The Strange Ending to Sotah
By Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1995
The apostle Paul made it clear that the time was coming when "all Israel shall be saved" (Romans 11:26). And "all Israel" will indeed hear the Gospel and accept it. In a section of an early Jewish work called Sotah (a part of the Talmud) we find an interesting account (hidden in cryptic language) about the significance of Jesus and how the Sanhedrin of the Jews sentenced Jesus to death in an unjust manner. These early Jews also show (and they record in Sotah) that from the very time Jesus was crucified, the fortunes of the Jewish people have gone downhill from bad to worse (they reached their furthest decline in World War II long after Sotah was written). However, a change of direction has started for the Jewish people as Sotah shows would occur. It began with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. And soon, they will begin to thrive as never before when a second Elijah appears with a message of repentance. The account is revealed in "The Strange Ending to Sotah."
The book called Sotah is a part of the Jewish Talmud which was written in its complete form in the middle part of the fifth century. There are two parts to the Talmud. The first is an early section called the Mishnah which was compiled about A.D. 200. It contains the written teachings of what was once called the Oral Law of the Jews which was devised by the Jewish authorities from the third century B.C. to A.D.200. The word Mishnah means "further teaching or repetition" and it was intended to provide additional teachings to the Law of Moses while still using the Mosaic Law as its basis of doctrine. In a word, the Mishnah contains laws and regulations based on the Law of Moses with many additional laws adopted by the Jewish authorities that Moses did not specifically cover in detail. There are also commentaries on the Mishnah written from A.D.200 to about A.D.450 which are called Gemaras. It is the combination of the original Mishnah with the Gemaras that gives us what is called the Talmud today.
The literature called Sotah is actually a chapter (called a Tractate) of the Mishnah. It is one of 63 Tractates which are arranged in Six Divisions. Sotah is the fifth Tractate of the Third Division called Nashim ("Women") which means it pertains to legal matters involving women. Sotah itself refers to "The Suspected Adulteress" who was to be tested with the bitter waters to see if she was an adulteress (Numbers 5:11-31). It is this title "Sotah" which provides us with our first mystery concerning the messages in this book. For the first six chapters of Sotah the theme is precisely what the title suggests: Rules concerning the Suspected Adulteress. But with the start of chapter seven (to be precise, with 7:2) another theme is encountered which appears to have nothing to do with Sotah. The new subject involves Blessings and Cursings that are to be made in Hebrew (the Holy Language) or in the languages of the seventy nations (the other nations of the world). This discussion lasts for two chapters (chapters 7 & 8). Then we come to chapter nine, the concluding chapter. it is much longer than the others, and it gives us the title of this article: "The Strange Ending to Sotah." Chapter Nine deals with the expiation for an unsolved murder where a heifer’s neck was to be broken (Deuteronomy 21:1-9). On the surface this chapter is devoid of any teaching concerning Sotah, except to say that the rite of the bitter waters was rescinded before the Temple was destroyed because so many adulteries were committed that the rite became no longer relevant (9:9).
The subject of this concluding chapter of Sotah really concerns that of the authority of the great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (the Supreme Court) to deal with undetected murderers (not outward matters concerning a Suspected Adulteress as the title denotes). It also discusses the authority of local courts in dealing with the same thing, and it concerns judgments upon Jewish societies in dealing with murderous acts in which the murderer(s) of a person could not be found. The Rabbis even ask a question on whether the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem could be accused of unjustly murdering someone. This query is in a context of showing how "Elders from Jerusalem" would be summoned to a dead body found between two towns to measure which town was the nearest to determine which town would break the neck of a heifer (Deuteronomy 21:1 - 9). The Elders would wash their hands saying that they were not responsible for the blood of this dead person. Sotah states: "The Elders of that city washed their hands in water at the place where the heifer’s neck was broken, saying, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it" (Sotah 9:6 Danby’s translation). But then the Rabbis in Sotah ask a question:
"But can it enter our minds that the Elders of the Court [the Sanhedrin Elders] are shedders of blood?"
