Stephen Andrew Missick
Copyright 2012 Stephen Andrew Missick
Jesus was Jewish as were all his apostles, disciples and most of his early followers. Many people believe that organized Christianity has lost sight of its Jewish roots and is in need of rediscovering them. There is now a large movement of people who are trying to re-connect to the Jewish origins of Christianity. Now, there are many diverse groups attempting to discover a more authentic form of "Christianity." This includes Hebraic Christian groups and the Messianic movement. Many groups strongly disagree with one another. This has created confusion. Where can one get accurate information to do on a quest to discover Jesus the Jewish Messiah? In this handbook, I give the approach that I have taken in exploring the Semitic Roots of Christianity.
I need to make a quick note about words. Certain Jewish roots groups use distinctive terminology and have different approaches towards the sacred name of God. My goal with this handbook is to communicate. Therefore, I deal with issues about words, which initially may obstruct communication, especially to the uninitiated, in the course of this study.
Back to the Bible
The first step in understanding the Semitic understanding of the Jesus is to understand the Bible. Many Christians have a limited understanding of the Old Testament and this actually impedes their understanding of the New Testament. An example of this would be the feasts mentioned in the Gospel of John and the Acts of the Apostles. These Jewish feast-days are actually Biblical festivals or "the feasts of the Lord." The Gospel of John mentions Tabernacles (Sukkot) and Passover. The Acts of the Apostles mentions Pentecost (Shavuot) and alludes to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in Acts 27:9.
Serious students of the Bible should take an interest in the different versions of the Bible that have come down to us. The traditional Jewish Old Testament is called the Massoretic Texts because it is a version that was passed down to us by a group of Middle Eastern scribes called the Masorites. The oldest Masoretic manuscripts we have are the Aleppo codex and the Leningrad Codex both of which date to the 900s AD. About two hundred years before the birth of Christ, a translation of the Old Testament was made into Greek by the Greek speaking Jewish community in Egypt. This Greek version is called the Septuagint. The New Testament often quotes from the Old Testament from the Septuagint version. The Jewish translators of the Greek Septuagint thought that "Jesus" was the closest approximation of the name "Yeshua" (or Joshua) into the Greek language. The Latin Vulgate was also translated directly from the Hebrew by Jerome. He studied with and consulted with rabbis in his research and translation. Jerome spoke Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, as well as his native Latin. Jerome also distinguished between the Jewish Canon and books included in the Christian Old Testament but not recognized by the Jews. Jerome called these book "apocrypha." Both the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate are older than the traditional Massoretic texts and we should be mindful that they are witnesses to Hebrew texts older than any we have today. It is also interesting that in certain places, the Dead Sea Scrolls biblical texts confirm Septuagint renderings.
For More Information:
"The Books and the Parchments" by F.F.Bruce
The Bible is written in three languages, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Hebrew and Aramaic are Semitic languages and are closely related. The Semitic language family includes Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Maltese, Ethiopian languages, Mahri, Soqotri and Dhofari. It also includes extinct languages such as Ugaritic, Punic and Akkadian. Semitic languages are related to the "Afro-asiatic" languages which means that they are distantly related to Egyptian (and Coptic) and Berber. Linguists classify Hebrew as a dialect of Canaanite. In the Old Testament, the language we call Hebrew is never called "Hebrew." It is called Canaanite and Judean (Isaiah 19:18, 36:11). Linguists have been able to theoretically reconstruct the language that Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and all other Semitic languages by comparing and contrasting all the Semitic language. This root language is called "Proto-Semitic."
The Greek language is an Indo-European (or Aryan) language. This means that it belongs to the same language family that Iranian, German, English, Italian and Spanish belong to. There are important Jewish resources in Greek, this includes the Apocrypha, which is ancient Jewish literature, and works of Jewish scholars such as Josephus and Philo of Alexandria.
Linguists dispute the contention that some people make that because people use different vocabulary or they conjugate verbs differently, that they think or perceive reality differently. Also, it seems that language and culture are different things.
