ought to know where the Messiah would be born, she looked at me with incredulity. What about his virgin birth? Or the fact that Messiah would die by having his hands and feet pierced? Or that God would not leave Messiah’s body in the grave? Doris knew none of those things but she did know that when the Messiah made his appearance he would ride into Jerusalem on ‘a great white horse.’ She was astonished to discover that according to Zechariah 9:9 the Messiah would enter Jerusalem humbly, riding a donkey. How could a Jewish lady who excelled in Scripture at school know nothing about the Messianic prophecies that are so familiar to Christians?

That very question came under scrutiny in 2013 at the 14th World Congress of Jewish Studies, held in Jerusalem. An article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that one of the papers delivered at the event theorised that the Jewish sages responsible for compiling the annual cycle of synagogue readings from the Prophets had deliberately omitted every Christological passage cited in the New Testament.

Christ in none of the Scriptures
The issue struck me forcibly last September when I was preparing Light from the Sidra (www.shalom.org.uk), my  online comment on the synagogue readings, which that week included Isaiah 61:10-63:9. In the chapter, God promises a future redemption for Israel. But why did the rabbis who devised the readings from the Prophets omit the crucial first nine verses of Isaiah 61?

The custom of reading a chapter from the Prophets – the Haftarah – to accompany the reading from the Law in the synagogue is an ancient one, although it is not known precisely when it was instituted, who introduced it or what the circumstances surrounding its introduction were. However, the scholars who gathered for the Jewish Studies Congress were informed that the earliest source for the custom is actually the New Testament. In Luke 4:16-21 Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth where, on the Sabbath, he goes to the synagogue. When the scroll of Isaiah is handed to him, Jesus opens the book and reads from chapter 61:1: ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor…’ Following the reading, Jesus delivers a sermon in which he states that the passage is about him. Did Jesus open Isaiah at that specific chapter or did the hazan, the cantor in charge at the synagogue, deliberately open it at that chapter because it was the reading for the week?

Once is happenstance…
In my misspent youth I read most of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. One of the quotes I remember from the series is the eponymous villain’s observation in Goldfinger: ‘Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”’ The rabbinic exclusion of certain passages from the Prophets was neither happenstance nor coincidence; it was enemy action.

It would seem, Congress delegates were informed, that at some time a deliberate decision was taken to exclude Isaiah 61:1 from the Haftarah readings. The heads of Jewish communities who were familiar with Christian faith and literature omitted the chapter which Jesus claimed corroborated his divine mission. The decision is especially noteworthy given that the surrounding chapters – Isaiah 60 and chapters 62 and 63 – are read on consecutive weeks.

The excision of passages from the Prophets that are cited in the New Testament would appear to have been a deliberate policy on the part of the rabbis. The compilers of the Haftarahs seem to have excluded any verse or passage on which Christians base the principles of their faith. The Congress was told that Isaiah 7:14 – ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son…’ – is deliberately excluded because it is foundational to the Christian doctrine of the virgin birth. Isaiah 42:1-4 – ‘Behold! My servant whom I uphold. My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the Gentiles…’ – which is cited in Matthew 12:18-21 is also absent from the Haftarahs. Isaiah 52:13-53:12, in which the righteous Servant of the Lord suffers for the sins of his people, is the outstanding omission from the Haftarah readings. Isaiah 52:1-12 and chapter 54 are included in the cycle of readings from the Prophets but 52:13 – 53:12 is absent. The claim that the chapter was deliberately excluded is confirmed by the fact that when David Bond was a CWI missionary and asked a rabbi why Isaiah 53 was not included in the synagogues readings, he was told that if the chapter was read, ‘a lot of our people might become Christians’!

On the second day of the Jewish New Year, Jeremiah 31 is recited but the reading stops at verse 20: ‘Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For though I spoke against him, I earnestly remember him still…’ Is it coincidence that the Haftarah ends there and does not include the promise of the New Covenant, one of the most quoted passages in the New Testament?

The Haftarah list also excludes Hosea 11:1: ‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son…’ a verse Matthew applies to the return of the infant Jesus from Egypt to the land of Israel.

Micah 5:2, which refers to the birthplace of the Messiah and is alluded to in
Matthew 2:6 and John 7:42, is likewise absent from the Haftarahs.

Zechariah 9:9 – ‘Behold, your King is coming to you; he is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey…’ – also fails to make the Haftarah list, as does Zechariah 12:13, which the Gospels interpret as a prophecy of the 30 pieces for silver for which Judas betrayed Jesus (c.f. Mt 26:14-15; Mk 14:10-11).Malachi 3:1 – ‘Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me…’ (c.f. Mt 11: 10; Mk 2:2; Lk 7:27; Jn 3:28) – is also missing, which is all the more remarkable since on the Sabbath immediately preceding Passover, most synagogues read the chapter but start at verse 4: ‘Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasant to the Lord...’

Hiding the light
Jewish scholars are beginning to recognise that centuries ago a deliberate policy was implemented that would excise from the annual round of readings from the Prophets every passage that the New Testament applies to Jesus or to the gospel. The only exception appears to be Isaiah 40:1-26, that begins, ‘Comfort, yes,
comfort My people…’

The strategy has been remarkably successful in withholding the truth about Jesus from the Jewish people; even learned Jews. In the 1990s, Richard Gibson publicly challenged an apostle of the Lubavitch ‘messiah’ – Menachem Mendel Schneerson – by pointing out that Rabbi Schneerson could not be the Messiah because he was born in Russia not Bethlehem, as prophesied by Micah. The man responded that it was pointless Richard quoting from Micah because ‘Jews don’t accept the New Testament’!

The rabbinic ‘scorched earth’ policy, even though it virtually eliminated every Messianic reference in the Hebrew Scriptures, is a back-handed acknowledgement of the truth of Jesus’ claims. After all, why are those Scriptures omitted from public reading? The rabbis obviously considered them to be subversive of
rabbinic Judaism. But why? If Jesus was a false Messiah, as the rabbis believe, and he applied Isaiah 41 to himself, so what? Why exclude the passage from the synagogue readings because a pseudo Messiah once claimed that the prophet was speaking about him? The rabbinic policy is a clear testimony to the power of the Scriptures they excluded.

This makes our task more urgent as we seek to take the Light back to the people from whom it has been withheld. Please pray for us.

This article first appeared in the Winter Herald 2014

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