Diminishing References & Dr. Brown’s Staggering Mistake – Part 2
Between May and July of 2017 I participated in an online debate in which I exchanged arguments with Dr. Brown about the Real Jewish Messiah. In the course of the debate Dr. Brown presented a calculation that was less than honest and when I called him out on it, he failed to realize his mistake. He has since acknowledged his mistake and he has retracted that particular argument.
However, Dr. Brown contends that his mistake was a “partial mistake in a minor argument” and that his “overall argument was actually strengthened.” I wrote an article in which I put forth my position that Dr. Brown’s mistake completely undermines his Scriptural argument and that his incredible inability to see his mistake for so long undermines his credibility as a teacher (https://judaismresources.net/2018/04/08/diminishing-references-and-dr-browns-staggering-mistake/ ). Since then, Dr. Brown has written a response to my article in which he maintains his position. In this article Dr. Brown argues that his Scriptural argument has not been undermined and that my critique of his inability to see his mistake is exaggerated (https://askdrbrown.org/library/how-rabbi-blumenthal-missed-forest-trees).
I appreciate that Dr. Brown took the time to articulate his position. It is only when we put out our arguments for all to evaluate that the truth can come to light. I have been waiting several years for Dr. Brown to present responses of substance so that our conversation can move toward some sort of conclusion. So I thank you Dr. Brown and I pray that you continue to contribute to this conversation so that our interaction can be meaningful and productive.
As I stated at the outset, this is a discussion about two separate matters; there is the matter of Scriptural interpretation and then we have a question of responsibility and credibility. And Dr. Brown has provided arguments to defend both, his position on Scripture and his personal credibility. Let us first analyze the Scriptural interpretations that Dr. Brown has presented.
Before we begin let us recap. The Scriptural discussion centers on Isaiah 52:13-53:12. This passage describes a servant who is suddenly exalted to the consternation of those who despised him. Dr. Brown insists that the text indicates that this servant is the Messiah. My position is that the text indicates that this servant is the righteous of Israel.
In his opening frame of the debate Dr. Brown presented what he sees as a textual indicator that this servant (of Isaiah 53) is the Messiah. Dr. Brown acknowledges that the only one identified as God’s servant by name in the relevant section of the book of Isaiah is national Israel. From Isaiah 40, where God’s servant was first introduced, Israel is called God’s servant several times. However, Dr. Brown argues that the opening verse in chapter 49 serves as a pivot and from that point onward the servant is no longer to be identified as national Israel but rather, he is a specific individual within the larger body of corporate Israel.
Dr. Brown pointed to two separate pieces of evidence to support this contention. He first pointed to the fact that the servant is not identified as national Israel after 48:20 (Dr. Brown refers to this argument as his “major argument”). The second piece of evidence that Dr. Brown presented is that the references to national Israel diminish from chapter 49 onward. Dr. Brown argued that this proves that the prophet’s focus has now (after the pivot of 49:1) shifted away from the nation and on to the individual servant within the nation (Dr. Brown calls this line of evidence his “secondary argument”).
In the course of the debate I addressed this “secondary argument.” I pointed out that if we follow Dr. Brown’s line of reasoning, the evidence actually supports my position and not his. When we calculate the total references to the nation it turns out that the prophet’s attention on the nation actually intensified in these chapters (49-52), and did not diminish as Dr. Brown would have us believe.
Dr. Brown insists that this mistake of his is minor in nature and does not affect his overall argument. How interesting! When he was under the impression that the national references diminish, Dr. Brown insisted that the diminishing references is a valid Scriptural indicator that the servant of Isaiah 53 is not national Israel. But when he realizes that the references actually increase, then suddenly the intensity of the references have no bearing on the identity of the servant. Why not? What changed? Is the evidence only valid when it works for the point that Dr. Brown is trying to make? Why is it that when the same evidence turns against Dr. Brown’s position, it becomes a minor, secondary and partial argument that can be ignored?
Throughout his article Dr. Brown keeps going back to what he calls his “major argument,” the fact that the prophet does not call national Israel by the name “servant” from 48:20. Dr. Brown sees this as evidence that from that point onward, the Lord’s servant in the book of Isaiah is no longer national Israel. Dr. Brown expresses shock that I did not address this argument in my video and he claims that the response I shared in my written article is “weak.” Throughout his article, Dr. Brown keeps on coming back to this “major argument” of his. Since I did take the time to write a refutation to what I saw as an unconvincing argument and after all this rhetoric I was hoping for a rebuttal of some substance to my refutation. It is toward the end of the article that Dr. Brown actually purports to address my refutation. He even cut and pasted the words from my article. But his response does not begin to touch what I wrote.
