New Site Is Live, Tell Us What You Think

I’m thrilled to present to our JP family the new web site. It’s clean design and form have provided us a number of new features and services. The main one being that our responsive site will adapt the layout based on the width of your viewing area. This makes our site easier to access from a mobile phone or tablet and will help our search results within Google and other search engines.

We have also completely overhauled our bookstore to make purchasing our eBooks and other wares much easier.

In the top corner of the site you will find a little “+” sign that you can click on to reveal a panel. For now, I’ve put your membership details (or the ability to login) on the panel, but there is more room.

As you use our system, please consider ways we can utilize this panel to make your use of the site easier and tell me about them in the comments below.

I want to thank all of our donors who gave toward this project. Your willingness to help us cannot be underestimated or overstated, I’m always blessed when our JP family steps up and helps us succeed.

Please leave any and all comments about the new site below. If something can’t be found, let me know and I’ll figure out how to make it more accessible.


What does “There’s no Hebrew undertext” mean?

A Jerusalem Perspective subscriber asks:

[What does it mean when I read in the Life of Yeshua Commentary,] “This passage does not have a Hebrew undertext”? How do you know that, and how do you come to that conclusion? Is it simply translating the Greek back into Hebrew then seeing if it makes sense in the Hebrew tongue?

Joshua Tilton responds:

In the Life of Yeshua Commentary, we are working from the premise that the earliest biography of Jesus was composed in Hebrew. Even though this Hebrew source no longer exists, it was probably the early ancestor of the Synoptic Gospels we have today–Matthew, Mark and Luke. We accept as a working hypothesis Lindsey’s theory that the original Hebrew story was translated into Greek, and versions of that Greek translation were used by the authors of the Synoptic Gospels as they composed their Gospels.[1] Therefore, when we mention the concept of a “Hebrew undertext” (or “Hebrew Ur-text”) in our discussions of particular verses in the Synoptic Gospels, we are referring to how the original Hebrew biography of Jesus can still be detected in these verses, despite the fact that Matthew, Mark and Luke are written in Greek.

To discover if there may be a Hebrew undertext associated with a particular verse in the Synoptic Gospels, we first try to see how easily that verse can be reconstructed back into Hebrew. There are some verses that are so difficult to reconstruct in Hebrew that it appears to us that the verse was originally composed in Greek and is not a “descendant” of the Hebrew biography of Jesus. This typically happens in Luke in the transitions between stories. In Mark, it is found more frequently, which we believe is due to Mark’s rewriting or paraphrasing of Luke. In Matthew, the situation is more complicated because sometimes he copied from Mark and at other times he copied from the same Hebraic source Luke used.

There is a very noticeable difference between verses that appear to have a Hebrew undertext and those that don’t. The verses that do appear to have a Hebrew undertext usually go back into Hebrew quite easily, often with the same word order. Verses that are more difficult to put into Hebrew may have undergone some editing in Greek to make the grammar more acceptable for Greek speakers, or in some cases the verse may have been composed entirely in Greek.

From our point of view, determining whether a verse has a Hebrew undertext simply tells us something about its history, not about its veracity. A statement originally composed in Greek could be perfectly accurate and true to the facts. A Hebrew undertext simply tells us that this verse or this part of a verse was copied from an older source that was culturally and linguistically much closer to the earliest Jesus tradition than the verses or parts of verses that were composed in Greek.

I’ve just discovered the Jewish roots of my Christian faith. What should I read to learn more?

We recommend that you start by reading Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg (Zondervan, 2009).

Then read Lois Tverberg’s Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life (Zondervan, 2012).

Next, you could read David Bivin’s New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus: Insights from His Jewish Context (En-Gedi Resource Center, 2005).

After reading those three books, you will be prepared to read Marvin R. Wilson’s Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith (Eerdmans and Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, 1989).

Continue your adventure by reading articles found at

The Numbers Game: Bible Codes (Numerology and Gematria)

Double question received from Ted Hesser (Copper Center, Alaska, U.S.A.) that was published in the “Readers’ Perspective” column of Jerusalem Perspective 55 (Apr.-Jun. 1999): 8.

