02.02.16 Mishnah. It is a compilation of the oral laws as taught in many first century rabbinical schools. These laws were the interpretation and application of the written laws of Moses. The name Mishnah was derived from a Hebrew word meaning to repeat. But under the influence of the Aramaic word tanna, the meaning was changed to learn. The Mishnah was built upon the rules and regulations established by two other theological schools in Jewish history in the Inter-Testamental Period as well as the early Christian Period.
- The Sophrim, which was popular from 450 to 30 B.C., instituted thousands of rules and regulations that pertained to every aspect of Jewish life. These were intended to build “a fence around the Torah” as described in Mishnah, Aboth 1.1.
- The Tannaim was a second school of rabbinic scribes who decided that the rabbis of the Sophrim left too many holes in their laws. So the Tannaim rabbis added more restrictions. This school started in 30 B.C. and continued to about A.D. 220.
These various rules and regulations became the Oral Law in the days of Jesus, and when written, became known as the Mishnah. The development of the Mishnah is rather interesting and provides insights into the religious environment of the gospels.
So many scribes, rabbis, and sages were killed in the two revolts (A.D. 66-73 and 132-135), that there was deep concern among the survivors that the Oral laws would be lost if not written. Once written, these were divided into six major sections of the Mishnah, each called a tractate. The tractate Aboth is considered to contain the oldest teachings and even has the names of sixty-five rabbis. Most scholars believe that the entire collection of Oral Laws occurred between the years A.D. 90 and 200, and by the year 220, Y’hudah HaNasi (“Judah the Prince”) served as editor and compiled them as the Mishnah. Since writing was a long and tedious work, it was finally completed in 279 by Johanan bar Nappacha.
The writers were extremely devoted to accuracy when copying Scripture and commentaries. They determined that their commentaries would accurately reflect daily religious life in Judea, Galilee, and Perea without any trace of Greek philosophy or Christianity. It does, however, present various rabbinic opinions such as the disputes between Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai whose teachings were hotly debated during the life of Jesus.
This work has preserved elements of the Midrash, which is an earlier method of teaching the traditional laws by means of a running commentary on the biblical text. There is some lack of uniformity in the Mishnah because some teachers established certain portions prior to A.D. 220, while other rabbis completed other sections more than a century earlier. It was quickly accepted as the authoritative code-law of Judaism. However, caution should be noted. Not all the comments within the Mishnah and other Jewish writings reflect life in time of Jesus. The greatest of care has been taken to discover those rules and regulations that were in effect at the time of Jesus. Note these two examples:
- Discussions by Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai and their peers are certain to be of His era.
- On the other hand, some passages clearly state that certain events happened after the destruction of the temple – obviously after the time of Jesus. For example, an interesting comment found in Sotah 9.15 discusses the moral cultural break-down of society prior to the coming of the messiah.
Video Insert >
02.02.16.V The Significance of Understanding Jewish Literature. Messianic Rabbi John Fischer, discusses the contributions of the Mishnah and Gemarah that aid understanding of the Gospels and the words of Jesus (Heb. Yeshua).
Therefore, great caution has been taken to present an accurate cultural and religious picture in this e-Book. The modern Gentile Bible students often find the Jewish writings confusing. They are unsure of when a particular passage was written and to what part of Jewish history it applies. Therefore, the following diagram may help bring basic clarity to this matter.
- The Mishnah covers a time span of 450 B.C. to A.D. 220, but most is pre-destruction temple era.
- The Gemarah (02.02.09) covers a time span of A.D. 220 to 500.
- The Mishnah + the Gemarah = The Talmud (Babylonian and Jerusalem editions)
02.02.16.Q1 Why are some Jewish writings incredibly similar to New Testament teachings?
The answer is simple – both are rooted in the Hebrew Bible. Are all rabbinic writings reflective of the time of Jesus? Absolutely not! And that makes discernment of those writings all the more challenging. Some scholars have often stated that the Mishnah and Talmud were written centuries after Jesus and, therefore, are not trustworthy sources for two reasons:
- These writings idealize what first century Judaism should have been like.
- Some beliefs of the Jews changed over time toward a Christian perspective.
However, what these scholars have failed to realize is that many of the Jewish principles of faith and life in the Mishnah and repeated in the Talmud were taught centuries before they were recorded. In fact, most of these principles originated long before the time of Jesus. Mary and Joseph were righteous not only when Jesus was born, but throughout their entire lives and they were faithful to Old Testament teachings. So were many other Jews and rabbis. Therefore, it should not be surprising that both the New Testament and a number of Jewish writings are similar.
. See also Oral Law 02.02.18 and Oral Tradition 02.02.20. See 02.02.01.V for more information on this subject.
. Farrar, The Life of Christ. 241.
. “Mishnah” Encyclopedia Judaica CD ROM 1997; See also Mishnah, Avot 3:8-9 See also 02.02.09.
. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 8, pages 2-4.
. See video 02.02.16.V by Messianic Rabbi John Fischer who discusses the term “fence around the Torah” from a first century Jewish perspective.
. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 7, page 13.
. Runes, The Talmud of Jerusalem. 6.
. Lee, U. The Life of Christ. 78.
. Danby, ed., Mishnah. 14, 25.
. Neusner, A Midrash Reader. 9.
. For example, see Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 355.