Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Is the Servant of Isaiah 53 the Messiah or Collective Israel? (vs. Ari G.)

Monday, June 14, 2004


The following exchange, which I enjoyed very much, was undertaken on a public Catholic bulletin board in early September 2001 with an Orthodox Jew whose name on the board was "Ari G." His words will be in blue. I asked him if he would like to list his e-mail address or perhaps an organization, for the sake of readers who wished to inquire further of Jewish positions on these matters. He responded with the following statement, which I reproduce verbatim:

The best resources to post would be Outreach Judaism and Jews for Judaism, both of which are committed to helping born Jews see through the deceitful tactics of missionary organizations like "Jews for Jesus" and other so-called "messianic Jewish" groups. I don't claim any particular knowledge in this compared to the scholars working for both of these organizations. Much of the material I posted comes from R.[Rabbi Tovia] Singer's tapes and study guide. If you choose to post my responses, be sure to acknowledge that fact.

Isaiah 52:13 - Isaiah 53 (RSV)

13 Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.
14 As many were astonished at him--his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the sons of men--
15 so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which
has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall
1 Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no
form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as
one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten
by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was
the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD
has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led
to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had
done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself
an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD
shall prosper in his hand;
11 he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the
righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the
strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

. . . Isaiah 53 says nothing about a son of G-d or a Messiah. That is absolutely a Christian invention.

I have not found this to be the case [see my accompanying paper: "Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Ancient and Medieval Jewish Bible Commentators and the Messianic Interpretation of Isaiah 53"]. Granted, as far as I know, it is indeed true that the majority of historic and present Jewish opinion would equate the "suffering servant" with Israel as a nation. But not all Jews have done so; thus the notion that this is "absolutely a Christian invention" is untrue.

Let me help you a bit. First of all, recognize that while nowadays we use the term "Messiah" to mean almost exclusively the promised heir of David ("the David Messiah") whose coming will signify the start of the Messianic age, that was not always true. Around the time of Jesus, the term was as likely to mean the Josephite Messiah. This man is the one who will die in the gates of the city when the nations march on Jerusalem in the End of Days. It will be his death that will cause the Jews to repent and return to G-d and Torah. Every reference I have ever seen which identifies the Servant with the Messiah refers to the Josephite Messiah, not the Davidic one - and even those are inevitably homiletic.

Before this time - and certainly when the books of the Hebrew Scriptures were written, the term "messiah" was more general, simply referring to any person in a position of authority, such as a king or priest or prophet.

That the servant has traditionally been understood to be Israel - or more specifically the "righteous remnant of Israel" is attested to by Origen in his Contra Celsum. He notes that he told Jews that he knew that he believed Isaiah 53 to speak of the Messiah, and they answered that he was wrong - that it meant Israel.

From: Christology of the Old Testament and a Commentary on the Messianic Predictions, Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg (1802-1869; an orthodox Lutheran and eminent theologian), tr. by T. Meyer, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 4 vols., 1854-1858):

The Messiah is called "servant" in Zech 3:8 - a passage which is unanimously regarded as messianic, and also in Ezek 34:23-24. As for the collective interpretation: not one sure analogous instance can be cited in favor of a personification carried on through a whole section, without the slightest intimation that it is not a single individual who is referred to. In 53:3 the subject is called a man. In 53:11-12 a "soul" is ascribed to him. "Grave" and "death" seemingly imply a singular subject. If this were allegory, distinct hints would be present. In the passages where Israel is called "Servant," all uncertainty is prevented by the presence of the names of Jacob and Israel (Is 41:8-9, 44:1-2,21, 45:4, 48:20) and the plural is used alongside the singular (Is 42:24-25, 48:20-21, 43:10-14). Several factors in the passage rule out a collective.

"Startle" in verse 15, comes from a word which is used for the sprinkling with the blood of atonement, and the water of purification (see Lev 4:6,16-17; also 16:14,18-19, 14:7, Num 19:19, Ezek 36:25, Ex 29:21). "Shoot" ("young plant") and "root" in verse 2 connect this passage with other messianic descriptions elsewhere. 53:5 ("peace" in KJV) is similar to the messianic Micah 5:5: "this one will be our peace." The phrase "cut off" (v. 8) occurs also in the arguably messianic Dan 9:26.

The messianic prophecies speak specifically of a root; I don't recall any that speak of growing like one. I don't see what word you are translating as "peace" - in any event, a common word like "peace" proves nothing at all. The phrase "cut off" also does not appear in the Hebrew. You cannot do exegesis on a translation if you are going to rely on single words which can represent multiple different Hebrew words.

Against this, weigh the fact that the vast majority of servant references are to Israel / Judah / Jacob; the fact that every time the Bible uses a phrase like "arm of the Lord" it refers to physical salvation of Israel from her enemies; the fact that the only other place that the Bible describes someone as committing no sins and having no deceit in his mouth is Zephaniah 3:13, which speaks of the remnant of Israel.

Verse 4 reveals the vicarious character of the sufferings, so that the servant is one who is greatly loved and admired. "Servant" occurs in Zechariah 3:8, a passage which is unanimously referred to the Messiah, and also in Ezekiel 34:23-24. Other instances of a suffering Messiah occur at Is 49:50, Daniel 9, Zech 9:9-10 and 11:12-13. Isaiah 11 has many striking points of contact with Is 53.

The first condition of the vicarious satisfaction of the servant is absolute righteousness (verses 9,11). The servant voluntarily bears sufferings (vss 10, 12) and he suffers quietly and patiently (53:7). The sufferings and sin of Israel had all been foretold, and the purpose and causes of it are irreconcilable with the reasons given in Isaiah 53 (see Lev 26:14 ff., Deut 28:15 ff., 29:19 ff., Isaiah 56-59, 42:24, 43:26-27. Israel's merits could not be the cause of their deliverance. According to Is 48:11 and chapter 42, deliverance is due solely to the mercy and grace of God (cf. Lev 16:20-22). Nehemiah 9, especially 9:20 ff., shows that Israel had little merit of its own.

The equivalence of 53:5-6: "our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; . . . with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray" and 53:8: ". . . the transgression of my people" clearly show the distinction and contrast between the Servant/Messiah and Israel, which is clearly in mind in verses such as 53:6: descriptions commonly applied to Israel in the Psalms and elsewhere. Likewise, the servant is contrasted with the Gentiles as well in 52:15: "many nations . . . kings." He is shown as the Redeemer of both.

Why Isaiah 53 Cannot Refer to the Nation of Israel, but Must be the Messiah

(c) 1997 Fred Klett - Reformed pastor [words in red] {abridged by Dave Armstrong}


The servant of Isaiah 53 is an innocent and guiltless sufferer. Israel is never described as sinless.

