Unit 02 Cultural Background Studies

02.01.08 Greeks

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02.01.08 Greeks. The Greek culture had spread throughout the Mediterranean world during the three centuries before Christ, primarily because of the military victories of Alexander the Great.  They believed in a variety of gods who were quickly accepted by all conquered peoples with the exception of the Jews. The Greeks chose to represent their heroes and gods in the nude because they viewed the human body as beautiful and full of meaning. This was, of course, in direct conflict with the values of Judaism. The Greek cities along the Jordan River were originally Canaanite cities, who also accepted the Greek culture and religions, known as Hellenism.  By the time Jesus was in His ministry, pagan thought and reason had made major inroads into Jewish life and theology.[1] 


Finally, the Greeks and Romans had great difficulty understanding the Jewish religion.  They could not understand how anyone could worship a god they could not see, and that deity did not behave as they did. Their thoughts were expressed very well by Tacitus, a Roman historian who wrote Histories between the years A.D. 69 and 96. He made the following comments about the Jews.


The most degraded out of other races, scorning their national beliefs, brought to them their contributions and presents. This augmented the wealth of the Jews, as also did the fact, that among themselves they are inflexibly honest and ever ready to show compassion, though they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies.


They sit apart at meals, they sleep apart, and though, as a nation, they are singularly prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign women; among themselves nothing is unlawful. Circumcision was adopted by them as a mark of difference from other men. Those who come over to their religion adopt the practice, and have this lesson first instilled into them, to despise all gods, to disown their country, and set at naught parents, children, and brethren. Still they provide for the increase of their numbers. It is a crime among them to kill any newly-born infant. They hold that the souls of all who perish in battle or by the hands of the executioner are immortal.


Tacitus, Histories 5.5

[1]. Pasachoff & Littman, Jewish History in 100 Nutshells. 49-51; Blaiklock, “Greece” 2:824-25; Strange, “Greece.” 2:566-67.

02.01.09 Hasidim

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02.01.09 Hasidim. Also known as Hassidim, or Hassideans, they were an orthodox Jewish group that became popular in the third century B.C. This was a reactionary group that stood up to the growing influential Greek culture (Hellenism) and their primary focus was to bring a revival to the Jewish people so that they would return to their orthodox faith; their goal was the purification of their faith.[1] The name means pious ones and it is believed that the founders of this group also formed the religious nucleus of the Maccabean Revolt, the Essene movement, and the Pharisees. Some scholars believe that the Hasidim were probably the religious group that was the closest to biblical Judaism.[2] But by the first century A.D., they had become nearly extinct.[3]

[1]. Cate, A History of the New Testament and its Times. 75.


[2]. Safrai, “The Jewish Cultural Nature of Galilee in the Frist Century.” 180.


[3]. House, Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament. 73.

02.01.10 Hellenists

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02.01.10 Hellenists. The Hellenists were Jewish people who abandoned the laws of Judaism and accepted the Greek culture [1] (Hellenism comes from the Greek word Hellen meaning Greek).[2] They believed the laws of Moses prevented them from enjoying the full pleasures of life promoted by the Greeks and, later by the Romans. For example, young men at times desired to participate in the public baths or play in the Greek games to obtain the perfect body. But since the athletic games were played in the nude, they were embarrassed and could not assimilate into the Greek-Roman community.[3] Since the Gentiles believed circumcision was disgusting, some Jewish men endured a surgical procedure known as epispasm, in which the marks of circumcision were removed.[4] They could then participate in the Greek games and not be identified as being Jewish. For that reason orthodox Jews accused them of abandoning the holy covenant.

Hellenists were almost indistinguishable from their Greek neighbors. During the Maccabean Revolt they fought with the Greeks of Syria against the Hassidim and Hasmonean family. By the time of Jesus, their religious allegiance was with the Romans and Sadducees; and in fact, the Sadducees were Hellenistic.


[1]. Amir, “The Term IOUDAISMOS: A Study in Jewish-Hellenistic Self-identification.” 38;  See also  03.04.05 “334 – 63 B.C.  Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Period.”


[2]. Bietenhard, “Greek.” 2:124. See also Acts 6:1.


[3]. Niswonger, New Testament History. 24.


[4]. http://www.bibarch.com/glossary/MI/epispasm.htm; July 20, 2012.

02.01.11 Herodians

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02.01.11 Herodians. This was a small political non-religious group, sometimes known as the Boethusians, after Boethus,[1] whose daughter Mariamne was one of the ten wives of Herod the Great. But some scholars believe the name “Boethusians” was just another name for a group within the Sadducees (Acts 4:1; 23:12-14).[2] These two opinions could very well be in agreement with each other, as at times specific details are less clear than is desired.

The Herodians were Roman sympathizers and individuals of prestigious status in the royal court, who always promoted their so-called “rightful” claims to the Jewish throne.  They were neither Roman agents nor servants, but Jews who were either secular or Sadducees.[3]  They are mentioned three times in the gospels as opponents to Jesus (Mt. 22:16; Mk. 3:6, 12:13), and Josephus mentioned them, as “those of Herod’s party.”[4]  The entire group was wiped out during the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.


[1]. Simon, the son of Boethus, was the high priest from 22 – 5 B.C. The family had incredible political power.


[2]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 59.  


[3]. Farrar, Life of Christ. 346-47; Blizzard, “Judaism – Part 1” Yavo Digest. 1:5, 7.

[4]. Josephus, Antiquities 14.15.6; Hiebert, “Herodians.” 3:145.

02.01.12 Idumeans

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02.01.12 Idumeans. The Idumeans, also known as the Edomites, were descendants of Esau.[1] In the Inter-Testamental Period they relocated from the Petra region of modern Jordan, westward into the Negev Desert of southern Israel.  They were eventually absorbed into the larger Arab people group. For that reason, some scholars have traditionally said that the Arab people per se did not exist in the biblical land of today’s Israel/Palestine during the first century. The vast majority of Arabs were a nomadic people who lived in the area that is modern day Saudi Arabia.  Nonetheless, one of the reasons the Jews hated Herod the Great was that he was an Idumean – a hated descendant of Esau.

[1]. Thompson, “Idumea.” 2:682.


02.01.13 Jews

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02.01.13 Jews. In the Old Testament Period, particularly in the book of Esther, the name Jew was associated with all Israelites, but it originally was applied to only those who came from Judea.[1] A similar association is found in the older book of Daniel (3:8, 12).  In the New Testament era, the name is one of cultural and religious identity.  A Jew was one who was not a Samaritan (Jn. 4:9), nor a Gentile (Gal. 2:14; 3:28; Acts 14:1, 5), nor a proselyte (Acts 2:10).  He had to be of the lineage of Abraham, and hence, his race, nationality, and religion were all equal components of his identity.[2] Jews considered themselves to be the “chosen people,” and therefore, by the time of Christ they thought of themselves as a privileged people.