For those interested in linguistics:
"How Biblical Languages work" by by Peter James Silzer and Thomas John Finley
"An Introduction to Linguistics," The Great Courses, by John McWhortner
Judaism has evolved through the centuries. We shouldn't assume that because the Jews have a tradition today that that tradition derives from ancient times. An example could be the Kippah, a head covering that Jewish men wear. It is believed that Jewish men did not wear the Kippah in ancient times and that this practice was adopted from the Moslems and after the year 600 AD. Sometimes Jewish sources do not help clarify the Bible. An example would be the Jewish midrash about Bithia, Moses' adoptive mother. (Midrash is Jewish oral tradition.) According to the Midrash, Bithia stretched her arm out over one hundred feet like "Plastic-man" in order to grab the ark of bulrushes carrying the baby Moses upon the Nile. This tradition is obviously mythological. Also, the rabbis supposed that Dagon was a fish-god because his name sounds like "dag," a Hebrew word for fish. The rabbis were wrong. Now, from archeological discoveries we know that Dagon was a god of grain. So, the best way to study Jesus (and the Bible) in light of his culture, language and times, is through ancient sources. This includes the aforementioned Josephus and Philo of Alexandria. It also includes the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls is a hoard of ancient manuscripts that include biblical and extra-biblical literature. The Dead Sea Scrolls are dated from 200 BC-70AD. Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in the original Paleo-Hebrew script, rather than in the Square Aramaic script that we now call "Hebrew." The Samaritans still use the original Hebrew script and have preserved an important version of the Torah.
When studying the Semitic Roots of Christianity, it is essential to be familiar with the Apocrypha. Many Protestants have a strong aversion to the Apocrypha because they fear that they are Roman Catholic. They are not Roman Catholic-they are ancient Jewish writings. One important apocryphal book is First Maccabees. We know from the Gospel of John that Jesus kept the Feast of Hanukkah. However, oddly enough, the Jews did not preserve the Hanukkah story-Christians did-in First and Second Maccabees. Jesus observed Hanukkah and the story of the Maccabees in an essential historical narrative that fills part of the so-called "400 silent years" that separate the Old and New Testaments. The Jews of Egypt had a different Canon of Scripture than the Jews of Israel. The longer canon was included in the Greek Septuagint version. The Christian Church canonized the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament with the extra books. Jerome noted that the Jewish Canon was shorter and designated the books not in the Jewish version as "apocryphal." However, the Apocrypha was accepted as a part of the Old Testament by the Church, despite Jerome's ideas on the matter. After the Protestant Reformation, Protestants broke with tradition and began to recognize only those books in the Jewish canon of Scripture as canonical.
Certain other "apocryphal" books of ancient Jewish origin were preserved by Christians and not by the Jews. The Ethiopic Christians preserved the Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees (which were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls). Roman Catholics preserved "Messianic Jewish" literature such as "The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs" and "First and Second Esdras."
Aramaic as the Language of Jesus
It is clear from the New Testament that Jesus spoke Aramaic. After the time of the Babylonian Captivity, the common language of the majority of the Jewish people transitioned from Hebrew to Aramaic. Although it appears that Hebrew survived in isolated enclaves, most of the common Jewish people no longer understood Hebrew. This being the case it was necessary to have the Bible translated into Aramaic so that the people could understand the Scriptures. These Aramaic versions of the Bible are called the Targums (or Targumim). Aramaic Targums were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the east, a community of Christian Jews spoke a dialect of Aramaic called Syriac. They produced a Messianic Jewish Targum of the Old Testament that was translated from Hebrew into Aramaic. This version of the Old Testament is called the Syriac Peshitta. An ancient Aramaic Judeo-Christian hymnbook has also survived. It is called the "Odes of Solomon." The Targums were an important part of synagogue worship. Synagogue services were opened with the "Sh'ma" in Hebrew: "Here O, Israel, the Lord your God, is One." Then the Scriptures were read in Hebrew. Then the Targum of the Scripture reading was recited in Aramaic. This was followed by a homily in Aramaic and services were concluded with the Kaddish prayer, which now is recited in periods of morning. The Kaddish shares clear links with the Lord's Prayer.
Liberal Bible Scholar Bruce Chilton has written extensively on Jesus and the Targumim in such books as "A Galilean Rabbi and His Bible."
For the Kaddish see: "The Old Jewish-Aramaic Prayer: The Kaddish" by David De Sola Pool
Joachim Jeremias has written extensively on Aramaic as the language of Jesus Christ
Stephen Missick has several helpful Aramaic resources available including "The Words of Jesus in the Original Aramaic" and "The Language of Jesus: Introducing Aramaic."
