Israel’s first dispersion was when the northern tribes were carried off into captivity by Assyria. Many people fled to the south, and about one hundred years later, the south was taken by Babylon. Since then, we have had partial returns and the people have been “among the nations” or in Hebrew, “M’loh Ha Goyim” meaning “fullness of the Gentiles (nations).” This concept is seen in Gen 49.19 and Rom 11.25. For more information, see the teaching called “The Fullness of the Gentiles” on this site. Just go to “All Teachings” and scroll down till you find it.
The “Great Dispersion” or “Galut” came after 70 A.D. in the First Jewish War. We have this “Galut” established after the Bara Kochba Revolt. After this, Judean Jews were not “in the land” but in the north, Jews will continue for several hundred more years. Jews were not allowed in the south. So, as a result, the people were “in the Galut” (Diaspora). But they had a hope for the redemption and return because the Scriptures were full of promises about the “last days” and that they would return, such as Isa 2.2-4 and Micah 4.1-4. So, everyday, year after year, they prayed about this return.
When the Zionist Movement began in the 1890’s, it was started by secular Jews, not religious Jews who had been praying these prayers. They were seeking a Jewish homeland anywhere. They even considered going to Ghana in Africa as a possible home. This story and concept can be seen in the movie “The Chosen” with Rod Steiger and Robby Benson. It is the story of two Jewish boys, one was Ultra-Orthodox and the other Orthodox. The father of the orthodox boy is working for the Zionist Movement and the father of the Ultra-Orthodox boy is a rabbi who believes that only the Messiah can bring the people back to the land. This causes friction between the two families, and the boys are in the middle.
What most don’t realize is this redemption is going to happen in stages. Isa 55.8 says that God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways. There was going to be movement, in stages, towards this redemption. So, there was going to be a disagreement in Jewish thought on how they were going to approach the redemption, and Scriptures like Isa 52 and 53. This is an important concept to remember as we go through.
Our oldest commentary on the prophets is Targum Ben Uzziel. He said Isa 52 and 53 pertained to the Messiah. This was first century thinking, which was at the time Yeshua, the talmidim and Paul were teaching. There were no commentaries on the Tanak before the first century. There were midrashim, aggadot (parables) and quotes from earlier times, but there were no written texts until Ben Uzziel. From 100 B.C. to 200 A.D., we do have what is called the great “Apocalyptic Age” when “apocalyptic” writings came out. The Pseudo-Pigrapha and the Book of Revelation was written during this period, which is called the “Apocalypse” which means “revealing.” It means a certain style of writing.
During this time period, the people were looking for the redemption and were in a state of expectation (Luke 3.15). They expected this redemption to come immediately, based on the prophecies in Daniel. He said that there was going to be four kingdoms over Israel (Babylon; Medo-Persia; Greece; Rome). They believed that when the fourth kingdom (Rome) and fourth beast rose, the Messiah would come and defeat that kingdom, set up the Messianic Kingdom and then rule the nations. They did not see a 2000 year period called the Diaspora (Galut). Had Israel accepted the offer of the Kingdom in the first century, then what they expected would have happened (Isa 60.22). But, they rejected the offer as a corporate nation (see “The Offer of the Messianic Kingdom in the First Century” on this site for more information). They were in a period of expectation and that is why Yochanon Ha Matvil was questioned in John 1.19-23.
Because of this expectation, several groups began to arise called the Zealots and the Sicari. Several of Yeshua’s talmidim were from these groups. There was Simon the Zealot and Judas the Sicari (“Iscariot”). Interestingly, both are listed together in Matt 10.4. The Zealots and Sicari believed that if they provoked a war with Rome, it would bring the Messiah and the redemption. Messiah would come, destroy the Romans and that would be that. That may have been part of the motivation of Judas when he betrayed Yeshua. But what the Zealots and Sicari ultimately did, however, was bring about the destruction of Israel, Jerusalem, the Temple and the people. A misplaced understanding of prophecy can lead to big problems. The Zealots and Sicari were not ones who did not believe in the Messiah and the redemption, they were “zealous” for that. But they did not see things clearly and they did not compare the rest of Scripture. They didn’t see the destruction of the city and the Temple, the dispersion of the people and the redemption that was going to happen at a later date.
