Jonah ben Jacob (John) Xeres
was a native of North Africa, where he came into contact with English Christian merchants who told him of Messiah. In 1707 he came to England and was baptised in 1709. His “Address to the Jews” gives his reasons for faith.
Note by Herschell Ridley: The following address labours under the disadvantage of being given in detached extracts, forming together not more than a fourth part of the original volume. Part of the omitted portion consists of a line of argument that has been much more ably handled by others, and the remaining part consists of those erroneous views of the future destiny of Israel and of the earth, which the author learnt from his Gentile instructors. The book is dedicated to the then Archbishop of York (in 1709), and prefaced by an attestation to the respectability of the author by seven London merchants, and another by the learned Dr. Allix. The dedication I omit; but retain the two quaint certificates. Would that my baptized brethren could always produce such satisfactory credentials!
Address to the Jews
I should not be a true disciple of my Saviour Jesus Christ, if I had not a tender affection for you, and an ardent desire of procuring your salvation. On his cross he prayed for those very persons who had crucified Him. (Luke xxiii. 24.) It is therefore my duty, after His example, to offer up my prayers to God, that His anger being- at length appeased, He would please to convert you, I think myself more particularly obliged to this duly, because during the time I have conversed with you, which has been above a year, you have not only been extremely civil, but have by all possible ways, expressed your love and affection for me.
I am descended of a family which has been settled at Saphia, a sea-port town of Barbary, in Africa, ever since the Jews were driven out of Spain. And I was born there of a father so zealous for his religion, that, being able to support the charge of such an education, he designed to make me a Rabbin. Accordingly, I have been brought up under the most famous of our doctors, and, though I have not yet been raised to that degree, many of you have had the opportunity of knowing that I have applied myself to study with some diligence, and that I have made no small progress in all those parts of learning which are necessary to qualify a person for that honourable title. I have been very well versed in the Scriptures from my earliest youth ; and, for several years, have been engaged in the study of the Talmuds, and of the Gemara, and I am sufficient master of that learning, to pass a true judgment upon it. I have for as long time been disturbed with several difficulties, and having had in my own country opportunities of conversing with Papists of Spain, and with Protestants of the Church of England, I have been desirous of learning from both of them their opinions, with respect to those doubts which perplexed me. I have been twice in Spain, and three times in Portugal; but the inquisition, under the protection of which I have been, was such a method of convincing and satisfying the mind as I can never approve of. The severity of that tribunal was, in my mind, directly opposite to the spirit of religion; and I could not see but that those doctors allow as little liberty of examination to the mind, as our Rabbins, who require their scholars to pay so blind, but entire a respect to their word and authority, as to believe their right hand is their left, if they please to affirm it.
The barbarous proceedings of the inquisition being so unfit to work upon my mind, I came over into England, hoping I might here meet with satisfaction with respect to the great difficulties which disturbed my mind. And by the kind help of some of my friends, who have known me almost from infancy, and who are able to give an account of my manners and conduct, as they have been pleased to do, by the certificate that is prefixed to this address, I have been directed to a Divine of this Church, from whom I have happily received a resolution of those doubts, and an explication of those difficulties, which for so many years, had taken up my mind. One thing which in a very particular manner engaged my attention to him, was, that having been always offended with this maxim of our masters, — My son, have more regard to the words of the Rabbins than to the words of the law, he began with an exhortation to use my own judgment, and to consider seriously the force of those objections we make to the Christians, and to weigh impartially the answers which he proposed. For this purpose, he spent nearly four hours, in convincing me of the absurdity of the pretended oral law, which is so much talked of by our Rabbins, and confuted those persons who have deprived our nation of their right of using a discretionary judgment in matters of religion, by talking of a great Sanhedrin which sat from Moses till the second destruction of Jerusalem; and by maintaining that the two Talmuds contain the decisions of that assembly, to which we ought to submit blindly, as to the greatest and most Divine authority which was then in the world.
All the arguments which you allege in vindication of this opinion, turn upon some passages of the Sacred Writings, which you wrest miserably, to answer your end and purpose. I shall insist upon one or two of them, and effectually expose the weakness of your reasonings.