The Ebionites and other early Jewish Christian Groups
For those who are interested in the early Jewish Christians, an abundance of information can be gleaned from the writings of the Early Church Fathers. Eusebius is considered the "Father of Church History." When Constantine ended the horrific persecution of the Churches, Eusebius sat down and wrote a continuation of the history of the church, starting from the end of the Book of Acts and going to the year 325. Eusebius preserved vital information on the early Jewish Christians. He included stories about James the Brother of Jesus and stories about the descendents of Jude the Brother of Jesus that he found in Jewish Christian sources. Eusebius also notes that the first fifteen Bishops of Jerusalem were Christian Jews and that several of them were blood relatives of Jesus. (Eusebius claimed he derived his information on early Jewish Christianity from the writings of an early Jewish Christian named Hegesippus. Eusebius also wrote on the topography of the Holy Land and on Messianic Prophecies.) We know from the Church Fathers that the Ebionites, a sect of Jewish Christians, had great admiration for James the Brother of Jesus and that they were vegetarians. An account of James the Brother of Jesus written by the Ebionite Jews and titled "The Ascents of James" has survived because it was incorporated into "The Clementine Recognitions" and the "Clementine Homilies." These books about Clement tell the story of Clement, a disciple of Simon Peter who accompanied him in his missionary endeavors. The Didache, an early Christian worship manual with a strong Jewish flavor, has also survived.
"Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries" by Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik
"The Ascents of James" by Stephen Andrew Missick
"The Lost Religion of Jesus" by Keith Akers
"Defending Constantine" by Peter Leithart
The Hebrew Matthew
The Church Father Papias wrote a lost work entitled "Discourses on the Oracles of Our Lord." Papias was a second generation Christian who claimed to have interviewed the last remaining Apostles and to have interviewed those who had met Apostles who had passed away. Only fragments of this book have survived. In one of the surviving fragments, Papias claimed that Matthew wrote his gospel originally in the "Hebrew" language. However, the Church Fathers often called Jewish Aramaic "Hebrew." Eusebius says that the Apostles spoke only the Syrian language (meaning Aramaic). (Aram means Syria.) There was apparently a Hebrew Gospel. Jerome claims to have seen the Hebrew version of Matthew, which he describes as being in the Aramaic language. The Hebrew Matthew is lost. Like Papias, several fragments of the Hebrew Matthew have survived. We also have fragments of other Jewish Christian Gospels such as the Gospel of the Ebionites.
There is a Hebrew version of Matthew from the Middle Ages called the Shem Tov Matthew. However, this version of Matthew does not fit the description of the Hebrew Matthew left by the Church Fathers and the preserved fragments of the Hebrew Matthew are not found in it. It also has many Latin words in it which betrays the fact that the Shem Tov is translated from the Latin Vulgate's Gospel of Matthew. It also contains many errors such as confusing Galilee with Gilgal and Magdala with Macedonia! Matthew wouldn't have made these errors, but a Jew in Europe who had never been to Israel and had no knowledge of its geography would have. There weren't any decent maps of Israel until the 1800s when the Holy Land was finally properly surveyed.
"The Complete Gospels" by Robert Miller
"New Testament Writings: An Introduction" by Bart Ehrman
The most important Rabbinic Source that has come down to us is the Mishna. The Mishna claims to be oral tradition given by God to Moses and passed down orally until it was committed to writing by Rabbi Judah the Prince writing in the year 200 AD. The question is, do ALL of these rabbinic traditions REALLY go back to the time of Christ? And, if so, how many of them would Jesus have observed. In the Gospels, Jesus is presented as "torah-observant" but at times condemning certain Jewish traditions and even stating that some of the oral law violates the intent of the Torah. The problem also arises with the Targum. Bruce Chilton uses the Aramaic Targum to explore the Jewish identity of Jesus, but, although we do have Targumim from the time of Jesus, most of the Targumim we have today were written down centuries after the time of Jesus. So, how can we really be sure that these traditions actually go back to the time of Jesus? Certain Targum readings certainly do. So, these issues surrounding the Mishna (and Talmuds) and the Aramaic Targums are debated by Bible scholars. Geza Vermes was raised Roman Catholic, although he was of Jewish descent. In his adulthood, he converted to the religion of his ancestors. Although he is Jewish, he writes very highly of Jesus. Geza Vermes has a high regard for the Mishna and uses it to explore "Jesus the Jew." Messianic Jew Alfred Edersheim also uses rabbinical writings to understand Jesus' Jewish culture.
Alfred Edersheim "The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah" "Sketches of Jewish Social Life at the Time of Christ."
Geza Vermes "Jesus the Jew, "The Religion of Jesus the Jew," "The Authentic Gospel of Jesus."
Throughout history there have been attempts by Christians to connect with their Jewish heritage. For instance, the Eastern Orthodox Churches use leavened bread for communion. The Roman Catholic Church decided to break with tradition and use unleavened wafers because Christ was the unleavened bread of the Passover.
