Call of Levi

Matt. 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32; 15:1-2
(Huck 53; Aland 44, 93; Crook 67, 97)[1]

Revised: 9-January-2018

וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן יָצָא וַיַּרְא מוֹכֵס וּשְׁמוֹ לֵוִי יוֹשֵׁב אֵצֶל בֵּית הַמֶּכֶס וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ לֵךְ אַחֲרַי וַיַּנַּח אֶת הַכֹּל וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלֶךְ אַחֲרָיו וַיַּעַשׂ לֵוִי מִשְׁתֶּה גָדוֹל לוֹ וַיְהִי הוּא מֵסֵב בְּבֵיתוֹ וְהִנֵּה אֻכְלוּס גָּדוֹל שֶׁלְּמוֹכְסִים וּרְשָׁעִים שֶׁהָיוּ בָּאִים לִשְׁמוֹעַ לוֹ וַיִּלּוֹנוּ הַפְּרוּשִׁים וְסוֹפְרֵיהֶם עַל תַּלְמִידָיו לֵאמֹר לָמָּה עִם הַמּוֹכְסִים וְהָרְשָׁעִים הוּא אוֹכֵל וְשׁוֹתֵה וַיַּעַן יֵשׁוּעַ וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֵין צוֹרֶךְ לַבְּרִיאִים בְּרוֹפֵא אֶלָּא לַחֹלִים [לְכוּ וְלִמְדוּ מָה הוּא חֶסֶד חָפַצְתִּי וְלֹא זָבַח] לֹא בָּאתִּי לִקְרֹוא לַצַּדִּיקִים אֶלָּא לָרְשָׁעִים לִתְשׁוּבָה

Some time later, Yeshua went out and noticed a toll collector named Levi sitting at a toll house, and he said to Levi, “Follow me as my disciple!” So leaving everything behind, Levi got up and followed Yeshua.

Levi prepared a sumptuous banquet in honor of Yeshua. As Yeshua was eating in Levi’s home, a whole crowd of toll collectors and other sinners came to listen to him.

But the Pharisees and their leaders complained against his disciples by asking, “Why is he celebrating with toll collectors and other sinners?”

“Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do,” Yeshua replied. “[Instead of criticizing me, go find out what God meant when he said: Mercy is more desirable to me than sacrifice.] God sent me to invite sinners to repent, not righteous people.”[2]










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Story Placement

The Call of Levi story is a Triple Tradition (TT) pericope, which all three synoptic evangelists place at an early stage of Jesus’ career. All three evangelists also agree to place the Healing a Paralyzed Man narrative (Matt. 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26) immediately before the Call of Levi story, and to place Why Yeshua’s Disciples Do Not Fast (Matt. 9:14-17; Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39) immediately afterward. This agreed-upon arrangement of pericopae is due to Mark’s acceptance of Luke’s story order and Matthew’s subsequent acceptance of the story order in Mark. This arrangement of pericopae probably originated with Luke; it probably does not go back to either of Luke’s pre-synoptic sources: the Anthology (Anth.) or the First Reconstruction (FR).

There are, however, indications that at a pre-synoptic stage the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes were the continuation of the Call of Levi story. Luke 15:1-2, which introduces the twin Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes, appears to be FR’s abridged version of the Call of Levi story.[3] It appears that the First Reconstructor (the creator of FR) was less interested in the details of Levi’s biography and the story of the banquet that was celebrated in his home than he was in Jesus’ defense of his association with sinners, which is so memorably driven home by the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes. Accordingly, the First Reconstructor pared down the Call of Levi story to the minimum required to introduce the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes.

If this description of FR’s editorial activity is correct, then we must conclude that the First Reconstructor knew that the twin similes were the continuation of the Call of Levi story in Anth. The author of Luke would have known this, too, since he also had access to Anth., but since he failed to recognize that the introduction to the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes (Luke 15:1-2) was simply an abbreviated version of the Call of Levi story, he retained the version from Anth. (Luke 5:27-32) as well as the version from FR (Luke 15:1-10), omitting the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes from Anth.’s version because these he did recognize as parallel to those in FR. The author of Matthew would likewise have known that the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes were the continuation of the Call of Levi story in Anth., but seeing that they did not continue the Call of Levi story in Mark, the author of Matthew found it convenient to include the Lost Sheep simile in his discourse on pastoral care and to omit the Lost Coin simile altogether.[4]

We have dubbed the “complete” story of Jesus’ interaction with Levi the toll collector, including the twin similes with which Jesus underscored his argument, as the “Yeshua and Levi the Toll Collector” complex, which can be viewed by clicking here. We have placed the entire complex within the section of the conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua entitled “Calling and Training Disciples.”



Click here to view the Map of the Conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua.


Conjectured Stages of Transmission

As we stated in the foregoing discussion, we believe the author of Luke copied Call of Levi from the Anthology (Anth.). Robert Lindsey characterized Anth. as a highly Hebraic-Greek text, which the author of Luke sometimes altered slightly in order to present a more polished Greek story to his non-Jewish Greek-speaking readers. A few instances of such polishing on the part of the author of Luke will be mentioned in the Comment section below. The author of Mark based his version of Call of Levi on Luke’s, but he reworked it in his characteristically expansive and periphrastic style.[5] The author of Matthew copied his version of Call of Levi from Mark, but the Lukan-Matthean minor agreements against Mark and the points of contact between the Matthean and FR versions of Call of Levi indicate that at certain points the author of Matthew corrected Mark’s version on the basis of Anth.

Witnesses to Jesus’ statement, “I have not come to call the righteous, etc.,” are also found in early Christian sources including 2 Clement (first half of the second cent. C.E.), the Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 130 C.E.)[6] and Justin Martyr’s First Apology (ca. 147-161 C.E.).[7] A version of Jesus’ statement about the healthy who have no need of a doctor is found in the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1224, a document copied in the fourth cent. C.E.,[8] but perhaps representing a composition written somewhat earlier.[9]

A papyrus fragment (Oxyrhynchus 1224) containing a parallel to the Call of Levi story. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Crucial Issues

  1. Where did the Call of Levi story take place?
  2. Why is the toll collector named “Levi” in Luke and Mark, but “Matthew” in Matthew?
  3. What were toll collectors, and why were they considered to be inappropriate company in Jewish society?
  4. Who were the Pharisees?
  5. Who were the “scribes,” and what was their relationship to the Pharisees?
  6. What were the Pharisees doing at the party if they didn’t approve of eating and drinking with sinners?


L1 καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα (GR). The use of μετὰ ταῦτα (meta tavta, “after these things”) is often cited as characteristically Lukan,[10] since this phrase occurs 6xx in Luke,[11] but only 1x in Mark and 0xx in Matthew.[12] However, we suspect that μετὰ ταῦτα in Luke is a reflection of Luke’s pre-synoptic sources.

וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן (HR). In LXX μετὰ ταῦτα is most frequently the translation of אַחֲרֵי כֵן (’aḥarē chēn, “after this”),[13] and וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן followed by a verb in the perfect, which is often used to open a new sentence in the Hebrew Bible, is generally translated in LXX as μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα or καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα + aorist, the same formula we find in Luke 5:27.[14] Since we believe narrative portions of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua are best reconstructed in a BH style, we have adopted וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן for HR.

L2 יָצָא (HR). On reconstructing ἐξέρχεσθαι (exerchesthai, “to go out”) with יָצָא (yātzā’, “go out”), see Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town, Comment to L98.

L3-6 Apart from καὶ ἐξῆλθεν, which the author of Mark copied from Luke, Mark 2:13 is entirely the product of the author of Mark’s pen, which he composed in order to create a bridge between the Healing a Paralyzed Man narrative and the Call of Levi story.[15]

L3 πάλιν παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν (Mark 2:13). It is only Mark’s redactional phrase “again beside the sea,”[16] which is absent in Matthew and Luke, that has given scholars the impression that Levi’s toll station was located in or near Capernaum.[17] Nevertheless, Mark 2:13 does not specify the name of a town or village where Levi collected his tolls. Did the author of Mark have personal knowledge concerning where Call of Levi took place, or is his mention of the Sea of Galilee simply a reflection of Mark’s tendency to mention the sea at the transition to a new story?[18] Neither Luke nor Matthew indicate where Call of Levi took place, and we cannot be sure whether in the Hebrew Life of Yeshua the story was set in the Galilee or in Judea, although a Galilean setting seems more probable, since it was in the Galilee that Jesus began recruiting and training disciples. It is possible that Mark’s reference to the sea is due to his conforming of the Call of Levi story to his version of Yeshua Calls His First Disciples (Mark 1:16-20), on which, see below, Comment to L7.

L4 In Mark’s redactional bridge we find a reference to the “crowd” (ὄχλος; ochlos). Perhaps the author of Mark picked up the word ὄχλος from Luke’s description of the crowd of toll collectors who dined with Jesus in the home of Levi (Luke 5:29). Mark’s parallel to Luke 5:29 omits ὄχλος (Mark 2:15; L28). Lindsey noted that when the author of Mark picked up a term from Luke he would frequently refuse to use that term at the same point where Luke had used it in his Gospel.[19]

L7 παράγων (Mark 2:14). The verb παράγειν (paragein, “to pass by”) does not occur in the Gospel of Luke. In LXX παράγειν is usually the translation of הֶעֱבִיר (he‘evir, “lead past,” “cause to pass by”).[20] In Mark παράγειν occurs 3xx (Mark 1:16; 2:14; 15:21). The first two instances in Mark occur in similarly worded descriptions of the calling of disciples:

Mark 1:16-18 Mark 2:13-14
L1 καὶ ἐξῆλθεν πάλιν παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν·καὶ πᾶς ὁ ὄχλος ἤρχετο πρὸς αὐτόν, καὶ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτούς.
L2 καὶ παράγων παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ παράγων
L3 εἶδεν Σίμωνα καὶ Ἀνδρέαν τὸν ἀδελφὸν Σίμωνος εἶδεν Λευὶν τὸν τοῦ Ἁλφαίου
L4 ἀμφιβάλλοντας ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ· καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον,
L5 ἦσαν γὰρ ἁλιεῖς
L6 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς· καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ·
L7 δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου, ἀκολούθει μοι.
L8 καὶ ποιήσω ὑμᾶς γενέσθαι ἁλιεῖς ἀνθρώπων.
L9 καὶ εὐθὺς ἀφέντες τὰ δίκτυα ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ. καὶ ἀναστὰς ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ.

Both of Mark’s calling narratives take place “beside the sea”; both begin with “and passing by” (L2); both mention Jesus seeing the prospective recruits (L3) at their places of work (L4); in both accounts Jesus issues the prospective recruits a command (L6-7); and both accounts end with the statement “they/he followed him.”

These stylized accounts of Jesus’ calling of disciples are due to Mark’s editorial activity, and we regard καὶ παράγων in L7 as redactional. The author of Matthew copied this phrase from Mark.

L8 ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐκεῖθεν (Matt. 9:9). The author of Matthew probably added Jesus’ name for the sake of clarity. The adverb ἐκεῖθεν (ekeithen, “from there”) was probably also added by the author of Matthew, for although ἐκεῖθεν is not in itself un-Hebraic,[21] most of the time when Matthew has ἐκεῖθεν this adverb is lacking in the Markan and Lukan parallels, which suggests that the author of Matthew habitually added ἐκεῖθεν when revising his sources.[22]

L9 καὶ ἐθεάσατο (GR). Since Luke’s verb θεάσασθαι (theasasthai, “to see”) occurs only 8xx in LXX and is the translation of רָאָה (rā’āh, “see”) only once,[23] Mark and Matthew’s verb, ἰδεῖν (idein, “to see”), which is common in LXX as the translation of רָאָה,‎[24] might seem the more likely verb to have been derived from Anth. Nevertheless, we have accepted Luke’s καὶ ἐθεάσατο (kai etheasato, “and he saw”) for three reasons: 1) The parallel usage of θεάσασθαι in Matt. 11:7 and Luke 7:24 demonstrates that the verb θεάσασθαι occurred in Anth. at least occasionally; 2) Luke’s καί + aorist looks like the literal translation of a vav-consecutive; and 3) Mark’s εἶδεν (followed by Matthew) is part of Mark’s stylized disciple-calling narratives (see above, Comment to L7).

L10 τελώνην (Luke 5:27). It is only in Luke’s version of Call of Levi that it is explicitly stated that Levi was a toll collector (τελώνης; telōnēs), although his occupation can easily be inferred from Mark’s statement that Levi was sitting at the toll station (Mark 2:14; cf. Matt. 9:9; L14).[25] In order to understand why we have rendered τελώνης as “toll collector,” instead of the traditional “tax collector,” it is necessary to acquaint oneself with the systems of taxation in the Roman Empire.

During the Roman period the people in the provinces and client kingdoms were subject to both direct and indirect taxation,[26] which was payable either to the Roman Senate, to the emperor himself in the case of imperial provinces (e.g., Judea), or to the ruler of a client kingdom (e.g., the tetrarch Herod Antipas in the Galilee).[27] Local cities also imposed their own taxes on their inhabitants.[28] Direct taxes were of two kinds. The first was a poll tax (Lat., tributum capitis), which was paid by adults between the ages of twelve or fourteen and sixty-five.[29] The poll tax was a highly regressive form of taxation since the same amount was paid by rich and poor alike.[30] The second form of direct taxation was a property tax (Lat., tributum soli) on cultivated land, amounting to 12.5 percent of the annual harvest in Judea,[31] and agricultural equipment including slaves and domestic animals.[32] The property tax was also burdensome, especially for subsistence farmers, because the property tax was assessed at a fixed rate that did not reflect the year-to-year productivity of the land.[33] As a consequence, in years that saw a poor harvest, farmers often had difficulty paying taxes on their property, and this became one factor in the increasing levels of indebtedness among Jews living in the land of Israel at the end of the Second Temple period.[34] The collection of direct taxes was the responsibility of the local ruling magistrates, and was not farmed out to private individuals,[35] thus Levi would not have been a collector of direct taxes.

First-century C.E. Roman fresco from Pompeii depicting many of the tools of the toll collector’s trade: coins, moneybag, account book and writing utensils. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

There were also various types of indirect taxes, especially tolls (Lat., portoria) paid on the movement of goods within the empire.[36] Ordinarily, these indirect taxes were not collected by Roman officials. Rather, the right to collect tolls on imported and exported merchandise was auctioned off to private individuals (Lat., publicani; Gk., τελῶναι).[37] As a means of increasing capital and minimizing liability, toll collectors often formed toll-collecting corporations (Lat., societas).[38] Levi the toll collector, who had other toll collector friends (Luke 5:29), was likely a member of such a corporation.

Toll collectors had to work within certain parameters. For instance, it was the Roman authorities, not the toll collectors, who set toll rates,[39] and merchants were aware, to a greater or lesser degree, of how much the toll collectors were legally permitted to collect on their wares. If a merchant felt that a toll collector had extracted more than his due it was possible to appeal to the Roman authorities for relief, although resorting to such measures would have been practical only in extreme cases.[40] Toll collectors were also limited by the need to keep commerce flowing through their districts. Extracting too much would stifle trade and dry up their sources of revenue. While these factors set upper limits on the amounts toll collectors were able to siphon off trade, the need to outbid their competitors and their need to make a profit were incentives for collecting as much as the markets could bear.

This system of indirect taxation on the movement of goods worked greatly to the advantage of the Roman government or the rulers of client kingdoms under Roman influence because it guaranteed a predictable income for the governing authorities.[41] The system also benefited those toll collectors who had good business sense, for as long as they had calculated correctly they could recoup the cost of their bid and collect substantially more for their personal enjoyment. But this system was detrimental to merchants and ordinary consumers whose interests were not represented within the system. Privatizing the right to collect tolls on trade only made the cost of doing business and the price of goods that much more expensive, and unsurprisingly toll collectors were resented as parasites who made no positive contribution to society, but who leeched off the livings of producers and consumers alike.

Such negative attitudes are reflected in classical and rabbinic sources. For instance, Cicero, writing in the first century B.C.E. and reflecting elitist attitudes, advised:

Primum improbantur ii quaestus, qui in odia hominum incurrunt, ut portitorum, ut faeneratorum.

First, those means of livelihood are rejected as undesirable which incur people’s ill will, as those of tax-gatherers [portitorum] and usurers. (Cicero, Off. 1:42 §150; Loeb)

Likewise, Lucian, in the second century C.E., included toll collectors in a list of unsavory characters:

ἐλέγοντο δὲ εἶναι μοιχοὶ καὶ πορνοβοσκοὶ καὶ τελῶναι καὶ κόλακες καὶ συκοφάνται καὶ τοιοῦτος ὅμιλος τῶν πάντα κυκώντων ἐν τῷ βίῳ.

…they were said to be adulterers, procurers, toll collectors [τελῶναι], toadies, informers, and all that crowd of people who create such confusion in life. (Lucian, Men. §11; Loeb, adapted)

Rabbinic sources similarly class toll collectors with other disreputable persons,[42] for instance:

נוֹדְרִים לֶהָרָגִים וְלֶחָרָמִים וְלַמּוֹכְסִים שֶׁהִיא תְרוּמָה אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵינָה תְרוּמָה שֶׁהֵן שֶׁלְּבֵית הַמֶּלֶךְ אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵינָה שֶׁלָּהֶן

Those who make a vow to murderers or to oppressors or to toll collectors [מוֹכְסִים] that it [i.e., their merchandise—DNB and JNT] is terumah [i.e., owed to the priests—DNB and JNT], even if it is not terumah, or that it belongs to the royal estate,[43] even if it does not belong to the royal estate…. (m. Ned. 3:4)

In the above quotation the sages not only grouped toll collectors with other transgressors, but they considered it legitimate to evade payment of tolls by taking false oaths, since they regarded toll collectors as no better than robbers. Their estimation of a toll collector’s income as stolen goods is also reflected in other rulings of the sages, for example:

אֵין פּוֹרְטין לֹא מִיתֵּבָת הַמּוּכְסִים וְלֹא מִכִּיס שֶׁלַּ גַּבַּיִים וְאֵין נוֹטְלִין מֵהֶן צְדָקָה

They do not make change from the cash box of toll collectors [מוּכְסִים, Kaufmann’s defective pointing of מוֹכְסִים] or from the purse of poll tax collectors [גַּבַּיִים], and they do not take alms from them. (m. Bab. Kam. 10:1)

נָטְלו מוֹכְסִים חֲמוֹרוֹ וְנָתְנוּ לוֹ חָמוֹר אַחֵר הַלֶּיסְטִים כְּסוּתוֹ וְנָתְנוּ לוֹ כְסוּת אַחֶרֶת הֲרֵי אֵילּוּ שֶׁלּוֹ מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהַבְּעָלִים מִיתְיַיאֲשִׁים מֵהֶן

If toll collectors [מוֹכְסִים] took his donkey and gave him a different donkey, or if robbers took his set of clothes and gave to him a different set of clothes, behold they are his [to keep] because their [former] owners give up hope of recovering them. (m. Bab. Kam. 10:2)

Here the association of toll collecting with robbery is explicit (cf. Luke 3:12-13).

A dim view of the tolls collected by the toll collectors is expressed in such statements as:

רבי גמליאל אומר בד′ דברים מלכות אוכלת במכסאות במרחצאות ותרטייאות וארנוניות שלהן

Rabbi Gamliel says, “By four things does the empire subsist: by tolls [מכסאות], by public baths, by theaters, and by their agricultural tax.” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 28:4 [ed. Schechter, 85])

נענה רבי שמעון בן יוחאי ואמר כל מה שתקנו לא תקנו אלא לצורך עצמן תקנו שווקין להושיב בהן זונות מרחצאות לעדן בהן עצמן גשרים ליטול מהן מכס

Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai answered and said, “All that they [i.e., the Romans—DNB and JNT] established was only for their own needs. They established markets to make prostitutes dwell therein, they made public baths to refresh themselves therein, bridges to take a toll [מכס] from them.” (b. Shab. 33b)

The ruins of the Tariff Court at Palmyra, where the Palmyrian Tariff was discovered. Engraving by Louis-François Cassas (ca. 1799). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

מוֹכֵס (HR). In the rabbinic sources cited above we find that the sages differentiated between the גַּבַּיי (gabai), collector of the poll tax, and the מוֹכֵס (mōchēs), collector of tolls on the movement of goods.[44] Levi probably belonged to the latter class of individuals,[45] since he carried out his duties at a toll station rather than going into the homes of individuals to collect the poll tax or the property tax.[46] His likely membership in a toll-collecting corporation points to the same conclusion.[47]

A second-century C.E. Greek and Aramaic inscription known as the Palmyrian Tariff stipulates the tolls charged on various goods that passed through that ancient city.[48] It is noteworthy for the purposes of Hebrew reconstruction that in the Palmyrian Tariff the Greek term τελώνης (telōnēs, “toll collector”) and the Aramaic term מָכְסָא (mochsā’, “toll collector”), a cognate of the Hebrew מוֹכֵס (mōchēs, “toll collector”), are treated as equivalent terms.[49]

Column 1 of the Greek-Aramaic Palmyrian Tariff as reproduced in the Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum (CIS III 3913). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L11 καὶ ὄνομα αὐτῷ (GR). Our reconstruction supposes that the author of Luke slightly amended Anth.’s wording for stylistic purposes. The formula used to introduce Levi’s name in Luke 5:27, ὀνόματι + proper name, is rare in Mark and Matthew, but a common occurrence in Luke-Acts.[50] The ὀνόματι + proper name formula is also extremely rare in LXX, and never occurs in books that are included in MT.[51] In Hebrew, names are often introduced with the formula וְשֵׁם + pronominal suffix + proper name, for instance וּשְׁמוֹ אֶבְיָתָר (ūshemō ’Evyātār, “and his name [was] Abiathar”; 1 Sam. 22:20). In LXX this formula is usually translated καὶ ὄνομα αὐτῷ/αὐτῇ + proper name, as, indeed, we find in 1 Kgdms. 22:20: καὶ ὄνομα αὐτῷ Αβιαθαρ (kai onoma avtō Abiathar, “and [the] name to him [was] Abiathar”).[52] Less often the וְשֵׁם + pronominal suffix + proper name formula is translated as ᾧ/ᾗ ὄνομα + proper name; for example, in Gen. 16:1 וּשְׁמָהּ הָגָר (ūshemāh Hāgār, “and her name [was] Hagar”) is rendered in LXX as ᾗ ὄνομα Αγαρ (hē onoma Agar, “whose name [was] Hagar”).[53] Thus, ᾧ ὄνομα Λευεὶς is another possibility for GR.

A bilingual inscription on a first-century ossuary discovered in Jerusalem with the name “Levi” in Greek and Hebrew. Published by Hans H. Spoer, “Some Hebrew and Phoenician Inscriptions,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 28 (1907): 354-359.

L12 Λευεὶς (GR). The Hebrew name לֵוִי (Lēvi, “Levi”) was put into Greek in a variety of ways. In LXX לֵוִי is generally transliterated as Λευι (Levi),[54] while the declinable form Λευίς (Levis) occurs in books that were originally composed in Greek (1 Esd. 9:14; 4 Macc. 2:19).[55] Josephus sometimes used other forms such as Ληουείς (Lēoueis; J.W. 2:642; Life §43, 131, 171, 189) or Λευῖτις (Levitis; Ant. 4:64; 5:144).

Inscriptions on ossuaries and ostraca, as well as literary sources, attest to individuals who bore the name Levi in the first century C.E.[56] The nominative form Λευείς in GR is required by the preceding phrase, καὶ ὄνομα αὐτῷ. Compare the spelling of Levi’s name in Luke 5:29 (L24).

לֵוִי (HR). The name Levi probably denotes that the toll collector called by this name in the Call of Levi story belonged to the tribe of Levi.[57] In the Temple the Levites played a supporting role to the priests,[58] serving as singers,[59] musicians,[60] gatekeepers,[61] bailiffs (שֹׁטְרִים; shoṭrim)[62] and secretaries (סוֹפְרִים; sōferim).[63] Most Levites, as indeed most priests, were not employed full-time in the Temple. As a result, the Levites had to find secular occupations in order to earn their livelihoods. The Levite named Levi in this story earned his livelihood by becoming a toll collector.

L13 τὸν τοῦ Ἁλφαίου (Mark 2:14). Only Mark includes the detail that Levi was the son of Alphaeus, or חַלְפִי (Ḥalfi) in Hebrew.[64] Adding additional biographical detail is one of the characteristics of Mark’s editorial style,[65] but our conclusion that this detail is secondary does not imply that it was factually incorrect.[66] The author of Mark may have been personally acquainted with Levi the toll collector, or, alternatively, he could have gleaned this information secondhand from someone acquainted with Levi.

L14 καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον (GR). The description of the toll collector sitting at his toll station is the first point of agreement between all three synoptic writers in the Call of Levi story.

יוֹשֵׁב אֵצֶל בֵּית הַמֶּכֶס (HR). In LXX καθῆσθαι (kathēsthai, “to sit”) is almost always the translation of יָשַׁב (yāshav, “sit”).[67] In Greek ἐπί + accusative means “at” or “beside.”[68] For HR we have chosen to reconstruct this as אֵצֶל (’ētzel, “at,” “beside”), although in LXX אֵצֶל is never translated with ἐπί + accusative. Examples of יָשַׁב אֵצֶל are found in the following rabbinic texts:

מעשה בארבעה זקנים שהיו יושבין אצל ר′ אליעזר בן עזריה

An anecdote concerning four elders who were sitting by [יושבין אצל] Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah…. (t. Kel. Bab. Bat. 2:2 [ed. Zuckermandel, 591])

מעשה ברבי יוחנן בן נורי ורבי אלעזר בן חסמא שהושיבם רבן גמליאל בישיבה ולא הרגישו בהם התלמידים לעתותי ערב הלכו וישבו להם אצל התלמידים

An anecdote concerning Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri and Rabbi Eleazar ben Hisma, whom Rabban Gamliel appointed over the academy, but the disciples were not aware of this. When evening came, they went and sat themselves by [וישבו להם אצל] the disciples. (Sifre Deut. §16 [ed. Finkelstein, 26])

וכן שני בני אדם שעשו מריבה זה עם זה הלך אהרן וישב לו אצל אחד מהם ואמר לו בני ראה חברך מהו אומר מטרף את לבו וקורע את בגדיו אומר אוי לי היאך אשא את עיני ואראה את חברי בושתי הימנו שאני הוא שסרחתי עליו הוא יושב אצלו עד שמסיר קנאה מלבו. והולך אהרן ויושב לו אצל האחר וא″ל בני ראה חברך מהו אומר מטרף את לבו וקורע את בגדיו ואומר אוי לי היאך אשא את עיני ואראה את חברי בושתי הימנו שאני הוא שסרחתי עליו הוא יושב אצלו עד שמסיר קנאה מלבו. וכשנפגשו זה בזה גפפו ונשקו זה לזה לכך נאמר ויבכו את אהרן שלשים יום כל בית ישראל

And so when two people would quarrel with one another, Aaron went and sat himself by [וישב לו אצל] one of them and said to him, “My son, see what your fellow says: he is rending his heart and tearing his clothes and saying, ‘Woe to me! How can I raise my eyes and look at my fellow? I am ashamed because it is I who did him wrong!’” He would sit by him [יושב אצלו] until the jealousy was removed from his heart. Then Aaron would go and sit himself by [ויושב לו אצל] the other and say to him, “My son, see what your fellow says: he is rending his heart and tearing his clothes and saying, ‘Woe to me! How can I raise my eyes and look at my fellow? I am ashamed because it is I who did him wrong!’” He would sit by him [יושב אצלו] until the jealousy was removed from his heart. And when they met one another they hugged and kissed one another. Because of this it is said, And the whole house of Israel mourned for Aaron thirty days [Num. 20:29]. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 12:3 [ed. Schechter, 48-49])

The translation of τελώνιον (telōnion) as “tax collector’s booth”[69] may give the misleading impression of a tiny and impermanent structure. “Customs house” or “toll station” is nearer the mark. In rabbinic sources the term for toll station is בֵּית הַמֶּכֶס (bēt hameches, “the house of the toll”).[70] Examples of this term include:

היה עובר על בית המכס ואמר בני הוא וחזר ואמר עבדי הוא נאמן אמר עבדי הוא וחזר ואמר בני הוא אינו נאמן

If someone was passing by a toll house [בית המכס] and he said, “He is my son,” and later he said, “He is [really] my slave,” he is believed. If he said, “He is my slave,” and later he said, “He is [really] my son,” he is not believed. (b. Bab. Bat. 127b)

The above ruling provides yet another example of rabbinic leniency toward toll evasion. Someone might falsely claim that his slave was his son when passing a toll station in order to avoid paying a toll on his slave, and the sages did not regard such a person as untrustworthy. A second example of בֵּית הַמֶּכֶס strikes a different chord:

ואמר רבי יוחנן משום רבי שמעון בן יוחי: מאי דכתיב כי ה′ אהב משפט שנא גזל בעולה משל למלך בשר ודם שהיה עובר על בית המכס אמר לעבדיו תנו מכס למוכסים אמרו לו והלא כל המכס כולו שלך הוא אמר להם ממני ילמדו כל עוברי דרכים ולא יבריחו עצמן מן המכס אף הקדוש ברוך הוא אמר אני ה′ שנא גזל בעולה ממני ילמדו בני ויבריחו עצמן מן הגזל

And Rabbi Yohanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai, “What is the meaning of that which is written, For I the LORD love justice, hating robbery in iniquity [Isa. 61:8]? A parable: [It may be compared] to a king of flesh and blood who was passing by a toll house [בית המכס]. He said to his slaves, ‘Give the toll [מכס] to the toll collectors [מוכסים].’ They said to him, ‘But is not the entire toll your very own?’ He said to them, ‘Let all travelers learn from me, that they must not evade the toll.’ Even so the Holy One, blessed be he, says, ‘I the LORD hate robbery in iniquity. Let my sons learn from me that they may avoid robbery.’” (b. Suk. 30a)

This story, seemingly so supportive of paying tolls, is surprising coming from Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai, who made his anti-Roman sentiments unmistakable in other sayings (cf., e.g., b. Shab. 33b), especially since the main criticism of toll collectors in rabbinic literature is that they were guilty of robbery. Perhaps this parable should be read as a tongue-in-cheek criticism of the Roman system of indirect taxation, since a scenario in which Caesar would pay tolls was unimaginable. In other words, Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai might be highlighting a contrast between God and Caesar: whereas God hates robbery, Caesar uses robbery to enrich himself at the expense of his subjects.

L15 Μαθθαῖον λεγόμενον (Matt. 9:9). In Luke and Mark the toll collector is named Levi, but in Matthew he is identified as “a person called Matthew.” A harmonizing approach has been to suppose that the toll collector described in this story was called by two names, “Levi” and “Matthew.” However, as Bauckham has shown, an individual bearing two common Hebrew names is virtually unprecedented in the cumulative onomasticon of first-century Jewish names in the land of Israel.[71] It therefore seems more likely that the author of Matthew intentionally transferred the Call of Levi story to the apostle Matthew. Why would the author of Matthew have done this? Scholars have proposed two plausible scenarios. Meier, noting that the author of Matthew limited the number of Jesus’ disciples to twelve, supposed that the author of Matthew eliminated the name Levi so that the story of the calling of a disciple who was not numbered among the twelve apostles would not appear in his Gospel.[72] Bauckham, on the other hand, supposed that the Gospel of Matthew was composed for a community for whom the apostle Matthew was an important figure. The author of Matthew therefore transferred the Call of Levi story, which he copied from the Gospel of Mark, to the apostle Matthew so that his Gospel would include the story of the calling of the apostle his community so highly esteemed.[73] Perhaps these two suggestions are not mutually exclusive. In either case, the change of Levi’s name to Matthew in Matt. 9:9 and the notice in Matthew’s version of the apostolic list that the apostle Matthew was a toll collector (Matt. 10:3) are clearly related and are due to the author of Matthew’s editorial activity.[74]

Our supposition that the name change from “Levi” to “Matthew” is editorial finds confirmation in the fact that introducing a name or title with the participle λεγόμενος is far more frequent in the Gospel of Matthew than in Mark or Luke.[75] Using λεγόμενος to introduce a name is also un-Hebraic. In LXX λεγόμενος is used to introduce personal names only in books originally composed in Greek, or in verses that do not adhere to the underlying Hebrew text.[76]

L16 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ (Mark 2:14). Mark has an historical present (“and he says to him”), which is also picked up in Matthew. Historical presents are un-Hebraic and characteristic of Mark’s editorial activity.[77] The author of Matthew often, though not always, copied historical presents from Mark. Historical presents are infrequent in Luke (13xx) compared to the number of instances in Matthew (99xx) and Mark (156xx). We have accepted Luke’s much more Hebraic καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ (“and he said to him”) for GR.

L17 ἀκολούθει μοι (GR). All three synoptic writers agree on the wording of Jesus’ command to Levi: “Follow me.”

לֵךְ אַחֲרַי (HR). For the identical reconstruction of ἀκολούθει μοι as לֵךְ אַחֲרַי, see Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple, L25; Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, L50.

L18 καὶ καταλιπὼν πάντα (Luke 5:28). The statement that Levi “left everything” is unique to Luke, and on that score many scholars have regarded this notice as a secondary Lukan addition to the Call of Levi story.[78] Nevertheless, we retained this detail in GR, since leaving one’s possessions, family and livelihood was required of all of Jesus’ full-time disciples,[79] which gives this detail in Call of Levi a ring of authenticity. In addition, the verb καταλείπειν (kataleipein, “to leave”) occurs 4xx in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 5:28; 10:40; 15:4; 20:31), and one of these (Luke 15:4) is found in the Lost Sheep simile. Thus, καταλείπειν creates a verbal link between the two pericopae, which, on other grounds, we believe were part of a single literary unit at a pre-synoptic stage.[80]

וַיַּנַּח אֶת הַכֹּל (HR). In LXX καταλείπειν is the translation of הִנִּיחַ (hiniaḥ, “leave”) on several occasions.[81] Compare our reconstruction here to that in Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, L97.

L19 וַיָּקָם (HR). On reconstructing ἀναστῆναι (anastēnai, “to stand up,” “to rise”) with קָם (qām, “stand up,” “rise”), see Healing Shimon’s Mother-in-law, Comment to L2.

L20 ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ (GR). Whereas Luke has an imperfect form of ἀκολουθεῖν, Mark and Matthew have an aorist. In LXX there are examples where καί + participle + participle + aorist is used to translate a succession of three vav-consecutives,[82] but we have found no instances of καί + participle + participle + imperfect as the translation of three successive vav-consecutives. Lindsey noted that occasionally the author of Mark would preserve a more Hebraic reading than the Lukan parallel.[83] We suspect that this is one such example. Luke’s imperfect is likely a slight change to the wording of Anth., probably made by the author of Luke for the sake of a more polished Greek style.

וַיֵּלֶךְ אַחֲרָיו (HR). Compare our reconstruction here to that in Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, L98.

L21-24 It is only in Luke’s version of Call of Levi that we find a description of Levi preparing a banquet for Jesus. The author of Mark probably omitted this sentence in order to hasten the pace of the narrative. He may have felt that the description of Levi’s preparations contained no essential information, but by omitting this sentence the author of Mark created some ambiguity as to whom the house in which the banquet was held belonged.[84] Without Luke’s description of Levi as preparer of the banquet, Mark’s statement that Jesus was reclining “in his house” (Mark 2:15; L27) could be interpreted as referring either to Jesus’ house or to Levi’s, but if Levi was the one who prepared the banquet, it is hardly likely that he would have done so in someone else’s house. In addition, as most scholars rightly point out, the likelihood of Jesus owning a house during the itinerant stage of his public career is remote (cf. Matt. 8:20 // Luke 9:58).[85] However, such little aporias as Mark’s (and Matthew’s) ambiguity regarding the ownership of the house where the banquet took place are inevitable whenever an author attempts to rework a received text.[86]

L22 Λευεὶς (GR). It appears that the author of Luke slightly altered the word order of his source. A more Hebraic word order would be for Levi’s name to appear after the verb ποιεῖν (poiein, “to do,” “to make”) and before the accusative δοχήν (dochēn, “banquet”).[87] We suspect that this was the word order in Anth. and that the author of Luke made a change to the word order of his source.

לֵוִי (HR). On reconstructing the name Λευείς as לֵוִי, see above, Comment to L12.

L23 מִשְׁתֶּה גָדוֹל (HR). In LXX δοχή (dochē, “banquet”) is always the translation of מִשְׁתֶּה (mishteh, “banquet”) wherever there is an equivalent in the underlying Hebrew text.[88] Likewise, ποιεῖν δοχήν (poiein dochēn, “to prepare a banquet”) is often used to translate עָשָׂה מִשְׁתֶּה (‘āsāh mishteh, “prepare a banquet”), for example:

καὶ ἐποίησεν Αβρααμ δοχὴν μεγάλην

וַיַּעַשׂ אַבְרָהָם מִשְׁתֶּה גָדוֹל

And Abraham made a large banquet…. (Gen. 21:8)[89]

A glass of wine as depicted in a first-century C.E. fresco from Herculaneum. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As the term mishteh, from the root ש-ת-ה (“to drink”), implies, Levi’s banquet would have included the drinking of wine, a fact alluded to in Luke’s version of the question Jesus’ critics posed to his disciples: “Why do you eat and drink with toll collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:30).[90] The drinking of wine marked banquets as festive occasions,[91] and it was Jesus’ attendance at a banquet with toll collectors and sinners for the purpose of celebration that was the target of the scribes’ and Pharisees’ criticism.[92] The theme of celebration also ties the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes to the Call of Levi story, while the criticism directed against Jesus’ celebration with toll collectors and sinners explains why celebration is such a prominent theme in these twin similes.[93]

L24 לוֹ (HR). On the basis of the following parallels we considered whether we ought to reconstruct this sentence as וַיַּעַשׂ לֵוִי לְיֵשׁוּעַ מִשְׁתֶּה גָדוֹל (lit., “And made Levi for Jesus a banquet big”):

וַיַּעַשׂ יי אֱלֹהִים לְאָדָם וּלְאִשְׁתּוֹ כָּתְנוֹת עוֹר

And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins…. (Gen. 3:21)

וַיַּעַשׂ דָּוִד לְאַבְנֵר וְלַאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ מִשְׁתֶּה

And David made for Avner and for the men who were with him a banquet. (2 Sam. 3:20)

In the above examples we find the order וַיַּעַשׂ + name of the maker + -לְ + name of the recipient + thing that was made.[94]

However, such a reconstruction would require us to presume a higher level of redactional activity on the part of the author of Luke than is necessary, given Hebrew parallels that are closer to the word order of Luke 5:29 such as:

וַיַּעַשׂ מִשְׁתֶּה לְכָל עֲבָדָיו

And he [i.e., Pharaoh—DNB and JNT] made a banquet for all his servants. (Gen. 40:20)

וַיַּעַשׂ מִשְׁתֶּה לְכָל עֲבָדָיו

And he [i.e., Solomon—DNB and JNT] made a banquet for all his servants. (1 Kgs. 3:15)

בִּשְׁנַת שָׁלוֹשׁ לְמָלְכוֹ עָשָׂה מִשְׁתֶּה לְכָל שָׂרָיו וַעֲבָדָיו

In the third year of his reign he [i.e., Ahasuerus—DNB and JNT] made a banquet for all his princes and servants. (Esth. 1:3)

וַיַּעַשׂ הַמֶּלֶךְ מִשְׁתֶּה גָדוֹל לְכָל שֶׂרָיו וַעֲבָדָיו

And the king made a big banquet for all his princes and servants. (Esth. 2:18)

כשעשה רבן גמליאל סעודה לחכמים היו כל חכמי ישראל מסובים אצלו עמד רבן גמליאל ושמשן

When Rabban Gamliel made a banquet for the sages, all the sages of Israel were reclining with him, but Rabban Gamliel stood and served them. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Amalek chpt. 3 [ed. Lauterbach, 3:280])

L25-37 The first part of Matt. 9:10 contains some wording that is highly Hebraic in style (e.g., καὶ ἐγένετο in L25, and καὶ ἰδοὺ in L28), which suggests that in this section the author of Matthew relied heavily—though not exclusively—on the wording of Anth.[95] Matthew’s Hebraisms in L25-37 and a fascinating point of agreement at L31 between Matthew’s wording and a detail preserved in FR’s truncated version of Call of Levi in Luke 15:1 suggest that in Anth.’s version of Call of Levi the motive for the arrival of the other toll collectors at the banquet was not merely for a good meal and a good time, but also to listen to Jesus’ teachings. The author of Luke, in his parallel to Matt. 9:10, seems to have departed from Anth.’s wording in order to portray the toll collectors as reclining with Jesus. Perhaps the author of Luke introduced this change in order to prepare his readers for the question posed by the Pharisees and scribes: “Why do you eat and drink with toll collectors and sinners?” Whatever his reasons, Luke’s editorial decision influenced Mark’s story and, via Mark, Matthew’s, such that Luke 5:29, Mark 2:15 and Matt. 9:10 describe the toll collectors reclining with Jesus, whereas the original story may not have included this detail at all.

L25-26 καὶ ἐγένετο αὐτοῦ ἀνακειμένου (GR). The καὶ ἐγένετο + gen. pronoun + participle construction with which the author of Matthew opens Matt. 9:10 looks like the Hebrew narrative structure וַיְהִי + pronoun + participle, which is translated in LXX in precisely this manner in the following examples:

וַיְהִי הֵם יֹשְׁבִים אֶל הַשֻּׁלְחָן וַיְהִי דְּבַר יי אֶל הַנָּבִיא

And it happened they are sitting at the table, and the word of the LORD came to the prophet…. (1 Kgs. 13:20)

καὶ ἐγένετο αὐτῶν καθημένων ἐπὶ τῆς τραπέζης καὶ ἐγένετο λόγος κυρίου πρὸς τὸν προφήτην

And it was of them sitting at the table, and the word of the Lord came to the prophet…. (3 Kgdms. 13:20)

וַיְהִי הוּא מְסַפֵּר לַמֶּלֶךְ אֵת אֲשֶׁר הֶחֱיָה אֶת הַמֵּת וְהִנֵּה הָאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר הֶחֱיָה אֶת בְּנָהּ צֹעֶקֶת אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ

And it happened he [i.e., Gehazi—DNB and JNT] is telling the king how he [i.e., Elisha—DNB and JNT] made the dead alive, and behold, the woman whose son he had made alive is crying out to the king…. (2 Kgs. 8:5)

καὶ ἐγένετο αὐτοῦ ἐξηγουμένου τῷ βασιλεῖ ὡς ἐζωπύρησεν υἱὸν τεθνηκότα, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἡ γυνή, ἧς ἐζωπύρησεν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς Ελισαιε, βοῶσα πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα

And it was of him explaining to the king how he brought back to life the dead son, and behold the woman, whose son Elisha brought back to life, is crying to the king…. (4 Kgdms. 8:5)

וַיְהִי הוּא קָם לַיְלָה וַיַּכֶּה אֶת אֱדוֹם

And it happened he is rising at night, and he struck Edom…. (2 Kgs. 8:21)

καὶ ἐγένετο αὐτοῦ ἀναστάντος καὶ ἐπάταξεν τὸν Εδωμ

And it was of him rising and he struck Edom…. (4 Kgdms. 8:21)

וַיְהִי הֵם קֹבְרִים אִישׁ וְהִנֵּה רָאוּ אֶת הַגְּדוּד וַיַּשְׁלִיכוּ אֶת הָאִישׁ בְּקֶבֶר אֱלִישָׁע

And it happened they are burying a man, and behold, they saw the troop and they tossed the man into the grave of Elisha. (2 Kgs. 13:21)

καὶ ἐγένετο αὐτῶν θαπτόντων τὸν ἄνδρα καὶ ἰδοὺ εἶδον τὸν μονόζωνον καὶ ἔρριψαν τὸν ἄνδρα ἐν τῷ τάφῳ Ελισαιε

And it was of them burying the man, and behold, they saw the troop and they tossed the man in the grave of Elisha. (4 Kgdms. 13:21)

וַיְהִי הוּא מִשׁתַּחֲוֶה בֵּית נִסְרֹךְ אֱלֹהָיו

And it happened he is worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god…. (2 Kgs. 19:37)

καὶ ἐγένετο αὐτοῦ προσκυνοῦντος ἐν οἴκῳ Νεσεραχ θεοῦ αὐτοῦ

And it was of him worshipping in the house of Neserach his god…. (4 Kgdms. 19:37)

As in some of the verses with the καὶ ἐγένετο + gen. pronoun + participle construction cited above (4 Kgdms. 8:5; 13:21), Matt. 9:10 also includes a καὶ ἰδού clause. The strong resemblance between Matthew’s wording and these Hebraic structures argues in favor of our supposition that Matthew copied them from his Hebraic-Greek source, Anth.

καὶ γείνεται κατακεῖσθαι αὐτὸν (Mark 2:15). The καὶ γείνεται + infinitive construction in Mark 2:15 (L25-26) is un-Hebraic,[96] but it probably represents the author of Mark’s paraphrase of Anth.’s Hebraic καὶ ἐγένετο structure, which is more accurately preserved in Matthew. It is possible that Mark’s use of γείνεται, an historical present, was inspired by the two instances of γείνεται in the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes (L36, L57), which we have reason to believe were an integral part of the Call of Levi story in Anth.

Mosaic from Zippori (Sepphoris) depicting diners reclining at table in a banqueting hall. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

וַיְהִי הוּא מֵסֵב (HR). In the various versions of the Call of Levi story we encounter three different, though related, verbs for “reclining.” In Matt. 9:10 we find ἀνάκεισθαι (anakeisthai, “to recline”) at L26, where the author of Matthew appears to be copying Anth., and συνανάκεισθαι (sūnanakeisthai, “to recline with”) in L32, where he appears to be following Mark. In Mark 2:15 we find κατάκεισθαι (katakeisthai, “to recline”) in L26, where the author of Mark appears to be paraphrasing Anth., and, as we noted, συνανάκεισθαι (sūnanakeisthai, “to recline with”) in L32, where he appears to be paraphrasing Luke’s statement, ἦσαν μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ κατακείμενοι (“they were with him reclining”). Luke 5:29 has only one verb for “recline,” κατάκεισθαι (katakeisthai), but it appears that the author of Luke delayed the reference to reclining in order to state that the toll collectors were reclining at the banquet with Jesus, whereas his source likely stated that while Jesus reclined at a banquet in the house of Levi a group of toll collectors came to listen to Jesus. The author of Mark, reading in Anth. that Jesus reclined in Levi’s home, and noticing that in Luke the toll collectors reclined with Jesus, decided to record both references to reclining and passed on this double reference to reclining to Matthew. Since Mark probably picked up his use of κατάκεισθαι in L26 from Luke’s use of the same verb in L32, and since in L26 the author of Matthew appears to be relying on Anth., we have accepted his use of ἀνάκεισθαι for GR.

None of the three verbs for “reclining” in the various versions of Call of Levi are common in LXX. The verb κατάκεισθαι occurs 4xx (Jdt. 13:15; Prov. 6:9; 23:34; Wis. 17:7), ἀνάκεισθαι occurs 2xx (1 Esd. 4:11; Tob. 9:6 [Sinaiticus]), and συνανάκεισθαι occurs 1x (3 Macc. 5:39). The usual verb in Hebrew for “recline at a meal” was הֵסֵב (hēsēv, “recline”), which we encounter in the following examples:

הָיוּ יוֹשְׁבִים כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד מְבָרֶךְ לְעַצְמוֹ הֵסַבּוּ אֶחָד מְבָרֵךְ לְכֻלָּם

If they were sitting each by themselves, he says a blessing on his own. If they were reclining [הֵסַבּוּ, Kaufmann’s defective pointing of הֵסֵבוּ] [together—DNB and JNT], one says a blessing on everyone’s behalf. (m. Ber. 6:6)

מֵיסֵב עִימּוֹ עַל הַמִּיטָּה וְאוֹכֵל עִימּוֹ עַל הַשּׁוּלְחָן

The one reclining [מֵיסֵב] with him on the couch and eating with him on the table…. (m. Ned. 4:4)

בעל הבית שהיה מסב ואוכל

A landlord who was reclining [מסב] and eating…. (t. Ber. 4:20; Vienna MS)

As the first example cited above demonstrates, reclining at a meal was not universal. Sitting was the more common position for eating, especially among the poorer classes (cf., e.g., t. Dem. 5:7).[97] Reclining at a meal was normal only among the well-to-do. Otherwise, reclining at table was reserved for special occasions,[98] such as the celebration of the Passover, when:

אֲפִלֻּ עָנִי שֶׁבְּיִשְׂרָאֵ′ לֹא יֹאכַל עַד שֶׁיֵּסֵב

Even the poorest in Israel does not eat until he reclines [יֵסֵב]. (m. Pes. 10:1)

As noted above with respect to the drinking of wine, so also the description of Jesus reclining at table in the home of Levi marks the banquet as a festive occasion. Levi had good cause to celebrate: he had left his former life of wickedness behind, and by inviting him to become a full-time disciple Jesus had welcomed Levi into the Kingdom of Heaven.[99]

L27 ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ (GR). Matthew, Mark and Luke each have the phrase ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ (en tē oikia, “in the house”), with Mark and Luke agreeing to add the possessive pronoun αὐτοῦ (avtou, “of him”). But whereas Mark and Matthew portray Jesus reclining “in his/the house,” Luke has Levi preparing the banquet “in his house.” In this instance we believe that Mark and Matthew preserve the original placement of the phrase ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ [αὐτοῦ], and that it was Luke’s editorial activity that transferred ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ to the end of the preceding sentence. In the first place, to say that Levi prepared the banquet in his own home hardly needs stating, for it is unlikely that he would have prepared a banquet in someone else’s house. In second place, following the statement “And as he was reclining” is an appropriate place to add a note about the location where the reclining took place so that readers would know that this new sentence was a continuation of the same story. The placement of ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ as we have it in GR resembles a verse we cited above in Comment to L25-26:

וַיְהִי הֵם יֹשְׁבִים אֶל הַשֻּׁלְחָן

And it happened they are sitting at the table…. (1 Kgs. 13:20)

καὶ ἐγένετο αὐτῶν καθημένων ἐπὶ τῆς τραπέζης

And it was of them sitting at the table…. (3 Kgdms. 13:20)

The above verse has a καὶ ἐγένετο + gen. pronoun + participle construction followed by a description of the location where the action took place, which is exactly the pattern we have in our reconstruction of L25-27.

בְּבֵיתוֹ (HR). On reconstructing οἰκία (oikia, “house”) with בַּיִת (bayit, “house”), see Healing Shimon’s Mother-in-law, Comment to L7.

L28 καὶ ἰδοὺ ὄχλος πολὺς (GR). We suspect that the author of Matthew blended his two sources in L28, copying καὶ ἰδού (“and behold”) from Anth. and πολλοί (“many”) from Mark. Whereas Luke, and probably also Anth., described “a big crowd [ὄχλος πολύς] of tax collectors,” Mark simply mentioned “many [πολλοί] tax collectors.”

וְהִנֵּה אֻכְלוּס גָּדוֹל (HR). Here we have reconstructed ἰδού (idou, “Behold!”) with הִנֵּה (hinēh, “Behold!”) rather than with הֲרֵי (ha, “Behold!”) as we did in Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven (L96), “The Harvest Is Plentiful” and “A Flock Among Wolves” (L49), Return of the Twelve (L18) and Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb (L22) because those instances occurred in direct speech, which we reconstruct in a MH style, whereas here we are in narrative, which we reconstruct in a blended BH and MH style such as we find in the Copper Scroll from Qumran and in the baraita preserved in b. Kid. 66a. We likewise reconstructed a narrative ἰδού with הִנֵּה in Widow’s Son in Nain (L6).

On the reconstruction of ὄχλος πολύς (ochlos polūs, “large crowd”) with אֻכְלוּס גָּדוֹל (’uchlūs gādōl, “big crowd”), see Widow’s Son in Nain, Comment to L4. אֻכְלוּס is a loanword from Greek (ὄχλος), attested in MH sources.

L29 τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν (GR). Deciding between “toll collectors and others” (Luke 5:29) and “toll collectors and sinners” (Matt. 9:10; Mark 2:15) is difficult, since both can be reconstructed in Hebrew easily: Luke as מוֹכְסִים וַאֲחֵרִים (mōchsim va’aḥērim, “toll collectors and others”), and Mark and Matthew as מוֹכְסִים וּרְשָׁעִים (mōchsim ūreshā‘im, “toll collectors and wicked persons”). We considered the possibility that Luke’s “others” was copied from Anth., and that the author of Mark changed “others” to “sinners” in order to adopt the more familiar pairing of toll collectors and sinners, which occurs later in the Call of Levi pericope and elsewhere in the Gospels, but ultimately we concluded that it is more likely that Luke changed “toll collectors and sinners” to “toll collectors and others” in order to adopt a more neutral description of the visitors who came to Levi’s home. Adopting a more neutral description of the visitors in Luke 5:29 makes the tone of the Pharisees’ question in Luke 5:30 sound all the more harsh and accusatory. Thus, “others” in L29 serves a literary function in Luke’s version of the Call of Levi story that looks like a secondary attempt to heighten the dramatic effect of the narrative.

A more important factor in our decision to adopt “sinners” for GR, however, is the mention of “sinners” in Luke 15:1 (L34), which was copied from FR. While “sinners” in Matt. 9:10 could be attributed to either Mark or Anth., “sinners” in Luke 15:1 cannot be explained in this way. The best explanation for “sinners” in Luke 15:1 is that the First Reconstructor copied it from Anth. Thus, as we have seen on occasion elsewhere,[100] “others” vs. “sinners” in Luke 5:29 vs. Luke 15:1 appears to be an example where an FR version of a Lukan Doublet preserves the wording of Anth. better than the version of the doublet the author of Luke copied from Anth. and then modified.

שֶׁלְּמוֹכְסִים וּרְשָׁעִים (HR). In HR we have reconstructed ὄχλος πολὺς τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν (“a big crowd of toll collectors and sinners”; L28-29) as אֻכְלוּס גָּדוֹל שֶׁלְּמוֹכְסִים וּרְשָׁעִים. Other examples of אֻכְלוּס שֶׁלְּ (“a crowd of…”) in Hebrew sources include: אוכלוסין של יון (“crowds of Greece”; Exod. Rab. 15:6), אוכלוסין של פרעה (“crowds of Pharaoh”; Pesikta de-Rav Kahanah, Supplement 2:2 [ed. Mandelbaum, 2:453]), אוכלוסין של בני אדם (“crowds of human beings”; Num. Rab. 21:2) and אוכלוסים של אומות (“crowds of Gentiles”; Pesikta Rabbati 10:3 [ed. Friedmann, 36b]). In the first two of these instances, the formulation אֻכְלוּס‎ + ‎שֶׁלְּ + X describes who owns or rules the crowds, while the last two examples describe of whom the crowds consist, which is similar to our reconstruction, “a big crowd of toll collectors.” The main difference between these examples and our reconstruction is that, whereas the rabbinic examples are phrased in the plural (“crowds of…”), our reconstruction is phrased in the singular (“a big crowd of toll collectors etc.”). Also, we have attached the -שֶׁלְּ (equivalent to the שֶׁל in the rabbinic examples) to the following word (מוֹכְסִים), which was the common practice in late BH (cf. Song 3:7) and early rabbinic sources.[101]

Our choice of reconstructing ἁμαρτωλός (hamartōlos, “sinful”; substantive: “sinner”) with רָשָׁע (rāshā‘, “wicked”; substantive: “wicked person,” “sinner”) is based on two main considerations:

  1. In LXX ἁμαρτωλός is the translation of רָשָׁע more often than of חַטָּא (ḥaṭā’, “sinful”; substantive: “sinner”),[102] and the equivalence between ἁμαρτωλός and רָשָׁע is amplified when ἁμαρτωλός is paired with δίκαιος (dikaios, “righteous”; substantive: “righteous person”).[103] This correspondence between ἁμαρτωλός and רָשָׁע in LXX supports our reconstruction, since in Call of Levi ἁμαρτωλός is paired with δίκαιος (L66-67).
  2. The adjective חַטָּא (ḥaṭā’, “sinful”) rarely occurs in MT in the singular form, and never in the singular form as a substantive (i.e., “sinner”).[104] The adjective רָשָׁע (rāshā‘, “wicked”), on the other hand, occurs in both singular and plural forms and is frequently used as a substantive (i.e., “wicked person,” “sinner”).[105] This implies that when reconstructing a substantival use of ἁμαρτωλός in the singular (i.e., “sinner”) רָשָׁע is the better option. Now, in Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, which we believe formed the continuation of the Call of Levi story, we encounter precisely such a use of ἁμαρτωλός as a substantive in the singular (i.e., “sinner”).[106] Since we would expect to reconstruct ἁμαρτωλός with the same Hebrew noun in both pericopae, the probability that ἁμαρτωλός should be reconstructed with רָשָׁע in Lost Sheep and Lost Coin increases the probability that ἁμαρτωλός in Call of Levi should be reconstructed in the same manner, namely, with ‎רָשָׁע.‎[107]

Who were the individuals labeled “sinners” in the Call of Levi story? Some scholars have identified these sinners as ame haaretz, a term used in rabbinic literature to refer to those who did not observe the stringent purity and tithing practices of the haverim (t. Avod. Zar. 3:10).[108] However, the identification of the sinners in the Call of Levi story as ame haartez is mistaken, since Jesus himself was not a haver and therefore he, too, would have been considered an am haaretz,[109] and no one would have challenged Jesus for eating with his own kind.[110]

The “sinners” must therefore be identified as those whose way of life was deemed to be inconsistent with the Torah’s commandments. Nevertheless, describing the sinners in Call of Levi as those “who had abandoned the law,” as some scholars do, strikes us as an overstatement.[111] Surely not every Jewish sinner was an apostate.

Sources of the Lukan Doublets According to Lindsey’s Hypothesis.

L30-53 As we noted above, there is a parallel to the Call of Levi story in Luke 15:1-2.[112] This Lukan Doublet is due to Luke’s reliance on two parallel sources, Anth. and FR. FR was an epitome of Anth. which presented condensed versions of Anth.’s stories in a more polished Greek style. In the present instance, FR’s version is so condensed that it entirely omits the description of Levi’s encounter with Jesus at the toll station and simply narrates that toll collectors and sinners came to listen to Jesus.

However, as we noted above in Comment to L29, despite their condensed and polished style, the FR versions of a Lukan Doublet sometimes preserve the wording of Anth. better than the versions Luke copied directly from Anth. This happened when the author of Luke revised the wording of Anth. on his own initiative.[113] Under such circumstances, the FR version is sometimes less edited than the Anth. version the author of Luke edited, or the FR version can at least preserve traces of Anth.’s wording that did not survive in Luke’s edited version of an Anth. pericope. Often it is difficult to evaluate whether the Anth. or FR version of a Lukan Doublet preserves Anth.’s wording more faithfully, but there are two tests that can help us make a determination. One test is whether there is agreement between Matthew’s version and one or both versions of a Lukan Doublet. Those points of agreement can be traced back to Anth. The other test is Hebrew reconstruction. If one version, or words of one version, can be reconstructed in Hebrew with relative ease, but the parallel version presents difficulty, this is a good indication that the easier-to-reconstruct version preserves the wording of Anth.

L30 οἳ ἦσαν (GR). In L30 we encounter a convergence between the Anth. and FR versions of the Call of Levi story in Luke: both have the verb ἦσαν (ēsan, “they were”) describing the action of the toll collectors and their companions. Although the agreement is a small one, the use of the same verb at the same point in the two versions is not insignificant. The agreement in the two versions to write ἦσαν is a strong indication that this verb was indeed part of the original wording of the story as it occurred in Anth.

L31 ἐλθόντες (GR). In L31 we find a point of agreement between the Matthean and FR versions of the Call of Levi story. According to Matt. 9:10, the toll collectors and sinners were “coming,” whereas, according to Luke 15:1, the toll collectors and sinners were “approaching.” Although the verbs are not identical, both are participles and both convey the same basic meaning. This convergence of detail in the Matthean and FR versions of the Call of Levi story strongly suggests that the depiction of the toll collectors’ arrival derives from Anth., the source behind both versions. We have accepted Matthew’s ἐλθόντες (elthontes, “coming”) for GR; ἐγγίζοντες (engizontes, “approaching”) may be FR’s paraphrase of Anth.’s simpler verb.

בָּאִים (HR). On reconstructing ἔρχεσθαι with בָּא (bā’, “come”), see Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L4.

L32 μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ κατακείμενοι (Luke 5:29). As we discussed above in Comment to L25-26, we believe the author of Luke delayed the mention of Jesus’ reclining in the home of Levi in order to say that the toll collectors and sinners reclined with Jesus. By comparing Luke and Anth., the author of Mark noticed that his two sources mentioned reclining at two different points in the narrative and decided to copy both. Opposite Luke’s μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ κατακείμενοι (“with him reclining”), however, Mark wrote συνανέκειντο (sūnanekeinto, “they were reclining together”), paraphrasing Luke’s words rather than copying them verbatim. The author of Matthew subsequently copied συνανέκειντο from Mark.

L33-34 οἱ τελῶναι καὶ οἱ ἁμαρτωλοὶ (Luke 15:1). As we noted in Comment to L29 above, the mention of “sinners” in the FR version of Call of Levi supports our conclusion that “sinners,” not “others,” was the original reading in Anth.

L35-36 ἀκούειν αὐτοῦ (GR). We suspect that FR preserved the original purpose for which the toll collectors and sinners gathered in Levi’s home: “they were coming to listen to him [i.e., Jesus]” (Luke 15:1).

לִשְׁמוֹעַ לוֹ (HR). On reconstructing ἀκούειν (akouein, “to hear”) with שָׁמַע (shāma‘, “hear”), see Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L24-25. In MT לִשְׁמֹעַ אֶל (lishmoa‘ ’el) is more common than -לִשְׁמֹעַ לְ (lishmoa‘ le), but -לִשְׁמֹעַ לְ does occur as the underlying text for ὑπακούειν μου (hūpakouein mou, “to listen to me”) in Lev. 26:21 and ἀκοῦσαι αὐτοῦ (akousai avtou, “to listen to him”) in Judg. 19:25. Neither of these translations of -לִשְׁמֹעַ לְ is identical to ἀκούειν αὐτοῦ in GR, but they are close. The following is an example of -לִשְׁמֹעַ לְ in MH:

כל מה שאמר לך אביך חייב אתה לשמוע לו

Whatever your father says to you, you are obligated to listen to him [לשמוע לו]. (Pesikta Rabbati 27:5 [ed. Friedmann, 132b])

L37 καὶ τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ (Mark 2:15). Building on Luke’s secondary description of the toll collectors and sinners reclining with Jesus, Mark included the disciples among those who reclined. Matthew copied this detail word for word from Mark.

L38-39 ἦσαν γὰρ πολλοὶ καὶ ἠκολούθουν αὐτῷ (Mark 2:15). Continuing to build on Luke’s secondary description of the toll collectors and sinners reclining with Jesus, Mark further added the explanation “for they were many and they were following him.” Matthew omitted this expansion, perhaps because he found it redundant. Mark’s πολλοί (polloi, “many”) is a repetition from L28, while ἦσαν (ēsan, “they were”) may be a reflection of Luke’s use of ἦσαν in L30, and ἠκολούθουν αὐτῷ (ēkolouthoun avtō, “they were following him”) is a reiteration of Mark’s ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ (ēkolouthēsen avtō, “he followed him”) in L20. The Lukan-Matthean agreement to omit this description confirms our suspicion that it did not appear in Anth.

L40 καὶ ἰδόντες (Matt. 9:11). The author of Matthew once again demonstrates his method of weaving together the wording of his two sources: Mark and Anth. From Mark 2:16 (L42) the author of Matthew picked up the participle ἰδόντες (idontes, “seeing”), but from Anth. the author of Matthew copied the word order καί + verb + οἱ Φαρεισαῖοι.

καὶ ἐγόγγυζον (GR). We have in Luke’s parallel versions at L40 a good example of how the First Reconstructor polished the Greek style of Anth. In this case he used the compound verb διαγογγύζειν (diagongūzein, “to grumble”) in place of Anth.’s simpler γογγύζειν (gongūzein, “to grumble”).[114] For GR we have adopted the spelling ἐγόγγυζον in agreement with the corrector of Vaticanus and the critical editions.

וַיִּלּוֹנוּ (HR). Both γογγύζειν and διαγογγύζειν, often in the imperfect as in GR, are used in LXX as the translation of the Hebrew root ל-ו-נ,‎[115] which in the nif‘al and hif‘il stems (נִלּוֹן and הִלִּין respectively) means “complain” or “grumble.” The verbs נִלּוֹן and הִלִּין are rare in MH and usually occur only when relating to a biblical text in which these verbs appear, but the continued use of these verbs in the Second Temple period is confirmed in DSS, where the root ל-ו-נ occurs in the Community Rule and in the Thanksgiving Hymns:

והאיש אשר ילון על יסוד היחד ישלחהו ולוא ישוב ואם על רעהו ילון אשר לא במשפט ונענש ששה חודשים

And the man who grumbles [ילון] against the foundation of the Community will be expelled and will not be permitted to return, but if he grumbles [ילון] against his fellow when it is done unjustly, then he will be punished for six months. (1QS VII, 17-18)

ואנשי [עד]תי סוררים ומלינים סביב

…and the men of my [congrega]tion are stubborn and are complaining [מלינים] all around. (1QHa XIII, 24-25)

Given the information presented above, וַיִּלּוֹנוּ (vayilōnū, “and they grumbled”) is a good candidate for HR, especially since L40 is narrative, which we suppose was composed in a biblicizing style of Hebrew.

L41 οἱ γραμματεῖς τῶν Φαρεισαίων (Mark 2:16). Unlike Luke 5:30, where Jesus’ critics are designated “the Pharisees and their scribes,” or Luke 15:2, which has “the Pharisees and the scribes,” or Matt. 9:11, which simply names “the Pharisees,” in Mark Jesus’ critics are said to be “the scribes of the Pharisees.” This unusual designation is found nowhere else in NT, although a similar description, τινὲς τῶν γραμματέων τοῦ μέρους τῶν Φαρισαίων (“some of the scribes of the party of the Pharisees”), is found in Acts 23:9. We suspect that Mark’s “scribes of the Pharisees” is simply a paraphrase of Luke’s “Pharisees and their scribes,” reflecting Mark’s love of inverting the word order of his sources.[116]

οἱ Φαρεισαῖοι (Matt. 9:11). The author of Matthew does not mention scribes among Jesus’ critics in the Call of Levi story. His wording, οἱ Φαρεισαῖοι (hoi Fareisaioi, “the Pharisees”), does, however, provide a Lukan-Matthean minor agreement against Mark and also agrees with the wording in Luke 15:2, strongly suggesting that οἱ Φαρεισαῖοι is the way the Pharisees were referred to in Anth.

οἵ τε Φαρεισαῖοι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς (Luke 15:2). The description of Jesus’ critics in the FR version of Call of Levi is very close to that in Luke 5:30, however the addition of the conjunction τε (te, “both”) and the omission of the possessive pronoun αὐτῶν (avtōn, “their”) are small improvements intended to narrate the story in a more refined Greek style.[117]

οἱ Φαρεισαῖοι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς αὐτῶν (GR). The FR doublet in Luke 15:2 and the Lukan-Matthean agreement against Mark in L41 confirm that “the Pharisees and their scribes” was the wording of Anth.

הַפְּרוּשִׁים (HR). There can be little doubt that Φαρισαῖος (Farisaios, “Pharisee”) and פָּרוּשׁ (pārūsh) are equivalent terms, since the Greek and Hebrew sources that describe the struggle between the Pharisees and Sadducees for power and influence in the last decades of the Second Temple Period use the terms Φαρισαῖοι/פְּרוּשִׁים. Nevertheless, challenges arise with regard to how the term פְּרוּשִׁים (perūshim) ought to be understood in the context of the Call of Levi story when we consider that “Pharisee” had different connotations in Greek than it did in Hebrew.