It is important to note variations of thought among the Jewish people.  Those living in Jerusalem were more legalistic and conservative than their Galilean counterparts, but the former were also more appeasing to the Roman establishment. Those living in Galilee and Perea,[3] on the other hand, were more lax in their theological viewpoints, but considerably more nationalistic, especially those in the northern mountains of Galilee. The cradle of Roman anti-sentiment was in the mountainous areas of Galilee.

Outside the country of Judaea, Jewish people in the Diaspora held a wide range of viewpoints.  In Babylon they were conservative as they were in Jerusalem, whereas elsewhere theological viewpoints ranged from Hellenistic to orthodox. At times it can be somewhat challenging to understand precisely who the gospel writers are referring to when they speak of “the Jews.” John, for example, uses the term for the following people groups:

  1. In reference to all of those who are descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  1. In reference to those Jews living in Judea, as opposed to those living in Galilee, Perea, or elsewhere.
  1. In reference to Jewish leaders, namely the leading Pharisees, but not all Pharisees.

Therefore, the context of the term the Jews is very important. An unfortunate example in church history is that all the Jewish people have been blamed for the decisions made by their leaders.


[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]. Gasque, “Jew.” 2:1056.


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


02.01.14 Pharisees

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02.01.14 Pharisees. The Pharisees (Gk. pharisaios 5330) [1] were the dominant Jewish party that consisted of a number of religious sects, from the early second century B.C.  They first appeared in 1 Maccabees 9:13 and 2 Maccabees 14:6 as they developed as a result of opposition and persecution by the Greek dictator Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who was overthrown in the Maccabean Revolt in 164 B.C.[2]  Understandably, the name Pharisee comes from the Hebrew perushim, perusin or perusim meaning pious ones, separated, or detached.[3]  Some scholars believe they evolved from the previous Hassidean movement[4] because the Pharisees were known for seven major characteristics:

  1. Separation. They considered themselves the separated ones, who emphasized strict adherence to the Mosaic laws pertaining to purity, Sabbath observance, prayer, tithing, and separation from anyone who was Hellenistic. There were four levels of Pharisees,[5] and the upper echelon is referred to in this e-Book as the “leading Pharisees.” They were so extremely legalistic, pious, and self-righteous that they even avoided the am ha-aretz, meaning the common people.[6]
  1. Legalism. Due to the encroachment of Greek values into Jewish life, the Pharisees promoted the legalistic observance of Jewish laws on both the national and personal level.[7] An example was recorded by the first century historian Josephus who noted that at one time more than six thousand of them refused to take the oath of allegiance to Caesar or Herod.[8] They were willing to lay down their lives for their religious laws. They considered themselves to be the honored ones who were called to practice and honor the Priestly Code of Ezra, with an emphasis on the Oral Laws.
  1. They were social and cultural liberals.
  1. They were religious conservatives.
  1. Most of them hated Rome, with the leading Pharisees being a possible exception.[9] They believed that if they could not fortify their cities against the Roman occupiers, they would fortify their laws to keep the Greco-Roman culture out of Judaism and their personal lives.
  1. They tried to be spiritual while the Sadducees tried to maintain their religious bureaucracy.
  1. Most Pharisees were sincere, honest synagogue leaders who cared for their people, while the leading echelon were the ones with whom Jesus had multiple conflicts.
  1. Many Pharisees were also scribes, judges, magistrates, teachers, rabbis, and priests. The people willingly put all power and authority into the hands of their rabbis, as orthodox Jews still do today. In fact, twice scribes are referred to as the “scribes of the Pharisees” (Mk. 2:16; Acts 23:9).

The Pharisees believed they had three obligations to strictly observe to find favor with God:

  1. Tithing, known as Neeman.[10] This was on all earnings.
  1. Observance of all Levitical laws on ritual purity known as chabher (a/k/a chabber).[11]
  1. The practice of purity, which included separation from people considered to be “impure.”

There were many sects within the broad group of “Pharisees,” but among them were two major theological schools that had major influences in the culture. Furthermore, some discussions Jesus had with “the Pharisees” were the result of disputes between these two schools.

  1. Beit Hillel (House or School of Hillel) [12]
  1. Beit Shammai (House or School of Shammai)[13]

Named after their founding rabbis, these schools of theology held opposing opinions on how certain written and oral commandments were to be practiced.  Their varied opinions are preserved in the Mishnah.  The Pharisees, whom Jesus addressed, were the Oral Law traditionalists who had become aristocratic and powerfully similar to the Sadducees, whom they greatly disliked.  The religious ideology of the Pharisees ranged widely as some were condemned by both Jesus and by some of their own leaders in the third century (A.D.).[14]  For example, the School of Shammai held it was unlawful to comfort the sick or visit the mourner on the Sabbath, but the School of Hillel permitted it.

The leading Pharisees were usually synonymous with the teachers of the Law,[15] which is why it can be difficult to distinguish them from the scribes.[16]  While most leading Pharisees considered themselves scribes, not all scribes considered themselves Pharisees.[17] They were scholars of the biblical text.[18] Whenever Jesus confronted them, He confronted the aristocratic leadership.[19] Most of the Jewish people obeyed codes of conduct and religion according to the Pharisees, even though they did not formally belong to this religious sect.[20]  While some aristocratic Pharisees, such as the Herodians, were comfortable with the Romans, and Josephus said that a majority was fiercely patriotic and hated the foreign yoke with an impassioned bitterness.[21]  

02.01.14 (2)

The upper echelon consisted of men who had become religiously and politically corrupt and were under constant rebuke by Christ.  They held the Oral Law in higher esteem than the written Mosaic Law. It was to this group that Jesus most frequently applied the word hypocrite, from the Greek hupokrites, meaning actor or pretender.[22] All confrontations Jesus had with them were related to the Halakhah, the regulations that pertained to the daily life activities.[23]

However, not all were evil. It should be noted that among these religious leaders were Simon, who made a banquet for Jesus (Lk. 7:37), and others who warned Jesus of Herod’s attempt to kill Him (Lk. 13:31). They are often referred to in this manuscript as the “leading Pharisees,” the “Pharisee elitists,” or “the aristocrats of the Pharisees,”[24] as opposed to the common Pharisees, many of whom became followers of Jesus. The Pharisees were by no means a homogeneous group.

The Apostle Paul proudly maintained his status as a righteous Pharisee (Phil. 3:5; Acts 22) and, as a Pharisee, he was a messenger of God to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:16).  It should be noted that among the Pharisees were those who were devoted to Jesus,[25] and they were probably followers of Hillel.  Those who planned evil against Him were probably of Shammai and the aristocratic followers of Hillel.

