02.02 Biblical And Extra-Biblical Writings

02.02.20 Oral Tradition

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02.02.20 Oral Tradition. (See Oral Law – 02.02.18 and Mishnah – 02.02.16) The Oral Tradition was in place during the entire Second Temple Period (515 B.C. – A.D. 70). The significance of the Oral Tradition increased significantly after the Maccabean Revolt.  The Pharisees had just emerged as a significant religious sect and they emphasized additional rules and regulations that were intended to prevent the rise of another Antiochus IV Epiphanes as well as an eviction from their land. In the century after the destruction of the temple and deaths of many rabbis, the Oral Tradition was written and became known as the Mishnah.

Critics have maintained that in the process of orally conveying history and religion from one generation to another, changes and errors have slowly infiltrated and changed meaning of the biblical text.  However, this is hardly the case.[1]  The ancient Jews had an oral culture, but we who live in a modern non-oral culture have great difficulty realizing the great care that was exercised by the ancients to transmit information to the next generation. Whenever a teaching or tradition was presented, there was also an audience present to make the necessary correction.   This Tradition is a unique feature of the Hebraic culture and Jesus referred to it in Matthew 15:2 and Mark 7:3, 5.  The strongest point for an accurate oral transmission of the gospels is that the oral custom was in place and had functioned for many centuries previously.  Since the primitive Church was essentially Jewish, it was only reasonable to expect that a new Oral Tradition carried the accounts of Jesus and the apostles until the gospels were written.  Luke recorded a classic oral conveyance of information in this statement, “Just as they were handed down to us….”

Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. 3 It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus,  4so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.

Luke 1:1-4


Luke gathered his information from the eyewitnesses which he then recorded. Therefore, he wrote what would normally have been first generation information of the new Oral Tradition.   His choice of words in verse 2, “the word handed them down to us.” clearly echoes the Oral Tradition.  It reflects the accuracy of the eyewitnesses in the telling of the events to him, as “handed down,” a technical term used for oral conveyance.[2] He also wrote of events that he personally witnessed.[3]


[1]. For additional study on the accuracy of oral transmission of commentary and biblical knowledge, see Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript: Oral Tradition and Written Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity, especially the section on Techniques of Repetition (page 163). The importance of this lies in the fact that the gospel narratives are believed to have been transmitted orally in the same manner until the gospel writers recorded them.

[2]. New International Version Study Bible Footnote on Luke 1:2.


[3]. Acts 16:10-17; 20:5 – 21:18; 27:1 – 28:16.


02.02.21 Pentateuch

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02.02.21 Pentateuch. The Greek word means Five Part Work or the Five Rolls[1]and consists of the five books of Moses: Genesis Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  The English word Pentateuch is derived from the Greek term Pentateuchos, which is from the Hebrew term Torah. These five books are also referred to as the Mosaic Law or the Written Law.[2] 

[1]. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:127.


[2]. Carpenter, “Carpenter.” 3:740-41; Porter, The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible. 411.


02.02.22 Philo

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02.02.22 Philo. Also known as Philo of Alexandria as well as Philo Judaeus (20 B.C. – A.D. 50), was a Jewish philosopher who attempted to blend the Greek and Jewish philosophies together.[1] While he was a resident of Egypt, he was of a wealthy family that, historically, had ties with the Hasmoneans of Jerusalem as well as the Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties, both of which were Greek. As a Jew, his writings are valuable because he gave us insight as to how the Egyptian Jews reacted to an encroaching Greek culture.  He described the culture in which the gospels and epistles of the New Testament were written.

Philo was not orthodox in his religious heritage, but a mystic with a strong Gnostic philosophy.  This pagan belief system entered Judaism as well as the early church and, consequently, was addressed by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians.  Philo’s interpretation of the Scripture was allegorical rather than literal, which is why neither orthodox Jews nor Christians endorsed his views.  His work reflects the philosophy he was promoting.[2] The Jews in Jerusalem and Galilee rejected Gnosticism in the early first century, which may be why Jesus did not address the philosophy. Yet like many other Jewish philosophers, Philo attempted to prove that all wisdom of the Greeks was already written in the Jewish Scriptures.[3]

[1] See 02.02.01.V for more information on this subject.


[2]. Clark, “Philo Judeus.” 4:773-77; Wilson, “Philo Judeus.” 3:847-50.


[3]. Golub, In the Days. 242.


02.02.23 Pliny the Younger

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02.02.23 Pliny the Younger. Pliny is known primarily for his eye witness account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. His full name was Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secudus (A.D. 61 – 113), but became known to historians as Pliny the Younger. This was to set him apart from his uncle and adopted father, Pliny the Elder. The Younger was a lawyer, author, and magistrate to the court of Emperor Hadrian. He left numerous letters and documents that survived the centuries which present insight into the Roman culture of his time. His contribution to this study of first century Christianity is minimal, although he is believed to have been a fair and just magistrate concerning early believers.

