The Place of Women in First-century Synagogues

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Today, public worship can take place in a synagogue only if at least ten adult Jewish males are present. Women do not qualify as part of this quorum. Furthermore, women are separated from men within the synagogue: women worship in an ezrat nashim, a balcony, or section with a divider, located beside or behind the men’s section. Things were considerably different in Jesus’ day.

The Shema in Early Jewish Teaching

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A careful investigation of early sources suggests that Deuteronomy 6:4 must have been the first portion from the Hebrew Bible that Jesus committed to memory.

Master and Disciple

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To understand the relationship between a first-century master and his disciples, one must appreciate the central role of Torah in ancient Jewish society.

The Two Great Principles and Sefer Pitron Torah

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The command to love one’s neighbor was already thought of during the Second Commonwealth as the essence of the second half of the Decalogue, in which sense it is quoted in Sefer Pitron Torah.

The Kingdom of God: God’s Power Among Believers

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One of the greatest theological controversies in the last century concerns the meaning of the terms “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of heaven.” Because scholars have not given adequate attention to the fact that these are completely Hebraic terms, confusion has arisen concerning the period of time to which the Kingdom refers, who takes part in it and the exact nature of the Kingdom. Examining relevant Gospel passages in their Hebraic context will clarify what Jesus meant when he spoke of the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of heaven.”

“Binding” and “Loosing” in the Kingdom of Heaven

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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.

Pilgrimage in the Time of Jesus

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Luke states that Joseph and Mary made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem every Passover. The requirement of pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem is mentioned in the passages of Scripture that deal with three annual festivals: the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths.

The Role of Women in the Temple

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According to Jewish religious law, women were allowed in every area of the Temple precincts in which men were allowed. The Mishnah specifies areas within the Temple that non-priests were not allowed to enter, but it does not differentiate between men and women.

Zechariah’s Prestigious Task

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It was not unknown for a priest to see a vision or hear a heavenly voice in the sanctuary at the time of the incense offering. Josephus relates that while the high priest and ruler John Hyrcanus was offering incense in the sanctuary, he heard a voice proclaiming that his sons had just defeated the Syrian king Antiochus (Antiq. 13:282).

Jesus’ Education

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A careful reading of the New Testament suggests that Jesus was a scholar learned in the Scriptures and religious literature of the period, which was vast and varied. Yet the popular Christian view of Jesus is that he was a simple, uneducated character from the provinces. This misunderstanding is due in part to a number of disparaging statements made about Nazareth and the Galilee such as, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46), and “Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?’” (Acts 2:7).

First-century Discipleship

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Like other sages of his time, Jesus demanded his disciples’ total commitment. They were to put the “kingdom of Heaven” (Jesus’ band of full-time disciples) before all else. They were to “hate,” that is, put second, father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and themselves, as well (Luke 14:26). Following Jesus to learn Torah from him was to take precedence over every other endeavor.

Jesus and the Oral Torah: Did Jesus Wear Phylacteries?

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The Gospels attest to the fact that Jesus had tassels on the four corners of his outer robe (Matt. 9:20; 14:36; Mark 6:56; Luke 8:44). Although there is no explicit evidence in the Gospels, we have reason to suggest that he also may have worn phylacteries.

Jesus and the Oral Torah: The Hem of His Garment

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The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus, like all observant Jews of the first century, wore tsitsiyot. These are the tassels that were attached to the four corners of one’s robe as commanded in Numbers 15 and Deuteronomy 22. Jesus’ observance of this commandment is dramatically illustrated by the story of the woman who suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years.

Jesus and the Oral Torah: Tithing

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Tithing is a biblical commandment set forth in Leviticus 27:30-33, Deuteronomy 14:22-29 and Deuteronomy 26:12-14. Most Christians would probably agree that Jesus observed this commandment since the New Testament clearly states, “having been born under the Torah, he committed no sin” (Gal. 4:4; 1 Pet. 2:22; Heb. 4:15). However, the question is, did Jesus observe the commandment to tithe as it was interpreted in the Oral Torah? The biblical commandment was to tithe only on grain, wine and oil. The sages extended this commandment to include tithing on “anything used for food.”

Jesus and the Oral Torah: The Unutterable Name of God

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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.