02.01.14 B (2)

In summary, the Pharisees (compare to 02.01.16 “Sadducees”) were,

  1. In strong opposition to Hellenism
  2. Had great disdain for the Romans
  3. Generally middle class although the leadership was aristocratic
  4. Theologically progressive, but within the Pharisee sect there was a diversity of opinions
  5. Believed in the entire Old Testament (Hebrew Bible)
  6. Affirmed the resurrection of the soul and heaven
  7. Held a mythological belief that Abraham was seated at the gates of hell waiting to make sure no Jew would enter. To have been born a Jew meant automatic rights to the eternal Messianic Kingdom.[26]
  8.  Believed in a final judgment for non-Jews, angels, etc.
  9. Some Pharisees affiliated with the common people (am-ha-arets)[27] and sought converts (except for the leadership). However, the leading Pharisees had great disdain for them and separated themselves from them. This may be why Jesus referred to the common people as “sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36). Yet, in spite of this, many people sided with the Pharisees.[28]
  10. Estimated to be over 6,000 in number who belonged to a chebher or chabher,[29] which was their association or fraternity.[30]
  11. Believed that man has control of his decisions and actions, but that God ultimately controls all things.
  12. They believed that their Oral Law (a/k/a the Mishnah) superseded the authority of the Old Testament. Jesus referred to them as “hypocrites”[31] because, while they made the laws a heavy burden for the common people, they created loopholes for themselves.[32] Theologically speaking, the leading Pharisees canonized their own interpretation of the Law.[33]
  13. Under the umbrella term of Pharisee, there were many religious sects. The two most notable were the theological School of Hillel and School of Shammai. By the time Jesus was in His ministry, the Sadducees controlled the temple, but the Pharisees controlled the synagogues. Many were led by Rabbi Hillel who won the hearts of the people.
  14. In judicial matters, the Pharisees were kinder, more merciful, and more lenient than the Sadducees, with the possible exception of the Pharisaic School of Shammai.[34]
  15. In the book of Acts, Luke speaks frequently of the Pharisees and always in a positive manner. This is profoundly different from the Pharisees who repeatedly plotted to kill Jesus in the gospels, and then stepped aside and let the Sadducees do their dirty work.[35]


02.01.14.Q1 What were the four levels of Pharisees?

Like most people today, this writer had once believed that all Pharisees were the same, but this was hardly the case.[36]  Some constantly confronted Jesus while others gave Him aid.  Some Pharisees were also scribes who read the Scriptures in the synagogue.  Pharisees permitted a wide degree of divergent opinions as shown by the differences between the Schools of Hillel and Shammai.  According to the third century (A.D.) respected Rabbi Pin Hasben Jair, there were four characteristics of separation (a core doctrine of the sect) that all four levels of Pharisees had to endorse.[37] Those characteristics were:

  1. Heedfulness leading to diligence,
  1. Diligence to cleanliness,
  1. Cleanliness to separation, and
  1. Separation to holiness.

It is not until one gets deeper into the study of first century Judaism that one learns of the Schools of Hillel and Shammai, and how these theologians interacted with Jewish society and Jesus.  By knowing the basic beliefs of these two theological schools, one can often determine which question or statement presented to Jesus came from which school.

However, unfortunately throughout history the condemning word “hypocrisy” used by Jesus against the leading Pharisees has been used by the church to condemn all the Pharisees and all the Jewish people. But in fact, most Pharisees like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, were godly people who simply wanted to live right before God and man.[38] Most of the issues Jesus had with the Pharisees originated with the upper echelon, that is, the policy-makers and leaders of the sect. Therefore, the four levels of Pharisees are explained below:[39]

  1. The ne’eman, meaning trustworthy, was the entry level and required the endorsement of all membership obligations before three members in good standing.[40] During this time, the candidate was not permitted to be the guest of a common Jew, known as an am ha-aretz, and would certainly not be found in the home of a Gentile, tax collector, or sinner. Some priests and high priests were so prideful that they wore silk gloves when among people or presiding over sacrifices, so they would not become defiled by “those repulsive and degrading common people.”[41] He had to tithe faithfully on everything he earned and ate.[42] This stage was also known as “heedfulness leading to diligence.” Slaves and women were permitted to join this association, but only at this level.
  1. The second level of entry was called for wings and at this stage the candidate had to diligently practice the ritual of washing his hands before eating and before touching ritually clean food.[43] This stage was also known as “diligence leading to cleanliness.” Incidentally, the Law of Moses did not require such extremism.
  1. In the third level, a candidate was a probationary member for either thirty days or one year. This stage was also known as “cleanliness leading to separation.”
  1. If a person wanted to reach the pinnacle of the hierarchy, he had to take two vows:
  1. To tithe faithfully
  2. Maintain and promote ritual purification.

This fourth level was the upper echelon of Pharisees, who firmly believed they had arrived at perfected holiness.  They had moved from “separation leading to holiness.” These individuals generally had sufficient wealth so that they could live a separated life that would not get “polluted” by associating with common Jewish people who did not always observe ritual cleansing laws.

While the membership of the Pharisees was merely 6,000, there were literally thousands more who faithfully observed Pharisee doctrines. Josephus noted that,

On account of which (the Pharisee) doctrines, they are able greatly to persuade the body of the people; and whatsoever they do about divine worship, prayers, and sacrifices, they perform according to their direction; insomuch that the cities gave great attestations to them on account of their entire virtuous conduct, both in the actions of their lives and their discourses also.

Josephus, Antiquities 18.1.3 (15)[44]


Again and again Josephus said that the Pharisees were by far the greatest influence with the common people.[45] Other groups who followed basic Pharisee doctrines included the Essenes who lived in a number of communities including west Jerusalem, Damascus, Qumran, and elsewhere.[46]  Another group was the Therapeutae, a Jewish sect who lived throughout the Diaspora, including a large community in Alexandria. The final group that observed Pharisaic doctrines were the early Christians of both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds.  One Jew, who identified himself with the Pharisees although he was never a member, was Josephus. He observed the basic doctrines of the sect.[47] Non-members were not always as strict and legalistic as were the members.

As previously stated, the influx of Hellenism had disastrous consequences upon the Jewish people.  While the Sadducees endorsed many Hellenistic elements, the Pharisees saw themselves as the restorers of the Law.  Yet within the Pharisaic world there were many divisions and theological opinions. Amazingly, while they are justly criticized for their legalistic harshness, they should be noted for their kind and responsible landmark decisions. These include:[48]

  1. Concerning the punishment for a crime, the Pharisees interpreted the phrase “an eye for an eye” (Ex. 21:24; Deut. 19:21)[49] metaphorically, and permitted compensation or punishment in the form of a financial settlement.[50] However, the Sadducees demanded exact compliance.
  1. They ordered for husbands to pay support for their wives after a divorce. This lowered the divorce rate. This is noteworthy, because Joseph considered a divorce which would have been expensive, as opposed to accusing Mary of adultery which would have cost him nothing and saved his family honor.
  1. The promotion of education for both boys and girls, (see “Education” 02.03.04).
  1. Required education for boys to the age of sixteen.
  1. If the brother-in-law of a widow refused her the Levirate marriage rights (Deut. 25:5-9),[51] the Pharisees permitted her to spit on the ground in front of him while the Sadducees demanded she spit in his face.
  1. If an animal died, the Pharisees said that the owner may use the carcass for any purpose except for food (Lev. 7:24), but the Sadducees said any use results in the strict penalties of uncleanness.
  1. The final example of harshness is that the Sadducees demanded that false witnesses be put to death while the Pharisees permitted punishment by eighty scourgings.[52] The irony is that the Sadducees acquired false witnesses to testify against Jesus.