I have two questions, the first of which concerns the genealogy in Matthew. Dr. Lindsey said that Matthew’s genealogy is quite Hebraic, and that much of the Gospels was taken from material translated from the Hebrew. I am convinced, but wonder how Matthew 1:1–11 was written in Greek with such perfect mathematical symmetry. In these eleven verses, there are seven substantive nouns, 35 (7 x 5) names, seven other words, and a total of 49 (7 x 7) words in the vocabulary. In the 35 names there are 196 (14 x 14) letters, and in the three women’s names there is a total of fourteen letters. And of course, I will add that the evangelist built into his genealogy a pattern based on fourteen generations. Could that have resulted from a translation from the Hebrew? Or was it divinely or humanly altered to create such a pattern, and if so, for what reason?

The second question relates to The New Testament in the Original Greek by Westcott and Hort (1881). Gail A. Riplinger in her book New Age Bible Versions gives information concerning Westcott and Hort which casts doubt on the authenticity of their work. The omissions, based on the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament and the United Bible Societies’ text (3rd ed.), found in the margin of my NKJV do seem to show a pattern that could reflect a theological bias. Moreover, these omissions seem to conflict with the abundance of mathematical patterns in the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament. Note particularly the numerical patterns in Genesis 1:1—seven words, 28 letters, and the addition of the gematria of various words yielding 777, 888 and 999. The patterns in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are also remarkable.

Randall Buth responds:

Biblical writers infrequently consciously used numerical patterns or codes in their compositions. As you mention, Matthew himself structured his genealogy around a repeating pattern of 14 generations. Gematria—playing with the numerical value of words in Hebrew or Greek—is, however, distracting at best. The prophets communicated their message in a manner which they expected their audiences to understand. Men of old penned the books of the Bible so that their contents would be understood.

In the past, many have tried to use gematria as proof of the Bible’s perfection. In our day, newcomers repeat the efforts of others despite the fact that such an exercise runs up against serious objections. First of all, number patterns like the ones identified in your letter are selected with a certain subjectivity. For example, assigning a numerical value to each letter of each word in Genesis 1:1 and, then, totaling the numerical value of each word yields the following series: 913, 203, 86, 401, 395, 407 and 296. I do not see a divine message in these numbers. Ah, but the content! “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.”

The Matthean example also serves well for showing how selective subjectivity is at work to “produce” a pattern. Why were the verbs not counted in your selection? There are 27 (3 x 9). Why was verse 11’s “Babylon” chosen as a break? A more natural break in Matthew’s list is verse 1:6b: “…fathered David the king.” For comparison, the statistics for verses 1–6 are: 90 words (that is 2 x 3 x 3 x 5, and the factors add up to 13!), 6 substantive nouns, 34 names (2 x 17), 21 different names, excluding repeated names (3 x 7), 15 conjunctions (3 x 5), 19 articles, 3 prepositions, and so on. Within any section of text, one may define and find a multitude of things. By necessity, assigning numerical values will produce numbers, and by necessity, numbers will frequently be multiples of 3, 7, etc. A person only needs to keep counting different subsets until a pattern of sevens, or another auspicious number, emerges. Once it does, the “decoder” then moves on to another text and repeats the procedure.

Wescott & HortRegarding Westcott and Hort, a gentle warning to be careful of ad hominem arguments is in order. What is an ad hominem argument? For example, theory A is associated with person B. Person B is alleged to be a bad person by person C. Therefore, theory A is suspect, or worse. A better question would be: Is theory A sound? If so, fine.

Today’s published New Testament Greek texts are based on a sifting of manuscript evidence. They happen to line up closely with Westcott and Hort’s text produced in the last century. This may be taken as a compliment to Westcott and Hort’s critical acumen. They had to make textual decisions based on less evidence than is available today, yet they were able to reach many of the same conclusions that twentieth-century textual critics have reached.

For more on Bible codes, see Jack Poirier, “ Does God Play Scrabble?“—JP

The Textus Receptus, or “Majority Text,” Theory

Question submitted by Mike Gascoigne (Camberley, Surrey, U.K.) that was published in the “Readers’ Perspective” column of Jerusalem Perspective 55 (April-June 1999): 8-9.

Have you read a book called New Age Bible Versions by Gail Riplinger? She denounces a large number of Bible translations (RSV, NIV, NASB, etc.) as being rather too accommodating towards New Age philosophies. She also criticises the Greek texts on which these translations are based, including Nestle, Westcott and Hort, UBS 3 and 4, and Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus.

