12 Jun

The Lost Jewish New Testament Rediscovered

June 2012 

Yeshua’s (Jesus’) rebuke of the fig tree baffles most readers, probably because they ask the wrong questions in trying to understand it. Although it makes no sense to curse a guiltless tree, when pressed to justify Yeshua’ behavior commentators are quick to point the finger at Israel.

 For example, — whose mission is sharing the gospel with the entire world—has this “good news” for the Jewish people: “The fig tree is Israel which will be judged for a lack of repentance. They have the pretension of life, but not the substance of life.” This interpretation asserts that by cursing the tree Yeshua was cursing Israel.

Contrary to this harsh verdict, the disciples’ response clearly indicates that they did not see the dry fig tree as a condemnatory allegory. They did not feel sorry for the tree or lament Israel’s bad fortune. Rather, “they marveled, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither away so soon?’” In his answer, Yeshua reveals the reason for their bewilderment: lack of appreciation for the power of faith.

This being said, it can still be asked why the disciples were apparently untroubled by what appears to be the unfair treatment of nature. Assuming their sensitivity to every aspect of the Law, they must have been aware of such commandments as: “Only the trees which you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down” (Deut 20:20). Therefore, rather than regarding this episode as denouncing the Law, Israel or nature itself, we should perhaps take the view of those around Yeshua that there was nothing wrong with His treatment of the tree.

This leads us to the possibility that Yeshua’ generation viewed nature as capable of being disobedient to God. From this point of view, the fig tree’s failure to produce fruit in honor of the hungry Messiah constituted an act of defiance. Although this may seem a rather bizarre idea, verses such “Day unto day utters speech” (Psalm 19:2) and “all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12) are not merely metaphorical. The idea that nature can disobey God is a well-established Jewish thought. Among other things, it rests upon God’s cursing the earth after it concealed Abel’s blood in conspiracy with Cain: “So now you [Cain] are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Genesis 4:11). According to Jewish exegesis, the curse upon the earth also produced trees which do not bear fruit.

The fig is the only tree mentioned by name in the story of the Garden of Eden: “They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (Gen 3:7). This remark, together with the following verse which states literally, “and Adam and his wife hid themselves…inside the trees of the garden,” gave birth to the following story: “When the first man ate from that tree, the Holy One, blessed be He, took him out of the garden of Eden. And he [Adam] courted all the trees but they did not accept him. They said to him: ‘This is the culprit who manipulated creation [to allow him to eat from the forbidden tree]’…But because he ate from its fruit, the fig tree opened its doors and received him” (Yalkut Shimoni, Bereshit 21).

This story portrays human beings and trees communicating in the Garden. The fig tree is singled out as the only one willing to help Adam and Eve—so God blessed it by making it one of the seven species (Deut 8:8). In contrast, the tree Yeshua encountered failed to live up to its primordial decision to sustain (the Son of) Adam (Man). In its act of defiance, therefore, the tree could not but receive what it deserved.

 By Tsvi Sadan


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