Book Review: The Hebrew Yeshua vs The Greek Jesus

However, my understanding of who Yeshua was as an historical person has changed.  I once thought of him to be a usurper who came to do away with Torah. Yet the more I study the Hebrew Matthew, the more I find that whenever Jesus seems to be doing away with Torah in the Greek, Yeshua ends up upholding Torah in the Hebrew.

Nehemia Gordon
The Hebrew Yeshua vs The Greek Jesus p. 71-72

This book was recommended to me by a trusted friend, whom knows I am working to digest as much information as I can comprehend and absorb, on a journey that started about a year and a half ago.  I’ve started to question everything and seek verifiable answers in scripture, based on the historical and cultural relevance of when those scriptures were written.

To be forthright, Nehemia Gordon is a Karaite Jewish man, who does not believe Yeshua is the prophesied messiah.  However, he has a respect for those seeking truth and maintains some friendships with Torah observant Christians.  A couple of these friends asked him for some translation help with some confusing text written in Matthew..

It all started when my friend Michael Rood, a Messianic teacher, asked me what I thought of Matthew 23:1-3.  Michael explained that in this passage Yeshua told his disciples to obey the Pharisees because they teach with authority.  At first I told Michael that as a Karaite I stick to the Tanach and therefore I did not really have an opinion on the matter.  Michael asked me if I could nevertheless use my scholarly training to help him understand this test.  I hold a degree in Archaeology and Biblical studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and worked for several years on the Dead Sea Scroll Publication Project, the official publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  So Michael figured I could use these skill to try and shed some light on the book of Matthew.

-ibid p.2

One of the frustrating issues I have discovered is that each Bible translation has some differences.  Sometimes these differences may be inconsequential and other times they are so different that the meaning of a passage can be read entirely different.  Many are aware of the King James controversy surrounding Acts 12:4, in which the word Easter was used to replace the word Passover.  Or the trinity reference in 1 John.  These are minor to some, or major issues to others. Either way, it can really affect a reader by causing a separation from the original Jewish author and the modern-day reader.  There are several examples similar to this, and the King James edition is not the only culprit.

At first I believed these were innocent mistakes based on the interpreters language skills, cultural background, or even their attempt to interpret difficult passages while expressing their best guess of the intent of the scripture.  The problem is that when these passages are changed through poor interpretation, whether mistaken or intentional to pursue an agenda or bias towards a certain theology, the entire meaning of all scripture change.  Very rarely anymore does anyone studying scripture only use one verse as the basis for an entire theology.  Scriptures are referenced, cross referenced, combined, compared, and grouped into similar messages.  One small change can have a ripple effect, touching several other passages.

It is fairly common knowledge that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament has been presumed to have been written in Greek.

After a few grueling weeks immersed in New Testament Greek, I was no closer to an answer than when I started. So what if the book of Matthew had been written in Hebrew or had Hebrew sources?! As fascinating as this was, how did this help me understand Matthew 23:2-3? I went back to my colleague at the university and he confessed he had left out the most important part.  My colleague explained that not only did some scholars believe that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew, but a version of the Hebrew Matthew has survived to this day.

-ibid p.35-36

Earlier, Gordon explained that the Greek version of Matthew was full of Hebrewisms (p. 33).  A Hebrewism is what scholars consider an awkward translation, typically into Greek, in which a common Hebrew phrase or idea sounds awkward or loses meaning after translation.  Any of you with teenagers should understand this. chinese-sign When a teenager says, “That car stereo is sick,” we understand that sick is slang for awesome.  Imagine someone who only understands English as a second language and does not have the experience of street slang.  They could translate into their language as, “That car stereo has an illness.” No doubt, many, if not all of us have seen funny pictures of ill translated signs from around the globe.

 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

Matthew 23:1-3 (KJV)

The awkwardness of this passage, for many that have tried to study this, is to understand the overall message of what Yeshua is trying to teach.  The commonly accepted understanding is that Yeshua was teaching his disciples to recognize the Pharisees because they are in authority, and follow what they teach, but do not follow the hypocrisy of their examples.

I won’t rewrite his analysis of the translation, but Gordon explains the mistakes made in translation by presenting the Hebrew version and re-translating.  The summary of Gordon’s analysis is that Yeshua was not necessarily supporting the Pharisees as being in a position of authority, but he was stating that if their claim to authority is that they sit in Moses’ seat, then diligently do what Moses says! (p.48) 

While this  review is not going to do justice to the full content of Gordon’s analysis, the point I hope to get across is that he does a thorough job of breaking down the text, and even more so, making a strong case why Hebrew was the original language.  For anyone curious about the origin of scriptures and their meaning, or perhaps seeking validation that Yeshua’s message has been subtly distorted from Judaism over the years, Gordon’s book is an eye opener.

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