In Search of the Jewish Voice of Jesus

Kohen GadolThe Maharal, zt”l, explains the mechanics of idolatry. “Our sages teach that a Jew who gives charity on condition that his son recover from illness is a complete tzaddik. Conversely, charity given by a non-Jew on condition is meaningless. The gemara explains that even if the child does not recover, the Jew will not want his money back, but the non-Jew will want a refund. To understand why, we must delve into the reason why people worshiped idolatry. They desired to excel in something, be it war, love, or the like. Idolatry meant only acting in a way that they held strengthened their goal. It is no wonder that an average idolater who gave money on this condition would demand a refund if the child did not recover. He only gave charity as a fee in the hopes that his son will heal. If this didn’t provide excellent results, it was a waste of money from his perspective.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Dust of the Remains”
Chullin 125

By God’s divine providence, I “accidentally” took in my hand a New Testament, which for many long years I had left unnoticed in a hidden corner – a book which I had, in vexation, taken from a Jewish teacher thirty-three years before, in order that he might not read it.

I began to turn over its leaves and to read.

-Rabbi Ignatz (Isaac) Lichtenstein (1824-1909)
District Rabbi of Tapioszele, Hungry
As quoted in Messiah Journal, Issue 108/Fall 2011
“A Christian’s Guide to the DHE”

Let’s say you are a Christian who has an interest in Judaism, as it is the source of your faith. Strange, I know, but let’s pretend. Let’s say that, out of your interest and curiosity, you have taken to reading the traditional weekly Torah Portions which are recited each Shabbat in every Jewish synagogue in the world. You may even read some of the Jewish commentaries on these readings and, as time passes, you may discover yourself picking up on the rhythm of Jewish thinking and start seeing the “Old Testament” through new and illuminated eyes.

Then you return to reading the New Testament. By now, you are very familiar with the teachings of Jesus and the letters of Paul. Strangely, they seem a little stale to you. This is not because Christ is stale and not even because your faith is beginning to become a little tired, but because you cannot detect what most assuredly was a Jewish voice coming from the “Son of Man”, the offspring of Miriam (Mary), a late Second Temple period Jewish virgin who had an extraordinary encounter with an angel one day (Luke 1:26-38). When you read the Gospels and the Epistles, you hear the voice of your Gentile Christian Sunday school teacher and your Gentile Christian church Pastor. These are very good and kind men and you value their service to the faith very much.

But something is missing.

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gavri’el to the Galil, to a certain town named Netzeret, to a virgin who was betrothed to a man named Yosef from the house of David. The virgin’s name was Miryam. The angel entered the room and said to her, ‘Shalom to you, gracious woman! HaShem is with you! {You are blessed among women.}” {When she saw him,} she was alarmed by his statement and said in her heart, “What is this brachah?” The angel said,

Do not fear, Miryam, because you have found favor before God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you shall name him Yeshua. He will be great, and he will be called the son of the Highest. HaShem, God, will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Ya’akov forever. There will be no end to his kingdom.

Miryam said to the angel, “How can this be? I have not known a man.” The angel answered and said to her,

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. Therefore, the one that is born will be called holy – the son of God. Look! Your relative Elisheva, whom people have called barren, is also pregnant and will bear a son in her old age. This is her sixth month. For nothing is perplexing to God.

Miryam said, “I am the maidservant of HaShem. Let it be for me according to your word.” And the angel left her. -Luke 1:26-38 (DHE Gospels)

Is that more like it? No, it’s not an English Bible with a couple of “Hebrewisms” thrown in to make it sound “Jewish”. It’s much more than that.

In 1873 the British and Foreign Bible Society commissioned Franz Delitzsch to prepare a translation of the New Testament into Hebrew. Delitzsch agreed and set to work utilizing his extensive knowledge of mishnaic Hebrew and first century Judaism to create a translation and reconstruction of the Greek text back into an original Hebrew voice. His reconstructing translation was completed in 1877. After the first edition, it went through extensive review and revision for the next 13 years. The final edition was published in 1890 under the care and supervision of Gustav Dalman. Sixty thousand copies were distributed for free throughout Europe resulting in tens of thousands of Jewish people coming to know Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel.

Those Jewish believers and their influences are the very embers that have ignited this modern day hope and revival.

Since that time the Delitzsch NT has continued its good work through a series of reprints by various missions to the Jews. It is our honor to work alongside this great man of God and bring all of his wisdom, scholarship and vision to today’s people of God in a fresh and relevant way. We pray that it will allow even more Jewish people to engage in the life giving words of Yeshua.

