Do the rabbinic writings speak of a "Suffering Messiah?"
Written by Mitch Glaser   

T he answer to this question is a resounding -"Yes!" Where do the early rabbis draw their material from? From the Jewish Scriptures! Two primary Scriptures that the rabbis draw upon in their writings on the Suffering Messiah are Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. Pesikta Rabbati, which Jewish scholars date to the sixth or seventh century C.E., is a rabbinic document on the festivals of Israel. It speaks of a suffering Messiah in this way:

[When He created the Messiah,] the Holy One, blessed be He, began to tell him the conditions [of his future mission], and said to him: 'Those who are hidden with you [your generation], their sins will in the future force you into an iron yoke...and because of their sin your tongue will cleave to the roof of your mouth.' [Psalm 22:25] Do you accept this? The Messiah said...'Master of the worlds! With gladness in my soul and with joy in my heart I accept it, so that not a single one of Israel should perish; and not only those who will be alive should be saved in my days, but even the dead who have died from the days of Adam the first man until now.'1

The Midrash Aseret Memrot states that Messiah will be made a trespass offering:

The Messiah, in order to atone for them both [for Adam and David], will make his soul a trespass offering, [Isaiah 53:10,] as it is written next to this in the Parashah 'Behold my servant.' [Isaiah 52:13] 2

In the Midrash Konen (110-1100 C.E.) We find:

Messiah Son of David who loveth Jerusalem...Elijah takes him by his head...and says, 'Bear thou the sufferings and wounds wherewith the Almighty doth chastise thee for Israel's sins;' and so it is written, He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. [Isaiah 53:5]3

The Zohar, a cabalistic work which the reference work Everyman's Judaica says was written in the 13th century but contains earlier material, is considered "one of the three 'Holy Books' of Judaism after the Bible and the Talmud."4 Two quotes from the Zohar go hand in hand in a startling announcement about atonement and Messiah:

The children of the world are members one of another. When the Holy One desires to give healing to the world, he smites one just man amongst them, and for his sake heals all the rest. Whence do we learn this? From the saying 'He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities,'[Isaiah 53:5], i.e. by the letting of his blood - as when a man bleeds his arm - there was healing for all of us - for all members of the body. 5
As long as Israel dwelt in the Holy Land, the rituals and the Sacrifices they performed [in the Temple] removed all those diseases from the world; now the Messiah removes them from the children of the world.... (Zohar 2:12a) 6

Something to Think About

Is the concept of a suffering Messiah something foreign to Jewish thinking? Evidently not! Yet, how often Jewish people have been taught that the idea of Messiah's suffering is foreign to Judaism. Why not take the following challenge? Read Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 for yourself. See if you come up with the idea of a suffering Messiah, as the early rabbis did.

One Jewish writer of the first century, Yohanan, records the rapturous exclamation of a fellow Israelite concerning the one described in the above two chapters: "We have found the Messiah of whom Moses and the Prophets did write!" This same Jewish writer said, "But to as many as received Him, to them he gave the power to become the sons of God" (John 1:45,12). What a wonderful invitation to us!


1. Raphael Patai. The Messiah Texts (Detroit, Michigan:Wayne State University Press,1949), p. 112.
2. S.R. Driver and Adolf Neubauer. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters(New York: KTAV Publishing House, 1969), p. 394.
3. Patai, p. 115.
4. Abraham Cohen. Everyman's Talmud(New York: E. P. Dutton, 1949).
5. Driver and Neubauer, p. 14
6. Patai, p. 116.

This Article Taken from:
THe Chosen People Newsletter

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