The Times of the Gentiles and the Redemption of Jerusalem

When the Israeli soldiers captured the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, many Christians regarded this event as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in the New Testament: “Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled,”[1] (Luke 21:24).[2] There is no need to wonder at this reaction within certain Christian circles, since there has always been a stream within Christianity which looks forward to a return to Zion at the end of days.[3] Their hope is based both on the words of the Hebrew Scriptures and upon certain passages in the New Testament that reflect the hope for Israel’s national redemption. In the modern era there have been Christian movements to allow the Jews to return to their land even before the renewal of the Jewish resettlement of the Land of Israel.[4] We have also seen that Jewish revival movements, whether secular or religious, have established their historical right to the Land of Israel by relying on the Scriptures and on Jewish beliefs and ideas that emerged after the Scriptures were written, and many of these movements consider the State of Israel to be “the beginning of the sprouting of redemption.”[5]

Thus today we are met with parallel mentalities among Jews and Christians toward the return to Zion, mentalities that are nourished by the same roots.[6] There is, of course, a key difference between the hopes of the Jews and the parallel hopes of the Christians: the Christians believe that the Messiah who will be revealed at the end of days will be none other than Jesus who has returned. Aside from this, the overwhelming majority of Christians who support Israel, even those who do not believe in the return to Zion at the end of days, believe that all Israel will accept faith in Jesus in the end.[7] This belief in the Christian conversion of the majority of Israel is fed especially by Paul’s words that, in the end, “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26).[8] We shall return to this statement again in the course of our discussion. Most of the Christians who believe in the return to Zion suppose that this will come prior to the second coming of Jesus and the conversion of the gathered exiles to Christianity,[9] and therefore they regard the return to Zion, the founding of the State of Israel, and the liberation of Jerusalem as important signs of the approach of the end of days.

Every scholar who studies the problem of ancient religion will do well to pay attention to the living expressions of faith in his own day which draw on the same ancient testimonies that the scholar himself is deciphering, for of course the ideas of the faithful in a later period necessarily come from the same sources, and these living expressions may open the scholar’s eyes to the original meaning of the writings themselves. Hence the need for a renewed investigation of Jesus’ words concerning the liberation of Jerusalem from the yoke of the Gentiles in the end of days, and the influence his saying has had on other portions of the New Testament. Such study is likely to deepen our understanding of Christianity’s tangled relationship with, and its ambivalence toward, its Jewish heritage, Judaism and the people of Israel, that have existed since its inception.

Lindsey’s Hypothesis and Jesus’ Prophecy

The prophecy we are discussing is found in the Gospel of Luke (21:20-28), and it is a part of Jesus’ oracle that is included in the first three Gospels (Matt. 24:1-36; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-36). Scholars refer to this oracle as the “Synoptic Apocalypse”—“apocalypse” because it contains a vision of the end and of the redemption in the regular pattern of apocalyptic literature, and “synoptic” because it is found in the first three Gospels. It appears that this oracle, whether it is based in whole or in part on authentic sayings of Jesus, was not delivered by Jesus in its written form; but as far as our research is concerned the question of the oracle’s authenticity is only of secondary importance.

Most of the scholars who have studied the “Synoptic Apocalypse”[10] espouse the commonly held assumption that even in this passage Matthew and Luke are dependent upon the Gospel of Mark. On account of this assumption these scholars are prevented from approaching this important passage correctly. Recently, Lindsey has investigated the problem of the Synoptic Gospels anew and has arrived at important and fruitful conclusions which are likely to be confirmed by the results of the examination of our topic.[11] It is true that the first three Gospels are based on an earlier source (that included, among other things, Jesus’ apocalyptic oracle), but, according to Lindsey’s theory, only Luke faithfully preserved the source’s original form. Lindsey believes that Mark mainly depends on the Gospel of Luke, even though he also relies on the earlier source, but Mark has thoroughly adapted his sources. Matthew, in turn, depends mainly on Mark, but even he consulted the earlier source from time to time.

Here is one example of the interrelationship between the Gospels:[12] In his words concerning the future persecution of his followers Jesus says, “They will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons and you will come before kings and governors[13] for my sake[14] as a testimony to them [i.e., to the Jewish persecutors] and to the Gentiles.” This is the original conclusion of the saying which was preserved in Matthew (10:18). Luke (21:13) did not pay attention to his source, for, according to the original wording, Jesus’ disciples will be persecuted both at the hands of the Jews and at the hands of the Gentile governors and their kings, and therefore the persecution itself will be a testimony to the Jews and the Gentiles together.[15] Because of his lack of attention to the original meaning Luke wrote that the event “will be a time for you to bear testimony.”[16]

Mark, too, saw the original conclusion of the saying, but the moment he read the words “as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles” his attitude toward the Synagogue influenced him, and he was reminded of Paul’s attitude in the Epistle to the Romans (chs. 9-11) that first it is necessary to proclaim the Christian gospel to the Gentiles, and only then will all Israel be saved. Therefore, Mark expresses the view: “they will deliver you up…to bear testimony before them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations” (Mark 13:9-10).[17]

It seems that it was not only the mention of the Gentiles in Mark’s source that inspired his addition concerning the spread of Christianity among the Gentiles. We may also suppose that the word “testimony” strengthened the association with the Church in his mind: according to Acts (1:6-8), Jesus commanded his disciples at the time of his resurrection to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, in other words, to spread Christianity throughout the entire world. Despite the changes that Mark made to his source, it is possible to determine with strong probability that the earlier source read, “as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles,” as in Matthew’s version. But Matthew did not use the earlier source exclusively, he also relied on Mark. Although he did preserve the wording of the source, Matthew was nevertheless reluctant to let go of the beautiful idea in Mark 13:10, and therefore he adds it later on, in ch. 24, at the end of the paragraph on persecution in a somewhat expanded form: “And this gospel of the Kingdom shall be proclaimed in all the earth as a testimony to the Gentiles and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14).

The development of Mark’s words concerning the spread of the gospel among the Gentiles is discussed here at length with the purpose of taking a stand on the problem of the Synoptic Apocalypse in general and on the complex relationship between the Gospels concerning Jesus’ apocalyptic oracle in particular. The second aim of our discussion is to indicate the motive for the turning to the Gentiles, and for that reason, too, we have lengthened our discussion.

Regarding the apocalyptic oracle found in Luke 21, it appears that it is composed of individual units which are concerned with different subjects.[18] After the opening words (vv. 5-6) Jesus begins his oracle and he warns his listeners against those who will prophesy the end before its coming (vv. 7-9). After that, he speaks about the signs that will herald the end of days (vv. 10-11), but before these things the disciples will be persecuted (vv. 12-19). Next he speaks about the destruction of Jerusalem and the troubles that will take place at that time (vv. 20-24), and he again returns to the topic of the end of days (vv. 25-28). The Parable of the Fig Tree (vv. 29-33) and the conclusion of the oracle (vv. 34-36) are beyond the scope of our topic, for it is our intention to discuss Jesus’ prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem.

Here are the versions of the prophecy according to Luke and Mark:

Luke 21:20-28 Mark 13:14-27
(20) But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. (14) But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand),
(21) Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it; then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; (15) let him who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything away; (16) and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle.
(22) for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.
(23)Alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! (17) And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days!
(18) Pray that it may not happen in winter.[19]
For great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people; (19) For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be.
(24) they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led captive among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
(20) And if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.
(21) And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it.[20]
(22) False Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.
(23)But take heed; I have told you all things beforehand.
(25) And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, (24) But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
(26) men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (25) and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
(27) And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (26) And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory.
(28) Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption[21] is drawing near. (27) And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

The line of thought in the prophecy in Luke’s version is clear: the camps of the army surround Jerusalem, and the city will be destroyed. In those days trouble will come upon the inhabitants of Judea and Jerusalem, and this will be in fulfillment of the words of Scripture. There will be “wrath upon this people,” many will fall and many will be exiled among all the nations, but Jerusalem will not be trampled by the Gentiles forever, for when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled Jerusalem will be set free from their yoke. This will happen at the end of days at the coming of the Son of Man, who is the Messiah. When the events of the end of days begin, “look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

It is possible that the detailed description of the end of days in Luke (21:25-27 and parallels, also the beginning of v. 28) is secondary and that in the original version of the prophecy there was only a brief allusion to the end of days. We find support for this hypothesis if we suppose that the prophecy reflects the authentic words of Jesus. If so, then the detailed description of the end of days seems out of place, since Jesus did not speak at length about the signs of the end of days because he thought that the end will come suddenly, like a thief in the night. But the prophecy itself, as we have stated, is intact—except, perhaps, for the eschatological description—and is comprehensible on its own terms.

Prophecies of Redemption

The pattern of destruction at the hands of enemies, of the troubles that accompany it, and of exile and redemption has been established in Israel since the admonition in the book of Leviticus.[22] The prophecy in Luke is especially similar to the words of the elder Tobit in the book of Tobit (14:4-5)[23] concerning the destruction of the First Temple and the return to Zion: Nineveh will be destroyed, even as Jonah the prophet predicted and as the prophets of Israel foretold, and it will all happen in its time; the Children of Israel will be exiled from the good land, Jerusalem will be desolate, and the Temple will be burned down and will be in ruins “for a time.” But God will have compassion on them, and restore them to the Land of Israel; and they will rebuild the Temple “until the times of the age are completed” (or, according to another version, “the time of their yoke”).

There is no doubt that we have the same pattern in Luke’s version of Jesus’ prophecy, except that the book of Tobit speaks of the destruction of the First Temple and the return to Zion,[24] whereas Jesus prophesies the destruction of the Second Temple and the redemption to come in the future. Nevertheless, the two descriptions resemble one another at two points in contrast to the words of Scripture: they both emphasize that the events fulfill the words of the prophets (cf. Luke 21:22), and they both stress, in accordance with the usual outlook of apocalyptic literature, that these things will happen according to the times that God has determined.

The proximity between these two sources becomes especially clear when we recall that in the book of Tobit it says that the Temple will be rebuilt “until the times of the age are completed,” whereas Jesus says that “Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). The vocabulary in these sources is similar to the phrase “until the completion of the end/עד שלים הקץ” which is in the scroll of the Damascus Covenant (CD 4:8-9).[25] Indeed, it is reasonable to conjecture that the Hebrew source behind Luke read, “until the times of the Gentiles are completed”/עד אשר ישלמו[26] עתות הגויים, since in the covenant between the pieces the LORD said to Abraham, “And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete”/לֹא־שָׁלֵם עֲוֹן הָאֱמֹרִי (Gen. 15:16), and the LXX uses the same verb Luke employs.[27] It is clear that the intention of Jesus’ words is that Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles, but will also be set free at the end of days when the time of Rome is completed.

There is an instructive parallel to Luke 21:24 elsewhere in the New Testament. In the Revelation of John the fragment of a Second Temple Jewish source is preserved (Rev. 11:1-13)[28] that speaks about the capture of Jerusalem by the Gentiles. True, they do not capture the Temple itself, only the outer courts, but “they will trample over the holy city for forty-two[29] months” (Rev. 11:2). Here, too, it says, as in Luke, that Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles,[30] though only for a definite period. The rest of the details are different between the two New Testament prophecies and it is clear that they do not have a direct literary relationship. In any case, the prophecy preserved in the Revelation of John clearly antedates the destruction of the Temple, which is not surprising, since it is well known that at that time there were many people in Israel who anticipated the terrible events of the future with dread, and Jesus was among these, as the sources testify. Already at the time when he began his last journey to Jerusalem Jesus prophesied the destruction of the city, the murder of the prophets, and the destruction of the Temple (Luke 13:31-35; Matt. 23:37-39). There is, therefore, no reason to deny the possibility that the prophecy of destruction in Luke 21:20-24 was delivered by Jesus himself. And although this prophecy mentions the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of an enemy, and the massacre and the exile of its inhabitants to distant lands, one cannot deny that one might expect this from the Roman enemy, especially since the deeds of Pompey had not been erased from that generation’s memory. If so, dread of the threatening future and the yearning for Israel’s salvation from the yoke of the wicked empire had the potential to bring the prophetic-apocalyptic pattern to Jesus’ mind and to prompt him to prophesy the destruction and redemption.

If, however, someone should argue on the basis of the number of concrete details that are mentioned in the prophecy (such as the camps surrounding Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews “among all nations”) that the prophecy was not delivered by Jesus, but was rather placed in his mouth sometime after the destruction had taken place, we would point out that there is still no need to suppose that the entire prophecy was composed only after the destruction of the Temple. We shall see that there is reason to believe that the expectation that “Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” rests on the same foundation as the Epistle to the Romans, which Paul wrote long before the destruction. If so, then it is enough even for the advocates of extreme skepticism to believe that at least the kernel of the prophecy we are discussing came from Jesus himself.

One thing is certain: the entire prophecy of the destruction and redemption in Luke is infused with the Jewish spirit of those days, including its fears and its hopes. Jerusalem will not be desolate and trampled by Gentiles forever; the day will come when their time will be finished, and then, when the upheavals of the last day break out, “look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus turns to his disciples, for of course they, like the rest of the Children of Israel, were afraid of those future “days of vengeance,” during which the Scriptures would be fulfilled (Luke 21:22) and of the “wrath upon this people” (Luke 21:23), but they were also sure that at the end the redemption of Israel would come, which would, of course, be their own redemption.

Solidarity with Israel

From the examination of the contents of the prophecy there is no reason to doubt that Jesus the Jew was able to speak in this way to his Jewish disciples. And if the prophecy was not delivered in whole or in part by Jesus himself, then clearly it was spoken in the contemporary style that was current among Jewish-Christian circles who possessed a fully Jewish identity. In any case, this prophecy could not have been composed by Luke, a Gentile Christian, since there is no doubt that this was not the product of the burning questions in his heart. It appears, moreover, from an examination of their different approaches to their relationship toward Jerusalem that the author of the prophecy, whomever he may have been, was among those who opposed the revolt against Rome. He did not share the belief or the hope that Jerusalem would survive the war. His fundamentally defeatist approach is seen in the words Matthew includes at the end of the prophecy: “Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath” (Matt. 24:20). His pessimism is also evident from the core of the prophecy concerning the destruction, exile and redemption, in which Jerusalem resists and falls.[31]

This illumination depicts Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and shows the siege of Jerusalem foretold in his prophecy. The illumination is from the evangelistary of Otto III ca.1000 C.E. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As regards the course of our investigation, the fact that the prophecy of the destruction was already an integral part of Jesus’ eschatological oracle in the original source that was in Luke’s hands (and which was also known to Mark and to Matthew) is decisive. According to this common source the oracle was spoken in Jerusalem when the disciples said to Jesus that the Temple was magnificent with its beautiful stones, to which Jesus replied: “‘As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’ And they asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign when this is about to take place?'” (Luke 21:5-7 and parallels). In the first three Gospels Jesus answers this question with his eschatological oracle. Since Jesus was asked about the future destruction of the Temple it is certain that in his oracle he would have to give an answer to this question, but an explicit answer pertaining to the destruction appears only in the version of the oracle found in Luke:[32] “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near… and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-24).[33] Mark and Matthew, following Mark’s lead, do not speak about the destruction of Jerusalem at all. This fact itself demonstrates the secondary nature of Mark’s testimony in comparison with Luke’s version.

The Jewish nationalist tendency that appears in the prophecy of the destruction and redemption was, of course, problematic for later Christian commentators and scholars who either ignored it or who explained it away with various interpretations. It was especially difficult—except for specific Christian sects who were expecting the end times—to admit that the meaning of the words “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” was an allusion to the end of the Gentiles’ reign over the people of Israel.[34] Already in early manuscripts of Luke it is sometimes possible to find “corrections” of the offending words: one important manuscript skips over “times of the Gentiles,” and a number of other manuscripts read “until they are fulfilled and the times of the Gentiles come.”[35] This “correction” which turns the original meaning on its head was formed under the influence of Paul’s words in the Epistle to the Romans 11:25: “until the full number of the Gentiles come in” through their acceptance of the Christian faith. In this manner a number of manuscripts changed “the times of the Gentiles” in Luke into the age of the Christian Church made up of the nations of the world.

Mark’s Sectarian Redaction

We have already observed that Mark and, in his footsteps, Matthew pass over the destruction of Jerusalem in silence. But this change is only one aspect of Mark’s tendentious adaptation. All of the political and nationalist sentiments that we recognized in Luke are absent, and in their place Mark’s new version discusses the fate of the early Christian Church. By means of these changes, Jesus’ prophecy of destruction and redemption is transformed into a thoroughly apocalyptic text. In the entire section in Mark there is only one historical allusion, and even that is obscure: “when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Mark 13:14). The opinion of scholars is divided over which event Mark may have alluded to, but it seems to me that one thing rises above all doubt: the “desolating sacrilege,” which is taken from Daniel, appears in Mark because the original source speaks about the “desolation” of Jerusalem (Luke 21:20).

From the foregoing it clearly arises that Mark does not speak at all about the camps that surround Jerusalem, nor about the “days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written” (Luke 21:22). It is also clear that in Mark there is no allusion to the wrath, the massacre, or the exile that will come “on this people” (Luke 21:23-24), or to the prophecy that “Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” In its place Mark, in his own editorial style, adapts the wordsgreat distress shall be upon the earth” (Luke 21:23) and writes “in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not shortened the days,[36] no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days” (Mark 13:19-20).

The idea and the language of these verses is taken from apocalyptic vocabulary. To this category of thought belongs the idea that God is likely to hasten the coming of salvation for the sake of the elect.[37] This hope is based on an understanding of the prophet Isaiah who wrote: “I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it” (Isa. 60:22). Already we find that Ben Sira prayed: “Hasten the day, and remember the appointed time, and let people recount thy mighty deeds” (Sir. 36:8). The Sages said, “It is written: In its time. But it is also written: I will hasten. If they are worthy, I will hasten, if they are not worthy, then in its time,” (b. Sanh. 98a).[38] It is important to point out that in Mark, and Matthew following him, the idea of the hastening of the end is related to the words of Daniel: And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time” (Dan. 12:1).[39] An expression similar to the hastening of the end in the last days and to the verse in Daniel may be found, aside from Mark, also in the War Scroll from Qumran (1QM 1:11-12): “The sons of light and the lot of darkness shall battle together… It will be a time of suffering fo[r al]l the nation redeemed by God. Of all their sufferings, none will be like this, hastening[40] till eternal redemption is fulfilled.”[41]

The intention of Luke’s statement that “great distress shall be upon the earth” (Luke 21:23) is to describe the hardships that will come upon Israel in the days of the destruction, whereas Mark alludes to the distress of the end of days which God will cut short for the sake of his elect (Mark 13:19-20). It is no coincidence that there is so close a proximity between the words of the Dead Sea Scrolls and precisely these words from Mark, for we must of course remember that in the entire oracle Mark does not mention Israel’s tragedy or its redemption, but speaks instead about the “elect of God,” the name by which the members of the Dead Sea sect who separated from the people referred to themselves.[42] Among all the Gospels the Christians are called “elect” in a technical sense exclusively in the chapter which is before us (as well as in Matthew’s parallel account),[43] and it is clear that this terminology was influenced by the language spoken among the apocalyptic groups that existed in those days.