Sotah 9:6 Danby
In a word, the later Rabbis are asking what if the perpetrators of the murderous act were Elders of the Sanhedrin itself? What should then be done? No answer on this matter is given. But, why bring up such a subject unless the Rabbis thought this was possible? This is when the context of Sotah begins to talk of events connected with Jesus.
As a matter of fact, the Elders of the Great Sanhedrin at Jerusalem were exempt from offering the heifer as an expiation for such shedding of blood. "Jerusalem does not bring the heifer whose neck is to be broken" (Sotah 9:2). Furthermore, the expiation of the heifer was not necessary according to the Rabbis if the murdered person was found on a heap of stones, floating in the water or, and note this carefully, if he were hanging on a tree (Sotah 9:2).
The reason I am bringing up these points that are raised in Sotah 9 is because in this very section is where the later Rabbis bring in a parable about the arrest, trial and excommunication of Jesus our Lord. They knew that Jesus was found guilty by the Great Sanhedrin at Jerusalem and excommunicated from Israel for practicing magic and that he was hanged on a tree. The Encyclopaedia Judaica has compiled several statements from Talmudic sources about the death of Jesus. "They hanged Jesus on the eve of Passover. Forty days earlier a proclamation was issued that he was to be stoned for practicing sorcery and for enticing and leading Israel astray." "Let anyone who can speak in his favor come forward." "Nothing in his favor was discovered and they hanged him on the eve of Passover" (see volume X, p.1 5). In other references, they first hanged him and then they stoned him to death to agree with the law of execution in Deuteronomy 21:22. In the recently discovered Temple Scroll from the Dead Sea area, it showed Jewish executions were to hang on a tree, and then the person shall be killed [by stoning] (Yadin, col.64). In the Syriac Version of Deuteronomy 21:22 it says "He is hanged on a tree and is put to death [by stoning]" (Temple Scroll, pi220). In these references (and there are others) the hanging on the tree, as in the case of Jesus, came first and then the person was later stoned. No heifer’s neck was to be broken to expiate those who found a person hanging on a tree. And in the case of the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem, it was already exempt from offering such a heifer. "Jerusalem does not bring the heifer whose neck is to be broken" (Sotah 9:2). In spite of this, the later Rabbis still asked the question (in this context of introducing Jesus into the discussion) whether the Sanhedrin could bring "blood guilt" upon itself by doing such a crime of murder? "But could it have come up into our minds that the Elders of the Court [the Sanhedrin itself] were shedders of blood?" (Sotah 9:6). Or, in another way of putting it: "What if it were the Sanhedrin itself that was guilty of shedding such blood?"
In contrast to the Great Sanhedrin at Jerusalem, if the Elders in other townships found a person murdered between towns, one town had to break a heifer’s neck and say: "Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it (Sotah 9:5 quoting Deuteronomy 2 1:7). Sotah continues: "And the priests say, Forgive, 0 Lord, thy people Israel whom thou hast redeemed, and suffer not innocent blood in the midst of thy people Israel They needed not to say, And the blood shall be forgiven them. But the Holy Spirit proclaims to them, ‘Whensoever ye do thus the blood shall be forgiven them"’ (Sotah 9:6 Danby’s translation, italics are Danby’s). The Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, however, which tried and sentenced Jesus our Lord was exempt from having to make such a declaration or to break a heifer’s neck as an expiation for guilt, and also his death happened while he was hanging on a tree and that also exempted them.
It is in this context of Sotah that prompted the later Rabbis to bring up the subject of Jesus. They do so in this special section of the Talmud. They do it by giving a parable about Jesus. I will show why they put it in Sotah in a moment.
The subject matter in this final section of Sotah leads to a discussion on what caused the downfall of the Jewish Commonwealth and the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Romans and the ruin of the Holy Temple of God. It starts in Sotah with the mention of a murderer by the name of Eleazer ben Denai who was a notorious bandit. He was so famous (a better word would be "infamous") that he was mentioned by Josephus the Jewish historian in both sections of his work (Antiquities XX.vi. 1 & vii .5; War II.xiii,2). This last reference is where Josephus said Eleazer as a bandit and murderer flourished for twenty years — starting his career in crime about A.D.30 to 32. The chronology is not completely clear. It is important to our present discussion that we note that this was near the year that Christ Jesus was judged and crucified by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court). Jesus was tried and condemned at the Passover season in A.D.30. It was also at this very period when Eleazer began his murderous rampage. And, the Rabbis in Sotah start their lament on the decline of the Jewish Commonwealth with the activities of this murderer (9:9).
