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The Puzzle of the Psalm 22 Prophecy

A few years ago a work colleague, J, wandered to my desk. J was smart and educated – and definitely not a follower of the gospel.  But he was somewhat curious so we had some warm and open conversations between us. He had never really looked at the Bible so I had encouraged him to investigate it.

One day he came into my office with a Bible to show that he was taking a look. He had opened it randomly in the middle. I asked him what he was reading. Our conversation went something like this.

“I am reading in Psalm chapter 22”, he said

“Really”, I said. “Any idea what you are reading about?”

“I guess I am reading about the crucifixion of Jesus”, J replied.

“That’s a good guess”, I laughed. “But you are about one thousand years too early. Psalm 22 was written by David around 1000 BC. Jesus’ crucifixion was in 30’s C.E. one thousand years later”

J did not realize that the Psalms were not the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life written by his contemporaries.  Psalms were sacred Hebrew hymns written 1000 years before Jesus by inspired sages.  J had only heard some stories about Jesus, including his crucifixion, and randomly opening his Bible, read what seemed to describe the crucifixion. Not knowing any better, he just assumed it was the story of the crucifixion which is remembered around the world annually on what is called Good Friday.  We had a chuckle over his first mis-step in Bible reading.

Psalms are ancient Hebrew hymns and were written by Rsi David 3000 years ago.

Psalms are ancient Hebrew hymns and were written by Rsi David 3000 years ago.

Then I asked J what he saw in Psalm 22 that made him think he was reading about Jesus’ crucifixion. Thus began our little study. I invite you to consider some of the similarities J noticed by placing the passages side-by-side in a table. To help I have color matched the texts that are similar.

Comparison of Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion with the details in Psalm 22

Crucifixion details from the eye-witness Gospels Psalm 22:  1000 BC
(Matthew 27:31-48) ..Then they led him (Jesus) away to crucify him…. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40and saying, “… save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him,…About the ninth hour Jesus cried…“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” …48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. (Mark15:16-20)16 The soldiers led Jesus away… They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him…37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.(John19:34) they did not break his legs..., pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.…they crucified him… (John20:25) [Thomas] unless I see the nail marks in his hands ,…”…(John20:23-24) When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining…Let’s not tear it”, they said,”Let’s decide by lot who gets it” 1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest…7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

That J made the logical but wrong conclusion that Psalm 22 was an eye-witness account of the Good Friday crucifixion, should make us ask a question.

How do we explain the similarity between the crucifixion accounts and Psalm 22?

Is it coincidence that the details match so precisely as to include that the clothes would be divided (seamed clothes were split along the seams and divided among the soldiers) AND have lots cast (if torn the seamless garment would be ruined so they gambled for it). Psalm 22 was written before crucifixion was invented but it still describes its various details (piercing of hands and feet, bones being out of joint – by being stretched as the victim hangs). In addition, the Gospel of John states that blood and water flowed out when the spear was thrust in Jesus’ side, indicating a fluid buildup around the heart.  Jesus thus died of a heart attack.  This matches the Psalm 22 description of ‘my heart has turned to wax’.

Psalm 22 was written as if Jesus’ crucifixion was being seen.  But how so, since it was composed 1000 years beforehand?

God-inspired Explanation for Psalm 22

Jesus, in the Gospels, argued that these similarities were prophetic. God inspired Old Testament prophets hundreds of years prior to Jesus’ life to predict details of his life and death so that we can know that this was all in the plan of God. Prophetic fulfillment would be like having a Divine signature on these events of Good Friday since no human could foresee the future in such detail.  This is evidence of God’s work and intervention in history.

