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Light from the Sidra

Bo

Torah: Exodus 10:1-13:6.Haftarah:Jeremiah 46:13-28

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

The Passover has come a long way from the simple meal of unleavened bread, bitter herbs and roast lamb to the Seder, the annual highly organised commemoration one of the greatest events in Jewish history. The exodus from Egypt, particularly in the later prophets, became the paradigm for an even greater redemption to be effected by the Messiah, which is why at the end of every Seder the children go to the door to see if Elijah, the forerunner of the Messiah, is outside.

Today’s Seder is a multi-sensory teaching experience developed over the centuries to inculcate the meaning of the Exodus from Egypt in the hearts and minds of the Jewish people through sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. The Seder table is laden with symbolic items such as candles, cups of wine, bitter herbs, raw horseradish, a roasted egg, the shank bone of a lamb and three pieces of matzah. Early in the Seder, a mysterious ritual takes place in which the middle of the three pieces of matzah (the Afikomen) is broken in two and the larger half hidden away.

The Afikomen is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. In fact, the earliest occurrence of the word dates back to the third century of the Common Era, to The Mishnah. In Pesahim 10:8 we read, ‘… no food may be eaten after the [matzah afikomen]’.

Afikomen is a Greek term. Some think it derives from epikomoi, meaning ‘dessert’. Others suggest it comes from epi komon, a call for after dinner entertainment, while others think it derives from epikomion, a ‘festival song’.

All these suggestions, however, are probably incorrect. In 1925, the German scholar Robert Eisler proposed that the Afikomen was part of the Seder observed by Jews in the Second Temple period and that the broken matzah represented the expected Messiah. Eisler’s thesis was largely forgotten until 1966 when David Daube, a Jewish scholar at Oxford University, produced further documentation to support Eisler’s theory.

Daube argued that the term ‘Afikomen’ was derived from the Greek verb Afikomenos meaning ‘the Coming One’ or ‘He who has come’ and that the ‘Coming One’ was none other than the Messiah. Daube set forth a convincing case that the bread Jesus broke at the Last Supper was actually the Afikomen and that when Jesus announced, ‘This is my body’ he was making use of an existing prophetic tradition to reveal himself as the Messiah.

Some years ago, an Orthodox Jewish friend and I were arguing (in the proper sense of the word) about whether Jesus is the Messiah. Shortly into the proceedings, he delivered what he considered to be the coup de grace: ‘What happened to Daniel 2:44?’

The New JPS translation of Dan 2:44 reads: ‘And in the time of those kings, the God of heaven will establish a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, a kingdom that shall not be transferred to another. It will crush and wipe out all these other kingdoms, but shall itself last forever.’

Like all Orthodox Jews, my friend believes that indestructible kingdom foretold by Daniel will be established by the Messiah. Therefore, if Jesus was the Messiah he should have established the kingdom of heaven. It quickly became evident that my friend had no idea of the context of the prophecy, and context is everything. Written in the sixth century BCE, as the Babylonian captivity was coming to an end, the prophecy of Daniel 2 was issued as a result of a dream of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon in which he saw a colossal statue made of gold, silver, bronze and iron. The four metals represented four kingdoms: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. In verse 44, Daniel revealed to Nebuchadnezzar that in the days of those kingdoms ‘the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed … it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever’.

In his commentary on Daniel 2:44, the great rabbinic scholar Rashi says: ‘When the kingdom of Rome is still in existence … The kingdom of the Holy One, blessed be He, which will never be destroyed … will crumble and destroy all these kingdoms.’

According to Deuteronomy 18:22, ‘If the prophet speaks in the name of the LORD and the oracle does not come true, that oracle was not spoken by the LORD; the prophet has uttered it presumptuously: do not stand in dread of him’ (Tanakh – The Holy Scriptures: The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text). If Daniel was a true prophet, therefore, the kingdom must have been established when, as Rashi correctly points out, ‘the kingdom of Rome’ was still in existence.

Daniel 9 confirms that the Messiah would come while the Second Temple was still standing: ‘From the issuance of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem until the [time of the] anointed leader [Mashiach ha Nasi: ‘Messiah the Prince’] is seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it will be rebuilt, square and moat… And after those sixty- two weeks the anointed one [Mashiach] will disappear and vanish [‘be cut off, but not for himself’]. The army of a leader who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary…’ (Dan 9:25f, Tanakh – The Holy Scriptures: The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text).

In the Second Temple period, Israel was occupied by the Romans and among the Jews there was great messianic expectancy. Rome was the final kingdom of Daniel’s quartet of empires and, according to Daniel, the kingdom of God would be established while the final kingdom was in existence.

In the Jewish division of the books of the Bible, Daniel is not included in the Prophets nor is the book included in the annual cycle of synagogue readings. Instead, Daniel is found in the Ketuvim, the ‘Writings’. In spite of Daniel’s exclusion from the prophetic section of the Jewish Bible and from the synagogue readings, a rabbinic ruling reveals that Daniel is indeed a prophetic book and that his book reveals the time of the coming of Messiah.

The Talmudic tractate Megillah informs us that ‘the Targum of the Prophets was composed by Jonathan ben Uzziel under the guidance of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi and that ben Uzziel sought to reveal the inner meaning of the Ketuvim, the section of the Bible that includes the book of Daniel. However, says Megillah 3a, a Bath Kol, a voice from heaven, forbade ben Uzziel to reveal the ‘inner meaning’ of Daniel because in it ‘the date of the Messiah is foretold’!

The ancient Jewish historian Josephus confirms that the date of Messiah’s coming is contained in Daniel: ‘We believe that Daniel conversed with God; for he did not only prophecy of future events, as did the other prophets, but also determined the time of their accomplishment’ (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 10, ch 11, v7).

The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal that the Essene Community at Qumran understood Daniel 9 to contain a revelation of the time of the coming of Messiah. Scroll 11Q13, The Coming of Melchizedek, says:

This visitation is the Day of Salvation that He has decreed through Isaiah the prophet concerning all the captives, inasmuch as Scripture says, ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion ‘Your [God] reigns’’ (Isa. 52:7). … ‘The messenger’ is the Anointed of the spirit, of whom Daniel spoke, ‘After the sixty-two weeks, an Anointed one shall be cut off’ (Dan. 9:26). (The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr & Edward Cook, p 457. Also available online at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Dead_Sea_scrolls/11Q13)

So, where is the kingdom of heaven that Daniel foretold? If Daniel was a true prophet, Messiah should have been ‘cut off’ while the first temple was still standing. There are many Jews and Gentiles who will testify that the kingdom of God is here; they are living in it. Admission to the kingdom comes through bowing the knee to God’s anointed king, the Messiah. The only people who can’t see the kingdom are those on the outside.

To reject the plain sense of Daniel is to condemn him as a false prophet whose oracles failed. To reject or even ignore Daniel is to put oneself in the place of Pharaoh and the Egyptians who rejected the words of Moses, and to miss the greater Exodus that the Jewish people have longed for since their exile began some 2,600 years ago.


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