sifra deyohanan nebiya tebila
ha-séifer yochanan ha-matbil ha-n’vi
(THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET YOCHANAN THE IMMERSER)
1. 1Now, in the tenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius – when Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, and Valerius Gratus was governor of Judea – 2the word of YHVH came to Yochanan son of Zekharyah while he was living in the Judean desert. 3He went to all the country around the river Jordan, preaching that we should repent even before we immerse ourselves, so that we will truly be cleansed of our sins. 4Thereafter, many in Jerusalem and the Judean countryside went out to him to be immersed. 5And he called many people back to God’s ways, and attracted many followers.
2And Yochanan’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 3People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea, and the whole region of the Jordan.
4Now YHVH had said to Yochanan, ‘See how the unrighteous and the unrepentant offer sin offerings in my sanctuary, and yet remain impure of heart. They think that the blood of their sacrifices will make atonement for them. 5Therefore say to the people, “The great and terrible Day of the Holy One is near. Come therefore and be immersed; confess your sins sincerely in your heart and repent, and you will be made whole.” 6By this act of immersion, they will learn what repentance and forgiveness are, and I will draw back My hand from judgment.’
7So Yochanan went to the people, and called them to come and be immersed by him. 8And they confessed their sins in their heart (for Yochanan, it is said, was the son of a priest, of the division of Aviyah, a descendant of Aaron). 9And once they had confessed their sins to YHVH, Yochanan immersed them, 10and the act of immersion was for them a sign that they had been forgiven by God, for they had truly repented in their hearts, and had asked for a forgiveness of their sins.
3So the word of God filled his soul, and he cried out, saying, 4‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 5And do not say to yourselves, “We have Avraham as our father”, because I tell you that out of these stones, God can raise up children for Avraham. 6The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and cast into the fire!’
4The rich and the powerful also came to him to be immersed, among them those who were known for their contempt of the poor of the land. 5To them Yochanan said, ‘Woe to you rich, for you open wide your purses, and pour out many kikkarin of gold for those who can bring you more wealth and prestige, 6but you close off your purses to the poor, and you will not spare them even one prutah! 7You have your wealth now as your consolation, but the day is coming when your consolation will be taken away from you! 8And then you will mourn and weep for what you have lost!’
9Furthermore, he pointed out other fakers who came to him without repentance, and he warned them, saying, ‘God’s winnowing fan is already in His hand; He will clear His threshing floor thoroughly, and gather the wheat into His granary, 10but the chaff He will burn up with fire that cannot be extinguished.’
2And Yochanan replied, ‘When you see the poor, don’t pass them by, but give alms. 3He who has two tunics should share with the one who has none, and anyone with something to eat must do the same. 4Don’t abandon widows and orphans, and don’t hate your neighbour in your heart. 5Children, respect your parents, and parents, turn your hearts to your children. 6Remember the covenant which our God made with our ancestors, and remain faithful to it.’
7And tax collectors came to him to confess and be immersed. And they said to him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’
8So he told them, ‘Don’t collect any more in taxes than you are required to.’
9And some of Herod’s soldiers also said, ‘And what should we do?’
10So he told them, ‘Don’t extort money, and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.’
4So Antipas deserted his lawful wife, and after Herodias divorced herself from Philip under Roman law, she married Antipas.
5In this way, Antipas sinned by marrying his brother’s wife while he still lived, and again, because she was his other brother’s daughter.
7. 1News of this reached Galilee and Judea, and Herod’s Nabatean wife left Galilee to go to her father. 2So the word of God came to Yochanan, and directed him to warn Herod of the consequences of all his sins.
3So one day, when Herod was travelling through Samaria on his way to Jerusalem to meet with the Roman Governor Gratus, Yochanan stood on a hillside and called out to him, 4‘Herod! Listen, and hear the word of God: You ignore the commandments of God, and instead obey the bark of dogs; but there will come a day when those same dogs will seize you and tear you to pieces.’
