"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21

by R’ Yosef Barzillai


1. The pretence that it was prophesied that the “messiah” would be born in Beit Lehem in Judæa

Matthew 2 describes how King Herod consulted the religious leaders of Israel to find out where the “messiah” was going to be born according to the Scriptures:

(3) When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him, (4) and when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where the messiah should be born, (5) and they said unto him, “In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet, (6) ‘And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel’.”

Very plausible, except that the quotation (which is from the fifth chapter of Michah in the Book of the Twelve Prophets) has been subtly changed from what the Hebrew text says. The Hebrew text reads:

v’attah beit lehem efratah tza’ir lih’yot b’alfei y’hudah, mim’cha li yétzé lih’yot moshel b’yisra’el, umotz’otav mikedem miy’mei olam.

The literal translation of this verse is as follows:

“As for you, Beit Lehem Efratah, although you are too small to be counted among the ‘thousands’ of Judæa, yet, even so, one who is to be a ruler in Israel for Me will emerge from you, because his historic origins were there in ancient times.”

First, a small note of explanation: Beit Lehem (which was also called Efrat or Efratah, as for example in Genesis 35:19) was a very small town in the time of the Prophets. It was therefore “too small to be counted among the large cities of Judæa”… that is to say, among the “thousands” – the cities with populations of 1,000 people of more.

So what the Prophet is saying, effectively, is that although Beit Lehem was such a small, insignificant place, yet, nevertheless, in times to come, the King-Messiah‘s name will be associated with it, in the sense that his ancient ancestor, King David, was born there; he will be thought of as a son of that town “because his historic origins were there in ancient times” – but there is no suggestion that he himself has to be born there!

Incidentally, the introduction of “Herod the king” into the narrative poses questions of its own. There were several “kings” of that name, but none of them really fits into the story. The founder of the dynasty, Herod Antipater, cannot be meant because he was much too early: he was appointed by Julius Cæsar in 47 BCE and was assassinated in 44, the same year as the unfortunate Julius met his own death. Antipater’s son, “Herod the Great”, was appointed “King of the Jews” in 40 and ruled Judæa until his death in 4 BCE, but he was a great proponent of Greek culture and is unlikely to have “gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together” in order to “demand of them where the messiah should be born”. Herod the Great’s son Herod Antipas only ruled Galilee (his brother Archelaus ruled Judæa, Samaria and Idumæa, but he was deposed in 6BCE and those areas were then placed under the control of a Roman governor, while a third brother, Philip, ruled the territory east of Galilee), and in any case Antipas was still alive in 39 CE, when Caligula exiled him. Herod Agrippa I and Herod Agrippa II both lived much later. The only one who is even remotely at the right time is Herod the Great, and even he is a little too early because Matthew 2:14-15 suggest that “Joseph” and his family remained in Egypt for some time “until the death of Herod” and, as already mentioned, Herod the Great died in 4 BCE.


2. The pretence that it was prophesied that the “messiah” would be “summoned out of Egypt”

The story in “Matthew”, chapter 2 continues:

(13) And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him”. (14) So when he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt, (15) and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt have I called my son”.

This time the quotation is drawn from the eleventh chapter of Hoshé’a, also in the Book of the Twelve Prophets. The Hebrew text reads

ki na’ar yisra’el va’ohaveihu, umimitz’rayim kara’ti liv’ni

and the literal translation of this is:

When Israel was a youth, I loved him – from Egypt I have been calling TO My son.

which closely parallels the language of Exodus 4:22:

“Go and tell the Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: Israel is My son – My first-born!'”

First of all, the repetition of the same idea but in different words, for emphasis, is a feature of ancient Hebrew literary style that is found throughout the Scriptures. And even when this device is not being employed, there is always some link between the two halves of a Hebrew verse. In the first half of this one, the reference to “Israel” as a “youth” is a reference to the nation, not to the man “Israel” (i.e. Jacob); it has to be, because Jacob was already almost 100 years old when the Angel gave him the additional name “Israel” at P’ni’el (Genesis 32:29), so the man “Israel” was never a “youth”.

[Joseph was 30 years old when the Pharaoh made him Prime Minister (Genesis 41:46) and it was nine years later that he sent for his father to come to join him in Egypt (45:6), making him 39 at that time. Jacob was then 130 years old (47:9), so he had been 91 years old when Joseph was born, and Joseph’s birth coincided with the end of the fourteen years Jacob had spent working for Lavan in return for his two wives, and the start of the period that he worked for him in return for payment (30:25). Jacob finally left Lavan six years after this (31:41), making him 97 years old when he departed from Paddan.]

So, there are two clear links between the first half of this verse and the Exodus: the similarity of language, referring to the Israelite nation as God’s “son” (as in Exodus 4:22), and the allegorical reference to the nation’s “youth”. It is therefore natural to expect that the second half of the verse should also refer in some way to the Exodus.

The problem with the the way the christian “versions” translate this verse is that the last word of the Hebrew is liv’ni, not et b’ni. The latter would be a direct object, but liv’ni meansTO my son. The job of a translator is not to “interpret”, but merely to translate – to render into another language, as closely as possible, the meaning of the words in the original text. Sometimes, however, the translator must apply a little common sense, and this is one of those occasions. The Prophet portrays God as saying “I have been calling to My son from Egypt”. But what does he mean by this? Is he suggesting that the Divine Voice calling out to Israel was emanating from Egypt? Clearly not: and this is where the link to the Exodus comes into play. The word “from” is being used in the sense of “since” – or “from the time of “. So the real translation of Hoshé’a 11:1 has to be:

When Israel was a youth, I loved him – I have been calling to My son since [‘he’ was in] Egypt.


3. The pretence that it was prophesied that the “messiah” would be “called a ‘Nazarene'”

The closing verses of “Matthew”, chapter 2 relate how Joseph, having returned from Egypt,

(22) hearing that Archelaus did reign in Judæa in the place of his father Herod, was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee, (23) and he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene”.

First of all, to realise that this one is a deception you only need to remember that Natzeret is a Second Commonwealth settlement that didn’t even exist in the time of the Prophets, so it is clearly impossible for any Prophet to have used the word “Nazarene”. Indeed, the “prophecy” quoted by Matthew does not occur anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures. Many christian writers shrug this off and brush it aside by claiming it is a “lost prophecy”, but if that is so, how did “Matthew” know about it? There is ample evidence that the text of the Hebrew Scriptures we now have is unchanged since well before the first century, so “Matthew” would have had the same text we use today. Others claim 2:23 is an oblique reference to Isaiah 11:1, “A rod will emerge from Yishai’s stump, a shoot (Hebrew: nétzer) will sprout from his roots”, but this really doesn’t work either, because the Prophet’s words are nothing like Matthew’s “quote”.

It is much more likely that the quotation is intended to refer to Judges 13:5 and 7, and it therefore represents a double deception, because not only were those words addressed specifically to Samson’s mother and referred specifically and explicitly to him, but, more importantly, the word used in those verses is nazir, a person who has taken on the “Nazirite” vow of abstinence (see Numbers, chapter 6) – which is not related at all to notz’ri, a “Nazarene” – that is, a person from Natzeret (and later, a christian) – the two words are not even spelt the same way in Hebrew, although it is easy to mislead a reader who does not know Hebrew and make him think that “Nazirite” and “Nazarene” are the same or are at least closely related.




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