Hebrew Gospel Pearls #3 – Matthew 2:1-12

In Hebrew Gospel Pearls #3 (Matthew 2:1-12), Nehemia Gordon and Keith Johnson discuss whether the Jesus of the New Testament is the same as the Jesus of the Talmud, who the three wise men or magi really were, and why the Romans said it was better to be Herod’s pig than his son.

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Hebrew Gospel Pearls #3 - Matthew 2:1-12

You are listening to Hebrew Gospel Pearls with Nehemia Gordon and Keith Johnson. Thank you for supporting Nehemia Gordon's Makor Hebrew Foundation. Learn more at NehemiasWall.com.

Keith: Welcome to Hebrew Gospel Pearls. We’re no longer in the pilot episodes. We’ve done 1, and we’ve done 2. We’ve done public, we’ve done Plus. But now we’re beyond the pilot episodes. Nehemia Gordon and I have decided we’re going to jump all the way into Hebrew Gospel Pearls. So here we go, right now, Matthew chapter 2 is where we’re going to start. I don’t know where we’re going to stop. Buckle your seatbelts and let’s get started. Nehemia, where are we at?

Nehemia: I feel like we’re still in the pilot period. A pilot period for me is like 10 episodes. But whatever, let’s move forward.

Keith: Listen, folks. If we’re still in the pilot period…

Nehemia: Yeah.

Keith: …you would not believe. I’m going to say something, I’m going to start this off. I’m going to tell people, Nehemia, you have really, really, really raised the bar in terms of what we’re hoping for Hebrew Gospel Pearls. I think I’ve gotten, at last count, seven boxes from you from Amazon, trying to create a better level of production. I don’t know how many people have touched Hebrew Gospel Pearls from my end, three or four from your end, six or seven. People are really excited about this. So don’t tell me we’re not in the pilot episodes. We’re beyond the pilot episodes. We’re completely invested in this.

Nehemia: I don’t know, the first episode I forgot to hit record, and we had to use your backup recording. And now we’ve got the black sheets behind us.

Keith: We did the second episode. The first episode, second episode. Before we do this, I want to stop and say a thank you. I want to say thank you to Michael Rood. He did something that was really, really special and that was, he invited us into the Shavuot 2020 presentation and gave us hours. But he gave us one really good section where we could do the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, what I’m calling a launch, and it was perfect. Nehemia, you did a beautiful job. Wherever you were in Texas, I was in the studio with Michael. And I think it was the best hour in terms of presenting what this is about that I’ve ever heard. So that’s now available, people can watch that. It’s going to be at bfainternational.com, nehemiaswall.com, YouTube and everywhere else. I just wanted to say thank you to Michael, because that really made me feel like we’re beyond the pilot episodes also.

Nehemia: Look, he’s the one who came to me in the first place with the question that then led to me looking at different manuscripts and finding, “Oh, there’s a Hebrew version of the Gospel of Matthew.” So I definitely want to give him credit.

Keith: So going back to him, I just thought it was really cool. 18 years later, he did a beautiful job. The production team did a beautiful job. It’s a great presentation, please watch that if you don’t have any idea what we’re talking about. But we’re in Matthew chapter 2, and we’re going to make it halfway through.

Nehemia: Well, hopefully we’ll make it halfway through the chapter. So Hebrew Matthew divides this actually into three sections. In other words, the chapters we have were established by Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the early 13th century; it’s a known thing. The chapters divisions that are found in the Hebrew version of Matthew are different chapters. So for example, what he calls… we’re going to call it “sections”, right? But really, he uses the word “perek”, which is chapter. So chapter 3 in Hebrew Matthew is really chapter 2 verses 1 through 12, and where it gets a little bit controversial is chapter 4 of Hebrew Matthew is the Greek Matthew 2 verses 13 to 15, so it’s only 3 verses. So we said, “What - we’re going to do a whole episode on three verses?” We could do it, I know we could. But let’s see how far we get.

Keith: Before we get started, I really need… and I want to make sure this doesn’t get touched by anybody. I don’t want anybody to edit out what I’m about to say. This is really important. We are on the third, if I can say, episode of Hebrew Gospel Pearls. And there has been some confusion, probably not from your end, but from our end, where people are saying, “Wait a minute. What’s this bait and switch?” A person actually said to me that we were doing smoke and mirrors by starting out with the first episode and then going over to Plus. Well, through some communication, they realized, “Oh, I’m really sorry. You never said anything other than you were going to do it.” But first they charged me – not you, Nehemia – that I was kind of not being up front. So I want to be really up front.

Here’s what’s up front: You came with, I think, an amazing idea and it’s working. I want to tell you, thank you. And the idea was simple. “Keith, we’re going to spend hours and hours and dollars and time putting together Hebrew Gospel Pearls, so let’s make two versions available.” Stop me if I’m wrong. The first version would be our public version that we’re going to let everyone listen to, and let them determine if they want to go further, if they want to go deeper, and specifically, if they want to be a part of really the fuel which is our Support Team with nehemiaswall.com or our Premium folks with bfainternational.com. They’re the fuel that allows us to do all this other stuff.

So there was some confusion that somehow we were just going to go on and on and on, and people actually said, “Well, why do I have to become a Support Team member?” or “Why do I have to become a Premium member?” Because, without these people, nothing happens. [laughing]

Nehemia: Right. Look, one woman wrote to me and she was actually upset. She said, “I already support your ministry. Why do I have to support bfainternational.com?” And I wrote back and I said, “Well, look, it’s a collaboration of two different ministries. I’m sharing what I can on my website, Keith’s sharing it on his website, and if each one of us went by ourselves to do this, it would be a completely different dynamic.” People have said for years that you and I have a synergy. The definition of “synergy” is “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. And I think there’s something to that. And look, you don’t have to subscribe to either one. You don’t have to support…

Keith: You really don’t.

Nehemia: …my ministry or subscribe to the Premium content. There’s so much material here, it’s going to be like 100 hours or more of material.

Keith: Can I make sure that I say this really clearly? I want to say this really clearly, Nehemia, if I’m not clear... One thing I always loved about you all of these years is you’ll always go behind me and fix stuff, which I’ve needed. But I want to say this really clearly. I really believe that what we’re doing right now is very unique - Jew and Gentile coming together, not just in idea and philosophy and practicality. The ministry that you have and the ministry that we have, we are literally tied together in this thing. So each episode, folks, if you don’t understand it, you’re going to get what you’re going to get right now. Click it, watch it, YouTube, Facebook, wherever you are, and I hope you’ll enjoy it. And I promise you right now, you’re going to get a lot just from what we’re about to do.

But if you want more, you go to Hebrew Gospel Pearls Plus. One week it’s at nehemiaswall.com, one week it’s at bfainternational.com, and that’s where we provide everything that we can get out - and I don’t know how long we’ll do it - but it’s really given people a chance to go even further, and that’s not for everybody. So please, folks, don’t think that this is anything other than the straight, clear message. There are two versions.

Nehemia: It’s not that there are two versions, there’s Hebrew Gospel Pearls and there’s a more in-depth study which we call Hebrew Gospel Pearls Plus. That’s basically me and you continuing to teach for another hour or whatever. It could be 15 minutes, I don’t know what it is. It depends on how we’re led. But you know, it’s interesting, I actually sometimes get the opposite criticism from people within my ministry. They say, “Look, we’re trying to put out content as a thank you to the people who actually support the ministry financially, and in other ways, and you’re giving everything away on the podcast for free.” I’m like, “Look. If I’m convicted to teach these things, I just can’t hold it in.” And I want to jump right in, Keith.

Keith: Let’s go right into it.

Nehemia: It’s really interesting. We laid out in the first episode how we’re going to be using four kinds of different sources, and one of them is a book written by my cousin in around 1878, 1879, Rabbi Elijah Zvi Soloveitchik. And he goes at length to discuss a topic that isn’t entirely obvious. The book’s called The Bible, the Talmud and the New Testament. Originally, it was called Kol Koreh, The Voice Calling Out in the Wilderness, and it’s the first ever Jewish commentary by someone who didn’t convert to Christianity, in this case by an ultra-Orthodox Rabbi, on the New Testament.

And it starts off, “In the days of King Horedos,” which is Herod, “when Yeshua was born in Beit Lechem of Yehuda, magi came from the land of the east in Yerushalayim.” And then he goes on for a number of pages talking about something which has nothing whatsoever to do with Herod. And I think we have to talk about that.

Keith: Well, do we have to talk about that? Because here’s the thing, folks. They probably don’t have the book. If you do have the book, it really is quite fascinating.

Nehemia: You can get it on Amazon. It’s called The Bible, the Talmud and the New Testament.

Keith: But did you see that as a connection?

