Biblical History: It Ain't Necessarily So? Part I
By Dr. Josef Ben Levi Presented by Omni Virtual University
"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needed not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of Truth." 2Timothy 2:15 King James Version In this presentation, we will be discussing the “construction" of Jesus as the Messiah. Only the Kings of Judah and Israel were described as the “anointed ones”. The etymology of the word "Messiah" is derived from the Hebrew Mashiach (משיח) literally meaning “to pour oil upon” on “one who is a consecrated portion”. This was a ritual performed with olive oil as an act of consecration bestowed upon royalty. First, there are some statements that need to be made relative to understanding the ways the texts of the canonized Old and New Testaments are to be understood when reading and studying them: “For the same things uttered in Hebrew, and translated into another tongue, have not the same force in them: and not only those things, but the law itself, and the prophets, and the rest of the books, have no small difference when they are spoken in their own language.” “Without some knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, you cannot satisfy yourself or those who look to you for help as to the changes which you will find in the Revised Old and New Testaments. Without some knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek, you cannot be certain, in a single instance, that in your sermon based on a Scripture text, that you are presenting the correct teaching of that text.” These statements will lay the foundation for the discourse that follows. They reflect what has been a fundamental flaw in the teaching of the Bible and the passage below. Consequently, those who are using this passage as a reflection on a coming “Messiah” are wrong and have been so, particularly within Protestant Christian exegesis (a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially scripture) and Hermeneutics (A branch of knowledge that deals with interpretations, especially of the Bible or literary texts.). The text in the Book of Isaiah chapter 7 is one of those important examples of how interpretation can go terribly wrong. It was Stephen Langston who divided the New Testament into chapters and verses in 1227 CE. Later Biblical scholar Arias Montanus in his 1571 Antwerp Bible. John Wycliff’s Bible was completed in 1382 before the Gutenberg printing press, in 1450, and used Langston’s chapter divisions.  The Old Testament chapters and verses were developed by a Jewish Rabbi named Nathan in 1448 and later by Biblical scholar, Arias Montanus in his 1571 Antwerp Bible.  We will start with the book of Isaiah in the Greek version of the Old Testament which is known as the μετάφραση των εβδομήκοντα i.e., Translation of the seventy. It was not until the time of Augustine of Hippo (354–430 CE) that the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures was called by the Latin term Septuaginta or Septuagint. It is important to keep in mind that Augustine was one of the greatest African minds in the early Christian church. It is often overlooked, it seems quite intentionally, that it was Africa that shaped the Christian mind!  In Isaiah 7:14, the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek version of the New Testament which was written from the 3rd to the 1st centuries BCE, uses the word “Parthenos” (πàρθέυος). Parthenos is the Greek word for “virgin” or a woman who has never had sexual intercourse (think “The Parthenon”). It was adopted as a corrupt interpolation in Matthew 1:23. The book of Matthew was not composed until sometime after 70 CE, or 70 years after the events he claims to record. Nor does the passage ( in Matthew 1:22) name the “prophet” that was supposed to have made this prediction. Keep in mind that the Greeks did not firmly establish themselves on the southern side of the Mediterranean until the conquest of Alexander, the son of Philip the Macedonian the barbarian, in 332 BCE. "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14 King James Version The original Hebrew text of Isaiah 7 uses the word “almah” (העלמה), a young woman and not “bethulah” (בתולה, or virgin), the Hebrew word for virgin. So how can it be interpreted that Isaiah is referring to a virgin giving birth since “virgin” and "pregnant" are mutually exclusive terms? How can that be claimed when the oldest surviving Masoretic text of the Hebrew scriptures is from the 7th century CE and the oldest Greek text, the LXX, is from the 4th century CE? That is about a 300-year difference! The LXX was produced in the 4th century CE during the Hellenic period when the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty ruled Egypt. Keep in mind that the LXX was produced in Africa. Egypt is in Africa, not the Middle East. The term “Middle East” does not appear as a geopolitical term until roughly 1900.  The Masoretic text, upon which most of our Bible translations are based, was not produced until the 7th century CE. Now that does not mean that it is the oldest version of the so-called Old Testament. I say so-called Old Testament because the term “Old Testament “cannot be found in the text bearing that name! Having clarified those very cursory statements, let us now take a dive into the Books of Isaiah and Matthew and the subject of this discourse, Isaiah 7:14. Both texts and verses address two different genres from two different historical periods that were not related to each other beyond the cultural milieu in which they speak. The book of Isaiah, the son of Amoz; has an interesting history of its own. The longest and most complete text of Isaiah (1QIsa) was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) discovered in 1946-1947 in the caves of Qumran around the Dead Sea. The DSS Isaiah was found in multiple copies, including one large single scroll of practically all the books. These caves are a part of a complex of caves at Qumran around the Salt Sea or the Dead Sea.  