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Is Jesus “Messiah ben Joseph” of Jewish mysticism?

November 23, 2015

confused-about-two-messiahsWhen I was a “Messianic Jew”, like many of my Messianic and “Hebrew Roots” coreligionists, more than anything I longed for Jewish “proofs” to support my faith in and worship of Jesus. At one point in my messianic blogging career, I remember writing a post on Messiah ben Yosef. I scoured for anything I could find in rabbinic literature about this mystical figure, all in my effort to prove that the rabbis actually believed in Jesus and even wrote about him extensively, they were just blind to him! However, I must admit today that I was not very honest in my quest. You see, dear readers, dishonesty and obfuscation are two ingredients that are absolutely necessary when one is out to employ Judaism and Jewish sources antithetical to everything Christianity stands for to uphold many of the core doctrines of Jesus-worship that make up the core of Christianity.

What I did is I simply ignored everything in my Jewish sources that made Messiah ben Yosef NOT look like Jesus and only used those details (on which I elaborated on greatly) that beared some resemblance, however remote (and it was VERY remote), to Jesus. I knew very well that I was being dishonest with my Jewish sources by avoiding mentioning things that totally blew away all my theories. But, at the time I felt that the end (greater faith in Jesus, both for myself and my audience) justified the means, since “Yeshua was true” regardless of the veracity of my “proofs”. One sees such methodology, if one can call it that, in Messianic and Evangelical circles all the time. There’s even a word for this – “pious fraud”, which is an act of counterfeiting religious or scriptural evidence (e.g. writing pseudographical letters as if from apostles) or setting up elaborate fake miracles (e.g. making statues of Mary weep or fake healings by televangelists), and it actually has a very long history in propagation of Christianity. I was participating in “pious fraud”, selectively using and misusing Jewish sources to prove things not as they were, but as I wanted them to be.

So, how much do we really know know about the so called “Messiah ben Yosef” from the Jewish sources? Let me tell you a few things about him, and you will decide for yourself if he still sounds like Jesus to you:

1. The very first instance of “Messiah ben Yosef” in Jewish literature is found in rabbinical apocalyptic literature written 250 years after Jesus was born and Christianity was already around for almost as long. Details on this mystical figure are very sparse and most of them couched in midrash, but it’s safe to conclude that everything written by rabbis about him says that Jesus couldn’t have possibly been him. There are no references to “Messiah ben Yosef” prior to that. He’s not found in the Bible either. There is very little written about this figure in rabbinic literature. In fact, it has not very well understood how this idea came about at all, apart from the fact that many messiahs (Jewish leaders anointed of G-d) were expected to arise. Then again, there are many ideas in apocalyptic Jewish literature, and hardly all of them are accepted by most Jews as fact. Many of the apocalyptic and mystical ideas have been quite outlandish and have been rejected by mainstream Judaism. (Some researchers have even argued that the very idea of a “suffering messiah” is not of a Jewish origin at all, not founded in earlier Jewish sources, but entered post-Temple Judaism from Christianity, and not the other way around).

2. He’s is called ben Yosef (and ben Ephraim) because he is said to be from the tribe of Yosef. Thus he was not a Davidic messiah descendant from David. Obviously this creates a major problem for Jesus, since the NT calls Jesus the “son of David”, traces his line to David, and says nothing of the tribe of Joseph.

3. Messiah ben Yosef is to fall in battle (some say with Gog and Magog, which obviously has not happened yet). Jesus fell in no battle but was executed by the Romans, like thousands of other Jews who shared the same gruesome fate (and are no more qualified for messianiship as the result). Some rabbinic sources also claimed that before dying Messiah ben Yosef was to gather all the children of Israel back to the land of Israel. Obviously, Jesus died and gathered no Jews back to Israel before his death, which would have been a major undertaking, considering that the Jewish Diaspora – that is Jews living outside of the Land of Israel – already constituted the majority of Jews in the first century. And not only did not Jesus gather any Jews to Israel after his death, but the religion founded upon idolatrous worship of him caused them to be scattered even farther and caused untold suffering, ultimately costing millions of Jewish lives.

4. Messiah’s ben Yosef corpse was to lie unburied in the street of Jerusalem, according to some ancient rabbis. Obviously, that couldn’t have been Jesus, since NT claims that he was buried almost immediately after his death and his body was outside of Jerusalem according to all of the gospels. Once again, no match.

5. Messiah ben David was to come and resurrect Messiah ben Yosef, and both of them will then be around after that. Obviously, it couldn’t have been Jesus since these are two different people in Jewish literature, and Christians say that it is Jesus who is coming again, not another person in his place.