Not true at all; for example (Zephaniah 3:13):

those who are left in Israel; they shall do no wrong and utter no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall pasture and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.

Your source doesn't seem to be very familiar with the Scriptures, Dave - or else hopes his readers won't be. This description is almost identical with that of Is. 53:9.

Alright, Ari: granted there could be (and was and is) a righteous remnant who could theoretically atone for the sinners and the Gentiles and so forth (Catholics, too, believe in atonement of one person or many persons for the sake of another, all by and in the pure graciousness of God, based on OT precedents: Ex 32:30-32, Num 14:19-23, 46-48, 25:6-13, Prov 16:6). Israel obviously had cycles of wickedness and revival, just as the Catholic Church has had through the centuries. You know this full well. That is human nature and the fruit of sin.

Granting that, your exegesis still won't work in this particular context because it doesn't account for the suffering to be undergone by the Servant, referred to in subsequent verses. This gets back to the traditional Jewish dichotomy between the Suffering Servant-Messiah (Messiah ben Joseph) and the kingly, triumphant Messiah (Messiah ben David). You are illogically and unbiblically mixing the two here, and it doesn't succeed.

It utterly fails because in Isaiah 53 the following things happen the the Servant: he is "despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief"; he is "stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted," "wounded," "bruised," "chastise[d]," "oppressed," "afflicted," "by oppression and judgment he was taken away," "stricken for the transgression of my people." "It was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief." "He poured out his soul to death."

What, and none of these has happened to Israel??? You haven't read much of the history of antisemitism, if you think that, Dave.

I deal with this strain of thought [below]. You need to show me how it is relevant to the text.

Now, in the corresponding context of Zephaniah, none of this occurs; therefore, I maintain that it is an improper cross-reference (you are welcome to attempt another). That context is the familiar OT motif of the messianic age, or what Christians might call the Kingdom come in its fullness. It occurs after the Day of the Lord (Zeph 1:7,10,14-16,18, 2:2-3) and Judgment (1:15-18), including against Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem (1:2-6). And so on and so forth, throughout chapters 1 and 2 and 3:1-8.

And are you suggesting that the remnant represents a brand new group of people, distinct from the reast of Israel? That is not in the text!

The texts we have looked at suggest to me that they are transformed by direct supernatural intervention of God. They were present before, but God does a work in them to make them righteous.

The righteous remnant of Israel is here today, undergoing the same travails as the entire nation. It was first mentioned in I Kings 19:18 when Elijah complains that the entire nation is worshipping Baal:Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Ba'al, and every mouth that has not kissed him.

Who are they? Are they exclusively Orthodox? Are any Conservative Jews included? Or Reformed? What are the criteria for inclusion? Or do we not know who they are until Messiah comes and sweeps away the wicked ones (much like dispensationalist Protestant thought, with their rapture and "taking away" to heaven of the "spiritual elite" before the tribulation of the Last Days)?

Note that the wicked Israelites and Gentiles are being punished, "judged," "chastised," "oppressed," etc., not the righteous remnant (1:7,9). And do we see anything of this remnant atoning for the evil, wicked ones? No, not a bit of it. We see them gaining land (1:7), and plundering (1:9). Do they attain to righteousness of their own accord, in order to redeem and atone for others? No.

Again, the text says nothing about "atoning" - you are reading that in. The suffering of the remnant - and indeed all of Israel - is as a direct result of the sins of the nations. Surely you don't deny that oppressing and murdering Jews is sinful? And that the nations of the world have been engaged in this practice for millenia? And that the Jews bore this and were wounded as a result of it?

History is one thing. The application of it to a biblical text is quite another, and you'd better have some awful solid, compelling reasoning to convince me of such an application. So far you have offered none whatsoever for this strain of thought you have. You merely assume your interpretation and then marvel at how someone like me doesn't see the supposed self-evident truth of it.

That may be a manifestation of a commendable faith on your part -- you are a "true believer" -- but it is not reason, and it is not the art and science of exegesis and hermeneutics. I'm sure reasons for this notion have been suggested somewhere; but you haven't explained to me why you find this interpretation compelling.

God (by pure unmerited grace) changes their speech to "a pure speech," and causes them to "serve him with one accord" (3:9). God takes away their rebellion and pride and haughtiness (3:11) and creates humility in them (3:12). It was all God's doing; it wasn't as if there was a small group of Jews who had been totally righteous in the midst of a sea of wickedness, and then they heroically atoned for the others like Moses did for the rebellious Hebrews of the Exodus (and as the Suffering Servant does).

So that is the context. God mercifully rescues and nurtures a remnant for His purposes, in the messianic age. But there is not a single word of this remnant "atoning" in a substitutionary fashion for the wicked majority, as in Isaiah 53. This righteous remnant in Zephaniah undergoes no suffering like the Suffering Servant does. Apples and oranges . . . Who is more familiar with Scripture here? It looks like you didn't look at the context or take these factors into consideration at all.

Where in Isaiah 53 does it ever say the servant "atoned in a substitutionary fashion"???

Where in Isaiah 53 does it ever say the servant "is my people Israel"???

Does God "chastise" and "bruise" this Jewish remnant? Was it the will of the Lord to "bruise them" and put them to grief, and all the other sufferings referred to in Isaiah 53? No, not at all. Nor are the wicked ever described as being "made whole" or "healed," as in Isaiah 53:5. On the contrary, the remnant here (which you would have me believe is a more plausible alternative to the Messianic Servant of Isaiah 53) have quite an easy time of it!:

"None shall make them afraid." (Zeph 3:13) That was even included in your own quote, and serves as a mini-refutation of your exegesis in and of itself. They are not "put to shame" (3:11,19). They have no judgments or enemies (3:15). They "fear evil no more" (3:15). They have "victory" and festive joy (3:17-18). They have no more "disaster" or "reproach" (3:18). They have no oppressors and have "renown in all the earth" (3:19) and "praise among all the people of the earth" (3:20). Their "fortunes" are restored (3:20).

You are not paying attention. Zephaniah speaks of what will happen in the future, at the end of days. The speaker in Isaiah 53 is describing what happened to the servant in the past and astonishment at what has now happened, and how different it is. That is what is meant by restore your "fortunes" (actually, the Hebrew speaks of restoring "captives" not "fortunes").

Precisely my point. They are talking about two different things and times, which is why your cross-referencing is improper and illogical. Thanks for backing me up.

Here is what these two passages tell us: The nations have persecuted Israel, the righteous along with everyone else.

This is incoherent. You want the Servant to be a "righteous remnant," but when it is convenient, you will arbitrarily switch to all Israel, or the persecuted Jews in Nazi Germany, etc.