Nehemia: I think this is his introduction to the book. And look, in a way it’s important, because he’s trying to say, “Okay, what are my sources as this ultra-Orthodox Rabbi in the 19th century? What am I using to understand the life of Yeshua?” And from the outset he’s telling you, and actually what he’s doing is he’s dredging up a debate that goes back to the 13th century. In the 13th century…

Let me read you a little bit of what he says here in the beginning. This is in The Bible, the Talmud and the New Testament, and it’s on page 73, chapter 2. He says, “Honored reader…” remember, this is an ultra-Orthodox Jew in the 19th century. And there’s a statement at the end which is so profound that I think a lot of people missed it. “Honored reader, this ancient baseless hatred has been glowing in the hearts of our Christian brothers against our Jewish brothers for over 1,800 years. They, the Christians, said that our fathers struck down their Messiah for no wrong that he committed, and that we must suffer for the wickedness of our fathers, and they seek his blood from our hands.” And it’s interesting, I’ve expressed this to people this very similar idea and they said, “Oh, the Inquisition. That was 500 years ago.” Ever hear of the Holocaust?

Here he says, “Until now their fury has not been appeased as we saw with the events in Romania.” And I was curious what events is he talking about in Romania? And I looked up in the history books and I saw there were so many events in Romania of gentiles attacking Jews, Christians specifically, attacking Jews, that I don’t even know which event he’s talking about.

A modern reader would assume he’s talking about the Kishinev massacre, which was the great pogrom of 1904, I believe it was. It on Easter 1904 that the gentiles, the Christians, went out and started attacking Jews because they were upset that the Jews killed Jesus, right? It was Easter, and they had just commemorated the death of Jesus, and now was the time to take vengeance on the Jews. That’s the way they saw it. That was actually a pivotal event in Jewish history - the Kishinev massacre of 1904. Bialik wrote the poem, Ir Haharigah, The City of Slaughter, and it sent Jews flooding out of Eastern Europe, many went to the Land of Israel. My ancestor, who my middle name is named after, Shalom Gordon, he left Eastern Europe after those massacres, or during the time of those massacres, to get away. He came to the United States.

So what he’s talking about isn’t something from ancient history. It’s something that’s still happening today. It happens today in France. To be honest with you, it happens in New York. All right, he goes on, “They deem it a mitzvah…” I love how he’s using these Jewish terms, right? Meaning the Christians, as he understands it, “…deem it a mitzvah to seek vengeance for his blood,” for Jesus’ blood, “from the hands of their Jewish brothers.” And again, most of the people listening to this program, I understand they don’t see it this way. But there are people, there are Christians in the world today, who see it this way. And certainly, in history, there were.

He says, “Even among our Jewish brothers, who lack understanding and who oppose that Yeshua of Nazareth is the cause of the evil that happens to them, some accuse their Christian brothers and their Messiah, and the fire of the controversy continues to grow. Therefore, I saw it as incumbent upon myself to show everyone that it was not the hand of the Jews that put him to death, and I will show that both our Jewish and Christian brothers are mistaken in their understanding of this.”

And what’s interesting… I want to jump to the end of this, and we can talk about this. He’s asking the question, “Did the Jews kill Jesus?” And really, as an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, he has to wrestle with the question that the Talmud says that there was a man named Yeshua of Nazareth that the rabbis executed on the eve of Passover. That’s the issue he’s struggling with here.

Here, this is now page 78. This is the end of this five-page or so excursus on the question of, “Who is the Jesus of the Talmud?” That’s really the question. He starts off saying that they hate us because we killed Jesus, and we didn’t even do it. And they misunderstood what’s in the Talmud. He says, “Therefore, it is incumbent upon anyone who loves truth and peace, especially those who teach and lead the many, to inform their Christian brothers that they are mistaken in this matter. It is incumbent upon them to eradicate and uproot their baseless hatred that is concealed in their hearts towards their Jewish brothers.”

So who is he talking to here? I think he’s talking to a Jewish audience who says, “Look, you’ve got to tell the Christians we didn’t kill Jesus, and the Jesus of the Talmud is another man from Nazareth.” Look, last episode we talked about how there was a man named Joseph who was the father of Mary, and another man named Joseph who was the husband of Mary. And what he says here is there was more than one man named Yeshua. In fact, there was more than one man from Nazareth named Yeshua.

Now, it’s interesting - recently we had this whole controversy about 5 or 10 years ago. I remember, I was at your house and we watched the documentary on the History Channel, and it was about how they found the tomb of Jesus and there were bones in it. And what was the claim? There was a tomb in Talpiot, and in the tomb there was an ossuary, which is a bone box, and on the bone box it said, “Yeshua, the son of Joseph.” And they said, “Yeshua, the son of Joseph? See? That’s Jesus of the New Testament. Jesus of Nazareth.” Except there’s a second tomb also in the Jerusalem area, where they found the same exact name, obviously from a different person, because it’s a different tomb.

One of the arguments of these people who claim that those were the bones of Jesus was that something like every fourth person was named Yeshua. They actually brought that up themselves - that it was such a common name. So the argument that he brings here, this Elijah Zvi Soloveitchik, is that the Jesus of the New Testament is not the same as the Jesus of the Talmud, that there were two different people named Yeshua of Natzeret, of Nazareth, and that in later times – he doesn’t exactly say this but he kind of implies it - the rabbis got confused. And what the rabbis tended to do is they would have these figures and they would telescope five different people into one person. They’d do this with King Yannai, who is Alexander Jannaeus. It’s discussed by Josephus and we have coins that he minted today.

So Alexander Yannai was the King of Israel, actually, from 103 to 76 BC. But every king of the Hasmoneans that the rabbis don’t like, they call “King Yannai.” They call John Hyrcanus “Yannai.” So what they do is take a bunch of different figures who have something in common, from their perspective, and they kind of crunch them into one figure. And the reason is that the rabbis had these legends and these stories and these traditions, they didn’t necessarily know all that much about history, about which century things took place. So what Rabbi Soloveitchik shows here is that there’s one Yeshua who’s mentioned in the Talmud, who lived in the time of Rabbi Yeshua ben Perachia, sometime around 70 or 80 BC. Well, [laughing] that’s not Yeshua of Nazareth. There’s another one who lived during the time of Bar Kochba, sometime around 132 to 135 AD. Well, how can that be Yeshua of Nazareth?

So he makes the argument that there’s a figure in the Talmud called Yeshua, and that’s not Yeshua of Nazareth. I would say it’s a little bit different - that there are several different figures in the Talmud who the rabbis didn’t care for, let’s put it that way, they had disagreements with, and they kind of clumped them all together into one figure. One of those figures is the son of Pappus, who lived in the time of the Bar Kochba revolt. And we don’t know much about him. There’s a lot of confusion about who that is, exactly.

Long story short, he’s saying that you can’t take statements in the Talmud about Yeshua and take those as historical descriptions of Yeshua of Nazareth. That’s the bottom line there, that he’s saying.

Keith: I will say something, that I’ve found it a little strange that we started off with Matthew 2:1 and then he goes into these five pages. But then as I thought about it and reflected on it, actually the timing of it is really perfect, because I’ll tell you something, Nehemia. I don’t know if you know this or not, but there are some people who would love to be able to make it simple. In other words, let me back up a second. What I appreciated about what he was doing, is he was further explaining the confusion around the statement. The statement is, “The Jews killed Jesus, Yeshua.” And he just went in to bring more information to say, “Now, you’re probably confused. You may have heard this statement in the Talmud. That’s not the same person. You may have heard this statement in the Talmud. That’s not the same person.” So I actually appreciated what he was doing, it’s just that it was…

Nehemia: There’s definitely some truth in what he’s saying. In other words… So this is a debate that goes back to the 13th century. In the 13th century there was this Jewish convert to Christianity who wrote a letter to the Pope and he said to the Pope, “You’ve got to burn the Talmud, because it’s full of blasphemies against our Lord Jesus Christ.” And so they began what was known as the Trial of Paris, and the Talmud was actually put on trial, and the Jewish side was defended by a rabbi named Yechiel of Paris. And Rabbi Yechiel of Paris, he came up with this idea that Yeshu haNotzri, Jesus of Nazareth in the Talmud, is not the same as Jesus Christ of the Christians. They lived in different periods and they have different biographies, even though in one place He’s called Yeshu haNozri, Yeshua of Nazareth, at least in one place.

There was another rabbi in the same period, who we’ve talked about in our different discussions, Nachmanides, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Ramban in Hebrew – not to be confused with Rambam. Ramban, he had a dispute with Pablo Christiani in 1263, and he argued that, “No, it is the figure. It’s the same figure, right? That the rabbis just have different traditions about him than what we know from the New Testament.” And look, it’s very possible, very likely… Let’s put it this way, most historians if you ask them, “Can you take what the Talmud says about Jesus as historical information from the time of Jesus?” what they would respond is, “The rabbis had no idea about what happened in the life of Jesus. These are rabbis 100, or 200 to 300 years later, who had a conversation with a Christian, and all they know about what Jesus taught or did is what they heard from that Christian.”