When evidence is scrutinized and Jewish sources are examined in their context, it becomes apparent that Messiah ben Yosef of Jewish mysticism has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus. Not that facts really matter to those Christians whose minds are already long made up.

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2015 10:13 am

    Gene,

    The problem with your post is that it’s intellectually dishonest. Here’s why:

    There are a variety of Jewish opinions on the Messiah expressed in Rabbinic Judaism. But you dismiss the fact that there are authentic Jewish opinions recorded throughout the writings of Rabbinic Judaism that express the belief that Israel needs a Messiah who will die for the sins of Israel. These opinions exist! Yet you fail to inform your readers that these opinions exist, that it is a valid belief in Judaism to affirm that Israel needs a Messiah who can die and suffer for the sins of Israel–an atoning and suffering Messiah.

    Why can’t you admit that Scripture and the writings of Rabbinic Judaism affirm that Israel needs a Messiah who will suffer and die for the sins of Israel? Be intellectually honest and admit it.

    Shalom,

    Peter

  2. November 23, 2015 10:51 am

    Peter, I don’t dismiss any facts but tackle them head on. (Although my post above primarily deals with whether Jesus matched the mystical “Messiah ben Joseph” – which he doesn’t!). There are so many different and often diametrically opposing minor rabbinical opinions out there, that one can “prove” as “authentic Jewish” just about anything, especially when taking things out of context. Not every opinion in the Jewish world is treated as normative – most are rejected and never become part of the mainstream Judaism.

    Which is exactly what happened with the earliest Jesus sect when it was still within Judaism. They put forth their novel idea, post-factum (as the gospels themselves make clear by painting the disciples as clueless during Jesus’ lifetime), that their dead leader died vicariously for the sins of the world – an unbiblical idea, since the Bible teaches that no man would be put to death for sins of another (Ezekiel 18:20 and Jeremiah 31:30).

    This idea was rejected by Judaism, during that time and again, later too, whenever it arose again, along with many other ideas circulating at the time.

  3. remi4321 permalink
    November 23, 2015 12:57 pm

    Hi Gene, it also hit me when I was doing my last D’var. Trying my best to stretch that Yeshua was the prophet like Moses in the Tanakh. I did it, but honestly, anything that could fit what I wanted to believe was there. There was just no proofs of what I wanted to believe. I am not a Talmud expert, but there are various arguments and debates in it. If one quote for one rabbi say that the messiah will die for our sin, it does not mean it is Jesus.

    Peter, if you really want to know what the Talmud say, just read it for what it is. Don’t try to prove Jesus. That’s exactly what you (any Christian and me included when I was one) was doing. You have no intention to read the Talmud to know what is inside. You just look it up to find Jesus. In a book of that size, you will find a few things that could look like Jesus, no doubt. You may also find a few that look like Mohamed!

    That was Gene’s blog explanation. He was honestly sharing that he was not totally honest when he searched for messiah ben Joseph when he still believed in Jesus. I think that all christian do that. They only look for proofs in the Tanakh, instead of reading it for what it really is. Anything that could point to Jesus is good.

    I have a theory that explain why they do that. Worshipping a man is wrong and plainly stated in the Tanakh. Every times you read your Old testament, you arrive with nice Bible verse that warns against “new arrival” gods. Jesus fall in that category and you know it already. But you want to keep on worshipping your Jesus. You want to prove yourself that it is fine to worship him, that the “jews” are not right even if they say that you are an idol worshipper. So that’s why you search the old testament and any other literature that would prove that Jesus is the messiah. The only problem, it is still clear he is a “new arrival”, a god that the Israelites at mount Sinai did not know. Keep on being dishonest with yourself and keep on worshipping your god.

    P.S. Don’t put your fingers in your ears…. You know the truth.

  4. November 23, 2015 1:09 pm

    “In a book of that size, you will find a few things that could look like Jesus, no doubt. You may also find a few that look like Mohamed! ”

    Remi, you hit the nail on the head. People do the same with the Hebrew Bible. In fact, speaking of Mohammad, Muslims use the Jewish Bible (and the NT too) to “prove” that those books predicted Mohammad!