The nations have argued that Israel's suffering is for its own sins: rejecting Jesus, being "Christ-killers", a "damned race", poisoning wells, eating the blood of Christians in matzah, and every other calumny imposed on the Jews.

All unspeakably evil, and to be severely judged by God, but how do you know for sure that Isaiah 53 is referring to this? Does this mean you think the passage was literally fulfilled in 1933-1945, since you believe it refers to past events? If it was fulfilled before then, then the Holocaust could have nothing to do with it. Your interpretation strikes me as entirely incoherent and in places utterly arbitrary. It reminds me of Jehovah's Witness biblical interpretation, where they will say that the "two witnesses" spoken of in the NT book of Revelation are their first two presidents, or some ludicrous thing like that.

The nations have perceived benefit to themselves as a result of this oppression and so considered themselves "healed" whenever they pushed the Jews out of their midst. But at the end of days, the Jews (or at least the righteous ones left) will be made whole and the nations will see that the suffering of the Jews was not because of their own sins, but because of the sins of their oppressors.

I find this a quite fantastic and implausible interpretation of the passage. Sorry, but that is my opinion. You have once again baldly stated your opinion, but I want to know why you believe this, on the basis of the text itself.

This [Zephaniah 3] is supposed to be some sort of parallel to Isaiah 53 and the Suffering Servant? Where is the suffering, pray tell? Where is the atonement and healing of the wicked, straying Jews and Gentiles? The wicked in Zephaniah are utterly judged, whereas the remnant seems to have no difficulties at all (at the very least none are referred to). But in Isaiah 53, the Suffering Servant is chastised in order to heal the others. He suffers horribly and dies.

How is it that the remnant "dies" at all here? You can speak of the Holocaust and the horrific, abominable persecutions of Jews through the centuries, but those are simply not parallel to the context of Zephaniah, which occurs after the Jews are triumphant, in the messianic age. You can't just arbitrarily construct a bunch of connections, bringing in any conceivable parallels whatever. E.g., a Christian might conceivably refer to 1 million Armenian Orthodox being murdered by the Turks or 10 million Ukrainian Catholics being starved by Stalin and attribute to those terrible, equally earth-shattering events (for those experiencing them) some eschatological, biblical significance. I don't think proper exegesis and Bible commentary is nearly that simple.

Therefore, unless you can find a parallel of such a remnant of Israel which also atones, I think this attempt to turn the Suffering Servant into a collective (whether all Israel or a righteous remnant) fails miserably. Perhaps that is why so many eminent Jewish exegetes both before Christianity and in the Middle Ages (as I have now thoroughly documented beyond all dispute) held that the Suffering Servant was indeed the Messiah. They must have had some reasons to do so, whether or not they were the same or identical to mine, and those I have cited. And we know that their reasoning did not flow from a Christian bias or a real or alleged desire to deliberately twist biblical texts in order to convert Jews to Christianity. :-)

Isaiah 1:4 says of the nation: "Alas sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity. A brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters!" He then goes on in the same chapter to characterize Judah as Sodom, Jerusalem as a harlot, and the people as those whose hands are stained with blood (verses 10, 15, and 21). What a far cry from the innocent and guiltless sufferer of Isaiah 53 who had "done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth!"

The Hebrew word used in Isaiah 53:10 for "sin-offering" is "asham," which is a technical term meaning "sin-offering."

No, a chatas is a "sin-offering." The RSV translates asham as "guilt-offering" in Lev. 5-6, but for some reason chooses to translate it as "offering for sin" in Is. 53:10. There is a world of difference between them. An asham is an offering brought for a range of reasons; it is usually translated as "guilt-offering" because the most prominent reason comes in the case of someone who is not sure whether he has committed an unintentional sin for which he would owe a chatas, but feels guilty about it. Another reason to bring an asham is if he committed a crime involving deceit - and then changes his mind and confesses his crime without having been caught. There a number of other situations that involve an asham.

"Asham" is Strong's word #817. It defines it as "guilty" and "guiltiness," but also as a "sin-offering." The Jewish Scriptures of 1917, in its rendering of 53:12 (i.e., in the immediate context), states that the Servant "bore the sin of many," and at 53:11: "their iniquities he did bear," so I don't see why you are making an issue of this.

As I think I have mentioned, we don't tend to use translations to study the Bible. As a result, until very recently (the past two decades or so), there has been very little concern for accurate translations. The 1917 JPS is in fact taken extensively from the KJV, with some minor emendations to correct the worst mistranslations only. Don't rely on it as a source of Jewish theology or even accurate meanings of words.

Duly noted. But perhaps it can be somewhat helpful when insinuations of bias of Christian Bible translators is present, no? But if you have that low of an opinion of it, I'll stick to the RSV. I believe (if I recall correctly) that there may have been some Jewish consultants or participants when the RSV was done.

The concept is certainly there, beyond quibbling over single words. In Leviticus 5:5-10, "sin" and "guilt" and the offerings for same seem to be essentially identical. E.g., 5:6 in that version:

and he shall bring forth his forfeit [asham; 'guilt-offering' in RSV] unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin-offering [asham]; and the priest shall make atonement for him as concerning his sin.

So if even the Jewish version clearly equates the two concepts in its own translation, where is the beef? If we trace "asham" back to Leviticus 5 and 6 in the same Jewish Bible, in other verses, we find that it is translated "sin-offering" at 5:7, 5:8, and 5:9 (twice), and at 6:17, for a total of at least six times in those two chapters (I may have missed some further occurrences). In the fourteen occurrences of "asham" in Lev 5 and 6 that I have found, the Jewish Bible of 1917 renders it "sin-offering" six times, "guilt-offering" four times, and "burnt offering" and "forfeit" twice each. Do you wish to register a complaint as to the scholarship of the men who translated that Bible? Do you claim that you know better than they do about those passages?

By comparison, the RSV for those same two chapters renders "asham" as "sin-offering" only five times, "guilt-offering" seven times, and "burnt offering" twice. So the Jewish version uses "sin-offering" in those chapters more than either the RSV or the KJV (also 5 times). So much for your beef about the translation of it. In fact, I traced the comparative translations of the three Bibles over 29 occurrences of "asham" in Leviticus (5:6 [2], 5:7 [3], 5:8, 5:9 [2], 5:10, 5:15, 5:16, 5:18, 5:19, 6:17, 7:1, 7:2. 7:5, 14:12, 14:13, 14:14, 14:17, 14:21, 14:24, 14:25 [2], 14:28, 19:21 [2], 19:22). The usage (hence the context) seems to me to be essentially the same in these instances: the ritual, atoning sacrifice of Mosaic Law. The results are as follows:

"sin offering" RSV-6 / KJV-5 / Jewish Bible (1917)-6
"guilt offering" RSV-21 / KJV-0 / Jewish Bible (1917)-18
"trespass offering" RSV-0 / KJV-22 / Jewish Bible (1917)-0
"burnt offering" RSV-2 / KJV-2 / Jewish Bible (1917)-2
"forfeit" RSV-0 / KJV-0 / Jewish Bible (1917)-3

Does this look like the translations are all that different from each other, or that sectarian or polemical bias is a significant factor here (as I think you may be implying)? The Jewish Bible is identical to the RSV in its English renderings of "asham" in the above passages 24 out of 29 times: a significant 83% rate of similarity. In Lev 6:17 it translates "asham" as "sin offering" whereas neither RSV or KJV do. It follows both of them in five other instances.