And there’s something to be said for that, and that also explains why they take three or four different figures from history, a disciple of Rabbi Yeshua ben Perachia, this figure during the time of the Bar Kochba revolt, and probably the historical Jesus, and they telescope them into a single figure because they don’t really know, it’s hundreds of years later. It’s like you’ll talk to people, I don’t know, about the American Revolution, and they’ll think that George Washington did everything, or the American Civil War, and they’ll think that Ulysses S. Grant went to Texas to free the slaves, right? Well, as far as I know, Grant never went to Texas. It was your ancestor, right?

So today we can look it up on Wikipedia and hopefully that’s true, half the time – at least half the time. There are ways of finding these things out. Back then, they just had their memories, right? These things weren’t even written down. It was, “My rabbi told me this story, and his rabbi told him this story.” And a lot of it gets confused in the telling. So there’s some truth that when the rabbis are talking about certain figures… Look, there’s a figure the rabbis talk about and they call him “poshea Yisroel”, “the sinner of Israel”. And some rabbis came along and said, “That’s a euphemism for Jesus.” I don’t know, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, right?

There’s another rabbi who’s called “the other one”. Who’s “the other one”? Well, we think that’s not Jesus. “The other one” is another rabbi who became an apostate, who became essentially an epicurean, who denied that God had interaction with the world. So there’s all these coded terms in the Talmud, right? There’s the ben Sdotha and they’re trying to figure out who is this son of Sdotha? Well, he’s some archvillain who has a huge following, who people thought was a Messiah. Well, who else is, from the perspective of the rabbis, someone we disagree with who people think is the Messiah, who has a huge following? So they combine these two figures who have nothing to do with each other.

And maybe he puts this here in chapter 2 because up until now you could say we’re dealing not with the actual life of Jesus, but in a sense… I mean, you’re dealing with the virgin birth, which if you believe it, it’s a miracle, right? So in a sense it’s not really part of history. That’s what historians, secular historians would say. “A secular historian can’t deal with his history, because it’s a supernatural event.” You believe it, great. You don’t, then you don’t.

Here, we’re dealing maybe for the first time with… We know Herod, he existed. We know these are events in history that Herod killed anybody who opposed him, and we’ll get to that in a minute. But famously, Augustus Caesar famously said, “It’s better to be Herod’s pig than his son.” Why is that? Because Herod, being sort of a Jew, doesn’t eat pig, and therefore doesn’t kill pigs but he does kill his son. Herod literally killed his own son. I believe he drowned him in a bathtub, or something like that.

So the point is that now we’re getting to history, so the rabbi’s stepping up and he’s saying, “Okay, what do we know from history about Jesus? Well no, we’re not looking at the Talmud. We’re not looking at Toldot Yeshu. Those are legends, some of them aren’t even about Jesus of Nazareth, so let’s look at the New Testament, take it at face value, and try to understand what it says.”

Keith: You know, I want to say something, and again, why I appreciated what he did, is that he’s really setting a foundation in terms of how we’re going to be studying the New Testament, how we’re going to be studying the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew.

Nehemia: For sure.

Keith: By him taking those five pages, like you say, people say, “What about the fact that they did this?” He’s like, “Look, before we go any further, let me clarify something.” And I don’t know if you know this or not, but there are some people that aren’t so happy that a Jew and gentile are going to be looking at the New Testament. In fact, I’ve had some people that say, “If you do that, I’m not going to be a part of what you’re doing.” And I think this is a gift, and I believe that what your cousin is trying to establish is the foundation for how we have to go forward, which I call “mutual respect”.

Nehemia: I think the most important takeaway from this five-page excursus that he has on the Jesuses, plural, of the Talmud, is to be really careful when you use these sources. If it refers to a figure and doesn’t even call him “Jesus”, don’t assume that that’s Yeshua. What he’s doing really is he’s using the Talmud critically. He’s saying, “Okay, well who were they talking about here? Wait a minute. That was 70 years before… at least we think that Yeshua was born. So how could that be the same figure?”

Keith: What I like about what you said, though, is that when we get to this verse, if we’re transitioning from chapter 1, which I have to admit - I mean, you talk about some landmines, there are some big landmines in chapter 1. But when we get to chapter 2 verse 1, now, I’m telling you something. I guarantee you, Nehemia, that when you read chapter 2 verse 1 it was different than the experience of me reading Matthew 2:1, and I want to do an experiment, a simple experiment.

So you’re reading in the New Testament, you get to Matthew 2:1 and it says, “Now, after Jesus…” reading the NASP, “Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem saying…” And for me, I have never in my life ever slowed down with that verse until the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. Now, when I read the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, I had a question for you.

Nehemia: Yes sir.

Keith: You’re not going to remember - this was years ago that you did this with me in Jerusalem. It says in Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, “Now it was when Yeshua was born in Bethlehem, Yehuda, in the days of Herod the King, and behold, khozim…” in stars, “…wise men…”

Nehemia: Khozim vekochavim.

Keith: “…in stars came from the east to Jerusalem.” Now, never in my life have I ever stopped with “In the days of Herod.” Never. Do you remember when you first… You’re not going to remember this, but we talked about who Herod was.

Nehemia: Yeah.

Keith: And it was eye-opening. And all I thought about was when you hear “Herod”, what do you think, versus what I think? When I think of Herod it didn’t really mean much to me when I was reading this, for years and years and years. But when we do language, history and context, this verse, if you don’t know who Herod is, you don’t understand why or what’s happening.

Nehemia: Look, and this could be the reason that this is where Rabbi Soloveitchik decided to talk about the anti-Semitism that some people derive from the New Testament and then run with it, because Herod, the first connotation a Jew has when he hears “Herod” is, “Oh, that guy. That guy who murdered, persecuted.” I mean, the best comparison I can give is, talk to Russian people about Stalin. That’s how Jews feel about Herod, right? And so this is an interesting thing, we’re going to get to this. But there’s something profound in verse 3 that the Christian understands, that the Jew understands something completely different.

Keith: That’s what I want to hear. So when you hear “Herod,” again, when you hear, “In the days of Herod…”

Nehemia: So Herod was an interesting figure.

Keith: Exactly.

Nehemia: His ancestor had been an Edomite. The Edomites had come into southern Judea during the 70 years that the Jews were in the Babylonian exile, and when the Jews came back under Zerubbabel, they never reconquered that area of southern Judea. And what do I mean by “southern Judea”? Hebron, Beersheba, all that area was occupied territory controlled by the Idumeans, who were the Edomites, the Biblical Edomites.

Then you had a series of wars of conquest by John Hyrcanus, followed by Aristobulus and Alexander Janneus, Alexander Yanni, who we mentioned before. And during these wars of conquest they expanded the area of Judea. Now, in the Torah it talks about “driving out the nations because they worshipped idols.” But we actually see an example in Joshua where there was a Canaanite who didn’t have to be driven out. And who was that? That was Rehab. She had a choice. Instead of being forced to leave the land, she could become an Israelite.

And so these Hasmonean rulers and kings eventually, when they conquered these areas, they said to the local inhabitants, “You can leave from our ancestral territory, from Galilee and from Edumia, or you could become Israelites.” How do you become Israelites? Get circumcised and start following the laws of the Torah. And so the Edumians were converted to Judaism.

Now, in the history it’s described as they were “forcibly converted to Judaism”, although… they were in some respects, right? But they had the option to leave. So Herod’s ancestors were forcibly converted to Judaism, forcibly on some level - like I said, they could have left - but in reality, they were kind of forced and it never really took.

So if you look at all the great buildings that Herod built, he built the temple to Augustus in Samaria and Sebastia. To this day, you can go - or at least when I was studying 20 years ago at the Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus - they have a statue of Augustus there. That was the statue of Augustus that was unearthed at Sebastia at the town of Shomron, which was renamed Sebastia, in the temple to Augustus. Augustus was treated as a god and worshipped as a god. Sacrifices were brought to him.

And so you know, I think maybe some Christians have this idea that Herod was this great figure for the Jews - I think a lot of Christians know this isn’t true - but some have this idea he was this great figure for the Jews, he rebuilt the Temple and made it beautiful, and giant stones, some of which are still there to this day. But in reality, he did the same for the pagan temples. He built new pagan temples in Sebastia, in Caesarea.

And so, what is a Jewish king doing building all these pagan temples? This Jewish king is an Edomite who was forced to convert to Judaism and despised certainly his Jewish subjects. In the year 40 BC, Herod came to power and was almost immediately overthrown by a Jewish uprising. The Jewish uprising was backed by Jews who had come from Parthia, actually from Babylonia, which was part of the Parthian Empire. And they said, “If you overthrow Herod, we’ll intervene and you won’t be under Roman rule anymore. We’ll give you a great degree of autonomy, just like we do the rabbis here in Babylonia.” This is what the Persians told them, the Parthian Empire.