In my response I pointed out that Dr. Brown’s “major” argument is an edifice built on sand. Although it is true that the prophet does not use the actual word “servant” to describe Israel’s role in the chapters leading up to Isaiah 53 but the prophet uses other words to indicate that Israel is God’s instrument to achieve His purpose on earth.
Now it is my turn to cut and paste Dr. Brown’s “response” to my argument.
“Once again, however, Rabbi Blumenthal’s arguments go far beyond the scriptural evidence, in the process ignoring these major points: 1) Israel was only in exile for its sins, as reiterated throughout the Tanakh and summarized above; 2) Isaiah has some of the strongest words of rebuke for the nation, beginning in chapter 1, and then frequently in 40-53 (again, as noted, above); and 3) Israel in exile cannot redeem itself; it needs a redeemer. And it is only with the help of this redeemer (the Messiah!) that Israel can fulfill its divinely-appointed mission. Isn’t this why traditional Jews pray daily for the coming of the Messiah? Do they imagine redemption without him? Do they think for a moment they will fulfill their destiny apart from him? So, yes, the prophet speaks of Israel’s role in 49-52:12, but since he has elsewhere described his people’s failure, it is clear that they only succeed through divine help – and that comes through the servant of the Lord, our Messiah. Once again, the biblical text refutes Rabbi Blumenthal’s position.”
How is this a response to my argument? Again, to recap; Dr. Brown argued that although the prophet had identified Israel as God’s servant before chapter 49, once we reach chapter 49, the prophet no longer uses the term “servant” to speak of national Israel. The upshot of this argument is that the prophet no longer wants us to see the nation as God’s servant. My response was that this could not have been the prophet’s intention because he still describes Israel as accomplishing God’s purpose on earth in these same chapters (49-52). How are Dr. Brown’s words a response to my argument? His argument is rooted in Christian theology, not in the words of the prophet. Christian theology requires the servant of Isaiah 53 to be sinless, but the prophet said nothing about the supposed “sinlessness” of the servant. Dr. Brown’s “response” clearly demonstrates that his theology has nothing to do with the theology of the Jewish Scriptures.
This was Dr. Brown’s “defense” of his “major” argument. How empty. How sad.
Let us move on to another Scriptural argument that Dr. Brown has finally shared with us. You see, years ago (2007) I presented textual evidence that would have us identify the servant of Isaiah 53 as the nation of Israel. In Isaiah 52:10 we read how the arm of the Lord is revealed and all the ends of the earth see the salvation of our Lord. The context of this verse leaves us with no doubt that this revelation of the arm of the Lord was manifested for the sake of Israel. Merely a few verses later we read how the arm of the Lord is revealed upon the servant. A straightforward reading of the text would give us to understand that these two descriptions of the revelation of God’s arm are one and the same. It would then follow that the servant of Isaiah 53 is the same Israel upon who the arm of the Lord was revealed in verse 52:10. I got no answer from Dr. Brown to this question. I repeated this question in the course of the debate and still got no answer. Finally, after years of ignoring this piece of evidence, Dr. Brown addresses these verses. Amazingly, Dr. Brown does not acknowledge that the straightforward reading of these verses undermines his position. Instead, Dr. Brown presents these very same verses as if they would support his position. Let us see how he does this.
Dr. Brown acknowledges that in several passages throughout the book of Isaiah, the arm of the Lord is revealed on behalf of Israel (Isaiah 51:9; 52:10, 59:16 and 63:5). Yet when Dr. Brown reads Isaiah 53:1, where God’s arm is also described as being revealed, he sees something entirely different. Dr. Brown claims that the servant of Isaiah 53 is “directly connected” with the arm of the Lord as opposed to being the “object of God’s saving arm.”
This outrageous argument has no basis in the words of our prophets. The pronoun that Isaiah uses to associate God’s arm with the servant (“upon” or “for”) is the very same pronoun (in the feminine) that the prophet uses to associate God’s glory and God Himself with the people of Israel (Isaiah 60:1,2). Is this called a “direct connection” as opposed to “on behalf of”? There is no question that the revelation “upon” the servant is the very same revelation spoken of just a few verses earlier. The arm of the Lord is revealed on behalf of the servant to the consternation of her enemies. This theme is repeated throughout the Scriptures so many times (Isaiah 4:5, 18:3, 24:23, 40:5, 52:10, 60:2,19, 61:3, 62:1, Jeremiah 3:17, 33:9, Ezekiel 37:28, Micah 7:16, Zephaniah 3:20, Psalm 98:3, 102:17). How can Dr. Brown ignore all of this Scriptural evidence in the name of loyalty to Scripture?
