Tag Archives: Matthew

The Jewish Gospel, Part 2

studying-talmudBut the way Boaz teaches this lesson teaches us something about Biblical sufficiency. The idea of sufficiency is that the Bible is all that we need to understand the Bible. That’s not exactly true. While the plain meaning of the text does teach us something about Jesus and who we are as Christians, an understanding of early Jewish thought, writings, and midrash, shows us that the text contains a deeper meaning, one that would elude us if we ignored the extra-Biblical understanding of how an early Jewish audience would have comprehended these verses and associated them with other parts of the Bible. Sola scriptura isn’t quite the beginning and end of how we can understand the Word of God.

We may call the Bible “sufficient” and it is, but it can be more “complete” only when we reinsert the Jewishness of its overall context and include both Jewish perspective and Jewish midrashic thought into our understanding.

That is some of my commentary from yesterday’s morning meditation (If you haven’t done so already, please click the link and read part 1 before continuing here) based on First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) founder and director Boaz Michael’s “Moses in Matthew” presentation. The original lecture series is a couple of years old, but it was recently released on audio CD and I’ve had the opportunity to listen to this teaching. I learned a few things from this lecture and by sharing some of it, I hope you can learn a few things, too.

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31 (NRSV)

It’s interesting that Matthew’s rendition of this event (Matthew 22:36-40) doesn’t include a more direct reference to the Shema. Many Christians imagine that Jesus replaced the 613 commandments of the Torah (though the Torah wouldn’t be formally codified in this manner for many centuries after the resurrection) with just two, thus substituting grace for the law. But that’s not how it would have sounded to Messiah’s original Jewish audience.

In yesterday’s blog post, I related the part of Boaz’s teaching illustrating how the Master (or any Jewish teacher in those days) could quote from just a single verse in a Psalm or other portions of the Tanakh (Old Testament), and his audience would immediately recall the full text of the part of scripture to which he was referring, connecting the teaching to the much wider body of words and imagery. When Jesus taught about the two greatest commandments and in Hebrew said, “Shema Yisrael” (Hear O Israel), the people listening wouldn’t have just thought of Deuteronomy 6:4-7, but to the rest of the content of that chapter as well as Deuteronomy 11 and Numbers 28 which also are part of the Shema. The reason the Pharisee who was an expert in the law agreed with Jesus so strongly is because he not only agreed with the interpretation of the immediate text under discussion, but the wider implications of how Jesus was presenting and teaching the Shema and Torah as good news and hope to Israel.

And again, Christians tend to miss this point, especially since we are (most likely) reading the text in English and not viewing it with a Jewish mindset. But the further importance of the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels being presented at the same time as Boaz’s teaching is that “retro-translating” the Greek back into a “Hebrew voice,” allows for a more “Jewish” reading of this lesson, giving us a closer look at how the ancient Jewish listeners were hearing and understanding Jesus. Even reading the Gospels in Greek would still “miss” what the ancient Jews were hearing when Jesus taught.

We can see a further connection here:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.

Matthew 7:24 (NRSV)

The two greatest commandments do not replace the Torah nor do they really condense the Torah. This teaching actually unpackages the meaning of the Shema and defines any Jewish person who has faith in God and who is zealous for the Torah to be both hearers and doers of the Word and will of God.

That’s a lot to pull out of a short discussion between Jesus and a legal expert.

the-teacherBut Boaz’s teaching is called “Moses in Matthew” and in referencing Matthew chapters 1 and 2, he says that it was the Apostle’s intent to mirror the birth and childhood narratives of Jesus with Moses. That may not be immediately obvious to the Christian reader, which is why lectures such as this one are so important.

I won’t go into all of the details (since my notes are limited) but making the connection requires some knowledge of Jewish midrash (Maybe books such as those written by Daube and Lachs would help) about the early life of Moses and his parents, information that isn’t available in the Bible (and Bible sufficiency proponents will likely struggle at this point). But Jesus’s audience would have been aware of some form of the midrashim connected to the early life of Moses, and when reading how Matthew wrote about the early life of Jesus, Boaz believes Matthew’s audience would be saying to themselves, “I’ve heard this story before.”

