Jesus the Galilean Jew

Excerpted & Aggregated from L. Woods, S. McKnight, J. Meier, & R. Hiers

While Christianity generally has no hesitation acknowledging that Jesus was a Jew, the full implications of this are not generally understood and even more rarely taught. It goes without saying that Jesus was a Jew, born of Jews in Galilee. What is more, all the earliest disciples who established the movement were Jewish, as were the first leaders of the Jesus Movement. Jesus came from a Jewish family, was raised in the Jewish region of Galilee, had Jewish friends, and was brought up in the religion of Moses. All four gospel writers present Jesus as a pious Jew, who had a deep attachment to the religion of his ancestors, and who was faithful in his observance of the Law of Moses. A genuine understanding of the person and mission of Jesus requires appreciation of the historical context and the Jewish world in which he lived.

Joseph and Mary were Law-observant Galilean Jews and saw to it that their son was raised in a healthy religious family environment.  They were village people who had enough to live on and support a family, so they were not on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.  The gospel writers tell us that Mary and Joseph were people of prayer who received inspiration and guidance from God (Mt 1:21-25; Lk 1:26-38).  They arranged for Jesus’ circumcision (Lk 2:21), presented Jesus in the Temple according to Jewish law as part of a purification ceremony (Lk 2:25-28) and, when they could, visited the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover (Lk 2:41).

As a young boy, Jesus received a basic education in general living skills and in the Hebrew Scriptures from his parents.  Up to the age of twelve, it was customary for Jewish boys to spend most of their time in the company of their mothers and the women of their village.  When he turned thirteen, a boy officially became an adult and was obliged to observe all the commandments.  As a young teenager, Jesus no doubt enjoyed spending more time with Joseph and would have learned a lot from him.  We can safely assume that Jesus looked up to Joseph and aspired to be like him.

It is worth reflecting on the likelihood that the relationship between Jesus and Joseph was a close and loving one.  Later on, Jesus would refer to God as his father, but all his ideas of fatherhood and all the warm and devoted images he had associated with the term “father” would have been nourished by the strong bond he had with Joseph during his formative years. The loving father figures who appear in the teachings and parables of Jesus would almost certainly have been modeled on Joseph.

Not only does the upbringing of Jesus mark him as undeniably Jewish, but his behavior, his attitudes and his teachings prove that he was a pious Palestinian Jew, who was not only devoted to the observance of the Torah of Moses but who sought to impart to others a Torah spirituality that would strengthen people’s relationship with God.  The gospels show us that Jesus very quickly gained the reputation very similar to that of a prophet.  He referred to himself as a prophet when he experienced rejection in his home village of Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6) and his activity as a wandering charismatic preacher fits the general pattern of many of the classical prophets (Lk 24:19).  Like the prophets of former times, Jesus saw a need to work toward correcting error and he set out to show his contemporaries an authentic way to spiritual fulfillment and quality life in the sight of God.

The gospels do not present a picture of Jesus reaching his maturity in his home town.  On the contrary, he appears to follow the call to leave and embark on a broader mission in life.  His search for something more takes him southward out of Galilee to the company of an outstanding holy man, John the Baptizer, who was becoming known as a prophet and who had attracted a considerable following.  Jesus was drawn by John’s call for repentance and a renewal of Torah spirituality, in preparation for the approaching reign of God, and he became a disciple of John.  John and his disciples would have been a spiritual family for Jesus, who would have found a satisfying sense of purpose and spiritual direction in this company.  Jesus’ own outlook on life and on religion as a way to God would have been shaped, to some extent, by this experience.  It is after John’s arrest that Jesus begins his independent mission and gathers other disciples around him.  At this point he focuses his teaching on the reign of God, accompanied by an interpretation of the Law of Moses that bears his own distinctive stamp.

That both John the Baptist and Jesus had a vision for the nation of Israel needs to be emphasized: neither John nor Jesus was thinking down the road thousands of years, to our own time, when Pauline Christianity would have gone through a multitude of mutations and denominations and when the Church would be interacting with cultures and ideologies so remote from those encountered in the ancient land of Israel. Both John and Jesus had a single vision: the restoration of Israel. That is, they had one vision for their contemporary Israel, and that was for Israel to become what God had called it to be.

All this stands in stark contrast to one popular portrait of the historical Jesus found in Christian interpretation today: Jesus was a kindhearted rabbi who preached gentleness and love in the spirit of Rabbi Hillel. This domestication of a 1st century Jewish sage bears a curious resemblance to the domestication of Jesus undertaken for instance by Thomas Jefferson some two centuries ago. The advantage and appeal of the domesticated Jesus is obvious: he is instantly relevant to and usable by contemporary modern ethics, homilies, political programs, and ideologies of various stripes. In contrast, a 1st century Jew who presents himself as the end-times prophet of the imminent arrival of God's kingdom, a kingdom that the prophet makes present and effective by miracles reminiscent of Elijah and Elisha, is not so instantly relevant and usable. Yet, this 1st century Jew chosen by God, this end-times prophet and miracle-worker, is the historical Jesus.

In this sense, a faithful portrait of Jesus must be in line with his vision for Israel and with the role he saw himself playing within that vision. Scholars, theologians, and the church fathers have utilized many categories for assessing Jesus: God, Lord, messiah, king, teacher, social revolutionary, Cynic-like sage, and religious genius. We will proceed on the historical basis that Jesus thought of himself as in some sense: king, messiah, and prophet. Each of these categories requires careful definition and elaboration, but the reader will have to go elsewhere for that. The recent attempt by John P. Meier to put it all into one (rather lengthy) sentence speaks for many: Jesus is:

a 1st-century Jewish eschatological prophet who proclaims an imminent-future coming of God's kingdom, practices baptism as a ritual of preparation for that kingdom, teaches his disciples to pray to God as 'abba' for the kingdom's arrival, prophesies the regathering of all Israel (symbolized by the inner circle of his twelve disciples) and the inclusion of the Gentiles when the kingdom comes — but who at the same time makes the kingdom already present for at least some Israelites by his exorcisms and miracles of healing.

Contemporary theological scholarship, as well as historical theology, is united in the view that Jesus' vision concerned Israel as a nation and not a new religion. He wanted to consummate God's promises to Israel, and he saw this taking place in the land of Israel. Jesus the Jew addressed his fellow Israelites and sought to gather all Israel into the community of the end time. It was only at the consummation of Israel's history that he thought Gentiles would be brought into the kingdom (see, e.g., Matt 8:11-12.). He was not interested in creating a separatist sect or a holy remnant like at Qumran, and he never sent his disciples on a formal mission to the Gentiles. The idea that his special religious community within Israel would slowly undergo a process of separation from Israel as it pursued a mission to the Gentiles in this present world—the long-term result being that his community would become predominantly Gentile itself—finds no place in Jesus' message or practice.

While the Christian church as we know it would not have arisen without the ministry of the historical Jesus as a necessary precondition, the ministry of Jesus, taken by itself, did not create the early church. The immediate matrix of the church is the crucifixion of Jesus, the claim by some of his disciples that he had risen from the dead and appeared to them, and their experience of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, unleashing a vigorous mission first to Israel and then increasingly to the Gentiles.

What then motivated Jesus to wander around the countryside, first in Galilee and then elsewhere in Palestine, preaching to people?  Like John the Baptist, Jesus was convinced that the time was near for the coming of God’s reign upon the earth.  For people steeped in the Jewish tradition, this meant that God was about to bring to an end the present sinful and imperfect world order and establish a new world order in which the values of goodness would dominate all human behavior and people would live in kindness and peace with one another, with God, and with the natural world around them.  Later Jewish tradition maintained that the Messiah, the specially anointed agent of God, would inaugurate this new age by overcoming the forces of evil, and would lead Israel and the rest of humanity into a future where everyone would live according to God’s will.

It follows, then, that Jesus cannot be understood if he is described exclusively, or even primarily, in the category of a spiritual master, or as one who was primarily concerned with the inner religious life and its disciplines for the individual. First and foremost, Jesus was a Jew whose vision of the proper religious life centered on the restoration of the Jewish nation and on the fulfillment of the covenants that God had made with the nation. The most important context in which modern interpreters should situate Jesus is that of ancient Jewish nationalism and Jesus' conviction that Israel had to repent to avoid a national disaster. Jesus' hope was not so much the "Church" as the restoration of the twelve tribes (Matt. 8:11-12; 10:23; and 19:28), the fulfillment of the promises of Moses to national Israel, and the hope of God's kingdom (focused on and through Israel) on earth. Thus, when Jesus sent out the Twelve (Matt. 9:35-11:1), the "disciples were not evangelistic preachers sent out to save individual souls for some unearthly paradise. They were couriers proclaiming a national emergency and conducting a referendum on a question of national survival."

Consistent with this national mission is another aspect of Jesus' vision: the warning Jesus announced to Israel regarding the sacking of Jerusalem. This was no simple revelation of what would happen next in God's timetable. Jesus' dire warning was founded upon personal revelation concerning the nation of Israel and his mission to that nation: Israel would either repent and accept the message of the kingdom, or it would forfeit its privileged status and become like the rest of the nations, just as happened at the hands of Assyria and Babylon, not to mention the more recent episodes with the Greeks, the Ptolemies, the Seleucids, and the Romans. Jesus' vision, for both the present and the future, concerned Israel and its place in the redemptive plan of God. His hope did not center on a universal Church but on the restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel through the fulfillment of God's promises. Jesus' vision was indeed for the world — but only because it was first for Israel. Jesus' vision was universalistic because it was particularistic.

A word must be said about the relationship of Jesus' understanding of God to Judaism's. What Jesus said about God was consistent with what he learned in public religious gatherings and from his parents. Jesus taught no new thing about God, and his experience of God was consonant with what other Jews, in Israel's past and present, had already experienced or were experiencing. Christian attempts to contend that Jesus taught a new idea about God amount to little more than vain polemics and wishful thinking. The pages of the Gospels teach nothing about God that does not have a substantial background in Jewish literature and experience. To argue that Jesus' experience of God was either unique or more intimate than that of other Israelites is to argue for something that cannot be shown. This is not to deny the intimacy of Jesus with God, but only to maintain that the people of Israel also had an intimate relation with God whenever they uttered the words of the Psalter. Jesus' God, his view of God, and his experience of God, so far as we are able to perceive the latter, are thoroughly and consistently Jewish. In this regard, Jesus' mission was primarily directed at the restoration of Israel, his God must have been the same as his nation's.

In Jesus' view, Israel had persisted in its sinful disobedience to the covenant that God had made with the nation. Over and over God had called Israel to repentance and restoration. Now he was calling one more time before disaster struck the nation. Jesus, following John, stepped into Israel's history of covenantal election and disobedience and was compelled to warn Israel of impending judgment. His God called him to warn Israel of the judgment.

Jesus stepped into history with the mission of warning Israel of a coming disaster upon the nation. His warning also contained a call to repent (return to Torah) and, for those who did repent, a promise of escape from judgment. Undergirding Jesus' call to Israel was his vision of the kingdom of God, the term he chose to express the end of Israel's self-imposed exile and the fulfillment of Israel's hopes. Behind the impending judgment stood the kingdom; beyond the judgment loomed the kingdom for those who turned to God as Jesus called them. No one questions that Jesus spoke of the kingdom, but questions abound about what Jesus meant by the kingdom.

What set Jesus apart from all Jewish prophets is that he believed that the kingdom was a present and operative reality. Theological exegesis and historical scholarship agrees at this point. However, the more important issue is in what sense this kingdom is present and how that presence is to be defined.

The kingdom is present in the sense that God's long-awaited and promised plans for the deliverance and restoration of Israel are now being fulfilled. Jesus preached the kingdom's presence, he acted in ways to show that it was effectively operating, and he did things that showed its power. In each of these acts, the promises made to Israel were being realized in the present: God was coming to restore the nation and end the exile. Whether we glimpse this realization primarily in Jesus' table fellowship with sinners, in his offer of forgiveness, in his mysterious parables, or in his miracles, the realization of the kingdom was nonetheless present.

The kingdom is seen in and through Jesus. Jesus was bold enough to announce that it was he, and not others, who was ushering in the kingdom. Whether one wants to call this ego-centeredness or incipient messianology is beside the point; Jesus firmly believed that he was God's chosen viceroy of the last day whom God had appointed to usher in the kingdom. He thought of this kingdom as continuous with the ancient covenants that God had made with Israel, but he also conceived of his activity as something new and restorative.