5Herod was greatly angered by this, but could not do anything, since he was beyond his jurisdiction, and did not want to incur the wrath of the Roman Governor for overstepping his authority.
6So he asked his chief steward Chuza, who was travelling with him, ‘Who is that man?’
7Chuza answered him, ‘He is Yochanan son of Zekharyah of Bethany. Many say he is a prophet of God, and some even say he is the one who was promised us to teach in the spirit of the prophet Eliyahu.’
8This greatly troubled Herod, who said, ‘Will this Yochanan also prove to be the scourge of Israel?’
4‘How long will you refuse to choose? If the Holy One our God is your Saviour and Deliverer, then follow Him. 5But if messiahs and false prophets are your saviours and deliverers, then follow them; you cannot follow both!’
6So the people said to him, ‘Then tell us Teacher, what should we do?’
7And Yochanan replied, ‘I immerse you in water, but you must also allow yourselves to be immersed in the fire of God’s Presence. 8Then you will have zeal for the Holy One and Him alone, and you will fall away from any false messiah who comes to lead the house of Israel to destruction.’
4So Yochanan took them to a river. They confessed their sins to God, and Yochanan immersed them in the living waters of the river.
5But after them came those who awaited a messiah, and pursued him saying, 6‘Are you the Messiah, the one who was promised to us, or are we to wait for someone else?’
7So Yochanan said to them, ‘God says, “Why are you waiting? Who is it you all truly seek?” You await a messiah to come and save you, 8but this is what the Holy One of Israel says: “I am already here among you! My kingdom is with you now! I alone am your Saviour, and besides Me there is no one else. Now is the time of redemption; now is the time, for My hand is raised, ready to deliver salvation to my people!” You seek a saviour, but your true Saviour is with you now, ready to deliver you!’
9But these people persisted in their stubbornness and said to him, ‘Teacher, surely you know that it is the messiah who will save us, and throw off the yoke that weighs so heavily on the necks of our people.’
10And Yochanan said, ‘Have you so lost faith in our God? Have you abandoned all hope in His might, and in His power to save?’
3Herodias said, ‘A fine ruler you have turned out to be! So my husband, arise, eat and be cheerful – I will deal with this troubler myself.’
4So she sent two of her most devoted servants – scoundrels, the both of them – to secretly kill Yochanan. 5But Chuza, Herod’s chief steward, came to hear of their planning between them, and quickly sent word to Yochanan to escape.
6As soon as the news came to Yochanan, his followers told him he should flee out into the desert, because none of Herodias’s cowards would dare follow him into the wilderness.
7So Yochanan fled into the desert south of Judea. After a day’s journey under the heat of the sun, he was exhausted. 8And he cried out to God and said, ‘Hear me, O YHVH! I’ve had enough – I cannot take any more. Let me die here!’
9At that moment, he spied a buzzard rising above him. He followed the path of its flight with his eyes, until it flew into a cave, and then out again. 10So Yochanan went up to this cave and rested there. Morning and evening, birds brought bread and locusts to him at the entrance of the cave, and he drank from a desert stream.
11And God said to him, ‘Yochanan son of Zekharyah, why are you here?’
12And Yochanan answered, ‘Because Herodias’s men are looking for me to kill me.’
13So God gave him instructions, saying, ‘Do this as I tell you. Return to the west bank of the river Jordan, and continue to minister to my people, 14for among your followers to come will be one I shall call as a prophet to succeed you. 15Just as a hen gathers together her brood, so shall he gather together the innocent and the righteous, 16so that I can shelter them on the day when I call the wicked to account, and at the time when I judge the guilty who have defamed the holiness of My name.’
11. 1So Yochanan returned to Judea. In time the number of his followers grew great, 2and they called themselves Nazorayyans, because they had consecrated themselves to YHVH and His eternal covenant with the house of Israel. 3Yochanan spoke with his followers, and taught them the word that had been given to him.
4Eventually the sabbatical year came round, when the fields cannot be tilled, nor anything be cultivated in them. 5Without work, the labourers from the fields came to listen to Yochanan.
