Posted: 12/27/2010 at 2:42pm
A Review of Nehemia Gordon’s The Hebrew Yeshua vs. the Greek Jesus
by Steve Eastman
The story of how The Hebrew Yeshua vs. the Greek Jesus came to be is almost as interesting as the subjects covered in the book. A group of men in black coats and hats with long, curly sideburns were gathered to discuss the ancient Biblical Hebrew Calendar. The keynote speaker walked to the table where Messianic Jew Michael Rood was seated, gave him a scrap of paper and said, “You need to contact this person as soon as possible.” The next day Rood was face to face with Nehemia Gordon, one of the translators of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Gordon is not Messianic, but is still considered a rebel by many Jews. Christians would see him as a Jewish equivalent of the Bereans. He interprets his faith by the Word of God as given in the Old Testament. Jews, who are aware of the term, would call him a Karaite. When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, the Pharisees filled the gap left by the end of the priestly system. They added many traditions not found in the Old Testament. Karaites, such as Gordon, reject these traditions. Many Jews today are spiritual descendants of the Pharisees.
Gordon started studying the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew, to answer a question from his Messianic friend. It turns out some of the early church fathers said Matthew was originally written in Hebrew. From there it was translated, with some difficulty, into Greek and other languages. English translations, which came much later, show more signs of “Greek-isms” (patterns of expression characteristic of the Greek language) than “Hebrew-isms.” Gordon came across a copy of Matthew from the times of the Inquisition. A Jewish scholar had added it as an appendix to a document he prepared to answer his Catholic interrogators. It was full of “Hebrew-isms” with relatively few “Greek-isms,” which means it wasn’t Matthew’s original but was probably pretty close.
Gordon was amazed to learn that Yeshua (known in Greek as “Jesus”) was also a Karaite. He denounced the traditions of the Pharisees and stuck to the Word of God.
The author reveals an important Jewish belief of which most Christians are unaware. The Pharisees taught that Moses received two kinds of law from God. The Written Law was put in the Old Testament. The Oral Law was supposedly not written down at first to keep it out of the hands of the Gentiles. However, as rabbi debated rabbi over the years, their decisions were written down, and that was considered the Oral Law. All Karaites reject this so-called Oral Law.
It is interesting that the Pharisees considered the so-called Oral Law more authoritative than the Written Law or prophetic insight. A good Pharisee was duty-bound to follow the hierarchy’s rulings rather than hear God for himself. It is reminiscent of the Discipleship Movement of the 1970s and the church before the Reformation. Although, in theory, the evangelical church rejects this approach, in practice, it is often adopted.
This brings us back to the passage Nehemia Gordon’s Messianic friend asked him to investigate, Matthew 23: 2-3. The King James Version puts it this way:
“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.”
Michael Rood was puzzled that Jesus would be telling believers to do whatever the Pharisees say.
When Gordon looked up the passage in the Hebrew version of Matthew, this is what he found:
“The Pharisees and sages sit upon the seat of Moses. Therefore, all that he says to you, diligently do, but according to their reforms and their precedents do not do, because they talk but they do not do.”
Here we see that we are not to obey the Pharisees, which is consistent with what we generally find in the New Testament.
The Hebrew Yeshua vs. the Greek Jesus illuminates a number of other significant passages. It is a valuable resource to anyone who wants to study the words of Jesus in their cultural context. It only makes sense that a degree of meaning is lost when the Hebrew is translated into Greek then into English. It is also a blessing to see how the Christian faith stands on Hebrew roots.
Visit the book's website.