In first-century Greek Φαρισαῖος was a term that identified anyone who bore this epithet as a member of the Pharisaic movement.[118] In Greek sources individuals could proudly identify themselves as Pharisees (e.g., Paul [Acts 23:6; Phil. 3:5] and Josephus [Life §12]), and certain individuals who are recognized in rabbinic sources as belonging to the class of Jewish sages are identified in Greek sources as Pharisees (e.g., Rabban Gamliel [Acts 5:34] and his son Shimon ben Gamliel [Jos., Life §191]). Thus, in Greek Φαρισαῖος was an unambiguous term for a particular Jewish sect that lacked inherently positive or negative connotations.[119]

In Hebrew, by contrast, פָּרוּשׁ was a loaded term. Derived from the root פ-ר-ש (“to separate”), the primary meaning of פָּרוּשׁ was “separatist” or even “schismatic.” Moreover, פָּרוּשׁ was non-specific;[120] it could refer to a Pharisee, but it could equally be used to refer to someone who, by rejecting the halachah of the sages, kept themselves aloof from the mainstream of Judaism.[121] The generally negative connotations of the term פָּרוּשׁ‎[122] explain why none of the Jewish sages—not even those who lived while the Temple still stood, nor even those who are identified as Φαρισαῖοι in Greek sources—are ever referred to in rabbinic sources as “Pharisees.”[123] “Pharisee” was the name used to refer to the sages by their opponents.[124] The only context in which the sages used the term “Pharisee” quasi-self-referentially was in critical remarks in which the sages identified typical attitudes and behaviors that characterized some of their fellows. Yet by virtue of the criticisms they voiced in these contexts, the sages disassociated themselves from the name “Pharisee,” claiming, “Those Pharisees are not really one of us.”[125]

Properly understanding the term “Pharisee” in the Call of Levi story and elsewhere in the Gospels requires a nuanced approach given the different connotations the term “Pharisee” carries in Greek and Hebrew. The complexity increases—and consequently the greater need for care—when the unique character of the Synoptic Gospels is taken into consideration, for while the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke were composed in Greek, we are convinced that they are based on documents ultimately derived from a Hebrew source. Thus, the Hebraic connotations of the term “Pharisee” may be present in the canonical Greek texts. When attempting to reconstruct the Hebrew source behind the Gospels it is incumbent upon us to ask how the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua used the term פְּרוּשִׁים. Did he use פְּרוּשִׁים the way the Sadducees and other opponents of the Pharisees used it, as a pejorative term meaning “schismatics,” intended as a blanket condemnation of the sages’ interpretation of Judaism? Did the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua use פְּרוּשִׁים the way the sages themselves used it, as an insider’s critique of individuals who adhered to the halachah of the sages but whose personal shortcomings did not represent the Pharisaic party as a whole? Or is there a middle option that allowed the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua to refer to the sages as פְּרוּשִׁים without necessarily denigrating them, but without identifying with them either?[126]

A few test cases should clarify the issue. If the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua used the term “Pharisee” as a means of rejecting the sages out of hand, then “schismatic” will be an acceptable gloss in our test cases. On the other hand, if the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua used “Pharisee” as an internal critique, then “humbug” or “imposter” will be an acceptable gloss in our test cases. If neither gloss is acceptable, then we must conclude that the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua was able to refer to the sages as פְּרוּשִׁים in a neutral manner.[127]

Test Case A: Woe Against the Pharisees

Woe to you schismatics, for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, but neglect justice and the love of God. These you should have done, without neglecting those. (Luke 11:42; cf. Matt. 23:23)

Woe to you humbugs, for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, but neglect justice and the love of God. These you should have done, without neglecting those. (Luke 11:42; cf. Matt. 23:23)

For Test Case A we have selected one of the woes that occurs in slightly different forms in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. At first glance, either gloss—“schismatic” or “humbug”—would seem to be acceptable. “Woe to you Pharisees” is similar to the repeated refrain “We cry out against you, Pharisees” in the recorded disputes between the Pharisees and Sadducees in rabbinic literature. Closer examination, however, reveals that Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees is unlike that of the Sadducees in one crucial detail: whereas the Sadducees reject the Pharisaic halachah out of hand, Jesus accepts the Pharisaic halachah as valid, and merely criticizes the Pharisees for failing to correctly order their priorities. Jesus’ acceptance of the Pharisaic halachah rules out “schismatic” as a valid option in this test case. “Humbug,” on the other hand, cannot be ruled out quite so easily, especially given the parallels between Jesus’ woes against the Pharisees and the lists of seven kinds of Pharisees that are found in rabbinic sources. We can only speculate whether Jesus reworked a critique of the Pharisees that was already current among the sages, or whether the sages adapted an external critique of the Pharisees for internal consumption. In either case, Jesus’ use of “Pharisee” in Test Case A falls somewhere between the use of “Pharisee” to signal outright rejection of the sages, which characterized the Sadducees, and the sages’ self-critical use of “Pharisee.”


Test Case B: Pharisee and Toll Collector

Two people went up to the Temple to pray, the one a schismatic and the other a toll collector. (Luke 18:10)

Two people went up to the Temple to pray, the one a humbug and the other a toll collector. (Luke 18:10)

For Test Case B we have selected the beginning of the Pharisee and Toll Collector parable. The parable describes how two individuals went to the Temple for prayer, how the Pharisee’s prayer was self-aggrandizing whereas the toll collector’s prayer was self-deprecating, and how the toll collector received a favorable judgment from God but the Pharisee did not. The mechanism that drives home the point of the parable is irony. A contrast is set up between the ostensibly upright Pharisee and the notoriously sinful toll collector. Contrary to expectations, the ostensibly upright Pharisee receives a harsh judgment, while the notoriously sinful toll collector receives mercy. In this context, equating “Pharisee” with “schismatic” does violence to the parable, since a schismatic is worse than an ordinary sinner. Accordingly, no one would be surprised to learn that the schismatic was condemned. “Humbug,” on the other hand, is closer to the mark. A humbug passes himself off as something that he is not, just as in the parable the Pharisee boasts of a righteousness he had not actually attained. If Jesus’ use of “Pharisee” in this parable is not an internal critique, it at least expresses the expectation that the Pharisees ought to be righteous, which accounts for the surprise and disappointment that is felt upon discovery that they (or some of them) are not.


Test Case C: Dining with a Pharisee

One of the schismatics asked Jesus to eat with him, and going to the house of the schismatic he reclined. (Luke 7:36)

One of the humbugs asked Jesus to eat with him, and going to the house of the humbug he reclined. (Luke 7:36)

If in Test Cases A and B we found that Jesus’ use of “Pharisee” was similar to the way the sages used “Pharisee” as an internal critique, here in Test Case C, which unlike the previous cases occurs in narrative rather than direct speech, neither “schismatic” nor “humbug” will do. A neutral term is required, one that identifies the individual’s affiliation without passing judgment on his character. If “Pharisee” in this story reflects פָּרוּשׁ in an underlying Hebrew text, then we must conclude that the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua used this term as an outsider, but without the polemical overtones of a sectarian dispute.


Test Case D: Pharisees Warn Jesus

At that very hour some schismatics came, saying to him [i.e., Jesus], “Go out and continue on from here, since Herod wants to kill you.” (Luke 13:31)

At that very hour some humbugs came, saying to him [i.e., Jesus], “Go out and continue on from here, since Herod wants to kill you.” (Luke 13:31)

Our final test case also requires a neutral meaning for “Pharisee.” Either “schismatic” or “humbug” as a gloss in this context would be churlish. There is no hint of rejection, nor even of criticism in this context. If “Pharisee” reflects פָּרוּשׁ in this story, then the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua must have used פָּרוּשׁ in a neutral manner.

In the Call of Levi story, too, “Pharisee” should be understood in a neutral sense. The Pharisees are disconcerted by Jesus’ free association with toll collectors and sinners, but they are not Jesus’ enemies and Jesus does not reject their legitimacy out of hand. On the contrary, the twin similes of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin are an invitation to the Pharisees to join in the celebration over Levi’s repentance. We conclude, therefore, that in the Call of Levi story the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua used the term פְּרוּשִׁים as a non-hostile outsider.[128] We are left to ponder whether Jesus’ often more critical use of the term פְּרוּשִׁים is an indication that he saw himself as more a part of the world of the sages than did the author of his Hebrew biography.

וְסוֹפְרֵיהֶם (HR). The relationship between the NT scribes and Pharisees is debated among scholars. Rivkin argued that the scribes and Pharisees are identical, going so far as to suggest that “Pharisees” is a secondary gloss intended to explain for non-Jewish readers who the scribes were.[129] Schwartz, by contrast, has suggested that the scribes and Pharisees represent competing currents within first-century Judaism, the scribes (whom he identifies as Levites) representing priestly Judaism, and the Pharisees representing non-priestly Judaism.[130]

At least with respect to the Call of Levi story, it is improbable that the scribes and the Pharisees are competitors. The scribes and the Pharisees act in concert, voicing the same concerns regarding Jesus’ free association with toll collectors and sinners. Nevertheless, conflating the scribes with the Pharisees ignores the distinction that is drawn between these two entities in Luke and Mark. In some unspecified manner the scribes are a subset of the Pharisees according to Luke 5:30 and Mark 2:16.

An additional difficulty with which we are faced is how γραμματεύς (grammatevs, “secretary,” “scribe”) ought to be reconstructed. In LXX γραμματεύς is used to represent two very different Hebrew terms: שׁוֹטֵר (shōṭēr, “bailiff,” “official”) and סוֹפֵר (sōfēr, “secretary,” “scribe”).[131]

In the context of the Call of Levi story, הַפְּרוּשִׁים וְשׁוֹטְרֵיהֶם (“the Pharisees and their bailiffs”) is a defensible reconstruction, especially since the γραμματεῖς do not have a secretarial function—they are not described as making records or keeping accounts—but they might be understood as having an enforcement role, pressuring Jesus’ disciples to conform to Pharisaic halachah. Such a reconstruction would imply a subordinate role for the γραμματεῖς, as they would be acting at the Pharisees’ behest.

Two considerations have led us to prefer the other option, הַפְּרוּשִׁים וְסוֹפְרֵיהֶם (“the Pharisees and their scribes”), for HR. First, the γραμματεῖς do not usually have a subordinate role to the Pharisees in the Gospels.[132] The equal, or perhaps even superior, status of the γραμματεῖς as compared to the Φαρισαῖοι in most Gospel passages cautions against regarding the γραμματεῖς as subordinate to the Pharisees in the Call of Levi story, thus weighing against reconstructing with שׁוֹטֵר in HR.

Ossuary inscription reading יועזר בר יהודה הסופר (Yō‘ezer bar Yehūdāh hasōfēr, “Yoezer, son of Yehudah, the scribe”). Image courtesy of

Second, we are not aware of any examples in Hebrew sources where the Pharisees or the sages are said to be accompanied by or to have been equivalent to שׁוֹטְרִים (shōṭerim, “bailiffs”). On the other hand, דִּבְרֵי סוֹפְרִים (divrē sōferim, “words of [the] scribes”) in rabbinic sources refers to certain teachings of the sages not founded upon Scripture.[133] Some of these “words of the scribes” date to the days of the Second Temple. The practice of wearing tefillin (phylacteries), for example, which certainly dates to the Second Temple period,[134] is attributed to the “words of the scribes” in m. Sanh. 11:3. Likewise, as Rivkin observed, in the sectarian dispute recorded in m. Yad. 4:6, the Sadducees impute the concept of the ritual impurity of the hands in distinction from the rest of the body to the Pharisees, a halachic innovation attributed to the “words of the scribes” in m. Yad. 3:2.[135] This association of sages/Pharisees with scribes provides some precedent for our pairing סוֹפְרִים with פְּרוּשִׁים in HR.[136]

Reconstructing γραμματεῖς as סוֹפְרִים casts the scribes in a different role in relation to the Pharisees than שׁוֹטְרִים (“bailiffs”). While שׁוֹטְרִים implies a subordinate role as bailiffs who carry out the Pharisees’ wishes, סוֹפְרִים casts the scribes as the intellectual leaders of the Pharisaic movement. There must have been many followers of Pharisaic teachings who were incapable of making halachic decisions on their own. Such individuals could properly be called Pharisees, but not scribes. The scribes were the Pharisaic scholars who were qualified to formulate halachic rulings. This distinction between partisans and party leaders, which must have existed among the Pharisees, as within any movement, is the most likely explanation of why scribes and Pharisees are mentioned together so frequently in the Gospels.

One final note on γραμματεύς in the Gospels. It is likely that there are two distinct classes of γραμματεῖς who are mentioned in the Gospels, those whom we have discussed who are associated with the Pharisees, and those who are associated with the chief priests and the Temple. It may be that this second class of γραμματεῖς, who are clearly subordinate to the chief priests and who seem to fulfill an enforcement role, are Levites, as Schwartz suggested. Regarding this second class of γραμματεῖς, שׁוֹטְרִים (“bailiffs”) might be the preferable reconstruction. The שׁוֹטְרִים are identified as Levites in some ancient Jewish sources (1QM VII, 14; Sifre Deut. §15 [ed. Finkelstein, 25]).

L42-44 By describing what the scribes witnessed (“that he eats with sinners and toll collectors”), the author of Mark replicated the wording of the question the scribes pose to the disciples (“Why with toll collectors and sinners does he eat?”; L48-53). Such repetition is characteristic of Mark’s editorial activity, as is the use of the historical present (ἐσθίει [esthiei, “he eats”]), and the transposition of words (“sinners and toll collectors” vs. “toll collectors and sinners” in the rest of the pericope). These editorial features, so characteristic of Mark’s redactional style, and the Lukan-Matthean agreement to omit these words strongly support our conclusion that they did not appear in Anth.

L45 ἔλεγον (Mark 2:16). The use of the imperfect ἔλεγον (elegon, “they were saying”) is also characteristic of the author of Mark’s editorial work.[137] In this particular case, the author of Mark may have been inspired to use the imperfect tense by Luke’s ἐγόγγυζαν (egongūzan, “they were complaining”; L40), which is also in the imperfect tense. The author of Matthew copied ἔλεγον from Mark.

L46 πρὸς τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ (GR). We have preferred Luke’s “they were complaining to his disciples” (L40, L46) for GR. We consider “they were saying to his disciples” (L45-46) to be the author of Mark’s paraphrase of Luke’s wording.

עַל תַּלְמִידָיו (HR). Nif‘al and hif‘il verbs from the root ל-ו-נ (“to complain,” “to grumble”) take the preposition עַל (‘al) in order to indicate the person(s) against whom the complaint is addressed. While עַל + ל-ו-נ is more commonly translated in LXX as γογγύζειν + ἐπί, we do find one example of γογγύζειν + πρός as the translation of עַל + הִלִּין:

וַיָּלֶן הָעָם עַל מֹשֶׁה

And the people complained against Moses…. (Exod. 17:3)

καὶ ἐγόγγυζεν ἐκεῖ ὁ λαὸς πρὸς Μωυσῆν

And the people were complaining there to Moses…. (Exod. 17:3)

Thus Luke’s ἐγόγγυζαν…πρὸς τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ poses no obstacle to our reconstruction with וַיִּלּוֹנוּ…עַל תַּלְמִידָיו.

On reconstructing μαθητής (mathētēs, “student,” “disciple”) as תַּלְמִיד (talmid, “student,” “disciple”) see Lord’s Prayer, Comment to L4.

L47 לֵאמֹר (HR). In MT, when עַל + ל-ו-נ is followed by the words of the complaint, we sometimes find the pattern ל-ו-נ + subject + עַל + person(s) against whom the complaint is made + the infinitive construct לֵאמֹר. For example:

וַיִּלֹּנוּ הָעָם עַל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר מַה נִּשְׁתֶּה

And the people complained against Moses saying [לֵּאמֹר], “What will we drink?” (Exod. 15:24)

וַיִּלֹּנוּ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמָּחֳרָת עַל מֹשֶׁה וְעַל אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר אַתֶּם הֲמִתֶּם אֶת עַם יי

And the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained the next day against Moses and Aaron saying [לֵאמֹר], “You have killed the people of the LORD!” (Num. 17:6)

In these examples לֵאמֹר is rendered in LXX as λέγοντες, which is what we find in Luke 5:30. In other cases we find וַיֹּאמֶר instead of לֵאמֹר:

וַיָּלֶן הָעָם עַל מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר לָמָּה זֶּה הֶעֱלִיתָנוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם

And the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt?” (Exod. 17:3)

וַיִּלֹּנוּ עַל מֹשֶׁה וְעַל אַהֲרֹן כֹּל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם כָּל הָעֵדָה לוּ מַתְנוּ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם

And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt!” (Num. 14:2)

In the first of these two examples LXX translated וַיֹּאמֶר as λέγοντες, while in the second example וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם is translated as καὶ εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτούς. These examples prove that λέγοντες in Luke 5:30 could be reconstructed as וַיֹּאמְרוּ or לֵאמֹר with equal justification. We have adopted לֵאמֹר for HR as the simpler and more obvious choice.

L48 ὅτι (Mark 2:16). The Lukan-Matthean agreement against Mark to write διὰ τί (dia ti, “on account of what?” “why?”) confirms that this was the wording of Anth. But why did the author of Mark use the unusual ὅτι interrogative (ὅτι in the sense of “why?” instead of its more common meaning “that”) when paraphrasing the scribes’ question?[138] It is possible that Mark picked this up from Luke 15:2, which also has ὅτι interrogative,[139] but perhaps a more likely explanation is that using ὅτι enabled him to replicate the words in L42-44 all the more closely. Scholars have noted that interrogative ὅτι occurs elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 9:11, 28), so perhaps this rare usage was simply part of Mark’s editorial repertoire.[140]

לָמָּה (HR). The two main contenders for reconstructing διὰ τί in Biblical Hebrew are מַדּוּעַ (madūa‘, “why?”) and לָמָּה (lāmāh, “why?” “for what?”). Although in LXX διὰ τί is more often the translation of מַדּוּעַ than לָמָּה,‎[141] we have preferred the latter for HR since in MH לָמָּה displaced מַדּוּעַ in the spoken language. Another option for HR is מִפְּנֵי מָה (mipnē māh, “because of what?” “why?”), which occurs in rabbinic sources.[142]

L49 οὗτος (Luke 15:2). Above in Comment to L47 we cited an example in which the people complain to Moses, asking, לָמָּה זֶּה הֶעֱלִיתָנוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם (“Why have you brought us up from Egypt?”; Exod. 17:3). In LXX the interrogative phrase לָמָּה זֶּה (lāmāh zeh, lit., “why this?”) is often translated as ἵνα τί τοῦτο (hina ti touto, lit., “in order for what this?”).[143] This raises the question whether οὗτος (houtos, “this”) might be a reflection of לָמָּה זֶּה in the conjectured Hebrew Ur-text. To us, this possibility seems unlikely, since neither לָמָּה זֶּה nor לָמָּה זוֹ is found in MH, the style of Hebrew in which we believe direct speech was composed. The οὗτος in Luke 15:2 is more likely an editorial addition stemming from FR.

L50 μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν (GR). Luke 5:30, Mark 2:16 and Matt. 9:11 agree to write μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν (“with the toll collectors”). Luke 15:2 has συνεσθίει αὐτοῖς (“he eats with them”) in L53, rendering the preposition μετά (meta, “with”) in L50 superfluous. Since the compound verb in L53 is more elegant Greek, we believe that this was an editorial change introduced by the First Reconstructor. The First Reconstructor also omitted τῶν τελωνῶν in L50, probably because toll collectors had already been mentioned in L33 and because toll collectors could easily be subsumed under the heading “sinners,” whom FR does mention in L51.

עִם הַמּוֹכְסִים (HR). We have reconstructed μετά with עִם (‘im, “with”) in accordance with MH style. The use of אֵת (’ēt) in the sense of “with” disappeared in Mishnaic Hebrew,[144] which we use as our model for reconstructing direct speech. On reconstructing τελώνης as מוֹכֵס, see above, Comment to L10.

L51 καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν (GR). Noting that καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν (“and sinners”) is missing from Luke 5:30 in Codices Ephraemi Syri (C) and Bezae (D), Flusser supposed that “and sinners” in the question posed by the scribes and Pharisees “crept into Luke 5:30 (and in the two parallels) from Jesus’ answer in Luke 5:32 (and parr.).”[145] According to Flusser, “From the halachic standpoint the expression, ‘the sinners’ is nonsensical,”[146] evidently because “eating ‘with sinners’ is, according to classical Judaism, an overly abstract accusation.”[147] We wish that Flusser had elaborated this argument more fully.

While it is always hazardous to disagree with Flusser, we cannot concur with Flusser either on text critical or halachic grounds. Except for the two text witnesses cited above, “sinners” are mentioned in all four versions of the Call of Levi story. The mention of sinners in the FR version preserved in Luke 15:2 is of particular importance, since we believe the First Reconstructor relied on Anth. The presence of καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν in Anth. is the best explanation for the agreement of all four versions to include “sinners” in the question posed by the Pharisees and their scribes. Moreover, as we discussed above in Comment to L29, we believe the author of Luke avoided writing “sinners” earlier in the Call of Levi narrative precisely in order to underscore its use by Jesus’ critics in L51. Placing the first occurrence of the word “sinners” in the Call of Levi story in the mouths of Jesus’ critics is an effective literary device that sharpens the criticism leveled against Jesus and underscores Jesus’ defense of sinners.

Likewise, we do not understand why some Pharisees and their intellectual leaders could not have raised objections to Jesus’ free association with sinners. An Aramaic story told about Rabbi Zera, a third generation amora, bears a certain resemblance to the Call of Levi story:

הנהו בריוני דהוה בשיבבותיה דרבי זירא דהוה מקרב להו כי היכי דניהדרו להו בתיובתא והוו קפדי רבנן כי נח נפשיה דרבי זירא אמרי עד האידנא הוה חריכא קטין שקיה דהוה בעי עלן רחמי השתא מאן בעי עלן רחמי הרהרו בלבייהו ועבדו תשובה

In the neighbourhood of R. Zera there lived some lawless men. He nevertheless showed them friendship in order to lead them to repent; but the Rabbis were annoyed [at his action]. When R. Zera’s soul went to rest, they said: Until now we had the burnt man with the dwarfed legs[148] to implore Divine mercy for us; who will do so now? Thereupon they felt remorse in their hearts and repented. (b. Sanh. 37a; trans. Soncino)

Although this story dates from a much later period (mid-fourth cent. C.E.), it illustrates that at least some representatives of classical Judaism might well have been irritated with someone for showing a friendly and open attitude toward sinners, even when this friendly attitude was for the sake of leading sinners to repentance. In the story about Rabbi Zera, the other sages could not prevent him from associating with sinners, although they did exert peer pressure in an attempt to make him conform to their wishes. Eventually, the sages came to realize that Rabbi Zera had been in the right all along. In the same way, the Pharisees may not have approved of Jesus’ behavior, but they had no halachic grounds upon which to prevent him from eating with sinners. And, as with Rabbi Zera and his contemporaries, we should be open to the possibility that the Pharisees who objected to Jesus’ behavior were possessed of teachable hearts and may well have been convinced by Jesus’ compelling response to their inquiry.

L52 προσδέχεται (Luke 15:2). In the Gospels the verb προσδέχεσθαι (prosdechesthai) is rare; apart from Luke 15:2, it is found only in Mark 15:43; Luke 2:25, 38; 12:36; 23:51, and in all these other instances προσδέχεσθαι is used in the sense of “wait for” or “expect.” Only in Luke 15:2 does προσδέχεσθαι mean “receive” or “welcome.” This unique usage of προσδέχεσθαι in the Gospels supports our suspicion that it was added to the Call of Levi story by the First Reconstructor.

L53 ἐσθίει (GR). Our initial instinct was to suppose that the phrasing of the question in the second person (i.e., “Why do you eat?”) in Luke 5:30 was original and that the author of Mark was responsible for changing the question to the third person (i.e., “Why does he eat?”). But the phrasing of the question in the third person in Luke 15:2 required us to reevaluate this assumption. Although the First Reconstructor used the compound verb συνεσθίειν (sūnesthiein, “to eat together”) instead of the simple ἐσθίειν (esthiein, “to eat”), his formulation of the question in the third person is significant. It is difficult to believe that the First Reconstructor and the author of Mark independently changed the question from second person to third person, and since there is little indication that the author of Mark made reference to Luke 15:1-2 when paraphrasing the Call of Levi story, the likeliest scenario is that the author of Luke was responsible for making the Pharisees include the disciples in their question in Luke 5:30.

הוּא אוֹכֵל (HR). In LXX ἐσθίειν is most often used as the translation of אָכַל (’āchal, “eat”).[149] We likewise find that although אָכַל is rendered by a great variety of Greek verbs in LXX, ἐσθίειν is by far its most common translation.[150]

L54 καὶ πίνει (GR). In Luke 5:30 Jesus’ critics include drinking as well as eating in their question. Although we believe the author of Luke changed the form of the verb from third to second person, the inclusion of drinking may be an authentic detail derived from Anth. “Eating and drinking” are often mentioned together in Hebrew,[151] and what is more, “drinking,” a mark of celebration, gets to the heart of why the Pharisees and scribes were bothered by Jesus’ conduct in the company of toll collectors and sinners.

Some scholars have suggested that the reason the Pharisees were opposed to Jesus’ eating with toll collectors and sinners had to do with ritual purity.[152] Others have supposed that the issue of concern was that the toll collectors and sinners may have served Jesus untithed produce[153] or even non-kosher food.[154] These explanations, however, are not convincing.

The suggestion that what Jesus was eating was the focus of concern can be rejected out of hand. Had the critics believed that Jesus was eating food forbidden by the Torah, they would have said, “Why is he a sinner and law-breaker?” not “Why does he eat and drink with toll collectors and sinners?” The question Jesus’ critics did ask proves that their concern was with the company Jesus kept, not the food he ingested. The underlying presupposition of the critics’ question—that Jesus was not himself a sinner—rules out the suggestion that Jesus broke the Torah’s commandments by consuming forbidden foods.

A ritual immersion bath (mikveh) discovered at Magdala. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

As to being concerned about ritual purity, while the Pharisees may have undertaken to maintain a higher degree of purity than the Torah demands,[155] they were well aware that such an undertaking was entirely voluntary.[156] Contracting ritual impurity was not in itself a violation of the Torah’s commandments, and the remedy for contracting impurity from someone else who was impure was easy: all one had to do was to immerse in a mikveh. Thus, even if the toll collectors and sinners were suspected of being impure,[157] there would have been no grounds for criticizing Jesus for associating with them on that score. Moreover, as with the explanation that the problem concerned what Jesus ate, the explanation that Jesus’ critics were concerned about ritual purity fails to take seriously the Pharisees’ stated objection, that it was the company he kept, not his ritual status, that was problematic.[158]

What, then, did the Pharisees find objectionable about Jesus’ eating and drinking with toll collectors and sinners? As Jeremias correctly explained, the issue “was exclusively moral.”[159] The Pharisees who criticized Jesus’ behavior in the Call of Levi story objected to his keeping of bad company. Not only did Jesus freely associate with moral reprobates, he even celebrated with them.

Jesus’ openness toward sinners is an expression of what Flusser referred to as the “new sensitivity” that developed within Second Temple Judaism.[160] This sensitivity consisted of a growing recognition on the part of religious thinkers that human beings are neither wholly sinful nor wholly righteous, which led to a more humble assessment of one’s own character and a more compassionate attitude toward one’s fellows. This new sensitivity coexisted, and sometimes clashed, with the more traditional view that tended to “otherize” sinners.

As Flusser demonstrated, the new sensitivity created a rift within the Pharisaic movement. It is therefore not surprising to find conflicting attitudes toward sinners in rabbinic sources. An otherizing attitude is expressed, for example, in a statement of a first-century B.C.E. Galilean sage:

מַתַּיִי הָאַרְבֵּלִי אוֹמֵ′ הַרְחֵק מִשָּׁכֵן רָע וְאַל תִּתְחַבַּר לָרֵשָׁע וְאַל {ואל} תִּתְיוֹאַשׁ מִ(י)ן הַפּוּרְעָנוּת

Mattai the Arbelite says, “Distance yourself from a bad neighbor and do not befriend the wicked and do not despair of [their—DNB and JNT] punishment.” (m. Avot 1:7)

Later sages elaborated on this saying, commenting:

ואל תתחבר לרשע שכל מי שהוא מתחבר לרשע סופו לשאת ממנו דבר מועט שנאמר ואלי דבר יגונב ותקח אזני שמץ מנהו

“And do not befriend the wicked” because everyone who befriends the wicked in the end takes away a little bit [of wickedness with him], as it is said, A word was sneaked to me and my ear took a whisper from it [Job 4:12]. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, chpt. 16 [ed. Schechter, 36])

This fearful attitude toward sinners is also expressed in the answers of Rabbi Yehoshua (“an evil companion”) and Rabbi Yosef (“an evil neighbor”) to Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai’s instruction to “Go out and see what is the evil path that a person should avoid” (m. Avot 2:9). This instruction echoes the Two Ways doctrine that juxtaposed the Way of Life and the Way of Death, and that admonished everyone to “flee from evil and everything that resembles it” (cf. Did. 3:1).[161] Some sages were so afraid of the morally degrading influence of sinners that they taught that one should not befriend a wicked person even in order to draw him near to the Torah (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Amalek chpt. 3 [ed. Lauterbach, 2:273]; cf. Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 9:4 [ed. Schechter, 42]). This suspicious and otherizing attitude, however, was countered by other sages, who advocated a more humane approach, for instance:

הֶלֵּל אוֹ′ הֱוֵויִ תַלְמִידו שֶׁלְּ אַהֲרֹן אֹהֵב שָׁלוֹם וְרוֹדֵף שְׁלוֹם אֹהֵב אֶת הַבְּרִיּוֹת וּמְקָרְבָן לַתּוֹרָה

Hillel says, “Be disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving one’s fellow [human] creatures and bringing them near to the Torah.” (m. Avot 1:12)

Hillel’s open attitude toward those who were far from the Torah challenged the traditional wisdom that warned the righteous to keep themselves far from sinners. This humane approach was advocated by another first-century C.E. sage whose words were used to elucidate Hillel’s instruction to love one’s fellow human creatures:

רבי חנינא סגן הכהנים אומר דבר שכל העולם כולו תלוי בו נאמר עליו (שמועה) [שבועה] מהר סיני אם שונה חבירך שמעשיו רעים כמעשיך אני ה′ דיין להפרע מאותו האיש ואם אוהב את הבירך שמעשיו כשרים כמעשיך אני ה′ נאמן ומרחם עליך

Rabbi Hanina, prefect of the priests, says: “A word upon which the entire world depends was sworn from Mount Sinai—If you hate your fellow whose deeds are evil like your own, I the LORD am judge to punish that very man [who hates—DNB and JNT]. But if you love your fellow whose deeds are acceptable like your own, I the LORD am faithful and merciful toward you.” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, chpt. 26 [ed. Schechter, 53])

The prefect of the priests based his humane attitude on Lev. 19:18, the command to love one’s neighbor, interpreting this verse to mean “love your neighbor who, like yourself, is subject to human frailty.”

Hillel and Hanina the prefect of the priests, as sages from the pre-70 C.E. era, were almost certainly Pharisees.[162] Recognizing this fact cautions us against simplistic equations of Pharisees with narrow-mindedness, legalism or hypocrisy.[163] While Jesus’ humble and compassionate approach toward sinners may have scandalized some individual Pharisees, the examples of Hillel and Hanina prove that Jesus’ behavior would not have been unanimously condemned by the Pharisaic movement as a whole.

L55 ὁ διδάσκαλος ὑμῶν (Matt. 9:11). Only Matthew has the Pharisees refer to Jesus as “your teacher” in the Call of Levi story. While ὁ διδάσκαλος ὑμῶν could be reconstructed as רַבְכֶם (ravchem, “your master”), the only other time Jesus is called “your teacher” in the Gospels is in a unique Matthean pericope that exhibits a high degree of editorial activity (Matt. 17:24). We suspect that ὁ διδάσκαλος ὑμῶν was added by the author of Matthew for the sake of clarification and that it is not a reflection of Anth.

L56 καὶ ἀκούσας (Mark 2:17). Luke’s καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν (“And answering, Jesus said…”; Luke 5:31) looks like the combination of וַיַּעַן with וַיֹּאמֶר, which is standard in biblical narratives.[164] We suspect that Mark’s “And having heard, Jesus says…” is a paraphrase of Luke’s wording. The author of Matthew copied ἀκούσας from Mark.

L57 יֵשׁוּעַ (HR). On reconstructing the name Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous, “Jesus”) as יֵשׁוּעַ (Yēshūa‘), see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L12.

L58 εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς (GR). The use of the historical present (λέγει; “he says”) in Mark 2:17 is indicative of Markan editorial activity, while the Lukan-Matthean agreement to write εἶπεν is also confirmed by the FR version in Luke 15:3. The double attestation of πρὸς αὐτούς (pros avtous, “to them”; Luke 5:31; 15:3) opposite Mark’s αὐτοῖς (avtois, “to them”) also suggests that Luke preserves the wording of Anth.

וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם (HR). In Luke 5:31 (L56-58) we find the pattern καὶ ἀποκριθείς + speaker + εἶπεν. This same pattern is used in LXX to translate וַיַּעַן + speaker + וַיֹּאמֶר in the following examples:

וַיַּעַן אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמַר

And Abraham answered and said…. (Gen. 18:27)

καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς Αβρααμ εἶπεν

And answering, Abraham said…. (Gen. 18:27)

וַיַּעַן יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן מְשָׁרֵת מֹשֶׁה מִבְּחֻרָיו וַיֹּאמַר

And Joshua son of Nun, attendant of Moses from his youth, answered and said…. (Num. 11:28)

καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς Ἰησοῦς ὁ τοῦ Ναυη ὁ παρεστηκὼς Μωυσῇ ὁ ἐκλεκτὸς εἶπεν

And answering, Joshua son of Nave, the chosen attendant of Moses, said…. (Num. 11:28)

וַיַּעַן בִּלְעָם וַיֹּאמֶר

And Balaam answered and said…. (Num. 23:26)

καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς Βαλααμ εἶπεν

And answering, Balaam said…. (Num. 23:26)

וַיַּעַן הָעָם וַיֹּאמֶר

And the people answered and said…. (Josh. 24:16)

Καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ λαὸς εἶπεν

And answering, the people said…. (Josh. 24:16)

וַיַּעַן הַשָּׂטָן אֶת יי וַיֹּאמַר

And the accuser answered the LORD and said…. (Job 1:7)

καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ διάβολος τῷ κυρίῳ εἶπεν

And answering, the devil said to the Lord…. (Job 1:7)

The above examples demonstrate that the wording of Luke 5:31 in L56-58 is exactly what we would expect of a Greek translation of a Hebrew source.

L59 οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν (GR). All three versions of Jesus’ response agree on the phrase “no need they have.” Although it is possible that the author of Luke made a change to his source, and that this was passed along to Mark, and from Mark to Matthew, the ease with which this phrase is reconstructed in Hebrew supports our conclusion that οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν does, indeed, go back to Anth.

אֵין צוֹרֶךְ (HR). To express in Hebrew that “X has no need of Y” we find in various combinations לְ- + אֵין צוֹרֶךְ + X + -בְּ + Y. For example, in a discussion concerning whether pallbearers are required to recite the Shema on the day of a funeral, we read that those who are actually required to carry the bier are exempt, while alternates who prove to be unnecessary are not:

וְאֵת שֶׁאֵין לַמִּיטָּה…צוֹרֶךְ בָּהֶן חַיָּיבִין

…but those that the bier has no need of are obligated [to recite the Shema]. (m. Ber. 3:1)

A similar example is found in a question about the prophets who are mentioned in Scripture but whose words are not recorded therein:

ומפני מה לא נתפרסמה נבואתם שלא היה בה צורך לדורות

And why was their prophecy not published? Because there was not a need for it for the generations to come [לא היה בה צורך לדורות]. (Ruth Rab. Proem §2)

In the above example we find לֹא הָיָה (lo’ hāyāh, “it was not”) instead of אֵין (’ēn, “there is not”) because the answer is given in the past tense.

Examples in which the need is negated are rare, but questions that ask, “What need does X have for Y?” also provide a useful model for our reconstruction. This type of question is sometimes asked with respect to seemingly irrelevant information in Scripture, for example:

כיוצא בו אתה אומר ודנה וקרית סנה היא דביר, ובמקום אחר הוא אומר ושם דביר לפנים קרית ספר, נמצאת קרויה שלשה שמות, וכי מה צורך לבאי עולם בכך אלא שהיו שלש מלכיות מתכתשות עליה זו אומרת תקרא על שמי וזו אומרת תקרא על שמי

It turns out that one verse says, And Danah and Kiryat Sanah, which is Devir [Josh. 15:49], but in another place it says, And the name of Devir formerly was Kiryat Sefer [Josh. 15:15]. So we find that it was called by three names. And what need do those who come into the world have of this [וכי מה צורך לבאי עולם בכך]? It is only to teach that there were three kingdoms who fought over it, this one saying, “Let it be called after my name!” and the other saying, “Let it be called after my name!” (Sifre Deut. §37 [ed. Finkelstein, 72])

כיוצא בו אתה אומר עלה אל הר העברים הזה הר נבו, ובמקום אחר הוא אומר עלה ראש הפסגה, נמצא קרוי שלשה שמות, וכי מה צורך לבאי העולם בכך אלא שהיו שלש מלכיות מתכתשות עליו זו אומרת יקרא על שמי וזו אומרת יקרא על שמי

It turns out that one verse says, Go up on the mount of Avarim, which is Mount Nebo [Deut. 32:49], but in another place it says, Go up to the summit of Pisgah [Deut. 3:27]. So we find that it was called by three names. And what need do those who come into the world have of this [וכי מה צורך לבאי העולם בכך]? It is only to teach that there were three kingdoms who fought over it, this one saying, “Let it be called after my name!” and the other saying, “Let it be called after my name!” (Sifre Deut. §37 [ed. Finkelstein, 72])

The question “What need has X of Y?” is also asked of a rabbinic tradition that seems to impart useless information:

עשרה דורות מנח ועד אברהם וכי מה צורך לבאי עולם בכך אלא ללמד שכל אותן הדורות היו מכעיסין לפניו ולא היה אחד מהם שיהלך בדרכי הקב″ה עד שבא אברהם אבינו והלך בדרכי הקב″ה

There were ten generations from Noah to Abraham. And what need do those who come into the world have of this [וכי מה צורך לבאי עולם בכך]? It is only to teach that all those generations caused him to be angry and there was not one from them who walked in the ways of the Holy one, blessed be he, until Abraham our father came and walked in the ways of the Holy one, blessed be he. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 33:1 [ed. Schechter, 93-94])

The above cited examples demonstrate that our reconstruction, אֵין צוֹרֶךְ לַבְּרִיאִים בְּרוֹפֵא (lit., “there is no need to the healthy for a doctor”), is idiomatic Hebrew, while the exact correspondence of word order to the canonical Greek text supports Lindsey’s theory that a Hebrew source ultimately stands behind the Synoptic Gospels.

Note, too, that in Ben Sira where the Greek text has χρείαν ἔσχηκέν (chreian eschēken, “he had a need”), Hebrew MS A reads צֹרֶיך לו (tzorech lo, “[there is] a need to him”; Sir. 13:6).

L60 οἱ ὑγιαίνοντες ἰατροῦ (GR). In L60 we are faced with a difficult decision in choosing between Luke’s οἱ ὑγιαίνοντες (“the ones being healthy”) and οἱ ἰσχύοντες (“the ones being strong”) in Mark and Matthew. The verb ὑγιαίνειν (hūgiainein, “to be well”) is found only 3xx in the Synoptic Gospels, each time in Luke (Luke 5:31; 7:10; 15:27). This exclusive use by the author of Luke might prejudice us against accepting οἱ ὑγιαίνοντες for GR. On the other hand, ὑγιαίνειν never occurs in Acts, so we cannot say that this verb is definitely Lukan. As for the verb ἰσχύειν (ischūein), it is always used in the Gospels with the meaning “to be able,” with the exception of Mark 2:17 and its parallel in Matt. 9:12. This unique usage of ἰσχύειν in the Call of Levi story could be explained as the author of Mark’s attempt to paraphrase Luke’s wording.

There are parallels to Jesus’ saying, “The healthy have no need of a doctor, but the sick,” in Greek sources, indicating that Jesus made use of a popular proverb to answer the charge that he fraternized with sinners. One of these Greek parallels is found in the writings of Plutarch (late first century C.E.), who recounted the story of Pausanias, king of Sparta from 408-394 B.C.E., who went into exile with his people. According to Plutarch, when Pausanias was asked why he had not remained in Sparta rather than going into exile, his response was:

ὅτι οὐδ᾽ οἱ ἰατροί…παρὰ τοῖς ὑγιαίνουσιν, ὅπου δὲ οἱ νοσοῦντες, διατρίβειν εἰώθασιν.

Because physicians, too, are wont to spend their time, not among the healthy [τοῖς ὑγιαίνουσιν], but where the sick are. (Plutarch, Moralia 230F; Loeb)[165]

In his version of the king’s proverbial response, Plutarch used the same verb—ὑγιαίνειν—that the author of Luke used to describe “the ones being healthy.”

There is no way to prove whether Luke or Mark and Matthew preserve Anth.’s terminology for “the healthy,” but given Mark’s tendency to substitute synonyms for Luke’s wording and Matthew’s tendency to accept changes from Mark, we have chosen to adopt Luke’s οἱ ὑγιαίνοντες for GR. Fortunately, whichever term for “the healthy” is used in GR, בָּרִיא (bāri’, “healthy”) remains the best option for HR.

לַבְּרִיאִים בְּרוֹפֵא (HR). In LXX the noun ἰατρός (iatros, “doctor”) is the translation of רוֹפֵא (rōfē’, “healer,” “doctor”) in 2 Chr. 16:12 and Jer. 8:22. The LXX translation of Ben Sira also has ἰατρός where medieval Hebrew MSS read רוֹפֵא in Sir. 10:10; 38:1, 3, 12, 15.

An example of using בָּרִיא and חוֹלֶה (ḥōleh, “sick”) as a pair of opposites, as we have done in HR L60-61, is found in the following rabbinic statement:

ר′ יוֹסֵה אוֹמ′ בָּחוֹלֶה וּבַזָּקֵן טָמֵּא בַּיֶּלֶּד וּבַבָּרִיא טָהוֹר

Rabbi Yose says, “In the case of the sick [חוֹלֶה] and the aged, they are impure. In the case of the young and the healthy [בָּרִיא], they are pure.” (m. Mik. 8:4)

L61 ἀλλὰ οἱ κακῶς ἔχοντες (GR). The Call of Levi story is the only place where all three synoptic writers agree to use the phrase κακῶς ἔχειν (kakōs echein, lit., “badly to have”) to refer to those who are ill. Luke used this phrase on one other occasion, in the Healing a Centurion’s Slave narrative (Luke 7:2). In Mark’s Gospel, in addition to Mark 2:17, the phrase κακῶς ἔχειν occurs twice in the Sick Healed at Evening pericope (Mark 1:32, 34), which was thoroughly reworked by the author of Mark, and once in Healings at Gennesaret (Mark 6:55), a Markan-Matthean pericope. The author of Matthew took κακῶς ἔχειν from Mark in Matt. 8:16 (= Mark 1:34) and Matt. 14:35 (= Mark 6:55), and also used this phrase in one other redactional passage that summarized Jesus’ healing activity (Matt. 4:24). It is possible that the author of Mark picked up the phrase κακῶς ἔχειν from the Call of Levi story as he saw it in Luke and Anth. and proliferated its use by inserting it into redactional passages that were subsequently copied by the author of Matthew.

אֶלָּא לַחֹלִים (HR). We cannot appeal to LXX in support of reconstructing ἀλλά (alla, “but”) with אֶלָּא (’elā’, “but,” “rather”), since אֶלָּא is a MH word. Nevertheless, the correspondence between ἀλλά and אֶלָּא is close, and since we prefer to reconstruct direct speech in MH style, there is no better alternative.

Reconstructing οἱ κακῶς ἔχοντες presents us with a challenge, since there is no word-for-word equivalent in Hebrew. We considered whether יֵשׁ בָּהֶם מַחֲלָה (“there is in them a sickness”) might work, on the analogy of אֵין בָּהֶם מַחֲלָה (“there is not in them a sickness”), found in the following rabbinic statement:

רבי יצחק אומר הא אם אין בהם מחלה מפני מה הם צריכין רפואה

Rabbi Yitzhak says, “Now if they have no sickness in them, why do they need healing?” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Vayassa‘ chpt. 1 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:229])

In context, however, יֵשׁ בָּהֶם מַחֲלָה is a poor fit, since the grammatical structure demands that -לְ be prefixed to “the sick” (see above, Comment to L59), and we have found no instances where -לְ is prefixed to יֵשׁ.

In LXX there is one instance of κακῶς ἔχειν for “sick,” and we have allowed this example to guide our reconstruction. This example is found in Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning the shepherds of Israel:

καὶ τὰ πρόβατά μου οὐ βόσκετε· τὸ ἠσθενηκὸς οὐκ ἐνισχύσατε καὶ τὸ κακῶς ἔχον οὐκ ἐσωματοποιήσατε καὶ τὸ συντετριμμένον οὐ κατεδήσατε καὶ τὸ πλανώμενον οὐκ ἐπεστρέψατε καὶ τὸ ἀπολωλὸς οὐκ ἐζητήσατε

…but my sheep you do not feed. The one being weak you did not strengthen, and the one being sick [τὸ κακῶς ἔχον] you did not tend its body, and the one being crushed you did not bind up, and the straying one you did not restore, and the lost one you did not seek…. (Ezek. 34:3-4)

In this verse, which criticizes the guardians of Israel for failing to care for the weakest and most vulnerable members of society, τὸ κακῶς ἔχον (to kakōs echon, lit., “the one [neut.] badly having”) is a translation of הַחוֹלָה (haḥōlāh, “the sick [fem.]”). It is likely that Jesus alluded to this passage from Ezekiel with the Lost Sheep simile, and it is possible that his reference to the sick needing a doctor also hints at the Ezekiel 34 imagery. The parallelism in Ezek. 34:4 between healing the sick and restoring (or “causing to repent”)[166] those that strayed matches two parts of Jesus’ response to his critics: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” and “I have not come to call the righteous, but the wicked to repentance.”

The imagery of healing as God’s response to repentance is found in the prophets (cf., e.g., Isa. 6:10; Hos. 14:1-4) and was carried over into rabbinic literature. An example is found in a rabbinic homily on the verse “‘Peace, peace to the one far off and to the one nearby,’ says the LORD, ‘and I will heal him’” (Isa. 57:19):

מה רפואה [הוא] צריך, [אלא] זה רשע שהיה [רחוק] ועשה תשובה ונתקרב אצל הקדוש ברוך הוא

What healing does he [i.e., the one who is near—DNB and JNT] need? None, but this refers to a wicked person who was formerly far off but who did repentance and thus brought himself near to the Holy one, blessed be he. (Pesikta Rabbati 44:8 [ed. Friedmann, 184b])

These examples show that even if Jesus did draw upon a widely-circulating proverb in the Greco-Roman world about doctors being in the company of the sick, he did not do so at random. Jesus integrated this Hellenistic proverb into a thoroughly Jewish and biblical worldview.

L62-64 The command “But go and learn what Mercy I desire, and not sacrifice is” (Matt. 9:13), in which Jesus quotes the prophet Hosea (Hos. 6:6), is unique to Matthew. Matthew’s Gospel is also unique in recording one other instance of Jesus’ quoting this verse from Hosea (Matt. 12:7), where the quotation is lacking in the Lukan and Markan parallels. These facts arouse suspicion that it was the author of Matthew who placed the quotation of Hos. 6:6 in Jesus’ mouth.[167] On the other hand, Matthew’s Greek in L62-64 reverts easily into Hebrew. In addition, on another occasion Jesus is again reported to have criticized the Pharisees for giving insufficient weight to the virtue of mercy (Matt. 23:23; cf. Luke 11:42), this time by alluding to the prophet Micah (Mic. 6:8).[168] Thus, the citation of Hos. 6:6 in Matt. 9:13 does not appear to be out of character for Jesus, while the ease with which L62-64 reverts into Hebrew could be evidence that the author of Matthew copied these words from Anth. Since strong arguments for and against the unique Matthean material in L62-64 can be made, we have included these lines in GR and HR, but placed them within brackets in order to indicate our uncertainty as to whether this material truly comes from a pre-synoptic source.

L62 πορευθέντες δὲ μάθετε (Matt. 9:13). Matthew’s πορευθέντες δὲ μάθετε (porevthentes de mathete, “But going, learn”) can easily be reconstructed as לְכוּ וְלִמְדוּ (lechū velimdū, “Go and learn”). Not only is a participle + imperative commonly used in LXX to render two successive imperatives in MT,[169] but we also find that הָלַךְ (hālach, “walk,” “go”) and לָמַד (lāmad, “learn,” “study”) are sometimes used as complimentary verbs in rabbinic sources.[170] An alternative Hebrew reconstruction is צְאוּ וְלִמְדוּ (tze’ū velimdū, “Go out and learn”), a phrase that is also encountered in rabbinic sources.[171]

On reconstructing πορεύεσθαι (porevesthai, “to go”) with הָלַךְ (hālach, “walk”), see Widow’s Son in Nain, Comment to L2.

L63 τί ἐστιν (Matt. 9:13). Matthew’s τί ἐστιν (ti estin, “what is?”) could easily represent מָה הוּא (māh hū’, “what is it?”) or the contracted form מָהוּ (māhū, “what is it?”), which is attested in rabbinic sources. In MT the phrase מָה הוּא is rare, occurring only 3xx (Exod. 16:15; Num. 16:11; Esth. 8:1), but LXX renders the first two of these examples as τίς + εἶναι. Moreover, מָה הוּא and its contraction מָהוּ is often used in exegetical contexts for “what is the meaning of…?” with the intention of elucidating a difficult term or getting to the deeper meaning of a particular verse, in a manner exactly parallel to Jesus’ question, τί ἐστιν, in Matt. 9:13.[172]

L64 ἔλεος θέλω καὶ οὐ θυσίαν (Matt. 9:13). Whether the Hosea quotation conforms to the LXX version of Hos. 6:6 is a vexed question, since there is a variant reading in the textual tradition of this verse, with Vaticanus reading ἔλεος θέλω ἢ θυσίαν (“Mercy I desire rather than sacrifice”), and Alexandrinus reading ἔλεος θέλω καὶ οὐ θυσίαν (“Mercy I desire and not sacrifice”) in agreement with Matthew’s quotation. Gundry argued that the reading preserved in Vaticanus is original and that the variant is due to scribal correction of Hos. 6:6 on the basis of Matt. 9:13.[173] The variant readings and the small sample size make it impossible to make any definite pronouncement.[174] If the Hosea quotation in Matthew is an independent rendering of the Hebrew not based on LXX, this could point to the quotation’s derivation from Anth. and ultimately from the conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua. But even if the Hosea quotation is taken from LXX this would not prove that the author of Matthew added the quotation to the Call of Levi story, since the author of Matthew could have changed the wording of the quotation in order to make it agree with the LXX text with which he was familiar.

Although we cannot be certain whether the Matthean material in L62-64 was penned by the author of Matthew, some other explanation is required to account for the Jewishness of this material and the ease with which it can be reconstructed in Hebrew. If this material was taken from Anth., then perhaps we should understand Jesus’ response in the following manner: Jesus first quoted a well-known proverb—“The healthy have no need of a doctor, but the sick”—and applied this proverb to his critics and then to himself. In Jesus’ estimate, his critics did not measure up to the proverb’s lesson; they wanted the doctor (Jesus) to stay aloof from the sick (the toll collectors and their friends). Therefore, they should go and learn the meaning of the verse, “I desire mercy more than sacrifice” (Hos. 6:6). In applying the lesson of the proverb to himself, Jesus concluded that he had applied its lesson correctly: “I have come to invite the people who need repentance to repent.”

L65 οὐκ ἦλθον καλέσαι (GR). In Luke 5:32 we encounter the only example in the Synoptic Gospels of the perfect form ἐλήλυθα (elēlūtha, “I have come”) from the verb ἔρχεσθαι (erchesthai, “to come”). We suspect that this is one of the rare instances in which Mark and Matthew preserve the wording of Anth., whereas the author of Luke has made an editorial improvement to his source in order to achieve a more polished Greek style.[175] The γάρ (gar, “for”) in Matt. 9:13 is probably a stylistic improvement to Anth.’s wording as well.[176]

לֹא בָּאתִּי לִקְרֹוא (HR). On reconstructing ἔρχεσθαι with בָּא (bā’, “come”), see above, Comment to L31. In LXX καλεῖν (kalein, “to call”) is usually the translation of קָרָא (qārā’, “call”).[177] Likewise, although קָרָא is translated in LXX by a variety of Greek verbs, καλεῖν is by far its most common translation.[178]

Jesus’ pronouncement, “I have come…,” expresses an acute awareness that he had been entrusted with a divine commission.[179] Jesus expressed this high self-awareness elsewhere in terms of being God’s emissary or apostle (Heb., shāliaḥ),[180] a concept that is parallel to Jesus’ self-identification as a prophet. In his answer to his critics Jesus expressed confidence that in celebrating with Levi and his friends he was fulfilling the will of God who had sent him to summon the lost sheep of the house of Israel to repent.

An aggadic tradition assigns the task of bringing Israel to repentance to the Messiah, which will usher in the final redemption:

ד″א חדרך, זה מלך המשיח שעתיד להדריך כל באי העולם בתשובה לפני הקב″ה

Another interpretation of ḥadrāch [Zech. 9:1]: This is the anointed king [i.e., the Messiah—DNB and JNT] who in the future will lead [lehadrich] all who enter the world in repentance before the Holy one, blessed be he. (Song Rab. 7:5 §3)

L66 לַצַּדִּיקִים (HR). Although δικαίους is indefinite in Matthew, Mark and Luke, for HR we have preferred a definite form. Hebrew often makes generic nouns definite, and these are frequently made indefinite when translated to Greek.[181] In LXX δίκαιος (dikaios, “righteous”) is commonly used to translate צַדִּיק (tzadiq, “righteous”).[182] In Hebrew sources צַדִּיק (“righteous person”) and רָשָׁע (“wicked person”) are frequently paired as opposites.[183] A few examples will suffice to demonstrate the pairing of these terms:

כי אתה בראתה צדיק ורשע

For you created the righteous and the wicked…. (1QHa XII, 38)

כי לא יבין משפטם להצדיק צדיק ולהרשיע ר[שע]

For he does not understand their judgment to vindicate the righteous or to condemn the wicked. (4Q424 3 I, 1-2)

בֵּן סוֹרֵר וּמוֹרֶה יִידּוֹן לְשֵׁם סוֹפוֹ יָמוּת זַכַּיִי וְאַל יָמוּת חַיָּיב שֶׁמִיתָתָן שֶׁלָּרְשָׁעִין הֲנָיָיה לָהֶן וַהֲנָיָיה לָעוֹלָם וְלַצִּדִּיקִים רַע לָהֶן וְרַע לָעוֹלָם יַיִן וְשֵׁינָה לָרְשָׁעִין הֲנָיָיה לָהֶן וַהֲנָיָיה לַעוֹלָם וְלַצַּדִּיקִים רַע לָהֶן וְרַע לָעוֹלָם פִּיזּוּר לָרְשָׁעִין הֲנָיָיה לָהֶן וַהֲנָיָיה לָעוֹלָם וְלַצַּדִּיקִים רַע לָהֶן וְרַע לָעוֹלָם כִּינּוּס לָרְשָׁעִים רַע לָהֶן וְרַע לָעוֹלָם וְלַצַּדִּיקִים הֲנָיָה לָהֶן וַהֲנָיָה לָעוֹלָם שֶׁקֶט לָרְשָׁעִין רַע לָהֶן וְרַע לָעוֹלָם וְלַצַּדִּיקִים הֲנָיָה לָהֶן וַהֲנָיָה לָעוֹלָם

A stubborn and rebellious son is judged for the sake of his end. Let him die innocent but let him not die guilty, because the death of the wicked is a benefit to themselves and a benefit to the world, but [the death of] the righteous is an evil for themselves and an evil for the world. Wine and sleep for the wicked is a benefit to themselves and a benefit to the world, but [wine and sleep] for the righteous is an evil to themselves and an evil to the world. Scattering for the wicked is a benefit to themselves and a benefit to the world, but [scattering] for the righteous is an evil to themselves and an evil to the world. Gathering for the wicked is an evil for themselves and an evil for the world, but [gathering] for the righteous is a benefit to themselves and a benefit to the world. Quiet for the wicked is an evil to themselves and an evil to the world, but [quiet] for the righteous is a benefit to themselves and a benefit to the world. (m. Sanh. 8:5)

The last cited passage from the Mishnah is a good example of how generic uses of “righteous” and “wicked” are given in definite forms.

L67 אֶלָּא לָרְשָׁעִים (HR). On reconstructing ἀλλά (alla, “but”) with אֶלָּא (’elā’, “but,” “rather”), see above, Comment to L61. On reconstructing ἁμαρτωλός (hamartōlos, “sinner”) with רָשָׁע (rāshā‘, “wicked person”), see above, Comment to L29.

L68 εἰς μετάνοιαν (GR). The words εἰς μετάνοιαν (eis metanoian, “to repentance”) are found only in Luke’s version of Call of Levi. Consequently, many scholars, especially those who subscribe to the theory of Markan Priority, regard εἰς μετάνοιαν as a secondary gloss.[184] We note, however, that εἰς μετάνοιαν reverts easily to Hebrew, and the concept of God’s messengers summoning his people to repentance is paralleled in Hebrew texts (see below).

Sanders, who regarded the mention of repentance in Luke 5:32 as a secondary Lukan addition to the Call of Levi story, suggested that Jesus did not demand repentance from sinners, which included making restitution and perhaps also sacrificial offerings, as a prerequisite for entering the Kingdom of Heaven. This leniency toward sinners, Sanders supposed, was what offended the Pharisees.[185]

According to a rabbinic source, restitution was a formidable obstacle in the way of a toll collector’s repentance:

הגבאין והמוכסין תשובה קשה, ומחזירין למכירין, והשאר עושין בהן צרכי רבים

Poll tax collectors and toll collectors: repentance is difficult [for them], and they make restitution to those they recognize, and the rest they use for the needs of the public. (t. Bab. Metz. 8:26; Vienna MS)

No demand for restitution is mentioned in the Call of Levi story, but in the story of Zakkai the Toll Collector (Luke 19:1-9), the repentant chief toll collector does express his intention to make restitution in terms that conform closely to the above-quoted rabbinic requirement:

And standing, Zakkai said to the Lord, “Behold! Half my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone I will give back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8)

Thus, Sanders’ interpretation rests on discounting the evidence from the Gospel of Luke.

A modified version of Sanders’ interpretation, however, may be closer to the truth. While Jesus did call sinners to repentance, Jesus did not demand repentance as a prerequisite for social interactions with them. Jesus regarded table fellowship as a catalyst that could lead sinners to repentance and draw non-committed persons into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus’ instruction to his twelve apostles to eat with anyone who offered them hospitality (Luke 10:7) had the same function.[186] In addition, Tilton believes Jesus probably relaxed the demand to make restitution by requiring his full-time disciples to forego demands for repayment from would-be followers (cf. Matt. 6:12; Luke 11:4).[187] The disciples’ voluntary renunciation of the demand for restitution would have significantly eased the way for toll collectors who were drawn to Jesus’ message of repentance. For Tilton, it is difficult to imagine that Jesus would have allowed his full-time disciples to block toll collectors or other sinners from entering the Kingdom of Heaven (i.e., joining his band of itinerant disciples)[188] by insisting on their right to collect debts and restitution from potential disciples.[189] Surely he would have said to the disciples who were demanding payment, “You wicked disciple! Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow Israelite, just as God has had mercy on you?” (cf. Matt. 18:33). Bivin, on the other hand, believes that in the Lord’s Prayer the word “debts” is the well-known Second Temple-period Hebraic and Aramaic idiom meaning “sins.”[190] Therefore, Bivin does not believe Jesus’ disciples were necessarily required to forgive actual monetary debts.

לִתְשׁוּבָה (HR). The noun μετάνοια (metanoia, “repentance”) is rare in LXX, since an abstract term for “repentance” did not exist in Biblical Hebrew.[191] The noun תְּשׁוּבָה (teshūvāh, “repentance”) is a product of Second Temple Judaism.[192] Compare our reconstruction of “call to repentance” to the following rabbinic statement:

כל הנביאים קוראים לישראל לתשובה

All the prophets summon Israel to repentance. (Pesikta Rabbati 44:5 [ed. Friedmann, 183b])

In his Hebrew translation of Luke 5:32 Delitzsch relocated the phrase “to repentance” from the end of the sentence—the position indicated by the Greek text—and placed it after “the righteous” as follows: לֹא בָאתִי לִקְרוֹא הַצַּדִּיקִים לַתְּשׁוּבָה כִּי אִם הַחַטָּאִים (“I did not come to call the righteous to repentance, but rather the sinners”). In rabbinic sources we find a few examples of לֹא בָּאתִי אֶלָּא (“I did not come except…”) to express singularity of purpose:

אני לא באתי אלא להדיר אליעזר בני מנכסיי

I did not come except to disinherit my son Eliezer from my possessions. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 6:3 [ed. Schechter, 31])

לא באנו לכאן אלא לניסיון

We did not come to this place except for a test. (Gen. Rab. 13:9 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 1:118])

לא באתי אלא ללמד

I did not come except to learn. (Gen. Rab. 74:15 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 2:873])

A more idiomatic translation of לֹא בָּאתִי אֶלָּא than “I did not come except…” would be “I came only….” These models in which singularity of purpose is expressed would lead us to expect Jesus’ statement to have been formulated as: לֹא בָּאתִּי אֶלָּא לִקְרֹוא לָרְשָׁעִים לִתְשׁוּבָה (“I came only to call the wicked to repentance”). The Greek text, however, does not support this model for reconstruction.

We also find in rabbinic sources numerous examples of mutually exclusive alternatives expressed with לֹא…אֶלָּא. For instance:

לֹא הַמִּדְרָשׁ הוּא הַעִיקָּר אֶלָּא הַמַּעֲשֶׂה

It is not the study that is the main thing, but the doing. (m. Avot 1:17)

לא מעצמי אני אומר לכם אלא מפי הקדש אני אומר לכם

Not on my own do I speak to you, but from the mouth of the Holy one I speak to you. (Sifre Deut. §5 [ed. Finkelstein, 13])

לא על ישראל בלבד הוא נגלה אלא על כל האומות

Not unto Israel alone did he reveal himself, but unto all the peoples. (Sifre Deut. §343 [ed. Finkelstein, 396])

לא רצה הקב″ה לאבדן מן העולם אלא פזרם בארבע רוחות העולם

The Holy one, blessed be he, did not want to destroy them from the world, but to scatter them in the four winds of the world. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 12:6 [ed. Schechter, 52])[193]

The above examples of alternatives expressed with לֹא…אֶלָּא might lead us to expect a reconstruction such as לֹא בָּאתִּי לִקְרֹוא לַצַּדִּיקִים לִתְשׁוּבָה אֶלָּא לָרְשָׁעִים (“I did not come to call the righteous to repentance, but the wicked”), which is similar to Delitzsch’s translation, or perhaps even לֹא בָּאתִּי לִקְרֹוא לַצַּדִּיקִים לִתְשׁוּבָה אֶלָּא בָּאתִּי לִקְרֹוא לָרְשָׁעִים לִתְשׁוּבָה (“I did not come to call the righteous to repentance, but I came to call the wicked to repentance”). Thus, the word order of our reconstruction appears to be somewhat unusual from the standpoint of Hebrew syntax. Nevertheless, we believe it is preferable to produce a slightly idiosyncratic, though not impossible, Hebrew reconstruction that respects the Greek word order, than to disregard the Greek word order for the sake of producing a completely smooth reconstruction.

Redaction Analysis

The Call of Levi story has reached us in four canonical versions: a long and a short form in Luke, a paraphrase of Luke’s longer form in Mark, and a version in Matthew based on Mark and the source behind Luke’s longer form. Each version contributes to our understanding of the pre-synoptic sources that were ultimately derived from the Hebrew Life of Yeshua.

Luke’s Versions

The long form of the Call of Levi story in Luke 5:27-32 appears to be based on Anth., the more Hebraic of Luke’s two main literary sources. On the whole, the author of Luke preserved Anth.’s wording with a high degree of fidelity, but it appears that he did make some slight changes to his source, most of which were probably for the sake of improved Greek style. For instance, we suspect that the author of Luke substituted the phrase ὀνόματι Λευεὶν (“with the name Levi”), a common way of introducing names in Luke-Acts, for an original καὶ ὄνομα αὐτῷ Λευεὶς (“and a name to him, Levi”) in L11-12. It also seems likely that the author of Luke changed the tense of the verbs in L20 and L65, and altered the word order in L22-24 for the sake of producing a more polished Greek text.

A more significant change the author of Luke made to his source was shifting the location of the phrase “in his house” to the end of the sentence “And Levi made a large banquet for him,” rather than preserving “And as he reclined with him in his house,” which we believe was the original position of “in his house” in Anth. The author of Luke may have shifted the location of this phrase because he wished to state explicitly that Jesus reclined at table with other toll collectors and sinners in the home of Levi. It is also possible that the shifting of this phrase was motivated by the author of Luke’s desire to eliminate the Hebraic καὶ ἐγένετο (L25) and καὶ ἰδοὺ (L28) formulae, which may have sounded strange to his non-Jewish Greek-speaking audience.

Another small but significant change the author of Luke made to Anth. was to replace “sinners” with “others” in L29. We suspect that this change was made for the literary effect it produced, whereby the author of Luke placed the first reference to Jesus’ companions as “sinners” in the mouths of Jesus’ critics (L51). This change sharpened the contrast between Jesus and his interlopers, and underscored the defense Jesus made of his mission to call sinners to repentance.

It also seems likely that the author of Luke abridged Anth.’s version of Call of Levi by omitting the statement that the guests in Levi’s home had come with the purpose of listening to Jesus (L35-36), and perhaps also by omitting Jesus’ quotation of Hos. 6:6 (L62-64).

The slight alteration of the critics’ question from “Why does he eat and drink…?” to “Why do you [disciples] eat and drink…?” may have been intended to deflect the accusation from Jesus, or perhaps to acknowledge that later believers followed their master’s example by continuing to reach out to sinners.

The shorter form of Call of Levi in Luke 15:1-2 was probably copied from FR, which was an epitome of Anth. The FR version pared down the story by eliminating the description of Levi’s personal encounter with Jesus in order to focus solely on the criticism leveled at Jesus that he ate with toll collectors and sinners. Despite the major omissions and the many stylistic improvements of FR’s version, we believe that this version preserves some of Anth.’s details more faithfully than Luke’s edited version of Anth.’s Call of Levi story in Luke 5:27-32. Among the details FR preserved from Anth. that were changed by the author of Luke in Luke 5:27-32 is the purpose for which Levi’s guests came to the banquet: they came (L31, partially confirmed by Matthew’s version) to listen to Jesus (L35-36). The FR version also presents the critics’ question in the third person (“Why does he eat…?”), which is probably an accurate reflection of Anth.

The FR version is also useful for confirming details in the longer Luke 5:27-32 version that are not supported by the Markan or Matthean versions of Call of Levi, such as the use of ἦσαν (“they were”) in L30, the use of a verb for “grumble” in L40, and the use of λέγοντες (“saying”) in L47.

Note that we believe the author of Luke preserved the wording of the FR version more faithfully than the version from Anth. Whereas the author of Luke seems to have made several editorial “improvements” to Anth., which we have highlighted above, this does not seem to have been his policy with respect to FR. The author of Luke appears to have preserved the wording of FR more or less intact. The reason for this difference in policy regarding his two main literary sources probably has to do with their different characters. Whereas FR needed little Greek improvement, having already been polished by the First Reconstructor, the author of Luke felt that the rough translation-style Greek of Anth. demanded revision.

Mark’s Version

Mark’s version is essentially a dramatic paraphrase of the longer Luke 5:27-32 version of Call of Levi. The most notable features of Mark’s version are the long expansions at L3-6, L38-39 and L42-44, which are absent in the Lukan and Matthean versions of Call of Levi. The first of these expansions is what has given the impression that Levi the toll collector may have been stationed in or near Capernaum.

Mark’s version of Call of Levi is filled with characteristically Markan changes.[194] In addition to the expansions, we also note the addition of biographical information in L13; the use of the historical present in L16, L25, L42 and L58; the use of ἔλεγον in L45; the use of synonyms for Luke’s vocabulary in L9, L28, L32, L48, L56 and L60; and the use of transposition in L41 and L43-44. The author of Mark also appears to have omitted some details, either to pick up the pace of the narrative (L18, L21-24) or to strengthen the punch of Jesus’ response to his critics (L68). At certain points, the author of Mark made changes to Luke by comparing it to Anth. and adopting the wording of the latter (L20, L26, L29, L53). At these points, Mark’s version preserves valuable information regarding the wording of Anth.

It appears that the author of Mark reworked Mark 2:14 in particular in order to echo the story of the Call of Yeshua’s First Disciples.

