The Historical Jesus, a Tanna? Charity and Deeds of Loving-Kindness in the Gospels and Early Rabbinic Thought

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When nearly precise rabbinic parallels to stories and sayings in the Gospels exist, it may indicate that the Gospels are preserving traditions of the early Jesus movement and, perhaps, the historical Jesus.

The Value of Rabbinic Literature as an Historical Source

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Scholars in Israel tend to view synoptic gospel texts, and other Jewish texts from the Second Temple period, through Hebraic and rabbinic eyes. Many Israeli scholars, including the late Professor Shmuel Safrai, are in the habit of first translating synoptic texts to Hebrew to see with what ease they go into Hebrew; and then secondly, comparing the resultant translation with rabbinic sources in an effort to determine whether culturally such and such was ever said or done in rabbinic times. Unfortunately, it has become common in many scholarly circles outside Israel to dismiss rabbinic literature as having little validity as background to the synoptic gospels since rabbinic sources were compiled long after these gospels were written. In this article Safrai provides convincing evidence that much of later rabbinic literature faithfully reflects the situation in Second-Temple times. He demonstrates just how important the rabbinic material is for gaining a fuller understanding of the Gospels.—DB.

Jesus’ Jewish Command to Love

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Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” was revolutionary! No one before him dared to raise such a high standard for the life of faith.

Were Women Segregated in the Ancient Synagogue?

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

Character Profile: …To Bury Caiaphas, Not to Praise Him

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At the end of December, 1990, one of the most significant New Testament-related archaeological discoveries ever made came to light in Jerusalem: the tomb of Caiaphas, high priest in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ death. Some of the ossuaries found in the tomb were inscribed with the name “Caiaphas,” the most magnificently decorated of them was inscribed with the name “Joseph bar Caiaphas.”

Jesus and the Essenes

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The Essenes’ favorite name for themselves was “the sons of light.” In the Synoptic Gospels the term appears only in Luke 16:8, and the reference is not very flattering. Was Jesus making an ironic reference to the Essenes?

The Role of Women in the Temple

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

John the Nazirite

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The Mishnah seems to indicate that the vow to abstain even from specific parts of the grape implies acceptance of the entire nazirite regimen. According to Nazir 1:2, even if one vows: “I will abstain from eating grape seeds and grape skins…, he becomes a nazirite.”