The kingdom is inauspiciously present in a myriad of ways. Drawing upon a tradition concerned with humility and God's surprising ways, Jesus likened the present kingdom of God to a mustard seed, to leaven, and to table fellowship with sinners. He called unlikely types of people to follow him: tax collectors, prostitutes, fishermen, and peasant artisans. Directly in the face of much of Jewish expectation, Jesus taught that the (future) kingdom would peacefully coexist with those outside it. In so teaching, Jesus eschewed the option of a violent revolution and depicted the kingdom as a gentle society for those who want peace. Peaceful means bring about God's kingdom of peace among his chosen nation Israel.

Although the kingdom is inauspicious in its essential nature, it is occasionally powerful in its display. Jesus' acts of power, especially his exorcisms and healings, are to be understood in this context. To show the exceptional power of God at work among Israelites, he performed miracles, not as tokens of the kingdom, but as revelations of the kingdom itself. He did not perform miracles to get attention or to coerce others to follow him, but to reveal a kingdom that would eventually embrace the world in a universal display of God's salvation.

A central theme of Jesus' teaching concerns behavior and relationship to God. This ethic of Jesus reveals what it takes to enter into this presently operative kingdom. The nation can enter into the blessings of the end of days simply by repenting, by turning to Jesus in light of the advent of the kingdom, and by striking out in a new way of obedience to Jesus. The end-time ethical hope of righteousness, Jesus announced, must be heard and heeded. Those who do so will find the hope for Israel's consolation.

Acceptance in the coming Kingdom required following Jesus. This may be looked upon as “conversion”, so what did Jesus mean by conversion (or following him)? There are two dimensions of conversion in Jesus' teachings: a positive movement toward Jesus and a negative movement away from sinfulness and unfaithfulness. The positive movement is best expressed in the concept of faith, while the negative movement finds its most lucid description in repentance. Faith involved a deliberate decision to commit oneself to Jesus and to his vision for the restoration of Israel as well as a wholehearted commitment to his teachings and example. Repentance entailed internal self-denial as well as external signs. Conversion, then, was the decision to join the Jesus movement, to sit at table with Jesus in a public acknowledgment of his role in God's plan, to enlist oneself in his vision for the restoration of Israel, and to live the necessary lifestyle that such inclusion involved. Although conversion was a personal matter, it had national significance; it involved recognition of Jesus as the one who was calling the whole nation of Israel to restoration.

When Jesus looked down the road to the final kingdom, what did he see? First, Jesus’ call to follow him, to convert to him, and to follow his ethical directives is inextricably bound up with his teaching about God and the coming Kingdom. Secondly, he believed that those who were following him, participating in his table fellowship, and witnessing his miraculous cures and teachings, would be the ones to populate the final kingdom. Second, though he believed that the kingdom would arrive within a generation, and though he prayed and taught others to pray for its arrival, he was uncertain of precisely when the kingdom would appear in all its fullness. Third, he believed that the future would begin with God's judgment on Israel's sinfulness in the form of the destruction of Jerusalem. Fourth, he believed that, following the judgment, the kingdom of God would be made up of Israelites who had survived the ordeal and who would become the restored Israel, constituted around the new tribal leaders, the Twelve; Fifth, he believed that the final kingdom would be a time of endless fellowship with the Father, who would shower peace, love, and justice on the land. For Jesus, the final kingdom would be the consummation of history, the goal toward which God had been directing his energies since the days of Abraham. It would be the complete end of exile and the restoration of God's people.

Jesus did things that got him into trouble and caused controversy. His choice to participate in table fellowship with the unlikely, his choice to do things on the Sabbath that were considered by others to be sacrilegious, and especially his act of turning tables upside down in the temple courts during a holy festival — each, in its own way, provoked heated controversy, accusations, and exchange, not to mention questionings, plots, and machinations on the part of the establishment.

Alongside these acts we should note his choice of the Twelve, surely a symbol for the restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel and the end-time reconstitution of Israel. These deeds are to be understood in the category of "prophetic symbolic acts" and not simply "acts of compassion" performed by one who, in needing and wanting to reach out to people in mercy, could not comprehend what all the fuss was about. In each of these acts, Jesus knew what he was doing and what others would say — and he did them because of what others would do and say! These acts reveal Jesus, at least in his mission and his self-understanding of his relation to God, as one who had a mission to Israel. His mission was not well received, and to this lack of reception Jesus responded with a warning about judgment prior to his death.

The establishment, for complex religio-political reasons, brought Jesus down for blasphemy and sedition, and had him crucified. A sure aspect of Jesus' vision for the nation included an ordeal of tribulation through which the nation would have to pass before God's judgment and kingdom would materialize. It seems clear that Jesus saw his own death as part of that ordeal. We can be confident that the opponents of Jesus saw in his death a fitting end to his "failed national experiment" to call the nation to its knees in its final hour.

Both sides of the story, then, fit the paradigm of a national mission: the opponents had him put to death because he was disturbing the nation's peace, and Jesus himself saw his mission in terms of calling that nation to repent so that it might avert its own doom. His occupation of the temple in the last week of his life shows how central the nation was to his mission. As Bruce D. Chilton, who has given significant attention to Jesus' temple incident, has stated: "
However memorable Jesus' teaching may have been on its own merits, it was his crucifixion as a result of his occupation of the temple that became the centerpiece of the Gospels and of the movement that came to be called 'Christian.'"

The outlook and purpose of Jesus is to be seen not only in his words but also in his activity. In Galilee, Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was near and that men should repent. Elijah had come, the Spirit of prophecy had been restored. Men were living now in the last days of the Old world. Jesus undertook to exorcise demons in order to liberate the afflicted from the power of the Evil One, preparing them for entrance into the Kingdom, and to prepare for the final defeat of Satan which would take place, if not earlier, then with the establishment of God's rule on earth. The defeat of the demons was a sure sign of Satan's ultimate doom. At moments, perhaps, Jesus even visualized the defeat of Satan and the coming of the Kingdom as if they were already present realities. He sent his followers to hasten through the towns of "Israel" in order to extend his work of preparation for the Kingdom, convinced that it would come in the next few weeks. Should his fellow Jews still be in Satan's grip or unrepentant at the dawn of the Messianic Age, it would not be well for them. The Twelve returned, followed by a great crowd aroused by their preaching and, perhaps, by their successful exorcisms. Jesus consecrated this believing and hopeful crowd as heirs to the Kingdom by a symbolic pre-enactment of the Messianic Banquet. Perhaps he hoped that God might then inaugurate the Kingdom, there in the Galilean wilderness (Isa. 40:3-5). But the Kingdom did not come.

Jesus proceeded to Jerusalem to complete his work of preparing for the Kingdom, confident that it would be manifested there. There he would be enthroned as King to preside at the Judgment, joined in this work, perhaps, by some or all of his disciples. Possibly he expected the Kingdom to dawn with his entrance into the city. He prayed that it would, at any rate, come within the next few weeks, before it is the season for figs. The days before Passover he spent in the Temple, purifying it in accordance with prophetic traditions, preparing it for the beginning of the Messianic Age, and teaching those who would hear about the imminence of the Kingdom. He ate the Passover meal with his disciples in Jerusalem, hoping perhaps that the Kingdom might come that evening or the next day—at any rate, before the next Passover. Still it did not come. Possibly he and his friends would have to suffer or even die before it could come, for it was written that tribulation must precede the Messianic Age. But he taught his followers to pray, and prayed himself, that they might be spared the tribulation. At his trial and on the cross, he still looked for the Kingdom to come, either before or in consequence of his death. It did not come, but later some of his followers thought that with and through his death and resurrection, certain features of the Coming age had been manifested. Now they could look for Jesus to come as Messiah or Anointed Son of man, and for the coming of the Kingdom of God at any time. He did not come. It did not come.

He was more dogmatic than liberal Christianity wishes to admit, though his dogmas were more like those of apocalyptic Judaism than orthodox Christian theology. Contrary to liberal theology, he may well have "given himself" or at any rate, willingly accepted the prospect of suffering and death, in order to mediate the redemption of the world. But the "redemption" he contemplated was the coming of the end-times Kingdom of God to earth, not the pietistic or sacramental saving of souls for a spiritual, eternal life somewhere else. Contrary to the canons of orthodox Christian theology, he did not regard himself as an omniscient and omnipotent divine being. He knew himself to be Anointed Son of God, who would be enthroned when the Coming Age was revealed.

The ‘Christian’ will claim that Jesus the Christ can be neither validated nor invalidated by historical research. It would not prove that Jesus was the Messiah even if it could be demonstrated that he had supposed that he was or would be. The possible and probable results of historical criticism cannot take the place of the decisions of faith. Conversely, the claims of faith cannot preclude the findings of historical research. In the quest for the historical and authentic Jesus, fideism has been a greater obstacle to the truth than "historicism." Faith, of course, can proceed without reference to history. In that case, however, it cannot also claim to be grounded in history or fact.

The pieces of the puzzle thus begin to fit together: (1) At the very least, in some sense Jesus was seen by others and himself as an end times viceroy of God. He proclaimed the imminent coming of God's kingly rule and reign. Jesus' message of the kingdom of God is not some vague statement about eternal life, it is a prophet's proclamation that God is about to fulfill his promises to Israel by recreating his chosen people as they were meant to be. The kingdom of God is from start to finish a people-centered, Israel-centered message addressed to Jesus' fellow Jews. (2) Yet, unlike the Baptist, Jesus proclaimed and celebrated the kingdom of God already present in his ministry. It was present in his powerful preaching and teaching, present in his table fellowship offered to all, including toll collectors and sinners; but most strikingly it was present, palpable, and effective for his Jewish audience in his miracles. (3) These miracles, especially the miracles of raising the dead, would almost inevitably cast Jesus in the role of Elijah or Elisha. Being an itinerant prophet as well as a miracle-worker, a prophet who operated particularly in northern Israel, a prophet who spoke rather than wrote—all this would make the fit still closer.

Would his Jewish audience think of him more in terms of Elijah or Elisha? From Malachi through Ben Sira to the NT and beyond into the rabbinic literature, Elijah was the end times prophet par excellence, the prophet whose return from heaven (going up to God's presence) would signal the last days, the regathering and cleansing of Israel, the resolving of all legal questions, and the coming of God to rule in full power. Hence the end times prophet and miracle-worker from Galilee would naturally be connected with Elijah rather than Elisha. Whether people thought that Jesus was literally the returned Elijah or rather another prophet clothed with Elijah's mantle and fulfilling Elijah's role is the kind of difficult question and fine distinction that probably did not exercise the minds of many of Jesus' Jewish followers at the time. Whatever his precise relation to the Elijah of old, Jesus—the end times sage and prophet—was acting out the role of the end times Elijah as he both proclaimed the imminent coming of God's rule and made that rule a reality even now by his miracles. It was this convergence and configuration of different traits in the one man named Jesus—traits that made him the Elijah-like prophet of a kingdom both future and yet made present by his miracles—that gave Jesus his distinctiveness or "uniqueness" within Palestinian Judaism in the early 1st century AD.









Essay excerpted & aggregated from:
Woods, Laurie, Jesus at Home in Judaism. Australian Catholic University 2005
McKnight, Scot,
A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context. Eeerdmans Pub. 1999
Meier, John
A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Anchor Bible 1991
Borg, Marcus
Conflict, Holiness, and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus Bloomsbury T&T Clark 1986
Caird, G. B.
Jesus and the Jewish Nation Athlone Press 1965
Hiers, Richard
The Historical Jesus and the Kingdom of God. University of Florida Press 1973
--all rights reserved the respective authors

Excerpted & Aggregated from S. Freyne, M. Chancey, L. Woods, & S. McKnight

The Galilee of Jesus differed from Judaea as it differed also from the post-70 AD Galilee, which underwent major changes during the last decades of the first and in the course of the second century AD. It came more and more under the influence of the Judaean rabbinic authorities. Indeed the rabbis opted for, or were forced to select, the less oppressive conditions prevailing in the north after two Roman victories had finally brought to an end Jewish independence in Judaea as well as in Jerusalem, which after 135 AD was rebuilt and transformed into the pagan city of Aelia Capitolina.

Following the death of Herod the Great, who from 37 to 4 BC ruled over the whole of Palestine, his territory was divided between three of his sons who were lucky enough to survive their father. Three other sons, one of his wives, and his mother-in-law had been put to death by this murderous king, who was justifiably given the leading part of the wicked in the Gospel legend of the massacre of the innocents. Herod's eldest son, Archelaus, who inherited Judaea and Samaria, was ten years later deposed and exiled to France, and from 6 AD onward Judaea and Samaria came under direct Roman administration; Pontius Pilate (26-36 AD) was the best known of the imperial prefects. These governors resided not in Jerusalem but in Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast. In Judaea the presence of the Roman army and officialdom was visible everywhere, and taxes were collected for the imperial exchequer. However, the northern sectors of the land remained in the hands of the two surviving sons of Herod the Great. Philip (4 BC to 33/34 AD) ruled over the northeastern districts of Batanaea, the Golan, and Ituraea, and his brother Antipas was the ethnarch of Galilee from 4 BC to 39 AD, that is, during the whole lifetime of Jesus. As long as the tributes were paid, the Roman overlords did not interfere with his running of the country, which continued to enjoy comparative freedom and autonomy.

