Skip to main content

The Pharisees Sat in Moses’ Seat


Then Yeshua said to the crowds and to the disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore, whatever they may tell you do and keep; but do not do according to their works; because they say and do not.” (Matthew 23:1-3)

The three verses above contain clues that reveal a great deal about the real Yeshua and his Jewish world. The first clue reveals a great deal about the two groups that gathered to hear him – the crowds and the disciples. The information recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) also reveal a great deal about Yeshua as a rabbi. There can be little doubt that this was how most of the Jewish people viewed Yeshua. However, it is important to understand that being a rabbi before 70 CE in Judea and Galilee was very different from being an American rabbi today. Pay close attention to the underlined words below:

There were hundreds and perhaps thousands of such rabbis circulating in the land of Israel in Jesus’ day. These rabbis did not hesitate to travel to the smallest of the villages or the most remote parts of the land. They would often conduct their classes in the village square or out under a tree (Safrai, ibid, 965). In some instances, classes would be conducted in someone’s home. Often these classes were small. The rabbis did not hesitate to teach as few as four or five students. According to custom, one could not charge for teaching the Scriptures, so the itinerant rabbi was dependent upon the hospitality and generosity of the community . . . The rabbi’s stay in the community might last from only a few days to weeks, or even months. However, for the long term student (“disciple”), learning from a rabbi meant traveling, since the rabbi was always moving from place to place. If one wanted to learn from a rabbi, one had to “follow after him.” 1

The disciples of a rabbi – his “talmid” – would accompany the teacher on all his travels and tasks . . . talmidim (plural) were expected to be at the service of the rabbi . . . This, of course, was part of their continuing education. 2

Now let’s update the opening of the above account to include the above information:

“Then Yeshua said to the crowds and to the talmidim . . .”

Those gathered before Yeshua were members of the public and his talmidim, so it is important to watch for points that would be important to each group. I would have liked to have been with his talmidim when they gathered later and discussed what Yeshua taught that day. After all, the talmidim traveled with him from town to town with Yeshua. They would listen to him teach large public crowds and then be taught as members of his small inner circle who had the privilege of being taught by him daily.

Now let’s look at the next clues in the above verse:

“The scribes and the Pharisees sat in Moses’ seat.”

Yeshua would have called these two groups the SOFERIM (scribes) and the PERUSHIM (Pharisees). The PERUSHIM is the party (sect) representing the religious views, practices, and hopes of the kernel of the Jewish people in the time of the Second Temple and in opposition to the priestly Sadducees. They were accordingly scrupulous observers of the Torah as interpreted by the SOFERIM, or Scribes, in accordance with tradition. The Pharisees formed a league or brotherhood of their own ("HABURAH"), admitting only those who, in the presence of three members, pledged themselves to the strict observance of Levitical purity, to the avoidance of closer association with the 'AM HA-AREZ (“the people” [the ignorant and careless boor]), to the scrupulous payment of tithes and other imposts due to the priest, the Levite, and the poor, and to a conscientious regard for vows and for other people's property. They called their members "HABERIM" (brothers), while they passed under the name of "Perishaya," or "Perushim." The aim and object of the Torah, according to Pharisaic principles, are the training of man to a full realization of his responsibility to God and to the consecration of life by the performance of its manifold duties: “the one is called "'OL MALKUT SHAMAYIM" (the yoke of the Kingship of Heaven [God]) and the other "'OL HAMIZWOT" (the yoke of His commandments). 3 The last two phrases appear in Yeshua’s teachings too.

Our next clue is the phrase “sat in Moses’ seat.” What was “Moses’ seat”? It was the name given to a special chair of honor in synagogues where an authoritative teacher of the Torah sat. The teacher in practice exercised the authority of Moses in teaching and explaining the words of the Torah. The picture below is a “seat of Moses” that was unearthed at the synagogue in the city Chorazim. 4



The last clue is the underlined word in the following translations:

The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. (King James Version)

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses seat. (American Standard Version)

Dr. Robert Lindsey recognized the importance of this clue:

The verb “sit” in Greek is an aorist. So, to be consistent with the grammar one should translate that the scribes and Pharisees “sat” on Moses’ seat.”

The New American Standard reads, “have seated themselves on the chair of Moses.”

Excellent! The translators recognized a Hebraism! The Greek translator simply had followed the patter that an aorist in Greek replaces the simple past tense in Hebrew although the Hebrew verb may or may not represent a simple past in meaning.