Naturalistic Explanation for Psalm 22

Others argue that the similarity of Psalm 22 with crucifixion events of Good Friday is because the Gospel writers made up the events to ‘fit’ the prophecy.  But this explanation totally ignores the testimony of historians from that time outside of the Bible.  Josephus and Tacitus respectively tell us that:

“At this time there was a wise man … Jesus. … good, and … virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die.” (Josephus. 90AD. Antiquities xviii. 33   Josephus was a Jewish Historian)

“Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius” (Tacitus. 117 AD. Annals XV. 44.  Tacitus was a Roman Historian)

Their historical testimony agrees with the gospels that Jesus was crucified. This is important because many of the details in Psalm 22 are simply particulars of the act of being crucified. If the gospel writers were going to make up the actual events to make them ‘fit’ Psalm 22 then they would basically have had to make up the whole crucifixion.  Yet no one from that time denied his crucifixion, and the Jewish historian Josephus explicitly states that this is how he was executed.

Psalm 22 and Jesus’ legacy

Also, Psalm 22 does not end at v.18 as in the table above. It continues on. Note the triumphant mood at the end –after the person is dead!

26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him— may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,

28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive.

30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.

31 They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn— for he has done it. (Psalm 22:26-31)

This is not talking about the details of events of this person’s death. Those details were dealt with in the beginning of the Psalm. The psalmist is now addressing the legacy of that person’s death with ‘posterity’ and ‘future generations’ (v.30).

Who would that be?

That is us living 2000 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.  The Psalmist tells us that ‘posterity’ which follows this ‘pierced’ man who died such a horrible death will ‘serve’ him and be ‘told about him’.  Verse 27 predicts the geographic scope of the impact – going to the ‘ends of the earth’ and among ‘all families of nations’ to cause them to ‘turn to the LORD’.  Verse 29 predicts that ‘those who cannot keep themselves alive’ (since we are mortal that means all of us) will one day kneel before him. The righteousness of this man will be proclaimed to people who were not yet alive (the ‘yet unborn’) at the time of his death.

Psalm 22’s conclusion has nothing to do with whether the gospel accounts borrowed from it or made up the crucifixion events because it is now dealing with a much later era – that of our time. The gospel writers, living in the 1st century could not ‘make up’ the impact of the death of Jesus down to our time.  They did not know what that impact would be.

One could not make a better prediction of the legacy of Jesus than Psalm 22 does. Even simply noting the annual worldwide Good Friday celebrations remind us of his global impact two thousand years after his death.  These fulfill the conclusion of Psalm 22 as precisely as the earlier verses predicted the details of his death.

Who else in world history can make a claim that details of his death as well as the legacy of his life into the distant future would be predicted 1000 years before he lived?

Perhaps, like my friend J, you will take the opportunity to consider Psalm 22 in light of Jesus’ crucifixion. It will take some mental effort. But it is worthwhile because the man Psalm 22 foresaw promised:

I have come that they may have life and have it to the full (John 10:10)

Here is the entire gospel account for Good Friday that Psalm 22 foresaw and here its gift for you is explained.

For the Varna as well as Avarna: The Man coming for all people

We have learned how the ancient Vedas foresaw the Coming Person.  We started at the beginning of the Purusasukta in the Rg Veda.  Then we continued with the Hebrew Vedas, suggesting that what both the Sanskrit and Hebrew Vedas (Bible) predicted was fulfilled by Yeshua Satsang (Jesus of Nazareth).

So was Jesus of Nazareth this prophesied Purusa or Christ?  Was his coming just for a certain religious group, or was his coming for all – including all castes, from the Varna to the Avarna.

Caste (Varna) in Purusasukta

The Purusasukta said of Purusa that:

Purusasukta Verses 11-12  – Sanskrit Sanskrit Transliteration English Translation
यत पुरुषं वयदधुः कतिधा वयकल्पयन |
मुखं किमस्य कौ बाहू का ऊरू पादा उच्येते ||
बराह्मणो.अस्य मुखमासीद बाहू राजन्यः कर्तः |
ऊरूतदस्य यद वैश्यः पद्भ्यां शूद्रो अजायत ||
11 yat puruṣaṃ vyadadhuḥ katidhā vyakalpayan |
mukhaṃ kimasya kau bāhū kā ūrū pādā ucyete ||
12 brāhmaṇo.asya mukhamāsīd bāhū rājanyaḥ kṛtaḥ |
ūrūtadasya yad vaiśyaḥ padbhyāṃ śūdro ajāyata
11 When they divided Puruṣa how many portions did they make?
What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet?
12 The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rājanya made.
His thighs became the Vaiśya, from his feet the Śūdra was produced.

