929 and Isaiah 53

In June this year, I attended a seminar presentation about the Scriptures hosted by the Council of Christians and Jews NSW. The venue was a hall of the Great Synagogue, Elizabeth Street, Sydney. Two presentations were given. The first by Rev Paul Weaver, a retired Anglican minister in the Sydney Diocese. The second by Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton, Chief Minister of The Great Synagogue. There was not time for questions in the programme, but I did have opportunity to speak with Rabbi Elton afterwards and I asked him about which books of the Jewish Scriptures are read in public. He listed the annual readings to me and noted the priority given to the reading of the Torah. I then asked about whether the Jewish people would hear or read the other books. Rabbi Elton noted that this did not occur much, but he then informed me of the 929 project.

The 929 project is the name of a project that began in Israel in 2014/5775: to read the Tanakh – the Hebrew Scriptures – from cover to cover, one chapter a day − five per week. It is called 929 because there are 929 chapters in the Tanakh. Tanakh is an acronym derived from the names of the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (Instruction, or Law, also called the Pentateuch), Neviʾim (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).

There is a 929 website which has the daily reading along with various commentaries. Here is the link to it for today’s reading. Today’s chapter is Isaiah 53. On that page, I came across this commentary by Aaron Koller who is professor of Near Eastern studies at Yeshiva University. He writes:

Ah, the Suffering Servant! 

So marred was his appearance, unlike that of man, form, beyond human semblance!” “He was despised, shunned by men, A man of suffering… – Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing, Our suffering that he endured. … Wounded because of our sins!

This passage (52:13-53:12), relatively modest in its influence in Jewish life and literature, looms large in Christian eyes. For who could this suffering servant be, if not Jesus?

The claim is made explicitly and repeatedly in the New Testament. 1 Peter asserts, “Christ … committed no sin, no deceit was found in his mouth … He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (2:21-25). What are Jews to do with this?

Now the answer to that question which Professor Koller asks – ‘what are Jews to do with this?’ – is one which remains critical for understanding the Hebrew Bible and the mission of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus who declared:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” (Matthew 5:17).

Leave a Reply