The first you usually insist upon is taken out of Exodus,* Write thou these words, כי על פי הדברים האלה hedavarim haelle, that is, For after the tenor of these words, I have made, etc.. From whence you infer that the oral law is meant, because God saith, על פי הדברים that is,, in your way of interpreting it תורה שבעל פה tora shebeal pe, to make a covenant according to the oral law. Another place to the same purpose is in Deuteronomyעל פיה התורה al pe hatora.
But the first place is so far from establishing the authority of the oral law, that it proves the direct contrary ; for the ‘ה’ he, which is twice repeated, and the אלה elle, restrains the covenant to the words that are written, as any novice will easily perceive, who has the least smattering in the original. And, indeed, On- kelos and Jonathan met with no such thing in the text, for they have translated it “after the tenor,” as it is in the English translation; for it must be confessed that that the פה pe, often redounds in the Hebrew, as appears, upon examination, from many passages of Scripture.
Nay, you yourselves, must confess that the particles על פה, al -pe, כפה kepe, and לפה lepe, signify only, according to, and never denote mouth. Add to this, that the particle ‘כ, ki, foreshows the reason why Moses was commanded by God to write these words — viz., For after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. Whereas no reason can be assigned why Moses was to write them, if he had been to make the covenant according to the oral law. As for that passage in Deuteronomy, there seems not the least difficulty in it, this of Exodus being first explained. For the Levites, or the judge that should be in those days, upon the people seeking to them, were to show them the sentence of judgment, as it was written in the book of the law, and they were obliged to abide by that determination.
Upon the entrance into the promised land, it was foretold the people of Israel, that they should have, in future time, a king set over them, as well as all the nations round about them did; and that after he should be fixed upon the throne, he was enjoined to write a copy of this law in a book, by which, if he steered the course of his life, he was to have great blessings to attend him; neither, as I can find, is there any injunction laid upon him, or any other of the Jews, farther than the observance of the written law.
To prove that the Talmud came in vogue since the establishment of the Mahommaten religion, is no hard task, for it proves itself plainly by the word Ishmael, which they give to the followers of Mahomet’s doctrine.
I have good reason to believe, that it did not arrive in Spain till the ninth century, at which time the major part of the Jews utterly rejected it, till in the days of Alphonsus, King of Castile, it was received after this manner: This prince had a physician, who was a Jew; that same Jew, who was a Talmudist, persuaded his majesty to spare the lives of those Jews who were then his subjects, and had been guilty of sedition, and so sentenced to death, provided they would own and embrace the Talmud, which they did in order to save their lives. This happened at the end of the twelfth century. But it is to be observed, that a very considerable part of the Jews, who are spread in many parts of the world, disapprove of and reject the Talmud to this very day.
But to conclude this head, That the Gemara (which is only a full exposition of the Mishna) is a plain imposition — is so easy to be discovered, that there is no need I should spend many words about it. It is true, indeed, the Rabbis mentioned in it are represented as very ancient, and as men that lived many hundred years before it was compiled; for the compilers of it had just so much sense as to mention those Rabbis who had lived many ages before them, as the authors of what they were pleased to advance. And the reason of this their behaviour was — first, to avoid the persecutions, which they justly feared, from the Christians and Mahometans, who, in several places of the Gemara, were severely treated and reflected upon. Secondly, to give their people to understand that the Karaite Jews were mere Innovators in the Jewish religion.
By such arguments as these I was convinced of the great error I long laboured under, and I wish they may have the same effect upon your minds.
I was extremely pleased with three particulars in the method the Divine took, and by which I was thoroughly convinced of his sincerity.
1st. A third person, who assisted at our Conferences, gave me, the next day after every conversation we had together, during almost three months, a short recapitulation of what had been said on both sides, that so I might carefully inquire whether I was fully satisfied with his answers, and propose afresh those difficulties which were not cleared up.
2nd. According- to his promise, he made use of no argument in the dispute, but according to the original, explained by the parallel places where the same subject is handled.
3rd, He offered to supply me with all Jewish books, such as the Talmuds, the ancient Midraschim, the Jewish commentaries on Scripture, and principally those which treat of the controversy with the Christians; such as the Chissouk Emouna, and Abarbanel, who is most esteemed by our nation. And, before our conversation began, he lent me such as I desired to consult. After this, he easily convinced me that I ought to read the New Testament, which is the only rule of the Christian faith; and, that I might read it with the greater ease, he gave me a version of it in Hebrew.