Dr. Brown has built his case on the supposed contrast between the individual servant within the nation and the nation as a whole. He sees this contrast in two separate realms; guilt vs. righteousness and in the sense that the individual servant is God’s vehicle of redemption while the nation is the object of redemption.
I demonstrated the emptiness of the first of these two arguments in course of the debate. At no point does the Scriptural Narrator describe the individual servant as guiltless. Isaiah 53:9 which tells us that the servant was not violent and had no deception in his mouth is not a general statement about the spiritual state of the servant. Rather, this verse tells us that the servant is innocent of the crimes that his persecutors accuse him of. These are the crimes that the servant’s persecutors use to justify their cruelty toward the servant. The servant is not guiltless, he is innocent of the crimes that his persecutors accuse him of. He is not a child of the devil, he is not a murderer and a poisoner of wells. You don’t have to be sinless to be innocent of those crimes. Quoting Isaiah 53:9 to “prove” the sinlessness of the servant is wrenching Scripture out of context.
Another alleged “proof” to the sinlessness of the servant is the word “tzadik,” “righteous one,” that the prophet uses to describe the servant (Isaiah 53:11). In the course of the debate, I responded to this argument by pointing out that the nation as a whole is described by the same term in Isaiah 26:2. Dr. Brown responded to my argument with the claim that Isaiah 26:2 is talking about Israel in a futuristic setting, when they are cleansed from their sins and does not describe Israel in its present, exiled state.
Dr. Brown’s response is inaccurate and irrelevant. It is inaccurate because although Isaiah 26:2 is set in the future, but Israel is being praised for a loyalty to God that it maintained in its state of exile as indicated by the prophetic context (see 25:9 and 26:8). It is irrelevant because Isaiah 53:11 is also describing the servant in a futuristic role. Isaiah 53:11 is speaking of the future, Messianic era, the same time-frame described by Isaiah 26:2.
In his most recent article, Dr. Brown quoted Isaiah 51:13 to provide a basis for his supposed contrast between the individual servant and the nation. In this passage, God rebukes Israel for forgetting Him.
Dr. Brown could not have quoted a verse which more strongly refutes his position. Isaiah 51:13 does not serve to provide a contrast between the individual servant and the nation as a whole, instead it serves to compare them and to show how their characters are similar.
Isaiah 49:4, which describes the feelings and fears of the individual servant (as Dr. Brown acknowledges) gives expression to the same despair that is described in 51:13. In both of these passages, God’s servant fails to see the cosmic magnitude and scope of his mission. This failure to understand the far-reaching effects of his role in God’s plan causes the servant to despair. And in both cases, the servant is encouraged with the fact that they are God’s agent and that their role in His plan will have universal ramifications. Yet the servant of 49:4 is the individual within the nation while the servant of 51:13 is the nation as whole. The passage that Dr. Brown quoted serves to merge the characters of the individual servant and the nation, not to set them against each other as Dr. Brown would have us believe.
This brings us to the second realm of contrast between the individual and the nation presented by Dr. Brown. Dr. Brown alleges that the individual is the vehicle of God’s redemption while the nation is the object of God’s redemption and not his vehicle.
I also addressed this argument in the course of the debate but it seems to have escaped Dr. Brown’s attention.
Allow me to recap the argument up until this point. Isaiah speaks of a servant of God. This servant is sometimes explicitly identified as the nation of Israel but in some passages the servant seems to be an individual within the nation. Dr. Brown claims that these are two entities are opposites of each other and are portrayed as such by the prophetic narrative. Dr. Brown argues that the prophet focuses on the nation’s role as God’s servant up until the end of chapter 48. But in chapter 49, it is the individual who is God’s servant and not the nation. According to Dr. Brown, the intense focus on the individual servant in chapters 49 and 50 are the prophet’s method of telling us that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is talking of the individual servant.
