02.03 Significant Cultural Elements

02.03 Significant Cultural Elements

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 18, 2016  -  Comments Off on 02.03 Significant Cultural Elements

Unit 02

Cultural Background Studies


Chapter 03

Significant Cultural Elements


02.03.00.A. CHILDREN IN A SYNAGOGUE SCHOOL. Illustration by Godfrey Durand. 1896. (2)

02.03.00.A. CHILDREN IN A SYNAGOGUE SCHOOL. Illustration by Godfrey Durand. 1896.  Students normally sat on the floor “at the feet” of their teacher, not only in Israel, but in all cultures in the ancient Middle East.  All reading was done “out-loud” because the skill of reading silently was unknown at this time.

02.03.01 Introduction

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02.03.01 Introduction. Every culture has certain elements that are unique and significant to its people. An overview of the significant Jewish cultural elements in first century Judaea is presented in this chapter. This basic knowledge will enhance the reader’s understanding of the gospels.

02.03.02 Agriculture

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02.03.02 Agriculture. Agriculture was the primary occupation for the majority of Jewish peasants which is why many comments by Jesus alluded to agricultural endeavors. Israel is a diverse land that has five distinct climate zones.[1] Furthermore, there are six divisions in the agricultural year with each zone, each lasting about two months and the every two-month period is somewhat different in each climate zone.  The agricultural divisions are as follows:

  1. Seedtime: In Israel crops were sown late fall, depending upon the climate zone, as this is the beginning of the rainy season (November to April).[2]
  1. Winter (rainy season)
  1. Spring
  1. Harvest: The harvest season is the beginning of the six to seven month period when there is no rain (dry season).
  1. Summer (dry season)
  1. Season of incredible heat (August).

Winter crops and cattle flourish in the Galilee area whereas the southern desert section of Judea is ideal for flat-tailed sheep, goats, and tropical fruits.  Various grapes[3] and olives are in abundance almost everywhere with the exception of the semi-arid southern region. The land was famous for olives, dates, figs, incense, pomegranates, citrons, and almonds. Oils included olive oil, poppy seed oil, nut oil, and palm oil. There were a variety of wines, black wines, white wines, reddish wines, Sharon wines, Carmel wines and spiced wines, all of which were shipped abroad in ancient time.[4]  The diet of the ancients was basically a cereal diet. It was extremely low in fat and calories, but olives made up for this deficiency. Josephus wrote of the productiveness of the land:

Their soil is universally rich and plentiful and full of plantations of trees of all sorts, insomuch that it invites the most slothful to take pains in its cultivation by its fruitfulness.  Accordingly, it is all cultivated by its inhabitants, and no part lies idle.

Josephus, Wars 3.3.2 (42b)


The historian continued to say,

The country also that lies over against this lake has the same name of Gennesaret (Galilee); its nature is wonderful as well as its beauty.  Its soil is so fruitful that all sorts of trees can grow upon it, and the inhabitants accordingly plant all sorts of trees there; for the temper of the air is so well mixed that it agrees very well with those several sorts, particularly walnuts, which require the coolest air, flourish there in vast plenty.  There are palm trees also which grow best in hot air; fig trees also and olives grown near them which yet require an air that is more temperate.

Josephus, Wars 3.10.8 (516-517)


Another writer was Marcus Terentius Varro (116 – 27 B.C.), a Roman scholar thought to have been of the equestrian rank, and as such, had the finances for extensive travel and the establishment of his own library. He produced 74 literary works on numerous topics, including agriculture. In his work, Agriculture, he identified three areas in the Roman Empire where crop yields were one hundred fold – in Sybaris in Italy, near Gadara in Syria, and in Byzacium in Africa. Of interest in this study is Gadara. Varro mentioned it as being in Syria because it was under the Roman governmental district headquarters in Damascus, Syria, just as Galilee was at time.  More specifically, he wrote,

Around Sybaris in Italy the normal yield is said to be even a hundred to one, and a like yield is reported near Gadara in Syria, and for the district of Byzacium in Africa. It also makes a great difference whether the planting is on virgin soil or on what is called restibilis — land cultivated every year — or on vervactum, which is allowed sometimes to lie fallow between crops.

Varro, Agriculture 1.44.2[5]


The area Varro described near Gadara is in the region surrounding the Sea of Galilee. The reason the land was extremely fertile is because of the extinct volcanoes in the Golan Heights area. Over the centuries, the rains disintegrated the volcanic rock, called basalt, into extremely fertile soil. Therefore, when Jesus spoke of a hundred fold increase,[6] it was not an exaggeration; it was a multiplication factor with which the Galileans were well acquainted.

The olive tree has been a vital element in all Mediterranean cultures.  Its fruit is crushed and pressed in several stages for its oil, the first part of which is used for religious purposes.  The next oil extracted is used for medical purposes, followed by oil for cooking, lamps, and other uses.[7] 

With the exception of the desert areas, vineyards have been planted throughout the land since the earliest times.  According to the oral tradition, the wine was mixed 1:3 with water.[8] Water stored in cisterns for long periods of time tended to become a haven for micro-organisms and the alcohol in wine purified the water.  The small alcohol content had a purifying effect on the water which was collected in cisterns[9] during the rainy months of November through April for use in the arid summer months.

Most crops were planted in October and November at the time of the early rains. After the later rains came in March and April, the crops were harvested. The farming methods included the hand sowing of seed (Mk. 4:1-20), work in the vineyard (Mt. 20:1-6), care of fruit trees (Mt. 7:15-20), guarding food from thieves (Mk. 12:1), and storage of food (Lk. 12:13-21).  These vignettes were some of the illustrations used by Jesus to communicate his message.[10]

Wheat was the grain of choice and the primary food staple, whereas barley was the food for the poorer classes and animals.[11]  It requires a shorter growing season than does wheat and grows well in poor farmland east of the central mountains and areas adjacent to the Judean desert south and east of Jerusalem. This was the only land the poor could afford to purchase.[12]  Most other soils were extremely fertile and expensive. The biblical phrase that described the land flowing with “milk and honey” had reference to two areas.  The southern desert area was ideal for milk-producing herds, such as goats and camels, while the northern area produced vineyards and orchards as well as “honey.”

Some villages enjoyed diversity of trades and income.   Capernaum and other villages along the edge of the fresh water lake known as the Sea of Galilee, prospered from both fishing and farming.[13] The lake, called by locals Yom Kinneret, literally “Sea Harp” in Hebrew, is thirteen miles long and seven miles wide. It is the only known lake with fresh water sardines. In spite of that, a vast majority of the population were involved in agriculture.  Hence, the entire social and religious life centered around the agricultural cycles, as can be noted by the Jewish festivals.

Finally, it should be noted that there is a misconception today that the vegetation of modern Israel has not changed since the earliest biblical times. The land, except some desert areas, was heavily forested throughout most of pre-biblical history.[14] When Joshua divided the land he told some Israelites to clear the forested hill country (Jos. 17:15-18). Destruction of the forests came centuries later.  For example, when Hadrian destroyed Jerusalem in 135 A.D. he commanded that every tree within ten Roman miles of the city be cut down to remove the main source of fuel for cooking and heating. When the Turkish Ottoman Empire was in power of this region (1407-1917), they taxed every tree and in the nineteenth century most surviving forests were used for railroad ties and fuel for railroad engines. The reforestation of today is nothing short of a miracle. At the time of Jesus central and northern Israel was covered with rich farmland and forests.

[1]. For example, Jerusalem receives more than 24 inches of rainfall per year while Jericho, which is less than 20 miles to the east, receives barely 4 inches. Therefore, the mount region of Jerusalem has numerous fruit trees and gardens while the Jericho area is a desert – the city itself is located at a huge oasis.

[2]. Today, with the invention of the drip irrigation system, crops are growing year-round in fulfillment of the prophecy of Amos 9:13 that says that the ploughman will overtake the reaper.

[3]. Originally Israel had five kinds of grapes. One kind produces the earliest fruit that only grows well on the ground, not on a grape arbor. Its fruit ripens early and the other kinds ripen later and thereby, people enjoyed fresh grapes from June through October. Many grapes today were brought into the country from France by the Rothschild family in 1882 because Muslims destroyed the vineyards.

[4]. Golub, In the Days. 137.

[5]. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Varro/de_Re_Rustica/1*.html  Retrieved July 9, 2011.

[6]. Mt. 13:1-9; Mk. 4:1-9; Lk. 8:4-8.

[7]. See 15.02.01.B. “Illustration of a Beam Olive Press.”

[8]. 05.05.02.Q3 “Did the wine that Jesus created, contain alcohol (Jn. 2:1-11)?’ and 05.05.02.Q4 “What is the difference between wine and strong drink (Jn. 2:1-11)?”

[9]. See “Cisterns” in Appendix 26.

[10]. Packer and Tenney, eds., Illustrated Manners. 263-70; See also Packer, J. I., and M. C. Tenney and William White Jr. eds. Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts. Nashville: Thomas Nelson. 1995.

[11]. Ruth 2:17; Ezek. 4:9; Jn. 6:9.

[12]. Hepper, “Grain.” 2:591.

[13]. Packer and Tenney, eds., Illustrated Manners. 263-70.

[14]. It appears that in centuries past, the farmland in Babylon was also more productive than it is today. Herodotus in his work, The Histories (1.93) said that “In grain, it is so fruitful as to yield commonly two-hundred fold; and when the production is the greatest, even three-hundred fold.”

