Saturday, August 10, 2013
Blashphemy in the First Century I
http://www.ed-nelson.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=64 Blashphemy in the First Century: Part One Due to the size of this article, it is divided into two parts Did Yeshua (Jesus) Ever Speak the Name “Yahweh”? A Study of Matthew 27:57-67 by Ed Nelson (www.ed-nelson.com) The question whether Yeshua (Jesus) spoke the name Yahweh is commensurate with the question of whether He, according to his critics, committed blasphemy. These two questions go together. Due to the first century Jewish understanding of blasphemy as speaking the ineffable Name, i.e, by law, the unutterable Name outside prescribed boundaries, if He did one, then, in the eyes of his judges, He did the other. Yeshua (Jesus) charged with blasphemy. A careful, historical and textual study of Matthew 27:57-67 is required where Yeshua (Jesus) was charged with blasphemy by Caiaphas, the high priest, and condemned to death by the Sanhedrin. What does the biblical text say? Those who had seized Yeshua [Jesus] led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were gathered together. . . Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Yeshua [Jesus] so that they might put Him to death. They did not find [any], even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’” The high priest stood up and said to Him, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” But Yeshua [Jesus] kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Yeshua [Jesus] said to him, “You have said it: nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see ‘the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They answered, “He deserves death!” Then they spat in his face and beat Him with their fists. And others slapped Him and said, “Prophesy to us, You Messiah. Who is the one who hit You?” What did Yeshua (Jesus) say? Obviously, Yeshua (Jesus) said something in the presence of the high priest and Sanhedrin that, to a person, they judged to be blasphemy. The spoken offense went beyond the pale of tolerance, according to the judges, and was worthy of the death penalty. He met universal condemnation for how He answered Caiaphas. What did He say? How did He so badly violate Jewish prohibitions to deserve the death penalty? From Matthew’s account, as we have it from Greek manuscripts, it is not obvious. Yet, the gravity of what He said was so legally binding that the accusation by the two witnesses became secondary. Because of what the judges heard from the lips of Yeshua (Jesus), their witness was moot. They were dismissed from the court. The accusation made by the two witnesses. Without the two witnesses, the court session would not have occurred. The Sanhedrin was not pressing charges against Yeshua (Jesus). Others were. We should look at the original charge made by the two accusers. Their accusation initiated the process that proved fatal for Yeshua (Jesus). The two accusers began the trial by saying: “This man stated,” ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’” The phrase, “the temple of God,” is in bold letters to feature the depth of the accusation. At question for us to consider is whether the charge was about Yeshua (Jesus) saying the temple would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days, or, more dreadful, was it how Yeshua (Jesus) referred to the temple as “the temple of God.” To be specific, did He actually say, ‘the temple of God,” or did he use the common phrase of the Prophets, “the temple of Yahweh”? If in any way Yeshua (Jesus) spoke the ineffable Name, breaking the legal tradition of the elders imposed upon Jewish people, lawfully, the accusers could not repeat what He said to the court. They could not say “the temple of Yahweh” without condemnation by the Sanhedrin. Instead, they would have to say “temple of God” if He had said “temple of Yahweh,” thus hinting at what He said with a euphemism. At the time, the word “God” (Elohim) was a euphemism for the name Yahweh. If they inferred that Yeshua (Jesus) said “temple of Yahweh,” then the seriousness of the charge escalated dramatically, favoring the death penalty. First century Jewish law, with exceptions, considered the voicing of the Tetragrammaton to be an act of blasphemy punishable by death. Consider the court process of the Sanhedrin for a charge of blasphemy by three witnesses: The blasphemer is punished only if he utters (the Divine) Name [i.e., YHWH]. R. Joshua ben Karcha said: The whole day (of the trial) the witnesses are examined by means of a substitute for the Divine Name, thus, “May Jose smite Jose.” When the trial was finished, the accused was not executed on this evidence, but all persons were removed (from court), and the chief witness was told, “state literally what you heard,’ thereupon he did so, (using the Divine Name). The judges then arose and rent their garments, which rent was not to be resewn. The second witness stated, ‘I too have heard thus,” (but not uttering the Divine Name), and the third says: ‘I too heard thus.’ (Mishnah. Talmud, Sanhedrin 55:b-56a) Evidence for saying “the temple of Yahweh.” What grounds do we have to understand that Yeshua (Jesus) said “temple of Yahweh” instead of “temple of God”? The answer is that the phrase “temple of God [Elohim]” was not even close to common Jewish speech. In the Old Testament (Tanakh), the phrase, “temple of Yahweh” (heychal Yahweh) is found at least 21 times (cf. 1 Samuel 1:9; 2 Kings 18:16; 2 Chronicles 26:16 Ezra 3:6; Haggai 2:15; Zechariah 6:12, et al). Never is the phrase “the temple of God” found or implied in the Hebrew Bible. Another word for “temple” was “house.” The Hebrew Bible, indeed, does use the phrase “house of Yahweh God” or the shorter form, “house of God” (bayith Elohim). But, again, the temple was never called in the Hebrew Bible “the temple of God [Elohim].” Further, neither the Talmud, nor even the mystical writings of the Zohar, refers to the temple as “the temple of God.” Only in the Midrash, Exodus Rabbah IX:13, is any reference found in the Judaic Classics Library of the phrase, “the temple of God,” and it was written long after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70: On this account did God avenge Himself on the city with fire that shall not be quenched night nor day for ever; and because they [sc. the wicked State, Rome] burned the Temple of God … Compare this solitary in the Midrash Rabbah to its other 42 references to “the house of God,” one of the two proper ways of referring to the temple. The other, of course, was “the temple of Yahweh,” a banned phrase through the first century by the Sanhedrin. The Old Testament (Tanakh) references “the house of God” 182 times, the New Testament five times, the Talmud 41 times, and the medieval Zohar 24 times. Why is this fine distinction of the use of “the temple of Yahweh” and “the house of God [Elohim]” versus “the temple of God” so important in this trial before the high priest and the Sanhedrin? Because a ban was placed by the Sanhedrin on speaking the name of Yahweh, and the witnesses dared to accuse Yeshua (Jesus) of saying the ineffable Name. For this necessary and revealing reason, Yeshua’s (Jesus’) accusers attributed to his lips the phrase “temple of God” instead of the proper phrase, “temple of Yahweh,” or “house of God.” Yeshua (Jesus), to be proper, and He was, would have said “temple of Yahweh” or “house of God [Elohim],” but not the artificial and unlikely phrase, “the temple of God” as he was accused of saying. Before the ban on speaking the name of Yahweh. Before the time of the first century a general ban was imposed on speaking the name Yahweh. To vocalize the name of Yahweh was deemed illegal by the elders of post-exilic times. By the first century to speak the outlawed Name bore the threat and practice of the death penalty. Of course, the ban did not originate in the Torah, the Prophets or the Writings (the Tanakh, or Old Testament). No ban in any form was in effect during the time of these writings up to the Babylonian exile. Spelled out by four Hebrew consonants—Yod, He, Waw, He—as YHWH, it is popularly known today as the Tetragrammaton, or in ancient tannaitic times, as Shem ha-Meforash (“the distinctive Name”) and, its apparent synonym, Shem ha-Meyuhad. By actual count, the name Yahweh occurs 5,410 times in the Old Testament (Tanakh), not counting its abbreviated saying of “Yah,” the appendage of “Yah’ to popular Hebrew names, and its combination in the name Yahweh Tzava’oth (“Yahweh of hosts”). Yahweh Tzava’oth occurs 260 times, and with the addition of “God,” four more times. Adonai—rendered as “Lord” in English—became the accepted substitute for the name of Yahweh after the Babylonian exile. As late as the Chronicler, the pronunciation of the name Yahweh was so common to the people that he saw no need to hide the name of Yahweh with a euphemism. As a matter of record, he did not even use the appellation Adonai in his writings, not once. Adonai does occur in the Hebrew Bible. 134 times it stands alone. Mainly it is used in combination with the name Yahweh. The name Yahweh occurs 310 times after Adonai and five times before it. Of this 315 times, the bulk appear in Ezekiel (227 times). Adding all these occurrences together, the name Yahweh occurs 5,989 times in the Old Testament (Tanakh) of the Bible. To wit, by the external evidence of history and the internal evidence of the Scriptures, up to the Babylonian exile, the name of Yahweh, indeed, was voiced in daily worship, witness and conversation, as well as being written in documents for reading aloud. No one knows exactly when the ban began on speaking the ineffable Name. Speculation is that it began during the Babylonian exile of Israel to protect the name from pagans. Scant evidence is in place to verify this purpose, but no doubt the roots for the ban did originate in Babylon. Erecting a “fence” around Torah and the Name. Early after the exile, evidence is available, especially in the Masorah and Talmud, to show that a ban on speaking the name of Yahweh was in place to some degree, but not uniformly so. This came later. But an effort, indeed, was in place to erect a “fence” (protective bounds) around the Name simultaneous with the effort to build a “fence” around the Torah, and its covenantal sign, the Sabbath. These two things happened together. In Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers Moses received [qibel] the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it [mesarah] to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders, [the Elders] to the Prophets, and the Prophets transmitted it [mesaruah] to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment; develop many disciples; and make a fence [seyag] for the Torah. The “fence-building” commitment