In the East, Aramaic is still spoken by small groups of Christians. They have preserved an ancient form of Aramaic Christianity. They have suffered terrible persecution at the hands of the Muslims but have in the past spread all the way to India and China and have produced a large body of theological works in Aramaic. The Aramaic Church is called "The Church of the East" and has been known as the Nestorian Church in the past. They have preserved the Gospels in an ancient Aramaic version.
The Ethiopian Coptic Church is also Semitic. This church has preserved ancient Jewish extra-Biblical books, which form part of their canon of Scripture. Many Ethiopian Christians believe themselves to be of Jewish descent and they have preserved certain Jewish practices such as Davidic dancing.
The Island of Malta was visited by the Apostle Paul. They are also a Semitic people speaking a Semitic language that is derived from Arabic and Punic, which was a form of Hebrew.
In searching out Semitic Christianity, it is important to realize that several forms of Semitic Christianity have survived and have a long history.
"Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper" by Brandt Petrie
Israel: The People and the Land
One way to expand your knowledge of the Bible is to visit the land of the Bible and go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Visiting the city of Jerusalem, the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee and the town of Nazareth opens up a unique dimension in understanding Jesus and the Bible.
It is essential for those who are interested in the Jewish roots of Christianity to support Israel. Anti-Semitism is becoming a more potent force in Islamic countries, in Europe and across colleges and universities in America thinly disguised as "anti-Zionism." Christians must combat anti-Semitism, but Christians also need to also support their fellow Christians who are suffering intense persecution at the hands of Muslim radicals, in Egypt, Iraq and in other countries.
Radical Islam threatens to destroy Israel, the Christians of the Middle East and, with a new stronghold in Europe, European Christianity. When Muslims invaded and took over the Middle East, they took Churches from the Christians, forced the Christians to pay oppressive taxes in order to be allowed to practice their religion and Christians experienced pogroms often. The Coptic Christians of Egypt suffered so much persecution that they revolted against their Islamic oppressors in the 700s and 800s AD. In the beginning of the 20th Century, about two million Christians were killed by Moslems in Turkish territory. At the conclusion of the 20th Century, over two million Christians were killed in Sudan by Islamists.
Jewish scholar Bat Yeor has written extensively on the persecution of Jews and Semitic Christians by Muslim radicals. It is vital to know this violent legacy of radical Islam to understand Semitic Christianity and the situation of the Middle East today. Middle Easterners have that have written on Islam include: Nonie Darwish, Brigette Gabriel, Walid Shoebat and Robert Spencer. "God's Battalions" by Rodney Stark.
The Sacred Name and Controversies about Words
Anyone who visits faith communities who are interested in Jewish groups will discover that there are various sects and controversies in the movement. Some people join Messianic groups because they want to win Jews to Christ or they are enamored with Judaism. These groups will embrace the Jewish practice of using words to substitute for the "Sacred Name of God." This means saying "Adonai" (Hebrew for Lord) of "Ha Shem" (Hebrew for "The Name") instead of saying Jehovah (which is YHWH in Hebrew, and "Yahweh" is used as a common theoretical pronunciation). (The exact pronunciation of YHWH is unknown and Yahweh or Yahoo-wah are likely pronunciations based on evidence.) Established Judaism teaches that it is sinful to speak the Sacred Name of God. In the Old Testament period, the name YHWH was commonly used. The practice of not speaking the name YHWH out of reference was introduced by Simon the Just at around 180 BC and became deeply ingrained in Judaism by the time of Christ. It seems that Jesus rarely used the Divine Name and He uses circumlocutions (substitutions) for the Name in the Gospels. Certain Messianics insist that believers must use the Divine Name and must use the Hebrew/Aramaic form of the name of Jesus/Joshua, which is Aramaic, in reference to the Messiah. Others try to introduce new terminology for theological terms such as rejecting the words "Christian" or "Church." I feel these efforts run the danger of impeding communication and preventing people from understanding important concepts and can lead to confusion and wasting of time. Certain so-called Messianic groups will challenge established Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, and the immortality of the soul. It is obvious that "restorationist" sects such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Way International are influential in Messianic and Hebraic Roots movements.