Galilee, which in earlier centuries had possessed a substantial non-Jewish population, was largely re-Judaized after the victory of the Maccabees in the second century BC. They even forcibly converted to Judaism some of the neighboring Gentile peoples. In the days of Jesus the country was completely surrounded by non-Jews. To the west, the Mediterranean coast was Hellenized, and so was Phoenicia (Lebanon) in the north. The east (southern Syria and Transjordan) was held by the confederation of ten Greek city-states, known as the Decapolis. One of these, Scythopolis (the biblical Beth Shean), at the lower extremity of the Lake of Galilee, blocked the road to the south. Beyond it lay the unfriendly province of Samaria, which Galilean Jews were well advised to bypass and to use the valley of the Jordan as a safer route for their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Inhabiting a Jewish island in the midst of a Gentile sea, the Galileans were renowned for their fighting spirit, courage, and chauvinism.

Agriculture was flourishing in the province, especially in the southern half of it, or Lower Galilee. An enthusiastic account by Josephus furnishes a vivid background to the parables of Jesus relating to fields, wildflowers, trees, and vineyards:
"
The land is everywhere so rich in soil and pasturage and produces such variety of trees, that even the most indolent are tempted by these facilities to devote themselves to agriculture. In fact, every inch of the soil has been cultivated by the inhabitants; there is not a parcel of waste land" (Jewish War, 3:42-43). Josephus further speaks of "abundant resources": Galilee produced olive oil in large quantities, some of which could be exported (War, 2:592). Agriculture was complemented by fishing in the Lake of Gennesaret, again the home of many a Gospel episode; an ancient boat similar to those used by Peter and his colleagues for earning their living, and by Jesus for traveling and occasionally as a kind of pulpit for preaching, was discovered at the bottom of the lake in 1985. It may have sunk during a storm like the one described in the Gospels.

The area of the lake lying about two hundred meters below sea level was the chief venue of the ministry of Jesus. According to Josephus it was exceptionally rich and beautiful:
There is not a plant which its fertile soil refuses to produce, and its cultivators in fact grow every species; the air is so well-tempered that it suits the most opposite varieties. The walnut, a tree which delights in the most wintry climate, here grows luxuriantly, beside palm-trees, which thrive on heat, and figs and olives, which require a milder atmosphere. One might say that nature had taken pride in thus assembling, by a tour de force, the most discordant species in a single spot, and that, by a happy rivalry, each of the seasons wished to claim this region for her own. For not only has the country this surprising merit of producing such diverse fruits, but it also preserves them: for ten months without intermission it supplies those kings of fruits, the grape and the fig; the rest mature on the trees the whole year round. Besides being favoured by its genial air, the country is watered by a highly fertilizing spring, called by the inhabitants Capharnaum. (War, 3:516-19)

The little fishing village after which the spring was named was Jesus' own town, the place where he felt "at home" (Matt. 9:1; Mark 2:1).

Galilee had its towns, but they play no part in the life of Jesus. The chief city, Sepphoris, never appears in the Gospels, nor do other important localities like Gabara, Tarichaeae, or Gischala. The Synoptics, unlike John (John 6:1, 23; 21:1), do not mention the new city built by Herod Antipas between 17 and 20 AD in honor of the emperor Tiberius and named Tiberias after him. City life had no appeal for Jesus.

if on the one hand nature might have predisposed the Galileans to enjoy a quiet and peaceful existence, on the other hand its remoteness from the center and the rugged mountains of Upper Galilee seem to have made of the area an ideal home for revolutionaries. Josephus, at the beginning of the first war against Rome commander in chief of the revolutionary forces in both Galilees, praised the bravery of the inhabitants who from childhood were trained for war (War, 3:42). The province was the seat of unrest from the mid-first century BC to the great rebellion in 66-73/74 AD, and together with the neighboring Golan produced the most notorious leaders of the fight against Rome. The list begins with Ezekias, the chief brigand or revolutionary, active in northern Galilee, who was captured and summarily executed by the young Herod in 47 BC. (
War, 1:204). His example was emulated by his son Judas, who after the death of Herod raided the royal arsenal in the half-Greek, half-Jewish regional capital of Sepphoris, next door to Nazareth, and created chaos in the area, motivated by "ambition for the royal rank" (Jewish Antiquities, 17:271-72). The general unrest which also extended to Judaea was quelled by Publius Quinctilius Varus, the Roman governor of Syria (7/6-4 BC), who put an end to the uprising by crucifying two thousand leading rebels. The dreaded cross was not an unusual sight in Roman Palestine.

At the time of the tax registration ordered by
Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, another governor of Syria, in 6 AD—the census which the Gospel of Luke wrongly connects with the birth of Jesus—Judas "the Galilean," no doubt identical with Judas son of Ezekias, launched in the company of a Pharisee called Saddok, or Zadok, the rebellious association of the Zealots, who forbade Jews to pay taxes to Caesar and acknowledge any Lord but God (War, 2:118; Ant, 17:4-10). Two of his sons, also revolutionaries and contemporaries of Jesus, were subsequently crucified by Tiberius Julius Alexander, the Romanized nephew of the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who was the governor of Judaea between 46 and 48 AD (Ant., 20:102). It is easy to understand, therefore, that the Galilean origin and messianic reputation of Jesus, as well as the fact that one of his apostles was nicknamed "the Zealot," had sinister connotations in the eyes of those whose principal aim was to secure the goodwill of the Romans toward the Jewish people in Palestine.

As far as the culture of Galilee in the first century is concerned, although commerce with neighboring regions obviously entailed the importation of Hellenistic industrial products, it should be emphasized that Hellenization as such, apart from the Greek cities, was very superficial in Galilean peasant society and that in the countryside the Greek language had made little inroads. The idea that the Galileans were bilingual, speaking both Greek and Aramaic, is not based on any factual evidence. Over the first few centuries of the Christian era, Greek loanwords, especially relating to administration and material culture, were progressively creeping into the Aramaic vernacular of Galilee, but this is a far cry from the theory of bilingualism. As for Jesus himself being a Greek speaker, this is a wild flight of fancy.

No literary evidence survives from Galilee to suggest that the inhabitants thought of themselves as Galileans rather than simply as Jews, and the detailed narrative set in Galilee by Josephus, the only contemporary author known to have been well acquainted with the region, singularly fails to mention anything special about the Judaism practiced there. Any argument that the Judaism of Galilee differed from the Judaism in Judaea is based upon political boundaries. Firstly, unlike Judaea, Galilee, as a whole, ever came under the direct control of a Roman governor except from AD 44 to 66. Instead the area came under the rule of Herodian kings and lesser dynasts. Secondly, it is possible, though disputed, that much of the population of Galilee was descended from the Ituraeans converted to Judaism by Aristobulus II in c. 104 BC during the territorial expansion of the Hasmonaean dynasty into the north of Palestine.

At any rate, according to
Josephus, Galileans seem to have thought of themselves as entirely Jewish by the time of the revolt of 66-70 AD and there is no evidence for the old view that many Gentiles lived in their midst; the pagans in Tiberias massacred in 66 AD according to Life 12 § 67  were evidently exceptional, having been imported by Herod Antipas or his royal successors to fill the new city which he had founded as a sign of his Hellenistic culture. None of which would prevent Judaeans holding up Galileans’ Gentile origins to scorn when it suited, although it should be noted that no trace of such insults has survived in any Jewish literature.

While the reasons for postulating a difference between Galilean and Judaean Judaism are thus not negligible, Galileans, like all other Jews, shared a considerable proportion of their religious heritage with their Judaean compatriots. There were some religious attitudes that were so standard among Jews that both pagan and Jewish authors take them for granted when writing about them.

  • Both Galileans and Judaeans believed that God was best worshipped in the Jerusalem Temple and that the correct performance there of communal offerings was vital for the well-being of the nation. Galileans accepted the necessity of pilgrimage to the shrine, though doubtless distance made their visits less frequent than those of Judaeans.
  • Galileans seem to have been adamant in their hostility to Samaritans and their temple on Mt Gerizim and to have experienced no desire to found their own temple like that in Leontopolis in Egypt, and Galilean pilgrims to Jerusalem were evidently quite numerous in c. 50 AD when the death of one of their number sparked off a riot (Ant. xx. 6.1 § 118-121).
  • Galileans, like Judaeans, believed that the Torah enshrined divine law given to Israel for their guidance. Like all Jews they might differ among themselves on the precise interpretation of the Torah, but there is no reason to doubt that when the Gospels refer to teaching in Galilean synagogues on the sabbath, they imply the reading of the Torah and prophets and discussion of the text.
  • It can be assumed that all males were circumcised, since the enraged Galileans who captured two officers of Agrippa II early in 67 AD saw forcible circumcision as the way to convert them (Vita 23 § 113).
  • Any differences which separated the Judaisms of these two areas of Palestine were as nothing compared with the gulf which divided all Jews from their Gentile neighbors.

Some further aspects of Galilean culture and its relation to that of Judaea can be tentatively reconstructed with the help of the relevant evidence in rabbinic literature. The Mishnah and the rest of the writings of the rabbis postdate the period of Jesus, and their testimony cannot automatically be applied to the situation prevailing in the first century AD; yet historical circumstances point in the direction of the relative reliability of stereotypes regularly repeated. After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and even more so after the defeat of the rebellion of Simeon bar Kokhba in 135 AD, the cultural elite of Judaea emigrated to Galilee and soon gained control of the province. Thereafter any distinction between Judaean and Galilean became blurred if not meaningless unless it referred to the pre-70 AD situation. But fortunately a good many of the anecdotes exemplifying the cultural differences between the two regions presuppose the existence of the Temple of Jerusalem, and consequently presume a first-century AD background. They relate to the language spoken in the north and to the Galileans' lack of familiarity with the sophisticated understanding and practice of the Torah. Both have their impact on the real Jesus and his surroundings.

The dialect of Aramaic used in Galilee seems to have been a permanent topic of sarcasm in Jerusalem circles. Galileans did not speak Koine Greek, i.e., the language of the Jerusalem upper classes. The most striking jibe castigates the notoriously slipshod enunciation of words beginning with a guttural (or deep-throat) consonant. It ridicules a Galilean in Jerusalem trying to buy something in the market. The merchants, unable to make out what he wanted when asking for something which sounded like
amar, taunted him, "You stupid Galilean, do you need something to ride on [hamar, "a donkey"], or something to drink [hamar, "wine"], or something to make a dress with ['amar, "wool"], or something for a Temple sacrifice [immar, "lamb"]" (bErubin 53b). In the light of this story, the Gospel account of Peter's denial of Jesus appears in a new perspective. When he insisted that he did not know "that man," some Jerusalem bystanders in the courtyard of the high priest retorted, "Certainly you are one of them, for your accent betrays you" (Matt. 26:73; Mark 14:70; Luke 22:59).

In matters of Torah observance, in particular the observance of regulations relating to offerings in the Temple, Galileans were presumed to be ignoramuses, and for this reason special rules applied to their vows. Thus the Mishnah stipulates that if a vow concerning heave offerings, i.e., the portion of the harvest set aside for the priests, or other offerings beneficial to the priests, is not clearly defined, it still binds a Judaean who is presumed to be familiar with Temple matters, but is void for a Galilean who knows nothing about them (
mNedarim 2:4). In Judaea, work had to cease at midday on the eve of Passover, but Galileans, unsure of such details, abstained from work the whole day (mPesahim 4:5).

Elsewhere noted Galilean rabbinic figures are depicted as ignoring or neglecting the code of conduct binding on the sages. Two rabbis of the first century AD, Hanina ben Dosa (about whom more presently) and Yose the Galilean, are rebuked for venturing out in the street by night or speaking to an unaccompanied woman (
bPesahim 112b; bEru-bin 53b). Though Jesus himself escaped being charged with neglect of this kind, he is certainly not described.as paying much attention to conventional religious etiquette. Interestingly, the Fourth Gospel several times expresses the Judaean disparagement of Galilee familiar from rabbinic literature. "Is the Christ to come from Galilee?" we read. Nicodemus, who spoke up for Jesus, found himself sarcastically rebuked: "Are you from Galilee too? Search and you will see that no prophet is to rise from Galilee" (John 7:41, 52). A rural holy man from the Galilean lakeside could do little against such superiority and bigotry.