Three times Mark speaks about the Christian elect. The first we have discussed already. The second mention of the elect is in the continuation of his words in a passage unique to Mark: “False Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed; I have told you all things beforehand” (Mark 13:21-23).[44] The third mention, however, is the most instructive. It appears in the place where Luke introduces the hope of the redemption: “Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). In the place of this obviously nationalistic expression Mark writes, “And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mark 13:27).

Two things have, therefore, become clear: Jesus’ prophetic oracle was delivered to explain his earlier prophecy concerning the destruction of the Temple, and it follows that in the original form of the oracle it was necessary to include a prophecy of the destruction. This is the case in Luke. There the prophecy is expressed in a spirit of complete solidarity with the rest of Israel with respect to its fears and its hopes for a final redemption and the liberation of Jerusalem from the yoke of the Gentiles. Mark, in contrast, skips over all the historical events that are mentioned in Luke and over Israel’s hope for political redemption, and in its place his attention is directed solely toward the end of days and the fate of the Christian congregation, that is, the congregation of the elect.

From the Four Winds

As we have observed, Mark concludes the prophecy with these words: “And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mark 13:26-27). This is how Mark transfers Israel’s hope for the gathering of the exiles at the end of days to the Christian congregation. This outlook is not unique to Mark, however. The same concept can already be discerned in the earliest of Paul’s epistles. In the First Epistle to the Thessalonians Paul says:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven… and the dead in Christ will rise first, and we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:16-17).

In the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians Paul speaks “concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him” (2 Thess. 2:1).

In an early Christian writing called the Didache, a blessing for mealtimes dating to the first century has been preserved, in which the first Christians prayed, “Be mindful LORD (or “Lord”) of your church to preserve it from all evil and to perfect it in your love. And, once it is sanctified, gather it from the four winds, into the kingdom which you have prepared for it,” (Did. 10:5).[45] In the prayer before the meal they said, “As this fragment lay scattered upon the mountains and became a single [fragment] when it had been gathered, may your church be gathered into your kingdom from the ends of the earth,” (Did. 9:4). It is understood that, in spite of its Jewish origin, the gathering of the Christian exiles reflected in each of the texts we have presented does not have the historical reality that is inherent in Israel’s hope for the gathering of the exiles. From Mark’s version of the prophecy and from what we find in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 4:16-17), it becomes evident that the Christian elect will be gathered in “the ends of heaven” and that they will be taken together “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” and according to the prayers in the Didache the Christian congregation will be gathered to Jesus’ kingdom.

Nevertheless, in the second century C.E. there were Christians who linked their belief in the gathering of the Christian congregation at the end of days to the Jewish hope for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. According to the testimony of Justin Martyr,[46] who was one of them, they believed that upon the rebuilding of Jerusalem the Christian congregation will be gathered therein and they will celebrate with Christ together with the patriarchs, the prophets and the saints from the house of Israel, and the proselytes who lived before Jesus. Justin espoused the opinion that at the end of days Christ will reign over the world for a thousand years. He was, accordingly, one of the Chiliasts who are known to us since the beginning of Christianity,[47] a stream that is renewed from time to time in various and strange forms. It is worth pointing out that with Justin the idea of the gathering of the exiles is clothed in distinctly Christian garb: in the Christian congregation at the end of days only the righteous of Israel who lived before the coming of Jesus will be present.[48]

It is clear that from the very beginning of Christianity, within Jewish circles who looked favorably on the spread of Christianity among the nations of the world, the idea of the gathering of the exiles served, in its Christianized form, as an ideological justification for turning to the Gentiles. At that time the Christians believed that the end of days was near and this was the moment when Jesus would return with great power and glory. If Jesus was to gather the elect in the future “from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven,” then the Christian gospel must, perforce, come to the elect in all the world in order that Jesus may gather them when he comes. Even though the writings of the New Testament do not express this idea all that clearly, this becomes very evident from the data that are in the sources.

Paul, who presents the idea of a miraculous eschatological gathering of all the faithful by Christ, also acted during the time of his journeys in order to spread the Christian faith among the Gentiles according to a plan whose main goal was to bring the Christian proclamation to the ends of the earth as quickly as possible. In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul writes that from Jerusalem and its surroundings and as far as Illyricum the gospel of the Messiah has spread out: in other words, the gospel spread out from Jerusalem into all the eastern world, and now that there is no more room among these regions it is his desire to come to Rome and from there to cross over to Spain (Rom. 15:19-24). Paul, as we know, did not succeed in carrying out his program, but the plan itself is entirely comprehensible.[49] In chapters 9-11 of the same epistle[50] Paul also espoused the notion that it is first necessary for the “full number of the Gentiles” to receive the Christian faith, and only after this will all Israel be saved. According to Paul this process will lead to the end of days—and Paul believed that the coming of Christ was very near. This fact indicates that the prophecy of the gathering of the Christian congregation form the ends of the world by the Messiah was one of the motives behind Paul’s wide-ranging activities among the Gentiles.

On the other hand, it is clear that Paul himself did not invent this motive, first, because of the manner in which he handed it on to his readers, and second, because it also appears in prayers included in a writing that does not belong to the Pauline tradition, the Didache. It is impossible to know who it was that transferred the concept of the gathering of the exiles to the Christian congregation, but it seems that this motive was formed at the moment when the new faith began to spread successfully among the nations of the world. At the time when the Jewish hope was transferred to the new congregation the notion took hold that from the beginning it was necessary to proclaim the gospel to all nations (Mark 13:10), and so arose the belief that when Jesus the Messiah comes in the clouds with great power and glory, “he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mark 13:26-27). A belief from this source was not only likely to be embraced by the first Christian missionaries, but was also acceptable to members of the Christian congregation in Jerusalem who looked favorably upon the spread of faith in the Messiah among the Gentiles.

To the Ends of the Earth

In any case, we have in our hands an important witness that testifies that the Jewish-Christians linked the command to spread the Christian faith to the ends of the earth to their belief in the redemption of Jerusalem. Those followers of Jesus who believed that he was the Messiah undoubtedly thought that he would be their redeemer, and therefore they were greatly disappointed when Jesus was crucified. Their hope was renewed only by the belief that Jesus had indeed arisen to life. According to Luke their disappointment was voiced at the hour of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples in Emmaus when one of them said, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). But the intense hope of Jesus’ disciples for Israel’s redemption by Jesus was not weakened on account of their belief in his resurrection, since the redemption had clearly not come. Therefore we hear this penetrating question regarding Israel’s redemption in the mouths of Jesus’ disciples again in the continuation of Luke’s story (Acts 1:6-8), and only at the end, just before his ascension into heaven, do they receive an answer from Jesus to their question:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

On the one hand, this account reflects the hope of Jesus’ earliest followers for the redemption of Israel by their Messiah. On the other hand, included in this account is the command to spread faith in Jesus throughout the world. It was incumbent upon Jesus’ apostles to be his witnesses in Jerusalem and, from there, “to the ends of the earth.”

Evidently (and we will make this argument more clearly below), in the story which is before us the two ideas are bound by a causal connection: the disciples are not able to know when the longed for redemption will come, but the first step is for them to spread the Christian faith “to the ends of the earth.” It appears, therefore, that the spread of Christianity is a precondition for Israel’s redemption. It is possible that there is a relationship between the idea that is included in Acts and the ancient Christian hope that at the end of days their Messiah will gather the faithful from the ends of the earth: when the faith is presented to all the nations of the world Jesus the Messiah will be able to gather the faithful and then the redemption of Israel will come. It is worth mentioning that, according to Israel’s tradition, in the last days those from the nations of the world who believe in the God of Israel will also be saved. The Jewish-Christians believed that the Messiah had already come,[51] and thus, according to their opinion, when the Messiah returns those from the nations of the world who believe in this Messiah will be saved together with Israel.[52] Consequently, it was necessary to spread the true faith among the Gentiles so that in the hour of Israel’s redemption the righteous among the nations of the world who believe may also be saved. Therefore, according to this ideology, the spread of the Christian faith “to the ends of the earth” is the necessary preparation for the return of Jesus.

It is true that it is not stated in Acts 1:6-8 that Israel’s redemption will come on the heels of the spread of the Gospel “to the ends of the earth,” and the disciples are merely warned against thinking about the timing of the final redemption, which is known only to God. Nevertheless, we may suppose that for Luke, or for the tradition he reports, it was more important to warn the Christians of his time against a vain hope for the immediate coming of Jesus, and therefore the original meaning of the story in Acts was blurred and the logical connection between the redemption of Israel and the spread of the faith in Jesus “to the ends of the earth” was also obscured.[53] The continuation of our discussion, it seems to me, will confirm our hypothesis that the conversation between Jesus and his disciples in Acts, despite its present form, does, in fact, reflect the ideology that the spread of Christianity among the nations of the world is for Israel’s benefit, given that it is the precondition for the redemption of Israel.

The missionary ideology we have discussed calls Jesus’ words in Luke to mind:

Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled…. Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:24-28).

True, the original meaning of this saying is that Israel’s subjugation by the Gentiles will continue until the age of the Gentiles, or, in other words, the age of the Roman empire, is ended. The original meaning notwithstanding, the words “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” can also be understood as if Jesus had said, “Until they are fulfilled and there will be times of the Gentiles,” and we have already seen that there were scribes who “corrected” the Scriptures in this way. According to this new, albeit inaccurate, understanding which is reflected in a number of manuscripts of Luke, Israel’s redemption will come when the times of the fullness of the Gentiles arrive, which is to say, at the time when the Gentiles receive the true faith (i.e., Christianity). Even though it is not explicitly stated in the present version of the story in Acts, according to our hypothesis this is precisely the original ideology it reflects. Was this ideology, which was understood to be present in Jesus’ prophecy itself, actually based on this new understanding of Jesus’ words in Luke?

Among the first Christians of Jewish descent who had a strong Jewish national consciousness there were some who were not enamored with the spread of the faith in the Messiah among the nations of the world, especially after it was determined that the Gentiles would not be required to keep the Torah’s commandments. The members of a Jewish-Christian sect known as the Ebionites named Paul “the enemy”[54] since they regarded him as the person to whom Jesus alluded in the Parable of the Tares (Matt. 13:24-30) in which a man sows good seed in a field, but while his workers are asleep an enemy comes and sows tares among the wheat, and the man tells his workers: “An enemy has done this.” Thus, according to the Ebionites, Jesus himself had already prophesied the coming of Paul who would sow tares (i.e., the Gentiles) among the wheat. In recently published Jewish-Christian texts[55] the members of the Christian Church are blamed for giving up the Hebrew language in favor of many other languages, which neither Jesus nor his disciples spoke. The people who speak these foreign languages are not Jews, and what is more, they know nothing about God or the commandments, whereas the Jewish-Christians used the language of Abraham and his descendants, which was also the language of Jesus, and they were capable of convincing the Children of Israel of the truth of the Christian faith.

The author of this Jewish-Christian text argues that the Christians erred in turning to the nations of the world instead of to the Jews, and that by doing so they missed the opportunity to spread the faith among Jesus’ own people. Shlomo Pines, the editor of this text, correctly argues that the slant of this source is opposed to Paul’s mission and to the outlook he expressed most clearly in Romans, since these resulted in the Christianization of the Gentiles and the Jews’ refusal to accept the new faith. These results embody the complete mockery of the process of redemption that, in their opinion, includes Israel alone at its final stage. It is reasonable, therefore, that in their derision of Paul, the Jewish-Christians who opposed the spread of faith in the Messiah among the nations of the world found fuel for their arguments in Romans.

The Full Number of Gentiles

It is indeed clear that the missionary ideology articulated in Romans is, in its presentation, the product of Paul’s philosophy, but evidently his presentation was nothing other than a new expression of similar ideologies that were earlier than Paul. We have already mentioned the outlook presented in 1 Thessalonians, the earliest of Paul’s letters to reach our hands, that Jesus will gather his elect from the four winds. This idea is likely to have encouraged the Christian missionaries in the spread of their faith “to the ends of the earth.” In the first three Gospels the command to go to the Gentiles is placed in the mouth of Jesus himself. We have already seen that, according to Mark, Jesus spoke about the proclamation of the gospel to all the Gentiles prior to his crucifixion (Mark 13:10). From Mark the idea crossed over to Matthew (24:14). In addition, according to Matthew 28:19, Jesus again commanded his disciples to go to all the Gentiles after his resurrection,[56] and the same can also be found in Luke 24:47.[57] In the saying we have just mentioned, Jesus tells his disciples after his resurrection that they are to begin in Jerusalem. We also find the idea that the spread of Christianity among the Gentiles began in Jerusalem in Romans 15:19, and we saw in Acts 1:6-8 that the risen Jesus mentions Jerusalem at the head of the list precisely when he commands the disciples to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” There can be no doubt that for the Christian missionaries who turned to the Gentiles this mention of Jerusalem as the starting point for the spread of the Christian faith served to justify their activity to the hesitations of the mother church in Jerusalem. As we have observed, there is a tight connection in the story in Acts 1:6-8 between the ideology of the spread of Christianity and the Jewish consciousness of the first Christians in Jerusalem: not only is Jerusalem named as the starting point of the Christian mission, but the logical connection between the turning to the nations of the world and Israel’s redemption remains.

A link such as this, albeit in its own peculiar form, also exists in chapters 9-11 of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Let us briefly summarize the logical argument of these chapters. Paul is attempting to explain why the people of Israel, who are also his kindred and Jesus’ people as well, and to whom “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (Rom. 9:4), have not accepted the faith in Jesus, whereas the nations of the world have received it. According to Paul, God has not forsaken Israel (Rom. 11:1). And if Israel has failed by not accepting the Christian faith, it is clear that this failure “means riches for the world and riches for the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:12), thanks to the coming of Christianity precisely to the Gentiles. And what is more, if the outcome of Israel’s failure is such blessing for the nations of the world, then how much greater blessing would be in store when the fullness of Israel accepts the Christian faith in the end? “A hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and then all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:25-26).[58]

Upon close examination, it appears that Paul’s paradoxical notion serves as an answer to the arguments of those Jewish-Christians who opposed the spread of Christianity among the Gentiles, since they regarded it as the final abolition of any possibility of spreading the gospel among the Jews. To this argument Paul replies that the hope for Israel’s acceptance of the Christian faith has not vanished because of the turning to the Gentiles, since in the end “all Israel will be saved.” In Romans the ideology of the spread of Christianity to the ends of the earth also comes to expression, for Paul speaks about the acceptance of Christianity by “the full number of the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:25). Aside from this there is a clear similarity between the ideology in Romans and the outlook expressed at the opening of Acts (1:6-8). In these two sources there is a relationship between the spread of Christianity throughout the entire world and the redemption of Jerusalem, but whereas in the context of Acts Israel’s redemption is discussed with a national-political meaning,[59] there can be no doubt that if Paul says that in the end “all Israel will be saved” then his meaning is that Israel will come to accept the Christian faith after the “full number of the Gentiles”[60] have received it.

Therefore, it seems reasonable to suppose that the passage in Acts reflects the ideology of the mission to the Gentiles, whose adherents held on to the Jewish nationalist aspirations which still burned in the hearts of the members of the Christian church in Jerusalem. This was not the case with Paul in his Epistle to the Romans. True, he has not forgotten the good of Israel, but his main interest is in the religious sphere pertaining to the salvific acceptance of the Christian faith, which will, according to Paul, be the justification even of Israel. The story in Acts comes to calm the spirits of those believers who asked if at this time their Messiah will restore the kingdom to Israel. By contrast, Paul’s statement in Romans that “salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous” (Rom. 11:11)[61] serves, among other things, as a response to the Jewish-Christian question whether the Christian missionaries’ turning to the nations of the world does not endanger the success of the Christian mission among the Jews, for whose sake Christianity, of course, came into being. In other words, Paul argues that it is necessary to arouse jealousy in Israel’s heart toward the nations of the world who have won salvation, because the outcome of this jealousy will be that even Israel will desire to win this good gift,[62] and in this way God’s promise to Israel will in the end be fulfilled and “all Israel will be saved.” The outlook that lies at the foundation of the story in Acts is clearly more interested in Israel’s national deliverance than in the religious-theological ideology articulated in Romans.

We have presented the opinion that the logical connection in the story in Acts between the spread of Christianity “to the ends of the earth” and the return of the kingdom to Israel may indicate a specific dependency of this story on Jesus’ prophecy of the redemption found in Luke 21:24. There it is stated that “Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled,” after which time Israel’s redemption will come (Luke 21:28). Those who supported the spread of Christianity among the Gentiles were able to understand from these words (even though this does not agree with their natural meaning) that the redemption of Israel will come when “the full number of Gentiles” accept Christianity, and, according to this prophecy, the turn to the Gentiles was for Israel’s benefit since, of course, its success was linked to the redemption of Israel. My hypothesis is that this erroneous understanding of Jesus’ words contributed to the missionary ideology that lies at the foundation of the story in Acts 1:6-8. The link between the turn to the Gentiles and Israel’s redemption is actually turned completely upside down if we look at Paul’s statements in Romans 11:25-26 and compare them with Jesus’ statements in Luke 21:24-28:

Jesus Paul
Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, A hardening has come upon part of Israel,
until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled… until the full number of the Gentiles come in,
Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads,
because your redemption is drawing near. and so all Israel will be saved.


Despite the similarity between these two passages, there is a profound difference in their approach. We have already emphasized that if Jesus said “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” then his meaning referred to the liberation of Jerusalem from the yoke of the Romans and the end of their rule in the world, whereas Paul, in a manner similar to Acts, referred to the spread of Christianity among the nations of the world which will reach “to the ends of the earth,” and “the full number of the Gentiles” will receive it. In Acts, as with Luke, at least the conclusion of the process will be redemption for Israel when the Messiah will “restore the kingdom to Israel.” It is true that even Paul admits that in the end “all Israel will be saved,” but his meaning refers to the acceptance of faith in Jesus.[63] In this way every hint of Israel’s redemption from the troubles that haunted them has disappeared.


On the basis of philological analysis and by the comparison of passages from the New Testament, we have learned about a chapter in the ideological history of the first Christians. Luke has handed down to us a prophecy from the mouth of Jesus concerning the destruction of Jerusalem by the Gentiles, but her subjugation will not last forever. Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled and then, when the end comes upon the reign of the wicked empire, Jerusalem will be liberated and redemption will come to Israel. It seems that there is no reason to doubt that the prophecy was indeed spoken by Jesus himself who, according to the analysis of the surviving sources, possessed a Jewish consciousness common to Israel in his time.