02.03.03 Economy

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02.03.03 Economy – In Western culture today there is, for the most part, a large middle class of people, a small upper class of extremely wealthy people, and a class of poverty-stricken people. In many non-Western countries, the middle class is smaller and the poverty is the largest.  However, in the first century biblical era the economic-social structure was quite different.  The religious and government leaders comprised a small powerful wealthy upper class. A vast majority of impoverished people were subsistence peasant farmers who barely eked out a living from a small plot of land.  There was also a small group of destitute people – the blind, lepers, and others who generally had health issues of some kind.  These were also the ones Jesus referred to as “the poor” (Lk. 18:1-19:10). Therefore, instead of having a Western social structure that was small upper class – large middle class – small lower class, in the first century it was small upper class – larger poverty class – small destitute class. There was also a small middle class that emerged who consisted of merchants.

The livelihood of the average first century Jewish peasant centered primarily on producing or obtaining food.  It was the commodity most often bought and sold.  While currency was available, it was generally used only to pay Roman and temple taxes.  The price paid for needed services or products was determined by bartering as price tags did not exist.[1]  Food markets were only in the larger cities. To date, archaeologists have not found any evidence of shops or markets in small rural villages.  No ancient writings have been found with reference to an agoranomos, the government inspector of shops and markets who was appointed to a village.  Nearly anything that was needed by a family could be secured within the village, or most certainly, in a neighboring one.  The village economy was self-contained.[2]  However, not all scholars agree with this.  Some feel that the taxes and rents were so high that many families had to work in a second craft for additional income.  Frequently, such endeavors produced a village that had a specialty such as pottery.[3]  The high Roman taxation created economic slavery and was the leading cause of frequent revolts by the impoverished peasants.

Imported products were exclusively for the rich.  The city of Sepphoris, a mere three miles from Nazareth, was a community of wealthy Greeks and Romans who enjoyed a wide variety of imported goods.  This was in sharp contrast to the average village community where impoverished living continued generation after generation.  Seldom did a village break out of this cycle. Tabgha, located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, is believed to have been a rare exception to the village trade. This community produced salted fish that was shipped by camel caravan throughout the eastern Roman Empire. A growing number of scholars believe Capernaum was also an exception in that it may have had an industry of manufacturing basalt grinding stones. Seldom was there any hope for a change to a better life.

The teachings of Jesus are filled with economic lessons of life.  He taught that one must first consider the needs of others (Mt. 25:31-46; Jn. 3:17-18), place one’s economic needs second to devotion to God (Mt. 6:19-21, 24), to seek the holiness and righteousness of God, and “all these things will be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33).   He demonstrated that every spiritual condition of mankind has a material manifestation.[4]

Banking did not exist as we know it today.[5]  However, the wealthy did place their currency funds in the temple, which served as a bank.[6]  This was typical of all ancient Near Eastern cultures (now called ancient Middle East cultures).  Most notable was the temple of Diana in Ephesus, which was the central bank for a third of the Roman Empire.  In Jerusalem, the temple had divided funds for sacred and secular uses.  When Pilate took funds from the temple to complete the aqueduct, the people rebelled.  Josephus said that they rebelled because Pilate stole the more valuable sacred monies, rather than private funds.[7] The maintenance of the infrastructure of Jerusalem – the walls, water-channels, towers, storm sewers, maintenance workers and street sweepers[8] – were all paid for by the temple, not the Romans.[9] The irony is that when Pilate raided temple funds to complete the construction of the aqueduct, he essentially finished the work that the religious aristocrats were supposed to do in the first place.

Prior to the reign of Herod the Great there was limited prosperity, low unemployment, and high taxation.[10] Note the words of the historian:

When he took the kingdom, it was filled in an extraordinary flourishing condition, he had filled the nation with the utmost degree of poverty; and when under unjust pretenses, he had slain any of the nobility, he took away their estates and when he permitted any of them to live, he condemned them to the forfeiture of what they possessed. And, besides the annual impositions which he laid upon every one of them, they were to make liberal presents to himself, to his domestics and friends, and to such of his slaves as were vouchsafed the favor of being his tax gatherers, because there was no way of obtaining a freedom from unjust violence without giving gold or silver for it.

Josephus, Antiquities 17.11.2 (307-08)


Upon his death, the construction projects ended and the economy went into a recession until his sons continued various construction projects in their respective districts. But none of them had the administrative or engineering skills of their father. The nation was demoralized by the Hellenistic inroads and impoverished by the high taxation – Judea alone had to pay 600 talents annually.[11]

The economy recovered somewhat by the time Jesus began His ministry. However, outdated Roman laws did not help the matter either. The enforcement of obsolete usury laws had spread financial ruin over the entire empire.[12]  Forced sales made property almost worthless as bankruptcies spread far and wide.  Courts from Rome to Alexandria and beyond were filled with men imploring the repeal of outdated financial laws, and in the meantime, investors kept their money.  Prosperity and businesses were paralyzed. Wealthy merchants were reduced to beggars and the poor became poorer.  Many who could not pay their debts died of starvation in prison, and in Rome, their bodies were thrown into the Tiber River.[13] Even the historian Tacitus wrote of the financial distress that was upon the people.[14] The economy for the Jewish people in Israel and elsewhere wasn’t much better.[15] This economic situation coupled with the theological conflicts the Jews had with the Romans, set the stage for rebellions and riots, as well as the expectations of the m/Messiah.  Therefore, when Jesus spoke of forgiving debtors or finding buried treasures (probably hidden from tax collectors), He was speaking of real-life issues.

[1]. Price tags on merchandise and food products were invented by John Wannamaker in the 1860s, after he opened his department store in Philadelphia. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wanamaker’s Retrieved July 9, 2015.


[2]. Safrai, The Economy of Rome. 56-58, 231.

[3]. Horsley, Archaeology, History, and Society in Galilee. 74-76.

[4]. Packer and Tenney, eds., Illustrated Manners and Customs. 330-39; See also Packer, Tenney, and White, eds. Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts.


[5]. See the discussion on a possible private banking system in 05.05.04.  Furthermore, see 05.05.04.V1 “Professor Gary Byers and Dr. Paul Wright discuss what scholars believe was a private banking system affiliated with the religious establishment in the temple. Introduction by Dr. Bill Heinrich.”


[6]. Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? 64-65.


[7]. Josephus, Wars. 2.9.4.


[8]. Since Jerusalem was considered to be a Holy City, the streets were swept every day (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 26A and Pesahim 7A). The Valley of Hinnom had a dump site by the dung gate where all the filth was thrown. With the exception of rose gardens, gardens were not permitted in the city because they required dung (Mishnah, Maaseroth 2.5; Babylonian Talmud, Baba Kamma 82B). This illustrates to what measures the laws of purity were taken by the time of Jesus.


[9]. Mishnah, Shekalim 4.2.


[10]. Josephus, Antiquities 17.11.4 (320). That was a huge sum and, according to Tacitus (Annals 2.42), in the year A.D. 17, the provinces of Syria and Judea begged to have their taxes reduced, but their petition was denied.


[11]. Josephus, Antiquities 17.11.4 (320). That was a huge sum and, according to Tacitus (Annals 2.42), in the year A.D. 17, the provinces of Syria and Judea begged to have their taxes reduced, but their petition was denied. See also 02.03.03 “Economy.”


[12]. Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 1:352-53.


[13]. Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 1:353-54.


[14]. Tacitus, Annals of Imperial Rome 6.9, cited by Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 1:355.


[15]. For further study of loans, debts, and how first century Jewish courts ruled, see the Mishnah and the chapter titled Baba Bathra.


02.03.04 Education

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02.03.04 Education.

The origin of the school as well as the synagogue is rather obscure. The Hebrew word for synagogue is beit-knesset or beyt-knesset, meaning house of gathering. [1]  It is strongly believed to have begun in the exilic period or shortly thereafter by the prophet Ezra.  By the time Christ came on the scene, the educational process took on a significant importance to combat the growing Greek influence that had taken a firm grip on the Jewish community.[2]  Wherever the Jewish people lived, they established community centers within their synagogues. It was in the synagogue that children and adults were taught the Scriptures and local festivals, unless, of course, they traveled to Jerusalem to observe the national religious festival celebrations.[3]

In recent centuries scholarship assumed that the Jewish people were essentially illiterate and girls were never sent to schools. Essentially, formal education of children in the first century was limited to boys until they reached the age of thirteen.  However, recently that opinion began to change dramatically as scholars examine Jewish writings that were previously overlooked. While full literacy is defined by having proficient skills in both reading and writing, various levels do obviously exist, and did so likewise in the first century.  Many who have basic reading skills usually have a lower level of writing skills. For example, you, the reader may be able to read this eBook but may have difficulty spelling some words if you were asked to write what you read.

This theory on literacy for boys and girls has several good arguments.