    For example, from Wikipedia entry:

    “18 I will raise up for them a prophet (Prophet) from among their brethren like you, and will put My words in his mouth; and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not hearken to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.” — Deuteronomy 18:18-20

    Samau’al al-Maghribi, a Jewish mathematician who converted to Islam, pointed to Deuteronomy 18:18 in his book Convincing the Jews as a prophecy fulfilled by Muhammad.[14] Samau’al argued in his book that since the children of Esau are described in Deuteronomy 2:4-6 [and in Numbers 20:14 as well] as the brethren of the children of Israel, the children of Ishmael can also be described the same way.

    So, what we have here is what has happened with many Jewish apostates throughout Jewish history (including myself!). They would adopt a new religion (Christianity or Islam) and then they would use their knowledge of the Bible and “authority” as Jews to try to convince their former coreligionists (that is Jews) that the Hebrew Bible and Judaism actually predict the new religion they converted to!

  5. November 23, 2015 1:15 pm

    Yes and with the quantity of budget that they have (tithe) and quantity of misleading website that look Jewish and evangelism budget. Jewish people should be thought more how to defend themselves. I am amazed of the quantity of Jews that have no problem converting to Yeshua.

  6. November 23, 2015 1:27 pm

    ” I am amazed of the quantity of Jews that have no problem converting to Yeshua.”

    Actually, the quantity of conversions these days is nowhere near as it was during the 70’s and 80’s. There are hardly any young halachic Jews becoming Christians these days, except small numbers in Israel. That’s from my experience.

  7. Concerned Reader permalink
    November 23, 2015 10:03 pm

    Something I think the Christians are getting at with their misquotes of the messiah ben yosef concept, (its a historically late concept btw) is that though the theology in Christianity is different from Judaism, certain thematic ideas can just arise in both faiths from reading certain verses in certain books, disagreement is a matter of degrees, as opposed to kind.

    When Christians examine aggadah, they are confused easily. its like someone is going into a bakery and asking for a chocolate chip cookie. “We have no chocolate chip cookies here, says the baker.” “what about this one here? That over there?” “Oh, that’s not a chocolate chip cookie, that’s a cookie with M&M’s in it,” is the answer they often get.

    We can have theological disagreements on the nature of G-d, Sin, etc. with the Christians, but there is enough aggadah that has been misconstrued enough times throughout history by different groups so as to have the same net result as a primitive Christianity/christology even if the road was different in getting there. Even if the Jewish concepts are thoroughly different, they have been misused the same way more than once. It becomes hard for an outsider to tell the difference between misuse and proper use in such a situation.

    For instance, in rabbinic literature the SOUL (not body) of the moshiach ben David suffers because it wants to come into the world and redeem Israel, it does not suffer for sins, while the body of messiah ben yosef dies in the last war of G-d (Gog and Magog) which doesn’t have to happen.) When MBY dies the son of David finally comes and raises him to life, the people see this, then mourn, and it leads to national repentance.

    So, it is the repentant response to the death of messiah ben yosef, not a magic blood vivarious cure which brings atonement, the way the death of ANY RIGHTEOUS MAN can atone.

    So, though we see big difference, there is unmistakable thematic similarity, especially when you consider that not all Christianities treat the atonement the same way. For instance, eastern orthodox do not believe in original sin the way Augustine does.

    Because the Christian approach to scripture itself is not halachically based, but emphasizes parable and allusion, to them, the son of Yosef is as good as a proof as their methodology is capable of. Basically, there is a reason the Christians always look to aggadah when they discuss.

  8. Eoin Mael permalink
    November 28, 2015 9:53 pm

    What if the truth lies somewhere in between? In other words, it lies in between Judaism and Christianity. Jews have some things right and some things wrong. Also, Christians have some things right and some things wrong. Let me explain. Imagine that the two messiah belief of Judaism is the truth, and one (Messiah ben David) of the two was fulfilled by Jesus (Joshua, Yeshua) while the other (Messiah ben Joseph) is yet to be fulfilled. See, the prophecy of “Joshua and Zerubbabel” in the books of Haggai and Zechariah is messianic and symbolic. The prophecies spoken of Joshua were not to be fulfilled by them during their lifetimes but rather the prophecies would be fulfilled by two men (two messiahs) who would come in the future to fulfill the prophecies…first the prophecy concerning “Joshua” (Messiah Ben David) followed by the prophecy concerning “Zerubbabel” (Messiah Ben Joseph).

  9. November 29, 2015 12:42 pm

    Eoin Mael, what you are suggesting here is the classic “types and shadows” sort of “fulfillment” that Christianity has always employed. It had to, because it was obvious that the Jewish Bible didn’t match who Jesus was (or wasn’t) and what he actually did (or more importantly, didn’t do). When the facts of Christianity did not reflect reality, it become all about symbolism by necessity – to make things fit it resorted to spiritualizing the Jewish scriptures. Jesus fulfilled zero messianic prophecies – none.

