You probably knew that Handel’s oratorio is about Jesus. But, perhaps because it is usually sung at Christmas time, music lovers may forget a few important facts. Like the fact that Jesus is Jewish. And that the Jewish prophets predicted the coming of the Messiah, and Handel put their words to music. “Behold a virgin shall conceive” (Isaiah 7:14) and “Unto us a child is born” (Isaiah 9:6) come straight from the Hebrew Scriptures.
But now, listeners are less likely to forget the very Jewish backdrop to this famous oratorio when they hear it in the original language of the Scriptures—Hebrew!
David and Lisa Loden emigrated from the United States to Israel in 1974. David, 76, a former Broadway singer and stage manager, conducted a choir made up of Jewish and Arab (and other) believers in Jesus from all across Israel. The choir performed major choral works. One of the members, Irene Levy, began to talk with Loden about the possibility of performing Handel’s Messiah in the Hebrew language. Levy found two other Messianic Jews who were excellent translators, and the project was birthed.
Loden says the translated version is more faithful to the Hebrew Scriptures than Handel’s.
“The King James Bible, as faithful as it is to the original Hebrew or Greek texts, is still a translation” Loden explains. “Many times the original word-for-word verse from the Hebrew Scriptures is better than the best translation. The richness of the meanings is highlighted in the original language.”
The first public performance of the Hebrew Messiah was at The Pavilion theater in Jerusalem in 2007. Loden sang the bass solo, but then asked permission to produce the Messiah on a more professional basis. It was next performed in May 2010. Loden again sang the bass role, and his daughter, Nava, the soprano. The Israel Chamber Orchestra accompanied the 40-person choir.
That Christmas, at the request of The Pavilion, Loden’s choir performed it three more times (once in English). This was repeated the following December (2011), with Loden conducting. He would like the Messiah to become a traditional December event in Jerusalem, along with other Messianic concerts throughout the year.
Loden estimates that half of the 500 or so attendees at each Pavilion performance of the Messiah are secular Israelis.
“They have loved the Messiah and go to every performance of it that’s ever done in the Jerusalem area,” says Loden, “but they have never heard it in their own language and do not have a deep understanding of what it’s saying.
“I sat there on the platform and watched as they heard this music, which they love, and understood it for the first time. They were sitting with their mouths open. Some were weeping. The tenor soloist had brought his mother, who has probably been to every concert that Israel has to offer, and she was weeping.”