Jews say that Jesus was not the ‘Messiah-son of David’; but, one thing absolutely for sure, since all messiahs are always human—even if this ‘son of Mary’ was a messiah for Christians—he was definitely not what Christians conceive of as the “Divine Son” since the one and only God has no family members.

In the Qur’an, Jesus is referred to in ninety-three verses in fifteen different chapters; he is mentioned by name twenty-five times as “son of Mary” or “Messiah Jesus, son of Mary.”

Islam agrees with Christianity that Jesus was born to a virgin, was sinless like all prophets, performed miracles, and was born of a special family among prophets. In Islam is it specified that Jesus was born of the family of ‘Imran — the father of Moses (Mûsâ), Aaron and Miriam/Maryam— and that the bloodline of Mary and her son ran specifically through Aaron. Both Islam and Judaism teach that Jesus was not in any way Divine, that is, having a divine essence. Jews think Jesus was no more than a very spiritual Rabbi, and not the expected Messiah-son of David.

Nevertheless, Jesus could have been the expected religious reformer Messiah-son of Aaron —for, as already mentioned, Jesus was clearly not the moral political Messiah-son of David, the one to bring a Messianic Age of international peace.  Jesus’ mother Mary was from a priestly family —something glossed over in the Gospel of Luke.  What the Gospel of Luke does explicitly record is that Elizabeth the mother of John “the Baptist” and Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah, both, were from priestly families (Luke 1:5). Their son John was an Aronson, as were both his parents. Mary the mother of Jesus was a relative of Elizabeth (Luke 1:36); Prophets John and Jesus were cousins.

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If Mary had been from the lineage of David, was there a reason why did the Gospel record did not say so directly? Instead, the opening passage of the first Gospel book composing the New Testament claims that Mary’s betrothed (and later husband) was a Davidson descendant—thus avoiding the information that Mary was an Aronson descendant.  In a patriarchal society, family descent is recorded through the male line.

If Jesus was sent by God as a Messiah-son of Aaron figure, a Messiah-religious reformer, why is Jesus referred to and addressed as “[Messiah-] son of David” throughout the Gospel narratives (Gospel of Matthew 1:1, 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 20:30; Mark 11:9-10; Luke 18:38-39; John 7:42)!

The Gospel records do acknowledge that contemporary people saw Jesus as a prophet but disagreed on just what kind of God-sent person he was (John 7:40-44). When John the Baptist’s followers came to ask Jesus directly about who he was (Luke 7:18-20), Jesus told them to judge by what they saw of him: He taught and ministered to the physical and spiritual needs of the common people.  This was in no way the profile of a politician or a king (Luke 7:21-23); Jesus was emphatically not a King David figure, not a Messiah-son of David!  The Jewish common people suffered under the Romans and hoped for the coming of the Messiah-Son of David; nevertheless, according to the Gospels Jesus was someone else.

It is troubling, of course, that the genealogy placed at the beginning of The Gospel of Matthew “bakes in” a fictitious lineage for Jesus — “the one called Messiah” (Matthew 1:16).  There, Jesus’ genealogy is explicitly traced back to King David (Matthew 1:1)!   What is ironic about the Gospel presentation is that here (Matthew 1:1-17) and elsewhere (Luke 1:26-38) Jesus is portrayed as a descendant of his mother’s future husband, Joseph—  Joseph being a descendant of King David and going out of his way to be officially registered as such (Luke 2:4).

This attention to Joseph’s bloodline is in spite of the fact that Joseph has been meticulously represented in the accounts of Matthew (1:18-25) and of Luke (2:4-5) as Jesus’ guardian/ stepfather, and emphatically NOT his biological father!  Is it possible that a child is a descendant of his step-parent!  Any [bloodline] genealogy for Jesus would have to go through Mary, if she is his sole biological parent.

By contrast, the Qur’an provides evidence that Mary was a descendant of Prophet Aaron (Quran 3:33-36). In fact, the Qur’an makes an issue of this. The Quran goes out of its way to identify Jesus through his female lineage, calling him “Jesus, son of Mary.”

The Qur’an calls out to Mary, mother of Jesus: “O sister of Aaron” (Quran 19:28) and refers to her elsewhere (Quran 66:12) as “Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran.”  As if relating Mary-mother-of-Jesus to her ancestral ‘father’ (‘Imran) were not enough, the Quran relates Mary (or Miriam, her Hebrew name) also to her ancestral ‘brother’ (Prophet Aaron). It is the priestly-family relationship to Prophet Aaron that is relevant to Mary’s genealogical identity, not her indirect relationship to Prophet Moses (the higher-profile ancestral ‘brother’ so frequently mentioned in the Quran)!  There is no claim, or even hint, in the Gospel records that Mary has any Davidic blood. According to the Quran, Mary-the mother of Jesus, is an Aronson descendant.