From the introduction to the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels
by Vine of David

This Bible, which has been faithfully reproduced by Vine of David and enhanced with many new features isn’t meant to be the perfect English translation of the Gospels. Originally, it was the testamony of the writers of the Gospels, reconstructed back into its original Hebrew “voice” so that the words of Jesus (Yeshua) could be more clearly perceived by 19th (and now 21st) century Jews. This isn’t an easy task because, as you read in the prior quote from Daf Yomi Digest, matters related to non-Jewish worship are not considered to operate on the same level as observant Jewish piety. On the other hand, you also read words from the heart of a 19th century Rabbi who, accessing no special edition of the New Testament, nevertheless found the Jewish Messiah. To continue reading from Rabbi Lichtenstein:

An accomplished lady who was conversing with me exclaimed, when her arguments had all been met, “He is everything great, everything noble, if only he were not called Jesus Christ.”

Ironically, the name revered by Christians across 2,000 years is, for good reason, feared and reviled throughout Judaism and it is that name, not who he is or what he teaches, that separates the great “Maggid of Netzeret” from the vast majority of his people, the Jews, in today’s modern world. Rabbi Lichtenstein describes his own perceptions in this area:

As impressions of early life take a deep hold, and as in my riper years I still had no cause to modify these impressions, it is no wonder that I came to think that Christ himself was the plague and curse of the Jews, the origin and promoter of our sorrows and persecutions. In this conviction, I grew to years of manhood, and still cherishing it, I became old. I knew no difference between true and merely nominal Christianity. Of the fountainhead of Christianity itself, I knew nothing.

Most Jews come to know Christianity not from Christ but from his followers, both those in the here and now, and those who have cursed, harrassed, persecuted, and killed the Jewish people for hundreds upon hundreds of years. It is a miracle of God that even a single Jew in all that time, and to this very day, has ever come to faith in Jesus and called himself a disciple of the Master. Certainly Rabbi Ignatz Lichtenstein was the beneficiary of one such miracle in 1884 when he become enthralled with the New Testament and devoted his life to being a disciple of Yeshua.

But what about you, “hypothetical” Christian, who longs to also hear the Jewish voice of Jesus? If now there exists an edition of the Gospels that will allow you to hear Jesus as less evangelical Christian and more Jewish Rabbi, why should you desire to hear words that were written for a Jew? The article “A Christian’s Guide to the DHE” in Messiah Journal addresses your concerns.

Reading the DHE is important for Christians because it places the Gospels back in their proper context. The Messiah came as a Jewish man to the Jewish people in the land of Israel. This was no accident. Rather, this was the setting that the Father specifically chose to reveal his truth and his plan of salvation.

The implication is rather startling. If God chose to provide His plan for the salvation of the non-Jewish people of the earth in the form of a First Century itinerent Jewish Rabbi, born of working-class parents in a small rural town in a Roman occupied nation, are you going to be able to completely understand the message of that plan and hear the entire intent of God by reading a traditional English translation of the Bible? Yes, you can buy a Chumash and a Tanakh to immerse yourself in the pool of Jewish learning in the Torah, Prophets, and the Writings, but you are missing an important, some might even say “crucial” element in reconstructing the ancient Jewish presence of the Word of God.

The Death of the MasterJewish men like Rabbi Lichtenstein and Paul Philip Levertoff encountered Jesus at great risk and yet accepted that risk, which included being rejected by family, friends, and the entire Jewish community, in order to connect to the tzadik God made most great in all the world, who is revealed not only a Rabbi and Prophet, but as “the Prophet” and the Moshiach. You, as a Christian, may end up taking a bit of criticism from your Sunday school teacher, your Pastor, even your parents and spouse, because you are called to hear a voice few of them will ever perceive. But having once heard that voice, how can you ignore it? No, you can’t. He’s calling to you.

You are not alone. You are not without directions in which to turn. There are others who walk the same path as you. The DHE Gospels can let you hear the Jewish voice of Jesus. Messiah Journal is a publication written for the Christian and the Jew who desires to meet the Jewish Messiah. You can go beyond where you are now in understanding the author of the faith in your heart. The subtle nuances and the “hidden” message in the words of Jesus and the Gospel writers do not have to go unnoticed. You can find them. Hopefully this review has helped you know where to look.