But if we follow Dr. Brown’s method of Scriptural interpretation then the evidence leads us to the opposite conclusion. You see, if 49:1 is a pivot, turning our attention to the individual servant, then 51:1 must be a pivot as well, turning our attention directly back to the nation. In the entirety of chapters 51 and 52, there is not one mention of the individual servant. Moreover, throughout these two chapters, the prophet goes out of his way to ascribe to the nation the qualities and the role of the individual servant. It is difficult to find two such chapters in all of Scripture that describe Israel in these glowing terms.
The opening verse of chapter 51 speaks to Israel, describing them as pursuers of justice and seekers of God. In his most recent article Dr. Brown claimed that this verse speaks of the righteous of Israel and I agree with him in a sense, but the words “righteous of Israel” has one connotation for the Christian and an entirely different connotation for the student of Scripture. In the Christian mind, the righteous of Israel are a small group of individuals who stand apart from the nation and are hardly identified as part of the nation. In sharp contrast to this Christian perspective, the prophet sees these righteous as the nation. (As I explained in the course of the debate, when I say that Isaiah 53 is talking of the nation, I refer to the righteous of Israel who the prophet calls; “nation.”) 53:7 speaks of those who know justice, the nation with My (God’s) Law in their hearts. The “knowers of justice” are the nation, not a group who stands in contrast to the nation.
Dr. Brown provided a few Scriptural references to establish what he sees as the Scriptural contrasts between the individual servant and the nation as a whole. Let us study these references and listen to the words of the prophet.
“Chapter 49 opens with explicit individual language “Coastlands, listen to me; distant peoples, pay attention. The LORD called me before I was born. He named me while I was in my mother’s womb.””
This would hardly be the metaphor that the prophet would use to set the individual servant apart from national Israel. After all, national Israel is also described as having been commissioned from the womb and called by name, and this in individual language (43:1; 44:2,24, see also 41:9; 43:21; 44:21; 48:12). These metaphors help us see the individual servant as one with the nation, not as a figure that stands in contrast to the nation.
The rest of Dr. Brown’s Scriptural references are supposed to establish the premise that the individual servant is the vehicle of redemption while national Israel is the object of redemption. To use Dr. Brown’s words; “there is not the slightest hint that the nation is the agent of redemption.” Dr. Brown made this statement concerning the limited segment of 49:11-26, but this is the portrait he attempts to paint of national Israel in a general sense.
Dr. Brown could not be more wrong and the very same chapters that he would have us focus on refute his contention in the strongest terms.
Before we set out on our journey to demonstrate the emptiness of Dr. Brown’s position let us note that the individual servant is only the agent of God’s redemption because he carries God’s word. It is God’s word that accomplishes His purpose on earth (Isaiah 55:11; Jeremiah 1:9 and 10). It is the individual servant’s mouth that is God’s weapon (49:2). It is the individual servant’s words in 49:9 that redeems the captives and there is a graphic depiction of the individual servant’s unusual ability to communicate in 51:4. The servant accomplishes God’s purpose because he bears God’s word.
Throughout these chapters of Isaiah (40-52) national Israel is depicted as one who bears God’s word to accomplish His purpose on earth, but nowhere is this more pronounced than in chapters 51 and 52, the chapters that set the stage for Isaiah 53.
In these very chapters, God addresses the nation; “I have placed My words in your mouth and with the shade of My hand have I covered you, to plant the heavens and to establish the earth and to declare to Zion; “You are My people!”” (51:16). Are these words cutting Israel out of an active role in God’s redemptive plan? No, the entire thrust of this prophetic promise is that Israel is instrumental in God’s redemptive plan. Note also the similarity to Isaiah 49:2, where the individual servant is also protected by the shade of God’s hand. Israel is described as a nation with God’s Law in their heart (51:6), and it is this very Law that brings light to the nations (51:4). Israel is described as the “armor bearers of the Lord” (52:11). The armor bearer is one who carries the weapons of the primary warrior into battle and God’s weapon is His word, as we have seen, the very thing that was placed in Israel’s mouth. What more could the prophet have said to tell us that Israel plays an active role in God’s plan for redemption?
An alternative interpretation of this phrase (“armor bearers of the Lord”) would read; “bearers of the vessels of the Lord.” This interpretation also highlights Israel’s role as an entity that plays an active role in God’s plan. This phrase is a reflection of the Levites role as bearers of God’s sanctuary in the wilderness as described in Numbers 4. The center of this activity involved the bearing of the Ark of the Covenant which contained the tablets of Law, God’s word. Again, the prophet portrays Israel as an active participant in God’s plan for redemption and not just as the passive recipient of that redemption. And this, in the very same chapters where Dr. Brown would have us believe that the prophet is pointing in the very opposite direction.