of the Great Assembly introduced a new process unfamiliar to Moses, Joshua, the Elders and the Prophets. Because it was a departure from simply transmitting the Torah to the next generation, it took time to conceive, write and implement. The interlinear translation of the Schottenstein edition of Pirkei Avos footnotes the Hebrew word for “fence”—seyag: A fence [protective bounds] for the Torah. Enact provisions and cautionary rules to safeguard against transgression of the laws of the Torah itself. For example, the Rabbis forbade even the handling of certain utensils on the Sabbath (muqtzeh), lest one use them to perform a labor forbidden by the Torah. Rules and regulations began to be imposed incrementally by the Great Assembly and its successor, the Sanhedrin, to erect the “fence” around Torah, its covenant sign, the Sabbath, and around the name of Yahweh. During the time span after 538 BC, when Cyrus the Great gave permission for Jews to return to their homeland, throughout the first century, the work of the Great Assembly, and its successor, the Sanhedrin, fostered a ban on the name Yahweh, determining that it should be deemed legally ineffable, i.e., unutterable for the covenant people of God. According to Talmudic tradition, the legal justification for rendering the Name ineffable was because of unruly people, i.e., Torah breakers: The … Name used to be entrusted to all people. When unruly men increased, it was confided to the pious of the priesthood. (Talmud, Kiddushin 71a) Restricted use of speaking the name of Yahweh may have begun in the later years of the exile, but it was a post-exilic legal invention. About 300 B.C., the name Yahweh usually was not pronounced in its original form except by priests. For a time, anyone on the Temple grounds may give greetings using the name Yahweh. And they ordained that an individual should greet his fellow with [God’s] name, in accordance with what is said, “And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem; and he said to the reapers, ‘YHWH be with you!’ And they answered, ‘YHWH bless you’ (Ruth 2:4). (Talmud, Berachoth 9:5) In time, this practice was outlawed. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Tanakh which was accomplished around 250 B.C. Whether the Septuagint originally contained the name of Yahweh or simply the euphemisms as in its present form is debatable. However, the Septuagint translators paraphrased Leviticus 24:16 to conform to the ban of the Name. This indicates that the ban existed by the time the Septuagint was being translated. A proper translation of the Hebrew text reads: “And anyone one who blasphemes [naqav] the name of Yahweh shall surely be put to death.” The Septuagint translators, in light of the ban, paraphrased the text to mean something different: “And he that names the name of the Lord, let him die the death.” The Septuagint, therefore, aided the enforcement of the ban among Greek-speaking Jews by appearing to be an authentic translation of the written Word of God in Hebrew. The slight of hand by the translators reinforced the legal “fence” around the Name. Each morning it was customary for the Levites in the temple to sing from Psalm 44:23, “Arouse Yourself, why do You sleep, Yahweh? Awake, do not reject us forever.” According to the Mishnah, “Yochanan the high priest … abolished the ‘wakers.’” Why? Because their voices “sounded like blasphemy.” In the effort to build a “fence” around the name of Yahweh, a legal redefinition of blasphemy became part of the process. The lawmakers appealed to Leviticus 24:15-16 to warrant the prohibition against the Divine Name being spoken. Hardly did the Scripture support the ban except by reinterpretation. You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “If anyone curses [qalal] his God [Elohim], then he will bear his sin. Moreover, the one who blasphemes [naqav] the name of Yahweh shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes [naqav] [the] Name, shall be put to death.” Never mind the historical context of this Scripture and its original purpose. To build a legal “fence” required a legal defense of the name of Yahweh with some biblical merit, though trifling at best. The laws of the Great Assembly and, later, the Sanhedrin, shored up the poorly contrived biblical basis. The threat of the death penalty helped enforce the new rules in Jewish society. Leviticus 24:15-16, meanwhile, was reinterpreted to fit the desired result. By the first century, the “fence” around the Holy Name excluded both euphemisms and attributes of the name of Yahweh. In the Talmud, Rabbi Meir is quoted on the matter: But the Sages maintain: [Blasphemy] with use of the ineffable Name, is punishable by death: with the employment of substitutes, it is the object of an injunction [but not punishable by death]. (Talmud, Sanhedrin 56a) Pronunciation of the name Yahweh by the temple priests, even with the centuries-long practice of voicing the Tetragrammaton in the Shema, gradually fell into disuse. According to Talmudic tradition, “from the time Simon the Just died [the traditional expression for the beginning of the Hellenistic period] … thereafter his brothers, the priests, forbore to pronounce the Name in the priestly benediction” (Talmud, Menachoth 109b). Any direct reference to the name of Yahweh was erased with the exception of the ten utterances of the Name by the high priest in the temple