Lack of legal sophistication in Galilee is attributable to the absence of rabbinic schools in the province in the first half of the first century a.d. This does not mean that there were no "scribes" or "lawyers" in the district to draw up contracts, marriage deeds, or divorce documents. Josephus sarcastically referred to them as village clerks, or
komogrammateis (Ant., 6:203; War, 1:479). Apart from the Talmudic story relating to Yohanan ben Zakkai, there is no evidence that in the age of Jesus Pharisee luminaries settled in Galilee. Yohanan ben Zakkai, we are told, wasted eighteen years in the Galilean town of Araba (or Gabara) during which he made hardly any impact on the local people. With the usual oriental hyperbole he is said to have accused them of hatred of the Torah (yShabbat 15d). We learn from the Gospel of Mark that some of the Pharisees/scribes whom Jesus encountered in Galilee did not function locally, but were visitors from Jerusalem (Mark 7:1; 3:22). Likewise, the only Pharisees in Galilee mentioned by Josephus while he was the revolutionary commander of the province in 66 AD were members of a delegation dispatched from Jerusalem by Simon son of Gamaliel, the Pharisee leader, with a view to engineering Josephus' removal from office (Life, 189-98). So it is highly unlikely that Jesus came across Galilean Pharisees of note during his activity in the province. Hanina ben Dosa—if he was really a Pharisee—was too young to count, and Yose the Galilean, who flourished at the end of the first century AD, lived several generations after Jesus. The sufficiency of the surname "the Galilean," to identify Yose, one of the commonest Jewish names, implies that there cannot have been many Pharisee rabbis operating in Galilee in the years following the destruction of Jerusalem.

Even if one were to concede that there might have been a sporadic Pharisee presence there, it would have affected the cities more than Jesus' rural surroundings, for according to Josephus the Pharisees operated in urban environments and their main impact was felt among the townsfolk (
Ant., 18:15). So the historical circumstances confirm our earlier conclusion that the downfall of Jesus was not religiously, but politically motivated. Jesus was free from high-level Pharisee influence, and his occasional mini-conflicts with small-minded local scribes were of negligible importance. As for the few chaotic days of his only public appearance in Jerusalem just before the feast of Passover, neither the shortness of the time nor the circumstances allowed for a serious conflict with the Pharisee masters to develop.

It can be firmly stated that there is no evidence that Galileans themselves espoused messianic notions with any greater fervor than other Jews. It is even probable that the first followers of Jesus found a more secure home in Judaea after the crucifixion than in Galilee, despite the location of Jesus’ own ministry. Some christian apologists have been tempted to explain the special and usually favorable role of Galilee in the literature of the early Jesus Movement, particularly the Gospels, by postulating the existence of a flourishing Galilean Christianity rather different from that in Jerusalem throughout the first century and even beyond. However, although the prominence of Galilee in the post-resurrection narratives of the Gospels does suggest that Jesus’ home region may have been the first base for Christianity, all accounts of the subsequent spread of the original Jesus Movement, including the incidental reference in
Josephus to the execution of James, the brother of Jesus (Ant. XX. 9.1 § 200), explicitly assume Jerusalem as the Movement’s centre in Palestine.

CONCLUSION
It is certain that in at least a few respects the cultural and religious customs of the Galileans differed from those of the Judaeans, but the theological significance, if any, of such divergences cannot now be ascertained. If a distinctive Galilean Judaism existed in the first century AD, as is quite possible there were minute differences, its nature is likely to remain unknown.




Essay excerpted & aggregated from:
Freyne, Sean. Jesus, A Jewish Galilean. T&T Clark 2004
Chancey, Mark A.
The Myth of a Gentile Galilee. Cambridge University Press 2004
Woods, Laurie,
Jesus at Home in Judaism. Australian Catholic University 2005
McKnight, Scot,
A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context. Eeerdmans Pub. 1999
--all rights reserved the respective authors

Excerpted & Aggregated from L. Schiffman, L. Woods, S. McKnight, J. Meier

When God sought to establish an interpersonal relationship between himself and humanity, he chose a particular people and set them apart to become the light of the nations. In Moab, beyond the Jordan, Moses told the Israelites:
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors... (Deut 7:6-8).

Many today, even some Jews, find themselves unable to receive this word spoken by Moses in the name of the living God. Could God be capricious? Are the Israelites, though very few in number, a more gifted and more attractive specimen of humanity? The election of Israel seems to go against the grain. From the time of the French Revolution a deep sensitivity to equality has been slowly spreading across the world. Though we are witnessing a strong revival of tribalism, communalism, ethnicity, nationalism and even religion as principles of social identity, it is always understood that no group is or could be superior to one's own. Societies structured around unequal privileges are progressively disappearing. On the other hand, people might not be in such a hurry to condemn the concept of election if they would continue to read the text of Deuteronomy:
Therefore, observe diligently the commandment—the statutes, and the ordinances—that I am commanding you today (Deut 7:11).

God chose Israel not for what it was at the time of its first election, but for what it could become with God's constant nurture and the people's faithful consent. God was offering his people a very rigorous way, indeed, not an easy way of life.

Can we conceive the election of a particular people as the most pragmatic method available to God for achieving a personal relationship with humanity? God could have addressed himself directly to every nation without any show of favoritism. At least, he could have spoken through those personalities who shaped the spirit of the great civilizations, men like Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, etc., rather than through Moses. God's intention in choosing Israel was not to improve human culture; his children could try their own hands at becoming civilized. He wanted only to be known as a personal being, and, once he had found or created moral integrity among his creatures, establish a permanent bond of mutual love:
Hear O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deut 6:4-5).

Most of the giant steps in human evolution have been taken in one or two points on planet earth, from where they have been diffused into larger and larger areas. All forms of the alphabet, for example, have a common origin in the Middle East. In cultural development, as in technological development, the creation of a prototype is supremely important. Its quality and perfection will condition all future development. Following the same method, God selected one people among all the nations to become the archetype of his personal relationship with humanity. At the appropriate time, when the conditions were ripe, after reminding the Israelites of the signs and wonders which accompanied their salvation from Egypt, God offered them the privilege of becoming his people:
Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation (Exod 19:5).

After the exile in Babylon, the work of the leaders of the Great Assembly had been so effective that a spiritual perception of the holiness of God—of his justice and his mercy—had become ingrained in the life of Israel, together with a clear awareness of the call to be holy as the Lord is holy. The worship of idols had completely disappeared from the Land of Israel. KIDDUSH HA-SHEM, the sanctification of God's Name, was, and has truly remained, the core, the essence of Judaism.

Torah
Central to Judaism was the belief that through Moses, God had bequeathed to the Jewish people the Torah. Much of the first five books of the Bible is devoted to law and the history of the origin of the covenant people. These five books formed a central pillar of Jewish identity. In addition to offering an explanation of their origin as an elect people, the Torah sets out the conditions under which this election may be given effect: for example, male circumcision (Lev. 12:3; Gen. 17:9); the sabbath in remembrance of God's rest at the end of creation (Gen. 2:1; Exod. 20:8-10, though there was considerable dispute about what was involved in humans reflecting the divine rest, e.g. CD 10.15-11.9;
mErubim 6.2). In daily life Jews observed the purity laws (Lev. 13-15) and the food laws (Lev. 11; Deut. 14:3). Unlike the nations round about, the Jews are not to practise idolatry (Lev. 19.4; Exod. 20:4); blasphemy is excluded (Lev. 24:11), and there are strict laws with regard to sexual behavior (e.g. Lev. 18; Deut. 27:21). Civil law is also set out in the Torah (Exod. 20; Lev. 25:25; Deut. 17:22) with various mechanisms to bring about a degree of equality (e.g., Lev. 25; Deut. 15). There are laws relating to agriculture (Lev. 19.9ff.), which are linked with certain cultic observances, like the tithe (Deut. 26.12).

Dominant in the pages of the Torah are the detailed prescriptions with regard to cultic activity, which take up a large part of the books of Exodus and Leviticus. Central to the Torah are the purity and food laws whose influence is to be found in the New Testament (e.g., Mark 7:17-23; Acts 10-11). There are laws to do with clean and unclean food (Deut. 14). Food presented ongoing challenges and problems requiring awareness about distinction between clean and unclean and that which was an abomination (Lev. 11; Deut. 4). Purity laws concern issues such as contact with a corpse (Num. 19.15-18), menstruation (Lev. 15), childbirth (Lev. 12), genital discharges (Lev. 15) and leprosy (Lev. 13).

There is considerable uncertainty about the status of other books which we now class as part of the Jewish canon. The canon as we know it in the Protestant churches was probably formally ratified after the fall of Jerusalem in 70, though that is not to suggest that the various groups which existed before this time did not have a fairly clear idea what was and what was not authoritative (
C. Ap. 1. 38-41; Ecclus. 49.10; 4 Ezra 14.45). By the time of the first century most Jewish groups would have regarded the prophetic literature as an authoritative continuation of the divine proclamation, which expounded the initial deposit in the Torah. In the introduction to Pirke Aboth we find a chain of tradition outlined, in which the prophets take their place in the long line of expositors of the tradition of Jewish tradition stemming from Moses himself (Pirke Aboth 1.1; Ecclus. 39.12). Breaking a rule which only had traditional authority was not considered a transgression {Ant. 13:297). It has often been suggested that the Sadducees denied the authoritative status of the prophetic writings, but it is difficult to substantiate this statement. In the light of their rejection of the doctrine of resurrection (Acts 23.6), it may be possible to suppose that the status of works like Daniel and those prophetic writings which might seem to point in the direction of resurrection (e.g., Dan. 12:2; Isa. 26:19), was given a subordinate position by them. Josephus tells us that they rejected the tradition of oral interpretation which formed such an important part of the pharisaic-rabbinic approach, though all the evidence suggests that they had their own tradition of interpretation and one which refused to go further than what was written. The lack of detail in the Torah, for example, concerning the calendar, necessarily demanded of them that they create extra-biblical rules and tradition. By contrast, Jesus is represented as using Exodus 3:6 in his discussion of the resurrection of the dead (Matt. 22:32). Sadducees, therefore, insofar as we can reconstruct their beliefs, represented a more literalistic approach to the interpretation of Scripture {Ant. 13.297) and their attitude may have been much more widespread than we sometimes suppose. They seem to have been reluctant to accept the need for hermeneutical flexibility, though they may have had their own oral tradition. They were not exponents of any explicit heretical ideas, despite the attempts of the later pharisaic-rabbinic tradition to taint them in this way (mSanhedrin 10.1; possibly also Psalms of Solomon 17:6-8).

The great burst of literary activity during the Exile, when ancient traditions were codified and reflections on recent experience took place, meant that a significant shift began to take effect in the character of Jewish religion. The vindication of the prophetic message of judgement in the sixth century BC and the greater weight given thereby to the hopes of restoration and future bliss meant that the prophetic oracles were treated with great reverence and set alongside the original deposit stemming from Moses as the bedrock of the Jewish faith. It is difficult to know whether the collection of the prophetic oracles was the cause or merely a consequence of the diminution of the living prophetic voice. Whatever may have been the case, the return from Exile saw the gradual waning of the prophetic movement. Possibly it may have been discredited by the fervent support given to the messianic movement centered on Zerubbabel by Haggai and Zechariah, but little is known, apart from a few cryptic passages (e.g., Zech. 13:1) about the fate of the movement. It is difficult to believe that it vanished without trace, and the suggestions of those who think that it was either forced underground during a power struggle in the post-exilic community or became connected to the emerging apocalyptic literature may have some cogency.' Nevertheless, prophecy became not the living words of the contemporary individual but the written deposit of past Sages whose words were looked to as means of ascertaining the divine will in the present. Exegesis became more important than attention to the living voice of prophecy.

Direction in the life of the community had, before the Exile, been given by priest and prophet, and practical guidance on particular problems relating to religious observance continued to be given by priests after the Exile (Haggai 2.11; Neh. 8.7-9; 1 Chron. 23.3-6; Ezra 7.6; Deut. 31.9; 17.18; Mark 1.40-5 on the continuing importance of priests; C. Ap. 2.187); but there grew up another body, the Scribes. Ezra, the great exponent of the centrality of the Torah, the scribe par excellence in Jewish tradition, was himself also a priest. The task of Scribes was to study, write and expound the sacred writings for the use of the people of God. In the days of Jesus ben Sirach the Scribes rank in a position of some importance (Ecclus. 39; Neh. 8.9). The person who spends time studying the oracles of bygone days is in a position not only to help companions but also to be of assistance to the mighty (Ecclus. 39.4). That person is not merely a student of the ancestral writings who, by study, can make plain that which is difficult to understand, but also a person of prayer, who may be filled with the spirit of intelligence and, as a result, may produce maxims of his own, which may enlighten his hearers.