In any case, there is no doubt that only Luke among the Synoptic Gospels preserves the prophecy in more or less the original form. Mark fundamentally adapted it in a manner inspired by an apocalyptic spirit, and he eliminated from the prophecy all of its national-political coloring: the people of Israel no longer arouse fears or hopes, but rather the elect, i.e., the members of the Christian congregation. The Gospel of Matthew copied the prophecy from Mark’s edited version. But the Jewish-Christians did not surrender their hope for Israel’s redemption, as is shown by the story in Acts 1:6-8 concerning the disciples’ conversation with Jesus which took place after he was raised to life: they ask him whether the kingdom will now be restored to Israel, and Jesus does not dismiss their hope for Israel’s redemption, he merely says that it is impossible for human beings to know when the redemption will come, and it is at this moment that he commands his disciples to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Even in this form of the story, which is the product of the author’s editing, there is a logical connection between the spread of Christianity among the nations of the world and the redemption of Israel. This fact suggests that the ideology behind this story was influenced, among other things, by Jesus’ prophecy.

The words “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” were interpreted as referring to the entrance of “the full number of the Gentiles” into the Christian congregation, and so it came about that the spread of Christianity among the nations of the world came to be regarded as the precondition for Israel’s redemption. But this concept is actually flipped upside down if we look at Paul’s statement concerning the salvation of Israel (Rom. 11:25-26). Paul says that “all Israel will be saved” only after “the full number of the Gentiles come in.” The link between Paul and the prophecy in Luke is clear, but the ideology reflected in Paul’s statement testifies to a second stage of its development as compared to the prophecy in Luke. In Acts the end of the age of the Gentiles is not mentioned, but rather the spread of Christianity to the ends of the earth. Here the hope for Israel’s redemption has not vanished. For Paul, too, the interpretation of “the full number of the Gentiles” refers to the acceptance of Christianity by the nations of the world, but by the words “all Israel will be saved” Paul means that in the end all Israel will accept Christianity as well.

We are able to decipher these steps in the development of the relationship of the first Christians toward the people of Israel and its fate because we have paid attention to those Christians who are friendly toward Israel in the present time and who interpret the writings of the New Testament from the perspective of their hope for the end of days. It is no coincidence that the three passages we have examined are immovable property for such Christians and the basis of their solidarity with Israel. They understand these passages at face value, in opposition to the majority opinion of church-goers and scholars. They see in the story from Acts and in Jesus’ prophecy in Luke a promise in the mouth of Jesus himself that Israel shall indeed gain national independence, and that Jerusalem will be liberated from the yoke of the Gentiles. In their opinion these prophecies have been fulfilled by the establishment of the State of Israel and the liberation of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War.

Paul’s statement that in the end “all Israel will be saved” has been made very real across a broad spectrum of Christian expression since the Second World War, and it serves as the basis of the outlook that in our own day there is spiritual significance to the establishment of Israel as a people and a religion. The three passages from the New Testament we have discussed demonstrate that love, just as much as hate, sharpens the sense of sight, and the scholar is rewarded for this achievement. It is incumbent upon scholars to be conscious of the beliefs and widespread opinions of their time even though they are likely to arrive at different conclusions from those who espouse the “authentic” interpretation of the present day. And even if the prophecies a scholar has been occupied with seem to have come true, when we look back we discover that the process of distancing from the hope for Israel’s national redemption began precisely among the first Christians, to the point where the prophecy of the liberation of Jerusalem and of the redemption of Israel became the basis from which to justify the spread of Christianity among the nations of the world, and in the place of Israel’s redemption came the hope that the Jews would convert to Christianity.

Additional Note: The fact that Luke alone does not hold back from presenting Jesus’ prophecy of the liberation of Jerusalem also becomes evident from another Lukan passage (Luke 2:22-38) which explicitly mentions “the redemption of Jerusalem.” In the story of the infant Jesus’ presentation in the Temple, which is saturated with Jewish messianism, two people appear. The first of these, named Simeon, was “looking for the consolation of Israel.” The figure of speech “I will see the consolation” is already found in the mouths of Simeon b. Shetah and Judah b. Tabi, and in the generation of the destruction it was also attributed to R. Eleazar b. R. Zadok. See צ′ לרינמן, אוצר אמרי אבות , א′, (ירושלים, 1959), עמ′ 372-371. The second person is Anna, daughter of Phanuel, who, as Luke tells us, “spoke of him [i.e., Jesus] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (λύτρωσιν Ἰερουσαλήμ). For the Jews of that period there was one specific meaning for the words “the redemption of Jerusalem”—liberation from the foreign yoke. There are, of course, manuscripts of Luke that change the wording in order to weaken its meaning and they speak, for instance, of those who were “looking for redemption in Jerusalem.” The mention of the hope for “the redemption of Jerusalem” in Luke 2:38 strengthens the hypothesis that Luke wrote his book before the Great Revolt against Rome, for otherwise it is difficult to explain how he was able to make use of the slogan that was stamped on the rebels’ coins, “Freedom for Zion” or “For the Redemption of Zion,” and on the coins from the Bar Kokhvah Revolt that read “For the Freedom of Jerusalem.” [See now David Flusser, “Jesus Weeps over Jerusalem” (above, n. 18), 243—JNT.]

This article originally appeared as: נבואה על שחרור ירושלים בברית ההדשה, ארץ ישראל י (תשל″א) עמ′ 236-226 and was reprinted in יהדות ומקורות הנצרות; מחקרים ומסות (תל אביב: ספרית פועלים, תשל″ט)‏. The article was translated by Joshua N. Tilton. Joshua wishes to thank his wife, Lauren Asperschlager, for her careful proofreading of this article.

  • [1] Hans Bietenhard, Das tausendjährige Reich (Zürich: Buchdruckererei F. Graf-Lehmann, 1955), 96-98, 108-111, 114-116. Bietenhard approaches the prophecy not only as a scholar, but also as a believing Christian who endeavors to learn from the New Testament the correct relationship of the Church to Israel and its future.
  • [2] [Scriptural quotations follow the RSV, occasionally with slight adaptations—JNT.]
  • [3] On this stream which has existed in Christianity since the time of the early Church Fathers, see Bietenhard, Das tausendjährige Reich, 90-94. Bietenhard is correct in his statement that an exhaustive study of Christian Zionism has yet to be written.
  • [4] See, for example, מ. ורטה, רעיון שיבת ציון במחשבה הפרוטסטאנטית באנגליה בשנים ציון לג (תשכ″ח) עמ′ 179-145.
  • [5] National Prayer for Peace. It would be desirable to conduct a philological study of the differences that have appeared in this prayer over time until it reached its present accepted form.
  • [6] On the beliefs of the Sages and their opinions regarding the redemption, see especially Ephraim E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (trans. I. Abrahams; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1975), 1:649-690.
  • [7] On Jerome’s stance, see Bietenhard, Das tausendjährige Reich, 91-92. For Augustine’s statement (on the basis of the conclusion of Malachi) that this will be accomplished by the prophet Elijah who will “return” Israel to the Christian faith, see Civ. XX, 29, 30:3-5.
  • [8] It is interesting that, in his commentary, Calvin admits that in the opinion of many the name “Israel” is understood to refer to the Jewish people, but he himself believes that “Israel” refers here to the Church composed of Jews and Gentiles. See Ioannis Calvini, Novum Testamenum Commentarii (ed. August Tholuck; Berlin: Apud Gustavum Eichler, 1831), 5:179-180. [For an English translation see, John Calvin, Commentary upon the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans (trans. Henry Beveridge; Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1844), 330—JNT.] Hugo Grotius came close to this interpretation, even though he was aware of the statement in the Mishnah that “All Israel has a portion in the world to come,” (m. Sanh. 10:1). Grotius believed that Paul’s prophecy was fulfilled after the destruction of the Temple when many Jews converted to Christianity. See also Otto Michel, Der Brief an die Römer (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1963), 281-282; Johannes Munck, Christus und Israel—Eine Auslegung von Röm. 9-11 (Kobenhavn: Ejnar Munksgaard, 1956), 24, 101ff.
  • [9] The theory that this will be the order of events, and its wide acceptance within the apocalyptic stream of modern Christianity, obviously warrants further study. In any case, it already appears in an article by the Jesuits of Chile written in 1790: Manuel Lacunza, La Venida del Mesías en Gloria y Majestad (I found this author in a publication prepared by Mario Gongora which appeared in 1969 in the series Escridores coloniales de Chile, Editorial Universitaria SA). The article was published in English in 1827 and 1833 by Edward Irving (1792-1834), the Scottish priest who founded the sect known as the Catholic Apostolic Church.
  • [10] See H. Conzelmann, “Geschichte und Eschaton nach Mk. 13,” ZNW 50 (1959): 210-221; Lars Hartmann, Prophecy Interpreted—The Formation of Some Jewish Apocalyptic Texts of the Eschatological Discourse Mark 13 (Paris: Gleerup, 1966); Jan Lamprecht, Die Redaktion der Markus-Apokalypse—Literarische Analyse und Strukturuntersuchung (Analecta Biblica 28; Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1967).
  • [11] R. L. Lindsey, “A Modified Two-Document Theory of the Synoptic Dependence and Interdependence,” Novum Testamentum 6 (1963): 239-263; idem, “A New Two-Source Solution to the Synoptic Problem“; idem, A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark (Jerusalem: Dugith, 1969). See especially the aforementioned article in Novum Testamentum (p. 243), where a diagram which makes it possible to recognize the sources behind Mark 13 may be found. It is worth pointing out that Matthew removes the parallel statements in Luke 21:12-16 and Mark 13:9-12 from the prophecy in ch. 24 and places them earlier in Matt. 10:17-22. I want to thank Dr. Lindsey for the many important things he taught me while I was preparing this article. See also ד. פלוסר, ״היחס הספרותי בין שלושת האוונגליונים,״ יהדות ומקורות הנצרות; מחקרים ומסות (תל אביב: ספרית פועלים, תשל″ט)‏.
  • [12] Another example: According to Matthew, when Jesus spoke about the troubles to come he said, “Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath” (Matt. 24:20). Mark 13:18 omits any mention of the Sabbath, while Luke omits the entire sentence.
  • [13] So reads Luke 21:12. The hypothesis that Luke was familiar with the verse in its original form is proved by his statement in Acts 9:15.
  • [14] So Mark 13:9 and Matt. 10:18; Luke 21:12 reads “for my name’s sake.”
  • [15] See Robert Lindsey’s commentary on this passage in his article, “From Luke to Mark to Matthew: A Discussion of the Sources of Markan “Pick-ups” and the Use of a Basic Non-canonical Source by All the Synoptists” under the subheading “An Examination of the Editorial Activity of the First Reconstructor” (L34-49).
  • [16] [In other words, in Luke’s version the disciples’ words, and not the persecution itself, have become the testimony. That this is Luke’s understanding of Jesus’ prophecy is shown, for example, in Acts 26 where Paul testifies before King Agrippa II (cf. Acts 26:28)—JNT.]
  • [17] The language of this verse is influenced by Luke 21:9, 24.
  • [18] For a similar idea, but in relation to Mark 13, see Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark (London: Macmillan, 1957), 636-644. [See now David Flusser, “Additional Considerations: Jesus Weeps over Jerusalem” in Jesus (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2001), 238—JNT.]
  • [19] On this verse and on Matthew’s version which is closer to the original, see above n.12.
  • [20] This verse is taken from Luke 17:23.
  • [21] This is the only place in the Gospels where the Greek word ἀπολύτρωσις appears with the meaning “redemption.” It also appears in Paul’s epistles and in the Epistle to the Hebrews. But, the use of precisely this Greek word for the redemption of Israel does not prove that this verse is Luke’s invention. We cannot discuss the Parable of the Fig Tree here (Matt. 24:32-36; Mark 13:28-32; Luke 21:29-33). After the parable we read: So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place (Mark 13:29-30, and similar to this in Matthew and Luke). In the place of he is near, at the very gates, Luke reads the kingdom of God is near (21:31). Even though this sentence, especially in Luke’s version, looks similar to Luke’s doublet in 21:28, evidently the original meaning was that the years of this generation will not pass by before the destruction comes.
  • [22] [Sic. It appears to the translator that Flusser intended to refer here to Genesis, rather than Leviticus. Elsewhere Flusser writes, “The oldest example of this paradigm is found in God’s words to Abraham (Gen. 15:13-16). There the destruction is lacking, but Abraham’s descendants will be strangers in a foreign country and will be enslaved and ill-treated; afterwards, however, they will come back,” (Jesus [Jerusalem: Magnes, 2001], 241)—JNT.]
  • [23] This proximity is pointed out by Adolf Schlatter, Das Evangelium des Lukas (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1960), 2:418. See also the interpretation of Alfred Plummer, The Gospel According to St. Luke (ICC; New York: Scribners, 1920), 483. [See now David Flusser, “Jesus Weeps over Jerusalem” (above, n. 18), 241-242—JNT.]
  • [24] After which, the author describes things that will come in the future from his own point in history: the gathering of all the exiles, and the wondrous Jerusalem at the end of days.
  • [25] See also in the continuation line 10, “ובשלום הקץ” as well as the notes in Rabin’s published version. [Quotations of the DSS follow Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, eds., The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (2 vols.; Brill: Leiden, 1997-1998)—JNT.]
  • [26] We may also conjecture that this is the verbal root that the author of Tobit also employed. This book, too, has come to us only in Greek versions.
  • [27] Gen. 15:16: ἀναπεπλήρωνται αἱ ἁμαρτίαι; Luke 21:24: ἄχρι οὗ πληρωθῶσιν καιροὶ ἐθνῶν.
  • [28] This is the opinion of the majority of scholars. I intend to discuss the identity of this source elsewhere. [See now David Flusser, “Hystaspes and John of Patmos” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 390-453—JNT.] For our purposes the historiography of the author of 2 Maccabees is especially important. For him it is a sign of kindness that God brings troubles on the people of Israel, which he does in order to correct them, whereas for the rest of the peoples the LORD delays their punishment “until they have reached the full measure of their sins”/μέχρι τοῦ καταντήσαντας αὐτοὺς πρὸς ἐκπλήρωσιν ἁμαρτιῶν (2 Macc. 6:14). See also P. Félix-Marie Abel, Les Livres des Maccabées (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1949), 365. Aside from Gen. 15:16 and Deut. 8:20, Abel also mentions Matt. 23:32 and 1 Thess. 2:16.

    The latter arouses great interest: At the end of his career Paul determined that when the full number of Gentiles have entered “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:25-26), but in the earliest of Paul’s surviving epistles he says that the Jews murdered the Lord Jesus and the prophetsand drove us out, and displease God and oppose all men by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they may be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins”/εἰς τὸ ἀναπληρῶσαι αὐτῶν τὰς ἁμαρτίας πάντοτε. “But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!These statements by Paul concerning the Jews are likely to have relied, in their form and vocabulary, on Jesus’ statement about the Gentiles found in Luke 21:24. Also, these statements show Paul’s thoughts at the beginning of his career before he developed a new approach to the “Jewish Problem” on the basis of the broader Christian ideology.

    In addition, we should note that at the end of this verse from his earliest epistle (1 Thess. 2:16), Paul repeats the statement from the Testament of Levi (6:11) against the people of Shechem.

  • [29] This number is derived from Daniel 7:25; 12:7.
  • [30] For the same idea and vocabulary see Dan. 8:10-13.
  • [31] See my article “Jerusalem in Second Temple Literature” in Judaism of the Second Temple Period: The Jewish Sages and their Literature (trans. Azzan Yadin; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 44-75.
  • [32] It is true that in his answer as it is recorded in Luke Jesus speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem and not about the destruction of the Temple, but it is clear that the destruction of the Temple is included in the city’s destruction.
  • [33] It seems highly probable that before the anonymous author composed the apocalyptic oracle, Jesus’ answer included only what appears in Luke 21:20-24, 28. According to this hypothesis, Jesus foretold the Roman camps surrounding Jerusalem as a sign of the destruction. See also Luke 19:41-43.
  • [34] There is no reason to doubt this interpretation. In this verse the Gentiles are twice mentioned: “the Gentiles will trample Jerusalem until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Clearly, then, the Gentiles who oppress Jerusalem and trample her are identical with the Gentiles whose time will one day come to an end.
  • [35] Or, “when the times are fulfilled they will belong to the Gentiles.” The meaning is the same.
  • [36] ἐκολόβωσεν κύριος τὰς ἡμέρας. For this special use of the Greek verb κολοβόω there is only one parallel. It is found in 3 (Greek Apocalypse of) Baruch, where it is explained that God punished the moon and cut short its days ἐκολόβωσεν τὰς ἡμέρας αὐτῆς. Cf. the edition edited by Jean-Claude Picard, “Apocalypsis Baruchi Graece” in Testamentum Iobi, Apocalypsis Baruchi Graece (PVTG 2; Leiden: Brill, 1967), 91. [Picard’s text can now be accessed online at The Online Critical Pseudepigrapha:—JNT.]
  • [37] On this idea see especially Y. Yadin, The Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness (trans. B. Rabin and C. Rabin; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962).
  • [38] See also the materials gathered by August Strobel, Untersuchungen zum eschatologischen Verzögerungsproblem (Leiden: Brill, 1961), 92.
  • [39] Similar vocabulary is found in Exod. 9:18; 11:6; Joel 2:2.
  • [40] We should add Ps. Philo’s Biblical Antiquities 19:13 and the Letter of Barnabas 4:3 to Yadin’s list of sources that mention the hastening of the end.
  • [41] See also the following passages from the War Scroll:

    כיא היאה עת צרה לישר[אל תעו]דת מלחמה בכל הגויים וגורל אל בפדות עולמים

    For this will be a time of suffering for Isra[el and a servi]ce of war against all the nations. For God’s lot there will be everlasting redemption. (1QM xv, 1)

    ומעז לוא נהיתה כמוהה

    From of old there has not been anything similar. (1QM xviii, 10)

  • [42] On this see my “Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes in Pesher Nahum” in Judaism of the Second Temple Period: Qumran and Apocalypticism (trans. Azzan Yadin; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 214-257. In the War Scroll the relationship of the sect toward the rest of Israel is closer than in the other Dead Sea Scrolls.
  • [43] A slightly similar use can be found in Luke 18:7. There is no connection between Matt. 22:14 and the use in our chapter. On the use of the title “the elect” for the Christian congregation in the rest of the New Testament, see Taylor, Mark (above, n. 18), 514-515.
  • [44] The beginning of this passage is based on the saying in Luke 17:23. This passage is nothing other than a free paraphrase of what is written in Mark 13:5-6; Luke 21:8; Matt. 24:4-5; and the same is also true for Luke 17:20-21; Matt. 24:11.
  • [45] [Quotations of the Didache follow 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)—JNT.]
  • [46] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 80 [cf. ch. 139—JNT].
  • [47] Adolf von Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1931), 1:614-620.
  • [48] [See now David Flusser, “Matthew’s Verus Israel” in Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 568ff.—JNT.]
  • [49] Günther Bornkamm, Paulus (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1969), 68-78.
  • [50] Munck, Christus und Israel (above, n. 8).
  • [51] It is true that the sources permit us to suppose that not all of the Jewish-Christians believed in Jesus’ messiahship, but as far as our interests are concerned this fact is of no importance.
  • [52] It is interesting that, of all the Gospel writers, it was only Luke, a Gentile, who preserved in three places mention of the hope of the first Christians (who were Jews) for the redemption of their people. The first place is the passage in Jesus’ prophetic oracle (Luke 21:23-28), where to all appearances the statements reflect the authentic words of Jesus. The second place is the description of Jesus’ appearance in Emmaus where the disciples speak of Jesus as the one who would redeem Israel in the future (Luke 24:21). The third place is in Acts 1:6-8. In these three places where Israel’s national redemption is discussed there is no distinction made between those who believe in Jesus and the rest of Israel. Aside from these three places, all of which are found in Luke’s compositions, there is only one allusion to Israel’s salvation at the end of days. This is Paul’s statement in Romans that “all Israel will be saved,” even though this statement does not have a political meaning since the salvation comes to Israel as a result of accepting faith in Jesus.
  • [53] Clearly for Luke this story serves as an opportunity to record a kind of program for his second book, the Acts of the Apostles. The statement “you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” is nothing other than a description of the way the Christian faith spread as it is depicted by Luke in Acts. It is interesting that for Luke it was important that the new teaching should go out from Jerusalem. This does not derive from actual historical circumstances, but rather from the missionary ideology which comes to expression, for instance, in Paul’s mention of Jerusalem in Romans 15:19 even though Paul did not begin his missionary activities in Jerusalem! We learn from this that the missionary ideology originated prior to Paul.
  • [54] Georg Strecker, Das Judenchristentum in den Pseudoklementinen (Berlin: Akademie, 1958), 187.
  • [55] 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): 253-254, 256-257.
  • [56] On the original form of this saying see my article, “The Conclusion of Matthew in a New Jewish Christian Source,” Annual of the Swedish Theological Institute 5 (1966-1967): 110-120.
  • [57] See also the additional ending of Mark 16:15-17.
  • [58] Hugo Gratius was already aware of how close this statement is to m. Sanh. 10:1.
  • [59] In Acts the disciples ask Jesus whether he will now restore the kingdom to Israel. From the vocabulary in the two places where Israel’s redemption is mentioned in Luke (21:24-28; 24:21) it becomes clear that in these places, too, it is the political redemption of Israel that is intended.
  • [60] The Christian religious meaning of the concept of salvation that is found in Romans 11:26 emerges, among other places, from the statementif you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved(Rom. 10:9), and also in Rom. 11:11.
  • [61] The expression is based on a midrash of Deut. 32:21: “I will stir them to jealousy with those who are no people,” a verse Paul had already made use of in Rom. 10:19.
  • [62] See Michel, Der Brief an die Römer (above, n. 8), 271.
  • [63] See above, n. 60.

