- Interpreted the Servant Songs in Isaiah as references to a new coming of Elijah as the messiah.
- the Testament of Benjamin,
- Attributed to a messiah from the tribe of Joseph the atoning death found in Isaiah’s Servant chapters.
- and the Parables of Enoch.
- Describe a messianic figure whose attributes are taken from Isaiah’s Servant passages.
We have dusted off a 1957 book with yellowing pages, The Servant of God, and are following the trail of evidence according to the book’s co-author J. Jeremias. Where I can I have been supplementing the posts with critical information from more recent scholarship.
Next witness to take the stand, the Peshitta. The Peshitta is a Syrian translation of the Bible but we are interested in its translation of the Suffering Servant passages in the Book of Isaiah, probably dating from the of)early second century. Jeremias:
The next source which gives us information about the exegesis of ‘ebed texts in late Judaism is the Peshitta; it is probably of pre-Christian origin.257 Peshitta explains Isa. 53 — including the passages about suffering — in a messianic sense.258 This is clear from the passages where Peshitta discloses its understanding of Isa. 53 by deviations from the Heb. text. Thus Peshitta saw in the servant
- a figure awaited in the future (52.14)
- who shall ‘cleanse’ many peoples (52.15);
- this figure is denied (53.2),
- despised (53.3)
- and slain (53.5)
- but exalted by God
- and (at the last judgement) will convey forgiveness (53.5: healing).
These statements can only refer to the Messiah.259
(Jeremias, 60 f. My formatting and highlighting)
The devil is usually found in the detail so here are the relevant footnotes:
Unfortunately I have no further information on the “pre-Christian origin” of the Peshitta’s translation of the ‘ebed (Servant) texts in Isaiah. I present Jeremias’s statement “as is”. If anyone has more up to date corrective or confirming information feel free to add it to the comments.
5. The Gospel of Luke
In one place the N.T. too gives us a piece of evidence for the messianic exegesis of a servant passage in late Judaism. According to Luke 23.35 the άρχοντες mock the Crucified with the words: άλλους εσωσεν, σωσάτω έαυτόν, εΐ οΰτός έστιν όχριστός τοϋ θεοϋ, ό εκλεκτός. For our purpose the point is that it is the Jewish άρχοντες who here describe the Messiah with the title ό εκλεκτός. Christian influence on this formulation is not probable, for as a christological formula ό έκλεκτός appears elsewhere in the N.T. only260 in John 1.34.261 But we are already acquainted with this title from the Eth. En. where, as we have seen, it appears as a pre-Christian Jewish messianic predicate derived from Isa. 42.1 (cf. p. 59).262 Thus in Luke 23.35 we have an echo of the messianic exegesis of Isa. 42.1 in late Judaism. Further let it be noted here, in confirmation of what we have been saying, that also in the N.T. the messianic interpretation of Deut. Isa. servant texts is limited to Isa. 42.1-4,6; 49.6; 52.13-53.12 (cf.p.93).ὁ ἐκλεκτός = the chosen (one)
(Jeremias, 61 f)
And here are those little devils again:
260 In Luke 9.35 we find the divergent form ό έκλελεγμένος as the (probably original) reading. In the Apostolic Fathers and the apologists ό έκλεκτός is never used for ‘Christ’.
262 Otherwise as such it occurs plainly only in the Apocalypse of Abraham 31.1. Perhaps there belongs here also the expression ב חי רו (of God) which is found in the Habakkuk Commentary in the recently discovered Palestinian texts (The Dead Sea Scrolls, I, op. cit. in n. 69; see plate 57, col. 3, line 4; plate 59, col. 9, line 12), since there, just as in Eth. En. the plural form 10.13) ב חי רי א ל ) also occurs along with it; yet a secure conclusion is not possible, for ב חי רו can be both singular and a defectively written plural. On the other hand Test. B. 11.4: καί έσται έκλεκτός θεοϋ έως τοϋ α’ιώνος (cf. TWNT, IV, 190, 2 f.) certainly belongs to a Christian interpolation, as the state of the text itself shows (11.2b-5), and is related not to Christ but to the Benjamite Paul (Charles, op. cit. in n. 240, 215 f., note on ch. XI).
Five down, five to go.
Zimmerli, Walther and Joachim Jeremias. 1957. The Servant of God. London : SCM Press.
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