We do not possess enough information about the nature of this scribal activity in the second century BC. While we would not expect the sophistication of method or exegetical result which is apparent in later texts, what we have in the Mishnah is the end product of a process which is already at work in the Scribes of Ben Sirach's day and long before, perhaps already evident in the Bible itself. It is evident from Ecclus. 39.3 that detailed exegesis was part of scribal expertise. The Scribes were the ones who, in Jesus' words, had the key of knowledge (Luke 11:52). In the Gospels we frequendy find Scribes and Pharisees lumped together. The Scribes were primarily the interpreters of the Torah, the spiritual descendants of Ezra, who had interpreted the Law in times past (Ezra 7.6; Matt. 13:52; Luke 11:46; 23:2). As we have seen, the place of Scripture had become so central that its accurate transmission and interpretation had become matters of the utmost concern for all. As an expositor of the Torah it would have been possible for a Scribe to have espoused a Sadducean position with regard to his interpretation of the Scriptures (e.g., Jesus ben Sirach). When we find in the Gospels Scribes being called 'Scribes of the Pharisees' (Mark 2:16) this probably reflects the possibility that Scribes were affiliated to a number of interpretative traditions within first-century Judaism. Already in Neh. 8.8, 13, we see that the importance of a correct knowledge and understanding of the Law is stressed. What emerges in these chapters is the close connection which exists between correct understanding and observance and the fulfillment of the covenant obligation.

The fact that the Torah laid down rules for conduct outside as well as inside the cult meant that its influence extended to everyday existence. Such knowledge of the Torah and its application to the whole of life and not to specifically 'religious' acts increased the power of those who had the knowledge of what the demands were and could seek to ascertain what areas of life needed to be regulated by them. The expertise which characterized the Scribes was something which was of such importance within the religious life of the nation that steps were taken to ensure the transmission of their knowledge and skill to future generations. We know from texts which relate to the situation after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD that considerable care was taken to ensure that the knowledge of previous opinions was passed on to succeeding generations. Part of the task of the later teachers was to teach and to assemble pupils who would be sufficiently well equipped with the exegetical skill and knowledge of earlier ideas to continue the ongoing interpretative process.

In the Second Temple period the Sanhedrin, or council, is mentioned in the sources (e.g., at the trial of Jesus in Mark 14:55-64; the first Christians in Acts 5:27-40; 23.10
War 1.208-11, 571-3; Ant. 14.163-84; 15.163-76; 20.199-203, 216-18)." Its composition, the extent of its authority and the character of its religious outlook at the end of the Second Temple period are unclear and it may have been at times little more than an ad hoc group convened by the nation's leaders, often to rubber-stamp the policies of the leader. According to the Gospels and Acts, it supported the prosecution of action against Jesus and the first Christians both in Palestine and beyond (Acts 9:2), and in it the priestly element seems to have predominated (Mark 14:61; John 18:19; Acts 4:5; 5:17). With the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, it ceased to have such a dominant role and eventually its role was usurped by the emerging rabbinic leaders.

Temple
The fact that the Mishnah contains a tractate (
mMiddoth) which deals with the measurements of the Temple, despite the fact that the building had long lain in ruins, is testimony enough to the importance of the cult within Jewish life. The growing dominance of the Torah and its interpretation in the years after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD could not erase from the memory the tragedy of the Temple's destruction nor the hope for its rebuilding. In an old Jewish prayer dating from the years after the destruction of the Temple (the Shemoneh Esreh) there is included a prayer for the rebuilding of the Temple. The importance of the Temple for Jews is evident from the writings of two major witnesses for late Second Temple Judaism, Philo (in his Embassy to Gaius) and Josephus (Ant. vol xix), when they deal with the universal opposition of Jews to Caligula's plan to erect a statue of himself in the Temple. In the Bible itself there is interest in the legal sections in cultic matters. The regulations for the organization and building of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25. and the details for ritual in Leviticus and Numbers all manifest the intense concern with the details of cultic activity among collectors of Israel's traditions.

The place of the worship of the Temple within Jewish life before the Exile owed a great deal to the mythology which surrounded Zion as the dwelling-place of God and the Messiah, the descendant of David. Although much of this mythological picture probably ceased to have much influence after the Exile, the preservation of the mythological language in the psalms and the concern felt to rebuild the Temple (backed up by a prophetic vision in Ezekiel 40) indicate that there was a considerable amount of residue from the pre-exilic ideas. In the books of Chronicles, for example, we find a concern with the establishment of the cult on a sure foundation as one of the dominant hopes fulfilled in the return from Exile. The reappearance of some of the mythology in the prophecy of Haggai concerning the rebuilding of the Temple indicates that there was still a great aura attached to the building as the mark of God's presence. The prophet tells the people that a close link existed between the glory of Zion and the emerging prosperity of the nation (Haggai 1.4), and that neglect of the former had dire consequences for the latter. There js an echo of this in Josephus'
Antiquities 20.166 where Josephus attributes the fall of Jerusalem to the atrocities in the Temple. Astrological themes emerge elsewhere (e.g,. War 5.212-14) and it seems to have been part of the hope for renewal (11 QT).

In view of the central place which the Temple played in Israelite life it is hardly surprising that it should have loomed large in the piety of emerging Judaism. The centralization of cultic activity, particularly after the Deuteronomic law (Deut. 12.13), meant that the influence of the Temple worship was very much linked with Jerusalem. That is not to say that there were no departures from this rule, for we have to remember that Onias built a Temple in
Leontopolis (War 7.420; Ant. 13.62) and mention is made of cultic activity in the Elephantine papyri. Nevertheless the centralization of the cult meant that worship for most Jews took place only in Jerusalem and, without a local shrine, cultic acts were confined to certain occasions, when journeys were made to Jerusalem. In our period this would have particularly applied to the pilgrim festivals (Deut. 16:16): Passover (Pesah), the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoi). Such festivals attracted enormous crowds (War 6.420-7) and were an essential part of the economic life of Jerusalem. Even if actual participation in the worship carried on in the Temple in Jerusalem was occasional, the influence of the Temple and its requirements was felt by all Jews, and its position as a focus of devotion and affection was considerable (Ant. 18.259-261; Embassy 311). A tax was levied on all Jews to help with the massive costs incurred by the demands of the Temple and its worship (Neh. 10.33; Exod. 30:1; Cicero, Pro Flacco 28.66-9). Various decrees were issued outside Palestine to make sure that the dues paid there would in fact reach the Temple (e.g., Ant. 16.28). After the destruction of the Temple the emperor decreed that the money should be paid to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome, which probably posed a real problem for Jewish Christians, as Matthew 17:24 indicates. In addition, Jews were liable to further demands on them. Already in the time of Nehemiah we find that priestly dues were being enforced" (Neh. 10:36; Num. 18:8; Lev. 7:30).

Priests and Levites received recompense for the fact that they had no inheritance in the land by a system of tithes (Num. 18:20-31; Deut. 18:1-2). There are different regulations concerning this in the Torah (Lev. 27:30-32; Num. 18.21-32; Deut. 14:22-29; 26.12-13; cf. Tobit 1:7; Jub. 23:10-14; Ant. 4.69, 205, 240). This led to a variety of tithes; one for the Levites and one to be spent in Jerusalem (the so-called second tithe). The scriptural complexity prompted discussion about the extent of the obligation. In addition, priests benefited from the first fruits (Num. 18.13; Deut. 18.1-2). When the priests ate the food they had to be in a state of purity (Lev. 22.4-7; Num. 18.13), as did ordinary people eating the second tithe in Jerusalem. Whether priestly privileges were a significant bone of contention within the Second Temple, and whether circumstances might have made it difficult for some ordinary Jews to fulfil the laws of tithe period, is not clear.

The variety of public and private sacrifices day by day kept the priests on duty in Jerusalem busy (
Ant. 3.234—253; C. Ap. 2.105-8; Spec. Laws 1.169-200.). The tamid, the daily burnt offering of the people (Exod. 29:38) and the daily grain offering of the High Priest were the regular features of the sacrificial round. In addition, the priests were expected to attend the altar of incense. The elaborate procedures for the public sacrificial worship of the Temple were accompanied during the day by the innumerable private acts of piety, which were carried out by the priests on behalf of all those who had come to Jerusalem with their own particular cultic act to make at the place which the Lord had chosen (Deut. 12:11). Sacrifices were also offered for the common good (Spec. Laws 1.168; War 2.197, 409; C. Ap. 2.77).

There were various demands made upon those responsible for the cult. There was responsibility for the vast amount of wealth owned by the Temple as the result of donations and the wealth accumulated as the result of the payment for sacrificial offerings and the cost of redeeming the firstborn male (Num. 18:15). The demands of the cult and its maintenance were an ever-present factor in the lives of Jews in the first century. How far priestly rules of holiness extended from the Temple to ordinary life is not clear. If the rules of holiness did extend further than the Temple, it is yet another indication of the extraordinary influence of this institution. While the financial demands were a regular commitment for all Jews, the participation in the Temple's activities was not a frequent part of the life of most Jews. This was especially true of Jews in the Diaspora. Of course the giving of first fruits (Deut. 26) did not normally apply to those who did not live in the Holy Land. Interest in the Temple and participation in its ritual were of great importance to these Jews as well, as the representations of Philo about the setting up of a statue of Caligula in the Temple make clear (Embassy to Gains). The fact is that, as far as regular patterns of religious observance were concerned, the synagogue, with its study of the Torah and the application of that study to everyday life, had in practice far more influence on Jews, particularly those outside the land of Israel.

Early Christianity and the Qumran community regarded the Temple in high esteem, yet both found it necessary to spiritualize cultic actions and apply them to the deeds of the respective communities. In the case of the Qumran community there was the expectation of a renewed Temple in the last days; some early Christian writers, however, took a more radical line towards its position in the new age, especially the writers of the Fourth Gospel, Hebrews and Revelation." The end of Temple worship gave an extra impetus to trends which had been emerging long before: to concentrate the heart of religion in Torah, the community and the divine presence in the hearts and lives of the people of God.

Jewish Sects in the Age of Jesus
The Sadducees
The Sadducees have been universally maligned not only because they did not believe in resurrection but also because they were an aristocratic, heavily Hellenized class, closely connected with the management of the Temple. Although no one line of identifiably Sadducean text has survived, the reports in Josephus make it possible to reconstruct the likely Sadducean perspective:
The Sadducees ... do away with Fate altogether, and remove God beyond, not merely the commission, but the very sight of evil. They maintain that man has the free choice of good or evil and that it rests with each man's will whether he follows the one or the other. As for the persistence of the soul after death, penalties in the underworld, and rewards, they will have none of them. (War 2.164-166)

The Sadducees hold that the soul perishes along with the body. They own no observance of any sort apart from the laws;
in fact, they reckon it a virtue to dispute with the teachers of the path of wisdom that they pursue. There are but few men to whom this doctrine has been made known, but these are men of the highest standing. They accomplish practically nothing however. For whenever they assume some office, though they submit unwillingly and perforce, yet submit they do the formulas of the Pharisees, since otherwise the masses would not tolerate them. (Antiquities 18.16-17)

The claims of the Sadducean party are the easiest to support in Scripture. At no place in the Torah is general resurrection promised. Only in a late book, Daniel, is resurrection discussed at all. There, it is promised to those who helped out in the final battle at the end of time. The period when the Book of Daniel came to be regarded as canonical is not known, though the Sadducees would have been suspicious of its claims. Since the Sadducees were the priestly aristocrats, they would have Hellenized faster than the surrounding community.. They would have needed a Greek education to carry on the role of statecraft for the restored community of Israel.

No specifically Sadducean sectarian documents need have been written to justify Sadducean inherited rights, for it would have been easy to legitimate the traditional role of the priests. That role was explicitly outlined in the Torah constitution. The difficulty that the Sadducees faced was to legitimate their Greek philosophy and way of life. They could have accomplished this task through a variety of arguments that Homer and Socrates were actually students of Moses, an apologetic tradition of several Hellenistic Jewish writers. Furthermore, the mixture of stoicism and platonism that was most favored among the educated classes of the Hellenistic world had considerable philosophical affinities with the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible. Though there is no identifiably Sadducean literature, passages from the
Wisdom of Ben Sira (also known as Sirach), for instance, express ideas that were also central to Sadduceeism (14:16-19):
Give, and take, and beguile yourself, because in Hades one cannot
look for luxury. All living beings become old like a garment, for the decree from of
old is: "You must surely die!"
Like flourishing leaves on a spreading tree, which sheds some and
puts forth others, So are the generations of flesh and blood: one dies and another is
born. Every product decays and ceases to exist, and the man who made it
will pass away with it
.

