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Yeshua in Context » Background to Gospels

Sadducean Scribblings #2

Steve Mason (Josephus, Judea, and Christian Origins) lists some agreements about the Sadducees between the Gospel of Luke and Josephus. Here is my summary and paraphrase of his list: (1) The chief priests headed up the Judean aristocracy, the highest authorities in the land besides the Romans. (2) The chief priests exercised power through a sort of Senate called the Sanhedrin headed by the high priest. … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Sadducees

Sadducean Scribblings #1

There is an unfortunate misunderstanding, common in writings about the background of Jewish life in Yeshua’s time, that the Sadducees were relatively unimportant compared to the Pharisees. Nothing could be further from the truth. And it is not hard to understand how this misunderstanding came about. … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Sadducees

Jewish Names in Galilee and Judea

Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses makes a case that many named characters in the gospels were eyewitnesses whose testimony was specifically known to the Yeshua-community. One of Bauckham’s interesting streams of supporting data comes in comparing the names in the gospels with broader lists of Palestinian Jewish names (as opposed to Diaspora Jewish names). The survey of names is from Tal Ilan’s Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Part I: Palestine 330 BCE-200 CE. It includes the gospels, Josephus, ossuaries, and Dead Sea Scrolls (ossuaries provided the most results). What were the top men’s names in Yeshua’s time? The top women’s names? How does this relate to the overall theory of named characters as eyewitnesses? … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Disciples & Named Characters, Eyewitnesses

Jewish Jesus

If you prefer listening, you can listen to the podcast here (or subscribe to “Yeshua in Context” on iTunes). I read an interview with a scholar recently in which he talked about the patronizing concept of the Jewishness of Jesus. I’m not precisely sure what he had in mind as the interview did not get specific enough on this point and I have not read enough of this scholar’s work to be sure what opinions he holds. I do know one complaint he had: people who say their historical presentation of Jesus is a Jewish Jesus and then proceed to explain how Jesus is radically different from their notion of the Judaism of his time. He seemed to be ready to dismiss the value of speaking of the Jewish Jesus completely, and … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Gospels as History, Judaism Today & Yeshua, Temple and Torah

Yeshua’s Burial

This is a rough transcript for today’s Podcast. I will post the link to the podcast here as soon as it is uploaded. The burial of Yeshua is an early belief of his followers, cited, for example, in 1 Corinthians 15:4 as a longstanding tradition by the time of the 50’s when Paul wrote the letter. In recent times it has been claimed that Yeshua’s burial is a highly unlikely event, that criminals were generally refused burial or at most put in a shallow grave where carrion animals could disgrace the corpse. The burial of Yeshua has been the center of a number of rationalistic refutations of the resurrection: the body was lost in a shallow grave and the resurrection story resulted as a mistake, the body was moved by Joseph … Read entire article »

Filed under: Answering Objections, Background to Gospels, Disciples & Named Characters, Eyewitnesses, Resurrection of Yeshua

Yeshua and the Mishnah on Carrying in the Temple

What did Yeshua oppose in his Temple protest action (Mark 11:15-19)? He opposed three things: (1) trading in the Temple courts (2) carrying vessels through (3) filling the place of prayer in such a way as to prevent the main activity which should be here. The second issue Yeshua had, which is stated directly in Mark 11:16, is also discussed in the later deliberations of the Mishnah (c. 200 CE). What is the problem with carrying things through the Temple? … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Temple and Torah

Yeshua and Idolatrous Coins

Twice in Mark (with parallels in other gospels) Yeshua confronts hypocrisy about idolatrous coins. The issue of coins containing symbols of foreign worship (avodah zara) came up in an early rebellion against Rome in 6-7 CE (Horsley and Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiah, pgs. 196-7). The two conflicts of Yeshua involving idolatrous coins concern the Temple tax coinage and Yeshua’s protest action (Mark 11:15-19) and the entrapment question about paying the poll tax to Caesar (Mark 12:13-17). … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Temple and Torah

Understanding Yeshua’s Temple Protest Action

The Temple protest action of Yeshua (a.k.a. the Temple cleansing, Mark 11:15-19) is poorly understood because few consider the details of this narrative and place Yeshua’s actions in the context of the Judaism of his time and the context of the Temple of Herod and the way it was run by the powerful Temple state. Mark’s account is the best of all four gospels to help us reconstruct what happened. This incident is of great importance, probably being what sealed Yeshua’s doom in the eyes of the Temple state and Rome. We should read Yeshua’s actions in the giant Temple complex as a commotion, not bringing the whole Temple activity to a standstill. Yeshua acted alone and did not ask his disciples to participate. In the comments that follow, I … Read entire article »

Filed under: Aims of Yeshua, Background to Gospels, Enactments and Symbolic Actions, Gospels as History, Temple and Torah