Matthew’s Version

Matthew’s version of Call of Levi is a blend of Mark’s version with Anth.’s. At certain points, the author of Matthew also introduced changes of his own, most notably the change of the toll collector’s name from Levi to Matthew (L15), which entailed referring to Levi as “a person” in L12. Other Matthean changes not based on Anth. or Mark include the insertion of ἐκεῖθεν (“from there”) in L8; the omission of “scribes” in L41; the reference to Jesus as “your teacher” in L55; the use of δέ instead of καί in L56; the omission of the name Ἰησοῦς in L57; the omission of “to them” in L58; and the addition of γάρ in L65. These minor changes were probably made for stylistic purposes.

We are undecided whether the quotation of Hos. 6:6 at L62-64 was added by the author of Matthew or copied from Anth. We note, however, that other Matthean additions, such as the purported conspiracy to cover up the resurrection of Jesus (Matt. 28:11-14), are pure Greek, whereas L62-64 are easily reconstructed in Hebrew.

Matthew’s Hebraisms (L25, L28), the Matthean-Lukan agreements against Mark (L41, L48, L58), the Matthean-Lukan agreements of omission against Mark (L3-6, L13, L38-39, L42-44), and the fascinating point of contact between the Matthean and FR versions of Call of Levi (L31) provide invaluable data for reconstructing the conjectured Hebrew Ur-text and its earliest translation into Greek.

Results of This Research

1. Where did the Call of Levi story take place? We cannot be sure where the Call of Levi story took place. Neither Luke nor Matthew describe the physical setting, while Mark’s setting of the story “by the sea” is likely secondary and hardly specific enough to locate the story in Capernaum with any certainty. Since the Call of Levi probably took place at the time when Jesus first started calling full-time disciples, a Galilean setting is likely.

2. Why is the toll collector named “Levi” in Luke and Mark, but “Matthew” in Matthew? It is probable that at a pre-synoptic stage the toll collector’s name was “Levi” in the Call of Levi story. The author of Matthew was responsible for changing the toll collector’s name to “Matthew.” Various explanations have been advanced to account for this change, the most common being that the toll collector bore both names, “Levi” and “Matthew.” Two more convincing explanations have been suggested by scholars. The first (advanced by Meier) is that the author of Matthew labored under the false assumption that Jesus had only twelve disciples. This mistaken impression came about by conflating the roles of apostle and disciple. The two roles were originally distinct. Having acquired this mistaken opinion, the author of Matthew could not tolerate in his Gospel the story of the call of a disciple who was not numbered among the Twelve. He therefore changed the name of Levi to Matthew, who was one of the twelve apostles. The weakness of this explanation is that it does not explain why the name “Matthew” was selected in particular. The second explanation, advanced by Bauckham, is that the apostle Matthew was an important figure in the community for which Matthew’s Gospel was written. The author of Matthew knew that the apostle Matthew had been a toll collector, but he did not have a record of the apostle Matthew’s call, so in order to include a story of the call of the apostle his community so highly revered, he transferred the Call of Levi story to the apostle Matthew. Perhaps it is not necessary to assume that these two explanations are mutually exclusive.

3. What were toll collectors, and why were they considered to be inappropriate company in Jewish society? Toll collectors were private entrepreneurs who extracted tariffs on the movement of goods from merchants on behalf of the Roman senate, the Roman emperor, or the ruler of a client kingdom under the thumb of the Roman Empire. Toll collectors were resented for skimming off profits from commerce, which increased costs for average consumers, without contributing to society. In Jewish society they were regarded as robbers because they were suspected of taking more than was required by law.

Second Temple Judaism witnessed a development in which the black-and-white view of humanity described in Scripture began to be replaced by a more nuanced view of the complexity of human nature. Whereas the older view recommended abhorrence of sinners, lest they lead good people astray, this “new sensitivity” recognized that sublime ideals vie with base motives in every human breast, and this recognition led to a more compassionate attitude toward sinners on the part of some spiritual leaders. The clash of opinions described in Call of Levi is evidence that in the time of Jesus the old view and the emerging new sensitivity were still in competition with one another.

4. Who were the Pharisees? The Pharisees represented one stream of Second Temple Judaism, a stream that emphasized non-priestly authority derived from the interpretation of Scripture and ancestral tradition.[195] Their approach to issues such as ritual purity was lenient in comparison with other groups such as the Sadducees and Essenes. The Pharisaic movement attempted to curry the favor of the common folk and also to influence their behavior—facts which explain, to a certain degree, the numerous interactions between Jesus and the Pharisees.

The name “Pharisee” was originally a pejorative term meaning “separatist,” intended to denigrate the Pharisees as schismatics. When taken over into Greek, the name “Pharisee” shed its negative baggage, but the negative connotations of the term “Pharisee” in Hebrew explains why no Jewish sage ever claims to be or is identified as a Pharisee in any rabbinic source, even though the rabbinic sages were the heirs of the Pharisees. Sometimes Pharisees appear in rabbinic literature as negative caricatures of the sages themselves. This was a strategy for neutralizing the negative application by admitting that there were indeed some Pharisees with shortcomings, but denying that such individuals were representative of Pharisaism as a whole.

An appreciation of the nuances of the term “Pharisee” in Greek and Hebrew is necessary for those who wish to avoid simplistic stereotyping that distorts the complexity of the cultural context of the Gospels.

5. Who were the “scribes,” and what was their relationship to the Pharisees? The identity of the scribes has been debated by scholars, with opinions ranging from a complete identification of Pharisees with scribes to supposing that the scribes and Pharisees represent competing trends within Judaism. In our view, the scribes in the Call of Levi story are probably best understood as the leaders of the Pharisees who were qualified to make halachic decisions.

6. What were the Pharisees doing at the banquet if they didn’t approve of eating and drinking with sinners? Some scholars have doubted the veracity of the Call of Levi story, pointing out that it would be ludicrous for Jesus’ critics to complain that he ate with sinners while they themselves were present at Levi’s banquet.[196] While we agree that such a scenario is highly improbable, we hasten to add that this is not what is described in any of the canonical versions of the Call of Levi story. Placing Jesus’ critics in Levi’s home is a detail that has to be read into the text, since none of the canonical versions of Call of Levi actually state that Jesus’ critics were in attendance at the banquet. Jesus’ critics could have seen Jesus entering Levi’s home before the meal or leaving Levi’s home afterward, or someone could have informed them about Jesus’ presence at Levi’s banquet at some later point.[197] Narratives in the Gospels are usually concise, typically leaving non-essential information unstated and often telescoping events.[198] To doubt the veracity of the Call of Levi story on the basis of a detail that is not actually present in the text is a mistake.


In the Call of Levi story we encounter two competing approaches to the problem of sin. The first approach, represented by Jesus’ critics, is to distance oneself as far as possible from sinners so as to avoid being influenced by persons of dubious character. The second approach, represented by Jesus, is to display an open and friendly attitude toward those with moral failings based on the conviction that God commanded Israel to love one’s neighbor who has the very same weaknesses as we observe in ourselves. While noting these differences of approach, we should be cautious of overstating the conflict described in the Call of Levi story. The question Jesus’ critics asked about Jesus’ conduct was just that, a question. There is no need to assume that their question expressed outrage or amounted to an attack. While the Pharisees wondered how Jesus could celebrate with toll collectors and other persons who had violated the Torah’s commands, when Jesus explained to them using the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes that it was because God rejoices over every sinner who repents and wants the rest of his people to celebrate with him, too, the Pharisees may well have accepted the validity of Jesus’ response.



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  • [1] For abbreviations and bibliographical references, see “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.’
  • [2] This translation is a dynamic rendition of our reconstruction of the conjectured Hebrew source that stands behind the Greek of the Synoptic Gospels. It is not a translation of the Greek text of a canonical source.
  • [3] See Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes, under the subheading “Conjectured Stages of Transmission.”
  • [4] See Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes, under the subheading “Story Placement.”
  • [5] On Mark’s periphrastic style, see Robert L. Lindsey, “My Search for the Synoptic Problem’s Solution (1959-1969)”; David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style.”
  • [6] On the Epistle of Barnabas in relation to the Bar Kochva revolt, see Daniel R. Schwartz, “On Barnabas and Bar-Kokhba,” in his Studies in the Jewish Background of Christianity (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1992), 147-153.
  • [7] In 2 Clement we read:

    καὶ ἑτέρα δὲ γραφὴ λέγει ὅτι οὐκ ἦλθον καλέσαι δικαίους, ἀλλὰ ἁμαρτωλούς.

    And another Scripture also says, “I have not come to call righteous [persons], but sinners.” (2 Clem. 2:4)

    Note that the author of 2 Clement claims to be quoting a written text.

    In Barnabas we find the following paraphrase of Jesus’ statement:

    οὐκ ἦλθεν καλέσαι δικαίους ἀλλὰ ἁμαρτωλούς

    …he did not come to call righteous [persons], but sinners…. (Barn. 5:9)

    According to Justin, Jesus said:

    Οὐκ ἦλθον καλέσαι δικαίους, ἀλλὰ ἁμαρτωλοὺς εἰς μετάνοιαν. θέλει γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ οὐράνιος τὴν μετάνοιαν τοῦ ἁμαρτωλοῦ ἢ τὴν κόλασιν αὐτοῦ.

    I did not come to call righteous [persons], but sinners to repentance. For the heavenly Father desires the repentance of the sinner rather than his punishment. (1 Apol. 15:8)

    It is possible that the second sentence in the above quotation is Justin’s commentary on Jesus’ saying.

  • [8] On the date of Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1224, see Wilhelm Schneemelcher, ed., New Testament Apocrypha (2 vols.; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963-1966), 1:113-114.
  • [9] In Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1224 we find the following:

    οι δε γραμματεις κα[ι Φαρισαι]οι και ιερεις θεασαμ[ενοι αυ]τον ηγανακτουν [οτι συν αμαρ]τωλοις ανα με[σον κειται. ο] δε Ιη{σους} ακουσας [ειπεν· ου χρειαν] [εχ]ουσιν οι υ[γιαινοντες] [ιατρου,] α[λλα….]

    But the scribes an[d Pharisee]s and priests see[ing h]im were angry [that with sinn]ers in the mid[st he reclined.] But Je{sus} hearing [said: no need ha]ve the h[ealthy for a doctor,] b[ut….] (P. Oxy. 1224 frag. 2 verso, column 2 [page 175])

  • [10] Cf., e.g., Hawkins, 43.
  • [11] In Luke the phrase μετὰ ταῦτα occurs in Luke 1:24; 5:27; 10:1; 12:4; 17:8; 18:4.
  • [12] In Mark the phrase μετὰ ταῦτα occurs in Mark 16:12.
  • [13] In LXX μετὰ ταῦτα is the translation of אַחֲרֵי כֵן in Gen. 15:14; 23:19; 41:31; 45:15; Exod. 3:20; 11:1, 8; 34:32; Lev. 16:26, 28; Num. 4:15; 8:15, 22; 9:17; Josh. 8:34; Judg. 16:4; 1 Kgdms. 9:13; 24:6; 2 Kgdms. 2:1; 8:1; 10:1; 13:1; 21:14, 18; 4 Kgdms. 6:24; 1 Chr. 18:1; 19:1; 20:4; 2 Chr. 20:1, 35; 24:4; 33:14; Joel 3:1; Isa. 1:26; Jer. 16:16; 21:7.
  • [14] In MT the formula וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן followed by a perfect occurs in Gen. 23:19; 25:26; 45:15; Exod. 34:32; Num. 8:22; Josh. 8:34; 2 Chr. 33:14. Of these instances, LXX translated וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן followed by a perfect with either μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα or καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα + aorist in Gen. 45:15; Exod. 34:32; Num. 8:22; 2 Chr. 33:14. In Gen. 25:26 וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן + perfect is translated as καὶ μετὰ τοῦτο + aorist, while in Josh. 8:34 וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן + perfect is translated as καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα οὕτως + aorist.

    Where μετὰ ταῦτα renders phrases such as אַחַר or וְאַחַר rather than וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן the underlying Hebrew text often (though not exclusively) has an imperfect verb (cf., e.g., Gen. 24:55; Lev. 14:8; 15:28; Num. 5:26; 6:20; 19:7; 31:24; 32:22; Josh. 2:16; Judg. 7:11; Hos. 3:5), which does not fit GR or HR.

  • [15] See Bundy, 142; Guelich, 98; Marcus, 228.
  • [16] On πάλιν (palin, “again”) as a Markan redactional word, see Robert L. Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “The Markan Stereotypes.”
  • [17] Among the scholars who assume that Call of Levi took place in Capernaum are Allen, 89; France, Mark, 131; John R. Donahue, “Tax Collectors and Sinners: An Attempt at Identification,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 33.1 (1971): 39-61, esp. 54; Roland K. Harrison and Edwin M. Yamauchi, “Taxation,” in Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-biblical Antiquity (ed. Edwin M. Yamauchi and Marvin R. Wilson; 4 vols.; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2016), 4:226-236, esp. 227.
  • [18] In addition to the Call of Levi story, the Gospel of Mark mentions the sea when transitioning to the Yeshua Heals the Crowds narrative (Mark 3:7; cf. Matt. 12:15; Luke 6:17), the Gergesene Demoniac story (Mark 5:1; cf. Matt. 8:28; Luke 8:26) and Yair’s Daughter and a Woman’s Faith (Mark 5:21; cf. Matt. 9:18; Luke 8:40). The Lukan-Matthean agreements against Mark to omit reference to the sea at the opening of these stories suggests that these references to the Sea of Galilee are Mark’s editorial contribution to these narratives. Note that even in the Gergesene Demoniac story, although Luke mentions “sailing” and describes Jesus stepping out “on the land” (Luke 8:26), thereby recognizing that Jesus had crossed a body of water, he avoided using the term θάλασσα (“sea”), which appears in Mark’s parallel (Mark 5:1). On the term θάλασσα in the Gospel of Luke, see Cadbury, 186.
  • [19] See Robert L. Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “Mark’s Midrashic Technique.”
  • [20] In LXX παράγειν is the translation of הֶעֱבִיר in 1 Kgdms. 16:9, 10; 20:36; 2 Esd. 12:7; Eccl. 11:10. In 2 Esd. 9:2, the LXX translators seem to have mistakenly translated וְהִתְעָרְבוּ (“and they mingled”) with καὶ παρήχθη (“and it passed by”), perhaps confusing the Hebrew root ע-ר-ב with the root ע-ב-ר.
  • [21] In LXX ἐκεῖθεν occurs over 120xx, usually as the translation of מִשָּׁם (mishām, “from there”). See Hatch-Redpath, 1:427-428.
  • [22] Matthean instances of ἐκεῖθεν in TT that are unsupported in the Markan and Lukan parallels include Matt. 4:21 (cf. Mark 1:19; Luke 5:2); 9:9 (cf. Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27); 12:9 (cf. Mark 3:1; Luke 6:6); 12:15 (cf. Mark 3:7; Luke 6:17); 14:13 (cf. Mark 6:32; Luke 9:10). In verses unique to Matthew and Mark, Matthew has ἐκεῖθεν 2xx where it is unsupported in Mark’s parallel: Matt. 15:29 (cf. Mark 7:31); 19:15 (cf. Mark 10:16). Matthew twice uses ἐκεῖθεν in verses unique to his Gospel: Matt. 9:27; 11:1. See Lindsey, GCSG, 1:311-312.
  • [23] In LXX θεάσασθαι occurs in 2 Chr. 22:6 (= רָאָה); Jdt. 15:8; Tob. 2:2; 13:7, 16; 2 Macc. 2:4; 3:36; 3 Macc. 5:47.
  • [24] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:669-673.
  • [25] See Wm. O. Walker, “Jesus and the Tax Collectors,” Journal of Biblical Literature 97.2 (1978): 221-238, esp. 235. In the same article, Walker speculated that τελώνης (“toll collector”) might have entered the Gospel tradition as an erroneous transliteration of the Aramaic term טְלָנֵי (elānē), which he suggests might have referred to the male counterpart of women prostitutes, either “playboy,” “pimp” or “male prostitute” (237). In this way, Walker suggests, an Aramaic accusation that Jesus was a friend of sinners and “playboys” eventually gave rise to Greek stories about Jesus befriending toll collectors. However, Walker offers no evidence that the term טְלָנֵי ever had any of the meanings he proposed. According to Jastrow (538), טְלָנֵי refers to “night demons” or “urchins,” coming from the verb טְלַל (elal), meaning “to play.” Walker’s suggestion therefore strikes us as incredible. Moreover, if the Call of Levi story descended from a Hebrew source there was no opportunity for stories about Jesus’ association with toll collectors to arise in Greek oral tradition from a misunderstanding of an Aramaic accusation leveled against Jesus.
  • [26] On Roman taxation, see A. H. M. Jones, “Taxation in Antiquity,” in his The Roman Economy: Studies in Ancient Economic and Administrative History (ed. P. A. Brunt; Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1974), 151-185; Graham Burton, “Government and the Provinces,” in The Roman World (ed. John Wacher; 2 vols.; London: Routledge, 1987), 1:423-439, esp. 426-429; P. A. Brunt, “The Revenues of Rome,” in his Roman Imperial Themes (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990), 324-346, 531-540.
  • [27] On the likelihood that Levi’s tolls were collected on behalf of Antipas rather than on behalf of Rome, see W. Manson, 54; Taylor, 203; Donahue, “Tax Collectors and Sinners: An Attempt at Identification,” 45; Mann, 229; Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), 212; Brunt, “Publicans in the Principate,” in his Roman Imperial Themes, 354-432, esp. 409; France, Matt., 351.
  • [28] On the taxes imposed by local cities, see Martin Goodman, State and Society in Roman Galilee, A.D. 132-212 (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Allanheld, 1983), 132.
  • [29] In Egypt only men were liable for the poll tax, while in Syria both men and women were liable for the poll tax. See Jones, “Taxation in Antiquity,” 165.
  • [30] See Jones, “Taxation in Antiquity,” 173.
  • [31] See Jos., Ant. 14:206; F. M. Heichelheim, “Roman Syria,” in An Economic Survey of Ancient Rome (ed. Tenney Frank et al.; 6 vols.; Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins Press, 1933-1940), 4:121-257, esp. 235.
  • [32] See Burton, “Government and the Provinces,” 427; Brunt, “The Revenues of Rome,” 335.
  • [33] See Jones, “Taxation in Antiquity,” 174.
  • [34] On indebtedness as a social concern in the late Second Temple period, see Shimon Applebaum, “Economic Life in Palestine” (Safrai-Stern, 2:631-700, esp. 691-692); idem, “Judaea as a Roman Province; the Countryside as a Political and Economic Factor,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 2.8 (1977): 355-386, esp. 368-373; Brunt, “Josephus on Social Conflicts in Roman Judaea,” in his Roman Imperial Themes, 282-287, esp. 285; Martin Goodman, “The First Jewish Revolt: Social Conflict and the Problem of Debt,” Journal of Jewish Studies 33 (1982): 417-427. Cf. Lord’s Prayer, Comment to L18-21.
  • [35] See Jones, “Taxation in Antiquity,” 165; Menahem Stern, “The Province of Judea” (Safrai-Stern, 1:308-376, esp. 332); Burton, “Government and the Provinces,” 427, 429; Brunt, “Romanization of the Local Ruling Classes,” in his Roman Imperial Themes, 267-287, esp. 270.
  • [36] See Burton, “Government and the Provinces,” 428.
  • [37] See Jones, “Taxation in Antiquity,” 166, 171, 181.
  • [38] On toll-collecting corporations, see Brunt, “Publicans in the Principate,” 360-376.
  • [39] See Jones, “Taxation in Antiquity,” 171; Burton, “Government and the Provinces,” 428; Brunt, “Publicans in the Principate,” 386.
  • [40] On the difficulty of appealing to the Roman government in cases of tax abuse, see Stephen R. Llewelyn, “Tax Collection and the τελῶναι of the New Testament,” in New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity (ed. Greg H. R. Horsley, Stephen R. Llewelyn et al.; 10 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976-2012), 8:47-76, esp. 75.
  • [41] See Brunt, “Publicans in the Principate,” 378.
  • [42] For an introduction to rabbinic views of toll collectors, see Shmuel Safrai, “A Friend of Tax Collectors.”
  • [43] According to Ginzberg, the reference to the royal estate in m. Ned. 3:4 indicates that this ruling originated in the Second Temple period, since “king” refers to a Jewish king, whereas the emperor is uniformly referred to as Caesar in tannaic sources. See Louis Ginzberg, “The Significance of the Halachah for Jewish History,” in his On Jewish Law and Lore (New York: Atheneum, 1970), 77-124, 246-253, esp. 86-87.
  • [44] See Jastrow, 206, 741; Plummer, Luke, 159; Lawrence M. Wills, “Methodological Reflections on the Tax Collectors in the Gospels,” in When Judaism and Christianity Began: Essays in Memory of Anthony J. Saldarini (ed. Alan J. Avery-Peck, Daniel Harrington, and Jacob Neusner; 2 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 2004), 1:251-266, esp. 252 n. 4; Harrison and Yamauchi, “Taxation,” 234.
  • [45] See Donahue, “Tax Collectors and Sinners: An Attempt at Identification,” 39-61; Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence, 212.
  • [46] See Jeremias, Theology, 111.
  • [47] For a different view, see Goodman, State and Society in Roman Galilee, 131.
  • [48] On the Palmyrian Tariff, see Kenneth Lönnqvist, “The Tax Law of Palmyra and the Introduction of the Roman Monetary System to Syria—A Re-Evaluation,” in Jebel Bishri in Context: Introduction to the Archaeological Studies and the Neighbourhood of Jebel Bishri in Central Syria (ed. Minna Lönnqvist; BAR International Series 1817; Oxford: Archaeopress, 2008), 73-88, esp. 76.
  • [49] See Otto Michel, “τελώνης,” TDNT, 8:88-105, esp. 99 n. 115.
  • [50] See Hawkins, 44; Plummer, Luke, 159. The ὀνόματι + proper name formula occurs once each in Mark and Matthew: Mark 5:22 (ὀνόματι Ἰάϊρος; “Yairos by name”); Matt. 27:32 (ὀνόματι Σίμωνα; “Simon by name”). In Luke-Acts, by contrast, the ὀνόματι + proper name formula occurs frequently: Luke 1:5 (ὀνόματι Ζαχαρίας; “Zacharias by name”); 5:27 (ὀνόματι Λευίν; “Levi by name”); 10:38 (ὀνόματι Μάρθα; “Martha by name”); 16:20 (ὀνόματι Λάζαρος; “Lazarus by name”); 23:50 (ὀνόματι Ἰωσήφ; “Joseph by name”); 24:18 (ὀνόματι Κλεοπᾶς; “Kleopas by name”); Acts 5:1 (Ἁνανίας ὀνόματι; “Ananias by name”); 5:34 (ὀνόματι Γαμαλιήλ; “Gamaliel by name”); 8:9 (ὀνόματι Σίμων; “Simon by name”); 9:10 (ὀνόματι Ἁνανίας; “Ananias by name”); 9:11 (Σαῦλον ὀνόματι; “Saul by name”); 9:12 (Ἁνανίαν ὀνόματι; “Ananias by name”); 9:33 (ὀνόματι Αἰνέαν; “Aeneas by name”); 9:36 (ὀνόματι Ταβιθά; “Tabitha by name”); 10:1 (ὀνόματι Κορνήλιος; “Cornelius by name”); 11:28 (ὀνόματι Ἅγαβος; “Agabus by name”); 12:13 (ὀνόματι Ῥόδη; “Roda by name”); 16:1 (ὀνόματι Τιμόθεος; “Timothy by name”); 16:14 (ὀνόματι Λυδία; “Lydia by name”); 17:34 (ὀνόματι Δάμαρις; “Damaris by name”); 18:2 (ὀνόματι Ἀκύλαν; “Aquila by name”); 18:7 (ὀνόματι Τιτίου Ἰούστου; “Titius Justus by name”); 18:24 (Ἀπολλῶς ὀνόματι; “Apollos by name”); 19:24 (Δημήτριος…ὀνόματι; “Demetrius…by name”); 20:9 (ὀνόματι Εὔτυχος; “Eutychus by name”); 21:10 (ὀνόματι Ἅγαβος; “Agabus by name”); 27:1 (ὀνόματι Ἰουλίῳ; “Julius by name”); 28:7 (ὀνόματι Ποπλίῳ; “Publius by name”).
  • [51] In LXX the ὀνόματι + proper name formula occurs in Tob. 6:11 (ὀνόματι Σαρρα; “Sarra by name”) and 4 Macc. 5:4 (ὀνόματι Ελεαζαρος; “Eleazar by name”).
  • [52] Other examples of καὶ ὄνομα αὐτῷ/αὐτῇ as the translation of וְשֵׁם + pronominal suffix + proper name are found in Judg. 13:2; 16:4; 17:1; Ruth 2:1; 1 Kgdms. 1:1; 9:1, 2; 21:8; 2 Kgdms. 4:4; 9:2, 12; 13:1, 3; 14:27; 16:5; 17:25; 20:1; 1 Chr. 2:26, 34; Esth. 2:5.
  • [53] Other examples of ᾧ/ᾗ ὄνομα + proper name as the translation of וְשֵׁם + pronominal suffix + proper name are found in Gen. 24:29; 25:1; 38:2, 6; Josh. 2:1.
  • [54] Examples of the transliteration Λευι are found in Gen. 29:34; 34:14, 25, 30; 35:23; 46:11; 49:5.
  • [55] The spelling Λευίς is also attested in Let. Aris. §48; Jos. Asen. 22:7, 9; 23:8, 9, 10, 15; 26:27; 27:6; 28:15; 29:3, 5, 6.
  • [56] See Tal Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Part I Palestine 330 BCE—200 CE (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 2002), 182-185.
  • [57] See Menahem Stern, “Aspects of Jewish Society: The Priesthood and Other Classes” (Safrai-Stern, 2:561-630, esp. 599).
  • [58] On the role of the Levites in the Temple see Shmuel Safrai, “The Temple” (Safrai-Stern, 2:865-907, esp. 872); R. Steven Notley, Jerusalem: City of the Great King (Jerusalem: Carta, 2015), 93.
  • [59] The role of Temple singers is assigned to the Levites according to Jos., Ant. 20:216; m. Bik. 3:4; m. Rosh Hash. 4:4; m. Arach. 2:6; m. Mid. 2:5; m. Tam. 5:6; 7:3, 4.
  • [60] Levites are described as Temple musicians in 1 Chr. 23:5; m. Suk. 5:4; m. Mid. 2:6.
  • [61] Levites are described as Temple gatekeepers in 2 Chr. 34:13; Philo, Spec. 1:156; Jos., Ant. 9:155; m. Mid. 1:1.
  • [62] The role of bailiff (שׁוֹטֵר) is ascribed to the Levites in 2 Chr. 34:13; 1QM VII, 14, 16; Sifre Deut. §15 (ed. Finkelstein, 25).
  • [63] Levites appear as scribes in 2 Chr. 34:13. In addition, Bickerman identified the “scribes of the Temple” mentioned in an edict of Antiochus III preserved in Jos., Ant. 12:142 as Levites. See Elias J. Bickerman, The Jews in the Greek Age (Cambridge, Mass.; Harvard University Press, 1988), 182.
  • [64] On the name Alphaeus, see Choosing the Twelve, Comment to L37.
  • [65] See David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style,” under the subheading “Mark’s Freedom and Creativity.”
  • [66] Bauckham notes that the names recorded in the Gospels are highly compatible with the known onomasticon of first-century Jewish names in the land of Israel. Such compatibility hardly could have been achieved if the names had been made up at a later date, or by individuals unfamiliar with first-century Jewish naming customs in Israel. See Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 73-74, 84.
  • [67] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:700-701.
  • [68] See Gould, 41; Plummer, Luke, 159; Taylor, 203.
  • [69] The translation “sittynge in a tolbothe” is found as early as John Wycliffe’s 1389 translation of the New Testament.
  • [70] On the other hand, Goodman suggested that ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον in Call of Levi refers to the תֵּיבַת הַמּוֹכְסִין (tēvat hamōchesin; “the tēvāh of the toll collectors”) mentioned in rabbinic texts such as t. Bab. Kam. 10:22. See Goodman, State and Society in Roman Galilee, 131. Goodman defines תֵּיבָה as “bench,” whereas the meaning is “chest” according to Jastrow (1643).
  • [71] See Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 109-110. Cf. Luz, 2:32.
  • [72] John P. Meier, “The Circle of the Twelve: Did It Exist During Jesus’ Public Ministry?” Journal of Biblical Literature 116.4 (1997): 635-672, esp. 638 n. 8.
  • [73] See Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 111-112. Kiley proposed a third scenario, namely that the author of Matthew changed the name of Levi to Μαθθαῖος (Maththaios, “Matthew”) because to the ear it resembles the word μαθητής (mathētēs, “disciple”). By making this change the author of Matthew transformed the Call of Levi story into a universal calling paradigm for all would-be disciples. See Mark Kiley, “Why ‘Matthew’ in Matt 9,9-13?” Biblica 65 (1984): 347-351. Hagner (237), with whom we concur, writes: “Kiley’s suggestion that the name Matthew was picked up becaused it served as a symbol of learning-discipleship remains, without indication from the evangelist, ingenious speculation. The similarity between Μαθθαῖος and μαθητής is probably only coincidental.”
  • [74] On the description of the apostle Matthew as a toll collector in Matt. 10:3, see Choosing the Twelve, Comment to L7 and L35.
  • [75] See Hawkins, 31. In Matthew we encounter the following examples:

    • Ἰησοῦς ὁ λεγόμενος Χριστός (“Jesus, the one called Christ”; Matt. 1:16; 27:17, 22)
    • πόλιν λεγομένην Ναζαρέτ (“a city called Nazareth”; Matt. 2:23)
    • Σίμων ὁ λεγόμενος Πέτρος (“Simon, the one called Peter”; Matt 4:18; 10:2)
    • ἄνθρωπον…Μαθθαῖον λεγόμενον (“a person…called Matthew”; Matt. 9:9)
    • τοῦ ἀρχιερέως τοῦ λεγομένου Καϊάφα (“of the high priest, the one called Caiaphas”; Matt. 26:3)
    • εἷς τῶν δώδεκα, ὁ λεγόμενος Ἰούδας Ἰσκαριώτης (“one of the Twelve, the one called Judas Iscariot”; Matt. 26:14)
    • εἰς χωρίον λεγόμενον Γεθσημανί (“to a place called Gethsemane”; Matt. 26:36)
    • δέσμιον…λεγόμενον Βαραββᾶν (“a prisoner…called Barabbas”; Matt. 27:16)
    • εἰς τόπον λεγόμενον Γολγοθᾶ (“to a place called Golgotha”; Matt. 27:33)
    • ὅ ἐστιν Κρανίου Τόπος λεγόμενος (“which is called Place of a Skull”; Matt. 27:33)


    By contrast, in Mark we find one example:

    • ὁ λεγόμενος Βαραββᾶς (“the one called Barabbas”; Mark 15:7)


    In Luke we encounter two examples:

    • ἡ ἑορτὴ τῶν ἀζύμων ἡ λεγομένη πάσχα (“the feast of unleavened bread, the one called Passover”; Luke 22:1)
    • ὁ λεγόμενος Ἰούδας εἷς τῶν δώδεκα (“the one called Judas, one of the Twelve”; Luke 22:47)

  • [76] On introducing a name with λεγόμενος in LXX, see Choosing the Twelve, Comment to L19.
  • [77] See David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style,” under the subheading “Mark’s Freedom and Creativity.”
  • [78] Among the scholars who regard “and leaving everything” as a secondary Lukan addition are Beare, 78; Fitzmyer, 1:590; Nolland, Luke, 1:245.
  • [79] On the necessity for full-time disciples to leave behind property and give up their means of support, see Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L17.
  • [80] On the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin similes as the original continuation of the Call of Levi story, see above, under the subheading “Story Placement.”
  • [81] In LXX καταλείπειν is the translation of הִנִּיחַ in Exod. 16:23, 24; Lev. 7:15; Num. 32:15; 2 Kgdms. 16:21; 2 Chr. 1:14; Isa. 65:15; Jer. 34[27]:11; 50[43]:6.
  • [82] Examples in LXX where καί + participle + participle + aorist translates three successive vav-consecutives include:

    καὶ ἀποσκηνώσας Αβραμ ἐλθὼν κατῴκησεν παρὰ τὴν δρῦν τὴν Μαμβρη

    And moving his tent, Abram came and settled by the oak of Mambre…. (Gen. 13:18; NETS)

    וַיֶּאֱהַל אַבְרָם וַיָּבֹא וַיֵּשֶׁב בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא

    And Abram tented, and he came, and he dwelt among the oaks of Mamre…. (Gen. 13:18)

    καὶ σχίσας ξύλα εἰς ὁλοκάρπωσιν ἀναστὰς ἐπορεύθη

    And splitting wood for a whole burnt offering, rising, he [i.e., Abraham—DNB and JNT] went…. (Gen. 22:3)

    וַיְבַקַּע עֲצֵי עֹלָה וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלֶךְ

    And he [i.e., Abraham—DNB and JNT] split whole burnt offering wood, and he rose, and he went…. (Gen. 22:3)

    καὶ σπεύσας Μωυσῆς κύψας ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν προσεκύνησεν

    And quickly, bowing down to the earth, Moyses did obeisance. (Exod. 34:8; NETS)

    וַיְמַהֵר מֹשֶׁה וַיִּקֹּד אַרְצָה וַיִּשְׁתָּחוּ

    And Moses hastened, and he bowed down toward the earth, and he did obeisance. (Exod. 34:8)

    We also have an example of καί + participle + καί + participle + aorist as the translation of three successive vav-consecutives:

    καὶ ἰδὼν τὸν Αμαληκ καὶ ἀναλαβὼν τὴν παραβολὴν αὐτοῦ εἶπεν

    And seeing Amalek, and taking up his parable, he [i.e., Balaam—DNB and JNT] said…. (Num. 24:20)

    וַיַּרְא אֶת עֲמָלֵק וַיִּשָּׂא מְשָׁלוֹ וַיֹּאמַר

    And he [i.e., Balaam—DNB and JNT] saw Amalek, and he took up his parable, and he said…. (Num. 24:20; cf. Num. 24:21, 23)

  • [83] See Robert L. Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “Sources of the Markan Pick-ups.”
  • [84] See, for example, Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, “ΤΗ ΟΙΚΙΑ ΑΥΤΟΥ: Mark 1.15 in Context,” New Testament Studies 31 (1985): 282-292; David M. May, “Mark 2.15: The Home of Jesus or Levi?” New Testament Studies 39 (1993): 147-149.
  • [85] On Matt. 8:20 // Luke 9:58, see Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple.
  • [86] For analogous examples of the unexpected use of titles, names and pronouns in the writings of Josephus due to the reworking of his sources, see Daniel R. Schwartz, “Many Sources but a Single Author: Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities,” in A Companion to Josephus (ed. Honora Howell Chapman and Zuleika Rodgers; Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 2016), 36-58, esp. 39, 42-44.
  • [87] Examples of καὶ ἐποίησεν + name + accusative as the translation of וַיַּעַשׂ + name + direct object include:

    καὶ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸ στερέωμα

    And God made the firmament…. (Gen. 1:7)

    וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָרָקִיעַ

    And God made the firmament…. (Gen. 1:7; cf. Gen. 1:16, 21, 25, 27)

    καὶ ἐποίησεν Βεσελεηλ τὴν κιβωτὸν

    And Beseleel made the ark. (Exod. 38:1; NETS)

    וַיַּעַשׂ בְּצַלְאֵל אֶת הָאָרֹן

    And Bezalel made the ark…. (Exod. 37:1)

    καὶ ἐποίησεν Μωυσῆς ὄφιν χαλκοῦν

    And Moses made a bronze snake…. (Num. 21:9)

    וַיַּעַשׂ מֹשֶׁה נְחַשׁ נְחֹשֶׁת

    And Moses made a serpent of bronze…. (Num. 21:9)

  • [88] In LXX δοχή is the translation of מִשְׁתֶּה in Gen. 21:8; 26:30; Esth. 1:3; 5:4, 5, 8, 12, 14.
  • [89] Other examples where ποιεῖν δοχήν is the translation of עָשָׂה מִשְׁתֶּה are found in Gen. 26:30; Esth. 1:3; 5:4, 8.
  • [90] The drinking of wine is mentioned in passing in an account of a rabbinic discussion that took place at a banquet recorded in Sifre Deut. §38 (ed. Finkelstein, 74-75).
  • [91] On the association of wine and rejoicing, note the following rabbinic statement regarding wine which was drunk on the pilgrimage festivals:

    מצוה על אדם לשמח בניו ובני ביתו ברגל. במה משמחן, ביין, דכת′ ויין ישמח לבב אנוש

    It is a mitzvah for a person to make his children and the members of his household rejoice on the pilgrimage festivals. With what does he make them rejoice? With wine, as it is written, And wine will make the heart rejoice [Ps. 104:15]. (t. Pes. 10:4; Vienna MS)

  • [92] On this point, see below, Comment to L54.
  • [93] The point of the similes is that God wants his people to rejoice with him when the wicked repent. See Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, under the subheading “Conclusion.”
  • [94] Additional examples of עָשָׂה + recipient + מִשְׁתֶּה are found in Gen. 19:3; 26:30.
  • [95] According to Lindsey, when the author of Matthew had parallel versions of a story in Mark and Anth., it was Matthew’s practice to weave the two sources together, thereby producing a hybrid version of the story that reflected the wording of Anth. at some points and of Mark at others. See Robert L. Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “The Significance of the Minor Agreements”; idem, “A New Approach to the Synoptic Gospels,” under the subheading “Mark Secondary to Luke.”
  • [96] In LXX the phrase καὶ γίνεται occurs only 5xx: 1 Kgdms. 5:9; 14:1; 25:42; 2 Kgdms. 14:27; Prov. 24:31. The construction καὶ γίνεται + infinitive never occurs in LXX.
  • [97] On sitting as the customary eating position among the poor, see Baruch M. Bokser, Origins of the Seder: The Passover Rite and Early Rabbinic Judaism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 62, 130 n. 48; Blake Leyerle, “Meal Customs in the Greco-Roman World,” in Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times (ed. Paul F. Bradshaw and Lawrence A. Hoffman; Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), 29-61, esp. 30-31. According to Josephus (J.W. 2:130), the Essenes sat while eating rather than reclining. Their adoption of the sitting posture at meals was probably a sign of their voluntary poverty and a result of their preference for simplicity.
  • [98] See Safrai-Safrai, 55.
  • [99] On “entering the Kingdom of Heaven” as a synonym for becoming a full-time disciple of Jesus, see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L64-65; David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua,” under the subheading “The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Jesus’ Band of Itinerating Disciples.”
  • [100] For other examples where we have concluded that an FR version of a Lukan Doublet preserves the wording of Anth. more faithfully than the version the author of Luke copied directly from Anth., see Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road, Comment to L68; Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town, Comment to L98, L109; Return of the Twelve, Comment to L2, L5, L6.
  • [101] See Joüon-Muraoka, 2:475-476 §130e, 543 §146f n. 1; Segal, 189 §385.
  • [102] In LXX ἁμαρτωλός is the translation of רָשָׁע in 2 Chr. 19:2; Ps. 3:8; 7:10; 9:17, 18, 24 [10:3], 25 [10:4], 36 [10:15]; 10[11]:2, 6; 27[28]:3; 31[32]:10; 33[34]:22; 35[36]:12; 36[37]:10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 20, 21, 32, 34, 40; 38[39]:2; 49[50]:16; 54[55]:4; 57[58]:4, 11; 67[68]:3; 70[71]:4; 72[73]:3, 12; 74[75]:9, 11; 81[82]:2, 4; 90[91]:8; 91[92]:8; 93[94]:3 (2xx), 13; 96[97]:10; 100[101]:8; 105[106]:18; 108[109]:2, 6; 111[112]:10; 118[119]:53, 61, 95, 110, 119, 155; 128[129]:4; 138[139]:19; 139[140]:5, 9; 140[141]:10; 144[145]:20; 145[146]:9; 146[147]:6; Prov. 24:19; Isa. 14:5; Ezek. 33:8, 19; Dan. 12:10 (2xx). In LXX ἁμαρτωλός is the translation of חַטָּא in Gen. 13:13; Num. 17:3; 32:14; 3 Kgdms. 1:21; Ps. 1:1, 5; 103[104]:35; Prov. 23:17; Amos 9:8, 10; Isa. 1:28; 13:9.
  • [103] In LXX, where ἁμαρτωλός is paired with δίκαιος, the word behind ἁμαρτωλός in the underlying Hebrew text is רָשָׁע in Ps. 7:10; 36[37]:12, 16, 17, 32; 124:3, whereas the underlying word is חַטָּא only in Ps. 1:5.
  • [104] The adjective חַטָּא occurs 19xx in MT: Gen. 13:13; Num. 17:3; 32:14; 1 Sam. 15:18; 1 Kgs. 1:21; Isa. 1:28; 13:9; 33:14; Amos 9:8, 10; Ps. 1:1, 5; 25:8; 26:9; 51:15; 104:35; Prov. 1:10; 13:21; 23:17. Of these, only in Amos 9:8 does חַטָּא occur in the singular. There is only one example of חַטָּא in the entire corpus of the Mishnah (m. Sanh. 10:3), and it, too, occurs in the plural form. The paucity of examples of חַטָּא for “sinner” in the Mishnah is another reason for seeking an alternative reconstruction for ἁμαρτωλός, such as רָשָׁע.
  • [105] Substantival uses of רָשָׁע in the singular form are found in MT numerous times. Examples from the five books of Moses include: Gen. 18:23, 25 (2xx); Exod. 2:13; 23:1, 7; Deut. 25:1. In the Mishnah רָשָׁע appears in the singular and as a substantive. Cf., e.g., m. Sot. 3:4; m. Avot 5:10; m. Neg. 12:5.
  • [106] See Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, L33, L60.
  • [107] The likelihood that רְשָׁעִים stands behind ἁμαρτωλοί in the Call of Levi story has also been discussed by other scholars. According to Sanders, “Behind hamartōloi stands, almost beyond question, the Hebrew word resha‘im (or the Aramaic equivalent).” See E. P. Sanders, “Jesus and the Sinners,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 19 (1983): 5-36, esp. 8. Cf. Swete, 41; T. W. Manson, The Teaching of Jesus (2d ed.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1935; repr. 1959), 324-325.
  • [108] According to Ilan, the use of am haaretz in the sense of non-haver was original. At a later point, although already in the tannaic period, am haaretz acquired a different meaning, namely, one who does not fulfill the Torah’s commandments due to ignorance or carelessness. See Ilan, Silencing the Queen: The Literary Histories of Shelamzion and Other Jewish Women (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006), 103.
  • [109] On Jesus as an am haaretz, see Eyal Regev, “Pure Individualism: The Idea of Non-Priestly Purity in Ancient Judaism,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 31.2 (2000): 176-202, esp. 200.
  • [110] See Sanders, “Jesus and the Sinners,” 11-14.
  • [111] See Davies-Allison, 2:101; Hagner, 238.
  • [112] See above, “Conjectured Stages of Transmission.” Cf. Montefiore, 1:519.
  • [113] In other words, when Luke polished the Greek of Anth. he sometimes polished it even more than had the First Reconstructor.
  • [114] Cf. LHNS, 135.
  • [115] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:274, 299-300.
  • [116] On inversion of word order as characteristic of Markan redaction, see David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style,” under the subheading “Mark’s Freedom and Creativity.”
  • [117] On dropping possessive pronouns to improve Greek style, see Lord’s Prayer, Comment to L10.
  • [118] The fact that in the Gospels and the writings of Josephus “Pharisee” is transliterated in precisely the same manner probably indicates that Φαρισαῖος was a term that was commonly used among Greek-speaking Jews to refer to the Pharisees.
  • [119] Undoubtedly the neutrality and specificity of the term Φαρισαῖος was due to its derivation from a foreign language. The baggage the term “Pharisee” had in Hebrew was not carried over into Greek.
  • [120] That the noun פָּרוּשׁ need not necessarily mean “Pharisee” is a point that was underscored by Rivkin. See Ellis Rivkin, “Defining the Pharisees: The Tannaitic Sources,” Hebrew Union College Annual 40-42 (1970): 205-249.
  • [121] Hence, according to t. Ber. 3:24, the sages ordained a malediction against the פְּרוּשִׁין (i.e., “schismatics”), which was to be included among the Eighteen Benedictions. Compare Hillel’s dictum, אַל תִּיפְרוֹשׁ מִן הַצִּיבּוּר (“Do not separate from the public”; m. Avot 2:4), and the rabbinic condemnations of those who separate from the public (פּוֹרְשֵׁי מִדַרֵי צִבּוּר) described in Seder Olam chpt. 3 (ed. Guggenheimer, 42); Semahot 2:8.
  • [122] There are rare examples of פָּרוּשׁ used in a positive sense in rabbinic sources, for example:

    כשם שאני קדוש כך אתם קדושים. כשם שאני פרוש כך אתם היו פרושים

    Just as I [i.e., the LORD—DNB and JNT] am holy, so you must be holy. Just as I am set apart [פרוש], so you must be set apart. (Sifra, Shemini chpt. 12 [ed. Weiss, 57a])

    It is clear from the context, however, that this statement has nothing to do with the Pharisees, and the separation that is envisioned in this statement is not from the body of the Jewish people, as in the case of schismatics; the separation encouraged here is rather that of Israel from the Gentiles.

  • [123] On this point, see David Flusser, “Jesus and Judaism: Jewish Perspectives,” in Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism (ed. Harold W. Attridge and Gohei Hata; Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1992), 80-109, esp. 88-89; idem, “4QMMT and the Benediction Against the Minim” (Flusser, JSTP1, 70-118, esp. 99).
  • [124] See, for example, m. Yad. 4:6-8, where we repeatedly find the refrain קוֹבְלִין אֲנוּ עֲלֵיכֶן פָּרוּשִׁין (“We complain against you, O Pharisees…”). In one rabbinic text (b. Kid. 66a) we find “Pharisees” used as a synonym for “the sages of Israel,” but even in this case “Pharisee” is found only on the lips of their enemies. Likewise, the advice attributed to King Yannai regarding the Pharisees (“Do not be afraid of the Pharisees, or of those who are not Pharisees, but of the painted ones who seem like Pharisees, whose deeds are like the deed of Zimri, but who seek the reward of Phineas”; b. Sot. 22b) may have been a bit of Pharisaic propaganda, as Ilan and Noam suggest, but the fact remains that the term “Pharisee” is placed on the lips of the Sadducean high priest. The sages did not willingly use this term to refer to themselves.

    On the issues of dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees in m. Yad. 4:6-8, see Joseph M. Baumgarten, “The Pharisaic-Sadducean Controversies about Purity and the Qumran Texts,” Journal of Jewish Studies 31 (1980): 157-170; Daniel R. Schwartz, “On Pharisees and Sadducees in the Mishnah: From Composition Criticism to History,” in Judaistik und nuetestamentliche Wissenschaft (ed. Lutz Doering, Hans-Günther Waubke, and Florian Wilk; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008), 133-145, esp. 137-140. On the baraita in b. Kid. 66a, see David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction’ Addendum: Linguistic Features of the Baraita in b. Kid. 66a,” and the literature cited there. On Yannai’s advice concerning the Pharisees in b. Sot. 22b, see Tal Ilan and Vered Noam, “Remnants of a Pharisaic Apologetic Source in Josephus and in the Babylonian Talmud,” in Tradition, Transmission, and Transformation from Second Temple Literature through Judaism and Christianity in Late Antiquity (ed. Menahem Kister, Hillel I. Newman, Michael Segal, and Ruth A. Clements; Leiden: Brill, 2015), 112-133, esp. 127-131.

  • [125] Rabbi Yehoshua, for example, voiced critical remarks regarding Pharisees:

    חָסִיד שׁוֹטֶה רָשָׁע עָרוּם אִשַּׁה פְרוּשָׁה מַכֹּת פְּרוּשִׁים הָרֵי אֵילּוּ מְכַלֵּי{ה} עוֹלָם

    A foolish Hasid, a wicked person who is clever, a Pharisaic woman, the injuries of the Pharisees: these destroy the world. (m. Sot. 3:4)

    On Rabbi Yehoshua’s disparaging remarks, see Tal Ilan, “The Attraction of Aristocratic Women to Pharisaism During the Second Temple Period,” Harvard Theological Review 88.1 (1995): 1-33, esp. 9-11; idem, Silencing the Queen, 74-97.

    Likewise critical are the various enumerations of the seven kinds of Pharisee found in rabbinic sources:

    ז′ פרושים הם. פרוש שכמי. פרוש קוזי. פרוש מדוכיא. פרוש נקפי. פרוש (ארנע חובות) [אדע חובותי]. פרוש יראה כאיוב. פרוש אהבה כאברהם

    There are seven kinds of Pharisee: A shoulder Pharisee, a qvzy Pharisee, a mdvky’ Pharisee, a nqpy Pharisee, a “Make known to me my debt” Pharisee, a Pharisee of fear, like Job, and a Pharisee of love, like Abraham. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, chpt. 45 [ed. Schechter, 124]; cf. Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 37:4 [ed. Schechter, 109]; y. Ber. 9:5 [67a]; b. Ber. 14b; b. Sot. 22a)

    Some of the types of Pharisee enumerated are obscure, and we have left these untranslated. Rivkin (“Defining the Pharisees,” 240) disputed the identification of the פְּרוּשִׁים in these lists with the Pharisees, but Flusser (JSTP1, 103) demonstrated the similarity between these lists and Jesus’ seven woes against the Pharisees, suggesting that Jesus knew an earlier form of this critique in which all seven stereotypes were negative. If Flusser is correct, then there can be little doubt that פְּרוּשִׁים in these lists refers to Pharisees.

  • [126] Another factor to consider is whether the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua used the term פָּרוּשׁ in the same way that Jesus had used it. It is possible, moreover, that פָּרוּשׁ was used in different ways in different contexts.
  • [127] Flusser (JSTP1, 100) supposed that “Pharisee” gained a wider currency among first-century Hebrew speakers than just among the opponents of the sages.
  • [128] If it is impossible to imagine using פְּרוּשִׁים without polemical overtones, then it is tempting to consider whether a word such as פָּרוֹשִׁים (pārōshim) occurred in the conjectured Hebrew Ur-text. Baumgarten suggested that the pre-70 C.E. sages may have called themselves פָּרוֹשִׁים (“specifiers”) in reference to the exactitude and specificity of their interpretation of Torah, speculating that this was the original name of the Pharisees and that their opponents twisted their name to mean “separatists.” Alternatively, Baumgarten suggests that “specifiers” could have been an attempt to put a positive spin on a derogatory name. See Albert I. Baumgarten, “The Name of the Pharisees,” Journal of Biblical Literature 102.3 (1983): 411-428. We have not accepted this suggestion for HR, first because we agree with Flusser’s surmise that פְּרוּשִׁים came to be used by non-Pharisees in a neutral sense, and second because there are no examples in Hebrew sources where the sages definitely refer to themselves as פָּרוֹשִׁים.
  • [129] See Ellis Rivkin, “Scribes, Pharisees, Lawyers, Hypocrites: A Study in Synonymity,” Hebrew Union College Annual 49 (1978): 135-142.
  • [130] See Daniel R. Schwartz, “‘Scribes and Pharisees, Hypocrites’: Who are the ‘Scribes’ in the New Testament?” in his Studies in the Jewish Background of Christianity (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1992), 89-101.
  • [131] See Dos Santos, 144, 207. In LXX γραμματεύς translates שׁוֹטֵר in Exod. 5:6, 10, 14, 15, 19; Num. 11:16; Deut. 20:5, 8, 9; Josh. 1:10; 3:2; 8:33; 23:2; 24:1; 1 Chr. 23:4; 27:1; 2 Chr. 19:11. In LXX γραμματεύς translates סוֹפֵר in 2 Kgdms. 8:17; 20:25; 3 Kgdms. 4:3; 4 Kgdms. 12:11; 18:18, 37; 19:2; 22:3, 8, 10, 12; 25:19; 1 Chr. 2:55; 18:16; 24:6; 27:32; 2 Chr. 24:11; 26:11; 34:13, 15, 18, 20; 2 Esd. 7:6, 11; 18:1, 4, 9, 13; 22:26, 36; 23:13; Esth. 3:12; 8:9; Ps. 44[45]:2; Isa. 36:3, 22; 37:2; Jer. 8:8; 43[36]:10, 12 (2xx), 23; 44[37]:15, 20; 52:25.
  • [132] The author of Matthew pairs γραμματεῖς with Φαρισαῖοι 10xx in his Gospel: 9xx he mentions γραμματεῖς before Φαρισαῖοι (Matt. 5:20; 12:38; 23:2, 13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29); he places γραμματεῖς subsequent to Φαρισαῖοι on only one occasion (Matt. 15:1; cf. Mark 7:1). The author of Mark associates γραμματεῖς with Φαρισαῖοι 3xx (Mark 2:16; 7:1, 5): in two of these instances Pharisees are mentioned first (Mark 7:1, 5). In the Gospel of Luke γραμματεῖς are paired with Φαρισαῖοι 5xx: γραμματεῖς are named first in Luke 5:21; 6:7; 11:53; Pharisees are mentioned first in Luke 5:30 and 15:2, and these two instances, as we have seen, are two versions of the same story.
  • [133] On the expression דִּבְרֵי סוֹפְרִים in rabbinic sources, see Shmuel Safrai, “Halakha,” in The Literature of the Sages (ed. Shmuel Safrai; CRINT II.3; 2 vols.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 1:121-209, esp. 151.
  • [134] Tefillin are among the artifacts discovered at Qumran. In addition, the wearing of tefillin is attested in the Letter of Aristeas §158-160 and in Matt. 23:5.
  • [135] See Rivkin, “Defining the Pharisees,” 231-232; idem, “Scribes, Pharisees, Lawyers, Hypocrites,” 141. The dual attribution of the ritual impurity of the hands to the scribes and to the Pharisees in rabbinic literature led Rivkin to conclude that the scribes are identical to the Pharisees.
  • [136] Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the irony of referring to the champions of the traditions of the fathers that were specifically not written down as “scribes.” See, for instance, the comments of Elias J. Bickerman, The Jews in the Greek Age (Cambridge, Mass.; Harvard University Press, 1988), 163.
  • [137] See Robert L. Lindsey, “A New Two-source Solution to the Synoptic Problem,” thesis 7.
  • [138] On the interrogative sense of ὅτι in Mark 2:16, see Taylor, 206; Moule, 159.
  • [139] On ὅτι as an interrogative in Luke 15:2, see Henry J. Cadbury, “Lexical Notes on Luke-Acts IV. On Direct Quotation, With Some Uses of Ὅτι and Εἰ,” Journal of Biblical Literature 48.3 (1929): 412-425, esp. 424-425; Jeremias, Parables, 39.
  • [140] On interrogative ὅτι in Mark, see Edwin A. Abbott, The Corrections of Mark Adopted by Matthew and Luke (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1901), 76; Hawkins, 35; C. H. Turner, “Marcan Usage: Notes, Critical and Exegetical, on the Second Gospel,” Journal of Theological Studies 27 (1925): 58-62.
  • [141] In LXX διὰ τί translates מַדּוּעַ in Exod. 5:14; 18:14; Lev. 10:17; Num. 12:8; 16:3; Josh. 17:14; Judg. 5:28 (2xx); 3 Kgdms. 1:6; 2 Chr. 24:6; 2 Esd. 12:2, 3; 23:11, 21; Job 18:3; 21:4, 7; 24:1; 33:13; Isa. 63:2; Jer. 2:14, 31; 8:5, 19, 22; 13:22; 26[46]:15; 30[49]:17[1]; 39[32]:3; 43[36]:29. In LXX διὰ τί is used to translate לָמָּה in Exod. 2:13; 5:22; Num. 11:11; 22:37; Josh. 9:22; 1 Kgdms. 26:15; Ps. 41[42]:10; Job 3:11; 7:20; 13:24; 19:22; Jer. 36[29]:27. In Job 9:29 διὰ τί translates לָמָּה זֶּה.
  • [142] Examples of מִפְּנֵי מָה in the Mishnah include m. Shab. 16:1; m. Yev. 14:1; m. Edu. 1:14; m. Avod. Zar. 2:5.
  • [143] See Gen. 25:22, 32; 32:30; 33:15; Exod. 17:3; Josh. 7:10; Judg. 13:18; 1 Kgdms. 26:18; 2 Kgdms. 12:23; 18:22; Amos 5:18; Jer. 20:18.
  • [144] See Segal, 141.
  • [145] Flusser, Jesus, 101 n. 22; cf. Young, Parables, 196 n. 26.
  • [146] Flusser, “Jesus’ Opinion about the Essenes” (Flusser, JOC, 150-168, esp. 165 n. 39).
  • [147] Flusser, Jesus, 101 n. 22.
  • [148] On the reasons for this unusual description of Rabbi Zera’s appearance, see Jacob Z. Lauterbach, “Ze‘era,” JE, 12:651-652.
  • [149] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:554-557.
  • [150] See Dos Santos, 9.
  • [151] See Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town, Comment to L95-96.
  • [152] The scholars who suggest that ritual purity was a main cause of the Pharisees’ concern include W. Manson, 55; Marshall, 219; Chana Safrai, “Jesus and his Disciples: The Beginnings of their Organization,” Immanuel 24/25 (1990): 95-108, esp. 98; Witherington, 200.
  • [153] W. Manson (55) mentions tithes as one of the issues that concerned the Pharisees in the Call of Levi story.
  • [154] Scholars who suppose that the food Jesus ate was a cause of concern include France, Mark, 134; Marcus, 227.
  • [155] Whether the Pharisees did strive to achieve a higher level of ritual purity than the Torah demands depends in part on whether the haverim described in rabbinic sources were identical to the Pharisees. This is a point that is disputed among scholars. For a recent argument in favor of this identification, see Ilan, Silencing the Queen, 101. On religious and social reasons that made achieving a high degree of purity an important goal for some Pharisees, see Regev, “Pure Individualism: The Idea of Non-Priestly Purity in Ancient Judaism,” 192-199.
  • [156] As Rivkin noted, “The halaka no more requires one to be a ḥaver than a nazirite, but once one underakes the role, the halaka spells out the halakic consequences.” See Rivkin, “Defining the Pharisees,” 245.
  • [157] Being a sinner did not make someone particularly likely to be impure, since sin did not, according to biblical and Pharisaic halachah, make a person impure. Ritual impurity, especially as it was understood by the Pharisees and their rabbinic successors, had practically zero correlation to morality.
  • [158] On this point, see Sanders, “Jesus and the Sinners,” 13.
  • [159] Jeremias, Theology, 111. In his commentary on Mark, France wrote that “J. Jeremias has argued that the Jewish τελώνης, unlike the collector of the poll tax, was not obligated to enter unclean houses and therefore was not technically unclean in a ritual sense, so that to enter Levi’s house put Jesus’ moral standing rather than his ritual purity in question. It may be doubted, however, how far most people (even most scribes?) saw this as a significant distinction” (France, Mark, 133). We find France’s assessment to be incomprehensible, for if anyone could be expected to make fine distinctions with respect to purity it was surely the scribes. Klawans has shown that Scripture makes a clear distinction between ritual impurity and the moral desecration of an individual caused by sin. Whereas ritual impurity is natural, unavoidable and communicable, the moral desecration caused by sin is voluntary and non-transferable. Klawans also shows that the early rabbinic sages in particular compartmentalized the concepts of ritual and moral impurity. As Klawans writes, “In tannaitic literature, sinners are not ritually defiling unless they have been struck with…an affliction [such as leprosy—DNB and JNT].” See Jonathan Klawans, “The Impurity of Immorality in Ancient Judaism,” Journal of Jewish Studies 48.1 (1997): 1-16, quotation on 12. For an introduction to the ancient Jewish concept of ritual purity, see Joshua N. Tilton, “A Goy’s Guide to Ritual Purity.”
  • [160] See David Flusser, “A New Sensitivity in Judaism and the Christian Message” (Flusser, Judaism, 469-489); idem, Jesus, 101. More recently, Regev has suggested that Jesus’ openness toward sinners was a strategy for eliminating the dangerous effects of moral impurity by inviting sinners to repent. See Eyal Regev, “Moral Impurity and the Temple in Early Christianity in Light of Ancient Greek Practice and Qumranic Ideology,” Harvard Theological Review 97:4 (2004): 383-411, esp. 402-409.
  • [161] On the relationship of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai’s instruction to the Two Ways doctrine, see Sandt-Flusser, 174-176; David Flusser, “‘Which Is the Straight Way That a Man Should Choose for Himself?’ (m. Avot 2.1)” (Flusser, JSTP2, 232-247).
  • [162] On Hillel as a Pharisee, see Ilan, Integrating Women into Second Temple History (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2001), 44. On Hananiah the prefect of the priests as a Pharisee, see Flusser, Judaism, 477.
  • [163] For a discussion of Pharisees and legalism, see Jack Poirier, “Were the Pharisees ‘Legalistic’?
  • [164] Examples of וַיַּעַן followed by וַיֹּאמֶר are found in Gen. 18:27; 24:50; 27:37, 39; 31:31, 36, 43; 40:18; Exod. 4:1; 24:3; Num. 11:28; 22:18; 23:12, 26; Josh. 7:20; 24:16; Judg. 7:14; 20:4; 1 Sam. 1:17; 4:17; 9:19, 21; 10:12; 14:28; 16:18; 20:32; 21:5, 6; 22:9, 14; 23:4; 25:10; 26:6, 14, 22; 29:9; 30:22; 2 Sam. 4:9; 13:32; 14:18; 15:21; 19:22, 44; 20:20; 1 Kgs. 1:28, 36, 43; 2:22; 3:27; 13:6; 18:24; 20:4, 11; 2 Kgs. 3:11; 7:2, 13, 19; Isa. 21:9; Joel 2:19; Amos 7:14; Hab. 2:2; Hag. 2:14; Zech. 1:10, 12; 3:4; 4:5, 6; 6:5; Job 1:7, 9; 2:2, 4; 3:2; 4:1; 6:1; 8:1; 9:1; 11:1; 12:1; 15:1; 16:1; 18:1; 19:1; 20:1; 21:1; 22:1; 23:1; 25:1; 26:1; 32:6; 34:1; 35:1; 38:1; 40:1, 6; 42:1; Ruth 2:6, 11; Ezra 10:2; 1 Chr. 12:18; 2 Chr. 29:31; 34:15.
  • [165] Text and translation according to Frank Cole Babbit et al., trans., Plutarch: Moralia (Loeb Classical Library; 16 vols.; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1927-2004), 3:382-383.

    Other Hellenistic parallels to Jesus’ saying include the following:

    οὐδεπώποτε γοῦν ὤφθη κεκραγὼς ἢ ὑπερδιατεινόμενος ἢ ἀγανακτῶν, οὐδ᾽εἰ ἐπιτιμᾶν τῳ δέοι, ἀλλὰ τῶν μὲν ἁμαρτημάτων καθήπτετο, τοῖς δὲ ἁμαρτάνουσι συνεγίνωσκεν, καὶ τὸ παράδειγμα παρὰ τῶν ἰατρῶν ἠξίου λαμβάνειν τὰ μὲν νοσήματα ἰωμένων, ὀργῇ δὲ πρὸς τοὺς νοσοῦντας οὐ χρωμένων

    He [i.e., Demonax—DNB and JNT] never was known to make an uproar or to excite himself or get angry, even if he had to rebuke someone; though he assailed sins, he forgave sinners, thinking that one should pattern after doctors, who heal sickness but feel no anger at the sick. (Lucian [mid-second century C.E.], Demonax §7; Loeb)

    ὀνειδιζόμενός ποτ᾽ἐπὶ τῷ πονηροῖς συγγενέσθαι, καὶ οἱ ἰατροί φησί μετὰ τῶν νοσούντων εἰσίν, ἀλλ᾽οὐ πυρέττουσιν.

    One day when he [i.e., Antisthenes—DNB and JNT] was censured for keeping company with evil men, the reply he made was, “Well, physicians are in attendance on their patients without getting the fever themselves.” (Diogenes Laertius [third cent. C.E.], Lives of Eminent Philosophers 6:6; Loeb)

    Text and translation of Lucian according to K. Kilburn et al., trans., Lucian (Loeb Classical Library; 8 vols.; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1933-1967), 1:146-147. Text and translation of Diogenes Laertius according to R. D. Hicks, trans., Diogenes Laertius: Lives of Eminent Philosophers (Loeb Classical Library; 2 vols.; New York: Putnam, 1925), 2:6-9.

    On Hellenistic parallels to Jesus’ saying, see Boring-Berger-Colpe, 75.