The criminal career inspired by this Eleazer spilled out into the Jewish society itself and it continued until the society in Palestine got particularly bad from the time of Nero’s death in A.D.54 onward, as Josephus attests. What is interesting is the fact that Josephus also says that the activities of this very man (Eleazer ben Denai) were the start of a series of calamitous events that led to the fall of the Jewish Commonwealth. Note a series of quotes by Josephus. "From that time [the death of Nero] the whole of Judaea was infested with bands of brigands" (Antiquities XX. vi, 1).
Josephus continues: "In Judaea matters were constantly going from bad to worse. For the country was again infested with bands of brigands and impostors who deceived the mob. Not a day passed, however, but that Felix [the Roman administrator] captured and put to death many of these impostors and brigands" (ibid, viii,5). "Certain of these brigands went up to the city [of Jerusalem] as if they intended to worship God. With daggers concealed under their clothes, they mingled with the people…they slew some because they were private enemies, and others because they were paid to do so by someone else. They committed these murders not only in other parts of the city but even in some cases in the Temple; for there too they made bold to slaughter their victims, for they did not regard even this as a desecration. This is the reason why, in my opinion, even God himself, for loathing of their impiety, turned away from our city and, because he deemed the Temple to be no longer a clean dwelling place for Him, brought the Romans upon us [the Jewish nation] and purification by fire upon the city, while He inflicted slavery upon us together with our wives and children; for He wished to chasten us by these calamities" (ibid., viii,5).
Note this point clearly. In Sotah, the Jewish authorities in A.D.200 (when Rabbi Judah put together the Mishnah) also rehearsed the same thing that Josephus stated. They began their lament with the bandit Eleazer. "When Eleazer ben Dinai came (and he was also called Tehinah ben Parishah) they changed his name [Eleazer’s] to Son of the Murderer" (9:9). Beginning with this man who initiated his murderous career near the very time of Christ’s crucifixion, the later Rabbis rehearsed a litany of calamitous events in a progressive format that led to the physical and spiritual downfall of the Jewish Commonwealth. The Rabbis immediately follow their reference to Eleazer ben Denai with a statement that the nation also had to disband the rite of the bitter waters for the Suspected Adulteress because of the excess of adulterers that were encountered in that period. Then they record two events of the past in which laws were changed that led to wrong directions for the nation. They then mention the ceasing of the activities of the Sanhedrin with the ruin of Jerusalem and comparing it with the time when the early prophets died and the Urim and the Thummim were taken away from Israel. These cumulative events that started to occur finally led to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. Sotah continues: "Since the day that the Temple was destroyed there has been no day without its curse" (9:12).
Leading up to the destruction of the Temple and beyond, the Rabbis then begin to relate in Sotah ominous events associated with prominent Jewish leaders who lived in the period of this decline. These events showed the steady and certain deterioration of everything Jewish that the nation held in honor and esteem and how the people were reduced to the lowest level of existence that it was imaginable to obtain. They began their historical account in Sotah of how the great and honorable men of Israel began to die off from the time that Eleazer the Murderer began his dishonorable acts and how the nation was left destitute because of it. This was also the precise time when Jesus was tried and sentenced to die by the Sanhedrin. Notice some of the lament being expressed in the generation just before and after the destruction of Jerusalem.