  1. Archaeologists have uncovered numerous legal documents that were written by professional scribes. Their handwriting and signatures are neat and accurate. The other signers have signatures that look like graffiti, which is indicative that they were novices but had basic abilities to write.
  2. A number of ossuaries were discovered with beautiful carvings, such as the one of Caiaphas (see 15.03.07.A); reflecting the high level of craftsmanship of those who created them. However, the graffiti-like names of the deceased inscribed in the sides of the stone boxes appear to have been written by family members rather than professional scribes.[4]
  3. Some women had sufficient writing skills to prepare their own divorce decrees, which is obviously reflective of a culture where women had basic literacy skills and knowledge of family law.[5]
  4. There are several biblical examples of women who were well versed in Scriptures. One of them was Mary, who praised God with her poetic Magnificat. She referred to no less than twenty Old Testament references, an impossible task for many Bible students today.[6] This is a clear demonstration that she knew her Bible, and leaves modern scholars to wonder how much more she knew at her young age. Scholars believe that by the middle of the first century, the Magnificat and several other New Testament passages became hymns in the early Jewish-church congregations.[7]
  5. The Babylonian Talmud speaks of women reading from the Torah in the synagogue near the end of the second temple period.[8] The fact that men and women had equal opportunity to read during the Sabbath service is indicative that boys and girls both went to school to learn how to read.

In light of these considerations, is it possible that some of the words of Jesus could have been written down during His lifetime?[9] Most certainly the scribes and leading Pharisees took notes that were a type of shorthand that the Romans developed. While a negative answer has been assumed in the past, it may be time to reconsider this hypothesis. Writing materials such as papyrus were expensive, but broken pieces of pottery were commonplace. Is it possible that key words or phrases of parables were written on pottery pieces by His listeners? This practice was so common that the pottery shards have their own name – “ostraca.”[10]

Education became significant during the Babylonian exile after Ezra established a new religious class known as scribes, whose principle responsibility was to study Scripture and teach it. By the first century B.C. there were many itinerant rabbi-teachers wandering throughout the Jewish communities with their disciples, teaching as they went. This was the practice replicated by Jesus. But by the first century there were two other important factors that changed education, especially for girls:

  1. High divorce rate. This was a major reason for educating girls.
  1. The acceptance of Hellenism by many Jews. This was a major reason for adding legalistic restrictions in the Oral Law.

Centuries earlier, Abraham commanded his children – boys and girls – and his entire household, to keep the ways of Jehovah (Gen. 18:19). Furthermore, they were instructed in the commandments and ways of a godly life while performing the daily activities of normal life.[11] The education of the children was the responsibility of both parents. Timothy was educated by his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois, which implies that they too were educated to some degree (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15) – obviously in some form of educational setting such as a local synagogue school. Timothy grew up outside of Israel in a Gentile community. Philo (25 B.C.-A.D. 50), the Jewish philosopher and historian from Egypt made this comment,

Since the Jews look on their laws as revelations from God, and are taught them from their earliest childhood, they bear the image of the Law on their souls….They are taught so to speak, from their very swaddling clothes, by their parents, masters, and teachers, in the holy laws, and in the unwritten customs, and to believe in God, the one Father and Creator of the world.

Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius 31-32


Synagogues were community centers where all community events occurred, such as childhood education.  A unique custom was that during days of fair weather, rabbis taught their students outside under a fig tree.  In time, the Torah was compared to the fig tree because, unlike most trees that have a short harvest season, the fig tree produces some ripe figs throughout most of the year. And so it is with the Torah, one learns a little today, and a little more tomorrow, and a little more the next day.[12] It was said that under the tree one “eats” the Word of God as one eats figs from the tree. The tree had become symbolic of the nation, the Torah, and eventually of the Jewish ordinances and traditions.[13]

Grapevines and fig trees were frequently planted near doors of homes or in the home courtyards of people so families could be seated beneath them and enjoy the fruit in season (Mic. 4:4). Fig trees were also planted along roadways so travelers could obtain some nourishment as they walked on their journey.[14]

The Jerusalem Talmud records that by the end of the second century and early first century B.C., the president of the Sanhedrin, Simeon ben Shetah, along with Rabbi Judah ben Tabbai, required compulsory education for all boys to the age of sixteen.[15] Nearly every town and village of significance had a “Beth Midrash” or “Beth Rabban,” although Nazareth was too small to qualify at that time.  In communities with schools, the village rabbi held classes in the synagogue where the study of the Torah was central.  The entire educational process in the villages can best be understood as a form of elementary school, at that time known as a bet sefer or “house of reading,” or the “house of study.”[16] It was there where they learned to read, write, and do basic arithmetic.  Learning was rote oral memorization and repetitive.  Jesus used this same method, as he did not write his teachings, but constantly repeated them. In school, the rabbi would read from the Torah and the boys would repeat his words. According to a rabbinic tradition, by the age of ten a boy was ready to study the Mishnah or Oral Law of the Pharisaic tradition in the bet Talmud or “house of learning.”[17]   The tradition reflects the importance of biblical study in the ancient culture.

He used to say: five years [is the age] for [the study of] Scripture, ten for [the study of] Mishnah, thirteen for [becoming subject to] commandments,  fifteen for [the study of] Talmud, eighteen for the [bridal] canopy, twenty for pursuing, thirty for [full] strength, forty for understanding, fifty [for ability to give] counsel, sixty for mature age, seventy for a hoary head, eighty [is a sign of superadded] strength, ninety [is the age] for [a] bending [figure], at a hundred, one is as one that is dead, having passed and ceased from the world.

Mishnah, Aboth 5.22[18]


The Oral Law gives a prescription of life that is strictly observed.[19] At the age of thirteen, a young teenager celebrates a bar or bat mitzvah and becomes a son or daughter of the Commandment.  Further study is at the discretion of the family, but whenever a son completes this formal education, he is ready to learn a trade with his father.[20]

Boys generally learned a trade from their fathers, but there were exceptions.  In larger cities, labor guilds, similar to modern labor unions were established.  The guilds trained young men for careers, such as pottery making and metallurgy.[21] In Jerusalem the guilds were so well established that they had their own synagogues for the sole use of their members.[22]

There is another point to consider: the influence of Hellenism on the Jewish community.  The study of philosophy was to the Greeks as the Scriptures were to the Hebrews. The Old Testament is actually theology and related systems and beliefs about God.  The Jews looked upon their studies as a matter of how man and nature related to God who was central to all of life.  To the philosophic Greek, man was central to all of life.[23]  It was a conflict in which the Jews drew up a strong defense in the form of their educational system. Today there is the same conflict – a conflict between Christian values and God of Judeo-Christianity versus the humanistic culture to which the ancient Greek philosophy is foundational.

A good student was a good listener. Information was constantly repeated to be permanently recorded in his mind.  Writing devices were expensive and rare, although many students had a wax board and stylus that served as “paper and pencil.” The Mishnah described a good student as “a whitewashed well, which did not leak a drop.”[24]  This is what is meant by a whitewashed well. In Judaea (modern Israel) there is no rain for at least six months of every year. Therefore, every family had a cistern (called here a well) into which rainwater was collected in the rainy season for storage during the long, hot and dry summer.  A large portion of the central mountain area of Israel has porous cretaceous limestone bedrock, which does not hold water.  Hence, underground storage tanks carved in the soft limestone had to be plastered.[25]  A good whitewashed cistern was critical to the survival of the family and it did not leak a drop, just as a good student did not forget anything.

Schools were located in synagogues that were filled with noise as students read aloud. Reading out loud, called chanting, helps with memorization. Furthermore, when one recited an Oral Law or Scripture and made a mistake, there were many in the audience who would announce the error and make a correction.  This was part of the culture where Oral Tradition was significant.[26]  Silent reading was not a skill known to man until the second or third century A.D.  That is why Jesus said “Let those who have ears, listen.”  He never said, “Let those who have eyes, read.”   For the most part, letters and other documents were an extension of oral communication.  St. Augustine, in his fourth-century Confessions, wrote that St. Ambrose was the most incredible man he had ever met because he could read without moving his lips or making a sound.

Most certainly, Jesus attended such a school in his synagogue in Nazareth; He grew up as an average boy of His time.  The question refers to higher rabbinic education that came after the boy had become a son of the Commandment at age thirteen.  Jesus attended the local synagogue school that was required of all boys until the age of twelve. But according to the Isaiah, every morning God awakened Jesus and instructed Him (Isa. 50:4-5).   For the Jews, however, the only kind of advanced learning was theology, generally at a school of one of the famous rabbis.   Jesus, did not attend any rabbinical school, yet He clearly spoke words that challenged the teachers of His day as if He had attended the premier schools of Hillel or Shammai. Furthermore, the fact that He was never a disciple of such recognized scholars made His critics wonder in amazement at His knowledge and understanding.

Jerome, living in Bethlehem and writing in Latin, said that “There is not a Jewish child who does not know the Scriptures from Adam to Zerubbabel.” Adam is obviously the first man and Zerubbabel is in the last book in the Hebrew Bible because the order of the books is different in the Jewish Bible than in the Christian Bible.  The books are the same, but the order is different.[27]

While it has been generally assumed that the educational process was primarily geared to boys, as in neighboring cultures, there is, however, evidence that has been overlooked that clearly indicates girls were included in the educational process as well.  This was especially true in the Galilee region. In fact, some Messianic scholars believe that the religious education in Galilee surpassed that of Jerusalem, in part, because, they had to compete with those in the cosmopolitan city.[28] In particular, the section that pertains to divorce in the Mishnah refers to a woman writing her own divorce document:            

All are required to write a bill of divorce [29] even a deaf-mute, an imbecile, or a minor.  A woman may write her own bill of divorce and a man may write his own aquittance, since the validity of the writ depends on them that sign it.  All are qualified to bring a bill of divorce excepting a deaf-mute, an imbecile, a minor, a blind man, or a gentile.