The two lines of Scriptural argumentation that Dr. Brown presented in his effort to identify the servant of Isaiah 53 both point to the nation and not to the individual servant. The references to the nation do not diminish in the chapters leading to Isaiah 53, they intensify, and Israel’s active role in God’s plan is emphasized in those same chapters, not repudiated, as Dr. Brown contends.
In my recent article (and in the course of the debate) I pointed out that the Divine Author did not directly identify the servant of Isaiah 53, this tells us that the name of the servant is not a critical component to the message of the prophet. Dr. Brown graced my argument with a response of his own, that again, does not touch my argument. Allow me to cut and paste Dr. Brown’s words:
“Ironically, Rabbi Blumenthal ignores the fact that: 1) the Divine Author draws our attention to the servant in Isaiah 52:13 (“Behold My servant”!); 2) the Divine Author opens chapter 53 by asking who has believed the report about this servant; 3) a famous midrash explicitly identifies the servant with the Messiah in 52:13 (Midrash Tanchuma, which speaks of the Messiah being more exalted than Abraham, Moses, or even the ministering angels!); and 4) a number of rabbinic commentaries on Isaiah 53, until this day, understand the passage Messianically (most recently, with reference to the Lubavitcher Rebbe). Shall all of them be castigated for their interpretations?”
Did I say that the Author did not draw attention to the servant? I did not. I did say that the Author did not identify the servant. It is important for the Author to tell us that this He is talking about someone who is subservient and obedient to God. But the message will still come across without us knowing who this individual is. And yes, the chapter opens with the question; “who has believed our report?” This tells us of the astonishment that will be brought about through the exaltation of the servant. But again, the servant is not identified.
Ironically, if we follow the lead of the two points that Dr. Brown raises, we will again end up with the nation and not with the Christian Jesus. Christian theology sees Jesus as one who is co-equal to God, not a servant of God. Jesus demands that the worship that is appropriate for God be directed to himself, hardly a servant of God. And when the prophet asks; “who has believed our report?” he is echoing the report described in 48:20 where Jacob is described as God’s servant.
The final two points that Dr. Brown raises (the midrash and the rabbinic commentaries) underscore my own argument. If Dr. Brown would have a clear Scriptural argument he would have no need to appeal to rabbinic commentary.
Dr. Brown made the claim that my refutation to his diminishing references argument actually strengthened his position instead of weakening it. Dr. Brown launches into a lengthy mathematical argument in his attempt to substantiate this claim of his.
The long and short of Dr. Brown’s mathematical argument is that although the author’s focus on the nation increases in chapters 49-52 (over and against 40-48), but the increase of focus on the individual servant increases even more. Dr. Brown acknowledges that the total focus on the nation in 49-52 is still greater than the focus on the individual in these same chapters. His argument is that the rate of increase of the focus on the servant is more steep and pronounced than the rate of increase of focus on the nation.
How does this argument help his position? After everything is said and done, the prophetic focus on the nation is still stronger than the focus on the individual servant. If the emphasis of the prophet in the chapters leading up to Isaiah 53 will determine the identity of the servant in Isaiah 53 as Dr. Brown argues, we will still end up with the nation and not with the individual servant. And if you recognize 51:1 as a pivot, since there is not even one reference to the individual servant from that point onward, and the focus on the nation intensifies in an extreme way, then Dr. Brown’s entire line of argumentation roundly refutes his own position.
But even without considering the refutation to his argument, Dr. Brown’s claim that his argument has been strengthened has never been substantiated. Wouldn’t his argument work better if the focus on the nation actually decreased in the chapters leading up to Isaiah 53 as Dr. Brown had originally claimed? The notion that his argument has been “strengthened” makes no sense even when we view the text through Dr. Brown’s cloudy lenses.
But perhaps Dr. Brown did not mean to claim that his position has been strengthened from the point in time before he understood my refutation until the time he made his final calculation? Perhaps all Dr. Brown meant to tell us was that his first assessment of his position after he understood my refutation was weaker than the assessment of his position that he arrived at as our conversation progressed. Perhaps this is all he meant, but then he should have made this clear. His words are irresponsible and misleading.
And this brings us to the question of Dr. Brown’s credibility as a teacher. More than a year after he originally presented a faulty argument, Dr. Brown is still unabashedly telling us that it is not his responsibility to correct his mistake. It is my responsibility to do the math for Dr. Brown because it is “my” refutation.