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.

Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb

Matt. 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13
(Huck 234; Aland 308a; Crook 347a)[1]

Revised: 17-January-2018

וַיָּבֹא יֹום חַג הַמַּצּוֹת וַיִּשְׁלַח אֶת פֶּטְרוֹס וְאֶת יוֹחָנָן לֵאמֹר לְכוּ וְהָכִינוּ לָנוּ אֶת הַפֶּסַח וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ אֵיכָן אַתָּה רוֹצֶה שֶׁנָּכִין לְךָ לֶאֱכֹל אֶת הַפֶּסַח וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם הֲרֵי כְּשֶׁתִּכָּנְסוּ לָעִיר יִפְגַּע בָּכֶם אָדָם נֹשֵֹׂא כַּד מָיִם לְכוּ אַחֲרָיו לַבַּיִת שְׁלְּתוֹכוֹ הוּא יִכָּנֵס וְתֹאמְרוּ לְבַעַל הַבַּיִת אוֹמֵר לְךָ רַבֵּנוּ אֵיכָן הַחֶדֶר שֶׁבּוֹ אוֹכַל אֶת הַפֶּסַח עִם תַּלְמִידַי וְהוּא יַרְאֶה לָכֶם עֲלִיָּה גְּדוֹלָה מֻצָּעָה שָׁם הָכִינוּ וַיֵּלְכוּ וַיִּמְצְאוּ כַּאֲשֶׁר אָמַר לָהֶם וַיָּכִינוּ אֶת הַפֶּסַח

The day of the holiday of Unleavened Bread arrived, so Yeshua sent Petros and Yohanan, instructing them: “Go prepare the Passover lamb for us.”

They asked him: “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the lamb?”

“Listen,” he replied, “when you enter the city, you will meet a man carrying a water jar. Follow him. At the house he enters, say to the owner: ‘Our teacher asks: “Where is the dining room where I may eat the Passover lamb with my disciples?”’ He will take you upstairs to a large room with couches spread. There make the preparations.”

Going into the city, they found everything exactly as he had said, and they prepared the lamb there.[2]










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Story Placement

Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb appears in the same location in Matthew, Mark and Luke. We have entitled this section of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua “Passover.” At this point in the narrative Judas had already conspired with the chief priests to betray Jesus.



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


Conjectured Stages of Transmission

Triple_FR-Luke_Anth-MattPreparations for Eating Passover Lamb is a Triple Tradition pericope. Matthew copied this pericope from Mark, but the Lukan-Matthean agreements against Mark indicate that at several points Matthew corrected Mark on the basis of his second source, the Anthology. Mark took this pericope from Luke, but extensively rewrote the passage. It appears that Luke copied this pericope from the First Reconstruction.

Crucial Issues

One of the most dramatic moments in Jesus’ life was the so-called “Last Supper,” the Passover meal that Jesus celebrated with his disciples in Jerusalem.[4] However, the celebratory meal[5] required considerable preparations in the preceding days, and especially on the day of the meal.[6] Here are some of the issues that the contents of this pericope raise:

  1. Is the Water Jar Carrier story a foreign element, a later addition to the pericope? Many authorities view the Water Jar Carrier episode as a later addition to the Gospel narrative because of the similarity between the Markan versions of the Water Jar Carrier and the Young Donkey stories (Mark 11:1-6),[7] and because the Water Jar Carrier episode is missing from Matthew’s account.[8] Are these scholars right to doubt the authenticity of the Water Jar Carrier story?
  2. Had Jesus, unbeknown to his disciples, previously made arrangements with a Jerusalem landlord to use one of his rooms, or did Jesus prophesy the meeting with the homeowner’s slave with divine foresight?
  3. Where was Jesus when he sent his disciples to make preparations? Were they sent after the lamb had already been slaughtered, or was slaughtering the lamb in the Temple part of the preparations they were intended to carry out?


Story Opening (L1-9)

L1 ἦλθεν δὲ ἡ ἡμέρα (Luke 22:7). In Hebrew, a “day” or “days” can “come.”[9] However, the construction ἔρχεσθαι + ἡ ἡμέρα that we find in Luke is rare.[10] We find the expression only one other time in NT, in Rev. 6:17: ἦλθεν ἡ ἡμέρα ἡ μεγάλη τῆς ὀργῆς αὐτῶν (“the great day of their wrath has come”; RSV). The construction ἔρχεσθαι + ἡ ἡμέρα is not found in LXX, Jos., Pseud. or Philo. The reverse order (ἡ ἡμέρα [in sing.] + ἔρχεσθαι) is also rare. In NT, LXX, Jos., Pseud. and Philo, it is found only in translations from Hebrew sources.[11] This Hebraism in the first line of Luke’s version of Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb is an important clue to reconstructing the difficult opening lines of this pericope.

τῇ πρώτῃ ἡμέρᾳ (Mark 14:12). The combination πρώτη + ἡμέρα (“first day”) that we find in Mark occurs 3xx in NT (here, Acts 20:18 and Phil. 1:5); 2xx in LXX (1 Chr. 29:21 [τῆς πρώτης ἡμέρας = הַיוֹם הַהוּא]; Dan. [Theodotion] 10:12 [τῆς πρώτης ἡμέρας = הַיוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן]); and 5xx in Josephus (Ant. 1:29; 5:22; 14:389; 15:358; J.W. 4:547). We find the reverse order (ἡμέρα + πρώτη) 17xx in LXX.[12] Josephus’ phrase καὶ τῇ πρώτῃ τῆς ἑορτῆς ἡμέρᾳ (“and on the first day of the feast [of Passover]”; Ant. 5:22; Loeb), except for word order, which is flexible in Greek, is almost identical to Mark’s καὶ τῇ πρώτῃ ἡμέρᾳ τῶν ἀζύμων (Mark 14:12). The similarity to the Greek phrase in Josephus may suggest that Mark’s phrase was composed in Greek and does not reflect a Hebrew Ur-text.

τῇ δὲ πρώτῃ (Matt. 26:17). Matthew’s opening is strongly influenced by Mark’s wording. However, Matthew omitted ἡμέρᾳ, found in Luke and Mark. In agreement with Luke against Mark, Matthew has δέ.

L2 τῶν ἀζύμων (Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7). The term τὰ ἄζυμα (ta azūma, “the things unleavened,” “unleavened cakes/bread”) is used in Greek to refer to the Festival of Passover on which only unleavened bread is eaten. In LXX we always find ἡ ἑορτή τῶν ἀζύμων,[13] but outside LXX we sometimes find just τὰ ἄζυμα, as in Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7 (L2) and Josephus, Ant. 3:250; J.W. 5:99.[14] The omission of ἑορτή in all three Synoptic Gospels suggests that the opening lines of this pericope suffered Greek redaction. Since none of the witnesses to the opening escaped Greek editorial activity, it is difficult to reconstruct the Hebrew Ur-text with certainty.[15]

חַג הַמַּצּוֹת (HR). This term appears 9xx in HB (Exod. 23:15; 34:18; Lev. 23:6; Deut. 16:16; Ezra 6:22; 2 Chr. 8:13; 30:13, 21; 35:17), always translated in LXX by ἡ ἑορτή τῶν ἀζύμων. (In Lev. 23:6, ἑορτή appears without the article: ἑορτὴ τῶν ἀζύμων.) Although ἑορτή is absent in the Synoptic Gospels and is not required in Greek (e.g., Jos., Ant. 3:250; J.W. 5:99), חַג is necessary in Hebrew.[16]

L1-2 τῇ πρώτῃ (ἡμέρᾳ) τῶν ἀζύμων / ἡ ἡμέρα τῶν ἀζύμων (Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7). The “first day of Unleavened Bread” usually means the 15th of Nisan; however, preparations for the festival are not made on the 15th, but only until the end of the 14th. The 14th of Nisan may be included as one of the days of the festival when speaking of the Festival of Unleavened Bread because beginning on this day one’s house has to be leaven-free.[17] In Ant. 2:317 Josephus demonstrates that, when speaking loosely of the holiday, one might include the 14th: ἑορτὴν ἄγομεν ἐφ᾿ ἡμέρας ὀκτὼ τὴν τῶν ἀζύμων λεγομένην (“We keep for eight days a feast called the feast of unleavened bread”; Loeb).[18] Josephus creates further confusion about the length of the holiday elsewhere in his writings, e.g.: “On the fifteenth the Passover is followed up by the Feast of Unleavened bread, lasting seven days” (Ant. 3:249; Loeb); and again: “When the day of unleavened bread came round on the fourteenth of the month Xanthicus [corresponding to Nisan]” (J.W. 5:99; Loeb).

(HR) Reconstructing the opening lines of this pericope poses several thorny issues which cannot easily be resolved. Three reconstructions appear to be the strongest options:

  1. וַיָּבֹא חַג הַמַּצּוֹת. In this case we would accept Lindsey’s suggestion (LHNT, 536) that Luke or FR added ἡ ἡμέρα in order to introduce the explanation in L3.
  2. וַיָּבֹא יוֹם חַג הַמַּצּוֹת. In this case we would accept Luke’s Hebraic ἔρχεσθαι + ἡ ἡμέρα as a guide for reconstruction.
  3. וַיְהִי בַּיֹום הָרִאשֹׁון שֶׁלֶּחַג הַמַּצּוֹת. In this case we would reject Luke’s Hebraic ἔρχεσθαι + ἡ ἡμέρα in favor of Mark’s opening.[19] We find בַּיֹום הָרִאשֹׁון (“on the first day”) in numerous contexts in biblical and post-biblical Hebrew where a succession of days are enumerated, including the successive days of a feast.[20] The LXX equivalents of בַּיֹום הָרִאשֹׁון are ἡ ἡμέρα ἡ πρώτη (4xx)[21] ; τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ πρώτῃ (4xx)[22] ; τῆς ἡμέρας τῆς πρώτης (1x)[23] ; ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ πρώτῃ (1x).[24] Note should be taken of the rabbinic phrase וּבְיוֹם טוֹב הָרִאשׁוֹן שֶׁלַּפֶּסַח (“and on the first festive day [when work is prohibited] of Passover”; m. Taan. 1:2); cf. m. Maas. Sh. 5:6: עֶרֶב יוֹם טוֹב הָרִאשׁוֹן שֶלַּפֶּסַח (“evening of the first festive day of Passover”); m. Hag. 1:3: {בְּיוֹם טוֹב הָרִאשׁוֹן שֶׁלֶחָג {שלפסח (“on the first festive day of the feast [of Passover]”). The phrase חַג הַמַּצּוֹת does not occur in the Mishnah.[25]

Although Mark’s opening is, in many respects, attractive, it appears that Mark has simply reworked the opening lines he found in Luke. Luke’s opening, while showing signs of Greek redaction (most notably the absence of τῆς ἑορτῆς in L2), preserves a clear Hebraism (ἔρχεσθαι + ἡ ἡμέρα in L1). Outside the translation Greek of LXX and the strongly Hebraic book of Revelation, the combination of ἔρχεσθαι + ἡ ἡμέρα is unknown. Thus, Luke’s phrase looks like Hebraic Greek or even translation Greek. The author of Mark, who is known to improve the Greek of his sources,[26] may have seen Luke’s Hebraic ἦλθεν δὲ ἡ ἡμέρα and decided to remove the Hebraism. The author of Mark also loved to supply additional information, and it is possible that if he saw Luke’s “And the day of Unleavened Bread came, on which the Passover lamb is sacrificed,” Mark might have added “first day” to supply greater specificity.

The word order of Mark’s opening line (τῇ πρώτῃ ἡμέρᾳ) is un-Hebraic. In LXX πρώτη + ἡμέρα appears only twice, and only once as the translation of הַיוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן (Dan. [TH] 10:12). By contrast, the reverse order ἡμέρα + πρώτη appears 17xx in LXX. Of these 17 occurrences, 10 are translations of בַּיוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן (Exod. 12:15, 16; Lev. 23:7, 35, 39, 40; Num. 7:12; 28:18; Deut. 16:4; Judg. 20:22); 2 are translations of מִן הַיֹּום הָרִאשֹׁון (Dan. 10:12; 2 Esdr. 18:18); one is a translation of מִיוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן (Exod. 12:15); one is a translation of בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם (2 Kgdms. 16:23); and one is a translation of [לַחֹדֶשׁ] בְּאֶחָד (2 Chr. 29:17). Thus Mark’s word order is decidedly Greek and therefore it is doubtful whether the author of Mark relied on a Hebrew Ur-text that read בַּיוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן.

While it is possible to explain how an editor reading Luke’s opening lines might come up with a paraphrase such as Mark’s, it is difficult to explain how an editor who read Mark’s opening could have produced a version like Luke’s with a marked Hebraism. Such a scenario is particularly hard to imagine in the case of Luke, who usually transmitted his sources with such care. Therefore, although with due reservation, we have reconstructed with וַיָּבֹא יֹום חַג הַמַּצּוֹת, option 2 above.

L3 ᾗ ἔδει θύεσθαι τὸ πάσχα (Luke 22:7). An English translation yields, “on which [day] it had to be sacrificed the Passover,” that is, “the day on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.” In the afternoon of the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan, pilgrims who had “come up” to Jerusalem for the Festival of Passover brought their lambs to the Temple to be sacrificed. Unlike other offerings, the Passover lambs were slaughtered by the Israelite pilgrims themselves, not by the priests.[27] These lambs were then taken to a home inside the city,[28] where they were roasted and eaten by “companies” or “associations” (of 10 or more)[29] that evening (at the commencement of the 15th of Nisan, the first of the seven days of the Passover holiday) as part of the Passover meal.[30]

The phrase ᾗ ἔδει θύεσθαι τὸ πάσχα appears to be an explanation for non-Jewish readers, which was added by Luke (or, more likely, FR)[31] and then copied from Luke, with modifications, by Mark. Matthew omits the explanation.[32] Luke’s phrase here in L3 is un-Hebraic (see below), which suggests that it was composed in Greek.

In synoptic texts the words δεῖ and ἔδει (de/edei, “is needful/necessary,” “it was needful/necessary”) may sometimes reflect צָרִיךְ (tzārich, “have a need,” “is necessary”)[33] (e.g., Luke 2:49; 15:32; 19:5; 11:42 = Matt. 23:23), but more often, as probably here, ἔδει is a sign of Greek redaction (e.g., Luke 4:43; 13:33; 17:25; Matt. 17:10 = Mark 9:11).[34] The possibility of a Hebrew equivalent for ἔδει in Luke 22:7 (L3) is unlikely because at this point we are in narrative and should expect biblical narrative style for any conjectured Hebrew Ur-text.[35]

The verb θύειν (thūein, “sacrifice”) is usually the translation of זָבַח (zāvaḥ, “sacrifice”) in LXX. However, the passive of θύειν never occurs in LXX or in NT (of 14 occurrences) except for this one instance. This non-Hebraic passive infinitive form in Luke’s explanation about the Passover sacrifice lends additional support to our supposition that Luke, or more probably the First Reconstructor, composed the phrase appearing in L3.

ὅτε τὸ πάσχα ἔθυον (Mark 14:12) = ᾗ ἔδει θύεσθαι τὸ πάσχα (Luke 22:7). Mark’s ἔθυον might reflect a characteristic Hebrew 3rd per. plur. with an impersonal sense, thus preserving the Hebrew undertext (כשהיו שוחטים),[36] “it was customary to slaughter” (lit., “they were sacrificing”); however, this structure does not occur in HB, and since here we are in narrative, we would expect BH. However, given Mark’s tendency to rework his sources,[37] ὅτε τὸ πάσχα ἔθυον is more likely to be Mark’s replacement for Luke’s ᾗ ἔδει θύεσθαι τὸ πάσχα than the reflection of a Hebraic Ur-text. Notice Josephus’ words: “On the occasion of the feast called Passover, at which they sacrifice[38] from the ninth to the eleventh hour…” (J.W. 6:423; Loeb). The similarity between Mark’s explanation and that found in Josephus suggests that Mark’s reading in L3 was composed in Greek.

