Scholars in Israel tend to view synoptic gospel texts, and other Jewish texts from the Second Temple period, through Hebraic and rabbinic eyes. Many Israeli scholars, including the late Professor Shmuel Safrai, are in the habit of first translating synoptic texts to Hebrew to see with what ease they go into Hebrew; and then secondly, comparing the resultant translation with rabbinic sources in an effort to determine whether culturally such and such was ever said or done in rabbinic times. Unfortunately, it has become common in many scholarly circles outside Israel to dismiss rabbinic literature as having little validity as background to the synoptic gospels since rabbinic sources were compiled long after these gospels were written. In this article Safrai provides convincing evidence that much of later rabbinic literature faithfully reflects the situation in Second-Temple times. He demonstrates just how important the rabbinic material is for gaining a fuller understanding of the Gospels.—DB.
Paul mentions the living sacrifices without explanation, as if the readers would be familiar with the concept. Similar early rabbinic vocabulary suggests that Paul is referring to sacrifices which were given to the Temple but which were inappropriate for offering, because they were female instead of male or for other technical reasons. They could not be un-offered so, although they were sacrifices, they were kept alive as temple property till they became blemished, and any profit from them was for the Lord.
Every Saturday morning in synagogues throughout the world the Torah is read aloud. Following ancient practice, seven men in turn read the weekly Torah portion. However, Professors Shmuel and Chana Safrai have recently discovered that a different custom prevailed until the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.: until at least the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., a single reader performed this task.
The detailed description of Jesus’ visit to the Nazareth synagogue found in Luke 4:16-21 provides substantial information about synagogue life and customs in the early first century C.E. An examination of this passage will help us understand Jesus more clearly and accurately. This account in Luke’s Gospel agrees with other contemporary and especially rabbinic sources. Together they provide a complete picture of the synagogue in that period.