To recap; Dr. Brown presented a mathematical argument that makes a claim about the focus of the prophet. When all of the factors are considered, this claim is demonstrably false. Dr. Brown acknowledges this. So how is it my responsibility to correct this mistake? It was Dr. Brown’s responsibility not to make the mistake in the first place and if he had discovered the mistake without my help, it would have been his responsibility to share the correction with the audience that he has misled with his mistake.
It seems that Dr. Brown does not realize this. What does this tell you about his sense of responsibility to represent the truth?
Dr. Brown now claims that he fully understood my point all along but “needed” my full count in order to assess the “strength of my argument.” Did I read this right? Dr. Brown knew that his argument was wrong for over a year but he was still defending it because I didn’t give him the exact count?! Is he not capable of counting on his own? Since when does he consult with me to give him Scriptural calculations?
Dr. Brown complains when I tell the audience that he didn’t understand my argument. To quote: “While he condescendingly claims that his argument was “beyond my grasp,” the reality is I fully understood the point he was trying to make but needed his full count in order to assess the strength of his argument.”
It was not I who “condescendingly claims” that he didn’t grasp my argument. It was Dr. Brown who acknowledged that he “didn’t fully follow my point,” he didn’t “get it completely.” These are his very words in his apology video (https://judaismresources.net/2018/03/13/dr-brown-apologizes/) at about the 5:40 mark. So now he tells us that he did “fully understand” my point. So which is it? Did he fail to grasp the point? Or did he “fully understand” it?
In his recent article Dr. Brown tells us that my “refutation” to his argument is “flawed in several fundamental ways.” He goes on to list three ways in which my argument is “flawed.” First, he tells us that I failed to consider his “major argument.” Second, I failed to ask the question: “why was a second servant necessary?” And third, I failed to give the full count of references in the various sections of Isaiah.
Dr. Brown is attempting to conflate arguments in order to deflect attention from the subject under discussion. This is a tactic he uses throughout his writings. He made a mistake, I exposed it. He now complains that I didn’t address different arguments. How does this make my expose of his mistake “flawed”?
In this same article Dr. Brown quotes my words out of their original context. After presenting his lengthy mathematical argument, he tells his audience: “Sadly, Rabbi Blumenthal chose to respond to this evidence with rhetoric, writing…” going on to provide a quote from my article. In this section of my article I point out that for over a year Dr. Brown did not realize that Isaiah 51 and 52 contain not one reference to the individual servant and are intensely focused on national Israel. Had he realized this obvious Scriptural truth there is no way he could have maintained his position which posits that the prophet’s focus shifts away from the nation in the chapters leading up to Isaiah 53. Dr. Brown’s failure to realize this obvious Scriptural truth makes his criticism of traditional Jews as incapable of reading Scripture ring very hollow. This was the quote from my article that Dr. Brown is complaining about.
But the quote from my article was not in “response” to any Scriptural evidence presented by Dr. Brown. I was discussing Dr. Brown’s inability to see his own mistake.
Yet another tactic that Dr. Brown uses in this article is the repetition of arguments to which I have already responded to. Dr. Brown asks; if the Oral Law is so important, why then are there no references to in the pages of Scripture?
I responded to this question in “The Council of My Nation” (2007 -https://judaismresources.net/the-council-of-my-nation/ ) and further elaborated in “Supplement to Contra Brown” (2011 -https://judaismresources.net/supplement-to-contra-brown/ ). If Dr. Brown has a response to my arguments, let him share them with us. Repeating his original arguments verbatim, as if I never addressed them does nothing to further our conversation.
Dr. Brown complains that I “largely ignored” his argument about the Messiah as a priestly king.
I addressed this argument in “Contra Brown” (2007 – https://judaismresources.net/contra-brown/), in my debate with him and in subsequent articles. If he is not satisfied with my response, then I ask him to please share his arguments with the public. Simply repeating his old argument will not lead to greater understanding.
Furthermore, it is he who has ignored my argument about Israel as a priestly nation. In the very chapters that lead up to Isaiah 53, the prophet reflects Israel’s priestly role. Jerusalem is described as adorning her raiment of glory (Isaiah 52:1) which parallels the Scriptural description of the vestments of the Aaronic high-priest (Exodus 28:2). Holiness and purity are ascribed to Jerusalem in these passages (52:1,11), the same qualities associated with the priesthood (Leviticus 21 and 22). If the quality of priesthood is the sign of the servant of Isaiah 53, as Dr. Brown argues, then it is national Israel that that the prophet is pointing to in the chapters leading up to Isaiah 53.