The Pharisees have been criticized and condemned for their actions against Jesus.  However, it was the leading Pharisees who were against Jesus, because as other Pharisees came to faith in Him, they warned Him of impending danger. The Pharisees, like the Essenes, were a very legalistic religious sect. An example of legalism is found in 02.01.06.Q1 that describes the entrance procedure for new Essene members. Scholars are examining these requirements for the probability that very similar procedures existed for new Pharisee candidates.

When the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, only the Pharisees survived the slaughter. In the early days of the First Revolt (A.D. 66) the Messianic believers had escaped to Pella and avoided the conflict, but the Sadducees, Herodians, and Essenes were wiped out by the Romans.  Consequently, all forms of Judaism today have their roots in the first century Pharisees.[53]  In fact, today’s Rabbinic Judaism is distinctly different from Inter-Testamental and biblical Judaism.[54]

It is important to stress that most synagogue leaders were righteous Pharisees who loved their people. Criticisms by Jesus were generally directed at the aristocratic leadership of the Pharisees. Most of the Jewish people obeyed codes of conduct and religion according to the Pharisees, even though they did not formally belong to them.[55]

Finally, among those who considered themselves Pharisees were Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, Hillel and his son, Simeon, Simeon’s son Gamaliel was also a Pharisee and the renowned teacher for the Apostle Paul.[56]


[1]. Vine, “Pharisees.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:470-71.


[2]. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Hanukkah/History.shtml Retrieved September 20, 2014; See also Josephus, Antiquities 11.4.8 and 13.10.5-6; Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 66a.


[3]. Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 86; Vine, “Pharisees.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:470-71.


[4]. See 03.04.17; House, Chronological and Background. 73.


[5]. See 02.01.14.Q1 below.


[6]. Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 86.


[7]. Finkelstein, The Pharisees. 145.

[8]. Josephus, Antiquities 17.2.4.

[9]. Many scholars believe the leading Pharisees were associated with the legalistic School of Shammai.


[10]. Lee, The Galilean Jewishness of Jesus, 112; Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 216.


[11]. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 215-17.

[12]. See 02.01.19.

[13]. See 02.01.20.

[14]. Mishnah, Sotah. 3:4; Babylonian Talmud, Sotah. 22b.


[15]. Mt. 3:7; 15:1; Mk. 2: 16, 24; Lk. 11:38.


[16]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 59.  


[17]. Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church.  93-94.


[18]. Bruce, “Josephus, Flavius.” 69-71; Major, Manson, and Wright, The Mission and Message of Jesus. 601-02; Josephus, Wars 1.5.2; Mishnah. Aboth. 2:5.


[19]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 259, n42.


[20]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 258.


[21]. Read the full account of Josephus pertaining to the Pharisees in Antiquities 18.1.3 (12-15).


[22]. Herbert, “Hypocrite.” 109-10; Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 172-73.


[23]. Bruce, Jesus Past. 69-71; Lee, The Galilean Jewishness of Jesus. 106-07.


[24]. Other Jewish writers also criticized the leading Pharisees as found in 1 Enoch 102:9-10; Testament of Moses 7:3; Tosefta, Menahot 13:22. This is a recommended subject for further study in Appendix 33.


[25]. Jn. 3:1, 19:38-39, Acts 5:34, 23:6-8.


[26]. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 6, page 6.


[27]. Lang. Know the Words of Jesus. 173; Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 145; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:33-35.

[28]. Josephus, Antiquities 13.10.6.


[29]. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 215-17.

[30]. Josephus, Antiquities 17.2.4; Lang. Know the Words of Jesus. 172-73.


[31]. See the discussion on hypocrites / hypocrisy in 08.03.04 (Mt. :5-15).

[32]. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 20, page 11.


[33]. Lee, The Galilean Jewishness of Jesus, 13.


[34]. For additional information on the resulting judicial differences between these two schools, see Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 18b and Yebamoth 14a in 02.01.20 “School of Shammai.” See also 13.02.04.


[35] Stemberger, Jewish Contemporaries of Jesus: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes. 31.


[36]. There are two reasons why many have equated the Pharisees with a group of Jewish leaders who were filled with hypocrisy and hatred: 1) The gospels clearly indicate this group often confronted Jesus and planned to kill Him, and 2) the doctrine of replacement theology and anti-Semitic attitudes promoted by the church. These two biased conditions led to a horrible conclusion – the inability to recognize the variations of other Pharisaic individuals, such as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, and give them appropriate credit for their righteous attitudes and acts.


[37]. Cited from  Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 88; Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 67-68, 215-18.

[38]. See Lk. 13:31; 7:36; 11:37; 14:1; Jn. 3:1; 19:38-39; Acts 5:34; 23:6-8. See also Gamaliel in Acts 5, the teacher of the Apostle Paul.


[39]. Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 88, 112-13.


[40]. Babylonain Talmud Bekakoth, 30b (Soncino ed.).


[41]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:89.


[42]. See additional rules on tithing in the Mishnah, Ma’aserot 1.1.


[43]. Tosefta, Dem’ai. 2:11; Encyclopedia Judaica  Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House 7:1489-90.


[44]. Parenthesis mine.


[45] Stemberger. Jewish Contemporaries of Jesus: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes. 19.


[46]. See 02.01.06.Q1 “How did a one become a member of the Essene sect and how does this relate to the Pharisees?”


[47]. Josephus, Life 8.


[48]. Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 134-35.


[49]. Lev. 24:20; Mt. 5:38-42; 08.02.07.


[50]. Financial settlements are found in passages such as Deut. 22:29.


[51]. See also Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 16a.


[52]. Mishnah, Makkoth 1.3 and 1.5; See 15.03.07.


[53]. Finkelstein, The Pharisees. 142-45.

[54]. Scott, Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. 21.


[55]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 115.    


[56]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:73; Wyatt, “Pharisee.” 3:822-29.


02.01.15 Romans

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 19, 2016  -  Comments Off on 02.01.15 Romans

02.01.15 Romans. The Roman Empire[1] belted the Mediterranean Sea, at times called a Roman lake, and extended into Europe.  It eventually included twelve language groups and was so huge that Rome could hardly administer. In 63 B.C., the Roman General Pompey easily took control of Jerusalem on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in a battle that cost the lives of twelve thousand men, women, and children. The Romans were seen as a friend by some, as an enemy by others; but soon all discovered them to be incredible oppressors.