I applied myself closely to the reading of the Gospel, and have found the following effects of it:—
1st. I understood the plan of the Christian religion better than I had done, from what I had heard of it in my own country.
2nd. Hereupon I found myself in a much fairer way to receive satisfaction, with respect to my difficulties, than I had been before.
3rd. Hereby I found an exact conformity between the books of Moses and of the prophets, and of those of the New Testament, though your doctors, prepossessed as they are with prejudices, do all they can to make them contradict one another.
I earnestly wish you would read those books as I have done; for, I doubt not, but you would then see with admiration, that Jesus Christ, during His ministry, was taken up in the following affairs: —
1st. In reforming the corruptions which were crept in among our fathers, with respect to several parts of that moral doctrine which God had prescribed by Moses; of which corruptions several are at this time found in your Talmud authors by your doctors. And this He could not do without stirring up the fury of those persons, on whom He charged those corruptions so home. And this was, certainly, the principal cause of His death; for He tells them plainly enough that they knew He was the Messiah; but that they were afraid they should lose their own authority, if they submitted unto His. (Matt. xxi. 33.)
2nd. In establishing such pure and perfect rules of morality and piety, as above all others are fitted to raise human nature to the highest degree of perfection.
3rd. In teaching the Jews the true sense of some prophecies respecting the Messiah; to which they had not given sufficient attention.
4th. You would find, that in His discourses He had interwoven several illustrious prophecies concerning those things He came to suffer from the Jews; concerning what should happen to His disciples; concerning the fate of the Jews, who should crucify Him; concerning the false Messiahs, who should abuse the credulity of our nation; concerning those things which, after His death, should befall His Church, which His disciples should form; concerning the persecutions it was to suffer, and its prodigious increase unto that greatness in which you see it now appear.
Can you read such relations without being moved thereby, and without concluding that since the Christian religion was opposed for several ages, both by the Jews and by the heathens, there is no more room to doubt of the miracles which were wrought by Christ and his apostles, than of Moses, and of the prophets that came after him?
Whatsoevcr your Talmudist doctors have objected against the miracles of Christ and of His apostles, is frivolous cavil, and may, with equal ease, be turned by an heathen against Moses.
In pursuance of what I am about, I shall consider some few passages in the Prophets, which, according to you and us, have an undeniable relation to the coming of the Messiah promised to our nation, in sundry places of the sacred pages.
God’s design, in separating Abraham with the rest of the patriarchs, and afterwards the Jewish nation, from the other part of mankind, was, that it might be known that the Messiah, according to the flesh, arose from that people, and because Jacob was the first who restrained that promise to the family of Judah, I shall therefore make choice of this first prophecy, to prove that the Messiah is already come.
Jacob, upon his death-bed, ordered all his sons to gather themselves together, and, according to the unerring Spirit he was filled with, foretold to all his children, what should be their lot in the land of Canaan, whether their state and condition should be prosperous or unfortunate ; and, among the rest, when he comes to Judah, he says :*(Gen. xiix. 8-10) ” Judah, thou art he,whom thy brethren shall praise ; thy hand, &c. The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a law-giver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” These last words afford us a threefold consideration: 1st. That the שבט Shebet, sceptre should be in Judah. 2nd. That in process of time, there should be a מחוקק Mehokek, that is, a lawgiver, a dignity inferior to that of kings. And in the third place, that שילהShiloh should come before the departure of the שבט Sceptre, and מחוקק, Mehokek, out of Judah.
Now, this prophecy of Jacob did not begin to take place till David was made king, and then it received part of its accomplishment. And this sceptre שבט, Shebet, (or kingly power, as you, yourselves, confess, see Rashi, Aben Ezra, Kimchi, and the Targum has translated that word by kings), continued to the days of Zedekiah. After the destruction of Jerusalem, the מחוקק, Mekokek took footing, that is, an inferior order to kings (מחוקק Mechokek, a prince or law-giver: Rashi upon Ps. lx. 9). For Zerubbabel was the first מחוקק, Mechokek, or Law-giver; and this sort of government continued for some time with some little change and alteration, even under the Maccabees, until the Romans laid waste the Holy City; since which time they have never been able to make themselves a people, or gain a possession of the land of Canaan. The שילה, Shiloh, that is, the Messiah, as you, yourselves, acknowledge upon that place of Gen. was to come before the departure of the שבט, Sceptre, and of the מחוקק, Mechokek, out of the tribe of Judah, This is the meaning of that prophecy.