She claims that the only reliable translation of the Bible is the King James Version, which is based on the Textus Receptus. She considers this to be the most reliable Greek text because it was compiled from a large number of documents, mostly of Byzantine origin, that were substantially in agreement with each other and are therefore faithful copies made from a common source. The idea is that there is safety in a large number of manuscript witnesses that agree with each other.

Regarding Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, the story of their history is something like this: The Roman emperor Constantine was concerned that his empire was divided into two distinct groups, Christians and pagans. They could not agree with each other about anything. So, he commissioned Eusebius to produce a Greek New Testament that would suit both groups, to try and bring them together. Fifty copies of this text were made, and some of these copies were sent to Alexandria where they were further corrupted by Origen, a Gnostic philosopher. The only two surviving copies of this corrupt text are the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus manuscripts [dating from the 4th century A.D.].

Have you heard of this story, and do you think it could possibly be true?

Randall Buth responds:

Your query is both easy and difficult to answer. It is easy because the “majority text” theory that Riplinger would support is basically a “falsified” theory. The Textus Receptus theory argues that the text of the church throughout the ages was the “majority text.” Unfortunately, the early church fathers did not know of such a text.

While most individual readings associated with the “majority text” can be found in an old source somewhere, they were never assembled together in one textual tradition until after Eusebius’ time. So the early church fathers effectively falsify the theory. The “majority text” did not exist in the time of the ante-Nicene fathers and, therefore, cannot be as old as Riplinger would like it to be.

On the positive side, it should be pointed out that there exist early examples of a text like Codex Vaticanus, the best single extant text of the New Testament. A gospel papyrus, designated P75, shows that a Vaticanus-type text already existed in 200 A.D.

Now for the difficult part: allusions to a “conspiracy theory” of the New Testament text. From a chronological point of view, the story about Origen lacks all credibility, since he lived in the century before Eusebius. The story about Eusebius is a weaving together of history and fantasy. Jerusalem Perspective magazine is not the right forum to unravel this. Sadly, a non-specialist reading Riplinger’s New Age Bible Versions runs the risk of concluding that a “conspiracy theory” sounds plausible. For the non-specialist, her book cannot be recommended. A specialist might read the book out of curiosity, though at the risk of wasting precious time.

Is the Search for Literary Sources of the Synoptic Gospels Futile?

Comment from David Pennant (Woking, Surrey, U.K.) that was published in the “Readers’ Perspective” column of Jerusalem Perspective 55 (April-June 1999): 6-7.

[I am skeptical of] your belief that you can detect underlying strata in the text, whether this be a self-evident Hebrew original, or a scheme of one Gospel’s priority over another, in your case, Luke. It seems to me this whole area is an unstable one. For as Dame Helen Gardner once wrote, “Trying to detect sources in literature is like trying to weave ropes in sand.” My reading of the current theological scene in the West is that it has finally become apparent that this kind of enquiry is bankrupt, although it may take another generation before everyone is finally prepared to admit it.

Where I believe your authors are inclined to err is to place weight on findings gained from the understanding of supposed sources. I would be happier if the language used employed phrases like “It seems possible that,” or “One wonders whether,” and was generally less certain. My concern is that your excellent emphasis on the importance of culture is in real danger of being ignored because of problems over the latter.

Randall Buth responds:

Indeed, the search for literary sources that may be reflected in a piece of writing can be risky business. In the case of the Synoptic Gospels, however, we possess multiple accounts of the same events—events that originally occurred in a Hebrew-speaking environment, but were eventually recorded in Greek. We do not need to guess whether or not other people were retelling the same stories in different words or with different perspectives.

This constitutes quite a different situation from, for example, Philippians 2:6, where many assume that Paul quoted from an early Christian hymn. Conclusions about Paul’s use of a source should be accepted cautiously, even if a scholar includes such words as “evidently” or “clearly” in his or her explanations.

When studying the Gospels, we are compelled to search for an explanation of the differences in the wording among the Synoptic Evangelists’ Greek texts. Moreover, understanding the differences between two, or among all three, Synoptic Gospels in a given passage helps in understanding the intention of each individual writer.

Various approaches have been taken toward explaining Gospel similarities and differences. They may be categorized under two broad headings: 1) Oral Hypotheses, and 2) Written Hypotheses.