Now, you made an issue of how the RSV translated "asham" at Isaiah 53:10 ("offering for sin" - same in KJV), as if it were an improper or impermissible rendering. But based on what we have seen above and the context of Isaiah 53:10, where the next two verses even in the Jewish Bible mention the Servant's bearing "iniquities" or "sins" of others, it seems to me that this is entirely proper and not contrary to the context or overall meaning at all.

It is the Jewish Bible which has departed from linguistic precedent here, not the RSV (or KJV) by rendering the phrase, ". . . his soul would offer itself in restitution." This is a somewhat different concept (in English) and doesn't seem to square that well with other occurrences of "asham" in the Jewish Bible itself. So if there is any translational bias here, I submit that it would much more arguably be found in the Jewish Bible (but I am not making that argument myself - I am only being rhetorical at the moment). Certainly there is nothing wrong with the usage of "offering for sin" here, according to crystal-clear precedent in Leviticus.

It is also important to note that the RSV translation of this verse is simply incorrect. The key phrase which is there translated as "... when he makes himself an offering for sin..." contains only one verb - and that verb is feminine. The only feminine word in the phrase is nafsho - which means "his soul". Thus, the verse should read:The L-rd desired to oppress him and afflicted him; if his soul will make a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and live long days and the desire of the L-rd will succeed in his hand. There is nothing in the original Hebrew about making himself the offering.

I think your rendering of "guilt offering" is closer to the RSV and KJV than it is to the 1917 Jewish Bible's "restitution." RSV notes in a footnote, "Vg: Heb 'thou makest his soul.'" NRSV has a footnote, "meaning of Heb uncertain" and renders the phrase, ". . . you make his life an offering for sin." If "nephesh" (Strong's word #5315) is the same as your "nafsho" then I would argue that it has a wide latitude of meaning and that yours is largely a distinction without a difference.

The difference is who is making what, not the meaning of "nefesh" ("nafsho" means 'his nefesh'). It is "if his soul will make a guilt-offering" (or, "if he will concede guilt") rather than "if he makes his soul a offering [of any kind]". That is a world of difference. The RSV and KJV identified "his soul" as the object of the verb; in fact it is the subject of the verb. The RSV footnote is interesting, since it attempts to rationalize the change by translating tasim as "you will make" which is possible taken in isolation, but fails because there is no second person singular reference anywhere else in this passage and because it still is not possible to use "nafsho" as the object, from a grammatical standpoint in the Hebrew, without an additional grammatical particle that is missing.

I think context (particularly the passages I set forth above, suggesting "atonement") demonstrates the plausibility that he is offering himself, or that God is offering him as a sin-offering for the atonement of others (or both, as I would hold).

E.g., in Gen 2:7 the Jewish Bible reads: ". . . man became a living soul." In other words, "soul" ("nephesh") can be the equivalent of "man." MyGesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon gives this as the fourth possible meaning of "nephesh" (after "breath," "the soul," and "the mind"): "'animal,' that in which there is a soul or mind," and cites Gen 1:21,24, 2:7,19, 9:10. "Specially it is 'a man, a person,'" (Deut 24:7, Eze 22:25, Lev 4:2, 5:1,2,4,15,17, Ex 1:5, 16:16, Gen 46:18,27, Deut 10:22). A fifth meaning is "I myself, thou thyself."

Furthermore, I think context again mitigates against your alleged difficulty with the Servant making himself the offering. The Servant seems to suffer willingly, implied by "he opened not his mouth" (Is 53:7) and other more subtle hints throughout.

That does not follow. The Jews who went to the gas chamber did so without "opening their mouths"; the Jews slaughtered by the Ukrainians during the Chmielnicki massacres died without "opening their mouths"; most people led to execution go without screaming. It does not mean that they go willingly.

Granted. This was not a major point. I do think it is implied, though.

If it was the "will of the LORD" for him to suffer for the sake of atonement (53:10), then if he is any sort of obedient Servant his own will will be in line with that of the LORD's. So he offered his life up for this purpose.

But it doesn't say that he suffered for the sake of atonement!

Already dealt with.

How is it all that essentially different to say, e.g., that "I gave all my heart and soul to this project," as compared to "I gave myself fully for [or, devoted my life to] this project"? I don't see how much changes. You still have the exegetical difficulties above to sort through and figure out, for your collective interpretation to stand.

I think it all comes together in 53:12 (RSV): . . . he poured out his soul to death . . . he bore the sin of many . . . The Jewish Bible reads: ". . . he bared his soul unto death . . . he bore the sin of many." What is the distinction you are trying to make? He did it; he willingly did it. How is "pouring out your soul" for the purpose of bearing "the sin of many" different from "he makes himself an offering for sin"? I just don't see it.

It doesn't say that he "poured out his soul" for the purpose of bearing sin. Look at the actual RSV text: because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Note that these are in separate clauses. It says that the servant suffered. It does not say that the servant was willing to suffer, much less chose to suffer in order to bear sins. In fact, it was by bearing sins; as a result of the sins, that the servant suffered.

Okay; no particular response (for length's sake). Thanks for this observation.

I have to stop here. There is simply too much to address in one post, and a lot of this has been dealing with your seeing words (Like "atone") that are simply not present.

And you do not seem to be able to see ideas that are present, and parallels to levitical sacrifice and atonement elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures.

This is the problem with overlong posts. You go off on a tangent and make assumptions and waste your time and mine.

You have plenty of assumptions too -- no more evident than in your apparently purely fideistic acceptance of the notion that the Servant must be Israel, and could not possibly be King Messiah.

If you want to quibble about words at 53:10, then we simply respond with 53:12 and the overall context. That's how hermeneutics is done: by a comparison of verses and consideration of context for the sake of determining specific meaning.