Then with respect to the time, the Christians have quite the advantage over your fore-fathers. Jesus Christ came in the time appointed by God, and he suffered at the time expressed by the prophets. Whereas, if the Messiah you expect should come now, you could not say he came to fulfil those prophecies that speak of him, for they fix another period for his appearance and his death — viz., before the second destruction of Jerusalem. But besides all this, if the Messiah did not come at the time which was foretold by the prophets, it follows, that you ought to reject those prophecies as absolutely false. For surely that prophecy deserves no better a character, which, instead of being fulfilled, is contradicted by the event.
Perhaps you will answer me, that the sins of your fathers have been the cause that God has not sent the Messiah at the time he had fixed for his coming.
Upon this principle your Rabbins tell you, that the appearance of the Messiah can only be hastened by your repentance ; but herein, they grossly impose upon you. For —
1st. To what purpose do they trouble them- selves to find out different periods for the coming of the Messiah, from those that are past, since they can signify nothing without your repentance? Yet their writings are full of computations of the periods they assign for the Messiah’sappearance. I dare venture to say, that all the periods which have been fixed upon by those your doctors, are past above 150 years ago. Read R. Saadias, Ramban, Bachai, Ralbag, R. Joseph Ben Jacchia, Don Isaac Abarbanel, and other calculators, you will see that every one of them have fancied they had found out the secret notwithstanding; the cursepronounced by your Talmudists, who pray that all those who shall compute the times of the Messiah, may burst asunder.
2nd. Why have they invented that ridiculous imagination, which many of your learned men have embraced, that towards the end of those terms of years which they fix, God shall raise up one or more very cruel kings, who by dreadful persecutions shall force you to repent; and, that upon this, the Messiah shall appear to deliver you? Why should God take this care towards the end of the terms, which they now gather from the mistaken sense of some prophecies, since he did not in those other periods which your doctors acknowledge to be past? You must needs see that these fancies of your Rabbins are vain and groundless.
But I come to the point of the two Messiahs, one of which is to be the son of David, as the other shall be the son of Joseph, of the tribe of Ephraim. This is a late invention, which was never heard of before the Talmud. The Chaldee paraphrase of the prophets knows nothing of it ; but it is to be found in Onkelos. And a mere fancy it is.
It is very likely that hereafter we shall be told, that, as the Messiah the son of David is to have the souls of Adam and of David, so the son of Joseph shall have the souls of the patriarch Joseph, and of Jeroboam.
The truth is, that this foolish notion is gathered from the prophecy of Obadiah, who speaks of the courage of the ten tribes after their return from Assyria, who, he says, were to be attacked by the kings of Syria, and afterwards should subdue the Edomites. But this prophecy was all fulfilled by the Hasmonai, under the Syrian kings, as it is related by the most exact of the Jewish historians.
By the imagination of a two-fold Messiah, the Jews have thought this story proper to serve a very considerable design; for they concluded, that they should conceal from the readers of the prophecies, the true meaning of those prophecies, which speak of the death of the Messiah, the son of David, by teaching, that they should have their accomplishment in the person of Messiah, the son of Joseph.
As this point of the coming of the Messiah, whom you still expect, is one of the great principles you go upon in your controversy with the Christians, you will not be displeased if I again tell you, that by supposing the Messiah is yet to come, you overturn the authority of the ancient prophecies, and betray your own cause to the atheists, and to those who make a jest of religion. Jacob prophesied that Shiloh, that is, the Messiah, should appear before your state should be utterly destroyed.
After the seventy years of the captivity, Zerubbabel and his successors, were the rulers of the people, and governed till the times of the Hasmonai, of whom seven governed you, according to the prophecy of Micah v., and eight bore the name of kings. Since then you could never enjoy the supreme power yourselves. The Romans set over you that idol shepherd, according to Zechariah’s prophecy, whom your own Josephus ben Gorion, confesses to have been Herod; and your civil constitution has been irrecoverably overturned, according to prophecy in Dan. ix. Hence it necessarily follows, cither that Jacob’s prophecy was false, or that the Messiah, whoever he was, did actually appear before your last destruction.
