LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua

& Articles, LOY Excursions 11 Comments

In this excursus to the Life of Yeshua commentary, David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton delve into the ancient Jewish concept of the Kingdom of Heaven and discuss the ways in which Jesus made use of this concept in his own unique style.

Revised: 29-June-2016


a

a

a

a

a

a

a

a

a

a

a

a

a

a

a

a

a

a

a

A key concept in Jesus’ teaching is the Kingdom of Heaven.[1] The Kingdom of Heaven is the subject of many of Jesus’ parables and is at the heart of his proclamation. The Kingdom of Heaven has, nevertheless, frequently been misunderstood and misconstrued by numerous scholars. The Kingdom of Heaven is neither a place we can visit nor a time for which we must wait.[2] According to Jesus’ teachings, the Kingdom is not up in heaven, it is taking place here on earth. Likewise, for Jesus the Kingdom is not in the near or distant future, the Kingdom has already begun.[3]

The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature

“The Kingdom of Heaven” is not a phrase that is familiar from the Hebrew Bible, because it does not appear in the Jewish Scriptures.[4] Neither can the phrase “the Kingdom of Heaven” be found in the writings of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha[5] or in the Dead Sea Scrolls.[6] “The Kingdom of Heaven” is not known from the writings of Hellenistic Judaism. The phrase is common only to the New Testament and rabbinic literature.[7] This fact is one example of Jesus’ familiarity with and sympathy for the teachings of the Jewish sages.

In rabbinic literature מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (malchūt shāmayim, “the Kingdom of Heaven”) refers to the reign of Israel’s God over his people and over his creation. “Heaven” in the rabbinic phrase does not refer to a place (i.e., heaven) but stands as a substitute for the divine name (i.e., the Tetragrammaton).[8] It should also be noted that in Hebrew the word for “kingdom” in the phrase מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם is a verbal noun,[9] which suggests that the focus of the term is on divine activity (God’s reign) rather than a sphere of influence.[10]

The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: The Shema and the Kingdom of Heaven

Becker has shown that rabbinic references to the Kingdom of Heaven are most often linked either to the recitation of the Shema or to the giving of the Torah at Sinai.[11] Rabbinic literature refers to reciting the Shema as קִבּוּל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (qibūl malchūt shāmayim, “receiving the Kingdom of Heaven”; Sifre Num. § 115 [ed. Horovitz, 126]). According to Safrai, “The essence of the Kingdom of Heaven is not in the first verse, which proclaims the unity of God (Deut. 6:4), but in the continuation: the requirement to love God and to do his commandments.”[12] This usage indicates a relational aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven: God reigns over a human being when that person determines to perform God’s commandments.[13] The relational aspect of the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven can be observed in the following examples:

אָמַ′ רֶ′ יְהוֹשֻׁע בֶּן קָרְחָה וְלָמָּה קָדְמָהּ שְׁמַע לִוְהָיָה אִם שָׁמֹעַ אֶלָּא יְקַבֵּל עָלָיו מַלְכוּת שׁמַיִם תְּחִילָּה וְאַחַר כָּךְ יְקַבֵּל עָלָיו עוֹל מִצְווֹת

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korhah said: “Why does the section Hear, O Israel precede And it shall come to pass if you obey? So that a person may first accept the Kingdom of Heaven and afterwards accept the yoke of the commandments.” (m. Ber. 2:2)[14]

מַעֲשֶׂה בְרַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵ′ שֶׁנָּשָׂא וְקָרָא בְלַיְלָה שֶׁנָּשָׂא אָמְרוּ לוֹ לֹא לִימַּדְתָּנוּ שֶׁחָתָן פָּטוּר מִקִּרְיַת שְׁמַע בְּלַיְלָה הָרִאשׁוֹן אָמָ′ לָהֶן אֵינִי שׁוֹמֵעַ לָכֶם לְבַטֵּל מִמֶּנִּי מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם שָׁעָה אַחַת

An anecdote about Rabban Gamaliel: When he got married he recited the Shema on his wedding night. His disciples said to him, “Didn’t you teach us that a bridegroom is exempt from reciting the Shema on the first night?” He said to them, “I will not listen to you to annul the Kingdom of Heaven[15] even for a moment.” (m. Ber. 2:5)

The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: The Kingdom of Heaven and Israel’s History

The rabbinic association of the Kingdom of Heaven with the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah at Sinai connects the relational aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven to another facet of the Kingdom of Heaven concept: the Kingdom of Heaven’s connotations of redemptive history. Rabbinic tradition identifies the celebration of God’s victory at the Red Sea as the first allusion to the Kingdom of Heaven in Scripture. In response to the defeat of Pharaoh, Israel sang “The LORD shall reign forever and ever” (Exod. 15:18).[16] Thus it is through the LORD’s redemptive intervention in history that the Kingdom of Heaven is revealed. In response to God’s salvation, the children of Israel gladly accepted the Torah as their constitution:

אנכי ה′ אלהיך. מפני מה לא נאמרו עשרת הדברות בתחלת התורה משלו משל למה הדבר דומה לאחד שנכנס במדינה אמר להם אמלוך עליכם אמרו לו כלום עשית לנו שתמלוך עלינו מה עשה בנה להם את החומ′ הכניס להם את המים עשה להם מלחמות אמר להם אמלוך עליכם אמרו עליכם אמרו לו הן והן. כך המקום הוציא ישראל ממצרים קרע להם הים הוריד להם המן העלה להם הבאר הגיז להם השלו עשה להם מלחמת עמלק אמר להם אמלוך עליכם אמרו לו הן והן. רבי אומר להודיע שבחן של ישראל שכשעמדו כולן על הר סיני לקבל התורה השוו כלם לב אחד לקבל מלכות שמים בשמחה.‏

I am the Lord Thy God. Why were the Ten Commandments not said at the beginning of the Torah? A parable is told, to what may the matter be compared? To one who entered a country and said, “May I rule over you?” They replied to him, “Have you done anything good for us that you should rule over us?” What did he do? He built the [city] wall for them, brought water [into the city] for them and fought battles for them. Then he said to them, “May I rule over you?” They replied, “Yes, yes.” So, also the Omnipresent brought Israel out of Egypt, parted the sea for them, brought down the manna for them, raised the well for them, brought the quail for them and fought the battle against Amalek for them. He said to them, “May I rule over you?” and they responded, “Yes, yes.” Rabbi [Yehudah ha-Nasi] says: This makes the excellence of Israel known, for when they all stood before Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, they were all of one mind to receive the Kingdom of Heaven joyfully.[17] (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, BaHodesh chpt. 5, on Exod. 20:2)[18]

The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: Future Completion of the Kingdom of Heaven

Thus, the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven is linked to Israel’s redemptive history and God’s relationship to Israel as a redeemer. The Kingdom of Heaven is revealed when God acts as Israel’s savior, and in response Israel cheerfully accepts the LORD as their king. The connection of the Kingdom of Heaven to Israel’s redemption history encompasses not only events from the biblical past, but also looks forward to future instances of God’s redemptive action. According to one rabbinic tradition, Israel’s song at the sea alludes to the future rebuilding of the Temple:

אימתי תבנהו בשתי ידיך. משל ללסטים שנכנסו לפלטרין של מלך בזזו נכסיו והרגו פמליא של מלך והחריצו פלטרין של מלך לאחר זמן ישב מלך עמהם בדין תפש מהם הרג מהם צלב מהן וישב בפלטרין שלו ואחר כך נתודעה מלכותו לעולם לכך נאמר מקדש ה′ כוננו ידיך ה′ ימלוך לעולם ועד.‏

The LORD shall reign [Exod. 15:18]. When? When you build it [i.e., the Temple—DNB and JNT] with your two hands. A parable. [To what may the matter be compared?] To robbers who entered the palace of the king, stole his property, killed the royal servants and destroyed the palace of the king. After awhile the king sat in judgment over them. He imprisoned some, he executed some and he crucified some. He dwelt in his palace and afterwards his reign [מלכותו] was recognized in the world. Accordingly, it says, The sanctuary, O LORD, your hands established [Exod. 15:17].[19] (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Shirata chpt. 10, on Exod. 15:17)

From the point of view of this parable, the Kingdom of Heaven awaits a future completion. The Kingdom of Heaven is compared to an earthly king whose palace has been destroyed. Only when the king’s authority is recognized in the world is his kingdom established. Likewise, only when the LORD’s authority is recognized by all the peoples of the world will the Kingdom of Heaven be complete. As Notely-Safrai note (109), this midrash on Exod. 15:17-18 looks forward to a fuller realization of the Kingdom of Heaven in the future, when the nations of the world are made to recognize God’s reign by vindicating Israel through the rebuilding of the Temple and punishment of Israel’s enemies.

Similarly, commenting upon the story of the war with Amalek (Exod. 17), Rabbi Eliezer said:

אימתי יאבד שמן של אלו בשעה שנעקר עבודה זרה היא ועובדיה ויהא המקו′ יחידי בעולם ותהי מלכותו לעולם ולעולמי עולמים באותה שעה (שם י″ד) ויצא ה′ ונלחם בגוים ההם והיה ה’ למלך וגו′.‏

When will the name of these people [the Amalekites—DNB and JNT] perish? In the hour when idolatry is uprooted together with the idolaters and the Omnipresent will be unique [i.e., worshipped exclusively—DNB and JNT] in the world and his Kingdom [מלכותו] will be [established—DNB and JNT] forever and ever. In that hour, the LORD will go out and wage war etc. [Zech. 14:3], and the LORD will be king [over all the earth, and on that day the LORD will be one, and his name one (Zech. 14:9)]. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Amalek chpt. 2, on Exod. 17:14)[20]

Rabbi Eliezer’s comment unites all the aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven we have discussed thus far, and highlights another facet yet to be explored. Here we see the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven linked to Israel’s redemptive history—the defeat of Amalek—which awaits completion in the final redemption when Israel is vindicated before the nations and idolatry is uprooted from the earth. On that day the LORD will be one, and his name one, an allusion to the Shema. Rabbi Eliezer’s comment also makes it clear that Israel’s redemption is not merely a spiritual concept, but anticipates a this-worldly transformation of social and political realities. The realization of the Kingdom of Heaven involves the abolition of idolatry, the liberation of Israel from foreign oppression, and the submission of the Gentiles to God’s rule (or even their complete destruction). Just as the Kingdom of Heaven was revealed through Israel’s redemption from slavery in Egypt, so the completion of the Kingdom of Heaven will result in a future political liberation of Israel from foreign oppression. Thus the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven has a political as well as a religious dimension.[21]

The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: Political Aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven[22]

Flusser discussed the political aspect of the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, arguing that originally “the Kingdom of Heaven” was an anti-Zealot slogan.[23] At the end of the Second Temple period there were various groups of militant Jewish nationalists who advocated armed revolt against the Roman Empire. These insurgent groups believed that national liberation could be achieved through violent means. They believed that their armed struggle would provoke divine intervention on Israel’s behalf and the eschatological events of the final redemption would be set in motion as a result of their terrorist activities. It seems likely that at least one stream of militant Jewish nationalism emerged from the School of Shammai.[24] This militant Jewish nationalist ideology was countered by the Hillelite stream of Pharisaic Judaism[25] with the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven.[26] According to Hillelite ideology, violent militant insurgence can only replace the Roman Empire with a kingdom of flesh and blood:

רבי חנניה סגן הכהנים אומר כל הנותן דברי תורה על לבו מבטלין ממנו הרהורי חרב. הרהורי רעב. הרהורי שטות. הרהורי זנות. הרהורי יצר הרע. הרהורי אשה רעה. הרהורי דברים בטלים. הרהורי עול בשר ודם…. וכל שאינו נותן דברי תורה על לבו נותנין לו הרהורי חרב. הרהורי רעב. הרהורי שטות. הרהורי זנות. הרהורי יצר הרע. הרהורי אשה רעה. הרהורי דברים בטלים. הרהורי עול בשר ודם…. הוא היה אומר אל תראוני שאני שחרחורת ששזפתני השמש [בני אמי נחרו בי שמוני נוטרה את הכרמים כרמי שלי לא נטרתי (שיר השירים א′ ו′). אל תראוני שאני שחרחורת ששזפתני השמש בני אמי נחרו בי] אלו בולאות שביהודה שפרקו עולו של הקב″ה מעליהם והמליכו עליהם מלך ב″ו י.‏

Rabbi Hananiah,[27] prefect of the priests, says: He who takes to heart the words of the Torah is relieved of many preoccupations—preoccupations with hunger, foolish preoccupations, unchaste preoccupations, preoccupations with the evil impulse, preoccupations with an evil wife, idle preoccupations, and preoccupations with the yoke of flesh and blood…. But he who does not take to heart the words of the Torah is given over to many preoccupations—preoccupations with hunger, foolish preoccupations, unchaste preoccupations, preoccupations with the evil impulse, preoccupations with an evil wife, idle preoccupations, and preoccupations with the yoke of flesh and blood…. He used to say: Do not look at me because I am dark and the sun has tanned me [my mother’s sons were angry with me (Song 1:6)]—these are the assemblies of Judah who broke off the yoke of the Holy One, blessed be he, and caused a king of flesh and blood to reign over them.[28] (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, chpt. 20 [ed. Schechter, 70-72])[29]

In contrast to the aspirations of the militant Jewish nationalists who hoped to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression by resorting to violence, the Hillelite stream of Pharisaic Judaism taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is realized through the performance of mitzvot and acts of mercy:

אילו הסתכלו ישראל במה שאמר להם יעקב אביהם לא שלטה בהם אומה ומלכות ומה אמר להם קבלו עליכם מלכות שמים והכריעו זה את זה ביראת שמים [והתנהגו זה את זה בגמילות חסדים] וכ″ו

If Israel had kept the words that Jacob, their father, spoke to them, no people or kingdom would rule over them. And what did he say to them? “Take upon yourselves the Kingdom of Heaven and emulate one another in the fear of Heaven [i.e., God—DNB and JNT] and practice kindness to one another. (Sifre, Ha’azinu chpt. 18, on Deut. 32:29 [Finkelstein, 372])

Despite this peaceful approach, the concept of redemption (גְּאוּלָּה; ge’ūlāh) itself was not spiritualized: the peace-seeking Hillelites still retained hope for political liberation from foreign oppression.[30] This hope for political freedom is expressed in statements such as the following:

ר′ נְחוֹנְיָה בֶן הַקָּנָה אוֹ′ כָּל הַמְקַבֵּל <עָלָיו> [[עוֹל]] תּוֹרָה מַעֲבִירִים מִמֶּנּוּ עוֹל מַלְכוּת וְעוֹל דֶּרֶךְ הָאָרֶץ וְכָל הַפּוֹרֵק מִמֶּנּוּ עוֹל תּוֹרָה נוֹתְנִים עָלָיו עוֹל מַלְכוּת וְעוֹל דֶּרֶךְ הָאָרֶץ

Rabbi Nehunyah ben ha-Kanah says: Anyone who receives the yoke of the Torah removes from himself the yoke of the empire and the yoke of daily sorrows, but anyone who breaks himself away from the yoke of the Torah takes upon himself the yoke of the empire and the yoke of daily sorrows. (m. Avot 3:5)[31]

The political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven is also present in a saying attributed to Rabbi Yose ha-Gelili.[32] Commenting on the grammar of Exod. 15:18, he said:

רבי יוסי הגלילי אומר אלו אמרו ישראל על הים יי מלך עולם ועד לא היתה אומה ומלכות שולטת בהן לעולם אלא אמרו יי ימלוך לעולם ועד לעתיד לבא.‏

If at the [Red] Sea Israel had said, “The LORD reigns forever and ever,” no nation or kingdom would ever have ruled over them. But they said, The LORD shall reign forever and ever,—in the future tense…. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Shirata chpt. 10, on Exod. 15:17)

In other words, had the children of Israel recognized the Kingdom of Heaven in the present, and not merely as a future event, God’s reign would have continued uninterrupted from the time of the splitting of the Red Sea until today. Only God, and no one else, would ever have reigned over Israel. The political aspect of Rabbi Yose ha-Gelili’s statement is clear: the Kingdom of Heaven and the reign of foreign powers over Israel cannot coexist. Kingdoms of flesh and blood are displaced wherever the Kingdom of Heaven has been realized.[33]

Thus, there is a certain tension in the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. The sages who articulated this concept rejected the violent tactics of the militant Jewish nationalists, yet they clung to the hope that Israel would be liberated through the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven.[34] The means, and not the ends, were the locus of their disagreement with those who called for armed revolt against the Roman Empire. Rather than resorting to violence, the Hillelite stream of Pharisaic Judaism insisted that redemption would be achieved through unswerving loyalty to the Torah.

The political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven is highlighted in the Babylonian Talmud’s version of the story of Rabbi Akiva’s martyrdom:

תנו רבנן פעם אחת גזרה מלכות הרשעה שלא יעסקו ישראל בתורה בא פפוס בן יהודה ומצאו לרבי עקיבא שהיה מקהיל קהלות ברבים ועוסק בתורה. אמר ליה: עקיבא, אי אתה מתירא מפני מלכות…. אמרו לא היו ימים מועטים עד שתפסוהו לרבי עקיבא וחבשוהו בבית האסורים, ותפסו לפפוס בן יהודה וחבשוהו אצלו אמר לו פפוס מי הביאך לכאן אמר ליה אשריך רבי עקיבא שנתפסת על דברי תורה אוי לו לפפוס שנתפס על דברים בטלים בשעה שהוציאו את רבי עקיבא להריגה זמן קריאת שמע היה והיו סורקים את בשרו במסרקות של ברזל והיה מקבל עליו עול מלכות שמים…. היה מאריך באחד עד שיצתה נשמתו באחד

Our Rabbis taught: Once the wicked Government [מלכות הרשעה] issued a decree forbidding the Jews to study and practice the Torah. Pappus b. Judah came and found R. Akiba publicly bringing gatherings together and occupying himself with the Torah. He said to him: Akiba, are you not afraid of the Government [מלכות]?… It is related that soon afterwards R. Akiba was arrested and thrown into prison, and Pappus b. Judah was also arrested and imprisoned next to him. He said to him: Pappus, who brought you here? He replied: Happy are you, R. Akiba, that you have been seized for busying yourself with the Torah! Alas for Pappus who has been seized for busying himself with idle things! When R. Akiba was taken out for execution, it was the hour for the recital of the Shema’, and while they combed his flesh with iron combs, he was accepting upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven [והיה מקבל עליו עול מלכות שמים]…. He prolonged the word ehad [“one”] until he expired while saying it. (b. Ber. 61b; Soncino [adapted])

In this story, the Roman Empire (מלכות הרשעה; lit., “the wicked kingdom”) is opposed to the Kingdom of Heaven. Rabbi Akiva’s commitment to the Kingdom of Heaven leads to his defiance of the emperor’s decree and costs him his life. Simply reciting the Shema was a political act, because it meant declaring loyalty to the God of Israel in defiance of Caesar’s decree. As Harvey writes, “…allegiance to the metaphysical malkhut of God enjoins resistance to the tyrannical malkhut of Rome. The Roman government (malkhut) had prohibited the study of Torah, but Rabbi Akiva continued teaching and was imprisoned and sentenced to death by torture…. Proclaiming in extremis the divine oneness, Rabbi Akiva affirmed his absolute allegiance to the kingdom of God while defying the imperial oppressors.”[35]

Comparison of the versions of Rabbi Akiva’s martyrdom in the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmuds is instructive. In the Jerusalem Talmud’s version, the phrases “the wicked kingdom” and “the Kingdom of Heaven” do not appear. The version in the Jerusalem Talmud (y. Ber. 9:5 [67b]; y. Sot. 5:5 [25a-b]) does not report the reasons for Rabbi Akiva’s execution, whereas the version in the Babylonian Talmud (b. Ber. 61b) stresses that Rabbi Akiva was martyred simply for teaching Torah in defiance of Caesar’s decree. Although both versions omit any mention of Rabbi Akiva’s support for Bar Kochva’s revolt, it is clear that the Babylonian version intentionally suppressed Rabbi Akiva’s pro-revolutionary stance in order to portray him as a martyr who was executed solely for his commitment to the Kingdom of Heaven.[36] It therefore appears that the Babylonian version has manipulated its source in order to express the anti-revolutionary ideology expressed by the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. Nevertheless, even in the Babylonian Talmud’s recasting of the story of Rabbi Akiva’s martyrdom, Rabbi Akiva’s commitment to the Kingdom of Heaven remains a political act every bit as much as it was also religious. This reformulation of the story of Rabbi Akiva’s martyrdom shows that the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven could express an anti-revolutionary sentiment and a critique of the Roman Empire at the same time. The rejection of militant Jewish nationalism did not imply support for Rome. In the minds of the Jewish sages who developed the Kingdom of Heaven concept, anti-revolutionary sentiment and critique of the Roman Empire were two sides of the same coin.[37]

The rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, therefore, is multifaceted. As Becker writes, “the term malkhut shamayim points to a bundle of closely associated and interconnected motifs: God’s unity, his presence in his realm, his redeeming acts in the present and future, his precepts for Israel by which Israel realizes God’s kingdom in the present…and the idea of martyrdom for heaven’s sake.”[38]

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus

Many of the aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven that we observe in rabbinic literature are also discernible in Jesus’ teaching, but we also find that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in distinctive ways.

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Divine Activity

Jesus referred to the healing of the sick and the driving out of impure spirits as evidence that God was actively working through Jesus to redeem his people. When he sent out his twelve apostles to heal and exorcise demons, Jesus instructed them to proclaim that Ἤγγικεν ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (“The Kingdom of God has come near to you”; Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town, L105; Luke 10:9; cf. Matt. 10:7). In other words, God’s redemptive power has broken into the human sphere.

On another occasion Jesus declared: “If I cast out demons by the finger of God then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Yeshua Accused of Casting Out Demons by Beelzebul; Luke 11:20; cf. Matt. 12:28). As Notley observed, the phrase “the finger of God” appears only three times in the Hebrew Bible: once in reference to the plagues in Egypt, when Pharaoh’s magicians recognized the LORD’s power (Exod. 8:19), and twice in reference to the giving of the Torah at Sinai (Exod. 31:18; Deut. 9:10).[39] By this sophisticated biblical allusion, Jesus connected the divine activity taking place through his healing and teaching mission to Israel’s redemption history. In much the same way as the sages connected the Kingdom of Heaven to the redemption from Egypt and the giving of the Torah, Jesus drew a connection between the first redemption and the redemption breaking out through his own mission.

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Political Aspect[40]

It also seems that, as in rabbinic sources, the Kingdom of Heaven has a political aspect in Jesus’ teaching.[41] Like the Hillelite Pharisees, the political opponents of the militant Jewish nationalist parties, Jesus opposed armed rebellion against the Roman Empire.[42] This much is clear from Jesus’ statement that taxes must be paid to Caesar (Question Concerning Tribute to Caesar; Matt. 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26) and that one must turn the other cheek, and walk the extra mile (On Retaliation; Matt. 5:38-42).[43] Jesus’ opposition to armed rebellion is likewise evident in his blessing of the peacemakers, “for they shall be called sons of God” (Beatitudes; Matt. 5:9). But Jesus’ political opposition to the militant Jewish nationalists included more than sharing the opinion of the Hillelites that armed resistance was futile and perilous; Jesus also adopted their terminology: the anti-Zealot slogan “the Kingdom of Heaven.”

As with the Hillelite concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus stressed that love of neighbor (including even love for one’s enemy), forgiveness of debt, repentance and faithfulness to the Torah would be the catalyst for Israel’s redemption.[44] Nevertheless, Jesus’ understanding of redemption was not spiritualized. According to Luke’s version of Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction and liberation of Jerusalem, Jesus envisioned a time when the “days of the Gentiles” would come to an end (Luke 21:24).[45] Jesus did not abandon the hope for Israel’s freedom and vindication, rather he abandoned the notion that redemption would be achieved through violent means.[46]

Jesus’ opposition to revolt, therefore, should not be equated with support for the Roman Empire. We have already seen that, in the minds of the Jewish sages who formulated the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven, opposition to the militant Jewish nationalists and critique of the Roman Empire were two sides of the same coin. Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven is likewise a rejection of militant Jewish nationalist ideology on the one hand and Roman imperialist policy on the other.[47] Jesus explicitly critiques the Roman Empire in his teaching on greatness among his disciples (i.e., the Kingdom of Heaven):

“The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. (Luke 22:25-26; RSV)[48]

Jesus’ command to “render unto Caesar” (Matt. 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26) should not be taken as an affirmation of the Roman occupation of the land of Israel.[49] Rather, Jesus’ teaching on paying tribute can be compared to the Essene doctrine to relinquish one’s goods “like one oppressed before someone domineering him” (1QS IX, 22-23). According to Jesus, Caesar might be able to demand tribute because the coins with which it was paid bore his image, but one’s life and one’s being is owed to God in whose image human beings are made.[50] This highly subversive saying contrasts the claims and the rights of Caesar with those of God.[51] The negative comparison of God and Caesar is hardly complimentary toward the empire.[52]

The political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching is also seen in his association of the Kingdom of Heaven with persecution and martyrdom. As with the Jewish martyrs, for whom faithfulness to the Torah became an action within the political arena,[53] Jesus recognized that proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven could earn the enmity of the Roman authorities and even those within the Jewish community who benefitted from the status quo. Although Jesus did not pose a military threat to the Roman Empire, Jesus’ message that God was actively redeeming Israel through his healing and teaching ministry would not have been welcomed by the Roman Empire, which had no interest in seeing Israel’s liberation. It was the policy of the Romans to stamp out messianic expectations, and it is unlikely that they would have distinguished between peaceful and militant movements.[54] From the Roman point of view, it was the hope of redemption, not only the means, that was threatening.[55] Hope, as all oppressive regimes recognize, is subversive, which is why, throughout history, oppressive regimes have gone to great lengths to crush the hopes of the people who are under their control.[56] One of the most effective means for crushing the hopes of Israel that was practiced by the Roman Empire was the brutal practice of crucifixion.[57]

The strongest link between the Kingdom of Heaven and martyrdom in Jesus’ teaching, however, is located in his statement that “Whoever does not take up his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Demands of Discipleship; Luke 14:27; cf. Matt. 10:38).[58] The connection of this saying to the Kingdom of Heaven may not be immediately apparent; however, as we will demonstrate below, Jesus referred to his band of itinerating disciples as “the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus’ equation of discipleship with the Kingdom of Heaven, and his warning that his disciples might face persecution and even martyrdom at the hands of the Roman authorities,[59] indicates that Jesus understood that proclaiming God’s reign was a religious action that was also felt within the political arena.

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Jesus’ Band of Itinerating Disciples

The phrase “to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” is a distinctive usage in Jesus’ teaching. In rabbinic literature we find the phrase “to receive the Kingdom of Heaven,”[60] but not “to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” This distinctive usage highlights an important innovation to the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching.

The phrase “to enter the Kingdom of Heaven/Kingdom of God” is found in the following statements:

Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 5:20)

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord! Lord!” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 7:21)

Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child cannot enter it. (Luke 18:17)

The wealthy enter the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty. (Matt. 19:23; cf. Mark 10:23; Luke 18:24)

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God. (Matt. 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25)

The statement in Luke 18:17 that “whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child cannot enter it” demonstrates that Jesus was familiar with the Pharisaic-rabbinic phrase “receive the Kingdom of Heaven,” and also marks a point of departure for Jesus’ distinctive usage. In Jesus’ teaching, entering the Kingdom of Heaven refers to joining a clearly defined community.