Dr. Brown has not responded to this argument. Instead, he accuses me of ignoring arguments that I took the time and effort to address.
In a final display of irresponsibility, Dr. Brown accuses me of ignoring “the many rabbinic texts that speak of a Messiah son of Joseph.”
I have not ignored these texts. Dr. Brown did not bring up the concept of Messiah son of Joseph so why should I have mentioned him? In fact it is Dr. Brown who is ignoring the Scriptural evidence that points to a savior from the tribe of Joseph. The closing verses in Obadiah speak of saviors in plural terminology and ascribe an active role to the tribe of Joseph in the redemption process. It is Dr. Brown who is ignoring this Scriptural testimony and not I.
Let my conclude by summarizing what we have learned when Dr. Brown has finally put some more of his cards on the table. We learned that that the very lines of Scriptural argumentation proposed by Dr. Brown actually refute Dr. Brown’s own position and do not support it. We learned that Dr. Brown is not aware of his responsibility to correct a misleading argument that he shared with an unsuspecting audience. We have seen how Dr. Brown conflates his arguments in order to hide the emptiness of each individual argument. Dr. Brown showed us how he quotes my words out of context in an effort to attack me. We learned that Dr. Brown has not abandoned his tactic of repeating arguments that have already been addressed as if no one said a word in response.
This is what we have learned. What we have now unlearned is that what Dr. Brown said in his apology video may not be entirely true. In his apology video Dr. Brown explained his year-long inability to see his own mistake as “I didn’t follow fully.” In his recent article Dr. Brown tells us that he “fully understood” my point. So which is it? Did Dr. Brown not realize that he made a mistake from October 2016 until November 2017? Or was he fully aware that he made a mistake, but was still defending his dishonest argument because I didn’t give him every last bit of my Scriptural calculations?
Superbly argued, as usual.
Hi rabbi Yisroel,
Do you have an article that speaks about all the midrashim that Dr Brown quoted?
raphael I mention them in Contra Brown. The entire point of the prophet is that is_ God’_s servant who is exalted. It pays to be God’s servant, it is worth it in th end. All who are God’s servants, who were holding up God’s banner and suffered for His name will be rewarded and realize the benefit that their suffering brought to the world. The interpretations that says the servant is the Messiah, or the prophet or teh righteous of Israel or the nation that stayed loyal are not mutually exclusive. I have another article entitled – Armor Bearers – search for it in the search window – it should come up
1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
Rapahael Here it is > https://judaismresources.net/2012/07/24/armor-bearers-isaiah-5211/
1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,
Thank you for such an informative article .You have explained in this and in other related articles ,such as “Armor Bearers” Israel’s role in G-d’s redemption plan despite her exile.
I would also commend Dr Brown for putting forth his arguments in a detailed manner .His focus is on the Servant .It is good that he laid out his method of analysis in writing for everyone to learn and think about.
1.Your focus on these passages of Isaiah 40-53 is on the role of national Israel and most roles of the servant are also those of national Israel. Do you see the servant as distinct from Israel or one and the same as Israel?
2.Dr Brown questioned the need for a servant when Israel can carry out this mission on her own .Unfortunately there was no answer to this question in your article .Appreciate if you can respond to that.
3.You have demonstrated how the roles of the servant are those of Israel in this and other articles .What about the roles such as opening the eyes of the blind ,free captives from prison and releasing from the dungeon those who walk in darkness (Isaiah 42:7)?
Do provide references if these matters have been addressed elsewhere or in this article.
Sharon S Thank you for your questions. It is with questions like these that we can come to clarity. I also commend Dr. Brown for putting out his reasoning and I hope he continues to do so.
1 – I see the concept of being a servant of God being exalted. The underlying message is that when God is exalted those who served Him are exalted as well. There are several servants of God; there is the nation, who seems to be the primary servant but then there are individuals in whom specific aspects of service of God are more concentrated such as the King Messiah and the prophet.
2 – I did not answer Dr. Brown’s question because it is based on a false premise. The need for individual servants is because that is how nations function, they have prophets they have kings. It is not because the nation is a failure. Yes, the entire concept of redemption is necessary because of Israel’s sin, but this doesn’t mean that Israel plays no active part in the redemptive process.