Your ancient masters saw the force of this reasoning, and therefore tell you, that he was indeed born about the time of the last destruction, but conceals himself until a certain time, when he will appear and destroy Rome. They have invented several fables to countenance this notion of the Messiah’s birth, as attended this particular circumstance, which they esteem a very critical point. But, unhappily, their own party opposes them in this matter, and much more generally asserts that the Messiah is not yet born.
Your masters have invented fables concerning the legislators, which they say they have; but wherever they are, they live incognito, for nobody could ever learn of any other masters they have, than those who teach in their schools.
Both you Jews, and we Christians, own and acknowledge that there neither is, nor can be but one eternal ever-living God, the Creator of heaven and earth, as we read in Deut vi.4 “Hear, Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” This being a matter so plain, and self-evident, there is little need of fetching any farther proofs from the sacred writings to convince cither the one or the other; or to persuade them to the belief thereof. Let but any considerate person ponder awhile with himself, his own reason will necessarily induce him to gather from various considerations the existence of a God, and at the same time convince him that there is but one.
The notion we frame to ourselves of a God supposes this, for when we say we believe a God, our meaning is, that we conceive him to be an infinite being, of all imaginable and possible perfection. Now to suppose many infinite and perfect beings, implies an absolute contradiction, wherefore such a notion destroys a plurality of Gods.
But as to the nature of the Deity, it is confessed on all hands, that our shallow reason can never conceive such an immensity, therefore we are obliged to have recourse to the sacred pages, the only sure and safe guide in such an inexplicable mystery; and there we are like to meet with the best and clearest information we can expect in so nice and sublime a subject. The sum of what they teach is as follows: Moses and the prophets after him (whose great design was to establish the unity of the God-head, and to extirpate polytheism, then very flagrant in the world), when they speak of the Almighty One, generally mention him after such a manner, that the expressions they use import in them a plurality in the one only essence of the being spoken of.
What means else the frequent mention of God by nouns of the plural number; as Gen. i. 1, בראשית ברא אלוהים Bereshit bara Elohim, where the word אלוהים, Elohim, which is rendered God, is of the plural number, though annexed to a verb of the singular number, which demonstrates as evidently as may be, that there are several persons partakers of the same Divine nature and essence? Otherwise if there was but one person concerned in the creation, why does Moses so often repeat these expressions, ” And God said let there be such and such things, and it was so.” But the reason why Moses repeats those expressions so often, will appear, if we compare his description of the creation with that given by the psalmist (Ps. xxxiii. 6,) in these words; “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the רוח, Rouach, Spirit of his mouth;” where this phrase, “the word of the Lord,” answers to Moses’ expression, “God said,” and the spirit of his mouth answers to Moses’ expression, “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters;” and it is farther plain, if we consult Proverbs viii. 30, where God addressed himself to his eternal wisdom, who in the beginning disposed all things.
Add to this the celebrated place of Deut.vi.4 “Hear O Israel,” יהוה אלוהינו Jehova Eloenou(in the plural number,) the Lord thy God, is יהוה אחד, Jehovah Ehad, One God. From whence I thus argue, “He that is יהוה אלוהינו Jehova Eloenou, and יהוה אחד, Jehova Ehad, is one in essence, and in that one essence there are several persons. But God, of whom it is said, ” Hear O Israel,” etc., is יהוה אלוהינו Jehova Elohenou, and “יהוה אחד” Jehova Ehad. Therefore the God worshipped by the Jews, and of whom it is said, “Hear O Israel, etc., is one in essence, and in that one essence there are several persons.
And here I desire you, my brethren, to observe, that the Christians do not from these and such like places pretend to prove precisely a Trinity of persons, but only indefinitely that there is some sort of plurality in the Godhead. For if this be once admitted as a thing supposed by Scripture, viz., that a plurality of persons subsists in the Divine essence, it thence also follows, that there is no absurdity in supposing that a Trinity of persons can subsist in the Divine nature. Besides, if it be farther demonstrated that the Great God Jehovah is One, but one after such a manner, as that a plurality of persons may without any absurdity be admitted in his Divine essence, it is plain, that if the Christians can prove that this plurality of persons amounts but to three, their faith in the Holy Trinity is well-grounded and established.