Mishnah, Gittin 2.5[30]


There were some situations where a woman was free to file for a divorce if she wanted to. There were a few occupations, such as dung collectors and leather tanners, that were considered repugnant to the point that a wife who filed for divorce could also request, and receive, compensation for her loss – even if she had agreed to the husband’s occupation before getting married.[31]

Divorce had become of such great public concern that one first century rabbi suggested daughters be educated in this area of law, so they would not be taken advantage of in the event of a divorce in later life.  The Mishnah records the following:

Ben Azzai says: A man ought to give his daughter knowledge of the Law so that if she must drink [the bitter water][32] she may know that the merit [that she has acquired] will hold her punishment in suspense.

Mishnah, Sotah 3.4[33]


However, not all Jewish scholars were in agreement with the above statement.[34] There were many Jewish sects who held a wide range of opinions, as reflected in the following statement.

02.03.04 (2)


Rabbi Eleazer said, “Let the words of the Law be burned rather than committed to women.”

“He who instructs his daughter in the Law instructs her in folly.”[35]


The difference between these quotations reflects both common theological and geographical differences.[36] Girls were educated in the Galilee area, but not in Jerusalem.  It is questionable if she personally wrote the divorce document or if she authorized it.  Nonetheless, it demonstrates the rights of women, as she must have had some degree of literacy to know what she was signing.  Literary scholars today have identified a number of writings that evidently were written and/or signed by non-professional scribes.[37] Evidently, this was considered important, as it was repeated in a later section as follows:

Hence, you may conclude that a woman may write out her own bill of divorce and a man his own a quittance, for the validity of a document depends only on its signatories.

Mishnah, Eduyoth 2.3[38]


Josephus presented a first century case where a woman, Salome, divorced her quarrelsome husband Costobarus.[39]  In addition, he referred to a Zealot named Joseph from the Jewish freedom-fighting village of Gamala who was the “son of a female physician.”[40] Obviously, she had advanced education to become a physician and Josephus made no other comments about her, such as indicating that this was an unusual occupation for a woman.  This is additional evidence that some women of the first century were educated and literate.

To make the matter of reading more challenging, papyrus and ink were expensive and scribes were among the highest paid professionals in the land. Furthermore, Greek and Hebrew documents frequently had no separation of words, sentences, paragraphs, punctuation, etc. To read ancient texts required excellent reading skills, even by today’s standards.[41]

An example of a well-educated scholar who was born and raised in the Holy Land was Justin Martyr. He was born at the end of the first century (A.D.) to Greek parents in ancient Shechem, known today as modern Nablus. He was brought up with a good education in history, poetry, and rhetoric – an education he acquired in Samaria and Galilee, not Jerusalem, Gadara, or Athens.[42] After he became a believer of Jesus, he was an influential church father and apologist. Some of comments are quoted in this e-Book.

There were essentially only two forms of education:

  1. Theology
  1. Vocational

Of these two forms of education, a vocational trade is discussed simply because commentary on the subject is short and brief.  The rabbis taught that son had to learn a trade, even if he was to serve in the temple. Note the following popular opinion:

He who does not teach his sons a craft teaches him brigandage.

Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 29a


If a young man demonstrated a passion for learning theology, he could continue his education until age 18, and sometimes beyond.  Repetition was the basic method of education.  In fact, the Hebrew word for repeat is shanah and means also to teach.[43] Note the following two comments:

A person who repeats his lesson a hundred times is not to be compared with him who repeats it a hundred and one times.

Babylonian Talmud, Hagigah 9b


If [the student] learns Torah and does not go over it again and again, he is like a man who sows without reaping.

Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a


This strong emphasis on repetition can be seen in the name of the fifth book of Moses which reiterates the laws of Exodus, Numbers, and Leviticus. The English name is derived from the Greek Deuteros Nomos, which means repetition of the Law.[44]  A good rabbi taught and preached the Word of God, exhorting and edifying the people, as did the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:3.[45]  However, the aristocratic Jews referred to common Jews as agrammatoi, a Greek word meaning uneducated.[46] This clearly was an arrogant attitude they held against the common people, especially if they did not observe all the legalistic laws they promoted.

One of the distinctive teaching styles common among rabbis was to answer a question with another question. It is essentially a form of repetition; the purpose was not to elicit a response, but to think through the details of the subject of discussion.  People generally ask questions with a set of assumptions. There are two reasons for responding with another question:

  1. You force someone to open up assumptions
  1. You can determine how to answer

Jesus followed the teaching practice of a typical rabbi as shown by the three examples below.

Question: Good Master, what must I do to obtain eternal life?

Response: Why do you call me good?


Question: Are we to pay taxes to Rome?

Response: Whose picture do you see?


Question: Under whose authority are you doing this?

Response: Under whose authority did John the Baptist minister?


Without question, by the first century, Jerusalem was considered to be the center of religious education. While there were fine educational schools in Galilee, those in Jerusalem looked down upon any other schools outside of the Holy City. That is why the Jews asked “How does He know the Scriptures, since He hasn’t been trained” (Jn. 7:15; see Acts 2)?  Scholars believe that the Jerusalemites saw themselves as cosmopolitan citizens and viewed the people of Galilee as backward and uncultured. But the religious education in Galilee surpassed that of Jerusalem, in part because they had to compete with those in the cosmopolitan city.[47]

Yet Jerusalem attracted scholars from Egypt, Babylon, and from all corners of the Roman Empire.[48] Hillel came from Babylon and eventually became one of the two most significant rabbis of the second temple period. Saul, later known as the Apostle Paul of Tarsus, came to Jerusalem where he lived with his sister (cf. Acts 23:16) while he studied under Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel. A conflict the religious leaders had with John the Baptist and Jesus, was that neither one of them was a graduate of one of Jerusalem’s many seminaries – so how could they have been of God, or so it was thought.


02.03.04.Q1 How did one become a rabbi or a disciple of a rabbi?    

The title rabbi at the time of Christ was a complimentary title, not an official office within Judaism.[49] The use of the word rabbi as an officially recognized title came after the destruction of the temple when the rabbinical schools were relocated to Jamnia and to the Galilee area.[50]  It is an endearing term meaning “my master” or “my teacher.”[51] The purposes of a rabbi were two-fold:

  1. To be a role model of how to apply God’s written word to life; namely, to “be holy because I the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:2b). Thereby they led others in the biblical way of life.
  1. To teach others to be become rabbis. To be a rabbi, all that one had to do was to have disciples.[52] But for that to happen, most men first went to a yeshiva (seminary). Jesus, of course, did not attend a yeshiva, but gathered disciples once people heard Him teach. The Oral Torah was the “teachings” of the rabbis. Disciples were not permitted to write down the teachings of their rabbi.[53] When the disciples followed their rabbis around the countryside, listening to him, they did not carry an arm-load of scrolls on which to write notations. Memorization was common practice, not only of the Scriptures, but other Jewish books also.

It would appear that the explanation of how to become a rabbi or a disciple of a rabbi should be answered in the “religious Institutions” section.  However, it is addressed here because throughout most of Jewish history, religion and education were one and the same.  The word “rabbi” identified a man as being a teacher, but also carried the responsibilities of being a spiritual leader, such as a pastor. The Jews used the title as an equivalent to the modern word “doctor.” The Hebrew word comes from a root word meaning “to increase.”  Sometimes Jesus was addressed as “Rabban” or “rabboni” which are higher titles than “rabbi.”[54]

When a boy decided he wanted to pursue biblical studies and become a rabbi, he did so by becoming a disciple of a rabbi.  The boy and his family decided upon a rabbi and then asked the rabbi-teacher to accept the boy under his discipleship.  For example, a well-known first century rabbi, Akiva, traveled from Babylon to Jerusalem to sit under the instruction of the rabbis of the School of Hillel.  Other sages with disciples were Rabbi Ezra (not related to the biblical figure) who had five disciples;[55] Rabban Johanan ben Zakki[56] who was a contemporary of Jesus,[57] had either five [58] or possibly seven disciples.[59]  Jesus had twelve.[60] These disciples lived with their sage and emulated the one they called “lord” or “master.”  One was not permitted to teach the Torah for money, so rabbis would teach children how to read and write, for which they received payment.  Many rabbis and sages were common workers, such as fishermen, day laborers, and carpenters and, in such cases, the disciples worked along with them in their secular employment.  A few were independently wealthy, such as Nicodemus. Many sages originated in the Galilee area but eventually ended up in Jerusalem, where they started schools for advanced theological studies known as yeshivas, or seminaries.[61]  Finally, Jesus functioned as a prophet and a typical sage of His day.

To become a disciple (or student) of a popular rabbi was difficult.  Therefore, it was not uncommon for an aspiring student-disciple to depend upon a third individual to provide an outstanding recommendation for the prospective student.  Being accepted was a sign of prestige for the student as well as his family.   Therefore, when Jesus called upon selected individuals to follow him, he was definitely breaking from the cultural norm. Furthermore, Jesus selected individuals such as tax collectors and common fishermen, people who were not at all considered to be likely candidates.

