The Branch: Named hundreds of years before his coming

Isaiah first wrote of the coming Branch.  A ‘he’ from the fallen dynasty of David, possessing wisdom and power was coming.  Jeremiah followed by stating that this Branch would be known as the LORD – the Jewish name for Creator God, and would be our righteousness.

Zechariah continues The Branch

Zechariah returned after the Babylonian exile to rebuild the Temple

Zechariah returned after the Babylonian exile to rebuild the Temple

Rishi-prophet Zechariah lived 520 BCE, when Jews began returning to Jerusalem from their first exile.  Upon their return, the Jewish people started rebuilding their destroyed temple.  The High Priest at that time was a man named Joshua, and he was re-starting the work of Temple priests. Zechariah, the Rishi-prophet, partnered with his colleague Joshua, the High Priest, in leading the returning Jewish people. Here is what God – through Zechariah – said about this Joshua:

‘”Listen O High Priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch.” …, says the LORD Almighty, “and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day”.’ (Zechariah 3:8-9)

The Branch!  Started by Isaiah 200 years before, continued by Jeremiah 60 years earlier, Zechariah carries on further with ‘The Branch’ even as the Royal dynasty was now cut down.  Like a banyan tree this Branch has continued by propagating roots from a dead stump.  The Branch is now called ‘my servant’ – the servant of God.  In some way the High Priest Joshua in Jerusalem at 520BCE, colleague of Zechariah, was symbolic of this coming Branch.  But how? It says that in ‘a single day’ the sins will be removed by the LORD. How would that happen?

The Branch: Uniting Priest and King

Zechariah explains later. To understand we need to know that the roles of Priest and King were strictly separated in the Old Testament. None of the Kings could be priests, and the priests could not be kings. The role of the priest was to mediate between God and man by offering sacrifices to God for atonement of sins, and the responsibility of the King was to rule with justice from the throne. Both were crucial; both were distinct. Yet Zechariah wrote that in the future:

‘The word of the LORD came to me: “…Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest Joshua. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says, ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD… and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two’’ (Zechariah 6:9-13)

Here, against previous precedent, the high priest in Zechariah’s day (Joshua) was to put on the king’s crown symbolically as the Branch. (Remember Joshua was ‘symbolic of things to come’).  Joshua, the High Priest, in putting on the kingly crown, foresaw a future uniting of the King and Priest into one person – a priest on the King’s throne.  Furthermore, Zechariah wrote that ‘Joshua’ was the name of the Branch. What did that mean?

The names ‘Joshua’ and ‘Jesus’

To understand we need to review the history of Old Testament translation. The original Hebrew Old Testament was translated to Greek in 250 BCE, and known as the Septuagint or LXX.  Still widely used, we saw how ‘Christ’ was first used in the LXX and here we follow that analysis for ‘Joshua’

'Joshua' = 'Jesus'. Both come from the Hebrew name 'Yhowshuwa'

‘Joshua’ = ‘Jesus’. Both come from the Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’

As you can see in the figure Joshua is an English transliteration of the original Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’.  Quadrant #1 shows how Zechariah wrote ‘Joshua’ in 520 BCE in Hebrew.  It is transliterated ‘Joshua’ in English (#1=> #3). ‘Yhowshuwa’ in Hebrew is the same as Joshua in English   When the LXX was translated from Hebrew to Greek in 250 BCE Yhowshuwa was transliterated to Iesous (#1 => #2). ‘Yhowshuwa’ in Hebrew is the same as Iesous in Greek. When the Greek is translated to English, Iesous is transliterated to ‘Jesus’ (#2 => #3).  Iesous in Greek is the same as Jesus in English.

Jesus was called Yhowshuwa when spoken to in Hebrew, but in the Greek New Testament his name was written as ‘Iesous’ – exactly how the Greek Old Testament LXX wrote that name. When the New Testament is translated from Greek to English (#2 => #3) ‘Iesous’ is transliterated to the familiar ‘Jesus’.  So the name ‘Jesus’ = ‘Joshua’, with ‘Jesus’ going through an intermediate Greek step, and ‘Joshua’ coming directly from the Hebrew.  Both Jesus of Nazareth, and Joshua the High Priest of 520BCE had the same name, being called ‘Yhowshuwa’ in their native Hebrew. In Greek, both were called ‘Iesous’.  This is similar to how बरगद = bargad (transliteration) = banyan = Ficus benghalensis (scientific Latin name).

Jesus of Nazareth is the Branch

Now the prophecy of Zechariah makes sense. The prediction, made in 520 BCE, was that the name of the coming Branch would be ‘Jesus’, pointing directly to Jesus of Nazareth.

This coming Jesus, according to Zechariah, would unite the King and Priest roles. What was it that the priests did? Representing the people they offered sacrifices to God to atone for sins. The priest covered the sins of the people by sacrifice. Similarly, the coming Branch ‘Jesus’ was going to bring a sacrifice so that the LORD could ‘remove the sin of this land in a single day’ – the day Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice.  With the removal of sin, the power of death would lose its authority over us.

Jesus of Nazareth is well-known outside the gospels.  The Jewish Talmud, Josephus and all other historical writers about Jesus, both friend and enemy, always referred to him as ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’, so his name was not invented in the Gospels.

Jesus comes ‘from the stump of Jesse’ since Jesse and David were his ancestors. Jesus possessed wisdom and understanding to a degree that sets him apart from others.  His shrewdness, poise and insight continue to impress both critics and followers.  His power through miracles in the gospels is undeniable. One may choose not to believe them; but one cannot ignore them.  Jesus fits the quality of possessing exceptional wisdom and power that Isaiah predicted would one day come from this Branch.

Now think of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. He certainly claimed to be a king – The King in fact. This is what ‘Christ‘ means.  But what he did while on earth was actually priestly. The priest’s job was to offer acceptable sacrifices on behalf of the Jewish people.  The death of Jesus was significant in that, it also, was an offering to God, on our behalf. His death atones for the sin and guilt for any person, not just for the Jew. The sins of the land were literally removed ‘in a single day’ as Zechariah had predicted – the day Jesus died and paid for all sins. In his death he fulfilled all the requirements as Priest, even as he is mostly known as ‘The Christ’ or The King.  Then in his resurrection, he showed his power and authority over death.  He did bring the two roles together. The Branch, the one that David long ago called the ‘Christ’, is the Priest-King.  And his name was predicted 500 years before his birth by Zechariah.

The Prophetic Evidence

In his day, similar to today, Jesus had critics who questioned his authority.  His answer was to point to the prophets that came before, claiming that they foresaw his life.  Here is one example where Jesus said to those opposing him:

… These are the very Scriptures that testify about me… (John 5:39)

In other words, Jesus claimed that his life was prophesied hundreds of years previously in the Old Testament.  Since human insight cannot predict hundreds of years into the future, Jesus said this was evidence to verify that he had really come as God’s plan for mankind.  The Old Testament is available still for us today to verify this for ourselves.

Let us summarize what the Old Testament prophets have predicted thus far.  Jesus’ coming was hinted at the beginning of human history.  Then Abraham foretold the location where Jesus was to be sacrificed while the Passover foretold the day of the year.  We saw that Psalm 2 was where the title ‘Christ’ was used foretell a coming King.  Here we have seen that his lineage, priestly career, and name were predicted.  Can you think of anyone else in all of history whose life was even as remotely predicted as Jesus of Nazareth’s was by the many Old Testament prophets?

Conclusion: Tree of Life offered to all

The riddle of how and what the Branch was prophesied to do, mirrors the story of Savitri and Satyavan.  Like the pure Savitri, the Branch would face death for his love.  But instead of the love of a wife for her husband, the Branch would have powerful sacrificial love that would gain him a spiritual wife, who would be rescued from death forever.

The image of an immortal and sustaining tree, like that of a banyan tree, continues to the very last chapter of the Bible, where it again foresees into the future, picturing the next universe, with a ‘river of water of life’ where

On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:2)

So, peoples of all nations – including you – are invited to experience both deliverance from death and richness of the Tree of Life – a truly immortal banyan tree.  But the Old Testament rishi-prophets prophesy for us how this would first required that the Branch be ‘cut off’, as we see next.

Sign of the Branch: Like the persistent Banyan in Vat Savitri

The Vat-vriksha, Bargad or Banyan tree is central to South Asian spirituality and is the national tree of India.  It is associated with Yama, the God of death, so is often planted near crematoria.  Because of its ability to re-sprout it has great longevity and is a symbol of immortality.  It was also by a Banyan tree that Savitri bargained with Yama for the return of her dead husband and King Satyavan so that she could get a son – remembered in the annual celebration of Vat Purnima and Vat Savitri.

A similar account is found in the Old Testament of the Bible.  There is a dead tree … coming to life … representing a new son from a dead line of kings.  The major difference is that this account is a future-looking prophecy and was developed by different prophets (rishi) over hundreds of years.  This composite story was predicting someone coming.  The man who first told this story was Isaiah (750 BCE) which later Old Testament rishi-prophets further developed – in the Branch from the dead tree.