This is the first mention of Castes or Varna in the Sanskrit Vedas.  It speaks of the four Castes as separating out from Purusa’s body.  The Brahmin Caste/Varna came from his mouth, the Rajanya (today known as Kshatriya Caste/Varna) from his arms, the Vaishya Caste/Varna from his thighs, and the Shudra Caste from his feet.  For Jesus to be Purusa he must be able to represent everybody.

Does he?

Christ as Brahmin and Kshatriya

We saw that ‘Christ’ is an ancient Hebrew title meaning ‘ruler’ – the Ruler of rulers in fact.  As ‘the Christ’, Jesus fully identifies with and can represent the Kshatriya.  We also saw that as ‘the Branch’ Jesus was also prophesied to come as Priest, so he fully identifies with and can represent the Brahmin.  In fact, the Hebrew prophecy indicated that he would unite the two roles of Priest and King into one person.

…he will be clothed with majesty 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 6:13)

Jesus as Vaishya

The Hebrew Rsi/prophets also prophesied that the Coming One would, like a merchant, be a trader.  Isaiah (750 BC) foretold in the Bible:

Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. (Isaiah 43:3)

Here God is speaking prophetically to the Coming One, saying that He would not be trading in things, but he would be trading for people – in exchange for his life.  So the Coming One would be a merchant, trading in the freeing of people.  As a merchant he identifies with and can represent the Vaishya.

Shudra – Servant

The Rsi/prophets also foretold in great detail his coming role as a Servant, or Shudra.  We saw how the prophets foretold that the Branch would also be a servant whose job it would be to remove sins:

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

The Coming Branch, who was Priest, Ruler and Merchant, was also a Servant – Shudra.  Isaiah prophesied in great detail of his role as Servant (Shudra).  In this prophecy God advises all nations ‘distant’ from Israel (that includes you and me) to pay attention to the work of this Shudra.

Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
and my reward is with my God.”

And now the Lord says—
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
and my God has been my strength—
he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:1-6)

Though coming from the Hebrew/Jewish race, the prophecy stated that the service of this Servant would ‘reach to the ends of the earth’.  Though Jewish, Jesus’ service has indeed touched all nations on earth as prophesied of this Servant.  As Servant, Jesus fully identified with and can represent all the Shudra.

Avarna Represented also

To mediate for all peoples Jesus would also have to represent the Avarna, or Scheduled Castes, Tribals and Dalits.  How would he?  Another prophecy from Isaiah predicted that he would be completely broken and despised.  He would be viewed as Avarna by the rest of us.

In what way?

Here is the prophecy in full with some explanations inserted.  You will notice that it speaks of a ‘He’ and ‘him’ so it is prophesying a coming man.  Since the prophecy uses the image of ‘shoot’ we know it is referring to the same Branch who was Priest and Ruler.  But the description is different.

The coming Despised One

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him [God] like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

In spite of being the ‘shoot’ before God (i.e. The Banyan Branch), this Man would be ‘despised’ and ‘rejected’, full of ‘suffering’ and ‘held in low esteem’ by others.  He would literally be regarded as untouchable.  This coming one would also be able to represent those as broken as Untouchables of the Scheduled Tribes (Vanvasi) and Backwards Castes – the Dalits.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

We sometimes judge the misfortune of others, or look at those who have a low position in society, as a consequence, or karma, of their sins.  This prophecy states that similarly the afflictions of this man will be so great that we could think he is being punished by God.  This is the reason he will be despised.  But he will not be punished for his own sins – but rather for ours.  He will bear an awful burden – for our healing and peace.