And they were successful. They defeated him and he had to flee. He then goes to Rome, this is Herod. And in Rome he says, “Look, the Jews will never accept me unless I’m a king.”

Keith: That’s right.

Nehemia: At that point, he wasn’t a king, he was an ethnarch. That is, the ruler of an ethnic group, of a nationality. So they made him king, and he comes back and he uses military force to reconquer the land. It takes him about three years, in around 37 BC he re-conquers Israel, and then he begins a reign of terror. Why the reign of terror? The Jews never accepted him as king. Number one, in Deuteronomy it says in chapter 17, “If you choose a king, he will be one of your brethren.” This man was an Edomite. He had no business being king. He wasn’t from the line of Judah. He wasn’t from the line of David. He was a false king.

Now, there had been Hasmoneans who had been kings and they were resisted by a lot of people. The Hasmoneans were the Maccabees from the Hannukah story. Originally, they were high priests but later, they installed themselves as king, beginning with Aristobulus or possibly with Yannai, Alexander Jannaeus. Around 104, 103, they proclaimed themselves kings, and there are a lot of people who say, “Wait a minute. You’re a high priest from the line of Aaron. You can’t be king. What kind of king are you? You’re an illegal king.”

Keith: Right.

Nehemia: So some people accepted them, some didn’t. Almost nobody accepted Herod. And so he had to use brute force to get the people to accept him. And the history of Herod as told by Josephus is one massacre after another massacre after another massacre. About 10 or 15 years ago, they discovered the tomb of Herod at Herodian, which is near Tekoa. You could actually see it from Mount Scopus in northern Jerusalem, but it’s actually south of Jerusalem. It’s an artificial peak that sticks up. You can see it from Mount Scopus. Ehud Netzer, a Professor at Hebrew University who actually died in the excavations, he gave his life to find this - he fell while they were excavating this kind of hill - he found the tomb of Herod and he found the sarcophagus of Herod, which was this beautiful red marble sarcophagus. It was smashed into a thousand pieces. Why was it smashed into a thousand pieces? because the people hated Herod so much that as soon as they got the opportunity during the Jewish revolt in 66 CE, they captured Herodian and smashed into as many pieces as they could his tomb, his grave, because they hated him so much.

So the people hated Herod. So as soon as you hear, “In the time of King Herod,” you’re like, “Oh, no. What else did he do?” [laughing]

Keith: This is why I wanted to stop. And again, please, folks, don’t be frustrated. I don’t think you can read Matthew 2 and you hear “the days of Herod” and not understand some history. We talk about three things: language, history and context. So for me, what I did, Nehemia, when I first read this, I stopped. And I remember our conversation. You know, you’re a walking history book. I love it, man. We could talk about this… But I went and got a source, which is, for those who just want to see a nice little 45-minutes or an hour based on some of those sources, I found a video on Herod. And I want to encourage people to watch it. It’s really actually kind of entertaining.

Nehemia: We’ll link to it from the website.

Keith: Bfainternational.com, make it also available at nehemiaswall.com. But I don’t think you go into Matthew 2 unless you understand something about Herod. And you’re going to find this out when we get to verse 3, but that stopped me in my tracks. And I know for you, when you read it, you’re like, “Yeah. Herod.” I didn’t even know, when I first read it, and for years, even when I was at the Evangelical Seminary, no one ever told me about Herod. [laughing] I’m like, “Who’s Herod?” Let’s get to… baby Jesus is what I want to talk about.

So my point is, this really is important, folks. You really need the language, history and context. Herod, without understanding who he is, where he came from, and what he did, I don’t think people understand at all what’s happening in this chapter.

Nehemia: Now can we talk about the star of Bethlehem?

Keith: Oh, we have to.

Nehemia: So we’ve got these guys, and I almost said it. I almost said, “We’ve got these three guys.”

Keith: You almost said it.

Nehemia: I literally almost said that and caught myself, and stopped me.

Keith: Wait! Wait! Nehemia, stop for a second. So I read that and I said, “We three kings of Orient are.” And then I thought, “Wait. Where does it say three kings?” [laughing] You don’t know that song…

Nehemia: Let’s start with that, that in the New Testament it never says there are three of them. It never says they’re kings. In the Greek it says they’re “magoi” which is magi. Magi is… well, it’s interesting what it is. Magi are Zoroastrian priests. That’s the literal meaning of it. You might think it’s the word “magicians”, which it is on some level. Let’s talk about something that’s said here in the Jewish Annotated New Testament, and I want to bring this as an example of how to study.

So I’m reading here in the Jewish Annotated New Testament, that’s another one of our sources, on page 5, and he says, “The wise men, Greek magi. Early Jewish readers may have regarded these Persian astrologers not as wise, but as foolish or evil. Philo calls Balaam a magos,” and he gives the reference in Philo. “See also Daniel 2:2 in the Septuagint.” Interesting.

So I was going to cite this and say, “From the gentile perspective, Magi are very impressive. But from the Jewish perspective, Magi are these evil Zoroastrian Priests that persecuted the Jews. They were base astrologers and idolators, and no Jew would be impressed.” That’s what I was going to present. And I decided to do something a little bit radical. I was talking yesterday to T-Bone, we did a quick brainstorming session, and doing that kind of forced me, okay, I’m going to look up this. Like T-Bone would say, “Well, how do you know that?” “Well, it says it right here.” “Okay, well wait a minute. I’ve got to look this up myself.”

So I look up in Philo, and here’s what Philo says about magi. And now, he’s not talking about Yeshua. He’s not talking about the New Testament. He’s talking about how there’s this group of priests who are Zoroastrian priests. For those who don’t know, Zoroaster was a Persian, they call him a prophet, a Persian prophet or a religious leader. Sometime, we don’t know exactly, around 600 BC, he started a new religion called “Zoroastrianism”. It’s the religion that says there are two gods, a good god and an evil god.

Cyrus of Persia, Cyrus the Great, was a Zoroastrian, which is why in Isaiah 45 God says, “I make good and I make evil. Even though you didn’t know Me, Cyrus, you worship your gods. I know about your gods…” well, they only worshipped the good god, they hate the evil god. “Guess what? I, Yehovah, do all these things.” So Zoroastrianism is alluded to in the Tanakh there if you know the cultural context. The priests of the Zoroastrians were called “magi.” It was actually a tribe, just like Kohanim in Hebrew. Kohanim means priests. But when you say Kohanim you generally mean Kohanim from the line of Aaron. There was a specific tribe - descendants of Aaron. So with the Zoroastrians it’s believed it was a specific tribe, the magi or the magoi.

So these magi in Philo, here’s what Philo says about them, contrary to what the Jewish Annotated New Testament tells us, and I’m glad I looked it up; it’s true. In Philo, The Life of Moses 1:192, Pharoah’s magicians are called “magi”. Balaam is called a “magi,” a singular, “magus” in The Life Of Moses 1:276. However, in the book, Free (Every Good Man Is Free), section 74, Philo writes, “Among the Persians there is the body of the magi who investigating the works of nature, for the purposes of becoming acquainted with the truth, do at their leisure become initiated themselves, and initiate others in the divine virtues by clear explanations.” Plain English: they’re scientists and scholars, according to Philo. I was really surprised to hear this! Because my impression of magi is those pagan Zoroastrian priests who worshipped fire and feed their dead to vultures, which is what they did. [laughing]

Keith: I’m so glad you did something that you’ve always talked about for as long as I’ve known you, which is find out what the source is, see what it says, and do everything you can to bring different perspectives to try to come to a place of understanding. I have to tell you, Nehemia, when I read it without going any further, I immediately thought about, “Okay,” because there’s something that happens. In English it says this, it says “the magi”, or whatever you want to say in English. But in Hebrew Matthew it says, “These were the khozim of stars.”

Nehemia: The stargazers, astrologers or astronomers, depending on your perspective.

Keith: I want to tell you something. So when I read it, immediately my perspectives started to expand and I started asking this simple question. So they’re coming from the East. I’m not going to verse 2 yet. I’m not going to verse 3. I’m just talking about verse 1. They’re coming from the East. They’re going to Jerusalem. Something happened in the heavens. They saw it, and in fact… can we go into the next verse?

Nehemia: I want to finish with the magi.

Keith: Well, here’s the point I wanted to make, when I saw it I didn’t think of them as what you said there, like what it said in the annotated Jewish Bible.

Nehemia: The Zoroastrian priests.

Keith: But I was expanding possibly who they were and why it was that this caught their attention. Continue.

Nehemia: And just to give you an idea, like in the Talmud it mentions magi, it’s called “Amagosh”. And it describes them as these kinds of fools who believe stupid things. Like there’s a story where one magi or magus, he says to a rabbi named Amemar, he says, “Well, Ahura Mazda, the good god, he controls from your waist up. And Angra Mainyu, the evil god, he controls from your waist down.” And this is one of the ideas of the Zoroastrians - that everything physical, carnal, is evil, right? Your genital areas, those belong to the evil god, and that’s why you have lust. But your heart and your mind, those belong to the good god.

