Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, December 13, 2020
(Fourth light of Chanukah)
Shavuah Tov *|FNAME|*,
Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
Sun 13-Dec-2020 27th of Kislev, 5781 Chanukah Day 3
Ge 41:1-14 1 Sa 30-31 Ps 74 Lk 2:1-21 (1 Co 15:29-58)
Nu 7:24-35 1 Macc ch. 5-6
For to us a child is born….
Yeshua’s Birth: Scriptural Truths, Man’s Myths – Part 2 of 3
by Dr. Raymond Finney
I continue, through random thoughts, a brief series on the birth of Yeshua.
WAS MARY A VIRGIN OR ONLY A YOUNG MAIDEN? Persons obsessively try to disprove the Bible. Some reject Mary’s virginity, claiming she was only a young, unmarried girl– a teenage single mom. A cornerstone of our faith is belief in the virgin birth of Yeshua. If Mary was not a virgin or was married, the paternity of Yeshua could obviously be questioned. Was Yeshua the Son of God? or, son of Joseph? or, son of a Roman soldier? or, son of a teenage boy living in Mary’s village? Or, …? If Mary was a virgin, though, conception could only be supernatural through God’s will, as the Bible claims.
Non-believers, liberal theologians, and other skeptics attack Mary’s virginity because they deny Yeshua’s Divinity. It takes strong faith to believe in the supernatural birth of Yeshua to a virgin.
Rabbi’s note: It takes more faith to believe in the creation of Adam and Eve. Much easier (Do you see my “air quotes?”) for God to birth His own Son from a lovely young VIRGIN. End RN.
Such an event cannot be explained by our understanding of biology and reproduction. In the Tanakh, there is a prophecy of the Messiah’s birth (Isaiah 7:14): Therefore Adonai Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive. When she is giving birth to a son, she will call his name Immanuel. Here, the Hebrew word for “virgin” is almah. Linguists state that almah may be translated as “virgin, young woman of marriageable age, bride, or maiden.” [Also in this verse, Hebrew Immanuel = “God is with us.”] Those who attack Scriptures argue that an almah is merely a young woman. R. Laird Harris et al. (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) state: “There is no instance where it can be proved that almah designates a young woman who is not a virgin. The fact of virginity is obvious in Genesis 24:43, where almah is used for one who was being sought as a bride for Isaac. In Biblical times, marriageable young maiden and virgin were synonymous terms.
In the B’rit Chadashah, we have accounts of the Messiah’s birth (Matthew 1:22-23, quoting Isaiah 7:14, and Luke 1:26-27). A confused Mary asks the angel Gabriel how she could be pregnant, because she is a virgin (Luke 1:34): Miriam said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am not intimate with a man?” The Greek word translated “virgin” in these verses is parthenos, which has only a single translation– “virgin.” (Parthenos does not include “young woman.”)
SIDELIGHT 1: Some Believers (Christians), including me, are called– and are proud to be called– “fundamentalists.” To be a true fundamentalist, a Believer must believe in five fundamentals of faith:
** (1) The Deity of Yeshua as the Messiah (see John 1:1; John 20:28; Hebrews 1:8-9);
** (2) The virgin birth of Yeshua (see Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23; Luke 1:27); ** (3) Yeshua’s blood atonement for the sins of mankind (see Acts 20:28; Romans 3:25, 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:12-14);
** (4) Yeshua’s bodily resurrection as the First Fruit of God’s New Covenant (see Luke 24:36-46; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 15:14-15); and
** (5) The inerrancy (freedom from error or fault) of Holy Scriptures (see Psalm 12:6-7; Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20).
Can a person be a Believer/ Christian, unless he/ she believes all five of these fundamentals of faith? If not, which of the five can be ignored? END sidelight 1.
SIDELIGHT 2: The Bible is silent about Mary’s age at the time of Yeshua’s birth. Details we would like to know were unimportant to B’rit Chadashah authors. Most likely, Mary was a young teenager and Joseph was a young man, perhaps a decade or so older than Mary. A very young bride and older bridegroom were typical for a first-century Jewish wedding. Death often occurred at an early age for people at this time, and an early start in establishing a family was of utmost importance. After puberty, a young girl could conceive and bear a child and would be marriageable. The husband, needing to establish himself in a trade or business before marriage in order to support a family, usually would be older.