Jesus’ innovative use of the the Kingdom of Heaven to refer to a community that is united for a common purpose is most clearly illustrated in the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven incident, in which Jesus compared entering the Kingdom of Heaven to passing a camel through the eye of a needle. Many interpreters have supposed that the rich man forfeited his share in the life of the world to come by declining Jesus’ invitation to follow him, but this conclusion does not concur with Jesus’ prior affirmation that by observing the commandments the rich man would inherit eternal life. What the rich man declined was not eternal life, but an opportunity to join Jesus’ band of disciples, a process Jesus described as “entering the Kingdom of Heaven.”[61] In other words, Jesus referred to the community of disciples who joined his itinerating mission, who studied his interpretation of Torah and practiced his halachah, as the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus, for Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven was not only a divine activity—God’s rescue mission to redeem Israel—the Kingdom of Heaven was also the community of Jesus’ disciples who participated with God in his redemptive mission.[62]

That in Jesus’ teachings the Kingdom of Heaven refers to a specific community is also indicated by the way Jesus could speak of gradations within the Kingdom of Heaven. For example: “Whoever loosens one of the least of these commandments and teaches other people to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever does and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Yeshua’s Words about Torah; Matt. 5:19). Or again: “No one born of woman is greater than John the Baptist. But the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he” (Yeshua’s Words about Yohanan the Immerser; Matt. 11:11; Luke 7:28). The first example indicates that there are members of great standing within Jesus’ band of disciples, and there are some of lesser standing. Disciples who do not neglect the least, or the “light,”[63] commandments will attain respect and recognition among Jesus’ followers. In the second example we find that Jesus considered John the Baptist, who did not become one of his disciples, to be a great human being. But belonging to his band of disciples meant participating in something of such great significance—for it was through his Kingdom of Heaven movement that God was bringing redemption to Israel—that it surpassed John’s individual greatness.

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Between Qumran and the Bet Midrash

Perhaps Jesus coined the phrase “enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” in order to highlight the communal aspect of his understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven as opposed to the private and individual connotations of the Pharisaic-rabbinic use of “receive the Kingdom of Heaven” to refer to the recitation of the Shema. But why chose the phrase “enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” in particular?

A few Jerusalem School scholars have suggested that the expression “enter the Kingdom of Heaven” combines the Pharisaic-rabbinic phrase “receive the Kingdom of Heaven,” with the Essene phrase “enter the covenant.”[64] Like “receive the Kingdom of Heaven” in rabbinic sources, “enter the covenant” is sometimes used in DSS to refer to the recitation of the Shema,[65] but more often “enter the covenant” means “join the Essene community.”[66] The semantic overlap between “receive the Kingdom of Heaven” in the Pharisaic-rabbinic tradition and “enter the covenant” in Essene terminology makes the fusion of these two phrases plausible, while the communal aspect of the Essene phrase “enter the covenant” explains why Jesus might have found such a fusion to be desirable: conjoining the Pharisaic-rabbinic and Essene phrases allowed Jesus to indicate his indebtedness to Pharisaic-rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven while at the same time extending its meaning to include a communal dimension.[67]

If Buth’s suggestion is correct, “enter the Kingdom of Heaven” is one of a handful of examples of Pharisaic-rabbinic/Essene hybrid phrases that Jesus coined.[68] Other such hybrid phrases include “mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven”[69] and the combination of “poor in spirit” with “Kingdom of Heaven” in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3).[70]

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Temporal Aspect

A second distinctive usage of the “Kingdom of Heaven” in the Gospels is found in Jesus’ statement that “the prophets prophesied until John,” but “from the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven is breaking through” (Matt. 11:12-13). Jesus’ words can be compared to the following statement in rabbinic literature:

אמר רבי חייא בר אבא אמר רבי יוחנן כל הנביאים כולן לא נתנבאו אלא לימות המשיח אבל לעולם הבא עין לא ראתה אלהים זולתך

Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan, “All the prophets prophesied only for the days of the Messiah. But as for the world to come, the eye has not seen, O God, except you [Isa. 64:3].” (b. Ber. 34b; cf. b. Shab. 63a; b. Sanh. 99a)

This rabbinic statement testifies to a tripartite division of history: the days of the prophets, the days of the Messiah, and the world to come.[71] This same tripartite division of history appears to be implied in Jesus’ saying about John the Baptist; however, in place of “the days of the Messiah,” Jesus speaks about “the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus’ tripartite division of history is also implied in the Blessedness of the Twelve pronouncement: “Many prophets and messengers desired to see what you see [i.e., the manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven], but did not see it” (Matt. 13:17; Luke 10:24).[72] As in the statement “the prophets prophesied until John,” so too, in this saying, Jesus divides history into the days of the prophets, and the present era that is witnessing the dawning of messianic redemption. Likewise, in the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven pericope, where a rich man refused Jesus’ invitation to join his band of disciples, Jesus speaks of entering the Kingdom of Heaven in the present and inheriting eternal life in the world to come.

According to Flusser, “Jesus made a tripartite division of the history of salvation. The first was the ‘biblical’ period, which climaxed with the career of John the Baptist. The second period began with his own ministry in which the kingdom of heaven was breaking through. The third period will be inaugurated with the coming of the Son of Man and the Last Judgement at a future time which is unknown to anyone.”[73]

Jesus’ tripartite division of history conflicted with the two-part division of history witnessed in the sayings of John the Baptist, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in certain rabbinic traditions. According to the writings of the Essenes, the eschatological era might commence at any moment. The end of history was close at hand. The final judgment of the wicked and the vindication of the righteous was imminent. This two-part division of history is also attested in the sayings of John the Baptist: “Already the axe is at the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire…. One is coming after me who is more powerful than I…the winnowing fork is in his hand and he will purify his threshing floor and gather the wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will destroy with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:10-12). For John the Baptist, then, the end of the present age was coming quickly, and fast on its heels was the final judgment.

For Jesus, however, there was an intervening period between the normal course of history and the final judgment. In this intervening period, the righteous would coexist with the wicked, for this would be a period of grace in which sinners were called to repentance and welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. In this middle period, God’s redemptive mission would be breaking into the human sphere through acts of faithfulness, mercy and love. In this messianic era of redemption, which Jesus referred to as “the Kingdom of Heaven,” evil would indeed be uprooted, but not through coercion, warfare or violence. The Kingdom of Heaven would advance through peacemaking, forgiveness, and discerning the divine image in one’s fellow human being, even discerning it in the face of one’s enemy.

In order to counter the expectation of imminent judgment, Jesus told parables in which he compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a net that scoops up good fish together with the bad (Matt. 13:47-50), and to a field in which tares grow among the wheat (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). At the final judgment the evil will be sorted from the good, but in the intervening period saints and sinners continue to coexist.

Summary: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus

Detail of Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Master of the Mansi Magdalen (c.1490 – 1530).

Detail of Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Master of the Mansi Magdalen (c. 1490 – 1530). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In the teachings of Jesus we find numerous points of contact with the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. In agreement with the Jewish sages, Jesus linked the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven to Israel’s history of redemption, both present and future. As with the Hillelite stream of Pharisaic Judaism, which used “the Kingdom of Heaven” as an anti-Zealot slogan,[74] Jesus adopted this phrase because it agreed with his understanding of the means by which God intended to redeem Israel. And, like the sages, Jesus could not escape the political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven. Although Jesus did not have political ambitions, he was aware that the totalitarian Roman regime would perceive his absolute commitment to the reign of God to be subversive, and he knew that he might be opposed even by some members of the Jewish community who stood to gain from the status quo.

These points of agreement with the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven notwithstanding, Jesus’ appropriation of the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven also involved innovation. We do not find that Jesus connected the Kingdom of Heaven with the recitation of the Shema. To claim that Jesus rejected this connection would be going too far, but absence of this connection in the Synoptic Gospels cannot be ignored. We also find that, although Jesus was familiar with the rabbinic phrase “to receive the Kingdom of Heaven,” Jesus more frequently spoke about “entering the Kingdom of Heaven.” This distinctive vocabulary appears to be the result of Jesus’ unique application of the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven to his own band of itinerating disciples. Finally, Jesus used the Kingdom of Heaven to signal his understanding of a tripartite division of history. The Kingdom of Heaven, in this sense, referred to the messianic period of redemption, an era of grace and repentance, which would be concluded at some future date with the advent of the Son of Man to render judgment on the earth and inaugurate the eschatological era.

For Jesus the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven was multifaceted, and the different nuances of the concept could all be present to varying degrees at the same time. It is not always necessary to choose which nuance of the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus intended in a given saying, and to do so can actually distort his meaning because the many aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven are not mutually exclusive.

FR’s Secondary Use of “Kingdom of God” as a Substitute for “Coming of the Son of Man”

Lindsey observed that, in a handful of cases, Luke uses the Kingdom of God in a way that does not agree with the nuances of the Kingdom of Heaven we have outlined above. Lindsey further observed that these anomalous usages appeared in the more refined, less Hebraic of Luke’s sources (First Reconstruction or FR). Certain passages where Luke copied FR are easily identifiable because they consist entirely of Lukan doublets, sayings that appear twice in Luke’s Gospel, albeit in slightly different forms. Lindsey noted that the Lukan doublets can be sorted into two groups: those that appear in collections of pithy statements that are only loosely connected, and those that appear in longer contexts and are stylistically poorer Greek and markedly Hebraic in form.[75] One collection of Lukan doublets from FR appears in Luke 9:23-27. Each of the verses in this passage have counterparts elsewhere in Luke that are more Hebraic in form. The one exception is Luke 9:27, which is a doublet, but its counterpart also appears to have been the product of FR:

FR Version Anth. Version
Luke 9:23 Luke 14:26-27
Luke 9:24 Luke 17:33
Luke 9:25 Luke 12:19-21
Luke 9:26 Luke 12:8-9
Luke 9:27 = 21:[31-]32

Let us examine Luke 9:26-27, which will help us to understand FR’s anomalous usage of “the Kingdom of God”:

For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God. (RSV)

In this passage, FR appears to equate the coming of the Son of Man with the future revelation of the Kingdom of God. The entire section, Luke 9:23-27, is derived from FR, but only Luke 9:27, which contains the anomalous usage of Kingdom of God, lacks a parallel in Anthology (Luke’s Hebraic source). This unusual fact suggests the Luke 9:27 is the product of FR’s own editorial creativity, and not the reflection of an original Hebrew saying of Jesus. The counterpart to Luke 9:27 is found in Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction and liberation of Jerusalem. According to Luke 21:29-33, Jesus said:

Observe the fig tree, and all the trees. When they put out [fruit],[76] seeing it for yourselves you know that already summer is near. So also you, when you see these things happening, you will know that near is the Kingdom of God. Amen! I say to you, this generation will not pass away until everything has happened. The heaven and the earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

This passage probably does go back to a Hebrew source, but there are indications that the text has suffered redaction at the hand of a Greek editor. The phrase “and all the trees” (Luke 21:29), for instance, interrupts the flow of Jesus’ simile, and is likely secondary.[77] Also, the phrase “Kingdom of God” destroys what looks to be a wordplay in Hebrew between קַיִץ (qayitz, “summer,” “summer fruit”) and קֵיץ (qētz, “end”).[78] It seems probable that, in its original form, the saying meant that just as when a fig tree begins to put forth fruit a person knows the summer (קַיִץ) is near, so when the disciples see Jerusalem surrounded by armies they will know that the end (קֵיץ) is near. The editor of Luke’s source either did not understand the wordplay after it had been translated into Greek, or perhaps he intentionally changed the reading to say, “you will know that the Kingdom of God is near.”[79] The verses immediately following this prediction (Luke 21:34-36) describe the coming of the Son of Man. So, in the context of Jesus’ prophecy, it appears that the First Reconstructor (the creator of FR) again equated the Kingdom of God with the coming of the Son of Man. The opinion that the Kingdom of God will be revealed in the generation of the apostles appears to be the innovation of FR, for originally Jesus spoke not of the Kingdom of God, but of the destruction of Jerusalem as the event that would take place during the apostles’ lifetime. The First Reconstructor imported the idea of the Kingdom of God into Jesus’ prophecy, and he evidently repeated the notion that the Kingdom of God would be revealed through the coming of the Son of Man during the apostles’ lifetime in Luke 9:26-27.

Once the equation of the coming of the Son of Man with the Kingdom of God is recognized as a secondary feature of FR’s redactional activity, other instances of this secondary usage become more easily identifiable. Lindsey suggested that Luke 17:20-21 is simply FR’s secondary reworking of Jesus’ saying in Luke 17:22-24. Presenting these verses in parallel columns will enable readers to observe their similarity:

Luke 17:20-21 Luke 17:22-24
Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, And he said to the disciples,
“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and you will not see it.
nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ And they will say to you, ‘Lo, there!’ or ‘Lo, here!’ Do not go, do not follow them.
for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (RSV) For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of man be in his day.” (RSV)

In the saying about the coming of the Son of Man (Luke 17:22-24), Jesus tells his disciples that they should not listen to people who report that the Son of Man has come, because on the Day of the Son of Man everyone will be aware of his arrival. The First Reconstructor refashioned this authentic saying into a saying about the Kingdom of God that does not accord with Jesus’ habitual manner of speaking about the Kingdom of Heaven. Ordinarily, Jesus claimed “the Kingdom of Heaven has come near” or “the Kingdom of Heaven has come upon you.” He did not speak of the Kingdom of Heaven as something that cannot be observed, but rather as a divine activity with empirical results.

The redactional activity of FR has given the mistaken impression that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God as something distinct from his healing and teaching mission, something that was to be revealed in the apostles’ lifetime following the destruction of Jerusalem. In these passages FR described the Kingdom of God in terms of and in conjunction with the coming of the Son of Man. Luke, who used FR as one of the primary sources for his Gospel, incorporated FR’s secondary usage of the Kingdom of God, but this anomalous usage did not originate with Jesus.

Which is Correct: “Kingdom of Heaven” or “Kingdom of God”?

Perceptive readers will have noticed that in our discussion of FR’s secondary usage of Kingdom vocabulary, the phrase we considered was “Kingdom of God,” or in Greek, ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. The phrase Jesus himself would have spoken in Hebrew is מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (malchūt shāmayim, lit., “kingdom of heavens”).[80] In the Gospels we find both ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (hē basileia tou theou, “the kingdom of the god”) and ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (hē basileia tōn ouranōn, “the kingdom of the heavens”). However, the distribution of “Kingdom of Heaven” vs. “Kingdom of God” is far from even. Luke and Mark exclusively write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, whereas Matthew predominantly writes ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, but occasionally writes ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. How are we to account for this unusual phenomenon?