See how it [asham] is used in Leviticus chapters 5 and 6. Isaiah 53 describes a sinless and perfect sacrificial lamb who takes upon himself the sins of others so that they might be forgiven. This cannot be true of the Jewish people as a whole, or of any other mere human.
The prophet speaking is Isaiah himself, who says the sufferer was punished for "the transgression of my people," according to verse 8. Who are the people of Isaiah? Israel. So the sufferer of Isaiah 53 suffered for Israel. So how could he be Israel?

Again, you have misread the passage. Start just one verse earlier (the chapter breaks are not in the original text - they were added by a Christian translator much later) and you will see (Is. 52:15-53:1):

[15] so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand:[1] "Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

This idiom should be very familiar: "Well, shut ma mouth - who'da thunk it?" Closing - and even placing ones hands over one's mouth in astonishment seems to be a near universal gesture. The ones who say "it was our ills he bore and our pains that he carried" and all the rest, are the kings of the gentile nations, who constantly oppressed Israel (cf. Durban) and are now astonished to see Israel elevated, as promised by numerous prophets.

I don't buy it. I think this is special pleading. Isaiah is speaking, and to his own people, as always throughout the book that bears his name. He addresses Zion and Jerusalem directly in 52:1-2 and to the Jews in 52:11 (particularly priests). Then Isaiah starts speaking of the Gentiles and the "nations" in v. 15, as you note, but that doesn't mean they are now the narrators. He is speaking about them, in the third person. Is this not obvious? There is no indication whatever that anyone but the Prophet is speaking in Isaiah 53. It may be a convenient assumption, in line with your overall interpretation, but what indication in the text makes you assume this in the first place?

No? Then why does he switch to the plural? Has Isaiah now cloned himself? "what we have heard" "we esteemed him not" and many other places.

I would suspect the plural is because Isaiah is now speaking for Israel as a nation or people, as one of them (or in personification), rather than as God's prophet reviling against or exhorting them.

Where else does Isaiah quote Israel speaking in astonishment?

This is nothing unusual at all, and you should know that. Examples of the above, or use of plural ("we," "us," etc.), to denote collective Israel "speaking": Isaiah 1:9, 16:6, 20:6, 22:13, 25:9, 26:1,8,13,17-18, 28:15, 30:16, 33:2, 36:7, 41:22-23,26, 42:24, 56:12, 58:3, 59:9-13, 63:19, 64:3-12. The last passage is particularly interesting in its parallels to Isaiah 53, where collective Israel is also speaking. That this is Israel is made very clear in Isaiah 63 and also 65. There can be no doubt whatsoever.

Isaiah 53:6: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 64:6: We have all become like one who is unclean and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Isaiah offers the solution, in Isaiah 53, for the dilemma of Isaiah 64: the atonement of the Messiah for the nation Israel, just as Moses, a figure of Messiah, atoned for Israel (Ex 32:30-32), even to the extent of being willing to be "blotted" out of God's "book."

It seems to me that commonly in the OT God speaks of other nations as also His people, such as in Is 19:25 ". . . Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, . . . ", or God (through a prophet) talks about how He will judge them, in the third person: "Edom shall become a horror . . " (Jer 49:17; cf. Ezek 25:12-14), ". . . Behold, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer against Babylon . . . " (Jer 51:1), ". . . I will stretch out my hand against the Philistines . . . " (Ezek 25:16), etc.

I don't recall very often, if at all, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Gentiles speaking for themselves, through a prophet, in prophetic literature (as opposed to historical narrative). I wouldn't be surprised if you could find an example here or there, but then they would probably be very clear in context, whereas this is assuredly not the case in Isaiah 53.

Such as Zechariah 8:23:

Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'"

Note that it is the nations coming to the Jews, saying that they are wrong, not the Jews coming to the nations.

I didn't think there wouldn't be such an example, but usually it is Israel speaking collectively, as in the numerous instances in Isaiah above. If you can find as many instances of Gentiles doing this in Isaiah as Jews, by all means do so, in order to bolster the plausibility of your exceedingly weak case that Gentiles are speaking in Isaiah 53.

The Jews don't have to go to the nations: they were the chosen people and had far more revelation in their possession than anyone else at that time (if not exclusively so). The Jews (like all of us) needed to go to God to repent and to seek a solution for their incessant sin. That solution was God's grace and atonement, applied to and working hand-in-hand with law-keeping, and a result of His everlasting Covenant with Israel.

They were no better (as a group) than anyone else, as history records. Certainly you can't read the Bible and not see this (arguably worse, because of how blessed and informed by God they were). On numerous occasions, God uses the Gentiles to judge the Jews (notably with Egypt and Babylon). And whatever remnant managed to keep untainted by sin and undefiled, that was purely a result of God's completely unmerited grace. Any other view than that cannot be biblically sustained for a second.

The straightforward, prima facie reading is that Isaiah is speaking to and about his own people, as in 53:8. That is the context of chapter 52 (as noted), and again in chapter 54. Israel (the subject of the address) is contrasted with the nations in 54:3. The covenant with Israel is referred to in 54:10. The messianic age is alluded to in 54:11-15, as in the passage in Zephaniah which you cited. And so forth throughout Isaiah and other prophetic books.

But you would have us believe that the "narrator" abruptly switches to the Gentiles at the end of Isaiah 52 and in Isaiah 53, before he switches back again in ch. 54 (with no clear textual indication that this has occurred) because it talks about the great wickedness of the people and need for atonement (as if that is not equally necessary for the Jews as well as the Gentiles).

If Hebrew had quotation marks you would be right in looking for them. But look at many many english texts and you will see frequent cases in which the punctuation is the only thing which tells you when a point of view changes. This is a quote. Narration frequently switches between the words surrounding a quote and the quote itself.

As I have shown, Isaiah often has Israel speaking collectively, and I noted (as I found these) how indeed it can be a sudden entrance into the text. What is strange in your exegesis is that you think the narrative abruptly changes from the Jews to the Gentiles. Please show me elsewhere in Isaiah where that happens. I have given many examples of the pattern I believe to be occurring in Isaiah 53.

Even your assumption that the Servant is a small righteous Jewish remnant presupposes that the vast majority of Israelites were not quite so worthy or holy. Being chosen by God does not suggest any inherent superiority to others. I should think that Jews would know that better than anyone else, being human and fallen as we all are. You know: Jesus said, "to whom much is given, much is required."

My interpretation (in line with many eminent Jewish interpreters) of Isaiah 53 as referring to the Messiah, atoning for the sins of Israel (and those of the whole world: you yourself say that Gentiles are being referred to) is perfectly consistent with, e.g., the "new covenant" of Jeremiah 31:31-40, where, again, God is doing all the work of transformation: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts . . . I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer 31:33-34).