  • [166] The Hebrew verb שָׁב (shāv) can mean either “return” or “repent,” and in the hif‘il stem could be understood to mean either “restore” or “cause to repent.”
  • [167] See David Hill, “On the Use and Meaning of Hosea VI. 6 in Matthew’s Gospel,” New Testament Studies 24.1 (1977): 107-119; Hagner, 237; Luz, 2:33.
  • [168] See Hill, “On the Use and Meaning of Hosea VI. 6 in Matthew’s Gospel,” 110.
  • [169] See Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb, Comment to L13-14. Examples of participle + imperative as the translation of double imperatives include:

    קְחוּ וָלֵכוּ

    …take and leave. (Gen. 42:33)

    λαβόντες ἀπέλθατε

    …taking, leave. (Gen. 42:33)

    מַהֲרוּ וַעֲלוּ אֶל אָבִי

    Make haste and go up to my father…. (Gen. 45:9)

    σπεύσαντες οὖν ἀνάβητε πρὸς τὸν πατέρα μου

    Hastening, therefore, go up to my father…. (Gen. 45:9)

    לְכוּ זִבְחוּ לֵאלֹהֵיכֶם

    Go, sacrifice to your God…. (Exod. 8:21)

    Ἐλθόντες θύσατε τῷ θεῷ ὑμῶν

    Going, sacrifice to your God…. (Exod. 8:21)

    מִשְׁכוּ וּקְחוּ לָכֶם צֹאן

    Go and take sheep for yourselves…. (Exod. 12:21)

    Ἀπελθόντες λάβετε ὑμῖν ἑαυτοῖς πρόβατον

    Going, take a sheep for yourselves…. (Exod. 12:21)

    בֹּאוּ וּרְשׁוּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ

    Enter and possess the land…. (Deut. 1:8)

    εἰσπορευθέντες κληρονομήσατε τὴν γῆν

    Entering, possess the land…. (Deut. 1:8)

    עֲלֵה רֵשׁ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יי אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֶיךָ לָךְ

    Go up, possess, just as the LORD the God of your fathers spoke to you. (Deut. 1:21)

    ἀναβάντες κληρονομήσατε, ὃν τρόπον εἶπεν κύριος ὁ θεὸς τῶν πατέρων ὑμῶν ὑμῖν

    Going up, possess, in the manner that the Lord the God of your fathers said to you. (Deut. 1:21)

    פְּנוּ וּלְכוּ לָכֶם לְאָהֳלֵיכֶם

    …turn and go to your tents…. (Josh. 22:4)

    ἀποστραφέντες ἀπέλθατε εἰς τοὺς οἴκους ὑμῶν

    …turning back, go away to your houses…. (Josh. 22:4)

    בֹּאוּ הַכּוּם

    Enter, strike them. (2 Kgs. 10:25)

    Εἰσελθόντες πατάξατε αὐτούς

    Entering, strike them. (4 Kgdms. 10:25)

  • [170] Examples of הָלַךְ with לָמַד include:

    האחין שנטל אחד מהן מאתים זוז, והלך ללמוד תורה

    If there were brothers and one of them took two hundred zuz and went to learn Torah…. (t. Bab. Bat. 10:4; Vienna MS)

    רבי יהודה בן אילעי אומר אדם שמת והניח בן ולא למד תורה מאביו והלך ולמד תורה מאחרים הרי [זה] חנופה מבקש

    Rabbi Yehudah ben Ilai says, “A man who died and left behind a son who did not learn Torah from his father, and he [i.e., the son] went and learned from others—behold, this is one who seeks flattery.” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 26:6 [ed. Schechter, 83])

    לך ולמד תורתן ואל תמול

    Go and learn their Torah, but do not be circumcised. (Exod. Rab. 30:12)

  • [171] This reconstruction was already suggested by Gill, 7:91. Cf. Strack-Billerbeck, 1:499; Krister Stendahl, The School of St. Matthew and Its Use of the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), 129; Hill, “On the Use and Meaning of Hosea VI. 6 in Matthew’s Gospel,” 111; Kiley, “Why ‘Matthew’ in Matt 9, 9-13?” 349; Luz, 2:34 n. 41. Hagner (239) refers to צא ולמד as an Aramaic formula without noting that צא ולמד is also equally Hebrew. Examples of יָצָא with לָמַד include:

    צא ולמד משלש עשרה מדות שהתורה נדרש בהן

    Go out and learn from the thirteen rules of exegesis by which the Torah is interpreted. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, BaḤodesh chpt. 8 [ed. Lauterbach, 2:334])

    ר′ נתן אומר אין לך כל מצוה ומצוה שבתורה שאין מתן שכרה בצדה צא ולמד ממצות ציצית

    Rabbi Natan says: “There is not a single mitzvah in the Torah that does not give its reward in its wake. Go out and learn from the commandment of the tzitzit [i.e., fringes—DNB and JNT]….” (Sifre Num. §115 [ed. Horovitz, 128])

    צא ולמד ממשה, אבי חכמה, אבי הנביאים, שהוציא ישראל ממצרים ועל ידו נעשו כמה נסים במצרים, ונפלאות בארץ חם נוראות על ים סוף ועלה לשמי מרום והוריד תורה מן השמים

    Go out and learn from Moses, the father of wisdom, the father of the prophets, who brought Israel out from Egypt and by whose hand so many miracles were performed in Egypt, and wonders in the land of Ham, and dreadful works by the Red Sea, and who ascended to the highest heavens and brought down the Torah from heaven…. (Lev. Rab. 1:15 [ed. Margulies, 1:32-33])

  • [172] Examples of מָה הוּא and its contraction מָהוּ in exegetical contexts include:

    יי אלהי צבאות מי כמוך חסין יה מהו צבאות אות הוא בתוך צבא שלו

    O LORD God of hosts [צְבָאוֹת], who is mighty like you, O LORD? [Ps. 89:9]. What is [the meaning of] “hosts” [צְבָאוֹת]? He is a sign [אוֹת] in the midst of his host [צָבָא]. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Shirata chpt. 1 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:175])

    לא אמרו איה יי המעלה אותנו מארץ מצרים המוליך אותנו במדבר בארץ ערבה ושוחה בארץ ציה וצלמות מהו צלמות מקום צל ועמו מות

    They did not say, “Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt and led us in the wilderness in a land of desert and pits, a land of dryness and צַלְמָוֶת [tzalmāvet]? [Jer. 2:6]. What is [the meaning of] צַלְמָוֶת? A place of shadow [צֵל], and with it, death [מָוֶת]. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Vayassa‘ chpt. 1 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:224])

    עורי צפון זו העולה שהיתה נשחטת בצפון, מה הוא עורי דבר שהיה ישן ומתעורר

    Awake, O north wind! [Song 4:16]: this is the whole burnt offering that was slaughtered on the north [side of the altar]. And what is [the meaning of] “Awake”? A thing that was asleep and that awakes. (Gen. Rab. 22:5 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 1:208])

    הן אראלם צעקו חוצה, מהו חוצה רבי עזריה אמר חוצה חיצה

    Behold, their mighty ones shout outside [חוּצָה] [Isa. 33:7]. What is [the meaning of] חוּצָה? Rabbi Azariah said, “Strange [חִיצָה].” (Gen. Rab. 56:5 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 2:600])

    וישא אברהם את עיניו וירא והנה איל אחר וגו′ מהו אחר, אמר ר′ יודן אחר כל המעשים ישראל נאחזים בעבירות ומסתבכין בצרות וסופן להיגאל בקרניו שלאיל וי″י אלהים בשופר יתקע וגו′‏

    And Abraham raised his eyes and looked and behold: A ram is behind [אַחַר] him! [Gen. 22:13]. What is [the meaning of] אַחַר [“behind,” “after”]? Rabbi Yudan said, “After [אַחַר] all the things that happened [in Scripture], Israel is still caught in sins and subject to hardships, but their destiny is to be redeemed by the horns of the ram, [as it is said,] And the LORD God will sound the ram’s horn, etc. [Zech. 9:14].” (Gen. Rab. 56:9 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 2:605])

    וידר יעקב נדר לאמר וגו′…. מהו לאמר לאמר לדורות כדי שיהיו נודרין בעת צרתן

    And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, etc. [Gen. 28:20]. What is [the meaning of] “saying”? “Saying” to the generations to come that it is advisable to make vows in a time of their distress. (Gen. Rab. 70:1 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 2:799])

    ויכו בהם אביה ועמו מכה רבה מהו מכה רבה ר′ אבא בר כהנא אמ′ העביר הכרת פניהם

    And Aviyah and his people struck them with a mighty blow [2 Chr. 13:17]. What is [the meaning of] “a mighty blow”? Rabbi Abba bar Kahana said, “[It means that] he disfigured their faces.” (Lev. Rab. 33:5 [ed. Margulies, 2:763])

  • [173] Robert H. Gundry, The use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew’s Gospel: With special reference to the Messianic hope (Leiden: Brill, 1967), 111.
  • [174] See Nolland, Matt., 387.
  • [175] In LXX the perfect form ἐλήλυθα is found only in 2 Macc. 14:7, an original Greek composition.
  • [176] Schweizer (226) suggests that the author of Matthew added γάρ in order to stress that Jesus’ actions were a fulfillment of Hos. 6:6.
  • [177] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:712-716.
  • [178] See Dos Santos, 185.
  • [179] See Tomson, 134.
  • [180] On Jesus’ self-perception as God’s emissary, see Joshua N. Tilton, “Jesus the Apostle,” and the literature cited there.
  • [181] See Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L77.
  • [182] Examples of δίκαιος as the translation of צַדִּיק include Gen. 6:9; 7:1; 18:23, 24, 25, 26, 28; 20:4. See Hatch-Redpath, 1:330-332.
  • [183] Cf. Albright-Mann, 106. In MT צַדִּיק is paired with רָשָׁע in Gen. 18:23, 25 (2xx); 2 Sam. 4:11; Isa. 5:23; Ezek. 21:8, 9; Hab. 1:4, 13; Mal. 3:18; Ps. 1:6; 7:10; 11:5; 34:22; 37:12, 16, 17, 21, 32; 75:11; Prov. 3:33; 10:3, 6, 7, 11, 16, 20, 25, 28; 11:23; 12:5, 12, 21, 26; 13:5, 9; 14:19; 15:29; 17:15; 18:5; 21:12, 18; 24:15, 16; 25:26; 28:1; 29:7, 16, 27; Eccl. 3:17; 9:2. Examples of the pairing of צַדִּיק with רָשָׁע in the Mishnah include m. Sanh. 6:5; 10:3, 5; m. Avot 1:8; 4:15; m. Neg. 12:5.
  • [184] Among the scholars who regard εἰς μετάνοιαν in Luke 5:32 as a Lukan addition are Bultmann, 92; Taylor, 207; Knox, 1:14 n. 1; Bundy, 145; Beare, 78; Marshall, 221; Fitzmyer, 1:592; Sanders, “Jesus and the Sinners,” 6; Nolland, Luke, 1:146-247; Marcus, 1:228.
  • [185] See Sanders, “Jesus and Judaism,” 23-27. For a discussion of Sanders’ view, see Regev, “Moral Impurity and the Temple in Early Christianity,” 402-403.
  • [186] See Sending the Twelve: Conduct in Town, Comment to L95-96.
  • [187] On Jesus’ expectation that literal debt forgiveness would be practiced among his followers, see Lord’s Prayer, Comment to L19.
  • [188] On “enter the Kingdom of Heaven” as a technical term for becoming a full-time member of Jesus’ traveling school of disciples, see David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: The Kingdom of Heaven in the Life of Yeshua,” under the subheading “The Kingdom of Heaven in the Teachings of Jesus: Jesus’ Band of Itinerating Disciples.”
  • [189] For Jesus’ scathing remarks toward certain Pharisees who blocked people’s entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, see Matt. 23:13 (cf. Luke 11:52).
  • [190] See David N. Bivin, “Hebraisms in the New Testament,” reissued from Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics (ed. Geoffrey Khan; 4 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 2013), 2:198-201.
  • [191] The noun μετάνοια occurs in Pr. Man. 8 (2xx); Prov. 14:15; Wis. 11:23; 12:10, 19; Sir. 44:16.
  • [192] See Shmuel Safrai, “Oral Tora,” in The Literature of the Sages (ed. Shmuel Safrai; 2 vols.; CRINT II.3; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 1:35-119, esp. 108-111. Cf. Ephraim E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (trans. Israel Abrahams; 2 vols.; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1975), 1:462.
  • [193] Further examples include:

    לֹא הָיוּ אוֹפִין אֶת פִּתָּן גְּרִיצוֹת אֶלָּא רְקִיקִים

    They did not bake their bread in large loaves, but in small cakes. (m. Betz. 2:6; m. Edu. 3:10)

    חבר שמת והניח בנים חברים ועמי הארץ לא יוריש טהרותיו לעמי הארץ אלא לחברים בלבד

    A haver who died and left behind sons who were haverim and sons who were ame haaretz: they do not cause his pure foods to be inherited by the ame haaretz, but the haverim alone. (t. Dem. 6:8)

    המוכר הבית לא מכר את החצר אלא אוירה של חצר

    The one who sells the house does not sell the courtyard, but the open space of the courtyard. (t. Bab. Bat. 3:1; Vienna MS)

    לא היו קוברין אותו בקברות אבותיו אלא בקברות בית דין

    They did not bury him in the tombs of his fathers, but in the tombs of the bet din. (t. Sanh. 9:8 [ed. Zuckermandel, 429])

    לא אותה בנה אלא אחרת בנה

    He did not build the same city, rather he built another one. (t. Sanh. 14:10; Vienna MS)

    רצועה לא היתה ארוכה אלא קצרה

    The lash was not long, but short. (t. Mak. 5:15; Vienna MS)

    לא היה טוחנן ברחים אלא כותשן במכתשת לא היה טוחנן בקורה אלא באבנים

    They did not grind them [i.e., olives—DNB and JNT] in a mill, but crushed them in a press. They did not grind them with a beam, but with stones. (t. Men. 9:6; Vienna MS)

    לא בעבדי דברתם אלא בי דברתם

    Not in my favor did you speak, but against me you spoke. (Sifre Num. §103 [ed. Horovitz, 102])

    לא פדאם לשום בנים אלא לשום עבדים

    He did not redeem them to be sons, but to be slaves. (Sifre Num. §115 [ed. Horovitz, 127])

    לא שמעה כל בריה אלא המקום בלבד

    The whole creation did not hear it, but the Omnipresent one alone. (Sifre Deut. §1 [ed. Finkelstein, 5])

    לא נגלה עליהם מרוח אחת אלא מארבע רוחות

    He did not appear to them from one wind, but from four winds. (Sifre Deut. §314 [ed. Finkelstein, 356])

    לא בלשון אחד נגלה אלא בארבעה לשונות

    It was not revealed in one language, but in four languages. (Sifre Deut. §343 [ed. Finkelstein, 395])

    לא יקנח אדם עצמו בימין אלא בשמאל

    A person does not wipe himself with his right hand, but with his left hand. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version A, 40:13 [ed. Schechter, 128])

    לא היה ראוי לבא בימי דוד אלא בימי שאול

    By rights it should not have been in the days of David, but in the days of Saul. (Gen. Rab. 25:3 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 1:242])

    לא באו כלם בימי בני אדם שפופים אלא בימי [בני] אדם גבורים

    They did not come in the days of lowly people, but in the days of mighty people. (Gen. Rab. 25:3 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 1:242])

    לא היה לשם זנות אלא לשם שמים

    It was not for the sake of sexual indulgence, but for the sake of Heaven. (Gen. Rab. 51:10 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 2:540])

  • [194] On redactional changes characteristic of the author of Mark, see David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style.”
  • [195] For a discussion of how the various religious groups within Second Temple Judaism related to one another, see Eyal Regev, “Flourishing Before the Crisis: Mapping Judean Society in the First Century CE,” in Jews and Christians in the First and Second Centuries: How to Write Their History (ed. Peter J. Tomson and Joshua Schwartz; Leiden: Brill, 2014), 52-69.
  • [196] See, for example, Bultmann, 18; Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence, 215-216. Cf. Sanders, “Jesus and the Sinners,” 9-10.
  • [197] On this point, see Allen, 90; Marshall, 219-220.
  • [198] See Nolland, Luke, 1:245; Buchanan, 1:413.

The Good Samaritan

This article is a sample chapter from Windows into the Bible: Cultural & Historical Insights into the Bible for Modern Readers by Marc Turnage. Reproduced on with the kind permission of the publisher.

The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is perhaps one of the most well-known of Jesus’ parables. The origin of the parable derives from an exchange between Jesus and an expert in the Law. The scribe asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded to his question in a very Jewish manner with another question, asking the scribe to summarize the Law. The scribe responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul…” and Leviticus 19:18, “and your neighbor as yourself.”

Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 are two of three passages within the Old Testament that begin with the phrase וְאָהַבְתָּ (ve’āhavtā; “and you will love”). Jewish interpreters, like Jesus and Paul, connected biblical passages due to shared language between the two verses. The hermeneutical method was known as gezerah shevah. Language, not theology, drove the hermeneutic. Ancient Jewish interpreters assumed that God, who inspired the biblical writers, intended connections between passages that had shared vocabulary even if the passages came from different books. In their handling of Scripture, when they found passages that had shared vocabulary, language drove the hermeneutical method and by bringing the passages together the theological idea was birthed. Quite often, one passage was viewed as esoteric or abstract and the other passage provided a tangible, practical way to interpret the first passage. Loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and strength is abstract. Ancient Jewish interpreters would understand that the shared language between Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 pointed to Leviticus 19:18—“Love your neighbor who is like yourself”—providing a tangible, practical way one loved God: by loving the one created in God’s image (see Gen. 1:27). The second passage interprets the first.

Deuteronomy 6:5 is part of the Shema (“Hear, O Israel”), which was recited daily by Jews in the first century (m. Berachot 1.1). Some believed that by reciting the Shema one accepted upon oneself the kingdom of heaven (m. Berachot 2.2). The second passage, Leviticus 19:18, played a central role in the developing humane spirit within ancient Judaism.[1] Certain circles identified Leviticus 19:18 as the great summary of the Torah (Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8; Avot de Rabbi Nathan version B, 26; Sifra Kedoshim 45). Jesus Himself identified these two passages as the great commandments of the Torah (Matt. 22:34-30; Mark 12:28-34; see Didache 1:2).

Jesus replied to the scribe that he had answered correctly, “do this and you will live” (see Matt. 7:24-27; Matt. 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23). The scribe proceeded to ask, “And who is my neighbor?” His question asked Jesus to draw a line indicating who was inside and who was outside the commandment, and thus, whom he was obligated to love.

In this video Marc Turnage discusses the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

To answer his question, Jesus told a parable based upon the third Old Testament passage that begins with וְאָהַבְתָּ (ve’āhavtā; “and you shall love”) Leviticus 19:34: “And you shall love him (the foreigner) as yourself….” This exchange demonstrates the erudition and Torah learning of Jesus, and that He functioned at the highest level of Jewish academic training. It also betrays His incredibly creative genius.

The Parable and its Spiritual Setting

Jesus’ story relates the common occurrence of a man traveling the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Walking along the road, passing through the wilderness, the man fell among robbers, who beat him and left him “half-dead.” Jesus’ description of the man as “half-dead” indicates that he was on the threshold of dying. The man’s status as “half-dead” seems inconsequential to modern readers, apart from the fact that he was in desperate need of assistance. However, Jesus’ original audience would have immediately understood that in addition to the man’s dire need, his state raised concerns of ritual purity. The beaten man’s status as “half-dead” introduces the tension within Jesus’ story.

Remains of the Roman road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Photographed by Todd Bolen courtesy of
Remains of the Roman road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Photographed by Todd Bolen courtesy of

Ritual purity was a major issue within ancient Jewish spirituality.[2] It stood at the heart of many of the debates and differences of interpretation between the various streams of Jewish piety, i.e., Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. The New Testament mentions that Mary and Paul both participated in acts of ritual purification due to their impurity (Luke 2:22; Acts 21:24, 26; 24:18; see also John 11:55). Anytime we find Jesus, His followers, or His family at the Jerusalem temple, we can assume that prior to ascending onto the temple platform they ritually immersed, which was required by Jewish law. Archaeological excavations near to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem have uncovered a small clay seal with the inscription “Pure for the Lord.” The archaeologists have suggested that this seal represents a “ticket” that pilgrims received after immersing themselves in the ritual immersion pools (mikva’ot) around the Temple Mount for them to show the guards of the temple, proving their purity in order to enter onto the temple platform and into the sacred area.[3]

First-century C.E. seal discovered in Jerusalem near the Temple Mount with the Aramaic inscription דכא ליה ("Pure to the Lord").
First-century C.E. seal discovered in Jerusalem near the Temple Mount with the Aramaic inscription דכא ליה (“Pure to the LORD”).

Within ancient Judaism, ritual purity had nothing to do with sin. It primarily pertained to the temple, its holy things, and eating “sacred” foods. One contracted ritual impurity within the course of daily life: a woman’s menstrual period, a man and his wife after sexual relations, childbirth, contact with leprosy, and coming in contact with a corpse. None of these things were sinful; they simply made one impure so that they could not enter the sacred area of the temple and participate in certain religious ceremonies while they were impure. The Torah outlines that different actions cause different levels of ritual impurity. For example, a man and his wife after sexual relations had to bathe and were purified at sundown (Lev. 15:16-18; Deut. 22:10-12). A person who came into contact with a corpse was unclean for seven days and could only be purified by water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer (Num. 19:11-19).

Of those things that caused ritual impurity, corpse impurity was one of the more serious. According to the Torah, corpses make those who touch them and those under the same roof impure (Num. 19). As previously stated, corpse impurity was not wrong and had nothing to do with sin. Burial of the dead was considered one of the principal acts of piety within Judaism (Deut. 21:23; Tobit 1.17-20; 2.1-9; Josephus, Apion 2.211; Matt. 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42). The Law of Moses, however, decreed that priests could not defile themselves for any dead among the people except for their closest relatives (Lev. 21:1-4). The Levitical command continues that a priest cannot enter where there is a dead body, even for his father and mother (Lev. 21:11; see Ezek. 44:25-27).
As Judaism developed and different streams of Jewish piety emerged, the biblical laws of purity evolved within each group, e.g., Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, and between the groups. For example, the humane spirit that emerged within Pharisaic Judaism caused the sages to question the biblical injunction that forbade a priest and a Nazirite from burying a neglected corpse.

A high priest or a Nazirite may not contract uncleanness because of their [dead] kindred, but they may contract uncleanness because of a neglected corpse (מת מצווה; mēt mitzvāh). If they were on a journey and found a neglected corpse, Rabbi Eliezer says: “The high priest may contract uncleanness but the Nazirite may not contract uncleanness.” But the sages say: “The Nazirite may contract uncleanness but the high priest may not contract uncleanness.” Rabbi Eliezer said to them: “Rather let the priest contract uncleanness for he needs not to bring an offering because of uncleanness, and let not the Nazirite contract uncleanness for he must bring an offering because of his uncleanness” (see Num. 6:19). They answered: “Rather let the Nazirite contract uncleanness, for his sanctity is not a lifelong sanctity, and let not the priest contract uncleanness, for his sanctity is a lifelong sanctity.” (m. Nazir 7.1)

It should be recognized first of all that the debate between Rabbi Eliezer (second century AD) and the sages sets aside the clear biblical command that priests cannot have contact with a corpse that was not a part of their immediate family (Lev. 21:1-4, 11; Ezek. 44:25-27). The argument assumes that care for the dead (one created in the image of God; Gen. 1:27) superseded the biblical command. This debate also shows that the actions a priest should take who came upon a corpse were not self-evident at the end of the first and beginning of the second century AD.[4] A difference of opinions existed as to how the priest should respond in this situation.

Josephus describes the Pharisees as being “naturally lenient in the matter of punishments” (Ant. 13.294). He says this in the context of describing a debate between the Pharisees and Sadducees in which the Pharisees took a more lenient stance in the application of penal law. Instead of calling for the execution of the offender, they felt he should have been beaten and imprisoned (Ant. 13.293-98). Josephus relates that the Pharisees “passed on to the people certain regulations handed down by former generations and not recorded in the Laws of Moses, for which reason they are rejected by the Sadducean group, who hold that only those regulations should be considered valid which were written down (in Scripture), and that those which had been handed down by former generations need not be observed” (Ant. 13.297). Josephus here outlines a key difference between the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees accepted the Written Law (the Old Testament) and the Oral Law (the traditions of interpretation on the Written Law orally passed down). The Sadducees, however, only accepted the Written Law, and therefore interpreted the biblical text quite literally and conservatively. Due to their more humane approach, the Pharisees tended to be more lenient regarding purity and penal laws than the Sadducees (Josephus, Ant. 20.199). In other words, as we saw with the discussion about the neglected corpse, the Pharisees could set aside the written Law with an oral law (see John 7:53-8:11). This was unacceptable to the more literal Sadducees who were stricter with regard to purity and punitive laws (Ant. 13.293-298; 20.199).

Josephus’ portrayal of the Sadducees as severely strict with regard to penal law and their adherence to a literal and strict interpretation of Scripture is remembered in the rabbinic commentary to Megillat Ta’anit, an ancient list of fast days:

“Upon the fourth of Tammuz the Book of Decrees became defunct.” For a Book of Decrees was written down and deposited with the Sadducees: “These are to be stoned, these are to be burnt, these are to be decapitated, these are to be strangled.” Were one to ask them during the session, then they showed the book; were one to ask for argumentation…then they knew not how to answer. The Sages said to them: “Is it not written, ‘According to [literally: to the mouth of] the Torah which they teach you’ (Deut. 17:11)—that teaches us that halakhot are not to be written down.” Another interpretation: “The Book of Decrees.” For the Boethusians (a group attached to the Sadducees) were accustomed to saying: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Exod. 21:24)—if someone hits another’s tooth out, then he must hit one of his out; if someone makes another’s eye blind, then he must make his eye blind, so that they are equal. (Scholion to Megillat Ta’anit, 10 Tammuz)[5]

Instead of reading the biblical commandment “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” literally as the Sadducees, the Pharisees interpreted these verses in a lenient manner, referring to financial compensation equal to the physical injury.

Large ritual immersion pool (mikveh) at the Temple Mount—possibly used by priests for their ritual washing. Photograph by Todd Bolen courtesy of
Large ritual immersion pool (mikveh) at the Temple Mount—possibly used by priests for their ritual washing. Photograph by Todd Bolen courtesy of

In the first century, prior to the destruction of the temple (AD 70), the majority of the priests and Levites belonged to the party of the Sadducees (see Acts 5:17; Josephus, Ant. 20.199; t. Parah 3.6-7).[6] The Sadducees focused upon the temple, its worship and priesthood, and a more strict understanding of purity and penal law based upon their literal, conservative interpretation of Scripture, which led them to reject the more humane spirit developing within Pharisaic circles. This Sadducean concern for purity over human life appears in a story preserved in rabbinic tradition.[7]

Our Rabbis taught: It once happened that two priests were side by side as they ran to mount the ramp [to the altar in the temple]. When one of them came first within four cubits of the altar, the other took a knife and thrust it into his heart. Rabbi Zadok stood on the steps of the Hall [leading to the interior of the temple] and proclaimed: “Our brethren of the house of Israel, listen carefully! Behold it says, ‘If one be found slain in the land…then your elders and judges shall come forth’ (Deut. 21:1). On whose behalf shall we offer the heifer whose neck is to be broken, on behalf of the city or on behalf of the Temple?” All the people burst out weeping. The father [also a priest] of the young man came and found him still in convulsions. He said: “May he be an atonement for you. My son is still in convulsions and the knife has not become unclean.” [His remark] comes to teach you that the cleanness of their vessels was of greater concern to them even than the shedding of blood. Thus it was also said: “More over Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to the other (2 Kings 21:16).” (b. Yoma 23a; t. Yoma 1.12)

Rather than assist the dying man, the concern of his father, a priest, centered on the purity of the knife to perform the temple service. The spirit of this tale fits with what we have seen regarding the Sadducean concern for purity and biblical literalness instead of a humane concern. It also fits the tension of Jesus’ story: the man, half-dead on the side of the road, presented a purity concern for the priest and Levite, both of whom most likely belonged to the party of the Sadducees.

The man on the side of the road was not a corpse, yet. He was “half-dead.” Pharisaic oral tradition permitted the violation of almost any commandment for the preservation of life (פִּיקוּחַ נֶפֶשׁ; piqūaḥ

Whence do we know that the duty of saving life supersedes the Sabbath laws? Rabbi Ishmael answered, “even shedding of blood, which defiles the land and causes the Shekinah to remove, is to supersede the laws of the Sabbath, how much more should the duty of saving life supersede the Sabbath law!”…Rabbi Akiva says: “If punishment for murder sets aside even the Temple service, which in turn supersedes the Sabbath, how much more should the duty of saving life supersede the Sabbath laws (see Matt. 12:1-8)!” (Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael on Exod. 31:12; see also b. Yoma 85a)

This oral tradition, however, did not fit the biblical literalness of the Sadducees and their strict concern for purity, especially for priests (Lev. 21:1-4, 11). The Hebrew term behind Luke’s Greek phrase “half-dead” was גוֹסֵס (gōsēs).[8] This refers to someone whose condition is so bad that death is most likely imminent (b. Arakhin 18a; and b. Gittin 28a). Pharisaic tradition afforded the same legal status to a dying man (גוֹסֵס; gōsēs) as to a living man (Semahot 1.1). The Sadducees and their concerns for purity, however, would not have embraced this humane spirit that saw in the dying man the image of God.

This explains the priest’s and Levite’s avoidance in helping the man. If they helped him, and he died, they would have become ritually impure from contact with a corpse, which was forbidden according to the Law of Moses (Lev. 21:1-4, 11; Ezek. 44:25-27). Herein lies the tension of the parable: purity and the Law of God versus the needs of the human individual.

The Samaritan

The tension between Jews and Samaritans in the first century is well known (War 2.232-49; Ant. 18.29-30; 20.118-36; Luke 9:52-53; John 4:9; and m. Rosh Hashanah 2.2). Samaritans at times waylaid and harassed Galilean pilgrims to Jerusalem (Ant. 20.118-36; Luke 9:52-53). Interpretations of Jesus’ parable usually focus only on these cultural tensions for understanding the appearance of the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable.

A question as to the legal status of Samaritans existed within ancient Judaism. Were Samaritans considered Jews, half-Jews, or Gentiles? Differences of opinion existed within Judaism (Ant. 11.341; t. Terumot 4.12, 14; see also Ben Sira 50:26; b. Hullin 6a).[9] Jesus belonged to those Jews who viewed Samaritans as Gentiles. Luke records an event where Jesus healed ten lepers, one of whom was a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-19). Of the ten, only the Samaritan returned to thank Jesus. Jesus responded, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner (ἀλλογενὴς; allogenēs)” (Luke 17:17-18)?

A view of Mount Gerizim from the city of Shechem photographed by David Bivin. This photograph belongs to the collection Views That Have Vanished: The Photographs of David Bivin.
A view of Mount Gerizim from the city of Shechem photographed by David Bivin. This photograph belongs to the collection Views That Have Vanished: The Photographs of David Bivin.

Jesus’ description of the Samaritan as a “foreigner” indicates that He viewed Samaritans as equal to Gentiles. Within the Jerusalem temple, the outer court was separated from the sacred area by a low wall, the balustrade, and on this wall, were inscriptions in Greek and Latin that warned foreigners, Gentiles, not to pass that point or they would forfeit their lives (War 5.193-94; Ant. 15.417). Paul was arrested due to a riot that broke out in the temple because it was believed he took Trophimus the Ephesian past the barrier (Acts 21:26-36; see also Eph. 2:14). Archaeological excavations in Jerusalem in 1871 and 1935 uncovered two copies of the Greek inscription from this wall, which begins “No foreigner (ἀλλογενὴ; allogenē) is to enter within the balustrade….”[10] This inscription used the same Greek term to describe all foreigners that is used in Luke to describe the Samaritan who returned to give thanks. Jesus’ identification of Samaritans as Gentiles becomes an important detail to the thrust of His story.

To the lawyer’s summary of the Torah, citing Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, Jesus told a story in response to the lawyer’s follow-up question, “And who is my neighbor,” built off the third verse that begins “and you will love”: Leviticus 19:34, “And you shall love him (the stranger) as yourself.”[11] In the parable, the Samaritan behaves according to the Leviticus 19:34 passage. The Samaritan, a foreigner, acts to save the life of the half-dead man, a Jew. The Samaritan loved the foreigner (the man on the road) as himself. His actions stand in stark contrast to the priest and Levite, whose concern for ritual purity led them to pass by the one dying on the roadside.

The rhetorical punch of Jesus’ story is not simply the tensions between Jews and Samaritans. Rather, He portrays even a Gentile knowing and acting in a manner to save human life, something the religious elite would not do because of their strict concern for purity. The Samaritan, a Gentile, behaved in accordance with the Torah (Rom. 2:14), while the priest and the Levite missed the heart of the Torah.

Jesus would often use Gentiles in both positive and negative ways for rhetorical contrast in His teachings (Matt. 5:47; 6:7; Luke 7:9; and 12:30). When He taught in the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30), He used two examples of God showing mercy to Gentiles, those outside the covenant community (Luke 4:25-27), as a means of demonstrating that God does not distinguish to whom He shows mercy, and neither should Jesus’ listeners (see Matt. 5:45-48). In this parable, the Gentile Samaritan, not the priest and Levite, exemplified Leviticus 19:34.[12]

The parable came as a response to the lawyer’s question, “And who is my neighbor?” He 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: “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Jesus refused to allow the man to draw a circle defining insiders and outsiders. His response: be the neighbor. Jesus viewed God as showing no partiality to His creation in His mercy:

For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust…. You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:45-48).[13]

For Jesus, God does not distinguish in His mercy, and neither should we!

Theology of the Parable

In the centuries leading up to the first century, Judaism experienced a theological revolution that evolved into a new sensitivity of the value of the human individual.[14] Two biblical verses stood at the heart of this revolution: Leviticus 19:18, which came to be read, “Love your neighbor who is like yourself” and Genesis 1:27, “In the image of God created He them.” Human beings bear the image of God and, therefore, have intrinsic value. Moreover, in the manner in which I treat a person created in the image of God, who is like myself, God will respond to me.

The scribe Jesus ben Sira, writing at the beginning of the second century BC, stated, “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Does anyone harbor anger against another, and expect healing from the Lord? If one has no mercy toward another like himself, can he then seek pardon for his own sins?” (Sir. 28:2-4). In the book of Jubilees, written around the same time as Ben Sira, we find, “And among yourselves, my sons, be loving of your brothers as a man loves himself, with each man seeking for his brother what is good for him, and acting together on the earth, and loving each other as themselves” (Sir. 36:4). Rabbi Shimon ben Eleazar said, “This word: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ has been proclaimed with a ‘great oath’: I—the Lord, have created him (i.e., your neighbor). If you love him, I can be relied upon to reward you, but if you do not love him—I can be relied upon to visit my judgment on you” (Avot de Rabbi Nathan version A, 16).

Although this humane spirit began to emerge in the centuries prior to Jesus, it was not wholly embraced within Judaism. To many, this new sensitivity would have seemed like heresy. Judaism eventually came to accept this humane approach as the heart of its moral philosophy, but that only came after three devastating and tragic revolts in the first and second centuries AD. Jesus embraced this emerging Jewish humanism and its emphasis upon the value of the human individual, as well as God acting toward us in the manner we act toward others. He stood on the cutting edge of this developing new sensitivity, and in a time of great ethnic, social, and religious tension, He exhibited the boldness to make the radical leap: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).

The question of the lawyer in Luke 10:29 sought to further clarify who is my neighbor. Jesus answered this question by building a parable upon Leviticus 19:34 and making the hero of the parable a Samaritan, someone outside of the Jewish community, who showed mercy (Luke 10:37) towards one like himself. In response to Jesus’ question, “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” the lawyer replied, “The one who showed (literally, did) mercy with him.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan as depicted in the sixth-century Rossano Gospels manuscript. This depiction is an example of an allegorical interpretation according to which Jesus himself plays the part of the Good Samaritan. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The parable of the Good Samaritan as depicted in the sixth-century C.E. Rossano Gospels manuscript. This depiction is an example of an allegorical interpretation according to which Jesus himself plays the part of the Good Samaritan. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The new sensitivity created a certain tension because of the emphasis it placed upon the value of the “one” to God (Luke 15:1-10; m. Sanhedrin 4.5). The needs, then, of a single human being can run in conflict with religious obligation, like ritual purity and Sabbath. This is the tension of the parable of the Good Samaritan. For Jesus, the needs of the one created in the image of God supersede the commands of purity. A similar tension, although concerning the Sabbath, is reflected in the story of Abba Tahnah, the Hasid:

Abba Tahnah, the Hasid, was entering his city on the Sabbath-eve at dusk with his bundle slung over his shoulder, when he met a man afflicted with boils lying at the cross-roads. The latter said to him, “Rabbi, do me an act of charity and carry me into the city.” He remarked, “If I abandon my bundle, from where shall I and my household support ourselves? But if I abandon this afflicted man I will forfeit my life!” What did he do? He allowed the Good Inclination to master the Evil Inclination, and carried the afflicted man into the city. He then returned for his bundle and entered at sunset. Everybody was astonished and exclaimed, “Is this Abba Tahnah, the Hasid?” He too felt uneasy in his heart and said, “Do you think that I perhaps desecrated the Sabbath?” At that time the Holy One, blessed be He, caused the sun to shine, as it is written, “But unto you that fear My name shall the sun of righteousness arise (Mal. 3:20).” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 9:7)

Abba Tahnah acted mercifully to the one hurt along the side of the road, and, therefore, God extended the day so that he would not break the Sabbath. This is indicative of the new sensitivity. But not everyone accepted this humane spirit in the first century. The Sadducees, with their literal reading of Scripture and strict adherence to ritual and penal laws, did not embrace the value of the “one.” And this is the contrast of Jesus’ parable. The priest and Levite acted to rigidly protect their ritual purity; the Samaritan, a Gentile, acted in a humane manner.

Shimon the Righteous, a sage who lived in the third century BC, stated, “On three things the world stands: on the Torah, on the Temple service, and on deeds of loving-kindness” (m. Avot 1:2). The order of the three indicates their priority according to Shimon, so for him, Torah study was preeminent but the temple service superseded deeds of loving-kindness. The attitude reflects that of the priest and Levite in Jesus’ parable: their ritual duty, their calling, was more important than the needs of the human individual. For Jesus, however, something greater than the temple existed (Matt. 12:6): the needs of the human individual and our need before God to show mercy towards others like ourselves.[15]

Windows Into the Bible


This article is just one chapter of Marc Turnage’s, Windows into the Bible: Cultural and Historical Insights into the Bible for Modern Readers (Springfield, Mo.: Logion, 2016). If you enjoyed this chapter, be sure to check out the entire book!


  • [1] David Flusser, “A New Sensitivity in Judaism and the Christian Message,” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 469-89; and Marc Turnage, “Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds That of the Scribes and Pharisees” in Windows into the Bible: Cultural and Historical Insights into the Bible for Modern Readers (Springfield, Mo.: Logion, 2016).
  • [2] Shmuel Safrai, “Religion in Everyday Life,” in The Jewish People in the First Century (2 vols.; ed. Shmuel Safrai and Menahem Stern; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), 2:828.
  • [3] See Eli Shukron, “Did Herod Build the Foundations of the Western Wall?” in City of David Studies of Ancient Jerusalem. The 13th Annual Conference (Jerusalem: Megalim, 2012), 13-26.
  • [4] Thomas Kazen, Issues of Impurity in Early Judaism (Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series 45; Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2010), 146.
  • [5] Vered Noam, Megillat Ta’anit. Versions, Interpretation, History with a Critical Edition (Jerusalem: Yad ben-Zvi Press, 2003), 78-79, 211-14 [Hebrew].
  • [6] Menahem Stern, “Aspects of Jewish Society: The Priesthood and Other Classes,” in The Jewish People in the First Century (2 vols.; ed. Shmuel Safrai and Menahem Stern; Philadelphia: Fortress), 2:596-612.
  • [7] See Brad Young, The ParablesParables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1998), 113.
  • [8] Young, The Parables, 111-13.
  • [9] Gedalyahu Alon, Jews, Judaism and the Classical World (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1977), 354-73.
  • [10] See Cotton, Di Segni, Eck, et al., eds. Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae. Volume 1, Jerusalem, 42-45.
  • [11] See also R. Steven Notley and Jeffery P. Garcia, “Hebrew-Only Exegesis: A Philological Approach to Jesus’ Use of the Hebrew Bible,” in The Language Environment of First-Century Judaea (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 362-66.
  • [12] There is a certain irony in the parable, for although Jesus considered Samaritans as Gentiles, they had the Five Books of Moses as their Bible with certain Samaritan readings. The Samaritans, more or less, had the same Bible as the Sadducees, yet only the Samaritan acted in accordance with Leviticus 19:34.
  • [13] “Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful” Luke 6:36.
  • [14] Flusser, “A New Sensitivity,” 469-89; Marc Turnage, “Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds That of the Scribes and Pharisees” in Windows Into the Bible; idem, “Who’s Image?” Enrichment Journal (Summer, 2011): 116; idem, “The Three Pillars of Jesus’ Faith,” Enrichment Journal (Fall, 2001): 100.
  • [15] Many interpreters of Matthew 12:6 assume that, when Jesus’ spoke about “something greater” than the temple, He referred to Himself, particularly in light of His statement, “The son
    of man is lord of the Sabbath.” There are two problems with this interpretation: (1) the Greek of Matthew 12:6 for “something greater” is in the neuter case, and therefore, cannot refer to Jesus, which would have been in the masculine case. Charity towards others fits the neuter case. (2) Jesus’ statement about the “son of man is lord of the Sabbath” does not refer to Jesus either as the parallel in Mark makes clear: “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” The son of man in this instance is the common use of the term in Hebrew meaning “a human being” (see Psalm 8). In the Gospels, Jesus used the term son of man in three ways: (1) meaning a human being, the everyman, (2) as part of the Passion predictions, and (3) to speak about the future end-of-days judge. Quite simply, the only one of these three meanings that makes sense in the context of Matthew 12:6 is “the everyman.” The son of man is not a messianic title. Moreover, we find an exact parallel to the Markan statement, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” in the earliest rabbinic commentary on Exodus, the Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael, which verifies my reading of the sentence that “the son of man (i.e., a human being) is lord of the Sabbath.” This statement, too, is not about Jesus; see “One Is Here Greater Than the Temple” in my Windows into the Bible, 387-98.

Character Profile: Rabban Gamliel the Elder

The ancient Jewish sage Rabban Gamliel is mentioned not only in rabbinic literature, but also twice in the New Testament. In Acts 5:34-39 Gamliel (or “Gamaliel”) speaks out in the Sanhedrin on behalf of the early followers of Jesus, while in Acts 22:3 the Apostle Paul mentions that he was at one time a student of Gamliel. In the video below Marc Turnage introduces us to this important figure in the history of Judaism and Christianity.

To learn more about Gamliel, we recommend the following article on Jerusalem Perspective:

This illumination from the fourteenth-century Sarajevo Haggada pictures Rabban Gamliel. The picture may be of Rabban Gamliel II, grandson of the Rabban Gamliel who was the Apostle Paul’s teacher. The younger Gamliel, unlike his grandfather, was known for his severe disposition.

The Gospel of John’s Jewish-Christian Source

The anonymous author of the Fourth Gospel also composed the Johannine Epistles.[1] According to church tradition, the author of the Fourth Gospel is identified as John, one of the twelve apostles whom Jesus appointed. The Fourth Gospel itself mentions Jesus’ beloved disciple who testifies to and explains the deeds of Jesus (John 21:24).[2] Church tradition identifies John, the disciple and apostle of Jesus, as the beloved disciple and regards him as the author of the gospel that now bears John’s name. Without in-depth study of who the beloved disciple is, we may yet ask whether the author of the Fourth Gospel sought to be identified as the beloved disciple, who is always referred to in the third person, or whether the beloved disciple was merely the source of the ideas and perspective articulated by the author of the Fourth Gospel. Did the anonymous author make reference to the beloved disciple to indicate the source of his authority, making the Fourth Gospel some kind of anonymous pseudepigrapha? Or is the reference to the beloved disciple an allusion to some other kind of source that was the basis of the Fourth Gospel?

Assuming that the Fourth Gospel is a pseudepigrapha, it is difficult to determine exactly what kind of pseudepigrapha it might be. On the one hand, it is possible that the author himself wished to be identified as the beloved disciple, but then it is difficult to comprehend why he so frequently writes in praise of the beloved disciple in the third person. On the other hand, it is possible that the author of the Fourth Gospel used the figure of the beloved disciple as a device for establishing a vague authority for his work without defining it precisely. In the course of this article I will return to this question and suggest that the identity of the beloved disciple is very important as we discuss the Jewish-Christian source that was the basis of the Fourth Gospel.

The Author of the Fourth Gospel

Even apart from the issue of the role and function of the beloved disciple, it is clear that the Fourth Gospel presents a unique theology that was in tension with the Jewish world and the Jewish people. This theology is one that has Jesus speak polemically about “your Torah” (cf. John 8:17; 10:34).[3] The tension with Judaism is certainly more emphatic in the Fourth Gospel than in all the rest of the New Testament. It is difficult to imagine that someone so opposed to Judaism was himself of Jewish origin. Nevertheless, there were various Jewish sects that are unknown to us, and the author of the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles may have belonged to one of these.[4] If the author of the Fourth Gospel was, indeed, Jewish of one kind or another, then careful examination of the Johannine Epistles are likely to clarify his position.[5]

This is not a dollar sign ($), but the combination of the Greek letters Ι, Η, Σ, which are the first three letters in the name ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (Ιησους, “Jesus”).
This is not a dollar sign ($), but a stylized combination of the Greek letters Ι, Η and Σ, which are the first three letters in the name ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (Ἰησοῦς, “Jesus”).

In the opening of the second and third epistles attributed to John, the author presents himself as ὁ πρεσβύτερος (ho presbyteros), “the elder.” Scholars have, until now, ignored this fact, which may prove helpful for understanding the function of elders in the early Church. While it is acknowledged that the office of elders was a leadership position that existed since the Church’s beginning, few have noted that the title זָקֵן (zāqēn, “elder”) also appears in the vocabulary of the Jewish sages, where it refers to a person who is trained to publicly transmit the words and teachings of the sages (cf., e.g., m. Taan. 2:1). An elder expounds in public. Their failure to take note of this Jewish institution has caused many scholars to overlook the important information found in Christian literature from Papias and Irenaeus about elders who were not heads of Christian congregations, but who preserved an oral tradition of the deeds and sayings of Jesus as reported by Jesus’ disciples and the disciples of these disciples.[6] We can therefore conjecture that the meaning of πρεσβύτερος in the Johannine Epistles is an elder who hands down traditions in the name of one of Jesus’ disciples. Thus, the author of the Fourth Gospel may have presented himself as handing down the tradition in the name of one of the disciples. Whether this was an authentic tradition or whether this was pseudepigrapha, the author of the Fourth Gospel adapted the received tradition to such an extent that scholars are justified in regarding this Gospel as a pseudepigrapha in which the author expressed his own theological approach and the outlook of the Johannine community.

The Sources of John’s Gospel

The sources of John's Gospel according to Flusser.
The sources of John’s Gospel according to Flusser.

It is currently the prevailing opinion that the Fourth Gospel derives its ideology from the same oral traditions as those from which the other canonical Gospels learned of the words and deeds of Jesus. What is more, some scholars are of the opinion that where the Fourth Gospel differs from the Synoptic Gospels in matters of historical detail, the Fourth Gospel is often to be preferred.[7] However, an examination of the matter will show that the author of the Fourth Gospel was deeply influenced by the tradition of the Synoptic Gospels. The question is complicated because it is my opinion that the Jewish-Christian source that is at the core of the Fourth Gospel was familiar with the Synoptic Gospels, or, to be more precise, the Jewish-Christian source and the Synoptic Gospels stem from a common tradition. This common tradition influenced the Fourth Gospel in two ways: on one level the author of the Fourth Gospel clearly knew these traditions and used them directly, but on a deeper level these traditions were also known to the Jewish-Christian source that the author of the Fourth Gospel used. Thus, the sources of the synoptic tradition influenced both stages of the composition of the Fourth Gospel. In any case, there are no grounds for reaching a significantly different historical reconstruction of Jesus’ biography from what is presented in the Synoptic Gospels on the basis of the different versions in the Fourth Gospel.

In his commentary on the Gospel of John, Bultmann put forward the notion that the Fourth Gospel hinges upon seven signs that Jesus performed.[8] Bultmann’s suggestion that the author of the Fourth Gospel relied on a “signs source” served as a launching point for a monograph by Fortna entitled The Gospel of Signs,[9] but in addition Fortna built his argument on the presence in the Fourth Gospel of passages that do not fit the flow of the Gospel’s story. Fortna refers to these phenomena as aporias.[10] Fortna collected all the instances of what he considered to be aporias, and regarded these as the key for reconstructing the Gospel of Signs that Bultmann posited. At the end of the book Fortna attempts to reconstruct the Jewish-Christian source in its entirety, on the premise that by means of the aporias it is possible to distinguish the original source from the adaptations introduced by the author of the Fourth Gospel.[11] It is my opinion that Fortna attempted an impossible task: Fortna’s efforts can only be regarded as an initial tentative reconstruction, and it may be possible to add to the passages he reconstructed further selections that show indications of having belonged to the Jewish-Christian source. Nevertheless, Fortna correctly identified the source embedded in the Fourth Gospel as Jewish-Christian in origin, and his research raises a number of provocative questions. This article is based upon the conclusions of Fortna’s research and explores their significance. I will also point out additional evidence that Fortna overlooked in his important study.

Fortna believed that, for the most part, the Jewish-Christian source did not include many sayings, but was mainly a kind of anthology of different sources that aimed to prove to the Jews that Jesus is indeed the true Messiah.[12] It was for this reason that the author of the Jewish-Christian source emphasized the signs. At this point Fortna, following the rationalist tradition, inserts the clarification (or the objection) that prophets and messiahs have no need for authenticating signs. However, we ought to have some reservations regarding this assertion. For even if the sages believed that the Messiah will not have to prove his authenticity with signs, it is nevertheless clear that alongside the rationalistic approach of the sages there existed a popular belief that the Messiah will perform miracles and will be a supernatural being.

In the very same rabbinic works that express the rationalistic approach, there are also traditions about miracles related to the Messiah that date to at least the second century C.E.[13] Likewise, in medieval apocalyptic works it is a commonplace that the Messiah will be a miraculous being, little different from his portrayal in earlier generations. In the apocryphal books, such as the vision of Ezra, the Messiah is described as a miraculous being (cf. 4 Ezra 13:1-13). The author of 4 Ezra immediately distances himself from the supernatural portrayal of the Messiah, however, by giving the vision an allegorical interpretation (4 Ezra 13:25-58). The scriptural passages that discuss the Messiah, or those that were given messianic interpretations, discuss a miraculous person in whose surroundings, if not by means of his person, the order of creation is transformed. Finally, there are the descriptions of Jesus himself that were discovered in an Arabic version of the Testimonium Flavianum.[14] There, Josephus explicitly states that when the disciples told the people about the signs they saw when Jesus rose to life, they also claimed that this was the one about whom the prophets foretold numerous miracles. In light of these facts, there is no reason to reject the possibility that the Jewish-Christian source attempted to inspire belief in Jesus precisely on the strength of the signs that it presents. Within certain circles these signs could have been convincing proof of Jesus’ messianic status.

Fortna observed that, in some miracle stories, the author of the Fourth Gospel reports that the miracle took place on the Sabbath only after the miracle is performed, thereby giving the impression that Jesus had profaned the Sabbath. Fortna correctly argues that examples of this phenomenon—a kind of appendix to the miracle story that the narrator forgot to mention at the outset of the story—should be considered as additions that do not stem from the Jewish-Christian source. Such a detail cannot be used to convince Jews that Jesus is the Messiah: the Sabbath-breaking theme is rather the invention of the author of the Fourth Gospel.[15]

Intentions and Tendencies of the Jewish-Christian Source

The Jewish-Christian source that stands behind the canonical Gospel of John attempted to explain to its Jewish audience that, had things happened differently, the Jews would have accepted Jesus as the Messiah. According to the Jewish-Christian source, it was precisely Jesus’ success among a large following of believers that aroused apprehension among the chief priests and Caiaphas at their head. The priestly leadership feared that the Romans would interfere in the internal affairs of the Jewish people if the group surrounding Jesus asserted its independence, and so they handed Jesus over to the Romans. The author of the Jewish-Christian source wanted to make the case that it was this wicked deed on the part of the chief priests and the actions of the Romans that prevented Israel from accepting Jesus as the Messiah. For this reason Israel could still return and take the opportunity that had been missed on account of the socio-political circumstances that were current in the days of the Messiah himself. Thus, the author of the Jewish-Christian source was much more anti-Roman in his outlook than are the canonical Gospels. It is even likely that the tendentious exaggeration of his rhetoric sometimes came at the expense of historical facts.

The cross and the crown are two visceral images of kingship–the cross a symbol of the power of Rome, the crown a symbol of the Kingdom of Heaven. These two types of kingdom converged in the life and death of Jesus.

Modern scholars, and especially Jewish scholars, often try to determine from these overtly anti-Roman passages the extent of Roman involvement in the life of the historical Jesus. While in the source of the Fourth Gospel there was a degree of anti-Roman sentiment, the Synoptic Gospels were clearly susceptible to the opposite tendency. In their attempt to live peacefully within the Roman empire, the Christian authors toned down anti-Roman rhetoric and minimized Roman involvement in Jesus’ death. A comparison of the traditions is therefore likely to help the researcher make an accurate assessment of the literary and ideological tendencies of the Gospels and of the historical facts. The story of Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane will serve as an instructive example of the tendentiousness of the four Gospels.

The author of the Jewish-Christian source, a Jewish nationalist who had no sympathy for the Romans, gives prominence to the guilt of the Romans and of the chief priests in the story of Jesus’ arrest and execution in order to explain why the Jewish people did not accept the Christian faith. According to his view, it was the tumultuous historical circumstances of those days, and not religious concerns, that hindered the gospel and discouraged faith in Jesus. In his overtly anti-Roman conception, the author of the Jewish-Christian source added a detail that is contrary to historical fact, hence we read, “Judas [Iscariot] took the cohort [σπεῖρα] and servants from the chief priests and Pharisees…” (John 18:3), and a little later, “the cohort and the commander of the legion and the servants of the Jews seized Jesus and arrested him” (John 18:12). In the synoptic parallels, by contrast, references to the Roman cohort and the legion commander are missing (Matt. 26:47; Mark 14:43; Luke 22:47), and these references in the Fourth Gospel should be regarded as tendentious anti-Roman additions rather than information derived from a more accurate source.

Thus far, our discussion has been based on two interesting points Fortna makes in his book. The author of the Jewish-Christian source, whose outlook was Jewish nationalist, nevertheless emphasized the deep importance for Jews to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. It is fascinating that a work such as this should become the basis of the most blatantly anti-Jewish book in the New Testament. It is impossible to conceive of why this Jewish-Christian source suited the needs of the author of the Fourth Gospel, who emphasizes the supremacy and divinity of Jesus much more than what is found in the Synoptic Gospels. In order to establish and promote the concept of Jesus’ unity with his Father in heaven, wondrously different from that of mere mortals, the author of the Fourth Gospel used a source that emphasized Jesus’ status as the Messiah, Israel’s redeemer.

The Resurrection Appearances in the Fourth Gospel

To demonstrate that the author of the Jewish-Christian source had access to sources that have not reached us via the synoptic tradition, it is sufficient to mention the story of the wedding at Cana, which is completely unknown from other traditions. Also, in its description of Jesus’ travels, this source features scenes in Judea, such as the raising of Lazarus. As already stated, the Jewish-Christian source was also acquainted with the synoptic tradition, but its author developed the whole in accordance with his own style. Fortna’s approach, to the degree that I have accepted it, may help us to appreciate the historical quality of the source that stands behind the Fourth Gospel: it makes clear that the differences in historical detail between the Fourth Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels are bound up with the Jewish-Christian source that paralleled the tradition shared by the other canonical Gospels.[16] Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to reconstruct the Jewish-Christian source from the materials we have.

It is especially difficult to reconstruct what it may have said about Jesus’ appearances after he was raised to life. However, it may be possible to account for the final chapter in the Fourth Gospel in a different manner. At the end of John, chapter 20, we read this conclusion:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)[17]

But immediately thereafter the author of the Fourth Gospel begins to tell the story of Jesus on the shore of the sea of Tiberias—an additional post-resurrection appearance. This chapter concludes in much the same way as in the previous chapter:

This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:24-25)

Here the disciple is identified as the author whose testimony is true. It appears that the similarity between the two conclusions and the figure of the beloved disciple who appears in both chapters are evidence that this material was derived from the Jewish-Christian source, and the poor and misleading organization of the material is due to the work of the author of the Fourth Gospel. The verses that conclude chapter 21, which are identified with the beloved disciple, appear to be the original conclusion of the Jewish-Christian source.

According to the Fourth Gospel, John the Baptist hailed Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

As already noted, Fortna attempted to reconstruct the entire Jewish-Christian source on the basis of the aporias, places where the author of the Fourth Gospel wove anti-Jewish adaptations and traditions from the Synoptic Gospels into his basic source, which resulted in contradictions and obscurities in the text. However, although Fortna’s reasoning is mainly convincing, Fortna’s reconstruction cannot be regarded as a “finished product,” not only because of his lack of Jewish sensitivity, but also because he is apparently unaware of the problems and difficulties that his reconstruction raises. For example, in the passage that describes Jesus’ arrest (John 18:3) he does not at all sense the difficulty posed by the combination of the Pharisees and chief priests into a single party organized against Jesus.[18] Comparison with the Synoptic Gospels shows that the mention of the Pharisees is a secondary addition to the original story and that the author of the Fourth Gospel is the source of this idea; it does not come from the Jewish-Christian source or from the adapted version in Matthew. Even after the publication of Fortna’s book and despite my agreement with his method, we are still at the beginning of the process: so far we have hovered, as it were, among the clouds over the mountain peaks. We have yet to descend into the deep valleys.

Jesus’ Conversation with the Samaritan Woman

The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4:6-26) is suffused with the special theology of the author of the Fourth Gospel and his anti-Jewish sentiment. Nevertheless, it is possible to reconstruct from these verses a fragment of the Jewish-Christian source. From the outset, it appears that the conversation does not report an historical event. The conversation is rather a literary creation, somewhat like an Islamic hadith,[19] that was composed in order to clarify the Church’s attitude toward the Samaritans. Jesus, in his time, had warned the apostles not to go to the Samaritans (Matt. 10:5), but from Acts it is clear that Christianity spread in Samaria after members of the Christian congregation fled from Jerusalem in the turmoil that followed the murder of Stephen (Acts 8:1). As a result, the question arose within the Church regarding its relationship toward the Samaritans. The official position of the Jewish Christians that has come to light in the new writings published by Pines[20] was that it was necessary for the Samaritans to recognize Jerusalem as the true religious center.

Jesus speaks with a Samaritan woman. The images in this article are from the stained glass windows in the sanctuary of the Thomaston Baptist Church in Thomaston, Maine.

In the literarily-constructed conversation, the Samaritan woman essentially asks Jesus what the Church’s relationship is toward Samaritans, and, in the manner of the Jewish sages,[21] Jesus’ answer makes it clear that the Samaritans are required to forsake the cult of Gerizim and turn to Jerusalem in as much as they want to be considered Jews. The woman asks, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (John 4:19-20), and Jesus answers her, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). In modern commentaries it is common to conclude from this verse, and especially from its ending (“salvation is from the Jews”), that the Fourth Gospel is not anti-Jewish, but, to the contrary, relates to the Jews with approval. Theologians, moreover, seek to establish from this same verse the Christian obligation to turn toward the Jews, since Christianity was born from Judaism. Despite appearances, however, this verse should not be regarded as such a principled statement. In his answer to the Samaritan woman Jesus explains that Jerusalem is to be preferred over the cult on Mount Gerizim, for truth is found among the Jews, but the word “salvation” should not be burdened with ideological connotations that go beyond the question under discussion. In his response there is not a word, nor even half a word, relating to the Christian Church or even to a specific group within Judaism.

The author of the Fourth Gospel places this important discussion about the relationship of the Samaritans to Jerusalem into a mystical atmosphere, and in his vague style draws attention away from the original subject of the discussion by moving the focus toward the Christian congregation and its manner of worship, and by interjecting hints of the coming destruction of Jerusalem due to lack of faith. On top of the literarily-constructed conversation that was taken from his Jewish-Christian source and that helps us understand the historical context of the Jewish-Christian community for which it was composed, the author of the Fourth Gospel built a completely new passage. Verse 21 (“The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father”) is an allusion to the destruction of the Temple, and verses 23-24 (“The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”) articulate the author’s unique Christian theology. These verses do not have any meaningful connection to the conversation with the Samaritan woman.

Whosoever drinketh2The Samaritan woman’s response, “I know that Messiah is coming…when he comes, he will show us all things” (John 4:25), that concludes the conversation does not properly connect with Jesus’ words in verse 22 (“salvation is from the Jews”) and even less with the aporia in the continuation, “to worship in spirit and truth.” Here Jesus answers with a declaration that is typical of the author of the Fourth Gospel with his peculiar “I” language: Ἐγώ εἰμι, ὁ λαλῶν σοι (“I who speak to you am he”; John 4:26). This last verse was composed by the author of the Fourth Gospel, but the words of the Samaritan woman about the Messiah might have belonged to the Jewish-Christian source. If so we cannot say what their precise context may have been or whether the author of the Fourth Gospel borrowed them from a different source or from a different tradition altogether. We have already noted that it is very difficult, given the present state of the text, to arrive at a complete reconstruction such as Fortna attempted.[22]

If my primary hypothesis is correct that the entire conversation is a product of the Jewish-Christian community’s wrestling with the status of Samaritans in the wake of Christianity’s expansion to the region of Samaria, then we learn some important information about the shape and character of the Jewish-Christian source: it included stories that are not historical, stories that did not originate from early traditions that failed to reach the synoptic writers, but rather stories whose origin was the creativity of the Jewish-Christian community itself, stemming from its desire to connect Jesus’ name to the problems that the Church was then facing. The conversation with the Samaritan woman should accordingly be associated with the Jewish-Christian community that existed prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. However it is possible that in the original text the conversation was concerned with a slightly different question—the matter of Christian prayer and the status of Jerusalem, since this too was a central question for the Jewish Christians.[23] So perhaps the conversation was composed after the destruction of the Temple, since even after the destruction turning toward Jerusalem during prayer was a requirement of the Jewish Christians.

Jesus and John the Baptist in the Gospel of John

The tradition about John the Baptist in the Fourth Gospel is certainly authentic in its broad outlines. Once again, however, it is hazardous to put too much weight on the details of the verses. In this case we can take our lead from an important trait of the editors of sources in general, and of the author of the Fourth Gospel in particular. It appears that the author of the Fourth Gospel transmitted his source in blocks of verses and wove them into one cloth, a method that greatly increases the difficulty of achieving an exact reconstruction. The story of John the Baptist (John 3:22-4:3) belongs to traditions that influenced the Jewish-Christian source that were distinct from those in the Synoptic Gospels: traditions about Jesus’ deeds in Judea.

And John bore witness, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him” (John 1:32).

The Fourth Gospel portrays Jesus as a baptizer parallel to, and indeed in competition with, his teacher and master John the Baptist. After the introduction (John 3:22-23), which comes from his Jewish-Christian source, the author of the Fourth Gospel inserts this addition: “For John had not yet been put in prison” (John 3:24). This comment highlights the disagreement between this version of the story and the synoptic tradition given by Mark and Matthew. According to Mark, Jesus began his activities only after John was imprisoned. The author of the Fourth Gospel attempted with this aporia to remove the discrepancy and to create a unified tradition out of the opposing traditions.

It is very difficult to determine with certainty what is original and what is secondary in the context of the story. Verse 25 (“Now there was a debate…concerning purification”)[24] is very likely to be original. The use of “purification” rather than “baptism” is an indication of the Jewish character of this sentence. In the last section of the story, however, we have another aporia. This is confirmed by the marked tension between the first and second verses of John 4: “the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John” (John 4:1), versus “Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples” (John 4:2). It again appears that one of the characteristics of the Jewish-Christian source utilized by the author of the Fourth Gospel is the idea that Jesus’ success among the Jewish people was what caused the tragic turn of events in Jesus’ life. This is also how the Arabic version of the Testimonium Flavianum explains Jesus’ death.[25] The first verse in chapter 4 also fits this idea: Jesus baptized even more than John. His teaching spread among the people. The second verse, with the qualifying tone we observed previously (cf. John 3:24), moderates the comparison, and we may regard John 4:2 as another attempt by the author of the Fourth Gospel to reconcile the opposing traditions. In the course of the discussion, therefore, we have seen two aporias that are a bit unusual from a literary point of view, but that are very similar to the tendency of the other aporias Fortna pointed out in his book.

The Raising of Lazarus in John’s Gospel

Let us turn now to the story of the miraculous raising of Lazarus (John 11), an extremely important story that helps clarify the perspective of the Jewish-Christian source. This story describes the central miracle of Jesus’ ministry and serves as the linchpin of the Jewish-Christian author’s case to the Jews. The raising of Lazarus is turned into a symbol of Jesus’ own resurrection. Scholars have already noted that the designation “the Jews” in this story is used differently than in the rest of the Fourth Gospel. Here “the Jews” are referred to favorably with none of the hostile or polemical overtones characteristic of the Fourth Gospel as a whole.[26] In my opinion, the conspicuous lack of anti-Jewish sentiment in this story is an indication that the author of the Fourth Gospel derived the entire story from his Jewish-Christian source. If so, then Jesus’ prayer in this story is significant:

And Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, I thank you that you have answered me, and I knew that you always answer me, but for the sake of this crowd that is around me I have spoken, so that they will believe that you send me.” (John 11:41-42)[27]

This prayer is now known to us from an additional source, a Jewish-Christian text preserved in Arabic, where the prayer appears with small but important differences. Instead of the words “this crowd,” which might imply a degree of dissociation, the Arabic source uses the name “Israel”:

I ask you to resuscitate this dead [man], in order that the Children of Israel should know that You have sent me, and that You respond to my prayers.[28]

Jesus’ prayer in the Lazarus story appears to fit the outlook of the Jewish-Christian source. What is more, it seems that we should regard the comment “I knew that you always answer me” as an aporia. For one thing, the “I” language casts suspicion on this comment, since this language is characteristic of the author of the Fourth Gospel, and for another thing, this comment lifts the prayer out of its historical context, giving it a timeless dimension that does not fit the flow of the story.

According to the Jewish-Christian source, Jesus performed this miracle for the Jews, the people of Israel, as a decisive confirmation sign, an intention that is expressed in the verse, “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him” (John 11:45). In this way, the author of the Jewish-Christian source makes the purpose of the miracle stories clear and indicates the measure of Jesus’ success: “many…believed in him.” As a result of this success, the rest of the story concerns the worries of the chief priests that the number of believers in Jesus will increase, and their fear that this could lead to Roman intervention.

The Reaction of the Chief Priests to the Raising of Lazarus

In the verses describing the chief priests there appear to be two or three aporias, all of which testify to the great importance the Jewish-Christian source attached to this story, and at the same time demonstrate how the author of the Fourth Gospel sought to insert his own views into the narrative. In the Jewish-Christian source the priests are worried about Jesus’ increasing support among the people and so they invite the Sanhedrin to discuss the situation: “Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Sanhedrin”[29] (John 11:47). Evidently, the author of the Fourth Gospel inserted the Pharisees into the account, in conformity with his tendency to disparage the Pharisees, just as he also inserted them into the previous verse that says, “…some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done” (John 11:46), an addition that has no place in the flow of the story where it is not the Pharisees, but the chief priests, who are worried about the expansion of the movement centered on Jesus. The Jewish-Christian source emphasizes the tension between Jesus and the high priestly leadership, but the author of the Fourth Gospel changed the story by inserting the Pharisees.

“Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” (John 18:11).

The secondary addition of the Pharisees, which the author of the Fourth Gospel inserted into the story of the chief priests’ emergency convening of the Sanhedrin, should be considered in relation to verses 51-52. In John 11:50 Caiaphas expresses a blatantly political position, whereas verse 51 attempts to give his position a religious character (“he did not say this of his own accord…”) and repeats what had already been stated in verse 49 (“he was high priest that year”). This repetition, which is unnecessary in so short an interval, functions as a vehicle to lift Caiaphas’ saying out of its political context and impart it with a deeper dimension than what Caiaphas originally intended. It is possible, however, that the end of verse 51 (“he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation”) did appear in some form in the Jewish-Christian source since these words allude to Jesus’ atoning death. Such a concept is generally not found in the Synoptic Gospels, but its absence there does not rule out the possibility of its presence in the Jewish-Christian source. The next verse (“and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad”; John 11:52), however, is certainly an addition introduced by the author of the Fourth Gospel. This statement takes the reader out of the historical context of the story by combining non-Jewish believers with the Jews, a consideration that never appears in the Jewish-Christian source. Sensing the story’s central importance in his source, the author of the Fourth Gospel injected it with some of his core ideas while ignoring the aporias his editorial insertions created. In so doing, the author of the Fourth Gospel weakened the Jewish nationalist tendency of his source by applying the concept of atonement to the universal Christian Church.

In the overall story there is a particular difficulty that was caused by the redactional activity of the author of the Fourth Gospel, though it is difficult to understand what his motivation may have been. Those gathered in John 11:48 identify the destruction of the Temple as the danger posed by Jesus’ movement. After this comes Caiaphas’ puzzling announcement, “You know nothing at all,” despite his basic agreement with the Sanhedrin’s assessment of the situation. It therefore seems possible that, in its original form, Caiaphas made the entire argument to the Sanhedrin and we should regard verse 49 as the introduction to the high priest’s case, and that perhaps verse 48 was part of Caiaphas’ oracle, like this:

So the chief priests gathered the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.” Then Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You don’t know anything! Don’t you understand that it is better that one person should die than that the whole people be destroyed? For if we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy our Temple and our nation.”

However, as I already observed, it is impossible to arrive at a complete reconstruction of the wording of the Jewish-Christian source, and it is enough for us to highlight the difficulties of this passage and to ask the questions it raises.

In the Fourth Gospel there is no session of the Sanhedrin for the trial of Jesus apart from this meeting, which takes place prior to Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. It appears to me that there is a degree of historical plausibility to this account, since the implication of the narrative is that Caiaphas sought the Sanhedrin’s permission and support to arrest Jesus. His exclamation, “You don’t know anything,” is the essence of his argument, for his desire was to provoke a reaction based on fears of danger potentially posed by Jesus and his following. Caiaphas attempted to involve the Sanhedrin in his extreme course of action by playing on their fears. Such a session of the Sanhedrin is, of course, possible from an historical perspective, and the same atmosphere of extremism on the part of the chief priests is also found in the Synoptic Gospels.[30]

Thus, the raising of Lazarus and the enthusiasm of the believers in the wake of this miracle are portrayed as the causes of a terrible catastrophe: the handing over of Jesus to the Romans. This idea is the basic premise of the Jewish-Christian source. While it is difficult to accept the precise historical details as the Jewish-Christian source portrayed them, the historical scheme I have outlined has a measure of credibility.

Jesus’ Final Visit to Jerusalem in John’s Gospel

In John 12:12-19 we read about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. This story also contains an aporia, but it is neither so clear-cut nor so unambiguous as others we have discussed. Jesus is described as entering the city of Jerusalem in fulfillment of the words of the prophet (John 12:12-15), but it appears that the incomprehension of the disciples is an invention of the author of the Fourth Gospel. The location of verses 17-18 seems particularly difficult, since they are out of order in the narrative flow of the story, and are therefore similar to the aporias. Nevertheless, these verses articulate views characteristic of the Jewish-Christian source, namely the idea that the signs inspired faith among many Jews. In any case, the identification of the speakers in verse 19 as the Pharisees appears to be an addition of the author of the Fourth Gospel according to his usual method. Even if this verse did appear in the Jewish-Christian source, the speakers were surely not Pharisees but only the common people of Israel.

Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49).

From the same passage we learn an additional clue about the Jewish-Christian source. The story of Lazarus served as a turning point from Jesus’ signs to two far-reaching results. The raising of Lazarus resulted in Israel’s praise for Jesus which in turn led to Jesus’ tragic end. In the opinion of the Jewish-Christian author, it was the duty of the Jews to amend Jesus’ tragic ending by renewing their faith in Jesus’ messianic status.

It is also possible for us to observe the literary and philosophical character of the Jewish-Christian author’s adaptation of one additional point: the acclamation “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13). The blessing with which the people of Jerusalem received pilgrims is known to us from parallel sources.[31] According to a rabbinic recollection of the Second Temple period:

The people of Jerusalem used to say, “Save us Lord (Hosanna)!” and the pilgrims would answer, “So be it, Lord!” The people of Jerusalem used to say, “Blessed is he who comes in his name!” and the pilgrims would reply, “We bless you from the house of the Lord!” (Midrash Tehillim on Ps. 118 [ed. Buber, 488])[32]

Whether the Jewish-Christian author knew this custom from the Second Temple period or whether he wrote after the destruction of the Temple, it is clear that he changed the meaning of the usual and accepted blessing for pilgrims into special praise for Jesus. The adaptation is evidence of the author’s awareness that the people of Jerusalem had addressed this blessing to Jesus and to the rest of the Jewish pilgrims alike. This blatant literary adaptation of the historical facts enabled the author to emphasize his religious views even more powerfully.