Often rabbis would ask a would-be disciple a series of questions and then determine if the young man was acceptable. Jesus however, was different.  What He did not ask of His disciples is as significant as what He eventually required of them.  As His disciples eventually became proficient, Jesus sent them out on their own to test their knowledge and skills, but also to experience the power of God working through them.  As a disciple (Gk. mathetes),[62] the student-disciple imitated his master; as an apostle (Gk. apostello) he was sent out, like an ambassador in that he represented his master.[63] The unique feature of this question, “Where are you staying?” is further explained in 05.04.02.

Student-disciples studied under, and imitated the life of their master-teacher.  When their rabbi went on a journey, they went with him and carried his personal belongings, prepared his food, and gave him a comfortable place to sleep in the evenings.  Rabbinic writings indicate that whatever comforts any rabbi had were provided for him by his servant-disciples, as they observed his lifestyle and patterned their lives after his.[64]  Furthermore, among some sages and rabbis, all property was held in a common fund from which food and other necessities were purchased.[65]  The classroom was not in a formal setting, but in an open marketplace within the public temple area. It could be along a path, or under an olive or fig tree, where travelers could stop and participate in the discussions between the rabbi and his disciples.[66]  When men decided to sit and listen, the women would then have to take the children aside, but they could not be part of the conversation.  So when Jesus called children to himself, he was also inviting their mothers, implying that they were eligible to hear His word. It was another break from the cultural norm. What the rabbis taught was memorized by his disciples; they had no note pads or scrolls; they did not take notes or carry text books. All their learning was immediately put to memory and then discussed the many subjects as a group.

02.03.04B (2)


[1]. Mills and Michael, Messiah and His Hebrew Alphabet. 7.


[2]. Culpepper, “Education.” 2:23-27.


[3]. Golub, In the Days. 240.


[4]. Ossuaries were bone boxes, in which the bones of the deceased were placed about a year after the burial.  Ossuaries were popular only for a brief time – from about 50 B.C. until the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.

[5]. Mishnah, Nashim Gittin 2.5; Mishnah, Nashim Gittin 3.1; See the divorce decree written in Aramaic on papyrus at 08.02.03.A.


[6]. It is doubtful that many seminary students today could do this without a computer or concordance. Mary was a well-educated teenaged girl.


[7]. A number of early Christian hymns are embedded in the New Testament.  The best known are 1) the Magnificat (Lk. 1:46-55); 2) the Nunc Dimittis (Lk. 2:29-32); 3) Eph. 5:14 is considered to be either a baptismal hymn or a hymn to the unconverted; 4) 1 Tim. 3:16 is an early church creed that was sung, and 5) 2 Tim. 2:11 ff. is thought to be a fragment of an Eucharistic hymn.  Philippians 2:6-11 was known as the Christ Hymn. Other verses that were incorporated into songs are. Acts 4:24-28, Col. 1:15 ff., Mt. 11:25 ff., and Jn. 1:1-5, 9-13. See Mould, Essentials of Bible History. 527; Ryken, Wilhoit, and Longman, eds., “Christ Hymn.” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. 144-45.


[8]. Cited by Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 7, Session 1.


[9]. This interesting question is presented by Alan Millard in “Literacy in the Time of Jesus: Could His Words have been Recorded in His Lifetime?” (Biblical Archaeology Review. July-August 2003. 19:4. 37-45). Millard argues that some words of Jesus were probably written down by His listeners. See Alan Millard, “Words of Jesus Written Down as He Spoke?” Artifax. Summer, 2003, 18:3, 6.


[10]. See “Ostraca” in Appendix 26 for more details.


[11]. Deut. 4:9-10; 6:6-7; Ps. 78: 1-8; etc.


[12].  Breshit Rabba 46.1 as paraphrased from Beth Uval, ed. Self-Guided Tour Trail “C.”  Neot  Kedumim Ltd. Lod, Israel. 1987. 15.


[13]. Farrar, Life of Christ. 72, 338-39. See discussions on the fig tree in 13.02.01 and 09.03.09.


[14]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:581.


[15]. Safrai, The Economy of Roman. 947; Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 134-35; Farrar, The Life of Christ. 46.


[16]. Mishnah, Berakoth 4.2.


[17]. Mishnah, Abot 5.21; Martin, Worship in the Early Church. 26.


[18]. Bracketed inserts by Danby, ed.


[19]. Bivin, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, 4-8.

[20]. Lee, U., The Life of Christ. 122-26.


[21]. Sirach 24:30-34, 33:16-18, and 34: 9-12.


[22]. Neusner and Green, eds., Dictionary of Judaism. 620.


[23]. Brown, Philosophy. 7.


[24]. Mishnah, Aboth 2.1.


[25]. To make plaster, the ancients burned limestone for 72 hours until it became a heavy dust. Then they added water and placed it on the walls with a trowel.  Because limestone is about thirty percent water, the burning process required considerable fuel. The result was that during the Roman period many areas were deforested. SOURCE: Interview with Arie bar David, tour guide and lecturer. August 1999.


[26]. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 7, Session 1.


[27]. Cited by Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 7, Session 1. Note: Sometimes the chapter and verse divisions are also different.


[28]. Source: Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 7, Session 1.


[29]. For a typical bill of divorce format, see 08.02.03.A and Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:124-25.


[30]. See also Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 160-62.


[31]. Mishnah, Ketuboth 7.10.


[32].  The term “bitter water” was a concoction of consecrated water flavored with dirt from an open area of the temple.  A woman suspected of adultery was given this bitter water to drink, and if she was guilty, her stomach would rupture and she would be killed. See Parry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Talmud. 82.


[33]. Bracketed clarification by Danby, ed. Mishnah.


[34]. The wide range of rabbinic opinions is evident in various Jewish writings. See 02.02.01.V for more information on this subject.


[35]. Cited by Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 1:530.


[36]. See also Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 435-37.


[37]. Millard, “Literacy in the Time of Jesus.” 40-42.


[38]. Cited by Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 425.


[39]. Josephus, Antiquities 14.7.10.


[40]. Josephus, The Life of Flavius Josephus 37;  Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 161 n46.


[41]. Witherington, Living Word. 173.


[42]. Witherington III, Ben. “Almost Thou Persuadest Me…” 67.


[43]. Metzger, New Testament. 50.


[44]. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 5, page 13.


[45]. Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 11.


[46]. An example is found in Acts 4:13 where John and Peter were both referred to as agrammatoi. See Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 278.

[47]. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 7, Session 1.

[48]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 75.    


[49]. Bivin, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, 9-12.

[50]. Horsley, Archaeology, History, and Society in Galilee. 40.


[51]. Spangler and Tverberg, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus. 23, 27.


[52]. Bookman, When God Wore Sandals. CD Trac 7.


[53]. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 2, Session 1.


[54]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:549.


[55]. 2 Esdras 14:42.


[56]. Rabbi Zakkai was the last disciple of the famous Rabbi Hillel. See Parry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Talmud. 38-39.


[57]. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 303.


[58]. Mishnah, Berakoth 5:5.


[59]. Midrash, Tanhuma Hayyei Sarah 6.


[60]. An example of a aspiring disciple who came to Jesus is found in John 1:25-51. See 05.04.02.


[61]. For the Jews, the best education was theology and the best place to learn theology was in Jerusalem.  For the Greeks and Romans, the best education was philosophy and rhetoric, and the best places to learn philosophy and rhetoric were in universities located in Athens, Rome, Marseilles, Antioch, and several other cities. Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages. 34-35.


[62]. Bauder, “Disciple, Follow, Imitate, After.” 1:480-81.


[63]. Muller, “Apostle.” 1:126-27, 135-36.


[64]. Keller, “Jesus the teacher.” 21, with reference to Mishnah, Negaim 8:2; Babylon Talmud, Pasahim 36a.


[65]. Keller, “Jesus the teacher.” 22, with reference to Babylonian Talmud, Erubin 73a.


[66]. Keller, “Jesus the teacher.” 22, with reference to Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth 4:16; Jerusalem Talmud, Berakoth II. 5c.


02.03.05 Ethnic Diversity

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 18, 2016  -  Comments Off on 02.03.05 Ethnic Diversity

02.03.05 Ethnic Diversity. The small country of Judaea had significant problems related to ethnic diversity. The Jews lived in three provinces known as Israel or Judea[1] (including Jerusalem). The District of Perea which was east of the Jordan River,[2] and the District of Galilee which included the plain west of the lake or sea of the same name.[3] Between Judea and the district of Galilee was a large area inhabited by the Samaritans.  The hostilities between the two groups have been well established.

To the southwest, along the beautiful Mediterranean coast, was a large Gentile population in the ancient Philistine cities, although the Philistines no longer existed as such. The eastern and southeastern areas of the Sea of Galilee were the Decapolis cities, ten Greek districts.[4] In the Negev Desert and into modern Jordan lived the descendants of Esau – the Idumeans.

Galilee by this time was mainly occupied by Jewish people,[5] although within the Jewish provinces there was a large contingency of Gentiles.[6] Jerusalem was a cosmopolitan city with many internationals in residence. In addition, the Jewish ethnic groups in various geographical locations had their own manners, customs, and even language dialect.  For example, an ancient deed (certificate) of marriage in Jerusalem is identical to one found of the Galilean type, but different from one found in nearby Judea.[7]  Social issues were certainly complex and in tension – perfect for Jesus to preach His message of love and acceptance.

[1]. 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.


[2]. In the days of Jesus, Perea was often referred to as the “region of Judea across the Jordan.”


[3]. Mishnah, Shebuoth 9.2; Mishnah, Ketuboth. 13:10.


[4]. See “Decapolis” in Appendix 26.


