The Lies and Distortions of Driver in

The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters


It would be hard to name a book whose importance in Evangelizing Jews is greater then the work of Driver and Neubauer[1]. It is a collection of numerous Jewish commentaries on Isaiah 53 in many languages which they translated into English.  This work is used as a reference in almost all of the scholarly articles I have seen on the subject of Rabbinic interpretation of Isaiah 53. I must admit to using this work as a resource when time (or laziness) kept me back from looking into the original sources.


For that reason I am reluctant to write this article, as the respect I have for this work (even with some of the legitimate criticisms I have about it) is such that I could not do this without the offences having been so serious as to make it impossible for me to ignore it. This is a serious scholarly work, and not some pseudo-scholarly missionary manual.


However in some recent discussions, two sources from this book were quoted to me, that after looking into them, I can only conclude that the authors were involved in a deception so serious as to tarnish the reputation that this work has had.


The first selection is a selection which is claimed to be from the Midrash Tanchuma. This selection itself is controversial as the source for it is NOT from the Midrashim that the Jewish people have, but comes from a work by Father Raymond Martini, Pugio Fidei. Driver defends his use of this work[2], even though his co-author Neubauer wished to have it rejected. I would not have mentioned it here because of this disagreement alone (although my rejection of it on those grounds is warranted.)


The problem is that the translation does not agree with the Hebrew and had he translated it as the Hebrew has it, we would all see that this is a distortion and could not be from the Midrash at all. Here is the translation that we have from Driver:


R. Nahman says. The word ' man ' in the passage, Every man a head of the house of his fathers (Num. i. 4), refers to the Messiah the son of David, as it is written, ' Behold the man whose name is Zemah' (the branch); where Yonathan interprets, Behold the man Messiah (Zech. vi. 12); and so it is said, 'A man of pains' and known to sickness.[3]


Here is the literal translation from the Hebrew original that appears in that work itself:


R. Nahman says. The word ' man ' in the passage, refers to the Messiah the son of David, as it is written, ' Behold the man whose name is Zemah';

Targum Yonathan this man is the Messiah and so it says, 'A man of pains' and known to sickness.


There are a number of minor differences in the translation, from what appears in the text, and problems with the text, whose implications are such as to significantly change the meaning:


  1. No part of this appears in either of the two versions of the Tanchuma that we have. Not the total passage, nor even the teaching of Rabbi Nachman, which says nothing controversial.
  2. Driver added the verse in Numbers which is not there in the original. This really isn’t such a problem, but it is usual for scholars use “()” for added material as he does later for the words ‘the branch’.
  3. Instead of saying Targum Yonason as in the Hebrew, he just says Yonason and adds some words after it to fix the problematic Hebrew text. This makes it appear that some Rabbi Yonason is speaking instead of a quote from the Targum Yonason being brought as the Hebrew implies. The Hebrew is difficult as there is no verb after the words Targum Yonason as there should be.
  4. The next few words are from the Targum Yonason on Zechariah, but the reference to Isaiah 53 does not appear in the Targum there. Here is what the Targum says: “this man is named Messiah, in the future he will be revealed, he will be great, and he will build the sanctuary of HaShem.” There is no indication of the Messiah suffering at all.
  5. This cannot be a reference to the Targum on Isaiah as Driver himself translates the Targum’s comment on these words as[4]:  “They will be prostrate and mourning, like a man of pains and like one destined for sicknesses…” The Targum there refers these words to the suffering of Israel. The Targum reference to Isaiah is wholly bogus.


As far as Driver’s using Yonason and dropping the word ‘Targum’ I do not know why he dropped it, hiding that the text explicitly said it was from the Targum Yonason. It is, however, a clear indication that this text IS NOT from the Tanchuma. The Tanchuma NEVER quotes from the Targum. While it would not have been unusual for the Tanchuma to cite a Rabbi, in that case he would have been referred to as Rabbi Yonason ben Uzziel, as he is in all Rabbinic literature. So in addition to all the other problems, this passage is not just bogus, but Driver seems to have tried to hide the fact that it was.


The next passage, from the Midrash called Lekach Tov, is in some sense even worse as it involves adding words that are not in the text in a way that changes the whole meaning of the text.


Here is the translation from Driver:


 ‘Let water stream from his buckets ' (Num. xxiv. 7)—from the poor who are in Israel: hence they say, ' Be careful with the children of the people of the land [i. e. the poor], because from them doth the law go forth.' 'And let his seed be on many waters:' the kingdom of Israel is to be above all the kingdoms of the earth, 'May his king be high above (or, from) Agag :  from the days of Agag, king of Amalek, the kingdom of Israel took its rise. ' And let his kingdom be exalted,' in the days of the Messiah, of whom it is said,' Behold my servant shall prosper; he will be high and exalted, and lofty exceedingly.' [5]


Here is a literal translation from the Hebrew. (I have placed each verse on its own line so that the structure and meaning of the Midrash can be better understood):


‘Let water stream from his buckets ': from the poor who are in Israel. From this they say: ' Be careful with the children of the people of the land[6], because from them the law goes forth.'


'And let his seed be on many waters': the kingdom of Israel is to be over all the kingdoms of the earth,


'May his kingdom be greater than Agag’: from the days of Agag, king of Amalek, the kingdom of Israel began.


' And let his kingdom will be exalted': in the days of the Messiah, as it says,' Behold my servant shall prosper; he will be high and exalted, and lofty exceedingly.'


The Midrash is saying: Israel’s kingdom which started in the time of Agag, will be exalted when the Messiah comes; a very common theme in Jewish Midrashim. The words ‘as it says’ indicates a verse being brought to support the idea expressed in this Midrash, which is: Israel will be exalted in the end-times, when the Messiah comes. The verse is brought to support that Israel will be exalted, not any issues about the Messiah.


There are two linguistic proofs to this interpretation of the use of Isaiah 53 in the Midrash. In the third part the word used וירם (to be greater) is a form of the word in Isaiah 53, ירום (he will be high). Likewise in the fourth part the word in the verse תנשא (will be exalted) is another form of the word נשא (exalted) in the Isaiah 53 verse. The third part is undoubtedly about Israel (i.e. the Kingdom of Israel), so the fourth is also. This shows the close relationship the author was trying to make between the kingdom of Israel and Isaiah 53. The linguistic connection is the ‘proof’ of this. From this we see that the original text applies Isaiah 53 to Israel. Driver’s addition changes this, and distorts the text itself.


To conclude, had this not been a work by scholars of the highest caliber, like Driver, we could ignore such serious distortions. But the modifications of the ‘Tanchuma’  to make it look more ‘real’ and the additions of words to the Lekach Tov, to change it’s meaning to correspond to his Christian beliefs, requires a response. I cannot say not to use this work at all but it does require a warning to those who wish to use this work. If you don’t have the ability to look into the original languages and sources, what you read in English may not reflect what appears in the texts. Caveat Emptor.


© Moshe Shulman 2012

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[1]  Driver and Neubauer, The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Oxford 1877

[2]  Ibid page xxix-xxxv

[3]  Ibid page 11

[4]  Ibid page 4.

[5]  Ibid page 36

[6]  The word here עמי הארץ literally means people of the land, but refers to the ignorant, who are also considered poor in knowledge.