Again, when Israel is made righteous in any collective sense, it is because God did some significant, supernatural miracle to bring it about. It wasn't because the righteous remnant somehow brought about atonement for the sinners in Israel, as in Isaiah 53 and King Messiah (as many Jewish exegetes refer to him in Isaiah 53), the Suffering Servant.

The figure of Isaiah 53 dies and is buried according to verses 8 and 9. The people of Israel have
never died as a whole. They have been out of the land on two occasions and have returned, but they have never ceased to be among the living.

You are not seriously suggesting that Jews have not died and been buried in great numbers, are you?

Of course not, but that is irrelevant to the issue at hand. If you want to insist on a collective "Servant," then if the Servant dies, it seems clear to me that the nation (or the remnant of it) would die, as the analogy is logically carried through. It isn't like nations have not died before (where are the Edomites today?). But note what you want to do; you want to have it both ways: when the collective Servant is referred to as dying, then you quickly switch horses in mid-stream and claim that this refers to individual Jews dying during various persecutions.

I think this is inconsistent and arbitrary exegesis and not particularly convincing, let alone compelling, at all. But if one insists on a larger interpretation no matter how much contrary evidence is brought forth, and won't allow the possibility of another (even falsely claiming that others are "Christian inventions" when they are not at all), that's the sort of incoherent methodology one comes up with.

Where does it say that the servant died?

53:8-9,12 and implied in 53:7 ("Lamb that is led to slaughter").

It speaks of his "deaths" - how is this less consistent with the deaths of many individuals of a nation?

I'm unaware of any English translation that renders "deaths" in 53:9. If you know of any, please inform me. Thanks. Indeed, that would be linguistic nonsense, as throughout the subject is referred to as "he" and "him." What sense does it make to say, "they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his deaths" ?

Would you deny that the deaths of individual Jews are deaths of Israel?

Yes. Israel is a nation. People are people. Nations can die, and have died. Even empires die. America didn't die when JFK was killed. Israel, likewise doesn't die with David's or Isaiah's or Moses' death. I find this a very strange strain of thought.

Or that many of these deaths are not directly attributable to the sins of the world who oppressed them?

Of course, but this is incoherent for the reasons above, and it has little to do with the text itself, since how were others "healed" and "made whole" (in the sense of Isaiah 53) by such sufferings? Don't get me wrong: as a Catholic I believe that all suffering can be applied to the redemption of others, because I believe that God worked this into His providential and redemptive plan (and Judaism appears to have a similar understanding). I don't think suffering -- even the most ghastly, unspeakable sort, as in the Holocaust -- is in vain.

But I would say that 10 million Ukrainian Christians being starved to death in the 1930s would help cause just as much redemption (by God's grace) as 6 million Jews in the Nazi concentration camps (if one can even speak of quantifying such things). I wouldn't apply either group of martyrs/victims to Isaiah 53 because I see no textual or biblical reason to. I understand that this is a very deep, painful, emotional point for Jews (I've been to the Holocaust Museum in the Detroit area, where I wept, and was quite moved and anguished), and I have seen many documentaries and movies about the Holocaust), but it is not related to biblical interpretation per se. It is my firm opinion that Isaiah 53 clearly refers to the Messiah, not a collective. It reads just like other messianic passages and has all the hallmarks of being about one man: King Messiah.

The verse does not say "as a whole"

It doesn't have to, nor could it, as that would be grammatical nonsense. If it is talking about a collective Servant, then the collective also dies. It's as simple as that. I don't see how you think it makes any sense to switch back and forth between collective and individual. You must either maintain the collective throughout, in which case it dies and is "cut off," or adopt the messianic interpretation, where the Messiah dies. The former makes little sense, the latter all the sense in the world.

So you are interpreting "cut off" to mean that the servant died?

Yes, given overall context and immediate context: "cut off out of the land of the living." If one is not in the land of the living, where are they? The Hebrew for "cut" is "gazar" (Strong's word #1504). According to Gesenius, it can have the meaning of "destroy," hence "kill" when applied to human beings, as in Isaiah 9:19, where it refers to the slaughter of war. Gesenius says that the literal meaning in Is 53:8 is "separated," but again, if you are separated from "the land of the living," where are you?

Well, Gesenius in his Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon gives a cross-reference (for Isaiah 53:8) of Psalm 88:6. "Gazar" appears in Ps 88:5:

like one forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom thou dost remember no more, for they are cut off from thy hand.

The context is "Sheol" and the "Pit" (88:3-4,6). The same word means to "perish" in Lam 3:54 and Ezek 37:11 (see entire context of 37:1-14). Other parallels exist:

For thou hast delivered my soul from death . . . I walk before the LORD in the land of the living. (Ps 116:8-9)

But God will break you down for ever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. (Ps 52:5; cf. 27:13, 142:5)

. . . I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years. I said, I shall not see the LORD in the land of the living; I shall look upon man no more among the inhabitants of the world. (Isaiah 38:10-11)

then I will thrust you down with those who descend into the Pit, to the people of old, and I will make you to dwell in the nether world, among primeval ruins, with those who go down to the Pit, so that you will not be inhabited or have a place in the land of the living. (Ezek 26:20; speaking of Tyre; cf. 32:23-27,32)

Did you ever wonder why the text doesn't simply say "died"?

It says "death" in 53:12. That's quite sufficient for me.

The word here is nigzar which literally means "divided" or "decreed". That all Jews have frequently been served with death sentences is again fairly apparent. Hitler, for example, did not declare that he was only going to kill some Jews; he tried to kill all of us. During the Chmielnicki massacres, it was all Jews against who the fatal decrees were issued. Your assumption seems to be based on misunderstanding of this word.

There's no point in recounting the horrors of massacres and Holocausts unless you can show me some solid reason for supposing that they are here spoken of.

- there are more than enough deaths of Jews to satisfy this verse. In fact, given that the word in Is. 53:9 is "deaths" not "death" in the Hebrew, it is much more credible to associate this with a group than an individual. This is further reinforced by the word lamo in 53:8, which the RSV chooses to translate here as "him" but everywhere else as "them."

I've done enough comparative biblical linguistics for one day. I still think you have insuperable textual and hermeneutical problems, without delving into this dispute over single words, where my resources are barely adequate as it is.

So what can we conclude? Isaiah 53 cannot refer to the nation of Israel. Of whom does Isaiah speak? He speaks of the Messiah, as many ancient rabbis concluded. The second verse of Isaiah 53 makes it crystal clear. The figure grows up as "a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground."

Compare this to Isaiah 27:6: In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots, and fill the whole world with fruit, and Hosea 14:5-7 (RSV):

[5] I will be as the dew to Israel; he shall blossom as the lily, he shall strike root as the poplar; [6] his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. [7] They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom as the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

The image of a growing plant is used in many many places to mean Israel. The messianic reference you are looking for is "root of Jesse" - which this does not say.