These prophecies were fulfilled in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, who was ‘pierced’ on a cross, stricken and afflicted.  Yet this prophecy was written 750 years before he lived.  In being held in low esteem, and in his suffering, Jesus fulfilled this prophecy and is now able to represent all Backward Castes and Tribals.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth

It is our sin and our going astray from dharma which requires that this man carry our iniquities or sins.  He would be willing to go peacefully to the slaughter in our place, not protesting or even ‘opening his mouth’.  This was fulfilled precisely in the way which Jesus went willingly to the cross.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.

The prophecy stated that this man would be ‘cut off’ from the land of the living’, which was fulfilled when Jesus died on the cross.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Jesus died condemned as a ‘wicked’ man even though ‘he had done no violence’ and no ‘deceit was in his mouth’.  Yet, he was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a rich Priest. Thus it was fulfilled that Jesus was both ‘assigned a grave with the wicked’ but also ‘with the rich in his death’.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand

This cruel death was not some terrible accident or misfortune. It was ‘the LORD’s will’.

Why?

Because the ‘life’ of this man would be an ‘offering for sin’.

Whose sin?

Those of us among the ‘many nations’ that have ‘gone astray’.  When Jesus died on the cross, it was to cleanse all of us, regardless of nationality or social position, from sin.

11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Here the tone of the prophecy changes and becomes triumphant.  After this terrible ‘suffering’ (of being ‘despised’ and ‘cut off from the land of the living’ and assigned ‘a grave’), this Servant will see ‘the light of life’.

He will come back to life!  And in so doing this Servant will ‘justify’ many.

To ‘justify’ is the same as getting ‘righteousness’.  We saw that Rsi Abraham was ‘credited’ or given ‘righteousness’.  It was given to him simply because of his trust.  In a similar way this Servant who would be so low as to be untouchable will justify, or credit righteousness to ‘many’.  This is exactly what Jesus accomplished by rising from the dead after his crucifixion and now he is able to ‘justify’ us.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.(Isaiah 53:1-12)

Though this oracle was written 750 years before Jesus lived, it was fulfilled in such detail by him that it proves this was the plan of God.  It also shows that Jesus can represent the Avarna, those often held in the lowest esteem.  In fact, he came to represent, bear and cleanse their sins, as well as the sins of the Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra.

He came as the center of God’s plan to offer you and me the gift of life – cleansing from the guilt and karma of sin.  Is it not worthwhile for you to fully consider and understand such a precious gift?  There are several ways to do this here:

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?

Poetry wisdom in Finding Life’s Satisfaction

Solomon, an ancient king famous for his wisdom, wrote several poems around 950 BC that are part of the Old Testament in the Bible. In Ecclesiastes, he described all that he did to find satisfaction in life.  He wrote:

“I thought in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ …I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone … before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone … before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me….I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-10)

Riches, fame, knowledge, projects, women, pleasure, kingdom, career, wine… Solomon had it all – and more of it than anyone else of his day or ours. The smarts of an Einstein, the riches of a Lakshmi Mittal, the social/sexual life of a Bollywood Star, along with a royal pedigree like that of Prince William in the British Royal family – all rolled into one. Who could beat that combination? You would think he, of all people would have been satisfied.

In another of his poems, Song of Songs, which is also in the Bible, he records an erotic, red-hot love affair that he was having – the very thing that seems most likely to provide life-long satisfaction.  The complete poem is hereBut below is a portion of the poem of the love exchange between him and his lover

Song of Songs extract

He

I liken you, my darling, to a mare
among Pharaoh’s chariot horses.
10 Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings,
your neck with strings of jewels.
11 We will make you earrings of gold,
studded with silver.

She

12 While the king was at his table,
my perfume spread its fragrance.
13 My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh
resting between my breasts.
14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
from the vineyards of En Gedi.

