In our recent attempt to propose a Hebrew reconstruction of Jesus’ instructions to his twelve apostles (see Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road), David Bivin and I were confronted with a racially sensitive issue. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the apostles not to enter any city of the Samaritans (Matt. 10:5). Reconstructing Jesus’ words in Hebrew raised an uncomfortable question that, as far as we are aware, has never before been considered by New Testament scholars. The question is: What Hebrew word did Jesus use to refer to the Samaritans? This is a sensitive question because, of the two Hebrew alternatives, the more common term in ancient Jewish sources is a racial slur.
Modern readers tend to overlook the significance of the date of Quirinius’ census in the Infancy Narrative of Luke’s Gospel. Preachers and interpreters frequently point to Luke’s mention of the census as proof that God maneuvered even the pagan Roman authorities to bring about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Few note the significance of the date within the history of the Jewish people living in the land of Israel. It’s my feeling that the events surrounding the census of Quirinius drew Luke to mention it within his narrative and connect Jesus’ birth to this event.
Helpless pawn or ruthless villain? The Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate, is famous because of his role in the New Testament Gospels. Pilate’s name is even mentioned in ancient Christian creeds. Yet in many Christian retellings of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion Pilate’s role is often portrayed incorrectly. In this video Marc Turnage reexamines Pilate’s character based on ancient literary sources, including the New Testament, and archaeological finds. In doing so, Turnage offers a new take on a familiar character.
The high priest Joseph Caiaphas is known not only from the New Testament Gospels as the high priest who opposed Jesus and his early followers, but also from Josephus the Jewish historian who lived in the first century C.E. In this video Marc Turnage provides an historical sketch of this pivotal character.
The Pharisee Gamaliel is mentioned twice in the New Testament (Acts 5:34; 22:3). In Acts 5:34 he appears as an advocate of the nascent congregation of Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem and is called “a Pharisee, a teacher of the Law, held in honor by all the people.” Then, in Acts 22:3, Paul says that he was “brought up in this city [Jerusalem] at the feet of Gamaliel.” Indeed, Gamaliel was an important spiritual leader of the Pharisees and a Jewish scholar. He also is well known from Jewish sources.
A “Hebraism” is a typical feature of the Hebrew language found in another language. The majority of today’s New Testament authorities assume that Aramaic is behind the Semitisms of the New Testament, and that Jesus spoke Aramaic as his primary language. So much so, in fact, that the student who checks standard reference works is informed that the Greek words for “Hebrew” and for “in the Hebrew language” (not only in the New Testament, but in Josephus and other texts) refer to the Aramaic language.
Without reading the Scriptures carefully, and without a familiarity with Second Temple-period extra-biblical sources, a simple reader of the New Testament might assume that a majority of the Pharisees were hypocrites and that the Pharisees as a movement were indeed a “brood of vipers.” As a result of this common Christian assumption, the word “Pharisee” has become a synonym for “hypocrite” in the English language.
It has been noted that in instances where Mark’s editorial hand restructured his story, Luke has preserved a more primitive form of the account, a form that is independent of Mark’s influence. Gospel scholars need to properly evaluate Mark’s editorial style and acknowledge that frequently a theological agenda influenced his rewriting.
Scholars in Israel tend to view synoptic gospel texts, and other Jewish texts from the Second Temple period, through Hebraic and rabbinic eyes. Many Israeli scholars, including the late Professor Shmuel Safrai, are in the habit of first translating synoptic texts to Hebrew to see with what ease they go into Hebrew; and then secondly, comparing the resultant translation with rabbinic sources in an effort to determine whether culturally such and such was ever said or done in rabbinic times. Unfortunately, it has become common in many scholarly circles outside Israel to dismiss rabbinic literature as having little validity as background to the synoptic gospels since rabbinic sources were compiled long after these gospels were written. In this article Safrai provides convincing evidence that much of later rabbinic literature faithfully reflects the situation in Second-Temple times. He demonstrates just how important the rabbinic material is for gaining a fuller understanding of the Gospels.—DB.
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.
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?
An extremely interesting discussion is now taking place on the Bible Translation Discussion List (Bible-Translation@lists.kastanet.org). Jack Kilmon has stated (13Nov08), “Jesus/Yeshua’s native language was Aramaic. That is no longer disputed in serious scholarship,” and (15Nov08), “There is no evidence whatsoever that ordinary people spoke Hebrew in the late 2nd temple period.”
The Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot or Festival of Booths) as celebrated during the late Second Temple era included elements which were not prescribed in Scripture, and some of which ended with the destruction of the Temple.
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.