Isaiah first appears in the Hebrew scriptures in II Kings 19:2. He is addressing events that were happening in the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel during the time of the Assyrians in the 8th century BC. under Sargon II, Sennacherib, and later Shalmaneser III whose Black stone obelisk records the capture of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC and shows an image of Jehu, King of Israel, bowing to him on his throne. The text of Isaiah spans the reigns of the Southern Kingdom of Judah during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. It is during this period that it can be said: “biblical history comes alive”. This period corresponds to Kushite rule in Egypt and there are extra-biblical documents in Assyria and Egypt to support these events. The verses associating the birth of Jesus with Isaiah are incorrect! The oldest extant Hebrew copy of Isaiah dates to around 200 BCE, and yes, it uses the word “almah” (young woman). The facts are that the oldest extant version of the text of Isaiah suggests the events recorded in it are at least 400 plus years later than the events it describes. Therefore, extra-biblical witness is so important and needed such as the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser. The Masoretic text is pretty accurate. It is certainly accurate within the context of the association of the word “almah” with “young woman”. In Greek, the word “Parthenos” has never meant “young woman”. It is the LXX that produced an inaccurate translation of the Hebrew phrase. (Note, Isaiah 7:14). “…Look, a young woman IS with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel”. The original passage is written in the present tense. Placing this passage in the future tense is a gross mistranslation of the original text. It is a notoriously incorrect translation, twisted purposely to project a FUTURE messianic personality that those early Hebrews never predicted or saw in their future. Nor was Christianity or Jesus, as a messianic figure, even a “thought” at that time. Thus, the question is: How did Isaiah 7:14 become associated with Jesus as the coming Messiah? Let us now address the Emmanuel aspect of the quoted passage. This is a phrase or slogan that is representative of a particular event that is imminent. Besides, when was Jesus ever referred to by name as Emmanuel? This is a Hebrew phrase that the translators had a difficult time with since the passage in English really makes no morphological or syntactic sense. Yet, since they do not, in most cases, have a knowledge of Hebrew or Greek, those who expound on this passage still do not allow it to make sense. As a speaker of the old Hebrew language, Isaiah would have known perfectly well the distinction between the Hebrew word "virgin" and the word “bethulah” since he uses the latter elsewhere. But, the passage in Isaiah 7:14 does not use the Hebrew word for virgin. It uses “almah”, which is a young woman, in general, not a virgin. To reiterate, the Hebrew Biblical grammar, Isaiah 7:14 says ‘the young woman IS with child-not ‘will be’-and will bear a son who will be named Emmanuel -not Jesus- and before the child can tell left from right, the two kings threatening the Northern Kingdom will be gone. What kings? Most people do not start at the beginning of Isaiah 7 to see the context in which Isaiah is writing. Isaiah 7:1 reads, “In the days of Ahaz, son of Jotham son of Uzziah, King of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel went up to attack Jerusalem but could not mount an attack against it.” Without understanding that context, the rest will make no sense, especially if one "cherry picks" a specific passage and does not look at the historical context. One would never understand the role of Isaiah, Ahaz, Egypt, Assyria, and so on, without starting from the beginning of the chapter. It is even more difficult to understand without any historical or geographical knowledge of that part of the world. As for the term Emmauel (עמנואל.) This is just one of many phrases in the original Hebrew that were difficult for modern translators to tackle so, they left them alone, perhaps to allow for some creative imagining to take place. Emmanuel means the following: “em”- this is the preposition ‘with’ along with the independent third-person pronoun for “us” “nu”. “El” is the word mistranslated as “God”. It really means “Force or Power”. So, the phrase literally means “El is with us!”. The word "God" is derived from German although there were no Germans around as a national entity at that time. Consequently, the people in the Kingdom of Judah or Israel could not conceptualize the notion of "God". Now when we go back into the Book of II Kings 16-17, we begin to see the historical events leading up to what Isaiah is talking about. We even see when and where the prophet Isaiah shows up. Keep in mind that Matthew 1:22 does not even mention Isaiah as the prophet making the prediction. That is why Christians justify Isaiah's saying this by looking back at Isaiah 7. Perhaps, Matthew did not even know what Isaiah had said. Otherwise, why does he neglect to mention him by name?