  10. December 3, 2015 7:20 am

    The topic is very interesting, and I think that MBY and MBD may just be different aspects of one person. But obviously not Yeshu.

    I’ve heard some interesting things quoted from the Gra indicating this, but I’m not baqi in his works. Also, Rebbe Nahman states in Hayyei Moharan #6 that 35 of the 70 prototype nations are included in Esau (i.e. under the control of the western world, the new Rome, Christianity, etc) and the other 35 are included in Ishmael. He continued saying, “In the future, the two Messiahs, MBY and MBD, will conquer them, and there is one tzadik who is included within the two Messiahs.”

    It isn’t clear to me if he means that there is one tzadik who performs both the roles of MBY or MBD, or what, but I think the whole idea of each of the two Messiahs is more of a force in the world rather than literal people. I think the instances of MBY dying isn’t necessarily that there will be a literal person who dies and fulfills the role of MBY.

    I’ve heard it said in the name of the Gra that MBY is within the klipa of what we would call the secular, national Israeli, national religious (Dati Leumi) world that focuses more on human achievement; it could be likened to the state of Israel in general; and that MBD is within the klipa of what we would call the religious or Haredi world.

    It’s really hard for any of us to know if there will literally be two Messiahs, or if there will be one that fulfills both roles – obviously in the same lifetime – or if the only real person we’re waiting for is MBD and that MBY is something else and not an actual man. These are all possibilities, and I honestly don’t think we’re meant to know for sure until the events happen.

    One thing is for sure, the Messiah is nobody who died. David will be king of Israel again, the Messiah will be like his viceroy. And when the Messiah actually comes, everyone will know it, and there won’t be any confusion about it. He will literally war with the nations, physically, as well as spiritually, and he will be nothing like Yeshu, but something much more like David, the Messiah’s actual forefather.

    Christianity is dying out, and I think the ‘Messianic’ thing is just an ending phase act as a stepping stone to help some honest folks out of Christianity.

  11. Jamo88 permalink
    December 2, 2016 6:22 am

    Had to seriously lol there at the pic.

    Reminded me – there is the shroud of Turin which is apparently the burial cloth of Christ. There is miraculous phenomena surrounding it. Likewise in the 1800s there was a cloth that developed the face of “Jesus” on it linked to the Holy Face devotion. However they both have completely different faces. Then you have to figure which is the right one or bend things by saying something like “They are both true but represent different aspects of Jesus”.

    Likewise surrounding the apparitions of Mary. In the church approved ones she appears different for example guadulupe she appears as a Mexican looking lady however in Fatima more a fair skin girl. There is even a book trying to reconcile this called “The Many Faces of Mary”. At Lourdes the spirit that came there made the girl receiving the vision eat grass of the ground like an animal with the onlooking crowd.

  12. Jamo88 permalink
    December 6, 2016 7:27 am

    Sorry guys not completely on the ball with the lingo yet but the above comment should have said “burial cloth of Jesus” and the other part should have read “holy face devotion”.

  13. axel permalink
    March 29, 2017 1:02 pm

    As One who has studied this subject for at least 25 years, I have become fully persuaded that there indeed are two prophesied Messiahs as spoken of in the Scriptures, especially in the Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah, but not chapter 53, which does speak of Yeshua Himself.

    However, the servant portrayed in the other songs of Isaiah is all too human man, who never says he died for the sins of the world. But yet he is commissioned to do just those five things which you have listed in the above teaching.
    Here’s what God said of this servant: “And he said, It is a light thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved (netzar) of Israel: I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles that you may be my Yahoshua (Yeshua, nee Jesus) unto the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49: 6).
    This human man is commissioned in this verse by God to bring back the 11 tribes of the house of Israel to the land of Israel.
    To accomplish this one astounding feat alone would serve to forever establish his messianic credentials to the Rabbinical authorities in today’s Israel.
    And we see this same messianic leader as one of the two Witnesses which will be standing at Jerusalem to call the tribes back home, after which he and his prophet-spokesman shall be killed and their bodies shall lie in the streets of Jerusalem just as the Rabinical Sages said he would.
    Therefore, I would argue that Yeshua was indeed the Son of God, and He did die for all our sins, but He is not the Messiah who will be expected by the people of Israel.