The Bible is also silent on the appearance of Mary and Yeshua. Roman Catholic churches typically display statues/ paintings of the Virgin Mary. A statue of Mary in a Protestant church (other than in a crèche, or nativity scene, during the Christmas season) is almost never seen. Catholics depict Mary as a mature but youthful, possibly tall, beautiful woman with European features, including perfectly coiffed, often blonde hair and makeup (lipstick and rouge); elegantly dressed in beautiful robes, and wearing, perhaps, an impressive gold, bejeweled crown. Nonsense! The real Mary was probably a young teenager at the time of Yeshua’s birth. She probably was of short stature by today’s standards (typical, then), and probably had dark brown or black hair and dark skin (typical for a Jewish woman exposed to the Mediterranean sun). Her drab clothing would have been typical of clothing worn by members of her lower socioeconomic class family– that is, clothing worn by a workingman’s wife and, probably later, by a poor widow. She would probably not have used cosmetics. She likely would have blended inconspicuously with other Jewish women in her village. At His first appearance (First Advent), Yeshua was HaMashiach ben Yosef (“The Messiah, Son of Joseph”), who came to save His people and all mankind from their sins. Yeshua’s kingship in His first appearance was recognized, through faith, only by some of His followers. Most others saw Yeshua as an itinerant preacher. Some thought He had interesting ideas; others thought He was a blasphemer.
You can walk into any church in America and quickly know whether you are in a Roman Catholic or a Protestant church by its fixtures. A Catholic church will have statues/ paintings of the Virgin Mary and crosses with Yeshua nailed to the crosses. A Protestant church will have no statue of Mary and, if a cross is present at all, the cross will be empty. Protestants view Yeshua’s crucifixion as a one-time sacrifice. After Yeshua exclaimed, “It is finished!” (John 19:30: Greek Tetelestai! = “It is finished!” or “[The debt of sin] is paid in full!”), He was taken down from the cross, never to be nailed again to that instrument of death. It is important to recognize Yeshua’s perfect, one-time sacrifice for the sins of mankind, and not to believe in His continuing sacrifice. Read Hebrews 10:1-18 for the importance of Yeshua’s one-time sacrifice. Yeshua should never be put back on a cross by artists or any religious group. As Yeshua Himself said: “Tetelestai! It [My mission from the Father] is finished!” Read warnings in Hebrews 6:4-6 not to crucify Yeshua a second time, thereby, in so doing, “publicly disgracing Him.” END sidelight 2.
SIDELIGHT 3: In my mind, there is murky separation from “venerating” a statue of Mary and violating one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:4): [God spoke] “Do not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or on the earth below or in the water under the earth.” “Graven image,” here, translates the Hebrew pecel, which is a “carved image, idol.” END sidelight 3.
Hollywood casts Yeshua as a most handsome Man of movie star appearance. Maybe not. In the Messianic prophecy of the Suffering Servant, we read (Isaiah 53:2b): … He [the Messiah] had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, nor beauty that we should desire Him. Yeshua came to save mankind from their sins, not to attract “groupies.” He may have been just ordinary in appearance. Some believe the Shroud of Turin is Yeshua’s burial cloth and the inexplicable image on the cloth depicts Yeshua. (See the Shroud of Turin at: https://www.gettyimages.com/photos/shroud-of-turin?phrase=shroud%20of%20turin&sort=mostpopular and other sites.)
Yeshua and His earthly family were poor and lived in a dusty land. We remove Yeshua’s humanity, when we scrub Him clean of the grime on His carpenter’s hands or dust and dried dung on His feet from walking many miles between villages. Yeshua was a Man who lived a hard life and suffered, not the artists’ depiction of a perfectly scrubbed and groomed Man, clothed in flowing robes.
Catholics teach that Mary was a “perpetual virgin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 499-507). Islam also teaches that Mary was forever a virgin. On the other hand, Protestants teach that Mary and Joseph married and had children from that union. The Gospels name four “brothers” of Yeshua– Jacob (James), Joses, Simon, and Judas (Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3). Mark notes Yeshua also had sisters, but he does not name them. Catholics maintain the mother of these children was “the other Mary” mentioned in the B’rit Chadashah, but not the Virgin Mary. In these passages, “brothers” translates adelphoi, the plural of the Greek adelphos. Adelphos can identify a brother born to a husband and wife, but also for another male relative or a person of kindred spirit. You may hear a person in a religious setting address a fellow male congregant as “brother,” although there is no family bond between the two. Most Protestants believe that Joseph and Mary had children, and these children were Yeshua’s half-siblings. Yeshua was born into a family as part of His human life experience. The Joseph-Mary family was a “blue collar” family, headed by a working man. Importantly, Yeshua’s family was not a royal or priestly family. It is logical that Yeshua would have had siblings. Mary’s virginity was required only for the immaculate conception of Yeshua to avoid confusion about Yeshua’s paternity. Mary’s continued virginity after Yeshua’s birth is irrelevant to the Gospel message. Can a woman be called a “virgin” after she delivers a baby?