"When R. Meir died there were no more makers of parables. When Ben Azzai died there were no more diligent students. When Ben Zoma died there were no more expounders. When R. Joshua died goodness departed from the world. When Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel died the locust came and troubles grew many. When R. Eleazar ben Azariah died wealth departed from the Sages. When R. Akiba died the glory of the Law ceased. When R. Hanina hen Dosa died the men of good deeds ceased. When R. Jose Katnutha died there were no more saintly ones. When Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai died [who saw the Temple destroyed] the splendor of wisdom ceased. When Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, the glory of the Law ceased and purity and abstinence died. When R. lshmael ben Piabi died the splendor of the priesthood ceased. When Rabbi [Rabbi Judah the compiler of the Mishnah] died, humility and shunning of sin ceased"
words in brackets are mine
That does not end it. Sotah states this condition would continue in Israel and among the Jewish people until the signs of the Messiah appear on the horizon. The generation just before the arrival of the Messiah will be exceptionally evil for the Jewish people (so the record in Sotah continues), but Jews will finally come to the position of directing their pleas to God in heaven to help them in their plight. They will then say: "On whom can we stay ourselves?" [all will then answer] "On our Heavenly Father" (9:15, italics and words in brackets mine).
Then there is a final comment in Sotah of a Rabbi by the name of Phineas ben Jair. He said that if the Jewish nation in the last generation will indeed heed the appeal in Sotah to put their faith on the Heavenly Father, this is what will happen to them. "Heedfulness [to the Father] leads to cleanliness, and cleanliness leads to purity, and purity leads to abstinence, and abstinence leads to holiness, and holiness leads to humility, and humility leads to the shunning of sin, and the shunning of sin leads to saintliness, and saintliness leads to the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit leads to the resurrection of the dead. And the resurrection of the dead [which also includes a resurrection of the nation] shall come through Elijah of blessed memory. Amen." (Sotah 9:15 end of book).
This large and extended concluding section of Sotah 9:15 has as its theme not only the historical downfall of the Jewish nation and people to the lowest levels that any people could reach, but then it immediately follows with a prophetic scenario of what will happen in the period leading up to the arrival of the Messiah and the prophesied Elijah just before the Day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5,6). This final section of Sotah leaves the Jewish people with a promise of great hope and encouragement. It shows an account from their own Rabbis which was written over 1700 years ago relating what will happen to them in the future when they repent of their ways and return to being the type of Israelites that their Heavenly Father had in mind from the beginning. The future is glorious indeed and this repentance and consequent exaltation, with the Holy Spirit in their midst, will come in the days of the Messiah and Elijah. To bring it to pass, Elijah is to come first.
This is precisely what Jesus told his disciples about the last days. They asked Jesus: "Why then say the scribes that Elijah must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elijah truly shall first come and restore all things" (Matthew 17:10,11). There is coming a time in the not too distant future when the Jewish people will be sent a person in the spirit of Elijah (like John the Baptist) who will lead them into a national repentance. This will happen when God sends a spirit of grace and supplication to the people of Jerusalem and Judaea, and even the top government people will change their ways into a repentant attitude to God and to their Messiah (Zechariah 12:10-14). It will result in the nation beginning to mourn for the one whom they pierced, that the New Testament shows to be Jesus of Nazareth.
We now need to consider some of the most important parts of this "Strange Ending to Sotah" We will also see why the history of the decline and fall of Judah was placed by the Rabbis in Sotah. This section of the Talmud also has clear references to Jesus. though the information is primarily presented by the use of cryptic language and the use of a parable. Using parables was not a strange method of teaching to the Jews. Even Jesus himself adopted this style of teaching the people of his time. "Without a parable spake he not unto them" (Matthew 13:34). The apostle Paul (and others) also used extensively the teaching method of using parables (I Corinthians 10:4; Galatians4:21-31). There are also many such instances in the Talmud where parables are used.
Parables are often symbolic teachings which normally distort a true chronology, geography and or personality in order to exaggerate a principle or a theme to highlight a specific teaching. However, the true facts behind the parable can be discovered if one will look beneath the surface to see the actual intent of the writer. And in this section of Sotah in the Talmud there is a parable about Jesus. The parable deals with judgment and excommunication. It was thought essential to enter the account of this parable into the Talmud. Indeed. the parable is not only in Sotah, it is also in the Tractate called Sanhedrin (1 07b). But note this. In some later editions of the Talmud, the parable about Jesus is censored (expunged) from its normal place in both the Tractates Sanhedrin and Sotah. It was taken out so that later readers of the Jews might not refer to it. This was essentially because the parable was clearly that about Jesus of Nazareth and it was in a context of discussion in Sotah which was not flattering to the Pharisaic Rabbis who were being referred to in the parable. But there is more to the subject than that. Many later Jews have wanted to expunge (or they had been ordered to expunge) this section of Sotah. Let us see.