This idiom of “sitting” occurs in the Old Testament. Examples are:

Then sat Solomon upon the throne of David his father; and his kingdom was established greatly. (1 Kings 2:12)

And say, Hear the word of the Lord, O king of Judah, that sat upon the throne of David, thou, and thy servants, and thy people that enter in by these gates. (Jeremiah 22:2)

To sit on the seat of somebody” means literally “to take over his authority.” It is a Hebraism. It is a Hebraism that shines through despite the fact that a Greek translator has translated the verb as simple past. Most English translators have felt compelled to do something with it. They cannot write, “The scribes and Pharisees sat on Moses’ seat”, so they have written “sit.” Once again this is a strong indication that Hebrew stands behind the Greek. 5

When we see the words of the Synoptic Gospels through the lens of the Jewish culture of the Real Yeshua, we find an abundance of clues that help us see the words through his eyes. Here, they shed light on the Hebrew though beneath the Greek words and give us new insights to the relationship of Yeshua to the PERUSHIM and SOFERIM.

I hope that you found this blog informative and it helped you more accurately understand the Real Yeshua -- who is very different from the many “theological Jesus’s” created by Gentile theologians centuries after Yeshua was crucified.

If you found this informative and would like see more blogs like it, I am going to ask you to do two things:

(1) If you did benefit from this study, go to our Facebook page by CLICKING HERE & “LIKE IT.

(2) Contribute to our work by CLICKING HEREespecially if you have never contributed before or it has been a long time since you last helped. What you read in our blogs, newsletters or on our website is made possible by someone else’s donations, so will you help make it possible for us to do more.

Thank you & SHALOM!

5 The Jesus Sources: Understanding the Gospels by Robert L. Lindsey © 1990 HaKesher, Inc., Tulsa, OK; pp. 51-52.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Do Not Say RAQA! - Yeshua on Anger (Part 2)

In the last blog, we covered the first part of Yeshua’s lesson on Anger -- An Angry Person Should be Tried in Court like a Murderer – keep in mind that “anger” is the focus of Yeshua’s lesson.
“Whoever says to a brother, ‘RAKA,’ shall be answerable to the Sanhedrin.” [i]
Yeshua reveals that the seriousness of the offense has become greater by elevating the crime to the next highest court – the Sanhedrin. It is the highest court in the nation and would be the equivalent of our Supreme Court. What makes this offense more serious than murder, to keep things in the context established by Yeshua? It is because of what the angry person said out of anger – “RAKA!”
RAKA is the English transliteration of the Greek word found in the ancient manuscripts of Matthew. Interestingly, the Greek word is also a transliteration of a Hebrew word into Greek. Keep in mind that when a translator working on a translation of a Greek manuscript transliterates a Greek word, he only finds the closest equivalent En…

The Prayer Yeshua Prayed Twice Every Day

One of Jesus’s earliest memories was no doubt watching and listening to his family when they gathered to pray the Shema at sunrise before the day’s work began and after the working work day was over at sunset. He also heard and participated in praying the Shema at their synagogue. He was surrounded by neighbors who also prayed the same prayer in their homes every day.
The Hebrew word for prayer is tefilah. It is derived from the root Pe-Lamed-Lamed and the word l'hitpalel, meaning “to judge oneself.” This surprising word origin provides insight into the purpose of Jewish prayer. The most important part of any Jewish prayer, whether it be a prayer of petition, of thanksgiving, of praise of God, or of confession, is the introspection it provides, the moment that we spend looking inside ourselves, seeing our role in the universe and our relationship to God.[1]
Most of Jewish prayers are expressed in the first person plural, "us" instead of "me," and are recited on b…

What does “Verily” mean & why did Yeshua use it so much?

We have unlocked the original meanings of two of Yeshua’s words in the verse below. We used them to replace “jot” and “tittle” in the following translation:
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one yod (the smallest Hebrew letter) or one qotz (the smallest part of the smallest letter) shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. (Matthew 5:18)
Now let’s turn our attention to the word “verily.” If we look it up in a dictionary we find the following definitions: in truth; really; indeed. Did Yeshua mean:
● “For in truth I say unto you . . .” ● “For really I say unto you . . .” ● “For indeed I say unto you . . .”
As pointed out before, Yeshua didn’t teach in English, so our first step to discovering what he did say is to examine the Greek word that is translated “verily” – amhn. Before we find out what it means, let’s review the options that translators have when they are working with ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Translators have four options: translat…