During the time period of 100 B.C. and 200 A.D. in the apocryphal writings, there is no mention in these texts of the Messiah Ben Joseph, also called the Messiah Ben Ephraim. Both of these are eschatological characters and are based on two sections of Scripture, Gen 49.22-24 and the Servant Passages in Isaiah attributed to the Messiah. Following the time of Rashi (1040-1105) who lived in France, the concept of the suffering servant disappeared from Jewish expectations of the Messiah. When you read Gen 49.22-24 in the King James Version, Hertz Pentateuch and the Jerusalem Bible, you will see a big difference with the Stone Chumash and the Stone Tanak.
In the Stones Chumash there is a commentary on Gen 49.22-24 and it says, “According to Rashi (as understood by the commentaries), these two verses are linked: Joseph rose to prominence despite the hatred he suffered. His brothers and Potiphar and his wife all embittered him and became antagonists. People with arrow-like tongues-a Scriptural allusion to purveyors of malicious slander and gossip dealt bitterly with Joseph, but, by the grace of God, he rose to prominence despite them.” There is no mention of how Joseph is a picture of the Messiah Ben Joseph and they did not do a literal translation, which all the other translations did. What they did was take an allegory by Rashi, and there is no reason for this. This is because they did not have a concept of the “Suffering Servant.” Following Rashi, the concept of the Suffering Servant had disappeared from Jewish expectations of the Messiah. Here is what happened.
Rashi wrote two major commentaries. One was a commentary on the Talmud and the other was a commentary on the Tanak. In his commentary on the Talmud, Rashi attributed Isa 53 to the Messiah. Then, historically, something happened. We mentioned that Rashi lived in France and one of the crusades came into his town (Jews cringe when they hear that a “crusade” is coming to town). The crusades fought the “infidel” and the Roman Catholic Church was selling “indulgences” at this time. Basically, and indulgence is something that will limit your temporal punishment before God in a place called Purgatory, or a “get out of Purgatory early card.” You had less days to purge away sin. You could purchase indulgences and be forgiven certain sins. So, they got indulgences for going to the Holy Land and fighting the Moslem infidels. But, they also got indulgences for killing the Jewish infidels along the way.
Jewish cities throughout France, where Rashi lived, were burned to the ground. The crusade came in between his writing of the commentary on the Talmud and the Tanak. In his commentary on the Talmud, he identified Isa 53 as pertaining to the Messiah. Then the crusade came. When he wrote his commentary on the Tanak, he identified Isa 53 as pertaining to Israel because of all the suffering he saw his people go through. But he may not have been the first of the Jewish commentators that identified Isa 53 as Israel. In a quote from “Who is God’s Suffering Servant? The Rabbinic Interpretation of Isa 53” by Tovia Singer it says, “The well-worn out claim advanced by Christian apologists who argue that the noted Jewish commentator Rashi was the first to identify the Suffering Servant of Isa 53 with the nation of Israel is inaccurate and misleading. In fact, Origen, a prominent and influential Church Father, conceded in the year 248 A.D.-eight centuries before Rashi was born-that the concensus among Jews in his time was that Isa 53 “bore a reference to the whole (Jewish) people, regarded as one individual, and as being in a state of dispersion and suffering, in order that many proselytes might be gained, on account of the dispersion of the Jews among the numerous heathen nations.” (Origen, “Contra Celsum” Chadwick Henry; Cambridge Press, Book 1, Chapter 55, p 50). Tovia Singer, by the way, is an “anti-missionary” who goes among the Jews and tries to get people to stay away from the Messianic Movement and tries to downplay any Scriptural proof that Yeshua is the Messiah. He is not a very respected person. Other Jews say he uses deception and says “no Jewish text says” when in fact it does. He has “selective choosing” so you must always check things out with him.
When Origen made his remark, remember Christianity was still an “outlawed” and an “underground movement” from the Romans. It will not be until 310 A.D. that they will be legal in the eyes of Rome. To be a legal religion, you had to establish that you were an ancient religion that predated Rome. That is why the “Judaisms” of the time of Julius Caesar were declared legal. Christianity was seen as a “newer religion” and therefore did not fall under the parameters of an “ancient religion.” But there was extreme pressure between the leaders in Christianity and the Jewish leaders. It is possible that the Jewish leaders of that time were saying Isa 53 related to Israel because Christianity was saying it related to the Messiah, so they were taking the opposite view and that is why Origen was quoted as saying what he did.
In Part 29, we will pick up here.