Why do Jews reject the Christian claim that "And his grave was set with the wicked,...

Why do Jews reject the Christian claim that "And his grave was set with the wicked, and with the rich in his deaths" (Isaiah 53:9) refers to Jesus? Read on to find out...

Answer: Some Christian commentators connect "wicked" with the lestai ("thieves," "brigands"), used by Matthew and Mark (Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27) to describe the two men crucified along with Jesus. But, crucifixion was not used as a means for executing common criminals. These two men were put to death for opposing Roman rule of the Land of Israel and not for being "wicked." The fact is that lestai was a derogatory Roman term for insurrectionists, who, by armed action, opposed Roman rule. Moreover, according to the Gospels, Jesus was not buried with them. In fact, the point is made that he was buried in an empty tomb.

If Christians insist that Jesus went to his death voluntarily, the phrase, "And his grave was set with the wicked," cannot refer to him, because it describes an imposed fate and not something accepted voluntarily by the servant. The servant's "grave" was placed or established among the "wicked." There is no specific reference, anywhere in the New Testament to illustrate how Jesus' grave was placed with the wicked unless it is to be assumed that all those interred are to be considered as having been wicked.

Christians identify Jesus as the subject of "with the rich in his deaths" on the basis of the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew attempts to introduce biblical "fulfillment of prophecy" into his narrative. He often does this by using his creative imagination to enrich his narrative with biblically based information that forms the background for a so-called "fulfillment of prophecy." Thus, it is only in Matthew's narrative that Joseph of Arimathea is identified as a "rich man" (Matthew 27:57) who laid the corpse of Jesus "in his own new tomb" (Matthew 27:60). In the Gospel of Mark he is described simply as "a prominent member of the Council" (Mark 15:43). The Gospel of Luke describes him as "a member of the Council, a good and righteous man" (Luke 23:50). In the Gospel of John he is "a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one" (John 19:38).

Given Matthew's propensity for adding biblical allusion to his narrative it is no wonder that he alone adds that Joseph was rich and that he placed Jesus' corpse in his own tomb thereby supposedly fulfilling, "And his grave was set . . . with the rich." The character of Joseph of Arimathea was introduced into Matthew's Gospel narrative as a rich man in order to show a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9, which says that God's servant will be buried with the rich. But the Gospels make a point of stating that Jesus alone was buried in the tomb.

The Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53 posits that such phrases as "for he was cut off out of the land of the living" (verse 8), "his grave was set" (verse 9), and "in his deaths" (verse 9) refer to the death and burial of Jesus, with subsequent verses indicating his supposed post resurrection glorification. Yet, there is nothing in a literal or metaphorical interpretation of these verses to suggest that they refer to Jesus.

© Gerald Sigal