As an aside, I just read Dr. Michael L. Brown’s review of David Klinghoffer’s book Why the Jews Rejected Jesus in which Dr. Brown writes the following:

Klinghoffer fails to grasp the depth of Matthew’s hermeneutic (along with the hermeneutic of other NT authors), noting, “Pointing out the imprecision of proof texts like these, one feels almost unsporting. It’s too easy” (66). To the contrary, as top Matthew scholars have observed, “Matthew was not above scattering items in his Greek text whose deeper meaning could only be appreciated by those with a knowledge of Hebrew. Indeed, it might even be that Matthew found authorial delight in hiding ‘bonus points’ for those willing and able to look a little beneath the gospel’s surface.”3 At times it is clear that Klinghoffer simply failed to get the NT author’s point (see again 66, citing Matt 2:23 and Isa 11:1).

Boaz Michael’s perspective on Matthew’s Gospel is not in isolation. Now to continue with the main portion of my missive.

Please keep in mind that the point isn’t whether or not midrash is literally true. It probably isn’t. But the cultural context of the midrashim and what it means to a Jewish audience is what connects and binds the interpretive stories about Moses to the stories Matthew was telling about the young Jesus and his family.

Boaz went on in his teaching to compare the temptation accounts in Luke 4 and Matthew 4. They’re not the same. Matthew includes specific details that Luke leaves out, such as the Master fasting for forty days and forty nights. That specific time period (as opposed to just forty days) is mentioned only four times in the Bible, and three of those events are related to fasts (Elijah’s fast is one of them). How could Matthew’s readers not associate Jesus’s fast in the wilderness with that of Moses on the Mountain with God. It is further said in midrash that Moses dined on the bread of angels on the Mountain (somewhat contradicting that he was fasting) and in Matthew’s account of the temptation, the Adversary said that Jesus could command stones to become bread.

The order of the temptations is reversed from Luke to Matthew, with Matthew’s account presenting Jesus being taken to a high mountain and shown all the nations as the last temptation. Just before Moses’s death, God took him to a high mountain and showed him all of the nation of Israel.

(You might be thinking that these comparisons aren’t very strong, but it’s the way Matthew is writing his entire Gospel that provides the complete illustration of Messiah and Moses. The Gospels differ from each other, not because the Gospel writers were inconsistent, but because they each had a different emphasis on Messiah to present, like four different artists each painting a different portrait of Messiah. Same guy but different styles and interpretations.)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain…

Matthew 5:1

When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him…

Matthew 8:1

In between these two events, Yeshua (Jesus) delivered what has come to be called “the Sermon on the Mount.” It might surprise you to hear that Boaz believes Jesus going up the mountain and then coming back down can be compared to Moses going up to receive the Torah and coming back down. That probably sounds a little thin to you, but consider the function of the sermon itself. It’s been called the greatest distillation of the Torah. Moses ascended the mountain to receive the Torah and descended to deliver it to Israel. Jesus ascended the mountain to teach the Torah and descended when he had finished.

Also, when Moses descended, he encountered the faithless Children of Israel worshiping the Golden Calf. When Jesus descended, he encountered a leper (actually, a Jewish man with a form of “spiritual skin disease”) who through faith was made clean of his disease. There’s a “mirror effect” being created between Moses and Jesus by Matthew for his readers.

Now here’s something really interesting.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

Matthew 5:17-18

Torah at SinaiAnyone involved in either the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots groups for more than five minutes will recognize this passage as the core message of those two movements. Yes the Torah will pass away, but not until Heaven and Earth pass away. Now here’s the really cool part.

Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Matthew 24:34-35

The words of the Torah will pass away at some point in the future, but Messiah says that his words will never pass away.

The Torah is greatly praised both in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and in the New Testament but if you study the Torah, a great deal of its content has to do with daily living in Israel, daily human living on earth. All of that will eventually fade away after a long, long period of time.

