The Good Samaritan

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The parable of the Good Samaritan came as a response to the lawyer’s question, “And who is my neighbor?” The lawyer wanted Jesus to draw a circle defining who is inside, and therefore the neighbor I must love, and who is outside. Jesus, by using Leviticus 19:34, ingeniously turned the lawyer’s question on its head.
This article is a sample chapter of Marc Turnage’s, Windows into the Bible: Cultural and Historical Insights into the Bible for Modern Readers (Springfield, Mo.: Logion, 2016), which will be released at the end of March 2016.

The “Hypocrisy” of the Pharisees

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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.

The Jewish Cultural Nature of Galilee in the First Century

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The prevailing opinion among New Testament scholars is that first-century Galilee was culturally and spiritually deprived, and that, therefore, Jesus came from an underdeveloped and backward Jewish region of the land of Israel. Professor Safrai here presents massive evidence against this view.

Keys of the Kingdom: Allusion to Divinity?

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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.

The Value of Rabbinic Literature as an Historical Source

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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.

Mark 7:19: Did Jesus Make “Unclean” Food “Clean”?

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One should not be too quick to throw out large portions of the Torah because of a four-word parenthetical comment by Mark at the end of a long halachic discussion.

Over and Under-Familiarity with Matthew 6:11

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Hearing something repeatedly can diminish its significance. I suspect that this is particularly true of Scripture. Overfamiliarity with a biblical passage can contribute to its misunderstanding. Sometimes it can reduce a profound saying to nothing more than a cliché.

Jesus’ Yoke and Burden

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It appears that the original context for Jesus’ “Comfort for the Heavy-Laden” saying has been lost; however, passages in the apocrypha indicate that Jesus was speaking of Torah study and the rigors of first-century discipleship.

What Did Jesus Mean by “Do Not Judge”?

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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.

Being There

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One of the strongest impressions I have from my first year in Israel (1963-1964) was taking part in a Passover Seder (the joyous home celebration of Passover). It happened that during this first year in Israel my first contact with the Jewish people took place—there were no Jews living in Cleveland, Oklahoma, where I grew up.

With All Due Respect…

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The relationship between a sage and his disciple may be characterized both as that of a father to his son, and of a master to his servant. In effect, a disciple indentured himself to his teacher. Traveling with and attending to him, a disciple remained with his teacher twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year. The etiquette governing the teacher-disciple relationship is a fascinating subject. In this article, Shmuel Safrai explores one aspect of that relationship: To what extent could an advanced disciple differ from the opinions of his teacher?

Insulting God’s High Priest

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Recent research has shown that Sadducees, not Pharisees, were responsible for the death of Jesus. An incident recounted in the Book of Acts provides a glimpse of the Sadducean high priests’ corrupt behavior. Little wonder the Sadducees were despised by the common people.

Were Women Segregated in the Ancient Synagogue?

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Did women play a passive role in the synagogue congregations of antiquity? Were they separated from male members of the congregation during prayer and study, as is the case today? According to Professor Shmuel Safrai, the answer to both questions is a resounding “No.”

Stewards of God’s Keys

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Jesus gave his disciple Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” and promised that whatever Peter “bound” and “loosed” on earth would be “bound” and “loosed” in heaven. What scriptural allusions lurk beneath these expressions and what are their implications? How does the Jewish literary background of Matthew 16:19 help us better appreciate Jesus’ words?