It can mean Israel. I have no problem with that. But it can also clearly refer to the Messiah, as in Isaiah 11:1 and forward, which I understand is virtually universally regarded as messianic by Jews. Messiah can be a figure of Israel as well as of David, Elijah, Moses, and what not, just as in Catholic Christian thought, John the Baptist is a figure of Elijah and Mary is a figure of the Church (and the ark of the covenant, for that matter). But I think Isaiah 53 is closer in form and content to Isaiah 11 (at least with regard to this point of a "shoot" and the messianic elements) than to Isaiah 27 or Hosea 14:5-7.

And you run into the same huge exegetical problem you had with Zephaniah: Isaiah 27 is about the messianic age. It is again referring to the Day of the LORD (27:1-2,12-13). There is not the slightest hint that Israel or a remnant of it atones for others through suffering. Yet you think this is somehow a parallel to Isaiah 53. Similarity in one minor respect does not constitute exegetical synthesis of entire passages.

Rather, God judges Jew and Gentile alike (27:7-8). The text speaks of "the guilt of Jacob" being "expiated" (27:9) by the sufferings undergone, but note that the expiation refers to Israel, not the Gentiles -- precisely the opposite of Isaiah 53, where (in your interpretation) the remnant is blameless and its suffering atones for the Gentiles. The context is, once again, post-judgment, re-gathering and peaceful worship in Jerusalem (27:13). How does that have anything whatever to do with either the Holocaust or the atoning sufferings of the Suffering Servant?

Likewise with Hosea. The exact same pattern applies, because it is talking about the same events. Israel has iniquity and needs to return to the LORD (14:1). God has to supernaturally make them righteous (as always): "I will heal their faithlessness" (14:4). Then we have your passage and the golden, glorious messianic age once again. Not a word about atonement for others, or even suffering of the remnant. There is simply no analogy here, so your comparative exegesis fails.

Yes, some terms can refer to Israel, but they also apply to Messiah elsewhere. But where you find parallels to your collective sense, the context has thus far always been vastly different, so that you have to go to the Holocaust and historical persecutions of the Jews to locate the suffering which is present in Isaiah 53, as opposed to finding it in the actual context of the biblical passages you submit as relevant to the discussion of Isaiah 53, which is what you must do for your view to succeed, it seems to me.

The shoot springing up is beyond reasonable doubt a reference to the Messiah, and, in fact, it is a common Messianic reference in Isaiah and elsewhere. The Davidic dynasty was to be cut down in judgement like a felled tree, but it was promised to Israel that a new sprout would shoot up from the stump. The Messiah was to be that sprout.

Several Hebrew words were used to refer to this undeniably Messianic image. All the terms are related in meaning and connected in the Messianic texts where they were used. Isaiah 11, which virtually all rabbis agreed refers to the Messiah, used the words "shoot" (hoter) and branch (netser) to describe the Messianic King. Isaiah 11:10 called Messiah the "Root (shoresh) of Jesse," Jesse being David's father. Isaiah 53 described the suffering servant as a root (shoresh) from dry ground, using the very same metaphor and the very same word as Isaiah 11. We also see other terms used for the same concept, such as branch (tsemach) in Jeremiah 23:5, in Isaiah 4:2 and also in the startling prophecies of Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12.

Messiah is the shoot who sprung up from the fallen Davidic dynasty. He became the King of Kings. He provided the ultimate atonement. Isaiah 52:13 states that it would be the Messiah who will "sprinkle" many nations. What does that mean? What was Messiah's ministry to be toward the nations? The word translated "sprinkle" or sometimes "startle" is found several other places in the OT. The Hebrew word is found in Leviticus 4:6; 8:11; 14:7, and Numbers 8:7, 19:18-19.

The references cited all pertain to priestly sprinklings of the blood of atonement, the anointing oil of consecration, and the ceremonial water used to cleanse the unclean. Is Isaiah 52:13 telling us that the Messiah will act as a priest who applies atonement, anoints to consecrate, sprinkles to make clean? (This vision of the Messiah as both priest and king is also found in Zechariah 6:12-13). But, priests were to come from the tribe of Levi and Kings from the tribe of Judah! What kind of priest is he? David told us Messiah would be a priest of the order of Melchizedek (see Psalm 110).


. . . granted there could be (and was and is) a righteous remnant who could theoretically atone for the sinners and the Gentiles and so forth.

Hold it - where do you get anything about the servant "atoning" for anyone? That is not in the text! There is nothing here which speaks of "atonement" (Heb. kapparah).

That particular word may not appear, but I think the concept certainly is present, by similarity to what is clearly spoken of as atonement in Leviticus and elsewhere. "Asham" is here in Isaiah 53, and it can be, and is, translated "sin offering." "Kaphar" (Strong's word #3722 ("atonement") is, of course, present in six of those passages in Leviticus I traced for the appearance of "asham" (5:6, 5:10, 5:16, 5:18, 14:21, 19:22). This is straightforward enough: the deaths and sacrifices of the Mosaic Law were for the purposes of atonement.

I have my suspicions about what you are reading, but please let me know for sure.

The Bible and Strong's Concordance. I need little else, the evidence for my position is so strong in this instance. I'm not going to Jews for Jesus or other "messianic Jewish" sites for this cross-referencing and linguistic stuff. God's inspired Word is enough for me.

If you could actually read the Bible in the original, you would know better.
The biggest problem with Strong's Concordance is that it obsfuscates almost as
much as it reveals. You need to use a concordance which shows where the same
forms of the word are used, and you need an interlinear translation which shows
the meaning of each word in context. Part of the problem is that Hebrew is
agglutinative and inflected. Strong's only shows the root (and sometimes errs in
identifying it). As a result, you completely miss the meaning of the text. For
example, "nefesh" and "nafsho" have the same root, but the first means "a soul"
while the second means "his soul." They are not interchangeable. "Mipesheihem"
means "from their sin", not simply "a sin" and certainly not "for their sin."

What are you reading, besides Rabbi Singer's stuff?

I am reading the Scriptures in the original Hebrew.

I don't know if it is a translation problem or you are simply reading in what your theology wants you to see.

Everyone has their theological biases, wouldn't you agree? Or do you fancy that you have none, while all the presuppositional biases are on my (and the larger Christian) side? The text is an objective standard we can both agree upon as authoritative, and we can work through our differences in a friendly, constructive manner by means of recourse to that, not suspicions of bias.

Only the original Hebrew is authoritative, not translations.