So the rabbi responds to him, he says, “Why does the good god let…” I don’t know if I should use a euphemism here.

Keith: Don’t use the euphemism.

Nehemia: He says, “Why does the good god let piss pass through his territory?” In other words, the Zoroastrian priests, they see feces and urine as unclean things, and therefore they come from the bottom of your body, because they belong to the evil god, and you should sanctify yourself. This is, by the way, where we get the idea of blessing the food in Christianity. In Judaism, we don’t bless the food, we bless god for the food. Christianity has this Zoroastrian echo, in a sense, which came through - who are those people called? They were called the Gnostics - who had adopted some of these ideas. And so this idea was that the food is evil and you wouldn’t put it in the sacred temple without first blessing it.

So the rabbi says, “Wait a minute. If the top half of your body is sacred and the bottom half is profane, why does the liquid pass through and eventually become urine? It’s going through the holy part.” And he’s kind of using logic to show how ridiculous the magi are. It’s one body, right? And one God controls everything. And the same God who created your heart and your mind and your soul also created your feces and your urine. It’s the same Creator of the Universe. That’s what Isaiah 45 is talking about. And So he’s explaining this to the magus and the point is, the rabbis did look upon these magi, at least at a certain point in history, as sort of foolish, silly priests, but there was another view in the 1st century. You see Philo actually has a lot of respect for them.

Now, what’s the context there in Philo? This is important. The context in Philo is that people think the magi perform magic, but what they’re actually doing is they’re studying nature so they can manipulate nature. If you want to turn, I don’t know, one substance into another - that later became alchemy - what’s the difference between alchemy and chemistry? The difference is, alchemy is where you turn two substances into a third, or one substance into another substance. The difference between that and chemistry is, in chemistry we say there’s a natural explanation, and in alchemy they say, there’s a supernatural, mystical explanation.

And so he’s saying the Zoroastrian magi might be misunderstood that people think that they’re performing magic, but actually they’re studying nature in order to understand it better, just like scientists would today. They didn’t have the word “scientists”, right? That’s a modern term.

Keith: So is it fair to say, Nehemia, at least for me - at least for me - when I looked at verse 1 of chapter 2, there were three things very simply, that jumped off the page, and each of these three things needed a closer look. The first thing was, “born in Bethlehem”. The second thing was, “Herod, the King”. The third thing was the magi. And all three of those things, if I look at why was it significant that He was born in Bethlehem… before we even get to Herod asking the question…

Nehemia: We didn’t even talk about “born in Bethlehem”.

Keith: My point is that even in the first verse, pooh, pooh, pooh, and each of those things are what I call crying out for some attention, some big attention. So I think that’s what they’re trying…

Nehemia: And the funny thing is, when I was putting together my notes yesterday, I actually said this to you. I said, “Let’s do all of chapter 2, because there’s no way we have enough material.” [laughing]

Keith: I want people to know something. And you guys really need to understand…

Nehemia: We’re not going to even get to half the things!

Keith: You need to understand this. Nehemia and I are not ahead of time producing this. We’re not ahead of time. He’s talking about, he speaks to T-Bone. He doesn’t even talk to me until it’s time for us to turn on the recorder. So my point is that we’re actually in the process of study. And what I want to challenge people to do - and I really do need to say this, Nehemia – I want to challenge people to study with us.

Nehemia, this is so beautiful to me, because here we’re talking about one verse, and listen, we could go another hour on one verse, I’m telling you. Let’s just talk about Bethlehem.

Nehemia: Well, I guess my point is, the intention was not to do one verse. [laughing] It was to do the whole thing.

Keith: But it doesn’t matter. My point is that this is in real time, because for me, I want to talk about before we move on, let’s talk about he was born in Bethlehem. And even though it talks about it later, all three of those things, for me, jump off the page. And again, the only reason that I slowed down – the only reason – is because I’m having to go word by word in the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew.

Nehemia: Right. Well, we’ll get to Bethlehem, I feel like, in verse 5. So can we save that?

Keith: We’re going to save it all.

Nehemia: Okay, well…

Keith: We’ve already been going nearly an hour.

Nehemia: Let’s ask this question, and it’s a really good question. What is the significance… Let’s say these aren’t magi. Let’s say they’re just people who’ve studied the stars. What is the significance that these people who studied stars came… What’s going on here?

Keith: Yes.

Nehemia: Why is this important? Be a Jewish reader who’s listening to Matthew teach this in the 1st century…

Keith: Now.

Nehemia: …and also be a Greek reader.

Keith: Yes.

Nehemia: So the Greeks had this idea - or some Greeks had the idea - that for knowledge to be really important it had to be exotic. So they talked about “the Babylonians teach”, and “the Persians teach”, and this is an idea in the Greek world. And “the Jews teach”. If somebody from a foreign culture teaches something, it has more importance. So that’s how many New Testament interpreters take this passage. They say, “Oh, okay. They are Greek disciples and they want to give Jesus more legitimacy…” This is what in many Seminaries is taught. So they created this story, the legend develops, that not only was Jesus a fulfilment of Old Testament prophesy, but that there were these foreigners who even recognized that something happened supernatural, to foretell his coming. You can read it in the New Testament commentaries written by Christians, some Evangelical Christians, that were Zoroastrian legends that somebody would be born and there was a star that would signify where he was born. Of course, there’s the whole question of what did the star do? We definitely don’t have time to get into that. People have written whole books about it.

I know there’s one suggestion in the Hebrew Roots movement that this was a prophesy of Daniel that he left to his disciples, and there was this guild of wise men who continued after Daniel from… I don’t know, I’ll call it rabbi, rabbi’s disciple, preserving the prophesy, and then finally, it was fulfilled. That’s not in the text, right? It could be that that’s what happened, but that’s not in this text.

But what is the significance whether there were magi, or astronomers, or astrologers that came and saw this star? What’s going on? Why is it important that they came from the East?

Keith: Nehemia, I’m going to have you take out your tap-tap for one second. And I want you to look at if you ever see an example of the Hebrew word that we have here, in terms of stars or star. And if you have that anywhere connected to any sort of Messianic… [laughing]

Nehemia: We’ll get to that. You’re jumping ahead.

Keith: What do you mean?

Nehemia: Wait, wait, wait, wait. There’s a Messianic prophesy, obviously in the - I shouldn’t say obviously. Jews know of an obvious Messianic prophesy in the Tanakh. Christians generally, I think, probably don’t know about it. But hold your horses there, you’re jumping to the end! You’re stealing my thunder.

Keith: No, I’m in the first verse.

Nehemia: Okay. Before we get to that, look, we’re about to end part 1. But I want to get at least through the end of verse 3 before we end part 1. Can we do that?

Keith: [laughing] I’m not going to the end of verse 3. What are you talking about? Listen folks, and I really mean this, if you slow down with the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew – and again, we’ve got to remember something. Nehemia, I want you to accept something right now.

Nehemia: Yeah.

Keith: Like I say, I think you’re one of the smartest men I know. And literally, from your perspective and where you come from, when you’re reading these verses, I mean you’re clickety-clickety-clickety-click, for me, this is revelatory stuff, to have to slow down and say, “Who were the “khozim”? Who were these “wise men” in stars? And the English doesn’t even give me “stars” in verse 1. The English simply says, “the magi”. In Hebrew it says, “There were wise men of stars.” I’m going to stop right there. Language, history, context. I want to find out, where stars? This is what we’re trying to do. We’re going verse, by verse, by verse. There’s no rush. There is no rush.

Nehemia: All right. Let’s start in Genesis 1:16.

Keith: Yes.

Nehemia: “God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser night to rule the night and the stars.” And then it says… Sorry, I want to read verse 14, actually. “And Elohim said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of Heaven to separate between the day and between the night. And they shall be for signs, and for appointed times, and for days and for years.’”

So this idea that there are things in the heavens that could be signs is not without some Biblical basis, absolutely. However, there are two different views of it, right? In other words, there are signs that aren’t from God, meaning a lot of the ancient peoples were very superstitious and they believed in all kinds of signs and omens. Astrology isn’t true, can we agree on that?

Keith: When you say, “astrology isn’t true”, what do you mean?

Nehemia: What I mean is, the ancient pagans and the modern newspaper has this idea that if you’re born under a certain constellation…

Keith: Oh, you’re talking about that aspect of astrology, I see. Okay, yes.

Nehemia: …you get into a relationship on this month, and this month you shouldn’t.

Keith: Beseder, yes.

Nehemia: On this day you should go to war, and this day you shouldn’t because… Nothing to do with you, but there’s something because you’re controlled or your future is foretold by the stars.

Keith: I understand what you mean by that.

Nehemia: That’s astrology.

Keith: Yes.

