The more we know and understand the historical, cultural and linguistic background of the Bible, the more we are able to discern elements in the biblical text that heretofore have gone unnoticed. These can be elements that can greatly increase our understanding of the biblical text, reinforce our traditional conceptions, or at times radically transform our understanding by revealing totally unexpected information that affects how the texts would have been originally understood.
Toward the end of his Epistle, James exhorts his readers to pray with faith for the healing of the sick. When we read that “the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16), we might have expected James to cite the example of Abraham. Genesis 20:17 might have served as the perfect prooftext: “Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech.” …The example of Elijah that was provided by James, however, seems less obvious and more difficult.
One of the finest articles ever written on rabbinic parables and the parables of Jesus was published in 1972 in the now defunct Christian News from Israel. The article is a classic, but, unfortunately, no longer available. Jerusalem Perspective is pleased to resurrect this milestone article together with the responses of founding Jerusalem School members, the late Robert L. Lindsey and David Flusser.*
Material from Ezekiel 17:24, and more often 21:3 (20:47 in the English Bible) has often been cited as the source of Jesus’ saying in Luke 23:31, “If they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?“ Other commentators have questioned this assumption. If the material was borrowed from Ezekiel, however, was it borrowed directly or was it sifted through hundreds of years of usage, only to find its way into the mouth of Jesus?
It appears that the original context for Jesus’ “Comfort for the Heavy-Laden” saying has been lost; however, in spite of this, passages in the apocryphal book of Ben Sira may help us determine Jesus’ intent. The Ben Sira texts indicate that Jesus was speaking of the study of Torah (Written and Oral) and the rigors of first-century discipleship.
In the modern Hebrew translation that was published by the Israeli Bible Society in 1976, and revised in 1991 and 1995, Matthew 5:19 was rendered “…ha-mitsvot ha-ketanot…katon yikare’…gadol yikare’…” (the small commandments…small [smaller, smallest] he will be called…big [bigger, biggest] he will be called). It is highly probable, however, that in this context Jesus was speaking about mitsvot kalot (light commandments) and not about mitsvot ketanot (little or small commandments).
Based on archaeological excavations near the southern wall of the temple, the research of Shmuel Safrai, and a nuance of the Hebrew verb that is one of the equivalents for Greek ekballein (drive out, banish; throw out; throw away, reject; cast out of a place, expel; remove, get rid of; put out), it may be necessary to reinterpret the gospel accounts of Jesus’ “cleansing” of the temple, even suggesting a different location for Jesus’ action.
In a beautiful statement that probably referred to the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus proclaimed to his disciples, according to Luke, that “many prophets and kings” desired to see and hear what they (his disciples) are seeing and hearing. Matthew preserves the same saying, but in Matthew’s account the doublet is, “prophets and righteous persons.” The wording of Jesus’ saying in these two accounts is so similar that it appears likely that their slight differences reflect literary, or editorial, changes rather than different versions of the saying uttered by Jesus on different occasions. If so, which of these gospel accounts preserves the more original form of Jesus’ saying? Did Jesus say “prophets and kings” or “prophets and righteous persons”?
Gospel parables are probably the most widely identifiable teaching form of Jesus. However, readers seldom recognize Jesus’ sophisticated skill as a first-century Jewish parabolist. Indeed, many Christians are unaware that his use of story parables is one of the strongest links between Jesus and contemporary Jewish piety. His parables also demonstrate that Jesus taught in Hebrew.
Jesus’ teaching on judging is one of his most frequently misunderstood sayings, sounding as if he is saying, “Have no discernment. Just ignore sin!” Often we struggle to find a way to sort out sin without actually calling it that so that we do not judge. While Jesus’ ethical demands are high, we often give up trying to follow them if they do not make sense to us.