When the Qur’an points to Mary in terms of the names of immediate blood relatives (father and brother), it shows that her family line was descended from the original, historical ‘Imran and specifically from ‘Imran’s son Aaron!  Now Prophet Aaron was the brother of, and spokesman for, Prophet Moses, the great  Hebrew “Lawgiver” (Bible, Exodus 4:10-16).  Furthermore, Prophet Aaron was the progenitor of the sole Hebrew line of priesthood. The ancient Biblical Prophets Moses, Aaron and Maryam (Exodus 15:20) were siblings, offspring of ‘Imran [Biblical Amram]. It seems that the ancestral family of Maryam/Mary the mother of Jesus, followed the family tradition of honoring their progenitors by conferring on their offspring their most eminent tribal names down through the generations: Mary’s own father had been named ‘Imran; her own brother had been named Aaron.

Thus does the Qur’an’s Jesus fit the Jewish category, Messiah-son of Aaron: first in his biological lineage and secondly in his actual mission.  Regarding his divinely mandated role, Jesus sees himself as a religious reformer and spiritual teacher, bringing Jews closer to the simpler intent of Judaism.  We see this in the New Testament Gospel books, both in Jesus’ own words and in the narratives recorded about him:

[Jesus taught the crowds:]  “Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true. Remember that as long as heaven and earth last, not the least point or the smallest detail of the Law will be done away with—not until the end of all things. So then, whoever disobeys even the least important of the commandments and teaches others to do the same, will be least in the Kingdom of heaven.” (Gospel of Matthew 5:17-19)

Jesus went into Jericho and was passing through. There was a chief tax collector [for the Roman administration] there named Zacchaeus. …  Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Hurry down, … I must stay at your house today.” …   All the people who saw it grumbled, “This man [Jesus] is going as a guest to the home of a sinner!” Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Master (Rabbi Jesus), “Listen sir! I will give half my belongings to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay him back four times as much.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because even he [this sinner] is a descendant of Abraham. The Son of Man (Jesus) has come to seek out and to save this thing [repentance] that has been lost.” (Gospel of Luke 19:1-10)

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. No one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him. (Gospel of John 3:1-2)

Jesus said to Pilate [during his interview before this governor of the Roman province of Judea]: My kingdom does not belong to this world.  … So Pilate asked him, “Are you a king then?”  Jesus answered: “You are saying that I am a king.  I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever listens to the truth listens to me.” (Gospel of John 18:36-37)

According to Jesus himself, he had come to uphold and revive Jewish teaching, not ‘retire’ it or change it; he was a religious reformer, reminding Jews of the spiritual purpose of their religious teachings.

The Qur’an agrees:

 Indeed, it is We, Ourself [God], who sent down the Torah. In it there is guidance and light. With it the prophets, who submitted themselves [to God], made judgments for Jewry, as did the rabbis and the scribes; for they had been entrusted to preserve the Scripture of God—and to this [trust] they were [mindful] witnesses. … And [after the prophets of Israel], We sent following upon their traces Jesus, son of Mary, as a confirmation of [the truth] that had preceded him [in the Law] of the Torah. Moreover, We gave him the Evangel—in which there is guidance and light—as a confirmation of [the truth] that preceded him [in the Law] of the Torah, along with [further] guidance and [inspired] admonition for the God-fearing. (Qur’an 5:44-46)

Jesus’ own words, furthermore, deny that he was the political Messiah who would “return the kingdom to Israel” —thereby confirming in no uncertain terms that he was someone other than the Messiah-son of David:

When the apostles [the Twelve chosen by Jesus to spread his message] met together with Jesus, they asked him, “Master (Rabbi) will you at this time restore the kingdom [political self-rule] to Israel?” Jesus said to them: “The times and occasions are set by my Father’s [God’s] own authority, and it is not for you to know when they will be.” (New Testament, Acts of the Apostles 1:6-8)

If Jesus’ own words are to be taken seriously, then he was by no means the political Messiah-son of David.  Jesus’ Aaron-like role as religious reformer fits with the general picture of Prophet Jesus in the events narrated of him in the three Synoptic Gospels; the “religious reformer” job description matches also with his self-description as “Son of Adam” [or, “Son of Man”] i.e. a human and not a divine “son of god.”

Islam teaches that Jesus was no more “divine” than any very spiritual prophet with a message for his time: a ‘word/sign’ from Allah (Qur’an 43:61). Islam denies the central teaching and belief of Christianity by denying Jesus’ divinity, crucifixion, and resurrection. Judaism denies the divinity of Jesus; but not his crucifixion. Both Islam and Judaism deny the Christian belief in original sin.

Jews and Muslims are in fundamental agreement that neither Prophet Jesus, nor any other human, should be worshiped as a deity, nor is any human to be understood as being any part of the one and only God.