Oral hypotheses assume that the differences are to be explained because the Gospel writers included material that originated from oral retelling of stories. Details change over time. Westerners sometimes make the mistake of regarding the flexibility inherent in oral transmission as a pattern of random inaccuracies. In other words, they view orally transmitted material as if it were unduly suffering from verbal scribal errors and typos.

When dealing with texts that were originally orally transmitted, we must be prepared to accept purposeful reshaping and retelling of a story. Purposeful changes, condensations and expansions are sometimes necessary for an author to highlight the character and significance of a saying or event. Oral preachers, especially, have a responsibility to ensure that their audience grasps the heart of their message.

Written hypotheses assume that writers relied upon literary sources. Logically, of course, those written sources ultimately could be traced back to an oral stage. That stage could span many years, or merely several minutes. Thus, the most extreme diminishing of an initial oral stage would be a written source that had been transcribed at the moment Jesus spoke. Most scholars do not assume such an immediate jump from saying to written source. The differences in wording in our Gospels would not have arisen to the degree that they appear today if stenographic transcripts of Jesus’ sayings once circulated.

Most written hypotheses assume that at least two of our synoptic writers saw at least one other of our written Gospels. This becomes significant for interpretation. If we know which Evangelist had seen which other Evangelist’s work, then we can more easily see who is adding “spin” in the telling of the story, where, and when.

The problem, of course, is that scholars do not agree on which Evangelist used which Gospel. For this reason, the Jerusalem School’s methodology becomes so important. A serious exegete must know which verses or phrases fit tightly the Jewish first-century culture and which more tightly fit a Greek-speaking environment. This process reaches far into the Greek texts, to the level of the individual words used by the Evangelists. With careful evaluation and comparison of the Greek texts of the three synoptic writers, verse by verse, word by word, one can often see that a piece here is smoother Greek, or a piece there is more Semitic-like Greek. One might see that phrase A could have produced phrase B, but not the other way around. Such evaluation deals with accumulated probabilities, not certainties. Nevertheless, it is dealing with real data, not hypothetical sources. One who is skilled in biblical and mishnaic Hebrew, and first-century Greek, can, in this manner, make good progress in sorting out the data.

Trying to explain what we see in the synoptic texts leads to theorizing about sources. If one finds a roof, one is inclined, naturally, to theorize about what supported it. By all means, take the theories with a grain of salt! We do in Jerusalem—even our own.

The theory (literary conclusions) is like wrapping paper around the present. The content and the methodology constitute what is truly significant, but many only see our wrapping paper. When Jerusalem School scholars look at any one saying or story, we do not assume de facto that Luke’s text is preferable because, in our opinion, he wrote first. In other words, we resist the temptation of granting special status to Luke’s Gospel because it was written first—a habit of too many Markan priorists with Mark’s Gospel. Time and again we find wording, particularly in Matthew’s Gospel, that is more authentic, that is, less edited, than in Luke’s and/or Mark’s, even though we view Matthew as having been written after Luke and Mark. This helps in seeing more clearly why methodology is of greater import than theory.

Remain cautious about accepting literary theories, but if you want to study the Gospels’ words at their most reliable level, then there is no escape from a methodology that includes an advanced knowledge of Greek and the highest knowledge of biblical and mishnaic Hebrew. (You will need Aramaic, too, though it is less significant.) Because of the academic split between classical Greek studies and mishnaic Hebrew studies, such a comprehensive methodology is rarely found in the halls of New Testament academia. Only by demanding expertise in both disciplines will a new generation of Christian scholars emerge with the required skills to sift more surefootedly through so many conflicting opinions on the Gospels being offered today.

The “Hypocrisy” of the Pharisees

Many Christians assume the Pharisees were Jesus’ opponents. A viewer of a Jerusalem Perspective video clip on YouTube commented:

How can you be so positive in your assessment of the Pharisees? Remember that Jesus was pleased with the kneeling prayer of the tax collector and rebuked the prideful prayer of the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14). He also told us not to address anyone as “Rabbi”; we have only one teacher. And finally, Jesus consistently called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 12:34; 23:23) and said that “they have already received their reward” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16).