Neither Yeshua nor any other “holy person” had a halo. A circle (crown) of light appears in art forms of several pagan religions. I am too lazy to research this topic, but I suspect the idea of a halo may have come from early (fourth-century) Christians, when Emperor Constantine the Great added Yeshua to the Roman pantheon. Constantine was a follower of the sun god Mithras. Mithras’ crown of sun rays could have been transferred to Yeshua and painted as a halo (circle) of light. Scriptures teach that Judas Iscariot identified Yeshua with a kiss, when Yeshua was arrested. If Yeshua had a halo, Judas could have saved himself the effort and merely told the solders: “Yeshua is in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is the One with a bright light around His head.” END sidelight 3.
WHO WAS THE REAL YESHUA? We are well aware of the artistic license taken in making movies and television (“Hollywood”). Over many centuries, Yeshua’s birth has had a Hollywood makeover. Artists, songwriters, poets, and others have created a semi-mythological Yeshua. I will take a few popularized statements (below) and attempt to tell the true story. Yeshua’s birth is miraculous enough, without man’s meddling. Although some of these points may not matter, I will try to separate the real Yeshua from the Hollywood version. When we portray Yeshua as a Person with Hollywood star good looks,… when we remove the grime from an itinerant Preacher who lived outdoors and walked along dusty Judean roads,… when we depict a sanitized Yeshua on the cross,… and when we clothe the Virgin Mary in beautiful robes and jewels, we take away the Son of Man aspect of Yeshua. Yeshua, a common Man of the people, lived a hard life, suffered, and died an unimaginably horrible death. Never forget or minimize what the Suffering Servant did for us. Consider a few aspects of Yeshua’s birth:
● Artists typically depict Mary riding on the back of a donkey. Scriptures merely state that Joseph and a pregnant Mary (betrothed to Joseph) “came to Bethlehem.” Scriptures are silent on whether Mary walked or rode a donkey.
● Scriptures state only that the days of Mary’s pregnancy were “completed for her to be delivered” (Luke 2:6). Mary could have been in Bethlehem for only a few hours or even weeks before delivery.
● There is no record that Joseph and Mary were denied accommodations in an inn. Scriptures state there was no room for them in a kataluma, which is usually translated “guest lodge” or “caravansary.” The only record (Luke 2:7) is that Yeshua was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger because there “was no room for them in the ‘inn.’” Joseph went to his ancestral home (Bethlehem) to enroll in a census required by Rome. Because of his family connections in that village, family members may have still lived there. Joseph and Mary may have stayed with relatives because rooms at the inn were filled.
● The Bible is silent on whether Yeshua was born in a stable, barn, or cave (or, questionably, a sukkah). Baby Yeshua was laid in a “manger.” See elsewhere in this RR whether the “manger” could have been something else. Because feeding troughs are found in places animals are kept, it has been assumed Baby Yeshua was laid in a manger in a stable. Families of poorer socioeconomic means may have needed to shelter some animals in their homes, and a manger may have been in a home of Joseph’s poor family. Archaeologists have found mangers in ancient Jewish homes. A clean manger does resemble a cradle. Cloth and straw could convert a manger into a makeshift “cradle.”
Yeshua came as a Lamb (the New Covenant sacrifice), forever replacing the Passover lamb of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. The Apostle John commonly referred to Yeshua as “the Lamb,” as did John the Immerser. A recently written, not commonly heard Christmas carol is titled, “Where Else Would a Lamb Be Born?” From the chorus come these words: “A bed of straw became a cradle || Embracing God in human form || One would expect more than a stable || But where else would a Lamb be born….” Yeshua was not born in Herod’s palace or the High Priest’s home. He was born in the lowliest of circumstances to a poor family. From His lowly birth, He can– and should– relate to every person. As the carol (above) asks: “Where else would a Lamb be born?” Animal lambs may be born in a stable. Our Passover Lamb was born in poor circumstances. Could anything else be more appropriate?
● Did “little Lord Jesus” not cry? A beloved Christmas carol is “Away in a Manger.” An assertion is made in this hymn: “But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.” This claim is a songwriter’s fantasy, not Scriptural. An infant, even the Baby Messiah, cries (to expand the lungs after delivery, to signal needs for food and relief of discomfort, and so forth). The Son of Man component of the Messiah Child surely would have cried, just as all infants cry.
● Did angels sing to the shepherds? Popular stories have choirs of angels singing to the shepherds. The Bible only states (Luke 2:13-14) that a multitude of the heavenly host (angels) appeared to the shepherds to proclaim glory to God and peace and goodwill toward men. Other communication was likely because the shepherds visited the Baby Messiah and left to tell others in Bethlehem about this miraculous birth (Luke 2:15-20).