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Revelation 21:22-27

With no temple currently existing in Jerusalem, most Christians think the Torah has already been done away with and been replaced by Christ’s grace, but I believe another temple will be built. It would be impossible to observe the laws related to the temple without the Torah being in effect for the Jewish people. We know that the Gentile nations will be required to send representatives to Jerusalem to observe Sukkot every year in the Messianic Era. Again, observing the festival requires a temple in Jerusalem and the laws of the Torah for temple worship. Jesus said the Torah will be with us as long as there are a heaven and earth. Eventually there will be no Torah and no Temple, but we aren’t there yet. But even when we get there, the words of the Lamb will remain, for they are eternal.

All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.

Psalm 86:9, 11

I’ve said in today’s “meditation” as I’ve said many times before, that the Torah remains and functions. It remained and functioned after Christ’s ascension and in the days of James, Peter, and Paul. In order for prophesy to be fulfilled, the Torah needs to remain in force for the Jewish people until all has been completed and as long as there is a heaven and an earth.

But if you’re a Christian reading this, you’re probably wondering what that means to you. Even if you’re willing to accept the continued authority of the Torah for the Jewish people (a big “if” for many Christians), what does it have to do with a believer who isn’t Jewish?

There’s a great deal in even a surface reading of the Torah that has to do with a Christian living a holy life. All of the principles upon which we live a life of faith are from Torah; caring for the disadvantaged, feeding the hungry, comforting the widow, helping a neighbor, visiting the sick…these are all from Torah and they all apply to Christians today.

Boaz said that the heart of discipleship is to study the teachings of our Master and to apply those parts of the teachings that directly connect to us to our daily living. Remember, Jesus primarily taught to Jewish audiences who were perceiving his teachings from a Jewish worldview. Paul was the primary agent responsible for taking those Jewish teachings and crafting them in a manner “digestible” to a God-fearing Gentile audience.

The first discourse Paul gave at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:13-43) was a teaching of Jesus the Messiah as the culmination of Jewish history condensed (and most likely summarized by Luke) by the Apostle and presented to Jewish and God-fearing Gentile listeners. Their response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

messiah-prayerBut as time passed, the message of the good news of Messiah became increasingly “Gentilized” and eventually divorced from its Jewish context. Even those Christian scholars who can read the New Testament in the Greek can easily miss the “Hebrew voice” of the Apostles and thus lose a great deal of their intent and meaning.

Which is why teachings such as this one given by Boaz Michael are important. It’s why studying midrash and Jewish thought are exceptionally helpful in augmenting our understanding of the Bible.

The value of the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements for non-Jewish believers is to teach us the Torah and how to read it in relation to the New Testament scriptures. It’s to help us filter the Bible through the eyes of Jewish thinkers, writers, and sages. It’s to encourage us to think outside the traditional Christian “box,” not to turn us into quasi-Jewish people, but to define and illuminate the Christian relationship to the Jewish people, the chosen ones of God, and thus to Messiah himself, the first-born son of Israel.

If you are intrigued but unfamiliar with the perspectives I’ve been discussing in yesterday’s and today’s blog posts, I encourage you to go to First Fruits of Zion and see what else they have to offer. As a fellow Christian and student of the Bible, I’ve found many of their materials invaluable in my own exploration of my faith.

Who is the Jewish Jesus and how does a “Jewish” understanding of the scriptures make us better Christians? It’s a journey I hope you’ll join me on as we investigate this “undiscovered country,” including the Jewish Gospel of Matthew.

The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and Other Mysteries

midnight-good-evilWhy are we here?

This, the mother of all questions, is addressed in turn by the various streams of Torah thought, each after its own style.

The Talmud states, simply and succinctly, “I was created to serve my Creator.” The moralistic-oriented works of Mussar describe the purpose of life as the refinement of one’s character traits. The Zohar says that G-d created us “in order that His creations should know Him.” Master Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria offered the following reason for creation: G-d is the essence of good, and the nature of good is to bestow goodness. But goodness cannot be bestowed when there is no one to receive it. To this end, G-d created our world — so that there should be recipients of His goodness.