6Amongst his many followers was one called Yeshua` son of Yosef of Nazareth. His mother was a widow, and he normally worked as a day labourer to support her, but with no work in the fields, he hired himself out, sometimes as a house-servant, and sometimes as a builder or craftsman. 7He would sit amongst the crowds who came to listen to Yochanan after he had immersed them. 8For on the day that Yeshua` was immersed for the first time by Yochanan, he knew that God had called him to be a prophet.
9And from that day forwards, whenever he was in Judea Yeshua` would join other Nazorayyans when they gathered to listen to the Immerser. 10Whenever he passed through Judea on his way up to Jerusalem at festival times, he would sit and listen to the teachings of the Immerser. 11It was about this time that Yeshua` met some of those whom he would later appoint as emissaries, for they were also followers of Yochanan.
4Pilatus was cunning, and a devious man, and enjoyed annoying those he hated.
5So one day, knowing our law against graven images, Pilatus deliberately sought to annoy the people of Jerusalem. 6So one night under cover of darkness, he had military standards, which bore the imperial image, brought into the city. 7Then he set them around the Antonia fortress on the north side of the holy Temple, as well as around his own residence.
8When morning came, people approaching the Temple saw the standards, and were greatly angered. 9They besieged Pilatus’s residence, and clamoured for the removal of the offending images from the Holy City.
10So Pilatus threatened to slaughter them all, but this did not dissuade them. 11He left Jerusalem for the coast to find peace at his headquarters in Caesarea, but the angry crowds followed him even to Caesarea, their numbers swollen by people from the surrounding countryside. 12They all clamoured for the images to be removed, and such was the size of the crowd, that they had to be herded into the amphitheatre there.
13Pilatus again refused, so the crowd stayed there for five days and nights. In the end, Pilatus could bear no more, so he ordered his soldiers to advance on the people with their swords drawn. 14At this however, the crowd fell to their knees on the ground, and either bared their chests, or presented their necks, shouting that they were ready to be killed, rather than transgress the laws of our God.
15Pilatus was amazed at this, and realised that the only way he was going to get rid of the crowd was either to massacre them all, which would have provoked a universal uprising in the province, and which in turn would have incurred the extreme displeasure of the Emperor; 16or he could remove the standards from Jerusalem. Needless to say, Pilatus decided to remove the standards.
13. 1Now there were some Pharisees who came up from Jerusalem to question Yochanan, because they felt that he was disturbing the peace in the land. 2So they asked him, ‘Why do you teach what you teach? By what authority do you teach? 3Are you Eliyahu? Or the Messiah? Or the Prophet like Moses? Our Traditions decree that there are no more prophets, so why do you still teach, and do the things you do?’
4So Yochanan answered them and said, ‘I am none of those men, the ones whom you have told God to send – where and when and who you want them to be. I am the one whom God has sent to prepare the way before Him. 5For surely the day is coming when all the arrogant and the evildoers will be burnt off like stubble, but for those who revere God, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And when the fire has passed, the righteous shall leap like new born calves released from the stall.’
6In cautious reply, the Pharisees asked, ‘Then are you saying you are Eliyahu? But surely you know that our Traditions say Eliyahu comes to announce the son of David, something you say you do not do. 7Instead, you warn us to repent to avoid the terrible Day of the Holy One, blessed be He. Therefore, you are claiming to be a prophet, and as our Traditions say, there are no more prophets.’
8So Yochanan said to them, ‘Then your Traditions are the words of blind guides, and you yourselves are blind if you do not see it! 9For if you do not heed the words of those who are sent to you by God, warning you of the terrible Day to come, then your blind guides will lead you all into a pit of destruction!
10Still they refused to listen, and said, ‘There are no more prophets; we know this, because our fathers have said it. 11And you say that you are not the messiah, so why should we heed your words?’