By now it should be clear that Fortna was correct when he attempted to prove the veracity of the theory that a Jewish-Christian source is at the core of the Fourth Gospel. Nevertheless, the work is not complete, and it will prove fruitful to resume work on the reconstruction, since even the source upon which the Fourth Gospel was based is an adaptation of earlier sources. Such work will broaden our knowledge of the sources of Jesus’ life and deeds and help us understand the history of the Jewish Christians after the death of Jesus. Finally, it is important to reiterate the historical and literary paradox that is the Fourth Gospel. For some reason, a Jewish-Christian source that was focused on Jews, that was written for Jews, that originated in the Jewish world and that espoused a Jewish nationalism stronger than that of Jesus himself became the basis of the Fourth Gospel and its blatant anti-Jewish tendencies.[33]

Translator’s Note: In this translation I have endeavored to remain faithful to Flusser’s original essay, which appeared as מקור נוצרי יהודי לבשורה לפי יוחנן, יהדות ומקורות הנצרות; מחקרים ומסות (תל אביב: ספרית פועלים, תשל″ט) עמ′ 71-60. At certain points, however, Flusser’s laconic style required me to fill in his argument by supplying further information, such as a fuller quotation of his source or a summary sentence that pulled the thoughts together. Whenever possible I consulted other studies Flusser wrote on the topics under discussion. I have also filled in gaps in the essay’s bibliography–JNT.

  • [1] Already among the early church fathers there were those who believed that the author of the Fourth Gospel wrote only the First Epistle of John. See Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John (Anchor Bible 30; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1982), 9-13–JNT.
  • [2] Various scholars have questioned the authenticity of the final chapter of the Fourth Gospel, which summarizes the entire work, and this problem has not yet received a satisfying solution.
  • [3] In the course of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus’ discussion with Jacob of Kefar Sekaniah, a disciple of Jesus, Jacob says, “In your Torah, it is written…” (b. Avod. Zar. 17a; cf. Eccl. Rab. 1:8 §3). The question remains, however, whether this dissociative language is really that of Jesus’ disciple, Jacob, or whether it is a secondary adaptation of his words. It is likely that this dissociative language (“your Torah”) in rabbinic literature and the Fourth Gospel reflects the developing opinion of the rabbinic sages in the one case, and the author of the Fourth Gospel’s understanding of the connection of Christianity to Judaism in the other. On the encounter between Rabbi Eliezer and Jacob of Kefar Sekaniah, see Ray Pritz, Nazarene Jewish Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 96 ff.; Joshua Schwartz and Peter J. Tomson, “When Rabbi Eliezer Was Arrested For Heresy,” Jewish Studies, an Internet Journal 10 (2012): 145-181–JNT.
  • [4] See Oscar Cullmann, Der Johanneische Kreis: Sein Platz im Spätjudentum, in der Jüngerschaft Jesu und im Urchristentum (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1975). Cullmann connects the separation from mainstream Judaism to the type of Judaism adhered to in the Johannine community. His opinion is interesting, but he does not fully understand the question of fulfilling the commandments in Judaism.
  • [5] See above, note 1.
  • [6] It is possible that Irenaeus derived his testimony from Papias and that we should therefore regard their words as a single source. See Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.4.
  • [7] On the shaky and exaggerated attempts to attribute greater historical accuracy to the Fourth Gospel, see Charles H. Dodd, Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963).
  • [8] See Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (trans. G. R. Beasley-Murray et al.; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971), 6-7, 113-114.
  • [9] Robert T. Fortna, The Gospel of Signs: A Reconstruction of the Narrative Source Underlying the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).
  • [10] Fortna (Gospel of Signs, 2) defines the aporias as “the many inconsistencies, disjunctures and hard connections, even contradictions…notably in the narrative portions [of the Fourth Gospel]…which cannot be accounted for by textual criticism”–JNT.
  • [11] See Fortna, Gospel of Signs, 235-245–JNT.
  • [12] See Fortna, Gospel of Signs, 223-225–JNT.
  • [13] Cf. the story of Rabbi Yose ben Kisma in b. Sanh. 98a.
  • [14] The Testimonium Flavianum is the scholarly term for the passage in Josephus that describes the life of Jesus (Ant. 18:63-64). Most scholars agree that this passage was edited by a later Christian copyist–JNT. See Shlomo Pines, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and its Implications (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1971); and my article, עדותו של יספוס על ישו, יהדות ומקורות הנצרות; מחקרים ומסות (תל אביב: ספרית פועלים ,תשל″ט) עמ′ 80-72.
  • [15] See Fortna, Gospel of Signs, 52 n. 2.
  • [16] See my article, היחס הספרותי בין שלושת האוונגליונים, יהדות ומקורות הנצרות; מחקרים ומסות (תל אביב: ספרית פועלים ,תשל″ט) עמ′ 49-28.
  • [17] Biblical quotations are according to the RSV–JNT.
  • [18] Cf. Fortna, Gospel of Signs, 115, 146 n. 1–JNT.
  • [19] A hadith is tradition about Muhammed that is not part of the Koran. The collections of hadiths were compiled long after the death of the founder of Islam. See Gordon D. Newby, A Concise Encyclopedia of Islam (Oxford: Oneworld, 2002), 69-70–JNT.
  • [20] See Shlomo Pines, “The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries According to a New Source,” Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities 2 (1968): 4, 10. Stern, who disagrees with Pines’ interpretation of the text, provides a complete translation of the Arabic source that Pines examined in his essay. See Samuel M. Stern, “‘Abd Al-Jabbar’s Account of how Christ’s Religion was Falsified by the Adoption of Roman Customs,” Journal of Theological Studies 19.1 (1968): 128-185. See also, John G. Gager, “Did Jewish Christians See the Rise of Islam?” in The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (ed. Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 361-372–JNT.
  • [21] Cf. the Minor Tractate “Kuthim” 2:13 [61b]–JNT.
  • [22] Fortna includes John 4:6-26 in his reconstruction, but in his discussion he does not agree with me to include John 4:20, 22. See Fortna, Gospel of Signs, 189-195–JNT.
  • [23] See Shlomo Pines, “The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries According to a New Source,” 4, 10.
  • [24] Flusser’s translation–JNT.
  • [25] See above, note 14.
  • [26] Contrast the negative connotation of “Jews” in John 11:8 with the favorable connotation in John 11:19, 31, 33, 36. See Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (2 vols.; Anchor Bible 29 and 29a; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966, 1970), 1:427-428.
  • [27] Flusser’s translation–JNT.
  • [28] See Shlomo Pines, “The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries According to a New Source,” 61; idem, “Gospel Quotations and Cognate Topics in ‘Abd Al-Jabbar’s Tathbit in Relation to Early Christian and Judaeo-Christian Readings and Traditions,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 9 (1987): 195-278, esp. 214.
  • [29] Flusser’s translation—JNT.
  • [30] See my article, משפטו ומותו של ישו הנוצרי, יהדות ומקורות הנצרות; מחקרים ומסות (תל אביב: ספרית פועלים ,תשל″ט) עמ′ 149-120‎.
  • [31] See שמואל ספראי, עליה לרגל בימי בית שני (תל אביב: עם הספר, 1966)‏; Shmuel Safrai, Die Wallfahrt im Zeitalter des Zweiten Tempels (trans. Dafna Mach; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1981), 158.
  • [32] See David Flusser, Jesus (3d ed.; Jerusalem: Magnes, 2001), 134-135 n. 2–JNT.
  • [33] The translator wishes to thank Lauren S. Asperschlager for carefully proofreading the final version of this article and for her many helpful comments and suggestions along the way–JNT.

Jesus’ Place in First-century Judaism and His Influence on Christian Doctrine

According to the Christian tradition (Mark 6:3; Matt. 13:55), it was stated—as being a matter of common knowledge—by Jesus’ contemporaries in his home town Nazareth in Galilee, that he was the son of a carpenter there, and he perhaps became a carpenter himself. In Jewish society in Jesus’ day, carpenters were reputed to be learned[1] and, although Jesus did not receive the academic title “rabbi,” he acquired a considerable amount of Jewish learning. He was extremely well-versed in the Hebrew Bible and its traditional interpretation; he was familiar with Jewish ethical and religious teaching;[2] and he was able to observe the manifold legal prescriptions involved in the Mosaic Law and in Jewish oral tradition.

In the time of Jesus, Jews lived, learned, and faithfully practiced their religion, and their daily life was largely governed by religious precepts. This form of life was natural to Jesus and his contemporaries. Jesus did not seek to abrogate, or even to reform, the Jewish Law. According to Paul, for whom the Jewish Law had become a serious problem, Jesus was “born under the Law to purchase freedom for the subjects of the Law” (Gal. 4:4-5); he “became a servant to the circumcised in order to prove God’s honesty by fulfilling His promises to the fathers” (Rom. 15:8). The evidence in the Synoptic Gospels confirms these statements.

Jesus and the Pharisees

Some church fathers tried to define Jesus’ attitude towards the Law by assuming that he observed the written Law but opposed the oral Law of the Pharisees. This was the position of the Sadducees, but Jesus had nothing in common with this rationalistic conservative movement. The early fathers and the modern scholars who have held this view have based their opinion mainly upon the passage about the washing of hands (Mark 7:1-23). There (Mark 7:8), Jesus says to the Pharisees: “You neglect the commandment of God in order to maintain the tradition of men.” But in Jesus’ time washing hands before meals was not considered to be one of the requirements of the oral Law; it was not even obligatory; it was merely voluntary. According to the Pharisees themselves (Mark 7:5), this custom was simply a “tradition of elders,” it was not part of either the written or the oral Law. Moreover, it was not Jesus himself, but only “some of his disciples” who neglected the custom of hand washing.

The passage about the washing of hands does not justify the assumption that Jesus opposed the Jewish legal practice of his time; but, by the third century, Origen understood it as signifying the rejection of Jewish dietary laws by Jesus (Comm. Matt. 11.12). The overwhelming majority of modern translators thoughtlessly accept Origen’s interpretation when they take Mark 7:19b to mean: “Thus he [Jesus] declared all foods clean”—although the Greek original can hardly be read in this sense.[3]

When we compare Jesus’ words and actions in the Synoptic Gospels with the rabbinic prescriptions of his time, it becomes clear that, even in his most revolutionary actions, he never transgressed the bounds of the contemporary interpretation of the Mosaic Law. Although it was forbidden to cure non-dangerous illnesses on the Sabbath by physical means, it was permitted to cure them by words, and this is what Jesus did. Jesus’ saying that “the Sabbath was made for the sake of man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27) has a close parallel in rabbinic literature.[4] Moreover, the occasion on which this statement was made is the only instance of a Sabbath violation in the Synoptic Gospels: it was forbidden to pluck ears of corn on the Sabbath. According to Luke 6:1, Jesus’ disciples “were plucking ears of corn, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them.” However, a newly-discovered Jewish-Christian text,[5] and also the so-called Diatessaron, do not say that they were plucking them; according to both these texts the disciples only rubbed the ears in their hands on the Sabbath. Most rabbis did not permit even this, but we have reports that a Galilean sage named Rabbi Yehudah opposed their opinion (b. Shabbat 128a). Thus the only violation of the Sabbath (and this by the disciples and not by Jesus) in the Synoptic Gospels is evidently the result of a misunderstanding on the part of the Greek translator: the original tradition did not speak about plucking ears of corn on the Sabbath, but only about rubbing them, an act which was not universally forbidden.

These questions may seem trivial, yet they are important because Jesus’ attitude towards the Mosaic Law was decisive from two historical points of view—first, for the understanding of Jesus as a Jew of his time, and second, for the effects of his teaching on the Christian Church. There was a real tension between Jesus and the local “orthodoxy” in Galilean villages, but such tension occurs in all religious communities. Charismatic personalities, although they often have opinions which differ from those of the institutional authorities, are not necessarily schismatics or heretics. Jesus was crucified by the Romans as a rebel after his clash with the Sadducean temple authorities in Jerusalem; the Pharisees are not even mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels as a party to the so-called trial of Jesus. They had no real cause to hate him so profoundly as to seek to have him put to death. All the motifs of Jesus’ famous invective against the Pharisees in Matthew 23 are also found in rabbinic literature. Both in Jesus’ diatribe and in the self-criticism of the rabbis, the central polemical motif is the description of the Pharisees as being prone to hypocrisy.[6] Jesus says that “they make up heavy loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they will not stir a finger to remove them” (Matt. 23:4). In the Talmud we read about five types of Pharisaic hypocrisy: the first is to “lay the commandments upon men’s shoulders” (y. Berachot 9:5 [14b]; b. Sotah 22b). The indictment of the Pharisees for hypocrisy is naturally stronger in the Essene literature than in Jesus’ words because the Essenes opposed the Pharisaic doctrine itself. Although not a member of the Pharisaic community, Jesus approved of the Pharisaic understanding of the Law:

The doctors of the Law and the Pharisees sit in the chair of Moses; therefore do what they tell you; pay attention to their words. But do not follow their deeds; for they say one thing and do another. (Matt. 23:2-3)

Pharisaic theology and legal attitudes were those of contemporary non-sectarian Judaism, and this was their strength. Jesus would not disagree with them.

Jesus adhered to the standard Judaism of his time, and from this point of view it is natural that his disciples, and the Jewish Christian community that came after them, should have lived according to the Law. Nevertheless, the mistaken evaluation of Jesus’ criticisms of local bigotry as reservations about Judaism itself, or as an actual repudiation of it, later became a fruitful source of error for Christianity. The necessary condition for this “anti-legalistic” interpretation of Jesus’ words was the fact that Christianity became a religion for Gentiles. In contrast to Judaism and to the religions of other Asian countries, from Persia eastward, the Greco-Roman civilization was not based upon a ritualistic system of precepts and prohibitions. Thus the conquest of the Western world by Christianity was only possible if the new religion abandoned the ritualistic way of life. This step was made possible by the development of a new Christian theology whose most outstanding exponent was the Apostle Paul.

In the apostolic and sub-apostolic period, the Christian Church’s rejection of the Jewish Law was mostly based upon Christology: the death of the Lord was, so to say, the death of Jewish legal obligations. It was only later on, from the third century onward, that the church fathers found in Jesus’ criticism of the institutional bigotry of his opponents an important argument for Christian freedom from Jewish ritual. Although such a reinterpretation of Jesus’ position is historically untenable, the exaggeration of the polemical note in Jesus’ sayings by Christian theologians led to important achievements in Western ethics.

The Golden Rule

The specific moral character of Jesus’ teaching—which, as we have seen, has often been misinterpreted as being opposed to the Judaism of his time—is in truth not as exceptional as one might suppose. The ancient rabbis did not feel a tension between their punctilious occupation with ritual and legal casuistry and their sublime moral and theological message; in this they were similar to the Indian sages. For example, Rabbi Akiva was not only a great expert in Jewish Law, but was also the man who said that the essential message of the Mosaic Law is that one should love one’s neighbor (Sifra, Kedoshim, 4:12; cf. Bereshit Rabbah 24:7). As we know, this was also Jesus’ opinion (Matt. 22:39). Again, Jesus said: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). This precept, the so-called Golden Rule, had already been declared by the Jewish sage Hillel (c. 20 B.C.E.) to be the essence of Judaism (b. Shabbat 31a). Hillel was the founder of one of the two most important rabbinical schools—the other was that of Shammai. Both schools were Pharisaic.

It would be a mistake to think of the Judaism of Jesus’ time as being identical with the religion of the Old Testament or as being a mere development of the ancient faith of Israel. New questions arose and new religious problems had to be solved. The simple ethics of the Bible could no longer satisfy more modern and sophisticated minds, and the social structure of the Ancient Near East no longer existed. A more subtle and more highly differentiated approach to moral and theological problems was needed.[7] The human condition itself had now become more problematic.

One of the central problems of the Hebrew Bible was the righteousness of God: how can God be righteous if good people suffer and the wicked are often happy? In Jesus’ day the righteousness of man had become a problem. Was the traditional strict division of humankind into the righteous and sinners tenable if no person is totally sinful and if no one can achieve complete righteousness? Even if in this life the righteous were to receive recompense from Heaven and the wicked their due punishment, would this be consistent with God’s goodness and mercy? If one knows that recompense from God awaits him for his good deeds, can his actions be dictated by a high morality? Even as early as the beginning of the second century B.C.E., a Jewish sage named Antigonus of Socho had said: “Be not like slaves who serve the master on condition of receiving remuneration, but be like slaves who serve the master not on condition of receiving remuneration” (m. Avot 1:3). According to this saying, heavenly recompense and punishment are certain, but people ought to act as if they did not know this. This saying shows how high the standard of Jewish ethical reflection was at that time. It is natural that in such an atmosphere, an elaborate casuistic approach to ethical problems should develop: it became clear that a slight trespass can easily lead to a heavy sin; that a man who seemed to be righteous could in reality be a great sinner; and that a wicked man could be saved by one truly great deed. This new discriminating moral attitude can be well illustrated by its oldest witness, a passage from the book of Jesus ben Sira (floruit 185 B.C.E.):

Wrath and anger, these also are abominations
And a sinful man clingeth to them,
He that taketh vengeance shall find vengeance from the Lord,
And his sins [God] will surely keep [in memory].
Forgive thy neighbor the injury [done to thee],
And then, when thou prayest, thy sins will be forgiven.
Man cherisheth anger against another,
And doth he seek healing from God?
On a man like himself he hath no mercy;
And doth he make supplication for his own sins?
He, being flesh, nourisheth wrath;
Who will make atonement for his sins?
Remember thy last end, and cease from enmity;
[Remember] corruption and death and abide in the commandments.
Remember the commandments and be not wroth with thy neighbor.
And [remember] the covenant of the Most High and overlook ignorance.
(Sir. 27:30-28:7)

All the motifs which occur here are characteristic of the new sensitivity in the Judaism of Jesus’ day, whose theologoumena Jesus accepted and developed. Through the Gospels they became an inseparable part of Christianity. The new approach to moral theology in Judaism caused ideological controversies in Pharisaic circles. We have seen that love of one’s neighbor was regarded as being the sum total of the Mosaic Law. We have also seen a rabbi teaching that man should perform God’s will without taking into account any divine reward. Certain Pharisaic circles came to the conclusion that it is better to love God unconditionally than to be God-fearing, because the fear of God includes fear of His punishment. There were “Pharisees of love” who opposed the “Pharisees of fear” on the ground that these stood for a lower standard than theirs (y. Berachot 9:5 [14b]; b. Sotah 22b). Jesus saw in the love of God and one’s neighbor the two “great rules in the Law,” on which the whole Law depends (Matt. 22:36-40), and, according to the Gospels (Mark 12:32-34; Luke 10:25-28), he was conforming, in this point, to the teaching of the Pharisees. Jesus added an important corollary to the theses of his Jewish predecessors. The Judaism of his time, or at any rate certain circles in it, forbade people to hate their enemies, and required them to behave in the same way towards sinners as towards the righteous. Jesus called for love even of one’s enemies and even of sinners. This demand of Jesus was evidently too radical for the young Church. In the New Testament love of one’s enemies is mentioned only in Jesus’ teaching in the Synoptic Gospels. The requirement that one should love the sinner became known later through the Synoptic Gospels, but it was not always practiced by Christians.

“A Lowly Spirit and a Humble Mind”

In the Hebrew Bible the religion of Israel was already a message about a God who is both righteous and merciful. Socially unfortunate persons and groups are specially cherished by God, and the community is under an obligation to protect them. According to the Bible, the God of Israel does not favor powerful men and physical force. God rather favors the poor and the meek: “the meek shall inherit the earth” (Ps. 37:11). The consequence of this religious attitude was that Judaism came to regard meekness, humility, and even poverty as positive human qualities. This development had already begun in certain parts of the Hebrew Bible. In the intertestamental period “a lowly spirit and a humble mind” (m. Avot 5:19) became important positive religious values and “a haughty spirit and a proud mind” were marks of fatal wickedness. Many believed that it is better to suffer persecution than to be a persecutor. Naturally, this moral approach was especially widespread in those Pharisaic circles that saw the whole meaning of Judaism in the love of one’s neighbor and in an unconditional love of God. Through Jesus, among other channels, this attitude became one of the most important formative elements of Christianity.

It was not only Pharisaic circles who arrived at a “pietistic” approach to a human being’s relations with God and with his fellow humans. A similar development also occurred in a community that was the second source of Jesus’ teaching, namely in Essenism, which is now well-known through the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Essene doctrine of double predestination clearly influenced the Pauline and Johannine theology of election; it was revived in a new logical context by Augustine; and it was finally accepted by Luther and Calvin. Jesus could not accept this theology, but he was deeply influenced by the social doctrines of the Essenes, which were in many points similar to the Pharisaic demand for humility, but were even more radical than this. The main difference was that the Pharisees did not dream about social revolution, and, although they were inclined to recognize the spiritual value of poverty, they did not see it as a positive human and religious value, whereas the Essenes regarded themselves as the אביוני פדותכה (“paupers of salvation”; 1QM 11:9), elected by God to inherit the earth.

This ideology of poverty led the Essenes to despise wealth as dangerous power which leads humankind astray from God. The rabbis, on the other hand, did not stress this danger and often saw in wealth a sign of divine favor. Jesus accepted the Essene position without accepting its full revolutionary implications. He thought that it is difficult for a rich man to be saved (Matt. 19:24), and he warned his disciples:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other; or he will be devoted to the one and will despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matt. 6:24)

As in the Essene view, the praise of poverty was linked, in Jesus’ message, with an appreciation of meekness, humility and the acceptance of persecution. The spirit of the Beatitudes is practically the Essene spirit, and the first three Beatitudes even have important parallels in the Dead Sea Scrolls.[8] The author of the Essene Thanksgiving Scroll thanks God:

…for having appointed me in Thy truth a messenger of the peace of Thy goodness, to proclaim to the meek the multitude of Thy mercies, and let them that are of contrite spirit hear salvation from an everlasting source, and for them that mourn everlasting joy. (1QHa 23:14-15)

Jesus’ first three Beatitudes are addressed to the poor in spirit, to the meek and to them that mourn (Matt. 5:3-5). Moreover, עניי רוח (“poor in spirit”) is one of the terms by which the members of the Dead Sea sect described themselves (1QM 14:7; 1QHa 6:3).

Jesus’ Beatitudes are a hymn of hope for the future. A similar hope is expressed in a passage from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a Jewish work with Christian interpolations, which has many affinities with the Dead Sea Scrolls. According to the Testament of Judah, in the eschatological future:

Those who have died in grief shall arise in joy, and those who have been poor…shall be made rich, and those who were hungry shall be filled, and those who have been weak shall be strong, and those who were put to death for the Lord’s sake shall awake to life. And the harts of Jacob shall run in joyfulness, and the eagles of Israel shall fly in gladness; but the ungodly shall lament and the sinners shall weep, and all the peoples shall glorify the Lord forever. (T. Jud. 25:4-5)

The affinity between this text and both the Beatitudes and the Woes of Jesus (Luke 6:24-25) is clear enough.

The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and the so-called “Two Ways,” which form the first six chapters of the early Christian Didache, are the two Jewish sources which are the most closely akin to Jesus’ moral teaching.[9] Like Jesus’ message, they were inspired by Essene doctrines, but they are not strictly Essene. They, too, are far from the Essene exclusiveness of election and—with the exception of the Testament of Asher—instead of an ideology of hatred of sinners, they preach, as do some Pharisaic circles and Jesus, the love of God and one’s neighbor. But, like Jesus and unlike the Pharisees, they stress the religious ideals of poverty and simplicity of heart: at this point both the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and the “Two Ways” in the Didache are close to the Essene spirit. Thus it would appear that these two Jewish sources originated in semi-Essene circles which were influenced by the attitude of the “Pharisees of Love.” It also seems very probable that the Essene theologoumena came to Jesus in a modified form from the fringes of Essenism, and not from Essene orthodoxy. We know of only one man who was close to the Essenes but opposed their sectarian claims: this was John the Baptist. Thus we can suppose that motifs common to Jesus and the Essenes are a fruit of the Baptist’s influence upon Jesus.

“Philanthropy” and the Agapaistic Spirit

From the historical point of view, the most important fact is that through Jesus’ words, as well as through other channels, a special kind of Jewish thought made a central formative impact on European society. This is especially true of that kind of Jewish religious and moral thought which was common both to the Essenes and to certain Pharisaic circles. It is interesting to note that in most cases Christianity accepted those ideas from Jesus which had existed in Judaism before him: the points at which Jesus departed from Judaism and made an original contribution were evidently not recognized, or were too difficult to accept. We have already seen that, even in the New Testament, love for one’s enemy appears only in the words of Jesus himself, and, if this sublime achievement of Jesus became known to Christians later, it has actually been followed only by outstanding individuals and not by Christians en masse. The demand, which often wins intellectual acceptance but is not commonly followed by Christians, is that one should not repay evil with evil; this idea can sometimes be found in Essene literature (e.g., 1QS 9:22-23), and it plays an important part in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. It was also common in “pietistic” Pharisaic circles.

Besides accepting poverty as a positive value, the Christians regarded humility as a typical Christian virtue. Clement of Rome (end of the first century) saw Jesus as the teacher of humbleness of mind: “if the Lord humbled himself, he shall be in this an example for those who come under the yoke of his grace” (1 Clem. 13:2; 16:1-2, 17; see also Ignatius of Antioch, To the Ephesians 10:3). It is important to realize that ταπεινός (tapeinos), the Greek word translated here, and in many passages in the New Testament and in the Septuagint, as “humble” has, in Greek, the connotation of “abject” or “abased,” and is “a word which nearly all pagan authors…employ as a term of contempt.”[10] Julian the Apostate even thought that the Christians had adopted the term because they had misunderstood a passage in Plato.

This example is only one of many pieces of evidence that bring out the difference between the ethos of pagan antiquity and the Jewish-Christian spirit. Greco-Roman culture and civilization and Jewish ethics in their Christian shape became the two roots of European thought. The first is well known, but the importance of the second ought also to be stressed. Humanism is based upon these two sources, and it seems that the Jewish-Christian heritage prevails in it, although the impact of Greek philosophy certainly must not be neglected. It could be maintained that this identification with the poor, the humble, the simple and the persecuted constitutes only a plebeian ethos which gives no answers to important social problems. The government of subjects could never be based upon a morality such as this. What can a king or a government learn from the precepts of Jesus, who said:

The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest and the leader as one who serves. (Luke 22:25)

The Emperor Julian was perfectly right when, apropos of Jesus’ words: “Sell your possessions and give alms [to the poor]; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old” (Luke 12:33), he affirmed that, if this “political precept” were to be followed, no city, no nation, no house could endure (Against the Galileans frag. 5.).[11]

The government of a Christian state could never be organized exclusively according to the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. The practices of the Greeks and the Romans and the Hebrew Bible were always indispensable for Christian statesmanship. But kindness to one’s neighbor, based upon love and not only, as the Greeks preferred, upon rational philosophical understanding, also has positive merits. Compassion towards the outcast and sympathy with the persecuted created a social conscience and led to reforms, revolutionary movements and revolutions, which were not always bad. And the positive valuation of simplicity of heart could sometimes overcome intellectual pride. History has shown that the detached wisdom of the Greeks and the order of the Roman state can lead to a heartless society and to imperialistic oppression and aggression. It became clear that the Greek ideal of philanthropia is not as effective as active love of one’s neighbor. Thus the Jewish heritage in Christianity has had a very beneficial influence upon humankind.

Even as early as the middle of the second century the spread of Christianity was seen as a threat to the established order. A rabbi at that time expressed a feeling which was evidently widespread when he said that one of the eschatological plagues will be that “the [Roman] Kingdom will pass over to Christianity” (m. Sotah 9:15); and later this nightmare became a political reality. One of the irresistible forces which brought about the victory of Christianity was its new morality. Its social attitude was different from the pagan ethos, and it was therefore attractive to large masses of the population. We have seen that this ethical position came to Christianity from certain Jewish circles. Most of these ideas were made known to Christians through the teaching of Jesus, but sometimes they influenced Christianity independently of Jesus, e.g. through Paul. The importance of these achievements for humanity is evident.

“Conceived by the Holy Ghost”

It was not only Jesus’ teachings, but also his life and his real or supposed view of what he was that left their imprint upon human history. Christology is not a pagan invention of the Hellenistic Christian communities. This becomes clear from the Book of Revelation, where the main motifs of fully developed Christology are already present. The author of the book, John of Patmos, has nothing in common with Paul. He was a Hebrew-speaking Jew for whom it was difficult to write in Greek. No Greek influence can be found in his book. His spiritual and probably also his historical home was the Jewish mother church at Jerusalem. His Christology, which is one of the main themes of his book, reflects the beliefs of a section of the Palestinian Jewish Christian community. On this point Jewish Christians did not by any means present a united front. We know that groups which were later regarded by the Church as being heretical stressed the prophetic aspect of Jesus; and his role as the Messiah and his resurrection did not play a great part in their system. This view can sometimes be detected in the older strata of the Synoptic Gospels. In the Gospel according to Mark, even in its present form, the resurrection is not recorded and, in the short description of it in Matthew we read that, when the disciples saw the resurrected Lord, “they worshiped him, but some doubted” (Matt. 28:17). The doubters did not include Peter and Jesus’ brother James, the future leaders of the mother church: the resurrected Lord appeared to both (1 Cor. 15:5-7).

On the question whether Jesus was the Messiah, the differences between the various Jewish Christian groups possibly reflect an uncertainty about the attitude of Jesus himself. Even during his lifetime some people had hoped that he was the Messiah—the inscription on the Cross proves this definitely. Certainly Jesus saw himself as a prophet, and this belief found expression not only in the New Testament, but also in later Jewish Christian sects. Evidently Jesus never used the term Messiah when speaking about himself or when proclaiming the coming of the Son of Man, probably because politics were too deeply involved in this title. But Jesus must surely have seen himself as being more than a herald of the Kingdom of Heaven and more than a healer and wonder worker. Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls we did not have any authentic utterances of charismatic Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time. We can now study the Thanksgiving Scroll, a collection of hymns composed by an Essene leader—some scholars think by the Teacher of Righteousness himself, who was the founder of the sect. Here we may observe in another Jewish religious personality in antiquity, besides Jesus, a sublime realization of his own high place in the divine economy of the world. The author of the Essene Thanksgiving Scroll says about himself:

Through me Thou hast illuminated the faces of many and Thou hast become mighty infinitely; for Thou hast made known to me Thy wondrous mysteries and by Thy wondrous secret Thou hast wrought mightily with me; and Thou hast wrought wonders in the presence of many for the sake of Thy glory and to make known Thy mighty works unto all the living. (1QHa 12:27-29)

With these words we may compare the poem of Jesus which was, as is shown by its form, composed in the style of Essene hymnology:

I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and wise and revealing them to the simple. Yes, Father, such was Thy choice. Everything is entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son but the Father and no one knows the Father but the Son and those to whom the Son may choose to reveal Him. (Matt. 11:25-27)

Here Jesus formulates his claim to be the sole repository and mediator of the divine mysteries expressing the relation between Father and Son. He claims to be God’s son in other authentic sayings, too. In the rabbinic literature, charismatic wonder workers of Jesus’ time are described as having access to God as a beloved son has to his father (m. Ta’anit 3:8).[12] As we have seen, and as can be proved from other sayings, sonship also involved, for Jesus, his task as a prophetic revealer of the will of his heavenly Father. As is well known, the unity between the Father and the Son soon became one of the central points of the Christian faith. Later (I believe), but as early as the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke, Jesus became a literal son of God, without an earthly father. It was only when this concept came to be understood in terms of the unity of the Father and the Son that it became a part of trinitarian doctrine. My belief is that originally stories about Jesus’ divine birth were “mythical” explanations of Jesus’ view of himself as being the beloved son of his Father in Heaven. Even the pagan parallels to the story of Jesus’ birth never implied that the hero or the historical personality was a god or that he was identical with his divine father.

“Born of the Virgin Mary”

The idea that a man can be begotten of God without an earthly father seems to us today to be so far from Judaism that it could have developed only in pagan Christianity. The concept is surely at odds with strict Jewish monotheism; but it was not foreign to more mythologically-minded Jewish circles in antiquity. The Jewish philosopher and theologian Philo of Alexandria asserts that:

the persons…such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses…are not represented by him [i.e., by Moses in the Pentateuch] as knowing women…. For he [Moses] shows us Sarah conceiving at the time when God visited her in her solitude [Gen. 21:1], but when she brings forth it is not to the Author of their visitation, but to…Abraham. And even clearer is Moses’ teaching of Leah that God opened her womb [Gen. 29:31]. Now to open the womb belongs to the husband. Yet when she conceived she brought forth not to God…, but to…Jacob…Again Isaac…besought God, and through the power of Him who was thus besought…Rebecca became pregnant [Gen. 25:21]. And without supplication or entreaty did Moses, when he took Zipporah…, find her pregnant through no mortal agency [Exod. 2:22]. (On the Cherubim 40-47)

According to the Jewish Pseudepigrapha, a similar suspicion also arose about the birth of Noah. The nature of the newborn baby was unlike man’s nature. His father, Lamech, became afraid and did not believe that his son was sprung from him: for he was in the likeness of the angels of heaven. He turned to his wife, making her swear by the Most High that she would tell him the whole truth, without lies. Although she swore that the seed and the conception and the fruit were his, he became calm only when he was assured by his grandfather Enoch, the heavenly scribe, that Noah was really his son (1 En. 106:1-19; 1Qap Genar 2:3-21).

The most important parallel to Jesus’ miraculous nativity is to be found in the Book of the Secrets of Enoch (the so-called “Slavonic Enoch”). Some scholars have thought that this book was composed by a Christian, and this is also the opinion of A. Vaillant,[13] though his own edition has proved that there were no Christian interpolations in the original version. The strange story of the supernatural birth of the biblical Melchizedek, contained in this book, is as follows: When Noah’s brother, Nir, was priest of God, his wife conceived from the Word of God. The angry husband wanted to repudiate her, but at that very moment his wife died. The child left the womb of his mother, complete in his body and blessing the Lord with the seal of priesthood upon his breast. Then Nir and his brother recognized that the child was born from the Lord (2 En. 71:1-21). Later, the Archangel Michael took Melchizedek up to Paradise lest he suffer during the deluge (2 En. 72:1-11); for he will be Melchizedek, “a priest forever” (Ps. 110:4).

The phrase “a priest forever” is a quotation from Psalm 110: “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind; you are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4). The phrase, translated in the Septuagint as “after the order,” indicates that the psalm is addressed to some person unknown, but the words are not quite clear from the linguistic point of view. Some commentators have thought that in this psalm God is speaking to Melchizedek himself, and this has given rise to the Jewish tradition which is manifest, inter alia, in Hebrews 7:3: Melchizedek is a priest forever; “he has neither a beginning of his days nor an end of his life, but…continues to be a priest permanently.” This was also the opinion of the author of the Book of the Secrets of Enoch.

We can also understand how a Jewish tradition arose that Melchizedek was born without an earthly father. The same psalm contains a difficult verse (Ps. 110:3) which is translated in the Septuagint: “From the womb, before the morning star, I have begotten thee.” The Greek translator was right: the enigmatic Hebrew text of Psalm 110:3 reflects the Ancient Near Eastern belief that the ruler is symbolically the son of God, a belief that is also reflected in the famous words of Psalm 2: “You are my son, today I have begotten you” (Ps. 2:7). If the mythologically-minded reader starts with the assumption that, in Psalm 110, God is addressing Himself to Melchizedek, and if he takes the verse literally, he may come to the conclusion that “the Word of God has created” Melchizedek in the womb of his mother.[14]

The mysterious personality of Melchizedek, as described in Genesis 14 and referred to in Psalm 110, became a magnet for irrational tendencies in post-biblical Judaism. An important fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls (11QMelchizedek) even forecasts the coming of Melchizedek as the Heavenly Judge in the Last Judgement.[15] The origin of this idea is not difficult to explain if one takes Psalm 110 as being addressed to Melchizedek himself. As has been mentioned, the Psalm speaks about a “priest forever.” This could be understood to imply that Melchizedek is an eternal being: “he has neither a beginning of his days nor an end of his life, but…continues to be a priest permanently” (Heb. 7:3). Melchizedek grew to mythical proportions: immortal like Enoch, Elijah and, according to some views, Moses himself. The immortal Melchizedek could become the eschatological judge, especially if we bear in mind the fact that Psalm 110 begins with the words: “The Lord says to my lord: ‘Sit at My right hand till I make your enemies your footstool'” (Ps. 110:1). The Qumran exegetes took sitting at the right hand of the Lord to imply sitting in judgement, in keeping with verses from the same psalm: “The Lord is at your right hand: he will shatter kings on the Day of His Wrath. He will execute judgement among the nations….” (Ps. 110:5-6).

If the Essenes interpreted Psalm 110 as referring to Melchizedek, they could also relate Psalm 82 to him. This psalm, which also speaks of God’s judgement, begins with the words: “God [Elohim] has taken His place in the divine council; in the midst of gods He will hold judgement.” The author of the new Essene text took the word Elohim (God) as referring to Melchizedek (11QMelch 2:9-10). This does not necessarily imply that the Essenes credited Melchizedek with being of a divine nature, since the word Elohim could also be interpreted as referring to a judge; but there is some ambiguity in this strange interpretation. Towards the end of the fragment the Essene author interprets in his own way Isaiah 52:7: “…who says to Zion: ‘Your God is king.'” Zion is interpreted as “those who establish the covenant” (11QMelch 2:24), i.e., the Essene community.[16] The text then continues: “Your God, that is….” Unfortunately, the fragment ends abruptly here, but scholars are justified in conjecturing that, here too, our author interpreted the word “Your God” as applying to Melchizedek; he is thought of as being the eschatological ruler of the Essene Community.

Thus Melchizedek, though human, is also a supernatural being with a sort of mythical biography: according to an apocryphal book he was begotten in his mother’s womb by the Word of God; he was immortal, a “priest forever,” and at the End of Days he will be the eschatological heavenly judge. In the Bible he is twice called “God,” and he will be king in the new Jerusalem, which is a symbol of the Essene Community. The Dead Sea Scrolls are Essene and the Book of the Secrets of Enoch is a Jewish work. The mythical motifs relating to Melchizedek were developed from sources in the Hebrew Bible. Hence the example of Melchizedek proves that the time was ripe for the birth of Christianity, not in the Hellenistic world and certainly not in the pagan world, but in the Land of Israel, where Jesus and his first disciples lived.

“And Sits at the Right Hand of God”

According to a Qumran fragment, the Last Judgement will take place on high and Melchizedek will be assisted by all the celestial powers. “‘Belial and the spirits of his lot’ will then be judged,…and Melchizedek will vindicate God’s judgements” (11QMelch 2:12-13). He will not only pass judgement, but will also execute it. At this time he will separate the righteous, who are his lot and heritage, from the wicked, both human and demonic. Melchizedek appears here in a very similar role to that of the Son of Man of the Ethiopic Book of Enoch and of the Gospels:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from the other as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at his left…. And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matt. 25:31-46)


Crusader mosaic from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.
Crusader mosaic from Chapel of Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

In the New Testament the first verse of Psalm 110 is applied to Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels it is twice quoted by Jesus: in Matthew 22:44 (and parallels) with reference to the Messiah; and in a logion (Luke 22:69 and parallels), which is Jesus’ answer to the question of the High Priest, whether he is the Messiah. Jesus answered: “From now on, the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the Power.”[17] The authenticity of the first saying may perhaps be doubted, but it is extremely difficult to doubt the authenticity of Jesus’ answer to the High Priest; and Jesus’ answer would hardly make sense unless we assume that Jesus identified himself with the Son of Man. I believe that Jesus did make this identification, at least in the end. His lofty conception of what he was comes out in his claim to be the beloved son of his heavenly Father, and thus he could also identify himself with the figure of the Son of Man. As far as is known, he refused to accept explicitly the title of Messiah, but his aversion for this title can be explained by its political content. However, Jesus’ conception of what he was is not only an historical, but also, in a sense, a literary problem: although I myself believe that Jesus had a “messianic self-consciousness,” there is a decided possibility that he never identified himself with the Savior. Even in the text of the Synoptic Gospels he is never represented as claiming to be the Savior, and he always refers to the Son of Man in the third person.

The question of Jesus’ conception of what he was is manifestly very important per se, but it is not decisive in connection with our inquiry, since our purpose here is to trace the Jewish roots of Christology in relation, direct or indirect, with the life and the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and to show that, in principle, the Christian conception of Christ did not originate in paganism, though it could be accepted without any great difficulty by the pagan world because there were parallel ideas there. In my belief, this conception originated in the mythologizing Jewish atmosphere for which there is evidence in apocalyptic circles, in other Jewish apocrypha, and to some extent in rabbinic literature and in Jewish mysticism.

In all Jewish sources the eschatological figure of the Son of Man is always delineated in the same few sharp lines. Although he is a human being, he is also supernatural. He is the eschatological judge of the cosmos: sitting on high upon the throne of God’s Glory, he will judge all humankind and, with the help of the heavenly hosts, will divide the righteous from the sinners. He will also execute the sentence. The vision of the Son of Man was already known to the author of the Book of Daniel; but here his appearance is somehow changed in order to adapt him to a new meaning (Dan. 7:7-27). In Daniel the Son of Man became a collective symbol for the Saints of the Most High, for Israel or the elect. Therefore, although “thrones were placed” and judgement took place, the Son of Man who came “with the clouds of heaven” did not himself judge, but to him was given the everlasting dominion over the world.

In the Book of Daniel, the Son of Man became the symbol of a collective group. As we have seen, the eschatological functions attributed to the biblical Melchizedek in an Essene fragment are identical with those of the Son of Man in other sources. In the Book of Enoch the Son of Man is once—evidently in a later edition—the heavenly scribe, Enoch himself (1 En. 71), and he is twice identified with the Messiah (1 En. 48:10; 52:4). According to the Testament of Abraham, the Son of Man—in Hebrew בן אדם (ben Adam, literally “the Son of Adam”)—is Abel. He will be the eschatological judge because it is the will of God that humankind shall be judged by a human being (T. Ab. 13:3-4).[18]

Although it is not absolutely certain that Jesus identified the Son of Man with the Messiah, this seems highly probable. It was of central importance for the development of the Christian faith that Jesus not only used the title “Son of Man” for the Savior, but also described him in the way in which others conceived of the Son of Man. For Jesus, too, the Son of Man is the heavenly judge, sitting on the glorious throne of God on high in the company of angels. The concept of the Son of Man is the highest, most godlike concept of the Savior that ancient Judaism ever knew. He is the direct representative of God; he, so to speak, reflects the Glory of God. In virtue of being this, he is, according to the Book of Enoch, pre-existent; and this concept is sometimes also hinted at in speculations about the Messiah in the rabbinic literature. This was the way by which the idea that the Savior is identical with the Word by which God created the universe established itself in Christianity. The identification is not peculiarly Christian. It is possible that it is not to be found in Jewish sources; to see in a human Savior an incarnation of God’s Glory might make him too divine to be acceptable to Jews. Yet, before the discovery of the Essene fragment, we could not have imagined that the eschatological judge could be designated by the title “God” even in an unorthodox Jewish document.

“A Name Which Is Above Every Name”

One of the characteristics of post-biblical Judaism was the importance of hypostatic titles of God.[19] This development was the result of the emphasis in Judaism on God’s transcendence. It was practically forbidden to pronounce His biblical name and, instead of naming God, Jews used to speak of the Wisdom, the Spirit, the Word, the Power, or the Glory. But these titles could also be understood as a reflection of God in the world, as the immanence of the transcendent God, and consequently it was impossible in Judaism to speak of more than one hypostasis, and the hypostatic terms were interchangeable. This was also the situation in early Christianity; it was only later, when the doctrine of the Trinity developed, that it became impossible for Christians to identify the Spirit with the Word, since the Word became a term for the Son, and the Holy Spirit became the third person of the Holy Trinity. This was not so at the beginning: Paul could still say that the Lord is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:17, 18). A plurality of hypostases, as a system of emanations or as persons engaged in a cosmic drama, is characteristic of the Gnostic attitude and also of the Jewish mysticism of the Middle Ages and of modern times.

The use of hypostatic terms was already extensive in the second century B.C.E., and it is not only typical of rabbinic Judaism but is also to be found in Hellenistic Judaism, in the Wisdom of Solomon, for instance, and in the writings of Philo of Alexandria. When Philo speaks of the Logos, the Word of God, his inspiration comes primarily from Palestinian Judaism and not from the Greek philosophy of Heraclitus and the Stoics. All the Jewish hypostatic terms occur in the New Testament. Thus it seems very unlikely that the term “Logos,” which is actually less important in the New Testament than it might appear to be, will have been derived by Christianity from the works of Philo. In the Christian literature of the apostolic and sub-apostolic period which was produced in Hellenistic Christian communities (e.g., the Pauline corpus), the hypostatic terms and conceptions were derived from Hellenistic Judaism or else directly, through the mother church, from Palestinian Jewry.

The various terms, such as the Wisdom, the Spirit, the Word, the Power and the Glory can describe God himself, his attributes, and his immanence. This ambiguity was dangerous for Jewish (and Christian) monotheism, as is demonstrated by the rise of Gnosticism, but it was fruitful for Christology, and this from the very beginning. This was not an exclusively Christian achievement, as can be shown by citing one example. Even as early as the beginning of the second century B.C.E. the pre-existent Wisdom of God—as it appears in the biblical Book of Proverbs—was identified with the Mosaic Law, which was also conceived of as being pre-existent. The oldest evidence for this concept is the Book of Jesus ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus). In this book Wisdom, which is the personified Law of Moses, says inter alia: “I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the Earth like a mist” (Sir. 24:3). This means that God’s Wisdom, which is His pre-existent divine Law, is also His creative Word, which issued from His mouth; and His Spirit, which “was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2).

If such an identification of some of the hypostases with the eternal Law was possible in Judaism, we can understand how, in as early a stratum of Christian literature as the New Testament itself, all Jewish hypostatic titles of God are named—for instance, Christ sits on the right of the Power, Glory or Greatness—and how Christ himself, being the pre-existent Son of Man, could be invested with all the Jewish titles of God’s immanence—”the Word” being only one of them. Although, as has already been noted, the designations of the Savior have nothing typically Christological about them, the identification of Christ with God’s immanence enhances the superhuman aspect of Christ’s nature and makes him a reflection of God: the union between the Father and the Son is unique and almost complete. Through the identification of the pre-existent Son of Man with the Word, Christ acquired a prehistory before the incarnation: through Him the world was created.

It is evident that Christian teaching about the Father and the Son departs from its Jewish premises. It may be based partly upon what Jesus himself thought that he was: he saw in himself the beloved son of his heavenly Father and probably he went so far as to identify himself with the Son of Man. This is the highest conception of the Savior that was known in ancient Judaism. The Son of Man is the pre-existent divine judge, sitting in heaven on the glorious throne of God. In Christian doctrine the Savior was identified with the immanence of God. Being the Word, Christ was the instrument through which God created the universe. Even the later idea that Jesus was born through the Holy Spirit, without an earthly father, has parallels in Jewish sources.

It is possible that this last concept is hinted at in as early a Christian work as the Book of Revelation, where John of Patmos speaks about the woman who gave birth to a male child (Rev. 12:5, 13).[20] But, even granting that this suggestion is no more than a conjecture, there is no doubt that all the other important Christological concepts of the Church appear in this book: Jesus is the Davidic Messiah, the future king of the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he is the Son of Man, and God’s Word and His son; he was dead and was resurrected; he “has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (Rev. 1:5-6). His expiatory death is a sacrifice: he is the Lamb who was slain and by his blood he ransomed for God men of every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 5:9).

“As a Lamb to the Slaughter”

As has been noted, there is no indication of any Hellenistic influence upon the Book of Revelation, and it even seems likely that the old suggestion that the book is in opposition to or in tension with Pauline Christianity is not without ground. Thus the Christology of the Book of Revelation seems to have its roots in Jewish Christianity. This also seems very probable in itself because, as we have tried to show, the most important motifs in the Church’s conception of Christ already existed independently in pre-Christian Judaism. The same is also true of the expiatory death of Jesus. A critical reading of the Gospels raises doubts about whether Jesus himself thought of his imminent death as being an expiation for the sins of his people; but the idea that martyrdom is a vicarious suffering for Israel was widespread among the Jewish people.[21] Two quotations will suffice. The Second Book of Maccabees contains the famous description of the martyrdom of the seven brothers and their mother. According to this passage, the youngest brother said before his death:

I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our fathers, appealing to God to show mercy to our nation…and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty which has justly fallen on our whole nation. (2 Macc. 7:37-38)

In this passage, martyrdom is regarded as being not only an expiatory death, but also a punishment for the sins of the nation. The martyrdom of a father and his seven sons as described in another Jewish book, the Assumption of Moses, reveals another aspect of this concept. In a time of religious persecution the man says to his sons:

Now, therefore, my sons, hear me: for observe and know that neither did our fathers nor their forefathers tempt God, so as to transgress his commands. And you know that this is our strength and thus we will do. Let us fast for the space of three days and on the fourth let us go into a cave which is in the field and let us die rather than transgress the commands of the Lord of lords, the God of our fathers. For, if we do this and die, our blood will be avenged before the Lord. (As. Moses 9:4-7)

The martyrdom itself is left undescribed, partly because the author regards it as being an eschatological event. Immediately after the father’s words there follows a lyrical description of the future heavenly bliss: “And then His kingdom will appear throughout all His creation, and then Satan will be no more and sorrow will depart with him….” (As. Moses 10:1). Thus, according to the Assumption of Moses, the consequence of the martyrdom of the father and his saintly sons will be the revelation of the Kingdom of Heaven.

From these two quotations and from other Jewish sources we can see how important the idea of the expiatory function of martyrdom was in Judaism. But it should be also observed that the motif of the martyrdom of the Savior is not to be found in ancient Judaism. The historical fact that there was a man who was thought to be, or who thought himself to be, the Messiah, that this man suffered martyrdom, and that his followers did not abandon this belief after the catastrophe but, on the contrary, were actually fortified in their hope by the appearance of the resurrected Savior—all this was of central importance for the Christian faith. Thus the Messianic motifs, originating in Jesus’ view of what he was and in his teaching and in other Jewish sources, were fused into a unity with the Jewish concept of the expiatory force of martyrdom. The pre-existent divine being, incarnated by the will of his heavenly Father, became the Davidic Messiah of Israel, died for our sins, arose from the dead, is sitting at the right hand of God, and will be the eschatological judge of the universe.

“The Third Day He Rose Again”

The nearest parallel to Christology is the faith of the disciples of John the Baptist. John speaks about a mighty one who “will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12). This is clearly the typology of the Son of Man. Evidently John did not identify himself with the mighty one, but his disciples regarded him as the Messiah. John the Baptist was of priestly origin and he could therefore be held to be, not the Davidic, but the Aaronic, Messiah. In his lifetime many saw in him the prophet Elijah. According to the Bible, Elijah did not die, but was taken up into heaven (2 Ki. 2:1, 11) and will return at the End of Days (Mal. 4:5-6). If John the Baptist was Elijah, then he was virtually immortal, and it would be very improbable that his death at the hands of Herod Antipas would be the definitive end of his life. Although his body was laid in a tomb by his disciples (Mark 6:29), John the Baptist was believed to have been raised from the dead (Mark 6:14).

It is therefore possible that, when the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus, their sight was, so to speak, sharpened by the knowledge that previously John the Baptist too had been raised from the dead. But, even if this suggestion may appear to be too rationalistic, we have to remember that a belief in immortal men and in ascensions was not as alien to ancient Judaism as it is to modern ideas. We have already mentioned Melchizedek and Elijah; we have also to remember the biblical Enoch; and the list can be enlarged. What is important is the Christological function of this belief in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. By his ascension “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9): the divine Lord returned to his father. The resurrection could be conceived of as being Jesus’ victory over death and sin.

Thus the Jewish prophet from Galilee became the object of a cosmic drama which could bring salvation to the pious spectators. As has been explained, there were two roots from which this drama grew up: the first was Jesus’ conception of himself as being the Son, his message about the coming of the Son of Man, and other Jewish mythical and Messianic doctrines; the other root was Jesus’ tragic death, interpreted in terms of Jewish concepts of martyrdom. When we consider Jesus’ death on the Cross from the standpoint of the history of humankind, we cannot but acknowledge its decisive importance for the genesis and development of Christianity. It is evident that Jesus’ personal tragedy became the very center of Christian teaching: this was the indispensable condition for the kindling of the faith of which Jesus became the object. If the martyr is at the same time the Messiah, then his expiatory death has a cosmic importance. His death becomes the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets:

Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations. (Luke 24:46-47)

His expiatory death fulfilled the purpose of the incarnation of the pre-existent Son of Man. The resurrection restored him to his proper place on high at the side of his Father.

Jesus’ tragic death also won a victory for Jewish moral teaching, which entered Christianity through Jesus himself as well as through other channels, a new place in the new religion. It came to be associated with Christology: the Christian must not resist wicked men,

Because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps…. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. (1 Pet. 2:21-23)

The Christian must be humble because Jesus humbled himself. If, for the Jews as well as for Jesus himself, the love of one’s neighbor was the sum total of the Law, this precept now became both an old and a new commandment, because, by sending His Son to his death to atone for human sins, God revealed His love of sinners.

The Jewish component of Christian faith and ethics has often been underestimated because the Jewish sources are manifold, are in many cases not easily accessible, and are in some points difficult to understand. However, it is not our task to stress this point. Our aim has been simply to bring out the overwhelming direct and indirect importance of the person of Jesus in the context of the history of Christianity.

This article originally appeared as “Jesus in the Context of History” in The Crucible of Christianity: Judaism, Hellenism and the Historical Background to the Christian Faith (ed. Arnold Toynbee; New York: World, 1969), 225-234. The article was corrected and updated for publication by Jerusalem Perspective by Lauren S. Asperschlager and Joshua N. Tilton.

  • [1] Jacob Levy, Wörterbuch über die Talmudim und Midraschim (Berlin: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1924), 3:338. Cf. y. Avodah Zarah 3:1 where Ashian the carpenter reports a halachah in the name of R. Yohanan.
  • [2] See David Flusser, “Hillel and Jesus: Two Ways of Self-Awareness,” in Hillel and Jesus: Comparative Studies of Two Major Religious Leaders (eds. James H. Charlesworth and Loren L. Johns; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 93-94.
  • [3] On the interpretation of this difficult verse, see Peter J. Tomson, “Jewish Food Laws in Early Christian Community Discourse,” Semeia 8 (1999): 205-206.
  • [4] Mechilta de Rabbi Ishmael on Exodus 31:14 (103b) (eds. Horovitz and Rabin; Jerusalem: Wahermann, 1970), 314.
  • [5] See Shlomo Pines, “The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries According to a New Source,” Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities 2 (1966): 63; idem, “Gospel Quotations and Cognate Topics in Abd al-Jabbar’s Tathbit,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 9 (1987): 258-259. See also, Shmuel Safrai, “Sabbath Breakers.”
  • [6] David Flusser, Jewish Sources in Early Christianity (trans. John Glucker; Tel Aviv: MOD Books, 1989), 27-31.
  • [7] See David Flusser, “A New Sensitivity in Judaism and the Christian Message,” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 469-492.
  • [8] David Flusser, “Some Notes on the Beatitudes,” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 115-125.
  • [9] See Huub van de Sandt and David Flusser, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity (CRINT III.5; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), 140-190.
  • [10] Eric Robertson Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951), 215.
  • [11] Wilmer Cave Wright, The Works of the Emperor Julian (LCL; New York: Putnam, 1923), 3:431.
  • [12] On these charismatic wonder workers, see Shmuel Safrai, “Jesus and the Hasidim.”
  • [13] Andre Vaillant, Le livre des secrets d’Henoch, Texte slave et traduction francaise (Paris: Institut D’Etudes Slaves, 1952).
  • [14] Vaillant, Le livre des secrets d’Henoch, 81.
  • [15] David Flusser, “Melchizedek and the Son of Man,” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 186-192.
  • [16] The use of the terms Zion or Jerusalem as a symbol for the Christian Church is to be found already in the New Testament (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22).
  • [17] David Flusser, “At the Right Hand of Power,” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 301-305.
  • [18] See R. Steven Notley, “Jesus and the Son of Man.”
  • [19] See David Flusser and Shmuel Safrai, “The Essene Doctrine of Hypostasis and Rabbi Meir,” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 306-316.
  • [20] David Flusser, “Mary and Israel,” in Mary: Images of the Mother of Jesus in Jewish and Christian Perspective (eds. Jaroslav Pelikan, David Flusser, and Justin Lang; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1986), 11-12.
  • [21] David Flusser, “Martyrology in the Second Temple Period and Early Christianity,” in Judaism of the Second Temple Period: The Jewish Sages and Their Literature (trans. Azzan Yadin; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 248-257.

“It Is Said to the Elders”: On the Interpretation of the So-called Antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount deserves endless study,[1] and the more one studies ancient Jewish sources, the clearer the meaning of these words of Jesus becomes.

Even at first glance, Matthew 5:17-48, the core of the Sermon on the Mount, has a distinctly Jewish feel. On the surface, however, this sermon can give the dangerous and deceiving impression that it sharply opposes the spirit of Judaism. Some time ago a critic sent me his thesis in which he concluded that the only original material in this exegetical homily was its antitheses where Jesus highlights his unique approach by introducing his comments with, “But I tell you.” One New Testament commentary suggests that in this pericope Jesus is not contrasting his ethic with the interpretation of Scripture in his day, but with the Torah itself.[2] In this article I will attempt to treat this matter more carefully and fairly than many exegetes do when they analyze Jesus’ words.

“But I say to you!”

There exists a paradoxical contrast between the Jewish contents of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and its antithetic form.[3] The main reason for this is the repeated use of the phrase ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν (“But I say to you!”).[4] This phrase creates a sense of conflict between Jesus and Judaism because the pronoun ἐγὼ (“I”) at the opening of the phrase is unnecessary in Greek. It would have been sufficient simply to say λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν, since the speaker is already implied by the form of the verb. This is what we observe, for example, in Luke 6:27 where Jesus expresses the contrast between those addressed by his cries of woe (in vv. 24-26) and his listeners: Ἀλλὰ ὑμῖν λέγω τοῖς ἀκούουσιν (“But to you that listen, I say….”). Here we notice the personal pronoun is lacking. The presence of the first person pronoun in Matthew’s antithetical statements, therefore, must indicate emphasis. Matthew’s emphatic “But I say to you” gives the impression that Jesus’ message stands in contrast to the spirit of Judaism.

But the contrast is not merely between varying opinions or interpretations. Matthew’s use of ἐγὼ appears to put the focus on Jesus’ person and unique status. This impression is confirmed when we read, at the conclusion of the sermon, that Jesus “taught them as one having authority and unlike their scribes” (Matt. 7:29).[5] It is especially noteworthy, therefore, that the emphatic “I” is missing in the text of Luke, since this statement is paralleled in Matthew 5:44 where the emphatic use of the personal pronoun appears.[6] This fact raises the possibility that the presence of ἐγὼ in Matthew’s antitheses does not reflect the original form of Jesus’ statement, but is instead the result of the final editor’s redactive activity.[7] If this is the case, then the paradoxical tension between the Jewish content of Jesus’ sermon and its antithetical form disappears. The tension was artificially introduced by the final editor of Matthew, and was not originally part of Jesus’ message.

The Sadducees and the Abuse of Scripture

In my article on the Torah in the Sermon on the Mount (see note 1), I discussed Jesus’ use of the “exegetical homily.” In the antitheses Jesus employs the rabbinic rule of interpretation known in Hebrew as kal vahomer,[8] where one draws a logical deduction about a “heavier” (more important or more complex) situation from a “lighter” (less important or less complex) situation, or the other way around.[9] But the last two sections of this homily represent an exception. Instead of making a saying ethically sharper, Jesus states an objection to an inhumane interpretation of two biblical sayings. In both cases the Pharisaic scribes could not have been Jesus’ opponents.

In the first case (Matt. 5:38-42), Jesus objects to an overly literal understanding of Exodus 21:24 (“an eye for an eye”). According to Megillat Ta’anit, the Boethusians, an offshoot of the Sadducees, were remembered for brutally meting out the principle of “eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth” in a literal fashion.[10] The Pharisees, on the other hand, interpreted this principle as requiring the payment of damages equal to the harm caused by an injury. It therefore seems likely that Jesus directs his critique toward the Boethusian Sadducees in this portion of the Sermon on the Mount.[11]

A second case (Matt. 5:43-48) may also be directed against a Sadducean abuse of Scripture. Here Jesus objects to an abstruse paraphrase of the command to love one’s neighbor found in Leviticus 19:18. The Greek text of Matthew 5:43 reads, Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη· Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου καὶ μισήσεις τὸν ἐχθρόν σου (“You have heard that it was said: ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”) Such an inhuman perversion of the command to love is not to be found in the Hebrew Bible. Neither does it express the intention of the Jewish message; it rather represents a vulgar teaching of retaliation similar to the Sadducean application of Exodus 21:24 discussed above. How then did this coarse paraphrase of Leviticus 19:18 originate? Leviticus 19:18 only says, וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ (“Love your neighbor as yourself”). In biblical Hebrew, however, the word רֵעַ (“neighbor”) also has the meaning “friend.” Thus, some understood the Hebrew verse to mean, “Love your friend and hate your enemy.” Had the translator of Matthew’s Hebrew source paid more attention to the point of Jesus’ critique, he would have translated רֵעַ as φίλος (“friend”) rather than πλησίον (“neighbor”) in Matthew 5:43. But evidently the translator recognized the allusion to Leviticus 19:18 and followed the Septuagint’s Greek translation without any serious reflection.

The idea that one should love one’s friend and hate one’s enemy is still with us today. It was a common ethical rule among the early Greeks. Socrates unsuccessfully opposed it. The closest parallel to the pseudo-quotation in Matthew 5:43 is a saying by the Greek Archilochos (650 B.C.E.): [ἐπ]ίσταμαί τοι τὸν φιλ[έο]ν[τα] μὲν φ[ι]λεῖν[, τὸ]ν δ᾽ ἐχθρὸν ἐχθαίρειν (“I know how to love the friend and hate the enemy”).[12] Although today the command to love the friend and hate the enemy seems non-Jewish, this understanding of Leviticus 19:18 does represent the exegetical method of some in those days. It was evidently a group of Sadducees whose vulgar and barbaric abuse of scripture Jesus disputed. These groups justified their ethic of retaliation by interpreting Leviticus 19:18 as though it said: “You shall love your friend as yourself. You shall love him who is close to you as your friend,” or more paraphrastically, “Treat the other as he treats you—the friend with love, the enemy with hate.”

“The Elders” and Pharisaic Interpretation of Scripture

Recently, the following theory has been postulated:[13] Since the antitheses stand in contrast to the Torah of Moses, we can understand this controversy without reference to contemporary Jewish sources. I must counter that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus explicitly mentions the opinion of the “elders” twice (Matt. 5:21, 33).

The first reference to the elders is especially important and instructive:[14] “You have heard that it was said to the elders: ‘You shall not murder! And anyone who murders must answer for it before the court’ (or, alternately: ‘will be subject to judgment’)” (Matt. 5:21). Jesus regarded this application of the commandment as unsatisfactory. Rather, he wished to apply this rule to the person who is angry with his brother. Similarly, we read in the Didache: “My child, flee from all evil and from everything like it. Do not be an angry person, for anger leads to murder…” (Did. 3:1-2). Jesus’ view, already current in Jewish circles, is thus an example of the refinement of the Torah’s commandments against the interpretive tradition of the “elders.”

With the aid of rabbinic sources the “elders” can be identified. In the time of Jesus, the ten commandments, or at least the instructions in Exodus 20:13, were understood to teach the basic prohibitions without giving specific penalties for their infringement. An early rabbinic commentary on Exodus 20:13 (“You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal”) states that this passage constitutes a general warning against these offenses:

You Must Not Murder. Why is this said? Because it says: “Whoever sheds human blood,” etc. (Gen. 9.6). We have thus heard the penalty [for murder] but we have not heard the prohibition; therefore it says here: “You must not murder.”[15]

Genesis 9:6 is interpreted the same way in the Targumim. Targum Onkelos to this Genesis passage runs:

Whoever sheds the blood of man—and this is confirmed by witnesses—is deemed guilty by the judges. And whoever sheds the blood of man without witnesses, the Lord himself will punish him at the last judgment.

Thus we see that with the support of Genesis 9:6 the warning against manslaughter was made into a general law: He who commits murder shall be deemed guilty and be punished by the court. Since this exegetical maneuver is presupposed in the Sermon on the Mount, we may conclude that the “elders” refers to the generations before the time of Jesus who had been instructed to apply the commandments in this manner. And we may further conclude that this approach was developed by Pharisaic interpreters since their exegetical method was preserved in later rabbinic literature.

Acanthus leaves flank a rosette pattern on a limestone block that once decorated the beautiful fourth-century synagogue of Capernaum. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.
Acanthus leaves flank a rosette pattern on a limestone block that once decorated the beautiful fourth-century synagogue of Capernaum. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

Jesus reacted against this Pharisaic approach to the commandments. Rather than seeking to define the prohibition and the penalty for murder, Jesus sought to expound the commandments in such a way as to prevent murder from happening, by rooting out the evil impulse from the human heart: “You have heard that it was said to the elders, ‘You must not murder, and anyone who does murder is subject to the court.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to the court. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ is subject to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says ‘You fool!’ is subject to the fire of Gehenna” (Matt. 5:21-22). In this respect Jesus shows himself to be close to the pious Jewish circles who produced the Two Ways, which was later incorporated into the Didache.[16] We can now see that Jesus’ critique in Matt. 5:21 is directed, not against the Torah itself, but against a particular exegetical approach to the commandments that was current among certain Pharisaic circles in his day.

The “elders” are, therefore, justifiably mentioned in Matthew 5:21. Does the same hold true for the second reference to “elders” in Matthew 5:33: “You have heard that it is said to the elders, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord’”? The quotation referred to in this antithesis is not a direct biblical quotation, but an amalgamation of biblical verses (cf. Ex. 20:7; Lev. 19:12). This fact in itself supports our supposition that Jesus is taking issue not with the Torah’s commandments but with their application by preceding generations of Pharisaic interpreters. In Matthew 5:33 the elders maintain that everyone must keep their oaths, that no one should make false oaths. The saying of the elders, therefore, appears to be a traditional halakhic prohibition directed against making an oath hastily.[17] In contrast, Jesus—like the Essenes (Josephus, Antiq. 2:195)—held that one should never utter an oath of any kind because this so easily leads to a false oath. Jesus’ ruling is consequently a sharpening of the Torah’s commandment. It neither abolishes the opinion of the elders cited by Jesus, nor the biblical commandment itself.


The fact that the “elders” are mentioned only in Matthew 5:21 and 33 points to the reliability of what is transmitted since the interpretations Jesus attributes to them are attested in later rabbinic literature. Nevertheless, redactional changes in the text are not excluded. Indeed, the opposite occurs, since the difficult phrase, “You have heard that it is said to the elders” (which is incomprehensible in its Hebrew context) can hardly be original. But because the word “elders” correctly appears in both of the above cases it is still possible to recover its original meaning. The usual translation, “You have heard that it is said by the elders” cannot be correct, whether from the standpoint of content, or from a linguistic point of view.[18] If by “elders,” Moses or his contemporaries or the rabbis were intended, then Matthew would have expressed this explicitly.

One may, therefore, suppose that this phrase in Matthew 5:21 and 33 originated through combining two previously independent formulas, namely the quotation formula “It is said” and the introductory formula “You have heard from the elders.”[19] In rabbinic literature, “It is said” is the most commonly used formula to introduce a quotation from the Hebrew Bible.[20] The formula “It is said” is likewise placed before biblical quotations in Matthew 5:27, 31, 38, 43. The “elders” would in those places be a disturbing element, since here Jesus is citing scripture and not a traditional halakhic interpretation.[21]

In Matthew 5:21 and 33, however, Jesus is not directly quoting scripture, but makes reference to Pharisaic interpretations taught to earlier generations. Mention of the “elders” in these verses is therefore warranted. As we have said, the original form may have been, “You have heard from the elders.” In any case, the mention of the elders confirms our contention that the antitheses are not directed against the commandments themselves, but against the explanation and application of these verses that were developed and taught by certain Pharisaic sages.[22]

Concerning the formula, “But I say unto you,” we have seen (especially from the context of Luke 6:27) that the original formula was not so emphatic or antithetic as Matthew’s version suggests.