Nor can this plurality of persons, which the Christians admit of, make as well for the idolatry of the Gentile world, as for the Trinity which they worship and adore. For the Christians, as well as the Jews, very strenuously contend for the Unity of God, but at the same time, grounding their faith upon the word of God, they admit of a plurality of persons in the Divine nature; to which faith of theirs the Gentile polytheism has not the least relation ; because the Heathen, contrary to the express word of God, and to right reason, worshipped a plurality of Gods, that were different one from the other in person, essence, and operation. So that it is impossible for the Gentile world to prove after the same manner, and from those very expressions which the Christians allege in defence of a plurality; of persons in the Godhead, to prove, I say, their almost infinite number of Gods. For the plurality of persons which the Christians contend for, is an undivided plurality, whereas theirs was a divided plurality, and by consequence, an indefinite number of divided Gods, ending (if I may so speak)in many Ones; which plurality the Christians as justly abhor as you do, it being contrary both to Scripture and right reason.
Your masters explain the prophecy in Deut. xviii. 15, concerning a succession of prophets, which God raised up among you; whereas the Christians with very good reason apply it to the Messiah.
But let us grant for once, that your masters have found out the natural sense of the place. If it be allowed on the one hand, that for the space of 1496 years, viz., from your deliverance from Egypt, God kept this promise, how comes it to pass on the other hand, that since the time of Jesus Christ, that is for above 1 600 years, there has not arisen among you one prophet to oppose those impostors, who from time to time have appeared and taken upon them the title of the Messiah, and thereby brought upon you new miseries and calamities?
Nay, more than this, during your first captivity, God gave you prophets ; Daniel, for instance, and his com])anions ; and Ezekiel, who was carried away under Jehoiakin; and yet that captivity was to last but seventy years.
But he takes no such care of you as he did at that time. He has sent you no prophet to acquaint you how long these calamities shall last, though you have now more need of it than ever.
I know very well, that to satisfy and quiet your people, your masters assert (the ark being destroyed when the first temple was destroyed, and there being none in the second), that the spirit of prophecy was never bestowed under the second temple, because it depended entirely upon the presence of the ark, which was the seat of the Shekinah.
To give a colour of truth to so gross an error, they tell us, that the three last prophets were the companions of Daniel, (x. 7).
But there is nothing more absurd. Zechariah was the grandson of Iddo, who returned from Babylon into Judea with Zerubbabel. Haggai and he were cotemporaries. Malachi prophesied a considerable time after them.
Nothing appears more absurd to a reasonable man than that notion of your masters which makes the appearance of your Messiah to depend upon that of a constellation, which is to come after a certain number of years.
Abarbanel pretends that when the Talmudists curse those who calculate the times, they mean such who are guided in their computations by the stars only, without having any regard to the prophecies. But after all the vain endeavours he has used in regulating his calculation according to the prophecies, ho has added a computation by the course of the stars too.
You know how well he succeeded. If he had been in the right, your Messiah should have appeared above 150 years ago; whereas you have never yet heard any tidings of him. See his “Masmiah on Ezek. x.” But this book has been reprinted for all that.
The most remarkable thing is, that in following this idea of the Heathen astrologers, though he is indeed so modest as to subject it all to God’s will, he has run into all the extravagant absurdities which one could have expected from a judiciary astrologer, concerning the time of the Messiah.
Do but read the twelfth of his “Wells of Salvation,” and you will see such a collection of ridiculous fancies of that nature, that you will wonder a Jew, who knew how that art was condemned by the prophets, should ever lay so much stress upon the authority of it. He does the same in his Masmiah Joshua, and in his Commentaries on the Prophets, and on the Five Books of Moses. You will find in his “Commentaries on Numbers xxiv. ” that the Jews are now in captivity, by the influence of a certain constellation; and on Deut. xxxii you will find, that God, that he may punish the Gentiles, disturbs the course of those planets that are favourable to them. The same thing he asserts on Isaiah xxxiv. He affirms that Jesus Christ, and his disciples after him, suffered death because he was born under Mars. He tells us that his people shall be redeemed under a certain constellation (Is. Iv. 17), as he was redeemed at first from Egypt. And this he repeats on Jeremiah xxxiii and on Ezekiel xlv. He instanceth particularly in the month Nisan. The same fancy he repeats on Hosea i. and on chap. iii.
But the most ridiculous jest of these your astronomical calculations, is, that your best chronologers are not agreed concerning the true duration of the world from its creation to this present time : so that none of your computations by the stars can be adjusted with your account of the years of the world, according to the prophecies.