Chassidic teaching explains that these reasons, as well as the reasons given by other kabbalistic and philosophical works, are but the various faces of a singular divine desire for creation, as expressed in the various “worlds” or realms of G-d’s creation. Chassidism also offers its own formulation of this divine desire: that we “Make a home for G-d in the material world.”

“The World a Home”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

If you are a traditional Christian, the above-quoted set of paragraphs may present words and concepts with which you are not familiar. Most people have heard of the Talmud, but the Zohar as the primary text for Kabbalah, the prevalent form of Jewish Mysticism in the world today, may be rather alien to you. If you have heard of them, chances are you haven’t heard anything good. Not because Jewish mysticism is inherently bad, but because it is a trail that leads away from the Bible and particularly strays from the good news of Jesus Christ.

But in holding those views, Christians tend to forget that we also have a rich mystic heritage or for that matter, that “Kabbalah was popular among Christian intellectuals during the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods, who reinterpreted its doctrines to fit into their Christian dogma” (from Judaism 101: Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism). There is even a suggestion that modern Christians can study Kabbalah and still remain within the tenets of the faith.

Granted, that opinion is controversial, but the fact that someone can even ask such a question presents us with the possibility that Jewish mysticism is a relevant subject of study for a follower of Jesus.

No, I don’t consider myself a mystic, although I have done a bit of research and am fond of the tales of the Chassidim, many of which involve mystic themes. I consider mystic stories as a sort of metaphor or even poetic expression, not to (necessarily) be taken literally, but rather as tales or fables that teach a moral or ethical principle. I’m also fond of the writings of Paul Philip Levertoff who, as a Chassidic Jew who came to faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, retained his unique point of view as a Chassid and wrote of the Master from a “mystic perspective” that I believe sheds illumination on many mysteries surrounding Moshiach (I’m particularly fond of Love and the Messianic Age which I previously reviewed).

But I’m not writing this meditation today to advocate for Jewish mysticism.

Church tradition holds that Matthew wrote the first gospel. According to Papias, “Matthew compiled the oracles of the Lord in the Hebrew language, and each [subsequent gospel writer] interpreted them as best he could.” This implies that the original gospel written by Matthew may have been a sayings-gospel, something akin to the Gospel of Thomas, which consists of a catalogue of sayings attributed to Yeshua, completely disconnected from any narrative context. Eusebius says that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew just before leaving the holy land…

According to tradition, Matthew composed his Hebrew Gospel for the benefit of disciples he left behind in Judea…

Unfortunately, the original gospel Matthew composed has been lost. The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew mentioned by Papias and Eusebius is not the same as our canonical Matthew. Our Gospel of Matthew represents a somewhat later stage of development.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Commentary on “The First Voyage of Thomas”
from the readings for Torah Portion Vayak’hel (“He gathered”)
Torah Club Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

What I am writing about today is the relevancy of extra-Biblical texts and information sources as part of studying the Bible and educating ourselves as disciples of Christ.

Pretty strange notion, huh?

gospel-of-thomasNot really. So far in my study of the Torah Club, my understanding of the Book of Acts and the journeys of Paul and his companions to spread the gospel message “first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles” has been enhanced and elucidated by the historical and scholarly information Lancaster has added to his commentaries. How can we understand what Paul, James, Peter, and the other apostles were experiencing and comprehend their actions if we allow ourselves to remain ignorant of the cultures, societies, laws, mores, and other information historians and other academicians have gleaned over the centuries of the world of first-century Judaism and the spread of early Christianity into the world outside of Jerusalem?

The Gospel of Thomas was mentioned earlier and what we know of it strongly suggests that it not be considered a reliable source of information about the early apostolic “adventures” into the lands to the east of Israel or any other parts of the world. Nevertheless, these documents exist and it would be irresponsible of us to ignore their study, even if for no other reason than to confirm or refute their accuracy.

