I quite enjoyed "Reading Moses, Seeing Jesus"

Book by Seth Postell, Eitan Bar, and Erez Soref

I read it in a day (just 130 pages)! I actually heard about the book on Michael Heiser’s Naked Bible Podcast - a podcast you must listen to critically, I would say, but this was a good interview with Seth Postell. Just to give you a taste, Postell grew up in, it sounded like from his telling, a family that practiced Jewish tradition, took part in Jewish celebrations, but didn’t much read the Old Testament (Tanakh) - except he went to Jewish school, and in school they did read the Tanakh. And in school, reading the OT, he had the recurrent thought of “who put Jesus in my Bible?” His mother converted to Christianity when he was a teenager, which upset his father greatly as he thought it represented her turning her back on her own people. But, after a couple of years, he saw the changes in her, and asked her to explain to him why she believed in Jesus, but without referencing the New Testament, which he thought an anti-semitic book. So she read Isaiah 53 to him, and he said “I told you not to read to me from the New Testament!”. Oops. He converted to Christianity a few months later.

But what about this book?

That tells you something about one of the authors, but what about the book? The big argument of the book is that the point of the Torah, and the OT as a whole, is not “obey all these laws”, even though laws do take up most of the words of the Torah. Rather the big point is to point through the Law, toward a coming Messiah. The whole book is essentially to make that case, by looking at big themes in the OT, and by looking in detail at certain passages in the OT. And, and this is critical, the authors do not believe that you can reach this conclusion about the OT because you first read the New Testament and it changed all your thinking and now you can reinterpret the OT in light of the NT. No, pointing toward the coming Messiah is the big point of the OT, read carefully, by itself. And therefore, while the authors may not explicitly say this, I think they would agree that when the NT authors are making arguments for the Messiahship of Jesus rooted in OT texts, that isn’t something they can do because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit (although they were) and so now they can see things in the OT nobody ever saw before. No, it’s because they knew their OT very well (far better than most Christians today) and could make arguments that flowed with perfect legitimacy from that OT.

Before I give you a couple of examples, I was also impressed by the fact that the authors are quite willing to look for common themes in the Torah as a whole, or in the OT as a whole, or in the Bible (OT and NT) as a whole. Their book therefore gives a strong sense of a single divine author behind the human authors of scripture (these texts were written over many hundreds of years by many different humans, after all), so of course we would expect to see themes carried intentionally through multiple Biblical books. Therefore although it isn’t their primary goal in writing, reading this book can also increase your trust in the Bible (and its inspiration).

And now, a few examples

Let me just give you two examples to illustrate the style of argumentation.

  1. The deeds of the fathers are a sign to the sons.

    As part of their argument that the big point of the Torah cannot be “obey the Law”, they point out that if that is the big point… the Torah has a really awful introduction. Take a couple people, put them in literally perfect surroundings, give them one rule to obey, and they fail. Well shoot, if they failed, what hope is there for the rest of us? (By the “obey the law” strategy? None.)

    So why does Genesis begin with that story? Well one interpreting principle they keep coming back to is apparently a rabbinical principle of “the deeds of the fathers are a sign to the sons”,

    …Moses wrote stories about the patriarchs not only to tell us about the patriarchs (and about those who preceded them), but also to tell us what would happen to the descendants of the patriarchs (i.e. the nation of Israel) in the future.

    Although this could be argued to be “allegorical interpretation”, which is somewhat frowned upon today, they argue that it is an intentional feature of the text… and make a good case for it by noting strong parallels, sometimes down to individual word choice, in the Biblical stories, suggesting the later story is intentionally echoing the earlier.