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9 thoughts on “In Search of the Jewish Voice of Jesus”

  1. This is a good word. I’ve been looking for a way to reach out to those who have been so hurt by Christians that they refuse to even consider Jesus. Not just Jewish people either.

    Thanks for opening up a new and different opportunity to talk about our Lord.

  2. That Lichtenstein was Jewish and came to faith is a miracle. That he did so as a Lithuanian rabbi is an even greater miracle (Lithuania was the hub of the traditional Yeshiva world before the Holocaust). That he did so by opening his mind to a standard NT text is incredible; I crack open a KJV today and continually fight the translator to find the Jewishness. To paraphrase him, he said he examined the book expecting thorns and found roses. I remember years ago browsing on Wikipedia, and the article was always getting submitted for deletion, because members of Wikiproject Judaism doubted that he could have been real (haha). Lichtenstein continued to serve as a rabbi, even expounding on his Messianic belief from the pulpit, though eventually he had to step down. It was, understandably, too much for the community.

    This is a quibble, but I’m not sure if Yeshua could be called a Rabbi in the typical sense; we know so little about his early life, but it seems obvious he was not a card-carrying member of the Pharisaic establishment. You refer to him as the “Maggid of Nazareth”, and I like that, because it rings true. A Maggid is an itinerant teacher well-versed in Torah, which is (part of) what Yeshua was.

    I’m definitely going to get a copy of the DHE. May it be a blessing to Jews, Christians, and interfaith dialog between both.

  3. No worries, Andrew. At the points in the Gospels where Jesus is called “teacher”, some translations express as “Rabbi” or “Rabboni”. What was actually said in Hebrew or Aramaic, we may never know, but then, we are looking for the sense of the words as well as the words themselves. In the end, all glory and honor will come to the man who was once a humble Maggid.

  4. Shalom James (or should I call you “Ya’akov”),

    I found your article very refreshing and a great testimony to the amazing work of the scholars at Vine of David and First Fruits of Zion! As a Jewish man who is a follower of Yeshua, I have found Delitzsch’s retro-translation into Hebrew to be a very fasicinating read, and I have also marveled at the breadth of his knowledge of traditional texts. Now, to be able to share that with my fellow brothers and sisters in Messiah (and hopefully with many more who will come to know their Messiah) is a tremendous blessing. I really liked how you expressed your enthusiasm for hearing the Gospels in their Jewish context. Great article!

    rav brachos,

    Yisroel Levitt

  5. another ‘hypothetical’ Christian here who longed to hear the Master’s Jewish voice…..

    thanks, James, for this good meditation. have printed off part of it to share as God directs.

    Rabbi Lichtenstein is not alone as a Jew who read a KJV translation and understood Who was speaking to him. The Holy Spirit draws such men and women’s spirits, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and truth and He, as a Father and Saviour, never lets them (us) down. He never gives a stone to those who hunger for living bread. interesting sidelight is that Lichtenstein has, in German, both the words ‘Light” and ‘stone’ in it…..

    i tried to order the DHE gospels and somehow the order via phone got botched. but then a very short time later, i received a notice that Dan Gruber (Lion of Judah, Elijah press; a serious follower of Messiah, and a born Jew himself) had finished his translation and published THE MESSIANIC WRITINGS. This is the entire NT written from the Jewish voice and really quite remarkable. so i feel blessed now to have this because it goes even further than the four Gospels, right to ‘the end’.

  6. @Yisroel Levitt: “James” is fine since in a traditional Jewish synagogue, I wouldn’t merit a Hebrew name. Thanks for the complement. I really appreciate your stopping by and reading my blog.

    Yes, I agree that the DHE Gospels are a remarkable work and FFOZ/VOD has been very diligent and dedicated to serving God in bringing us this document, complete with many additional features to help both Jews and Gentiles connect with the Jewish Messiah.

    @Louise: I can’t say I’m particularly familiar with Dan Gruber and Lion of Judah ministries and there’s a lack of direct information about him or his group on the web. Of course, there are so many Messianic groups of various types and flavors, that I can’t be aware of them all. I did come across something at this website about his book.

    My suggestion would be to still try and get a copy of the DHE Gospels. They have a much longer history and are not the product of one individual’s ability to translate scripture. Also, Delitzsch took the text and “retro-translated” it back into Hebrew which has then been brought back into English, so the Gospels retain much of their Hebraic texture.

    Of course, the decision is completely up to you.

    Blessings.

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