02.02.24 Pseudepigrapha

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02.02.24 Pseudepigrapha. The name Pseudepigrapha, meaning false writings, is a classification of books sometimes referred to as the Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament.[1] These literary works were written roughly between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200.[2] This open-ended category is said to have been written by biblical figures such as Abraham or Noah, but in fact were created by other writers who attempted to convey the wisdom of whom they named the books.  The practice of writing under another’s name may have contributed to why James said that one should not falsify the truth (James 3:14b).  There were several reasons as to why these were written.

  1. The authors attempted to deal with the social and religious issues of the day, including the expected messiah. For example, the author of book 3 of the Sibylline Oracles believed that the Greek Ptolemaic king could be the long-awaited savior or messiah for the Jews. (Note: a small “m” is used since the messiah was not recognized as a deity, but super-human or angelic figure).[3]
  1. The Jews had difficulty dealing with the issue of how God, who is holy, just, righteous and all-powerful, could permit the pagan Greeks and Romans to oppress His righteous Chosen People.[4] Many books attempted to resolve this problem and the struggle to find an answer is evident. Some attempted to blame the problems of humanity upon Eve, as found in the Life of Adam and Eve(18:1) and in Sirach (25:24) of the Apocrypha. Others blamed the devil or evil angels, but none fully addressed the issue except for Jesus.[5]
  1. Some new theological ideas were also created by these authors, such as the concept of purgatory even though there is no mention of it in the Bible or Oral Law. Several books, such as 4 Enoch, were written in the Christian era and reflect some Christian teaching, but are at times in serious conflict with the Bible. The primary challenge with these writings is to determine at what point historical facts end and legends begin. Their value lies in the fact that they permit scholars to understand the mindset of the writers during the theologically chaotic time of Christ.
  1. Possibly one of the most influential books of this category is the Psalms of Solomon, which was written by the Pharisees after the Roman invasion of Judaea in 63 B.C.[6] Some scholars believe it can be dated between the years 40 and 30 B.C.[7] Chapters 2 and 17 make reference to the Gentile foreigners (Romans) who invaded the land; killing men, women, and children. The author also calls upon the Lord to bring forth the son of David, an unmistakable phrase calling for the messiah to bring justice (see 06.08.03.Q3).
  1. Some of these books, such as the Gospel of Peter, have both affirmations and discrepancies with the gospel narratives. This Gospel is a re-telling of the passion of Jesus with fictional elements added, so discernment is required when assessing their historical and literary value.[8] Another, the Ascents of James, has a brief description of the death of Jesus (1.41.2 – 1.43.4). Quotations from Ascents were not included in this eBook because Ascents is not an independent source, but it was based upon the account recorded in Matthew.[9]
  1. One of the qualities of the four biblical gospels is that they agree with each other; and where there is apparent disagreement, the differences are understood in light of the audience or other cultural backgrounds. However, the Pseudepigrapha books often have differences that simply cannot be explained other than these are the result of creative historical writers.[10] For example, several books have the names of the two Zealots[11] who were crucified with Jesus. Suggested names are Dismas and Gestas, as in the Acts of Pilate. But other books identify them as Zoathan and Chammata, or as Joathas and Maggatras, or as Titus and Dumatchus. Clearly this demonstrates why these writings must be evaluated with great suspicion.[12]

Since Luke gathered his information from various sources, his work reflects the established view of the early Church.  Had his writings conflicted with Church leadership, his book would have been immediately attacked and discarded.  He would also have been the subject of discussion by early defenders of the faith such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Nonetheless, he was never attacked and there is no evidence that he and his works received negative reactions from other apostles or Church leaders.

The sixty plus Pseudepigrapha books appear to satisfy the “itching ears” of those of those who are “ever learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 4:3; 3:7), as they lack the gift of discernment. Only a few books in this category have any merit. That is why the Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 warned his readers not to get troubled and upset by a writing that supposedly came from him. That may also be why later in 3:17, he said that the greeting was in his own handwriting – his way of certifying the genuineness of his second letter, and his letter was not the creation of Pseudepigrapha author.


[1] See 02.02.01.V for more information on this subject.


[2]. Scott, Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. 29-31.


[3]. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. 1:356, 1:381.


[4]. Davies, “Apocrypha.” 1:161-65; Ladd, “Pseudepigrapha.” 3:1040-43.


[5]. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. xxx.