The Roman military power brought forth a fearful peace known as Pax Romana[2] meaning peace to Rome and quiet to the provinces.[3] At the head of this incredible empire was a single man, Octavianus Caesar – now better known by his imposing title, Caesar – who ruled as absolute lord and dictator.  His continuous challenge however, was to maintain peace over the three rebellious Jewish provinces of Galilee, Perea, and Judea.  Between the years 63 B.C. and the so-called “First Revolt” in A.D. 66, there were 13 revolts and many riots.[4]

As to philosophical and religious values, the Romans adopted beliefs from the Greeks, Etruscans, and Epicureans.[5] They enjoyed the Greek culture with all its gods and goddesses, but while many believed in these religious myths, agnosticism[6] became increasingly commonplace. Emperors considered themselves to be gods and by the end of the first century (A.D.), Emperor Domitian required his subjects to offer sacrifices to him and to call him “Lord and God.”[7]

The Roman world was one wherein a small aristocratic group controlled the wealth and power while a massive peasantry produced a large agricultural surplus and, to a smaller extent, the other necessary products.  The common people in occupied lands, such as the Jews of Judaea, were essentially economic slaves.[8]  They were taxed so heavily that they lived in constant poverty without any hope of escape. Hence, they had a dire hope that a messiah would come to deliver them.[9] However, any action or discussion that could have been interpreted as leading to a possible revolt resulted in death. The Romans were especially sensitive to a possible revolt, not only for national pride, but also because the Jewish land was the frontier to the rising Parthian Empire in the east. And Israel was the most problematic region they had to govern – riots and rumors of riots and rebellions were constantly in the air.

Historians tend to be cruel in their comments about the Romans, and do not give them credit or grace for anything.  But in fact, while the Romans were cruel, they did make some attempts to be considerate of their Jewish subjects.  For example,

  1. Emperor Augustus and his wife sent brazen wine vessels to the temple in Jerusalem along with other costly gifts.[10] Philo says that Augustus personally also provided two lambs and an ox for sacrifice, but Josephus said the cost was borne by the Jewish people.[11]
  2. No demand was ever made upon the Jews, except during the reign of Caligula, for them to worship the emperor. All other people groups of the empire, including the Samaritans, worshiped the emperor along with local deities.
  3. All the emperors, to and including Vespasian, attempted to honor Jewish sensitivities by not minting coins for circulation in Judea with the image of the emperor or a Roman god, but these coins only had his name and traditional Jewish emblems. However, coins minted in other provinces did have his image and often his claim of divinity. For example, in the year 4 B.C. Emperor Augustus minted a coin with his image and the words “son of God,” meaning he was the son of the god Apollo.[12] These coins were at times carried by pilgrims to Jerusalem festivals where they became the subject of debate and controversies. Such a coin was given to Jesus – one with the idolatrous image on one side and the legend of Jewish subjection on the other.[13]  
  4. The Romans respected the Jews by not bringing any image that represented the emperor or Rome. Unfortunately, as is explained elsewhere, Pilate violated this policy shortly after he took control of Judea. Nonetheless, the Romans for the most part, honored this practice. For example, when Vitellius, the legate of Syria marched against Aretas, an Arabian king, he was about to cross Jewish lands. Since Roman soldiers always carried the likeness of the emperor on their standards, the Jews objected. According to Josephus, he rerouted his march as not to offend the Jews and the images of the emperor never entered Jewish lands.[14]
  5. The Romans granted the Jewish people religious freedom. Judaism was one of the recognized religions of the empire, but not so with Christianity. Everyone had to worship Julius Caesar as a “son of a god,” but not the Jewish people.[15] In fact, Judaism was under Roman protection as evidenced in two accounts reported by Josephus.
  6. When the pagan residents of Dora erected a statue of the emperor in the synagogue, the Jews went to the legate Petronius who ordered the statue to be removed.[16]
  7. When a soldier destroyed a Torah scroll, he was put to death by the procurator Cumanus.[17]


In response to Roman kindness, the Jewish people in the diaspora prayed for the emperor in their synagogue services. It is unknown if the Jews in Galilee, Perea, and Judea did likewise.

[1]. The historical periods of Rome are as follows: Roman Kingdom 753-509 B.C.; Roman Republic 509-27 B.C.; Roman Empire 27 B.C. – A.D. 476.

[2]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 423. See “Pax Romana” in Appendix 26.


[3]. Lee, The Galilean Jewishness of Jesus. 72-73; Mellowes and Cran, Executive Producers. From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians. (DVD). Part 1.

[4]. See Appendix 25 for a listing of false prophets who had messianic expectations and for a partial listing of revolts and social disturbances from 63 B.C. to A.D. 70.


[5]. The Etruscans lived centuries earlier northwest of Rome. Their influence continued but was minimal.


[6]. Agnosticism is the belief that the existence of God is unknown and probably unknowable.


[7]. Metzger, New Testament. 61.


[8] The subject of high taxation that resulted in economic slavery is presented by Josephus, Antiquities 17.11.2 (307-308).  See also 02.03.03 “Economy” and 03.06.04 “4 B.C. The Death of Herod the Great.”


[9]. Crossan, Who Killed Jesus. 39.

[10]. Josephus, Wars 5.13.6; Philo, Legat. Ad Cajum 37.


[11]. Philo, Legat. Ad Cajum 23;  Josephus, Wars 2.10.4 and 17.2-46; Schurer, The History of the Jewish People. First Division, 2:76.


[12]. Suetonius, Deified Augustus 94.4; Franz, http://www.lifeandland.org/2009/02/the-angelic-proclamation-to-the-shepherds-luke-28-15/


[13]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:419.


[14]. Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.3.


[15]. Mellowes and Cran, Producers. From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians. (DVD). Part 1.


[16]. Josephus, Antiquities 19.6.3.


[17]. Josephus, Antiquities 20.5.4; Wars 2.12.2.


02.01.16 Sadducees

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 19, 2016  -  Comments Off on 02.01.16 Sadducees

02.01.16 Sadducees. The Sadducees appeared on the scene after the elimination of the Greek Antiochus IV Epiphanes from power in Israel (ten northern tribes) and Judea (two southern tribes). They were the descendants of the Hasmonean rulers who ruled Judea (163 – 63 B.C.) after the Maccabean revolt.  Members of this religious sect were, in fact, the ruling aristocratic political-religious party in Jerusalem and close friends of the Herodian family and the Romans. They held prominent positions in the city. More importantly, they controlled the Sanhedrin and the temple.[1]  It was through this political relationship that they were able to attain control of the Sanhedrin, the temple, the priesthood, throughout the life of Christ until the Romans destroyed them in A.D. 70.[2] Control of the temple afforded them an incredibly lavish lifestyle, unimaginable even for ancient times as shown by the glass artifact shown below (02.01.16.A).

