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The Hebrew Scriptures

How does the Old Testament speak of Jesus?

Over the next few weeks we are going to meet someone new here within the pages of the Old Testament. As he isn't always named I am going to call him The Promised One. Some call him the Messiah, but he is usually not specifically identified as such, although it's really just a matter of semantics. At Christmas time we meet him through song and sermon but we rarely get a full picture. I am going to attempt to provide a full picture and my approach is to concentrate on the key battle grounds, verses that Jewish scholars accuse Christians of hijacking and reading into them signposts to Jesus. By concentrating on the Jewish objections and dealing with them we will build up the fullest picture of this Promised One, which will enable us to see how close a fit Jesus really is. After all, the Scriptures were originally given to the Jewish people, in their language and using familiar patterns of thought and literary styles. One would expect their objections to be considered and authoritative, so we would expect to learn much through engaging with their concerns.

You probably know the story. A few hours after Jesus' Resurrection, Cleopas and his companion are strolling over to Emmaus, chattering about the awesome events of the day. Jesus appears and joins them in this discussion. They are kept from recognizing him and it is clear, from their words, that they fail to understand the reasons behind Jesus' mission. Finally Jesus turns to them ...

"And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." (Luke 24:27)

So the Scriptures spoke of him. These were, obviously, what we call the Old Testament, the only holy writ available to the Jews of Jesus' day. These were the Hebrew Scriptures, known to Jews ancient and modern as the Tanakh.

The "Complete Jewish Bible", a modern translation of the Bible, by David Stern, a Jewish Christian, acknowledges this in his take on the above verse:

"Then, starting with Moshe and all of the prophets, he explained to them the things that can be found throughout the Tanakh concerning himself."

This word is a Hebrew acronym, Tanakh, comprising of the three parts of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Torah, The Nevi'im and the Ketuvim.

The Tanakh is made up of exactly the same books as the Old Testament, but arranged differently, in the order that we consider them below.

Torah, often mistranslated as "Law", is more correctly translated as "Teachings" or "Instruction". It is made up of the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, the Five books of Moses.

Nevi'im are the prophetic books, though not necessarily the ones you would expect. Let's have a roll call:

Usual suspects: The major prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. The minor prophets - also called "the Twelve" - Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

Surprise entrants: These are the books that Christians know as the Histories - Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings and 2 Kings.

Startling omission: Daniel - surely not?

Ketuvim are the "writings", consisting of the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, ending with 1 and 2 Chronicles, the final books in the Hebrew Scriptures.

So why is the Book of Daniel, considered one of the prophetic books in the Christian Bible, not considered a prophetic book in the Jewish Bible? Why is it not in the Nevi'im, along with Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea? Was Daniel not a prophet? How strange. This is worth examining.

The Talmud, the great body of Jewish thought compiled from the 2nd Century AD, declares that there were thousands of Hebrew prophets in Biblical times, in fact twice as many as left Egypt in the Exodus, but only those with a message for future generations were considered important enough to make the master list. This list was comprised of 48 male prophets, from Abraham to Malachi and 7 female prophets, from Sarah to Esther. Apparently Daniel was on the original list, but Rashi, a highly influential 11th Century Jewish scholar, did not consider him a prophet and had him replaced.

Rashi is probably the best known commentator on the Hebrew Scriptures, so, if he had a serious objection to Daniel's inclusion on the master list, then it must have been a good one. His stated reason was that, to be qualified as a prophet, one needs to cater to the needs of people living in his time. As Daniel's prophecies were for the future, then this disqualifies him, in Rashi's view. In his commentary on the Talmud, Rashi accepts that Daniel was a prophet, but not one sent with a prophetic message for his people, in his day.

More of Daniel next week ...

Steve Maltz
June 2012

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book 'Jesus Man of Many Names')

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