L4-5 προσῆλθον οἱ μαθηταὶ τῷ Ἰησοῦ λέγοντες (Matt. 26:17). First-century Jewish disciples joined themselves to a teacher indefinitely, usually until they themselves were qualified to train students. In many ways they were like slaves or indentured servants, and as such disciples rarely took the initiative.[39] Peter’s outburst, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths…” (Matt. 17:4; Mark 9:5; Luke 9:33), is exceptional, and Peter is immediately reprimanded by Heaven. Instead, disciples waited quietly, responsive to their master’s beck and call: “The eyes of slaves follow their master’s hand” (Ps. 123:2; JPS; cf. Luke 7:8; Matt. 8:9).[40] Luke’s version (see Luke 22:8; L10-15), according to which Jesus takes the initiative, is therefore to be preferred.

L4 προσῆλθον (Matt. 26:17). The verb προσέρχεσθαι appears 86xx in NT: 51 of these occurrences are in Matthew, 5 are in Mark, 8 are in Luke, 1 is in John, 5 are in the first half of Acts and 5 are in the second half of Acts. Here this verb, which appears with such high frequency in Matthew, seems to be an indication of Matthew’s editing. The verb appears 111xx in LXX and is usually (43xx) the translation of some form of קָרַב (qārav, “come near,” “approach”).[41] If there is Hebrew behind προσῆλθον—and this is doubtful since in L4-9 Matthew follows Mark’s deviation from Luke’s version (see below)—we should reconstruct with וַיִּקְרְבוּ for biblical style, and וַיִּגְּשׁוּ for MH style (see Bendavid, 61, 113, 127).

L7 ἀπελθόντες (Mark 14:12). The word ἀπελθόντες is significant: it is a Lukan-Matthean minor agreement of omission. Both Matthew and Luke reject the Markan addition of ἀπελθόντες.[42] It appears that the author of Mark, seeing ἀπελθόντες in Luke 22:13 (L49), picked up this ptc. and inserted it into the phrase ποῦ θέλεις ἑτοιμάσωμεν, replacing the participle πορευθέντες that he saw in Luke 22:8 (L13), which also precedes a form of ἐτοιμάζειν. Conspicuously, in this five-word phrase, ποῦ θέλεις ἑτοιμάσωμέν σοι φαγεῖν, Matthew (Matt. 26:17) agrees with Luke (Luke 22:9) against Mark: 1) to omit the ptc. ἀπελθόντες; 2) to add the personal pron. σοί; and 3) to use the infinitive φαγεῖν (against Mark’s ἵνα φάγῃς)!

L8 ἵνα φάγῃς (Mark 14:12). The conjunction ἵνα followed by a verb in the subjunctive mood is more than twice as frequent in Mark as in Matthew and Luke: 3.59 hits per 1,000 words, in contrast to Matthew’s 1.49 hits per 1,000 words and Luke’s 1.58 hits per 1,000 words.[43] This is further reason to prefer the Lukan-Matthean minor agreement, φαγεῖν, over Mark’s ἵνα φάγῃς. Perhaps the ἵνα φάγωμεν (ἵνα + subjunctive of ἐσθίειν) in Luke 22:8 (L15) influenced Mark to write ἵνα φάγῃς (ἵνα + subjunctive of ἐσθίειν) opposite Matthew and Luke’s aor. inf. φαγεῖν.

Jesus Sends Peter and John to Prepare the Lamb (L10-15)

L10-12 καὶ ἀπέστειλεν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰωάνην εἰπών (Luke 22:8). We should not ignore the very Hebraic καί + main verb (ἀπέστειλεν) + object (Πέτρον καὶ Ἰωάνην) + ptc. of λέγω (εἰπών) construction. Based on LXX equivalents, one would expect the pres. ptc. λέγων in this construction, and not the aor. ptc. εἰπών. In LXX εἰπών is rare, only appearing 5xx (2 Macc. 6:28; 14:34; 4 Macc. 6:30; 9:25; Prov. 24:24), and never as part of this construction. Still, εἰπών appears to represent the biblical לֵאמֹר (“saying”; rabbinic לוֹמַר).[44]

L11 δύο τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ vs. Πέτρον καὶ Ἰωάνην (Mark 14:13; Luke 22:8). In the Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb story, Matthew does not mention the names or the number of disciples, apparently an intended omission on Matthew’s part.[45] Whether named (as in Luke 22:8) or unnamed (as in Mark 14:13), “two disciples” is culturally more appropriate than Matthew’s “disciples,” since Jewish sages typically sent out their disciples in pairs.[46] The Gospels (first-century documents) also confirm this cultural detail. John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to question Jesus (Luke 7:18; Matt. 11:2 [“his disciples”]). Jesus sent his disciples on missions in pairs: when preparing to enter Jerusalem, he sent two disciples to fetch a young donkey (Matt. 21:1; Mark 11:1; Luke 19:29); likewise, for their watershed healing and preaching mission, Jesus sent out his apostles two by two (Luke 10:1; Mark 6:7).[47]

Matthew’s silence regarding the number of disciples Jesus sent to prepare the Passover meal, therefore, appears to be a secondary development. But how do we chose between Luke’s version, which names the disciples Jesus sent, and Mark’s version, in which the disciples are anonymous? To Lowe and Buth, the naming of the two disciples appears to be a Lukan redaction, since these two disciples’ names are found together alone only in the writings of Luke (here, and in Acts 3:1, 3, 4, 11; 4:13, 19; 8:14). However, this statistic is somewhat misleading since the two are mentioned several other times, in Matthew and Mark as well as Luke,[48] as part of the threesome “Peter, John, and James,” Jesus’ inner circle and the first disciples chosen by him (see Luke 5:10-11).

In our reconstruction we have preferred Luke’s version with named disciples because it is likely that Jesus would have chosen two of his most trusted disciples for this important mission. Jesus was probably aware that there was a traitor among his disciples, but it is possible that he did not yet know who the traitor was, or whether there was more than one traitor. Therefore it was necessary for Jesus to chose disciples in whom he had absolute trust. By sending Peter and John to meet the water carrier, Jesus concealed the intended location of the Passover meal from the traitor, thereby protecting his disciples from harm.

אֶת פֶּטְרוֹס וְאֶת יוֹחָנָן (HR). We have reconstructed with אֶת…וְאֶת instead of with the possible, but very rare, BH אֶת…וְ (i.e., אֶת פֶּטְרוֹס וְיוֹחָנָן; cf. Exod. 12:28; Num. 26:4). On reconstructing the names Peter and John, see Choosing the Twelve, Comments to L19, L25.

L12 εἰπών (Luke 22:8). In the Synoptic Gospels the verb λέγειν (legein, “to say”) sometimes communicates one of the senses of its Hebrew equivalent, אָמַר (’āmar, “command, “instruct”).[49] Here, this sense of meaning could fit the context, that is, “and he sent Peter and John, commanding,” rather than “and he sent Peter and John, saying.” The same possibility of meaning exists for the forms of λέγειν in L21 (εἶπεν, Luke 22:10), L33 (ἐρεῖτε, Luke 22:11), L36 (λέγει, Matt. 26:18; Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11) and L56 (εἶπεν; εἰρήκει; Mark 14:16; Luke 22:13).

L13 ὑπάγετε εἰς τὴν πόλιν (Mark 14:13). The verb ὑπάγειν (hūpagein, “to go”) was probably introduced by Mark, and then copied from Mark by Matthew (Matt. 26:18), as happened in the story of the rich man (see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L44-46; Matt. 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22). Lindsey noted that this verb is one of Mark’s stereotypic words,[50] increasing the probability of its being a Greek editorial word and casting doubt on its here being closer to the wording of a pre-synoptic source than Luke’s πορευθέντες.

L13-14 πορευθέντες ἑτοιμάσατε ἡμῖν τὸ πάσχα (Luke 22:8). In LXX the ptc. of πορεύεσθαι is 7xx followed by an impv., and this πορεύεσθαι construction is a normal way of translating a Hebrew double imperative.[51] In NT the ptc. of πορεύεσθαι is followed by the impv. 8xx: Matt. 2:8; 11:4 (= Luke 7:22); 28:7; Luke 13:32; 14:10; 17:14; 22:8. These eight examples all appear to be derived from a Hebrew undertext.[52]

לְכוּ וְהָכִינוּ (HR). With Delitzsch, we have reconstructed with a vav before the second of the two impvs., and not לְכוּ הָכִינוּ. The structure without a vav before the second imperative is found in the Mishnah only once (m. Git. 6:3: צֵא הִתְקַבֵּל [“Go receive for me my writ of divorce”]), while the structure with the vav occurs 46xx.

BH has the double imperative structure over 200xx with vav,[53] but 262xx without the vav. If we were to reconstruct HR according to biblical style, we might omit the vav, thus: לְכוּ הָכִינוּ; however, since here Jesus’ words are in direct speech,[54] a MH style is more appropriate, and therefore our reconstruction has vav before the second impv., thus: לְכוּ וְהָכִינוּ (L13-14).

In the Mishnah, 3 of the 46 occurrences of vav before the second of two imperatives are in the context of a Passover lamb: m. Pes. 7:2: מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל שֶׁאָמַ′ לִטְבִי עַבְדּוֹ צֵא וּצְלֵה לָנוּ אֶת הַפֶּסַח עַל הָאַסְכָּלָה (“An anecdote about Rabban Gamliel [the Younger], who said to Tabi his slave: ‘Go and roast the Passover lamb for us on a grill’”); m. Pes. 8:2: הָאוֹמֶר לְעַבְדּוֹ צֵא וּשְׁחוֹט עָלַיִ אֶת הַפֶּסַח (“He who says to his slave: ‘Go and slaughter for me the Passover lamb…’”); m. Pes. 9:9: חֲבוֹרָה שֶׁאָבַד פִּסְחָהּ אָמְרוּ לְאֶחָד צֵא וּבַקִּשׁ וּשְׁחוֹט עָלֵינוּ (“A company[55] that lost its Passover lamb, they said [gave instructions] to someone, ‘Go out and find [look for] and slaughter [another one] for us [on our behalf]’”).

L14 הָכִינוּ (HR). In this context there are several Hebrew equivalents for the verb ἑτοιμάσαι that one is obliged to consider, including: עָשָׂה (‘āsāh, “do”) and הֵכִין (hēchin, “prepare”).[56] We have chosen to reconstruct with הֵכִין, the more literal translation of ἑτοιμάσαι.

The verb שָׁחַט (shāḥaṭ, “slaughter”) accompanied by פֶּסַח (pesaḥ, “Passover lamb sacrifice”) appears in HB 6xx (Exod. 12:21 [cf. Exod. 12:6; 34:25]; Ezra 6:20; 2 Chr. 30:15; 35:1, 6, 11), and שָׁחַט is found another 74xx together with humans, sacrificial animals such as an ox, cattle, calf, bull, ram, goat, kid, bird, or with synonyms for “a sacrifice.”

Whether one reconstructs ἑτοιμάσατε (L14) with the verb הֵכִין or with the verb שָׁחַט, it is clear that we are in the same physical world as the sage who said: “He who says to his slave, ‘Go and slaughter a Passover lamb on my behalf…’” (m. Pes. 8:2).[57]

הֵכִין, the hif‘il of the root כ-ו-ן, (“prepare,” “establish”), appears over 100xx in MT. The most significant of the occurrences of הֵכִין in the context of a Passover sacrifice is 2 Chr. 35:1-19, especially 2 Chr. 35:13-15; however, the exact expression פֶּסַח + הֵכִין does not appear. Likewise, Zeph. 1:7, which speaks of slaughtering and preparing an animal, where “slaughter” and “prepare” are two different actions, is significant. (So, also, in Gen. 43:16.) Job 38:41 uses the word הֵכִין when speaking of preparing or providing food.

One of the most illustrative examples of the meaning of הֵכִין in the context of slaughtering the Passover lamb is found in 2 Chr. 35:6, 13-15:

וְשַׁחֲטוּ הַפָּסַח…וְהָכִינוּ לַאֲחֵיכֶם…וַיְבַשְּׁלוּ הַפֶּסַח בָּאֵשׁ…וְאַחַר הֵכִינוּ לָהֶם וְלַכֹּהֲנִים…וְהַלְוִיִּם הֵכִינוּ לָהֶם וְלַכֹּהֲנִים…אֲחֵיהֶם הַלְוִיִּם הֵכִינוּ לָהֶם

…and slaughter the Passover lamb…and prepare it for your brothers…. They cooked the Passover sacrifice over the fire…and afterward they prepared for themselves and for the priests…and the Levites prepared for themselves and for the priests…their brothers the Levites prepared for them. (italics ours)

At each occurrence of a form of הֵכִין, LXX rendered with a form of ἑτοιμάσαι. Notice that in 2 Chr. 35:6 there occurs, just as in our pericope, the phrase, “Prepare the Passover lamb for someone” (with LXX using the same form of the imperative of ἑτοιμάσαι as in Luke 22:8 [L14]). We also observe that “prepare” is a separate act that follows the act of slaughtering. Peter and John’s question in response to Jesus’ command repeats the same verb “to prepare” that Jesus uses here. Had Jesus used the verb שָׁחַט, the disciples’ question would have been unnecessary, since it was obvious that the Passover lamb had to be slaughtered in the Temple. Reconstructing with הֵכִין, however, makes sense in this context: the disciples knew where the slaughtering was to take place, but they did not know where to roast and prepare the lamb.

ἡμῖν (Luke 22:8; L14). Should we use לָנוּ (cf. m. Pes. 7:2) or עָלֵינוּ (cf. m. Pes. 8:2; 9:9) to reconstruct ἡμῖν? We have preferred לָנוּ because it is not clear that the preposition עַל can follow the verb הֵכִין, and because -לְ is the more literal reconstruction of ἡμῖν.

In MH sources, when someone is sent to roast or slaughter the Passover lamb, there is regularly the mention of “for us” or “for me” (i.e., “on our/my behalf”), as in our passage. This lends extra authenticity to Luke’s text in both places (L14, L19). And in L19 we also have a Lukan-Matthean minor agreement on σοί (“for you”).

One might easily suppose that a Greek editor inserted ἡμῖν (“for us”) in Luke 22:8 (L14) and σοῖ (“for you”) in Luke 22:9 = Matt. 26:17 (L8, L19), since “for you/us” is an obvious inference from this “eat the Passover” context, yet the rabbinic parallels keep us from making that mistaken assumption. “For you” and “for us” are very probably authentic.

τὸ πάσχα (Luke 22:8; L14). The lamb, not the meal.[58] That τὸ πάσχα refers to a lamb is the most natural understanding in this context, since τὸ πάσχα has already been used in Luke 22:7 (cf. Mark 14:12) to refer to the paschal lamb. A general rule of interpretation is that the same word is expected to have the same meaning in the same context unless there is a clear reason to suppose otherwise. The Hellenized Semitic noun πάσχα,[59] is used as the equivalent of the Hebrew word פֶּסַח appears 43xx in LXX. Josephus also used πάσχα as the equivalent of פֶּסַח (e.g., J.W. 2:10; 6:423; Ant. 2:313).[60]

L15 ἵνα φάγωμεν (Luke 22:8). Lindsey (LHNS, to Luke 22:8) writes: “It is highly probable that Luke has added ἵνα φάγωμεν.” Perhaps φάγωμεν (“we may eat”) in L15 was added to the text due to the influence of φαγεῖν (fagein, “to eat”) in L19. All six occurrences of the expression ἵνα + subjunctive of φάγειν in the NT (here, in Mark 14:12 = Luke 22:8; and in Luke 7:36; 22:30; John 6:5; Rev. 19:18) appear to be the hand of a Greek editor. On the other hand, we note that the disciples’ question (L19) contains a form of the verb φάγειν, which may be a hint that Jesus used φάγειν in his command to them (L13-15; Luke 22:8). If so, perhaps Luke’s ἵνα φάγωμεν reflects an early reading.

Peter and John Ask Jesus Where to Prepare (L16-20)

L16-20 It is unlikely that Luke (or his source) moved this verse, the disciples’ question of clarification, from a place opposite its parallels, Matt. 26:17 and Mark 14:12 (L5-9), to this point in Luke’s narrative (L16-20), since the verse contains a Lukan-Matthean minor agreement, and Luke’s order allows the teacher, Jesus, rather than his disciples, to take the initiative in suggesting preparations for the Passover meal. In the Synoptic Gospels it is usually the author of Mark who changes the order of words, and sometimes, as probably here, even the order of sentences in a story.

L16 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ (Luke 22:9). Mark’s parallel, λέγουσιν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ (“say to him the disciples of him”; L5, L16; Mark 14:12), with its “historical present,” is less Hebraic than Luke’s phrasing, and furthermore, replacing past-tense verbs with present-tense verbs is a redactional trait of the author of Mark. In Matthew’s parallel, οἱ μαθηταὶ τῷ Ἰησοῦ λέγοντες (“the disciples to Jesus saying”; Matt. 26:17), the word order is even less Hebraic. Matthew’s λέγοντες shows the influence of Mark’s λέγουσι. We have therefore adopted Luke’s reading for GR.

L17-20 ποῦ θέλεις ἑτοιμάσωμεν σοι φαγεῖν τὸ πάσχα (Matt. 26:17; Luke 22:9; cf. Mark 14:12). Gill remarked:

And they said unto him, where wilt thou that we prepare? Meaning, not in what village, town, or city, for it was a fixed and determined thing, that the passover should be eaten at Jerusalem, and nowhere else…, but in what house in Jerusalem? (Gill, 7:704)

Gill’s comment is certainly correct. According to Shmuel Safrai,

…the Rabbis taught that the sanctity of the Temple applied to the entire city of Jerusalem, and that the “minor sacrifices” (i.e., those that could be eaten by the people) could be eaten throughout the city (m. Zebah. 5.7-8). Talmudic literature frequently attests that the Paschal sacrifice was in fact eaten in the houses of the city and on its roofs. So also, Philo indicates that on the Festival of Passover every “dwelling-house” (οἰκία; Spec. Laws 2.148) assumes the sanctity of the Temple…. The reality, then, in the last years of the Second Temple period was, that of those celebrating the Passover festival in Jerusalem, some undoubtedly consumed the Passover meal at locations throughout the city of Jerusalem. The narratives of the New Testament, especially Luke 22, further attest to the antiquity of the practice of pilgrims who offered the Paschal sacrifice in the Temple and then consumed it within houses throughout the city.[61]

L17 אֵיכָן (HR). We have a choice if reconstructing to BH between אֵיפֹה ,אַיֵּה and אָנָה.‎[62] In MH, אֵיכָן, and its less common variant הֵיכָן,[63] replaced the three BH choices (Bendavid, 336). Since we are in direct speech, our HR is אֵיכָן.

θέλεις ἑτοιμάσωμεν (L17, L19). To θέλεις ἑτοιμάσωμεν (Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:9) one should compare Luke 9:54, where the disciples James and John say, κύριε, θέλεις εἴπωμεν; (“Lord, do you want us to say [aor. subjv., as here]…?”).