First, it is clear that one of the Synoptic writers (or one of their sources) is responsible for changing the reading either from Kingdom of God to Kingdom of Heaven or from Kingdom of Heaven to Kingdom of God. We find that in Triple Tradition pericopae where Luke and Mark agree to write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, Matthew often (but not always) writes ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.[81] In Double Tradition pericopae where Luke has ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, Matthew always has ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.[82] From the perspective of a Markan priorist the solution is simple. Since Luke and Matthew are based on Mark, and since Mark never writes ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, and since Luke follows Mark in writing ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, it must be Matthew who is responsible for the change. But since we accept Lindsey’s synoptic hypothesis, the problem is not so straightforward. According to Lindsey’s hypothesis, Mark copied Luke, and therefore Mark’s agreement with Luke to write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ proves nothing more than that Mark copied Luke in those places. Matthew, on the other hand, had access to one of Luke’s pre-synoptic sources, and therefore it is possible that Matthew reflects an earlier reading, which Luke for some reason decided to change. Let us examine the two hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: Matthew is responsible for changing ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ into ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.[83] According to this view, when the Hebrew Life of Yeshua was translated into Greek, the translator made an exception to his usual practice of rendering his Hebrew source in a highly literal style and chose instead to translate מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם as ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. The Greek translator’s motivation for making this exception to his usual practice may have been to avoid confusion for his non-Jewish, Greek-speaking readers. For Gentile readers, “Kingdom of Heaven” might have been unclear in two ways: 1) it might have sounded as though the kingdom were located in heaven or even in the sky; 2) “heavens” might suggest a multiplicity of deities (the Greek pantheon) to Gentiles from a polytheistic background.[84] Once the Greek Translation was made, ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ was copied by Anthology, followed by FR, followed by Luke, followed by Mark. Matthew, however, decided to change ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ into ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν for reasons of his own.

Support for the hypothesis that Matthew is responsible for changing ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ into ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν is found in the few places where Matthew actually does write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (Matt. 12:28; Matt. 19:24; Matt. 21:31, 43). Matthew 19:24 is a Triple Tradition pericope (Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven), and is therefore the weakest example, since it is possible that in this instance Matthew simply copied the reading he found in Mark 10:25. Matthew 21:31 and Matt. 21:43 are much stronger examples since Matt. 21:31 comes from a unique Matthean pericope (Two Sons parable), and Matt. 21:43 is unique to Matthew, despite belonging to a Triple Tradition pericope (Wicked Tenants parable). These examples may therefore reflect the reading of Matthew’s non-Markan source. Matthew 12:28 is also a very strong example since this verse appears in a Triple Tradition pericope (Yeshua Accused of Casting Out Demons by Beelzebul), but in a verse that is omitted in Mark. The only way Matthew and Luke could have agreed against Mark to include this verse is by relying on their shared, non-Markan source, and therefore their agreement to write ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in this pericope strongly suggests that this was the reading they both found in Anthology.

Hypothesis 2: Luke is responsible for changing ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, which he found in his Hebraic source (Anthology), into ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. According to this view, the Greek translator of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua did not make an exception to his highly literal style of translation when it came to מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם. The editor of Anthology copied ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν from the Greek Translation, but the First Reconstructor sometimes, perhaps always, changed ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν into ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ for the sake of his non-Jewish, Greek-speaking readers. That the First Reconstructor would make such a change conforms to his usual practice of improving the Greek style of his revised material. Luke observed the change to ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in FR, adopted it, and decided to systematically replace ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν wherever he found it in Anthology, for the same reason that had motivated FR: Luke addressed his Gospel to a non-Jewish, Greek-speaking audience. The author of Luke, who was a traveling companion of Paul, was probably aware that Paul himself used the phrase “Kingdom of God” when writing in Greek (cf. 1 Cor. 6:10; 15:50), as shown, for example, in Acts 14:22 (cf. Acts 19:8). Luke’s desire to use Paul’s vocabulary may have been an additional factor that influenced his decision to systematically replace ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν with ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.

When Matthew sat down to compose his Gospel, he found “Kingdom of God” in Mark and “Kingdom of Heaven” in Anthology. When copying a pericope, Matthew’s habit was to weave words from Anthology’s parallel into the text of Mark[85] with the result that Matthew often replaced “Kingdom of God” in Mark with “Kingdom of Heaven.” In Double Tradition pericopae, where Matthew’s source was Anthology, we find that Matthew always writes ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, and in unique Matthean pericopae, where Matthew must either be relying on Anthology or writing his own composition,[86] Matthew writes “Kingdom of Heaven” 12xx and “Kingdom of God” 1x.

Verdict: Luke is responsible for changing ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, which he found in his Hebraic source (Anthology), into ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.[87] Although it is impossible to be certain, we believe that the following arguments should cause us to favor Hypothesis 2:

  1. Luke is known to de-Judaize his material in order to make it more understandable for a non-Jewish, Greek-speaking audience.[88] For example, Luke changed “the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), a phrase familiar from Qumran, to “the poor” (Luke 6:20).[89] Luke changed “Our Father who art in heaven” (Matt. 6:9), a familiar phrase from rabbinic literature, to “Father” (Luke 11:2) because Greek doesn’t like possessive pronouns and “in heaven” could be misleading to a Gentile audience.[90] We also find that Luke often omitted “amen,” or changed it to “truly” or “yes” when he found it in his sources, presumably because amen is a foreign word that would not have been familiar to non-Jewish Greek-speakers.[91]
  2. Matthew’s tendency is not toward Judaism, but is rather distinctly anti-Jewish.[92] Only Matthew has the Jews say “Let his blood be upon us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). Only Matthew implicates the Pharisees in Jesus’ passion.[93] Only Matthew has Jesus reject the “Sons of the Kingdom” in favor of “another nation” (cf. Matt. 8:12; 21:43). The passages in Matthew that appear to be more especially Jewish are not the result of his feelings of sympathy for Jews and Judaism, but evidence of his reliance on an excellent Hebraic Greek source.[94]
  3. An author who is totally consistent in his use of terminology may be suspected of editing his sources to achieve consistency. In other words, total consistency may be indicative of an agenda. Luke is totally consistent in his use of ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. Matthew, on the other hand, is inconsistent. On one occasion Matthew accepted ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ from Mark (cf. Matt. 19:24). On two other occasions Matthew wrote ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ even though we believe his source probably read ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (Matt. 12:28; 21:31).[95] If Matthew had an ideological motivation for replacing ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ with ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, why was he unsuccessful in three instances?[96]
  4. In order for Matthew to know that behind ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in the pre-synoptic sources was the phrase מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם in the Hebrew Life of Yeshua, Matthew would have needed to know Hebrew, since the phrase ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν is not found in LXX or in Jewish literature composed in Greek.[97] But there is no evidence that the author of Matthew knew Hebrew.[98] To the contrary, in the passages that are unique to Matthew and clearly the product of Matthew’s pen, Matthew writes in a popular Greek style, not in Hebraic Greek.[99]
  5. Lindsey’s hypothesis predicts that where Matthew is independent of Mark, his text is likely to be as Hebraic as Luke’s, or even more Hebraic than Luke’s,[100] because Matthew’s only source apart from Mark is the very Hebraic Anthology. In pericopae where Luke relied on FR and Matthew relied on Anthology, Matthew was often able to achieve a more Hebraic text than Luke’s. It is hardly surprising, therefore, to find that in Double Tradition pericopae Matthew has the more Hebraic ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν opposite Luke’s ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.

Of course, not all instances of ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν in Matthew are necessarily copied from Anthology. Having seen ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν so frequently in Anthology, Matthew sometimes inserted the phrase where it did not originally belong. In a similar way, we have seen that some instances of ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in Luke do not reflect Jesus’ usage of מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם.

Addendum

Bivin Rebuts Tilton’s View of the Political Aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ Teaching

I have some hesitation about Tilton’s understanding of the political aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching. Here are the reasons why.

The political chaos that swirled around Jesus—the desire for vengeance upon the Roman occupiers, especially in the Galilee, yes, even in Jesus’ own hometown synagogue, the inept Roman governors and evil Jewish kings, ethnarch and tetrarchs (such as Herod the Great and his sons, including Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee)—makes Jesus’ reading of the Prophets in the Nazareth synagogue recorded in Luke 4:18-19 (Isa. 61:1-2; 58:6; especially his purposeful omission of “a day of vengeance of our God”), and his message to John in Luke 7:22 (= Matt. 11:5), stand out. In both places, in similar words, Jesus spelled out his agenda:

εὐαγγελίσασθαι πτωχοῖς…κηρύξαι αἰχμαλώτοις ἄφεσιν καὶ τυφλοῖς ἀνάβλεψιν, ἀποστεῖλαι τεθραυσμένους ἐν ἀφέσει, κηρύξαι ἐνιαυτὸν κυρίου δεκτόν

To preach good news to the humble…to proclaim release to the captives and sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)[101]

τυφλοὶ ἀναβλέπουσιν καὶ χωλοὶ περιπατοῦσιν, λεπροὶ καθαρίζονται καὶ κωφοὶ ἀκούουσιν, νεκροὶ ἐγείρονται καὶ πτωχοὶ εὐαγγελίζονται

The blind receive sight and the lame walk, lepers are cured, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the humble have good news preached to them. (Luke 7:22; Matt. 11:5)[102]

Jesus was not unaware that Israel’s liberation from foreign rule was inherent in the concept of redemption, but he ignored it. It distracted and detracted from the urgent necessity of getting more and more people under God’s reign.

While the winds of despair and rebellion engulfing the land of Israel swirled around Jesus, although he wasn’t a pacifist,[103] he never waivered in his belief that armed resistance to the Roman rulers was wasted time and energy—there were just too many dead, oppressed, lepers, blind, deaf and lame, in both the physical and spiritual senses. Now was the long-awaited time of salvation, and in spite of, and even because of, the political situation, the work of Jesus and his disciples was of extreme urgency.

In the midst of passionate cries for armed rebellion, in the midst of a deteriorating political situation, Jesus consistently proclaimed that now was the time of salvation and spiritual redemption. Jesus’ interest was in יְשׁוּעָה (yeshū‘āh, “help”), in the physical senses of this word, but more importantly, in its spiritual senses (“salvation”).

The kingdom that Jesus and his disciples proclaimed was not a political, nationalistic, or military kingdom, although some who perhaps had not listened long enough or closely enough to their message may have misunderstood it, taking “kingdom” in a political sense as meaning an armed struggle, and taking Jesus’ claim to be the long-awaited Messiah as a call to armed resistance. Rather, when Jesus and his disciples referred to “kingdom,” they meant a kingdom of personal surrender to a loving and benevolent God who brings down his rain on saints and sinners alike (Matt. 5:45), a kingdom of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

Jesus’ call to discipleship meant putting God’s Kingdom first in one’s life, even putting it above life itself. It meant being willing to die for the Kingdom, but Jesus’ “taking up your cross” did not mean joining the armed resistance. Jesus was likely talking about the difficulty of a disciple’s life of service to a sage (שימוש חכמים, shimūsh ḥachāmim). Davies suggested that “take up your cross” was a rabbinic technical term for following a rabbi as his servant.[104]

Although frequently Roman authorities, ignorant of Jewish custom and insensitive to Jewish religious feelings, caused civil disobedience, too often responsibility for outbreaks of violence could be laid at the feet of Jewish residents of the land of Israel who fell prey to human emotions and calls by zealots and terrorists for revenge on the Romans and throwing off of the foreign yoke. Inept Roman administrators and cruel and adulterous[105] Jewish kings, such as Herod the Great and his sons, made matters much worse, but it was those whose hearts Jesus’ message had not reached who, following their own human passions, indirectly contributed to the deaths of a huge part of the Jewish residents of the land, as well as the destruction of their Temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus was well able to show righteous indignation, for instance, when he saw the commercialism and graft in the Holy Temple of God. He took aside the hawkers (from whose profits the Sadducean high-priestly mafia took a huge cut) and chastised them for their impious activities, saying, “It is written, ‘My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves'” (Luke 19:45-46; cf. Isa. 56:7; Jer. 7:11).

Often, perhaps every year since his birth, as was the custom of his parents (Luke 2:41), Jesus had made a pilgrimage to the Temple. He noticed with pain the change that had taken place during his lifetime in the way the Temple was administered. Year after year graft and corruption increased. The Sadducean high priestly families, a cartel who controlled the income connected with the Temple, were indeed a mafia, eliminating anyone who was a threat to their profits:

Abba Saul ben Bothnith said in the name of Abba Joseph ben Hanan: “Woe is me because of the house of Boethus; woe is me because of their staves. Woe is me because of the house of Hanan; woe is me because of their whisperings [i.e., informing to the civil authorities, apparently]. Woe is me because of the house of Kathros; woe is me because of their pens.[106] Woe is me because of the house of Ishmael ben Phiabi; woe is me because of their fists. For they are high priests, and their sons are [temple] treasurers, and their sons-in-law are trustees, and their servants beat the people with staves.” (t. Men. 13:21; b. Pes. 57a)[107]

Jesus was arrested by the Gentile[108] slaves of the high priest Caiaphas (Matt. 26:3, 57), who instigated his death, bringing him to the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate on trumped up charges. Still later, the Sadducean priestly families persecuted Jesus’ disciples, executing, for example, Jesus’ brother James in 62 C.E. (Jos., Ant. 20:197-200). This execution took place during the high priesthood of Ananus the son of Ananus, greatly offending some of the Pharisees of the city (Jos., Ant. 20:201) who viewed James as a righteous man.[109]

Tilton Responds to Bivin’s Rebuttal

Bivin and I are in substantial agreement on a number of issues regarding the political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching. Most importantly, Bivin and I agree that Jesus was not a zealot and had no intention of leading a military uprising. I believe that Jesus’ ethic of peacemaking and universal love was explicitly opposed to vengeance, hatred and violence.[110] We agree, as Bivin has it, that “The kingdom that Jesus and his disciples proclaimed was not a political, nationalistic, or military kingdom.” Bivin and I also agree that Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth was provocative precisely because Jesus did not call for vengeance upon the enemies of Israel. It appears that the school of Shammai, which dominated the Pharisaic party in the first century C.E., was closer to the nationalist populist center of the political spectrum in Jesus’ time. It was not until after the destruction of the Temple that the Hillelite stream of Pharisaic Judaism became dominant.[111] Thus, Jesus’ anti-militant stance was probably a minority position in Nazareth, and may have seemed disloyal and unpatriotic to the members of the synagogue who listened to his sermon. Finally, I agree with Bivin that “Jesus’ ‘taking up your cross’ did not mean joining the armed resistance.” One did not have to be a militant Jewish nationalist to resent the injustice of foreign oppression. Twentieth-century disciples of Jesus such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu prove that nonviolent religious movements can have a profound political aspect without attempting to topple governments by resorting to violence.[112]

I believe our difference of opinion regarding the political aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching is one of nuance and emphasis. Bivin maintains that “Jesus was not unaware that Israel’s liberation from foreign rule was inherent in the concept of redemption, but he ignored it.” Thus, in Bivin’s opinion there appears to be a dichotomy between the political and the spiritual. Essentially, Jesus abandoned the hope of political liberation in favor of a spiritual experience of salvation. I regard Bivin’s alternatives as a false dichotomy, and maintain that one need not choose between the political and the spiritual dimensions of the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, I believe that Jesus shared the yearning of his people for political liberation from the Roman Empire. Although I am convinced that Jesus rejected violent resistance, it appears to me that Jesus expected that God would miraculously bring about Israel’s redemption without weapons or bloodshed by means of his followers’ participation in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Israel’s liberation from the Roman Empire was, in my opinion, only one aspect of Jesus’ rich concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. Complete redemption would include the liberation of the whole creation from the power of Satan. Political oppression is only one manifestation of Satan’s reign, but there are others: fear, disease, ignorance, inequality, injustice, idolatry, sexual immorality and violence are all aspects of Satan’s reign that the Kingdom of Heaven dismantles. The rule of one people by another is inherently unjust, and is one of the evils that the Kingdom of Heaven addresses. Therefore, I cannot say that Jesus ignored the injustice his people suffered, and I have attempted to demonstrate that many of Jesus’ statements were critical of Roman imperialism.