Isaiah and the Branch

Isaiah lived in historically verifiable time, seen in the timeline below.  This timeline is taken from the history of the Jews.

Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the Davidic Kings of Israel

Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the Davidic Kings of Israel

You can see that Isaiah’s book was written in the period of David’s Royal dynasty (1000 – 600 BCE) ruling from Jerusalem. In Isaiah’s time (750 BCE) the dynasty and the Jewish kingdom was corrupt. Isaiah pleaded for the kings to return back to God and to the good practice and spirit of Moses’ Ten Commandments. But Isaiah knew that Israel would not repent, and so he foresaw that the Kingdom would be destroyed and the kings cease to rule.

He used an image for the royal dynasty, picturing it like a great banyan tree. This tree had at its root Jesse, the father of King David. On Jesse the dynasty of kings was started with David, and continued with his successor, King Solomon, and so on.  As illustrated in the image below, the tree continued to grow and develop as the next son in the dynasty ruled.

The image Isaiah used of the Dynasty like a large banyan tree with the Kings extending the tree trunk from the root of the founder - Jesse

The image Isaiah used of the Dynasty like a large banyan tree with the Kings extending the tree trunk from the root of the founder – Jesse

First a Tree … then a Stump … then a Branch

Isaiah warned that this ‘tree’ dynasty would soon be cut down, reducing it to a dead stump. Here is how he began this tree image which then he turned into a riddle of a stump and Branch:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him–the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

Isaiah warned the Dynasty would one day become a dead stump

Isaiah warned the Dynasty would one day become a dead stump

The cutting down of this ‘tree’ happened 150 years after Isaiah, around 600 BCE, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, dragging its people and king into exile in Babylon (the red period in the timeline above). This started the exile of the Jews – some of whom migrated to India. Jesse was the father of King David, and so was the root of David’s Dynasty. The ‘stump of Jesse’ was therefore a metaphor of this shattering of David’s dynasty.  In the story of Savitri and Satyavan there was one dead king’s son – Satyavan.  In the prophecy of the stump the whole line of kings would come to an end and the dynasty itself would die.

The Branch: A coming ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

Shoot from the dead stump of Jesse

Shoot from the dead stump of Jesse

But the prophecy looked further into the future than just the cutting down of the kings in using an image associated with the banyan tree.  When banyan seeds begin life they often do so on the stumps of other trees.  The stump is a host to the germinating banyan tree.  But once the banyan seedling is established it will outgrow and outlive the stump host.  This shoot foreseen by Isaiah would be like a banyan tree as a new shoot would go up from its roots – to form a Branch.  Isaiah used this imagery and prophesied that one day in the far future a shoot, known as the Branch, would emerge from the dead stump, just like banyan shoots sprout from tree stumps. This Branch is referred to as a ‘him’ so Isaiah is talking about a specific man, coming from the line of David after the dynasty would be cut down. This man would have such qualities of wisdom, power, and knowledge it would be as if the very Spirit of God would be resting on him.

A banyan tree outgrowing its host stump. Soon it will be a tangle of propagating roots and shoots.

A banyan tree outgrowing its host stump. Soon it will be a tangle of propagating roots and shoots.

The banyan tree in mythology is mentioned in many scriptures as symbolic of immortality. Its aerial roots grow down into the soil forming additional trunks. It symbolizes longevity and thus represents the divine creator.  This Branch foreseen by Isaiah in 750 BCE would have many similar divine characteristics, and last long after the dynasty ‘stump’ disappeared.

Jeremiah and the Branch

The rishi-prophet Isaiah erected a signpost so people could understand unfolding future events. But his was only the first of several signs. Jeremiah, living about 150 years after Isaiah, in 600 BCE when David’s dynasty was being cut down right before his very eyes, wrote:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD our Righteousness“. (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

Jeremiah expanded on Isaiah’s Branch image of David’s dynasty. The Branch will also be a King. But not a King like the previous kings of David who had been reduced to a dead stump.

The Branch: The LORD our Righteousness

The difference with this Branch is seen in his name.  He would bear the very name of God (‘The LORD’ – The Jewish name for God), so like a banyan tree this Branch would be an image of the Divine.  He will also be ‘our’ (us humans) Righteousness.

When Savitri disputed with Yama over the body of her husband, Satyavan, it was her righteousness that gave her the power to face death (Yam).  But, as noted about the Kumbh Mela, our problem is our corruption or sin, and so we lack ‘righteousness’.  The Bible tells us that therefore we do not have power to face death.  In fact it says we are helpless against:

… the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—  and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14b-15)

In the Bible the devil is like Yama since he holds the power of death against us.  In fact, like Yama arguing over the body of Satyavan the Bible records another time the devil disputed over a body, when

… the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 1:9)

So, since the devil has power, like Yama in the story of Savitri and Satyavan, to dispute over the body of a noble prophet like Moses, then he certainly has power over us in death – because of our sin and corruption.  Even the angels recognize that only the Lord – the Creator God – has the authority to rebuke the devil in death.  And here, in the ‘Branch’ is a promise that in the future the LORD would impart ‘righteousness’ to us so we can have victory over death.  But how?  Zechariah fills in further details as he develops this theme, predicting even the name of the coming Branch with details that parallels the story of Savitri and Satyavan defying death (Yama) – which we look at next.

Like the Raj: What does ‘Christ’ of Jesus Christ mean?

I sometimes ask people what Jesus’ last name was. Usually they reply,

“I guess his last name was ‘Christ’ but I am not sure”.

Then I ask,

“If that is true then when Jesus was a boy did Joseph Christ and Mary Christ take little Jesus Christ to the market?”

Put that way, they realize that ‘Christ’ is not Jesus’ last name. So, what is ‘Christ’? Where does it come from? What does it mean?  Surprising to many, ‘Christ’ is a title that means ‘ruler’ or ‘rule’.  It is not unlike the title ‘Raj’, as in the British Raj that ruled South Asia for many decades.

Translation vs. Transliteration

To see this, we need to first understand some translation basics. Translators sometimes choose to translate by similar sound rather than by meaning, especially for names and titles. This is known as transliteration.  For example, the Kumbh Mela is an English transliteration from the Hindi कुंभ मेला.  Even though मेला means ‘fair’ or ‘festival’ it is usually brought into the English by similar sound to Kumbh Mela rather than Kumbh Fair.  For the Bible, translators had to decide whether names and titles would be better in the translated language through translation (by meaning) or transliteration (by sound).  There is no specific rule.

The Septuagint

The Bible was first translated in 250 BC when the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek – the international language at that time. This translation is known as the Septuagint (or LXX) and it was very influential.  Since the New Testament was written in Greek, its many quotations of the Old Testament were taken from the Septuagint.

Translation & Transliteration in the Septuagint

The figure below shows this process and how it affects modern-day Bibles

The flow of translation from original languages to modern-day Bible

The flow of translation from original languages to modern-day Bible

The original Hebrew Old Testament (written from 1500 – 400 BC) is shown in quadrant #1. Because the Septuagint was a 250 BC Hebrew –> Greek translation it is shown as an arrow going from quadrant #1 to #2.  The New Testament was written in Greek (50–90 AD), so this means #2 contains both Old and New Testaments. In the bottom half (#3) is a modern language translation of the Bible.  To get there the Old Testament is translated from the original Hebrew (1 -> 3) and the New Testament is translated from the Greek (2 -> 3). The translators must decide on names and titles as explained previously. This is shown with the green arrows labeled transliterate and translate, showing that the translators can take either approach.

The Origin of ‘Christ’

Now we follow the process as above, but this time focusing on the word ‘Christ’.

Translation steps of 'Christ' in the Bible

Where does ‘Christ’ come from in the Bible?

We can see that in the original Hebrew Old Testament the title is ‘מָשִׁיחַ’ (mashiyach) which literally means an ‘anointed or consecrated’ person such as a king or ruler.  Hebrew kings of the Old Testament period were anointed (ceremonially rubbed with oil) before they became king, thus they were anointed ones or mashiyach.  Then they became rulers, but their rule was to be in submission to the heavenly rule of God, according to His laws.  In that sense a Hebrew king in the Old Testament was like the former Raj of South Asia.  The Raj ruled the British territories of South Asia, but was to do so under submission to the government in Britain, subject to its laws.

The Old Testament prophesied the coming of a specific mashiyach (with a definite article ’the’) who would be a unique king. When the Septuagint was translated in 250 BC, the translators chose a word in the Greek with a similar meaning, Χριστός (sounds like Christos), based from chrio, which meant to rub ceremonially with oil. So the Hebrew ‘mashiyach’ was translated by meaning (not transliterated by sound) to Χριστός (pronounced Christos) in the Greek Septuagint. The New Testament writers continued to use the word Christos to identify Jesus as this prophesied ‘mashiyach’.