Without reading the Scriptures carefully, and without a familiarity with Second Temple-period extra-biblical sources, a simple reader of the New Testament might assume that a majority of the Pharisees were hypocrites and that the Pharisees as a movement were indeed a “brood of vipers.” As a result of this common Christian assumption, the word “Pharisee” has become a synonym for “hypocrite” in the English language.

However, this widespread Christian misreading of the New Testament is a terrible mistake, which, in the course of the last two millennia, often has resulted in appalling consequences for the Jewish community.

Who did Jesus say were sitting on Moses’ seat (Matt. 23:2)? Answer: the Pharisees and their scribes. Jesus said: “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and keep everything they say to you (in Hebrew, כל מה שיאמרו לכם, meaning, “[Observe] their rulings, commandments”). The verb λέγειν (say) in this verse may be a Hebraism for “to rule,” or “to command.” The Greek verbs ποιεῖν (to do) and τηρεῖν (to keep) are a parallelism and both refer to observing the biblical commandments as interpreted by the Pharisees (the Oral Torah).

Jesus himself observed the Oral Torah of the Pharisees. For example, not only was it his custom to say a blessing after eating, as commanded in the Torah (Deut. 8:10), but he also said a blessing before eating, an innovation of the Pharisees. (See David Bivin, “Jesus and the Oral Torah: Blessing.”)

Shmuel Safrai commented:

In other areas of daily life the rulings of the Pharisees also were practiced, and although there were bitter controversies, eventually the Pharisaic halachah prevailed even in the major areas of Temple worship. Josephus states that “all prayers and sacred rites of divine worship are performed according to their [the Pharisees’] exposition” (Antiquities 18:15), and that the Sadducees “submit to the formulas of the Pharisees, since otherwise the masses would not tolerate them” (Antiquities 18:17). (from Safrai, “Counting the Omer: On What Day of the Week Did Jesus Celebrate Shavuot (Pentecost)?.”)

Who was it that warned Jesus about Herod’s intention to kill him? Answer: the Pharisees (Luke 13:31).

Who was it that saved the lives of Jesus’ disciples by urging tolerance in the Sanhedrin when Peter and the other apostles were brought before it (Acts 5:33-39)? Answer: a Pharisee name Gamaliel, none other than Rabban Gamaliel the Elder.

Who was it that sided with Paul against the Sadducees in the Sanhedrin, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” (Acts 23:6-9)? Answer: the Sanhedrin’s Pharisees. (Read Shmuel Safrai’s “Insulting God’s High Priest.”)

Josephus reports that, after James was lynched by the conniving Sadducean high priest Hanan (Annas), the Pharisees protested to the Roman governor. David Flusser writes:

A similar clash between the Pharisees and Annas the Younger, probably the brother-in-law of Caiaphas, took place in the year 62 C.E. Annas the Younger “convened the Sanhedrin of judges and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, and certain others [probably Christians]. He accused them of having transgressed the Torah and delivered them to be stoned” (Antiq. 20:200-203). The Pharisees, who Josephus describes as the “inhabitants of the city who were considered the most tolerant and were strict in the observance of the commandments,” managed to have the high priest Annas the Younger deposed from his position as a result of the illegal execution of James. (David Flusser, “…To Bury Caiaphas, Not to Praise Him”)

Flusser also writes:

In contrast to what we know about Caiaphas and his faction, especially from John 11:47-53, the Pharisees of his time did not launch persecutions of Jewish prophetic movements. This is attested by Jesus himself (Matt. 23:29-31), according to whom the Pharisees of his day used to say, “If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” Indeed, when one reads the gospels critically, one becomes aware that the Pharisees did not play a decisive role in Jesus’ arrest, interrogation and crucifixion. The Pharisees are not even mentioned by name in the context of Jesus’ trial as recounted in the first three gospels, with the exception of the story about the guard at Jesus’ tomb (Matt. 27:62). (Flusser, “…To Bury Caiaphas, Not to Praise Him”)

The Pharisees were acutely aware of the dangers of hypocrisy. Their self-criticism was even more biting than that of Jesus. They even caricatured themselves saying that there were seven classes of Pharisees (j. Ber. 14b, chap. 9, halachah 7; j. Sot. 20c, chap. 5, halachah 7):