L19 ἑτοιμάσωμέν (Luke 22:9; cf. Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12 [L8]). In this context the verb ἑτοιμάσαι seems to be used of “preparing food” for someone. Repeatedly in this pericope we find forms of ἑτοιμάσαι (L8, L14, L19, L48, L57): ἑτοιμάσωμεν… ἑτοιμάσατε… ἑτοιμάσατε… ἡτοίμασαν (Matt. 26:17 = Mark 14:12 = Luke 22:9; Luke 22:8; Mark 14:15 = Luke 22:12; Matt. 26:19 = Mark 14:16 = Luke 22:13). The mention in this brief passage of ἑτοιμάσαι and τὸ πάσχα (5xx) likely indicates the Passover lamb.[64] Apparently, Jesus’ intention was that Peter and John would go, clean and prepare (make ready for grilling) the Passover lamb, which earlier had been slaughtered in the Temple.

σοι φαγεῖν (Matt. 26:17 = Luke 22:9; L19, L8). Matthew agrees with Luke against Mark to add the personal pron. σοί, and to use the infinitive φαγεῖν against Mark’s ἵνα φάγῃς.[65]

L20 τὸ πάσχα (Luke 22:9). See Comment to L15, L42-44 (τὸ πάσχα…φάγω) and L57. Since “prepare” rather than “slaughter” (the Passover lamb) is used throughout this pericope (except for the story setting, L1-3), it is an indication that the slaughtered and dressed lamb was in the possession of Jesus and his band of disciples, having already been brought from the Temple. Jesus was speaking of the preparations that had to be made before the lamb was roasted. If such is the case, the story takes place on the afternoon of Nisan 14 following the slaughtering of the lambs in the Temple beginning at noon.

Jesus’ Detailed Instructions to Peter and John (L21-48)

L21 εἶπεν (Luke 22:10). The verb εἰπεῖν may represent the Hebrew אָמַר in the sense of “order” or “command.” See above, Comment to L12.

L22-33 Lindsey commented: “He [Taylor] does not show the Semitic power of Luke 22:10: הנה ובאתם העירה ופגש בכם איש נושא כד מים. לכו אחריו אל הבית אשר יכנס בו. ואמרתם,” (LHNT, 538).[66]

Plummer (Luke, 492-493) asked “whether this [the Water Jar Carrier incident] is a case of supernatural knowledge or of previous arrangement.” Scholars have not reached a consensus.[67] The Water Jar Carrier episode in Mark and Luke (Mark 14:13; Luke 22:10) could be an immediate-future prophecy similar to the prophecy in the Young Donkey story: “Go into the village opposite, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat” (Luke 19:30; RSV).[68] Although it is difficult to argue that Jesus’ foreknowledge of a tethered young donkey standing somewhere in a nearby village was not supernatural, there are valid reasons for supposing that the meeting of Jesus’ disciples with a water carrier was prearranged.

The NIV Study Bible (note to Luke 22:13; “as Jesus had told them”) states: “It may be that Jesus had made previous arrangements with the man in order to make sure that the Passover meal would not be interrupted. Since Jesus did not identify ahead of time just where he would observe Passover, Judas was unable to inform the enemy, who might have interrupted this important occasion.” According to this interpretation, Jesus did not reveal the location of the house or the name of its owner to his disciples in order to prevent Judas from passing on information about Jesus’ whereabouts to the chief priests.[69] One need not assume, according to this interpretation, that Jesus knew that it was Judas who had betrayed him, only that he already suspected that there was a traitor in their midst. This would explain why Jesus hid the location from all but two of his most trusted disciples (see above, Comment to L11). According to this line of reasoning, the house owner had some previous association with Jesus. The disciples did not know this Jerusalem acquaintance (or, did not know where his home was located); otherwise, Jesus could have said to the emissaries, “Go to the home of so-and-so” (as the author of Matthew tells us).

Jesus might have had a large number of acquaintances in Jerusalem, including this landlord.[70] From Luke 2:41 we learn that it was the custom of Jesus’ devout parents to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem every year for the Festival of Passover, and Jesus may have continued this tradition.[71] Like other renowned first-century teachers from the Galilee such as Yochanan ben Zakkai who “used to sit in the shade of the Temple [בצילו של היכל] and teach the whole day” (b. Pes. 26a; y. Avod. Zar. 3:11 [43b; 24b]), Jesus would have visited Jerusalem to teach in the Temple’s courtyard and porticoes, especially on holidays when throngs of people from throughout the country and from abroad gathered there. If so, those occasions would have afforded Jesus plenty of opportunity to make acquaintances in Jerusalem. The owner of the house in this pericope could, conceivably, have been host to Jesus and his family many times before.

The message that Jesus instructs his disciples to deliver to the owner of the house also hints that Jesus was familiar with the house: “Where is the dining room where I may eat the Passover lamb with my disciples?” (L38-44). France argues that “it is not very likely, given the pressure on space in Jerusalem at Passover time, that a suitable room could have been made available without prior arrangement” (France, Mark, 564).

A further difficulty with the “supernatural foreknowledge” interpretation of the Water Jar Carrier episode is that if Jesus miraculously foresaw the meeting of the water carrier with his two disciples and did not know the location of the house, how would Jesus and the other ten disciples find their way to the house? Or did this require an additional miracle of foresight on Jesus part? The two disciples would have been busy at the landlord’s house until evening with Passover preparations, and therefore, presumably, would not have returned to Jesus and his band of disciples to lead them to the house.

As Plummer (Luke, 492) observed, “no miracle is wrought, where ordinary precautions suffice.” We conclude that prearrangment is the more likely explanation of the Water Jar Carrier incident.

L22 ἰδοὺ εἰσελθόντων ὑμῶν (GR). Ἰδού (idou, “behold”) is a fairly reliable sign of the presence of a Hebrew undertext.[72] Furthermore, in the Synoptic Gospels ἰδού occurs 8xx a Lukan-Matthean minor agreement against Mark.[73] In contrast to ἰδού, Luke’s εἰσελθόντων ὑμῶν (“of entering of you,” i.e., “as you enter”), a genitive absolute, is often a sign of Greek redaction or Greek composition.

“As you enter the city” presupposes that Jesus and the disciples were outside the city at the time Jesus gave the instructions. This raises the question of setting and chronology. There appear to be three possibilities: 1) From somewhere outside the city walls Jesus sent the disciples with the lamb already slaughtered to make preparations inside the city; 2) From somewhere outside the city, perhaps from the Mount of Olives where they spent the night (Luke 21:37), Jesus sent the disciples to make preparations including slaughtering the lamb in the Temple; 3) From the Temple Mount where they had just slaughtered the lamb, Jesus sent the two disciples into the city to prepare the lamb ahead of the others.

Of the three, the first possibility seems the most unlikely. Why would Jesus bring the slaughtered lamb, a holy object, outside the city walls beyond the sphere of the Temple’s sanctity, only to bring it back into the city again? The second possibility is also problematic. If the disciples were to meet the water jar carrier at the city gate and he were to lead them to the house where the preparations were to be made, when would there be time for them to go to the Temple to slaughter the lamb? Or are we to suppose that the disciples were first led to the house, then they went to the Temple, and then returned to the house with the lamb? The third possibility is attractive: Jesus does not tell the two disciples to slaughter the lamb, but to prepare the lamb (see Comments to L14, L17-20). This would make sense if Jesus sent the disciples from the Temple Mount with the slaughtered lamb in their keeping. However it is unclear whether the Temple Mount was considered to be separate from the city in such a way that exiting the Temple Mount could be described as entering the city.

הֲרֵי כְּשֶׁתִּכָּנְסוּ (HR). In LXX ἰδού (idou, “behold,” “look”) is nearly always the translation of הִנֵּה (hinēh, “behold,” “look”). In MH, however, הֲרֵי replaced הִנֵּה‎.[74] Since we prefer to reconstruct direct speech in a Mishnaic style of Hebrew, we have adopted הֲרֵי for HR.

On reconstructing εἰσέρχεσθαι with נִכְנַס, see Healing Shimon’s Mother-in-law, Comment to L5.

L23 εἰς τὴν πόλιν (Luke 23:10; cf. L13; Mark 14:13; Matt. 26:18). I.e., to Jerusalem. “The Passover meal had to be eaten within the city’s walls (cf. Deut 16:2; m. Pesaḥ. 7:9…)” (Evans, 371). See Sifre Num. 69, on 9:10 (ed. Horovitz, 64): איזהו מקום אכילתו מפתח ירושלים ולפנים (“What is the place in which it [the Passover lamb] is to be eaten? Within the gates [walls] of Jerusalem”). See also t. Pes. 8:2; t. Sanh. 3:3.[75] For the purpose of eating the Passover lamb, all of the walled area of the city was considered part of the Temple (see above, Comment to L17-20). Jesus taught daily in the Temple (Luke 19:47; 20:1; 21:37-38), but spent the nights outside the city on the Mount of Olives (Luke 21:37).

L24 ἀπαντήσει; συναντήσει (Mark 14:13; Luke 22:10). The verb συναντᾶν (synantan, “meet”) appears 57xx in LXX, where it usually translates the roots פ-ג-ש ,פ-ג-ע and ק-ר-א. The verb συναντᾶν is found 6xx in NT—Luke 22:10; 9:37 (a Lukan “frame” sentence, with no parallel in Matthew or Mark); Acts 10:25 (Cornelius’ meeting of Peter); 20:22; Heb. 7:1, 10 (both of which refer to Melchizedek’s meeting of Abraham [Gen. 14:18], but συναντᾶν does not appear in the Gen. 14 story). Therefore, συναντᾶν could be called a “Lukan word.” The verb ἀπαντᾶν (apantan, “meet”) appears 45xx in LXX, where it usually translates (16xx) the root פ-ג-ע, but 3xx the root פ-ג-ש, and 2xx the root ק-ר-א. The verb ἀπαντᾶν is found only twice in NT—here, in Mark 14:13, and in Luke 17:12 in the Healing Ten Men with Scale Disease pericope, a story that only appears in Luke.[76] Ἀπαντᾶν is rare in NT, but in LXX almost as common as συναντᾶν. Both συναντᾶν and ἀπαντᾶν are so infrequent in the Synoptic Gospels and NT that it is difficult to decide which of the words to use in GR; however, given Mark’s habit of replacing words in his text (see “Results of This Research” below), we have little choice but to prefer Luke’s συναντᾶν.

How should we reconstruct ἰδοὺ εἰσελθόντων ὑμῶν εἰς τὴν πόλιν συναντήσει ὑμῖν ἄνθρωπος βαστάζων κεράμιον ὕδατος (L22-27) to Hebrew? A very interesting parallel is found in 1 Sam. 10:5: וִיהִי כְבֹאֲךָ שָׁם הָעִיר וּפָגַעְתָּ חֶבֶל נְבִיאִים יֹרְדִים מֵהַבָּמָה (“There, as you enter the town, you will encounter a band of prophets coming down from the shrine”; JPS). LXX translates with ἀπαντᾶν: καὶ ἔσται ὡς ἂν εἰσέλθητε ἐκεῖ εἰς τὴν πόλιν καὶ ἀπαντήσεις χορῷ προφητῶν καταβαινόντων ἐκ τῆς Βαμα. Here we find Luke’s εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν πόλιν + ptc. (Luke: βαστάζων; LXX: καταβαινόντων).

What is the MH equivalent of συναντᾶν? The verb פָּגַש never appears in the Mishnah. The verb פָּגַע appears once in the Mishnah (m. Sanh. 9:6) in the sense “beat up, injure”; however, in printed editions of the Mishnah we find in m. Avot 6:9 (chpt. 6 is a later addition to Tractate Avot, as evidenced by its absence in Kaufmann): פַעַם אַחַת הָיִיתִי מְהַלֵּךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וּפָּגַע בִּי אָדָם אֶחָד, וְנָתַן לִי שָׁלוֹם, וְהֶחֱזַרְתִּי לוֹ שָׁלוֹם (“Once I was going down the road and a man met me. He greeted me, and I returned his greeting”). This is the same syntax we find here in Luke and Mark (L24-25): 3rd per. sing. of verb for “meet” + indirect object in 2nd per. + subject. Apparently, in MH it is idiomatic to say “A man met me,” instead of (as in English) “I met a man.”[77]

L25, L27 ἄνθρωπος κεράμιον ὕδατος βαστάζων (Mark 14:13; Luke 22:10). According to many scholars,[78] a man carrying a jar of water would have been regarded as unusual in the time of Jesus.[79] Some scholars have even supposed that water-carrying by men was so rare in first-century Jewish society that they have cited it in support of the theory that Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover on a different date than the rest of the Jewish people.[80] As Notley noted, “It is routinely presented as proof for Jesus’ coincidental celebration with the Essene Passover that he instructed his disciples to follow ‘a man carrying water’ (Mark 14:13; Luke 22:10). Underlying this conjecture is the assumption that Jewish men in antiquity did not carry water. The line of reasoning continues that the man must have belonged to an all-male community (i.e., Essenes) in which there were no women to perform these menial tasks…. According to S. Safrai, ‘there is no indication that the act of a man carrying water was either forbidden or socially unacceptable…..”[81]

Notley also cites the injunction in Jubilees 50:8 that forbids men from drawing water on the Sabbath. “That prohibition,” Notley observes, “…assumes that it was permitted, even expected, for a man to draw water on the other six days of the week. Otherwise there would be no need for the Sabbath prohibition.”[82] Thus the theory that Jesus celebrated an Essene Passover, which on other grounds is highly problematic (see Comment to L3), finds no support in the story of the Water Carrier.

Why was the man carrying water to the house of his master on the eve of Passover? Furstenberg suggests that a good deal of water was needed for washing and for thinning the quantities of wine drunk during the meal. Gill (7:480) suggests that water was needed for baking the unleavened bread the following day, “for on that day it was not lawful to carry any: hence they were obliged to fetch it on the preceding evening.” Plummer (Luke, 492) suggested that the water was required for ceremonial handwashing before the evening meal. In fact, water was necessary for a variety of purposes and there is no reason why they should be considered mutually exclusive.

L25 ἄνθρωπος (Mark 14:13; Luke 22:10). The man carrying the jar of water was not the בַּעַל הַבַּיִת, the owner of the house, but someone else. Perhaps, since he was doing a menial task, the “man” was a servant of the owner of the house; however, this man is never referred to as a servant or slave. Alternatively, he could have been a family member of the owner. LXX renders אִישׁ with ἀνήρ 789xx and with ἄνθρωπος 424xx. Hebrew fragments of Ben Sira have אָדָם opposite ἀνήρ 27xx and opposite ἄνθρωπος 474xx. In other words, both אִישׁ and אָדָם are frequently rendered ἄνθρωπος by Greek translators. In MH אָדָם became more common and אִישׁ less used (Bendavid, 337). We have reconstructed here with אָדָם.

L26 πρὸς τὸν δεῖνα (Matt. 26:18). The word δεῖνα, meaning “so and so,” “such and such,” “this or that mortal,” is found only this once in NT and never in LXX, Josephus, Apostolic Fathers or Apocryphal Gospels.[83] Probability requires the assumption that δεῖνα was introduced by the author of Matthew. The words τὸν δεῖνα imply that Jesus gave the disciples the name of the man, having made a previous arrangement with him, and that there was no miraculous foresight.[84]

L31 ὅπου (Mark 14:14). Mark may have inserted ὅπου here under the influence of a more authentic ὅπου in L39 (Luke 22:11; Mark 14:14). Lindsey argues that ὅπου is a “Greek word” and states that “it is highly probable that Luke has added it” (LHNS, to Luke 22:11). Mark’s ὅπου ἂν εἰσέλθῃ is clumsy and unclear in both Greek and literal Hebrew retroversion. However, Luke’s εἰς ἣν εἰσπορεύεται makes sense and can be reconstructed in Hebrew with relative ease.

L32-33 καὶ ἐρεῖτε (Luke 22:11). At Luke 19:31 ἐρεῖτε is a Lukan-Matthean minor agreement against Mark’s εἴπατε; therefore, here, too, ἐρεῖτε probably represents the pre-synoptic text (see below, “Redaction Analysis: Mark’s Version”). Since the words καὶ ἐρεῖτε appear in dialogue, we have reconstructed them using the MH וְתֹאמְרוּ (“and you [plur.] will say”), rather than the BH וַאֲמַרְתֶּם (with Delitzsch). The reading καί ἐρεῖτε retroverts nicely to Hebrew, whether MH (וְתֹאמְרוּ) or biblical (וַאֲמַרְתֶּם). If וַאֲמַרְתֶּם were behind καὶ ἐρεῖτε, this would be a significant case of BH style within dialogue.

The words ἀκολουθήσατε αὐτῷ…καὶ ἐρεῖτε apparently represent the Hebrew undertext because of the לְכוּ אַחֲרָיו… וַאֲמַרְתֶּם structure. Since here we have direct speech, our hypothesis predicts that Jesus would have said וְתֹאמְרוּ; however, it is possible that when his words were put into writing, the author used the higher, more biblical style (וַאֲמַרְתֶּם), which did not match the spoken Hebrew. It is not uncommon for native speakers of a language to move to a more elevated style when writing their language. When the biography of Jesus, probably preserved orally by Jesus’ disciples, was first put down in Hebrew, it is likely that there were occasionally such occurrences.

L34 τῷ οἰκοδεσπότῃ τῆς οἰκίας (Luke 22:11). Mark’s parallel (Mark 14:14) is τῷ οἰκοδεσπότῃ, and Matthew’s (Matt. 26:18) is αὐτῷ. Luke’s expression, τῷ οἰκοδεσπότῃ τῆς οἰκίας (“the owner of the house of the house”), is awkward because the noun οἰκοδεσπότης means “owner of the house,” which makes τῆς οἰκίας (“of the house”) superfluous. Luke’s awkward phrase may reflect a Hebrew undertext, בַּעַל הַבַּיִת, which we would expect to be translated as τῷ κυρίῳ τῆς οἰκίας (“the owner of the house”). Luke, or more likely his source (FR), may have replaced τῷ κυρίῳ with τῷ οἰκοδεσπότῃ (the normal way of expressing “owner of the house” in Greek). However, it is more likely that ὁ οἰκοδεσπότης τῆς οἰκίας, although superfluous and unidiomatic, was the original Greek translation of the Hebrew vorlage.

Lowe, however, does not believe that τῷ οἰκοδεσπότῃ τῆς οἰκίας is a Semitism. According to Lowe, Luke’s phrase τῷ οἰκοδεσπότῃ τῆς οἰκίας could simply be making reference to the words εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν in the previous verse. Notice that Mark lacks οἰκία in both verses.

We find בַּעַל הַבַּיִת in Exod. 22:7 and Judg. 19:22, 23, where, in each case, LXX translates with ὁ κύριος τῆς οἰκίας. The expression בַּעַל הַבַּיִת occurs frequently in rabbinic sources.

There are two other beautiful examples of the בַּעַל הַבַּיִת idiom in the Synoptic Gospels, the first in Matt. 10:25 (no parallels), the second in Matt. 24:43 and Luke 12:39 in a DT pericope.

Furstenberg notes: “According to halachah, the host (בעל הבית) must join the company (חבורה), who are guests in his home, in eating the lamb.”