It is true, as Bivin points out, that the Roman-appointed high priests caught up with Jesus before the Romans did. On the other hand, Antipas, the Roman-appointed tetrarch of the Galilee (Jos., J.W. 17:94), had been seeking to execute Jesus for some time (Luke 13:31), and when the high priests handed Jesus over to the Roman governor of Judea, Pilate executed Jesus as an enemy of the Roman state. I do not regard the fact that the pro-Roman high priests got to Jesus first as proof that the Roman authorities looked favorably on Jesus’ message, his movement, or his hope for redemption. It seems to me that the pro-Roman high priests understood the subversive political implications inherent in Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven and perceived that it struck at the basis of their power: the Roman military presence in the land of Israel.


Premium Members
If you are not a Premium Member, please consider becoming starting at $10/month or only $5/month if paid annually:


One Time Purchase Rather Than Membership
Rather than a membership, you may also purchase access to this entire page for $1.99 USD. (If you do not have an account select "Register & Purchase.")


Login & Purchase
  • [1] For abbreviations and bibliographical references, see “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.’
  • [2] Pace Schweitzer, who regarded the Kingdom of God as a purely eschatological concept. Cf. Albert Schweitzer, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God: The Secret of Jesus’ Messiahship and Passion (trans. Walter Lowrie; New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1914). For a critique of Schweitzer’s hypothesis, see Young, JHJP, 191-194. On the temporal aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ teaching, see the subsection entitled “The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Temporal Aspect” below.
  • [3] Pope and Buth stress that “the Kingdom of Heaven” is not a concept that pertains to the afterlife, i.e., going to heaven after you die. See Anthony Pope and Randall Buth, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” Notes On Translation 119 (1987): 1-31, esp. 7.
  • [4] Cf. Ephraim E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (trans. Israel Abrahams; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1975), 4; Pope and Buth, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” 3.
  • [5] Young notes, however, that there are phrases that come close to “the Kingdom of Heaven” in pseudepigraphical literature (Young, JHJP, 194). Note, for example, T. Benj. 9:1 (ἡ βασιλεία κυρίου; “the Kingdom of the Lord”); Sib. Or. 3:47-48 (βασιλεία μεγίστη ἀθανάτου βασιλῆος; “great Kingdom of the immortal king”); Pss. Sol. 17:4 (ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν; “the Kingdom of our God”). Nevertheless, Young stresses that “The expression itself, ‘the kingdom of heaven,’ in early Jewish apocalyptic literature is unknown and variations of the term are quite rare even if the concept does surface from the background in a number of texts” (Young, JHJP, 196).
  • [6] See Pope and Buth, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” 6.
  • [7] This point was emphasized by Safrai. See Shmuel Safrai, “Sidebar,” in Robert L. Lindsey, “The Kingdom Of God: God’s Power Among Believers.”
  • [8] See Kaufmann Kohler, “Kingdom of God,” JE 7:502; Pope and Buth, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” 2. The use of “Heaven” as a substitute for “God,” “Lord” or the Tetragrammaton is attested already in 1 Maccabees. See Daniel R. Schwartz, Judeans and Jews: Four Faces of Dichotomy in Ancient Jewish History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014), 122 n. 26, 123 n. 32.
  • [9] The noun מַלְכוּת occurs 91xx in MT, 58xx in DSS and 20xx in the Mishnah. The most common translation of מַלְכוּת in LXX is βασιλεία (81xx). In several cases where βασιλεία is the translation of מַלְכוּת, the meaning of both terms is clearly “reign” as opposed to “kingdom.” Examples include:

    וּבְמַלְכוּת אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ בִּתְחִלַּת מַלְכוּתוֹ כָּתְבוּ שִׂטְנָה עַל־יֹשְׁבֵי יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלִָם (Ezra 4:6)

    καὶ ἐν βασιλείᾳ Ασουηρου ἐν ἀρχῇ βασιλείας αὐτοῦ ἔγραψαν ἐπιστολὴν ἐπὶ οἰκοῦντας Ιουδα καὶ Ιερουσαλημ (2 Esdr. 4:6)

    And in the reign of Ahasuerus, at the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. (Ezra 4:6)

    וְאַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה בְּמַלְכוּת אַרְתַּחְשַׁ֣סְתְּא מֶלֶךְ־פָּרָס עֶזְרָא בֶּן־שְׂרָיָה בֶּן־עֲזַרְיָה בֶּן־חִלְקִיָּה (Ezra 7:1)

    καὶ μετὰ τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα ἐν βασιλείᾳ Αρθασασθα βασιλέως Περσῶν ἀνέβη Εσδρας υἱὸς Σαραιου υἱοῦ Αζαριου υἱοῦ Ελκια…. (2 Esdr. 7:1)

    And after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, Ezra son of Seria, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah…. (Ezra 7:1)

     וַתִּלָּקַח אֶסְתֵּר אֶל־הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ אֶל־בֵּית מַלְכוּתוֹ בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָעֲשִׂירִי הוּא־חֹדֶשׁ טֵבֵת בִּשְׁנַת־שֶׁבַע לְמַלְכוּתוֹ

    καὶ εἰσῆλθεν Εσθηρ πρὸς Ἀρταξέρξην τὸν βασιλέα τῷ δωδεκάτῳ μηνί ὅς ἐστιν Αδαρ τῷ ἑβδόμῳ ἔτει τῆς βασιλείας αὐτοῦ

    And Esther took herself to king Ahasuerus, to the royal house, in the tenth month, the month of Tevet, in the seventh year of his reign. (Esther 2:16)

    וּבִשְׁנַת שְׁתַּיִם לְמַלְכוּת נְבֻכַדְנֶצַּר חָלַם נְבֻכַדְנֶצַּר חֲלֹמוֹת

    καὶ ἐν τῷ ἔτει τῷ δευτέρῳ τῆς βασιλείας Ναβουχοδονοσορ συνέβη εἰς ὁράματα….

    And in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams…. (Dan. 2:1)

    There are further examples in the MT and LXX where βασιλεία/מַלְכוּת could mean either “reign” or “kingdom.” There are also examples in DSS where מלכות likely means “reign” rather than “kingdom,” for instance:

    פשרו על מנשה לקץ האחרון אשר תשפל מלכותו ביש[ראל]‏

    Its interpretation concerns Manasseh in the final end when his reign will weaken in Is[rael.] (4QpNah [4Q169] 3-4 IV, 3)

  • [10] See Young, JHJP, 196; cf. Günther Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth (trans. Irene and Fraser McLuskey; London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1960), 200 n.1.
  • [11] Hans-Jürgen Becker, “Matthew, the Rabbis and Billerbeck on the Kingdom of Heaven,” in The Sermon on the Mount and its Jewish Setting (Cahiers de la Revue Biblique 60; ed. Hans-Jürgen Becker and Serge Ruzer; Paris: J. Gabalda, 2005), 57-69, esp. 62.
  • [12] Shmuel Safrai, “Oral Tora,” in The Literature of the Sages: First Part: Oral Tora, Halakha, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates (CRINT II.3; ed. Shmuel Safrai; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 1:93.
  • [13] Cf. Pope and Buth, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven,” 4; and Becker, “Matthew, the Rabbis and Billerbeck,” 63.
  • [14] The phrase “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven,” which appears in printed editions of the Mishnah, is a secondary reading, as its absence from the Kaufmann, Cambridge and Parma codices of the Mishnah and the parallel version of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korhah’s saying in the Jerusalem Talmud (y. Ber. 2:3 [4b]) proves. The addition of the word “yoke” appears to be an assimilation to the phrase “yoke of the commandments” which is juxtaposed to “the Kingdom of Heaven.” One can easily see what happened. The word עוֹל (“yoke”) was added to יְקַבֵּל עָלָיו מַלְכוּת שׁמַיִם (“will receive upon himself the Kingdom of Heaven”) because it stands parallel to יְקַבֵּל עָלָיו עוֹל מִצְווֹת (“will receive upon himself the yoke of the mitzvot [commandments]”), a phrase which is identical in form, except for the addition of the word “yoke.” Afterwards, the expression “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven” was proliferated in rabbinic literature (e.g., m. Ber. 2:5). See Young, JHJP, 227 n. 30a; and David N. Bivin, “Jesus’ Yoke and Burden,” n. 34. An additional example of the proliferation of “yoke” with “Kingdom of Heaven” in inferior mss. of tannaic literature is found in Sifre, Ha’azinu, Piska 23, on Deut. 32:29 (cited below). Cf. Finkelstein’s critical edition: Sifre on Deuteronomy (ed. Louis Finkelstein; New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1969), 372.
  • [15] On the phrase “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven,” which occurs in some printed editions of this mishnah, but which is absent in the Kaufmann manuscript, see the preceding footnote.
  • [16] The connection between the Kingdom of Heaven and Exod. 15:18 is explicit in the second paragraph of the Aleinu prayer (of uncertain date). The connection between the events at the Red Sea and the Kingdom of Heaven is implicit in the tradition regarding the right of Judah to rule over the other tribes of Israel (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, BeShallah chpt. 6, on Exod. 14:22), and in a saying of Rabbi Eliezer (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Shirata chpt. 3, on Exod. 15:2 [ed. Horovitz-Rabin, 126, lines 19-20]; see Blessedness of the Twelve, Comment to L16-18).
  • [17] In other words, Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi means that Israel happily accepted God’s reign over the people as a collective.
  • [18] Translation based on Notley-Safrai, 112.
  • [19] Translation based on Notley-Safrai, 108.
  • [20] According to Schechter, Rabbi Eliezer’s statement was “calculated to give the kingdom of heaven a national aspect, when we remember that Amalek is only another name for his ancestor Esau…who is but a prototype for Rome” (Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology: Major Concepts of the Talmud [New York: Schocken, 1961], 99).
  • [21] In Tilton’s view, the Kingdom of Heaven metaphor is inherently political. The designation of God as a king, and the description of God’s activity as reigning, derive from the political lexicon. See Richard Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine (San Fancisco: Harper & Row, 1987), 170.
  • [22] The view presented in this section reflects Tilton’s opinion. Bivin believes that the mainstream Pharisaic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven was not directed against the Roman regime.
  • [23] See Flusser, Jesus, 105-108; cf. Shimon Applebaum, “The Zealots: The Case for Revaluation,” Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971): 155-170, esp. 161.
  • [24] On the origins of the Zealot and Sicarii movements, two prominent militant Jewish nationalist groups in the first cent. C.E., and their distinctions, see Menahem Stern, “Zealots,” in Encyclopedia Judaica Year Book 1973 (Jerusalem: Keter, 1973), 135-152. See also, Uriel Rappaport, “Who Were the Sicarii?” in Jewish Revolt Against Rome: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (ed. Mladen Popovic; Leiden: Brill, 2011), 323-342. On the emergence of militant Jewish nationalism from the School of Shammai, see David Flusser, “Gamaliel and Nicodemus,” under the subheading “Nicodemus”; Peter J. Tomson, “Zavim 5:12—Reflections on Dating Mishnaic Halakhah,” in History and Form: Dutch Studies in the Mishnah (ed. A. Kuyt and N. A. van Uchelen; Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, 1988), 53-69; idem, Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles (CRINT III.1; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 173-177; idem, “Gamaliel’s Counsel and the Apologetic Strategy of Luke-Acts,” in The Unity of Luke-Acts (ed. J. Verheyden; Leuven: Peeters, 1999), 585-604, esp. 588.
  • [25] During the first century C.E., the Pharisees were divided into two main branches, the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai. On these two Pharisaic schools, see Shmuel Safrai, “Halakha,” in The Literature of the Sages: First Part: Oral Tora, Halakha, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates (CRINT II.3; ed. Shmuel Safrai; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 1:185-194; idem, “Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai,” in Encyclopedia Judaica (2d ed.; 22 vols.; New York: Macmillan, 2006), 3:530-533.
  • [26] See David Flusser, “Gamaliel and Nicodemus.”
  • [27] Rabbi Hananiah, who lived before the destruction of the Temple, belonged to circles that opposed revolt against the Roman Empire, as sayings such as “Pray for the peace of the ruling power, since but for fear of it, men would have swallowed up each other alive” (m. Avot 3:2) make clear.
  • [28] Another saying that seems to refer to the tumultuous period leading up to the Jewish revolt against Rome is found in the mouth of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai who survived the destruction of Jerusalem:

    רבי יוחנן בן זכאי אומר משרבו הרצחנים בטלה עגלה ערופה לפי שאין עגלה ערופה באה אלא על הספק עכשיו רבו ההורגין בגלוי משרבו המנאפין פסקו מי מרים לפי שאין מי מרים באין אלא על הספק עכשיו כבר רבו הרואין בגלוי משרבו בעלי הנאות בא חרון אף לעולם ובטל כבוד תורה משרבו לוחשי לחישות בב″ד נתעותו המעשים ונתקלקלו הדינין ופסקה השכינה מישראל משרבו רואין לפנים בטל (דברים א) לא תכירו פנים במשפט ולא תגורו מפני איש ופרקו מהן עול שמים והמליכו עליהם עול בשר ודם

    Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai says, “From the time murderers increased, the calf’s neck rite was annulled, because the calf’s neck rite is not applicable except in cases of doubt, but now murderers increased in the open. From the time adulterers increased, they stopped the ordeal of the bitter waters, because the ordeal of the bitter waters is not applicable except in cases of doubt, but now those who see [their lovers] in the open are many. From the time the lovers of pleasure increased, wrath came to the world and the glory of the Torah was annulled. From the time whisperers increased in the Sanhedrin, deeds were perverted, the judges were cursed, and the Shekhinah ceased from Israel. From the time respecters of persons increased, You must not show partiality in judgment…you must not respect persons [Deut. 1:17] was annulled and they cast off the yoke of Heaven and caused a yoke of flesh and blood to reign over them. (t. Sot. 14:1[1-4])

    In this saying Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai criticizes those who set up a yoke of flesh and blood and who cast off the yoke of Heaven. The terminology is similar to that of Hananiah the prefect of the priests. Does “murderers” who kill “in the open” refer to terrorist groups like the Sicarii? Does “whisperers…in the Sanhedrin” refer to the chief priests, and in particular those of the House of Hanan (cf. t. Men. 13:21; b. Pes. 57a)? If so, then Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai criticized both the militant Jewish nationalists on one extreme and the high priests who colluded with the Romans on the other. If so, Jesus was not unique in his rejection of violent insurgence and condemnation of the corrupt priesthood.

