Immanu-El; ‘God is with us’ as Reported in the Gospel of Matthew 1:23

 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14

When I think of the above verse I cannot think of anyone more suited to show us that Jesus is the Immanu-El (God is with us).  He quotes:

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14”

The only difference in the Greek and Hebrew is that Matthew uses the LXX (Septuagint- the Greek translation of the TANACH (Old Testament for Christian readers)). 

The only dispute which to my mind is not a dispute at all is; Does almah in the Hebrew mean Maiden or Virgin?

The truth is that in this context the maiden for cultural reasons would be a virgin as other wise she would probably be stoned to death.  The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament also says:

“Definition

    virgin, young woman of marriageable age

        maid or newly married ++ There is no instance where it can be proved that this word designates a young woman who is not a virgin. (TWOT)” Taken from biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/nas/almah.html

(In my quotations from the web sites I usually delete the first part for security reasons.)

In the LXX the word is always translated as virgin. 

The Church and many synagogues in the 1st century AD wrestling with the Scriptural texts of what type of Messiah was going to be born (the tension of Humble Servant and the Great Judge).

Paul and the first generation of early Christians did not see themselves as Christians. There was ‘no New Testament’. The New Testament came into being over time with reflections on the Tanach in its various forms (Hebrew and Greek).  As time has progressed and new discoveries have been made especially with the Dead Sea Scrolls, we find images of a Lowly Messiah and a Messiah as Judge.  Obviously, much thought went into this thinking. There is only one true Messiah not two. John in his Gospel showed Jesus the lowly Messiah who was born in a stable and the same John also Showed Jesus as the Judge of Mankind in the book of Revelations and the end times (eschaton).

These ideas were being wrestled with at the latter time of the Second Temple period.

Mathew, Mark, Luke and John all agree in the Messiah coming into the world as a humble servant who would be crucified a Horrific death on a Roman cross but on the third day be raised up as the glorified Messiah who would one day come back as the true king (within the Trinitarian framework) with power and authority on his second coming to judge the living and the dead.  As an added note I can say that although Mark does not show Jesus’ birth, he does show the repulsion of the cross and the resurrection. When we turn to the Dead Sea Scrolls proper we can see interesting ideas that were at work in probably the side corridors of the second Temple where Jesus probably taught his disciples,  and Judea including the surrounding areas.

The idea of a Messiah and the Dead Sea Scrolls

The messiah of heaven and earth (4q521) (plate 1)

The following text we will be looking at is taken from the penguin edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered by Robert Eisenman &  Michael Wise page 23:

“TRANSLATION

Fragment 1 Column 2 (1) [. . . The Heavens and the earth will obey His Messiah, (2) [. . . and all that is in them. He will not turn aside from the Commandments of the Holy Ones.

(3) Take strength in His service, (you) who seek the Lord.

(4) Shall you not find the Lord in this, all you who wait patiently in your hearts? (5) For the Lord will visit the Pious Ones (Hassidim) and the Righteous (Zaddikim) will He call by name.

(6) Over the Meek will His Spirit hover, and the Faithful will He restore by His power.

(7) He shall glorify the Pious Ones (Hassidim) on the Throne of the Eternal Kingdom.

(8) He shall release the captives, make the blind see, raise up the do[wntrodden.] (9) For[ev]er will I cling [to Him . . J; and [I will trust] in His Piety (Hated, also ‘Grace’),

(10) and [His] Goodness . . .] of Holiness will not delay . . .

(11) And as for the wonders that are not the work of the Lord, when He . . . “

(12) then He will heal the sick, resurrect the dead, and to the Meek announce glad tidings.

(13) . . . He will lead the [Holly Ones; He will shepherd [th]em; He will‘do

(14) . . . and all of it . . .”

According to Eisenman & Wise there are important themes here within this core tradition from the Judaean desert of what the messiah would be like and how he would function. Four key themes keep coming up

  • The Righteous
  • The Pious
  • The Meek
  • The faithful

The writers point out that the righteous and the pious are key themes within Jewish mysticism and the Meek and the Faithful key themes in Christianity.  I find this very interesting, but I would contend that these key themes are found throughout Scripture in the New Testament. For example, in the Beatitudes of Christ in Matthew 5 or those who over come in the Book of Revelations (from my past readings).

In this next section on the Messiah we read about the sufferings of the Leader of the community (Messiah (page 29)):

“Fragment 6 (1) . . . Wickedness will be smitten . . . (2) [the Leader of the

Community and all Israel . , .] (4) upon the mountains of . . . (5) [the]

Kittim . . . (6) the Leader of the Community as far as the» [Great] Sea . . .

(7) before Israel in that time . . . (8) he will stand against them, and they

will muster against them . . . (9) they will return to the dry land in that]

time . . . (10) they will bring him before the Leader of [the Community . . .]

Fragment 7 (1) . . . Isaiah the Prophet, [The thickets of the forest] will be

fell[ed with an axe] (2) [and Lebanon shall flail [by a mighty one.] A staff

shall rise from the root of jesse, [and a Planting from his r00ts will bear

fruit.’l (3) . . . the Branch of David. They will enter into Judgement

with . . . (4) and they will put to death the Leader of the Community, the

Bran[ch of David] (this might also be read, depending on the context, “and

the Leader of the Community, the Branch of David’], will put him to

death) . . . (5) and with wounding’s, and the (high) priest will command . . .

(6) [the slain of the Kittim . . .”

As it shows in the text one interpretation would be that ‘the Leader of the community would be put to death’.  This is interesting because Jesus as the Messiah was indeed put to death. It is no accident that the copper Scroll of Isaiah was also found at Qumran.

Reflection on the cultural background for the life of Jesus and common ideas within the Judaic community of the time.

I find this very interesting because there was serious thinking going on in the Old Testament of what kind of Messiah would come into the world.  The writers of the translation think that the Kittim in the text refers to the Occupying force of Judea as the ‘Romans’.  Certainly, Judas Iscariot was thinking of the Messiah being the one who would defeat the invading forces because he was a Zealot.

How does this relate to the birth of Jesus?

This shows that there were many interpretations going on from the Old Testament.  Matthew too was looking for the Messiah, the true King of Israel.  Within the Judaic world view of Judea seeing the birth of Jesus foretold in the Old Testament would not be a problem.  The Dead Sea Scrolls take the advent of the Messiah into the world as servant and conqueror very seriously.

The big difference between the Dead Sea scrolls and the teachings of Jesus is that the love of God rather than the vengeful God takes priority. Barabbas or Jesus is a perfect picture of this.

Reflection

Within the framework of Matthew’s world, it was perfectly natural to show that Jesus would be born of a virgin.  The Holy Spirit is the same God at the time of Isaiah as he was in Matthew’s time, and he is the same God in our present milieu. The use of the LXX was completely acceptable as it has a tradition of 70 elders for its translation.  It is a hard fact that the Apostles used the LXX a lot in their quotations.  The LXX certainly interprets the maiden in Isaiah 7.14 as a virgin. 

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