The origin of the name “Sadducee” is somewhat mysterious.  The once-held belief that the name was derived from Zadok, a high priest in Solomon’s court has some serious etymological[3] difficulties.[4] Recent scholarship suggests that the name could refer to the “righteous ones” because it emphasizes religious purity and because the Sadducees are direct descendants of the Hasmoneans.  Some scholars believe the name “Boethusians” was just another name for a group within the Sadducees (Acts 4:1; 23:12-14), because the House of Boethus was a highly influential family.[5] These two opinions could very well be in agreement with each other, as at times specific details are less clear than is desired. Nonetheless, they were ruthless and did whatever was necessary to protect their position and status.[6] The Essenes referred to them as the “wicked priests” in their Dead Sea Scrolls.[7] There are five major aspects to the powerful Sadducees:[8]



02.01.16.A. AN EXAMPLE OF SADDUCEAN EXTRAVAGANCE.  LEFT: A partially melted glass pitcher of exquisite design and craftsmanship was found in the burned ruins of the home of a Sadducean priest. Molded glass jug signed by Ennion, probably of Sidon.   RIGHT: The recreated drawing of the pitcher as in its original design: dark lines reflect actual remains and the light lines are of the upper portion. This was obviously owned by one of Jerusalem’s wealthiest families.  Photograph and illustration courtesy of the Israel Museum.

  1. They were social conservatives.
  1. They were supporters of the Romans, and in fact, the high priest Caiaphas was a Roman appointment.
  1. They were liberal in their theology. In fact, so liberal that some have said they gave only lip service to the Torah.

02.01.16 (2)

  1. Their greatest condemnation was that they were Hellenistic; they enjoyed the Greek lifestyle but covered it with Jewish traditions.[9]
  1. While the Pharisees controlled the local synagogues, the Sadducees controlled the temple and all its wealth; the Pharisees tried to be spiritual while the Sadducees tried to maintain their religious bureaucracy. Because of their theological and ritualistic differences, there was constant tension in the temple. Josephus said that the Sadducees had to submit to the Pharisees’ method of performing ceremonial rituals, celebrations, and processions or the masses would not have tolerated them.[10] An example is found in the Mishnah: in the tractate Sukkah, are the directions for the Feast of Tabernacles ritual. That includes the procedure of the water libation that was be poured into one of two bowls located to the right at the top of the altar ramp. However, one time King Alexander Jannaeus (reigned 105-79 B.C.) poured the libation over his feet and all the people threw their citrons at him.[11] The Talmud identifies the offender as a Sadducee (or Boethusian).[12] In response, he called his soldiers and several thousand were massacred that day. While this took place a century before Jesus, the Pharisees did not forget this or any other events of persecution by the Sadducees.[13]
  1. In terms of judicial actions, they were extremely harsh and rude, especially when compared to the Pharisees who were far more forgiving and compassionate.[14]


Regardless of the evil passion of many in the temple, it should be noted that many Levites, priests, and chief priests were godly men, and not members of the Sadducees or corrupted leading Pharisees. Josephus summarized the leading Pharisees and Sadducees as follows:

Of the first named schools, the Pharisees, who are considered to be most accurate interpreters of the laws, and hold the position of the leading sect, attribute everything to fate and God; they hold that to act rightly or otherwise rest, indeed, for the most part with men, but that in each action fate cooperates.  Every soul, they maintain, is perishable, but the soul of the good alone passes into another body, while the soul of the wicked suffer eternal punishment.

The Sadducees, the second of the orders, do away with fate together, and remove God beyond, not merely the commission, but the very sight of evil.  They maintain that man has the free choice of good and evil, and that it rests with each man’s will whether he follows the one or the other. As for the persistence of the soul after death, penalties in the underworld, and rewards, they will have none of them. 

The Pharisees are affectionate to each other and cultivate harmonious relations with the community.  The Sadducees, on the contrary, are, even among themselves, rather boorish in their behavior, and in their intercourse with their peers are as rude as to aliens.  Such is what I have to say on the Jewish philosophical schools. 

Josephus, Wars 2.8.14 (163-166)[15]


Concerning the Sadducees and their belief in the resurrection, the historian said,

But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this: That souls die with the bodies; nor do they regard the observation of anything besides what the law enjoins them, for they think it an instance of virtue to dispute with those teachers of philosophy whom they frequent. 

Josephus¸ Antiquities 18.1.4 (16)


The family clan of Annas was extremely greedy and wealthy. They were the envy of those who achieved the “lifestyles of the rich and famous,” as expressed in modern terms. As priests of the temple, they had afforded themselves a lifestyle beyond the imaginations of both the common people and modern scholarship.  Annas, who was a Sadducee, converted the Gentile Court of the temple into a commercial market of animal sales, moneychangers, and pedestrian traffic, but Jesus had something to say about it.

By cleansing this area of the temple, Jesus demonstrated His Messianic authority, to which neither the Romans nor the Sadducees offered a strong challenge. The reason was that the cleansing was not so much an act of reformation or purification, but a symbolic gesture of pending judgment.  In doing this, He not only displayed His divine intention, but also confirmed the words of judgment spoken by the Old Testament prophets.[16] The prophetic act that symbolized destruction was also reflective in Jeremiah 4:5-5:31; 7:14; 25:1-38; 26:1-24; Ezekiel 4:1-7:27; and Micah 3:9-12. Witnesses would have connected the cleansing with these prophets.


02.01.16.B. SADDUCEAN TOMB INSCRIPTION. A tomb inscription of a first century A.D. Sadducee that reads, Enjoy your life. Illustration courtesy of the Israel Museum.


There was an anti-Gentile attitude in some Jewish circles. The attitude was that since they were God’s chosen elite, all other people were as spittle. This is reflected in the Pseudepigrapha book of 4 Ezra. It reads as follows:

All this I have spoken before you, O Lord, because you have said that it was for us that you created this world.  As for the other nations, which have descended from Adam, you have said they are nothing, and that they are like spittle, and you have compared their abundance to a drop from a bucket.  And now, O Lord, behold, these nations, which are reputed as nothing, domineer over us and devour us.  But we your people, whom you have called your firstborn, only begotten, zealous for you, and most dear, have been given into their hands.

4 Ezra 6:55, 58[17]


Being a Sadducee was not necessarily an easy task, regardless how much power the Sadducees had in controlling the temple and being Roman pawns.  The fact remained that all temple services were at the direction of the Pharisees.  Most certainly the Sadducees were not very delighted with having the Pharisees tell them what to do and when to do it. The politics and in-house squabbling within the temple was phenomenal and often escapes modern scholarship. There was constant bickering and rivalry, not to mention a long history of animosity between the two religious groups.[18]

An important aspect to note is that the Sadducees were extremely rigid in judging others. In fact, they even had their own penal code.[19] That is precisely how Josephus described them. Speaking of Ananus, a/k/a Annas, he,

Took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews.

Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.1 (199)


Similar words were written about three or four decades before Jesus was born by an unknown author who said,

Why are you sitting in the council of the devout, you profaner?

And your heart is far from the Lord,

Provoking the God of Israel by lawbreaking;

Excessive in words, excessive in appearance above everyone,

He who is harsh in words in condemning sinners at judgment.

Psalms of Solomon 4:1-2


Clearly, the Sadducees had a well established reputation of corruption. They were the primary instigators and final actors to have the Romans crucify Jesus. In summary, the theological and social positions of the Sadducees (compare to 02.01.14 “Pharisees”) were,[20]

  1. Their theology reflected strong influences of Epicurean philosophy and other popular Greek ideas.[21]
  2. Wealthy aristocrats; by the early first century A.D., the Sadducees had become an elite social-religious group who controlled the temple and were interested only in their own wealth, power, and welfare.
  3. Theologically conservative but giving only lip service to the Old Testament laws, they had no problem accepting Hellenism.
  4. Theologically, the Sadducees believed only in the Torah and gave no credibility to any other books of the Hebrew Bible, nor did they give credibility to the Oral Law.[22] They said that books such as Daniel, Ezra, and Esther were “foreign,” implying that they contained imported ideas from the Persians.
  5. They denied the resurrection of the soul.[23] By denying the resurrection and immortality in general (Acts 23:8), they also renounced the messianic hope.
  6. They denied belief in final judgment, angels, etc.
  7. They were separated from the common people who were called the am-ha-arets, meaning the unlearned.[24] They had no concern for them, nor did they feel obligated to intercede to God for their behalf.[25]
  8. Few in number
  9. Were very friendly to, and in co-operation with, the Romans
  10. They believed that whatever wealth, power, status, and influence they acquired were blessings of God, but they would have to strive for them by whatever means possible.
  11. In the book of Acts, Luke said that the Sadducees were the primary opponents of the early Christian Church, not the Pharisees. In fact, many Pharisees came to faith in Christ Jesus in the book of Acts (i.e., Acts 15:5).[26]

Therefore, not only did the Sadducees not believe in an eternity, but in doing so, they denied any messianic hope.  That, coupled with their Hellenistic ideals and lifestyle, explains why they sought to destroy the work of Jesus by whatever means possible and were the major oppressors of the early church.[27] They were arrogant and rude to Jews of other sects and, as Josephus said, to foreigners who came to Jerusalem.[28]  When Jesus was before Pilate, it was they who cried, “Let His blood be upon us and our children.” Their wish came true because the Romans killed every one of them with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.


[1]. Josephus, Antiquities. 18.1.4.


[2]. Moulder, “Sadducees.” 4:278-81.


[3]. See “Etymology” in Appendix 26.


[4]. Guignebert, The Jewish World in the Time of Jesus. 162; Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 123-24.


[5]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 59; See “Boethusians” in Appendix 26.


[6]. Moulder, “Sadducees.” 4:278-81.


[7]. Schmaltz and Fischer, Messianic Seal. 22.


[8]. Bookman, When God Wore Sandals. CD Trac 6.


[9]. Visitors in Jerusalem today can see one of the homes of the Sadducees at the Wohl Archeological Museum. These opulent homes, known today as the Herodian Mansions, are located a short walk from the Western Wall.


[10]. Josephus, Antiquities 18.1.4 (16, 17).


[11]. Mishnah, Sukkah 4:9.


[12]. Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 48b. See “Boethusian” in Appendix 26.


[13]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 2:637-38.


[14]. Josephus, Wars 2.8.14 (163-166); See also Stemberger, Jewish Contemporaries of Jesus: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes. 16.

[15]. Neusner, “Josephus’ Pharisees.” 279.


[16]. See Jer. 8:10; 14:18; 23:11, 33-34; 32:31-32; 34:18-19; Lam. 4:13; Ezek. 22:26; Zeph. 3:4; Zech. 14:21; Testament of Levi 14:1-8; Josephus,  Antiquities 20.8.8; Targum of Jeremiah 7:1-11.

[17]. Scholars debate on the classification of 3rd Ezra (a/k/a 1 Esdras) and 4th Ezra (a/k/a 2nd Esdras). Sometimes these are listed in the Apocrypha (see 02.02.03) and other times they are listed in the Pseudepigrapha (see 02.02.24). 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.


[18]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 262-66.    


[19]. Megillah, Taanith 10;  Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 127.  


[20]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 326.


[21]. Farrar, The Life of Christ. 41, 349.


[22]. Moulder, “Sadducees.” 4:278-81, Schmaltz and Fischer, Messianic Seal. 22.


[23]. Josephus, Antiquities. 18.1.4 (14-17).


[24]. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 292; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:348.


[25]. Moulder, “Sadducees.” 4:278-81.


[26] Stemberger, Jewish Contemporaries of Jesus: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes. 31.


[27]. Mt. 22:23; Mk. 12:18; Acts 4:5; 23:8


[28]. Josephus, Wars 2.8,14. Josephus, at times makes a passing comment on foreigners living in the land, such as their presence in Galilee. See also Wars 3.3.2 (41).


02.01.17 Samaritans

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 19, 2016  -  Comments Off on 02.01.17 Samaritans

02.01.17 Samaritans. The Samaritans claim to be descendants of Jacob, his son Joseph, and his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. (cf. Jn. 4:12) but scholarship denies it.  In 733 B.C. the Assyrians conquered the ten northern Israelite tribes, known collectively as Israel.[1] In an attempt to destroy the culture and prevent possible future uprisings, about a decade later the Assyrians deported a vast majority of the ten Israelite tribes far to the east. For similar reasons, they imported five foreign tribes from other conquered lands.[2] The Israelites who were not deported intermarried with their new neighbors and their descendants became known as the Samaritans,[3] named after the land of Samaria in which they lived.[4]  Amazingly, they followed the Jewish Torah but with several significant changes.

