JUDAISM, PROPHETS, WOMEN, MESSIAHS AND RIGHTEOUS FIGURES

JUDAISM, PROPHETS AND RIGHTEOUS MEN

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Isaiah
A “prophet” in the biblical sense is not necessarily someone who predicts the future but rather is someone who speaks for God. The Hebrew word for prophet came from a root meaning "to well up, to gush forth." In the Bible prophets were generally men who condemned hypocrisy and spoke the word of God after being summoned by God to speak his message.

The prophets themselves were not unlike the oracles who worked at the Greek temples. They were generally associated with the Temple in Jerusalem and were tied with the Temple’s welfare and were distinguished for priests who presided over rituals and were primarily responsible for maintaining religious traditions.

If the prophets appeared today many of them might be declared insane. When asked how he distinguishes between a psychiatric illness and religion vision, a doctor said, “We have no clear cut boundaries. If you use strictly scientific criteria, you can say that all the people in the Bible are mentally ill. They believe such strange things---the visions."

The closest thing to saints in Judaism are Tzaddikim ---righteous men.A good Jew, or righteous Jew, is one who fulfills his duties with a full heart and incorporates Jewish laws, ethics and morality into his or her everyday life. "Jewish tradition," French writer Marek Halter wrote, "has no saints, only humans. Our sages teach that those whose merits surpass their vices, they are the righteous; that when you save one life, you have saved a universe."

Websites and Resources: Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org ; Judaism Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah.org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; BBC - Religion: Judaism bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica, britannica.com/topic/Judaism; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish History.org jewishhistory.org ; Christianity and Christians Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Christianity.com christianity.com ; BBC - Religion: Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/ ; Christianity Today christianitytoday.com; Biblical Images: Bible in Pictures creationism.org/books ebibleteacher ebibleteacher.com ; Bible-History.com bible-history.com ; Pictures from the Bible lavistachurchofchrist.org ; Bible Blue Letter Images blueletterbible.org/images ; Biblical Images preceptaustin.org

Important Prophets

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Jonah Spewed Forth by the Whale
Some regard Samuel, the man who predicted David would be a great king, as the first prophet. Other say Moses was the first. Other prominent prophets, include Elijah, who battled for God against the priests of Baal and appeared periodically as God’s angel and messenger; Ezekial, a captive in Babylon who was condemned for the sins of the Jewish people; and Isaiah, who had a vision that God of Israel would one day be worshiped all over the world.

The Jews recognize three “major prophets”---Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel---and 12 “minor prophets”---Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Some of these were writers and teachers known as “literary prophets” Amos, spoke against rich man who made their money by exploiting the poor. He said: “Therefore the prudent shall keep silent in that time, for it is an evil time.” Hosea pleaded with people to remain faithful to God;

The character of the prophecies made by the prophets changed in the Old Testament. Those espoused by the early prophets had a moral quality and dealt with things like justice and righteousness and drew connections between suffering and sin for the things such as immoral acts and idolatry (“whoring after strange gods”). Those that came later were directed more towards the future but rather than promise good things to the faithful they dealt more with the responsibilities that were expected of the faithful.

See Moses (Under History) and Daniel and Jeremiah (See Below)

Books: A Short History of Judaism by I. And D. Cohn-Sherlok (1994); The Gift of the Jews by Thomas Cahill; Ancient Biblical History Books: Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times by Donald Redford; Oxford Companion to the Bible ; Palestine Bible as History by Werner Keller; The Bible Unearthed by I. Finkelstein & N. Asher Silberman ; Historical Atlas of the Holy Lands by K. Farrington

Job

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Job Hears of His Misfortunes
The story of Job in the Old Testament is a vivid illustration of a man retaining his integrity even under the most adverse conditions. Job was a wealthy chieftain in the land of Uz. He was regarded as a righteous and God-fearing man. To test his faith God allowed Satan to bring Job a series of tragedies: the loss of his children and property and an attack of a particularly nasty form of leprosy.