The “shoulder Pharisee”, who packs his good works on his shoulder (to be seen of men); the “wait-a-bit” Pharisee, who (when someone has business with him) says, Wait a little; I must do a good work; the “reckoning” Pharisee, who when he commits a fault and does a good work crosses off one with the other; the “economising” Pharisee, who asks, What economy can I practise to spare a little to do a good work? the “show me my fault” Pharisee, who says, show me what sin I have committed, and I will do an equivalent good work (implying that he had no fault); the Pharisee of fear, like Job; the Pharisee of love, like Abraham. The last is the only kind that is dear (to God). (English translation by George Foot Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era: The Age of the Tannaim [2 vols.; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927], 2:193)

Only one of the seven classes of Pharisees is righteous and acceptable to God: the Pharisee who serves God from love. Compare the saying of Antigonus of Socho, a sage who lived at the beginning of the second century B.C.: “Do not be like slaves who serve their master [i.e., God] in order to receive a reward; rather be like slaves who do not serve their master in order to receive a reward” (Mishnah, Avot 1:3). To the saying of Antigonus, compare the phrase found in Derech Eretz Rabbah 2:13 (ed. Higger, 284): עושין מאהבה (osin me-ahavah, those who do [i.e., perform good deeds] out of love).

“They preach, but they do not practice” (Matt. 23:3). The Pharisees were the conservatives of their day, the Bible teachers and preachers of Jesus’ society. The Pharisees knew that their greatest danger was the sin of hypocrisy, just as today’s conservative Christians understand that hypocrisy is their greatest danger. We sincere and devout followers of Jesus are the hypocrites of our day. There cannot be hypocrites where there are no beliefs and standards to which one is accountable to God.

Notice that Jesus did not criticize the Pharisees for tithing of their garden herbs (Matt. 23:23), a commandment of the Oral Torah, but for neglecting weightier matters. Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees appears to be “in-house” criticism, constructive criticism driven by love and respect. The Pharisees, in contrast to the Sadducees, held beliefs that were similar to Jesus’.

The expression “brood of vipers” appears four times in the New Testament, three times in Matthew’s Gospel and one time in Luke’s. (There are no parallels to any of these four sayings in Mark’s account.) According to Luke’s Gospel (Luke 3:7), the expression is found in the address of John the Baptist to the “crowds” who came to him at the Jordan River. However, according to Matthew, John the Baptist’s stinging rebuke was addressed to “Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt. 3:7). Apparently, this detail was added for color by the author of Matthew, who then put it in the mouth of Jesus twice more. Luke’s Gospel along with Mark’s provide evidence that this strong expression was used by the fiery John the Baptist, and not by Jesus.

Jesus’ words, ἀπέχουσιν τὸν μισθὸν αὐτῶν (“they are getting their reward/pay”) is a refrain that is repeated three times (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16). The implication is that such hypocrites will not receive a reward in the World to Come—perhaps will not even be in the World to Come! Rather than being a condemnation of the Pharisees, this threesome proves that Jesus’ theology was similar, or identical, to that of the Pharisees.

The three most important commandments in the eyes of the Pharisees were almsgiving, prayer and fasting, in that order, the most important being צְדָקָה (tsedakah; almsgiving). Jesus gives this trio in his Sermon on the Mount. Although Jesus’ point is that one should not be ostentatious when giving to the poor, when praying, and when fasting, in passing, we learn something about Jesus’ theology: Jesus stressed the same three commandments that were so important to the Pharisees. Notice that the centurion, Cornelius, was a God-fearer (Acts 10:2, 22). He gave alms and prayed much (Acts 10:2, 4) and fasted (Acts 10:30).

Regarding Jesus’ command to his disciples not to be called “rabbi” (my teacher), see the FAQ, “What did Jesus mean by ‘Call no man your father on earth’ (Matt. 23:9)?”

For further reading, see Shmuel Safrai, “Jesus and the Hasidim”; Shmuel Safrai, “Sabbath Breakers”; David Flusser, “…To Bury Caiaphas, Not to Praise Him”; and David Bivin, “Rabbinic Literature: A Spiritual Treasure.”

How should I cite material taken from your site?

Revised: 02-Jul-2015

Due to the nature of Internet publishing, content found on Web sites can be updated, corrections and improvements being inserted whenever an author desires. Sometimes, an article’s revision involves no more than a word or two. An online article might be revised, for example, twenty times in one day. Consequently, online articles are usually accompanied by a “Last Revised” date and the “Date Read” (i.e., date of access).