12So Yochanan said to them, ‘Listen! One who is a beggar, one dressed in ragged clothes, comes among you and speaks wisely, yet because he’s a beggar, you won’t listen to him. 13There are also fools and deceivers widespread among us, yet because people call them ‘messiah’ or ‘Son of David’ you listen to them. 14It’s the wisdom of God that calls His servant; therefore, what are the Traditions of men, that they should legislate against God’s calling?’
3But all his followers called out to him and said, ‘Master, we will not leave you!’
4But Yochanan insisted, saying, ‘It has become too dangerous for you. So I tell you all this: You are no longer my followers, nor I your master. God alone is your Master, and it is His will that you shall follow, and His message that you will deliver. 5Leave me therefore and return to your homes in Judea and Galilee, for it is no longer safe for you to be called my followers.
6‘If the voice of God calls you into desert places, there you must go. If the voice of God calls you into towns and cities you have never been to before, there you must go. 7And whatever God directs you to speak, so you must speak. The message cannot be allowed to die with its messengers. Teach others, so that if they strike you, the message will live on.’
8Yeshua` son of Yosef was among those gathered, and he took Yochanan’s words to heart. He realised that from the day that he became a mouthpiece of God, until the day that he went to rest with his ancestors, the enemies of God would seek him out too. 9He realised that one day his life would be taken from him. The day and the hour could be at any time, and therefore his mission was urgent. 10So Yeshua` returned to Galilee by way of the wilderness of Judea, to contemplate the days to come in solitude.
3So four of Herod’s sons, including Herod Antipas, came together to discuss the situation. 4They feared that Pilatus could go too far one day and provoke an uprising. Their positions of power would also be endangered, since the people saw them as servants of Rome. 5Because of this, they came to the decision that it was reasonable to oppose Pilatus on this matter, and so they put themselves at the head of a band of citizens and asked to be heard by Pilatus.
6Herod Antipas came forward, and asked for the shields to be removed. 7Pilatus retorted that they did not bear any image on them – merely words in the Latin language saying to whom and by whom they were being dedicated. 8Antipas replied that this was not the point. And he said, ‘This is the latest in a series of attempts to provoke unrest by going against our religious sensibilities.’
9Pilatus laughed. ‘You talk of religious sensibilities to me? I know little of your religion, and I care even less, but I do know that your marriage to your brother’s wife doesn’t quite fulfil the requirements of your religious law, does it?’
10This angered Antipas, and he withdrew. He held a burning hatred for Pilatus from that day on. 11Within a few days, Herod’s sons sent an appeal to the Emperor Tiberius. 12The Emperor, fearing unrest that he might not be able to control, sent strong instructions back to Jerusalem, to Pilatus, commanding him that the votive shields be transferred to the temple of Augustus in Caesarea.
3So this steward got off his animal and knelt out of respect for Yochanan, saying, ‘Master, may the Holy One be with you!’
4And Yochanan replied, ‘And with you! Chuza, there is something that the Holy One your God commands you.’
5And Chuza said, ‘Name it Master, and I will do it, for I am but God’s servant.’
6So Yochanan said, ‘Go to Herod and tell him this: “Hear the word of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For as our God lives, you will suffer defeat for your sins. 7You have taken your brother’s wife while your brother still lives, and have cast aside the woman who was rightfully your wife. 8And furthermore, you have taken as a wife she who is your brother’s daughter. 9For these things, your armies will suffer defeat at the hands of your enemies.’ ”
10But Chuza said to him, ‘Master, I have zeal for our God, and I have great love for you, but if I say these words to my lord, he will surely kill me!’
11So Yochanan said, ‘No, he will not kill you. If Herodias will cease her harassment of my followers, then I will deliver myself into the hands of Herod. Tell him to send his men to meet me over on the east bank of the river Jordan.’
12So Chuza did as Yochanan had instructed him. He delivered the message to Herod, in the exact words that Yochanan had given him, and Herod did not kill him. 13Instead, Herod sent his men to arrest Yochanan in Perea. And they imprisoned him in Machaerus castle.
14Herod permitted the followers of Yochanan to visit him in prison, because he feared him, and what might happen if he had Yochanan killed.