  14. March 29, 2017 1:56 pm

    Alex, an absurdity of the Christian interpretation is that in Jesus (being a godman), G-d would have Himself as His own “servant.” Of course, Jesus doesn’t fit into Isaiah 53, because he accomplished nothing this chapter speaks of. You are simply reading the NT into Isaiah 53, and also ignoring anything that doesn’t match even the contrived NT portrayal.

  15. Eved permalink
    April 4, 2017 7:33 pm

    So you have moved on from Yeshua, your first love Who connected you to knowledge if the Father and Who continues to bring thousands to make aliyah (besides those turned away).

    BUT where are your sources?–It seems you haven’t matured as much as you say. Your dating needs explanation too, as it’s by no means settled.

  16. April 5, 2017 8:04 pm

    Eved, with all my heart, you have been deceived. Jesus is a lie… Where are your sources to show that Jesus was the messiah on the first place? Have you ever look at them in context?

  17. July 3, 2017 11:26 pm

    The are many Rabbis who believe that Moshiac ben Yosef has already been here and died as foretold…Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (same name) (died in Israel in 2013…more than 800,000 people attended his funeral (the largest in the history of Israel)

  18. Jenkins permalink
    November 1, 2017 2:47 pm

    They wait for the Armilus. They will welcome the wrong man.

    “Bring me your Torah and swear upon it that I am the Lord”

    It will be a scene similar to Anakin Skywalker walking into the temple with his guards and committing a massacre so as to sit on the altar.

  19. Jenkins permalink
    November 1, 2017 2:49 pm

    “Of course, Jesus doesn’t fit into Isaiah 53, because he accomplished nothing this chapter speaks of.”

    Does it not also say that he will ‘appear’ as if he had failed ???

    No wonder in the Haaretz article it is explained that this chapter is not really read in synagogues of the world.

  20. November 1, 2017 4:19 pm

    “They wait for the Armilus. They will welcome the wrong man.”

    I think it’s actually the opposite – it’s the Christians (and the Muslims) who await the wrong person and may reject the legitimate one (a Davidic king) as an “Antichrist” whenever he does appear.

  21. November 1, 2017 4:26 pm

    “Does it not also say that he will ‘appear’ as if he had failed ???”

    It doesn’t say in Isaiah that he has failed. It says that the person of Isaiah may merit to see children, his seed (which precludes Jesus, of course).

    “No wonder in the Haaretz article it is explained that this chapter is not really read in synagogues of the world.”

    That’s a myth, a conspiracy that Christianity has postulated. Jews don’t simply read out whole books of the prophets during services, chapter by chapter. Only select Haftarah portions from the prophets were specifically chosen specifically if they somehow correspond to the weekly Torah portion in content. Isaiah 53, along with the majority of excerpts from the prophets, doesn’t correspond to any Torah book.

  22. Jacqueline permalink
    November 22, 2017 2:37 pm

    Why are you basing your opinions through comparisons of Jesus on rabbinic literature and not the word of G-d?

  23. November 22, 2017 5:29 pm

    “Why are you basing your opinions through comparisons of Jesus on rabbinic literature and not the word of G-d?”

    Jacqueline, if you read my post on which you commented, you’d learn that Messianic and Evangelical missionaries often misuse rabbinic writings to “prove” that the rabbis themselves pointed, albeit unknowingly, to Jesus, in their writings and ideas. It’s the missionaries who often rely on the rabbinical literature, ironically, and in this particular case about the concept of “Messiah son of Joseph”!

  24. Jacqueline permalink
    November 22, 2017 9:28 pm

    I was pleased to read a response from you Gene toda. So are you saying messianic and evangelical missionaries misuse rabbinic writings to prove rabbis pointed to Jesus (who is called the word for salvation in Hebrew) as a generalisation of what all ‘missionaries and evangelicals’ do because of what you did in your efforts to prove it? I’ve read your post a couple of times and you say you “longed for Jewish proofs to support your faith”, do you worship Jesus as moshiach as I can’t quite discern from this post. I noted you mention messiah ben Joseph isn’t mentioned in the bible and the NT calls Jesus the son of David and “says nothing” of the tribe of Joseph and that “Jesus fell into no battle but was executed by the Romans” which I’m wondering if you have read the scriptures at all? And if you haven’t read the scriptures accurately how do I know you have accurately discerned rabbinal writings?

  25. November 23, 2017 4:26 am

    Jacqueline, I have studied scripture, Jewish and Christian, for over 20 years and served as a missionary to other countries. You don’t have to worry about me not knowing what I am talking about it. Just read my other blog posts.

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