Tales of a Hebrew (more likely Aramaic) language version of the Gospel of Matthew have been in circulation for a very long time, but we must remember that not one shred of physical, tangible evidence in the form of Matthew’s early gospel document or fragment thereof has been produced to confirm it ever existed. It’s not that it can’t have existed since the writings of Papias and Eusebius offer some support, and certainly the possibility fires the imagination, but even in the community of faith, we must separate established fact from wishful thinking.

But there are tremendous gaps in our knowledge base regarding the first century and the “acts of the apostles.” Can Paul and his small body of companions have been solely responsible for the spread of the gospel message of Christ to all of the Gentile lands? Did Luke only record a small sample of what really happened, who else was sent out, where they went, what they did, and the communities of the Messiah they established in the four corners of the then-civilized world?

So history, archaeology, literature, and similar bodies of study should all be considered valid information sources to add to our collection of methods by which we understand the world of the apostles and the prophets and well as the Word of God. But what about speculation such as an early Hebrew or Aramaic gospel of Matthew?

Lancaster’s endnote (18) for the above-referenced commentary on the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew states (TCv6, pg 581):

This original Hebrew Gospel of Matthew is not the same as our Greek, canonical Matthew, though the latter may be a Greek adaptation of Matthew’s original Hebrew manuscript. On the other hand, most synoptic-gospel scholars agree that canonical Matthew is an adaption from the Greek of the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of Matthew cannot be both a Greek translation of the original Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and a redaction of the Gospel of Mark. Canonical Matthew does contain non-Markan elements, some in common with Luke, and quite a bit that is unique to Matthew alone, but for the most part, Matthew seems to depend upon Mark as his primary source. This does not preclude the likely possibility, however, that the author of canonical Matthew had Hebrew Matthew in hand to consult and compare with Mark. Perhaps the Gospel of Matthew bears that name because its author used Hebrew Matthew as one of his sources.

Recent attempts to identify “Shem-Tov Matthew” as Matthew’s original Hebrew Gospel are not founded on good scholarship.

hebrew-matthew-shem-tovIn case you missed it, one of the things Lancaster (and many other scholars besides) suggests is that Gospel of Matthew may not have actually been written by the Matthew we see in the gospels. However, the main point is that without concrete evidence, we can only speculate about a “Hebrew Matthew” gospel. We can’t say that it ever really existed or if it did, what it might have said.

Still, it is compelling and it at least opens the door to the possibility that one day such a “Hebrew Matthew” (or some fragment) may appear. If it does, we don’t have to be completely shocked.

But that’s still a far cry from mysticism. Are mystic writings and philosophy ever a valid study for a “true believer?” For that matter, what is “mysticism?” According to Merriam-Webster.com:

  1. the experience of mystical union or direct communion with ultimate reality reported by mystics
  2. the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight)

When we pray, it is as if we are trying to draw God down to us in whatever place we happen to be, so that we can experience Him, encounter Him, speak to Him. In a mystic experience, it’s as if we are trying to elevate ourselves to connect to God where God is.

That’s probably one of the reasons that I don’t dive deeply into the mystic realms. I’m afraid it’ll work and I’ll suddenly find myself confronted with mysteries and powers beyond my ability to comprehend or even tolerate. I think most religious people are more comfortable with some sort of veil or barrier between themselves (ourselves) and an infinite, all-powerful, all-creative, awesome, majestic, uniquely, radically One God!

Or to use Boaz Michael’s introduction to the Love and the Messianic Age Commentary as one possible response:

Love and the Messianic Age is not a book that will appeal to everyone. It is not easy reading. It deals with large abstract theological concepts in a short summary form. Levertoff’s language is terse, densely packed, and often as cryptic as the sources he’s citing.

Kabbalistic literature is, generally speaking, comparable to a large, sprawling city with many treacherous back-alleys, dangerous neighborhoods, and sudden, unexpected dead-ends. Even with a good map and a good sense for direction, the visitor is likely to find himself lost and confused and may easily stray into a bad part of town. Rather than trying to find your way through this maze-like metropolis on your own, we recommend you follow a reliable guide. Paul Philip Levertoff is just such a guide.

