Compiled by Jonathan Sacks
The Jewish Bible not only speaks of Messiah’s suffering and death (See “Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up” for a detailed treatment of this), but also describes his genealogy, birth, life, and time of his coming in significant detail. Herein are numerous passages from the Jewish Bible that describe Messiah’s birth.
All the verses that are quoted below are taken from the translation, The Holy Scriptures, published by the Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, PA, © 1917, 1945, Forty-eighth impression, January 1965. The translators were Dr. Solomon Schechter, Dr. Cyrus Adler, and Dr. Joseph Jacob, representing the Jewish Publication Society of America, and Dr. Kaufman Kohler, Dr. David Philipson, and Dr. Samuel Schulman, representing the Central Conference of American Rabbis. By mutual agreement Professor Max L. Margolis was chosen as editor in chief. (For one year Professor Israel Friedlandler served in the stead of Dr. Schechter.)
The Jewish Bible clearly portrays the Messiah as one who is born. Isaiah 9:5-6 (6-7 in other translations) specifically states this.
For a child is born unto us, a son is given unto us; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name is called Wonderful in counsel is God the Mighty, the everlasting Father, the Ruler of peace; that the government may be increased, and of peace there be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it through justice and through righteousness from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord will perform this.
In addition, the Jewish Bible indicates that he would be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Jesse, and King David. (See “Messiah’s Genealogy According to the Jewish Bible” for a detailed examination of Messiah’s lineage.) Clearly, only one who is born can be a physical descendant of anyone.
There are not many in history who can demonstrate their lineage through King David. The Jewish Bible gives numerous additional details about the Messiah’s birth that further narrow the number of people who have the credentials to be the Messiah. These details are provided in the answers to three questions:
1. Where was the Messiah to be born?
2. When was the Messiah to be born?
3. In what manner was the Messiah to be born?
1. Where was the Messiah to be born?
Micah 5:1 (5:2 in other translations) states:
But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, which art little among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall one come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from old, from ancient days.
Micah wrote approximately 300 years after King David. Therefore, David could not be the promised ruler who was yet to come. Through Micah, the Lord promised that the ultimate ruler, the Messiah, whose goings forth have been from ancient times, would come out of the small town of Bethlehem in the land occupied by the tribe of Judah.
2. When was the Messiah to be born?
Answer: Before 70 C.E.
This is perhaps the most dramatic passage concerning the time of Messiah’s coming. The passage uses the title “Messiah” twice and gives a specific chronology of events. When Solomon’s Temple was destroyed in 586 B.C.E., the Jewish people were taken captive to Babylon. Jeremiah had prophesied that the captivity would last 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10). When these 70 years were nearly over, the prophet Daniel prayed for the restoration of the Jewish people and for the restoration of Jerusalem. The answer to Daniel’s prayers begins in Daniel 9:24.
24. Seventy weeks are decreed upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sin, and forgive iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal vision and prophet, and to anoint the most holy place.
25. Know therefore and discern, that from the going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem unto one anointed, a prince, shall be seven weeks and threescore and two weeks, it shall be built again, with broad place and moat, but in troublous times.
26. And after the threescore and two weeks shall an anointed one be cut off, and be no more; and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.
The Hebrew word translated “weeks” is Sh’vuim, literally meaning “sevens” and not Sh’vuot, which means a normal week, a period of seven days. The word translated “an anointed one” is the Hebrew word for Messiah. (Messiah literally means “anointed one.”) The great promises of verse 24 indicate that this passage could only refer to the ultimate anointed one—the Messiah.
Here we are told:
1. There would be a commandment to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem.
2. Then 7 “sevens” and 62 “sevens” would pass. This would bring us up to the time of the Messiah.
3. After the 62 “sevens” the Messiah would be cut off (i.e., die).
4. After that, Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed.
The order of events is crucial and clear. It is depicted in the following time line.
|Commandment to Restore & Rebuild Jerusalem||[—7—][———-62———-]||Messiah “Cut Off” (Dies)||70 C.E. 2nd Temple in Jerusalem Destroyed|
This passage makes it clear that the Messiah would die before the rebuilt Temple would be destroyed. When was the Second Temple destroyed? It was in the year 70 C.E.
If the Messiah was to die before the year 70 C.E., he had to be born well before then. How long before 70 C.E. would the Messiah be born? The next passage further narrows the time of Messiah’s birth.
In Genesis 49, Jacob spoke numerous blessings over his sons. In verse 10, he prophesied that the scepter would not depart from Judah, nor a ruler’s staff from between his feet, until one known as “Shiloh” came. To him the “peoples” would be obedient.
Shiloh has generally been interpreted as the Messiah by traditional Jewish rabbis and scholars, as well as others. For example, Targum Onkelos reads: “until Messiah come.” The Jerusalem Targum reads: “Until the time that King Messiah shall come.” Messiah is the one who many “peoples” would obey.
This verse indicates that the Messiah must come before two things occur: 1) the scepter departs from Judah, and 2) before the ruler’s staff departs from between Judah’s feet.