Job’s friend’s told him that God had brought him great misfortune because he is sinner. Firm in his belief that he was righteous, he refused to believe them and called out to God for an explanation. Speaking out of a tornado, God answer him. Realizing that God’s will is beyond his understanding, he bows to God and accepts what has happened to him.

Scholars believe that Job was written around 400 B.C. and may have been based on a real person. It is regarded as a masterpiece of literature as well as parable on suffering. Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Goethe’s Faust are believed to have been inspired by it.

Jeremiah, Daniel and Jonah

Jeremiah was not very popular in his time, around 700 B.C. Before the Babylonian conquest he predicted that great misfortunes would befall the Jews. He was called a traitor because the placed God above the interest of the Jewish king. In 1986, archaeologists discovered a seal that belonged to Baruch, son of Neriah, a scribe who recorded the prophecies of Jeremiah in 587 B.C. .

The expression "Can a leopard change his spots?" is first attributed to Jeremiah. In the Jeremiah 13:23 in the Old Testament, Jeremiah says, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil."

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Jeremiah
Daniel is a hero in a Biblical book that bears his name. A captive brought from Jerusalem to Babylon, he won favor with King Nebuchadnezzar for his wisdom and ability to predict dreams. He rose to a high position in the Babylonian kingdom. When the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians, Daniel retained his position but was ousted by jealous princes, who threw him in the lion’s den, where he miraculously escaped death.

The Old Testament book of Jonah is about a believer who questions his faith when it seems that God has changed his mind in a very human way. In the book Jonah is swallowed by a whale, then “vomited out” after an act of God. But the same God promised to bring destruction on the city of Nivenah because of the high number of sinner’s there but goes back on his word because Nivenah contains “more than sixscore person who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle”---or in other words innocent children and animals. God’s decision makes Jonah “angry even upon death.”


Women in the Old Testament and the Bible

Women are definitely given a short shift in the Bible. Of the 3,000 individuals named in the Old and New Testament fewer than 10 percent of them are women. In the Hebrew Bible, of the 1,400 people given names only 115 are women and several book mention no women at all.

The few women that are there are usually depicted in negative terms. Eve's perceived sexual curiosity in the Garden of Eden is regarded as the source of original sin. Samson loses his strength because Delilah tricks him into cutting off his hair (she was offered 1,100 pieces of silver for betraying the secret of Samson's strength). One the lessons he learned from Samson and Delilah, David Plotz wrote in The Good Book ; “1. Women are deceptive and heartless” and “2. Men are too stupid and sex-crazed to realize this.”

In the first account of Creation, God created men and women at the same time: “So God created man in his own image...male and female created he them” [Genesis 1:27]. The story of Eve, the forbidden fruit and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden appears late in Chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis. Genesis 3:16 has been described as the "curse of Eve" passage: "To the woman he said, 'I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.'" The association of the serpent with the devil is a concept was not implicit in the original story. The notion of "original sin" was first suggested by St. Augustine in the A.D. 5th century.

The story of Dinah is a shocking tale of a woman who is raped, forced to marry the rapist and then widowed thanks to her brothers’ murderous rage to protect her honor. After that her father scolds the brothers for ruining their reputations. Through it all Dinah is silent.

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Ruth and Boaz
Other women that are presented in a positive way include Rahab, a prostitute who helps deliver Jericho into Israelite hands; Miriam, Moses' sister, who sings the victory song after the parting of the Red Sea and defied a the pharaoh to rescue her brother from a death decree; Judith, who killed the enemy general Holoferes and brought back his head in a bag; and the prophet Deborah, who led her people against the Canaanites. Although Deborah is featured prominently in the Old Testament she is largely absent from the Torah.

Moses’ sister Miriam is referred to as a prophet. Some feminist have suggested that male-dominated “the party of Moses” suppressed stories of her prophetic acts. In the 1st century Jewish writers created prophecies for Miriam because they didn’t want holes in their sacred texts.

See Sarah and Abraham, Esther, Queen of Sheeba, History

Ruth

The Story of Ruth is a fable of how good things will happen to those who have faith and devotion. An ancestor of David, Ruth was a widow who showed great devotion to her mother-in-law and was rewarded by God with a second marriage and lots of children.