The Samaritans
Samaria, capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, was destroyed by Assyria in 722 BC, and its tribes deported or diluted by idolatrous population settled there by the Assyrians. Thus, the Samaritans are considered in the Bible to be religiously suspect, having given up pure Yahweh worship. Yet the Samaritans regarded themselves as the true remnants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. By the time of Jesus, however, the Samaritans had emerged as an identifiable sect with a characteristic set of beliefs. There are hints that religious schisms like gnosticism affected the Samaritan community in the second century AD and thereafter.

The Samaritans, like their forebears, rejected the canonicity of the prophets and writings, together with the primacy of Jerusalem or the Davidic king. Instead, they shaped their own traditions from the much more limited text of the Pentateuch, developing an expectation for the return of a prophet like Moses. Beneath the doctrinal differences smoldered the original geographical and regional differences traceable to the time of Solomon and before, namely the rivalry between the northern and southern districts over the proper way to worship Yahweh. In the first commonwealth the northern tribes, who had more arable land and were more affluent than the southern Judeans, refused to accept the dynastic principle of the southern Davidic monarchy and seceded from the federation to form a separate northern kingdom. The southerners viewed the northerners as rebels who had always flirted with heresy and had on several occasions warred with the Judean kingdom. During the Persian period, the inhabitants of Samaria opposed the building of the second Temple. Later John Hyrcanus, a Maccabean king, destroyed their temple at Samaria. So there were ample historical reasons for Judeans and Samaritans to dislike each other, which were paralleled by the theological disputes. In general, the Samaritans are pictured as strict fundamentalists by rabbis, who disapproved of their practices but gave grudging admiration to their zeal.

Though Samaritans were in many ways considered coreligionists by the Judeans, other issues separated the two communities. The story of the good Samaritan in the New Testament assumes a considerable level of animosity between the two groups by the first century AD This animosity suggests a relationship between Jesus' movement in Galilee and the neighboring Samaritans. In John the Samaritans are portrayed as especially friendly to the Christian community. Samaria and Galilee were alike in that they had always cherished certain customs and feelings of independence from Jerusalem. Throughout the Roman period, these two areas fomented rebellion quite often, though in the end the crowds that gathered for pilgrimages in Jerusalem proved as incendiary as the rural revolutionaries.

The Essenes
Philo, a Jewish philosopher and resident of first century AD Alexandria, mentions a select group among Alexandrian Jews who had tried to put all of Moses' ordinances into action. Called the Therapeutae or "Healers," they lived a monastic life. Though the group is not known from any other literature, they appear to be related to the Essenes described by both Philo and Josephus. Because of the sensuality that prevailed among the uneducated pagan classes, a life of chastity and abstinence was viewed by educated Jew and Gentile alike as the sign of a morally serious religion.

In Palestine these sects had an added political dimension. The Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran were the product of a cloistered group that closely resembled the Essenes of Josephus's description:
The doctrine of the Essenes is wont to leave everything in the hands of God. They regard the soul as immortal and believe that they ought to strive especially to draw near to righteousness. They send votive offerings to the temple but perform their sacrifices with a different ritual of purification. For this reason they are barred from those precincts of the temple that are frequented by all the people and perform their rites by themselves. Otherwise they are of the highest character, devoting themselves solely to agricultural labor ... Moreover, they hold their possessions in common, and the wealthy man receives no more enjoyment from his property than the man who possesses nothing. The men who practice this way of life number more than four thousand. They neither bring wives into the community nor do they own slaves, since they believe that the latter practice contributes to injustice and that the former opens the way to a source of dissension. Instead they live by themselves and perform menial tasks for one another. They elect by show of hands good men to receive their revenues and the produce of earth and priests to prepare bread and other food. (Antiquities 18.18-22)

Apparently, the Essenes formed a separate group when a High Priest not to their liking was appointed in Jerusalem. They had supported an alternate candidate who taught righteously and was therefore called the Teacher of Righteousness. With him they retired to the desert to establish their own center of priestly purity. Though they did not set up a temple in the desert, they interpreted their communal body as the temple of the Lord, an idea that was to be paralleled in Christianity. The Essenes were distinguishable from other protest groups of their day by their priestly character.

The community believed that the Torah indicated the imminent approach of the apocalyptic end. In order to demonstrate the Torah's meaning, the Essenes devised a special kind of exegesis, similar to that developed by other apocalyptic groups and early Christians. The term pesher, a modern coinage meaning "solution" or "interpretation," is used to describe this exegesis. The word points up the methodological similarity in the scriptural commentaries found in the Dead Sea Scrolls:

A star shall come out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel. He shall smite the temples of Moab and destroy all the children of Seth. He shall rule out of Jacob and shall cause the survivors of the city to perish. The enemy shall be his posses-
sion and Israel shall accomplish mighty deeds
. (Numbers 24:17-19)

By the hand of your anointed ones, the seers of your testimonies, you have related to us the [times] of the wars of Your hands to conquer our enemies that You may be glorified by levelling the battalions of Belial, the seven nations of vanity, by the hand of Your poor whom You have redeemed [by might] and by the fullness of Your marvelous power. (You have opened) the door of hope to the melting heart. You will do to them (as you did) to Pharaoh, and to the captains of his chariots in the Red Sea. You will kindle the downcast spirits as a flaming torch in the straw to consume evil and never to cease until iniquity is no more. (The War of the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness (1 QM) 11.6-10)
The passage in Numbers describes a war against Moab in the time of Moses. The interpretation by the Essenes looks at this description not just as history but as a prophecy for the future. Moreover, the Essenes regard the passage as referring to their own group explicitly, written in a kind of code that needs a divinely revealed solution. As far as the Qumranites are concerned, the Moabites are in reality the followers of Satan, or Gentiles and Jews with un-Qumranite views. The Dead Sea text uses the past typologically to explain the present and prophesies what is about to come true historically.

The Essenes were not the only group to interpret this passage in Numbers as a prophecy describing a messianic war. "The Star Emerging from Jacob" was the title given to the man called Bar Kokhba (literally "Son of the Star") who in the second century AD led the second great Jewish revolt against Rome and died attempting to overthrow Roman rule. Prophetic interpretations of the Numbers passage doubtless added to the wide support that Bar Kokhba enjoyed, much to the chagrin of most of the rabbinic leadership.

The Essenes cherished a militant body of tradition. They thought of themselves as the children of Israel who, after spending a second forty years in the desert, would reconquer the Promised Land. The Qumran sect regarded the Hellenized Jews and Gentiles as the new Canaanites, the iniquitous nations who needed to be wiped out before a new community of redeemed Israelites could be formed. Their especially prominent observance of priestly purity laws allowed them to associate with the angels, who were going to help them fight the battle against the children of darkness at the end of time. So they read the past described in the Torah as if it were the prophecy and true model of their future. In other words, their way of life and their understanding of Scripture were perfectly parallel. They lived like the children of Israel under Moses, still in the desert but poised in highest purity for retaking by miraculous means the land of Israel from the sinners, as Joshua was supposed to have done.

In order for this monastic community to remain in perfect symmetry with the biblical record, some parts of Scripture had to be interpreted in a very loose way. For instance, in
The Manual of Discipline (1QS 9:10-11),a prophet, a royal messiah, and a priestly messiah are mentioned alongside one another. These three figures are the future leaders of the community to be restored at the end of time, according to the plan for a new government read into Deuteronomy 18:18 and 33:8-11, as well as Numbers 24:15-17. Therefore, the Dead Sea community .appointed three office holders- an interpreter of Torah, a head priest, and a lay leader. The Essenes apparently believed in two messiahs, a messiah of Aaron and a messiah of Israel. Since they were a profoundly priestly community, the messiah of Aaron had the highest rank and the most important responsibilities. The royal messiah was much less important to the Essenes because they opposed the royal pretensions of the Maccabees. The Essenes' priestly beginnings preceded their exegesis, naturally determining the way in which the role of the eschatological priest would be interpreted from Scripture. Their method of exegesis, like Philo's, the Christians', and the rabbis', was perfectly suited to demonstrating their views.

The Revolutionaries
At the far ends of the political spectrum were groups who refused to live under Roman authority under any circumstances. Most of the information about these groups comes from Josephus, who imposes his own perspective on the events and describes as bandits people who appear to have had truly political motives. Foremost among these groups was an extended family in Galilee, which constantly fomented trouble against Herod and the Roman rulers. Ezekias, Judas of Galilee, James and Simon, Menahem, and Eleazer—all members of this family— are mentioned by Josephus in ways that suggest they were revolutionaries.

The most famous of the revolutionary groups, called either the Fourth Philosophy or the Zealots, coalesced to make war against Rome in 66 AD John of Gischala was an important figure in this movement, from the beginning of the revolt in Galilee until the final destruction of Jerusalem, when he was captured. Eleazar ben Yair, another zealot, was the rebel leader who oversaw the Jewish defense of Masada, and in Josephus's narrative he was given the stirring words recommending death over slavery that preceded their mass suicide.

The Pharisees
The Pharisees are vilified in the New Testament, as the result of both sectarian rivalry and the Pharisaic interest in ritual purity. But the Pharisees were both the most popular sect and the ancestors of the rabbinic movement. Josephus speaks of them with real respect:
The Pharisees, who are considered the most accurate interpreters of the laws and hold the position of the leading sect, attribute everything to Fate and to God; they hold that to act rightly or otherwise rests, indeed, for the most part with men, but that in each action Fate cooperates. Every soul, they maintain, is imperishable, but the soul of the good alone passes into another body, while the souls of the wicked suffer eternal punishment. (War 2.162-163)

The Pharisees had passed on to the people certain regulations handed down by former generations and not recorded in the laws of Moses, for which reason they are rejected by the Sadducean group, who hold that only those regulations should be considered valid which were written down, and that those which had been handed down by former generations need not be observed. And concerning these matters the two parties came to have controversies and serious differences, the Sadducees having the confidence of the wealthy alone but no following among the populace, while the Pharisees have the support of the masses. (Antiquities 13.297-298)

The Pharisees were disposed to interpret the scriptural text broadly. Unlike the allegorizers and the apocalyptic pesher writers, however, the Pharisees tried to lay down rules and procedures of exegesis by which the Scripture could be understood. They were the counterparts of the Sadducees in this respect. To use an analogy from American jurisprudence, the Pharisees were "loose constructionists" of the Torah, whereas the_Sadducees were "strict constructionists." Since there is no Pharisaic document accurately datable to the first century, little can be said with certainty of their doctrine at that time. But there are rabbinic writings from the second century and also the reports of Josephus and Paul, who claim to have been Pharisees at different periods in their lives.

Rabbinic thought from a more mature time, around 200 AD, illustrates the principles that were being formulated in the first century and represents the views of the Pharisees on the topic of resurrection:
All Israelites have a share in the world to come, for it is written (Isaiah 60:21): "Your people shall all be righteous, they shall possess the land forever; the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified."
Mishnah 1: Moses received the Torah on Sinai and handed it down to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets handed it down to the men of the great assembly. They said three things: be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah
. (Mishnah Pirke A both 1:1)

The rabbinic traditions transmitted from the first century are not actual quotations or the ipsissima verba of the Pharisees but are rather rabbinic dicta coded for easy memorization and retelling.' This particular fragment of rabbinic lore can serve as representative of the beliefs of the Pharisees, only because it coincides with the descriptions of the Pharisees given by Josephus around 70 AD.

The passage from Isaiah is interpreted in a way that never would have occurred to the prophet. He is talking about living in the land at the end of time. The Pharisees use the remark to prove resurrection. Next they maintain that a chain of transmission links them with the actual words which Moses received on Sinai. They can thus claim that their traditions were the actual divine revelation from Sinai. Building on this idea, the rabbis would later maintain the explicit doctrine of an "oral Torah" as well as a "written Torah," by which they could prove that their own scriptural interpretations were just as divine as the doctrines written explicitly in the Torah constitution. The Pharisees, far from agreeing that the Sadducean priests are the traditional rulers of the country, relegated the priesthood to purely cultic functionaries.