on the Day of Atonement, i.e., Yom Kippur (Tosefta, Yoma, ii. 2; Yoma 39b). This practice continued to the last years of the temple (Yerushalem Talmud, Yoma 40a, 67). Today, the ban remains intact within Judaism. This is well illustrated by reading Leviticus 24:15-16 from the JPS (1985) English version of the Tanakh. Key words indicated by the italics below are modifications to the original intent of the text: And to the Israelite people speak thus: Anyone who blasphemes his God shall bear his guilt; if he also pronounces the name LORD, he shall be put to death. The whole community shall stone him; stranger or citizen, if he has thus pronounced the Name, he shall be put to death. The Hebrew Bible does not support the translation of the words “pronounces” or “pronounced.” This reinterpretation is a direct result of the post-exilic ban against speaking the name of Yahweh. The name Yahweh, per custom, is rendered in capital letters, “LORD,” a euphemism for Yahweh. The original context where a man was found cursing the name of Yahweh as the basis of blasphemy becomes inconsequential in light of the ban. Blasphemy became defined as the pronunciation of the name of Yahweh for any purpose, including worship and witness. Such was the rigid “fence” built around the name of God. His name was outlawed from homes, schools and government. Now that we know what blasphemy is according to the ban, the question arises as to what constitutes blasphemy according to the Bible. What is blasphemy? Not until an incident occurred in the desert after the exodus of Israel from Egypt, did the common Hebrew words qavav and naqav come together to define blasphemy. The defining story is in Leviticus 24:10-16. The son of an Israelite woman whose father was an Egyptian went out into the camp of Israel. There, in a conflict with another man, he uttered a curse against Yahweh. The alarming incident was reported to Moses, the son was arrested and judgment was issued. The man was sentenced to death for blasphemy of the name of Yahweh. From these two words we get an adequate understanding of blasphemy, namely, uttering with clear intention a curse against the name of Yahweh. Understanding key Hebrew words in Leviticus 24:10-16. In Leviticus 24:11 are two words for “curse,” i.e., a spoken judgment against someone for being or doing evil—qavav and qalal. The son of the Israelite woman uttered a curse against [qavav – “blaspheme”] the Name and cursed [qalal]. So they brought him to Moses. (Now his mother's name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.) The first word, qavav (“to utter a curse against”) is generally translated “blaspheme” in most English Bibles. It has nothing to do with pronouncing the Name as the JPS (1985) Tanakh renders the verse. Clearly, from the context of the Hebrew language, the word refers to the evil intent of the human heart vocalized against Yahweh. In a curse, God is judged by the curser for perpetrating and doing evil. The disturbing and distressing act condemns the Holy One of Israel as an Evil One. Such was and remains the true nature of blasphemy according to the Bible. The blasphemy was judged severely, even death by stoning. In this critical passage of Leviticus 24:15-16 shown in its Hebraic literary form, Moses explained his judgment. Frame [Yahweh said:] “You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, Reverse concentric symmetry A ‘If anyone curses [qalal] his God [Elohim], then he will bear his sin. B And anyone who blasphemes [naqav] the name of Yahweh shall surely be put to death. B¹ All the congregation shall certainly stone him. A¹ The lien as well as the native, when he blasphemes [naqav] [the] Name, shall be put to death.’” The weight and emphasis of this literary structure is upon the first and last statements represented by the letters A and A¹. The middle lines B and B¹ reflect the content of the passage back to its extremities. Critically important to learn from the Hebraic structure and style is that A and A¹, the main points, reinforce the biblical Hebraic definition of blasphemy as cursing Yahweh’s name, i.e., as bringing a personal judgment against Him as one who perpetrates and does evil. Of the above Scripture, the wording in Hebrew” for “blasphemes [the] Name is naqvo-shem (“blasphemes-name Yahweh”), from the words naqav (“blaspheme”) and shem (“name”). Another word for blasphemy, thus, appears—naqav. In this story in Leviticus 24, three words convey the act of blasphemy—qavav, qalal and naqav. The two Hebrew words for “curse” are qavav and qalal, as previously noted. Unlike these two words, however is naqav. This word does not mean “to curse.” But, in this passage, they are all treated by context as synonyms. Besides “to blaspheme,” the Hebrew word naqav has others shades of meaning that give us a richer, deeper picture of how the word is used in this passage. The first time it is found in the Bible, it means “to designate,” “stipulate” or “name” something specifically. In Genesis 30:28, Laban said to Jacob: “Name [naqav] me your wages, and I will give it.” The idea “to name,” in this case, to name a price, is to be specific, precise and intentional. In Numbers 1:17 Moses “designated” the heads of the divisions of Israel. The designations were intentional (cf. 1 Chronicles 12:31; 16:41; Ezra 8:20). The working idea is to “name” or “mark” a select or chosen group with intent to