    So, for example, comparing the stories of Abram in Egypt and the Exodus of Israel:

    In both accounts, we find (1) “heavy famine” (Gen. 12:10; 43:1); (2) descent to Egypt (Gen 12:10; 46.6); (3) a life-threatening situation to the males but not to the females (Gen. 12:12; Exod. 1:16); (4) “captivity” in Pharaoh’s service (Gen. 12:15; Exod. 1:11); (5) plagues upon the Egyptians (Gen. 12:17; Exod. 7-12); (6) expulsion from Egypt because of the plagues (Gen. 12:20; Exod. 12:33); and (7) the departure from Egypt with great wealth (Gen. 12:16; 13:2; Exod. 12:35,38). The story of Abram and Sarai’s sojourn in Egypt due to a great famine, God’s striking of Pharaoh’s house with plagues, and their “exodus” from Egypt with great riches (Gen. 12:10-13:2) reveals not only what happened to Abram and Sarai but also prefigure what will happen to Israel over 400 years later (Gen. 43:1 - Exod. 12:38).

    Now I well imagine you could read that and think “uh huh… somewhat parallel stories is just a thing that happens sometimes, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything”. And I would be skeptical too, especially if this was their only example. But they spend much of the book pointing out parallels like this, often to the word. For example they also parallel the story of Noah and Moses, two significant figures in God’s redemptive plan. Noah, as we know, was saved out of water by means of an ark (tevah in Hebrew). And Moses, of course, as an infant, was saved out of water by means of a… tevah as well. English translation usually renders it as “basket”, but Hebrew has a specific word for basket (bal), so why would Moses (and these authors have no hesitancy about saying Moses wrote the Torah) use tevah instead? Because he was intentionally calling the reader’s mind back to the Noah story to intentionally draw parallels between the two stories, that’s why.

  2. Jacob blesses his sons and points toward the coming Messiah.

    I quite enjoyed this chapter, really about how the Torah repeatedly blazes a genealogical trail toward the coming seed of the woman (the Messiah). The story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38, for example, breaks up the narrative about Joseph - why? To intentionally depict Perez as another Jacob and therefore the heir through which God’s promises to Jacob will come. The parallels are fun.

    Jacob’s birth narrative from Genesis 25:

    When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out all red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

    And Perez’s birth narrative from Genesis 38:

    When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb. And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore his name was called Perez. Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.

    As the authors point out: two twins that struggle in the womb, the younger supplants the older, and the displaced brother is identified by the color red. To even write that, you can see that the authors think everything in the Bible is there for a reason, with important themes (pointing toward the Messiah) carried out intentionally over hundreds of years in real time.

    The authors go on to discuss the messianic prophecy in Jacob’s blessing of his sons, especially in Genesis 49:8-12:

    Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the people’s. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.

    Isaac spoke very similar words to Jacob in Genesis 27: “Let people’s serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.” But what is especially striking about Isaac’s words are… it didn’t really happen. Jacob only had one brother (Esau), so all this stuff about “your brothers”, applied in the most literal way, makes no sense. And when Jacob and Esau are reunited, Jacob and his family bow down to them. So what is going on? What is going on is that Isaac’s words were not finally fulfilled in Jacob himself, but will be through Jacob’s seed, the coming Messiah.

    And that is the sort of sense you get from this book again and again. “You didn’t realize the Messiah was in this chapter, but that’s because you weren’t reading it carefully enough. Look again.”

One concern with the book

The weakest chapter in the book is also the shortest chapter in the book, “God’s compromised ideals”, just five pages to deal with the common question, “what about all those weird rules in the Law?”, whether that be rules about not wearing garments of mixed fabric, or rules about slavery that we would now frown upon. And the authors’ big answer here is basically that God gave rules to make the Israelites better people, and to point them toward him, without trying to totally upend their culture, which culture was rather typical for their ancient Middle Eastern setting. The Law, after all, was never supposed to be permanent, the OT (again) was pointing through the Law to the Messiah. And the authors have no problem (and indeed think it quite appropriate) that the NT writers draw moral lessons from the OT Law… but the problem is, such a short treatment could be used to justify jettisoning just about any moral lesson from the OT you wanted that isn’t also repeated in the NT. So this is the weakest chapter, though you can understand it somewhat in that the big point of this book is not, after all, to dwell upon obeying the Law.

How to get the book if you’re interested

I will cheat a little bit on this since it ain’t my discount code, but if you listened to the Naked Bible Podcast episode, you learned you can get the book direct from the publisher, and with 30% off with discount code “SEEINGJESUS”. That’s what I did (and it came very fast actually).