Suetonius and Messianic Expectation

Some have claimed that there was no popular expectation of a messianic figure in Yeshua’s time. They say only some esoteric groups such as the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls had such beliefs. They especially doubt the idea that popular expectation was of a political-deliverer-messiah whereas Yeshua revealed a different kind of Messiah, a suffering figure who would inaugurate God’s kingdom in a different way. Under the “Messiah” category, I am accumulating some evidence in support of the popular messianic expectation theory. See for example this post in which Josephus explains some of the rationale for the First Jewish Revolt which started in 66 CE as being related to a messianic notion. Now, let me share a little Suetonius. … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Messiah

Greek and Roman Background: Son of God

Some people use the kind of information I’m sharing here to say things like, “The virginal conception of Jesus by Mary and the Holy Spirit is the kind of story pagans would make up about their rulers.” That is not where I am going with this. But it is vital background for understanding Yeshua as the gospels present him. … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Greco-Roman Background, Messiah, Son of God

Apocalyptic and Yeshua (Gospel of Mark)

Apocalyptic is a type of literature that sees the world in a particular way: hidden reality . . . a veil over meaning . . . secrets for those who know how to seek them . . . more than meets the eye . . . hiddenness is God’s design . . . but breakthroughs happen . . . God has sent heavenly messengers . . . secrets come to those who seek them . . . the insight into the beyond is desperately needed to cope with evil . . . the reign of evil is not the last word . . . in some versions, such as Mark, the Divine has come in person. … Read entire article »

Filed under: Apocalyptic Literature, Background to Gospels, Discipleship - Formation

Keeping Your Herods Straight

You see the name Herod and you panic, “Is this Herod the Great? Archelaus? Antipas? Agrippa? Agrippa II?” Or maybe you don’t. But you should. How do you know which Herod is Herod in the verse you are reading? Here’s a simple guide . . . … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Herodians

Notes on the Sabbath Grain-Field Controversy

Mark 2:23-28 is a passage worthy of an entire book and much has been said about it. It is a riddle wrapped in a riddle smothered in enigma. Questions include everything from the mundane to the mysterious. Did Yeshua’s disciples actually break the Sabbath? Did they merely break an interpretation of the Sabbath rules according to some Pharisees? Is this ultimately about the Peah or corners of the field issue in Jewish law? Since the example of David is not a perfect match for what happens with the disciples, why does Yeshua use it? What does it mean, in the context of Second Temple Judaism, that the Sabbath is made for humankind? Is the Son of Man in vs. 28 Yeshua or humanity in general? … Read entire article »

Filed under: Applying the Gospels, Background to Gospels, Discipleship - Formation, Judaism Today & Yeshua, Law, Torah, Teaching of Yeshua

Other Jewish and Christian Writings from Biblical Times

We have found over the centuries a number of “other” writings from the time of the Bible by Jews and Christians. These writings were preserved and found a number of ways including: preserved in Syriac and Ethiopic by eastern churches, the Cairo Geniza find from the 19th century, and non-biblical writings preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Bible itself mentions many lost books? What are they? How does Jewish literature from before and during New Testament times help us? Where can people get more information? … Read entire article »

Filed under: Apocalyptic Literature, Apocrypha & Apocryphal, Background to Gospels, Pseudepigrapha

Pharisees in Josephus

It is important not to take Josephus at face value in his descriptions of the Pharisees. Nonetheless, his descriptions are some of the best information we have. Josephus is prone to the following in these descriptions: (1) to describe Jewish sects in terms understandable by his Roman audience, such as calling them “philosophies,” (2) exaggerating the influence and political power of the Pharisees, the party he aligned with and which still had a strong purpose after the war (unlike Essenes and Sadducees, whose reason to be faded). E.P. Sanders says of Josephus’ bias that he “assigns so much power to the Pharisees, more than they had” (Judaism: Practice and Belief, 409). The Pharisees simplify their standard of living, making no concession to luxury. They follow the guidance of that which their … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Pharisees

Notes: Background to Yeshua’s Kingdom Talk

The following is not really a blog post, but more like notes or source information to help grasp the background of “kingdom of God” as it might have resounded in the ears of Yeshua’s generation. Anne Moore, “The Search for a Common Understanding of God’s Kingship,” in Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz, ed., Common Judaism: Explorations in Second Temple Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008). Marc Zvi Brettler, God is King: Understanding an Israelite Metaphor (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989). What are the underlying beliefs of people in Israel in Yeshua’s time about God’s kingship that resonate when he speaks of the “kingdom of God”? What does Yeshua’s generation think of when God’s rule is raised as an issue? … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Kingdom Present, Spectacular Commentary, Teaching of Yeshua

Galilean vs. Judean in Matthew 22

The following notes are based on a combination of observation about Matthew 22 and reading Richard Horsley’s Archaeology, History, and Society in Galilee. The potential correlations are my own hypothesizing and do not come from Horsley’s material. Richard Horsley makes the case that too little attention has been given in historical Jesus research to the latest information and guesses about religious and political differences between Galilee and Judea. Suddenly statements such as in the fourth gospel about the “Passover of the Jews” begin to make more sense (Passover at the Temple run by the Judeans and based on Judean interpretations of the Torah and the obligations of Israel). What follows is a summary of some main points from Horsley’s book (restated in my own words and greatly simplified) and a comparison with … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Galilee, Geography, Herodians, Judea, Pharisees, Sadducees