The socjal position of the Pharisees was not so high as that of the Sadducees. The Sadducees represented the upper reaches of society, whereas the Pharisees represented the middle classes. Some Pharisees were landowners. Others were skilled workers. Scribal occupations, which many of them followed, were middle-class skilled professions. Pharisees also followed occupations like tent-making, carpentry, or glass-blowing. Their later legal interpretations favor some kinds of commerce. Yet since they constantly ascended in power in this society, their class interests were not static.

After the destruction of the second Temple in 70 AD, the Pharisees migrated to the smaller towns of Galilee, just as some of the original Jesus Movement did. In fact, the Mishnah gives evidence that, in order to remain in the holy land after the war, the Pharisees had to get used to a small-town existence.









Essay excerpted from:
Schiffman, Lawrence H.
Understanding Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism. KTAV Publishing, 2003
Woods, Laurie,
Jesus at Home in Judaism. Australian Catholic University 2005
McKnight, Scot,
A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context. Eeerdmans Pub. 1999
Meier, John
A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Anchor Bible 1991
--all rights reserved the respective authors

Excerpted & Aggregated from I. Zeitlin, L. Schiffman, S. McKnight, J. Meier

At the heart of the Messianic idea is the hope and expectation of a better future. This was a basic element of the Jewish religious consciousness at least from the time of the Scriptural prophets. The expectation received a renewed impetus with the Maccabean uprising and continued to undergo transformation thereafter. The earliest prophetic visions were oriented to this world and concerned with the future of the nation. It was the hope of the pre-exilic prophets that the community would cleanse itself morally so that it might enjoy the divine reward of peace and respect among the nations. As in the vision of Isaiah, Israel would then be ruled by a just, wise and powerful king from the house of David, and peace and happiness would prevail. Whereas in the biblical period hopes for salvation centered on the destiny of the nation, the post-biblical, second-temple era shows a concern for individual salvation, the earliest of its manifestations being the belief in resurrection.

This new idea, expressed explicitly in the visions of the book of Daniel (c. 167-165 BC), emerged out of the same crisis that provoked the Maccabean revolt and gave rise to the Pharisaic movement. In the age of trouble and misfortune (Heb. et tsarah, Dan. 12:1) which had befallen Israel following the wicked policy of Antiochus Epiphanus, Daniel foresees a coming deliverance. God himself will judge the kingdoms of this world. He 'will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever' (2:44). 'And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them' (7:9-27). As we have already noted, the truly novel element in this vision of deliverance is the promise that:
many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2)

It is not clear whether Daniel envisioned a Messianic king standing at the head of the saints of the Most High. In any event, he makes no mention of such an individual. And although Daniel sees that 'with the clouds of heaven there came one like a "son of man" [kebar mash]' (7:13), this is not an individual Messiah, since the author clearly states that what appears in the form of a man is the people of the saints of the Most High (7.18, 22, 27). (This explicitness, however, has not prevented the Danielic figure from being identified with the individual Messiah.) Just as the empires of the world are symbolized by beasts ascending from the sea, so the kingdom of the saints is represented by a human form traveling with the clouds. The essence of Daniel's Messianic hope is therefore the universal dominion of the devout and righteous. This will be brought about not by God's judgment alone, for it is the kingdom of saints that will 'break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end' (2:44). This suggests that the ungodly will be destroyed by the force of arms, though, of course, in accordance with God's will.

After Daniel, judging from other intertestamental sources such as the apocryphal and apocalyptic books, the Messianic idea assumed a new form. The era just prior to the Messianic age is to be a time of ordeal and confusion. Friend will be against friend, son against father, daughter against mother. Nations will rise against nations, and there will be fire, famine and earthquakes besides (Baruch 70:2-8; 4 Ezra 6:24; 9:1-12; 13:29-31). This is also stated in the New Testament which, as we have already remarked, may be regarded as a reliable source of information for the religious ideas of Judaism in the first century (see Matt. 24:7-12, 21; Mark 13:19; Luke 21:23).

The age of the ordeal draws to a close with the reappearance of the prophet Elijah who returns to prepare the way for the Messiah. This role was attributed to Elijah on the basis of Malachi and is assumed in Ben Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) (43:10-11). The New Testament contains frequent allusions to Elijah's coming, including speculation as to whether John the Baptist was Elijah come back to life (Matt. 11:14; 16:14; 17:10; Mark 9:11; 6:15; 8:28; Luke 9:8, 19; John 1:21). It is Elijah's mission, according to Malachi (4:5), to establish peace on earth:
Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers ...

After Elijah has prepared the way, the Messiah himself will appear. In pre-Christian Judaism this figure is an extraordinary but fully human being descended from the house of David. An earthly king and ruler, the Messiah is nevertheless endowed by God with special gifts and powers. That the Messiah is conceived as entirely human, in accordance with the constraints of ethical monotheism, is particularly clear in the apocryphal Psalms of Solomon. There he appears as a learned human being, free from sin, and endowed by the holy spirit with power, wisdom and righteousness. The same conception is found in the Sibylline Oracles (3:49). It is true, however, that in the apocalypse 4 Ezra and in the Parables of Enoch the Messiah is endowed with supernatural qualities (12:32; 13:26; 14:9; 14:52). This indicates that in certain circles at least, apocalyptic fantasy created a supramundane Messiah whose extraordinary qualities soon lifted him out of the bounds of common humanity.

In the Parables of Enoch one finds similar speculation in which the particular phrase 'son of man' is linked with the Messiah (1 Enoch 46:1-6; 48:2-7; 62:5-9, 14; 63:11; 69:26-29; 70:1; 71:17). Here the phrase 'son of man' is an application of Daniel's image (7:13) to a heavenly Messianic or quasi-Messianic figure. As the chosen instrument of God he is called 'the Elect', - chosen, hidden and preserved from the beginning by the Most High. Enoch, guided by an angel through the heavenly regions, sees 'the Elect' and 'his dwelling place near the Lord of the Spirits' and 'all the righteous and elect shone before him as fiery lights' (39:6-7). In other passages (46:1; 46:3; 49:2-4) the Messiah soon acquires such superhuman qualities that some scholars assume a Christian influence here, an influence which cannot be entirely ruled out since it cannot be demonstrated that this work is definitely pre-Christian. Other scholars have convincingly observed that 'such ideas are fully comprehensible from Old Testament premises. Statements such as that in Micah 5:1, that the origins of the Messiah are from ages past, from the beginning of days, may easily be taken in the sense of pre-existence from eternity. And Daniel 7:13-14 needs only to be understood to refer to the person of the Messiah, and his travels in the clouds as a descent from heaven, and the doctrine of the pre-existence reveals itself.'

With the appearance of the Messiah the hostile transgressing powers will come together for a final assault against him. This expectation, most clearly expressed in the Sibylline Oracles (3:663), in 4 Ezra (13:33ff) and in Enoch 90:16, can also be traced to the Hebrew Scriptures, notably Psalm 2:
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed, saying, 'Let us burst their bonds asunder and cast their cords from us' ... I will tell you of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, 'You are my son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.'

The Messianic king, in accordance with God's design, will destroy the hostile powers, gather in the exiles, renew Jerusalem and establish the kingdom of glory in the Holy Land (Sibyl. 3:704-6, 717, 756-9; Ps. Solomon 17:1, 38, 51). In the Messianic era all nations will acknowledge the God of Israel, as was already prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures (Isa. 2:2; Mic. 4:1; 7:16; Jer. 3:17; 16:19; Zeph. 2:11; 3:9; Zech. 8:20; Isa. 55:5; 56:1); and the Messiah 'shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious' (Isa. 11:10).

From the time of the eighth-century prophets, universalism was an essential element of the messianic era. This 'universalism' was the ways in which Jews were able to conceive of a positive place for Gentiles within their restored world. However, in the age predating the restored kingdom, it was first the task of Israel alone to repent and atone, to cleanse itself morally, and to reach the highest rung of human righteousness. For this reason and for others, as we shall see, it is not at all unlikely that Jesus would have said, 'Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel' (Matt. 10:5).

The last judgment was to be preceded by a general resurrection. In the interval between death and resurrection, however, there would be a separation of the just from the unjust, an initial state of blessedness for the former and torment for the latter. This expectation is found in the apocryphal literature (I Enoch 22:4; 4 Ezra 7:75-107), in Josephus and in the Mishnah. By the first century it was a basic tenet of Pharisaic doctrine: 'eternal imprisonment is the lot of evil souls, while the good souls receive an easy passage to a new life' (Antiq. 18:14). Souls that have remained 'spotless and obedient, are allotted the most holy place in heaven' (War 3:374). And the Mishnah states that 'all Israelites have a share in the world to come' (Mish. Sanh. 10:1), except for sinners, who will be excluded (10:1-4). The last judgment will distinguish between those destined for eternal bliss and those for damnation. The wicked will be cast into the fire of Gehinnon (2 Baruch 44:15; 51:1-2, 4; 6; and 4 Ezra 7:36-8, 84). Though some sources regarded this damnation as eternal, others hold the view that the pains of Gehinnom ('hell') will be only temporary and that it will cease to exist in the world to come. The Hebrew word Gehinnon, New Testament Greek Gehenna (Matt. 5:22, 29ff; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5) means literally 'Valley of Hinnom', a valley near Jerusalem where two Judean kings, under Assyrian domination, sacrificed to Moloch (2 Kings 21:4-5). Jeremiah therefore prophesied that that very same place would be the site of doom, of a terrible massacre of the Israelites (Jer. 7:31; 19:5). In Enoch (26-7) there is the anticipation that all the wicked will be gathered together in this valley for judgment to be executed upon them. Although the name Gehinnom is not specifically stated there, the place is described as the valley between Zion and the Mount of Olives - that is, a real valley near Jerusalem. By New Testament times Gehinnom came to symbolize a place of punishment in the netherworld into which the godless will be cast; and eventually the New Testament Gehenna was equated with the Greek Hades, and 'hell'.

In the New Testament we also hear of 'Satan', who in later times becomes associated with Gehenna. The Hebrew word satan means simply an 'adversary' (1 Sam. 29:4; 2 Sam. 19:22; 1 Kings 5:4; 11:14, 23, 25; Num. 22:22, 32; Ps. 109: 6). This original sense of the word is still found in Jesus' rebuke of Peter in Matthew 16:23. It is used as a proper name four times in the Hebrew Scriptures (fob 1:6, 12; 2:1; Zech. 3:1; 1 Chron. 21:1). It is in the Book of Job that we find for the first time a definite mention of 'Satan' as an 'adversary' of Job. And though he instigates the testing of Job, there is an emphatic stress on Satan's subordinate position and the absence of all but delegated power. Notwithstanding the often alleged Persian influence on the concept, there is no dualism here, for Satan bears no resemblance to the Persian Ahriman, the spirit of evil. In the New Testament he is spoken of as a prince or ruler of the 'demons' in Matthew 12:24-26, and as having 'angels' subject to him in Matthew 25:41 and Revelations 12:7, 9. The power attributed to him in these passages is wholly spiritual, exercising a direct and evil influence as the leader of a host of evil spirits who do his bidding, and for whom the 'eternal fire is prepared' (Matt. 25:41). In another passage Matthew identifies these spirits with the 'demons' who had power to possess the souls of men (12:24—6). Beelzebul, or the 'prince of demons', is also called the 'prince of the world' in John (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The Greek ho diabolos ('the devil'), already current in the LXX (Septuagint) as a translation of the Hebrew ha-satan, implies 'setting at odds by slander', attempting to break the bonds of communion between God and humanity. The slander of man to God is illustrated by the Book of Job; but in the New Testament the satanic method also includes the temptation and possession of human beings.


The Messiah of the New Testament
Most often "Christ" is assumed by Christianity to simply be a translation of "Messiah". However, the word and title "messiah" belongs to a Jewish historical and social context. It does not refer to a presently accessible object in the external world, against which specific definitions can be checked and assigned. It cannot be defined specifically by pointing and saying, "There, that's what I mean when I say messiah." The word and title does not have any definable meaning outside of it's Jewish religious context. With the advent of Paul's Christian Movement the word "messiah" was transliterated into the greek word "Christos". In its new meaning it became part of the usage of another societal religious movement, the Greek-speaking gentile church of Paul. "Christ" and "Messiah" are different words, with different social and religious contexts. Therefore, the original Jesus Movement recognized Jesus as the "Messiah" and "the Son of man", whereas Gentile Hellenists of the Christian Movement thought of Jesus as the "Lord" and the "Son of God". Historical speaking, the gentiles of Paul's Christian movement would not have understood "Christos" as a translation of "Messiah".