Nehemia: Jeremiah chapter 10 verse 1, “Hear the word that Yehovah spoke to you, O house of Israel.” And we just read in Genesis 1:14 that God created the sun, the moon and the stars for signs, among other things. But verse 2 here says, “Thus says Yehovah, ‘Do not learn the way of the nations or be dismayed at the signs of the heavens, for the nations are dismayed at them.’” So they have this astrology where they say, “Oh…”

I mean, literally! I had a guy come to my house to fix my computer. He couldn’t fix it and he says to me, “I can tell you the solution.” He had been there like three times. He finally says, “I’m going to tell you, no one else will tell you what really happened. Mercury’s in retrograde.” And I’m thinking like, “So is there some component in the computer that’s a mercury switch, or something?” He’s like, “No, no, no. The planet Mercury’s in retrograde.” This is a computer technician in the 21st century, telling me that the reason my computer could not be fixed… And by the way, it couldn’t be fixed in the end. It had to be recalled. The reason my computer couldn’t be fixed, it was a one in a million, I’m told by Toshiba – so they claimed, I’ve never bought a Toshiba since – but one in a million problem, and the reason is: Mercury’s in retrograde.

This is what Jeremiah’s speaking of when he says, “Do not learn the ways of the nations or be dismayed at the signs of the heavens, for the nations are dismayed at them.”

Keith: And yet…

Nehemia: Go on.

Keith: …Nehemia, in the first verse of Matthew chapter 2 verse 1, whatever happened with these wise men of stars? Something told them not just, you know, “Look at the stars,” but actually, “go to Jerusalem.”

Nehemia: I want to talk to you now… we’ve got to talk about verse 2. Well, I’m going to leave this as an open question. What’s the significance that there are people who… and maybe there’s no significance, maybe it just happened, right? But presumably there’s some significance to why we’re being told it happened. They’re astrologers of some sort, or astronomers from the East and they’re bringing important gifts, and they’re coming to bow down to him. Boy, we could talk for an hour about “bow down to him”. Can we just talk for a minute? How is it that they knew even to bow down? Why would they think to bow down to… Let’s say he’s the king. Do you bow down to kings?

So in the Tanakh you do. In the Tanakh you bow down to kings. And certainly, in the ancient world, you bowed down to kings. And here’s a question that I’m just going to throw out there, right? Let’s assume every single thing happened here exactly as we’re told. This was a miracle. God wanted His will known, so He revealed the star, whatever that means, to these Eastern Magi. How would they know to bow down to him? Does this mean they said, “Oh! The second person of the Trinity has manifest here on earth.” Did they know that theology? Or did they just have the idea that any miraculous king is also somehow a god, or certainly worthy of being bowed down to. I mean, you bowed down to even flesh and blood kings back then.

Keith: Let the text speak, Nehemia. The text says this. They asked a question, if you insist on going to verse 2, which we will. “Where is the King of the Jews, who has been born? We have seen his…” now tap-tap for me, just for a second. Give people just a little tap-tap. What was the word they use in verse 2?

Nehemia: So there are two different readings in Hebrew Matthew. Some manuscripts, like the British Library manuscript, has “sevivo, we saw His surroundings in the East.” I’m not sure what that means. Other manuscripts have, “We saw His star in the East.” Now, whether or not you read “star” or “surroundings” in this verse, there’s definitely a star that they saw in verses 7, 9 and 10 in all the manuscripts.

Keith: Excellent. Excellent.

Nehemia: So maybe they saw his surroundings and maybe they saw some kind of an aura?

Keith: Yeah.

Nehemia: Maybe they saw some glowing light, I don’t know.

Keith: And you know what, folks? Everyone else that’s out there like me, listen. If everyone, you’re like me and you slow down and you read this, I don’t care if you decide you want to come to the next section or not. If you just stick in this first verse and you look at these issues of the place that he was born, what it was that caused the magi or the wise men from the East to come to Jerusalem, whatever it is, I’m telling you, this verse, Nehemia, it took me days. I was so blessed for this process that we were really slowing down and looking at it. So like I said, I’m in no hurry. Now, it’s already been an hour. We’ve been talking about one verse again. [laughing]

Nehemia: Well, no, we got to verse 3 or verse 2. Hey, so T-Bone, when I was talking to him, said the big question for him in verse 2 is, what kind of a chutzpah, what kind of a gall, did these foreigners have? They come to Israel and they say, as far as they know, to the King of Israel, “We heard your replacement was born.”

Keith: [laughing] And listen, Nehemia, not just that, that they said that. Listen, Herod’s already… I mean, this is where you’ve got to understand Herod. You don’t bring up any other possibility of a king.

Nehemia: Right, right.

Keith: Not with him.

Nehemia: Herod’s the guy who murdered his own son. He murdered, I think it was his wife or his mother-in-law. He murdered so many people just to prevent that… It was one of his wives, who was a Hasmonean. He killed all these people to prevent them from taking over his rule, people who had more legitimacy than him. So the idea of a king who’s from the line of Judah… And this is another question here.

Okay, let’s read verses 2 and 3 here. They say, “Ayeh Melech haYehudim hanolad?” “Where is the King of the Jews who was born?” “Rayinu sevivo” or “kochavo bemizrach,” “We saw His surroundings” or “We saw His star in the East,” depending on how you read it. “Uvematanot khashuvot ba’u lehishtakhavot lo,” “And they came with important gifts to bow down to him.” “Veshemah Horodus haMelech” “And Herod, the king, heard,” “Vayibahel,” “And he was dismayed.” And the word there implies “quickness”. He was like, “Uh, uh, uh, this is really bad.” “Vechol yoshvei Yerushalayim imo,” “And all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him.”

Now, I was reading different commentaries to see how they understood this, how they understood this whole passage, and one of the Christian commentaries explained that what’s going on here is that this is essentially a prefiguration. This is anticipating what will happen in the future, which is that the gentiles will accept Jesus, but the Jews will reject him. That is how some Christians understand this. And I wonder if that’s why Rabbi Soloveitchik brought in the whole issue of Christians and Jews who look at this, who look at the life of Yeshua, and say to each other, “We have a gripe with each other.” In other words, they take verse 3 to be, “Hey, we’re really upset that Yeshua is born. Before we even met him, we reject him as our king.” That is the way many Christians read verse 3.

Keith: Nehemia, it won’t be often that I’ll disagree with you. But I will disagree with you on that. That if you understand who Herod is, and what I understand…

Nehemia: Oh, if you understand who Herod is, sure.

Keith: No, no. Okay, so then in Hebrew Matthew, again what we’re talking about is the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew also, and it says, “Of those who dwelt with him,” so what I’m thinking, “Well, who dwelt with Herod?” So there’s the power base that’s with Herod to make sure that that line… I mean, who knows. It isn’t all of Jerusalem. Maybe it’s just the people that are with Herod who are upset.

Nehemia: Let’s say it’s all Jerusalem, right?

Keith: I don’t think it’s all of Jerusalem.

Nehemia: Let’s say it is. Why would they be dismayed? I understand why Herod’s dismayed.

Keith: Right.

Nehemia: He’s dismayed because he is going to be replaced as king, as he sees it. And by the way, everyone’s still thinking here of a flesh and blood ruler on earth. Why is it that the people of Jerusalem would be dismayed? So here again - history, language and context. We talked how around the year 40 or 37 BCE the Jews revolted against the Romans with the help of the Parthians. And what was the Roman response? They sent Herod with the military to crush the revolt. Thousands of Jews were killed, tens of thousands. Much later, around 30 years later, there was a man named Simon of Peraea, he is a slave of Herod, and he leads a Jewish revolt. Josephus describes this in War 257-59 and in Antiquities 17-273-277. I want to read just quickly about this.

“There was also Simon,” Josephus tells us, “who had been a slave of Herod the King. This man was so bold to put a crown on his head while a certain number of the people stood by.” In other words, this man, who is Simon of Peraea, is claiming to be the king of Israel and rebelling against Herod. And I guarantee you, one of his arguments was, “Herod ain’t even one of us! He’s an Idumian, and I am a true Israelite!” So you have this guy, Simon of Peraea, who goes and it says, “He also set fire to many other of the king’s houses in several places of the country, and utterly destroyed them.” He’s burning down things and destroying cities. So when they have somebody who claims to be the Messiah, there’s always something that follows. And that is, the Messiah fails and there’s horrible persecution. Simon of Peraea is one of them.

Another is called “Judah of Gamla”, or in the Book of Acts he’s called “Judas the Galilean”. He’s mentioned by Gamaliel when Paul is on trial. Josephus talks about him at length. He rose up around this time as well and he led a rebellion against the Romans, and it led to horrible persecution. Jews were killed in the tens of thousands because of this revolt. You know, when the Romans come to put down the revolt, they have no way of knowing who supported this Messianic claimant and who didn’t. They just kill everybody in sight who they get their hands on. Let the crosses sort it out. Meaning, they literally will put tens of thousands of people on crosses and kill them and murder them in just horrific ways, the Romans did.