This article is an emendation and updating by Joshua N. Tilton of David Flusser, “‘It Is Said to the Elders’: On the Interpretation of the So-called Antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount,” Mishkhan 17-18 (1992-1993): 115-119.

  • [1] Cf. inter alia David Flusser, “Die Tora in der Bergpredigt,” in Juden und Christen lesen dieselbe Bibel (ed. Heinz Kremers; Duisburg: Braun, 1973), 102-113; idem, “A Rabbinic Parallel to the Sermon on the Mount,” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 494-508.
  • [2] W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, ICC (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), 505-509.
  • [3] By antithesis we mean an opposite or contradictory statement. We say that the Sermon on the Mount has an antithetical form because Jesus draws a contrast between his interpretations that ‘establish’ or correctly apply Torah, versus faulty interpretations that tend to weaken or ‘abolish’ Torah.
  • [4] Matt. 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44; 16:18; Luke 11:9; 16:9; as well as Matt. 21:27 (= Mark 11:33; Luke 20:8), have nothing to do with our subject.
  • [5] This concluding remark is indicative of Matthew’s editorial activity. The final editor of Matthew has taken this sentence from its original context in the story of the exorcism at the Capernaum Synagogue (Luke 4:31-37 = Mark 1:21-28) in order to use it as his final comment on the Sermon on the Mount. On this unfortunate tendency in Matthew’s final redaction, see David Flusser, “The Synagogue and the Church in the Synoptic Gospels,” in Jesus’ Last Week (ed. R. Steven Notley, Marc Turnage, and Brian Becker; Leiden: Brill, 2006), 23, 36; idem, Jesus (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2001), 249.
  • [6] The same “I” is also missing in the Sermon of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:9 = Luke 3:8) and even in Matthew 5:20.
  • [7] See Huub van de Sandt and David Flusser, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its place in Early Judaism and Christianity (CRINT III.5; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), 213 n. 63.
  • [8] Wilhelm Bacher, Die exegetische Terminologie der jüdischen Traditionsliteratur (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1905), 1:172-174; 2:189-190.
  • [9] The kal vahomer style of reasoning in Matt. 5:21-37 becomes clear when the Sermon on the Mount is compared with the Jewish Two Ways, which was incorporated into the Didache. See Flusser, “A Rabbinic Parallel to the Sermon on the Mount,” 496-498; van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 232.
  • [10] The Scholion to the 4th (14th) of Tammuz explains: ועוד שהיו ביתוסין אומר, עין תחת עין, שן תחת שן—הפיל אדם שנו של חברו יפיל את שנו, סמא את עינו של חברו יסמא את עינו יהו שוים כאחד (And additionally, the Boethusians used to say: ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’–if someone knocked out his fellow’s tooth, he shall knock out his tooth; if someone blinded his fellow’s eye, he shall blind his eye, and they will be equal).
  • [11] See “Die Tora in der Bergpredigt,” (note 1 above) 103, n. 2; and van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 208 n. 44.
  • [12] Archilochos Pap. Ox. 22, 2310 in Albrecht Dihle, Die Goldene Regel (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1962), 32-33. The coarse ethic can also be documented in the early period of ancient Israel. When David mourned over his son Absalom, Joab walked into the house of the king and reproached David because he had dishonoured those who had saved his life: “You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you” (2 Sam. 19:7 MT [19:6 ET]). The Qumranic parallel to Matt. 5:43 is: לאהוב כול בני אור… ולשנוא כול בני חושך (“To love all the Sons of Light… and to hate all the Sons of Darkness”) (1QS I, 9-11; cf. also Josephus, Bell. 2.139). This sentiment has another presupposition, the ethical dualism of the Essenes, according to which the entire world is believed to be divided into black and white, good and evil, those God loves and those he hates.
  • [13] See note 2.
  • [14] For this insight I thank my student Serge Ruzer. See Serge Ruzer, “The Technique of Composite Citation in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:21-22, 33-37),” RB 103.1 (1996): 65-75; and idem, “Antitheses in Matthew 5: Midrashic Aspects of Exegetical Techniques,” in Mapping the New Testament: Early Christian Writings as a Witness for Jewish Biblical Exegesis (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 11-34. To Matt. 5:21, see especially Martin McNamara, The New Testament and the Palestine Targum of the Pentateuch, Analecta Biblica 27 (Rome: 1966), 126-131.
  • [15] Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael to Exod. 20:13 (ed. S. H. Horovitz and I. A. Rabin; Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1970), 232. Translation based on that of Jacob Z. Lauterbach, Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael (Philadelphia: JPS, 2004), 2:333.
  • [16] See van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 193-237.
  • [17] See van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 196 n. 8, 211.
  • [18] The Greek phrase, Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις, is literally “to the elders” or “to the ancient ones.”
  • [19] See van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 209-212.
  • [20] See Mekhilta to Exod. 20:13 (ed. S. H. Horovitz and I. A. Rabin; Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1970), 232-233.
  • [21] See W. Bacher, Die exegetische Terminologie, 1:6; 2:11-12. Bacher (1:6, n. 1) understood that this rabbinic formula is reflected in our passages.
  • [22] See van de Sandt and Flusser, The Didache, 213-214.

Gamaliel and Nicodemus

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.

The Pharisees were one of the three main Jewish parties in the first century: the Pharisees (the Jewish sages); the Sadducees (a small but mighty party of high priests, rationalists who “say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit,” Acts 23:8); and the Essenes (a sect whose writings are the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered beginning in 1947).

If we want to understand Gamaliel’s defense of the Apostles, we have to know the political implications of Jesus’ trial. The Apostles were arrested by the “high priest and all who were with him, that is, the party of the Sadducees” (Acts 5:17-18). The Temple guard brought the Apostles before the Sanhedrin “without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people” (Acts 5:26). Evidently the Sadducees knew that the sympathy of the Jewish people in Jerusalem was on the side of Jesus’ movement of disciples. When finally the Apostles were brought before the council, the high priest questioned them, saying: “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Acts 5:27-28).

The Apostles, preaching the gospel in Jerusalem, could not avoid mentioning the active role of the Sadducean high priest in the trial of Jesus, which led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Indeed, when we read the Gospels, we see that the high priests were the main instigators of Jesus’ death. One of the aims of Jesus’ last visit to Jerusalem was to sound a note of warning about the future destruction of the Temple: Jesus did not accuse the Romans, but the Sadducees, whose source of power was their rule over the Temple. The Sadducean high priests were not loved by the people. They were a small, aristocratic and wealthy party of high priests. Therefore, they were very nervous about Jesus’ prophecy of doom, since the people, who did not love them, were in this point on Jesus’ side: “all the people hung upon his words” (Luke 19:48).

The high priest did not dare arrest Jesus during the daylight hours, but only under cover of night, bringing Jesus to the house of the high priest. The next morning they handed Jesus over to Pilate. Even after that, they continued to plot against Jesus, because Jesus was not merely a perceived threat, but an actual danger to the high priestly aristocracy. Later, as the Apostles preached the gospel in Jerusalem, by mentioning the active role of the high priests in Jesus’ trial, they, as it were, “brought Jesus’ blood” upon the high priests. Just as the Sadducees were active in Jesus’ trial, so later they also persecuted the nascent church. We even know the names of these high priests: “Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family” (Acts 4:6).

Gamaliel’s intervention before the Sanhedrin was, from an ideological point of view, a reaction against the cruelty of the Sadducean party.[1] The case of Jesus and his followers evidently became for the Pharisees a test case in their struggle against the inhumane approach of the Sadducean high-priesthood. We learn from the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus that in the year 62 C.E. Jesus’ brother James was executed after an irregular session of the court. Following this atrocity, the Pharisees brought about the deposition of the officiating high priest, the son of Annas and brother-in-law of Caiaphas, by appealing to king Agrippa (Josephus, Antiq. 20:200-201).

Saint Stephen Mourned by Saints Gamaliel and Nicodemus. Carlo Saraceni, c. 1615, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Saint Stephen Mourned by Saints Gamaliel and Nicodemus.
Carlo Saraceni, c. 1615, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Gamaliel’s defense of the apostles before the Sanhedrin also shows his meek nature. The Pharisaic movement was at that time divided into two opposing schools. One school was that of Shammai: members of his movement were rigid and conservative; God, not man, was for them the aim of their religious attitude. The other Pharisaic school was that of Hillel: in the center of its interest was the human being, created according to God’s image. For the members of this movement, the essence of Judaism was love for one’s fellow human being. Through this humanistic approach to one’s fellow, one could reach God, who had created all humankind in His image. These rival schools fought for hegemony over the Pharisaic movement, and only in the second century did the school of Hillel finally prevail.

Hillel was the grandfather of Gamaliel. He came from Babylon to Jerusalem in Herod’s time. He was one of the most outstanding thinkers in the long history of the Jewish people. His influence on Jesus’ teaching has not been fully recognized by scholarship.[2] His meekness, humility and patience were legendary, but, at the same time, he had the strength of character to make unpopular rulings. As he said: “In the place where there is no man, be a man!” (m. Avot 2:6).

Gamaliel’s descendants led the Jewish people through the centuries as its presidents in the land of Israel. Their leadership was a happy circumstance both for Judaism and Christianity. When I say “for Christianity,” I refer to Hillel’s influence upon the teachings of Jesus and the role of Gamaliel in a decisive hour at the early church’s beginnings. Gamaliel saved the lives of Jesus’ apostles, and also influenced Paul’s ethics, even after Paul’s conversion.[3]

Paul’s conversion is a central moment both in the history of Christianity and in the history of humankind. His revolutionary experience completely changed his attitude to his Jewish heritage and created his dialectical approach to the Law. But, on the other hand, even if Paul had gained new and unexpected values, he did not see his previous path in a wholly negative light. He saw no cause to reject Pharisaic ideas that fit his new viewpoint. As a Christian of Pharisaic stock, he recognized the important value of Pharisaic ethics and therefore embedded them in his new faith.

Jesus accepted some doctrines from the Pharisaic school of Hillel such as “Do unto others” as a summary of the Torah, tolerance, and the Kingdom of Heaven. Although some might suppose that Paul’s ethical teaching should be explained by appealing to the influence of the words of Jesus, who was himself influenced by the teachings of Hillel, I do not think that this is the correct explanation of the similarity between Jesus’ and Paul’s moral approach. When Paul uses Jesus as his authority, he states this explicitly. Paul does not do this when he teaches ethics to the young Christian community. He does not say that he received these instructions from Jesus. And it should be recognized that Paul’s ethical advice does not possess the specific color of Jesus’ voice. Thus, it seems more likely that Paul inherited these Jewish ethical views from his Pharisaic past, when he was a disciple of Gamaliel.

In any case, with respect to his moral theology, Paul is clearly an heir of the school of Hillel. This can be seen from his stress upon humility, respect for the other, and his high appreciation of the solidarity of humankind, which are typical of the positions of the school of Hillel. For Paul, as for Hillel, love for one’s neighbor was the summary of the Law. Even Paul’s universalistic openness to the Gentiles is prefigured in the position of the Hillelites, in contrast to the school of Shammai that did not readily accept proselytes.

When he became a follower of Jesus, Paul naturally abandoned many of his Pharisaic positions. Being sure of his salvation through Christ, his attitude toward the Law changed. But Paul did not reject the ethical side of the teaching of his former master, Gamaliel. On the contrary, Hillelite ethics were now linked by Paul to his Christology. By the transmission of his Pharisaic ethical heritage, Paul contributed to the ethical aspect of Christian civilization.

Thus, Gamaliel played an important role in the history of the Church. Not only did he save the Apostles from death, he also contributed, through Paul, to the moral theology of Christianity, and this surely was not a small gift bestowed by Judaism upon the new faith.


In the New Testament Nicodemus is mentioned only in the Gospel of John. In John 3:1-13 we read of “a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews,” who came to Jesus in order to learn from him, and that Jesus knew Nicodemus was a “teacher of Israel.” Later, in a debate about Jesus, Nicodemus defends Jesus, saying that Jesus has to be heard. He was answered: “Are you from Galilee, too? Search and you will find that no prophet is to rise from Galilee” (John 7:50-52). These men evidently mocked Nicodemus’ Galilean origin. And finally, after Jesus’ death, Nicodemus, together with Joseph of Arimathea, participated in Jesus’ burial (John 19:38-42). We know little from the New Testament about the Pharisee Nicodemus, “a ruler of the Jews,” but we learn more about him from rabbinic sources.

Nicodemus is identical with one of the three richest men in Jerusalem, Nicodemus the son of Gurion (b. Giṭ. 56a; Avot de-Rabbi Nathan ver. A, ch. 6; Lam. R. 1.5.31; Eccles. R. 7.12.1). Ze’ev Safrai has recently shown that the family of Nicodemus the son of Gurion originated in Galilee, as recorded in John 7:50-52 (cf. t. Eruvin 3(4):17).[4] Nicodemus’ family came to Jerusalem and became very important there. We know from rabbinic literature that Nicodemus, like Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50), became a member of the council of Jerusalem (Lam. R. 1.5.31; Eccles. R. 7.12.1). One of the honorary tasks of council members was to perform acts of mercy. This was what Nicodemus and his colleague, Joseph of Arimathea, did when they performed the burial of Jesus, a man who was crucified by the Romans.

Rabbinic sources reveal that Nicodemus was a deeply pious man. Once, when Jerusalem’s water cisterns dried up, he negotiated with the Roman authorities and obtained from them a great quantity of water for the inhabitants. According to Nicodemus’ agreement with the Romans, if no rain came by a certain deadline, he would have to repay a very large sum to the Romans. When rain did not come, Nicodemus prayed fervently to God and the rain came (b. Ta’anit 19b-20a; Avot de-Rabbi Nathan ver. A, ch. 6). This story shows not only Nicodemus’ piety, but also his good connections with the Roman authorities due to his being a member of the council of Jerusalem. Thus, it is probable that Nicodemus used his access to the Romans to obtain Jesus’ body.

Evidently, there were even stronger ties between Jesus and Nicodemus. But, in order to clarify this affinity, we need to understand Nicodemus’ place in the Jewish political map of his day.

The tragedy of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Romans occurred 40 years after Jesus was crucified, but the first acts of this tragedy began even before Jesus’ birth and were caused by the active, armed resistance of Jewish nationalists against the Roman occupation of Judea. These militants were known as Zealots. One of them was Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13), one of the Twelve. This apostle had surely abandoned the idea of political hatred when he became a disciple of a man whose message was all-embracing love. Another activist was Barabbas, who was imprisoned with Jesus. He was “a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city, and for murder” (Luke 23:19).

The Zealots waged guerrilla warfare against the Roman occupation. They were not the only insurgents against the Roman yoke in the empire, but Jews suffered more from Roman imperialism than other nations because the Romans were pagans who were insensitive to the Jewish devotion to a single god, and because the spirit of freedom is inherent to Judaism. Even so, a great part of the Jewish people opposed insurrection, seeing that it would lead to a horrible catastrophe. Jesus was not the only Jew who predicted the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. There was, for example, another Jesus who predicted the Temple’s destruction (Josephus, War 6:300-309).

When the oppression became unbearable, the Zealots started an open revolt against the Roman empire. Most of the members of Nicodemus’ family opposed the revolt. One of them, Gurion, was later executed by Zealot insurgents (Josephus, War 4:358). According to a rabbinic source (b. Giṭ. 56a), the Zealots burned the granaries of three wealthy patricians, one of them being Nicodemus, in order to force the people to fight against Rome. Evidently, Nicodemus died during the war, probably from the hunger that ravaged the city. After the war his daughter lived in extreme poverty. The famous rabbi, Yohanan the son of Zaccai, who before the destruction had signed the daughter’s marriage contract as a witness (t. Ketubot 5:9-10; b. Ketubot 66b; Mechilta de Rabbi Ishmael [Horowitz-Rabin edition], pp. 203-204), later saw her horrible state of poverty and said: “Blessed be Israel. If you do the will of God, no people and nation can rule over you. When you do not do the will of God, you become the subject of a despised nation!” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael [Horowitz-Rabin edition], Yitro 1, p. 203; Sifre, Devarim 305 [Finkelstein edition], p. 325; b. Ket. 66b; Avot de-Rabbi Nathan ver. A, ch. 17 [Schechter edition], p. 65).

Nicodemus and his family were friends of Rabban Yohanan the son of Zaccai, and we can guess that this friendship was not based solely on personal sympathy.[5] Both the Pharisee Nicodemus and the famous Pharisee rabbi adhered to the anti-Zealot party which opposed the rebellion against Rome. The rabbi escaped Jerusalem during the war, joined the Romans, tried vainly to save the Temple, and after the war was permitted by the Romans to reorganize Jewish learning and administration (b. Giṭ. 56b; Lam. R. i. 5; Avot de-Rabbi Nathan ver. A, ch. 4).[6] These historical details are very important for understanding the similarity of Nicodemus and Jesus’ views.

Zealotism originated in the more nationalistic and rigid Pharisaic school of Shammai. Nicodemus’ friend, Rabban Yohanan the son of Zaccai, on the other hand, was a prominent Hillelite. It is natural that the Hillelites, including Nicodemus, could not accept the militant views of the Zealots, since the School of Hillel propagated universalistic love for one’s neighbor. Thus, the peace party was wholly Hillelite.

There are strong indications in the Gospels that Jesus, too, rejected the Zealot approach. A slogan of the Hillelite peace-party was “the Kingdom of Heaven.”[7] The Hillelites believed that one could be redeemed only through repentance and acceptance of the Kingdom of Heaven, and not through rebellion against Roman imperialism. This path involved purification from sin as well as doing the will of the Heavenly Father (m. Avot 3:6). Jesus developed the idea of the Kingdom of Heaven in a unique way, but there is no doubt that his starting point was the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven as developed by the anti-Zealot Hillelites to whom the Pharisee Nicodemus belonged.

The use of rabbinic sources for the life and death of Nicodemus helps us understand the specific Jewish trends that are at the roots of Christianity. We can now understand why the Pharisaic patrician, Nicodemus, came to Jesus in order to learn from him. This Galilean was a pious man and surely admired Jesus, “a teacher come from God” (John 3:2). Nicodemus belonged to the Hillelite anti-Zealot circles to whom Jesus himself was close. In the end, Nicodemus, together with another member of the Jerusalem council, Joseph of Arimathea, helped to bury Jesus. Later, when the destruction that Jesus predicted came, Nicodemus and his family became one of the innumerable victims of the catastrophe they wanted to avoid.


This article, originally published as “Gamaliel, the Teacher of the Law” in El Olivo 15 (1982): 41-48, has been here emended and updated by Lauren S. Asperschlager, David N. Bivin, Joshua N. Tilton.

  • [1] On Gamaliel’s intervention on behalf of the Apostles, see Peter J. Tomson, “Gamaliel’s Counsel and the Apologetic Strategy of Luke-Acts,” in The Unity of Luke-Acts (J. Verheyden, ed.; Leuven: Peeters, 1999), 585-604.
  • [2] See my essays, “Hillel’s Self-Awareness and Jesus” and “I Am in the Midst of Them (Mt. 18:20),” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 509-514, 515-525; and “Hillel and Jesus: Two Ways of Self-Awareness,” in Hillel and Jesus (James H. Charlesworth and Loren L. Johns, eds.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 71-107.
  • [3] On the Hillelite influence in Paul’s writings, see Peter J. Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), esp. 266.
  • [4] Ze’ev Safrai, Galilee Studies (Jerusalem: 1985), 44; idem “Nakdimon b. Guryon: A Galilean Aristocrat in Jerusalem,” in The Beginnings of Christianity (Jack Pastor and Menachem Mor, eds.; Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 2005), 297-314.
  • [5] Like Jesus and Nicodemus, Rabban Yohanan the son of Zaccai was of Galilean origin.
  • [6] On the historicity of these rabbinic traditions, see Shmuel Safrai’s discussion in A History of the Jewish People (H. H. Ben-Sasson, ed.; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976), 319-20.
  • [7] See my discussion of the Kingdom of Heaven in The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 76-78.

Unintentional Anti-Semitism in the Church

I heard an all too familiar theme surface in an otherwise good sermon with regard to the recognition and acceptance of Jesus as Messiah: “The Jews just missed it!” Sadly, this affront by categorization also shows a total lack of recognition of the role of Jews in the early church and in their making the message of salvation through Yeshua (Jesus) available to non-Jews. It is as if Yeshua appears on the scene, is rejected by the Jews, but is welcomed with open arms by the non-Jews. This subtle, and I would hope, usually unintentional form of anti-Semitism is detrimental from several perspectives:

  1. It deprives us of our rich heritage and biblical understanding that lie in the Jewish roots of our faith;
  2. It can be hurtful to those members of the congregation of Jewish origin; and
  3. It serves to foster feelings of anti-Semitism that lead to more blatant forms of expression.

How is it that otherwise good, morally upstanding men and women can fall into the trap of unintentional anti-Semitism? I think that there are several reasons for this phenomenon:

  1. Our tendency to categorize a particular racial or cultural group as if it were absolutely homogeneous;
  2. The almost total void within the church in our knowledge of the Jewish roots of the Christian faith and the inherent contribution of Jews in the nurturing and spreading of the message of Yeshua; and
  3. The failure to recognize that New Testament epistles while embodying universal truth are directed to congregations in a particular cultural and historical setting, usually either primarily of Jewish or of non-Jewish origin—considerations imperative for meaningful present-day application.

No, we really can’t say that the Jews “missed it” anymore than we can say that the Americans have “missed it” or that the Canadians have “missed it,” etc. The fact is that some Americans have accepted Yeshua and some haven’t; some Canadians have accepted him and some haven’t. By the same token, some Jews of Yeshua’s day accepted him and some didn’t. In fact, so many Jews in the land of Israel had accepted Yeshua as Messiah (and were still practicing Jews) that the ruling Jewish religious body feared they might become a predominant sect of Judaism and therefore thought it necessary, at the Council of Yavneh in 90 C.E., to amend the daily prayer to include an extra “blessing.” This blessing was actually a curse on the sects of Judaism considered apostate by the surviving Pharisaic Judaism of the Council and some think that it was primarily directed toward the Jewish followers of Yeshua.

Indeed, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Jews for the message of Yeshua we hold so dear. Yeshua himself was Jewish, received a Jewish education, regularly attended synagogue services and at the customary age of 30 he began his public ministry. As was customary, he gathered a group of students who accompanied him from place to place learning from observing their master as much as by the words he spoke. With notable exception, his earthly ministry was entirely to Jewish people; by his own words, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).

All of Yeshua’s disciples were Jewish; the people to whom Peter preached on the day of Pentecost were Jews from the land of Israel, as well as a number of countries from the Diaspora, who had come to Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of “Weeks” or “Pentecost.” Of these, 3,000 accepted Yeshua as Messiah and were baptized that day; thus, headquartered in Jerusalem until the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., the first church was Jewish. In fact, they weren’t even sure that non-Jews could accept Yeshua as savior. Peter went to great lengths to have witnesses accompany him to the house of Cornelius and to give testimony that non-Jews were indeed able to accept Jesus as Messiah as evidenced by their also receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit just the same as had the Jewish believers.

The first people to carry the good news of Yeshua to the non-Jewish world (as well as to Jews in the Diaspora) were Jewish. It was perhaps inevitable that as the distance from the land of Israel increased, the new followers of Yeshua were increasingly cut off from the Jewish roots of their faith. Scripture was viewed from other than a Hebraic perspective. There was the clamor of many voices: Gnostics with their message of salvation through mysterious knowledge for the initiated only; the various syncretists, attempting to incorporate Yeshua into existing religious systems; and the Judaizers, limiting salvation through Yeshua to those who first converted to Judaism. The demands of the Judaizers were addressed relatively early when Paul and Barnabas led a delegation to Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Council (composed of Jewish Apostles) saw fit to place no further burden of Law upon the non-Jew than was already incumbent upon the righteous non-Jew under the universal “Laws of Noah.” What is usually overlooked here is that neither does the council decree that the Jew must cut himself off from his culture and religion in order to accept Yeshua as Savior and Lord. Just as the non-Jew has the freedom in Yeshua not to embrace Jewish culture and religious practices, so the Jew has the freedom in Yeshua to remain a Jew. It was only later, as church government came into the hands of the non-Jewish majority that the church decreed that being Jewish was not compatible with being a follower of Yeshua. As far as the feeling of the Jews on the matter, it was not uncommon for each sect of Judaism to feel that only its own members were “fulfilling (i.e., keeping) the Law; the other sects were “destroying” it, much as one present-day denomination, unfortunately, might feel about another Christian denomination. Before the destruction of the Temple, more than 20 Jewish sects thrived. After its destruction, the leadership of mainstream Judaism was composed primarily of Pharisees who set the tone for what has evolved into present-day Judaism.

The term “Jew,” when used biblically, demands careful attention. When the New Testament speaks of Jews, what is meant? It is very important to note that often when the “Jews” are disputing with Jesus about some point of the Law, it would appear that Jesus sets himself apart from all Jewish Law. In reality, there was a wide spectrum of opinion regarding the correct interpretation of various points of Law, not only among the various sects of Judaism, but also between the residents of various geographical areas. Often “Jews” refers to Judeans, residents of Judah. A practice relating to a particular point of Law attacked by the Judeans, was often permitted by the Galileans. Therefore, one must be careful to view the Jewish people of the first century, not simplistically as a purely homogeneous entity, but rather as a dynamic, heterogeneous mixture as one would expect to find within any given population.

What, then, can one do to avoid unintentional anti-Semitism? I suggest that acquainting oneself with the Jewish roots of Christianity and approaching Bible study from a Hebraic perspective will help achieve this goal with the following benefits:

  1. We have found that viewing Yeshua within the context of the language and culture of his time on earth enables us to know him better, and that is a life-enriching experience.
  2. We become more sensitive to the feelings of members of the congregation of Jewish origin and of Jews in general.

We can avoid derogatory blanket statements with regard to racial stock. We recognize that any group, whether large or small, is composed of individuals and that there are differences within the group. We recognize the progression from “the Jews rejected Jesus” to “the Jews killed Jesus” to “the Jews can’t be trusted so they must be trying to hurt me financially or physically or in some other way, therefore I must hurt them first.” We tend to fear and suspect that which we do not understand. If Christianity had not been cut off from its Jewish roots and Christians had understood the ritual of the Feast of Passover, for example, there would have been no basis for the “blood libel” that swept Europe resulting in the death of millions of Jews down through the centuries. Christians would know of the Jewish abhorrence for drinking blood and the elaborate precautions to which they go to prevent the ingestion of any blood in anything they eat. Thus, the accusation that Jews steal Christian children and drink their blood at Passover is absurd.

In conclusion, I suggest that unintentional anti-Semitism continues to flourish today primarily because it has not been called to our attention. Most of those making such statements would, no doubt, be shocked to learn they had made anti-Semitic statements. By addressing the issue of unintentional anti-Semitism and creating an awareness of the problem, we believe it is possible to reduce the likelihood of anti-Semitism in its more blatant forms of expression.

The Apostolic Decree and the Noahide Commandments

Translated by Halvor Ronning[1]

Dedicated to the memory of Gregory Steen[2]

In August 1769 Lavater urged Moses Mendelssohn to undergo conversion to Christianity, thereby causing much distress to Mendelssohn.[3] For our subject it is especially productive to consider the letter that Mendelssohn wrote to the Crown Prince of Braunschweig-Wolfenbuettel.[4] Among other things, he wrote: “The founder of the Christian religion never explicitly said he wanted to remove the Mosaic Law, nor to dispense with the Jews. Such a notion, I do not find in any of the Evangelists. For a long time the apostles and disciples still had their doubts as to whether Gentile believers must accept the Mosaic Law and be circumcised. Eventually, it was decided ‘not to lay too heavy a burden upon them’ (Acts 15:28). This agrees completely with the teaching of the rabbis, as I noted in my letter to Lavater. But as regards the Jews, when they accept Christianity, I find no basis in the New Testament for exempting them from the Mosaic commandments. On the contrary, the apostle himself had Timothy circumcised. Therefore, it should be clear that there is no way that I could free myself from the Mosaic Law.”

When Mendelssohn spoke of “the teaching of the rabbis,” he was referring to what he had written to Lavater, “All our rabbis are united in teaching that the written and oral commandments, of which our religion consists, are binding only on our nation…all other peoples of the earth, we believe, are commanded by God to obey the law of nature and the religion of the patriarchs.”[5]

In order to clarify this latter statement, Mendelssohn gave a list of those ordinances that the peoples of the earth must obey. “The seven main commandments of the Noahides, which encompass the essential ordinances of natural law, are avoidance of: 1) idolatry; 2) blasphemy; 3) shedding of blood; 4) incest[6] ; 5) theft; 6) perverting of justice—these six ordinances were understood to have been revealed to Adam—and finally, 7) the prohibition, revealed to Noah, against eating from the limb of a living animal (b. Avod. Zar. 64; Maimonides on Kings 8,10).”[7]

Mendelssohn’s fundamental insights were:

a) According to the New Testament, a Jew is not obligated to abandon the Mosaic Law when he or she accepts Christianity. It follows, then, that Christians who are of Jewish origin, the so-called Jewish Christians, are obligated to observe Torah according to the teaching of the Apostolic Church.

b) According to Acts it was decided not to lay too heavy a burden on the Gentile believers. Rather, they were to be freed from the Mosaic Law and were obligated to follow only the prohibitions that make up the so-called Apostolic Decree.

c) This teaching of the Early Church is completely compatible with the unanimous rabbinic view that the Mosaic Law is obligatory for the Jewish people only, and that God has directed the rest of the peoples of the earth to follow only the seven main Noahide commandments.

Mendelssohn’s conclusions are historically correct as was demonstrated in an earlier article.[8] In this article we will discuss the two forms of the Apostolic Decree, the canonical and the non-canonical.

Mendelssohn equated the rabbinic Noahide commandments with the prohibitions of the Apostolic Council. Since the Apostolic Decree differs significantly from the rabbinic Noahide commandments, was he precise in making this equation? The rabbis listed seven Noahide commandments. According to Acts 15:19-20, the apostles accepted the suggestion of James, the Lord’s brother, that “one should not make difficulties for those who turn to God from among the Gentiles, but rather should require of them only that they abstain from defilement of idols, from fornication, from strangled [meat] and from blood.” The Mishnah, likewise, refers to defilement as a result of idolatry (m. Shab. 9:1). From Acts 15:28-29 and 21:25, the parallels to Acts 15:19-20, we learn that the early church understood “the defilement of idols” to mean, “meat offered to idols.”

The “western” text of Acts, whose most important representative is Codex Bezae, presents us with an alternative form of the Apostolic Decree. In 1905 Gotthold Resch drew attention to the importance of this alternative form.[9] According to the western text, Gentiles who turn to God are to avoid meat sacrificed to idols, blood and fornication. Resch correctly understood that “blood” refers to murder, and not to the eating of blood. In the western form of the text, at Acts 15:20 and 15:29, there is an addition: “Whatever you do not want others to do to you, you should not do to others.” This is the usual negative form of the so-called Golden Rule.[10]

In our view, Resch succeeded in presenting the philological proof that the western text of the Apostolic Decree is the more original, but his theological understanding was limited to his contemporary situation. Furthermore, the historical support that he adduces for his arguments is often of little value. For this reason his suggestion was quickly forgotten, despite being happily accepted at the time by Harnack. Today it is generally accepted that the usual, or canonical, form of the Apostolic Decree is the more original.

One exception to this consensus is Harald Sahlin.[11] He argued correctly that, “The Decree must be understood against its Jewish background…the formulation ‘idolatry, blood and fornication’ is almost identical to the well-known rabbinic formulation of the three central sins, ‘idolatry, bloodshed and fornication.’” We would argue that the rabbinic and the western text of the Apostolic Decree, are not identical by chance, and that this identity is decisive proof for the authenticity of the western text. Resch did discern the matter correctly, but failed to prove decisively the correctness of his observation. His reason for preferring the western form of the Apostolic Decree was his mistaken notion that its ethical content expressed the break with Jewish ceremonial requirements that was supposedly intended by Jesus and finally spelled out by the Apostles.

Resch’s studies of the non-canonical form of the Apostolic Decree helped three Jewish researchers independently to get on the right track.[12] All three noted the relationship between the western form of the Apostolic Decree and the decision of the rabbinic synod of Lydda. This synod met in the year 120 C.E. and handed down the following decision: “Of all the trespasses forbidden in the Torah it holds true that if you are told, ‘trespass or be killed,’ you may trespass them all, except for idolatry, fornication and bloodshed [murder].”[13]

It is enlightening to take a closer look at the words of the third researcher, Gedalyahu Alon, to learn from them and also to apply them to other areas of Jewish and Christian traditions of faith. Alon demonstrated that there was a tendency in ancient Judaism (and later in Christianity) to summarize the essence of one’s religion in formulations. Such a formulation could be called a credo, a confession of faith, or a statement of principles [Regula]. The purpose of such declarations was to achieve a formulation of the quintessence of Judaism. Alon rightly commented that the aim of these ancient Jewish definitions was not usually to make a dogmatic statement about the contents of the faith, but rather to set out the essence of the Jewish ethic—the fruit of which is the performance of individual commandments.[14] Moreover, these moral rules, whether positive commands or prohibitions, are not the “light” but the “heavy” commandments. At issue is the keeping of the “least of these commandments,” to use the language of Matthew 5:19. Reference to commandments as “light” usually occurs when the point being made is that small trespasses soon lead to large trespasses.[15]

It would be worthwhile to examine in ancient Judaism the various axiomatic statements of the essence of Judaism. Sometimes this can be accomplished by looking at ancient Jewish catalogues of virtues and vices, or by considering the so-called “household codes” found in the New Testament (e.g., Eph. 5:21-6:9; Col. 3:18-4:1). Especially widespread was the view that the Ten Commandments are to be considered the expression of the religion of Israel,[16] with preference given to the second half of the Decalogue. In order to define the essence of Judaism, people used formulations such as the Golden Rule, or selected Bible verses. Not only in Matthew 22:34-40, but also in Jewish sources, two main rules were adduced: one must love God (Deut. 6:5); one must love one’s neighbor (Lev. 19:18).[17] In the rabbinic view, the command to love one’s neighbor (or its equivalent, the Golden Rule) was seen as the essence of the Mosaic Law. This tendency makes it clear why it was that the summation of the Torah was understood to be the second half of the Decalogue, which deals with prohibitions relating to one’s neighbor.

Johann Kaspar Lavater cover page
Johann Kaspar Lavater cover page

The last five commandments of the Decalogue served as a starting point for new formulations. Sometimes, not all of the last five were quoted, and sometimes other ethical admonitions were inserted into this list. In terms of genre, these formulations were attached either to the command to love one’s neighbor (Lev. 19:18) or, to its equivalent, the Golden Rule. To this genre belong the words of Jesus to the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-27; Luke 18:18-27).[18] The fact that following Jesus’ words we find the command to honor one’s parents, which according to the original Jewish reckoning belongs to the first half of the Decalogue, seems to indicate that the command to honor one’s parents was only later added to Jesus’ words. Matthew concluded Jesus’ words to the youth with the command to love one’s neighbor. Admittedly, this conclusion is not original, but it is stylistically genuine: love for one’s neighbor, according to the understanding at that time, does belong to the second half of the Decalogue.

Another especially important example of a summation of the Mosaic Law (Matt. 5:17-18) on the basis of the second half of the Decalogue is the first part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:17-48).[19] Here, too, we find that not all of the five commandments of the second half of the Decalogue are dealt with, but that other ethical requirements are introduced. Again, the unit is concluded with the command to love one’s neighbor (Matt. 5:43-48)—entirely in accord with the rules of this genre.

For our purposes the most important representative of this genre is the early Christian Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didache),[20] or, more precisely, its Jewish source, the so-called “Two Ways.” In the first part of this document (chapters 1-4), the way of life is described; in the second part (chapters 5-6), the way of death: “This now is the way of life. First, you shall love God who created you. Second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Moreover, anything that you do not want to happen to you, you shall not do to another” (Didache 1:2). We see that the way of life is characterized by both the double rule of loving God and neighbor, and also by the Golden Rule.

To this same genre belongs the western form of the Apostolic Decree, in our opinion the Decree’s more original formulation. Two of the three sins it lists are found in the second half of the Decalogue—bloodshed (i.e, murder) and fornication—the sixth and seventh commandments,[21] and the other central sin, idolatry, is mentioned in the first half of the Ten.[22] Accordingly, it is stylistically authentic that in the first two references to the Apostolic Decree according to the western text (Acts 15:19-20 and 15:28-29), the decree concludes with the negative form of the Golden Rule. However, in the third reference to the Decree (Acts 21:25), the Golden Rule would have disturbed the context. It is difficult to decide whether the Golden Rule really belongs to the Apostolic Decree. Those who doubt that it belongs can note the fact that it is lacking in the canonical text, and that in Matthew 19:16-19 the command to love one’s neighbor is a Matthean addition. However, as we have pointed out, the Golden Rule fits the Apostolic Decree in terms of genre authenticity.[23]

The western form of the Apostolic Decree is composed of three sins.[24] These are the sins that a Jew cannot commit under any circumstances. Additionally, these three sins are the first three Noahide commandments. We align ourselves with Alon’s view that these three sins express the focus of ethical behavior. They are also a succinct formulation of that which Judaism most strongly abhors and seeks to avoid. In a special way, the list defines the essence of Judaism. This is true for this list and for other such summary statements in Judaism (and in Christianity). There is often a peculiar dialectic that is involved; ancient Judaism did not attempt to establish dogmatic confessions of faith, but rather to lay down rules of ethics. Attempts to encapsulate the essence of Judaism kept their distance from the ceremonial, ritualistic, legalistic side of Judaism. One reason for this paradox is that religions like Judaism, in which the legal side is strongly developed, do not need to concern themselves with the legalities when they come to summarize the essential, because the legal aspect is taken for granted. In Judaism, existence, as formulated through these summary statements, is essentially theological-ethical.[25] Accordingly, Rabbi Akiva, who knew how to spin myriad halachoth from every tittle of Torah,[26] nevertheless declared that the command to love one’s neighbor is the greatest principle of Jewish learning (Lev. 19:18).[27]

Moses Mendelssohn
Moses Mendelssohn

Understanding how existence is summarized in Judaism is important for the correct understanding of the western form of the Apostolic Decree, which is composed of the three Jewish prime sins. As long as it has to do with the inner Jewish ethic, it is the ethical-theological aspect, and not the ritual, that is the definitive factor in the choice of these three sins. However, when one steps out of inner Jewish boundaries in an attempt to determine correct behavior for non-Jews, there is a tendency to erect ritual limits. For Jews ritual limits are superfluous, since they are already “under the law.” This truth will become clearer in the course of our study as we now turn to the developmental stages of the Noahide commandments, comparing the extra-canonical form of the Apostolic Decree with the canonical form.

This list, like other formulations of its kind, was originally designed to shed light on the essence of Judaism as a religious system and lay bare its roots. Granted that such formulations are aimed at expressing the essential, nevertheless, whether they do or do not intend it, they cast a certain shadow over everything else and gain an intrinsic worth and independence. This is especially so in the case of the normative, formulated Christian confessions of faith, which led to the labeling of others with differing opinions as heretics. Ancient Judaism did not have such creedal statements, yet, after a fashion, the Jewish regulae fidei do present a certain self-understanding. The “three-sin doctrine” was well suited not just to express the inner Jewish way-of-life in the face of external pressures, but also to provide minimal moral limitations for non-Jewish God-fearers. The western text of the Apostolic Decree admonished believing Gentiles to avoid the three crucial sins, and we assume that these were at the time the original content of the Noahide commandments. Thus, the early apostolic church simply accepted Jewish legal practice relating to believing non-Jews.

Unfortunately, our sources do not allow us to determine what were the external circumstances that led the early church to begin using the Lydda ruling as a measure applicable to its own needs for discipline. We know only that the ruling came into use by the church sometime after 120 C.E., almost certainly before the year 200.[28] At that time, exclusion from the church was the punishment for lapsing into idolatry, sexual transgression and murder. If the morally fallen were truly repentant, they could not attain forgiveness during their lifetime, however, they were still granted a hope of forgiveness in the world to come. At that time the three major sins in Christian circles were called the peccata capitalia (capital sins) or the peccata mortalia (mortal sins).[29] The oldest witness to this trio of sins is Irenaeus who wrote (between 180 and 185 C.E.) that the unjust, idolaters and whores had lost eternal life and would be thrown into everlasting fire.[30] Furthermore, two church fathers, Tertullian and Hippolytus, mention the three mortal sins.[31] Apparently, Hippolytus, as well as Tertullian, emphasized the importance of the mortal sins in connection with the laxity of Pope Kallistus. We may conclude that the original text of the Apostolic Decree prohibited the three primary sins and that these prohibitions were the same prohibitions that early Judaism laid down for non-Jewish God-fearers. These were also the sins that, according to the Lydda decision, no Jew could commit even if it meant the loss of one’s own life. This Jewish ruling was accepted by the church in the course of the second century. It was applied to Christians who had sinned greatly and whose repentance was not adequate. The result was that the church was influenced twice by the Jewish prohibition of the three prime sins: the first time by the original form of the Noahide commandments in the older (Western) form of the Apostolic Decree; the second time by the disciplinary decision reached at Lydda, which was followed by similar disciplinary measures in the early church. From the non-canonical form of the Apostolic Decree, Tertullian concluded that after Christian baptism one’s violation of the three mortal sins could not be atoned for by repentance. In referring to the mortal sins, the first sin he mentioned was offerings to idols (sacrificia), yet in his commentary, he spoke of worshiping idols (idolatria).[32] In addition, the later ecclesiastical writers sometimes changed the wording of the Apostolic Decree by substituting “meat offered to idols” for “idolatry,” because they, too, identified the Apostolic Decree, in which meat offered to idols was prohibited, with the later ecclesiastical rules of discipline, according to which idolatry was unforgiveable.

From this proceeds an important fact that one can check on the basis of the texts. The western form of the Apostolic Decree also spoke of meat offered to idols. This means that from the prohibition of idolatry in the three Noahide commandments, the apostles derived the prohibition of meat offered to idols. That idolatry was forbidden to all believing Christians was, of course, totally obvious; however, the eating of the meat sacrificed to idols was not so obvious. Paul and the Revelation of John provide testimony that the Apostolic Decree expressly forbid Christians the eating of meat offered to idols.[33] John of Patmos, who in Rev. 2:24-25 is certainly referring to the Apostolic Decree when he says, “I will not impose any other burden on you,”[34] prohibits in Rev. 2:14 and 2:20 the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Anyone who takes a look at 1 Cor. 8 and 1 Cor. 10:14-11:1 will see that Paul also dealt with the problem of the prohibition of meat offered to idols and found a penetrating solution.[35] In other words, the apostles took the Jewish rejection of idolatry and sharpened it by forbidding the Christians of Gentile origin to eat offerings to idols.

We assume that under no circumstances was a Jew to trespass the three capital sins, but also that non-Jews were equally obligated if they wanted to participate in the salvation of Israel. We assume, therefore, that by a decision of the apostolic church in Jerusalem, these mortal sins also were forbidden to believers of Gentile origin. We now turn to the Jewish background of the Apostolic Decree and ask ourselves whether or not, of the seven Noahide commandments, it was indeed these three that were especially suited to be carried over to the behavior of non-Jews. In rabbinic literature it is assumed that Ishmael, the son of Abraham, and Esau[36] and the inhabitants of Sodom had all committed the three central sins.[37] Debauchery[38] and the giving of false testimony[39] were considered as serious as idolatry, fornication and murder. It is evident also here that the decisive seriousness of the three major sins relates not only to the non-Jews (Ishmael, Esau, Sodom), but to all mankind and, therefore, includes Jews. On the Day of Atonement the scapegoat brings reconciliation for the uncleanness of the children of Israel as regards idolatry, fornication and bloodshed (i.e., murder).[40] These three sins apply not only to inner-Jewish but also to extra-Jewish matters as well, since these sins are part of the Jewish religious system as well as being universally applicable—they are foundational principles.[41]

Painting by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim. Seated are Lavater (left) and Mendelssohn (right).
Painting by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim. Seated are Lavater (left) and Mendelssohn (right).

We have determined that in their original form the Noahide commandments were limited to three prohibitions.

The number three is as suitable for such a list as is seven. Three is the number of the Noahide main commandments in the Book of Jubilees, but they are not identical with the usual triad.

In the twenty-eighth Jubilee Noah began to offer to his grandchildren the ordinances and commandments that he knew. He prescribed and testified to his children that they should act justly and that they should cover the shame of their nakedness and that they should bless their Creator and honor their father and mother and that each should love his neighbor and that each should protect himself from fornication and uncleanness and all injustice. The reason being that it was because of these three that the flood covered the earth. (Jub. 7:20-21)

Here we have, along with other moral ordinances, three prohibitions attributed to Noah: fornication, uncleanness, and injustice. Similar descriptions are given about the antediluvian giants and about Sodom:

And he (Abraham) told them (his children) about the judgment upon the giants and the judgment of Sodom, how they were judged because of their badness, because of fornication and uncleanness and perversity with each other and fornication worthy of death. “So you must keep yourselves from all fornication and uncleanness and from every taint of sin.” (Jub. 20:5-6)

About the judgments at the end of time it is said: “All this will come over this evil generation because the earth allowed such sins in the impurity of fornication and in blemishing and in the hideousness of their deeds” since “all their work is impurity and hideousness and all their works are blemishing and impurity and perversity” (Jub. 23:14, 17).

And in Jub. 30:15 there is threat of discipline and curse:

…both when someone does these deeds, and also when one makes his eyes blind to these deeds, when they act impurely and when they profane the holiness of the Lord and stain His Holy Name—they will all be judged….

All these places in the Book of Jubilees deal with the same theme, in which the three sins are named that brought the Flood upon the earth, namely, fornication, uncleanness and injustice (Jub. 7:20f).[42]

A closely related list of three main sins is found in the Damascus Document (CD 4:13-19).[43] The Book of Jubilees was composed in the second century B.C.E. and belongs to the same Jewish movement as that out of which the Essene sect of Qumran arose. The Damascus Document comes from a sister congregation of this sect; fragments of this document were found in the caves of Qumran. In the Damascus Document there is reference to Isa. 24:17:

“Terror and pit and snare confront you, O inhabitant of the earth.” The meaning of this refers to the three nets of Belial about which Levi, the son of Jacob, has said that he [Belial] uses them to ensnare Israel and he gives them the appearance of three types of righteousness; the first is fornication, the second is riches, and the third is defiling the sanctuary. Whoever escapes one of these nets falls into the next, and whoever escapes that net falls into the next.[44]

The Damascus Document here mentions—doubtless on the backdrop of the older Testament of Levi[45] —three main sins, namely, fornication, riches, and profanation of the Holy, whereas the Book of Jubilees (7:20f.) names fornication, impurity and injustice as the three main sins. That the two triads are related cannot be doubted; it is only that the list in the Damascus document has become more “Essenic.” Fornication remains, but instead of speaking in general about impurity and injustice, the Damascus Document speaks of impurity of Satan (Belial) and of riches.

It is known that the “poor in spirit,” the Essenes, saw in riches a gate that leads to sin, and considered the contemporary devil in Jerusalem as unclean. If we compare the three Noahide prohibitions of the Book of Jubilees with the rabbinic and early Christian triads, we notice the following: the two triads agree not only in respect to fornication, but also in that they both relate to Noahides, that is, non-Jews. However, in contrast to the triad of the book of Jubilees (and the related triad in the Damascus Document), the rabbinic and early Christian triads list idolatry, murder and fornication as the three major sins. And it is precisely this latter triad that also is included in the normative form of the seven Noahides commandments, in the decision of Lydda, and in the early church’s list of mortal sins. These same three serious trespasses are the ones forbidden in the extra-canonical text of the Apostolic Decree.

From what we have seen in the Book of Jubilees (and in the Damascus Document), it is obvious that there existed three Noahide prohibitions from the beginning. This supports our assumption that the original Noahide commandments named only the three mortal sins and that the apostolic church simply applied these to the Noahide God-fearers who had come to faith in Christ. In support of our argument is a generally known fact that is also decisive, that is, the seven Noahide commandments that are now binding in Judaism, are first mentioned only after the Hadrianic persecution, that is, from the second half of the second century.

It is therefore not an accident that the contents of the Apostolic Decree were at that time identical with the Noahide commandments. It is very noteworthy that in both cases a similar tendency was at work, a tendency that was responsible for the present usual forms both of the Noahide commandments and of the Apostolic Decree. In both cases there was a tendency to enhance the basic universally human ethical principles by means of additional ritual requirements for Gentile God-fearers who were not ritually bound. Such requirements for those who already lived under the law were superfluous.

For the Apostolic Decree, taken formally, the change was simple: one need only add the word “strangled.”[46] Blood is thereby not understood as shedding of blood, i.e., murder, but as the prohibition of eating blood. This shows that the simple change in the text is not to be explained primarily as a matter of literary-critical considerations, but that this other version, the canonical text, is preserving an actual practice that set in within certain circles of the ancient church. There is no lack of evidence that there were Christians who observed the eating regulations of the canonical Apostolic Decree. We can even assume that the Christians who were the teachers of Mohammed were followers of this “halachic” tradition, a tradition that we know from the canonical text of the Apostolic Council. Otherwise, it would be hard to explain the similarity of the verses in the Koran about eating meat with the usual form of the Apostolic Decree.[47]

We will now seek to show that the halachic approach of the canonical Apostolic Decree is based on the Jewish regulations for Noahides. However, we must not forget that in the time of the Church Fathers the extra-canonical form of the Apostolic Decree did not exist off in some hidden corner. The most important of the Church Fathers knew it and used it.

From rabbinic sources it is easy to see that there was a tendency not to be restricted just to the seven Noahide commandments. Various rabbis wanted to impose additional rules on the God-fearers from among the nations. Some even went so far as to propose thirty Noahide commandments.[48] Naturally, one can ask whether the additional suggested regulations were actually so intended, i.e., as a further burden—though well-meant—to be laid on the Gentiles, or whether at least part of this list of extra-canonical Noahide commandments simply came out of the period before the seven Noahide commandments were fixed in their normative form. The usual form of the Apostolic Decree demonstrates that the second option is the correct one, and points to the fact that these earlier, non-normative Noahide rules were in fact observed by some of the God-fearers. This is the only way one can explain how the prohibitions of blood and the strangled parallels show up precisely in the Jewish “extra-canonical” forms of the commandments.[49] As to the meaning of “things strangled” in the canonical formulation of the Apostolic Decree, one needs to consult the old church fathers because they still observed this regulation.[50] Origen names as strangled any meat from which the blood had not been extracted. John Chrysostom defines it as “meat with the blood of the soul.” [51] He points to Gen. 9:4: “the flesh in its soul, its blood, you shall not eat.”

What is important is that Judaism used exactly the same verse to draw conclusions about the prohibition of eating morsels of the living. Augustine (354-430 C.E.), referring to the matter of strangulation, asserts that Gentile Christians of his day no longer felt bound to abstain from eating the meat of a bird from which its blood had not been drained, or a hare killed by a blow to the neck (without a bleeding wound), evidence that such abstention had been practiced previously by Gentile Christians. [52] What was meant in this matter was that “the meat of such animals that were neither slaughtered nor shot, but killed in some external way without the spilling of blood, so that their blood—without any wound through which it could bleed—was trapped in them.”[53] In the most important text[54] of the tannaic discussion of the Noahide commandments we read:

If one [a non-Jew] strangles and eats a bird that is smaller than an olive, he is allowed to do it. R. Hananiah ben Gamaliel[55] said: “The non-Jew also is prohibited from eating the blood of a living animal.” (t. Avod. Zar. 8:4-8 [p. 473f.])

There existed, therefore, the opinion that not only was it forbidden for a God-fearer from among the Gentiles to eat a piece of a living animal, but that this God-fearer was also not allowed to eat the blood of a living animal. As one can deduce from the canonical Apostolic Decree, this was not just a matter of learned reflection by a rabbinic authority, rather in ancient times there really were God-fearers who actually did abstain from the blood of animals.

The rabbinic sources that speak about the prohibitions of strangulation and blood for Noahides seem to show that both variants of the Apostolic Decree, i.e., both the extra-canonical and the canonical, are nothing other than variants of the Jewish regulations for non-Jews, before these regulations stabilized into the customary seven Noahide commandments. How could it have been otherwise? Once Gentiles, too, began coming to faith in the Messiah Jesus, it was natural to apply the Noahide commandments to them. At first, according to the “extra-canonical” text, they were required to follow the oldest form of the Noahide commandments, that is, abstaining from the three central sins: idolatry, fornication and bloodshed. Later the text was adapted to a second form of the Noahide commandments, one probably practiced by Christians native to another locale, the commandments that Jews of that local expected of God-fearing Gentiles. It was this second form that eventually became the dominant textual variant.

Let us take a closer look at the earlier stages of the present seven Noahide commandments. As has been demonstrated, there were only three such stages. The first stage consisted of the prohibition of the three main sins. The second stage involved the five basic principles without which the maintenance of human social order is unthinkable. The third stage was the six Adamic commandments. [56] At the end of this development stand the customary seven Noahide commandments.

We do not want to argue that this is a matter of a strict historical development; we would rather speak in terms of the development of a principle. Also when considered chronologically, these four systems of expressing the basic principles existed contemporaneously. To what extent each of the four formulations were not more than ideologically learned constructions, or to what extent they also had practical applications, is difficult for us to discern today. But one should not forget that both practice-oriented regulations and also “philosophical” principles of justice were meaningful, and not only in Judaism. In any case, it is certain that at least the first and the last stages did function as halachically concrete regulations. As to the primarily halachic meaning of the seven Noahide commandments, we need not elaborate.

As to the first stage, we have concluded that these original three prohibitions required by the Jewish religion system, were also the ones required of non-Jews. The immutable prohibitions against idolatry, fornication and bloodshed (i.e., murder) were adopted by the church in the course of the second century. (Whether or not the five basic principles and the six Adamic commandments actually influenced the behavior of people we cannot know.)

Perhaps the developmental history of the five basic principles, without which the maintenance of human social order would be unthinkable, is the most interesting.[57] Added to the three prime sins are the sins of theft[58] and blasphemy.

“My judgments” [Lev. 18:4], these are the words of the Torah, which, if they had not been written, would have had to be written and added. They are the following[59] : theft, fornication, idolatry, blasphemy and bloodshed. Had these not been written, they would have had to be written and added.

Afterwards, more such regulations of ritual nature were added against which objections were raised both by human reasoning and also by the Gentiles. Five of the customary Noahide commandments are mentioned here as being natural laws that can be derived from human and humanitarian necessity. Perhaps it is no accident that these five ordinances are negative rather than positive commandments. These five natural laws are also an extension of the three major sins. One could perhaps surmise that the five basic laws are a pure invention of the rabbis that came about by simply excluding two of the seven Noahide commandments. This is not the case, because these same five serious sins can be found in an entirely different kind of Jewish source, the so-called Didache.[60] It has earlier been noted that Didache 3:1-6 is an independent unit which the Jewish writer of this tractate has adapted to the context. The unit belongs to a genre already mentioned. Other instances of this genre are the seven Noahide commandments and their earlier stages, as well as the first part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:17-48). As we will see, Didache 3:1-6 is related to both the Noahide commandments and also to the Sermon on the Mount. But before we demonstrate this, we will attempt a reconstruction of the unit as it may have been worded before it was adapted by the composer of the Jewish source of the Didache[61] :

3:1 My child, flee from every evil thing and what resembles it.

3:2 Don’t be prone to anger, because anger leads to murder.

3:3 Don’t be lustful, because lust leads to fornication.

3:4 Don’t be a bird watcher, because bird watching leads to idolatry.

3:5 Don’t be a liar, because lying leads to theft.

3:6 Don’t be a complainer, because complaining leads to blasphemy.[62]

The relatedness between the background of Didache 3:1-6 and the first part of the Sermon on the Mount cannot be doubted. The warning against evil and all that is similar to it (Did. 3:1) corresponds to the admonition of Jesus to attend to the least of the commandments as well as the most important (Matt. 5:17-20). That anger leads to murder is not something we learn only in Didache 3:2, but also in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-22). We learn in Didache 3:3 that lustful cravings lead to fornication; the same is said in Matt. 5:27-28. Additionally, both in the Sermon on the Mount and in Didache we find the same approach as in the general introductory warning to the sixth and seventh commandments in the Decalogue, in fact, the same method of movement from “light” to “heavy.” The relationship between the Didache and the first part of the Sermon on the Mount can be said to be firmly established.

It is important to note that in Didache 3:1-6, fornication, idolatry, theft and blasphemy are listed as the heavy sins. About this last heavy sin, Wengst rightly commented: “When murmuring leads to blasphemy, murmuring is hereby presented as quarreling with destiny, though it has been sent by God. Whoever, then, complains against his destiny stands in constant danger of blaspheming God.” [63] But the most noteworthy thing about the heavy sins mentioned in Didache 3:1-6 is that they are identical with the list of the five central sins in older rabbinic sources (see Sifra on Lev. 18:4, and b. Yoma 67b), namely, theft, fornication, idolatry, blasphemy and murder (lit., shedding of blood). One must not forget that these are five of the seven Noahide commandments.[64]

Before indicating the importance of this section of Didache for the chronology of the history of the Noahide commandments, let us take a closer look at one of the heavy sins, the sin of blasphemy against God; it is found in the Didache, in rabbinic teaching, and in the Noahide commandments.[65] This fits very well with the parenthetical section of the Didache, since it, as well as the entire Jewish source, is meant primarily for Jews—and so the mention of blasphemy is understandable. Surely this source was also meant for pious God-fearing non-Jews, and, therefore, could have been edited and expanded by a very early Christian of Gentile background; it arose from the teaching of the twelve apostles. The distant possibility did exist that a pious non-Jewish, God-fearer might blaspheme God in a weak moment. But the general Jewish view at the time was that a non-Jew was not obligated to believe specifically in the God of Israel—he was only to avoid idolatrous worship. The prohibition of blasphemy against God is easy then to understand as a warning to Jews against a really terrible sin, but what is the prohibition against the blasphemy of God doing among the ordinances that are binding on all mankind? It is not difficult to suppose that a universalistic definition of Judaism involved a binding formulation of the prohibition of blasphemy as applying to all of mankind. However this may be, the prohibition against blasphemy does show up among the universalistic Noahide commandments as representative of the sin of atheism, which throughout all antiquity was considered criminal. Plutarch (De Iside et osiride, ch. 23) says that faith is implanted in nearly all people at birth. According to Gen. 20:11, Abraham excuses himself before Abimelech for passing off his wife as his sister: “I thought that there is no fear of God in this place, and therefore you might kill me because of my wife.”

In the Septuagint the word for “fear of God” in this passage is translated as theosebeia, which means reverence for God, piety or religion.[66] The idea is that if one is at a place where there is no religion, in that place life is not secure. In a Midrash on this verse, we read:

Fear of God is a great thing, because as regards anyone who fears Heaven (i.e., God), it can be assumed that he does not sin, but in contrast, as regards anyone who has no fear of God, it can be assumed that there is no sin from which he will desist. [67]

It seems, then, that the general rejection of irreligiosity makes it plausible that the prohibition of blasphemy against God was meant also to be applied to non-Jews.

Now we return to the five basic sins enumerated in the rabbinic dictum quoted above and in the Didache. The appearance of the same catalog of sins both in Jewish sources and in the Didache demonstrates that this list of the five basic sins did not come to life as some kind of learned reduction of the seven Noahide commandments. The reason is that these five, “heavy” sins are found in a completely different context in the Didache, and they serve a completely different function there than they do in the rabbinic dictum quoted above and in the Noahide commandments. The dating of the lists therefore depends on the dating of the early Christian Didache. The final form of this document came into existence before the end of the first century, but the Jewish source is older than the Didache. We tend toward the assumption that Didache 3:1-6 was an independent unit and was taken over by the author of the Jewish source. It would seem advisable to set the time of origin of this passage as not later than 50 C.E. This leads to the conclusion that the five commandments’ composition took place at the same time the apostolic church was applying the three prohibitions of the Apostolic Decree to Christians of Gentile origin. The second stage of the Noahide commandments’ existence, then, most likely was at the time when the Noahide commandments’ early form was still authoritative for the relationship of non-Jews to Judaism.

We have attempted to demonstrate that the list of the five basic commandments is not a matter of some historico-cultural theory of development from Adam to Noah. To what extent the six Adamic commandments arose independently of the seven Noahide commandments is very difficult to determine.

How many obligations were laid [by God] on Adam, the first human? The sages have taught: “Adam was required to observe six prohibitions: idolatry, blasphemy, justice, bloodshed, fornication and theft.” (Deut. Rab. 2:17, on Deut. 4:41)

In contrast to the seven Noahide commandments, the eating of a limb of a living animal is lacking, and in comparison with the list of the five basic ordinances, justice has been added. May we assume that justice, in contrast to all the prohibitions, is to be considered a positive commandment? That is not at all sure. The universal necessity of having some structured system of justice is basically there to hinder criminal capriciousness in dealing with people’s rights. Thus, the command to respect justice in the Adamic and Noahide versions of the commandments is also to be understood primarily as a negative commandment.

To the six Adamic commandments the descendants of Noah received a seventh, namely, the prohibition against eating a limb of a living animal. Biblically considered, this prohibition was senseless before the Flood, since according to God’s will Adam lived as a vegetarian. Noahides were allowed meat, but with limitations. There were limitations also for the non-Jews, but they were not adopted in the “canonical” form of the seven Noahide commandments. As we have attempted to demonstrate, it is precisely the ritual food laws of the secondary form of the Apostolic Decree that go back to two extra-canonical Jewish restrictions. The original form of the Apostolic Decree was purely ethical and was identical with the three Mosaic obligations for non-Jews, i.e., with the original (three) Noahide commandments.

 This progressive ritualization needs a short explanation. Neither the original, purely ethical form nor the two final “ritualized” forms are difficult to explain. The Noahide commandments and the closely related Apostolic Decree go back to formulations of the basic ideas of Judaism. The content of such summaries is ethical and universal. These summaries are by their nature intended as generally applicable and aimed at all mankind, also the non-Jews. That is how they could be considered as binding for non-Jews.

But is the purely ethical enough for the natural law of mankind? The five basic ordinances already added to the primary sins both the prohibitions of theft and blasphemy, and the six Adamic commandments added the obligation of justice. Judaism—whose self-definition involves being bound by rituals—can manage with purely ethical definitions of basic principles. But does that mean that non-Jews should live with no ritual obligations whatsoever? This is why a moral-ritualistic obligation appears amid the Noahide commandments, that is, the prohibition against eating the limb of a living animal. There were other practical suggestions in this direction, and two of these prohibitions were adopted in the canonical text of the Apostolic Decree.

We started out to show that the non-canonical form of the Apostolic Decree was the original, and that the original content of the Noahide commandments was the prohibition of the three sins of idolatry, murder and fornication.[68] The Apostolic Decree sharpened the prohibition of idolatry and expressly forbid the eating of meat offered to idols. A proof for the importance in Judaism of the three major prohibitions is the decision of Lydda, according to which no circumstance would justify a Jew’s committing these three sins. This decision also was taken over by the young church into its discipline in the course of the second century. We also have tried to show that the original prohibition of these three central sins developed into the seven Noahide commandments. The canonical Apostolic Decree also developed out of Jewish premises. It appears to us that the results of our investigation not only have meaningful implications for the history of early Christendom, but they also cast light on the relationship between early Judaism and Christianity.



Title page of Toland's book, Nazarenus: Or, Jewish, Gentile, and Mahometan Christianity.
Title page of Toland’s book, Nazarenus: Or, Jewish, Gentile, and Mahometan Christianity.

At the beginning of this essay, we referred to the words of Moses Mendelssohn. He was of the opinion that, according to New Testament teaching, a Jew, even if a believer in the Messiah, was still obligated to keep the Jewish ordinances. In contrast, a Christian of Gentile background, in accordance with Jewish halachah, is bound by the Noahide commandments. A similar view had been reached earlier by the English deist, John Toland (1670-1722) in his book, “Nazarenus.”[69] Unfortunately, this important book did not receive sufficient recognition. We could find no evidence that Toland’s work was known to scholars of the German Enlightenment. We must suppose that Mendelssohn, too, had no knowledge of Toland’s thinking.

Toland viewed the twin streams of the early church—the Torah-keeping Jewish Christians and the non-Jewish Christians, as the “original plan of Christianity” from which it would be damaging to deviate. That is why he says, similarly to the later Mendelssohn, that: “It follows indeed that the Jews, whether becoming Christians or not, are forever bound to the Law of Moses, as not limited; and he that thinks they were absolved from the observation of it by Jesus, or that it is a fault in them still to adhere to it, does err not knowing the Scriptures” (Introduction, VI).

Toland held the view that Jewish Christians were forever obligated to observe the Law of Moses, while the Christians of Gentile background, who lived among them, needed only to observe the Noahide commandments, abstaining from eating blood and making offerings to idols.[70] He, of course, knew only the “canonical” text of the Apostolic Decree; however, he tended to accept the hypothesis of a researcher from the century before who had surmised that the mention of the strangled offerings was a secondary interpolation, since it was not mentioned by many of the old church fathers.[71] Resch reached the same conclusion. This subject is worthy of further investigation.