Josephus on the Messiah Concept

Israel went to war with Rome starting in 66 CE. It all started when some Greeks sacrificed birds outside a synagogue and the Romans did nothing about it. The chief priests in Jerusalem ceased offering sacrifices in honor of Caesar and a bitter war resulted, ending in Jerusalem and the Temple in ruins and a vast number of Jews and Romans dead. Josephus, a Galilean general, captured by the Romans, who became a collaborator with the Romans though always a defender of the greatness of his people, explains in a famous passage in The Jewish War (also called Bellum Judaicum or BJ for short) what one of the root causes of the war was. It was a concept of a Jewish ruler who would actually rule the world: … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Josephus, Messiah

The Mountain in the Sermon

The following information is derived from a paper by Eric Ottenheijm of the University of Utrecht presented at the 2010 Society of Biblical Literature in the Matthew section. In Matthew 5:1, Yeshua went up on “the mountain.” No one knows which mountain, although there is a lovely hill which is the traditional spot. More important than a physical location, though, is understanding the allusion of “the mountain.” There are a number of mountains of great significance in the Hebrew Bible. The echoes of Exodus and Isaiah in particular add depth and meaning to the Sermon on the Mount. … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Beatitudes, Besorah/Gospel/Good News, Identity of Yeshua, New Moses Theme, Sermon on the Mount, Spectacular Commentary

Targums, Aramaic Bible Paraphrases in Yeshua’s Time

The gospel writers occasionally use Aramaic, such as the famous talitha cumi of Mark 5:41 or Eli, Eli, lama sabach-thani? of Matthew 27:46 and the corresponding Eloi of Mark 15:34. In spite of some evidence of popular use of Hebrew in certain circles, it is nearly unanimous amongst scholars that Aramaic was the common language of Israelites in Yeshua’s time (and Hebrew a religious language). The Targums are paraphrases of the Bible (loose translations with comments inserted, rather like study Bibles). Our manuscripts of the Targums are mostly from the Middle Ages. But were there Targums in use in Yeshua’s time? … Read entire article »

Filed under: Aramaic, Background to Gospels, Hebrew Bible as Testimony, Language and Literacy

Testimonies to Yeshua in the Hebrew Bible

Many scholars think that during the time between the life of Yeshua and the writing of the gospels there were various collections, oral and perhaps written, of sayings, maybe deeds, and perhaps of source texts related to Yeshua from the Hebrew Bible. Certain texts from the Israelite prophets, Torah, and Psalms came to be associated with various aspects of Yeshua’s life. Some people have wrongly thought of these as part of a collection of “Messianic prophecies,” as if the Hebrew Bible intended to detail a coming figure with prophetic foretellings. That picture is simplistic. But it is interesting to see the main texts and how the gospels use them. … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Hebrew Bible as Testimony

Abraham in the Gospels

What does it mean to be an Israelite? This is the sort of question that was on the mind of people in Yeshua’s time. Rome had power. Israel was a subjected people. But God was expected to show up any time. And being a child of Abraham meant privilege in God’s eyes. Israel’s story begins with Abraham, the one who was chosen by God. His children would be in covenant relationship with God without regard to merit (free election) and forever without condition (irrevocable election). Being an Israelite meant secure covenant standing with God. Yet the story of Abraham is not merely about national privilege for Israelites, but blessing to all the families of the earth as well. At several places in the gospels we see how this dynamic idea, being a … Read entire article »

Filed under: Abraham, Background to Gospels, Gentiles, Salvation and Covenant

Reading Strategies for the Gospels

It could be helpful for many people to have a list of common issues in reading the gospels which can be improved by a realization of their Jewish context and an accurate assessment of Judaism and Yeshua’s relationship to it. The following is not necessarily complete, but it is a start. Each one of the items on this list will eventually have an article expanding on its meaning. Avoid all false assumptions of Jewish vs. Christian antagonism. Look for a both-and reading instead of either-or. … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Beginners, Erasing Anti-Judaism, Reading Strategies, Study Tips

Galilee: Jewish or Gentile Place?

Galilee in Yeshua’s time has gotten a bad reputation as a place of Greek cynics and Roman officials, with a weak Jewish culture. There are two sources, one biblical and one a trend in archaeological thought, that have led to this misunderstanding. But the evidence is overwhelming: Galilee was a Jewish region, fiercely loyal to the Torah, and which had only pockets of Greco-Roman settlements. … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Geography

Temptation, Moses, Wilderness

Matthew especially develops layers of symbolism, Yeshua as the New Moses and Yeshua as Ideal Israel. The temptation story (Matthew 4:1-11) is bursting with such symbolism. See Dale Allison, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology for details. The list of parallels is not only interesting, but a great clue to the meaning of the temptation story itself. … Read entire article »

Filed under: Background to Gospels, Ideal Israel Theme, Identity of Yeshua, New Moses Theme, Temptation