[5]. For demographic studies, see articles in Biblical Archaeology Review July-August, 2000. See also Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 7, Session 2.


[6]. Pellett, “Decapolis.” 1:810-12.


[7]. Mishnah, Ketuboth 4:12.


02.03.06 Family

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 18, 2016  -  Comments Off on 02.03.06 Family

02.03.06 Family. As it is today, the family in the first century was the basic element of society. In fact, it is a critical unit throughout the Bible and has been throughout human history.  A unique feature of biblical times that is different from Western culture today is the extended family.  In ancient times, an individual was part of a family that was part of a larger unit known as a clan, which in turn was part of a larger tribe. People did not think of themselves individually, but as part of a blood-related community.  That is why, for example, prayers in the Bible are in the plural such as “Give us this day, our daily bread.” However in Western culture, people think of themselves as individuals separated from clans and recently, even families. Western culture has glorified “the Me generation” to divine status. Therefore, it is more difficult for modern Westerners to obtain the full meaning of the Apostle Paul’s references to “in the body.”[1] That is primarily because Paul was an orthodox Jew who preached Jesus and the Christian life in the proper Jewish context.

The husband/father of the home functioned as the dominant figure in the affairs of the family.  He was responsible for the welfare of everyone regarding food, shelter, and clothing.  In the Jewish home, he was specifically responsible for the spiritual leadership (Gen. 12:8; Job 1:5) on a daily basis, as well as for the various religious rites such as Passover.  It was his responsibility to teach his sons and daughters the Mosaic Law, even though by the first century this instruction was enhanced by the rabbi in the local synagogue.  In addition, he had four other responsibilities:

  1. The father had to insure that his son was circumcised (Gen. 17:12-13).
  1. The firstborn son was to be dedicated to God (Num. 18:15-16).
  1. The father was to find a wife for his son (cf. Gen. 24:4), although by the first century both the son and daughter had the opportunity to voice their opinions in this selection.
  1. Finally, the father was to teach the son a trade or have him be trained by someone else.[2]

The Mishnah quoted a rabbi whose words have transcended the centuries:

Rabban Gamaliel the son of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch said: “Excellent is study of the Law together with worldly occupation, for toil in them both puts sin out of mind.  But all study of the Law without (worldly) labor comes to naught at the last and brings sin in its train.”

Mishnah, Aboth 2.2


The responsibilities of the wife/mother were essentially to be a mate to her husband, bear his children, and maintain the home.  In an agrarian society, it was common for her to be in the fields with him during sowing or harvesting times.  By the first century, she also had the mobility to function in the marketplace and other areas that would benefit the family unit.[3]

The children had their responsibilities to the family as well.  The oldest son would eventually be the next head of the family, and it was his responsibility to care for the parents in their old age and their burial at time of death.  This was demonstrated when Jesus was dying on the cross and He transferred His duty toward His mother to His disciple John (Jn. 19:27).  For this reason, the eldest son received a double portion of the inheritance (Deut. 21:17; 2 Ch. 21:2-3).

In the ancient non-Jewish world, sons were always prized higher than daughters.  However, girls in the Jewish world were more dearly prized than their counterparts among the Romans or Greeks where an unwanted newborn girl was often tossed outside into the elements to die.  The Jewish girl remained under the domain and care of her father until she was married.[4] These family relationships and attitudes would hardly be acceptable today, but in the ancient world, Jewish families functioned rather well within this protective structure.

[1]. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 8, Session 1.


[2]. Packer and Tenney, eds., Illustrated Manners and Customs. 412; See also Packer, Tenney, and White, eds., Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts.


[3]. Packer and Tenney, eds., Illustrated Manners and Customs. 413-14.


[4]. Packer and Tenney, eds., Illustrated Manners and Customs. 414-16; See also Packer, Tenney, and White, eds., Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts.


02.03.07 Government

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 18, 2016  -  Comments Off on 02.03.07 Government

02.03.07 Government. In 63 B.C., the Roman General Pompey took control of Judaea, and the Jewish people came under Roman control. Their method of governing was to give their subjects limited autonomy, a tradition begun by the Persians centuries earlier (Ezra 7:25-26; 10:14). The Romans had three desires:

  1. That the people pay tribute (taxes).
  1. Peace of Rome and quiet in the provinces[1]
  1. The statue of the Roman emperor is to be erected in the temple. However, after much argument, the Romans rescinded this requirement, but the taxation was tantamount to that of slavery.

Therefore, the Jews had limited self-governmental powers that functioned through the high court known as the Sanhedrin. But the Sanhedrin was under the control of the provincial king, Herod the Great, who in turn, was a puppet king of Rome who also had to report to the governor of Damascus.  When General Pompey took control, he permitted the high court to rule all three Jewish provinces of Galilee, Judea, and Perea. But Herod restricted Sanhedrin control to Judea and Jerusalem.[2] He also removed the right to inflict capital punishment except in the event a Gentile entered the sacred area of the temple. In such cases, the temple police were given authority to enforce the law.

The position of high priest was not occupied in accordance to biblical protocol, but by an appointment by the Roman government. In this manner, Rome had control of the people who also had limited government and religious freedom.  This freed Herod and other Roman officials from the petty problems of the common people. Rome was the central seat of government. The provinces throughout the empire had various classifications and, hence, the rulers had different titles. A procurator ruled a province that was second-class to a province ruled by an ethnarch.  In the case of Archelaus, when his province was re-classified, he came under the direct rule of neighboring Syria.  This insured that Rome would receive its taxes and peace was maintained.[3]

The Romans were hardly the ideal slave masters.  But while considerable negative press has been given to them, credit should be given to them as they made some feeble attempts to be fair to their subjects. For example, coins minted for use in Judaea did not have any images that were offensive to the Jews.

Another example was the census that was taken every fourteen years.  This was not only to count the number of persons in any given district, but the information was also used to build a form of equity or equality in taxation.[4]

Taxes were collected by Jewish men who contracted for the position of tax collector.  Any sense of fairness or equality failed at this point because the tax collector could collect as much as he desired so long as he gave the Romans what they had initially requested.  The remaining funds were his personal property. Consequently, tax collectors used the power and authority of the Roman government to increase their personal wealth. The Jews considered tax collectors, such as Matthew, to be the worst of the worst of all humanity.

[1]. This phrase is the definition of Pax Romana. Lee, The Galilean Jewishness of Jesus. 72-73; Mellowes and Cran, Executive Producers. From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians. (DVD). Part 1; See “Pax Romana” in Appendix 26.

[2]. Thompson, “Sanhedrin.” 3:1390.


[3]. Guignebert, The Jewish World in the Time of Jesus. 37; Josephus, Antiquities 20.6.2.


[4]. Josephus, Antiquities 18.1-3.


02.03.08 Language

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 18, 2016  -  Comments Off on 02.03.08 Language

02.03.08 Language.  For more than a century many scholars were convinced that first century Jews in Judaea did not speak Hebrew, but Greek, and to a lesser degree, Aramaic.  The irony is that Aramaic is a sister language to Hebrew.[1]  Some even believed that Hebrew was a lost language in the first century stating that it was lost during the exile.  However, would a people lose their language in 50 or 70 years?  They did not lose it in Egypt in four centuries.

Today scholars understand that Aramaic was generally the language of the common people, Hebrew was the sacred language of religious worship and of scribal discussion, and Greek was the linguistic medium for trade, commerce, and government administration.[2] The biblical books written during and after the exile were mostly written in Hebrew.[3] The Mishnah was written in Hebrew and the bar Kokhba letters were written in Hebrew. The gospels were written in Hebrew or possibly Aramaic, but not Greek.


02.03.08.A THE NAME “JESUS” IN OLD SEMETIC SCRIPT. The name of Jesus, or Yeshua, as He may have written it in the Old Semitic Script, although the new Aramaic Square Script had gained popularity. This example was taken from an ossuary (bone box) of someone else by the same name, Yeshua.

This erroneous belief has affected a few translations of the Bible.  For example, in the New International Version of the Bible (1984), the phrase “in Aramaic” really should read, “in Hebrew” in Acts 21:40, 22:2, and 26:14.  To complicate matters the standard New Testament Greek lexicon also endorses the same error.[4] Yet Aramaic was the language spoken by Jesus in daily life and His Aramaic words are recorded in Mark 5:41 and 15:34.  The leading Pharisees spoke only Hebrew as not to be associated with the common people.[5] Today Aramaic remains the language taught and spoken in religious schools in Armenia.[6]  Since Aramaic and Hebrew are sister languages, the differences are small.  For example, the English name of Jesus, son of Joseph in Aramaic is Yeshua bar Yosef while in Hebrew it is Yeshua ben Yosef. Both mean Yeshua, son of Joseph, or Jesus, son of Joseph. In both languages, the letter “J” becomes a “Y.”[7]

While all languages change slowly over the centuries, some change rapidly as the culture changes. In the lands of the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians, there had been few changes until the twentieth century. After studying the languages in the region, some Bible translators have concluded that a dialect known today as “Aramaic M-South” is the closest form of Aramaic commonly spoken in the days of Jesus.[8]

In Babylon, the Jews spoke Aramaic. It had been the lingua franca, or language of commerce, throughout the Persian Empire since the sixth century (B.C.) and when they returned home to Judaea, they naturally spoke it along with Hebrew. But with the advancement of the Greek culture, orthodox Jews in Israel rejected the Greek language because they did not want their children to be absorbed into Hellenism.  This was in stark contrast to those living in Alexandria, Egypt, where Greek became so common that the Scriptures were translated into Greek[9] so the youth could read it.

When Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to power in the third century B.C., Greek became the language of all legal and political matters, although Aramaic remained in common use. Classical Greek had died out and was replaced with koine Greek – the language of the common people.  This remained unchanged in the days of Jesus, although Latin was gaining a foothold. By the first century, the Greek language belted the Mediterranean Sea, which permitted the gospel to be preached effectively to many people groups, nearly all of whom spoke the same language. A study published in 1992 revealed that 40 percent of pre-A.D. 70 burial inscriptions are in Greek.[10] Clearly the language was well established.  The fact that the Greek language became accepted over a massive area, was beneficial not only for the spread of the gospel, but also for the Romans.  Their empire was so massive that it had hundreds of people groups with many languages and dialects.  Alexander the Great reduced those languages to twelve.

When the Maccabean Revolt brought victory in the early second century B.C., there was a revival of Hebrew as evidenced on coins, ostraca,[11]  and papyrus fragments, all of which have Hebrew writing. The Dead Sea Scrolls, various inscriptions, and other fragments written by the orthodox Jews are seldom found to be in Aramaic, Greek, or Latin, but were written in Hebrew.  At Masada, Hebrew writings were found on fourteen scrolls, 4,000 coins, and 700 ostraca.[12]  Archaeological discoveries show that Hebrew writings were more common than Aramaic by a ratio of nine to one.[13]

The land of the Jews was literally a little enclave of a subculture surrounded by Hellenistic peoples. Even within its borders, Samaria and the Decapolis city of Beit Shean (also known as Scythopolis), were two Hellenistic strongholds.  Consequently, the Jewish cultural island was constantly inundated with Greek philosophies, religion, and temptations.  There is no question then that the Jewish people were very familiar with the Greek ways of life and thinking.[14] It is generally accepted that Jesus read from a Hebrew scroll, spoke to the crowds in Aramaic, and conversed with the Roman authorities in Aramaic or Greek. While Latin was the official language of Rome, it was seldom used in Israel. The Empire was so enormous that it had 12 language groups.

The introduction and use of koine Greek was an important development in preparing the world for the gospel.[15] Of all the ancient languages, this was the best medium for the accurate expression of ideas. The vocabulary is clearly extensive in philosophical, ethical, and religious concepts.  Hebrew is a pictorial language using phrases such as “He is my rock,” or “cleft of a rock,” whereas Greek is more descriptive of human emotions and virtues. Jesus used verbal pictures of objects, plants, animals, and most of all, people, in teachable moments to convey His message of the Kingdom of God.[16] Furthermore, and so importantly, He repeatedly connected these to various Old Testament passages.[17]

Video Insert    >

02.03.08.V1 Unique Challenges of the Greek and Hebrew Languages. Dr. John Soden presents unique insights into the Greek and Hebrew languages.


Were it not for the advent of Hellenism, the New Testament would not have been written in the Greek which brought a new realm of words to express emotions and thought.[18] Hebrew is not a language that is rich with adjectives.[19]  Therefore, a phrase might read, “a son of quarrels,” rather than “a quarrelsome man.” Another example is to say that he was a “son of God” rather than saying he was a “godly man.”  The expressions of “Son of Man” and “Son of God,” express the deity of Jesus,[20] but the former title also asserts His humanity.[21]  The beauty of the Greek language is that it introduced adjectives that enriched the meaning and understanding of the New Covenant. Yet it was Jesus Himself who introduced at least one change – He introduced the term Abba[22] (means Daddy, 5)[23] in the Lord’s Prayer, as this revealed that prayers were welcomed in any language.[24] He revealed to the Jewish people that Hebrew was no longer the exclusive “language of God.”[25]

Video Insert    >

02.03.08.V2 An Introduction to Greek and Hebrew Words.  Dr. Joe Wehrer discusses some unique characteristics of Greek and Hebrew Words. 


It is clear that whatever New Testament books were written in Hebrew – namely Matthew and possibly Hebrews – these were almost immediately translated into Greek. While some early Church fathers have stated that two books were written in Hebrew, nearly all papyrus fragments and scrolls discovered are in Greek. The New Testament was primarily written in Greek for the benefit of the Gentiles and Jews living in foreign countries.  The strong isolationists, who desired to keep the Hebrew language and culture separate, did not prevent the gospel from quickly spreading throughout the Roman Empire.  However, because of the Second Revolt (A.D. 132-35), the Hebrew language had nearly disappeared, with the exception of use in the synagogues and yeshivas (seminaries).  It would lie dormant for nearly seventeen centuries before being revived in a modified form in modern Israel.

[1]. Mishnah, Megillah 4:4,6,10; Mishnah, Sotah 7:2.


[2]. Witherington III, Ben. “Almost Thou Persuadest Me…” 67.


[3]. Daniel, Chronicles, Nehemiah, Ezra, Malachi, Haggai, Zechariah, Ezekiel.


[4]. Bauer, Arndt, and Gengrich, A Greek Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 213.


[5]. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 292.


[6]. An excellent resource for further biblical study is Ethelbert W. Bullinger’s book titled Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. (Grand Rapids: Baker. 1898, 1995). For more than a century it has been the classic resource tool for the serious Bible student.


[7]. http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=231844  Retrieved January 14, 2015.


[8]. Moore, “New Life for Ancient Aramaic.” 15. This publication is produced by The Seed Company, a Bible Translation ministry located in Santa Ana, California. For more information, see www.theseedcompany.org.

[9]. See “Septuagint” in 02.02.25.


[10]. Cited by Scott, Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. 117 n9.


[11]. An ostraca is a pottery fragment that was used as a writing surface or material, since papyri and parchment were extremely expensive. See “ostraca” in Appendix 26 for more details.  An example is the King David Fragment at 03.02.01.A

[12]. See Appendix 26.


[13]. Bivin and Blizzard, Understanding the Difficult Words. 37.

[14]. Schurer, The History of the Jewish People. 2:75-79.


[15]. See also 03.05.12 “Summary Influence of ‘Hellenistic Reform’ (331 – 63 B.C.) that shaped Jewish life in the First Century.”


[16]. Mould, Essentials of Bible History. 306-08.


[17]. Horne, Jesus the Teacher. 77, 83, 93.


[18]. Mantey, “New Testamentt Backgrounds.” 3:3-14.


[19]. Mould, Essentials of Bible History. 306-08.


[20]. Jn. 3:13; 5:27; 6:27; cf. Mt.26:63-64; Tenney, The Gospel of John. 105.


[21]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:312.


[22]. While the term abba has often been defined as a child’s expression of daddy, language scholar James Barr has suggested that abba was a solemn adult address to father. See Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. 2.


[23]. Vine, “Abba.”Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:1.


[24]. Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus. 14-16.


[25]. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 95.  The term Abba appears in Mk. 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6.


02.03.09 Messianic Expectations

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 18, 2016  -  Comments Off on 02.03.09 Messianic Expectations

02.03.09 Messianic Expectations. There was an intense expectation throughout the ancient world that a messiah would come at any moment and bring political freedom.[1]  People had a wide variety of opinions of the messiah, like who he would be, and what he would do.  However, since he was expected to come as a political leader who would overthrow the Romans and usher in an era of peace and prosperity, he was not seen as any kind of a divine figure.  Hence, in this context, messiah is spelled with a lower case “m” whereas the divine Jesus is referred to as the “Messiah.”

The Jews had great difficulty understanding the prophecies of some of their prophets since they appeared to be in conflict.  Most notable were those prophecies that described the messiah both as a suffering servant, and as a victorious king.  In their thinking, a victorious king would not be one who suffered. Note, for example, the differences between Daniel 7:13-14 and Zechariah 9:9-10.

13 I continued watching in the night visions,

and I saw One like a son of man
coming with the clouds of heaven.
He approached the Ancient of Days
and was escorted before Him.

14 He was given authority to rule,
and glory, and a kingdom;
so that those of every people,
nation, and the Law
should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that will not pass away,
and His kingdom is one
that will not be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13-14


9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem!
Look, your King is coming to you;
He is righteous and victorious,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim

and the horse from Jerusalem.
The bow of war will be removed,
and He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His dominion will extend from sea to sea,
from the Euphrates River
to the ends of the earth.  

Zechariah 9:9-10


The first part of each passage is especially challenging.  In Daniel 7:13, the messianic figure comes with clouds of heaven while the counterpart in Zechariah 9:9 portrays him riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Each of these sections is clearly about a leader who would have a dynamic effect upon the people.  While Christians today have the advantage of recognizing the differences between the first and second comings of Christ, the first century Jews were unaware of God’s divine plan and, therefore, could not explain the apparent biblical difficulties.

Adding to the mystery, Zechariah 12:10, describes the messiah as one who would suffer.  In their thinking, one who would be victorious over all of Judaea’s enemies could not be made to endure agony. Therefore, they apparently ignored passages such as:

And I will pour out on the house of David

and the inhabitants of Jerusalem

a spirit of grace and supplication. 


They will look on me,

the one they have pierced,

and they will mourn for him

as one mourns for an only child,

and grieve bitterly for him

as one grieves for a firstborn.