So the point is, the Jews of Jerusalem have a very good reason to be dismayed. They hear these foreigners come and say, “We heard that your king is born, and there’s something miraculous about it,” right? They see a star. So here’s an important point. Why are they upset? Because Herod hears he’s going to lose his kingdom. The inhabitants of Jerusalem hear, “Oh, no. Not another Simon of Peraea. Not another Judas the Galilean. This is going to lead to more Roman persecution.” That’s what they’re thinking. It’s not that the Messiah has come and they reject him before they even met him. What they’re thinking is, “Another one of these. We’re going to get persecuted again.”

Keith: That’s certainly one possibility. I think there may have been people that were dwelling with Herod, they were like, “Hey, we’re in the power base. It’s our party running the show here.”

Nehemia: That could be, as well.

Keith: “We don’t want that to change.” And maybe the other people are like, “Look, this feels biblical, this feels like it’s within the Tanakh.” I mean, there’s another group of people that were probably extremely excited. I mean, those folks came all the way from the East based on something that is in the sky. I don’t know. I saw it a little bit different. But what I love about this is, and I especially am excited that we can go further into this, because Nehemia, I don’t even know… [laughing]

Nehemia: So you bring up a really good point. The Hebrew version of Matthew has the word “inhabitants of Jerusalem with him”. So there are two ways to translate this. “All of those who are dwellers of Jerusalem with him.” “All those who are dwellers of Jerusalem with him,” meaning what’s the emphasis here? They’re dwelling with him, or they’re dwelling in Jerusalem. The Greek doesn’t have the word “dwellers”, and so it’s just “all of Jerusalem with him”. So you’re saying it’s the allies of Herod who are upset.

Keith: I’m saying it’s the people who are dwelling… I’m just reading the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. It’s dwelling with him. With who? With Herod. That’s his power base. Of course they’re not happy! What about the rest of the people? I’m going to tell you something. Nehemia, let me ask you this simple question. This is a transitional question. If you were in the 1st century and you heard that a star appeared, people came, and there’s some understanding of this king being born, am I wrong in thinking that you are looking still in the 1st century for a Messiah, for who Messiah is, the one…?

Nehemia: This is the point. They were so looking fervently for the Messiah in the 1st century that every few years there was someone who made the claim, “I’m the Messiah,” and the Jews were persecuted as a result. There’s the story in Acts where Paul is arrested, and the Roman commander is like, “Oh, you’re that Egyptian guy,” right?

Keith: Right.

Nehemia: “You’re that Egyptian.” So there are so many of these Messianic claimants that the Romans can’t even keep track of them all! And so you hear this and there are two things you could think. “Finally, the true Messiah is born. How do we know? There are these people who have come… even the gentiles acknowledge him.” That could be one way of looking at it. That certainly seems to be what Matthew was getting at, from my perspective it seems that way.

The other way of looking at is, “Oh, no. Not another one of these.” And then Gamaliel had a third approach. He’s like, “Let’s wait and see,” right? “I’m not going to be upset about this. We’ll see if… These things have a way of sorting themselves out. We’ll find out in a couple of generations if he was the true Messiah.” That’s the Gamaliel approach.

So I guess different Jews could have different approaches to this. Keith, we’ve got to talk about verses 5 and 6, because that’s the Messianic prophesy. So we’ve talked in the last episode about Isaiah 7:14, and I don’t even remember if we got to this, but Jews don’t acknowledge that as a Messianic prophesy. So a lot of times, Jews and Christians, the Christian will say, “Jesus fulfilled 350 Messianic prophesies.” And the Jews are like, “Well, which ones?” And they name off a bunch of prophesies, and the Jews are like, “Well, those aren’t even Messianic prophesies. That’s about something in the life of Solomon. That’s something about the life of David. That’s about Israel collectively.” Everyone agrees that Micah 5:1 or 5:2 I think, in the English, is Messianic prophesy. It’s undisputed.

So think about that. This is the first undisputed Messianic prophesy in the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2 verses 5 to 6.

Keith: Well, I want you to get ready for…

Nehemia: Can we get to this in Hebrew Gospel Pearls Plus where we have time?

Keith: Yes, I want you to get ready, because folks, here’s what I want you to do. Nehemia, can I please sandwich this again…

Nehemia: Sure.

Keith: …to help people understand? So we’ve spent approximately an hour plus talking about what we’ve talked about. We’ve only scratched the surface. But there’s some excitement. And Nehemia, I want us to do justice. I don’t want to rush. So what we’re going to invite people to do is, if you’re interested in going further to study with us, please come over to Hebrew Gospel Pearls Plus. This week, I think it’s at bfainternational.com. But listen, if you weren’t last week in episode 2 at nehemiaswall.com, you missed it. So don’t go to 3 until you go over to nehemiaswall…

Nehemia: Amen.

Keith: …and become a Support Team member and go through number 2. Now, folks, let me just tell you something. I want to say this, Nehemia. I want to slow down and say this. I think this is a gift, because what we just did is, we looked at the English, we looked at the Hebrew, we looked at different possibilities for the Hebrew. As a result of the Hebrew, I have a different perspective. You have a different perspective. We read it a certain way.

Ultimately, what we want to do is give you the information and let you make your own decision. We’re raising up Bereans who can check for themselves to see if this stuff is true. [laughing] So that’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to actually have Hebrew Gospel Pearls Plus for this week. You go to bfainternational.com. Can I explain how it works, Nehemia? Is it okay?

Nehemia: Sure.

Keith: So this is how this actually works at bfainternational. We have what’s called Premium Content, which is $9.99 a month. That’s our minimum amount that you pay a month, and it gives you access to everything that we have at bfainternational plus some things that are in the works, that are going to be coming. But at $9.99 a month you actually become a Premium member.

Now, this week, you can go to bfainternational.com. You can become a Premium member. And I’ll tell you what’s really exciting – seven days free. You don’t like it, after seven days, no commitment, no resources, et cetera. So you can actually listen to what happened in episode 1 and episode 3 at bfainternational.com and become a Premium member.

And I want to tell people, those that are already Premium members, thank you. Those that are considering it, please, thank you for that. But I also want to say for those that are out there that say, “Keith, it’s a terrible time. I absolutely cannot do this. There’s no way I can afford $9.99 a month.” You call me directly and we will try to help you to become a Premium member, because some people are actually giving for Premium memberships for folks that can’t afford it.

So thank you so much for this, Nehemia, and I’m looking forward to people coming over, because this prophesy that we’re talking about is exciting. [laughing]

Nehemia: It’s exciting.

Keith: This is really exciting.

Nehemia: So this week it’s over at bfainternational.com but last week’s and next week’s are going to be over at nehemiaswall.com. And the way it works on my website is people who support my ministry get access to what I call the Support Team Studies, which will include some of the Hebrew Gospel Pearls Plus. There, we ask that it be a matter of prayer, how much you want to give. And look, we get people who write to us and say, you know, “I’m on a fixed income. I can’t afford anything,” and we say, “Will you pray for us?” And if they say, “Yes, we’ll pray for you,” we’ll say, “Okay. We call you a Prayer Supporter.”

Keith: Amen.

Nehemia: We don’t want to deny people the information if they can’t afford it.

Keith: Amen.

Nehemia: At the same time, we have bills to pay and we want to also, honestly, give a thank you to those who do support the ministry.

Keith: Thank you.

Nehemia: And that’s kind of what this is for us.

Keith: Yes, thank you. So we can pray. Thank you.

Nehemia: Yes, let’s end in prayer.

Keith: This is exciting.

Nehemia: Yehovah, Avinu shebashamayim, Yehovah, our Father in heaven, Yehovah, the One who controls the heavens, who puts stars in the heaven and the sun and the moon and uses them for signs, Yehovah, I want to thank You for making this possible. Without You, this would not be possible. Without You putting in the hearts of many of the support people, this would not be possible. Without You giving the strength and the wisdom and the resources, this would not be possible. Yehovah, You are the star of this show. Yehovah, thank You for what You’ve done, and may You continue to guide us and give us the strength so we can complete the task, as my cousin did over 150 years ago. We will continue that mission of sharing this information based on the Hebrew history, language and context. Amen.

Keith: Father, thank You so much for the people that are listening. I pray that You would continually open eyes, open ears, soften hearts. Father, give them inspiration. Father, I believe there are people that are listening that are going to help us go even deeper with the information that You’ve provided through the Hebrew Gospel project, really, that You’ve really inspired Nehemia for years. He’s gathered these manuscripts, and now to be able to look at them is just an amazing gift, and I want to thank You for that.

We ask Your blessing and thank You for Your goodness and Your grace. We lift this entire project up to You and pray that You would be glorified in Your name. Amen.

Nehemia: Amen.