  • [1] The translator would like to thank Horst Krüger, Christina Krüger, and especially Dr. Guido Baltes, for their invaluable assistance in preparing this translation.
  • [2] This article’s translation to English was made possible through the generous financial assistance of Paul, Clarice and Jeffery Steen, the loving father, mother and brother of Gregory. Jerusalem Perspective wishes to thank Dr. Volker Hampel and Neukirchener Verlag ( for permission to publish this article in English.
  • [3] David Flusser, “Lavater and Nathan, the Wise,” in Bemerkungen eines Juden zur christlichen Theologie (1984): 82-93.
  • [4] M. Mendelssohn, Schriften zum Judentum (1930), 1:303.
  • [5] Ibid., 10-11.
  • [6] “Fornication” would be a more accurate translation.
  • [7] Regarding the Noahide commandments, see E. Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (1909; reprint 1970), 2:178f.; H. L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament (1926), 3:36-38; A. Lichenstein, The Seven Laws of Noah (1981). The most important reference is t. Avod. Zar. 8:4-6 (473, 12-25). See also Gen. Rab. 17.17 (on Gen. 2:17; ed. Theodor-Albeck, 149-151), and notes; Gen. Rab. 34.8 (on Gen. 8:19 (ed. Theodor-Albeck, 316-17).
  • [8] D. Flusser, “Die Christenheit nach dem Apostelkonzil,” in Antijudaismus im Neuen Testament: Exegetische und systematische Beiträge (eds. W. P. Eckert, N. P. Levinson and M. Stöhr; 1967), 60-81.
  • [9] G. Resch, “Das Aposteldekret nach seiner ausserkanonischen Textgestalt untersucht,” in Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, NTF (1905), 3:1-179.
  • [10] A. Diehle, Die Goldene Regel (1962), 107.
  • [11] H. Sahlin, “Die drei Kardinalsünden und das Neue Testament,” Studia Theologica 20.1 (1970): 93-112, esp. 109. Regarding the three central sins, see also L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (1947), 5:292, n. 147; cf. 6:388, n. 16.
  • [12] The three Jewish researchers are: L. Venetianer, Die Beschlüsse zu Lydda und das Aposteldekret zu Jerusalem, Festschrift für A. Schwarz (1917), 417-19; M. Guttmann, Das Judentum und sein Umwelt (1917), 118; and G. Alon, “The Halachah in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” in Studies in Jewish History (1978), 1:274-94 (Hebrew), published previously in Tarbiz 11 (1939-1940).
  • [13] See Billerbeck, 1:221-24.
  • [14] G. Alon, op. cit., 279, n. 27.
  • [15] Cf. D. Flusser, “Die Tora in der Bergpredigt,” in Heinz Kremers (ed.), Juden und Christen lesen dieselbe Bibel (Duisburger Hochschulbeitraege 2) (1977), 102-113. In rabbinic parlance, one can speak of “great” and “small” commandments (Billerbeck, 1:903f.).
  • [16] Cf. D. Flusser, “The Ten Commandments and the New Testament,” in The Ten Commandments (ed. Ben-Zion Segal; 1985), 118-187 (Hebrew); see also G. Alon, op. cit., 278, and Y. Amir, “Die Zehn Gebote bei Philon von Alexandrien,” in ibid., Die hellenistische Gestalt des Judentums bei Philon von Alexandrien (1983), 131-63. On p. 135 Amir refers to a midrash: “Just like in the ocean there are little waves between two huge waves, so likewise between every pair of the ten commandments there are the individual prescriptions and regulations of the Torah” (j. Shek. 1, 9, 60d). A similar notion is found in the case of Hananiah, the nephew of Yehoshua: see W. Bacher, Die Aggada der Tannaiten (1903), 1:388. Similar is Gen. Rab. 8, line 16 (ed. Ch. Albeck; 1940), and see the note to that line. Targum Jonathan to Exod. 24:12 reads: “I will give you stone tablets on which the words of the Torah are explained, and the 613 commandments.”
  • [17] Cf. D. Flusser, “Neue Sensibilität im Judentum und die christliche Botschaft,” in ibid., Bemerkungen eines Juden zur christlichen Theologie (1984), 35-53 (see also n. 40).
  • [18] Ibid., 166-69.
  • [19] D. Flusser, op. cit. (see n. 16), 175-77.
  • [20] The most recent annotated editions of the Didache are: K. Wengst, Schriften des Urchristentums (1984), 3-100, and La doctrine des Douze Apotres (Didache), SC 248 (eds. W. Rordorf and A. Tuillier; 1978); there (203-226) one finds a critical edition of the Jewish sources of the text. Regarding these Jewish sources, see also D. Flusser, “The Two Ways,” in Jewish Sources in Early Christianity (1982), 235-252 (Hebrew). Regarding Philo, see p. 239 in that article. For our purposes, an important list of sins can be found in Philo in his discussion of the individual laws (Spec. Laws 2, 13): “theft, temple robbery, addiction, adultery, bodily injury, murder or like scandalous deeds.” The list is given in the context of the second half of the Decalogue, but more important is the similarity with the description of a disobedient Jew in Rom. 2:21-22: “You who instruct others, do you learn nothing yourself? You who preach that one ought not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idolatry, do you rob your temple?”
  • [21] The seven Noahide commandments include yet a third commandment from the second half of the Decalogue, namely, the prohibition of robbery (there, as a fifth commandment). The Hebrew word for “robbery” (as well as the verb “to rob”) gained the meaning of “theft.” The old biblical word for robbery was not used any more in the spoken language. In the Noahide commandments, then, we see that the sixth, seventh and eighth commandments of the Decalogue are preserved. But in the “canonical” form of the Apostolic Decree, by contrast, all the prohibitions of the second half of the Decalogue have disappeared. From bloodshed, we have moved to the eating of blood, and the prohibition of meat offered to idols is shifted to the first half of the Decalogue. On the text of the Apostolic Decree see also B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (1971), 429-35. For more recent literature see n. 12, and M. Simon, The Apostolic Decree and Its Setting in the Ancient Church, BJRL 52 (1969-1970), 437-60, and F. Siegert, Gottesfuerchtige und Sympatisanten, JSJ (1973), 109-164.
  • [22] The Apostolic Decree is mentioned in Acts three times: Acts 15:19-20; 28-29; 21:25. In the first formulation, Gentiles are admonished to avoid the “pollutions of idols.” This corresponds to the “contamination by idolatry” referred to in m. Shab. 9:1. In the second and third formulations, meat offered to idols is mentioned specifically.
  • [23] From G. Resch, op. cit., 15-17, one can learn that sometimes the Golden Rule was in fact attached to the canonical form of the Apostolic Decree. One cannot, however, therefore automatically conclude that the Golden Rule belongs to the Apostolic Decree; in these cases, we may be dealing with a mixed textual form.
  • [24] Who was the first to formulate the western form cannot be determined. W. Bacher (op. cit., vol. 2, 336) has mentioned a saying from the School of Ishmael (b. Ber. 19a, Tractate Tehilim on Ps 125, at the end): “Uttering slander is as great a sin as the three capital sins” (idolatry, murder and fornication). See also j. Peah 15d; Midrash ha-Gadol to Gen. 49:9 (see notes in M. Margulies edition, 664). S. Schechter also discusses the three capital sins in Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1961), 205-207 and 222-27 (see esp., 222). See n. 31 below.
  • [25] In m. Avot (the Sayings of the Fathers) these commandments are scarcely mentioned.
  • [26] W. Bacher, op. cit., vol. 1, 263f.
  • [27] Ibid., vol. 4, 278.
  • [28] Regarding the three mortal sins in the ancient church, see among others W. H. C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (1965), 56, 75, 374, 378. Although no friend of the Jews, Frend did recognize the Jewish parallels to the early Christian “mortal” sins. Cf. also A. Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmensgeschichte (1913), 1:439-44, and K. Rahner, Schriften zur Theologie, vol. XI: “Fruehe Bussgeschichte” (1973), esp. 91, 183 189. Especially important is the decision of the rigoristic Synod of Elvira (Spain, 306), which begins as follows: “Qui post idoli idolaturus accesserit et fecerit quo est crimen capitale, quia est summi sceleris, placuit nec infine eum communionem accipere. Flamines, qui post fidem lavacri et regenerationis sacrificaverunt, eo quod geminaverint scelera accedente nomicidio vel triplicaverint facinus cohaerente moechia, placuit eos nec in finem accipere communionem” (Acta et symbola conciliorum, ed. E. J. Jonkers, Textus minores, vol. XIX, [1954], 5). One sees here how similar is the position taken regarding the three mortal sins to the decision of Lydda.
  • [29] Cf. A. Blaise, Dictionnaire latino francais des autors chretiens (1954), 130.
  • [30] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:27. Perhaps the reference to the three mortal sins can be placed even earlier. At the end of the Revelation of John (Rev. 22:15) it is said: “Outside are the dogs, the poisoners, the fornicators, the murderers, and the idolaters and all those who love and do lies”; similarly also in Rev. 21:8. This implies the application of a measure of discipline for preventing the acceptance of such sinners into the congregation and the expulsion of such when discovered. H. Kraft, Die Offenbarung Johannes (1974), 279f., is on the right track.
  • [31] Regarding Tertullian, see B. Altaner and A. Stuiber, Patrologie (1966), 189; regarding Hippolytus, see loc. cit., 166. Hippolytus writes against Pope Callistus (217-222) in Refutation of All Heresies 9:11-13. Tertullian writes about the mortal sins in De pudicitia, probably his last work. When he wrote about the “pontifex maximus, quod est episcopus episcoporum” who was lax in church discipline, it is argued by some that he did not mean, as Hippolytus did, Pope Callistus. See the bibliography in Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, (ed. F. L. Cross; 1974), 221, s.v. “Callistus.” The three mortal sins are mentioned by Hippolytus in a surviving fragment of his commentary on Proverbs (GCS 1:163f.).
  • [32] Tertullian, De pudicitia, ch. 12; similarly also Augustine (see G. Resch, op. cit., 12, n. 21).
  • [33] See also G. Resch, op. cit., 21f.41 and 37, n. 1.
  • [34] Cf. W. Bousset, Die Offenbarung Johannis (1906; repr. 1966), 221.
  • [35] Cf. also H. Conzelmann, Der erste Brief an die Korinther (1969), 162-64. Also in Did. 6:2-3 the non-Jews are warned against meat offered to idols.
  • [36] t. Sot. 6:6 on Esau; Gen. Rab. 63.12 (on Gen. 25:29; ed. Theodor-Albeck, 694-95).
  • [37] t. Sanh. 13:8. See the Aramaic Targums on Gen. 13:13.
  • [38] S. Eli. Rab. 13 (ed. M. Friedmann, p. 61).
  • [39] See n. 25.
  • [40] Sifra to Lev. 16:16 and b. Shevi. 7b.
  • [41] This is not the place to discuss whether the concept of natural law existed in ancient Judaism, however, this issue has been discussed. See I. Heinemann, Die Lehre vom ungeschriebenen Gesetz im juedischen Schrifttum, HUCA 4 (1921), 149-171 and H. A. Wolfson, Philo (1948), 2:180-191. It is perhaps preferable to speak of the Jewish categories of injustice and foundational principles, which include, as we will see, the Noahide commandments, both in their early stages as well as in their final form.
  • [42] On pp. 39-40 of “Neue Sensibilität im Judentum und die christliche Botschaft,” quoted above (n. 18), D. Flusser has shown that the Book of Jubilees is the earliest witness for the double command of love.
  • [43] Cf. H. Kosmala, “The Three Nets of Belial,” ASTI 4 (1965): 91-113.
  • [44] This explanation is meant to paraphrase Isa. 24:18.
  • [45] Cf. J. Becker, Die Testamente der zwoelf Patriachen [T. 12 Patr.], JSHRZ 3 (1974), 227. See the translation on pp. 139-152.
  • [46] Porneia (fornication) is missing in some manuscripts of Acts 15:20, 29, but not of Acts 21:25! See also M. Simon, op. cit., 430f.
  • [47] The Koran 2:168: “He (Allah) has forbidden for you only carrion and blood and pork and whatever has been offered to another than Allah,” i.e., meat offered to idols. The same statement is found in 6:145 and 16:115f. In 5:4 the Islamic eating regulations are extended: “Forbidden to you are carrion, blood, pork and whatever has been offered to another than Allah (by slaughtering); the strangled, the slain, what has died by falling or by being gored, a carcass of an animal killed by wild beasts (except for what you purify), and what has been slaughtered on (idol) stones” [Ronning’s English trans. of M. Henig’s German translation of 1966]. Cf. also G. Resch, op. cit., 28f.
  • [48] Cf. A. Sperbaum, “The Thirty Noahide Commandments of Rav Samuel ben Hofni,” Sinai 72 (1973): 205-221 (Hebrew); A. Sperbaum, The Biblical Commentary of Rav Samuel ben Hofni Gaon (1978), 52-58 (Hebrew).
  • [49] It seems to us that variations in respect to what belongs in the Noahide commandments does not have much to do with the differences between the Pauline and the Petrine views of Christian legal requirements. It can be assumed that at the time the entire church accepted the Apostolic Decree with its three central sins as authoritatively binding. The difference is that Peter considered the Apostolic Decree as the minimum required, and Paul as the maximum. Peter and his followers represented the general Jewish opinion of the time, which was that the Noahide commandments were binding on God-fearers, but that it was up to them to willingly assume more of the standard Jewish practices. See also D. Flusser, op. cit. (n. 9).
  • [50] Cf. Resch, op. cit., 23-26.
  • [51] Hom. Gen. 27.
  • [52] Augustine, Faust. 32.13.
  • [53] G. Resch, op. cit., 24.
  • [54] The sentence about strangulation in b. Hull. 102b is misunderstood.
  • [55] Billerbeck (II, 738) notes the opinion of R. Hananiah ben Gamaliel preserved in b. Sanh. 59a. R. Hananiah interprets Gen. 9:4 as follows: “Its blood, while it is still living, you shall not eat.”
  • [56] In addition to the three central sins, the additional three stages are discussed in Billerbeck III, 36-38.
  • [57] The text is found in Sifra to Lev. 18:4 (ed. Weiss, 86a), and in b. Yoma 67b.
  • [58] This also includes theft (see n. 22 above).
  • [59] This is the correct reading.
  • [60] For bibliography see n. 21. We were alerted to the importance of this passage by Malcolm Lowe.
  • [61] In the unit Did. 3:2-6, each of the verses is composed of two halves. We consider the first half of each verse to be the original. For example, in the first half of Did. 3:4 reference is made to “bird watcher” (augur; soothsayer; diviner of omens); in the second half, to “enchanter,” “astrologer” and “magician.” We have retained “bird watcher,” although we cannot be sure of exactly what pagan superstition we are being warned. In the first half of Did. 3:3, “fornication” is mentioned; in the second half, “adultery.” We have retained “fornication” in our reconstruction; nevertheless, “adultery” appears to be the original reading since it appears in the Decalogue and also in Matt. 5:27-28.
  • [62] On the basis of this unit in the Didache (3:1-6) one recognizes once again how complex are the relationships between the various homilies in ancient Judaism and early Christianity. We will compare the reconstruction of the unit, which we have just made, with the list in 1 Cor. 10:5-11 of the sins of Israel in the wilderness, for the sake of which they had to remain in the wilderness. “These things are examples for us. They happened so that we will not lust after evil the way that they lusted. Don’t be idolaters like some of them…Let us not commit fornication like some of them did fornicate…Don’t complain like some of them complained…”

    The similarities:

    1 Cor. 10:6 lustful Didache 3:3 lust
    1 Cor. 10:7 idolaters Didache 3:4 idolatry
    1 Cor. 10:8 fornicators Didache 3:3 fornication
    1 Cor. 10:10 complainers Didache 3:6 complaining

    In the four parallel expressions we find two “light” sins (lust and complaining) and two “heavy” sins (idolatry and fornication).

  • [63] Cf. K. Wengst, op. cit., 71, n. 19.
  • [64] A very interesting historico-spiritual investigation of the Noahide commandments can be found at the beginning of the Introduction to Tractate Berachot in the Babylonian Talmud, which was composed by Nissim Gaon from Kairuan, North Africa (ca. 990-1062). Regarding the five basic principles, see also E. E. Urbach, The Sages (1979), 320f.
  • [65] Regarding the prohibition of blasphemy for non-Jews, see b. Sanh. 56a. The Talmud deduces this Noahide prohibition from Lev. 24:16; the story tells of a blasphemer, whose father was Egyptian—only later did having a Jewish mother become decisive for whether one was Jewish—and this passage closes with these words: “Whether the person involved is a stranger or a native, if he blasphemes the Name [of the Lord], he shall be put to death.”
  • [66] Cf. W. Bauer, Griechisch-deutsches Woeterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments (1958), 708.
  • [67] Midrash ha-Gadol to Gen. 20:11 (M. Margulies edition, 330)
  • [68] That the original Noahide commandments were only three comes directly out of b. Sanh. 57a: “A Noahide is to be executed on the basis of three transgressions: fornication, bloodshed and blasphemy,” that is, he will not be executed for transgression of the other commandments.
  • [69] J. Toland, Nazarenus or Jewish, Gentile or Mahometan Christianity (1718). For the text of Toland’s work, see:
  • [70] Op. cit., 65 and 68.
  • [71] Ibid., 181. This scholar was Curcelleus. Toland, in n. 38, cites Curcelleus: “Sed merito nobis suspecta est, cum a multis Patribus non agnoscatur, immo tamquam supposita diserte reiiciatur” (Diatriba de esu snguinis, chapter 11, p. 131). The scholar was not aware that there were manuscripts of the New Testament in which the word “strangled” is missing.

The “Hypocrisy” of the Pharisees

Many Christians assume the Pharisees were Jesus’ opponents. A viewer of a Jerusalem Perspective video clip on YouTube commented:

How can you be so positive in your assessment of the Pharisees? Remember that Jesus was pleased with the kneeling prayer of the tax collector and rebuked the prideful prayer of the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14). He also told us not to address anyone as “Rabbi”; we have only one teacher. And finally, Jesus consistently called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 12:34; 23:23) and said that “they have already received their reward” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16).

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.

However, this widespread Christian misreading of the New Testament is a terrible mistake, which, in the course of the last two millennia, often has resulted in appalling consequences for the Jewish community.

Who did Jesus say were sitting on Moses’ seat (Matt. 23:2)? Answer: the Pharisees and their scribes. Jesus said: “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and keep everything they say to you (in Hebrew, כל מה שיאמרו לכם, meaning, “[Observe] their rulings, commandments”). The verb λέγειν (say) in this verse may be a Hebraism for “to rule,” or “to command.” The Greek verbs ποιεῖν (to do) and τηρεῖν (to keep) are a parallelism and both refer to observing the biblical commandments as interpreted by the Pharisees (the Oral Torah).

Jesus himself observed the Oral Torah of the Pharisees. For example, not only was it his custom to say a blessing after eating, as commanded in the Torah (Deut. 8:10), but he also said a blessing before eating, an innovation of the Pharisees. (See David Bivin, “Jesus and the Oral Torah: Blessing.”)

Shmuel Safrai commented:

In other areas of daily life the rulings of the Pharisees also were practiced, and although there were bitter controversies, eventually the Pharisaic halachah prevailed even in the major areas of Temple worship. Josephus states that “all prayers and sacred rites of divine worship are performed according to their [the Pharisees’] exposition” (Antiquities 18:15), and that the Sadducees “submit to the formulas of the Pharisees, since otherwise the masses would not tolerate them” (Antiquities 18:17). (from Safrai, “Counting the Omer: On What Day of the Week Did Jesus Celebrate Shavuot (Pentecost)?.”)

Who was it that warned Jesus about Herod’s intention to kill him? Answer: the Pharisees (Luke 13:31).

Who was it that saved the lives of Jesus’ disciples by urging tolerance in the Sanhedrin when Peter and the other apostles were brought before it (Acts 5:33-39)? Answer: a Pharisee name Gamaliel, none other than Rabban Gamaliel the Elder.

Who was it that sided with Paul against the Sadducees in the Sanhedrin, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” (Acts 23:6-9)? Answer: the Sanhedrin’s Pharisees. (Read Shmuel Safrai’s “Insulting God’s High Priest.”)

Josephus reports that, after James was lynched by the conniving Sadducean high priest Hanan (Annas), the Pharisees protested to the Roman governor. David Flusser writes:

A similar clash between the Pharisees and Annas the Younger, probably the brother-in-law of Caiaphas, took place in the year 62 C.E. Annas the Younger “convened the Sanhedrin of judges and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, and certain others [probably Christians]. He accused them of having transgressed the Torah and delivered them to be stoned” (Antiq. 20:200-203). The Pharisees, who Josephus describes as the “inhabitants of the city who were considered the most tolerant and were strict in the observance of the commandments,” managed to have the high priest Annas the Younger deposed from his position as a result of the illegal execution of James. (David Flusser, “…To Bury Caiaphas, Not to Praise Him”)

Flusser also writes:

In contrast to what we know about Caiaphas and his faction, especially from John 11:47-53, the Pharisees of his time did not launch persecutions of Jewish prophetic movements. This is attested by Jesus himself (Matt. 23:29-31), according to whom the Pharisees of his day used to say, “If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” Indeed, when one reads the gospels critically, one becomes aware that the Pharisees did not play a decisive role in Jesus’ arrest, interrogation and crucifixion. The Pharisees are not even mentioned by name in the context of Jesus’ trial as recounted in the first three gospels, with the exception of the story about the guard at Jesus’ tomb (Matt. 27:62). (Flusser, “…To Bury Caiaphas, Not to Praise Him”)

The Pharisees were acutely aware of the dangers of hypocrisy. Their self-criticism was even more biting than that of Jesus. They even caricatured themselves saying that there were seven classes of Pharisees (j. Ber. 14b, chap. 9, halachah 7; j. Sot. 20c, chap. 5, halachah 7):

The “shoulder Pharisee”, who packs his good works on his shoulder (to be seen of men); the “wait-a-bit” Pharisee, who (when someone has business with him) says, Wait a little; I must do a good work; the “reckoning” Pharisee, who when he commits a fault and does a good work crosses off one with the other; the “economising” Pharisee, who asks, What economy can I practise to spare a little to do a good work? the “show me my fault” Pharisee, who says, show me what sin I have committed, and I will do an equivalent good work (implying that he had no fault); the Pharisee of fear, like Job; the Pharisee of love, like Abraham. The last is the only kind that is dear (to God). (English translation by George Foot Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era: The Age of the Tannaim [2 vols.; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927], 2:193)

Only one of the seven classes of Pharisees is righteous and acceptable to God: the Pharisee who serves God from love. Compare the saying of Antigonus of Socho, a sage who lived at the beginning of the second century B.C.: “Do not be like slaves who serve their master [i.e., God] in order to receive a reward; rather be like slaves who do not serve their master in order to receive a reward” (Mishnah, Avot 1:3). To the saying of Antigonus, compare the phrase found in Derech Eretz Rabbah 2:13 (ed. Higger, 284): עושין מאהבה (osin me-ahavah, those who do [i.e., perform good deeds] out of love).

“They preach, but they do not practice” (Matt. 23:3). The Pharisees were the conservatives of their day, the Bible teachers and preachers of Jesus’ society. The Pharisees knew that their greatest danger was the sin of hypocrisy, just as today’s conservative Christians understand that hypocrisy is their greatest danger. We sincere and devout followers of Jesus are the hypocrites of our day. There cannot be hypocrites where there are no beliefs and standards to which one is accountable to God.

Notice that Jesus did not criticize the Pharisees for tithing of their garden herbs (Matt. 23:23), a commandment of the Oral Torah, but for neglecting weightier matters. Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees appears to be “in-house” criticism, constructive criticism driven by love and respect. The Pharisees, in contrast to the Sadducees, held beliefs that were similar to Jesus’.

The expression “brood of vipers” appears four times in the New Testament, three times in Matthew’s Gospel and one time in Luke’s. (There are no parallels to any of these four sayings in Mark’s account.) According to Luke’s Gospel (Luke 3:7), the expression is found in the address of John the Baptist to the “crowds” who came to him at the Jordan River. However, according to Matthew, John the Baptist’s stinging rebuke was addressed to “Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt. 3:7). Apparently, this detail was added for color by the author of Matthew, who then put it in the mouth of Jesus twice more. Luke’s Gospel along with Mark’s provide evidence that this strong expression was used by the fiery John the Baptist, and not by Jesus.

Jesus’ words, ἀπέχουσιν τὸν μισθὸν αὐτῶν (“they are getting their reward/pay”) is a refrain that is repeated three times (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16). The implication is that such hypocrites will not receive a reward in the World to Come—perhaps will not even be in the World to Come! Rather than being a condemnation of the Pharisees, this threesome proves that Jesus’ theology was similar, or identical, to that of the Pharisees.

The three most important commandments in the eyes of the Pharisees were almsgiving, prayer and fasting, in that order, the most important being צְדָקָה (tsedakah; almsgiving). Jesus gives this trio in his Sermon on the Mount. Although Jesus’ point is that one should not be ostentatious when giving to the poor, when praying, and when fasting, in passing, we learn something about Jesus’ theology: Jesus stressed the same three commandments that were so important to the Pharisees. Notice that the centurion, Cornelius, was a God-fearer (Acts 10:2, 22). He gave alms and prayed much (Acts 10:2, 4) and fasted (Acts 10:30).

Regarding Jesus’ command to his disciples not to be called “rabbi” (my teacher), see the FAQ, “What did Jesus mean by ‘Call no man your father on earth’ (Matt. 23:9)?”

For further reading, see Shmuel Safrai, “Jesus and the Hasidim”; Shmuel Safrai, “Sabbath Breakers”; David Flusser, “…To Bury Caiaphas, Not to Praise Him”; and David Bivin, “Rabbinic Literature: A Spiritual Treasure.”

The Jewish Cultural Nature of Galilee in the First Century

There is a great deal of literature describing the Jewish cultural nature of Galilee in the first century C.E. Several scholarly fields are involved.

The issue is discussed by scholars of Jewish history and of the history of the Oral Torah for subsequently, during the second to fourth centuries and even later, Galilee was the living center of the Jewish people and its leadership, and the place in which the Oral Torah was collected and in large degree created. It also is extensively dealt with by scholars of the beginnings of Christianity, since Jesus grew up in Nazareth in Lower Galilee, and his activity was centered mainly within the bounds of Galilee. Conversely, Jewish scholars of the history of the Halakhah or of talmudic literature in general, when discussing the cultural image of Galilee, refer in some degree to the history of Christianity or to the background of the beginnings of Christianity.

Furthermore, the issue has been discussed in the general literature of Jewish history and of the history of the Land of Israel. Similarly, many scholars, especially Christians, deal with it extensively both in general works on the life of Jesus and in studies devoted to Galilee and its Jewish cultural image.[1]

According to the opinion that was prevalent from the middle of the nineteenth century on, Galilee, which was annexed by the Hasmoneans to the Jewish state only during a later stage of their rule, was far removed from Jewish cultural life, as well as from the Torah and the observance of Jewish law. Although Jewish settlement, which was sparse in Galilee before the period of Hasmonean rule, subsequently expanded, scholars insist that the expansion did not contribute to a growth and deepening of Jewish life. According to this school of thought, the world of the Pharisees (meaning the world of the sages and their teachings) was limited to Judea. Galilee stayed far removed from the world of Torah and observance of the commandments, both before the destruction of the Temple and during the Yavneh period, until the Sanhedrin and its sages moved to Galilee after the Bar Kokhba war.

This opinion, which has been formulated in various ways with differing emphases, leads to the drawing of major basic conclusions in many areas of Jewish history: the political sphere, the spiritual-cultural sphere and the theoretical sphere of the history of the Halakhah. On this basis, some scholars view the Christianity of Galilee as a manifestation of ignorance of Judaism, and Jesus and his disciples as the representatives of the ignorant in their war with the sages of the Torah and the Pharisees, who were meticulous in their observance of the commandments. Only in a Galilee having that character, they suppose, could incipient Christianity have found its expression.

It is on such hypotheses that these scholars base their interpretations of major episodes in the history of the Halakhah, such as the struggles of the sages in the post-Bar Kokhba period to inculcate the laws of ritual cleanness and uncleanness and their practical applications among the Jews of Galilee. They likewise seek to understand the zealot movements in Galilee, seeing them as manifestations of a nationalist rural ideology based on ignorance and directed against the urban sages of the Torah.

In the last generation, especially under the influence of studies by Gedalyahu Alon,[2] those hypotheses about Galilee have been extensively undermined and refuted. Nevertheless, several of his arguments have not been understood in their entirety. Alon dealt mainly with an investigation of life in Galilee during the period between the destruction of the Second Temple and the Bar Kokhba revolt. Many of the scholars dealing with this issue did not read his studies or those studies which followed him, especially since most of them were written in Hebrew. We keep hearing that the achievements of the Pharisees in Galilee were meager, and that in general there were no Galileans among the Pharisees and the sages. Scholars even claim that only one sage—Rabbi Jose ha-Galili—came from Galilee; those living in Galilee were Jews, but not rabbinic; Galilee was a focal point of Hellenistic cities and centers of Hellenistic culture, and the Jewish content of Galilee was extremely sparse.

In this essay we shall briefly review the arguments of Alon and others, adding proofs and arguments, mainly from the period preceding the destruction of the Temple. We must also re-examine the alleged positive proofs of the dearth of Torah and observance of the commandments in Galilee during the Second Temple and Yavneh periods.

Some of the proofs from the tannaitic tradition refer to the Yavneh period. It may be assumed, however, that on the whole they reflect the general reality of the cultural life in Galilee during the period prior to the destruction as well. This is the picture we also receive from Josephus and the New Testament. There are many proofs, however, from both halakhic and aggadic literature about Jewish life in Galilee during the Second Temple period itself. They will show that, contrary to the views outlined above, Galilee was a place where Jewish cultural life and a firm attachment to Judaism flourished well before the destruction of the Second Temple. Apart from Jerusalem, it even excelled the other parts of the Land of Israel in these respects.

Sages in Galilee

We shall begin with the talmudic traditions about the presence of sages in Galilee during the Second Temple and Yavneh periods, referring chiefly to those sages who were active during the first century, and not listing those about whom we have information mainly from the end of the Yavneh period.

Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai

The earliest tradition, apparently dating to the first half of the first century, is about Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai who lived and taught Torah in Arav in Lower Galilee. He is mentioned twice in Mishnah Shabbat with the formula: “An occurrence came before Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai in Arav, and he said….”[3]

The talmudic traditions about Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai link him to one of four groups by location: Arav, Jerusalem, Yavneh and Beror Hayil. It seems, as is assumed by Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai’s biographers, that during his youth, he lived in Arav, where he taught Torah; afterwards he came to Jerusalem where he stayed until close to the destruction of the Temple; from there he went to Yavneh (which is mentioned in many sources); and toward the end of his life he came to Beror Hayil after he had left or had been forced to leave Yavneh.[4]

When he lived in Arav, Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa, who was also a resident of that city, “sat before him” (i.e., learned from him).[5] Furthermore, the Babylonian Talmud relates: “It once happened that Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa went to learn Torah from Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai, and his son fell ill” (Berakhot 34b). This report, too, suggests that Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai was a young man at the time, the father of a sick child.

There is no hint in the sources of Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai having come to Arav from another place, such as Jerusalem, or that he was sent there as the New Testament relates regarding certain scribes[6] who arrived in Galilee from Jerusalem. He may have been a native of Arav, as was his disciple Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa. In either case, we have a clear tradition of the permanent residence during the course of years[7] of a sage, one of the pillars of the Oral Torah, who lived and taught in one of the cities of Galilee during a period for which we have almost no reports of sages living and teaching outside the city of Jerusalem.

We must also add that the rulings which were determined before Rabban Johanan—whether it is permitted to invert a dish over a scorpion on the Sabbath, with this not being considered an instance of the prohibited work of “trapping,” and secondly whether it is permitted to put wax on the hole in a jug on the Sabbath—are not trivial self-explanatory questions that could be addressed to any novice. Opinions were divided,[8] and even Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai did not give an unequivocal answer; regarding each of them he said, “I fear for him from a hatat.” That is, he feared lest he would err and be liable to bring a hatat (sin-offering). Incidentally, we learn that the Second Temple was still in existence, and a person who sinned would bring a hatat sacrifice to atone for his sin.[9]

The Jerusalem Talmud cites the Amora Ulla on these two traditions:

Rabbi Ulla said that he resided in Arav for eighteen years, and they asked him only these two questions. He said: “Galilee, Galilee, you hated the Torah; you will eventually be forced by the officers.”[10]

This saying by Ulla is regarded by all the scholarly works as unequivocal proof of Galilee’s distance from, and hatred of, the Torah. It is not, however, a direct tradition of Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai. The Mishnah cites only the two cases which were brought before Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai in Arav, not saying anything about a comment by him. It is Ulla, who lived in the second half of the third century, who possessed a tradition that Rabban Johanan, in contrast with the many cases brought before his contemporary Rabban Gamaliel, was consulted in only two cases during the eighteen years he lived in Arav, and that he prophesied that Galilee, for not studying Torah, would eventually be oppressed by the government officials.

It should not be forgotten that Galilee resembled Judea, and the Land of Israel in general, in being oppressed by government officials.[11] Thus this vague rebuke cannot cancel or even lessen the generality of the proofs of the presence of the sages and their teaching of Torah, in great measure in Galilee as we shall see below.

But even if we accept Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai’s authorship of this statement, we can draw no definite conclusions from its blunt language which was employed under specific circumstances. It may be simply an unobjective denigration of the kind we find elsewhere directed against the residents of other geographical areas. An example is another tradition in the Jerusalem Talmud:

Rabbi Simlai came before Rabbi Johanan. He said to him: “Teach me Aggadah.” He said to him: “I possess a tradition from my fathers not to teach Aggadah, neither to a Babylonian nor to a Southerner, because they are haughty and possess little Torah, and you are a Nehardean and live in the South.”[12]

The same charges are raised against Lod in another context. The Jerusalem Talmud asks why the determination of the new month is not made in Lod; Rabbi Zeira, Rabbi Johanan’s disciple, replies, “because they are haughty and possess little Torah.”[13]

These denigrations certainly cannot be taken at face value. During the period of Rabbi Johanan, the middle of the third century, neither the Babylonians—and certainly not the Nehardeans—nor the Southerners (i.e., those from Lod) were either “possessing little Torah” or “haughty.” Nehardea had been a place of Torah since early times and was the first, or possibly the second, center of Torah in Babylonia. The South was the second most important center of Torah during that period. It contained the academy of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, and many sages of the first order were from Lod where they taught Torah. “The rabbis of the South,” “our rabbis in the South,” and similar expressions appear frequently in talmudic literature.[14]

In several places the tradition adds the opinion of the people of the South to that of the people of the North, Sepphoris or Tiberias, or it compares the position of the Southerners with that of the sages from Sepphoris and Tiberias, just as it brings baraitot and traditions from the South.[15] Rabbi Hanina, the teacher of Rabbi Johanan, who lived in Sepphoris, said, “Southerners have soft hearts; they hear a word of Torah and they are persuaded”[16] This harsh comment directed against the Southerners apparently was formulated in Galilee, Sepphoris or Tiberias; it declares that the people of Galilee are superior in both their Torah and personal attributes to the Southerners. It is quite doubtful, however, whether this is objectively accurate. Likewise, the statement attributed by Ulla to Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai indicates the intent to denigrate the people of Galilee, and no real conclusions can be drawn from it.

Furthermore, the two laws about which Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai was asked are from the realm of Sabbath law. Regarding one of them, whether it is permitted to harm a potentially dangerous animal, the sages and the Hasidim (pietists) disagreed. A baraita states: “The Hasidim are displeased with the person who kills snakes and scorpions on the Sabbath.” Rava bar Rav Huna adds: “And the sages are displeased with these Hasidim.”[17] It is possible that the thrust of this comment against the people of Galilee regarding this law is directed against the Hasidim who were in Galilee and who were criticized, beginning with Hillel and continuing through Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai, for not being sufficiently occupied with Torah because they explicitly stressed the superiority of the “deed” over study.[18]

Rabbi Halafta

Rabbi Halafta (or Abba Halafta), who came from Sepphoris, was a younger contemporary of Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai. He was the father of the well-known Tanna Rabbi Jose ben Halafta, who was one of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva. The Tosefta relates that Rabbi Halafta introduced the rules for communal fast-days in Sepphoris, together with his colleague Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradyon in Sikhnin. When the sages learned of this, they said that this was practiced only at the Eastern Gates (Ta’anit, end of ch. 1 and parallels).[19] It is logical to date this event after the destruction of the Temple but before the Bar Kokhba revolt, for Rabbi Halafta, who cites teachings from the time of the Temple, from the period of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder (as will be shown below), certainly did not live until after the Bar Kokhba revolt. He was born many years before the destruction of the Temple, for his son, Rabbi Jose, relates about him:

It once happened that Rabbi Halafta went to Rabban Gamaliel, to Tiberias, and he found him sitting at the table of Johanan ben Nezif, with the Targum of the Book of Job in his hand. Rabbi Halafta said to him: “I remember that Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, your father’s father, would sit on a stair of the Temple Mount. They brought before him the Targum of the Book of Job, and he said to the builder, ‘Bury it under the rubble.’”[20]

Here Rabbi Halafta meets Rabban Gamaliel II who has come to Tiberias for a visit, where he finds a Targum of Job. Abba Halafta, who lives in Sepphoris, comes to visit him and tells him of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder’s attitude toward the Targum of Job. Rabban Gamaliel’s visit to Tiberias took place c. 100, for it cannot be assumed that Rabban Gamaliel could have headed the leadership in Yavneh before the decline of the Flavian emperors in the year 96. The incident involving Rabban Gamaliel the Elder occurred c. 50-60. The Galilean sage, therefore, tells of an incident involving the Targum of Job in Jerusalem during this same period; we may assume that he saw this when he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in his youth.

We do not know from whom he learned Torah or where he studied, nor do we find him in Yavneh. Rabbi Halafta does not cite teachings in the name of the sages of Yavneh. It is possible that he went to Jerusalem to study in his youth; it is also possible that he received his knowledge in Galilee. At any rate, he had an academy, or something approaching an academy, in Galilee. Johanan ben Nuri, who also was one of the sages of Galilee in the post-destruction generation, would go to Rabbi Halafta and ask him questions on points of law; several times he adds that this is his opinion, while Rabbi Akiva holds a different opinion.[21] We do not find Rabbi Halafta in Yavneh, possibly because of his advanced age, while Rabbi Johanan ben Nuri, who was younger and who was still alive after the Bar Kokhba war,[22] was the one who went to Yavneh and reported the opinions of the Yavneh sages to Rabbi Halafta.

Rabbi Halafta lived until the time of the revolt against Trajan in the years 115-116. His son Rabbi Jose relates:

It once happened that four elders were sitting silently [in the store][23] of Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah in Sepphoris, [the other three were] Rabbi Huzpit [ha-Meturgeman],[24] Rabbi Yeshevav and Rabbi Halafta [Abba],[25] and they brought before them the top of a post which had been removed with a chisel.[26]

We should accept the opinion of the scholars[27] who state that the “silent” nature of their meeting indicates that this was a clandestine gathering in a time of persecution. It cannot have been the period of persecution during the Bar Kokhba war, for it is difficult to assume that Rabbi Halafta and Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah were still alive at that time. It is more reasonable to date this event during the period of the revolt against Trajan, even though these two sages were already then extremely advanced in years.

In general it can be stated that Abba Halafta was a native of the city of Sepphoris and was born in the fourth or fifth decade of the first century. He was in Jerusalem during the time of Rabban Gamaliel; he had an academy in Sepphoris during the time of the Second Temple, or shortly after its destruction, and he was still alive during the revolt against Trajan.

Rabbi Hananiah (Hanina) ben Teradyon

Rabbi Hananiah (or Hanina) ben Teradyon must be mentioned together with Abba Halafta. He was a contemporary of Abba Halafta, but apparently younger, as will be shown below. The tradition that tells of the rules for communal fast-days introduced by Rabbi Halafta in Sepphoris states that they were also introduced by Rabbi Hanina in Sikhnin.[28] baraita listing all the courts in Israel from the time of the Chamber of Hewn Stone to the time of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi states: “‘Justice, justice shall you pursue’ [Deut. 16:20]—follow a proper court…said Rabbi Hanina ben Teradyon to Sikhni.”[29] We find that questions are directed to him regarding the ritual cleanness of the mikveh of Beit Anat in Lower Galilee.[30]

Particular to Rabbi Hanina ben Teradyon are the traditions regarding the great scholarship of his daughter Beruriah.[31] She acquired her knowledge in Galilee before the Bar Kokhba war.[32]

Various traditions link Rabbi Hanina ben Teradyon and his family with events before the Bar Kokhba revolt and during the period of persecutions that followed the revolt. He was one of the Ten Martyrs, and their act of martyrdom took place after the revolt.[33]

Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah

The baraita describing the sages’ silent meeting in Sepphoris mentions that they sat in the shop of Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah. Many scholars in the field of Jewish history and culture have erred in establishing the period of this sage. In the well-known tradition of the deposition of Rabban Gamaliel from the post of Nasi, which is taught in both Talmuds,[34] it is stated that Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, who was appointed instead of Rabban Gamaliel, was sixteen or eighteen years old at the time.[35] These scholars accepted the tradition as a historical fact. Since the deposition occurred shortly after the year 100, Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah would then have been born a number of years after the destruction of the Temple.

It is not at all reasonable, however, that the sages would decide to appoint a man so young in place of Rabban Gamaliel, relying upon eighteen rows of his hair miraculously to turn white. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah’s “youth” is not a tradition, but rather a quasi-“exposition” of his statement in the Mishnah: “Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah said: ‘Behold, I am as a seventy-year-old, and I have not merited’” (Berakhot 1:5). The Gemara interprets this: “‘I am as a seventy-year-old,’ and not an actual seventy-year-old,” because he was appointed when young, and his hair turned white in order to give him the distinguished appearance of age. But such a statement was also made by Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah without his being the beneficiary of a miracle turning his hair white.[36] Furthermore, the passage in the Jerusalem Talmud on the same mishnaic statement[37] understands that Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah actually was seventy years old and comments on his statement, “Even though he attained a high position, he lived a long life.”

It can be learned from various sources that he was already an elderly man during the time of the Temple. In Tractate Shabbat, Rabbi Judah states in the name of Rav that each year Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah would set aside as ma’aser (tithe) 12,000 calves from his herd. According to the Halakhah, ma’aser from animals is not in effect after the destruction of the Temple; it may, therefore, be assumed that this is a tradition from the Temple period.[38] Rabbi Judah relates that Rabbi Eleazar (ben Azariah) purchased a synagogue from Tarsians in Jerusalem, “and he used it for his own purposes” (b. Megillah 26a).[39] He, therefore, was an adult who set aside ma’aser and purchased a synagogue in Jerusalem. It is related in midrashim of the Land of Israel and in j. Ketuvot[40] that Rabbi Jose ha-Galili suffered from his wife but could not divorce her because her get (writ of divorce) was for a large sum. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, who was visiting in his house and saw this, gave him the money he needed. (This event undoubtedly took place in Galilee.)

To sum up: Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah was a well-to-do, even wealthy, man. He served as an example of a wise and wealthy person,[41] a priest of distinguished lineage[42] and one of the greatest sages both of his generation and of all times.[43] He was present in Jerusalem, like other Galilean families, some of whom we shall mention below. After the destruction of the Temple, he was present in Yavneh; he served at one point as head of the Sanhedrin there and afterwards as Rabban Gamaliel’s deputy. He participated in the delegation of Rabban Gamaliel and other sages that went to Rome;[44] with them he visited the ruins of Jerusalem.[45] He originated, however, from Sepphoris in Galilee, where he had a “shop.” Like Rabbi Halafta, he also lived a long life, being still alive during the revolt against Trajan. There is no information about him dating from after that revolt.

If we determine that he was born in the fifth decade C.E., then it is possible to arrange all the traditions in chronological order. At the age of twenty-five he stayed in Jerusalem and purchased a synagogue in the city. About the year 100 Rabban Gamaliel was deposed as Nasi and Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah was appointed in his place; he was about 60 years old at the time. He visited Rome and Jerusalem, and lived until the time of the revolt against Trajan, or shortly after it, being then about 70 years old. It should be added that his father, Azariah, also was one of the sages. For when a delegation of sages, which included Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, came to the aged Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas, the latter asked, referring to Eleazar: “And does our colleague Azariah have a son?”[46]

Rabbi Zadok and Elisha ben Avuyah

Similar things can be said about Rabbi Zadok, who was one of the outstanding personalities among the Pharisaic sages in the generation before the destruction of the Temple, in which he served as a priest. While standing on the stairs of the ulam in the Temple, he raised his voice against those priests for whom “the ritual uncleanness of a knife for Israel was more severe than murder.”[47] He frequently fasted so that Jerusalem would not be destroyed, and he was saved upon the request of Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai who greatly honored him.[48] He served as head of the court when Rabban Gamaliel was the Nasi,[49] or according to other traditions concerning Rabban Gamaliel.[50]

It may logically be assumed that he was born in Galilee. He sent his son to study under Rabbi Johanan ben ha-Horanit[51] and, it may be assumed, to his place of residence in Transjordan. Rabbi Zadok, who was well-to-do, sent his son olives during years of drought. From Tivon in Lower Galilee he sent questions on matters of ritual cleanness to Yavneh. The wording of the baraita implies that these questions had first been brought before Rabbi Zadok:

Rabbi Eleazar the son of Rabbi Zadok said: “Father brought two cases from Tivon to Yavneh…a case involving a certain woman…and they came and asked Rabbi Zadok, and Rabbi Zadok went and asked the sages…once again, a case involving a certain woman and they asked Rabbi Zadok, and Rabbi Zadok went and asked the sages.”[52]

Tivon was a center of Torah even before Rabbi Zadok, as well as for generations after him. The Mishnah relates: “Rabbi Joshua said, in the name of Abba Jose Holi-Kofri of Tivon.”[53] Rabbi Joshua belonged to the generation of the destruction of the Temple. He served in the Temple, and his teachings were heard during the time the Temple was still in existence.[54] Afterwards he was active in Yavneh.[55] It may be assumed that Abba Jose of Holi-Kofri, in whose name Rabbi Joshua cites a teaching, lived in the generation before Rabbi Joshua, i.e., during the Temple period.

Rabbi Zadok’s son, Rabbi Eliezer ben Zadok, who frequently speaks about his father, also was a sage. One tradition states that he and Abba Saul ben Batnit were shopkeepers in Jerusalem, selling oil.[56] He speaks of Jerusalem before the destruction of the Temple.[57] His coming from Galilee did not prevent him from living for a certain amount of time in Jerusalem, where he built a synagogue[58] like other important Galilean families, some of whose sons lived for a period of time in Jerusalem. At any rate, we find him after the destruction of the Temple in Acre.[59] It is almost certain that he lived where his father had lived, in Tivon.

Next to Rabbi Zadok we must mention Elisha ben Avuyah, the sage who left Judaism for the non-Jewish world and even participated, according to some versions, in persecutions of Israel and its religion, during the time of the Hadrianic persecutions.[60] A tradition relates that he was born in Jerusalem, the son of one of the leading residents of the city; major sages attended his circumcision, which took place during the Temple period. The traditions of his public teaching of the Torah, before he abandoned Judaism, and his teachings are connected with Galilee: “He would sit and review in Ginnosar.”[61]

One of the versions in the Midrash reads: “Since he was speaking and expounding in the Chamber of Hewn Stone or in the academy in Tiberias….”[62] baraita in the Babylonian Talmud, a portion of which is also found in Tractate Semahot, states:

It happened that the father of Rabbi Zadok died in Ginzak. They informed him three years later. He came and asked Elisha ben Avuyah and the elders with him, and they said: “Observe [the mourning periods of] seven [days] and thirty [days].”[63]

We also find “and four elders who were with him.”[64] That is, he was the colleague of five people, a number that is recurrently cited to denote a limited number of sages. Since Rabbi Zadok lived in Galilee and Elisha ben Avuyah was active as a sage in Galilee, it may be assumed that Rabbi Zadok’s inquiry to Elisha ben Avuyah took place in Galilee. We learn from this that during the time of the Temple, or shortly thereafter (for Rabbi Zadok’s father certainly did not die many years after the destruction of the Temple), he lived in a city in Galilee, apparently Tiberias, was a colleague of sages and taught Torah.

It is certainly possible to construct a chronology for Rabbi Zadok and Elisha ben Avuyah that permits us to include the various traditions about these two figures without having to invent two people by the name of “Rabbi Zadok” as is accepted practice among several scholars.[65] Rabbi Zadok was born during the years 20-30 C.E. As an adult, between thirty and forty years of age, he totally opposed distorted religious conduct in the Temple, and he also fasted in order to prevent the destruction of the Temple. In the sixties, his son was also present in Jerusalem, selling oil and purchasing a synagogue. They returned to Galilee after the destruction of the Temple. During these years (approximately 80-85), when he was fifty-five to sixty years old, his father died. Elisha ben Avuyah, who was already an outstanding sage by this time,[66] was sitting with a group of sages in Galilee when Rabbi Zadok came to ask him to rule on a point of practical law. During this period Rabbi Zadok went to Yavneh, and when Rabban Gamaliel became head of the Sanhedrin, he sat next to him; he was not older than seventy at the time.

During the later years of Rabban Gamaliel’s activity, about the year 100, we hear no more of Rabbi Zadok. The tradition reporting the deposition of Rabban Gamaliel[67] speaks of Rabbi Zadok; however, he is mentioned in connection with an event that had occurred in the past, and he himself was not present. Similarly, he is not mentioned in any of the many meetings of the sages that took place during the time of Rabban Gamaliel or after his death.

Rabbi Jose ben Kisma

Rabbi Jose ben Kisma is another sage who is connected with Tiberias. As we see from the traditions about him and his relations with his contemporaries, he was one of the well-known sages in his generation, although very few of his teachings are extant. All the traditions about him which are related to a specific place or which explicitly mention a place name are connected with Galilee, especially with Tiberias and its environs.

When the teaching of Torah was prohibited and he disagreed with Rabbi Hanina ben Teradyon’s defiance of the edict, it seems he was the sage asked by Rabbi Hanina: “How do I stand with respect to the World to Come?” Rabbi Jose ben Kisma died during that period of persecutions, and all the leaders of Rome came to his grave.[68] It is safe to assume that this dispute between Rabbi Hanina ben Teradyon (of the city of Sikhnin) and Rabbi Jose ben Kisma was conducted in Galilee, and “the leaders of Rome” refers to the rulers of Tiberias or Sepphoris. Other traditions which we shall cite explicitly mention places in Galilee.

The Mishnah speaks of a problem of Sabbath law concerning which the sages disagreed, relating that “It once happened in the synagogue in Tiberias that they treated it as permitted, until Rabban Gamaliel came and the Elders prohibited them,” or the opposite according to the opinion of one sage (m. Eruvin 10:10). The sources relate about this event[69] that the disagreement was so sharp it led to physical violence until they tore (in another version: was torn)[70] a Torah Scroll in their anger. Rabbi Jose ben Kisma, who was present, said: “I should wonder if this synagogue will not become a place of idolatry.” There was a synagogue in Tiberias which was visited by Rabban Gamalil and the Elders. It seems that after this visit the dispute erupted on this question, and Rabbi Jose ben Kisma was present at the time.

It is possible that he merely happened to be in Tiberias on that occasion. However, in the chapter “Acquisition of the Torah” which is appended to Tractate Avot, Rabbi Jose ben Kisma relates:

Once I was walking along the way, when a man met me and greeted me, and I returned his greeting. He said to me, “My master, where do you come from?” I said to him, “I come from a great city of sages and scholars.” He said to me, “My master, do you wish to dwell with us in our place? I will give you a million golden dinars and precious stones and pearls.” I said to him, “My son, if you were to give me all the silver and gold and precious stones and pearls in the world, I would not dwell anywhere except in a place of Torah.” (m. Avot 6:9)

It may be assumed that his “great city” was Tiberias, where there was a synagogue. This is a proof that it was a city of Torah before the Bar Kokhba revolt. Even if we disregard the rhetoric of “a great city of sages and scholars,” we are still left with testimony that Tiberias was the residence of sages.

A tradition in Midrash Tanhuma reads:

It once happened that Rabbi Jose ben Kisma and Rabbi Ilai and their disciples were walking about in Tiberias. He said to Rabbi Jose: “When will the son of David come?”…“I say to you, at the time when Tiberias falls and is rebuilt”…“From where do we know this?” He said to them: “Behold, the cave of Pameas [Paneas] turns from side to side, in accordance with his words.”[71]

Rabbi Ilai, too, belonged to the generation before the Bar Kokhba revolt, but he came from Usha in Galilee, as we shall see below. In this account he has gone to Rabbi Jose ben Kisma in Tiberias where they walk with their disciples and talk about the coming of the son of David, bringing examples from geographic features of the area.

Infrequently Mentioned Sages

We just saw Rabbi Ilai walking about in Tiberias. The sources do not state where he resided, but from the fact that his son Rabbi Judah, one of the most frequently mentioned sages in tannaitic literature, was from the city Usha,[72] it may be assumed that the father came from the same city. Rabbi Ilai came at times to Yavneh and tells of his meetings with the sages of Yavneh.[73] He was the outstanding disciple of Rabbi Eliezer (ben Hyrcanus) ha-Shammuti,[74] and once when he came to his teacher on the festival of Sukkot, the latter was not pleased and chastized him for leaving his home on the holiday.[75] He accompanied Rabban Gamaliel on his visits to Galilee.[76]

We know more details about Rabbi Johanan ben Nuri, who is mentioned in many traditions about the Yavneh generation; he even played a role in the leadership of the Sanhedrin in Yavneh.[77] He, too, was a disciple of Rabbi Eliezer ha-Shammuti and cites teachings in his name.[78] It appears from many traditions that he was from Galilee, going back and forth between Galilee and Yavneh.[79] We can also establish that he resided in Beit Shearim.[80]

Rabbi Eleazar ben Parta is mentioned a number of times in tannaitic literature together with the sages of Yavneh, but especially with those of Galilee.[81] He was seized by the authorities together with Rabbi Hanina ben Teradyon, but released.[82] His residence was apparently in Sepphoris, for it was stated[83] that when “evil decrees arrived from the authorities [on the Sabbath] for the great ones of Sepphoris,” they came to Rabbi Eleazar ben Parta for advice.[84]

Rabbi Eleazar ben Teradyon is mentioned once, in a question he asked of the sages.[85] Since the name “Teradyon” otherwise appears only in reference to Rabbi Hanina ben Teradyon, scholars assume that they were brothers.[86] In the parallel to this question in the Jerusalem Talmud and in the Tosefta, the name “Rabbi Eleazar ben Tadai”[87] occurs; this sage is mentioned several times in Halakhah and Aggadah, together with sages of the Yavneh generation.[88]

Detail of "Map of Palestine According to Talmudic Sources," in the Jewish Encyclopedia (ed. Isidore Singer; Funk & Wagnalls, 1905), 9:496.
Detail of “Map of Palestine According to Talmudic Sources,” in the Jewish Encyclopedia (ed. Isidore Singer; Funk & Wagnalls, 1905), 9:496.

Another sage, “Rabbi Jose ben Tadai of Tiberias,” is mentioned only once. In a question he asked of Rabban Gamaliel, he attempted to ridicule the qal wa-homerform of proof: “And Rabban Gamaliel excommunicated him.”[89]

We must add Rabbi Zakkai of Kavul to the list of Galilee sages who were active during or shortly before the Yavneh generation. He is mentioned only a few times. Genealogists of the Tannaim and Amoraim usually list him much later among the sages in the first generation of Amoraim, for Tractate Semahot relates that Judah and Hillel, sons of Rabban Gamaliel, went to Rabbi Zakkai in Kavul (Semahot 8:4). Talmudic literature mentions a number of stories connected with the visit to Galilee of those two brothers.[90] Since they are commonly assumed to have been sons of the Rabban Gamaliel who was the son of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi and followed him as Nasi around the year 220-225, their visit to Rabbi Zakkai in Kavul would have occurred during the first generation of Amoraim. Elsewhere,[91] however, we have shown that they are sons of Rabban Gamaliel of Yavneh, who came from Judea to Galilee to visit several places such as Beit Anat, Biri and Kavul.

They encounter the strict practice of the inhabitants of Galilee. Out of respect and politeness, however, they do not tell them that the things the Galileans forbid are permitted, but rather accept upon themselves the strict Galilean practice. During their visit they are received in Kavul by Rabbi Zakkai, who is known to us from one law that is transmitted in his name and from a sermon he delivered at the funeral of the son of one of “the great ones of Kavul” who died during a wedding feast.[92]

Rabbi Jose ha-Galili

The last on our list is Rabbi Jose ha-Galili, whom scholars commonly assume to have been the only sage to come from Galilee and who was, therefore, called “ha-Galili,” meaning “of Galilee.” As we have seen, however, he was far from being the only one. His appellation “ha-Galili” may instead be understood to mean that he came from the city of Galil. This was a settlement in Upper Galilee which is mentioned in the list of the markers of the boundaries of the Land of Israel in a baraita, where it appears in its Aramaic form as “the fort of Galila.”[93] Its name in Arabic is Jalil. It is located about eight miles to the northeast of the village of al-Kabri, which is mentioned before it in the list. This was an especially large settlement during the later Roman period.[94]

He is, however, the Galilean sage from the Yavneh period who is mentioned the most often in tannaitic literature and is frequently mentioned in the meetings of the “premier speakers” during the Yavneh period, whether in Yavneh or in Lod. He is also mentioned extensively regarding his teaching in Galilee and his meetings with people in Galilee, just as he cites teachings by sages from Galilee and vice versa.[95] From the extensive and fine literary material on Rabbi Jose ha-Galili’s first appearance in Yavneh, it is clear that by then he was already an outstanding sage who astounded the sages of Yavneh with his knowledge and sharpness.[96]

The Mishnah discusses whether poultry is prohibited with milk (Hullin 8:1, 4). Beit Shammai are among the lenient and allow that poultry may be brought to the table together with cheese. Rabbi Jose ha-Galili is still more lenient, holding that it may even be eaten together with cheese.[97] The Babylonian Talmud, commenting on this issue,[98] relates that in Rabbi Jose ha-Galili’s home they would “eat the meat of poultry in milk.” It adds that Levi, the disciple of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi, stated that in Babylonia he came to the home of a well-known person where he was served poultry in milk. When asked by Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi why he had not excommunicated them for this disregard of the law, Levi explained that this was the home of Rabbi Judah ben Batyra, whom he assumed to be following the opinion of Rabbi Jose ha-Galili.

Tomb of Judah Ha-Nasi in Beit She'arim. (Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.)
Tomb of Judah Ha-Nasi in Beit She’arim. (Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.)

We may draw several conclusions from this story. Rabbi Jose ha-Galili had influence and standing, for in his home they ruled and practiced in accordance with his opinion. The well-known Babylonian sage Rabbi Judah ben Batyra apparently also instituted Rabbi Jose ha-Galili’s practices in his home. We also learn that “ha-Galili” indeed does not mean a Galilean, but rather is a reference to a specific location as suggested above. If it had been the general practice in Galilee to eat poultry with milk, Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi would not have wondered at Levi’s not having excommunicated them for such a practice, especially since Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi was born and was active in Galilee. “Ha-Galili,” therefore, refers to a specific place in Galilee; it is possible that during the time of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi (approximately 100 years after Rabbi Jose ha-Galili), this local practice had already vanished.

Had the eating of poultry with milk been a general Galilean practice, it would have been reflected more extensively in the literature, and it need not have vanished by the time of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi. But the local practice of the city of Galil, lying at the end of the northern boundary of Upper Galilee, could have more quickly been forgotten or almost forgotten with the spread of the law in accordance with Beit Hillel at the end of the Yavneh period.[99] Beit Hillel held that poultry may not even be brought to the table together with cheese.[100]

Nor should sweeping conclusions be drawn from the expression “foolish Galilean” which Beruriah applied to Rabbi Jose ha-Galili when he spoke excessively in her presence.[101] Even if this expression is a denigration applied to Galilee as a whole,[102] we cannot draw conclusions regarding the Jewish cultural reality of Galilee. First, it must be stated that Beruriah herself was a Galilean. Second, even if we infer that this was an idiomatic expression, it is not of great significance, for in all cultures and among all peoples the inhabitants of certain regions show habitual scorn for the inhabitants of others. We cannot learn from such appellations about the real characteristics of their targets, and certainly not when all the historical facts prove the opposite.

Rabbi Jose ha-Galili’s contemporaries, including central figures of the Oral Torah such as Rabbi Akiva, speak extensively of and are impressed by his sharpness and wisdom. He is also to be found in the most important gatherings of the sages of Yavneh in which basic elements of tannaitic thought were formulated.[103] Thus he was certainly no “fool,” even if the question he put to Beruriah could, in her opinion, have been stated in a more concise manner.


The above list of sages is not complete. Others could be added, either with complete certainty or as a reasonable possibility. When we compiled[104] a list of the sages known to us from the first century until the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt, noting alongside each one his place of origin or activity (when there is mention of it in the sources), it became clear that if Jerusalem is excluded, most of the sages about whom there is evidence of their origin and activity either were Galileans or were especially active in Galilee.

Torah Study in Galilee

We shall now turn to the evidence of Torah study in Galilee, whether in small groups of pupils or among the public at large. In the talmudic tradition there are very few references from the Second Temple period to public Torah study outside Jerusalem, apart from the context of the reading of the Torah in the synagogue. Yet there undoubtedly was study by groups of pupils, and teachers and pupils, throughout the Land of Israel. Evidence of this is found in an early saying by one of the first Pairs of Sages: “Let your house be a meeting place for the sages, and sit amidst the dust of their feet” (m. Avot 1:4).

Permanent Academies

There are very few hints to the existence of a permanent academy outside Jerusalem during the Temple period. One hint comes in a portion of Sifrei Zuta from the Genizah, which mentions “Edomite pupils from Beit Shammai,” i.e., ones who resided in the South.[105] That group of pupils outside of Jerusalem may be assumed to date from the time of the disagreements between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, that is from before the destruction of the Temple. There is evidence of a gathering of sages in Jericho,[106] but not of the permanent residence of a sage outside Jerusalem.

In fact, the sole definite evidence of a permanent academy is the statement cited above about the residence of Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai in Arav, in Lower Galilee. According to the statement by the Amora Ulla, he lived there for eighteen years and complained that not many people came to him to ask regarding the law. Even if we do not accept as fact the figure of eighteen years, we nevertheless have here a tradition of a prolonged residence in Arav. As we have seen, Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa, a sage who was already active during the time of the Temple, having brought a gift to the Temple with the miraculous aid of angels,[107] sat before him.

Teachers and Pupils

There are numerous testimonies regarding the teaching of Torah in all parts of Galilee in the generation after the destruction of the Temple. At least a portion of these testimonies is undoubtedly a continuation of the reality preceding the destruction, and only testimonies of that kind will be mentioned here.

Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus was one of the sages with numerous ties to Galilee. Although he came from the South where his property was located,[108] we find him several times in Galilee where he had disciples. When he was suspected of being a Christian, arrested by the authorities and released, he acknowledged the rightness of the judgment, for he remembered that once he had been walking in the public road of Sepphoris and began to talk with Jacob of Kefar Sikhnin, who transmitted to him a teaching in the name of “Jeshua Panteri,” that is, Jesus of Nazareth.[109] This incident may date from the time of the Temple, for he speaks as of something done many years previously when tension with the Jewish Christians was not great and a sage could have stopped to hear a teaching in the name of Jesus. Almost certainly the main purpose of his walking in the public road of Sepphoris was to teach Torah, as is witnessed by the traditions we shall cite below.

The Tosefta states: “It once happened that Rabbi Eliezer was reclining in the sukkah of [Rabbi][110] Johanan ben Ilai in Caesaria”[111] (t. Sukkah 2:9).[112] A tradition of similar content, ascribed to “the rabbis,” relates:

It once happened that Rabbi Eliezer, who resided in Upper Galilee, was asked thirty laws of the laws of the sukkah. Regarding twelve of them he told them, “I heard,” and regarding eighteen he said, “I did not hear.” Rabbi Jose the son of Rabbi Judah says the opposite. Regarding eighteen things he said to them, “I heard,” regarding twelve things he said to them, “I did not hear.” (b. Sukkah 28a)

Here are a group of pupils in Upper Galilee who ask many questions, some of which Rabbi Eliezer was not capable of answering. Although it not stated, almost certainly the discussion took place on or close to the festival of Sukkot, and they asked him topical questions.

Elsewhere in the Tosefta (t. Kelim Bava Metzia 2:1 and in the parallel passage in b. Shabbat 52b) we read: “One of the pupils from the pupils of Upper Galilee said in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer….” Further (ibid., 2:2): “One of the pupils from the pupils of Upper Galilee also said…,” and Rabbi Eliezer corrects the teaching they had heard. While these may be traditions from a visit of Rabbi Eliezer’s pupils to their teacher in Lod, they could come from his previously mentioned visit, or another one, to Upper Galilee when his pupils discussed laws in his presence.

In either event, clear evidence of a concentration of a large number of knowledgeable pupils in Galilee occurs in a tradition found only in the Babylonian Talmud.[113] The administrator of King Agrippa inquired of Rabbi Eliezer the details of the laws of dwelling in the sukkah, including the question: “I have two wives, one in Tiberias and one in Sepphoris, and I have two sukkot, one in Tiberias and one in Sepphoris….” The reference is certainly to Agrippa II who ruled in Galilee and whose administrator lived in Tiberias and in Sepphoris, the two leading Jewish cities in Galilee. Almost certainly, too, those questions about the laws of the sukkahwere posed during Rabbi Eliezer’s visit in Galilee on or close to the Festival of Sukkot. The questions asked by the administrator are not those of an uneducated person. The reply of Rabbi Eliezer expresses his own strict opinion on the issues, whereas the majority of the sages did not obligate the eating of fourteen meals in thesukkah, nor did they obligate the eating of all the meals in one sukkah.[114]

Several legal traditions are connected with Rabbi Eliezer’s going to Ovelin in Lower Galilee. In the Tosefta, at the beginning of Eruvin: “It once happened that Rabbi Eliezer went to Joseph ben Perida, to Ovelin”; and: “It once happened that Rabbi Eliezer went to his pupil Rabbi Jose ben Perida, to Ovelin” (b. Eruvin 11b and j. Eruvin 1:19a). Here, too, he is stringent, in keeping with his opinion. In Tractate Tefillin (Higger ed., p. 48): “It once happened that Rabbi Eliezer went to Oveli[n] to one householder. He was accustomed to immerse in a cave…. He said to him: ‘My master, the water in this cave is better than that of this one.’” In Ovelin, accordingly, there was not only a pupil of Rabbi Eliezer, but even an ordinary householder who practiced ritual purity and immersed in a cave.

We have already discussed whether Elisha ben Avuyah taught Torah in the academy in Tiberias, citing the tradition that he sat and taught in the valley of Ginosar.[115] It reflects the prevalent reality in the world of the sages during the Temple period and following its destruction, with them sitting and teaching Torah in every possible place—in the academy or outside, in the garden, on the road, “under the fig tree” or “under the olive tree,” and in the marketplace.[116] A sage came from this same Ginosar and asked a legal question of the sages in Yavneh: “Rabbi Jose said: ‘Jonathan ben Harsha of Ginosar asked in the presence of the Elders in Yavneh regarding the case of two tufts of hemp….’”[117] In the continuation of this same baraita, Jonathan of Ginosar asks about additional details, all on the subject of ritual purity and impurity. Another source mentions a law concerning ma’aserot, where once again Rabbi Jose of Sepphoris testifies: “Jonathan ben Harsha of Ginosar asked Rabban Gamaliel and the sages in Yavneh.” These two questions are asked by an outstanding sage from Galilee of the sages during the period of Rabban Gamaliel in Yavneh.[118]

It is noted in several places in the Babylonian Talmud that Amoraim are proud to be “like Ben Azzai in the marketplace of Tiberias,” that is like his teaching of Torah in that place.[119] Ben Azzai was one of the sages of Yavneh, but the marketplace of Tiberias provided a broad venue for his activity. It can be assumed that this was part of the ongoing reality of a place in which Torah was taught.

We also find, regarding Rabbi Jose ha-Galili, that “One time Rabbi Jose ha-Galili was sitting and expounding on the [red] heifer in Tiberias, and Rabbi Simeon ben Hanina was sitting with him.”[120] The continuation makes it clear that this was not an exposition of trite, well-known matters, but rather novel interpretations and a scriptural exposition of the laws of the red heifer.

Rabbinic Courts

Twice there is mention in the tannaitic tradition of courts of sages—which were also academies—in Galilee during or before the Yavneh generation. We mentioned above the court of Rabbi Hanina ben Teradyon in Sikhnin, and of Elisha ben Avuyah. To these reports we must add the testimony of Rabbi Simeon Shezori:[121] “Rabbi [Simeon Shezori][122] said, ‘Father’s household was one of the households in [Upper][123] Galilee. And why were they destroyed? Because they grazed in forests and judged monetary lawsuits before a single judge.’”

Although Rabbi Simeon Shezori here seeks to list the faults or sins of his father’s household that led to its destruction, those “sins” did not exceed the normative behavior of the sages. There were sages who judged monetary lawsuits with only a single judge,[124] and there were sages in the Yavneh generation who made light of the prohibition against raising “small cattle” (sheep and goats) in the Land of Israel. Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, whom we have found in Galilee where he had pupils, evaded answering the question whether it is prohibited to raise small cattle.[125] Rabbi Simeon Shezori’s ascription of supposed sins to his father’s household does not diminish the fact of the existence of a court in Upper Galilee, which was a place of teaching and study.

Rabbi Simeon Shezori may be included among the generation of the sages of Usha in Galilee, for we have found him disagreeing with the sages of the Usha generation[126] although he was older than them. He says of an incident that happened to him, “and I asked Rabbi Tarfon,”[127] and Rabbi Jose ben Kippar transmits in his name.[128] The story about his father’s household may refer to the period of destruction in Galilee during the Bar Kokhba revolt.[129] But it may instead have an earlier reference, for he speaks of an event belonging to the past, and the “householders” had been destroyed mainly during the war that accompanied the destruction of the Temple.


Whether or not there were many permanent academies of Torah study in Galilee before the destruction of the Second Temple, we have seen that there was undoubtedly widespread and serious interest in clarifying issues of Halakhah. Rabbis visiting from elsewhere would find an audience in public places, as well as being engaged in discussions by the local sages and groups of pupils.

Galilean Attachment to Judaism

Now we shall consider the question of the attachment of Galileans to observance of the commandments of Judaism and to Jewish cultural life. In this category fall also the connections between Galilee and the Temple worship and the similarities in halakhic practice between Galilee and Jerusalem. We shall see that in all those respects the attachment to Judaism in Galilee, far from being uncultured and ignorant, was marked and exemplary.

Galilee, Jerusalem and the Temple

We may start with the halakhic similarities that linked Galilee with Jerusalem. Scholars[130] have already noted that regarding marriage practices and the degree of obligation of the husband, the Galileans adopted fine and praiseworthy customs, like those of the men of Jerusalem in contrast with those of the men of Judea. Special note should be taken of the practice of Jerusalemites and Galileans alike to promise in the ketubbah (marriage contract) that the widow was to be maintained and could live in her husband’s house for as long as she wished, in contrast to the practice of the men of Judea who gave the heirs the right to free themselves from their obligation by the payment of the money of the ketubbah. The Jerusalem Talmud adds regarding this practice: “The Galileans [and with them the men of Jerusalem] had consideration for their honor and did not have consideration for their money; the men of Judea had consideration for their money and did not have consideration for their honor.”[131]

A similar statement regarding funeral practices is quoted from Rabbi Judah:

In Jerusalem they would say, “Do [good] before your bier,” and in Judea they would say, “Do [good] after your bier.” But in Jerusalem they would recite only the actual deeds of the deceased before his bier, while in Judea they would state things that applied to him, and things that did not apply to him.[132]

In other words, in Jerusalem they would say that if a person wanted others to praise him at his funeral, he should perform good deeds before he died, for in Jerusalem they were particular to praise the dead person only regarding things he had actually done. In this as well, the Galileans acted as the people of Jerusalem: “Galileans say, ‘Do things before your bier,’ the men of Judea say, ‘Do things after your bier.’”[133]

It goes without saying that when the talmudic traditions speak of the practices of Jerusalem, they refer to the time prior to the destruction of the Temple. The adoption by the Galileans of those practices testifies not only to the level of Jewish cultural life in this region during the first century, but also to the strong ties between Galilee and Jerusalem, of which we learn from many sources. Those ties indeed expressed themselves in many spheres. Since the facts concerned have been stated in the scholarly literature,[134] we shall restrict ourselves to a short listing of the sources, adding comments as required.

