So that Mary would not be overwhelmed by the heavenly messenger’s radiant glory, Gabriel adopted the form of an ordinary Jewish woman carrying an earthen water jug [Gabriel minimizes intimidation due to status differential]. When Mary went to fetch water at the town well, Gabriel approached and stood beside her at the well. “Greetings, blessed one!” he said. “You are favored of the Lord, and he is with you.”
Mary looked at the unfamiliar woman, wondering what sort of weird greeting this might be. “I beg your pardon?” she said politely. “I don’t think we have met.”
Gabriel inclined his head. “Gabriella,” he said with a disarming smile. . . . .
As he hoisted the full bucket, he spoke almost casually. “You know how some people have visions and receive messages from the heavenly realm?”
“Yes,” said Mary.
“Well, I am one of those people, and I came here to the well today because I have a message for you.”
. . . .
“Would you like to know my message?” Gabriel asked, and Mary nodded.
“Ok,” said Gabriel. “Here it is: Yahweh has decided to create a son who will be both god and man. His name will be Jesus.” He paused and then recited, “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” He paused again and added, “Full disclosure: First he has to become a replacement for all of the pigeons and goats and sheep and cattle that are sacrificed in the temple for the forgiveness of sins. So, at age 33, he will be tortured and killed by the Romans and will rise from the dead [Gabriel candidly gives both pros and cons].
“If you are willing, God would like for you to be the woman who bears this child.” [He poses the proposition as a voluntary choice.] But God will continue to bless you and honor your righteousness whether you choose or not to bear this child. [He explicitly addresses any sense of threat based on Yahweh’s violent history].
“Do you have any questions?”
. . . .
He wondered fleetingly why Yahweh had chosen such a young person to make such a big decision, but he didn’t question God, not even for a second. After all, he and every other angel in heaven remembered how God had reacted when Lucifer started challenging God’s authority. Lucifer’s rebellion was the reason Gabriel had this job.
. . . .
That had been skepticism, right? Or was it fear? Perhaps the word “overshadow” had been a bit strong.
“It won’t hurt,” he said gently, “At least not the getting pregnant part. Do you have any other questions?”
Mary floundered, more than a little overwhelmed. I can’t say no to Yahweh, she thought. Out loud, she said, “Here am I, the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.”
But Gabriel shook his head gently. “God does not ask this of you as his servant or slave, but rather of your own free will. [He clarifies that despite the power difference she has a real choice]. Take as long as you need to decide—he will know when you have chosen. [She is not pressured]. I would suggest given your age that you ask your father, but he would then be compelled to make the decision for you, so you will have to decide on your own.
evidence of the suffering messianic exegesis goes back to pre-rabbinic times
Here we look at Joachim Jeremias’s ninth witness for a pre-Christian Jewish teaching about a suffering servant messiah: the Rabbinical tradition that Isaiah 53 was interpreted messianically.
Only two passages in Isaiah (more specifically, Deutero-Isaiah, chapters 40 to 55) have been consistently interpreted messianically in early rabbinic literature. These are Isa. 42.1 ff. and Isa. 52.13 ff.
The Isaiah 42 passage:
Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. 2 He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. 4 He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law. 5 Thus saith God the Lord, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein: 6 I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; 7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.
The other passage, Isaiah 52-53 contains passages of suffering:
13 Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. 14 As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: 15 So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
53:1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? 2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. 9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
In Jeremias’s words,
On the part of the Rabbis, likewise, only two Deut. Isa. servant passages have been understood in a messianic sense: Isa. 42.1 ff. and Isa. 52.13 ff.305 These are in fact the two passages which, so far, we have constantly found to be interpreted messianically. As for Isa. 42.1 ff, it is essential to note that only the messianic interpretation306 is found in rabbinic literature. The messianic interpretation of Isa. 52.13-53.12 by the Rabbis307 concerns both the passages of exaltation and the passages about suffering.308 In particular the reference of the passages about suffering in Isa. 53 to the Messiah emerges very early with the Rabbis, and simultaneously at several points.
R. Jose the Galilean
Jeremias on the testimony of Raymond Martini:
The context discusses the fact that Adam’s transgression caused countless sentences of death and puts the question: ‘What measure is the greater, that of mercy or that of punitive justice? Answer: the measure of goodness is the greater (here begins the addition of Raymundus Martini) and that of punitive justice is the smaller. How much more then will the king, the Messiah, who suffers and is in agony for the godless, justify all mankind, as it is written: “But he was wounded for our transgressions” (Isa. 53.5). The same is meant by Isa. 53.6: “But the Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all”.’ (p. 72)
The first witness Jeremias calls in this particular context is Rabbi Jose the Galilean who wrote prior to A.D. 135 and the second Jewish war with Rome. His testimony is not secure, however, since it comes to us from the thirteenth century Raymond Martini and our surviving copies of the source lack the passage Raymond Martini claimed he saw in the late 1200s. The passage that is said to have existed at that time in the Siphre Leviticus 12.10 and 5.17 recorded a saying by R. Jose the Galilean that a King-Messiah would justify all peoples by means of his own pains, suffering and sorrows.
So what happened? Did the passage really exist and was it deleted after it came to the wider attention of the Christian world? Jeremias suspects that possibility on the basis of the “sharpness with which Judaism opposed the Christian exegesis of the passages about suffering in Isa. 53 . . . especially as elsewhere messianic exegesis of Isa. 53 seems to have been excised.” (p. 72)
This assumption gains a high degree of probability from the fact that similar statements have come down to us from a scholar closely connected with R. Jose, likewise a pupil of R. Akiba and, together with R. Jose, a teacher in Jabne and then in Lydda: R. Tarphon (Tryphon).