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    Suffering servant – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Is it true – as some Christians claim – that Isaiah chapter 53 alludes to Jesus?

    Depiction of Isaiah from a 1904 bible card

    Depiction of Isaiah from a 1904 bible card

    A. The chapter refers to a servant who suffers on behalf of others.

    It is one of a number of “servant” poems (e.g. Isaiah 42:1-4; 43:10; 44:1-2; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3-6; 52:13-15) where the servant is clearly Israel.

    The Soncino Isaiah says about chapter 53, “The Babylonians, or their representative, having known the servant, i.e. exiled Israel idealised, in his humiliation and martyrdom, and now seeing his exaltation and new dignity, describe their impressions and feelings”.

    The Interpreter’s Bible, a Christian work, says, “The servant is certainly Israel”. The New English Bible heads Isaiah 53, “Israel a light to the nations”.

    The popular Christian reading of the text often relies on inaccurate translations of the Hebrew and takes passages out of context; in this case chapters 40 to 55 deal with the suffering Jews exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar and their return to Jerusalem.

    They do not refer to Jesus. Nor, despite Nathan of Gaza, do they refer to Shabbetai Zvi, the 17th century false messiah.

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