separate and “distinguish” from the others. Such was the choosing of Israel from among the nations as Yahweh’s covenant people. The power of the word is that it calls something out, designating it specifically. Or it sets something up in a precise manner to be differentiated from the others. No wonder the word was used in a variety of ways where distinction and accuracy were desired, including the field of engineering. Drilling a hole in a chest for collecting funds in 2 Kings 12:9 is the same word. In this case, it meant “to bore” [naqav] a hole in a precise manner for a specific purpose. What was bored, the wooden chest, was distinguished and designated for a certain purpose—to collect funds for the temple’s repair. The word naqav also means “to pierce”—to pierce something, or someone, with a spear or stave by deliberate intent. The one pierced is a designated target, distinguished from the others. The target person or thing is marked to be pierced by a spear or stave. Such is the effect of a wanted poster for a criminal on the loose. The criminal is a “marked” man for capture. The prophet Habakkuk (3:13-14) describes Yahweh’s premeditated force against evil as being like a spear that “pierces.” The evil is identified and designated as the target of his wrath: You went forth for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You struck the head of the house of the evil to lay him open from thigh to neck. Selah. You pierced [naqav] with his own spears the head of his throngs. If the word naqav means “to designate, to specify, to target precisely, to distinguish from among others,” why is the word naqav also a word used for “blaspheme”? What do we make of Leviticus 24:16 where the command is given, “And whoever blasphemes [naqav] the name of Yahweh shall surely be put to death”? The answer lies with the intent of the heart of the one cursing God. We understand it by context in this story about cursing Yahweh. The cursing, as shown by the two words qavav and qalal, is a personally pronounced judgment against Yahweh as being evil. The word naqav shows that the curse is a “designation’ of Yahweh as evil—thus the Holy One is called “the Evil One.” It is intentional and deliberate. The choice of the word naqav shows the all-sided conviction of the one cursing towards Yahweh. No repentance is sought for his or her actions. Nor is there a glimmer of hope of the apostate person ever desiring to repent. Such is the way of the apostate. In Hebrews 6:4-6, the writer of the letter admits as much: For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and [then] have committed apostasy, [it is] impossible to renew them again to repentance, since [i.e., by their apostasy] they again [i.e. repeatedly] crucify to themselves [i.e., in their own minds condemn] the Son of God and put Him to open shame. They almost never desire to repent. The heart of the apostate is one who sees and declares Yahweh and his work as evil. He is a blasphemer with a cold heart towards God. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, the apostle Paul spoke of a future time when apostasy would become prevalent: “Let no one in any way deceive you, for [it will not come] unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction …” He signaled a time when God’s judgment would come methodically and swiftly upon the earth when mankind would no longer seek repentance. For to repent, for them, would be to acknowledge Yahweh as the true and Holy One of Israel. The exorbitant cost of the post-exilic ban. By defining blasphemy biblically, we see that a major distortion in the interpretation of the Torah, Prophets and Writings (the Tanakh) occurred during and after the Babylonian exile. The “fence” around the Torah did a disservice rather than a service to the people of Israel. Likewise, the “fence” around the name Yahweh was a disservice to Israel and the world. Blasphemy was no longer the uttering of a curse against Yahweh as being or doing evil. With the protective “fence” built around the Torah and the name of God, to speak the name Yahweh became a grave offense. The name of God—Yahweh—once revealed to Israel’ patriarchs and matriarchs, was driven from Jewish society. In the name of self-righteous reverence, his Name became hidden to the people. His name was rejected and expelled from conversations in homes, while walking along the road, from government offices and the public square. The Shema, though spoken dutifully, was cloaked in substitute words for the holy Name. The priests in the temple silenced their voices, speaking only in euphemisms and allusions. The scribes and teachers of the Torah cultivated a new order of learning by inference and indirectness without a revelatory relationship of God according to his Name. The prophets were dead. None remained to say, “Thus says Yahweh.” Yeshua (Jesus) clearly understood the demeaning of Yahweh’s historical and personal revelation to Israel as persisting among his people’s leaders, both in the temple and synagogue. Nevertheless, He had a devoted sense of mission to “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:6; 15:24) to offer them the kingdom of God. Many followed Him. Blasphemy was no longer the uttering of a curse against Yahweh as being or doing evil. With the protective “fence” built around the Torah and the name of God, to speak the name Yahweh became a grave offense. The name of