L35 ὅτι (Mark 14:14). A Lukan-Matthean minor agreement of omission. Both Matthew and Luke reject the Markan addition of ὅτι.

L36 λέγει σοι ὁ διδάσκαλος (Luke 22:11). Many scholars assume that Matthew and Mark preserve the correct word order of the phrase “the teacher says”; however, Luke’s λέγει σοι ὁ διδάσκαλος has a more Hebraic word order.[85]

ὁ διδάσκαλος (Matt. 26:18; Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11).[86] Jesus’ unspecified reference to himself as “the teacher,” without mentioning his name is further evidence that Jesus had made prior arrangements with the landlord to use his dining room.[87]

רַבֵּנוּ (HR). The Hebrew language prefers to attach pronominal suffixes (such as “my” and “your”) to nouns. Greek authors, by contrast, tend to avoid such constructions, allowing the reader to understand a personal possessive pronoun from the context.[88] Take, for example, the story of the slaying of Abel, where the Hebrew text reads וַיָּקָם קַיִן אֶל הֶבֶל אָחִיו וַיַּהַרְגֵהוּ (“And Cain rose against Abel his brother and slew him”; Gen. 4:8). In the translation Greek of LXX we find this sentence rendered quite literally as ἀνέστη Καιν ἐπὶ Αβελ τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀπέκτεινεν αὐτόν (“Cain rose against Abel his brother and slew him”); however, when Josephus retold the biblical story in literary Greek, he wrote ὁ Κάις…κτείνει τὸν ἀδελφόν (“Cain…slew the brother”; Ant. 1:55), omitting the possessive pronoun. Sometimes, even LXX drops the possessive pronouns present in the Hebrew text. For instance, LXX translates אֱלֹהֵינוּ (“our God”) 6xx simply as θέος or ὁ θέος, with no possessive pronoun.[89] In consideration of this dynamic between the Hebrew and Greek languages, we have reconstructed ὁ διδάσκαλος with רַבֵּנוּ instead of הָרַב. Interestingly, “Many Latin MSS read magister noster, ‘our teacher’” (Evans, 369).[90]

One might ask why we do not reconstruct διδάσκαλος with מוֹרֶה (mōreh, “teacher”), which is known in BH (e.g., Prov. 5:13; Isa. 30:20). Our answer is that the New Testament makes it clear that, in the late Second Temple period, διδάσκαλος was the Greek equivalent of רַבִּי (cf. Matt. 23:8; John 1:38).

λέγει (Matt. 26:18; Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11). Could λέγει here have the Hebraic sense of “command,” that is, “the Teacher commands you,” rather than “the Teacher says to you” or “the Teacher asks you”? (See above, Comment to L12.) A striking rabbinic parallel to Jesus’ words (L33-34, L36) is found in b. Pes. 86b: כל מה שיאמר לך בעל הבית עשה (“Whatever the owner of the house will command [lit., will tell] you to do, do it”). In this rabbinic saying we find the verb אָמַר (in the sense of “tell,” “command”), and the expression בעל הבית (“the owner of the house”). A second rabbinic passage in which אָמַר carries the sense “command” is found in m. Yom. 1:5: שֶׁלֹּא תְשַׁנֶּה דָבָר מִכָּל מָה שֶׁאָמַרְנוּ לָך (“that you will not change a thing of anything we have commanded [lit., we told] you”).

L37-L43 ὁ καιρός μου ἐγγύς ἐστιν, πρὸς σὲ ποιῶ τὸ πάσχα μετὰ τῶν μαθητῶν μου (Matt. 26:18). According to Davies and Allison (3:458), “Matthew has inserted the reference to the time being near, turned a question into a sovereign command—Jesus does [not] ask to be invited but rather dictates to his host—and once more abbreviated.” Although it is perfectly good Hebrew,[91] the phrase “My time is near” probably was added by the author of Matthew, or by a redactor of Matthew. The phrase is too similar to Jesus’ words recorded in Mark 1:15 (“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel”) and John 7:6 (“My time has not yet come…”) to be historical.[92] These phrases seem to be a Greek-speaking disciple’s post-resurrection reflection on the death of Jesus. The phrase ὁ γὰρ καιρὸς ἐγγύς appears in Rev. 1:3 and 22:10.[93]

L38 κατάλυμα (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11). France (Mark, 565) thinks it remarkable that the landlord did not take offense when Jesus referred to the dining room as κατάλυμά μου (katalūma mou, “my dining room”). However, it is probable that the pronoun μοῦ is Mark’s theological addition that hints at Jesus’ lordship. Luke’s text flows better: “Where is the room where” rather than “Where is my room where.” If Luke preserved the better text, then there is no need to raise the possibility of offense on the owner’s part.

κατάλυμα appears 3xx in NT, here in the Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb (Luke 22:11; Mark 14:14) and in Luke’s account of Jesus’ nativity: διότι οὐκ ἦν αὐτοῖς τόπος ἐν τῷ καταλύματι (“because there was no place for them in the katalyma”; Luke 2:7).[94] Martin notes that “The word kataluma is a late Greek word used in the papyri for lodgings or quarters for troops. It has a wide range of meanings in the Septuagint including temportary lodgings for visitors to the temple (1 Chron. 28:12) or God’s presence in the temple (2 Kings 7:6); a temporary resting place on a journey (Jer. 14:8); a den of a lion [Jer. 32(25):38], etc.”[95]

BDAG (521) suggests that κατάλυμα can be understood as “guest-room, as in [Luke] 22:11; Mark 14:14, where the contexts also permit the sense dining-room.” Moulton-Milligan (329) states that κατάλυμα is “the Hellenistic equivalent of καταγωγεῖον.” Καταγωγεῖον (see entry “καταγωγεύς” in LSJ, 888) is the equivalent of κατάγαιον or κατάγειον, all three the opposites of ἀνάγαιον (L46). Edwards (421) remarks: “The hall [the κατάλυμα mentioned in this pericope]…resembles the meeting place of the early church described in Acts 1:13 and 12:12.”

אֵיכָן הַחֶדֶר (HR). For our decision to reconstruct ποῦ with אֵיכָן (’ēchān, “where?”), see above, Comment to L17. More difficult to decide is how one should reconstruct κατάλυμα.[96] One option is עֲלִיָּה (aliyāh), but since in L46 (Mark 14:15; Luke 22:12) we find ἀνάγαιον (anagainon), which probably represents עֲלִיָּה,‎[97] we suspect that a different Hebrew word stands behind κατάλυμα. Another option for reconstructing κατάλυμα is טְרִיקְלִין (ṭriklin, “banquet hall””), a loanword in Hebrew from the Greek τρικλίνιον (triklinion, “dining room” “triclinium”).[98] However, if טְרִיקְלִין was present in the Hebrew Ur-text, why was it not translated by τρικλίνιον? Reconstructing with חֶדֶר (ḥeder, “room,” “inner room,” as opposed to “upper room”), therefore, appears to be the best alternative even though ταμιεῖον is the usual LXX equivalent of חֶדֶר,‎[99] and not κατάλυμα.[100]

L40-42 πρὸς σὲ ποιῶ τὸ πάσχα (Matt. 26:18). Lindsey (LHNS, to Matt. 26:18) writes: “What is πρὸς σέ? Surely not Hebrew?” Matthew preserves the pres. tense of the verb ποιεῖν, but Hebrew would prefer the future tense at this point.

L42-44 τὸ πάσχα…φάγω (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11). Can φαγεῖν τὸ πάσχα ever mean “eat the Passover meal”? Apparently not. The expression seems always to indicate the eating of the sacrificial lamb (see Comment to L57). Lowe points out that the position of the verb (φάγειν) at the end of the clause, as here, is a Greek (rather than a Hebrew) construction.

Boring (388) states: “He will celebrate the Passover ‘with his disciples,’ not with his family. So, too, his disciples are not with their families. The group about the table represents the new family to which they belong….” Boring’s assumption that the disciples’ wives and children were not present at the Last Supper is unfounded. According to Safrai (Safrai-Stern, 809), in the time of Jesus the Passover meal was a family celebration.

L43 τῶν μαθητῶν (Matt. 26:18; Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11). Jesus mentions διδάσκαλος (רַב; L36), and in the same breath mentions its opposite, μαθητής (תַּלְמִיד). We have this same contrast in HB’s only occurrence of תַּלְמִיד:

וַיַּפִּילוּ גּוֹרָלוֹת מִשְׁמֶרֶת לְעֻמַּת כַּקָּטֹן כַּגָּדוֹל מֵבִין עִם־תַּלְמִיד׃

They cast lots for shifts on the principle of “small and great alike, like master like apprentice.” (1 Chr. 25:8; JPS)

The noun תַּלְמִיד appears in the Mishnah,[101] while the word רַב (often in the sense of “master of a slave”) is found in the Mishnah at least 10xx in the sense of “master of a disciple” (e.g., m. Ter. 8:1; m. Bab. Metz. 2:11; m. Mak. 2:2; m. Edu. 1:3; 8:7; m. Avot 1:6, 16 [3xx]; m. Ker. 6:9 [2xx]). רַב also appears in MT, but in the sense of “great,” “greater.” Notice in this pericope the contrast between רַב and תַּלְמִיד. This same contrast occurs in Jesus’ saying, “A disciple is not above his teacher, and a slave is not above his master” (Matt. 10:24; Luke 6:40).[102]

L45 καὶ αὐτὸς δείξει ὑμῖν (GR). The words καὶ αὐτός constitute a Hebraism: וְהוּא (“and he”; e.g., in Luke 7:12; 8:22; 9:51). The combination καὶ αὐτός (with the pron. αὐτός in the nom. in all its genders and numbers) appears 42xx in Luke. This combination occurs in Mark only 5xx (Mark 4:38 [Markan redaction]; 6:47 [Markan redaction]; 8:29 [Markan redaction]; 15:43; and here); and only 4xx in Matthew (Matt. 20:10; 21:27 [Matthean redaction]; 25:44; 27:57 [= Mark 15:43]). On the other hand, κἀκεῖνος is a Grecism and a possible sign of a Greek editor’s hand.[103] However, why would Luke, who has καὶ αὐτός frequently in his account, replace καὶ αὐτός with κἀκεῖνος if he saw καὶ αὐτός in his source? We therefore conclude that Luke saw κἀκεῖνος in the source he was copying, which at this point was FR and not Anth., and that this Grecism is from the First Reconstructor’s hand, and not from the hand the author of Luke or from Anth.

L46 ἀνάγαιον μέγα ἐστρωμένον (Mark 14:15; Luke 22:12). Here we have Hebraic word order. Unlike English, in Hebrew the adjective follows its noun, e.g., “upper-room big” rather than “big upper-room.” In Luke the noun ἀνάγαιον is followed by two adjectives, in Mark by three. We suspect that Mark added the third adjective, ἕτοιμον (L47; Mark 14:15), for his Greek readers as an explanation of ἐστρωμένον (estrōmenon, “furnished”).

ἀνάγαιον. The noun ἀνάγαιον (anagainon)[104] is derived from “(ἄνω; γαῖα [γῆ] ‘someth. raised fr. the ground’) a room upstairs” (BDAG, 59). Ἀνάγαιον is an extremely rare word in Koine Greek,[105] although we find ἀνάγαιον in papyri from the end of the sixth cent. C.E. (Moulton-Milligan, 30; LSJ, 100). Its opposite, κατάγαιον or κατάγειον (katagaion, katageion, “ground-floor room,” “cellar”), is attested from the second cent. C.E. (Μoulton-Μilligan, 30; cf. entry “κατάγειος” in LSJ, 886). Ἀνάγαιον appears in NT only in this story (Mark 14:15; Luke 22:12), but never in LXX, Philo, Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Plutarch, Apostolic Fathers or Apocryphal Gospels. Ἀνάγαιον and κατάλυμα have much the same sense: “room,” “hall.”

ἐστρωμένον (Mark 14:15; Luke 22:12).[106] The verb στρωννύειν (strōnnūein, “spread,” “furnish”) appears 8xx in LXX. Its equivalents are: י-צ-ע (Esth. 4:3; Isa. 14:11), ר-פ-ד (Job 17:13) and כ-ב-ד (Ezek. 23:41: καὶ ἐκάθου ἐπὶ κλίνης ἐστρωμένης καὶ τράπεζα κεκοσμημένη, וְיָשַׁבְתְּ עַל־מִטָּה כְבוּדָּה וְשֻׁלְחָן עָרוּךְ לְפָנֶיהָ).

עֲלִיָּה גְּדוֹלָה מֻצָּעָה (HR). It is possible that κατάλυμα and ἀνάγαιον represent the same Hebrew word. It is also possible that a Greek editor replaced the second instance of κατάλυμα with ἀνάγαιον for the sake of variety. Nevertheless, we believe it is more likely that use of two different words in Greek is the result of translating two separate Hebrew terms. What is more, supposing that two different words stand behind κατάλυμα and ἀνάγαιον gives better sentence progression: “Where is the [dining] room…and he will show you an upstairs room” (and not, “Where is the upstairs room…and he will show you an upstairs room”). Delitzsch translated ἀνάγαιον μέγα ἐστρωμένον (in Mark 14:15 and Luke 22:12) as עֲלִיָּה גְדוֹלָה מֻצָּעָה (“large furnished upstairs room”), which appears to be the best possible reconstruction.[107]

L48 ἡμῖν (Mark 14:15). Swete (330-331) points out that “the Lord does not often use the pl. in this inclusive [1st-person] way, but cf. ix. 39 [sic 40].” Swete’s observation is correct, but he also should have observed that Luke’s parallel (L48; Luke 22:12) does not have ἡμῖν. The pronoun ἡμῖν, therefore, is likely a Markan addition. (For Mark’s style, which includes adding words to the text, see “LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style.”)

The Disciples Carry Out Jesus’ Command (L49-57)

The landlord had readied a furnished room, but it was necessary for Jesus’ disciples to make further preparations. Jesus commanded (lit., “told”) them to do so (Mark 14:15; Luke 22:12). And they did as their master commanded (Matt. 26:19; Mark 14:16; Luke 22:13).

L49 ἀπελθόντες δὲ (GR). Opposite Luke’s ἀπελθόντες δέ (apelthontes de, “but departing”) Mark has καί ἐξῆλθον (kai exēlthon, “and they went out”). Although Mark’s καί + aorist in L49, L52 and L55 could be reconstructed as a series of vav-consecutives, Luke’s participle + δέ + aorist (L49, L55) could also reflect a series of vav-consecutives.[108] In favor of Luke’s reading we note that there is one Lukan-Matthean minor agreement in the use of ἀπέρχεσθαι (aperchesthai “to depart”) against Mark (Matt. 9:7; Luke 5:25; Mark 2:12), who used ἐξέρχεσθαι (exerchesthai, “to go out), as here in Mark 14:16. In addition, Luke and Matthew twice agreed to use ἀπέρχεσθαι (Matt. 8:19; Luke 9:57; Matt. 8:21; Luke 9:59) where there are no Markan parallels. Moreover, Luke and Matthew agreed 4xx against Mark’s use of ἐξέρχεσθαι, indicating that in at least these four instances ἐξέρχεσθαι in Mark is redactional. Given Mark’s modus operandi,[109] we have adopted Luke’s reading for GR.

וַיֵּלְכוּ (HR). In LXX ἀπέρχεσθαι is almost always a translation of הָלַךְ (hālach, “walk,”),[110] and, after πορεύεσθαι, ἀπέρχεσθαι is by far the most common LXX equivalent of הָלַךְ.‎[111]

L52 καὶ ἦλθον εἰς τὴν πόλιν (Mark 14:16). A Lukan-Matthean minor agreement of omission. Both Matthew and Luke reject the Markan addition of καὶ ἦλθον εἰς τὴν πόλιν.

L53 συνέταξεν (Matt. 26:19). It is unlikely that Matthew’s συνέταξεν reflects the Hebrew undertext. The verb συντάσσειν (sūntassein, “order,” “command”) is usually (124xx) the translation of צִוָּה (tzivāh, “command”) in LXX. It appears in NT only in Matthew (here; Matt. 21:6; 27:10). Therefore, συνέταξεν appears to be indicative of Matthean redaction. The verb appears in the last verse of Matt. 27:3-10 in the phrase καθὰ συνέταξέν μοι κύριος. Matt. 27:3-10 is a unique Matthean pericope and contains τότε and other elements of Matthean redaction. The instance of συντάσσειν in Matt. 21:6 has the same συνέταξεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς as here. The phrase συνέταξεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς is strong evidence of Matthean redaction and cautions us against preferring Matthew’s version of this story.[112]

L55 καθώς (Mark 14:16; Luke 22:13). In MT כַּאֲשֶׁר (kaasher, “as”) appears 511xx. In the Mishnah כַּאֲשֶׁר appears only 4xx, always in biblical quotations. But here, since we are in narrative, we have used the biblical כַּאֲשֶׁר.

L56 εἶπεν (GR). In GR we have reconstructed with Mark’s εἶπεν (aor.) rather than Luke’s εἰρήκει (pluperfect). The pluperfect is rare in ancient Greek translations of Hebrew texts, never, e.g., appearing in LXX. The perf. of λέγειν is almost as rare, found, in all its forms, only 25xx in LXX,[113] while the 3rd per. sing. act. indic. aor. of the verb λέγειν, the exact form that appears in Mark, occurs 2,831xx. Εἰρήκει is probably an improvement introduced by the Greek editor of the second of Luke’s two sources, FR, which Luke, in this story, seems to be copying.

L57 καὶ ἡτοίμασαν τὸ πάσχα (“and they prepared the Passover [lamb]”; Matt. 26:19; Mark 14:16; Luke 22:13). If this meal[114] was not a sectarian meal, but the usual observance in Jerusalem, as we suppose, these preparations included those necessary for grilling the Passover lamb in the homeowner’s courtyard.[115]

Redaction Analysis

Which Synoptic Gospel(s) has (have) best preserved the Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb story? Which synoptic account, or accounts, should we prefer?

Mark’s Version

Contrary to the opinion of most scholars, our analysis shows evidence that Mark’s version of this pericope is a rewritten account of a more original version, such as we find in Luke’s Gospel. Taylor (536) pointed out a number of identically-worded phrases in Mark’s versions of the Young Donkey story (Mark 11:1-6) and the Water Jar Carrier incident (Mark 14:13-16).[116] These parallels include:

  1. ἀποστέλλει δύο τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ (Mark 11:1; 14:13)
  2. καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς (Mark 11:2; 14:13)
  3. ὑπάγετε εἰς τὴν κώμην / πόλιν (Mark 11:2; 14:13)
  4. εἴπατε (Mark 11:3; 14:14)
  5. ὁ κύριος / διδάσκαλος (Mark 11:3; 14:14)
  6. καὶ ἀπῆλθον καὶ εὗρον / ἐξῆλθον…καὶ εὗρον (Mark 11:4; 14:16)
  7. καθὼς εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς / καθὼς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς (Mark 11:6; 14:16)

Influenced by the similar Young Donkey story, which appears earlier in his Gospel, Mark repeated some of the words and phrases from that earlier story in the Water Jar Carrier incident. At these points Mark’s version appears less authentic than the more Hebraic and often more coherent wording exhibited by Luke’s text. It appears that Mark intentionally echoed the wording of the Young Donkey story in Mark 11:1-6 in order to highlight their similarity. In a majority of Mark’s identically-worded phrases, in both accounts, the wording of Luke’s account is to be preferred as more accurately representing the pre-synoptic text.