  • [29] Cf. Flusser, Jesus, 107.
  • [30] According to Flusser, “the term ge’ullah is applied almost exclusively to national redemption, and became a synonym for national freedom. This idea of national freedom from the subjection to other states is the main element in the yearnings of the people for the redemption of Israel, and it became even more pronounced during the period of Roman domination” (David Flusser, “Redemption: In the Talmud,” in Encyclopedia Judaica [2d ed.; 22 vols.; New York: Macmillan, 2006], 17:152). For redemption in the sense of the political liberation of Israel in Second Temple Jewish literature, see also the “Additional Note” to David Flusser’s “The Times of the Gentiles and the Redemption of Jerusalem.” On the sages’ view that the rule of foreign empires over the Holy Land was illegitimate, see Louis Ginzberg, On Jewish Law and Lore (New York: Atheneum, 1970), 86-88.
  • [31] According to Young (JHJP, 198), Rabbi Nehunyah’s statement refers to “the yoke of political oppression,” and that “the yoke of God’s sovereignty can be contrasted to the yoke of an earthly regime.”
  • [32] On Rabbi Yose ha-Gelili, see Shmuel Safrai, “The Jewish Cultural Nature of Galilee in the First Century,” under the subheading “Rabbi Jose ha-Galili.”
  • [33] A later rabbinic source (fifth or sixth cent. C.E.) explicitly contrasts the Kingdom of Heaven with the Roman Empire:

    הגיע זמנה של מלכות הרשעה שתעקר מן העולם, הגיע זמנה של מלכות השמים שתגלה, והיה י″י למלך על כל הארץ וג′. וקול התור נשמע בארצינו, א″ר יוחנן קול תייר טב נשמע בארצינו, זה מלך המשיח

    The time has arrived when the wicked kingdom will be uprooted from the world, the time has come when the Kingdom of Heaven will be revealed, and the LORD will be king over all the earth [Zech. 14:9]. And the voice of the turtle dove will be heard in our land [Song 2:12]: Rabbi Yohanan said, “the voice of the good guide will be heard in our land, this is the anointed king [i.e., the Messiah—DNB and JNT].” (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 5:9 [ed. Mandelbaum, 1:97)

    The “wicked kingdom” is a common designation for the Roman Empire in talmudic literature. According to this source, Israel’s longed-for redemption will come about through the downfall of Rome, and the Kingdom of Heaven will be ushered in by the Messiah.

  • [34] That slavery of any kind was considered to be antithetical to God’s reign is expressed in a midrash on Exod. 21:6 which stipulates that any slave who prefers to continue serving his master rather than go free at the end of seven years must have his ear pierced with an awl:

    תני רבי אליעזר בן יעקב אומר ולמה אל הדלת שעל ידי דלת יצאו מעבדות לחירות שאלו התלמידים את רבן יוחנן בן זכאי מה ראה העבד הזה לירצע באזנו יותר מכל איבריו אמר להן אוזן ששמעה מהר סיני (שמות כ) לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים על פני ופירקה מעליה עול מלכות שמים וקיבלה עליה עול בשר ודם אוזן ששמעה לפני הר סיני (ויקרא כה) כי לי בני ישראל עבדים והלך זה וקנה אדון אחר לפיכך תבוא האוזן ותירצע לפי שלא שמר מה ששמעה אזנו

    It is taught [in a baraita]: Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov says, “And why unto the door [Exod. 21:6]? Because by the door they go out from slavery to freedom.” The disciples asked Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, “Why does [Scripture] see fit that this slave [who is discussed in Exod. 21—DNB and JNT] should be pierced in his ear rather than any of his other limbs?” He said to them, “The ear that heard from Mount Sinai, There shall be no other gods before me [Exod. 20:3] and cast off from itself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and received upon itself the yoke of flesh and blood is the ear that heard from Mount Sinai For the children of Israel are my slaves [Lev. 25:55] yet this [slave] went and acquired another master. For this reason the ear will come and be pierced, since he did not keep what his ear heard.” (y. Kid. 1:2 [11b]; cf. t. Bab. Kam. 7:5; b. Kid. 22b. In the parallel version we find the phrase “yoke of Heaven” rather than “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven,” which may be a scribal error.)

    Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai regarded choosing servitude over freedom to be an affront to God’s reign. It seems inconceivable that if he regarded servitude of an individual to be antithetical to the Kingdom of Heaven that he could regard the subjection of the entire people of Israel to a foreign power with indifference. Although Yohanan ben Zakkai advocated peace, one should not assume that he abandoned hope for Israel’s redemption from political oppression.

  • [35] Warren Zev Harvey, “Kingdom of God מלכות שמים,” in Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought (ed. Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr; New York: Scribner’s, 1987), 521-525, quotation on 523.
  • [36] See Moshe David Herr, “Persecutions and Martyrdom in Hadrian’s Days,” Scripta Hierosolymitana 23 (1972): 85-125, esp. 111-112 n. 88.
  • [37] It should be noted that although the rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of Heaven has a political aspect, it does not have, so to speak, a political agenda. As we have seen, the notion of the Kingdom of Heaven was articulated in opposition to political insurgents. The Kingdom of Heaven would not be a kingdom of flesh and blood. The Kingdom of Heaven is conceived of as a divine activity. Acts of mercy and observance of the commandments would be the catalyst for redemption, not direct political action.
  • [38] Becker, “Matthew, the Rabbis and Billerbeck,” 65.
  • [39] See R. Steven Notley, “By the Finger of God.”
  • [40] This section of “LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua” represents Tilton’s view. Bivin views the Roman government as more benevolent than Tilton does, and Bivin sees the Sadducean high priestly families as the main culprits in the arrest and accusation of Jesus before the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. See the addendum below, “Bivin Rebuts Tilton’s View of the Political Aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus’ Teaching.”
  • [41] Tilton believes that in Jesus’ teaching the Kingdom of Heaven is (among other things) a political metaphor that carries with it an implied critique of all human governments. See Kohler, who defined “Kingdom of God” as “Reign or sovereignty of God as contrasted with the kingdom of the worldly powers” (Kohler, “Kingdom of God,” JE 7:502). Jesus contrasts the reign of flawed human beings, who are often unjust, cruel, greedy and self-aggrandizing (cf. Luke 22:25), with God’s better reign. God is generous, merciful, fair and open-hearted (Luke 6:38). He seeks the welfare of all human beings: the evil as well as the good, the deserving and the undeserving alike (Matt. 5:45). Tilton regards Jesus’ implied critique of human governments as an expression of Israel’s prophetic tradition. On the prophetic critique of human governments, see Moshe Weinfeld, “The Protest against Imperialism in Ancient Israelite Prophecy,” in The Origins and Diversity of Axial Age Civilizations (ed. S. N. Eisenstadt; Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1986), 169-182; Binyamin Uffenheimer, “Ancient Hebrew Prophecy—Political Teaching and Practice,” Immanuel 18 (1984): 7-21.
  • [42] In this respect, Jesus followed in the tradition of the prophet Jeremiah who urged the politcal leaders of his day to submit to Nebuchadnezzar’s yoke (Jer. 27:11). Jeremiah did not forsake the hope for the restoration of the Davidic throne and the liberation of Israel (cf. Jer. 23:5-6; 30:8-9; 33:15-16), but he realized that armed revolt would only lead to disaster. See Uffenheimer, “Ancient Hebrew Prophecy—Political Teaching and Practice,” 19-29. In a similar way, Jesus opposed the ideology of the militant Jewish nationalists, and called the people to repentance, for only in this way would Israel be spared the destruction of the Temple (Luke 13:34-35; 19:42-44). See Flusser, Jesus, 200; R. Steven Notley, “‘Give unto Caesar’: Jesus, the Zealots and the Imago Dei.”
  • [43] Jesus’ command to walk the extra mile was likely given in reference to the Roman practice of pressing subjects into forced service. The word for “mile” in the Greek text of Matt. 5:41, μίλιον, is a loanword from the Latin mille. It is possible that μίλιον translates the Hebrew מִיל, also from Latin (via Greek). מִיל occurs 9xx in the Mishnah: m. Yom. 6:4; m. Yom. 6:8 (4xx); m. Bab. Metz. 6:3 (2xx); m. Bech. 9:2 (2xx).
  • [44] See R. Steven Notley, “Jesus’ Jewish Hermeneutical Method in the Nazareth Synagogue,” in Early Christian Literature and Intertextuality (2 vols.; ed. Craig A. Evans and H. Daniel Zacharias; London: T&T Clark, 2009), 2:46-59, esp. 56.
  • [45] On the hope for political liberation that Jesus expressed in this prophecy, see David Flusser, “The Times of the Gentiles and the Redemption of Jerusalem,” under the subheading “Solidarity with Israel.” Cf. Flusser, Jesus, 106.
  • [46] According to Flusser, Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction and liberation of Jerusalem expresses his opposition to revolt against Rome: “He did not share the belief or the hope that Jerusalem would survive the war” (David Flusser, “The Times of the Gentiles and the Redemption of Jerusalem,” under the subheading “Solidarity with Israel”).
  • [47] In Tilton’s opinion, there is an implied critique of the Roman Empire in Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus contrasted with human governments. On the political critique implied by proclaiming God’s reign, see Paula Fredriksen, From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 124-125.

    Tilton also detects a critique of the Roman Empire in Jesus’ teaching on non-retaliation (Matt. 5:38-41). See Joshua N. Tilton, Jesus’ Gospel: Searching for the Core of Jesus’ Message, 61.

  • [48] On this passage, cf. Flusser, Jesus, 76-77.
  • [49] Cf. Flusser, Jesus, 104-105.
  • [50] See Randall Buth, “Your Money or Your Life.”
  • [51] It must be recognized that Jesus could not have opposed payment of tribute without supporting revolt, for they amounted to the same thing. Refusing to pay tribute is tantamount to a declaration of independence. Such a political act would unavoidably provoke war with Rome, the very thing Jesus hoped to avoid. A similar political action, refusal to offer sacrifices in the Temple on Caesar’s behalf, did spark the revolt that resulted in the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. (cf. Jos., J.W. 2:409). On taxation as the primary concern of the Roman government in the provinces, see Graham Burton, “Government and the Provinces,” in The Roman World (2d ed.; 2 vols.; ed. John Wacher; New York: Routledge, 2002), 1:423-439, esp. 423 where Burton writes, “The Roman government did not pursue many of the goals which, today, are conventionally associated with the exercise of political power by the state, e.g. the control or modification of economic developments, social welfare, education. Its concerns were more limited, above all the regular exaction of taxes and maintenance of internal order.” See also Martin Goodman, The Roman World 44 BC—AD 180 (New York: Routledge, 1997), 100-101.
  • [52] See Peter J. Tomson, “Jesus and his Judaism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Jesus (ed. Markus Bockmuehl; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 25-40, esp. 31.
  • [53] The persecutions in the days of Antiochus IV (second cent. B.C.E.), for example, were primarily motivated by political interests. According to 1 Macc. 1:41, Antiochus sought to unite his empire by abolishing the ancestral customs of the various peoples he ruled. By creating a single national identity, Antiochus sought to solidify his political hegemony. Jewish commitment to Torah in the face of persecution was motivated by religious piety, but their loyalty to the God of their fathers entered the political arena because it interfered with Antiochus’ political program.

    The memory of the Antiochene persecutions was still vivid in the time of Jesus, in part because Jews in the land of Israel continued to feel that their religious liberty was threatened by the Roman occupation. During Jesus’ time Roman interference in Jewish religious life included the appointment of high priests by the Roman governor (cf. Jos., Ant. 18:26, 34-35), Roman control of the high priestly vestments (Ant. 18:93-94), and constant surveillance of the Temple from the Antonia Fortress. In addition, Roman officials sometimes interfered in the collection (Cicero, Pro Flacco 26:67; Jos., J.W. 14:112; 16:28, 166; cf. Safrai-Stern, 2:678) and use of the half-shekel (J.W. 2:175; Ant. 18:60). We also hear reports of Jewish pilgrims who were massacred in Jerusalem during the feasts (Luke 13:1). Zechariah’s song in Luke is one expression of the Jewish perception of the danger inherent in the practicing of Judaism under foreign rule: Zechariah anticipates the coming of salvation that would bring with it the freedom to serve God (i.e., worship) without fear (Luke 1:74). All of these instances show that at least an important segment of the Jewish population in the land of Israel regarded the Roman Empire as a threatening presence. From their perspective, adherence to their ancestral faith might cost them their lives. It is reasonable, therefore, that Jesus, who proclaimed a message of liberation, anticipated the potential for his martyrdom and the martyrdom of his disciples at the hands of the Roman authorities.