God—Yahweh—once revealed to Israel’ patriarchs and matriarchs, was driven from Jewish society. In the name of self-righteous reverence, his Name became hidden to the people. His name was rejected and expelled from conversations in homes, while walking along the road, from government offices and the public square. The Shema, though spoken dutifully, was cloaked in substitute words for the holy Name. The priests in the temple silenced their voices, speaking only in euphemisms and allusions. The scribes and teachers of the Torah cultivated a new order of learning by inference and indirectness without a revelatory relationship of God according to his Name. The prophets were dead. None remained to say, “Thus says Yahweh.” Yeshua (Jesus) clearly understood the demeaning of Yahweh’s historical and personal revelation to Israel as persisting among his people’s leaders, both in the temple and synagogue. Nevertheless, He had a devoted sense of mission to “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:6; 15:24) to offer them the kingdom of God. Many followed Him. Blasphemy was no longer the uttering of a curse against Yahweh as being or doing evil. With the protective “fence” built around the Torah and the name of God, to speak the name Yahweh became a grave offense. The name of God—Yahweh—once revealed to Israel’ patriarchs and matriarchs, was driven from Jewish society. In the name of self-righteous reverence, his Name became hidden to the people. His name was rejected and expelled from conversations in homes, while walking along the road, from government offices and the public square. The Shema, though spoken dutifully, was cloaked in substitute words for the holy Name. The priests in the temple silenced their voices, speaking only in euphemisms and allusions. The scribes and teachers of the Torah cultivated a new order of learning by inference and indirectness without a revelatory relationship of God according to his Name. The prophets were dead. None remained to say, “Thus says Yahweh.” Yeshua (Jesus) clearly understood the demeaning of Yahweh’s historical and personal revelation to Israel as persisting among his people’s leaders, both in the temple and synagogue. Nevertheless, He had a devoted sense of mission to “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:6; 15:24) to offer them the kingdom of God. Many followed Him. The distorted definition of blasphemy imposed by the ban on speaking the name Yahweh was costly to the people of Israel. Regretfully, too, the ban was costly to the nations dependent on Israel to be to them the light of revelation of the name of Yahweh. How should we compare the post-exilic period unto the time of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus)? The prophet Jonah serves the purpose well. He was anti-Gentile, and vigorously so. The great sin of Jonah was his fleeting attempt to hide the name of Yahweh from the Gentile city of Nineveh. He was afraid they would hear and repent according to the Name. He fled, but unsuccessfully from his assignment. Even upon his successful mission to Nineveh with Nineveh repenting, he complained to Yahweh. What was his complaint? When you compare Jonah 4:1-3 in light of Exodus 34:6-7 where the name of Yahweh is declared along with his attributes, the issue Jonah had against Yahweh becomes clear. The attributes of the name of Yahweh was the heart and soul of his message to Nineveh about repentance. He refused to go and tell Nineveh about the attributes of Yahweh’s name. This sin was the same sin of the Great Assembly and, later, the Sanhedrin as shown in their legal efforts to diminish and hide the holy Name from each other and the world. The cost for quarantining and hiding the name of Yahweh from within Israel and from the world took a costly toll on Israel and an exorbitant cost for Yahweh. The cost for God? He sent his Son Yeshua (Jesus) as the supreme price of heaven to put the name of Yahweh on display within the house of Israel. To see Him was to see the Father. He was to call God’s people to repentance, to beckon them to turn back to Yahweh. The cost for Israel was enormous. Though it claimed to be Torah observant, actually it was observant of the “fence” around the Torah, its covenantal sign, the Sabbath, and the name of God. The “fence” became the Law. Torah observance within Jewish society from the post-exilic times unto today is almost always “fence” observance. Substitution of the “fence” for the authentic Torah is another dreadful form of what is called “replacement theology,” this time replacing the Torah with the “fence” around it. Yeshua (Jesus) offered Israel its only hope to escape its self-imposed “fence” worldview and hermeneutic for decision-making. In Matthew 5:17-18 his words are preserved: Do not think that I came to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fill them up. He became the fullness of the written Torah in human flesh, offering the Torah of Messiah to all who received Him. His mission to the lost sheep of Israel had this in focus all the time. As many as received Him, they became children of God (cf. John 1:12). What does the Torah say about the Name? Does it restrict its use or ban it as “the fence of Torah” does? In the Torah is the story of Yahweh delivering Israel out of Egypt. At one point in the drama, Yahweh addressed Pharoah through Moses: But, indeed, … I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you