But when we come to European languages, there was no obvious word with a similar meaning so the Greek ‘Christos’ was transliterated to ‘Christ’. The word ‘Christ’ is a very specific title with Old Testament roots, by translation from Hebrew to Greek, and then by transliteration from Greek to modern languages. The Hebrew Old Testament is translated directly into modern languages and translators have made different choices regarding the original Hebrew ‘mashiyach’.  Some Bibles transliterate ‘Mashiyach’ to variations of ‘Messiah’, others translate by meaning ‘Anointed One’, and others transliterate (by sound) into variations of ‘Christ’.  One Hindi word for Christ (मसीह) is transliterated from Arabic, which in turn was transliterated from the original Hebrew.  So its pronunciation ‘maseeh’ is close to the original Hebrew, while another word क्राइस्ट is transliterated from English ‘Christ’ and sounds like ‘Kraist’.  The Nepali word for Christ (ख्रीष्टको) is transliterated from the Greek Christos and so is pronounced Khrīṣṭakō.

Because we do not usually see the word ‘Christ’ in the Old Testament, the connection to the Old Testament is not always apparent. But from this study we know that the Biblical ‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’ and that it was a specific title.

The Christ anticipated in 1st Century

With this insight, let’s make some observations from the Gospel. Below is the reaction of King Herod when the Magi came looking for the King of the Jews, a well-known part of the Christmas story. Notice, ‘the’ precedes Christ, even though it is not referring specifically about Jesus.

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. (Matthew 2:3-4)

You can see that the idea of ‘the Christ’ was well understood between Herod and his  advisors – even before Jesus was born – and it is used here without referring specifically to Jesus. This shows ‘Christ’ comes from the Old Testament, commonly read by people in the 1st century (like Herod and his advisors) in the Greek Septuagint. ‘Christ’ was (and still is) a title, not a name, denoting a ruler or King. This is why Herod ‘was disturbed’ because he felt threatened at the possibility of another King.   We can dismiss the ridiculous notions that ‘Christ’ was a Christian invention or an invention by someone like Emperor Constantine of 300 AD . The title was in use hundreds of years before there were any Christians or before Constantine came to power.

Old Testment prophecies of ‘The Christ’

The title ‘Christ’ first appears in the Psalms, written by David ca 1000 BC – far before the birth of Jesus. Let’s look at these first occurrences.

The kings of the earth take their stand … against the LORD and against his Anointed One … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will proclaim the decree of the LORD : He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. …Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:2-7)

Here is the same passage but based from the Greek translation Septuagint.

The kings of the earth take their stand … against the LORD and against his Christ … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… saying …, (Psalm 2)

You can now ‘see’ Christ in this passage like a reader of the 1st century would have. The Psalms continue with more references to this coming Christ.  I put the Hebrew-based passage side-by-side with a transliterated Greek one with ‘Christ’ in it so you can see it.

Psalm 132- From Hebrew Psalm 132 – From Greek Septuagint
O Lord, …10 For the sake of David your servant,
do not reject your anointed one.11 The Lord swore an oath to David,
a sure oath that he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
I will place on your throne—
17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David
and set up a lamp for my anointed one.
18 I will clothe his enemies with shame,
but the crown on his head will be resplendent.”
O Lord, …10 For the sake of David your servant,
do not reject your Christ.11 The Lord swore an oath to David,
a sure oath that he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
I will place on your throne—
17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David
and set up a lamp for my Christ.
18 I will clothe his enemies with shame,
but the crown on his head will be resplendent.”

You can see that Psalm 132 speaks in the future tense (“…I will make a horn for David…”). This is important when understanding Christ. It is as clear as can be that the Old Testament makes future-looking predictions about ‘the Christ’.  Herod was aware of this.  He just needed his advisers for the specifics of these predictions. The Jews have always been known to be waiting for their Messiah (or Christ). The fact that they are still waiting has nothing to do with Jesus or the New Testament but rather has to do with these future-looking predictions and prophecies in the Old Testament.

This Christ (or Messiah or Anointed One) prophesied in the Old Testament was similar in one important respect to the former British Raj.  As the Raj ruled over the nations in British India, while still under the authority of the government in Britain, the Christ was prophesied to one day rule over ‘the nations’ (Psalm 2:1) within the authority of God.

If Jesus of Nazareth was this prophesied Christ as the New Testament declares, then there are also some important differences between the Raj and the ‘Christ’.  The Raj came in military power and enforced outward submission through greater might.  Jesus came in such humility and servanthood that the powers in his day, like Herod, were caught by surprise.  Jesus the Christ first meets our need for freedom from sin and death, and by loving us first, seeks, even still today, to win our loyalty inwardly from our hearts.  Only after he has won over people in this way to Himself from all nations will he establish his outward rule.  Jesus likened this to an invitation to a great wedding feast, and many with money and power had excuses to decline the invitation.  The poor, crippled, blind and lame would show up at this feast in great numbers (see Matthew 22).  Many of the wealthy, powerful and connected in this life will miss out on the benefits of His rule.  So the question of whether Jesus is this Old Testament Christ is important to consider.  Fortunately, the Old Testament can help us.

The Old Testament prophecies: Like a lock of a lock-n-key system

Since the Old Testament clearly predicts the future, it stands in very small company across the vast sea of human literature. It is like the lock of a door. A lock is designed with a certain shape so that only a specific ‘key’ that matches the shape can unlock it. In the same way the Old Testament is like a lock. The specifications of the ‘Christ’ are not just in these two Psalms we looked at above but also in Abraham’s sacrifice, Adam’s beginning, and Moses’ Passover.  But it is in the Prophets of the period 800-400 BC in the Old Testament that the specifications of the coming Christ become even more precise, allowing us to check whether Jesus really was this prophesied ‘Christ’ – which we do next.

History of the Jews?: Across India & Around the World

Jews have a long history in India, being here for thousands of years, forming a small community within the mosaic of Indian communities.  Different than other minorities (such as Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists), the Jews originally came from outside India to make their home.  Just before the historic visit of Indian Prime Minister Modi to Israel in summer 2017 he penned a joint op-ed with Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel.  They recognized this migration of Jews to India when they wrote:

The Jewish community in India was always welcomed with warmth and respect and never faced any persecution.

Jewish History in India

Though distinct, Jews blended in by adopting traditional Indian attire

How long have Jewish communities been living in India?  The Times of Israel recently published an article highlighting that after ’27 centuries’ Jews from the tribe of Manasseh (Bnei Menashe) are returning to Israel from the Indian state of Mizoram.  That puts their ancestors originally arriving here around 700 B.C.  Their Telugu-speaking cousins from the Jewish tribe of Ephraim living in Andhra Pradesh (the Bene Ephraim) have a collective memory of being in India more than 1000 years, after wandering through Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet, and then China.  In the state of Kerala, the Cochin Jews have been living there nearly 2600 years.  Over the centuries they formed small but distinct communities across India.  But now they are leaving India for Israel.

Inscription on Jewish synagogue in Cochin. It has been there hundreds of years

How did Jews come to live in India?  Why are they returning after so long back to Israel? We have more facts about their history than that of any other nation. We will use this information to summarize their history in a timeline.

Abraham: The Jewish Family Tree Begins

The timeline starts with Abraham. He was given a promise of nations coming from him and had encounters with God ending in the symbolic sacrifice of his son Isaac.  This sacrifice was a sign pointing to Jesus (Yeshu Satsang) by marking the future location where he would be sacrificed.  Isaac’s son was named Israel by God.  The timeline continues in green when Israel’s descendants were slaves in Egypt. This period started when Joseph, son of Israel (the genealogy was: Abraham -> Isaac -> Israel (also known as Jacob) -> Joseph), led the Israelites to Egypt, where later on they were enslaved.

bible timeline with abraham and moses in history

Living in Egypt as slaves of Pharoah

Moses: The Israelites become a Nation under God

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt with the Passover Plague, which destroyed Egypt and allowed the Israelite Exodus from Egypt to the land of Israel. Before he died, Moses announced Blessings and Curses on the Israelites (when the timeline goes from green to yellow).  They would be Blessed if they obeyed God, but experience a Curse if they did not.  These Blessings & Curses were bound to Israel’s history ever after.

bible historical timeline from Abraham to david

For several hundred years the Israelites lived in their land but they did not have a King, nor did they have the capital city of Jerusalem – it belonged to other people in this time. However, around 1000 BC this changed with King David.

historical timeline Living with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem

Living with Kings of David ruling from Jerusalem

David establishes a Royal Dynasty at Jerusalem

David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city. He received the promise of a coming ‘Christ’ and from that time on the Jewish people waited for the ‘Christ’ to come.  His son Solomon, rich and famous but without satisfaction, succeeded him and Solomon built the First Jewish Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. The descendants of King David continued to rule for about 400 years and this period is shown in aqua-blue (1000 – 600 BC).  This was the period of Israelite glory – they had the promised Blessings.  They were a powerful nation; had an advanced society, culture, and their Temple. But the Old Testament also describes their growing corruption and idol worship during this time.  Many prophets in this period warned the Israelites that the Curses of Moses would come on them if they did not change. These warnings were ignored.  During this time the Israelites divided into two separate kingdoms: the northern Kingdom of Israel or Ephraim, and the southern Kingdom of Judah (like Koreans today, one people split in two countries – North and South Korea).

