Is Jesus “Messiah ben Joseph” of Jewish mysticism?
When 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.