my power and in order to proclaim my name through all the earth. (Exodus 9:16) According to Yahweh, his name is to be declared, not banned, nor outlawed or hidden. The Rabbinical precept that the Name should be “hidden” and “kept secret,” as taught by Talmudic tradition (cf. Pesach 50a; Kiddushin 71a) is braced against the Torah precept that the Name should be “proclaimed through all the earth.” The Great Assembly and, later the Sanhedrin, produced a tradition of reading euphemisms in place of the name Yahweh when reading the Bible. The text was even altered in places. For example, the four-letter name YHWH was changed in the Hebrew Masoretic text to Adonai 134 times. These deliberate alterations of the biblical text were recorded in the Masorah (cf. 107:15, C. D. Gingsburg edition). The Great Assembly, and later, the Sanhedrin assumed unlawful authority over the Bible—that is, they put in place an injunction against Yahweh’s own word. In advance, Moses, who received the Torah, warned Israel about adding and taking away from the Torah: “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of Yahweh your God which I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2) “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to nor take away from it [the Torah]. (Deuteronomy 12:32) What did the Prophets teach about speaking the Name of God? Isaiah proclaimed the words of Yahweh: “My people shall know my name” (Isaiah 52:6). No euphemism was implied, no substitute name desired by Him. He not only seeks to dwell among his people so that they may be his people and He their God, but He desires his people to know Him by his name. The prophet Jeremiah, likewise, declared the word of Yahweh to Israel: “Therefore behold, I am going to make them know—this time I will make them know my power and my might. And they shall know that my name is Yahweh” (Jeremiah 16:21). Jeremiah, further, prophesied the day that the people of Israel would be under powerful influence and illusion to forget the name Yahweh. In Jeremiah 23:21-27, Yahweh speaks about this turn of events: I did not send [these] prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have announced my words to my people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds … Is there [anything] in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even [these] prophets of the deception of their own heart who intend to make my people forget my name …? Zephaniah anticipated a future day where the name of Yahweh would be called upon by the people of God because of the words Yahweh spoke to him: “For then I will give to the peoples purified lips that all of them may call on the name of Yahweh” (Zephaniah 3:9). The original composition of the Great Assembly after the Babylonian exile included prophets according to tradition. Assumed to be among the prophets were three who wrote books of the Bible: Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Did they support the ban on pronouncing the name Yahweh? The answer is no, they did not. A ban would be unacceptable to them. Listen to the prophet Malachi: Then those who feared Yahweh spoke to one another, and Yahweh gave attention and heard. And a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear Yahweh and who esteem his name. (Malachi 3:16) What about the Writings? The Psalms tell the story. And those who know your name will put their trust in You, for You, Yahweh, have not forsaken those who seek You...” (Psalm 9:10) Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known my name. (Psalm 91:14) Let them praise Your great and awesome name. Holy is He. (Psalm 99:3) My mouth will speak the praise of Yahweh, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever. (Psalm 145:21) Let them praise the name of Yahweh, for His name alone is exalted. His glory is above earth and heaven. (Psalm 148:13) Under the oppressive measures of erecting a “fence” around the Torah and the name of Yahweh, the people of God gradually lost their vital relationship with Yahweh. His last three prophets—Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi died. No prophets arose again until the coming of the Messiah. Perilous times to mention the ineffable Name. Historical evidence shows that if anyone, whether Yeshua (Jesus) or not, spoke the name Yahweh during the first century, if accused by two or three witnesses, his or her life was imperiled by the court. Practicality warrants that no one would utter the name of God publicly during the first century. It was too risky. The question arises, then. Why would Yeshua (Jesus) do it as He was so charged before the Sanhedrin? If, at some later date, his disciples spoke the Divine Name, why would they do it? To speak the ineffable Name was surely done at one’s own peril. We would be safe to say that before the ministry years of Yeshua (Jesus), He did not mention, at least publicly, the banned Name. His parents taught Him to be observant as they were observant of the Torah. Of course, the Torah did not banish the name of God from being spoken. But they taught Him also to be observant of the legal yoke of the “fence” imposed on them by the “fence” around the Torah, around its covenantal sign, the Sabbath, and around the name of God. Yeshua (Jesus) was both Torah observant, and, at least for most of his life, “fence” observant. During his ministry, Yeshua (Jesus) constantly