Debunking "The Forbidden Chapter” Isaiah 53 Conspiracy

Debunking "The Forbidden Chapter” Isaiah 53 Conspiracy

Some missionaries claim there is a conspiracy to hide the truth from you.

They proclaim, “There is a chapter in the Tanach that used to be read in synagogues in the past, but later the rabbis decided to take it out of the Haftorah reading ‘to avoid confusion’... and today it is considered ‘The Forbidden Chapter’ hidden from Jews.”

This claim is false[1] and is an attempt to get people to look at “The Forbidden Chapter" of Isaiah 53 out of context and conclude that it is speaking about Jesus the Messiah dying for our sins.

Missionaries are either intentionally trying to mislead people or are ignorant of the history of the public reading of the prophets.

There are numerous problems with their claim.

  1. The prophetic readings were instituted in the 2nd century BCE when King Antiochus forbade Jews from reading from the Torah (Five Books of Moses). So that the lessons of the Torah would not be forgotten, the sages instituted the reading of select portions of the prophets, which share a similar theme with the weekly Torah reading.
  2. Although this tradition was limited to reading a small portion of the prophets to accomplish the goal of reading a corresponding message, the sages did not “hide” the reading of other prophetic passages Christians claim to refer to Jesus. For example, Isaiah 9:6, which in context, is speaking about the righteous King Hezekiah.
  3. The sages also did not “hide” those Torah passages, which Christians say refer to Jesus.
  4. The chapters the sages chose to be read from Isaiah were selected because of their powerful message of consolations after the 9th of Av which commemorates the Temple’s destruction. The Dead Sea Scrolls lists these same chapters of consolation and does not include Chapter 53. Since these scrolls predate both Christianity and rabbinic Judaism, they were not trying to hide something.

Clearly, there is no conspiracy to hide Isaiah 53.

If there is a conspiracy, it is by missionaries. They hide the plain and obvious meaning of Isaiah 53 by reading it out of context and by misinterpreting important words to fit Jesus into the chapter.

Isaiah 53 is not an isolated chapter and must be read in context to understand its true meaning.

Although 53 Isaiah speaks about a “Suffering Servant of God,” anyone who had read Isaiah from the beginning would know that “Israel” is repeatedly referred to as God’s Servant. For example, “Israel is my Servant” (Isaiah 41:8), and Remember these things, Jacob, for you, Israel, are my servant” (Isaiah 44:21).

It is common in Tanach to refer to the nation of Israel as a single individual. For example, it says, “And the people gathered as one man” (Nehemiah 8:1). In a revealing passage, “You are My witnesses, says the Lord, and My Servant whom I have chosen” (Isaiah 43:10), the subject Israel is referred to first in the plural and then in the singular.

So, who and what is Isaiah 53 speaking about?

Starting in Isaiah 52, the prophet describes the reaction of the nations of the world when they witness[2] the future and ultimate messianic redemption of the Jewish people.

Since the nations viewed the Jewish people scornfully and considered them rejected by God and deserving of divine suffering, they will be shocked and dumbfounded[3] when they witness God’s unexpected and glorious redemption of the Jewish people. The nations will then contrast their new realization of Israel’s grandeur with their previous beliefs and wonder why Israel suffered so much if God did not reject them and is redeeming them.

The nations and their leaders will conclude that the Jewish people did not suffer because God rejected them, as they mistakenly thought; instead, it was because they persecuted the Jewish people beyond what they may have deserved.[4]

This is the meaning of the passage, “he (Israel) was wounded from our (the nations) transgression and bruised from our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). Israel suffered from the mistreatment of the nations.

In English translations of this chapter, missionaries mistranslate the prefix (מ) as “for” rather than ‘from’ to manipulate the text and make it sound like the Servant will suffer for the sins of the Jewish people.

This idea that the Jewish people suffered because of the nations’ misdeeds is repeated in the passage “for the transgress of my people they (לָֽמוֹ) were stricken”(Isaiah 53). The word (לָֽמוֹ) is biblical Hebrew and is a plural word as in, “a statue that He gave to them.” (Psalm 99:7). Missionaries incorrectly translated this word as “he” to make it sound like it is speaking about Jesus.

Christian missionaries incorrectly transform the role of Messiah from physical redeemer from exile to spiritual savior from sin.

Although some Jewish commentators identify the Messiah as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, they do so because, as a member of the Jewish people, he can bear the responsibility to alleviate punishment on behalf of the rest of the nation. A similar example of this concept is found in Numbers 4:20, where the children of Kehas bore the brunt of responsibility by carrying the Ark at considerable risk on behalf of the rest of the nation so they would not die. Amazingly, the last description of Israel before chapter 53 refers to Israel as "bearers of the vessels of the Lord" (Isaiah 52:11).

However, no one says that the Messiah will die for our sins or that we need to believe in him to benefit from his suffering, which alleviates a portion of the nation’s suffering.

It is also important to note that under the influence of paganism, the early Christians also incorrectly transformed the Messiah into a deity. The Christian beliefs that the Messiah dies for our sins and is divine are both foreign to Judaism and not based on the Tanach (Jewish Scriptures).

I have presented a brief overview of Isaiah 53 and how missionaries distort the original text to fit Jesus into the picture. This overview also demonstrated the danger of reading a passage or chapter out of context.

If you want a more in-depth and analytical explanation of Isaiah 53 Jews for Judaism has multiple resources including https://jewsforjudaism.org/knowledge/articles/isaiah-53-verse-verse on our website and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TeOtzTaAco on our YouTube channel.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz

[1] Although missionaries attribute this claim to an obscure “17th century Jewish historian, Raphael Levy” they fail to produce evidence of his statement. Interestingly, one Jew matching Levy’s description refused to accept Christianity and died a martyr.

[2] “God will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations” (Isaiah 52:10). God’s “arm” is associated with His redemption, as in, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm” (Exodus 6:6).

[3]Kings will shut their mouths…For they will see what they have not been told” (Isaiah 52:15).

[4] This explanation is substantiated in part by the events of March 2000 when Pope John Paul II – leader of the world’s almost one billion Roman Catholics – asked for forgiveness for the unspeakable suffering Jews endured at the hands of Christians. This is especially relevant considering how nearly every nation of the United Nations unjustly and disproportionality condemn Israel at every opportunity.