He

15 How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes are doves.

She

16 How handsome you are, my beloved!
Oh, how charming!
And our bed is verdant.

He

17 The beams of our house are cedars;
our rafters are firs.

She

Like an apple[c] tree among the trees of the forest
is my beloved among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
Let him lead me to the banquet hall,
and let his banner over me be love.
Strengthen me with raisins,
refresh me with apples,
for I am faint with love.
His left arm is under my head,
and his right arm embraces me.
Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you
by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
Do not arouse or awaken love
until it so desires.  (Song of Songs 1:9 – 2:7)

This poem, almost 3000 years old, has the romantic intensity of the best of the Bollywood love films.  The Bible in fact records that with his immense wealth he obtained 700 mistresses!  That is much more than the most prolific lovers of Bollywood or Hollywood will ever have.  So you would think that with all that love he would be satisfied. But even with all that love, all the riches, all the fame and the wisdom – he concluded:

“’Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ … I … devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-14)

“…when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun… So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun.… This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?… This too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11-23)

The promise of pleasure, wealth, work, progress, romantic love to ultimately satisfy was shown by him to be an illusion.  But today this is the same message that you and I still hear as the sure road to satisfaction.  Solomon’s poetry has already told us that he had not been able to find satisfaction in these ways.

Solomon continued his poetry to reflect on death as well as life:

Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless.  All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:19-21)

All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. … they join the dead.  Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!  For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. (Ecclesiastes 9:2-5)

Why would the Bible, a Holy book, contain poems about the pursuit of wealth and love – the very things we do not associate with Holiness?  Most of us expect Holy Books to discuss ascetism, dharma and moral precepts to live by.  And why does Solomon in the Bible write about death in such a final and pessimistic way?

The path taken by Solomon, so commonly pursued all over the world, was to live for self, creating whatever meaning, pleasure or ideals that he chose to pursue. But that end was not good for Solomon – the satisfaction was temporary and illusion.  His poems are in the Bible like a big warning sign – “Do not Go here – it will disappoint you!”  Since almost all of us will try to go down the same path that Solomon took we are wise if we listen to him.

The Gospel – Answering Solomon’s Poems

Jesus Christ (Yeshu Satsang) is probably the most well-known person written about in the Bible.  He too made statements about life.  In fact he said

“… I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

When Jesus says this he gives an answer to the futility and hopelessness written about by Solomon in his poems.  Maybe, just maybe, here is an answer to the dead-end of Solomon’s path. After all, gospel literally means ‘good news’. Is the Gospel really good news?  To answer that we need an informed understanding of the Gospel. Also we need to examine the claims of the Gospel – to think critically about the Gospel, without just being a mindless critic.

As I share in my story, this was a journey that I took.  The articles in this website are here so you too can begin to explore

Diwali and the Lord Jesus

Diwali lampsThe first time I experienced Diwali ‘up close’ was when I was working in India. I had come to stay for a month and at the beginning of my stay Diwali was celebrated all around me. What I remember most were all the firecrackers – the air was thick with smoke and it made my eyes sting slightly. So with all that excitement going on around me I wanted to learn about Diwali, what it was and what it meant. And I fell in love with it.

The ‘festival of lights’ inspired me because I am a believer in, and follower of, Yeshu Satsang also known as the Lord Jesus. And the main message of his teaching was that His Light would overcome the darkness within us. So Diwali is a lot like the Lord Jesus.

Most of us realize that we have a problem with darkness in us. This is why so many millions participate in the Kumbh Mela festival – because millions of us know that we have sins and that we need to wash them off and cleanse ourselves. As well, the ancient prayer of the well-known Prartha Snana (or Pratasana) mantram acknowledges this sin or darkness inside us.

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.

But all of these thoughts of darkness, or sin, inside us is not encouraging. In fact we sometimes think of it as ‘bad news’. This is why the thought of light overcoming the darkness gives us so much hope and celebration. And so, along with the candles, the sweets and the firecrackers, Diwali expresses this hope that light will overcome the darkness.