  • [54] On the limits of the Roman empire’s policy of religious tolerance, see Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence, 45.
  • [55] Caesar Augustus, for instance, ordered the burning of books composed in Greek and Latin that contained prophecies of the downfall of the Roman Empire (Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars 2:31). Likewise, Justin Martyr mentions that a sentence of death had been decreed against persons who read certain oracular books (1 Apol. 44:12). The prophecies did not pose a military threat to the Roman Empire, rather the books were burned and the people who read them were killed because they inspired hope among the conquered peoples of the Roman Empire. See David Flusser, “Hystaspes and John of Patmos,” (Flusser, JOC, 393); idem, “The Roman Empire in Hasmonean and Essene Eyes” (Flusser, JSTP1, 199).
  • [56] According to Goodman, the “[Roman] emperors employed a huge military force whose main but unstated purpose was the suppression of dissent.” See the chapter “Military Autocracy,” in Martin Goodman, The Roman World, 81-86, quotation on 81; idem, “Opponents of Rome: Jews and Others,” in Images of Empire (ed. Loveday Alexander; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 222-238.
  • [57] As N. T. Wright observed, crucifixion was an action of the state that sent a strong political message, viz., Caesar is in control (N. T. Wright, “Paul and Caesar: A New Reading of Romans,” in A Royal Priesthood? The Use of the Bible Ethically and Politically: A Dialogue with Oliver O’Donovan [ed. Craig Bartholomew, Jonathan Chaplin, Robert Song, Al Wolters; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002], 173-193, esp. 182). Since Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion, the message was even more pointed. Crucifixion reminded the Jewish people of their political status as a subjugated population who did not have legal standing or civil rights within the empire. Crucifixion was the seruile supplicium (“slave’s punishment”), and its use for the punishment of Jews reflects the opinion of the Roman elite that the Jews are “a people born to be enslaved” (Cicero, Prov. cons. 5:10; cf. Pro Flacco 28:69; Jos., J.W. 6:42; Apion 2:125). Cf. Jean-Jacques Aubert, “A Double Standard in Roman Criminal Law?” in Speculum Iuris: Roman Law as a Reflection of Social and Economic Life in Antiquity (ed. Jean-Jacques Aubert and Adriaan Johan Boudewijn Sirks; Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 2002), 121. According to Aubert, “Among all penalties in use in Roman times, crucifixion conveys the clearest message regarding the symbolism attached to capital punishment and its victims’ status” (111); “Its primary purpose is to emphasize the victim’s final irrevocable rejection from the civic and international community and the total denial of any form of legal protection based on the rights guaranteed by ius civile [i.e., citizen law—DNB and JNT] and ius gentium [i.e., international law—DNB and JNT] and attached to any legal status above slavery” (116).
  • [58] Bivin and Tilton disagree with respect to the meaning of Jesus’ cross-carrying saying (Luke 14:27). Bivin believes that Jesus used crucifixion as a metaphor for the hardships of first-century discipleship. Tilton believes Jesus’ cross-bearing saying is a warning to would-be disciples that joining his movement required accepting the risk of martyrdom for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • [59] In the land of Israel during Jesus’ lifetime the threat of crucifixion came from Roman authorities. Although there are reports of Jewish authorities who practiced crucifixion (e.g., Jos., J.W. 1:97; 4Q169 [4QpNah] 3-4 I, 6-8; Gen. Rab. 65:22; y. Sanh. 6:6 [23c]; y. Hag. 2:2 [78a]), and although the Essenes evidently sanctioned crucifixion for certain crimes (11Q19 [11QTemplea] LXIV, 6-13), in the time of Jesus capital punishment had become the sole prerogative of the Roman government (cf. John 18:31; Jos., J.W. 2:117-118; y. Sanh. 18a; 24b). See Brad H. Young, “An Examination of the Cross, Jesus and the Jewish People” (JS1, 196-199); Aubert, “A Double Standard in Roman Criminal Law?” 123. On crucifixion in DSS, see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “Crucifixion in Ancient Palestine, Qumran Literature, and the New Testament,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40.4 (1978): 493-513. On crucifixion in Pharisaic-rabbinic halachah, see David J. Halperin, “Crucifixion, the Nahum Pesher, and the Rabbinic Penalty of Strangulation,” Journal of Jewish Studies 32.1 (1981): 32-46.
  • [60] The phrase קִבֵּל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (qibēl malchūt shāmayim, “receive the Kingdom of Heaven”) is found, for example, in m. Ber. 2:2; Sifre. Deut. § 323, on Deut. 32:29 (ed. Finkelstein, 372); b. Ber. 10b, 13a, 14b, 61b.
  • [61] See Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L64.
  • [62] According to Shmuel Safrai and David Flusser, this usage is unique to Jesus (oral communication to DNB). See Robert L. Lindsey, “The Kingdom Of God: God’s Power Among Believers,” under the subheading “Jesus’ Movement.”
  • [63] See David N. Bivin, “Matthew 5:19: The Importance of ‘Light’ Commandments”; Sandt-Flusser, 220-225.
  • [64] Buth discussed this idea at the 2015 Lindsey Legacy Conference in the “Shabbat Morning Bible Study: Panel Discussion with David Bivin, Randall Buth, Brad Young, Steven Notley and Halvor Ronning on the Kingdom of Heaven,” at about the one hour mark. Frankovic also touched on this idea in Joseph Frankovic, “Beyond an Inheritance,” footnote 28.
  • [65] The statement עם מבוא יום ולילה אבואה בברית אל (“With the coming of the day and night I will enter the covenant of God”; 1QS X, 10) evidently refers to the recitation of the Shema. See Moshe Weinfeld, “Prayer and Liturgical Practice in the Qumran Sect,” in his Normative and Sectarian Judaism in the Second Temple Period (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 53-167, esp. 54-55.
  • [66] In DSS we encounter the phrase בא בברית with the meaning “join the Essene community” in CD XV, 5; XIX, 33; 1QS II, 12; V, 8, 20. Similarly, the phrase באי [ה]ברית (“those who enter the covenant”) refers to members of the sect in CD II, 2; VI, 19; VIII, 1, 21; XIII, 14; XX, 25; 1QS II, 18; 1QHa XIII, 23. We should stress that the Essenes did not invent the terminology of entering a covenant, which is borrowed from Scripture (cf. 1 Sam. 20:8; Jer. 34:10; Ezek. 16:8; 2 Chr. 15:12) and is also found in the writings of Ben Sira (cf. Sir. 44:20). Nevertheless the Essenes do appear to have been unique in using this terminology to refer to the recitation of the Shema, and to the joining of their sect.
  • [67] If the fusion of the Pharisaic-rabbinic and Essene expressions was based on their common meaning of “recite the Shema,” however, it is curious that no where in the Gospels does the term Kingdom of Heaven have this connotation.
  • [68] On the reconstruction of the phrase “enter the Kingdom of Heaven” in Hebrew, see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comments to L63, L64-65.
  • [69] See Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L7.
  • [70] The phrase “poor of spirit” (עניי רוח) is a term the Essenes applied to themselves (1QM XIV, 7; cf. ענוי רוח [‘anvē rūaḥ, “meek of spirit”] in 1QHa VI, 3). See David Flusser, “Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit” (JOC, 102-114); Robert L. Lindsey, “The Hebrew Life of Jesus,” under the subheading “The Two Versions of the Beatitudes.”
  • [71] A tripartite division of history is also attested in Sifre Deut. § 34 (ed. Finkelstein, 62); Sifre Deut. § 47 (ed. Finkelstein, 104); and Ruth Rab. 5:6, which make reference to this world (העולם הזה), to the days of the Messiah (ימות המשיח), and to the world to come (העולם הבא). On the tendency in rabbinic sources to conflate the world to come with the messianic era, see David Flusser, “The Stages of Redemption History According to John the Baptist and Jesus” (Flusser, Jesus, 258-275, esp.269, 273).
  • [72] The translation given here is of our suggested Hebrew reconstruction of Jesus’ statement. On the temporal aspect of this saying, see Blessedness of the Twelve, Comment to L16-19.
  • [73] Flusser, “The Stages of Redemption History” (Flusser, Jesus, 262).
  • [74] See the discussion above, under the subheading “The Kingdom of Heaven in Jewish Literature: Political Aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
  • [75] See Robert L. Lindsey, “Unlocking the Synoptic Problem: Four Keys for Better Understanding Jesus,” under the subheading “Lukan Doublets”; idem, “From Luke to Mark to Matthew: A Discussion of the Sources of Markan ‘Pick-ups’ and the Use of a Basic Non-canonical Source by All the Synoptists,” under the subheading “Lukan Doublets: Sayings Doublets.”
  • [76] The verb προβάλωσιν (probalōsin, “they put forth”) in Jesus’ saying lacks a direct object. English translations provide the word “leaves,” but it is more likely that Jesus referred to fruit. See R. Steven Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree” (JS1, 108, 112); idem, “The Season of Redemption.”
  • [77] R. Steven Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree” (JS1, 108 n. 3).
  • [78] See R. Steven Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree” (JS1, 110-112); idem, “The Season of Redemption.”
  • [79] See Robert L. Lindsey, “From Luke to Mark to Matthew: A Discussion of the Sources of Markan ‘Pick-ups’ and the Use of a Basic Non-canonical Source by All the Synoptists,” under the subheading “An Examination of the Editorial Activity of the First Reconstructor.” Cf. R. Steven Notley, “Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree” (JS1, 108 n. 3, 111).
  • [80] The Aramaic equivalent of מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם is מַלְכוּתָא דִשְׁמַיָּא (malchūtā’ dishmayā’). Thus, whether one assumes that Jesus spoke Hebrew or Aramaic, there remains the problem of a shift in language from “Heaven” in the Semitic original to “God” in Greek.  See Tomson, “Jesus and His Judaism,” 29. It must be stressed, however, that the term “Kingdom of Heaven” does not appear in Aramaic except in very late sources. In the Mishnah, Tosefta, the Tanaitic Midrashim, and the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, for example, the term “Kingdom of Heaven” appears exclusively in Hebrew. The complete absence of the Aramaic term מַלְכוּתָא דִשְׁמַיָּא in early rabbinic texts makes Dodd’s comment that “there can be no doubt that the expression before us [i.e., ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ in the Gospels—DNB and JNT] represents an Aramaic phrase well-established in Jewish usage,” (emphasis ours) puzzling in the extreme. See C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom (rev. ed.; New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1961), 21; cf. Karl Ludwig Schmidt, “βασιλεία” (TDNT, 1:582).
  • [81]

    Kingdom of Heaven/God: Triple Tradition Pericopae
    1 Matt. 3:2 Μετανοεῖτε, ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Mark (–)


    Luke 3:3 κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας

    2 Matt. 4:17 Μετανοεῖτε, ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Mark 1:15 ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ


    Luke 4:15 ἐδίδασκεν ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν

    3 Matt. 10:7 Ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Mark (–)


    (Luke 9:2 κηρύσσειν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ)


    Luke 10:9 Ἤγγικεν ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    4 Matt. 12:28 ἔφθασεν ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ


    Mark (–)


    Luke 11:20 ἔφθασεν ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    5 Matt. 13:11 τὰ μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Mark 4:11 τὸ μυστήριον δέδοται τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ


    Luke 8:10 τὰ μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ

    6 Matt. 13:31 Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Mark 4:30 Πῶς ὁμοιώσωμεν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ


    Luke 13:18 Τίνι ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    7 Matt. 16:19 δώσω σοι τὰς κλεῖδας τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Mark (–)


    Luke (–)

    8 Matt. 18:1 Τίς ἄρα μείζων ἐστὶν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Mark 9:35 Εἴ τις θέλει πρῶτος εἶναι ἔσται πάντων ἔσχατος


    Luke (–)

    9 (Matt. 18:3) εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Mark 10:15 δέξηται τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ


    Luke 18:17 δέξηται τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ

    10 Matt. 18:4 οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ μείζων ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Mark (–)


    Luke 9:48 ὁ γὰρ μικρότερος ἐν πᾶσιν ὑμῖν ὑπάρχων οὗτός ἐστιν μέγας

    11 Matt. 19:14 τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Mark 10:14 τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ


    Luke 18:16 τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    12 Matt. 19:23 εἰσελεύσεται εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Mark 10:23 εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελεύσονται


    Luke 18:24 εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσπορεύονται

    13 Matt. 19:24 εἰσελθεῖν…εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ


    Mark 10:25 εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν


    Luke 18:25 εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν

    14 Matt. 21:43 ἀρθήσεται ἀφ’ ὑμῶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ δοθήσεται ἔθνει ποιοῦντι τοὺς καρποὺς αὐτῆς


    Mark (–)


    Luke (–)

    For the creation of this table, the authors relied on Lindsey, GCSG.

  • [82]

    Kingdom of Heaven/God: Double Tradition Pericopae
    1 Matt. 5:3 ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Luke 6:20 ὅτι ὑμετέρα ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ

    2 Matt. 7:21 Οὐ πᾶς ὁ λέγων μοι Κύριε κύριε εἰσελεύσεται εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Luke 6:46 Τί δέ με καλεῖτε Κύριε κύριε, καὶ οὐ ποιεῖτε ἃ λέγω

    3 Matt. 8:11 ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Luke 13:28 ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ

    4 Matt. 11:11 μικρότερος ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Luke 7:28 μικρότερος ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ

    5 Matt. 11:12 ἕως ἄρτι ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν βιάζεται


    Luke 16:16 ἀπὸ τότε ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ εὐαγγελίζεται

    6 Matt. 13:33 Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Luke 13:20 Τίνι ὁμοιώσω τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ

    7 Matt. 22:2 Ὡμοιώθη ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Luke 14:15 Μακάριος ὅστις φάγεται ἄρτον ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ

    8 Matt. 23:13 κλείετε τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων


    Luke 11:52 ἤρατε τὴν κλεῖδα τῆς γνώσεως· αὐτοὶ οὐκ εἰσήλθατε καὶ τοὺς εἰσερχομένους ἐκωλύσατε

    For the creation of this table, the authors relied on Lindsey, GCSG.