But Abarbanel is not the only man who makes this use of astrology. He only followed the authority of his masters who went before him.
Now tell me sincerely, can there be any need of a more evident proof that you have renounced the authority of Moses and of the prophets, than what is gathered from this hypothesis, which was first received from the Heathens, who were first led into it by the deceits of the devil?
I shall add but one remark more, concerning Isaiah liii. When your masters speak to you of the Targum, they tell of a great many miracles which were wrought to confirm its authority, and make it unquestionable. And yet your Rabbins make a jest of its authority, and never pay any deference to it but when they find it favours their notions.
The Targum applies Isaiah lii.. from v. 13, and the whole of chap. liii. to the Messiah. So does your Pesikta, and your ancient books, the Tanchuma and Siphre. R. Moseh and R. Nephtali are of the same opinion. But read after this your other commentators, and you will find, that R. Saadias applied the whole prophecy to Jeremiah. Others suppose the prophet to speak in general of any good man.
Thus in the Talmud one refers it to Moses, another to R. Akiba; Rashi, Aben Ezra, Kimchi, Lipman, and Abarbanel, explain it concerning the people of the Jews. In a word, Abarbanel affirms, that it may also be understood of Josiah, who was slain by Pharoah Necho.
Hereby you see how you are imposed upon by your several commentators, and how they follow every man his own imaginations, without expressing much concern for the truth.
If that prophecy speaks of the Messiah, as your ancient authors agree it does, how can it be applied to your whole nation, as you have done for these five or six hundred years? Or if it treats of a whole people, how can it be explained of Josiah?
Do not you perceive how your Rabbins impose upon you? Their forefathers acknowledged the truth, but the modern set have perverted the sense of the prophecy, referring it to the people, and not to the Messiah, to whom it had been formerly applied. And with what design? Why, to increase the number of the questions in controversy between them and the Christians.
Be prevailed with to consider a little the unfairness of such a way of proceeding. This prophecy of Isaiah is one of those upon which the Christians found one part of their system.
And, indeed, what judgment can be made of your masters, who accuse Jesus Christ of being a magician, and at the same time confess that he raised the dead (Toledoth Jeshu); for by that confession they must acknowledge that God may give a magician the power of raising the dead; and then adieu to all religion.
You have been all brought up in the belief of a silly story, that Christ being cast off by the Rabbis who taught him, went away in a fit of ill-humour, and laid two bricks athwart each other, in the form of a cross, which he made his disciples worship; as, indeed, about the time when the Talmud was written, they saw the Christians doing such things among the Eastern Christians.
Now after this, say you, can we believe Christ to be the Messiah that God was to send to us? If your Rabbins had found such an institution in the gospel, I confess you would have had all the reason in the world to reject it. But what you mention is nothing but a paltry story, which your masters raised against the Christians, because of the blind zeal and fury with which they raged when they were become idolaters. I am informed, that there never were any images made nor worshipped by the Christians for above 300 years after Christ. But ought any man to reject the law of Moses, which forbids idolatry under the severest penalties, only because there was a time when Israel and Judah served the calves which Jeroboam made, and when they publicly worshipped the images of Baal? The gospel, far from proposing such objects of worship, plainly foretels this corruption which should seize the Christians, just as you find in the books of Moses predictions of the idolatry which should reign among the posterity of those men, to whom God had given his law with so many miracles. You are justly offended at the religious worship which is paid to saints and angels by the Papists, who consecrate churches to them, and apply themselves to them as to mediators between God and men. But those persons who do thus are idolaters in the sense of the gospel, and of all true Christians. For these latter believe that there is but one only mediator between God and man, Jesus the High Priest, who, having made a propitiation for our sins, ascended into heaven, the true sanctuary, and there intercedes for us to obtain the blessings and graces of which we stand in need.
You are justly offended that the Church of Rome, which prays for your conversion every Easter, should yet pretend to a right of persecuting you, in order to make you embrace her opinions, contrary as they are to reason, and to the law which God gave you on Sinai. But if you read the writings of the evangelists and apostles, you will find therein maxims directly opposite to this spirit of persecution Jesus Christ rebuked the zeal of his disciples, when they called upon him to punish the Samaritans, who had rejected him with contempt. And he teaches, that the tares must be spared until the harvest, that is, until the day of judgment.