Millions of American Christians now also believe the same thing. A recent report by Gallup reviewing over 174,000 interviews conducted in 2015 found that only 56% of Christians believe that Jesus was Divine, and 26% say he was a great man, but only a human religious or spiritual leader like Moses, Mohammed or Buddha (with 18% not sure what Jesus was).

It is not surprising that almost none of the Jews, Muslims or Buddhists polled believed that Jesus was God or the Son of God. But what is surprising is that only 56% of American Christians in our generation are Trinitarians.

About 5-6% of Americans identify with a non-Christian religion. What do they think about Jesus? While many, but not all, Buddhists pray to Buddha, there are no Jews or Muslims who pray to Prophets Moses or Muhammad. Indeed, one of the most important teachings in their sacred scriptures, the Hebrew Bible and the Arabic Qur’an, is the prohibition of praying to anyone other than the one and only God.

Perhaps more humility is needed when making claims of divinity for Jesus —whose original Hebrew name was actually “Yeshua”  —or Joshua in modern pronunciation. His name went from “Yeshua” to “Iesus,” because Greek could not handle the ‘sh’ sound of the original Hebrew Yeshua, and “Iesus” is easy in Greek. Then his name became “Jesus” pronouncing the “J” with a hard sound, which is easy in English.

“Yeshua” was a very popular name in first century Israel and is seen often in the Hebrew Bible, though those individuals often became “Joshua” in later translations. And from the time of Jesus archeological excavators have uncovered over 70 tombs bearing this name; which shows just how common and unremarkable the name Jesus was.

Indeed, Jesus plainly thought of himself not as the “Son of God,” but as the “Son of Man.” In the four Gospels, “the Son of Man” is Jesus’ self-designation. The term “the Son of Man” appears 81 times in the Greek text of the four Gospels: thirty times in Matthew, twenty-five times in Luke, 14 times in Mark (the shortest of the Gospels), and 12 times in John (the latest and least history-oriented of the Gospels).

Yet in Paul’s epistles of Christian Scripture, “the Son of Man” is never used for Jesus. In fact, outside of the Gospels the term “Son of Man” appears in the whole New Testament only 4 times (5%). Indeed, the term “Son of Man”—so unmistakably preferred by Jesus for himself— is never used at all in early extra-biblical Christian writings during the generations following Paul’s letters.

Jews and Muslims also agree that Paul is the real founder of Christianity, because Paul’s letters to various congregations of his followers influenced the way the Greek Gospels were later written. These Greek Gospels replaced the earlier Hebrew and Aramaic Gospels—which were not Trinitarian in ideology and which survive only as a few fragments in later references down to this day.

So, was Jesus more than a rabbi, a prophet, a messiah?  No!

We have indicated how the Gospel narratives refer to Jesus as rabbi/teacher, as prophet, and as messiah.  The Quran is in agreement.   But what kind of messiah?   Very possibly Jesus could have been sent by God as the expected RELIGIOUS reformer: the Messiah-son of Aaron. As we have established, Prophet Jesus definitely could not have been the POLITICAL Messiah-son of David. Jesus belonged to the Aronson family lineage through his biological mother; he cannot be truthfully said to belong to the Davidson family bloodline through his step-father.  So then, from a Jewish point of view —based on evidence from the Gospel narratives— Jesus fits the role of religious reformer; this profile belongs to the expected Messiah-son of Aaron. Likewise, the Qur’an’s Jesus fits the same Jewish category, Messiah-son of Aaron.

Jesus sees himself as a RELIGIOUS REFORMER (Matthew 5:17-19), as well as a prophet (Matthew 15:53-58; Mark 6:1-6) and teacher/rabbi (John 18:37),  and decidedly not as the POLITICAL Messiah to “return the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6-7). This means that Jesus denied for himself the role of Messiah-son of David —in spite of the deliberate attempts of the Greek Gospel texts to show otherwise.

This Aaron-like Messiah role conforms to the general picture of Jesus in the events narrated of him in the three Synoptic Gospels and to his self-description as the “Son of Adam”/ “Son of Man.”  That is, while Jesus was a wonder-worker, a Jewish teacher, a prophet, and a messiah, he was most certainly not a begotten “son of god.”

“It is not befitting to [the majesty of] Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! When He determines a matter, He only says to it, “Be!” and it is. …They say: “[God] the Most Gracious has begotten a son!” Most certainly, you [who say this] have put forth a thing most monstrous. From it the heavens nearly burst, and the earth split and the mountains [all but] fall down in collapse that they should invoke a son for the Most Gracious. …Indeed, every being in the heavens and earth but comes to the Most Gracious as a servant.” (Quran 19:35, 88-93)

Rabbi Allen S Maller

Allen S. Maller was the rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California for 39 years, from 1967 to 2006. Rabbi Maller edited the Tikun series of High Holy Days prayerbooks, used at Temple Akiba and at seven other congregations in California, Nevada and Arizona. Read Full Bio

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