The paragraphs of chapter nine of Sotah (the concluding part of the Tractate that we have been discussing) have several edits where the names of Jewish men and even Gentiles are changed. Professor Danby, who translated the Michnah in 1933, states that the last four paragraphs which speak about the signs of the Messiah and the Elijah to come are not even in many manuscripts of the Mishnah, and he was of the opinion that they did not belong in the Mishnah (page 306). The fact is, however, there are enough manuscripts available (and many of them are not censored or edited) that Jewish scholars today know full well what was originally in the concluding section of Sotah. It certainly expresses the sentiments and teachings of the early Rabbis who lived in the period of the Talmud (third to fifth centuries). So certain are they that the censored parts are indeed a part of the original text that the translators of the Soncino Version of the Talmud state without hesitation that the parable about Jesus certainly concerns the Jesus of the New Testament.
No one knows for sure why the censoring was done in Sotah. Was it to appease Catholic orders that offensive parts to Christians be taken out of the Talmud (which became popular in the 13th century) or because Jews themselves did the censoring for theological reasons? Whatever the case. Sotah was censored in some manuscripts at the very sections where references to Jesus were originally made. Indeed, the parable about Jesus and the narrative of the progressive calamities that led to the downfall of Judaea supposedly have nothing to do with the original context of Sotah about the "Suspected Adulteress." But this is not the case. The Rabbis wanted to take a biblical point. In Ezekiel 23, God appraised the nations of Israel and Judah as adulteresses. They were so far gone that even the rite of the bitter waters was rescinded. So God sent them "bitter waters" of another kind —many calamitous events that led to their fall. Even the parable of Jesus deals with what the prophets called Judah’s adulterous condition.
The parable about Jesus is found in Sotah 47a and Sanhedrin 107b. In Sanhedrin a context is given that mentions Gehazi (who was the servant of the prophet Elishah). He became a leper because he wrongfully asked the Syrian king Naaman to give him a gift after Naaman was healed of leprosy by Elishah when Naaman dipped in the Jordan River seven times. Because of his sin and "imposed leprosy" he inherited from Naaman, Gehazi was banished from Israel (it was reckoned as an excommunication) He fled to Syria where we later find Gehazi in the court of Naaman. But, instead of being banished from society as were all lepers, we find Gehazi again near King Naaman and still being called "the servant of the man of God" (II Kings 8:1-6, especially verse 4). It appears that Gehazi received Naaman’s leprosy, but soon afterward he was healed of that affliction and brought back to his former status as a statesman. This was similar to Moses becoming temporarily leprous (Exodus 4:6) and Miriam got leprosy for seven days (Numbers 12:9-15). It is this narrative about Gehazi (and the temporary leprosy imposed on him by Elishah) that prompts the latter Rabbis to place the parable of Jesus in Sotah.
At this very spot concerning Gehazi in the context of Sotah is where we find the parable of Jesus. It is given at this juncture because the Rabbis wanted to show a distinct parallel between the events of Gehazi becoming a leper at his rebellion to Elishah and how he was excommunicated from Israel for his evil deeds. Jesus is given a similar treatment in the parable.
