In the first installment of Christmas Thoughts, I left us hanging with a long passage from the Bible. I didn’t give the reference. I wanted the reader to think about it.
If it isn’t familiar to the reader, I wanted the reader to wonder where it might be found.
I have to admit that my inspiration came from a true story. A young Jewish man was presented the same passage and asked to identify where it was found in the Scripture. Like many of us, myself included as a young man, he wasn’t overly familiar with the Scriptures. His knee jerk reaction was that it is from the New Testament somewhere (which he hadn’t read either … but he was Jewish after all).
When he was told where the passage is located in the Bible, he was skeptical – Isaiah 53 … in the Old Testament. His next thought was, “That’s your Bible! I bet it’s not in the Tanuhk!” The Tanahk is the collection of canonical Jewish texts.
The Tanahk includes the Torah (Teaching), consisting of the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), the Nev’im (Prophets), including Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi), and the Ketuvim (Writings), consisting of the poetic books (Psalms, Proverbs and Job), the Hamesh Melligot (Five Scrolls), consisting of the Song of Songs, Book of Ruth, Book of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Book of Esther, and Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles.
In other words, the Tanahk is largely the Christian Old Testament, give or take a book here or there, depending on what canon you ascribe to, which is largely a denominational thing.
Back to the story – the Book of Isaiah is one of the Prophets. When our protagonist found a Tanakh, located the Book of Isaiah in it and compared the passage in the Tanahk to the same passage in the “Christian” Old Testament, he was shocked to find that it was virtually identical.
He was shocked because the description of the man in Isaiah obviously matches the life of the historical man we know as Jesus. The description couldn’t be more accurate … but Isaiah lived and wrote well before Jesus was born!
If you are skeptical as you read this, you certainly are not alone. So let’s take a closer look. Wikipedia summarizes the predominate views on the authorship of Isaiah.
The Book of Isaiah, as we know it, contains a superscription (editorial addition) dating it to the 8th Century BC. Skeptic scholars believe that much of it was composed later, during the Babylonian captivity and after. This theory would date the Book of Isaiah to the 6th Century BC..
Even if we accept this view of the authorship of Isaiah, Chapter 53 was written during the Babylonian exile in the 6th Century BC … Before Christ by six centuries!
One of the reasons that the Christian New Testament and the Jewish Tanahk are so similar, virtually identical, is due to the fact that Jewish scribes were so exacting in their discipline of copying the scriptural text. You might say they were religious about it. And we can thank them for that!
Still, how can we be sure, so many centuries … millennia in fact … after the writings were thought to have been generated that they are accurately translated and were not embellished at a later time … like, for instance, after Jesus lived and died. The accuracy of the description to the real man, Jesus, is uncanny … some might say suspiciously accurate.
Prior to 1947, we could not be sure. The oldest extent copy of the Masoretic Text (the canonical Hebrew/Aramaic text), dated to 935 AD. This is nearly a thousand years after Jesus. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, containing almost all the books of the Tanahk (Old Testament), including “the Great Isaiah Scroll”, a complete copy of Isaiah.
The Dead Sea Scrolls allow a comparison of the ancient text, dating before Christ, to the next oldest text over 1000 years later. And the result? There are some differences, to be sure, but the comparison proved to be remarkable.
While the Masoretic text and the Dead Sea Scrolls were transcribed a thousand years apart, they are amazingly similar proving that the copying methods employed by the Jewish scribes over the centuries were very sophisticated and successful.[i]
In fact, the Isaiah Scroll dates to 200 BC. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the Qumran caves inhabited by the Essenes, a 1st Century reclusive, Judaic community located in this area at the edge of the Dead Sea. Some of the scrolls dated far earlier than the Isaiah Scroll, but the dating of the Isaiah Scroll confirmed that the same text of Isaiah that we have today was written well before Jesus was born … at least a couple hundred years before Christ, and maybe even 600-800 years before Christ, as the text expressly states.
And that brings us back to our story again. The young Jewish man was stunned to find that his sacred Jewish scripture, unchanged from the same text in what Christians call the Old Testament, described Jesus in such accurate detail though it was written centuries before Jesus was born.
That isn’t all there is to know on the subject. Descriptions that proved true in the one man, Jesus, are scattered throughout the Tanahk (Old Testament) written centuries before he appeared, and they all claim this man that would come – the reason for the Christmas season – would be the Messiah, God’s Savior of the world. And we will explore those additional texts in future segments of Christmas Thoughts.
The post script to this “Christmas story” is that the young man’s name is Barry Leventhal, a former outside linebacker on the 1965 UCLA Rose Bowl winning football team, and, as his name suggests, Jewish. The text Isaiah 53 was the catalyst that provoked Barry Leventhal to explore the idea that the 1st Century man called Jesus might be the Messiah promised in the Tanahk. Today Dr. Leventhal, as he is now called, considers himself a “Messianic Jew” and is a Distinguished Senior Professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, North Carolina.