It has become clear that in the not-to-distant future the majority of scholarly publications (books and articles) will be published electronically. Consequently, standards for citation of Internet publications have already been set in place. See, for example: The SBL Handbook of Style: For Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical and Early Christian Studies (ed. Patrick H. Alexander; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), 63.

Probably, the authority for online citation is Janice R. Walker and Todd Taylor, The Columbia Guide to Online Style (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006). Walker and Taylor suggest:

To cite an individual Web page, give the author’s name, the title of the page, enclosed in quotation marks, capitalizing the first word and all major words, followed by the date of publication and/or last modification, the complete URL, including the protocol (e.g., “http”), and the date of access enclosed in parentheses and followed by a period. If the page is part of a larger Web site, include the site title in italics.

Here are examples of how JP content should be cited:

1. Online articles

As footnote: Shmuel Safrai, A Priest of the Division of Abijah,” 7 October 2005, Jerusalem Perspective Online, (13 November 2012).

As entry in a bibliography: Safrai, Shmuel. A Priest of the Division of Abijah.” 7 October 2005. Jerusalem Perspective Online. (13 November 2012).

2. eBooks

Sermons from Narkis, ed. Joseph Frankovic, 31 March 2006, Jerusalem Perspective Online, (Download page):, 14.

3. Weblogs

Brian Becker, “Engaged: The Family Blessing,” 13 August 2012, Jerusalem Perspective Weblog, (13 August 2012).

What is the meaning of “firstborn male” in Luke 2:23?

Question submitted by a Wycliffe Bible translation consultant that was published in the “Readers’ Perspective” column of Jerusalem Perspective 55 (April-June 1999): 6.

Yesterday I [a Wycliffe Bible translator; name withheld by Jerusalem Perspective] finished two days of consultant work, checking accuracy and naturalness of Luke 1-2 in the [language name withheld by Jerusalem Perspective] language. A question arose over Luke 2:23. Following is an excerpt from our Wycliffe (SIL) Translator’s Notes on this section. The excerpt reflects the main interpretations in the commentaries.

2:23b firstborn male: Greek: “male opening a womb.” There are two possible meanings here: 1. “A mother’s first boy child to be born.” This may not be the mother’s first child. (In Exodus this also includes an animal’s first boy baby.) 2. The literal meaning can be understood as “a male who is his mother’s first child.” And this was true of Jesus. But meaning 1 is the most likely meaning in this verse, because the law applied to all Jewish mothers, not only to those whose first child was a boy.

The linguist doing the translating has called a local rabbi to see if interpretation 1 or 2 is preferred in Jewish tradition, but we have not yet heard from the rabbi. Would you have any rabbi contacts or other resources that might tilt us toward 1 or 2?

In summary, my question is this: Is the consecration of the boy only done if he is the firstborn? Or is it done if he is simply the oldest? In other words, if the firstborn child is a daughter, but there are subsequent males, is there no consecration of a firstborn son in that family? It would be nice to learn if there is a standard rabbinical interpretation for this consecration.

David Bivin responds:

Yes, there is a standard Jewish understanding of this biblical commandment. We found out by phoning Jerusalem School member and Hebrew University professor Shmuel Safrai.

According to Professor Safrai, “the halachah (rule) in the first century—and still today—is that the pidyon haben (redemption of the firstborn) ceremony applies only to firstborn males. Ancient rabbinic sources emphasize the words peter rehem (first offspring of womb; Exod. 13:2, 12; 34:19-20; Num. 3:12; 18:15). If the firstborn child is a female, then the ceremony is not conducted for a later, firstborn male. To put it in your words, if the firstborn child is a daughter, but there are subsequent males, there is no consecration of a firstborn son in that family.”

This consultation with Professor Safrai illustrates and underscores two significant things:

1. A number of translation problems, especially in the Synoptic Gospels, cannot be adequately solved without a firm grasp of the text’s Jewish cultural and linguistic background;

2. As we Christians attempt the difficult task of translating the Bible, especially the Synoptic Gospels, the assistance of our Jewish colleagues is crucial.

How should Jesus’ Hebrew name be transliterated to English?