  1. The Samaritans removed all references pertaining to Jerusalem from their Torah.
  1. The Samaritans believed that Mount Gerizim instead of Jerusalem was the divine location to offer sacrifice and worship God.
  1. They believed Mount Gerizim was where God created Adam and Eve.
  1. The Samaritans also believed Mount Gerizim was where Abraham offered Isaac, and every Samaritan child knew where the thicket bush was where the ram got caught.
  1. While the Samaritan Torah was modified from the Jewish edition, there is agreement between the two holy books on more than two thousand other passages.[5] Ironically, this reflects accuracy of transmission and translation over many centuries to the modern Bible versions.
  1. After the Babylonians took the captured Jews of Jerusalem and Judea to Babylon in 585 B.C., the Jews changed their Hebrew alphabet to the Aramaic Square Script. Since the Old Testament until that time was written in the older Hebrew script, the Samaritans felt the Babylonian Jews polluted the Scriptures by making this change. Therefore, the Samaritan form of writing is a much older version of Hebrew, but it too, has undergone some changes throughout history.[6]
  1. The Samaritans, like so many others in the ancient Middle East, believed that God would send someone soon to restore their land and people. That “someone” was called the Taheb or Restorer – a great prophet of the end-time whom Moses referred to in Deuteronomy 18:15.[7]
  1. Concerning ritual purity, the Jews were insistent on ritual purity on a variety of issues, but not so the Samaritans. They accepted Greek coins with pagan deities, temples for pagan worship, and even the name Sabaste is the Greek name for Augusta or Augustus.[8] These things the Jews desperately opposed, and they hated the Samaritans for accepting them.
  1. The Samaritan calendar is different from the Jewish one, making the festival observances at different times than Jewish ones.[9]


02.01.17.A. RUINS OF THE SAMARITAN TEMPLE. The ruins of the Samaritan temple lay beneath the Byzantine ruins in the foreground. The Byzantine church was built to honor the Samaritan temple. Photograph by the author.


Therefore, the Samaritans, like the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes of Qumran, and all the smaller Jewish sects, they all identified themselves to be “Israelites,” between the years 250 B.C. and A.D. 200.[10] However, the Samaritans did not take on the name “Jew” as did the other sects.  If the religious differences were not enough to cause conflicts, actions by both sides intensified the hatred and conflict. The following is an abbreviated list of repulsive actions.

  1. When the Jews returned from Babylon to Israel to rebuild the temple, a Horonite (Samaritan) by the name of Sanballat harassed them with the help of a “garrison in Samaria” (Neh. 4:2).[11]
  1. When the Greek General Alexander the Great conquered this part of the world, he destroyed the Samaritan cities but left Jerusalem untouched.[12] This caused jealousy.
  1. But a little more than a century later during the Maccabean Revolt, when the Jews fought against the Syrian Greeks, they had to fight the Samaritans as well.
  1. During the Revolt, the Samaritans to advantage of every opportunity to capture Jews and sell them into slavery.
  1. In 128 B.C. when John Hyrcanus became the Jewish governor and high priest, he destroyed the Samaritan temple.[13]
  1. In 107 B.C., Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan city of Shechem.[14]
  1. In 63 B.C. when the Romans conquered the Jewish lands and the Samaritans again fought against the Jews.[15]
  1. Between the years 40 to 37 B.C., when Herod the Great fought various political and criminal entities to gain control of the Jewish nation, the Samaritans fought with him.
  1. Josephus recorded a number of accounts where the Samaritans attacked the Jews. In one such case, when the temple gates were opened at midnight to accommodate the worshipers with their Passover lambs, a number of Samaritans entered and desecrated the temple by throwing human bones throughout the sanctuary.[16] This sacrilege occurred shortly after Coponius, the first procurator after Archelaus, was deposed.
  1. At this time it was common practice that priests would give trumpet and fire signals from the pinnacle of the temple to mark the beginning of the Sabbath, the beginning of a month, and special festivals. The fire signals were repeated from one hill-top community to another, and within minutes all Israel knew when that the Sabbath had begun.[17] The Samaritans would at times set off a false signal, much to the anger of the Jews who had been deceived.
  1. At times, when Jews traveled from Galilee through Samaria on their way to Jerusalem, they were beaten and sometimes killed. However, leaving the Holy City and returning north to Galilee was always seen as a good thing by the Samaritans.

Little wonder then that by the time Jesus came on the scene the social tension was extremely volatile. This is seen in John 8:48, when the accusers referred to Jesus as a Samaritan. It was in the cultural context and connection that, in rabbinic demonology, a leading demon was named Shomroni, which was also used to refer to either a demon or Samaritan.[18]  Obviously this reflects the tension between the two groups. Yet according to John 4 and the book of Acts, missionary efforts in Samaria were successful in the early years of the church.[19]

In light of these hostilities, the words and work of Jesus were absolutely profound. Imagine what the Jews thought when Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, or when He healed the ten lepers, and only the Samaritan returned to thank Him. Jesus was not only a profound Person to the Jews, but also to the Romans who were quietly watching Him with the help of the Herodians.


02.01.17.B THE SAMARITAN TORAH SCROLL. Husney W. Kohen, Director of the Gerizim Center and Museum as well as the future Samaritan high priest, discussed the Samaritan Torah Scroll and faith with the author in 1999. Photo by translator Arie bar David.


[1]. New International Version Archaeological Study Bible. (notes) 1737. See 03.02.04 “733 B.C. Israel Falls To The Assyrians; Israelites Deported To The East; 723 B.C. Israel Ends”  


[2]. Gaster, “Samaritans.” 4:190-93.


[3]. As of this writing, the total population of the Samaritans is under one thousand. They still practice their religious rituals such as Passover sacrificial offerings, as during the time of Christ.  They claim to be descendants of the tribes of Levi, Ephraim, and Manasseh.  They further claim to have maintained a continuous priesthood from Aaron (brother of Moses) through Eleazar and Phinehas until the 17th century A.D.

[4]. Cf. 2 Kg. 17; see also 03.02.04; Anderson, R. T. “Samaritans.” 303; La Sor, “Samaria.” 4:298-303.


[5]. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 19 n. 27.


[6]. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 18-20.


[7]. Bruce, New Testament History. 34-35; Scott, Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. 200. See also 06.01.03.


[8]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:51, 117.


[9]. Scott, Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. 200.


[10]. Charlesworth and Evans, The Pseudepigrapha and Early Biblical Interpretation. 22.


[11].   Sanballat is among fifty biblical names whose existence has been verified by archaeological studies in a published article by Lawrence Mykytiuk titled, “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible.” Biblical Archaeology Review. March/April, 2014 (40:2), pages 42-50, 68.  This archaeological evidence confirms the historical accuracy of the biblical timeline.  For further study see the website for Associates for Biblical Research, as well as Grisanti, “Recent Archaeological Discoveries that Lend Credence to the Historicity of the Scriptures.” 475-98. However, some scholars debate the identity of Sanbalat as there was more than one individual of importance by this name. For example, there is a Sanbalet mentioned in the Elephantine Papyri; a literary work written by Jews who escaped the Babylonians and Persians in the 6th century to live on the island of Elephantine in southern Egypt. The name also appears in the Wadi Daliyeh papyri (4th cent. B.C.).


[12]. Kelso, “Samaria, City of.” 5:238.


[13]. Some scholars believe Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan temple in 108 B.C.


[14]. Kelso, “Samaria, Territory of.” 5:242; Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 283.


[15]. Gaster, “Samaritans.” 4:191-96.


[16]. A.D. 6 or 7; Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.2; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:293.


[17]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 2:113.


[18]. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 16, page 2.


[19]. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 19-21.


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