Talmudic tradition mentions only two instances in which someone replaced the High Priest for the Yom Kippur service because the latter had become ritually unclean. Rabbi Jose relates: “It once happened that Joseph ben Ilim of Sepphoris served as High Priest for a short time.”[135] This is also mentioned by Josephus,[136] from whose statement we learn that the High Priest at the time was Mattathias ben Theophilus, who served during the years 5-4 B.C.E., at the end of the reign of Herod the Great. Josephus further relates that this Joseph ben Ilim (Ἰώσηπος ὁ τοῦ Ἐλλήμου) was a relative of the High Priest. Important for our discussion is the Galilean connection of the person who substituted in that important function.

The Mishnah further relates, regarding the leading of the goat for Azazel:[137]

All are fit to lead it, but the High Priests would make a fixed [practice], and they would not let an Israelite lead it. Rabbi Jose said: “It once happened that Arsela [of Sepphoris] led it, and he was an Israelite.”[138]

The High Priests, viewing this as an important part of the Yom Kippur service, made a fixed practice of reserving it for the priests. Previously, however, there was an occurrence in which an Israelite from Sepphoris was permitted to perform this work. There was also an occurrence in which a priest acted improperly in the distribution of the showbread: “It once happened that one priest from Sepphoris took his portion and the portion of his fellow.”[139]

Various traditions from the Land of Israel in the Jerusalem Talmud and in Lamentations Rabbah[140] teach of the special ties of three cities in Lower Galilee—Kavul, Sikhnin and Migdal Zevaya—which would contribute large quantities of gifts to the Temple. Similarly the people of Arav would “make vowed offerings and free-will offerings.” Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa, who saw them, also wanted to bring a gift to the Temple.[141] It should be emphasized that the talmudic tradition speaks of various men and women[142] who brought gifts, but there is otherwise no mention of whole localities that offered gifts with great ceremoniousness.

To their eagerness in offering gifts we must add the many reports of pilgrimages and the presence of Galileans in Jerusalem. The reports are found in the talmudic tradition, in Josephus and in the New Testament.[143] Moreover, there are instructive traditions about the miracles connected with the pilgrimages to Jerusalem of individuals and of a group of women from Sepphoris, not necessarily during the days of the festivals but as a fixed practice on every Sabbath eve, in which they spent the Sabbath in the Temple and then returned to their homes, beginning their work before others at the start of the new week.[144] However we judge the historicity of the miraculous element, such stories attest to the continuous ties of Galilee with Jerusalem, especially when added to the evidence of literary sources and archaeological inscriptions.[145]

The tannaitic tradition includes long passages about the sources of supply for the Temple.[146] Most of the places enumerated are, of course, in Judea, whether because of its geographical proximity or because of the fact that earlier the Jewish settlement was mainly in Judea. Nevertheless, the listing includes “Tekoa is the best for oil” and, in one tradition, “Gush Halav in Galilee was third to it.”[147] Also, when a Gaon was asked the reason for the establishment of the eight days of Hanukkah, he replied:

Because the oils come from the portion of Asher, as it is written, “May he dip his foot in oil” [Deut. 33:24], and he had a place which was called Tekoa, as they said, “Tekoa is the best for oil”…and from there to Jerusalem was a round-trip journey of eight days.[148]

Regarding the sources of the wine supply, the Mishnah states: “And from where would they bring the wine? Kerutim and Hatulim are the best for wine. Second to them is Beit Rimah and Beit Lavan on the mountain, and Kefar Signah in the valley” (Menahot 8:6). “Kefar Signah” is undoubtedly Sogane (Σωγάη), which Josephus fortified. It may be assumed that this is identical with Sikhnin, which is called by this name in the later tannaitic sources and which was the central settlement in the Sikhnin Valley in Lower Galilee. The phonetic difference between “Signah” and “Sikhnin” is not great, and Josephus’ description of the location of Sogane suits Sikhnin. Even the Mishnah places “Signah in the valley.”[149]

The supply of the Temple’s needs of oil and wine was critically dependent upon the reliability of the workers’ and suppliers’ ritual cleanness. There are traditions regarding Galileans selling ritually clean foodstuffs for the needs of pilgrims going to Jerusalem. In the group of traditions about ties between cities in Galilee and Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Talmud quotes from Rabbi Hiyya bar Ba the statement that “there were eighty shops of sellers of ritually clean items in Kefar Imra.” Lamentations Rabbah quotes from Rabbi Huna that “there were three hundred shops of sellers of ritually clean items in Migdal Zevaya, and there were three hundred shops of curtain weavers in Kefar Nimrah.”[150] It seems that the former version is to be preferred, for the weaving of the curtains was done within the precincts of the Temple and was entrusted to ritually clean maidens.[151] The version of Lamentations Rabbah, however, furnishes the correct name of the place, which is Kefar Nimrah or Nimrin near Tiberias.

The reference is not to sellers of foodstuffs and similar items to those eating non-sanctified food in a state of ritual cleanness, but rather to sellers of ritually clean items to those making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as additions to the sacrifices such as wine and oil for the libations. These traditions were taught together with the traditions about the cedars on Har ha-Mishhah (i.e., the Mount of Olives), from which the fledglings were taken to nest and underneath which there were “four shops of pure things.” This entire topic concerns the bringing of sacrifices and gifts to the Temple.

Also in the Jerusalem Talmud, instead of “the weavers of curtains” we have “the weavers of palgas.” As palgas has no meaning, it should rather be read palnas, as scholars have suggested, which is φαιλόνης.[152] It may reasonably be as­sumed that these were the weavers of garments as gifts for the apparel of the priests.

The general picture in the sources[153] is as follows: the traditions attest not only to close ties between Galilee and Jerusalem, but also to the preparation by Galileans, in a state of ritual cleanness, of garments and items required for the Temple sacrifices.[154]

Strictness of Galilean Observance

The degree of the close ties with Jerusalem matches the picture that emerges from many tannaitic sources regarding the scrupulous observance of the commandments in Galilee. Most of the testimonies are from the Yavneh period, but several date from before the destruction of the Temple. “Observance” is not restricted to the commandments enumerated explicitly in the Torah; it also includes the observance of the commandments as they were transmitted, understood and formulated in the tradition of the Oral Torah, including the laws of ritual cleanness, which even the Oral Torah did not make incumbent upon all Israel but only upon those who assumed these laws and the practice of the setting aside of the ma’aserot (tithes). They were not observed in their entirety by many people who were termed amei ha-aretz, “the ignorant,” by the tradition.

Here as well we shall not list all the testimonies, especially not those which are almost certainly from the second generation of the Yavneh period, that is from the beginning of the second century until the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt. We shall mainly discuss the testimonies from the period of the Temple and from the first generation of the Yavneh period.

Chronologically the best testimonies are the questions, cited above, that Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai was asked when he resided in Arav. We do not know how many years before the destruction of the Temple Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai came from Arav to Jerusalem, but it may be assumed that he spent a considerable number of years in Jerusalem. At any rate he was already in Jerusalem during the time of Hanan ben Hanan (63 C.E.), according to the Pharisees.[155] The time of his residence in Arav was approximately the fifties or perhaps even earlier. The two questions regarding Sabbath laws testify, in practice, to a scrupulous observance in Galilee of the Sabbath with all its stringencies, and even Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai could not say whether these two cases were actually prohibited.

The Midrash relates about Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa, who was from the same city and generation as Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai, that “some ass-drivers came from Arav to Sepphoris and stated that Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa had already begun the Sabbath in his town.”[156] This testifies not only to the Sabbath observance of Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa who would begin his Sabbath prayers before the beginning of the Sabbath, but also to the atmosphere of Sabbath observance in the two cities of Arav and Sepphoris.

A clearer testimony of general significance is the narrative about the fire or fires in Kefar Signah. The Mishnah teaches a disagreement between Rabbi Eliezer and the sages: Rabbi Eliezer holds that terumah may be given from the clean for the unclean, while the sages hold that this is prohibited (Terumot 2:1).[157] In the Tosefta (3:18), Rabbi Eliezer brings support for his opinion: “It once happened that a fire erupted in the threshing-floors of Kefar Signah,[158] and they gave terumah from the clean for the unclean.” The threshing-floors in Kefar Signah were in a state of cleanness, and when the fire erupted, both people who were particular regarding cleanness and others who were not particular came to extinguish the fire; it was no longer possible to set aside terumah in a state of cleanness from those threshing-floors, for they might have become unclean. In order to be sure of having ritually clean terumah, they separated from the clean produce that had been guarded even for these threshing-floors which had been saved from the fire. This presents us with the highest ideal of cleanness that the Pharisee sages could describe. The threshing-floors were kept in a state of cleanness, and only as a result of the fire which many people extinguished was there a fear of contact with amei ha-aretz who had not taken upon themselves the observance of the laws of cleanness. This is just like the situation presented by the Mishnah regarding the Temple vessels which were put on public display during the festivals in the Temple Courtyard.[159]

The Tosefta also explains why the sages disagree with Rabbi Eliezer; they hold that the occurrence in Kefar Signah does not constitute a proof, because they “set aside terumah from them for them,” in other words they set aside for themselves terumah from the threshing-floors which had possibly become unclean. This disagreement about the facts of the case indicates that the event had taken place a number of years previously. Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus was born during the time of the Temple and died at the beginning of the second century. Thus the event goes back to the early Yavneh period or possibly even earlier to when the Temple still stood.

A similar event is related in Tractate Kelim:

If an oven is heated from outside, or was heated not with his intent, or was heated in the house of the craftsman, it is unclean. It once happened that a fire took place in the ovens of Kefar Signah, and the event came to Yavneh, and Rabban Gamaliel declared them unclean. (m. Kelim 5:4, as t. Kelim 4:4)[160]

It seems that in Kefar Signah there was a workshop containing ovens that had not yet been heated and, therefore, had not acquired uncleanness, but then they were heated unintentionally. There was a fear that the amei ha-aretz had touched them, the ovens thereby becoming unclean, and once again the question arose: were they prepared and, therefore, capable of acquiring uncleanness? This question was brought before Rabban Gamaliel in Yavneh. As we have already learned, there were people in Signah who observed the laws of ritual cleanness. Accordingly, they were particular that the ovens would not be prepared and capable of acquiring uncleanness until they had been handed over to their owners. It was only when the fire erupted that they were touched also by other people who did not observe the rules of cleanness.

Possibly the two occurrences took place during one large conflagration which reached both the threshing-floors and the workshop containing ovens, as has been assumed by one scholar.[161] Threshing floors, however, were made in the fields, while a workshop for ovens would be located within or close to the city. Thus they may indeed be two separate traditions, each of them reflecting the same attitude to matters of ritual cleanness in Kefar Signah.

Practices regarding cleanness in Galilee can be learnt, too, from a question that came before Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradyon who was asked whether the mikveh(ritual bath) in the heights of Beit Anath was clean.[162]

Rabbi Jose ben Halafta testifies that the people of Sepphoris took care in the gathering of vegetables from the field and in the treatment of legumes not to wet them with water so that they would not be capable of acquiring uncleanness.[163] He speaks of those practices “at first,” possibly referring merely to the time immediately before him during the last days of Yavneh, yet possibly referring to an earlier tradition.

The beginning of Tosefta Kelim[164] cites two traditions about legal rulings; one, delivered by a student in the district of Ariah adjoining Tiberias, and the second, delivered by a pupil who taught in the marketplaces (or the thickets) of Sepphoris,[165] that is within the area of the irrigated fields of Sepphoris. These two questions deal with the laws of kilayim—the forbidden junction of plants or animals. As they seemed to be stringent rulings to the inhabitants of each place, they addressed queries to Yavneh. In the first case the sages in Yavneh agreed with the ruling of the pupil, but in the second they termed it a stringent ruling of Beit Shammai. At any rate, the growers of produce in those different localities in Galilee were particular regarding the details of the laws of kilayim.

In Tosefta Eruvin, Rabbi Judah relates:

It once happened in the house of Mammal and the house of Gurion in Ruma that they were distributing dried figs to the poor people who were there during a drought, and they were the poor of Shihin.[166] They would go out and make an eruv [i.e., a Sabbath station] with their feet, and they would enter and eat when night fell.[167]

The geographical location may be clarified. Ruma is ῾Ρούμα, which is mentioned by Josephus;[168] it was in the southwest of the Beit Netofah Valley. Two wealthy families lived there, Mammal and Gurion, and they distributed dried figs on the Sabbath during two drought years. The poor of Shihin,[169] which was located nearby, not more than twice the distance of the Sabbath bounds (4,000 amot, about 2 kilometers) from Ruma, would go forth from their houses on the Sabbath eve and establish their “home,” as it were, in the middle of the way, so that they would be permitted to walk on the Sabbath the distance of the Sabbath bounds (2,000 amot) in either direction from this point, both to Ruma and to Shihin. We learn from this tradition about the observance of the giving of charity by these two families, but also about the care taken by the poor of the village of Shihin to observe scrupulously the laws of the eruv, pursuant with the rulings of the sages.

It is possible that Rabbi Judah relates an event from the previous generation of the Yavneh period, but it is more likely to be a tradition from the time of the Temple, for we hear about the wealthy Gurion family from the end of the Temple period.[170] Another tradition regarding Rabbi Judah[171] is close to this one:

It once happened that the maidservant of an oppressor in Damin[172] threw her prematurely-born child into a pit, and a priest came and looked to see what she had thrown down, and the case came before the sages, and they declared him clean.

Here as well, the question arose due to scrupulous observance of the laws of cleanness. This, however, is apparently a tradition from the period after the destruction of the Temple when there were many “oppressors,” those who possessed the lands of Jews who had lost them in the war of the destruction.[173]

The Tosefta, Talmuds and Midrash[174] relate how the Sabbath was observed in Shihin beyond the strict requirements of the law. According to the Halakhah: “If a non-Jew comes to extinguish [a fire on the Sabbath], they do not tell him to extinguish and [they do not tell him] not to extinguish.” Jews are prohibited to tell the Gentile to extinguish, but not obliged to tell him not to extinguish and allowed to let him extinguish the fire. The baraita adds:

It once happened that a fire erupted in the courtyard of Joseph ben Simai of Shihin, and the [Gentile] people of the fort of Sepphoris came to extinguish it, but he did not allow them. A cloud descended and extinguished. The sages said: “It was not necessary.” Nevertheless, when the Sabbath went out, he sent a sela to each one of them, and to the commander among them he sent fifty dinarim.

The Babylonian Talmud adds “because he was the administrator of the king.” The latter can be assumed to have been Agrippa II, who died in the year 92, when all of his property passed over to the government. It is thus almost certain that the tradition predates 92 and that Joseph ben Simai was the same “administrator of the king,” mentioned above, who asked legal questions of Rabbi Eliezer.

From the combination of the traditions regarding the visits by Rabban Gamaliel of Yavneh and by his two sons Judah and Hillel to various cities in Galilee, we receive a broad picture of commandments being observed more scrupulously and strictly there than in Judea and in the academy of the sages in Yavneh.[175] The first of the following five traditions is about Rabban Gamaliel, the other four are about his sons:

And it once happened that Rabban Gamaliel was sitting on a bench[176] of the non-Jews on the Sabbath in Acre. They said to him, that they were not accustomed to sit on a bench of the non-Jews on the Sabbath. And he did not want to say, “You are permitted,” rather he stood and went away.[177]

It once happened that Judah and Hillel, the sons of Rabban Gamaliel, went in to bathe in Kavul. They said to them that they were not accustomed to have two brothers go in together to bathe. They did not want to say to them, “You are permitted,” rather they went in and bathed one after the other.[178]

Once again, it happened that Judah and Hillel, the sons of Rabban Gamaliel, were going forth in gilt slippers on the Sabbath in Biri. They said to them that they were not accustomed to go forth in gilt slippers on the Sabbath. They did not want to tell them, “You are permitted,” rather they sent them by the hand of their servants.[179]

They lead wine and oil through pipes before grooms and brides, and this is not considered to be the ways of the Amorite. It once happened that Judah and Hillel, the sons of Rabban Gamaliel, went in [to Rabbi Zakkai] in Kavul, and the people of the town drew wine and oil in pipes before them.[180]

It once happened that Judah and his brother Hillel, the sons of Rabban Gamaliel, were walking along in the district of Oni.[181] They found one man whose tomb had opened within his field. Thy said to him, “Collect each bone, and everything is clean.”[182]

The first three of these five narratives appear in the Tosefta (and in the parallels) as one unit; their purpose is to relate to us that people in different cities in Galilee—Acre, Kavul and Beri—were stringent in matters in which the sages of Yavneh were lenient.[183] Rabban Gamaliel and his sons did not, however, wish to tell them that they were being more stringent than necessary. Thus the three narratives jointly testify to the scrupulous observance of the laws pertaining to the Sabbath and modesty in various places in Galilee. The latter two narratives about Rabban Gamaliel’s sons testify that Galileans observed the commandments concerned in accordance with the rulings of the sages, for the Mishnah and the Tosefta teach that the practices in question are permitted.

All five narratives date from the period around the end of the first century during which Rabban Gamaliel was active. It is reasonable to assume, however, that they describe strict practices of the Galileans that had established themselves earlier, before the destruction of the Temple.

From this or another journey by Rabban Gamaliel to Galilee come three more narratives connected with the route of his trip from Acre via Kheziv to the Ladder of Tyre promontory. Two are connected with his companion Rabbi Ilai, while one has been transmitted by Rabbi Judah, Rabbi Ilai’s son. The first two are to be found in Tosefta Pesahim and parallels,[184] the third in Tosefta Terumot.[185] One concerns gluskin, a fine type of bread; in the second a person wants to be released from his vow; the third tells of Segavyon, the head of the synagogue, who purchased a vineyard from a non-Jew and asked what action was to be taken regarding the produce.

We shall end our discussion of this topic by citing the well-known mishnaic statement (m. Pesahim 4:1) that “[in] a place in which they were accustomed to do work on the Eve of Passover until midday, they may do; [in] a place in which they were accustomed not to do, they may not do.” The Mishnah adds (ibid., 4:5): “And the sages say: ‘In Judea they would do work on the Eve of Passover until midday, and in Galilee they would not do so at all.’” In the Babylonian Talmud (Pesahim 55a), however, Rabbi Johanan explains that those two statements express the opposed views of Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Judah respectively. Rabbi Judah is undoubtedly referring to the time of the Second Temple, for the Mishnah immediately notes that Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai disagreed over the details: In Galilee, is work already prohibited from the preceding night, like every festival that begins at night, or is it prohibited only from sunrise on? The disagreements between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel belong to the Temple period. Also the language (“they would do work”) indicates a tradition about practices in Galilee and Judea during the past.


We have examined testimonies anchored in the tannaitic tradition about the practices of individuals, of cities and of Galilee as a whole during the Second Temple period. They provide ample evidence both that Galilee had close ties with Jerusalem, including the ritual needs of the Temple, and that its religious and social life was rooted in a tradition of the Oral Torah which was indeed superior to the tradition of Judea.

Galilean Pietism and Jesus of Nazareth

Now we shall return to an issue which we have clarified elsewhere,[186] that of the pietist movement or trend known as Hasidim. We found that Jesus was extremely close to this trend or to the mood reflected in the intellectual foundations of the pietist movement.

We showed in those previous studies that regarding all the pietists and their teachers from the Second Temple period, whatever evidence we possess of their origin and activity concerns Galilee. Such are Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa from Arav; Abba Hilkiah, the grandson of Honi ha-Me’aggel, who is the pietist from Kefar Imi, also known as Kefar Yama (Yavniel in Lower Galilee); and the pietist priest from Ramat Beit Anat. To this list we may add Jesus of Nazareth, whose teachings and miraculous acts exemplify several of the characteristic lines that we have found in the teachings and acts of the pietists. Their pietism is not to be viewed as springing from a world empty of Torah, despite the impression suggested at times by the arguments of their opponents, but rather from within a creative Jewish culture, innovative in both thought and conduct, as in the personalities of Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa, Abba Hilkiah and Jesus of Nazareth.

This same picture emerges from the books of the New Testament, both from the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John. It is common knowledge that scholars are not always unanimous about the location of individual events in which Jesus was involved. The question, of course, is not simply whether the Gospels place an event within the context of Jesus’ stay in Jerusalem or of his wanderings in the cities of Galilee and around the shores of the Sea of Galilee, but rather where the episode was placed in the earlier levels of the tradition.

Partially reconstructed ruins of Corazin synagogue. (Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.)
Partially reconstructed ruins of Corazin synagogue. (Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.)

It can be established with certainty, however, regarding several traditions that the geographical context of the event is Galilee, whether because the rule of Herod Antipas is in the background of the narrative (for he did not rule in Judea) or because the event is connected with specific places in Galilee: the Sea of Galilee, Kanah, Kefar Nahum (Capernaum), Korazim (Chorazin), Bethsaida and similar places or places in which the Sea of Galilee is in the background. Those traditions with a clear Galilean background, however, accord with the tannaitic evidence already presented in testifying that Jewish life in Galilee was conducted in accordance with the formulation of Judaism during the Second Temple under the influence of and pursuant to the teachings of the Pharisaic sages. This picture is common to all the Gospels, but is especially clear in the narrative of Luke which contains more of the everyday reality than do the others.

Synagogues in Galilee

The most prominent fact from this daily life is the existence of synagogues in the cities of Galilee. Tannaitic literature mainly emphasizes the reading of the Torah and study in the synagogue.[187] The context in which synagogue matters are mentioned is the laws not of prayer but of the reading of the Torah. The same appears clearly in all four Gospels: Jesus comes several times to a synagogue, yet his visit is always connected with the reading of the Torah and Prophets and with public teaching.[188] Synagogues are to be found in Nazareth, Capernaum and in all the cities of Galilee.[189]

The synagogue was one of the great innovations of Second Temple Judaism. It was fashioned totally in accordance with the spirit and content of the tradition of the Oral Torah and the Pharisaic sages. Indeed, the oldest testimony regarding the existence of synagogues in every settlement is the narratives about Jesus’ actions in Galilee. The practice of reading in the Torah, followed by the reading in the Prophets, is mentioned for the first time in the narrative about Jesus’ visit to the synagogue in Nazareth.[190]

A reading of the Gospels reveals that the synagogues function normally, and that they are filled with men and women coming to serve the Lord. Whereas the Gospels address severe charges against the practices and leadership of the Temple, no criticism of the synagogues or of the synagogue leadership is to be found in them. This is exactly the reality of tannaitic literature. The tradition contains harsh criticism directed against the High Priests and their underlings, the amarkalim, the gizbarim and the other officials, but no criticism of the synagogue leadership or procedures.

Galilean Observance of Halakhah

One of the major spheres of religious activity during the Second Temple period was that of ritual cleanness or uncleanness. Many laws on this subject were innovations of the Pharisees and were not practiced by the Sadducees or the Essenes. One of the outstanding laws in this sphere is netilat yadayim, the washing of hands; not only was it not practiced by the Sadducees and the Essenes, it was even unknown to the author of the Book of Judith.[191] In the Halakhah of the Oral Torah it is discussed extensively; however, we also find an instance of a person who “made light of” it.[192]

In the New Testament, the washing of hands serves as the occasion for one of Jesus’ famous sayings, that it is not what comes to the body of a man that makes unclean, but rather what comes forth from it.[193] For the purposes of our discussion we shall merely indicate that we learn from Jesus’ dispute regarding the washing of hands (which apparently took place in Galilee, for he argues with Pharisees and “Scribes who came from Jerusalem”)[194] that “the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat without the washing of hands, holding to the tradition of the Elders.” Mark’s statements about the practices of all Israel in matters of ritual cleanness appear to be exaggerated.[195] At any rate, the picture that emerges from all three synoptic Gospels is that the washing of hands was a widespread practice in Galilee just as in Judea.

Important testimony regarding the observance in Galilee of the practices of ritual cleanness is provided by the narrative in John 2 about the miracle of the jars of wine. Verse 6 states that there were six stone water jars in the place where a wedding was held in Cana, in accordance with the practices of ritual cleanness of the Jews. Indeed, according to the law taught in many places in tannaitic and amoraitic literature, stone vessels do not acquire ritual uncleanness. This law is not stated explicitly in the Torah, but is understood in the tannaitic tradition and serves as the basis for many laws.[196] At the wedding they could prepare stone jugs for the water, with no fear about their being touched by amei ha-aretz and by all the many people coming to the wedding.

The Jewish practice of naming a newborn boy at the circumcision ceremony, which is in force to this day, is mentioned only in later Jewish sources. We learn from Luke’s Gospel, however, that this practice was already observed in Judea when John the Baptist and Jesus were named.[197]

It should be noted that in most of the narratives of Jesus’ acts of healing when the act was done on the Sabbath, it is stated that the Pharisees or the head of the synagogue opposed him for breaking the Sabbath.[198] Yet none of the cases mentioned are instances of the desecration of the Sabbath according to the Halakhah of talmudic literature. It is possible that the Galileans inclined to strictness regarding the Sabbath, just as we have seen them to have been strict regarding other laws. At any rate, we receive a picture of scrupulous Sabbath observance in various places in Galilee.[199] The fact that Friday is called “the day of preparation” (ἡ παρασκευή) in the Gospels[200] also testifies to the standing of the Sabbath in terms of the preparations made on its eve.[201]

The nativity story in Luke adds that the circumcision took place on the eighth day, as was indeed the custom, and that the days of cleanness were completed, and mentions the redemption of the male child (1:21-22). Only Luke (2:41-48) preserves the tradition that Jesus disappeared at the end of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Festival of Passover; his parents found him among those studying Torah in the Temple, listening to their teaching and asking questions that amazed them. As we saw above, he could have studied Torah at his leisure in his city, Nazareth, or nearby.

Pharisees in Galilee

We learn from the narratives in the Gospels, especially from Luke, that Pharisees were also present in Galilee. It is stressed, however, that the Pharisees were native to the region, while the Scribes came from Jerusalem. Regarding the dispute about the washing of hands, Matthew 15:1 states that “the Scribes and the Pharisees who came from Jerusalem” came to him. In Mark 7:1, however, it is stated that the Pharisees and some Scribes who had come from Jerusalem came to him. In Luke 11:37-38 a Pharisee invites Jesus to dine with him, and during the meal he is surprised because Jesus does not wash his hands. Similarly it is stated in Mark 3:22 that the Scribes who came from Jerusalem said that Jesus was driving out demons by the power of Baal-Zebub, but in Matthew 12:24 mention is made merely of “Pharisees.” It is stated in Luke 5:17 that when Jesus taught Torah, those sitting before him were Pharisees and teachers of the Torah who came from all the villages of Galilee, from Judea and from Jerusalem; these details are lacking in the parallels (Matt. 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12). In the sequel, it is stated in all three of the parallel passages that the Scribes and the Pharisees complained when Jesus and his disciples sat down to a meal with tax collectors and sinners;[202] there is no suggestion that they came from Jerusalem, rather the impression is that they were native to Galilee.

Similarly in the narrative about the parched ears on the Sabbath, it is stated that the Pharisees, or some of them, asked why the disciples of Jesus were doing something that was not permitted. Here as well, there is no suggestion in the three parallel texts that these Pharisees were not native to the region.[203]

Luke 7:35-50 relates the episode of the woman who wept at Jesus’ feet and anointed his feet with oil. This occurrence has parallels in the other Gospels;[204] in Luke, however, it is stated that he was in the house of a Pharisee who had invited him to a meal.[205] Luke 14:1-14 again tells of Jesus going to a meal in the home of a leading Pharisee: he turns to “the masters of Torah and the Pharisees.” Finally, it is related in Luke 13:31 that the Pharisees came to Jesus and warned him that Herod wanted to kill him.

We have not exhausted all the testimonies regarding the Pharisees in Galilee, but it is clear that we can learn about their presence there from the traditions in the New Testament. Emissaries also come to Galilee from Jerusalem, just as in many testimonies regarding the sages, mainly in the Yavneh generation, but Pharisees and masters of the Torah also reside in Galilee.

In John 7 there are denigratory expressions regarding Galilee. The question of verse 41, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee?,” is not an actual denigration of Galilee, but just an inference from the tradition that “the Messiah will come from the seed of David and from Bethlehem, where David was” (verse 42). At the end of the chapter, however, the Pharisees say to Nicodemus: “Are you also from Galilee? Search [i.e., expound the Scriptures] and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”[206] This is indeed a denigratory remark about Galilee, but no more so than the statements we have found in talmudic literature making light of Galilee and other places, but which could not be taken seriously.

Josephus on Galilee

Josephus was appointed to head the army in Galilee, where he remained until it fell. His autobiographical book deals mainly with the course of historical events in Galilee, but also contains some information about the cultural and social life in various cities and in Galilee as a whole. There is no doubt that the picture given in all those writings is one in which Galileans follow a Jewish religious life and observe the commandments according to their interpretation and formulation in the Oral Torah.

It should come as no surprise to find in Tiberias a large synagogue in which people gathered on the Sabbath, also to discuss current issues.[207] Chapter 54 of Josephus’ Life, moreover, contains a specific detail testifying to the lifestyle found also in the Jerusalem Talmud. He tells of a stormy assembly that was stopped “with the arrival of the sixth hour, in which it is our custom to eat the morning meal on the Sabbath.” While the people did not eat in the morning before the time of prayer, it was prohibited to fast “until the sixth hour” on the Sabbath, as the Amora Rabbi Jose bar Haninah teaches.[208]

Sabbath observance exceeding the demands of the talmudic Halakhah is mentioned a number of times during the course of the war in Galilee. Josephus relates in chapter 32 of his Life that he did not want to leave his soldiers in Migdal on the Sabbath, so that they would not constitute a burden upon the residents of the city. Once he has dismissed them on Sabbath eve, he can no longer assemble them, because the weekday has already passed, and on the following Sabbath day they cannot bear arms, because “our laws” prohibit this even in a time of distress. In another place he relates that Johanan persuaded Titus to stop the fighting on the Sabbath, because the Jews not merely could not go forth to fight on the Sabbath, but were forbidden even to conduct peace negotiations on the Sabbath.[209]

In chapter 12 of the Life, Josephus relates that he was about to destroy the palace of the tetrarch Herod in Tiberias because of the presence of depictions of animals, but Joshua ben Sapphias, who headed the group of sailors, acted before him.[210] He adds that the delegates who were sent with him from Jerusalem collected great riches from the tithes that were given them. There were ma’aserot that the amei ha-aretz did not set aside; what Josephus states thus accords with what we have found in tannaitic literature, that the tithes (ma’aserot) were given to the priests and not to the Levites as is stated in the Torah.[211] In section 56 Josephus describes the proclamation of a fast day and the assembly in the synagogue, matching the description of such a proclamation in the later books of the Scriptures[212] and in Mishnah Ta’anit 2.

Josephus’ Life and Jewish War admittedly contain only meagre material about the daily religious life in Galilee. Nevertheless, it certainly corresponds to the Halakhah and practice that we have found in the Oral Torah and in the religious and cultural life of the Jews in the first century.


An anonymous teaching in Avot de-Rabbi Nathan (27:43a) relates:

Because at first they would say, “Breadstuff in Judea, straw in Galilee, and chaff in Transjordan,” they later said, “There is no grain in Judea, but rather stubble; and there is no straw in Galilee, but rather chaff, and neither one nor the other in Transjordan.”

This baraita intends to teach us that Judea is better than Galilee and Galilee is better than Transjordan, and that even when a decline occurred (the time of this decline is not stated), Judea was still on a higher level than Galilee. As used in the literature of the time, the term “Judea” sometimes includes Jerusalem and sometimes means the land of Judea outside Jerusalem. Only in the former sense of “Judea” can the teaching of the baraita reflect historical and cultural reality. The many facts cited in this article show that, apart from Jerusalem, Galilee was in all respects equal to or excelled all other areas of the Land of Israel where Jews dwelled.

This article originally appeared in The New Testament and Christian-Jewish Dialogue: Studies in Honor of David Flusser, Immanuel 24/25 (1990): 147-186. Jerusalem Perspective wishes to thank Rev. Dr. Petra Heldt and The Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel, publishers of Immanuel journal (edited by Prof. Malcolm Lowe), for permission to publish the article in electronic format. Readers can purchase the print version of Immanuel 24/25 at

  • [1] This article was translated from Hebrew by Edward Levine. Recently published books that bear directly upon the subject of this article include: F. Malinowski, Galilean Judaism in the Writings of Flavius Josephus (Ann Arbor, 1973); G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew (London, 1977); E. M. Meyeres and J. F. Strange, Archaeology, the Rabbis and Early Christianity (Nashville, 1981); S. Freyne, Galilee from Alexander the Great to Hadrian (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1987); R. Riesner, Jesus als Lehrer (Tübingen, 1987); M. Goodman, State and Society in Roman Galilee A.D. 132-212 (Totowa, New Jersey, 1983); W. Bosen, Galiläa als Lebensraum und Wirkungsfeld Jesu (Basel and Vienna, 1985).
  • [2] G. Alon, Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Eretz Yisrael bi-Tekufat ha-Mishnah we-ha-Talmud (“The History of the Jews in the Land of Israel During the Period of the Mishnah and the Talmud”; Tel Aviv, 1953), 1:318-323. Regarding the Torah sages in Galilee before the revolt, see also A. Büchler, Am ha-Aretz ha-Galili (“The Galilean am ha-aretz”; Jerusalem, 1964), 193-240 (the pagination is according to the Hebrew translation; I did not have access to the German original during the writing of this article). See also A. Oppenheimer, The Am ha-Aretz (Leiden, 1977), 2-7, 200-217; and “Ha-Yishuv ha-Yehudi ba-Galil bi-Tekufat Yavneh u-Mered Bar Kokhba” (“The Jewish Community in Galilee During the Period of Yavneh and the Bar Kokhba Revolt”), Katedra 4 (1977): 53-66; Z. Safrai, Pirqei Galil (“Chapters on Galilee”; Ma’alot, 1972), 19-26.
  • [3] m. Shabbat 16:7; 22:3.
  • [4] See Alon, loc. cit., 53-71 and his articles “Halikhato shel Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai le-Yavneh” (“Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai’s Going to Yavneh”); “Nesiuto shel Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai” (“Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai’s Term as Nasi”), in Mekhkarim be-Toledot Yisrael (“Studies in Jewish History”; Tel Aviv, 1957), 1:219-273.
  • [5] See especially Genesis Rabbah 6:84.
  • [6] Matt. 15:1; Mark 3:22; 7:1; Luke 5:17.
  • [7] The 18 years stated by the Amora Ulla (see below) is not necessarily an exact number.
  • [8] See the mishnaic references in note 3. It becomes clear in b. Shabbat 121b that the sages who permitted this, and the pietists who were not pleased by it, disagreed on this issue. See below.
  • [9] When, during the period following the destruction of the Second Temple, a person wished to say that he had sinned, he would write on his board: “Ishmael ben Elisha trimmed the lamp on the Sabbath, when the Temple shall be rebuilt he shall bring a hatat (sin-offering)” (t. Shabbat 1:13 and the parallels in the Talmuds).
  • [10] j. Shabbat 16:15d.
  • [11] See especially Sifre Deuteronomy 357:425-427.
  • [12] j. Pesahim 5:32a. A similar passage also appears in b. Pesahim 62b.
  • [13] j. Sanhedrin 1:18c.
  • [14] See, e.g., j. Eruvin 6:23c; b. Hullin 132b Pesiqta Rabbati 29 (138b) and many other passages.
  • [15] j. Ta’anit 4:69b; j. Moed Katan 3:82d; j. Shevi’it 5:35d and many other passages. See S. Lieberman, Sifrei Zuta (New York, 1968), especially pp. 92-94.
  • [16] j. Ta’anit 3:66c.
  • [17] b. Shabbat 121b; see S. Safrai, “Teaching of Pietistics in Mishnaic Literature,” Journal of Jewish Studies 16 (1965): 15-33.
  • [18] m. Avot 2:5. See S. Safrai, “Hasidim we-Anshei Ma’aseh” (“Pietists and Miracle-Workers”), Zion 50 (1985): 152-154. Regarding Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai, see Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, A:12 (28b), B:27 (40b). See Safrai, ibid., 132-136.
  • [19] m. Ta’anit 2:5; see also t. Ta’anit 2:13; b. Ta’anit 16b; b. Rosh Ha-Shanah 27a.
  • [20] t. Shabbat 13:2; b. Shabbat 115a.; j. Shabbat 16:15c brings the event involving Rabban Gamaliel the Elder at the Temple Mount without the narrative regarding Rabbi Halafta’s visit to Tiberias.
  • [21] t. Ma’aser Sheni 1:13; t. Bava Batra 2:6 (= b. Bava Batra 56b); t. Ahilot 5:7; t. Kelim Bava Metzia 1:5.
  • [22] He lived until the time of Rabbi Judah the Nasi, all of the traditions regarding whom are after the time of the revolt. See t. Sukkah 2:2; j. Sanhedrin 7:24b.
  • [23] Thus the Commentary by Rabbi Simeon of Sens on the Mishnah 22:9 and in Yehusei Tannaim we-Amoraim, s.v. Haggai (Maimon ed., p. 234) and Hutzpit (ibid., p. 441).
  • [24] Thus in Rabbi Simeon of Sens, loc. cit.
  • [25] Thus in Rabbi Simeon of Sens, loc. cit.
  • [26] t. Kelim Bava Batra 2:2.
  • [27] See Alon, op. cit., 262.
  • [28] See note 19 above.
  • [29] b. Sanhedrin 32b.
  • [30] t. Miqwaot 6:3.
  • [31] t. Kelim Bava Metzia 1:6 and Bava Qamma 4:17; b. Pesahim 62b.
  • [32] According to the traditions in the Babylonian Talmud, Beruriah was the wife of Rabbi Meir; however, there is no allusion to this in the Jerusalem Talmud. Beruriah was years older than Rabbi Meir, who was active mainly after the revolt. See S. Safrai, Eretz Yisrael we-Hakhameha (“The Land of Israel and Its Sages”; Tel Aviv, 1984), 179.
  • [33] See Lamentations Rabbah 13:10; Semahot 12:13, 199-200; see also Alon, op. cit., (Tel Aviv, 1955), 2:1-2.
  • [34] j. Berakhot 4:7d; b. Berakhot 27b-28a.
  • [35] Sixteen, according to the Jerusalem Talmud; and eighteen, according to the Babylonian Talmud.
  • [36] Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, tract. 1 of pasha, sect. 16:59.
  • [37] j. Berakhot 1:3d.
  • [38] See b. Bekhorot 53b; b. Shabbat 54b. Rabbenu Tam discussed this contradiction in b. Shabbat 54b, capt. Hayah Ma’aseh. The “contradiction” came into existence only because Rabbenu Tam interpreted literally the statement that Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah was eighteen years old at the time of his appointment in place of Rabban Gamaliel.
  • [39] b. Megillah 26a. The wording “Rav Eleazar ben Azariah” appears in all the MSS; in the commentary of Rabbenu Hananel in Ravayah, part 2, para. 590, 316; in Or Zaro’a, part 2, para. 385 (79c); in Meiri, ad. loc.; in Teshuvot Maharam mi-Rotenburg, Crimona, para. 165; in t. Megillah 2 (3):17. In j. Megillah 3:71d Rabbi Judah transmits that Rabbi Eleazar ben Rabbi Zadok purchased a synagogue of Alexandrians in Jerusalem. It is possible that this is a different version of the same tradition or perhaps two different traditions. The same difficulty which was perceived by Rabbeinu Tam was also perceived by Lieberman, who proposed a forced answer (Tosefta Ki-Fshutah: Moed, p. 1162). He also was forced into this difficulty only because he accepted as historical fact the legend that Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah was appointed at the age of sixteen or eighteen.
  • [40] Genesis Rabbah 17:152-154; Leviticus Rabbah 34:802-806; j. Ketuvot 11:34b. The narrative in the Jerusalem Talmud is related concisely, while Genesis Rabbah contains two versions, one long and the other short. This narrative is alluded to by the author of Seder Eliyahu Rabbah 139, as Ish Shalom has already seen, loc. cit., n. 30.
  • [41] And t. Sotah 15:3; b. Berakhot 57b; b. Kiddushin 49b; b. Shabbat 54b.
  • [42] j. Yevamot 1:3b. The tradition regarding his appointment in place of the deposed Rabban Gamaliel stresses that he attained this because of his lineage (Jerusalem Talmud) and his wisdom and his wealth (Babylonian Talmud).
  • [43] t. Sotah 7:10 (and parallels); Avot de-Rabbi Nathan A:18 (33b), et al.
  • [44] m. Ma’aser Sheni 5:9; b. Sukkah 41b; t. Betzah 2:12; Sifrei Numbers 43:94, et al. See also S. Safrai, “Biqqureihem shel Hakhmei Yavneh be-Roma,” Studies in the History of the Jews of Italy in Memory of U.S. Nahon, (Jerusalem, 1978), 151-167.
  • [45] Sifrei, ibid., 75; b. Makkot 24a; Lamentations Rabbah 5:159.
  • [46] b. Yevamot 16a.
  • [47] t. Yoma 1:12, also 1:4; Sifrei Numbers 141:222; j. Yoma 2:39d; b. Yoma 23a.
  • [48] b. Gittin 56b; Lamentations Rabbah 1:68. According to the Babylonian Talmud, he fasted for forty years so that Jerusalem would not be destroyed. It is stated in Lamentations Rabbah, according to the printed versions, that Vespasian asked Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai why he arose before “this shrivelled old man.” This is the source of the prevalent opinion that Rabbi Zadok was very advanced in years at the time of the destruction of the Temple. In order to match this fact with the other traditions regarding Rabbi Zadok, two “Rabbi Zadoks” were created, a grandfather and a grandson. But there is not necessarily a chronological difficulty. Even if we were to receive as historical fact the tradition which transmits that Rabbi Zadok fasted for forty years, there is no justification to our accepting as fact that he actually fasted for forty years, for “forty years” is a round number which appears in many places—that is, if he had fasted for only five years or less, the tradition would have related that he had fasted for forty years. Regarding the “shrivelled old man (sabba tzurata),” the word sabba (old man) does not appear in the Buber edition, nor in He-Arukh, s.v. Tzaitor (vol. 3, p. 15). Lamentations Rabbah does not state that he fasted for forty years, only that he was shrivelled from the fasts.
  • [49] t. Sanhedrin 8:1; j. Sanhedrin 1:19c.
  • [50] Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Yitro, tractate of Amalek, 1:195; Sifrei Deuteronomy 38:24; b. Kiddushin 32b. See also b. Pesahim 37a and 49a.
  • [51] t. Sukkah 2:3; t. Eduyot 2:2; b. Yevamot 15b.
  • [52] t. Niddah 4:3-4. See m. Eduyot 8:4; t. Eduyot 3:3; t. Arakhin 11:2.
  • [53] m. Makhshirin 1:3 and the interpretation of halikopri: a metal merchant (χαλκωπώλης).
  • [54] See m. Eduyot 8:4; t. Eduyot 3:3; t. Arakhin 11:2.
  • [55] Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai also was in Galilee on his missions. See Avot de-Rabbi Nathan A:12 (28b) and B:13 (ibid.).
  • [56] t. Betzah 3:8; j. Betzah 3:62b.
  • [57] t. Megillah 3(4):15; Semahot 12:5; b. Sukkah 41a; b. Pesahim 116a; b. Bava Batra 14a; b. Menahot 40a. He is the sage who spoke the most extensively about Jerusalem and the Temple.
  • [58] t. Megillah 2(3):17; j. Megillah 3:1d.
  • [59] t. Ketuvot 5:10; j. Ketuvot 5:30c; b. Ketuvot 67a; Lamentations Rabbah 1 (43b); Pesiqta Rabbati 29 (140a). The city of Acre is not mentioned in all the parallels.
  • [60] t. Hagigah 2:3; j. Hagigah 2:77b-c; b. Hagigah 15a-b; Ruth Rabbah 6; Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.
  • [61] Thus in the Jerusalem Talmud and in Ruth Rabbah, Kohelet Zuta 135 and Yalqut Makhiri on Psalms 90:84.
  • [62] In MS Oxford 164. See the edition by M. B. Lerner (dissertation, Hebrew University, 1971), 2:174 and the notes, 3:61.
  • [63] b. Moed Katan 20a; b. Nazir 44a; Semahot 12, 2:194.
  • [64] Thus in the baraita in b. Nazir.
  • [65] This interpretation was already offered by Rabbi Jacob Emden in his annotations on b. Moed Katan 20a and by many scholars after him. They raised this only because they followed the version in Babylonian Talmud, understanding it literally. According to this it follows that he already was very old during the time of the Temple. As we have clarified, however, there is no basis for this determination. See note 48 above.
  • [66] We can learn of Elisha ben Avuyah’s uniqueness from his aggadic dicta (m. Avot 4:20; Avot de-Rabbi Nathan A:24 and B:34) and from the fact that one of the outstanding sages, Rabbi Meir, a central figure in the Mishnah, remained loyal to Elisha ben Avuyah even after he “went forth from his world.” See the sources listed in note 60.
  • [67] j. Berakhot 4:7c-d; b. Berakhot 27b-28a; see also b. Bekhorot 36a.
  • [68] b. Avodah Zarah 18a.
  • [69] b. Yevamot 96b; j. Sheqalim 2:47a. The Jerusalem Talmud does not mention Tiberias, but rather the synagogue of the Tarsians. This refers, however, to the mishnaic statement in Eruvin, in which Tiberias is mentioned. We may possibly conclude that this refers to a synagogue of Tarsians (after the name of the city Tarsus or after the profession—artistic weavers) in Tiberias. The passage in the Jerusalem Talmud does not mention the name of the city Tiberias because the incident in which the tradition is placed took place in Tiberias in a conversation among Rabbi Elhanan, Rabbi Eleazar ben Pedat, Rabbi Ammi and Rabbi Assi, all of whom were Tiberian sages in the second half of the third century. They, therefore, mentioned only that this occurred in the synagogue of the Tarsians. The Jerusalem Talmud version is also found in Yalqut Makhiri on Psalm 61:3 (156a).
  • [70] Thus according to the emendation of the text in the two Talmuds.
  • [71] Tanhuma, wa-yishalah 8 (Buber ed., 83b). This tradition is to be found also in b. Sanhedrin 98a, but the latter source does not explicitly mention the name of the city Tiberias. We copy from the more complete version in Yalqut Makhiri on Obadiah, published by M. Gaster in Revue des Etudes Juives 25 (1892): 63-64. We find in the MSS that the passage is taken from Tanhuma. It was reprinted in Yalqut Makhiri, published by A. W. Greenup (London, 1909), p. 4.
  • [72] Song of Songs Rabbah 2; Semahot 11, 4:188; t. Megillah 2:8, et al.
  • [73] t. Peah 3:2; b. Pesahim 38b, et al.
  • [74] t. Zevahim 2:16-17; b. Menahot 18a.
  • [75] t. Sukkah 2:1 and parallels in the Talmuds.
  • [76] t. Pesahim 2 (1):15; j. Avodah Zarah 1:40a; b. Eruvin 64b.
  • [77] Sifrei Deuteronomy 16:26 (see note by Finkelstein, ibid.); b. Eruvin 41a; Sifrei Deuteronomy 1:4, et al.
  • [78] t. Orlah 3:8; b. Kiddushin 39a; t. Kelim Bava Qamma 6:3, et al.
  • [79] See above and note 21.
  • [80] t. Terumah 7:14; t. Sukkah 2:2. Regarding the formulation, see S. Safrai, “Beit Shearim ba-Sifrut ha-Talmudit” (“Beit Shearim in the Talmudic Literature”), Eretz Yisrael 5 (1959): 208 and n. 17.
  • [81] Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, ba-hodesh 2:210; Avot de-Rabbi Nathan A:32 (47a), et al.
  • [82] b. Avodah Zarah 17b.
  • [83] Tanhuma, Masai 1 (Buber ed., 81a).
  • [84] Thus in the printed editions. This is also what may be assumed from the issue itself, for the question is when may a person who is persecuted by the non-Jews desecrate the Sabbath; the answer is that he may flee, and mention is made of the narrative regarding Rabbi Eleazar ben Parta, who hinted to them to flee.
  • [85] j. Gittin 7:48d.
  • [86] See Büchler, 200.
  • [87] j. Sotah 1:16c; t. Gittin 5 (7):4.
  • [88] j. Shabbat 1:5d; b. Shabbat 123a; b. Eruvin 71b; Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, shirah 1:119.
  • [89] Tractate Derekh Eretz 1. In the Higger edition of the Tosefta, Derekh Eretz 3:267. Büchler, ibid., erroneously joined this to Rabbi Eliezer ben Tadai. Regarding the exchange Teradyon-Tadion-Taddai, see J. N. Epstein, “Perurim Talmudiyim” (“Talmudic Crumbs”), Tarbiz 3 (1932): 111.
  • [90] See below.
  • [91] See Shmuel and Ze’ev Safrai, “Beit Anat,” Sinai 40 (1976): 18-34, especially 21-22.
  • [92] Leviticus Rabbah 2:451.
  • [93] t. Shevi’it 4:11 (and parallels). The name “Katzra de-Galila” is found in all the parallels in the literature, including in the mosaic floor found in the Beit Shean valley near Tel Rehov. See Y. Sussman, “Ketovet Hilkhatit me-Emek Beit-Shean” (“A Halakhic Inscription from the Beit Shean Valley”), Tarbiz 43 (1973-4): 158.
  • [94] An archaeological report of relatively broad scope is to be found in V. Guerin, Description de la Palestine, Galilée (Paris, 1880), vol. 7, part 3, t. 2, p. 157. The main thrust of his comments are cited almost verbatim in the British Survey of Western Palestine, 1 (1981): 154. A short report on the site was also written by Tzvi Gitzov, in M. Yedayah ed., Ma’aravo shel Galil (“The West of Galilee”; 1961), 53. A more comprehensive description was written by Tzvi Ilan: Hurvat Galil—Zihuyehah u-Mimtza’ehah (“The Ruins of Galil—Its Identification and Finds”), in M. Yedayah ed., Kadmoniyot ha-Galil ha-Ma’aravi (“Antiquities of Western Galilee”; Haifa, 1986), 516-520. Even during later periods when Galilee was the center of Judaism and of Torah study, there were sages who were named after the city of Galil. See j. Shabbat 3:6a, b. Shabbat 46a, j. Berakhot 3:6a, et al.
  • [95] m. Avodah Zarah 3:5; t. Gittin 7 (9):1; t. Miqwaot 7:11; t. Orlah 1:8; b. Moed Qatan 28b, et al.
  • [96] Sifrei Numbers 118:141. In his commentary on Isa. 8:14, Jerome includes Rabbi Jose ha-Galili in his short list of the greatest Tannaim. See A. Geiger, “Über Judentum und Christentum,” Jüdische Zeitschrift 5 (1867): 273.
  • [97] Regarding this issue, see b. Hullin 116a. Rabbi Jose ha-Galili’s opinion is also held by a sage named Apikulos in t. Hullin 8:2 (he is not mentioned elsewhere in our literature).
  • [98] b. Hullin 116a; Yevamot 14a.
  • [99] See S. Safrai, “Ha-Hakhra’ah ke-Veit Hillel” (“The Decision in Accordance with Beit Hillel”), in Proceedings of the Seventh World Congress of Jewish Studies (Jerusalem, 1981), 27-44.
  • [100] m. Hullin 5:1; m. Eduyot 5:2.
  • [101] b. Eruvin 53b.
  • [102] In the same passage in b. Eruvin 53b. It should be mentioned once again that the expression “foolish Galilean,” in its Aramaic form, was applied to a merchant who came to sell his wares in Judea and said “amar to someone.” It was not clear whether he meant hamar (for in the Galilean accent there was no distinction between the letter ח “het” and the letter א “alef“) for drinking (wine) or hamar (ass) for riding or amar (with the initial letter ע “ayin“, wool). It is possible that the later passage used Beruriah’s expression, but it is also possible that this was an expression in general use. We can learn nothing from this, because the lack of differentiation between the letters alef, ayin and het prevents us from learning about a poor cultural state (see below). See J. N. Epstein, Mavo le-Nusah ha-Mishnah (“Introduction to the Text of the Mishnah”; Jerusalem, 1948), part 1, 183-185.
  • [103] Sifrei Deuteronomy 41:85. See notes 90-91 above.
  • [104] With the assistance of my son Ze’ev.
  • [105] A portion from the Genizah published by J. N. Epstein in Tarbiz 1 (1930): 70. See ibid., n. 17 and the introduction, 52-53.
  • [106] t. Sotah 3:3; j. Sotah 9:24b; b. Sotah 48b.
  • [107] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1; Song of Songs Rabbah 1.
  • [108] b. Sanhedrin 32b; t. Sukkah 2:1; Midrash on Psalm 25:13 (107b), et al. Regarding his property in the region, see t. Ma’aser Sheni 5:16.
  • [109] t. Hullin 2:24; b. Avodah Zarah 16b.
  • [110] Thus in MS London and in the Rishonim. At any rate it seems that he was a sage, and the deed he performed of spreading a sheet over the sukkah against the sun corresponds to the statement in m. Sukkah 1:3; see also Tosafot 10aPires alav sadin.
  • [111] In b. Sukkah 27b: “In Upper Galilee, in the sukkah of Johanan ben Rabbi Ilai, in Kesari, or as some say, in Kesarion.”
  • [112] And in the parallel in b. Sukkah 27b.
  • [113] b. Sukkah 27a.
  • [114] See ibid., 27b. Regarding his identification, see below.
  • [115] See above and notes 61-62. Regarding his identification, see below.
  • [116] b. Moed Qatan 16a-b; see A. Büchler, “Learning and Teaching in Open Air in Palestine,” Jewish Quarterly Review 4 (1914): 485-491.
  • [117] t. Kelim Bava Batra 3:6.
  • [118] j. Ma’aserot 1:48d.
  • [119] b. Eruvin 29a; b. Sotah 48a; b. Kiddushin 20a; b. Arakhin 30b. Cf. j. Bikkurim 2:65a.
  • [120] Sifrei Zuta 302. Ibid., 305, there is an additional reference to the group of sages and “Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob sits and expounds regarding the [red] heifer in Tiberias.” This latter incident, however, occurred after the Bar Kokhba Revolt.
  • [121] t. Bava Qamma 8:17; b. Bava Qamma 80a; j. Sotah 9:24a.
  • [122] Thus as correct in MS Vienna, in first ed. of the Tosefta, and in MS Hamburg of the Babylonian Talmud and in Maharshal, citing other books; and similarly in the Jerusalem Talmud.
  • [123] Thus in the printed editions of the Babylonian Talmud, and MS Vatican and Maharshal, citing other books. Similarly, it seems that Shezor is on the boundary between Lower and Upper Galilee; Rabbi Simeon Shezori speaks of his family’s properties which were in Upper Galilee.
  • [124] See the passage in b. Sanhedrin 4b-5a and j. Sanhedrin 1:18b.
  • [125] t. Yevamot 3:1. See G. Alon, Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Eretz Yisrael bi-Tekufat ha-Mishnah we-ha-Talmud (“History of the Jews in the Land of Israel During the Period of the Mishnah and the Talmud”; Tel Aviv, 1967), 1:174.
  • [126] m. Kelim 18:1; m. Taharot 3:2, et al.
  • [127] j. Demai 5:24d.
  • [128] t. Shevi’it 2:5; b. Rosh Ha-Shanah 13b. Rabbi Jose ben Kippar was sent, shortly after the Bar Kokhba revolt, to persuade Hananiah, the nephew of Rabbi Joshua, to stop independently intercalating years and proclaiming new months in Babylonia, but instead to rely upon the sages in the Land of Israel (b. Berakhot 63a). By that time he already was a sage whose opinion was heeded.
  • [129] See Alon, Toledot ha-Yehudim, 19.
  • [130] Alon, ibid., 321, et al.
  • [131] m. Ketuvot 4:12; j. Ketuvot 29b. Regarding other wedding practices in which the Galileans followed the practices of the Jerusalemites, see t. Ketuvot 1:4, j. Ketuvot 1:29a, b. Ketuvot 12a. All the practices of Galilee are more refined and better than those in Judea.
  • [132] Semahot 3:6 111-112.
  • [133] b. Shabbat 153a; see the commentary by Rashi, loc. cit.
  • [134] See S. Klein, Eretz ha-Galil (“The Land of Galilee”; Jerusalem, 1967), 169-176; S. Safrai, Ha-Aliyah la-Regel bi-Yemei ha-Bayit ha-Sheni (“Pilgrimage in the Days of the Second Temple”; Tel Aviv, 1965), 50-53.
  • [135] t. Yoma 1:4; j. Yoma 1:38c; b. Yoma 12b and in the parallel 9b.
  • [136] Antiq. 17:165. See S. Lieberman in Tosefta Ki-Fshutah: Moed, 723-726.
  • [137] m. Yoma 6:3.
  • [138] Thus in the Mishnah of the Jerusalem Talmud, MS Cambridge A and B, Naples printing, et al.
  • [139] t. Sotah 13:8; j. Yoma 6:3c; b. Yoma 39a; b. Kiddushin 53a.
  • [140] j. Ta’anit 4:69a; Lamentations Rabbah 2.
  • [141] See above and note 107.
  • [142] See m. Yoma 3:4; t. Yoma 2:2-4.
  • [143] See Safrai, loc. cit. (note 128).
  • [144] j. Ma’aser Sheni 5:56a; Lamentations Rabbah 3:63a-b.
  • [145] Regarding the inscriptions, see Safrai, loc. cit., 53.
  • [146] b. Menahot ch. 8; t. Menahot ch. 9.
  • [147] m. Menahot ch. 8 and t. Menahot 8:5. This is undoubtedly the Tekoa in Galilee and not the one in Judea, for it also was listed among the places in which olives were grown in Galilee regarding the matter of shemittah (the Sabbatical year: t. Shevi’it 7:15, b. Pesahim 23a). The Judean Tekoa, which borders the Judean Desert, was not known for its oil. The Babylonian Talmud (b. Menahot 85b) understood from the statement of Rabbi Johanan that this was the Galilean Tekoa. The Jerusalem Talmud, on the other hand (Hagigah 3:79b), understood that this was the Judean Tekoa: see S. Lieberman, Tarbiz 2 (1931): 110.
  • [148] Teshuvat ha-Geonim (Leck), sec. 104. The responsum was printed in Otzar ha-Geonim on Shabbat, the section of responsa, p. 23; see addenda on p. 163. Several of the Rishonim cite this tradition in the name of the Jerusalem Talmud. This does not appear in our editions of the latter, and it seems that it appears chiefly in a midrash that is not extant. See G. Alon, Mehkarim, section 2, 24 n. 16.
  • [149] Life 188. See also S. Klein, Eretz ha-Galil (“The Land of Galilee”; Jerusalem, 1967), 39 ff. He was preceded by A. Schlatter, Die Hebräischen Namen bei Josephus (photocopy ed., Darmstadt, 1970), 82-83; see below.
  • [150] See note 139.
  • [151] These things are not explicitly stated in a halakhic ruling, but they can almost certainly be learned from talmudic literature, with assistance being provided by the Christian tradition and the Apocalypse of Baruch. See m. Sheqalim 8:5 and the exposition of S. Lieberman in Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York, 1950), 167; S. Safrai, Ha-Aliyah la-Regel, 28 n. 94.
  • [152] See Klein, loc. cit., 52.
  • [153] t. Yoma 1:23; 1 Mac. 3:49. See Safrai, loc. cit., p. 78, n. 96.
  • [154] It would seem that this contradicts the statement of the Mishnah (Hagigah 3:4), which states that the people of Judea, both haverim (who maintained the ritual cleanness of the terumah) and amei ha-aretz, were regarded as reliable concerning the cleanness of the wine and the oil used in the sacrifices in the Temple all the days of the year, while the Galileans were not regarded as reliable. The two Talmuds offer a reason for the unreliability of the Galileans: because “a strip of the Cutheans separates,” and sacrifices were not brought through the Land of the Cutheans (Samaria). In another place (Ha-Aliyah la-Regel, 44-46 and nn. on p. 25) I have shown that this is not in accordance with the Halakhah and the reality of the Temple period, in which sacrifices were brought from Galilee. Rather, those who prepared the wine and oil in Judea were more aware of the possibility that their wine and oil would go to the Temple, and, therefore, there were many people who were particular to maintain their cleanness, while the Galileans ordinarily were not aware of this, and, therefore, whoever was not a haver was not regarded as reliable for this matter. But there were people who prepared these items for the Temple as well and brought them to Jerusalem through the Land of the Cutheans.
  • [155] See H. Graetz, 2:749-752 n. 19.
  • [156] Genesis Rabbah 10:84.
  • [157] Rabbi Eliezer repeats his opinion in m. Hallah 2:8. Similarly, Rabbi Ilai cites in his name that they would give terumah from the clean for the unclean, even from wet produce (t. Terumah 3:18).
  • [158] Thus in MS Vienna; this was distorted in MS Erfurt. It refers to “threshing-floors” in the plural and similarly in Melekhet Shelomo on m. Terumah 2:1: In the threshing-floors of Kefar Signah.
  • [159] See m. Hagigah 3:8.
  • [160] MS Erfurt has in the Tosefta tanur (sing.), but MS Vienna has tanurim (pl.).
  • [161] F. Rosenthal, in Sefer Yovel le-David Tzvi Hoffmann (Berlin, 1914), 367.
  • [162] t. Miqwaot 6:2.
  • [163] t. Makhshirin 2:5.
  • [164] t. Kilayim 1:4; j. Kilayim 1:24d.
  • [165] See J. N. Epstein, “Mi-Dikdukei Yerushalmi,” Tarbiz 5 (1934): 269-270.
  • [166] The Babylonian Talmud also includes the poor of Kefar Hananiah; this was written only as a slip of the tongue from other places in which Kefar Hananiah is mentioned together with Kefar Shihin (b. Shabbat 120b; b. Bava Metzia 74a), for Kefar Hananiah is much farther than the distance of two “Sabbath bounds” from Rumah, and it was not possible to go from Kefar Hananiah to Rumah on the Sabbath: see S. Lieberman, Tosefta Ki-Fshutah: Moed, 361.
  • [167] t. Eruvin 3 (4):17; j. Eruvin 4:22a; b. Eruvin 50b.
  • [168] War 3:233.
  • [169] Regarding the identification of Shihin, see Lieberman, loc. cit., 360-361, following those who preceded him; see also the critical comments by Ze’ev Safrai, Pirqei Galil, 69-71.
  • [170] See S. Klein, Eretz ha-Galil, 32.
  • [171] t. Ahilot 16:13; j. Pesahim 1:26c; b. Pesahim 9a; b. Avodah Zarah 42a.
  • [172] Thus in the version of MS Vienna and in the Rishonim, and not Rimon, as in our text. It is in the bounds of Tiberias; see the narrative also in t. Miqwaot 6:2.
  • [173] See Sifrei Deuteronomy 327:425-426.
  • [174] t. Shabbat 13 (14):9; j. Shabbat 16:15d; b. Yoma 8:5b; j. Nedarim 4:38d; b. Shabbat 121a; Deuteronomy Rabbah, Lieberman ed., p. 20.
  • [175] Judah and Hillel were the sons of Rabban Gamaliel of Yavneh. See above and note 91.
  • [176] A bench upon which merchandise is sold.
  • [177] t. Moed Katan 2:15; j. Pesahim 4:30d; b. Pesahim 51a.
  • [178] See note 177.
  • [179] See note 177.
  • [180] t. Shabbat 7 (8):17; Semahot 8:4, 150. The addition appears only in Semahot. See Maimon ed., Sefer Yihusei Tannaim wa-Amoraim (Jerusalem, 1963), 153 and n. 172a.
  • [181] This is Beit Anat. See the article mentioned in note 91 above.
  • [182] t. Ahilot 16:13.
  • [183] Regarding sitting on benches on the Sabbath, it was stated explicitly (t. Moed Katan 2:14) that they were accustomed to be stringent until Rabbi Akiva came and taught that it was permitted.
  • [184] t. Pesahim 2(1):15; j. Avodah Zarah 1:40a; b. Eruvin 64b.
  • [185] t. Terumot 2:13.
  • [186] See my articles cited in notes 17 and 18 above.
  • [187] See t. Megillah 2(3):18 and parallels. Matters connected with the synagogue are not mentioned in the first chapters of Tractate Berakhot, which deal with matters relating to prayer, but rather in the last two chapters of Tractate Megillah, which deal with the reading of the Torah. See S. Safrai, “Gathering in the Synagogues on Festivals, Sabbaths and Weekdays in Ancient Synagogues in Israel,” in Ancient Synagogues in Israel Third-Seventh Century C.E.; Proceedings of Symposium, University of Haifa, May 1987., (ed. Rachel Hachlili; British Archaeological Reports International Series 499; Oxford: 1989), 7-15.
  • [188] Matt. 4:23 and 9:35; Mark 1:21, 39 and 6:1; Luke 4:15, 16, 31; 6:6 and 13:10; John 6:59.
  • [189] Mark 1:21 and 6:1; Luke 4:21; John 6:59. See the references in the preceding note.
  • [190] Luke 4:16-17.
  • [191] The earliest testimony is found in the Letter of Aristeas, 304-306. Yehudit goes forth and immerses. See ibid., 14:11-15.
  • [192] m. Eduyot 5:6.
  • [193] Mark 7:15-20; Matt. 15:17-20.
  • [194] Mark 7:1; cf. Matt. 9:1; Luke 11:37.
  • [195] Mark 7:20.
  • [196] m. Betzah 2:3; m. Ahilot 5:5, et al.
  • [197] Luke 1:59 and 2:21.
  • [198] Matt. 12:1; Luke 14:2-6 and 13:11-16; John 7:23.
  • [199] A general survey is provided by J. N. Epstein, Mevo’ot le-Sifrut ha-Tanna’im (“Introductions to the Literature of the Tannaim”; Jerusalem, 1957), 280-281; S. Safrai, “Religion in Everyday Life” in The Jewish People in the First Century (CRINT I.2; Assen, 1976), 804-807.
  • [200] Matt. 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:31. The name is connected to the narrative of the crucifixion, and it is possible that the appellation existed only in Jerusalem.
  • [201] The name is also to be found in Josephus, Antiq. 16:163.
  • [202] Luke 5:27-32; Mark 2:13-17; Matt. 9:9-13.
  • [203] Luke 6:1-5; Matt. 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28. However, in his book Jesus in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten (Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1968), 44, David Flusser argues that these Pharisees followed a stricter Halakhah on this point than the Galilean practice of the disciples of Jesus.
  • [204] Mark 14:3-9; Matt. 26:6-13; John 12:1-8.
  • [205] In the parallels, the entire narrative is inserted in a different context.
  • [206] In contrast with this statement, Rabbi Eliezer emphasizes in b. Sukkah 27b that there is no tribe in Israel that has not produced a judge; in Seder Olam Rabbah 21 (Katner ed., 46a), that you have no city in the Land of Israel in which there were no prophets.
  • [207] Life 54. b. Shabbat 150a states: “Rabbi Johanan said, ‘It is permitted to supervise matters of life and death and matters of communal urgency on the Sabbath, and it is permitted to go to synagogues to deal with communal affairs on the Sabbath.’”
  • [208] j. Ta’anit 3:67a; j. Nedarim 8:40d.
  • [209] War 4:87-102. M. D. Herr, in his article “Le-Va’ayat Hilkhot Milhamah ba-Shabbat bi-Yemei Bayit Sheni u-bi-Tekufat ha-Mishnah we-ha-Talmud” (“Regarding the Problem of the Laws of War on the Sabbath in the Days of the Second Temple and in the Period of the Mishnah and the Talmud”), Tarbiz 30 (1961): 255-256, holds that this statement by Johanan was only a ploy in order to escape, and that it was not an actual halakhic ruling. It is true that in the period under discussion the ruling had already been issued that it is permitted to engage in a defensive war on the Sabbath, and that a war which has been begun three days prior to the Sabbath is to be continued on the Sabbath; and wars were indeed waged on the Sabbath. Johanan as well fought on the Sabbath, and Josephus himself also fought on the Sabbath. Thus there is no justification for saying that it was not an actual halakhic ruling; some were lenient in the matter, while others were stringent. Johanan, however, indeed said this to Titus as a ploy in order to escape, as he did in fact do, but there was a basis for his statement. See the statements by J. N. Epstein and A. D. Melamed, which are cited by Herr, 256 and n. 62.
  • [210] Josephus, of course, accuses them of a desire to rob.
  • [211] See also Josephus’ comments at the beginning of ch. 16, ibid. Regarding the law and practice of giving ma’aser to the priests, see m. Yevamot 6:1-2; b. Ketuvot 26a; b. Bava Batra 61b; b. Hullin 131b; t. Peah 4:5, et al.
  • [212] Joel 1:14; Isa. 58:3.