The First Jewish Exile: Assyria & Babylon

Finally, in two stages the Curses came upon them. The Assyrians in 722 BC destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Ephraim and sent those Israelites into mass deportation across their vast empire.  The Bnei Menashe in Mizoram and the Bene Ephraim in Andhra Pradesh are descendants of those deported Israelites.  Then in 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar, a powerful Babylonian King came – just like Moses had predicted 900 years before when he wrote in his Curse:

The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away … a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. … They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28: 49-52)

Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, burned it, and destroyed the Temple that Solomon had built. He then exiled the Israelites to Babylon. This fulfilled the predictions of Moses that

You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. (Deuteronomy 28:63-64)

jewish historical timeline Conquered and exiled to Babylon

Conquered and exiled to Babylon

The Jews of Cochin in Kerala are descendants of these exiled Israelites.  For 70 years, the period shown in red, these Israelites (or Jews as they were now called) were exiled outside the land promised to Abraham and his descendants.

Return from Exile under the Persians

After that, the Persian Emperor Cyrus conquered Babylon and Cyrus became the most powerful person in the world. He permitted the Jews to return to their land.

jewish historial timeline Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire

Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire

However they were no longer an independent country, they were now a province in the Persian Empire.  This continued for 200 years and is in pink in the timeline. During this time the Jewish Temple (known as the 2nd Temple) and the city of Jerusalem were rebuilt.  Though Jews were allowed to return to Israel, many remained abroad in exile.

The Period of the Greeks

Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and made Israel a province in the Greek Empire for another 200 years. This is shown in dark blue.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires

Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires

The Period of the Romans

Then the Romans defeated the Greek Empires and they became the dominant world power. The Jews again became a province in this Empire and it is shown in light yellow. This is the time when Jesus lived.  This explains why there are Roman soldiers in the gospels – because the Romans ruled the Jews in the Land of Israel during the life of Jesus.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire

Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire

The Second Jewish exile under the Romans

From the time of the Babylonians (586 BC) the Jews had not been independent as they had been under the Kings of David. They were ruled by other Empires, similar to when the British ruled India.  The Jews resented this and they revolted against Roman rule. The Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem (70 AD), burned down the 2nd Temple, and deported the Jews as slaves across the Roman Empire. This was the second Jewish exile. Since Rome was so big the Jews were eventually scattered around the whole world.

Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile

Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile

And this is how the Jewish people lived for almost 2000 years: dispersed in foreign lands and never accepted in these lands. In these different nations they regularly suffered great persecutions.  This persecution of the Jews was particularly true in Europe.  From Spain, in Western Europe, to Russia the Jews lived often in a dangerous situations in these kingdoms.  Jews continued arriving in Cochin to escape these persecutions.  Jews from the Middle East arrived in other parts of

David Sasson & sons – wealthy Baghdadi Jews in India

India in the 17th and 18th centuries, and were known as the Baghdadi Jews, settling mostly in Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta.  The Curses of Moses back in 1500 BC were accurate descriptions of how they lived.

… Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:65)

The Curses against the Israelites were given to make peoples ask:

All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?” (Deuteronomy 29:24)

And the answer:

It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.” (Deuteronomy 29:25-28)

The timeline below shows this 1900 year period. This period is shown in a long red bar.

Historical Timeline of the Jews - featuring their two periods of exile

Historical Timeline of the Jews – featuring their two periods of exile

You can see that in their history the Jewish people went through two periods of exile but the second exile was much longer than the first exile.

The 20th Century Holocaust

The persecutions against the Jews reached their peak when Hitler, through Nazi Germany, tried to exterminate all the Jews living in Europe. He almost succeeded but he was defeated and a remnant of Jews survived.

Modern Re-birth of Israel

Just the fact that there were people who identified themselves as ‘Jews’ after thousands of years without a homeland was remarkable. But this allowed the final words of Moses, written down 3500 years ago, to come true.  In 1948 the Jews, through the United Nations, saw the remarkable re-birth of the modern state of Israel, as Moses had written centuries before:

…then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. (Deuteronomy 30:3-5)

It was also remarkable since this state was established in spite of great opposition. Most of the surrounding nations waged war against Israel in 1948 … in 1956 … in 1967 and again in 1973. Israel, a very small nation, was sometimes at war with five nations at the same time. Yet not only did Israel survive, but the territories increased. In the war of 1967 the Jews regained Jerusalem, their historic capital city David had founded 3000 years ago.  The result of the creation of the state of Israel, and the consequences from these wars has created one of the most difficult political problems of our world today.

As predicted by Moses and explored more fully here, the re-birth of Israel created an impetus for the different Jews in India to return back to Israel.  There are now 80 000 Jews living in Israel who have one parent from India and there are only 5000 Jews left in India.  As per Moses’ blessing they are being ‘gathered’ from the most ‘distant lands’ (like Mizoram) and being brought ‘back’.  The implications for Jews and non-Jews alike are also highlighted here.

Moses’ Blessings & Curses: Echoing still Today

Moses lived about 3500 years ago and he wrote the first five books of the Bible – the Pentateuch or the Torah. The fifth book, Deuteronomy, contains his last words written just before he died. These were his Blessings to the people of Israel – the Jews, but also his Curses.  Moses wrote that these Blessings & Curses would shape world history and should be noticed, not just by the Jews, but also by all other nations. These Blessings & Curses have affected history in India.  So this was written for us to reflect on. The complete Blessings and Curses are here.  The summary is below.

The Blessings of Moses

Moses began by describing the blessings that the Israelites would receive if they obeyed The Law, which included the Ten Commandments.  The blessings from God would be so great that all other nations would recognize His blessing. The outcome of these blessings would be:

Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. (Deuteronomy 28:10)

… and the Curses

However, if the Israelites failed to obey the Commandments then they would receive Curses that would match and mirror the Blessings. These Curses would be seen by the surrounding nations so that:

You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the LORD will drive you. (Deuteronomy 28:37)

And the Curses would extend through history.

They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. (Deuteronomy 28:46)

But God warned that the worst part of the Curses would come from other nations.

The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed … until you are ruined. They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28:49-52)

It would go from bad to worse.

You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. … Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:63-65)

These Blessings and Curses were established by formal agreement between God and the Israelites:

…to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am making this covenant, with its oath … also with those who are not here today. (Deuteronomy 29:12-15)

So this covenant would be binding on the children, or future generations. In fact this covenant was directed at future generations – both Israelites and foreigners.

Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the LORD has afflicted it. … nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. … All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?” (Deuteronomy 29:22-24)

And the answer will be:

“It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt….Therefore the LORD’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. … the LORD uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.” (Deuteronomy 29:25-28)

Did The Blessings and Curses happen?

Nothing neutral about them. The Blessings were delightful, and the Curses were dreadful, but the most important question we can ask is: ‘Did they happen?’  Much of the Old Testament is the record of the history of the Israelites so we know their history. Also we have historical records outside the Old Testament and many archeological monuments.  They all paint a consistent picture of Israelite or Jewish history.  This is given here through a timeline.  Read it and assess for yourself if the Curses of Moses came to pass.  This also answers why Jewish groups migrated into India starting 2700 years ago (eg. Bnei Menashe of Mizoram).  They were scattered to India as a result of Assyrian and Babylonian conquests followed by mass deportations – exactly as Moses had warned.

The Conclusion to Moses’ Blessings and Curses

Moses’ final words did not end with Curses.  Here is how Moses made his final pronouncement.

When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors (Deuteronomy 30:1-5)

After being exiled for thousands of years, in 1948 – in the lifetime of many alive today – the modern nation of Israel was re-born from a United Nations resolution and Jews started emigrating back to Israel from nations around the world – exactly as Moses’ predicted.  In India today, the thousand- year Jewish communities in Cochin, Andhra Pradesh and in Mizoram are dwindling rapidly as Jews depart to return to their ancestral land.  Only about 5000 Jews remain in India.  The Blessings of Moses are being fulfilled before our eyes, as certainly as the Curses shaped their history.