3 – Your point is valid, not every last function of the individual servants are directly associated with the nation. It is the prophet that opens the eyes of the blind, frees the captives, releases those who walk in darkness from the dungeons and comforts all the mourners (Isaiah 61;1-3). But the chapters leading up to 53 (namely 51 and 52) do not accentuate the differences between the individual servants and the nation, rather these chapters highlight their similarities.
Please keep on asking – your questions are enlightening
1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
They have torn you down,
Forest, my friend,
but your roots remain.
Scars and the loss of you clothe rock and soil,
a breathless cry through sky and sea.
I climbed into your branches
when I first learnt the world.
They reached my rooftop and the heavens.
Gently your bark taught my skin to feel
and your height strengthened my limbs.
I still wander beneath your leaves,
you still hold me.
You bring rhythm from chaos.
My friend, I grieve
in a season refusing to change.
Our only home melts and withers;
We have scorched your leaves.
Yet even your fibres broken to pulp
now hold, with strength,
the words that will restore you.
Pages after page shouts out.
From a strong seed
you will live again,
healing the world,
This poem is to illustrate the thought that individuals and smaller groups, along with the larger collective they are part of, can naturally all be spoken of interchangeably, within the metaphor of addressing a single person. All the world’s vegetation as a whole; parts of the forests that have been cut down; the bushland local to me; the one tree in a backyard of my childhood home; and the particular trees turned into pages of writing that now hold many answers about sustainability…all can be spoken of together, because in essence they are so united.
It’s somewhat similar to the style and theme of the Isaiah 53 passage, in hope that writing with a non-biblical theme (of environmental deforestation) would allow a less emotionally charged reading of the poetic subject.
(I know that the human contribution to climate change is controversial in America, but chose the theme because it worked well for this.)
To Isaiah, the whole nation of Israel, the faithful righteous group, and individuals involved in the redemption, could also be addressed interchangeably because a single anointing and calling were considered to be working in the nation and the various ones comprising it.
exactly Annelise – teh prophet is focused on the blessing of being a servant of God
1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
I think that’s true.
The Hebrew scriptures and the Christian scriptures have many similar themes. Of course this is because Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism…but it’s difficult that when people are exposed to these themes in Christianity first, they then see the Jewish scriptures as foreshadowing Christian concepts…including the extra things that aren’t in the Hebrew texts at all but are all meshed together in the Christian imagery.
Here is Dr. Brown’s response. I hope to have my response posted in the near future
I haven’t been able to read the entire conversation closely because of its length, but I skimmed through because of curiosity. It seems like one of Dr Brown’s major arguments (one he falls back to a few times) is that the servant is referred to in the singular and therefore must be a single person. Another thing he seems to be implying is that there can be no overlap in the imagery of the nation, the righteous part of the nation, and the individual sufferer(s) through whom redemption comes. That was my impression…do you think these are foundational parts of his argument?
Since the title of the servant (metaphorically in the singular) IS given to the nation at times, neither of these is a strong argument. I also think that because of the association of the nation as the servant in at least one sense, you aren’t at all grasping at straws when suggesting that there may be some multifaceted fluidity in the metaphor. After all, the calling on the nation as servant, the righteous as servant, and any individual martyr or sufferer as servant is considered to be one and the same anointing, one single identity. In the scheme of things. Of course these connected entities can all be referred to in one breath.
Hi Annelise, if I may introduce a comment here, I think you are right about the major arguments of Dr Brown. I think it is unfortunate that, instead of looking at a passage in context, he uses those and close his eyes to the main meaning of the whole book. In a Christian eyes, and someone looking to confirm that the NT is true, that may just work fine to convince them. If you are looking for approval of your belief, then this is the perfect way of doing it. Just give you the example of the “US’ in Genesis one to prove the trinity. If you want that proof to be true, than that’s all you need. If you need Jesus to be the Servant, He must be singular and cannot represent anything else. I feel like the Christians are like conspiracy theorist, they find dubious passage as proof to Christianity. In the end, I don’t think it is that important to know who was the Servant of Isaiah 53, and if that servant was the same throughout the book or not. Should we base our faith in such a vague passage? If you want to confirm your (in the general sense) “truth”, then yes, if not, then proper study of the whole book, and whole bible, brings a totally different message. I was amazed the first time I read those same passages with a non-Christian eye. Really, I could try to understand what the text meant, instead of trying of find Jesus.
How true, RT! When it comes down to it, all of Dr. Brown’s arguments amount to circular reasoning. You have to first believe in Jesus for them to make any sense at all.
its much worse than circular reasoning – as we shall soon see
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