Assuming you’re not a true mystic and devoted or even driven to extend yourself beyond the mortal plane of existence and to, like Paul tells of (supposedly) himself, be caught up to the third heaven…caught up to paradise” in order to “hear things that cannot be told, which man may not utter,” mystic writings, as I mentioned before, can be treated as metaphor, allegory, and as morality tales based on Jewish and Christian concepts that illustrate something we otherwise would find more difficult to comprehend. Mystic writings can also encompass speculation, debate, discussion on matters of God, Divinity, Messiah, and Heavenly realms that we might not have a language to describe in any other manner.

It is the world that exists beyond our own and for which we have no proof or even faith to understand. Mysticism gives us permission to talk about what otherwise would be unmentionable, those thoughts and feelings that exist only behind a shadowy glass, a darkened mirror, that we know we should not inquire after, but that for some people, are completely irresistible.

ezekiels-visionEzekiel had his mystic experience. So did Paul and John (see the Book of Revelation). It was Levertoff who read the Gospel of John and said that he could not understand how Christians were able to comprehend those writings since John’s Gospel was so much like the mystic Chassidic texts on which he had been raised and educated.

Speculation into additional or extra-Biblical texts isn’t evil and neither is an investigation into mysticism. They both have their benefits and values but they (especially mysticism) are also full of landmines and trap doors. As Michael wrote, trying to navigate the maze of the mystics is “comparable to a large, sprawling city with many treacherous back-alleys, dangerous neighborhoods, and sudden, unexpected dead-ends.” If you don’t know what you’re doing or you don’t have a capable guide, it’s easy to get lost, abandoned, mugged, beaten, and left for dead on some dark and foggy dead-end street that is more akin to a Constantinople back alley of a hundred years ago or a story narrated by Rod Serling.

If you’re not sure, then don’t go there. If you’re willing to risk it, there is some possibility of reward, but there are no guarantees.

But there’s something compelling about a mystery. There’s a bit of the siren’s call in going beyond the well-known neighborhoods and breaching good judgment and common sense. The Bible must be the tangible foundation for everything we know and believe about our faith but having said that, it doesn’t mean we are confined only to a single concrete slab. As long as we keep a foot on solid rock, we may sometimes take the risk to putting the other outside, perhaps as Paul did, or John, or Ezekiel, and seeing what lies beyond.

Sometimes it’s a fool’s errand, and sometimes it’s part of the strange path we must walk in answering the call to encounter God.

How else can we answer questions like, Why are we here?

Don’t take the world and its darkness so seriously—it is not as real as it feigns to be. It is only a creation, and it is being re-created out of absolutely nothing at every moment.

The only thing real about it is its purpose of being—that you should purify it.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Serious Darkness”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

What about me? Actually, I’m a pretty cautious fellow. I don’t like to go off the beaten path all that often. But every once in a while, just a like a certain home-loving Bilbo Baggins, the Took family character takes over and I go off on a small, mysterious adventure.

The Messiah’s Father

It’s striking, then, that the Gospels explain that Jesus was not from David’s house, nor a male descendent of any but God, as he was born of a virgin. I’ve already explained it is anathema to Judaism for the divine to be in any way mortal or otherwise individuated as a human man. But if we set this stricture aside and take the Gospels at face value, already it seems they have contradicted the prophecies.

Some Christians have explained that Mary was from the bloodline of King David, but the Gospels of Matthew and Luke both specifically trace Jesus’ genealogy to David through Joseph. Not only that, even if Mary was descended from David, Jewish law traces genealogy paternally. Jesus still would not qualify as the messiah, at leat by the standard set by the prophecies he was supposed to fulfill.

-Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
“Chapter 30: A Davidic Messiah?” (pg 173)
Kosher Jesus

I’ve already written my review of Rabbi Boteach’s book, but questions remain. This one is a doozy, at least for me. I’m sure some New Testament scholar can easily brush away the Rabbi’s objections to the lineage of Jesus, but I have no way of evaluating his words except at face value. My understanding of the genealogies of Jesus provided in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, is that they establish that Jesus is a male heir of the throne of David, but Rabbi Boteach says the opposite. He states in his book that both of these genealogies actually prove that Jesus could not be a proper descendant of David and thus, he could not possibly fulfill the Messianic prophesies. It means that Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah; the Christ, as we have been taught in the Christian church.