This has several implications for us.  First, The blessings & curses had their authority and power from the God of the Bible.  Moses was simply an enlightened messenger – a Rsi.  The fact that these curses and blessings reaches down thousands of years, across the nations of the globe, and affects billions of people (the return of Jews to Israel has created turmoil – regularly causing events to make global headlines) – is evidence that this God has the power and authority that the Bible (Veda Pusthakan) says He has.  In the same Torah He also promised ‘that all peoples on earth’ would be blessed.  ‘All peoples on earth’ would include you and me.  Then in the sacrifice of Abraham’s son, God reiterated that ‘all nations would be blessed’.  The striking location and details of that sacrifice are clues to help us know how to obtain this blessing.  The blessings being poured out now on the Jews returning from Mizoram, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala is a Sign that God wants to and can equally bless peoples in all the states of India and in the other nations around the world as He promised in His Word.  Like the Jews, we too are offered Blessings in the midst of our Curse.  Why not receive the gift of Blessing?

Is the Bible (Veda Pusthakan) Textually reliable?

The Bible imparts spiritual truth by recording how God has acted in history. It starts at the beginning when God created mankind in His image and then confronted the first humans and spoke of a specific ‘he’ who was to come and be sacrificed. This was followed up by the specific event of the sacrifice of a ram in place of Rsi Abraham’s son and the historical event of Passover. This parallels the ancient Rg Vedas where sacrifice for our sin is required and the promise  given that this would occur with the sacrifice of the Purusa.  These promises were fulfilled in the life, teachings, death & resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (Yeshu Satsang).  But the promises and their fulfillments are historical.  Therefore, for the Bible to be trustworthy in imparting spiritual truth it must also be historically reliable. This leads us to our question: Is the Bible historically reliable? And how does someone know if it is or is not?

We start by asking  whether the text (the words) of the Bible has changed over time or not.  Known as textual reliability, the question arises because the Bible is so ancient.  There are many books which make up the Bible, and the last books were written down almost two thousand years ago.  For most of the intervening centuries there has been no printing press, photocopy machines or publishing companies. So these books were copied by hand, generation after generation, as languages died out and new ones arose, as empires changed and new powers came to be. Since the original manuscripts have long ago disappeared, how do we know that what we read today in the Bible is what the original authors actually wrote long ago?  Is there any ‘scientific’ way to know whether what we read today is different or the same from the original writings of long ago?

Principles of Textual Criticism

This question is true of any ancient writing. The figure below illustrates the process by which all writings from the ancient past are preserved over time so we can read them today. The figure shows an example of an ancient document written at 500 BC (this date being chosen solely as an example).

Example Timeline illustrate how texts go through time

Example Timeline illustrate how texts go through time

The original does not last indefinitely, so before it decays, is lost, or destroyed, a manuscript (MSS) copy of it is made (1st copy). A professional class of people called scribes did the copying work. As the years advance, copies are made of the copy (2nd copy & 3rd copy). At some point a copy is preserved that is still in existence today (3rd copy). In our example diagram this existing copy was copied in 500 AD. This means that the earliest that we can know of the state of the text of the document is only from 500 AD and later since all the earlier manuscripts have disappeared.  The 1000 year period from 500 BC to 500 AD (labeled x in the diagram) is the period where we cannot check copies since all manuscripts from this period are gone. For example, if copying errors (intentional or otherwise) were made when the 2nd copy was made from the 1st copy, we would not be able to detect them since neither of these documents are now available to compare against each other. This time period before the origin of currently existing copies (the period x) is thus the interval of textual uncertainty. Consequently, a principle that answers our question about textual reliability is that the shorter this interval x is the more confidence we can place in the accurate preservation of the document to our modern day, since the period of uncertainty is reduced.

Of course, usually more than one manuscript copy of a document is in existence today. Suppose we have two such manuscript copies and in the same section of each of them we find the following phrase (I have it in English for the sake of the example, the real manuscript would be in an ancient language like Greek, Latin or Sanskrit):

Textual Variance with few manuscripts

Textual Variance with few manuscripts

The original writing had either been writing about Joan OR about John, and the other of these manuscripts contains a copy error. The question is -Which one has the error? From the available evidence it is very difficult to determine.

Now suppose we found two more manuscript copies of the same work, as shown below:

Textual variance with several manuscripts

Textual variance with several manuscripts

Now it is easier to deduce which manuscript has the error. It is more likely that the error is made once, rather than the same error repeated three times, so it is likely that MSS #2 has the copy error, and the author was writing about Joan, not John.

This simple example illustrates a second principle we can use to test manuscript textual reliability: the more existing manuscripts that are available, the easier it is to detect & correct errors and to determine the words of the original.

Textual Criticism of Great Books of the West

We have two indicators to determine the textual reliability of the Bible:

  1. measuring the time between original composition and earliest existing manuscript copies, and
  2. counting the number of existing manuscript copies.

Since these indicators apply to any ancient writing we can proceed to apply them to both the Bible as well as other ancient writings, as done in the tables below.

Author When Written Earliest Copy Time Span #
Caesar 50 BC 900 AD 950 10
Plato 350 BC 900 AD 1250 7
Aristotle* 300 BC 1100 AD 1400 5
Thucydides 400 BC 900 AD 1300 8
Herodotus 400 BC 900 AD 1300 8
Sophocles 400 BC 1000 AD 1400 100
Tacitus 100 AD 1100 AD 1000 20
Pliny 100 AD 850 AD 750 7

These writers represent the major classical writers of Western history – the writings that have shaped the development of Western civilization. On average, they have been passed down to us by 10-100 manuscripts that are preserved starting only about 1000 years after the original was written.

Textual Criticism of Great Books of the East

Let us now look at ancient Sanskrit epics that provide much of the understanding of philosophy and history in South Asia. Prominent among these works is the Mahabharata, which contains, among other things, the Bhagavad Gita and the account of the Kurukshetra War. Scholars assess that the Mahabharata developed into its current written form around 900 BC, but the oldest manuscript portions that still exist are dated at around 400 BC, giving an interval of about 500 years from original composition and earliest existing manuscripts (wiki reference link).  Osmania University in Hyderabad boasts that it has two manuscript copies in its library collection, but these two date from only 1700 AD and 1850 AD – thousands of years after original composition (reference link). Not only are the manuscript copies rather late, but given that the Mahabharata was a popular work that conformed to changes in language and style, there is a very high degree of textual variance between the existing manuscript copies. Scholars who assess textual variance write of the Mahabharata state:

“The national epic of India, the Mahabharata, has suffered even more corruption. It is about … 250 000 lines. Of these, some 26 000 lines are textual corruptions (10 percent)” – (Geisler, NL and WE Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Moody Press. 1968. P 367)

The other great epic, the Ramayana, is considered to have been composed around 400 BC but the earliest existing copy, from Nepal, is dated at the 11 century AD (reference link) – giving an interval from original composition to earliest existing manuscripts of about 1500 years. There are several thousand existing copies of the Ramayana. These have extensive textual variations between them, especially between those of North India and those of South India/South East Asia. Scholars have grouped the manuscripts into 300 different families based on textual variations.

Textual Criticism of the New Testament

Let us now examine the manuscript data for the Bible. The table below lists the oldest existing copies of the New Testament. Each of them has been given a name (usually from the name of the discoverer of the manuscript)

MSS When Written Date of MSS Time Span
 John Rylan 90 AD 130 AD 40 yrs
Bodmer Papyrus 90 AD 150-200 AD 110 yrs
Chester  Beatty 60 AD 200 AD 20 yrs
Codex Vaticanus 60-90 AD 325 AD 265 yrs
Codex Sinaiticus 60-90 AD 350 AD 290 yrs

The number of New Testament manuscripts is so vast that it would be impossible to list them all in a table. As one scholar who spent years studying this issue states:

“We have more than 24000 MSS copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today… No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestation. In comparison, the ILIAD by Homer is second with 643 MSS that still survive”   (McDowell, J. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. 1979. p. 40)

A leading scholar at the British Museum corroborates this:

“Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers … yet our knowledge of their writings depends on a mere handful of MSS whereas the MSS of the N.T. are counted by … thousands”  (Kenyon, F.G. -former director of British Museum- Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts. 1941 p.23)

And a significant number of these manuscripts are extremely ancient. I own a book about the earliest New Testament documents. The Introduction starts with:

“This book provides transcriptions of 69 of the earliest New Testament manuscripts…dated from early 2nd century to beginning of the 4th (100-300AD) … containing about 2/3 of the new Testament text” (P. Comfort, “The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts”. Preface p. 17. 2001 )

This is significant since these manuscripts come from the early period when the followers of the gospel were not in power in a government, but were instead subject to intense persecution by the Roman Empire. This is the period when the gospel came to South India, to Kerala, and here too the community of gospel followers were never in a position of power through which a king could manipulate the manuscripts. The figure below illustrates the timeline of manuscripts from which the New Testament of the Bible is based.