Matthew 1:22-23 King James Version (22) "Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet" (23) "Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel which being interpreted is, God with us." (Continued in Part 2)
Recommended Viewing: "The Temple of the African Community of Chicago," an H3O Art of Life Show, Featuring: Dr. Josef Ben Levi Recommended Listening: "It Ain't Necessarily So" sung by Ancestor Paul Robeson (From" Porgy and Bess" Lyrics by Ira Gershwin, DuBose Heyward, and Dorothy Heyward Recommended Readings: Apollonius of Tyana: The Nazarene , by R.W.Bernard, M.D. God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, by Adam Nicholson The Evidence of Things Not Seen, by Ancestor James Baldwin Man, God, and Civilization, by Ancestor Dr. John G. Jackson The African Presence in the Bible: Discovering the Black and African Identity of Biblical Persons and Nations, by Rev.Dr.Walter A. McCray A Black Theology of Liberation, by Ancestor James H. Cone
References ***All references in the Hebrew language are derived from: Harold Fisch (Ed.) The Holy Scriptures. Koren Publishers, Jerusalem, Ltd. 1992 ***All references in the Greek language are derived from: Brenton, Sir L.C.L. The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers. (1851/1990).  Brown. F, Driver, S. & Briggs, C. (1906/2000). The Brown-Driver, and Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers.  Charles, R.H. (Ed.) (1913/1978). The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press.  Berry, G.R. (1897/1992). Interlinear Greek-English New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.  Gilmore, A. (2006). A concise dictionary of Bible Origins & interprétations. London: T&T Clark.  Metzger, B.M. (1977). The early versions of the New Testament: Their origin, transmission, and limitations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  Wurthwein, E. (1998). The text of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.  Brenton, Sir L.C.L. (1851/1990). The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers.  Oden, T.C. (2007). How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind.: Rediscovering the African seedbed of Western Christianity. Downers Grove: IVP Books.  Errors in the Masoretes’ “Original” Hebrew Manuscripts of the Bible? Biblical Archeological Review, June 16, 2020.  Hanafi, H. (1998). The Middle East, in whose world? The fourth Nordic conference on Middle Eastern Studies: The Middle East in the Globalizing World, Oslo, 13-16 August 1998.  Golb, N. (1995). Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Search for the Secret of Qumran. New York: Simon & Schuster. Inc.  Burrell, K. (2020). Cushites in the Hebrew Bible Negotiating Ethnic Identity in the Past and Present (Biblical Interpretation). London: Brill.  Ehrman, B.D. (2005). Misquoting Jesus: The story behind who changed the Bible and why. San Francisco: Harper-San Francisco.  Maier, P.L. (2007). Eusebius: The Church History. Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University.
 Clement of Alexandria.(2012). Stromata: Miscellanies. Memphis: Bottom of the Hill Publishing.