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Yeshua in Context » Aims of Yeshua, Background to Gospels, Beginners, Formation of the Gospels, Gentiles, Ideal Israel Theme, Identity of Yeshua, Judaism Today & Yeshua, Law, Torah » Greece, Rome, Israel #3

Greece, Rome, Israel #3

And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to destroy him; for they feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at his teaching.
–Mark 11:18

The gospel did not just happen. The events which marked the onset of a new stage in the world’s redemption happened in a time and place with three main cultural backdrops. Parts 1 and 2 introduced Greek and Roman influences on these events, both in Yeshua’s time and the later time the gospels were written. What about conditions and social structures in Israel itself? What are some basics readers need to know about conditions and groups in Israel? What about Jewish concerns in the times of the evangelists?

First, it cannot be over-emphasized, and it rather has been under-emphasized, that Yeshua was Galilean and his movement was primarily a Galilean one at the beginning. For more about this, see “Yeshua the Galilean” by clicking here. In Galilee itself, Yeshua was safe unless he ran afoul of Herod Antipas. It was primarily in Judea and Jerusalem that there was danger for Yeshua. Galilee was rural and had no aristocracy. Judea had powerful people with statuses to protect so that prophets and upstart messianic brigands were quickly eliminated.

Second, we must locate Yeshua among the common Jews and not see him as part of any of the parties. In an overreaction to centuries of neglecting the Jewish context of Jesus, some studies in recent decades have aligned Yeshua with the Pharisees. This is a misunderstanding of what the Pharisees represented. Yeshua did not belong to any of the parties. Of the parties, the Pharisees may have been closest to Yeshua’s way of thinking, but he himself was not a Pharisee.

As one of the people of the land, Yeshua’s common belief with his countrymen centered on monotheism, covenant, the election of Israel as God’s people, the Temple, and the way of life laid out in the Torah. Readings of Yeshua overturning laws of the Torah are without basis and should be rejected. A more sophisticated reading of Mark 7 and Matthew 15 is called for, a reading based more in Jewish discussions about how to keep the food and purity laws, not whether to keep them.

Second, we can and should accept the picture of the gospels that there was some degree of literacy in Galilee and synagogues with some education. It is not difficult to believe that Yeshua could read the Hebrew text. But we should not imagine him as a scribe with the kind of training found in Judea in the small movement of Pharisees and scribes. Yeshua would have been a literate, but by Judean standards, poorly educated layman.

Third, we should understand the times of Yeshua in Judaism as formative. The last decades before the First Jewish Revolt in 66-70 CE were a time when Israel was looking for an identity, for a way to be Israel. The powerful chief priests and Sadducees held nearly all the power in Jerusalem. Galileans paid tithes to the chief priests out of duty to Torah in spite of corruption and the fact that the Temple-state in Judea was abusive of wealth and power. The Pharisees were seeking to bring their own kind of renewal, but it too was a movement defined by power and status, not righteousness in the mode of the prophets of Israel.

Israel was seeking to be Israel, to recover some sense of what Torah had expressed as the ideal. The common people were powerless. From time to time, groups of the common people would follow an upstart messianic or prophetic leader. None of the small revolts inspired a wide following.

It is in this sense that we should understand Yeshua, who worked wonders in Galilee and attracted crowds. People were ready for change. They wanted to see something from God. Some of the people were ready for a revolution. Otherwise the various brigands who led small revolts would have found no followers. Yeshua seemed to be a person who could make things happen at long last.

Yet nearly all of Yeshua’s teaching and his actions were calculated to overthrowing popular messianic notions. Yeshua found a people so out of touch with the vision of the prophets for the world to come, the kingdom of God, that he set about overturning sacred cows. He dined with sinners. He healed impure people. He praised the faith of non-Jews. He warned that being the Chosen People would not bring inheritance by itself in the kingdom. He denied the idea of power and status as a way for Messiah or Messiah’s followers. He spoke of a long delay in the coming of the kingdom. He established a renewal movement, a group within Israel to be True Israel. He claimed to be of very high and exalted status which people would only understand when he was glorified. He gave many hints and signs of his identity. He left a group of disciples to lead a movement after his death and glorification when these things would become clear. He spoke of coming in the future as the Son of Man.

Yeshua’s vision of Messiahship and kingdom is a Jewish vision, but different in many details from other Jewish ways of imagining the kingdom.

In the days of the evangelists, division with synagogues throughout the empire heightened the distance between the Yeshua-movement and Jewish communities. The evangelists emphasized the origins of their movement as Jewish but with a view to spread to the nations. Yeshua had other sheep. Yeshua called for his name to be proclaimed to the gentiles. The Abrahamic promise was at last being realized.

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Filed under: Aims of Yeshua, Background to Gospels, Beginners, Formation of the Gospels, Gentiles, Ideal Israel Theme, Identity of Yeshua, Judaism Today & Yeshua, Law, Torah

2 Responses to "Greece, Rome, Israel #3"

  1. Sean Rice says:

    Where did Yeshua speak ‘of a long delay in the coming of the kingdom’?

  2. yeshuain says:

    By “long delay,” I meant from their perspective from that time. Thus, while there is some evidence that they were thinking the coming of the Son of Man would be soon, before the disciples were dead, Yeshua was saying things like:

    Matt 23:34 I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town…

    Also, the parable of the Sower suggests a wait and the need to maintain faith and fruit.

    And Luke 18:7, …his elect who cry out for him day and night…

    And Luke 18:8, When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?

    And Matt 6:9, May your kingdom come…

    Derek Leman

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