"What was the incident with R. Joshua ben Perahiah? When King Jannaeus [Alexander Jannaeus. king of Israel from 104 to 78 B.C.] put the Rabbis [certain famous Pharisees] to death. Simeon ben Shetah was hid by his sister, whilst R. Joshua ben Perahiah fled to Alexandria in Egypt. When there was peace [on his death bed the King advised the Queen to put her confidence in the Pharisees], Sinieon ben Shetah sent this message to him: ‘From me, Jerusalem, the Holy city, to thee in Alexandria in Egypt. O my sister, my husband [i.e. his teacher] dwelleth in thy midst and I abide desolate.’ R. Joshua arose and came back [from Egypt] and found himself in a certain inn where they paid him great respect. He said: ‘How beautiful is this aksania [the word means "inn" or a "female innkeeper," often like Rahab]. One of his [Joshua’s] disciples named Jesus said to him, ‘My master, her eyes are too narrow!’ He replied to him, ‘Wicked person! Is it with such thoughts that thou occupiest thyself’ He sent forth four hundred horns [trumpets] and excommunicated him [Jesus]. [Later], the disciple [Jesus] came before him on many occasions, saying, ‘Receive me.’ but he [the Pharisaic Rabbi] refused to notice him. One day while Rabbi Joshua was reciting the Shema, he [Jesus] came before him. His intention [R. Joshua’s intention] was to receive him [finally to accept him] and he made a sign to him with his hand [he put forth his right hand with the palm out], but the disciple [Jesus] thought he was repelling him. So he [Jesus] went and set up a brick [a tile for idolatrous purposes like Jeroboam did when he came out of Egypt] and worshipped it. R. Joshua said to him [Jesus], ‘Repent;’ but he [Jesus] answered him, ‘Thus have I received from thee that whoever sinned and cause others to sin is deprived of the power of doing penitence.’ A Master has said: The disciple [Jesus] practices magic and led Israel astray" (Sotah 47a). That ends the parable.
The parable is not too difficult to understand. The subject is that of a prominent Rabbi who flourished about 120 years before our Lord. First of all, why do we see this early date for the parable, long before Jesus was born? That is not a problem. This period was the time when the Pharisees and the Scribes first came to power in Israel. In the parable, the later Rabbis placed Jesus as being against the ones who initiated Pharisaicism. It is just like we today might say that George Washington learned his principles of government in going against the monarchy and establishing republicanism at the feet of Oliver Cromwell who was also against the monarchy and heeded republicanism (note that Cromwell lived 120 years before Washington). Since Jesus was indeed critical of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23), the parable simply places Jesus as being contemporaneous with the start of (and an enemy of) Pharisaicism.
But why is the parable placed within a context of Gehazi obtaining the leprosy of Naaman and then being healed of it? Christians were teaching that Jesus was the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52:13 and on through all of Isaiah 53. This was a reference to the Messiahship of Jesus. Jewish interpretation of the Suffering Servant was also Messianic. It was common to think that the person of the prophecy would be a leper. He was called "the Leprous One." References in the Talmud are specific. Mentioning the verse: "Surely he hath borne our sicknesses," the Talmud states that this verse refers to their prophesied Messianic redeemer. They said: "The Messiah, what is his name? The Rabbis say, The Leprous One [or] The Sick One" (Sanhedrin 98b). Also: "The Lord was pleased to bruise him, he made him to be sick" (Berekoth 5a). And though Christians normally taught that Jesus was not sick a day in his life (and many Jews accepted this as the teaching of the New Testament, which it was not), they were prone to connect the sickness of leprosy with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah (their Messiah). And so, we find that in the parable. Jesus is given a sickness like Gehazi obtained. This gave Jesus Messianic claims.
Now, the parable begins to mention Jesus when Rabbi Joshua returns from Egypt. It was also thought that Jesus had returned with Joshua. Joshua described the "inn" or the "female innkeeper" as beautiful, but Jesus said she was "narrow of eyes." Female innkeepers were notorious for being harlots, like the house that Rahab the harlot had kept (Joshua 2:1). The prominent Rabbi thought the innkeeper beautiful, but Jesus did not. A little later in Sotah we find the Rabbis saying that even "the council-chamber [of the Rabbis] shall be given to fornication." Jesus was criticizing this prominent Rabbi of the Sanhedrin for perpetuating and abetting fornication. So, the Rabbi excommunicated Jesus. But if any Elder (as Jesus was) would dispute with the decisions of the Sanhedrin, the disputing Elder was tried at Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, excommunicated from Israel and then killed. See Sotah 45a in the Talmud (in our book Sotah) where this sentence is explained in detail.
Then an extraordinary thing happens. After Rabbi Joshua excommunicated Jesus, the parable says Jesus makes constant appeals to receive him back. And though Rabbi Joshua resists for awhile, he then relents and decides to accept Jesus. The parable states that the Rabbi finally put up his hand to accept Jesus. This was a reference to the fact that the majority of the Pharisees (and the general population of the Jews in Palestine) did in fact accept Jesus after his resurrection. We have the plain statement of James, the legal brother of Jesus, who was head of the Christian community in Jerusalem, that there were tens of thousands of Jews who believed Christ and the Christian teachings in A.D.56 (Acts 2 1:20 where the KJV "thousands" actually means "tens of thousands"). It could be reasonably believed that half of the Jewish people at Jerusalem were Christian oriented.
