Who Was Yeshua?

It has often been posited on the web that we ought to be following Yeshua as our Rebbe. I absolutely agree. However, who exactly was Yeshua? Was he a Pharisee? Was he an Essene? Was he something else all together?

I seriously doubt Yeshua was a Pharisee.

Of course, just to make that statement is an anachronism–well, sort of. If Prof. David Flusser (of blessed memory) can be believed (and I think he can), there was no such thing as “Pharisees”; rather, the term was one of derision used by the adversaries of the Sages and their disciples. The one exception to this being that when writing in Greek, it seems that they did use the term “Pharisee” (witness, the writings of Josephus and Rav Shaul) to refer to themselves.

“This was the time [referring to the rise of the Karaites ] when the Rabbis began to identify with the Pharisees, without realizing that the word “Pharisees” never appears in the Talmudic sources as a general designation of the Sages (except when used by their opponents).” – Flusser, David. Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, p 27.

In other words, in the 2nd Temple period there was no monolithic, codified halacha, nor a single homogeneous group that rendered authoritative halachic decisions. Yeshua was not a part of the political party who rose to dominance in the wake of Salome Alexandra and John Hyrcanus. However, it is reality that the Pharisees heavily influenced the Sanhedrin and the general populace. As a result, Yeshua would have practiced halacha that was at times so intertwined with so-called Pharasaic halacha as to be indistinguishable.

We must be very careful when attempting to re-construct who Yeshua “aligned with” not to project historical attempts at categorization into the reality that Yeshua actually lived, breathed, ate, slept and walked in. At the end of the day, the line between assuming present day orthodox halacha as a norm and what I am calling for is a very fine distinction. However, I’m unrelenting on this issue, because that fine line is such an important one to observe.

The difference will be a deciding factor in whether our movement slides into legalism. It will be a deciding factor in whether our movement imitates our Master or those who rejected Him. Are we beit Yeshua or beit ben Zakkai ?

This is why I’ve been emphasizing maturity. The temptation to slide into a norm unless it obviously contradicts Scripture is so strong, yet deceptively non-confrontational. But that mistake would lead us down a path we don’t want to follow, just as Christianity has gone down a path of compromise one slight acceptance at a time.

The process of weighing and creating our own halacha as we carefully attempt to interpret Yeshua’s way of walking is a difficult but enormously healthy practice. And that practice ought to be re-worked every generation or two, lest it become codified tradition that the then current generation doesn’t internalize nor truly comprehend.

Some may say, we just need to teach our children to study the halacha that we form. But that ignores basic human nature. Ask yourself what has driven your own passionate re-evaluation of Scripture, of Yeshua, of all things associated with “Christianity”, “Judaism” and the Bible. It was exactly the situation that resulted from generations of believers who didn’t know why the traditions that surrounded them existed.

Let’s commit ourselves to passionately pursuing the imitation of Yeshua and His talmidim. Let’s commit to becoming His talmidim in our own right. But let’s always remember that there is no unbroken chain of custody from His direct talmidim, and hold our decisions regarding what it looks like to follow him in an open hand. Let’s model for our children the process of constantly weighing what the truths of Scripture mean about walking in the dust that Yeshua is stirring up on today’s highways.

Let me also admit here and now that this post is an overly simplistic attempt to address this seriously complex issue. However, hopefully this post will at least prompt positive questions and discussion, because the issue itself needs several books engaged in an ongoing conversation.

4 thoughts on “Who Was Yeshua?

  1. Nate,
    Good post. I sense an ever present caution in your writings, to keep us from swinging too far in one way. And you say what needs to be said in a reasonable non-combative manner that I think Brian can appreciate.

  2. I find this discussion extremely interesting on a number of levels. I must wonder what the drive is behind “Orthodox”-izing faith in Yeshua? By this I mean, as I read I see a lot of adopting of Orthodox terms (i.e. The Rebbe) and approaches, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I just question the necessity of it. We must understand that the Orthodoxyism that we are exposed to today is more rooted in medieval eastern European shtetl life than it is in the times of Yeshua.

    Moreover, I am as much for observing Torah as anyone else, however, when we begin to allow the so-called “Orthodox” intepretations of Torah to impact our own halacha, believing that because certain writings/practices existed at the time of Yeshua they are somehow relevant to how He practiced, are we straining away from the halacha of Yeshua and into the halacha of men? Just because a text or teaching is contemporary to Yeshua does not mean Yeshua necessarily lived or practiced according to that text. This is especially true when it comes to Oral Law, as Yeshua repeatedly rebuked the actions of the P’rushim and Torah Teachers who, through their oral law, put yokes on the backs of Am Yisrael that no one could ever bear, while not bothering to bear the yoke themselves!

    In regard to studying Oral Law or any other Orthodox commentary, I can only say this: we must be careful not to disobey the mitzvah in D’varim 13:2-4. In seeking to understand our Master, we must be wary of texts that seek to divert us from Him, to be the equal of Him, or to supercede Him in any way. More often than not, this is the path that Orthodoxyism has taken, therefore, if we choose to study these works we must base our studies in that thought: that, although these are the firstborn of G-d whom He will never forget, no matter how wise they may be, they still chose to reject Yeshua, and they often consider their own words (the Oral Law) to be equal, if not better, than Torah itself.

    By no means am I condemning our mishpocha, rather, I am saying that we must approach their writings with a grain of salt; in doing so, maybe we can understand them better, so that when opportunities arise, we can make ourselves and the truth of Messiah better understood to them.

  3. Shalom….i know the post is few years old…but i need to say….Yeshua is the so much waited HaMashiach. The yshaiahu’s book is very relevant about this…chapter 53 most of all…

    Shalom u”vracha !

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