Lord Jesus – Light in the World

This is exactly what the Lord Jesus has done. The Gospel in the Veda Pusthakan (or Bible) describes Jesus in the following way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1: 1-5)

So you see, this ‘Word’ is the fulfillment of the hope that Diwali expresses. And this hope comes in this ‘Word’ from God, which John later identifies as the Lord Jesus. The Gospel continues by stating that

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:9-13)

This is explaining how the Lord Jesus came to ‘give light to everyone’. Some think that this is only for Christians, but notice that it says that this offer is for ‘everyone’ in the ‘world’ to ‘become children of God’. This offer is one that everyone, at least everyone who is interested in, like Diwali, Light overcoming the darkness inside them.

Lord Jesus’ Life prophesied hundreds of years in advance

What is extraordinary about the Lord Jesus is that his incarnation was predicted and foretold in many different ways and instances from early human history and they are recorded in the Hebrew Vedas. So he was written about even before he was on this earth. And some of the predictions of his incarnation are also remembered in the most ancient hymns in the Rg Veda, which praises the coming of Purusa, and records some of the earliest events of mankind, such as the flood of Manu, the same person whom the Bible – Veda Pusthakan – calls ‘Noah’. These ancient accounts depict the darkness of the sins of people, while offering the hope of the coming Purusa, or the Lord Jesus.

In the foretellings of the Rg Veda, Purusa, the incarnation of God and perfect man, was going to be sacrificed. This sacrifice was going to be sufficient to pay for the karma of our sins and also to cleanse us on the inside. Washings and pujas are good, but they are limited to our outsides. We need a better sacrifice to cleanse us on the inside.

Lord Jesus prophesied in Hebew Vedas

Along with these hymns in the Rg Veda, the Hebrew Vedas prophesied of this Coming One. Prominent in the Hebrew Vedas was the Rsi Isaiah (who lived about 750 BC, in other words 750 years even before the Lord Jesus walked this earth). He had many insights into this Coming One. He anticipates Diwali when he announces about the Lord Jesus that:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned (Isaiah 9:2)

Why would this be the case? He continues

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

But though he was the Incarnation, he would become a Servant to us, to help us with our darkest needs.

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Isaiah is describing the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. He does so 750 years before it happened, and he also describes the crucifixion as the sacrifice that heals us. And this work that the Servant would offer would be such that God would say to him

I will also make you a light to the Gentiles (non-Jews) that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6-7)

So you see! This is for me and it is for you. It is for everyone.

The example of Paul

In fact, one man who definitely did not think that the Lord Jesus’ sacrifice was for him was Paul, a man who opposed the name of Jesus. But he had an encounter with the Lord Jesus that caused him later on to write

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Co 4: 6)

Paul had a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus which caused light to ‘shine in his heart’.

Experiencing this Light of Jesus for you

So what must we do to get this ‘salvation’ from darkness and sin becoming light that Isaiah had prophesied, the Lord Jesus has obtained, and which Paul experienced? Paul answers this question in another letter where he writes

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

Notice how he says this is a ‘gift’. A gift, by definition, cannot be earned. Someone simply gives you a gift without you earning it or you meriting it. But the gift will never benefit you, never be in your possession unless you ‘receive’ it. This is why John, who I quoted at the beginning wrote

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12)

So you simply receive him. You can do so by asking him for this gift which is freely given. The reason you can ask is that he is alive. Yes, he was sacrificed for our sins, but three days later came back to life, just as the Rsi Isaiah had prophesied hundreds of years earlier when he wrote about the suffering servant that

After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied. By his knowledge my righteous Servant will justify many (Isaiah 53:11)

So the Lord Jesus is alive and can hear you when you call out to him. You can pray the Prartha Snana (or Pratasana) mantram to Him and He will hear and save because he sacrificed himself for you and now has all authority. Here again is that prayer that you can cry to him:

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.

You are welcome to browse other articles here. They start at the beginning of human history and show from the Sanskrit and the Hebrew Vedas this plan of God to save us from darkness and bring us into light, simply as a gift. And I will continue to add more articles as I have time.  You are also welcome to contact me if you have some questions.

This Diwali, as you light candles and exchange gifts, may you experience this gift of inner light from the Lord Jesus like Paul had experienced and had been changed by many years ago and which is also offered to you. Happy Diwali

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.