Even Joshua, the Rabbi of the parable, accepted Jesus and he put up his hands to receive him like Elishah did Gehazi. Recall that Gehazi became a leper at first, but he was healed of his leprosy and allowed back in the court of Naaman and then restored to being "the servant of the man of God [Elishah]" (II Kings 8:4). And whereas Jesus had been sickly (though not with leprosy) like the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, and bearing sickness like Gehazi bore Naaman’s sickness, after his resurrection Jesus was sick no more. He was then glorified and full of health.
The parable is showing that though the Pharisees were at first willing to accept Jesus (as the parable said the Pharisaic Rabbi did), the Jesus of the parable now took a brick [a tile with an idolatrous image on it] and began to practice idolatry. There is a reference in this context of Sotah where it says that this was like Jeroboam who came out of Egypt who set up the idolatrous worship at Bethel and Dan. The parable thus has Jesus coming out of Egypt with the Rabbi, but then going into idolatry. Of course, Jesus did not do this literally, but by the time the parable was written it was common for what were called the followers of Jesus to be engaged in idolatrous worship like that which developed from Jeroboam. The later disciples of Jesus were then reckoned to have a form of Judaism but it was a false worship like Jeroboam established. And, by the fourth century, there were indeed many Christians establishing image worship in their services. The Jews saw this as idolatry (which, of course, it was). Indeed, the Jews did not stay long within Christianity.
In the first century the generality of the Jewish Christians were expecting the Kingdom of God to be set up in that generation. When this did not occur by A.D.63 (the time that was expected for the last seven years of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks Prophecy to start) the Jewish people began to abandon Christianity almost wholesale. Peter and Jude (in Peter’s second epistle and Jude’s short letter) said that most of the Jewish Christians finally gave up on Jesus and they went to war with the Romans. This led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. They did this in spite of the fact that there were countless signs and wonders that God gave to the Jewish people at that time. Note what the Talmud states beginning with the very year in which Jesus was crucified:
"Forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin was banished [from the Chamber of Hewn Stones in the Temple] and sat in the Trading Station [also in the Temple, east of its former site]" (Shabbath l5a). This was no doubt the very time when the curtain tore in two from the top down when Jesus was crucified.
"Our rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the lot [‘For the Lord’] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson colored strap become white; nor did the western most light [of the Menorah] shine; and the doors of the Hekel [to the Holy Place] would open by themselves" (Yoma 39b).
The Rabbis who wrote the parable of Jesus in Sotah were well aware of these important signs beginning with the precise time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Even they in this section of Sotah began their litany of decline for the Jewish people with the activities of Eleazer the Murderer who started his career at the exact time of the crucifixion of Jesus. They also knew that the Sanhedrin had done things in regard to Jesus that were unjust and in the concluding section of Sotah they themselves were wondering what the penalty would be to the Sanhedrin? At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, the whole of the nation started to drink the bitter waters of Sotah which progressively identified them with the Israel and Judah of Ezekiel 23. And though the later Rabbis were aware that at least half of the Jewish nation in Palestine went over to a belief in Jesus just after his resurrection (and they were pure in heart) because the evidences to identify him as the Messiah were so great, the later Rabbis also knew that the generality of the Jewish people rejected Jesus as the Christ right after A.D.63 and went to war with the Romans. That ended the Jewish state. This account of the decline and fall of Judah for their spiritual adultery is why it is in Sotah.
But note what the very end of Sotah contains. It has a happy ending. It shows a time at the end of the age when an Elijah will come to the Jewish people. They will then turn to their Heavenly Father and to Jesus as their Messiah and they will repent of their ways (as all in the world must do). They will then soar into a glory and joy that Israel has never known before. At that time, "The Strange Ending to Sotah" will be a happy one for Jews and for everyone.
Ernest L. Martin
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