I was puzzled by David Bivin’s January/February column (“Understanding the Roots of the Bible”) [in Ministries Today (Strang Communications, Lake Mary, Florida)] inasmuch as Bivin makes a case against spelling the name Y’shua with an apostrophe. The rules of transliteration are to enable correct pronunciation that approximates the sound in Hebrew. By spelling it with an apostrophe, we put the accent where it belongs, on the second syllable. Bivin seems to feel that this is an “English corruption.”

We spell Y’shua with an apostrophe and agree with Bivin on the correct pronunciation. If spelled with an “e” (Yeshua), it would be pronounced by most readers with the accent on the first syllable. We want to get an even pronunciation.

Whether the synoptic Gospels were written in Hebrew is purely a matter of speculation. We know they were transmitted in Greek, and Greek was commonly spoken. There has never been enough of a reason to believe they were originally written in Hebrew. Bivin and his colleagues use the word “apparently” for what is not so apparent to most 20th-century scholars of Hebrew and Greek.

Moishe Rosen, Director
Jews for Jesus
San Francisco, CA

The preceding Letter to the Editor appeared in the September/October 1992 issue of Ministries Today (Strang Communications, Lake Mary, Florida), in response to my January/February 1992 column in Ministries Today (p. 46).

In the January/February 1992 issue of Ministries Today, I wrote: “…the spelling “Y’shua” is an English corruption of the name. English speakers normally shorten a vowel in an unstressed syllable to the “uh” sound, for instance, the final “a” in banana or the “o” in collide. In fact, in their pronunciation, a vowel in an unstressed syllable is often so short that it is scarcely audible. Because the accent in the word יֵשׁוּעַ (yeSHUa) is on the second syllable, English speakers have a tendency to slur the first syllable. “Y’shua” is a result of someone spelling the name Yeshua as they mispronounce it.”

Several years ago, I spoke to Moishe Rosen in Jerusalem and expressed my reservations about his transliteration of the name “Yeshua.” At the time, he argued that adopting the transliteration “Y’shua” gave his organization a distinctive spelling of the name. I’m glad that Rosen now expresses interest in a transliteration that will “enable correct pronunciation that approximates the sound in Hebrew.”

The Jews for Jesus spelling of Jesus’ name probably came about due to a particular mispronunciation of Hebrew that is characteristic of English speakers. The original creator of this transliteration apparently believed that the initial vowel in Jesus’ name is a shewa, an “uh” sound, and so wrote it with an apostrophe. This slurring is similar to the way beginning Hebrew students from English-speaking countries mispronounce the Hebrew word shaLOM as sh’LOM.

Even if the spelling adopted by Jews for Jesus helps English speakers to get the accent in the right place, English speakers may still incorrectly pronounce the first syllable of Jesus’ name as “yuh.” If there is concern that people might not pronounce Jesus’ name “the Jewish way,” why not capitalize the letters of the accented syllable “SHU,” or simply use an accent mark over that syllable?

Doesn’t the Bible Call Jesus a Rabbi?

Although it was only after 70 A.D. that רַבִּי (raBI, my master, my teacher) became a formal title for a teacher, and therefore it is anachronistic to speak of Jesus as a “rabbi,” this term may be more helpful than any other in conveying a correct image of Jesus to the average Christian reader. Jesus was recognized as a teacher in his day and as such was addressed “raBI,” the polite form of address to a teacher. See David Bivin, “Was Jesus a Rabbi?

From the Gospel accounts, Jesus clearly appears as a typical first-century Jewish sage, and was famous enough to draw students to himself. Perhaps the most convincing proof that Jesus was a sage was his style of teaching, for he used the same methods of Scripture interpretation and instruction as the other Jewish sages of his day. A simple example of this is Jesus’ use of parables to convey his teachings.

What language did Jesus speak?

Revised: 17-Aug-2012

The following two articles by Shmuel Safrai are essential reading on this question: “Spoken Languages in the Time of Jesus” and “Literary Languages in the Time of Jesus.”

JS2Even more important for the language question will be the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research’s seminal volume, Volume 2 of their series with Brill Publishers: The Linguistic Background of the Synoptic Gospels: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels, Volume 2 (ed. R. Steven Notley and Randall Buth; Leiden: Brill, forthcoming).

Note the extremely valuable article by the Hebrew University’s Steven Fassberg: Steven E. Fassberg, “Which Semitic Language Did Jesus and Other Contemporary Jews Speak?” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 74 [April 2012]: 263-280.