Timeline showing that from the existing 24000 manuscript copies of the New Testament, the very earliest ones are used in modern translations (e.g. in English, Nepali or Hindi) of the Bible. These come from before the time of Constantine (325 AD) who was the first Christian Emperor of Rome

Timeline showing that from the existing 24000 manuscript copies of the New Testament, the very earliest ones are used in modern translations (e.g. in English, Nepali or Hindi) of the Bible. These come from before the time of Constantine (325 AD) who was the first Christian Emperor of Rome

The estimated textual variation among all these thousands of manuscripts is only

“400 lines out of 20000.” (Geisler, NL and WE Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Moody Press. 1968. P 366)

Thus the text is 99.5% common across these many manuscripts.

Textual Criticism of the Old Testament

It is much the same with the Old Testament. The 39 books of the Old Testament were written from between 1500 – 400 BC. This is shown in the figure below where the period when the original books were being written is shown as a bar on the timeline. We have two families of manuscripts for the Old Testament. The traditional family of manuscripts is the Masoretic texts which were copied about 900 AD. However in 1948 another family of manuscripts of the Old Testament that is much older – from 200 BC and known as the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) were discovered. These two families of manuscripts are shown in the figure. What is amazing is that though separated in time by about 1000 years, the differences between them are minute. As one scholar has said about them:

‘These [DSSs] confirm the accuracy of the Masoretic Text … Except for a few instances where spelling and grammar differ between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic Text, the two are amazingly similar’  (M.R. Norton, Manuscripts of the Old Testament in The Origin of the Bible, 1992)

When we compare this with, for example, the textual variation in the Ramayana, the permanence of the text of the Old Testament is simply remarkable.

Timeline showing how the Old Testament manuscripts of the Bible have not changed from the Masoretic to the Dead Sea Scrolls even though these are separated by about 1000 years.

Timeline showing how the Old Testament manuscripts of the Bible have not changed from the Masoretic to the Dead Sea Scrolls even though these are separated by about 1000 years.

Conclusion: The Bible is Textually Reliable

So what can we conclude from this data? Certainly at least in what we can objectively measure (number of extant MSSs, the time spans between original and earliest existing MSS, and the degree of textual variation between the manuscripts) the Bible is verified to a much higher degree than any other ancient work. The verdict to which the evidence pushes us is best summed up by the following quote:

“To be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no other documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament”  (Montgomery, History and Christianity. 1971. p.29)

What he is saying is that to be consistent, if we decide to doubt the textual reliability of the  Bible we may as well discard all that we know about history in general – and this no informed historian has ever done. We know that the Biblical texts have not been altered as eras, languages and empires have come and gone since the earliest extant MSSs pre-date these events.  The Bible is a reliable book.

Jesus and the Sign in Moses Passover Festival

We had seen how Rsi Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac was a sign pointing to the sacrifice of Jesus.  After Abraham died, his descendants through this son Isaac, now called Israelites, had become a vast number of people but also had become slaves in Egypt.

The Passover Festival

So we now come to a very dramatic struggle that is centered through a man called Moses and which is recorded in the Hebrew Veda of Exodus in the Bible.  It is so named because it is the account of how Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt 500 years years after Abraham, about 1500 BC.  Moses had been commanded by The Creator God (Prajapati) to confront the Pharaoh (ruler) of Egypt and it resulted in a contest of wills between Moses and Pharaoh. This contest has also produced nine plagues or disasters against Egypt. But Pharaoh had not agreed to let the Israelites go free so God was going to bring about a 10th and final plague.  You can read the full account of the 10th Plague in Exodus through the link here since it will help you in following the explanation below.

This 10th plague decreed by God was that an Angel (Spirit) of Death would pass through every house in Egypt.  Every firstborn son in the entire land would die on that specific night except those that remained in houses where a lamb had been sacrificed and its blood painted on the doorposts of that house.  The destruction to Pharaoh, if he did not obey and paint lamb’s blood on his door, would be that his son and heir to the throne would die. And every house in Egypt would lose the firstborn son – if they did not sacrifice a lamb and paint its blood on the doorposts.  So Egypt faced a national disaster.

But in houses where a lamb had been sacrificed and its blood painted on the doorposts the promise was that everyone would be safe. The Angel of Death would pass over that house. So this day was called Passover (since death passed over all houses where lamb’s blood had been painted on the doors).

The Passover Sign

Now those who have heard this story assume that the blood on the doors was a sign for the Angel of Death.  But notice the curious detail taken from the account written 3500 years ago.

The LORD said to Moses … ” … I am the LORD. The blood [of the Passover lamb] will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. (Exodus 12:13)

Though God was looking for the blood on the door, and when He saw it Death would pass over, the blood was not a Sign for God.  It says quite clearly, that the blood was a ‘sign for you’ – the people. It is also a Sign for all of us who read this account. But how is it a sign?  An important clue is that after this event happened the LORD commanded them to:

Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for generations to come. When you enter the land … observe this ceremony… It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD’ (Exodus 12:27)

Jewish man with lamb at Passover

Jewish man with lamb at Passover

The Israelites were commanded to celebrate Passover on the same day every year. The Jewish calendar, being a lunar calendar, is a little different from the Western calendar, so the day in the year changes each year if you track it by the Western calendar. But to this day, still 3500 years later, Jewish people continue to celebrate Passover as a festival on the same date every year in memory of this event in obedience to that command given then.

Passover Sign pointing to the Lord Jesus

And in tracking this festival through history we can note something quite extraordinary. You can notice this in the Gospel where it records the details of the arrest and trial of Jesus (1500 years after that First Passover plague):

“Then the Jews led Jesus … to the palace of the Roman governor [Pilate]… to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover” … [Pilate] said [to Jewish leaders] “…But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No not him…” (John 18:28, 39-40)

In other words, Jesus was arrested and sent for crucifixion right on the Passover day in the Jewish calendar. One of the titles given to Jesus was

The next day John (i.e. John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I meant when I said ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me’”. (John 1:29-30)

Here we see how the Passover drama is a Sign to us. Jesus, the ‘Lamb of God’, was crucified (i.e. sacrificed) on the very same day of the year that all the Jews were sacrificing a lamb in memory of the first Passover that had occurred 1500 years before.  This explains the annual timing of two holidays that re-occurs every year – a parallel that so few of us notice and even fewer ask ‘Why?’  The Jewish Passover Festival occurs almost every year at the same time as the Christian Easter festival does – check a calendar.  (Every 19th year there is a divergence of a month due to the cycle of lunar-based leap years in the Jewish calendar). This is why Easter moves every year because it is based on Passover, and Passover is timed by the Jewish calendar which calculates the year differently than the Western Calendar.

Now think for a minute about what ‘signs’ do. You can see some signs below here.

Flag_of_India

A Sign of India

Signs

Commercial Signs to make us think of McDonalds and Nike

The flag is a sign or symbol of India.  We do not ‘see’ just a rectangle with an orange and a green band across it.  No, we think of India when we see the flag.  The sign of the ‘Golden Arches’ makes us think about McDonalds. The sign of the ‘√’ on tennis player Nadal’s headband is the sign for Nike. Nike wants us to think of them when we see this sign on Nadal. In other words, Signs are pointers in our minds to direct our thinking to the desired object.

The Passover account in the Hebrew Veda of Exodus explicitly said that the Sign was for the people, not for Creator God (though He would still look for the blood and pass over the house if he saw it).  As with any sign, what did He want our minds to think of when we look to Passover?  With the remarkable timing of lambs being sacrificed on the same day as Jesus, it must be a pointer to the sacrifice of Jesus.

It works in our minds like I have shown in the diagram below. The sign was there to point us to the sacrifice of Jesus.

passover-and-jesus

The exact timing of sacrifice of Jesus to Passover is a Sign

In that first Passover the lambs were sacrificed and the blood spread so the people could live.  And thus, this Sign pointing to Jesus is to tell us that he, ‘The Lamb of God’, was also given as a sacrifice to death and his blood spilt so we could receive life.

We saw in Sign of Abraham that the place where Abraham was tested with the sacrifice of his son was Mount Moriah.  A lamb died so Abraham’s son could live.  Mount Moriah was the

The Sign of Abraham was pointing to the location

The Sign of Abraham was pointing to the location

very same place where Jesus was sacrificed. That was a Sign to make us ‘see’ the meaning of his death by pointing to the place.  In the Passover we find another pointer to Jesus’ sacrifice – by pointing to the same day in the year.  A lamb sacrifice is once again used – showing that it is not just a coincidence of any event – to point to the sacrifice of Jesus.  In two different ways (through location and through timing) two of the most important festivals in the sacred Hebrew Vedas directly point to the sacrifice of Jesus.  I cannot think of any other person in history whose death is so foreshadowed by such parallels in such dramatic fashion.  Can you?

These signs are given so that we can have confidence that the sacrifice of Jesus really was planned and ordained by God.  This was to give an illustration that helps us visualize how the sacrifice of Jesus saves us from death and cleanses us from sin – the gift from God to all who will receive it.

How to receive the gift of cleansing from the sacrifice of Jesus?