[6]. Some ancient writers use the term “Judea” in the broadest sense. Examples are found in Pliny the Elder, Natural History 5.15.70; Strabo, Geographia 16.4.21; and Dio Sassius, Roman History 37.15.2.


[7]. Cosby, Interpreting Biblical Literature. 285.


[8]. Webb, “The Roman Examination and Crucifixion of Jesus.” 761.


[9]. For more information see Carroll and Green, The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity. 155-57.


[10]. Creative writers and other “false teachers and prophets” have existed throughout the centuries. Ron Charles has gathered scores of fanciful legends and myths, mostly written between the sixth and sixteenth centuries, that pertain to the life of Christ in his book titled, The Search: A Historian’s Search for Historical Jesus. (Self-Published, 2007). Another researcher is Nicholas Notovich, whose book,  The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ. Trans. (Virchand R. Gandhi, Dover Pub.) is a so-called historical account of when Jesus went to Asia to study between the ages 13 and 29. All of these accounts are truly fanciful.


[11]. Only Zealots and murderers were crucified by the Romans. Thieves were not crucified for their crimes unless they were also involved with insurrection against Rome (Zealot activity) or they murdered someone in their crimes spree.


[12]. Jordan, Who’s Who in the Bible. 240; See 16.01.14.


02.02.25 Septuagint

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02.02.25 Septuagint. In the beginning of the third century B.C., the Greek language had become so prominent in Egypt, that the Hebrew language was threatened with extinction.  In Alexandria, a group of scholars in the royal library made the first translation of Hebrew Scriptures into another language – Greek.[1]  This translation became known as the Septuagint.[2]  The rabbis attempted to meet the need of their youth who were losing the Hebrew language. The rabbis were constantly challenged to keep the faith of their people intact. The Septuagint was their attempt to keep the Word of God relevant and vibrant.[3]

However, Jews living in the Holy Land did not accept the Greek language as readily as did their counterparts in Egypt. Holy Land Jews appeared to have been far more concerned with keeping their traditions and faith.  One reason may be because they were close to the temple and were constantly influenced with Greek paganism. Ironically, those living in Babylon were more faithful to biblical Judaism than were their counterparts in Jerusalem who had developed the Oral laws.  This will be explained in more detail later.

Finally, there is an interesting legend concerning the translation work. In the Pseudepigraphical book, Letter of Aristeas is an account that states that 72 men, six from each tribe, translated the entire Hebrew Bible in 72 days.  That number was rounded off to 70, which is the origin of the name “Septuagint” and its abbreviation of “LXX.”  Jewish records supposedly also preserved the names of the 72 scholars. However, the work took several decades, not seventy-two days.  Incidentally, since the Letter refers to all twelve tribes, obviously the so-called “ten lost tribes” were not lost.

02.02.25 (2)


[1] See 02.02.01.V for more information on this subject.


[2]. Soderlund, “Septuagint.” 4:401-03. See also a brief discussion by Dr. Petra Heldt at 02.04.01.V.


[3]. Soderlund, “Septuagint.” 4:402-04.


02.02.26 Talmud

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02.02.26 Talmud. The term Talmud refers to two sets of writings that reflect Jewish philosophy and theology: The Babylon Talmud and the Jerusalem, a/k/a Palestinian Talmud.[1]  Of the two Talmuds, the Babylonian edition is considered to be the authoritative one as it offers a broader scope in discussions and its themes are richer and cover longer periods of time.  Over the centuries, it became the more popular because it was more challenging and interesting for rabbinic study.  It was completed around the year A.D. 500 and contains 5,894 large pages (27 x 36 cm.) while the Jerusalem Talmud, completed a century earlier, has only 574 pages.[2]  Hence, the Babylonian Talmud is used almost exclusively in biblical research and whenever a reference is given to the “Talmud,” the reference is to the Babylonian edition.[3]

The Babylonian Talmud is essentially the interpretation and elaboration of the Mishnah as it was taught in the Jewish academies in Babylon.  Because the Jews had been removed from Jerusalem and the land of Judea in 586 B.C., they strove to insure that the laws were carefully followed and preserved. This was especially significant since the priesthood in Jerusalem had a renowned reputation of corruption, so Greek influences were removed.  It incorporates the teachings from Jewish sages who lived from 20 B.C. to A.D. 450. This Talmud illustrates two interesting features:

  1. It presents insights of the Jewish legal system prior to the destruction of the temple that enhances our understanding of the cultural environment of Jesus.  An example of Talmud’s historical value is found in the story Jesus told about the persistent widow and unrighteous judge (Lk. 18:1-8).
  1. It discredits the argument that since it was written at a late date it should be discredited as a source for biblical study on Jewish life and culture. Another example of the value of the Talmud was revealed in the early 1960s. Archaeologist Yigael Yadin was excavating Masada when he discovered what he thought was a ritual bath known as a mikvah (see Glossary). When the dimensions and description were compared with requirements of the Talmudic law, there was no question of its identity.  He had discovered the first mikvah in modern Israel.[4]  Since then, hundreds have been excavated.