Zechariah 12:10 NIV (1984)


Other challenging passages in the Hebrew Bible are found in the book of Psalms and pertain to the Gentiles coming to God (Ps. 22:27ff; 36:7ff et. al).  The common first century belief was that because the Gentiles had sinned for so many centuries, they would never come to God nor would God want them.  This belief was enhanced by the repeated statement that God said that the Jews were “His Chosen People.” Hence, there was no need for their salvation (they already were saved), and the Gentiles, not being among the Chosen People were therefore forever damned. Little wonder then, that the temple area known as the Court of the Gentiles was turned into a market place. Yet, as will be shown later, some Gentiles did convert to the Jewish faith.

These passages illustrate the messianic problems with which the Jews were grappling.  In essence, they shut their eyes to those writings that predicted the sufferings of the Messiah. The disciples had difficulty believing Jesus would suffer on the cross and die.  The Essenes, on the other hand, thought they resolved the problem by teaching that there would be two messiahs ruling together (see 02.01.06).

The rise of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his Hitler-like tortures in the early second century B.C., led to a new form of literature known as apocalyptic writings. There was considerable debate in the Jewish communities as to whether these books were genuinely divinely inspired or simply creative penmanship. Therefore, it is not surprising to see that there were various opinions among the common people.  While scholars still debate what various people groups believed, what is known is that nobody expected a messiah like Jesus.  Apocalyptic writers created various themes and stories of the future events of the victorious messiah but nearly all of them rejected the concept of a suffering messiah.  The victorious messiah concept was popular during times of oppression; first by the Greeks, then their own leaders, followed by the Romans.  Most of the expectations follow these lines of thought even though there were about as many variations as there were Jews:

  1. According to the Apocalypse of Baruch 48:41, the people would realize the coming of the Messiah by the calamities that would fall upon humanity such as wars and famines. Even nature would experience cataclysmic upheavals. Today orthodox Jews call this time the “Time of Jacob’s Troubles” and Christians call it the “Tribulation.”
  1. The Messiah could not come to the world unannounced; therefore, he will send Elijah who will announce His arrival. According to a second century B.C. Jewish writer by the name of Jesus ben Sirach,[2]

You who were taken up in a whirlwind of fire,

in a chariot with fine horses of fire;

you who are ready at the appointed time, it is written     

to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury,

to turn the heart of the father to the son,

and restore the tribes of Jacob.


Ben Sirach 48:9-10[3]


  1. The Jews attempted to connect Elijah with the coming judgments, resurrection, and the end of the world. When he would come, he would settle the major controversies of the first century, including
  1. Settle family issues and bring estranged families together.
  1. Settle issues of what is clean and unclean – a major issue of contention between various religious sects.
  1. Settle property disputes.
  1. Announce the coming of the messiah (small “m’ because they did not know that the Messiah would be Deity)[4]
  1. The messiah would provoke a coalition of evil men whose identities remain unclear. Apocalyptic writers mentioned them in Enoch 90; and the Apocalypse of Baruch 40. While they simply described these as evil, Christians identified them as those who would be a part of the Antichrist.
  1. In the final battle between good and evil, those who are evil will be destroyed. However, the identity of the destroyer is somewhat unclear. Some Jews felt it would be God Himself according to a book known as the Assumption of Moses (10:7)[5] while a majority felt it would be the Messiah as found in the Apocalypse of Baruch (39:7ff).[6]
  1. Once the wicked would be destroyed, the messiah would establish his messianic kingdom and rule from Jerusalem. This would necessitate that all forms of evil, idols, and wickedness be purged from the city, while instituting pure worship according to the Torah. This new era would be considered the Kingdom of God. The nation would enjoy peace, joy, prosperity, and a close relationship with God.
  1. The messianic age would not be eternal, but endure for a thousand years after which there would be another transformation.
  1. At the end of the millennium, those who had died would be raised from the grave and would in fact be restored to their physical bodies.
  1. The opinions of the final judgment have a wider spectrum. Some believed that the wicked would be destroyed at this point and Yahweh Himself would be the judge, while others believed it would be the Son of Man who in reality was seen as an angel of the Lord (Enoch 69:27). Scholars disagree as to when the book of Enoch was written.  Most believe that the earliest part was written about 300 B.C. but the chapters 37-71 were written in the first century B.C., or possibly in the Christian era. Critics believe that any resemblance to Christian theology might be the result of Christian interpolation.  Concerning the final judgment, the wicked will be thrown into Gehenna (hell) while the righteous will spend eternity with our Lord in heaven.
  1. The Essenes hardly agreed with anyone else. They had great difficulty reconciling the prophetic passage of the suffering servant with those of the victorious king. They questioned how a suffering servant could be a victorious king. Therefore, they concluded there would have to be two messiahs (see 02.01.06).
  1. In addition to the books mentioned above that made mention or an allusion to a messiah, are the following:[7]
  1. Psalms of Solomon (40-30 B.C.)
  2. Tobit (3rd century B.C.)
  3. Wisdom of Solomon (1st century B.C.)
  4. Jubilees (2nd century B.C.)


The expectations were at a fever pitch.  Furthermore, the Jews remembered very well the overwhelming victories God had given them during the Maccabean Revolt.  The Essenes and the Zealots believed, as did many others that the Messiah would be like a glorified Judas Maccabee and bring a greater victory over Roman domination and oppression.

To the Pharisees, the messiah would be one who would institute the holiness, purity, and truthfulness of the Torah to all the Jewish people, and purge the effects of Hellenism from the culture. The Sadducees were the only ones who failed to believe in the coming of a messiah, and if there was one coming, they feared he would take control of the temple, which was the source of their power and wealth. The Romans had distrust for anyone who called himself a messiah. The Jews seemed to produce a messiah every ten or fifteen years, much to the dismay of the Sadducees and Romans.  Into this caldron of severe social tensions and messianic expectations, Jesus came to bring life and hope to all humanity. Little wonder then, that Jesus was careful to articulate His identity. All three groups had thoughts about a messiah, but had not believed their messiah would be God in human form, which is why a lower case “m” is used for this term.

Most Jewish peasants were downtrodden, depressed, enslaved, and discouraged with the corrupt religious leadership and merciless Romans.  Therefore, hope and interest skyrocketed when Jesus began doing miracles.  He was surrounded by competing religious groups such as the Pharisees, the Essenes, the Schools of Hillel and Shammai, the Sadducees, and the unknown community/ies that produced the Pseudepigrapha books such as 4 Esdras, Baruch, and the Psalms of Solomon.[8]  In keeping with Jewish traditions, each group had a keen interest in solidarity and distinctiveness.  Each promoted its own agenda of righteousness as superior to other groups and shunned any challenges for change.[9] But none could speak or perform miracles as Jesus did.

The messianic expectations among Jews and Gentiles were at a fever pitch in the early first century.  Men would spend their evenings in the synagogue debating various subjects such as this messianic problem.  The Apostle Paul said that in the fullness of time Jesus came to this earth (Gal. 4:4). If anything, his words were an understatement.

Among the Zealots, who were nationalistic, there was an opinion that during the war with the Romans, their messiah would come and save them from final destruction. He would then destroy the Gentile enemies and rule the entire world. This opinion was summed up by Josephus as it was the prevailing opinion of the Zealots during the First Revolt that began in A.D. 66. The historian said,

But now, what did most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how, “about that time, one of their country should become governor of the habitable earth.” 

Josephus, Wars 6.5.4 (312)


Finally, it has often been said as a point of humor that if you want three or four opinions on something, ask a Jew. There were many Jewish sects in ancient Israel and not all would have agreed with the above 10-point list. But a vast majority would have agreed with the following expectations:

  1. The messiah will be a warrior king who will destroy the Romans
  1. The messiah will come for all Jews.
  1. The messiah will come only for the Jews.

Those who failed to accept Jesus as their Messiah, such as Judas Iscariot, did so essentially for those three reasons.


[1]. See 12.03.01.Q1 “What ‘Messianic problems’ did the Jewish leaders have with Jesus?” and 12.03.01.A “Chart of Key Points of the Messianic Problems.” See also 02.03.09 “Messianic Expectations”; 05.04.02.Q1 “What were the Jewish expectations of the Messiah?” and Appendix 25: “False Prophets, Rebels, Significant Events, and Rebellions that Impacted the First Century Jewish World.”


[2]. See Metzger, The Apocrypha of the Old Testament. 193.


[3]. Ben Sirach and Tobit belong to a classification of extra-biblical books known as the Apocrypha. These two literary works reflect the opinions of many Jewish people. See 02.02.03 “Apocrypha” for more information. The reader is reminded that quotations from non-biblical sources are not to be understood as being of equal authority with the biblical narratives. See 01.02.04.


[4]. Barclay, “John.” 1:78.


[5]. The Assumption of Moses is a/k/a the Testament of Moses. Some scholars believe this book could have been written during the lifetime of Jesus. However, it appears to be of little academic value. Silver, A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel. Boston: Beacon Hill. 7.


[6]. These books should not be considered equal to the Bible, but are listed because some first century Jewish people considered them important.


[7]. Silver, A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel. Boston: Beacon Hill. 5. See also 02.02.01.V for more information on this subject.



[8]. The Psalms were written between the year 40-30 BC, although some scholars place the time period between 60 and 30 B.C. See Cosby, Interpreting Biblical Literature. 285. It may also have been used as liturgy according to Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 104.      


[9]. Charry, By the Renewing. 61.


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