15But Yochanan continued to rebuke Herodias, and she waited for the moment to have him put to death.
16And when Yeshua` heard that Yochanan had been arrested, he remained in Galilee until such time that God called him to speak.
17. 1At about this time, Pontius Pilatus had an aqueduct built to carry water from the southern highlands to Jerusalem. 2Since the main beneficiary of this project would be the Temple – for washing away the blood of sacrifices – 3Pilatus insisted that the aqueduct be funded out of the money in the Temple treasury.
4The Temple authorities made great protest at this attempt to appropriate money which had been dedicated to God; they considered that it was therefore sacrilegious.
5However Pilatus, being the insensitive man that he was, had the Temple treasury raided, and took whatever funds he wanted. 6Now, it was nearing the time of the Passover sacrifice, and there were many pilgrims present in Jerusalem. 7Among them were a significant number of Galileans, who were stirred by religious zeal and national fervour to angry demonstrations against what Pilatus had done.
8Pilatus decided to send in his troops secretly among the crowds, with daggers to panic the crowd and thereby break them up. This resulted in extreme violence, and a massacre of many pilgrims.
9This incident brought even further anger from Herod, because most of those who died were his subjects.
3But Herodias still sought the chance to kill him, and an opportune moment came. 4On his birthday, Herod threw a feast for his chief officials, military commanders and the wealthy men of Galilee. 5When Herodias’s daughter came in, the dinner guests asked that she dance for them, but she refused. 6Herod, not wishing to displease his guests, begged her. ‘If you dance, ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.’ 7And he promised her with an oath. ‘Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.’
8So Herodias upon hearing this, advised her daughter to dance. So she danced, and pleased Herod and his invited dinner guests.
9Then she went out to her mother and said, ‘What shall I ask for?’
10Herodias answered, ‘The head of Yochanan the Immerser.’
11Immediately she hurried into the banquet hall to Herod and asked, ‘I want you to give me the head of Yochanan the Immerser right now on a platter.’
12Herod was deeply distressed, but because he had sworn an oath in front of his dinner guests, he felt he could not refuse her.
13So at once he gave orders to send an executioner to bring Yochanan’s head. The man went, beheaded Yochanan in prison, and brought back his head on a platter. 14Herod presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother.
15When Yochanan’s followers and emissaries came to hear of this, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb when morning came. They mourned him for seven days. 16In fear and grief, their hearts fallen, his followers returned to their homes and livelihoods.
2So he sent an army to attack Herod in a territorial dispute in the region of Gamalitis. Herod in turn sent his army to meet them. 3However, they were heavily defeated, and many believed that this was a punishment for the execution of Yochanan.
4Several years afterward, Herodias persuaded Herod to ask the Roman Emperor for greater authority and kingship. Much against his better judgement, he went to Rome to put the request to the Emperor himself. 5However, Agrippa, his own brother, had poisoned the Emperor’s mind against him, and Herod was exiled to Spain. 6Herodias joined him a short while later, where they both died.
7Pilatus’s cruelty grew more and more severe. The Emperor, fearing Pilatus’s actions could provoke insurrection, had him removed, and he too died in exile.
8This then is a record of the days of the prophethood of Yochanan called the Immerser, faithful servant of YHVH our God. 9May his name be remembered for good.
Table of sources of the Book of Yochanan the Immerser
The purpose of this work is to give a completely Yahwist Israelite understanding of Yochanan as a prophet of God. While much of it is based on historical record, the purpose of the book is not to exposit historical truth, but rather spiritual truth. This is the aim and purpose of all Hebrew scripture.
Note: ‘cf’ means ‘compare with’; the verse is based on or inspired by the source.
Other verses have had to be written as a link in the narrative, to make the story follow a logical course; these are described as ‘narrative reconstructions’. Other verses have had to be included to give a theological explanation of what is happening; these are described as 'theological midrash'.
© Shmu’eil ben Naftali
(International Talmidi Version,
First edition published July 2000)