Jesus came to give himself as a sacrifice for all peoples.  This message is foreshadowed in the hymns of the ancient Rg Vedas as well as in the promises and Festivals of the ancient Hebrew Vedas.  Jesus is the answer to the question we ask every time we recite the prayer of the Prartha Snana (or Pratasana) mantram.  How is this so?  The Bible (Veda Pusthakan) declares a Karmic Law that affects all of us:

For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23)

Below I show this karmic law through an illustration.  “Death” means separation.  When our soul separates from our body we are dead physically.  In a similar way we are separated from God spiritually.  This is true because God is Holy (sinless).

Slide1

We are separated from God by our sins like a chasm between two cliffs

We can picture ourselves as being on a cliff and God on another cliff and we are separated by this bottomless chasm of sin.

This separation causes guilt and fear.  So what we naturally try to do is build a bridge that will take us from our side (of death) to God’s side.  We offer sacrifices, perform pujas, practice asceticism, participate in festivals, go to temples, make many prayers and even try to reduce or stop our sins. This list of deeds to gain merit can be very long for some of us.  The problem is that our efforts, merits, sacrifices and ascetic practices etc., though in themselves not bad, are insufficient because the payment required (the ‘wages’) for our sins is ‘death’.  This is illustrated in the next figure.

Slide2

Religious merit – good though that may be – cannot bridge the separation between us and God

Through our religious efforts we try to build a ‘bridge’ to cross the divide separating ourselves from God.  Though this is not bad, it will not solve our problem because it does not succeed in going completely over to the other side.  Our efforts are not sufficient. It is like trying to heal cancer (which results in death) by eating veg only and by wearing bandages.  Wearing bandages and eating veg is not bad – but it will not cure cancer.  For that you need a totally different treatment.  We can illustrate these efforts with a ‘bridge’ of religious merit that goes only part-way across the chasm – leaving us still separated from God.

The Karmic law is Bad News – it is so bad we often do not even want to hear it and we often fill our lives with activities and things hoping this Law will go away – until the gravity of our situation sinks into our souls.  But the Bible does not end with this Karmic Law.

For the wages of sin is death but … (Romans 6:23)

The small word ‘but’ shows that the direction of the Law is now about to go the other way, to Good News – Gospel.  It is the Karmic Law reversed to one of Moksha and Enlightenment.  So what is this Good News of Moksha?.

For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23)

The good news of the gospel is that the sacrifice of Jesus’ death is sufficient to bridge this separation between us and God.  We know this because three days after his death Jesus rose bodily, coming alive again in a physical resurrection.   Though some people today choose to disbelieve the resurrection of Jesus a very strong case can be made for it shown in this public lecture I did at a university (video link here).  The Lord Jesus entered heaven and offered himself to God.  In a sense, he performed a puja, accepted by God, by offering himself for cleansing of sin, on behalf of all people.

Jesus is the Purusa giving the perfect sacrifice.  Since he was a man he is able to be a bridge that spans the chasm and touches the human side and since he was perfect he also touches God’s side.  He is a Bridge to Life and this can be illustrated as below

Slide3

Jesus is the Bridge that spans the chasm between God and man. His sacrifice pays our sins.

Notice in this Moksha Principle how this sacrifice of Jesus is given to us.  It is given as a … ‘gift’.  Think about gifts.  No matter what the gift is, if it is really a gift it is something that you do not work for and that you do not earn by merit.  If you earned it the gift would no longer be a gift!  In the same way you cannot merit or earn the sacrifice of Jesus.  It is given to you as a gift.

And what is the gift?  It is ‘eternal life’.  This means that the sin which brought you death is now cancelled.  The sacrifice of Jesus is a bridge upon which you can cross to connect with God and receive life – that lasts forever.  This gift is given by Jesus who, by rising from the dead, shows himself to be ‘lord’.

So how do you and I ‘cross’ on this bridge of life that Jesus gives to us as a gift?  Again, think of gifts.  If someone comes and gives you a gift it is something you do not work for.  But to get any benefit from the gift you must ‘receive’ it.  Anytime a gift is offered there are two alternatives.  Either the gift is refused (“No thank you”) or it is received (“Thank you for your gift.  I will take it”).  So this gift that Jesus offers must be received.  It cannot simply be ‘believed’, studied, or understood.  This is illustrated in the next figure where we ‘walk’ on the Bridge by turning to God and receiving his gift he offers to us.

Slide4

Jesus’ sacrifice is a Gift that each of us must choose to receive

So how do we receive this gift?  The Bible says that

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:12)

Notice that this promise is for ‘everyone’.  Since he rose from the dead Jesus is alive even now and he is ‘Lord’.  So if you call on him he will hear and extend his gift of life to you.  You need to call out to him and ask him – by having a conversation with him.  Perhaps you have never done this.  Here is a guide that can help you have this conversation and prayer with him.  It is not a magic incantation.  It is not the specific words that give power.  It is the trust that we have in his ability and willingness to give us this gift.  As we trust him he will hear us and respond.  So feel free to follow this guide as you either speak out loud or in your spirit to Jesus and receive his gift.

Dear Lord Jesus.  I understand that with the sins in my life I am separated from God.  Though I can try hard, no effort and sacrifice on my part will bridge this separation.  But I understand that your death was a sacrifice to wash away all sins – even my sins.  I believe that you rose from the dead after your sacrifice so I can know that your sacrifice was sufficient.  I ask you to please cleanse me from my sins and bridge me to God so I can have eternal life.  I do not want to live a life enslaved to sin so please free me from these sins that hold me in a grip of karma.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for doing all this for me and would you even now continue to guide me in my life so I can follow you as my Lord.

The Sign of Rsi Abraham’s sacrifice

We have seen how Abraham was, so very long ago, given a promise of nations. Jews and Arabs today come from Abraham, so we know the promise came true and that he is an important person in history.  Because Abraham trusted this promise he was given righteousness – he achieved moksha not through rigorous merit but he received it as simply as one receives any free gift.

Some time after, Abraham did receive that long awaited son, Isaac (from whom the Jews today trace their ancestry).  Isaac grew into a young man.  But then God tested Abraham in a dramatic way.  You can read the complete account here and we will go over the key facts to unlock the meaning of this mysterious test – to help us understand how righteousness will be paid for.

Abraham’s Test

This test starts with God making a dramatic command:

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Genesis 22:2)

Abraham, in obedience to the command ‘got up early next morning’ and ‘after three days travel’ they reached the mountain.  Then

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. (Genesis 22:9-10)

Abraham was ready to obey the command.  But then something remarkable happened:

11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  (Genesis 22:11-13)

At the last moment Isaac was saved from death and Abraham saw a male sheep and sacrificed it instead.  God had provided a ram and the ram took the place of Isaac.

The Sacrifice: looking to the future

Abraham then names that place.  Notice what he names it.

So Abraham called that place ‘The LORD Will Provide’. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:14)

Abraham named it ‘The LORD will provide’. Here is a question.  Is that name in the past tense, present tense or future tense? It is clearly in the future tense. And to be even more clear the comment which follows repeats “…it will be provided”. This is also in the future tense – thus also looking to the future. But this naming occurred after the sacrifice of the ram (a male sheep) in place of Isaac.  Many think that Abraham, when naming that place, was referring to that ram caught in the thicket and sacrificed in place of his son. But it was already sacrificed and burned at this point. If Abraham was thinking of the ram – already dead, sacrificed and burnt – he would have named the place ‘The LORD has provided’, i.e. in the past tense. And the comment would have stated ‘And to this day it is said “On the mountain of the LORD it was provided”’. But Abraham clearly named it in future tense and therefore was not thinking of that already dead and sacrificed ram. He was enlightened to something different. He had insight into something about the future. But what?

Where the sacrifice happened

Remember that the mountain where Abraham had been told to go for this sacrifice was:

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah….” (v.2)

So this happened in ‘Moriah’. Where is that? Though it was a wilderness area in Abraham’s day (2000 BC), a thousand years later (1000 BC) King David established the city of Jerusalem there, and his son Solomon built the First Temple there. We read later in the Old Testament historical books that:

Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David (2 Chronicles 3:1)

In other words, ‘Mount Moriah’ in the early Old Testament time of Abraham (4000 BC) was an isolated mountain top in the wilderness but 1000 years later through David and Solomon it became the central city of the Israelites where they built the Temple to the Creator. And to this very day it is a holy place for the Jewish people and the capital of Israel.