You have been listening to Hebrew Gospel Pearls with Nehemia Gordon and Keith Johnson. Thank you for supporting Nehemia Gordon’s Makor Hebrew Foundation. Learn more at NehemiasWall.com.

We hope the above transcript has proven to be a helpful resource in your study. While much effort has been taken to provide you with this transcript, it should be noted that the text has not been reviewed by the speakers and its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. If you would like to support our efforts to transcribe the teachings on NehemiasWall.com, please visit our support page. All donations are tax-deductible (501c3) and help us empower people around the world with the Hebrew sources of their faith!

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Related Posts:
Hebrew Gospel Pearls PLUS #3
Hebrew Gospel Pearls
Torah and Prophet Pearls
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Nehemia's Yehovah Research

  • Erin Hunter says:

    The grace and mercy is definitely observed through you Nehemia! May YHVH bless you for your loving kindness and your ability to get the scholarly learning to us all!

  • Jean Ellis says:

    So to say “it was in the days of Herod” would be like saying it was in the days of Hitler. The inference is days of terror and high danger where any indication of a legitimate king would be a death sentence, something I was never aware of before listening to this episode. Thank you

  • Jerry & Kay Pollock says:

    Congratulations… we are very happy for you… a Blessing from YeHoVaH…!

  • Chic says:

    When considering how many Jesus (yeshua- son of Joseph) that archaeologists have unearthed; and how many were mentioned in rabbinical writings (that were crucified)…

    It begs the question:

    Is there a hidden ancient manuscript/prophecy of: “Mary (miriam)/Joseph (yosef) giving birth to a savior named, Jesus (yeshua)?”

    The phenomena of; “Hebrews sacrificing their first son on the altar” appears as something this culture adhered to from early beginnings.

    We witness; the event of Abraham who was told by God, “to leave Chaldean customs and Abraham’s father’s customs behind” – then an angel appears to stop Abraham from killing his first born on the altar (passing through the fire).

    These types of rituals (among others) were ingrained in Hebrew culture; to foretell of messianic events, merciful events, miraculous events…

    I’m very curious about names and circumstances that were left out of our “approved/authorized” versions of history.

  • Don Kennedy says:

    The “Magi” make a lot more sense if you accept that they were not Persian Zoroastrians, but Parthian priests of the tribe of Levi. The Levites in Parthia were responsible for keeping track of the descendants of David, to make sure they were available to continue the line of David as king over Israel, as Yehovah prophesied to David in 1 Kings 9:5. Parthia was made up of the Israelite tribes that left the land they were exiled to after the defeat of Assyria and moved north into the Black Sea, Caspian Sea area. Likewise, the Scythians (Sacithians, Sakai, from Yitzak (Isaac)) were the bulk of the remaining tribes that went north into Scythia to escape before Jerusalem was carried into exile. That the history of Parthia and Scythia has been so distorted by Greek and Roman historians and that we look no further than their histories is really abominable. The Parthians destroyed the Greek army when it came across the Euphrates, allowing a little band of Hasmonians to defeat the remnant of the Greeks that remained in Israel, but we never hear of this documented historical fact. The Parthian army stopped the Roman army when it tried to cross the Euphrates, and forced a truce that allowed trade caravans to continue through the mideast to Parthia and countries to the east. The truce lasted for 80 years: through the Magi’s visit, and through the life of Yeshua. But we never hear of this either. The Magi brought riches to the new King’s family: gold,frankincense, and myrrh, but their wealth is glossed over and ignored. The Magi traveled safely because they traveled with a huge trade caravan. Herod treated them respectfully because they came in a large group.
    I admire Nehemia for always giving his sources. So, while sources for this history are many, I am using “Parthia” by Steven M. Collins, available at stevenmcollins.com.

    • Chic says:

      It also makes sense, that the magi were just scientists. Therefore, as elite (PHD- men of renown) worldly citizens; one would expect them to travel with an entourage.

      In such a case: we could expect that Herod would require these “elite scientists”; “to explain their business/affairs” while under his jurisdiction.

      Which lends more credence, as to why the magi took an alternate route when exiting Herods jurisdiction.

  • Sandy says:

    It was a discouraging episode of the Hebrew Gospel Pearls. I was hoping to hear about the Hebrew perspective of the verses, but every time Nehemiah was starting to get into the depth of the text, he kept getting interrupted because Keith wanted Nehemiah to slow down. Hoping you guys will plan and coordinate your time better with less side discussions.

  • JT says:

    We were very disappointed with the episode bringing in and allowing so much broadcast time for talmud into the reading, interpretation, and context of Hebrew Matthew. Both groups represented by the speakers (true followers of Yeshua and Karites) know that the talmud are a collection of lies and abominations and that we are to have nothing to do with it. We were considering joining the Support Teams after the first two episodes but we can’t support any ministry that puts the distortions of the generation of vipers into the middle of a serious discussion on Yeshua. There is also too much side talk and not enough time reading the verses in Hebrew and then English for comparison to KJV. That’s the reason it took 45 minutes to get through one verse. Note that we do love Torah and Prophet Pearls… no talmud being brought into these episodes! By the way, we don’t have years to get though Hebrew Matthew a few verses a week. The world is falling apart just as in Rev 6 and He is coming soon. Shalom.

    • hanotzrim says:

      I can understand your criticism to a certain extent.

      However, there are helpful gems to be found in the Talmud. Yeshua was familiar with the “traditions of the elders”, and did not condemn them altogether; many Mishnaic passages read like Yeshua’s parables.

      Yes, there were/are vipers around and there is a lot of awkward stuff and destructive nonsense to be found in the Talmud (probably most of it). Still, there is no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

      After what so-called followers of Yeshua have done to the Jewish people for the last 2,000 years, they should do everything in their power to understand and draw closer to them, and a wholesale condemnation of their most treasured works it certainly not the best approach.

      Btw. Rev 6 relates to 100–400 CE; but, yes, Armageddon is imminent.

      • daniel says:

        So, Yeshua opened the first six seals 1,500 to 1,900 years ago? That sounds wrong to me, and must reject.

        • Jake Wilson says:

          Rev is history written in code (96 CE – millennium an beyond).

          The first 6 seals describe the glory and fall of pagan Rome, followed by the break up of the empire, the rise of Islam, the rise and rule of the Papacy for 1,260 years (killing 60 million), the reformation, the French Revolution, etc., etc. until now.

          But if you think that the “things which were to come to pass shortly” in John’s day refer to 2020 and beyond, then that’s perfectly fine with me 🙂

          You are definitely in the majority; Jesuit futurism is quite fashionable these days (their indoctrination is just too good).

  • Janlyn Gosse says:

    Thank you both. Excellent study. It caused me to slow down and consider verses and phrases that I never had before; I had just flown by them. I found it very useful to get the background about Herod and thereby to have a better understanding of the circumstances of the day.

  • daniel says:

    I suggest that ‘surroundings’ in the place of ‘star’ in some manuscripts could be translated ‘conjunctions’. Robert S. Wadsworth’s ‘A Voice Crying Out In The Heavens’ details numerous, repeated star/planet conjunctions in the constellation Ariel (Leo) in 3 BCE, and a description of one of these at Yom Teruach could be what is described in Rev. 12:1 (Bethula being The Woman just below Ariel, which normally shows nine stars). Some of these conjunctions were so tight they could appear as the single brightest object in the night sky.
    Also, if a tyrant of a King were to be upset, surely his whole household would be – and the entire city as soon as word got out.
    I’m really enjoying these. Thanks!

    • hanotzrim says:

      Yes, that’s also what Michael Rood is describing in “The Chronological Gospels”.

      The constellation from 3 BCE was seen again on 23 September 2017, i.e. on Yom T’ruah (well, one day afterwards).

      It occurred exactly 7 weeks after the reconstruction of the Jewish Quarter had started on 7 June 1969 (seven year-weeks = 49 prophetic years of 360 days each).

      Personally, I view this to be the “Sign of the Son of Man” mentioned in Matt 24:30. One can easily get the chronologies wrong, but in Biblical prophecy one single verse may comprise e.g. 2,000 years (and the word “and” within a verse may comprise decades).

      Let’s put it this way: I would not be surprised to see the Messiah coming this year (particularly since Israel & Judah were joined after the Shoah).

  • Gin May says:

    I really don’t see why some Christians hate the Jews over Yeshua’s crucifixion. Jews and Gentiles killed Yeshua! Also, the crucifixion is one of the key events in Christianity. If Yeshua did not die then we could not have all of our sins atoned. I think those Christians how did persecute the Jews over the crucifixion need to read what the Bible says. Language, history, and context!

  • Ron Shaw says:

    Beautiful discussion. These are the type of lessons one can learn from.

  • Daniel Gow says:

    Thanks for releasing these earlier so that we can have them for Shabbat eve ,mate. Legend!

  • José Carlos Vásquez says:

    Hello Nehemia Gordon…congratulation…Im from Mexico City