  • [83] Allen (203) accounts for the phrase ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν in Matthew by suggesting that “it is probable that the editor [of Matthew—DNB and JNT] was a Jewish Christian who…judaised, or rather rabbinised Christ’s sayings.”
  • [84] See David Flusser, “The Synagogue and the Church in the Synoptic Gospels” (JS1, 21).
  • [85] See Robert L. Lindsey, “A New Approach to the Synoptic Gospels,” under the subheading “Mark Secondary to Luke.”
  • [86] We count 12 unique Matthean verses where Matthew writes “Kingdom of Heaven/God.” Of these we consider only one to be a Matthean composition (Matt. 19:12), and in this instance Matthew writes “Kingdom of Heaven.”

    Kingdom of Heaven/God: Unique Matthean Pericopae
    1 Matt. 5:19 κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν· ὃς δ’ ἂν ποιήσῃ καὶ διδάξῃ, οὗτος μέγας κληθήσεται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν
    2 Matt. 5:20 εἰσέλθητε εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν
    3 Matt. 13:24 Ὡμοιώθη ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    4 Matt. 13:44 Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    5 Matt. 13:45 ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    6 Matt. 13:47 ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    7 Matt. 13:52 τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν ὅμοιός ἐστιν
    8 Matt. 18:23 ὡμοιώθη ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    9 Matt. 19:12 καὶ εἰσὶν εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες εὐνούχισαν ἑαυτοὺς διὰ τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν


    Mark (–)

    10 Matt. 20:1 Ὁμοία γάρ ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
    11 Matt. 21:31 οἱ τελῶναι καὶ αἱ πόρναι προάγουσιν ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ
    12 Matt. 25:1 Τότε ὁμοιωθήσεται ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν

    For the creation of this table, the authors relied on Robert L. Lindsey’s Greek Concordance of the Synoptic Gospels (3 vols.; Jerusalem: Dugith, 1985-1989).

  • [87] Cf. Dalman, 93.
  • [88] Here, our use of the term “de-Judaize” is not intended to indicate that Luke was anti-Jewish. To the contrary, the author of Luke demonstrates a high regard for Judaism and great sensitivity and openness toward the Jewish people (on this point see especially Tomson, 214-247). We use “de-Judaize” to describe Luke’s tendency to downplay that which is specifically Jewish that might seem alien or incomprehensible to Gentile readers. The author of Luke was motivated to make his material universally applicable since he was writing for a non-Jewish audience.
  • [89] See Robert L. Lindsey, “The Hebrew Life of Jesus,” under the subheading “The Two Versions of the Beatitudes.”
  • [90] See Disciples’ Prayer, Comment to L10.
  • [91] “Amen,” which appears with such high frequency in the sayings of Jesus, would have seemed strange even to non-Jewish readers who were familiar with the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Although אָמֵן occurs 30xx in the MT, ἀμήν occurs only 8xx in LXX (1 Chr. 16:36; 1 Esdr. 9:47; Neh. 5:13; 8:6; Tob. 8:8; 3 Macc. 7:23; 4 Macc. 18:24; Pr. Man. 15), all in later books and, with the exception of Neh. 5:13, exclusively in the context of a blessing or prayer (in Neh. 5:13 “amen” appears in the context of a curse). The standard LXX translation of אָמֵן is γένοιτο (23xx).
  • [92] On the anti-Jewish tendency of the author of Matthew, see David Flusser, “Two Anti-Jewish Montages in Matthew” (Flusser, JOC, 552-560); idem, “Matthew’s Verus Israel” (Flusser, JOC, 561-574); idem, “Anti-Jewish Sentiment in the Gospel of Matthew” (Flusser, JSTP2, 351-353); R. Steven Notley, “Anti-Jewish Tendencies in the Synoptic Gospels,” under the subheading “Matthew and the Jewish People”; Tomson, 255-289.
  • [93] Matthew is unique in numbering the Pharisees among those indicted by Jesus’ Wicked Tenants parable ( Matt. 21:45). The chronology of Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees in Matt. 23 is artificially relocated to Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem. Also, according to Matthew, the chief priests and the Pharisees conspire together to put a guard at Jesus’ tomb (Matt. 27:62). On this point, see Tomson, 272-276.
  • [94] See David Flusser, “Two Anti-Jewish Montages in Matthew” (Flusser, JOC, 558-559); cf. Tomson, 281.
  • [95] Matthew’s source for Matt. 12:28, a verse appearing in a Triple Tradition pericope, but not found in Mark, was Anthology. In agreement with Luke, Matthew writes ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. However, in Matt. 12:28 Matthew omits an important Hebraism preserved in Luke’s parallel. Instead of “by the finger of God” (Luke 11:20), which alludes to the story of Moses, Matthew writes “by the Spirit of God,” which was probably easier for non-Jewish Greek-speakers to comprehend. Since we already have one example of Matthew’s editorial activity in this verse, it is possible that ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ in Matt. 12:28 is also editorial, and that the agreement with Luke is coincidental.
  • [96] The authors wish to thank Lauren Asperschlager for making this point (personal communication).
  • [97] As noted above, there is no evidence for an Aramaic equivalent to “Kingdom of Heaven” in ancient Jewish sources.
  • [98] See David Flusser, “The Synagogue and the Church in the Synoptic Gospels” (JS1, 35).
  • [99] Instances of Matthew’s writing not dependent on a source include Matt. 19:10-12; 27:3-8; 27:62-66; 28:11-15. See David Flusser, “Two Anti-Jewish Montages in Matthew” (Flusser, JOC, 560); R. Steven Notley, “Anti-Jewish Tendencies in the Synoptic Gospels,” under the subheading “Matthew and the Jewish People.”
  • [100] See Robert L. Lindsey, “A New Two-source Solution to the Synoptic Problem,” point number 4; idem, “Measuring the Disparity Between Matthew, Mark and Luke,” under the subheading “Further Proof of Mark’s Dependence on Luke”; David Flusser, “Flusser on Lindsey’s Synoptic Hypothesis.”
  • [101] In this passage, Luke seems to be preserving Anthology.
  • [102] In this DT tradition, there is identical wording, with the exception of a few instances of καί.
  • [103] See David N. Bivin, “‘Do Not Resist Evil’: Jesus’ View of Pacifism.”
  • [104] W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 422ff.
  • [105] E.g., Herod Antipas, who married his half-brother (by the same father; Ant. 18:136) Herod’s wife, Herodias (Mark 6:17-18). Herodias left her first husband, Herod (son of Herod the Great and Mariamme II) to marry his half-brother Antipas (son of Malthace the Samaritan)—not to marry Philip, as Mark erroneously reports.
  • [106] H. Freedman’s note in Soncino English version: “With which they wrote their evil decrees.”
  • [107] See Shmuel Safrai, “Insulting God’s High Priest,” sub-section “On the Sadducean High Priests and Their Families”; David N. Bivin, “Another Look at the ‘Cleansing of the Temple’ Story,” esp. footnote 10.
  • [108] Jewish halachah did not allow Jewish slaves.
  • [109] Note that Paul, equipped with letters of authority from the high priest in Jerusalem (Acts 9:2), was persecuting followers of Jesus, even traveling as far as Damascus (Acts 9:3ff.).
  • [110] See Joshua N. Tilton, Jesus’ Gospel: Searching for the Core of Jesus’ Message, esp. 73-79.
  • [111] See Shmuel Safrai, “Halakha,” in The Literature of the Sages: First Part: Oral Tora, Halakha, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates (CRINT II.3; ed. Shmuel Safrai; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 1:194-196.
  • [112] On a few of the sayings that challenge Bivin’s assertion that Jesus was not opposed to violence in principle (i.e., that Jesus was not a “pacifist”), see Joshua N. Tilton, “Whole Stones That Make Peace,” idem, “Perfect Children.”

Comments 11

  1. Joshua McClintock

    Question about what Lindsey means in his article, “The Kingdom Of God: God’s Power Among Believers.” which is cited here.

    Lindsey says, “It does not appear in the Scriptures, the literature created by the Essenes (the Dead Sea Scrolls)”

    Did first century Jews refer to Qumran literature as, ‘Scriptures’? If so, could that help us understand what Paul is saying when he says in 1 Cor. 15:4 that Jesus died and rose again according to the ‘scriptures’?

    Is Paul making a reference to a dying and rising Messiah type figure in Qumran literature, possibly in 4Q372? Or is Paul talking about tanakh?

    See: “A Dying and Rising Josephite Messiah in 4Q372 DAVID C. MITCHELL”
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_s_DPpID_urN2N5VEdSdEVzaWs/view

    1. Joshua N. Tilton

      Hi Joshua,
      The full sentence from which you quoted provides the answer to your first question. In the Sidebar to Lindsey’s article, Safrai wrote: “It [i.e., the expression מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם (malchūt shāmayim, “Kingdom of Heaven”)—JNT] does not appear in the Scriptures, the literature created by the Essenes (the Dead Sea Scrolls), or in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.” In other words, there are three collections of ancient Jewish literature where “kingdom of heaven” does not occur: 1) Scripture, 2) Dead Sea Scrolls, 3) Apocrypha & Pseudepigrapha. So Safrai did not intend to imply that non-Essene Jews of the first century would have accepted Essene writings as Scripture. Whether the Essenes themselves would have considered (some of) their extra-biblical writings to be Scripture is another question, which is debated by scholars.

      I think we can say with reasonable certainty that when Paul referred to Jesus’ dying and rising “according to the Scriptures,” the Scriptures he referred to are the Torah, Prophets and Writings he quoted in his letters. That being said, the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient Jewish sources offer us a glimpse into how the Scriptures were being interpreted and applied in the Second Temple Period, when Paul wrote his letters. These ancient Jewish sources can help us to understand how and why Paul and other early followers of Jesus interpreted the Scriptures in the (often surprising) ways they did.

      Hope that helps.

  2. Pingback: A Groundbreaking Attempt to Reconstruct the Conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua | JerusalemPerspective.com Online

  3. Pingback: Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town | JerusalemPerspective.com Online

  4. Pingback: LOY 48: Demands of Discipleship | JerusalemPerspective.com Online

  5. Pingback: LOY 47: Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven | JerusalemPerspective.com Online

  6. Pingback: LOY 83: Blessedness of the Disciples | JerusalemPerspective.com Online

  7. Pingback: LOY 49-50: Hidden Treasure and Priceless Pearl Parables | JerusalemPerspective.com Online

  8. Joshua McClintock

    Amazing article! Thank you.

    I had a question about Yeshua’s comment about ‘if your righteousness doesn’t exceed that of the Pharisees …’

    Could it be that this was Yeshua’s way of ‘putting a fence around torah’? In other words, he’s contrasting his halakah with that of the Pharisees’. Could he be saying that, ‘If you stop the yetzer ha’ra in the heart, you’ve gone one step further from the transgression of torah’?

    In effect, having circumscribed the Pharisees fence of halakah by his own, he’s managed to make his teaching more desirous. So by saying that ‘unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees … you won’t enter my movement’. Is this some sort of rabbinic sophistication, maybe even a form of kal v’achomer which builds an argument that places the safeguard, which would prevent transgression, further from the safeguard his contemporaries proposed; thus undercutting their ruling and proving it is not as valuable?

    1. Joshua N. Tilton

      Dear Joshua,
      We’re so pleased to hear that you found our article to be helpful. A great deal of work went into it, so it is encouraging to hear that it is bearing fruit.

      With respect to your question about righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees, I think your suggestion about kal va-homer might be on to something. I have a suspicion that Jesus’ statement about greater righteousness (Matt. 5:20) has to do with his exegetical approach in the Sermon on the Mount. There Jesus contrasts one a minimalist mode of interpretation with his own more rigorous approach. This is especially clear in his approach to the prohibition of murder (Matt. 5:21-22). Jesus opposed an approach that attempted to limit the scope of the commandment and advocated an approach that took the ethical spirit of the commandment and applied it even to and even wider set of circumstances. In Jesus’ view the prohibition against murder should not merely be read to determine how to punish murderers, but should regarded as laying down an ethical principle, vis. “all human beings are created in God’s image,” and therefore people must not be treated with contempt. Jesus expresses a similar approach when he says, “You give a tenth of your spices: mint, dill, and cumin; but you neglect the weightier matters of the Torah. You should practice the latter without neglecting the former” (Matt. 23:23).

      A similar pattern to what is found in the Sermon on the Mount is attested in the early Christian work, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (or the Didache), which was based on a Jewish treatise which scholars refer to as the Two Ways. There we read, “Flee from all evil and everything that is like it. Do not be an angry person, for anger leads to murder. Nor should you be zealous or quarrelsome or hot-tempered, for from these murders arise” (Did. 3:2).

      In the Sermon on the Mount and in the Jewish Two Ways we find an exegetical pattern which assumes that a light transgression will ultimately lead to a major transgression, much like the form of a kal va-homer argument.

      For more on this topic, I recommend the following resources:

      Serge Ruzer, “Antitheses in Matthew 5: Midrashic Aspects of Exegetical Techniques,” in The Sermon on the Mount and its Jewish Setting (ed. Hans-Jürgen Becker and Serge Ruzer; Cahiers de la Revue Biblique: Paris, 2005), 89-116.

      Huub van de Sandt and David Flusser, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), 193-237.

      David Flusser, “‘It Is Said to the Elders’: On the Interpretation of the So-called Antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount” (jerusalemperspective.com).

  9. Clifton Payne

Leave a Reply

David N. Bivin

David N. Bivin
Facebook

David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
[Read more about author]

Joshua N. Tilton

Joshua N. Tilton

Joshua N. Tilton grew up in St. George, a small town on the coast of Maine. For his undergraduate degree he studied at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, where he earned a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies (2002). There he studied Biblical Hebrew and…
[Read more about author]

From our Bookstore

Recent Comments



DONATIONS: All donations received via PayPal will be used to increase the services available on JerusalemPerspective.com.


Articles, blogs, forum messages and other types of posts published by Jerusalem Perspective Online express the views of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Jerusalem Perspective Online, David Bivin or other members of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research.

Designed by Brian Becker for JP.

Copyright 2016 - 1987 Jerusalem Perspective -
All Rights Reserved