If it be true that the Messiah is come, and did answer those characters by which He is described in the revelation God has given us, by rejecting Him you are guilty of the greatest crime you can commit against God, who sent Him to you.
If by the misfortune of your birth, you are engaged in a society which hates Him, though it be now actually under those Divine judgments which He denounced against them, it is your duty, at least when you have attained such an age, in which you are capable of examining matters of religion, to consider seriously such important questions as these are, and to endeavour to attain such satisfaction, that you may be assured you do not follow blind guides.
You are among those Christians who have reformed from the errors, the false worship, and the idolatry of the Roman Church. It is your duty to improve this advantage you have. The pastors of this church are such, against whom you can have no exception, since they teach this maxim, that no man is saved by the faith of his pastor; but that all are obliged to examine the doctrines that are proposed to them, but to embrace none except those which shall appear unto them to be agreeable to the Divine revelation.
There is no inquisition here, to use violence with your conscience, and to oblige you to dissemble your real sentiments. I beg of you, therefore, that you would make use of those means, which the good Providence of God favours you with, and as I lay before you the defence of the profession I have made of the Christian religion in the Reformed Church of England, so I conjure you to examine it with care and attention.
It is the effect of that great affection I have for you in particular, and for all those of mine own nation; for I desire nothing with greater earnestness, than by my own example and exhortations, to he instrumental in leading you into the way of salvation, wherein the infinite mercy and goodness of God has happily placed me, and wherein I am fully resolved to persevere unto my life’s end.
I pray to the Almighty with all my might, that He would be pleased to enlighten your minds, and deliver you from those prejudices you labour under; that so the great and fundamental truths here laid before you, may make a deep and lively impression upon your hearts, and be an effectual means to bring about your conversion to the Christian religion, and not rather serve to increase your condemnation.
We, whose names are underwritten, merchants trading into Barbary in Africa, do hereby certify, all whom it may concern, that we, each of us, having formerly lived for several years in those parts, did then, as we do now, personally know Jonah Ben Jacob Xeres, who was born in Saphia, a sea-port town on that coast. His parents, being Hebrews, were reputed to be honest and substantial people; who employed much care in educating this their son, Jonah, in the Jewish religion, and no lesser expense in instructing him in the Hebrew, Arabic, and Chaldean tongues. The said Jonah lived in that country a professed Jew, till the age of five and twenty, or thereabouts; and always behaved himself sober in his conversation, and no less just in his dealing, as some of us have experienced, having had occasion to employ him on several accounts, whereby, amongst other conversation, he had an opportunity of discoursing with some of our factory about matters of religion; and, as he now in- forms us, was thereby possessed with some notion, that the Messiah was already come; whereby, being uneasy under such a weighty doubt, he came thence for England about eighteen months ago, in order to acquire a full satisfaction. After sometime here, he applied himself to some of us to recommend him to some learned Divine for information; where- upon he was sent to the Rev. Dr. Allix, on whom some of us have since waited, who, requesting of us a character of the said Jonah, is the occasion of this paper, which we do in all respects believe to be true, and have a very good opinion of the nobility and sincerity of the above mentioned Jonah, and which, we trust, upon his examination, he will prove to the judgment of the most Reverend the Arch- bishops, the Right Reverend the Bishops, the Reverend the Clergy, and all other pious Christians, to whom we recommend him, etc.
“Done at London, this eight and twentieth day of May, one thousand seven hundred and nine.
Samuel Robin son,
“These are to certify, that upon several discourses had with the afore-mentioned Jonah ben Jacob Xeres, I have found him very well acquainted with the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament, and all other Jewish (particularly the Talmudic) learning; so that he was very ready, upon the chief objections the Jews make to the doctrine, divinity, and office of our Saviour. But, as he is endowed with very good natural and acquired parts, I was the more able to satisfy and convince him of the truth; so that, after having examined by Scripture all the most material controversies, he hath freely declared to myself, and his other friends, his desire to renounce the errors and prejudices of his education in the Jewish religion, and to embrace and profess the Christian faith.
“Witness my hand this 30th day of July, 1709.
“Peter Allix, D.D.”
Bernstein, A. Jewish Witnesses for Christ. Keren Ahvah Meshichit, Jerusalem, new edition 1999
Ridley, Herschell (Ed). Jewish Witnesses that Jesus is the Christ, London: Aylott and Jones. 1868