Yeshua on the Murders of Abel and Zechariah

Yeshua on the Murders of Abel and Zechariah
James Scott Trimm

Yeshua said:

34 Therefore I tell you, Behold, I send to you, prophets and the wise men, and the scribes. And some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them will you scourge with whips in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city.
35 That upon you may come, all the righteous blood, which has been shed upon the earth: from Hevel the righteous, to Z’kharyah Ben Berekhyah, whom you slew between the Temple and the altar!
(Matthew 23:34-35 HRV)

Yeshua here is speaking of the first murder to be recorded near the beginning of the Tanak (Gen. 4:8-15) and a murder recorded near the end of the Tanak (2Chron. 24:20-21).  This, of course, justifies the original manuscript order of the books, as they are still ordered in Jewish editions.

I should mention that extant text of Matt. 23:35 reads “Z’kharyah Ben Berekhyah” (Zechariah ben Berechiah).  This, however, seems to be a scribal error.  A scribe seems to have confused “Zechariah ben Jehoidai”(2Chron. 24:20-21) with “Zechariah ben Berechiah” (Zech. 1:1).  The “Church Father” Jerome records that the Gospel used by the original Jewish followers of Yeshua (known as “Nazarenes”) (i.e. the Gospel according to the Hebrews. I have shown elsewhere that our Gospel of Matthew is an abridgement of that longer Gospel).  According to Jerome the original Hebrew text used by the ancient Nazarenes read correctly with “Zechariah ben Jehoidai”.  (The parallel in Luke 11:51 has only “Zechariah”) Jerome writes:

In the Gospel which the Nazarenes use, instead of “son of Barachias” we have found written “son of Joiada.”
(Jerome; Commentary on Matthew 23:35)

There is something else very important which connects these two murders, at least in Jewish tradition.

The first is a tradition recorded in the Mishnah concerning the murder of Havel (Able) that understands the plural word “bloods” crying out from the ground in Gen. 4:10 to signify that whoever kills one person is guilty of killing everyone:

…it is said , “The bloods of your brother cry” (Gen. 4:10) It does not say, “The blood of your brother,” but. “The bloods of your brother”—his blood and the blood of all those who were destined to be born from him.  Another matter—the bloods of your brother— for his blood was splattered on trees and stones…. whoever destroys a single Israelite soul is deemed by Scripture as if he had destroyed the whole world and whoever saves a single Israelite soul by Scripture as if he had saved the whole world…
(m.San. 4:5)

Both Talmuds records a similar tradition surrounding the murder of “Zechariah ben Jehoidai”(2Chron. 24:20-21).  This tradition parallels the tradition concerning Abel above.  In this tradition Zechariah’s blood also cries out for vengeance but ceases its cry lest all Israel be destroyed.  The Babylonian Talmud records the story this way:

Nebuzaradan, [After that] he saw the blood of Zechariah seething. ‘What is this?’ cried he. ‘It is the blood of sacrifices, which has been spilled,’ they answered. ‘Then,’ said he, ‘bring [some animal blood] and I will compare them, to see  whether they are alike.’ So he slaughtered animals and  compared them, but they were dissimilar. ‘Disclose [the secret] to me, or if not, I will tear your flesh with iron combs,’ he  threatened.  They replied: ‘This is [the blood of] a priest and a  prophet, who foretold the destruction of Jerusalem to the  Israelites, and they killed him.’ ‘I,’ said he, ‘will appease him.’  So he brought the scholars and slew them over him,  yet it did not cease [to boil]. He brought schoolchildren  and slew them over him, still it did not rest; he brought the  young priests and slew them over him, and still it did not rest, until he had slain ninety four thousand, and still it did not rest.  Whereupon he approached him and cried out, ‘Zechariah, Zechariah, I have destroyed the flower of them: dost thou desire me to massacre them all?’ Straightway it rested.  Thoughts of repentance came into his mind: if they, who killed  one person only, have been so [severely punished], what will be my fate?  So he fled, sent his testament to his house, and became a proselyte.
(b.San 96b)

The Jerusalem Talmud give a more detailed account:

Rabbi Jochanan said, Eighty thousand priests were slain for the blood of Zachariah.   Rabbi Judas asked Rabbi Achan, Where did they kill Zachariah?  Was it in the woman’s court, or in the court of Israel?  He answered:  Neither in the court of Israel, nor in the  court of women, but in the court of the priests; and they did not treat his blood in the same manner as they were wont to treat the blood of a ram or a young goat.  For of these it is written, He shall pour out his blood, and cover it with dust.  But it is written here, The blood is in the midst of her:  she set it upon the top of the rock; she poured it not upon the ground.  (Ezek. xxiv. 7.)  But why was this? That it might cause fury to come up to take vengeance: I have set his blood upon the top of a rock, that it should not be covered.  They committed seven evils that day: they murdered a priest, a prophet, and a king; they shed the blood of the innocent: they polluted the court: that day was the Sabbath : and the day of expiation. When therefore Nebuzaradan came there (viz.  Jerusalem), he saw his blood bubbling, and said to them, What meaneth this?  They answered, It is the blood of calves, lambs, and rams, which we have offered upon the altar.  He commanded them, that they should bring calves, and lambs, and rams, and said I will try whether this be their blood: accordingly they brought and slew them, but the blood of (Zachariah) still bubbled, but the blood of these did not bubble.  Then he said, Declare to me the truth of the matter, or else I will comb your flesh with iron combs.  Then said they to him, He was a priest, prophet, and judge, who prophesied to Israel all these calamities which we have suffered from you; but we arose against him, and slew him. Then, said he, I will appease him: then he took the rabbis and slew them upon his (viz. Zachariah’s) blood, and he was not yet appeased.  Next he took the young boys from the schools, and slew them upon his blood, and yet it bubbled.  Then he brought the young priests and slew them in the same place, and yet it still bubbled. So he slew at length ninety-four thousand persons upon his blood, and it did not as yet cease bubbling.  Then he drew near to it and said, O Zachariah, Zachariah, thou hast occasioned the death of the chief of thy countrymen; shall I slay them all? Then the blood ceased, and did bubble no more.
(j.Ta’anit 69)

Yeshua tied these two murders together for two reasons.  First, in the original manuscript order of the books, these two murders are like bookends on each end of the Tanak, implying the totality of Scripture and the true and correct ordering of the books of the Tanak.

It is no coincidence that these two murders are also connected by traditions that connect each to blood crying out for vengeance, and the potential murder of all Israelites.  Yeshua clearly had these traditions in mine when he formulated his statement.  In fact Yeshua specifies the location of Zechariah’s murder more specifically that the written Tanak does.  The Tanak says only that the murder occurred “in the court of the House of YHWH”.  However the tradition recorded in the Talmud is more specific:

Rabbi Judas asked Rabbi Achan, Where did they kill Zachariah?  Was it in the woman’s court, or in the court of Israel?  He answered:  Neither in the court of Israel, nor in the court of women, but in the court of the priests
(j.Ta’anit 69)

While the Tanak places the murder simply “in the court of the House of YHWH”, Yeshua places it more specifically in the Court of Priests located “between the Temple and the alter” just as the Talmud proclaims it.  Yeshua’s source here was certainly the tradition also recorded in the Talmud.

We have another example of how a knowledge of Second Temple Era Judaism and especially the Talmud, can shed light on our understanding of the “New Testament” and the words of Yeshua.
By better understanding Torah and by better understanding the customs and practices of second Temple Era Judaism, we can better understand the Scriptures.

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One thought on “Yeshua on the Murders of Abel and Zechariah”

  1. Hi James. I think Yeshua may have been talking about Zechariah Ben Berechiah. I would like to point out that Zechariah Ben Berechiah was possibly the last prophet martyred in the Tanakh. Zechariah ben Jehoidai lived about 300 years before Zechariah Ben Berechiah. John the Baptist’s father is also named Zechariah, and according to the Protoevangelium of James, he is the one Yeshua was referring to. It’s possible there were two Zechariah Ben Berechiahs, one wrote the Book of Zechariah, and one was John the Baptist’s father.

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