In this article Sea of Galilee fishing expert, Mendel Nun, discusses the different types of fishing nets that were used in the first century by fishermen. Nun’s knowledge of ancient fishing techniques illuminates the stories of Jesus and his followers, many of whom were fishermen.
Christmas brings many carols and cards containing the words from Luke 2:14, “Goodwill to men” and “Peace to men of goodwill.” The angels praised God with words that in English may sound like a politician wishing us to “Have a nice day.” Most of us sense that these words reflect something deeper, but why did the angels use such seemingly innocuous words?
Jewish sages were called upon constantly by their community to interpret scriptural commands. The Torah forbids working on the Sabbath, for instance, but it does not define what constitutes work. As a result, the sages were required to rule on which activities were permitted on the Sabbath. They “bound,” or prohibited, certain activities, and “loosed” or allowed, others.
Research by Robert L. Lindsey has helped clarify the process by which gospel texts were preserved and transmitted. Luke desired, he said in his prologue, to present to Theophilus an “orderly” account. Such ordering is to be noted in Matthew and Mark, as well. These attempts at ordering help us understand why so many of the synoptic gospel stories appear in a different chronological order from gospel to gospel.
When a sage felt that a colleague had misinterpreted a passage of Scripture, he would say, “You are canceling (or, uprooting) the Torah!” In other words, “You are so misinterpreting Scripture that you are negating or canceling part of it.” Needless to say, in most cases, his colleague strongly disagreed. What was “canceling” the Torah for one teacher was “fulfilling” it for another.
The original understanding of the third commandment, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Exod. 20:7), was that one must keep one’s vows when swearing by God’s name. Israel’s ancient sages eventually came to interpret this commandment to mean using the LORD’s name lightly or frivolously. To avoid the risk of employing the divine name irreverently, the sages ruled that one should not utter it at all.
Jesus apparently attached great importance to the Oral Torah (unwritten in his day), and it seems he considered it to be authoritative. When Jesus admonished his disciples to “do and observe everything they [the scribes and Pharisees] command you” (Matt. 23:3), he was referring to the Pharisees’ oral traditions and interpretations of the Written Torah. The Written Torah itself could not have been in question, for it was accepted by all sects of Judaism, and Jesus himself said, “Heaven and earth would sooner disappear than one ‘yod’ or even one ‘kotz” from the Torah’ (Matt. 5:18).
One may contend that there existed a basic text of Jesus’ life story written in Hebrew. One arrives at this assumption not merely on the basis of the church fathers’ writings, but because the Greek texts of the synoptic gospels show so much evidence of being “translation Greek,” that is, Greek that contains Hebrew idioms and sentence structures.
Torah has always been the focus of rabbinic teaching. Unfortunately, the Hebrew word “torah” is usually translated in English simply as “law,” which has created the impression that it has to do only with commandments. This is not the case at all. The Torah was given by God as a guideline for a whole way of life. A better translation would be “God’s instructions.”