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HEROD? Herod the Great was appointed tetrarch by the Roman emperor, Mark Antony, and king of Judea by the Roman Senate. (Usual definition of “tetrarch” = governor of a fourth part of a province.) Herod was a most cruel, brutal, and vindictive leader. Historians have assessed him as “brutish and a stranger to all humanity.” Immensely egocentric, he rebuilt and beautified buildings to call attention to himself. The Second Jewish Temple in Yeshua’s time was actually called “Herod’s Temple,” because he commenced expansion and beautification of this holy place.
Herod died a horrific death (probable Fournier’s gangrene) in the spring of 4 BC. According to the Bible’s chronology, Yeshua would have been born during or before 4 BC. We understand in our timekeeping that “BC” stands for “Before Christ.” “AD” does not stand for “after death,” as many people mistakenly suppose, but is an abbreviation of the Latin anno Domini (“year of the Lord”). There is no year zero. That is, 1 BC passes directly into AD 1. If Yeshua was born in or before 4 BC and died approximately AD 33 (some reckon AD 30), He may have been a little older than many people think. Most Bible students place Yeshua’s date of birth between 6 – 4 BC (probably late 5 BC or early 4 BC).
I view Herod as one of many antichrists (anti-messiahs). Satan, always God’s enemy, has tried in many ways– always in vain, obviously– to kill Yeshua and Yeshua’s Body. (“Yeshua’s Body” = all Believers who follow and have followed Yeshua, commonly designated “the Church;” more appropriately designated, from the Greek ekklesia, “the called out ones.”)
This warfare was foretold in an ancient prophecy (Genesis 3:15): [Adonai Elohim said to the serpent, or Satan] “I will put animosity between you and the woman– between your seed and her seed. He [Yeshua] will crush your head [when Satan is thrown into the Lake of Fire], and you will crush His heel [at the crucifixion].” In this prophecy, Satan and his seed (followers) would continually attempt to destroy the woman’s Seed (Yeshua, the Son of Man component). While having temporary “success” (Yeshua’s crucifixion, for example), Yeshua will ultimately triumph when He casts Satan and his seed (followers) eternally into the Lake of Fire (Hell) – known as Yeshua’s “bruising of Satan’s head.” Herod was a type of antichrist, not THE Antichrist (Revelation, chapter 13 and other verses). The Antichrist has not yet been revealed and it is nonsense to speculate who this evil man could be. The prefix anti- can mean “in place of” or “opposed to.” If one of Satan’s “seed,” Herod the Great, could have killed Yeshua shortly after His birth in what has been called “the slaughter of the innocents,” Yeshua’s ministry would have been destroyed.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN “THE STAR” FOLLOWED BY THE MAGI? We are told (Matthew 2:2,7, 9-10) that the magi followed a “star” to Israel from their home in the east. (“Star” translates the Greek astera, which is the origin of the English “astronomy.”) Such a “star” may have been prophesied in Numbers 24:17 (but this prophecy may relate to Yeshua’s Second Coming, not His First Coming). Possibilities for the “Star of Bethlehem” may be:
● A comet: A comet, a rock-ice body with a long “tail,” may appear unexpectedly and may be dramatic. Halley’s comet would be a leading suspect except that this comet appeared in 11 BC– too early for Yeshua’s birth. A possible candidate was recorded by Chinese astronomers as a “new star,” appearing in 5 BC between March 10 and April 27 (except that this comet would not be present at Yeshua’s birth, if the birth occurred in the fall, and would make Yeshua approximately six months old when the magi came to worship Him).
● Conjunction of planets: Planetary orbits occasionally cause two or more planets to seem to lie closely side by side (as viewed from earth), giving them an unusually bright appearance. Jupiter and Saturn were involved in such a conjunction in 6 BC.
● Supernova: A star may explode, creating a supernova, which shines brilliantly for a brief time before dimming and becoming invisible. If a supernova caused the Star of Bethlehem, light from that exploding “new” star (Latin nova = “new”) has long disappeared.
● Created star: Of course, Adonai, the Creator of the Universe, may have created the Star of Bethlehem just for this occasion.
The common explanations noted above presume a bright and unusual light in the sky. If the magi tried to travel from the east toward a bright heavenly light in the west, they would never find Yeshua in Bethlehem. The light would always move ahead of them. (Recall the Irish tall tale of finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. The next time you see a rainbow, try to walk or drive to the spot it touches earth. The rainbow and any associated “pot of gold” will always move ahead of you.) Of course, God could have directed a beam of light from the sky to Yeshua’s birth place, and only the magi saw or recognized the light.
Until next Sunday, Shalom and Maranatha.