Concerns about Paganism
The goal of those who are seeking to understand the Jewish roots of Christianity should be to gain a better understanding of Scripture and to get closer to God. However, there are those in the Jewish Roots movement who obsess over paganism. There are those put out fraudulent information based upon an outdated and discredited book entitled "The Two Babylons" by Alexander Hislop written in 1853. In it Hislop claimed Nimrod married Semiramis, which is impossible, since Semiramis, actually called Shammuramat, ruled over Assyria 811 BC–808 BC, long after the time of Nimrod. Hislop argued that Tammuz was the son of Semiramis which isn't true. Hislop also argued that the cross is a symbol of Tammuz since Tammuz starts with a "T." But, in Babylonia, Tammuz was pronounced Damuzi. Some Messianics claim that Jesus was crucified on a pole and not a cross. However, there is abundant textual, archeological and medical evidence that Jesus was indeed crucified upon a cross. Certain Messianics spend a great deal of time and effort attempting to prove that Christianity is derived from paganism. Most of their information they put out about paganism is inaccurate. There are also many parallels between how the Israelite's pagan neighbors worshiped and how the Israelites are instructed to worship in the Bible. For instance, there are similarities between the Babylonian law-code of Hammarabi and the Torah of Moses. Also, pagan temples discovered near Israel, that are older than Solomon's Temple are built to a very similar pattern to Solomon's Temple. Israel's pagan neighbors also sacrificed sheep, goats and bulls similar to the way the Israelites did. It vexes my soul to hear people go on and on about paganism. It isn't edifying. I was forced to research Canaanite and Egyptian religious beliefs in order to counteract some of the disinformation put out in certain Messianic circles. Here is a list of some of the major Canaanite gods in order to clear up confusion. For instance, it is often, incorrectly stated that these religions were based on sun worship. They were not.
El: The Father of the Gods
Asherah: A Sacred Tree and a Goddess-the Mother of the lesser gods
Dagan: A grain god and the father of Baal.
Hadad: Called "Baal" meaning "Lord" in Hebrew. He is the god of rain and lightening.
Ashtoreth: A goddess of fertility
Tammuz: A shepherd god, condemned to hell for six months out of the year by his traitorous lover, Ashtoreth.
Shamash: The sun god (in some Canaanite religions the sun was a goddess called Shapash).
Key Concepts in Semitic Roots
When John began to prepare the way for Jesus he first began by attacking the Jews belief that they were good with God because they were his chosen people. John said that everyone must approach God the same way-through repentance, Jew and non-Jew alike. When Jesus was approached by Nicodemas, Jesus pointed out that Nicodemas was lost, despite his Jewish ancestry, his fluency in Hebrew and Aramaic, his knowledge of Jewish law and his observance of the Torah. The most important thing was being born again and without that he wasn't a child of God. Jesus taught his followers that they could call upon God as Father. Jesus had News-his Good News of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was not a legalist. To him the "the weightier matters of the law" are "justice, mercy, and faith" (Matthew 23:23) and not the observance of Sabbaths, festivals, the keeping of a diet, or the wearing of vestments-although these traditions were observed by Jesus. The primary mission of Jesus was the redeem mankind and to establish God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus came to the Jewish people and he is the Jewish Messiah and it is essential to understand this truth when searching out the Jewish roots of Christianity.
Stephen Andrew Missick
About the Author
Reverend Stephen Andrew Missick is the author of The Assyrian Church in the Mongol Empire, Mar Thoma: The Apostolic Foundation of the Assyrian Church in India, and Socotra: The Mysterious Island of the Church of the East which were published in the Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies (Volume XIII, No. 2, 1999, Volume XIV, No. 2, 2000 and Volume XVI No. 1, 2002). He is the author of The Words of Jesus in the Original Aramaic: Discovering the Semitic Roots of Christianity, Mary of Magdala: Magdalene, the Forgotten Aramaic Prophetess of Christianity, Treasures of the Language of Jesus: The Aramaic Source of Christ's Teaching, Aramaic: The Language of Jesus of Nazareth and Christ the Man. He is an ordained minister of the gospel. He graduated from Sam Houston State University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Rev. Missick has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East and has lived among the Coptic Christians in Egypt and Aramaic Christians in Syria. He also served as a soldier in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and 2004. While serving as a soldier in Iraq he learned Aramaic from native Aramaic-speaking Iraqi Assyrian Christians. Rev. Missick is the writer and illustrator of the comic book "The Assyrians: The Oldest Christian People," the comic strip Chronicles: Facts from the Bible and the comic book series The Hammer of God which are available from www.comixpress.com. The Hammer of God comic book series dramatizes the stories of Judah Maccabee and Charles Martel. He has also served as a chaplain in the Army National Guard in Iraq during his second deployment in 2009 and 2010.
PO Box 882, Shepherd, Texas, 77371
YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.youtube.com/aramaic12
King of Saints Tabernacle: Messianic Congregation
2228 FM 1725
Cleveland, TX 77328