A Reform Rabbi’s View Of  Prophets Jesus And Muhammad – OpEd


In his book “Christ Jesus, The Son Of Mary: A Muslim Perspective” Adil Nizamuddin Imran states, “According to the Quran, Prophet Muhammad’s coming was foreshadowed by earlier prophets and their scriptures. 

Surah 7:157 states, “Those who follow the messenger, the unlettered prophet of whom they find written in their sources, in the Torah and the Gospel. He directs them to what is just and forbids them from evil. And he permits them wholesome things and forbids them filthy things. He removes their burden for them, and the yokes that were on them.” 

This verse is explicitly clear that the earlier Divine scriptures foretold the coming of Prophet Muhammad. Let us highlight those passages in the Bible that refer to the coming of  Prophet Muhammad. First, we read in the Gospel of John 1:19-21: “This is the testimony of (Prophet) John, when the Jews sent to him priests (Cohens) and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I’m not the Christ.” They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No”.

From this conversation between John the Baptist and some Jewish priests, we learn that first century Jews were awaiting the coming of three distinct individuals: the Christ (Messiah descendant of Prophet King David), Prophet Elijah, and Prophet Messiah Aaron (a descendant from Prophet Aaron the High Priest). 

Many people are anointed in the Hebrew Bible, and many are referred to as a messiah or an anointed one. Kings were anointed, a high priest is an anointed priest (Leviticus 4:3), and God’s end-times Messianic agents are anointed. This leaves Prophet Elijah and the (Aaron descendant) Prophet. 

With respect to Prophet Elijah, Jews and some Christians believe that he has not yet returned (he did not die but ascended to heaven 2 Kings 2:1–18) and will return to earth to announce the Second Coming of Jesus. (Jews would say if it happens it will be the first arrival of the Messiah son of Aaron)

The rabbinic belief that there would be two different messiahs, one a moral political leader from the house of David (Davidson) and the other, a religious reformer from the house of Aaron (Aronson), as well as a special “end of days” prophet such as Elijah or Jeremiah (Matthew 16:14) is found in inter- testament literature. A Dead Sea scroll states that the Qumran community must continue to live according to the original discipline “until there shall come a prophet (Elijah) and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel. ”(Manual of Discipline 9:11).  

There is also a rabbinic belief in a messianic figure from the northern tribes called a Josephson messiah who is killed by Israel’s enemies. This idea may be modeled on the example of King Saul who reigned before King David and was killed in battle by the enemies of Israel. Also “The House of Jacob will be a fire, and the House of Joseph a flame, and the House of Esau will be stubble. (Obadiah 1:18) refers to the final battle before the Messianic Age of world peace and the resurrection and judgement of the dead. 

Rabbi Saadiah Gaon (who translated the Torah into Arabic and was one of the few rabbis to elaborate the role of Messiah son of Yossef) notes that this sequence is not definite but contingent! “Messiah son of Yossef will not have to appear before Messiah son of  David, nor will the activities attributed to him or his death have to occur. All depends on the spiritual condition of the Jewish people at the time when the redemption takes place.”

Thus there could be as many as four or more individual messianic figures as well as the people of Israel who act as God’s agents in bringing about the Messianic Age. 

All of this makes for a complicated future scenario that might take generations, or even centuries to develop. When people are persecuted, afflicted and oppressed as a community, and despised and rejected as individuals they need hope for a much quicker and simpler process of redemption. 

This is why there is an overwhelming focus on the final stage Davidson messiah by most teachers, preachers, commentators and expositors. This is also the reason that those who believe in the imminent coming of the Davidson messiah always think it will occur soon within their own lifetime (John 14:19, 21:22).  

The New Testament and the Qurʾan also reflect anxiety about the likelihood that some individual in the future may claim prophethood (Matthew 7:15, 24:24; Acts 20:28–30; 2 Peter 2:1–2; and Qurʾan 33:40).

What about the unnamed Prophet? Even today the Jews are still awaiting his (the Messiah, son of David) arrival while Christians believe Jesus Christ was the Prophet. This latter assertion of Christians is impossible because it is clear from John 1:21 as well as John 1:25 that “The Prophet” is a separate and distinct person from Elijah and Jesus. 

John 1:25 states “Why then are you, John the Baptist, baptizing, if you are not the Christ (Messiah), nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” The questioning priests were trying to identify whether John the Baptist was one of these three individuals. The knowledge of the coming of these three individuals was known not only by Jewish priests but also ordinary Jews. 

This is supported by John 7:40-41 which clearly identifies the distinction that Jewish people are making with regard to Jesus of Nazareth. John 7:40-41 states, “Some of the people, therefore, when they heard these words were saying this certainly is the Prophet. Others were saying, ‘This is the Messiah.'” Hence, we can reasonably assert that the Prophet and the Christ/Messiah are two separate and distinct men of God.”

Although Adil Nizamuddin Imran makes several mistakes in stating Jewish views, I can say that he is correct in stating that a Prophet (even a last prophet) and a Messiah “are two separate and distinct men of God.”

Simply stated: Prophets are human beings chosen by God to warn their own nation’s society that they are on the road to destruction unless they abandon polytheism and idol worship; and start worshipping the one and only God of the universe. Messiahs are human beings chosen by God to save/redeem/rescue/liberate their own nation’s society, and mankind in general, from present day oppression and impending future destruction. 

I use the term Messiahs in the plural, because the importance of the final Messiah, a descendant of Prophet David, has established a tendency to see each and every Messiah as the final Messiah. It is very important to know that the only Messiah specifically named in the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 45:1) is the Persian King Cyrus the Great. 

Jews and Christians ignore this because they believe that only a Jewish descendant of King Davis can be the final Messiah but the Biblical Prophet Joel proclaims (Joel 3:1) “And it shall come to pass [in the far future] that I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy . . .” Since that verse says ‘upon all flesh’ Prophet Joel includes non-Jewish descendants of Prophet Abraham, like Prophet Muhammad whose ancestor was Prophet Ishmael.

Actually in his lifetime many Jews did think Jesus was a prophet; but most Jews did not accept Jesus as a Messiah, and very few Jews, except for Paul and his followers, accepted Jesus as God’s Divine Son. 

This is codified in rabbinic Judaism in the Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9b; Sanhedrin 11a; Jerusalem Talmud Sota 9:24; Tosefta Sota 13:2: “The rabbis taught: when (the last biblical prophets) Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi died, the Holy Spirit left Israel, though they could still use the bat kol (a heavenly voice).” The bat kol delivered a non-scriptural message from God somewhat like the 101 Hadith Qudsi collected by Ibn Arabi.

Since humans have free will no one can predict the details of the Messianic Age. All we really need to do is never give up on God’s promise that good will overcome evil and if we all can live up to the ideal that religious pluralism as the will of God we will help fulfill the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah: 

“In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. On that day Israel  will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”…(Isaiah 19:23-5)

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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