The Story of Ruth takes place during a time of famine that kills Ruth’s husband and the husband of her sister Orpah. Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi decides to return to her hometown of Bethlehem. Ruth begs to go with her but Naomi tells her to stay behind.

In a famous speech Ruth says: “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go: and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will be buried.”

One day in Bethlehem Ruth goes to work in the fields. There she is noticed by Boaz, a member of her husband’s tribe. Her devotion to her mother-in-law impresses him and he orders his reapers to drop grain from their bundles for her. Boaz later marries her. They have a son Obed. He becomes the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Jewish Messiah

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Medieval vision of the
coming of the Jewish Messiah
Jews believe that a Messiah will come to Earth and resurrect the dead, reward the faithful, perhaps taking them away to some paradise or building a paradise on Earth. They believe the Messiah is a god and descendant of David who will come to Earth in the form of a man. Messiah means "anointed one." This term dates back to the time of David when kings were anointed to show their divine election. 2 Samuel states: “great triumph He gives to His king, and shows steadfast love to His anointed.”

While the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the messiahs were the kings of Israel. David and Solomon were all referred to as messiahs, which scholars say suggests that messiah originally meant person with great holiness or religious power. There is some controversy among scholars as to whether messiah means "spiritual savior" or "military savior."

After the First Temple was destroyed, the Jewish kingdom was conquered and the Jews were driven from Israel, ideas took root that a new kind of messiah would return to Earth and restore the Temple and bring the Jews back to their homeland in Israel. These ideas became strong when the Second Temple was destroyed and Jews were dispersed around the world, Over time the return of the Messiah came to embrace a larger meaning: the ending of war, the killing of the wicked, the establishment of a covenant with the righteous and the creation of God’s kingdom on Earth.

Historians have asserted the Messianic speculation is highest when “anti-religious pressures are at their most acute”. Dead Sea scrolls give an indication of the messianic expectations and frenzy that existed in Palestine around the time Christ was born.

From the Gospels it appear that Jesus considered himself to be, and was considered by many Jews to be, the Jewish Messiah but was dismissed by Jews as a messiah after he died at the hands of the Romans instead of taking the Jews to heaven.

Coming of the Messiah

Jews look forward to the coming of what some call the True Messiah. They believe his coming will be preceded by the rise and fall of a terrible Hitler-like tyrant and cataclysmic upheaval.

When the true Messiah does come, it is written it will take place on a Friday night or a Saturday. He will come down off the Mount of Olives and stop first at Mount Meron in the Galilee Hills and from there he will pass through Zefat on his way to Jerusalem where he will arrive through the Golden Gate (the Hebrew Gate), heralded by prophet Elijah. According to the prophet Zachariah he will enter his kingdom “meek and riding on an ass.”

When this occurs observant Jews will return to Israel to live in a state of holiness and establish a new world order. Gentiles will recognize the Messiah and submit to Jewish masters. A Third Temple will be built and all the Jews who lived in exile will rise in Jerusalem.

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Oil and Shofar for the Messiah
at Yochanan ben Zakai Synagogue
in Old Jerusalem
Jews have speculated that the Messiah will arriver around the year 6000 on the Jewish calendar, which is the year 2240 on the Gregorian calendar. Some Jews think the Messiah it could arrive at any time. Some Jews even go to sleep with their bags packed in case the Messiah shows up while they are sleeping. Other claim his return will be delayed due to the failure of the Jewish people to repent for their transgressions and the favors given the Jews by Gentiles.

In modern times, expectation on the arrival of the Messiah have diminished somewhat. Some Jews believe that establishment of Israel has become a sort of substitute for the Messiah. Others saw that a true state of Israel can not exist until the Messiah arrives. A handful of ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects have heralded their leaders as messiahs.

In Israel, there is a group that is dedicated to reestablishing the priestly caste when the Messiah comes and rebuilding the Temple. Jews there have also set up an important mystical center in Zefat to welcome the Messiah. When Muslim ruled Jerusalem the Hebrew Gate was blocked with stones to bar the Messiah's arrival.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860

Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated March 2011


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