The fact that "asham" is found in this passage does not mean that the servant
acts as a substitutiary atonement. You will also find "asham" in passages
which have nothing to do with atonement, but merely speak of guilt, including
Genesis 26:10, Numbers 5:7, I Samuel 6:8, Psalms 68:21, Proverbs 14:9, and so
on. There is no basis for declaring that every chapter that includes the word
"asham" is about atonement of any kind.

Furthermore (as I previously mentioned), other persons can make atonement, not just lambs and goats. Moses did so, in Exodus 32:30 (same word: "kaphar"). And I don't believe he was even a priest.

He wasn't; you only need a priest to bring an offering. All you have managed to
show is that offerings are not the only way to atonement.

Aaron made atonement for the people with incense, in Numbers 16:46-48 (same Hebrew word again). In another instance of "kaphar," Phinehas slew two Baal-worshipers, thus making atonement for Israel (Numbers 25:11-13). "Loyalty and faithfulness" bring about "atonement" ("kaphar"), in Proverbs 16:6.

Yes, that is quite correct - you don't need blood sacrifice for atonement. You
have shown several examples.

The Suffering Servant (whatever or whomever you think it/he is) does the same, because "asham" was applied to him/it in Isaiah 53:10: ". . . you make his life an offering for sin . . . " (NRSV)

As I believe I have explained already, that translation is not warranted by the
Hebrew, although it is less egregious than the one in the RSV. "his soul" (or
"his life" if you prefer) is the subject of the verb, not the object, and as
you had already pointed out, "asham" does not only mean a guilt-sacrifice; it
means more generally guilt. That is, the servant is making the "asham" - which
either means that he is bringing an offering (not being one), or more probably
is acknowledging guilt for something.

He was "wounded for our transgressions" (53:5) and "bruised for our iniquities" (53:5). The people were "healed" by his "stripes" (53:5). "The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (53:6). There is reference to the Servant being "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter" (53:7) -- to me this suggests a clear parallel to levitical sacrifice (hence, atonement) --,

That is a real stretch, although given your assumption that Jesus is a
substitutiary offering, not surprising. There is also a reference to the
speakers going astry like sheep - are you going to say that the speakers were
also sacrifices? The use of the phrase "like a lamb led to slaughter" is
specifically qualified in the text as indicating the servants silence in the
face in persecution; not being sacrificed.

And you are reading too much into careless translations. For example, 53:5 says
that the servant was bruised from / as a result of the speakers'
iniquities, not "for" them. That is, the servant is not making up for
anything; rather it is the speakers who are directly responsible for the
suffering. As I said, this is because the Jews did indeed suffer when the
nations sinned by persecuting them.

and "stricken for the transgression of my people" (53:8). "He shall bear their iniquities" (53:11), and "he bore the sin of many" (53:12). In fact, "He shall bear their iniquities" (53:11), is similar to instances of atonement elsewhere (RSV):

Why have you not eaten the sin offering [minchah -- Strong's word #4503] in the place of the sanctuary, since it is a thing most holy and has been given to you that you may bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD?" (Leviticus 10:17)

"Bear" in Lev 10:17 is a different word (nacah -- Strong's word #5375) than "bear" in Isaiah 53:11 (sabal or cabal -- Strong's word #5445), but surely the concepts or ideas are virtually the same in the two passages. Scripture is not just single words; it is also sentences and thoughts and notions. Plus, two (or more) words can have very similar meanings.

I think there may be something wrong with your concordance. "mincha" does not
appear anywhere in Lev 10:17. The word for the sin-offering used in the verse is
chatas (Strong's #2403).

The key point that you seem to have missed in Lev. 10:17 is that the "bearing"
of the sin of the assembly is not the same as the atoning mentioned in
the same verse! From the fact that the verse needs to describe both goals of
eating the chatas in the proper place, it should be obvious that "bearing
a sin" does not mean "atoning" for it. If "bearing" sin meant "atoning"
for it, the second phrase would be unnecessary.

In Leviticus 20:19-20, the phrases "bear their iniquity" and "bear their sin" seem to be used synonymously, as in Isaiah 53:11 and 53:12. In the former case, the sinners bear their own sin, but in Isaiah, the Servant is vicariously bearing their sin for the purpose of atonement.

No, the servant is suffering as a result of the sin of others, just as the
sinners in Lev. 20:19-20 suffer as a result of their own sins. The passage still
does not say "atone" anywhere.

And Jewish commentators have seen atonement here, too:

The Messiah, in order to atone for them both [for Adam and David] will make his soul a trespass-offering, as it is written next to this, in the Parashah Behold My servant. And what is written after it? He shall see seed, shall have long days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Asereth Memroth)

Inasmuch as now at the end of the captivity there will be no prophet to intercede at the time of distress, the time of the Lord's anger and of his fury, God appoints His Servant to carry their sins, and by doing so lighten their punishment in order that Israel might not be completely exterminated. Thus, from the words, "he was wounded for our transgressions", we learn two things: first, that Israel had committed many sins and transgressions, for which they deserved the indignation of God; and second, that by the Messiah bearing them they would be delivered from the wrath which rested upon them, and be enabled to endure it, as it is said, "And by associating with him we are healed."

It was said, "The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all", and the prophet repeats the same thought here, saying that God was pleased to bruise and sicken him, though not in consequence of sin. The prophet next says, "When his soul makes a trespass offering", indicating thereby that his soul was compelled to take Israel's guilt upon itself, as it is said, "And he bore the sin of many". (Yepheth Ben Ali)

As I have said, I am not impressed by your ability to find isolated Jews whose 
words appear to support your position. You have to look at the total context of 
their comments, and to what extent their opinions are normative, and whether 
there are speaking homiletically.

What more do you need, my friend? I don't see how it could be any more explicit in its clear teaching of an atonement taking place here (but I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise if I have missed something). This is not exclusively Christian theology, either, as I have shown with references to righteous people doing this for others in Jewish history.

I have shown why your arguments don't add up to anything. When the Bible wants
to say that something atones, it knows how to spell the word. If it doesn't say
it, you need to show more evidence that the fact that it uses a word which is
also used in passages that do speak of atoning.

Dave, your "proofs" are based on mistranslations and misunderstandings. I suggest you find a source who actually can read the Hebrew Bible in the original.

I think I have shown that the matter is a bit more complicated than your simplistic triumphant summary of the alleged groundlessness of my case. I may not know Hebrew, but you seem to have great difficulty in examining biblical context and maintaining a coherent exegesis without glaring logical errors and lack of cross-referenced biblical support. I would say that one factor is as important as the other in these matters. I can barrel through my Strong's Concordance and muster up a halfway decent argument about Hebrew words and their usage. Can you, however, explain variously the passages I have critiqued as having nothing to do with Isaiah 53? I would like to see it.