That’s pretty disturbing, but as I said, I’m sure New Testament scholars can resolve this apparently iron-clad supposition that Rabbi Boteach offers…can’t they?

Before answering, let’s have a look at the offending passages, including Rabbi Boteach’s remarks about each one.

Boteach states (pg 174): Matters are further complicated by the fact that the genealogies in Matthew and Luke contradict one another. They even disagree regarding which branch of David’s descendants Jesus came from. Matthew says he was from Solomon’s line…

Throughout his book, Boteach quoted from the NIV Bible when referencing any New Testament text, but I’ll be using the ESV translation:

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah… –Matthew 1:1-6

Rabbi Boteach emphasized (as I did above) the fact that Jesus is, according to Matthew, descended from David through Solomon. Here’s more of the Rabbis’ comments:

Matthew concludes his genealogy by linking David and Solomon with Jesus: “And Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.” (pg 174)

Now Boteach turns to Luke’s genealogy of Jesus:

Luke differs, claiming that Jesus was of Nathan’s line (pg 174):

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David… –Luke 3:23-31

I’ve added Boteach’s emphasis again, which he uses as proof that neither genealogy could be used to establish Jesus as the Messiah. He cites 1 Chronicles 22:9-10 to immediately dismiss Luke’s genealogy of Jesus, since it clearly states that the Messiah will be descended from David through Solomon (though for some odd reason, Boteach continues to use the NIV translation rather than the JPS or Stone Edition of the Tanakh). Luke clearly has Jesus being descended from David through Nathan, rather than Solomon, as is required according to Boteach, so that, as they say, is that.

Yet Boteach says that Matthew’s genealogy also disproves the “Messiahship” of Jesus because of verse 17:

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

To make this neat numerological passage fit so that there are “fourteen generations” between these three epic events, Boteach says that Matthew had to remove any mention of four kings that should be in the line between Solomon and Jesus, given how Matthew has structured his list: Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah, and Jehoiakim. Once these four kings are added back into the genealogy, there’s a big problem.

Boteach continues (pg 176):

Elsewhere in the Bible it is made clear that Jeconiah is the son of Jehoiakim, as in Jeremiah here it is written, “…when he carried Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” (Jeremiah 27:20 NIV) Sickened by the idolatrous and blasphemous misbehavior of Jeconiah, God curses him and all of his descendents. God specifically vows that “none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.” (Jeremiah 22:30 NIV)

If Jesus was indeed descended from Jeconiah, he is included in the curse and forbidden from being the King Messiah as described in the Hebrew Bible. Both New Testament genealogies therefore disqualify Jesus from being the messiah: Luke because the messiah must come from Solomon, and Matthew because he must not come from Jeconiah.

This may be a common argument used by Jewish anti-missionaries and for all I know, these genealogical problems may have long since been laid to rest by Christian respondents, but I don’t know that for a fact. There’s a lot that I don’t know, which I suppose is what Rabbi Boteach is counting on in his Christian audience. On the other hand, for all I know, he may have just delivered a devastating blow to Christian claims of Jesus being the Messiah based on Matthew’s and Luke’s lists. If Boteach has, in fact, effectively proven that Jesus cannot be the Messiah as the church states, then he has unraveled the very fabric of Christian faith in Jesus as the Moshiach. Being the Messiah is inexorably tied to Jesus being the Son of the Most High God, Savior of the world, and the one upon whom all our hopes are laid. If Jesus is not the Messiah; the Christ, then he isn’t anything else the church counts on for the salvation of our souls.

Since I can’t answer Boteach’s challenge, perhaps you can. How can we look at the genealogies listed by both Matthew and Luke and say that they really do prove Jesus is the Messiah? The comments box is now open and ready.