When did the scepter depart from Judah? “Scepter” literally means, “a tribal staff.” Each of the 12 tribes had its own staff with its name inscribed on it. Therefore, Messiah was to come at a time when the tribal identity of Judah was still intact. This is not possible today, because Judah’s tribal identity was certainly lost when the Second Temple was destroyed and Jewish people were scattered throughout the world in 70 C.E.
When did the ruler’s staff depart from between Judah’s feet? This involved the limiting of power to administer Jewish law. Even during the Babylonian captivity, the power of Jews to administer their own law among themselves remained. However, at a certain point in time, the Romans took away the Sanhedrin’s supreme power over life and death—the power to administer the death penalty. The Romans retained this power for themselves.
When did this occur? Leading Jewish sources and others answer this question.
The Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin, fol. 24, recto states:
A little more than forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the power of pronouncing capital sentences was taken from the Jews.
Maimonides, the most famous Jewish medieval scholar, in Const. Sanhedrin, Chapter 14 stated:
[F]orty years before the destruction of the second Temple criminal sentences ceased in Israel, although the Temple was still standing.
Essai sur l’hisoire et la geographie de la Palestine, d’apre les Talmuds et la geographie de la Palestine, d’apre les Talmuds et les autres sources Rabbinique, p. 90; Paris 1867, indicates that the power of capital punishment was probably taken from the Jewish people at the time of Coponius, or about 7 C.E.
Magath, in his book, Jesus Before the Sanhedrin, titles his second chapter,
The legal power of the Sanhedrin is restricted twenty-three years before the trial of Christ.
This, again, would have been about 7 C.E.
By all accounts, the legal power of the Sanhedrin was restricted at some time from approximately 7 C.E. to 30 C.E. That is when the ruler’s staff departed from Judah. By that time Messiah had to have come.
One may ask, “Didn’t the rabbis in the first century know that Messiah was supposed to come before the Sanhedrin lost its right to administer the death penalty?” The surprising answer is yes! They knew that this is exactly what Genesis 49:10 meant.
The Babylonian Talmud, Talmud, Babylonian, Sanhedrin, Chapter 4, fol. 37, recto states:
Rabbi Nachmon says, “When the members of the Sanhedrin found themselves deprived of their right over life and death, a general consternation took possession of them; they covered their heads with ashes, and their bodies with sackcloth, exclaiming, ‘Woe unto us, for the scepter has departed from Judah, and the Messiah has not come.’ ”
Thus, Rabbis recognized that Messiah was to be alive around 7 to 30 B.C.E.
3. In what manner was the Messiah to be born?
Answer: A virgin would conceive
Isaiah 7:14 says:
Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son and call his name Immanuel.
The Hebrew word translated “Immanuel” literally means “God with us.” The word translated “young woman” is the Hebrew word “almah.” We are told that an “almah” would conceive and give birth to a son, and call His Name “God with us.”
The main question is: What does “almah” mean? Does it mean “young woman” or “young maiden” as some translate it, or “virgin” as others translate it? If it were to be translated “virgin,” it would support the miraculous birth of Yeshua, or Jesus. Modern Jews who oppose a belief in Yeshua would not want to do so. Believers in Jesus would naturally have a strong incentive to translate it “virgin.”
To answer this objectively, we would need the unbiased view of qualified scholars. Fortunately, we have the benefit of the 70 leading Jewish Rabbis who translated the Jewish Bible into Greek in about 190 B.C.E. Their translation is known as the “Septuagint.” Since their translation was written 200 years before Jesus came, they had no bias either for or against him.
How did these 70 unbiased rabbis translate “almah”? They translated it “parthenos,” the Greek word for “virgin”, every time it appeared in the Jewish Bible.
The context of the passage is interesting. In the beginning of Isaiah 7:14, we are told that the conception of the woman and birth of her child would be given as a “sign” from the “Lord Himself” to the house of David. The Hebrew word translated “sign” is “ot.” It means a miracle or distinguishing sign. It is used in Exodus to describe some of the miracles performed when the Lord delivered the Jewish people from Egypt in the days of Moses.
It is no great miracle for a young woman to get pregnant! That is no great distinguishing sign. That would not be considered a sign from the Lord at all. The passage makes sense only if “almah” means “virgin.”
This is consistent with its use throughout the Jewish Bible. Every other place where “almah” appears in the Tanach (Jewish Bible, or Hebrew Scriptures), it definitely means “virgin.” However, “betullah” can refer to a married woman (Deuteronomy 22:24; Joel 1:8). Also, “betullah” often needs clarification to see if it means “virgin” (e.g. Gen. 24:11), where “almah” never needs clarification, including its use in Genesis 24, as it uniformly referred to a woman who was a virgin in the Jewish Bible.
The Jewish Bible tells us:
1. The Messiah would come from Bethlehem.
2. He would be born before 7 C.E. to 30 C.E (depending on when the Sanhedrin lost its power over life and death), and he would die before 70 C.E.
3. His mother’s conception would be a miraculous sign from the Lord.