Isaiah 53 and the identity Chrisis of the suffering servant

This piece is based on comments from the post “Isaiah 53 – I see Jesus (eisegesis) or exegesis – who is the suffering servant?” at the Roshpinaproject

Don’t ask a Jew what Isaiah 53:1 means, ask a Goy; for it’s the latter who is asking (the Jew?) “Who has believed our report?”

Moshe Shulman repies: “The books of the Tanach were not meant for gentiles.”

Most Jews say that “he” in Isaiah 53:5 refers to Israel? And who does “our” refer to?

“But he (ISRAEL) was pierced for our (WHO IS THIS?) transgressions, he (ISRAEL) was crushed for our (WHO IS THIS?) iniquities; the punishment that brought us (WHO IS THIS?) peace was upon him (ISRAEL), and by his (ISRAEL) wounds we (WHO IS THIS?) are healed” Isaiah 53:5.

David Cook says that the Righteous Servant cannot be Israel since this makes zero sense to write that; But ISRAEL was pierced for ISRAEL’S transgressions, ISRAEL was crushed for ISRAEL’S iniquities; the punishment that brought ISRAEL’S peace was upon ISRAEL, and by ISRAEL’S wounds ISRAEL is healed. But Y’shua was pierced for ISRAEL’S transgressions, Y’shua was crushed for ISRAEL’S iniquities; the punishment that brought ISRAEL’S peace was upon Y’shua, and by Y’shua’s wounds ISRAEL is healed. ( Isaiah 53:5).

Cook continues: It does make sense and is theologically correct to interpret that Y’shua is the righteous servant Isaiah prophesied about in chapter 53. This agrees with what is written in Daniel chapter 9:24-26 that the Moshiach would atone for iniquities and be “cut off” (executed). (End of Cook).

Moshe Shulman says my translation is problematic because it loses the nuance of the Hebrew. In English, it is better, he says, to translate Isaiah 53:5 as ‘by our’ and not ‘for our’. His reasoning is that Israel suffers because of the sinfulness of the nations.

How, though, does this solve the identity crisis of the pronouns? To repeat:

But he (ISRAEL) was pierced for our (WHO IS THIS?) transgressions, he (ISRAEL) was crushed for our (WHO IS THIS?) iniquities; the punishment that brought us (WHO IS THIS?) peace was upon him (ISRAEL), and by his (ISRAEL) wounds we (WHO IS THIS?) are healed” Isaiah 53:5.

Let’s replace my “for” with Shulman’s  “by”:

But he (ISRAEL) was pierced by our (WHO IS THIS?) transgressions, he (ISRAEL) was crushed by our (WHO IS THIS?) iniquities; the punishment that brought us (WHO IS THIS?) peace was upon him (ISRAEL), and by his (ISRAEL) wounds we (WHO IS THIS?) are healed” Isaiah 53:5.

The question still remains. WHO IS THIS?

Here is the first half of the verse – which will serve our purpose – in Hebrew with the English translation: is the preposition, which can mean for, by, on account of, because of (and more)

The MEM מִ is the preposition, which can mean for, by, on account of, because of (and more). The OO וּ is the plural possessive suffix “our”. I divide the excerpt into two parts:

והוּא מְחֹלָל מִפְּשָׁעֵנו

vehoo m’cholal mipsha-aynoo And he was pierced (wounded) for our transgressions

מְדֻכָּא מֵעֲוֹנֹתֵינוּ

m’dooka may-a-onotaynoo he was crushed for our iniquities….

וְהוּא מְחֹלָל מִפְּשָׁעֵנוּAnd he was pierced/wounded/ (וְהוּא מְחֹלָל) for/by/on account of (מִ)our (וּ) transgressions (מִפְּשָׁעֵנוּ)

מְדֻכָּא מֵעֲוֹנֹתֵינוּ – he was crushed (מְדֻכָּא) for/by/on account (מֵ) our (וּ)iniquities (מֵעֲוֹנֹתֵינוּ)

Recall that Moshe Shulman translates the MEM מִ/מֵ as “by,” (possibly a published Jewish translation). Here are two other Jewish sources, which translate the MEM as “because of”:

My Jewish Family Bible (Leonard Davidow, Menora Press, 1960) and Mechon-Mamre:

“But he was wounded BECAUSE OF our transgressions, he was crushed BECAUSE OF our iniquities.”

The question remains: In Isaiah 53, who does “our” refer to? The general Jewish response, represented here by Moshe Shulman, is that “our” (transgressions/iniquities) cannot be Israel. because, according to the general Jewish view, “he” (was wounded) refers to Israel. Now who else on earth could “our” refer to? That’s easy. In the Tanach (Jewish Bible), everyone who is not a Jew is a Gentile, a Goy. So, the only feasible translation is this:

“But he (ISRAEL) was pierced for our (GOYIM) transgressions, he (ISRAEL) was crushed for our (GOYIM) iniquities; the punishment that brought us (GOYIM) peace was upon him (ISRAEL), and by his (ISRAEL) wounds we (GOYIM) are healed” Isaiah 53:5.

What about Moshe Shulman’s argument that” And he (ISRAEL) was pierced for our transgressions” should be translated “And he (ISRAEL) was pierced by our transgressions?”

Moshe Shulman’s focus is on prepositions, mine is on pronouns, namely, who is who in “And he was pierced by (Moshe)/for our transgressions?” Who is who is indeed the main issue, is it not? Thecrisis, therefore, remains. In my book, and David Cook’s book,  the Chrisis is the Messias. Whether the Messias is Y’shua, well, I don’t need to go there – for now, because what I have tried to show is not that “he” must refer to Y’shua, but that “he” can not refer to Israel. C’mon Moshe, give in; “he” is haMashiach, if not for salvation’s sake, at least for grammar’s sake.

Raphael Grammargroff

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