"Christ", the Greek translation of "messiah", or "anointed", was virtually a name of Jesus already in the New Testament period (2nd century--on). It is very common in the Pauline epistles, and it is used of Jesus in every New Testament document except 3 John. Our oldest Gospel sources, however, display a different picture. Mark's seven occurrences do not include a single example of Jesus using the term with reference to himself, and the word "Christ" does not occur in Q. That takes us straight to two of our main conclusions: Jesus did not apply the term "messiah" to himself, and the early christian church applied it to him abundantly. Given the developments in christianity once the "Parting of the Ways" occurred along with the interpretations after the New Testament period, and with the common misunderstandings and misapplications that prevalently go along with those periods, one may be surprised to observe how the messianic ideal was not central to the gospel of Jesus. In all the Gospels the designation of Jesus as Messiah is subsumed and inferred under the categories of "Son of man" or "Son of God". These categories may be said to be Jewish messianic categories but they are not central ones in the Judaism of the 2nd Temple period. It is important in studying the use of "messiah" in the New Testament, to study the later variety Christian interpretations stemming from Paul. There is a specific christian interpretation of the messianic notion, but it is neither simple nor unified.

For instance, Paul pays no attention to the biblical expectation of a king Messiah or its fulfillment in Jesus apart from the vague mention of his descent from David (Rom. 1:3, and 2 Tim. 2:8 in the post-Pauline literature). The original Greek epithet,
the Christ ("the anointed"), qualifying Jesus as Messiah, fast evolves into a kind of double-barreled proper name, Jesus Christ. Since his Gentile followers had no grounding in the messianic hope of Judaism, Christ for them was a Savior figure who achieved his redeeming function not as the final occupant of the royal throne of David who would defeat God's enemies and subject the world to the rule of divine justice, but in a totally idiosyncratic way through his death and resurrection. The biblically untrained Christians in Ephesus, Corinth, or Rome were unaware that Paul was twisting the Jewish Messiah concept.

What Did 2nd Temple Jews Mean by the Title "the Messiah"?
Long before the 1st century AD, Jews and earlier Israelites used the Hebrew term Mashiach to denote a person who was anointed by God. He was almost always either a king or a high priest, although he was on occasion a prophet. Outside of Qumran and other priestly dominated communities, Jewish messianic hopes often tended to idealize the monarchy, and the initial success of the Hasmoneans heightened this dream; hence, as W. Harrelson states, David "became the prototype of the Lord's Anointed, God's Messiah."

During the conflict between David and Saul, according to the account in 1 Samuel, David cut off the skirt of Saul's robe while he was in a cave in order to relieve himself. David subsequently laments his action in these words:

The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, to the Lord's anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, for he is the Lord's anointed. (1 Sam. 24:7)

Without any doubt the Hebrew noun
Mashiach should be translated here not as "Messiah," but as "anointed." David is referring to God's selection of Saul, which was publicly confirmed when Samuel anointed Saul's head with a vial of oil (1 Sam. 10).

Almost a millennium before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Hebrew noun Mashiach denoted a king selected and anointed by God. R. de Vaux correctly pointed out that "
it is certain that all the kings of Judah were anointed, and it is probably true of all the kings of Israel." He continues, "The king, a consecrated person, thus shares in the holiness of God; he is inviolable.'"

According to Leviticus 4, ordinances are written for the high priest who sins unwittingly and breaks one of the Lord's commands. The high priest is specified as hakkohen ham-Mashiach, "the anointed priest" (Lev. 4:3, 5). It is obvious, therefore, that anointing was not a technical term reserved only for the king. But more, much more must be perceived.

Many passages in the Old Testament or Tanakh refer to the anointing of the high priest or of the priest, but there is a consensus that these passages are edited or composed by the priests after the sixth-century exile. R. de Vaux offers the opinion that during the monarchy only the king was anointed, then "after the disappearance of the monarchy, the royal anointing was transferred to the high priest as head of the people, and later extended to all the priests". Significantly for our present purposes, there is no evidence in the hellenistic period that priests were anointed, and we are justified in concluding that this custom had ceased long before the 1st century AD and that the investiture of the high priest at that time was celebrated by the putting on of the special, cherished, traditional vestments."

This insight is of great paradigmatic significance and is often lost in discussions of the meaning of "the Messiah" in the first century. It must be emphasized that the cessation of the ceremonial act of anointing of the priest, or high priest, and the collapse of the kingship meant that there was no anointed one among God's people.

When we come upon the term Mashiach or any of its cognates or upon a transliteration or any translations of it we must be extremely careful. On the one hand, many of our documents are unusually conservative and may refer back to archaic traditions, like the anointing of God's agent, especially a king or priest; on the other hand, something new and unprecedented will be in the air, namely the yearning for God to send another I anointed one, "the Messiah." The unique characteristics of this figure will be the technical term "Messiah," or "Christ," the futuristic dimension of the thought, and the titular aspect of the term, which will reflect either a king, a priest, both, or two persons, one a king and the other a priest. As S. Mowinckel stated long ago, "The word 'Messiah' by itself, as a title and a name, originated in later Judaism as the designation of an eschatological figure; and it is therefore only to such a figure that it may be applied."

The question now before us concerns how 2nd Temple Jews in the first century used the term "Messiah," its cognates and translations. In order to answer this question we may turn to only two collections of early Jewish documents: the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Some of the Targumin (Pseudo-Jonathan, Gen. 49:1, Num. 24:17-24) do contain impressive passages regarding the Messiah, but all of these are far too late in their present form to aid us in attempting to define the content of first-century Palestinian Jewish belief in the Messiah.

There are numerous possibilities for reflection in the Dead Sea Scrolls but no clear insight into what the Qumran Essenes were thinking about the Messiah in the 1st century AD. Some may have held no messianic beliefs, others—probably most of them—yearned for the coming of one or two messiahs. The latter group has left us no clue by which to recognize the Messiah or Messiahs; we are given no blueprint or script for him or them. There is no content for messianism left by the Essenes. Significantly, the War Scroll, which probably dates from the Roman period, is singularly silent on the role of the Messiah in the great eschatological war.

From the Pseudepigrapha we learn that only a very few documents contain a clear reference to "the Messiah." And these passages are either frustratingly ambiguous or contradictory. We are presented with various beliefs, not one belief about the Messiah. The functions of the Messiah are not clear; there is again no script. When it is stated that he defeats the enemy, some texts (especially the Psalms of Solomon and 4 Ezra 13:8-10) claim that he will not rely on military weapons, others (namely 2 Baruch 72) assert that he will use the sword. In some texts (2 Baruch 72-74) he inaugurates or participates in the messianic age, in others (notably 4 Ezra 7) he dies before the eschaton and inaugurates no messianic age. In some documents (4 Ezra 7:28-29 [contrast the Armenian]; 2 Baruch 29-30) he is passive, performing no functions, in others he is militantly active (2 Baruch 39-42). In a few documents (viz. 4 Ezra 13:8-13) he apparently acts on his own initiative, in others he is totally subservient to God (Psalms of Solomon 17 and 18). Frequently he is portrayed as a judge (4 Ezra 12:31-32), in other passages the Messiah is removed so that God himself sits in judgment (viz. 4 Ezra 7:26-44).

These are the major discrepancies; they must not be ignored in an attempt to construct a content for Jewish messianism. Definitions of messianism must be rewritten to absorb the aforementioned complexities.

Did Jesus then not believe that he was "the Messiah"?
Traditional christian eisegesis has affirmed that he did, and has used Mark's Gospel as the basis of an explanation of why he did not use the term itself. The confession of Peter has been fundamental to this view. In response to Jesus' question, "
Who do you say that I am?", Peter is reported to have declared "You are the Christ" (Mark 8:29). Mark does not record Jesus saying either "I am" or "I am not", but continues "And he sternly charged them to tell no-one about him." It has been expressed, though with caution, the essence of the traditional view: "On the lips of Peter the title 'Christ' would have referred to the messianic Son of David.... The coming of a Davidic Messiah, who would restore the political fortunes of Israel and establish her national supremacy over the world, was a widespread hope.... The political implications of the title probably explain why Jesus does not appear to have appropriated it during his ministry." Many christian theologians and scholars have argued that the "political implications" of "the title" constituted the sole and sufficient reason for Jesus not to have used it. He did not want to be misunderstood, he did not want to cause a Zealot revolt. Therefore he did not openly accept the title until the time of his humiliation when he could safely and rightly claim it in front of those who would not believe him, let alone revolt for him: "Again the high priest asked him and said to him, 'Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?' But Jesus said, 'I am, and you will see the Son of man sitting on the right of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven'" (Mark 14:61-62). Everywhere, the acceptance of the title "messiah" or "Christ" is at once modified by Jesus' characteristic use of the term "Son of man".

What is now clear is that "the messiah" was not a title in Second Temple Judaism like we would think of a title, e.g. 'President of the United States'. The term "messiah" or "anointed" on its own was not specific enough to refer to the messianic son of David, nor indeed to any single individual at all. Anointing was not confined to Davidic kings: priests and prophets could be anointed as well. For example, at 1 Kings 19:16 Elijah is instructed by God to anoint Elisha as a prophet instead of himself: at Leviticus 4:3 the high priest is called "the anointed priest"; and at Isaiah 45:1 the Persian king Cyrus is referred to as "his anointed", that is, God's anointed. Thus it is natural that in the Second Temple period both the future Davidic king and other figures could be referred to with the term "messiah", or "anointed". For example, the Qumran community expected an eschatological high priest as well as a king of David's line, and they could refer to them both together as "anointed ones" (or "messiahs") "of Aaron and Israel"(l QS K, ll). Old Testament prophets could be referred to as "anointed ones" (1 QM XI,7, cf CD VI, 1), while in 11Q Melchizedek a figure subordinate to Melchizedek is referred to as "anointed".

We must historically deduce from this general usage that anyone who wanted to refer to the Davidic messiah would have to do more than use the word "messiah" to make his meaning clear. For example, "
Whenever Israel rules, there shall [not] fail to be a descendant of David upon the throne. For 'the ruler's staff is the covenant of kingship, [and the tribes] of Israel are the 'feet', until the messiah of Righteousness, the branch of David, comes" (4Q Patr, commenting on Gen 49:10). Here, after setting up "descendant of David upon the throne" with great clarity in the context, the author still felt the need for a run of full four words to identify "the messiah of Righteousness, the Branch of David". In the face of evidence like this, we should interpret in the most straightforward and literal manner two well-known facts about the usage of "messiah" in Jewish documents of the Second Temple period. Firstly, the term is not commonly used with reference to the future redeemer of Israel: secondly, the absolute title "the Messiah" does not occur in non-Christian Jewish documents at all. The reason for this is that "anointed" or "messiah" was not specific enough to refer to the Davidic king without further qualification. That explains the various terminology Jesus used of himself or others used of him, e.g. "Son of man". However, this situation changed after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, when Judaism no longer had any prophets nor any anointed high priests officiating in the Temple, and her hopes of deliverance crystallized around the traditional expectation of a future Davidic king: after years of this, Jews did eventually call this figure who would deliver them "King Messiah", or even "the Messiah."

One question remains outstanding. If the radical view is right in this instance, how do we explain the widespread and early application of "Christ" to Jesus? It is not sufficient to refer here to Jesus' condemnation as "king of the Jews" (Mark 15:2, esp 15:26). This was the "charge" fixed on his cross, and it represents a successful charge of sedition before the Roman governor. We should probably also accept the authenticity of Mark 15:32. Jesus' opponents used the term "anointed" in a way that makes perfectly good sense. In their expression "the anointed, the king of Israel", the words "king of Israel" provide precisely that definition so conspicuously absent from passages such as Mark 8:29. This is not however sufficient to explain why the disciples allegedly should have taken up the term and used it so much after Jesus' death and resurrection.

What we do know is Jesus thought of himself or understood himself to be a prophet and sage, a messianic figure, sent by Yahweh to prepare the nation of Israel, the Jews, and the world for the messianic age. We know that Jesus did not minister to the Jews of the Judaea in order to cement a legacy of a revised or supersessionary religion. He modeled his end times ministry off of the prophecies in Isaiah and was dutifully influenced by the ministry of John the Jewish Baptist. Ultimately, our modern Christian interpretation of the term "the Messiah" is foreign to the historical interpretations of Jesus' time.









Essay excerpted & aggregated from:
Zeitlin, Irving M. Jesus and the Judaism of His Time. Polity Press, 1988.
Schiffman, Lawrence H.
Understanding Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism. KTAV Publishing, 2003
McKnight, Scot,
A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context. Eeerdmans Pub. 1999
Meier, John
A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Anchor Bible 1991
--all rights reserved the respective authors