Some scholars believe that since the Babylon Talmud was compiled around the year 500, and the Jerusalem Talmud about a century earlier, both sources are far too late to have any significant value concerning the study of the Second Temple Period. Their reasoning is logical, but they do not fully comprehend the Jewish tenacity to preserve the Judaism of the Second Temple. Consider the following:

  1. Josephus, writing at the end of the first century, presented considerable details of the temple in his two books, Antiquities of the Jews, and Wars of the Jews.
  1. The two Talmudic books also have considerable details of the temple, and these details are nearly identical to those of Josephus.[5]

Note the following comments about the Babylonian Talmud were found on a Jewish website:

  1. “The Talmud is, then, the written form of that which in the time of Jesus was called the Traditions of the Elders” by Rabbi Michael L. Rodkinson.[6]
  2. “The Jewish religion as it is today traces its descent, without a break, through all the centuries, from the Pharisees” by the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia.[7]

Therefore, the accuracy of Jewish writings concerning the temple can be considered to be as passionate as translating the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic,[8]  where a translator was considered to be a traitor if he translated accurately but failed to convey the full meaning of the biblical passage.[9]  Furthermore, archaeological research on the Temple Mount in the past 30 – 40 years has further reinforced literary Talmudic data, and has not contradicted Talmudic descriptions, citations, or descriptions of the Second Temple Period.[10]

02.02.26 (2)

Finally, both editions have some legends, myths, and fictitious charges against Jesus but also contain condemnations against former Jewish leaders.  For example, the Babylonian Talmud has the account of a certain rabbi who had his donkey trained so well, that the beast would not eat grain from harvested crops of which the tithes were not paid.[11]  While both contain highly significant historical accounts concerning the second temple period, obviously a degree of discernment is required.   Therefore, their references to Christianity are highly limited because it ignored Jesus and the early Judeo-Christian sect.  The work is more non-Christian than anti-Christian; more non-Jesus than anti-Jesus.[12]  But it is a good resource into first century Judaism.

[1]. See comments by Rabbi John Fischer on the significance of Jewish literature for Bible students today, 02.02.16.V.


[2]. Bivin, “Jesus and the Oral Law” 2:2, 8.


[3]. Neusner, “Talmud.” 4:717-24.

[4]. La Sor, “Discovering What Jewish Miqva’ot Can Tell Us About Christian Baptism.” 52.


[5]. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 6, Session 1.


[6]. Quoted from a Jewish website, http://www.come-and-hear.com/navigate.html April 11, 2012.


[7]. Quoted from a Jewish website, http://www.come-and-hear.com/navigate.html April 11, 2012.


[8]. See  02.02.28 “Targums.”


[9]. Lee, U., The Life of Christ. 121-23.


[10]. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 6, Session 1.


[11]. Quoted by Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:124.  


[12]. Neusner, The Mishnah: An Introduction. 221.

02.02.27 Tanakh. See “Hebrew Bible.”

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02.02.27 Tanakh. See “Hebrew Bible.”

02.02.28 Targum

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02.02.28 Targum. In the early Inter-Testamental Period, Aramaic was the language of the Persian government (5th-4th century B.C.) and continued to be the language of the common people at the time of Jesus. Because culture and language had changed since the days of Moses more than a thousand years earlier, there was a need for an Aramaic rephrasing of Hebrew writings.  The Targum was not so much a translation, but a paraphrase and commentary of the Hebrew Bible for the benefit of those who were more fluent in Aramaic than Hebrew.


02.02.28 (2)


In synagogue services, Scriptures were read in Hebrew as was the Aramaic paraphrase.[1]  The translator was given the honorable assignment of explaining or writing a Targum of Scripture, but so important was his assignment that he was considered a traitor if he translated the words properly but did not convey the full meaning.[2]


[1]. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 6, Session 1.


[2]. Lee, U., The Life of Christ. 121-23.


02.02.29 Torah

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02.02.29 Torah. The name means doctrine, instruction, or teaching, and is generally referred to as the Law, the Written Law or the Mosaic Law.[1] It is more accurate to say that the Torah is “God’s Instructions” than the modern concept of “legalistic law.”  It is the Hebrew name for the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and considered sacred by the Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Samaritans.[2]

[1]. Guignebert, The Jewish World in the Time of Jesus. 62.


[2]. See 08.01.04 for more details on the issues pertaining to the Law.


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