addressed the abuses of the “fence.” For Him, it was an unwarranted and untenable yoke upon God’s people. Instead of the Great Assembly transmitting the Torah, Prophets and Writings faithfully to the next generation, the entrusted group of 120 men reinterpreted and misapplied it. They violated it, substituting for it a new tradition for Israel. The Great Assembly, for Yeshua (Jesus), departed from the ancient path given by Yahweh to the Patriarchs and Moses. Yeshua (Jesus) made searing statements recorded dutifully in the Gospels that addressed the weighty abuses of the Scriptures by the heavy yoke of the post-exilic tradition of the elders: Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and “you will find rest for your souls.” For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30) He severely criticized the blindness of the Pharisees and scribes in following and preserving the tradition of “fencing” the Torah: Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Yeshua [Jesus] from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? … And [by this] you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. (Matthew 15:1-3, 6; cf. Mark 7:1-5) The apostles chaff under the heavy yoke of the “fence.” After the death, resurrection and ascension of Yeshua (Jesus) to heaven, and upon the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the festival of Shavuoth (Pentecost), the apostles began to call the people of Israel and, significantly with Peter and Paul, to call the Gentiles to receive the kingdom of God. The apostle Peter, seeing that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon believing Gentiles, chaffed under the oppressive yoke imposed by the Great Assembly and, later, the Sanhedrin. He called the people back to their roots in the Torah, Prophets and Writings away from the tradition of the elders. In regard to the admission of Gentiles into the fellowship of believers in the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), he said: And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us. And He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Yeshua [Jesus], in the same way as they also are. (Acts 15:8-11) Peter remained Torah observant, but not “fence” observant. Later, the apostle Paul reminded the Galatians of his zeal for the tradition of the elders before Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) was revealed to him enroute to Damascus: For you have heard of my former manner of life among the Jews, how I used to persecute the assembly of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing among the Jews beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:13-14) He then explained his persuasion for the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) and, in different letters, the fullness of Messiah’s revelation anticipated in the Scriptures apart from the “fenced” tradition of his fathers. In matters pertaining to the “fence” around Torah, circumcision, the Sabbath and other matters, he saw it as a genuine barrier to receiving the revelation of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) as the physical fullness of Torah. Paul remained Torah observant, but not “fence” observant. The end of the mission—to Jerusalem! Yeshua (Jesus) met with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi in Galilee. The occasion became the linchpin between his Galilean ministry and his last days ministry in Jerusalem. After this event, Yeshua walked his last journey to Jerusalem with his disciples. There he would be put to death. At this meeting with the Twelve, the question arose as to the identity of the Messiah: Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Yonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal [this] to you, but my Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Messiah. From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. (Matthew 16:16-21) At this time He set his face towards Jerusalem for Passover (cf. Luke 9:51). Setting for Yeshua’s (Jesus’) statement about the temple. Upon arrival in Jerusalem, Yeshua (Jesus) went to the temple. He found the temple being desecrated by money changers selling their sacrificial animals in the Court of the Gentiles. “Stop making my Father’s house a place of business,” he said to them (cf. John 2:16). The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of his body. (John 2:18-21) Possibly the two accusers of Yeshua (Jesus) were among the moneychangers, for they were merited as being eyewitnesses. Yeshua’s two accusers were dismissed. With a biblical understanding of blasphemy, we return to the portion of text in Matthew 27:63-65 where Yeshua (Jesus) was being accused by two witnesses of blasphemy. The two eyewitnesses of Yeshua’s declaration about the temple had given testimony. As shown earlier, the charge was blasphemy for saying, “the temple of Yahweh.” The time for questioning Him arose. The high priest, Caiaphas, took the lead: And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Yeshua [Jesus] said to him, “You have said it: nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see ‘the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They answered, “He deserves death!” Something radically happened in the way Yeshua (Jesus) answered the query. It immediately evoked the charge of blasphemy by the high priest and a call by the Sanhedrin, all eyewitnesses, for his death.