Jesus – Yeshu Satsang – and the Sacrifice of Abraham

Think now about the titles of Jesus in the New Testament.  Jesus had many titles associated with him. Perhaps the most well-known title is ‘Christ’. But he had another title given to him that is very important. We see this in the Gospel of John when John the Baptist says of him:

The next day John (i.e. John the Baptist) saw Jesus (i.e. Yeshu Satsang) coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I meant when I said ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me’”. (John 1:29-30)

In other words, Jesus was known as ‘The Lamb of God’. Now consider the end of Jesus’ life. Where was he arrested and crucified? It was in Jerusalem (which as we saw = ‘Mount Moriah’). It is very clearly stated during his arrest that:

When he [Pilate] learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at the time.’ (Luke 23:7)

The arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus happened in Jerusalem (= Mount Moriah). The timeline shows the events that have happened at Mount Moriah.

mt moriah timeline

Major events of history at Mount Moriah from Old Testament to New Testament

Let us now think back to Abraham. Why did he name that place in the future tense ‘The LORD will provide’? How could he know that something would be ‘provided’ there in his future that would so precisely mirror what he enacted on Mount Moriah? Think about it – in his test  Isaac (his son) was saved from death at the last moment because a lamb was sacrificed in his place. Two thousand years later, Jesus is called ‘Lamb of God’ and is  sacrificed on the same spot!  How could Abraham have known this would be ‘the spot’? He could only have known and been able to predict something that remarkable if he had received enlightenment from Prajapati, from the Creator God himself.

A Divine Mind is Revealed

It is as though there is a Mind that connected these two events by location even as they are separated by 2000 years of history.

mt moriah thinking india

The sacrifice of Abraham was a Sign – pointing forward 2000 years – to make us think about the sacrifice of Jesus.

The figure illustrates how the earlier event (Abraham’s sacrifice) alludes to the later one (Jesus’ sacrifice) and was configured to remind us of this later event. This is evidence that this Mind (Creator God) is revealing Himself to us by coordinating events though separated by thousands of years. It is a Sign that God spoke through Abraham.

Good News for you and me

This account is also important to us for more personal reasons. To conclude, God declared to Abraham that

“…and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:18)

Do you not belong to one of ‘all nations on earth’ – no matter what your language, religion, education, age, gender, or wealth?  Then this is a promise that is given specifically to you! And notice what the promise is – a ‘blessing’ from God himself! This was not something solely for the Jews, but for people all over the world.

How is this ‘blessing’ given? The word ‘offspring’ here is in the singular. It is not ‘offsprings’ as in many descendants or peoples, but in the singular as in a ‘he’.  It is not through many people or a group of people as in ‘they’. This parallels exactly the Promise given at the beginning of history when a ‘he’ would ‘strike the heel’ of the serpent as recorded in the Hebrew Vedas and also parallels the promise of the sacrifice of Purusa (a ‘he’) given in the Purusasukta. With this Sign the very place – Mount Moriah ( = Jerusalem) – is predicted giving further detail to these ancient promises. The details of the drama of Abraham’s sacrifice help us understand how this blessing is given, and how the price for righteousness would be paid.

How is the Blessing of God obtained?

Just like the ram saved Isaac from death by being sacrificed in his place, so the Lamb of God, by his sacrificial death, saves us from the power and penalty of death.  The Bible declares that

… the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)

This is another way of saying that the sins we do produce a karma that results in death.  But death was paid by the lamb substituting for Isaac. Abraham and Isaac simply had to accept it. He did not and could not merit it. But he could receive it as a gift.  This is exactly how he achieved moksha.

This shows the pattern we can follow.  Jesus was the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’.  This includes your own sin.  So Jesus, the Lamb, offers to ‘take away’ your sins since he made the payment.  You cannot merit this but you can receive it as a gift.  Call to Jesus, the Purusa, and ask him to take away your sins.  His sacrifice gives him that power.  We know this because it was foreshadowed beyond that of chance coincidences in the remarkable account of the sacrifice of Abraham’s son on Mount Moriah, the same spot where 2000 years later it ‘was provided’ by Jesus.

Abraham’s simple Way to achieve Moksha

As I write this today the world’s attention is focused on the FIFA World Cup draw. While this has many fans riveted, much of the rest of the world is focused on the riots and unrest in Thailand and Ukraine. Then there is always the civil war that is raging in Syria. And this just in … Nelson Mandela has passed away.

But probably by the time that you read this article these events will largely be forgotten. What the world takes great note of now will quickly be forgotten as we move on to other amusements, sporting championships or political crises. The focus one day quickly becomes forgotten history the next.

We saw in our previous article that this was true in the ancient time of Abraham. The important and spectacular contests, achievements and gossip that was the talk of the people living 4000 years ago are now totally forgotten, but a solemn promise spoken quietly to an individual, though totally overlooked by the world back then, is growing and unfolding before our eyes. I pointed out the obvious, but usually overlooked fact, that the promise given to Abraham about 4000 years ago has literally, historically and verifiably come true. This should give us reason to recognize that this Promise to Abraham indicates that God is just as revealed in the Bible (Veda Pusthakan) and is working to see that His Promises will be accomplished. This is not simply legend or some abstract metaphor.

The account of Abraham continues with two more key encounters with this Promise-Making God. Abraham (and we who follow his journey) learn much more – even to the point of seeing this promise move from the realm of history to that of achieving Moksha, but in a very different way – a simpler way – than we might expect. The story of Abraham is not a quickly forgotten event like today’s sports events; it is one of an unnoticed man setting a foundation to understand the gaining of eternity, so we’d be wise to take note.

Abraham’s Complaint

Several years have passed in Abraham’s life since the Promise recorded in Genesis 12 was spoken. Abraham had moved to Canaan (the Promised Land) in what is today Israel in obedience to that promise. Other events then occurred in his life except the very one that he wanted – the birth of the son through whom this promise would be fulfilled. So we pick up the account with Abraham’s complaint:

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,

your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:1-3)

God’s Promise

Abraham had been camping out in the Land awaiting the start of the ‘Great Nation’ that had been promised him. But nothing had happened and by this time he was around 85 years old. He complained that God was not keeping that Promise given to him. Their conversation continued with:

Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:4-5)

In their exchange God renewed His Promise by declaring that Abraham would get a son that would become a people as uncountable as the stars in the sky – many for sure, but hard to number.

Abraham’s Response: Like a Puja with Permanent affect

The ball was now back in Abraham’s court. How would he respond to this renewed Promise? What follows is treated by the Bible as one of its most important sentences (since this sentence is quoted several times later on). It lays the foundation to understand an unalterable truth. It says:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It is probably easier to understand this sentence if we replace the pronouns with names, thus it would read:

Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to Abram as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It is such a small and inconspicuous sentence. It comes and goes with no news headline fanfare and so we are apt to miss it. But it is truly significant – and it contains the seeds of The Everlasting. Why? Because in this little sentence Abraham gets ‘righteousness’. This is like a getting the merits of a puja that will never degrade or be lost. Righteousness is the one – and the only one – quality that we need to get right standing before God.

Reviewing our Problem: Corruption

From God’s point-of-view, though we were made in the image of God something happened that corrupted that image. Now the verdict is that

The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

Instinctively we sense this corruption. This is why festivals, such as the Kumbh Mela festival, are so well attended because we sense our sin and our need for cleansing. The Prartha Snana (or Pratasana) mantram also expresses this view that we have about ourselves:

I am a sinner. I am the result of sin. I am born in sin. My soul is under sin. I am the worst of sinners. O Lord who has the beautiful eyes, Save me, O Lord of the Sacrifice.

The end result of our corruption is that we find ourselves separated from a Righteous God because we have no righteousness ourselves. Our corruption has seen our negative karma grow – reaping futility and death in its wake. If you doubt that just scan some news headlines and see what people have been up to the last 24 hours.  We are separated from the Maker of Life and so the words of Rsi Isaiah of the Veda Pusthakan (Bible) come true

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6, written ca. 750 BC)

Abraham and Righteousness

But here in the conversation between Abraham and God we find, slipped in so quietly that we can almost miss it, the declaration that Abraham had gained ‘righteousness’ – the kind that God accepts. So what did Abraham ‘do’  to get this righteousness? Once again, so discreetly that we are in danger of missing the point, it simply says of Abraham that he ‘believed’. That’s it?! We have this insurmountable problem of being corrupt and so our the natural tendency  down the ages is to look for sophisticated and difficult religions, efforts, pujas, ethics, ascetic disciplines, teachings etc. – to gain righteousness. But this man, Abraham, gained that prized righteousness simply by ‘believing’.  It was so simple we can almost miss it.

Abraham did not ‘earn’ righteousness; it was ‘credited’ to him. So what is the difference? Well, if something is ‘earned’ you worked for it – you deserve it. It is like receiving wages for the work you do. But when something is credited to you, it is given to you. Like any gift freely given it is not earned or merited, but simply received.

This account of Abraham overturns the common understanding that we have about righteousness either by thinking that it comes by a belief in God’s existence, or that righteousness is obtained by doing enough sufficiently good or religious activities. This is not the way Abraham took. He simply chose to believe the promise extended to him, and then he was credited, or given, righteousness.

The rest of the Bible treats this encounter as a Sign for us.  Abraham’s belief in the promise from God, and the ensuing credit of righteousness, is a pattern for us to follow. The whole of the Gospel is founded on promises that God gives to each and every one of us.

But then who pays for or earns righteousness? We take it up in our next article.