Instead of ἀποστέλλει δύο τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ (Mark 11:1; 14:13), Luke has ἀπέστειλεν δύο τῶν μαθητῶν (Luke 19:29) and καὶ ἀπέστειλεν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰωάνην (Luke 22:8). Luke’s καὶ + aor. tense is more Hebraic than Mark’s historical present verb (a frequent Markan substitution).[117] In the Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb story alone, just five verses in length, Mark replaces three aor.-tense verbs in Luke with hist. pres.-tense verbs.

Opposite Mark’s καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς (Mark 11:2; 14:13), Luke has λέγων (Luke 19:30), a Lukan-Matthean minor agreement, and εἰπών (Luke 22:8), the equivalent of לֵאמֹר. In both parallels Mark has his typical historical pressent.

Instead of Mark’s εἴπατε (Mark 11:3; 14:14), Luke has ἐρεῖτε (Luke 19:31; 22:11), a Lukan-Matthean minor agreement in Luke 19:31. The minor agreement at Luke 19:31 is evidence that ἐρεῖτε was probably also the pre-synoptic reading in the Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb story. Furthermore, at Luke 22:11 (L32-33), the reading καί ἐρεῖτε retroverts nicely to Hebrew, whether mishnaic (וְתֹאמְרוּ) or biblical (וַאֲמַרְתֶּם).

Opposite Mark’s καὶ ἀπῆλθον / ἐξῆλθον…καὶ εὗρον (Mark 11:4; 14:16), Luke has ἀπελθόντες δὲ…εὗρον in both Luke 19:32 and Luke 22:13. In LXX the verb ἀπέρχεσθαι is usually the translation of הָלַךְ.‎[118] In both contexts (Young Donkey and Water Carrier), the pre-synoptic Greek text probably had a form of the verb ἀπέρχεσθαι. In L49 (Mark 14:16; Luke 22:13), ἀπέρχεσθαι (as Luke) rather than a form of the verb ἐξέρχεσθαι (as Mark) is to be preferred: וַיֵּלְכוּ fits this context better than וַיֵּצְאוּ.

Instead of καθὼς εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς (Mark 11:6), the text of Luke reads καθὼς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς (Luke 19:32), which is the reading of Mark 14:16, where Luke reads καθὼς εἰρήκει αὐτοῖς (Luke 22:13). Εἰρήκει is probably the improvement of a Greek editor (see Comment to L56).

Aside from these places where Mark appears to have rewritten the Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb pericope on the basis of the Young Donkey story, Mark probably introduced the following changes into his version of the Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb:

  1. L1. Replaced δέ, a Lukan-Matthean minor agreement, with καί.
  2. L5-9. Moved Luke 22:9 to a spot earlier in his account.
  3. L5 (and L16). Replaced ὁ δὲ εἶπαν (aor.) with λέγουσιν (hist. pres.).
  4. L7 (and L18). Added ἀπελθόντες, a Lukan-Matthean minor agreement in omission.
  5. L8 (and L19). Replaced σοι φαγεῖν, a Lukan-Matthean minor agreement, with ἵνα φάγῃς.
  6. L10. Replaced ἀπέστειλεν (aor.) with ἀποστέλλει (hist. pres.).
  7. L11. Substituted δύο τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ for Πέτρον καὶ Ἰωάνην.
  8. L12 (and L21). Replaced ὁ δὲ εἶπεν (aor.), a Lukan-Matthean minor agreement, with καὶ λέγει (hist. pres.).
  9. L13. Substituted ὑπάγετε for πορευθέντες.
  10. L13. Added εἰς τὴν πόλιν, which he saw in Luke 22:10.
  11. L24. Substituted ἀπαντήσει for συναντήσει.
  12. L30. Added καί.
  13. L31. Replaced εἰς ἣν εἰσπορεύεται with ὅπου ἂν εἰσέλθῃ.
  14. L32-33. Replaced καὶ ἐρεῖτε with εἴπατε.
  15. L35. Added ὅτι, a Lukan-Matthean minor agreement in omission.[119]
  16. L36. Substituted ὁ διδάσκαλος λέγει for λέγει σοι ὁ διδάσκαλος.
  17. L38. Added μοῦ.
  18. L45. Substituted καὶ αὐτός for κἀκεῖνος.
  19. L47. Added ἕτοιμον.
  20. L48. Added καί.
  21. L48. Added ἡμῖν, perhaps reflecting the ἡμῖν with ἑτοιμάσατε in L14.
  22. L49. Substituted καὶ ἐξῆλθον for ἀπελθόντες δέ.
  23. L51. Added οἱ μαθηταί.
  24. L52. Added καὶ ἦλθον εἰς τὴν πόλιν, a Lukan-Matthean minor agreement in omission.
  25. L55. Added καί.

This pericope provides a good example of the way in which the author of Mark edited his sources. In this pericope we have 25 (or perhaps more) changes in just 5 verses of Mark, of which 11 (nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 24) are relatively sure to be Mark’s changes. The other 14 possible Markan changes are supported by circumstantial evidence, that is, they become more probable because of Mark’s method of continually introducing changes to the text. The author of Mark, not the author of Luke, is responsible for these changes.[120]

Matthew’s Version

Lowe argues that Matthew presents the more Hebraic version of Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb, and also is the closest of the three synoptic accounts to the Hebrew vorlage:

Three of the central phrases in Luke’s story of the pitcher-man are definitely un-Hebraic: ἑτοιμάσατε ἡμῖν τὸ πάσχα ἵνα φάγωμεν (v. 8; not paralleled in either Matt. or Mark); κεράμιον ὕδατος βαστάζων (v. 10; Mark identical); and ὅπου τὸ πάσχα μετὰ τῶν μαθητῶν μου φάγω (v. 11; Mark identical). Less striking, but nevertheless the wrong word order, are: κἀκεῖνος ὑμῖν δείξει (v. 12; likewise Mark καὶ αὐτὸς ὑμῖν δείξει). And lacking a conj. between two finite verbs: ποῦ θέλεις ἑτοιμάσωμεν (v. 9; not paralleled in either Matt. or Mark).[121] Of those 5 phrases: a) parallel to the one in v. 11 (ὅπου τὸ πάσχα μετὰ τῶν μαθητῶν μου φάγω), Matt. has the correct word order for a Hebraic origin; b) the other 4 have no parallel in Matt. at all; c) two of them (vv. 8 [ἑτοιμάσατε ἡμῖν τὸ πάσχα ἵνα φάγωμεν] and 9 [ποῦ θέλεις ἑτοιμάσωμεν]) do not even have a parallel in Mark. So even Mark is less un-Hebraic than Luke in this part of the pericope. The three phrases shared by Luke and Mark are identical (except καὶ αὐτὸς vs. κἀκεῖνος), so all relationship hypotheses are equally conceivable in respect of them: Mark borrowing from Luke or vice versa or both using a shared Gk. source. But the absence of the other two phrases in Mark actually favors him over Luke. There may be the appearance of one or two Hebraisms in Luke’s elaboration. Our criterion, however, should not be occasional Hebraisms (which could be biblical flourishes or even accidental) but a continuous Hebraic text. This Luke definitely does not have in vv. 8-12: all 5 verses are un-Hebraic in a greater or lesser degree, whereas the non-miraculous version of Matt. does correspond to a continuous Heb. text. My conclusion is that a) the whole story of the pitcher-man is an anecdotal addition at the Gk. stage; b) the version of Matt. is Hebraic almost from beginning to end; c) Lk’s version is superior, at most, in the opening words of the 1st v.; d) this pericope provides no substantial support for any version of Luke priority; e) on the contrary, were we to judge from this pericope alone, and did not know about the excellent versions of Luke in other places and about (the Gk.) Matt.’s evident borrowing from Mark elsewhere, we would have to conclude that the order of development is Matt.-Mark-Luke.

Other authorities disagree. Especially significant is the opinion of Davies-Allison (3:456):

[In Matt. 26:17-19] Matthew has made several interesting changes to Mark. Most of them shift the emphasis away from Jesus’ foreknowledge to ‘his obedient seizure of his καιρός’ (G. Barth, in TIM, p. 144, n. 1) and the disciples’ obedience to him. He has (i) greatly abbreviated; (ii) referred to ‘the disciples’ in general rather than two in particular (…v. 18); (iii) omitted both the man with a water jar and mention of an upper room and in general made the scene less picturesque; (iv) inserted ‘my time is at hand’ (v. 18 diff. Mark 14.14); (v) turned a question of Jesus into a statement (v. 18 diff. Mark 14.14); and (vi) added an apparent allusion to Exodus [Ex 12.28] (…v. 19) and so underlined the new exodus theme.[122]

Matthew’s version looks contrived because of its structure: “Note that our verse [Matt. 26:19] repeats the vocabulary of v. 17 and so makes an inclusio: V. 17: οἱ μαθηταί—τῷ Ἰησοῦ—ἑτοιμάσωμεν—τὸ πάσχα; V. 19: οἱ μαθηταί—ὁ Ἰησοῦς—ἡτοίμασαν—τὸ πάσχα” (Davies-Allison, 3:458). Davies and Allison (3:458) further point out that “Ex 12.28 directly follows Moses’ instructions for Passover.” The reading of LXX is: καὶ ἀπελθόντες ἐποίησαν οἱ υἱοὶ Ισραηλ καθὰ ἐνετείλατο κύριος τῷ Μωυσῇ καὶ Ααρων οὕτως ἐποίησαν, surprisingly similar to Matt. 26:19: καὶ ἐποίησαν οἱ μαθηταὶ ὡς συνέταξεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἡτοίμασαν τὸ πάσχα.

The appearance of ὁ Ἰησοῦς in Matthew’s account (Matt. 26:17, 19; L5, L54) also stands in the way of accepting Matthew’s version of the story. Twice in Matthew’s shorter version of the story, in contrast to Mark and Luke’s versions, Jesus’ name appears. In first-century Jewish culture, addressing a sage by name was a social taboo. The Synoptic Gospels reflect this cultural aversion: only demons (Luke 4:34; 8:28), lepers (Luke 17:13) and a beggar (Luke 18:38) impolitely address Jesus by name. Apparently, disciples were reluctant even to refer to a sage by name in writing. Therefore, it is probable that the addition of Ἰησοῦς in the Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb story was a Matthean innovation.

Luke’s Version

It appears that Luke’s version of Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb, although it has undergone some redaction, is the closest of the Synoptic Gospels to the pre-canonical Greek text. Apparently, at this point in his Gospel, Luke copied from FR (Luke’s Source 2) rather than from Anth. (Luke’s more Hebraic Source 1).[123] As usual when Luke depended on FR, we find fewer minor agreements and Hebraisms.

However, although Luke’s version of Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb is considerably redacted, remarkably, it still preserves the story more faithfully than Mark or Matthew. It is much easier to reconstruct the pre-synoptic Greek sources of DT texts such as, e.g., Luke 7:8; Matt. 8:9 and Matt. 13:16-17; Luke 10:23-24 than TT texts like those found in this pericope. Nevertheless, even when Luke and Matthew’s texts have undergone redaction, as in this pericope (in Matthew’s case, serious redaction), it is still possible to reconstruct their literary ancestors with considerable success.[124]

Results of This Research

We return now to the questions raised at the outset of this inquiry:

  1. Is the Water Jar Carrier story a foreign element, a later addition to the pericope? As we have seen, Matthew’s version of the Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb is seriously redacted, including significant abbreviation. The absence of the Water Jar Carrier in Matthew, therefore, is not a strong argument against its authenticity. Mark reworked the Water Jar Carrier incident to draw out similarities to the Young Donkey story, but the Lukan version is Hebraic, historically credible, and therefore likely to have derived from a Hebrew Ur-text. The two minor agreements (ὁ δὲ εἶπεν and the omission of ὅτι) within the segment also argue in favor of its authenticity. If this portion of the pericope is legendary, then it was already legendary in the Synoptic Gospels’ Heb. ancestor, something that is difficult to believe.
  2. Had Jesus, unbeknown to his disciples, previously made arrangements with a Jerusalem landlord to use one of his rooms, or did Jesus prophesy the meeting with the homeowner’s slave with divine foresight? The interpretation that Jesus depended on divine foreknowledge is possible, but unnecessary in the Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb story. It is entirely likely that Jesus had friends and acquaintances in Jerusalem since pilgrimage to Jerusalem was an annual tradition in Jesus’ family and Jesus may have maintained this tradition in his adulthood. Even under normal circumstances prearrangements to reserve a space would probably have been necessary because of the large number of pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for the feast. But Jesus was probably also aware that there was a traitor among his band of disciples. In order to conceal the location from the traitor, Jesus privately arranged with a Jerusalem landlord to reserve a place for Jesus and his disciples to eat the Passover lamb so that the celebration would not be disturbed. Jesus sent two of his most trusted disciples to make preparations, and only when the meal was ready did Jesus lead the rest of his disciples to the house, by which time it was too late for the traitor to reveal the location to Jesus’ enemies.
  3. Where was Jesus when he sent his disciples to make preparations? Were they sent after the lamb had already been slaughtered, or was slaughtering the lamb in the Temple part of the preparation they were intended to carry out? Three scenarios seem possible: 1) Jesus and the disciples slaughtered the lamb and took it outside the walls of Jerusalem. From there Jesus sent Peter and John to make preparations; 2) From somewhere outside the walls of Jerusalem Jesus sent Peter and John to enter the city, slaughter the lamb and make preparations; 3) After slaughtering the lamb, Jesus sent Peter and John from the Temple Mount into the city to prepare the lamb for the Passover meal. We have ruled out the first scenario since it seems highly improbable that Jesus would take the slaughtered lamb beyond the limits of Jerusalem’s sanctity. The second scenario is possible, but it does not match Jesus’ instructions to enter the city, follow the water jar carrier and make preparations in the house where he leads them. (At what point are the disciples to slaughter the lamb in the Temple?) The third scenario is attractive, but it remains to be seen whether it was possible to describe leaving the Temple Mount as entering the city. It is also possible that Luke or FR added the words “as you enter the city” to the Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb story.


Reconstructing Triple Tradition pericopae is always a challenging task. Whenever Luke depended on FR the challenge is increased since FR edited the Anthology’s material, often improving the Greek style and deleting or obscuring Hebraisms. Nevertheless, careful analysis shows that a Hebraic source ultimately stands behind the Synoptic Gospels and that this source is best preserved in Luke. Luke’s version of the Preparations for Eating Passover Lamb preserves details—such as Jesus taking the initiative to send the two disciples (see the discussion to L4-5), commanding the disciples to prepare the lamb (cf. m. Pes. 7:2), and using Hebraic idiom (cf. L24-25)—that fit the cultural context of first-century Judaism.

I would like to thank Joshua N. Tilton and Lauren S. Asperschlager for assisting me in the revision of this LOY segment.


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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] The impetus for this commentary and reconstruction was the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research’s monthly seminar that took place on July 7, 2008 (Attending: Gary Alley; Sharon Alley; Leehee Aynav; Guido Baltes; David Bivin; Randall Buth; Akiva Cohen; Yair Furstenberg; Malcolm Lowe; Halvor Ronning), and the subsequent written discussion that Bivin had with Baltes, Buth, Cohen and Lowe who responded to his written summary of the seminar discussions.
  • [4] “The Passover meal was traditionally held at night (Exod. 12:8; cf. m. Pesaḥ 10:1), not in the early evening” (France, Matt., 983).
  • [5] We might have used the noun סֵדֶר (sēder, “order”) in speaking about the paschal meal and liturgy for which Jesus and his disciples were preparing; however, סֵדֶר first appears in Jewish literature only in the Middle Ages (Even-shoshan, 901). We do not find the word “meal” in this passage about preparations for a meal. The Hebrew word for “meal” is סְעוּדָה, which appears 27xx in the Mishnah, but never with פֶּסַח, as in the expression סְעוּדַת פֶּסַח. The expression סְעוּדַת פֶּסַח is sometimes heard in modern Hebrew, but is absent from ancient Hebrew sources, including rabbinic literature. Another Hebrew word for “meal,” אֲרֻחָה, found once in MT (Prov. 15:17), is not used of the Passover meal.
  • [6] See Comment to L57.
  • [7] Collins (646) states: “…one can say that this story is a legend or that it has legendary features. It is similar in form to the account of the finding of a young donkey in [Mark] 11:1-7…. This passage was probably not in Mark’s passion source.”
  • [8] Lowe argues that Matthew’s version of this pericope is the more Hebraic text (see “Redaction Analysis: Matthew’s Account” below), which, along with the absence of the Water Jar Carrier section (Luke 22:10; Mark 14:13), indicates that Matthew preserves the better text. In contrast, B. Green (210) states: “Mk’s version of this episode has a very close formal correspondence to that of the fetching of the colt in Mark 11:1-6 (= Matt. 21:1-7). Mt’s drastic reduction (similar to his re-handling of the miracle stories) has destroyed this parallelism. The prophetic sign disappears….”
  • [9] Cf., e.g., 1 Sam. 2:31; 26:10; 2 Kgs. 20:17; Isa. 7:17; 39:6; Jer. 9:24; 16:14; 19:6; 23:5, 7; 30:3; 31:27, 31, [38]; 33:14; 48:12; 49:2; 50:27; 51:47, 52; Ezek. 7:10; 21:30, 34; Hos. 9:7; Amos 4:2; 8:11; 9:13; Zech. 14:1; Mal. 3:19; Ps. 37:13; Eccl. 2:16; 12:1.
  • [10] We often find יוֹם + בָּא translated in LXX as ἥκω + ἡμέρα (cf. Ps. 36:13; Hos. 9:7; Isa. 7:17; Ezek. 21:30, 34).
  • [11] There are five instances of ἡ ἡμέρα [in sing.] + ἔρχεσθαι in LXX: ἡ ἡμέρα αὐτοῦ ἔλθῃ (1 Kgdms. 26:10); ἰδοὺ ἡμέρα κυρίου ἔρχεται…ἡ ἡμέρα ἡ ἐρχομένη (Mal. 3:19); ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἡμέρα κυρίου ἀνίατος ἔρχεται (Isa. 13:9); and ἡμέρα ἀπωλείας ἦλθεν (Jer. 26:21). The plural ἡμέραι ἔρχονται appears in: 1 Kgdms. 2:31; 4 Kgdms. 20:17; Amos 4:2; 8:11; 9:13; Zech. 14:1; Isa. 39:6; Jer. 9:24; 16:14; 19:6; 23:5, 7; 28:52; 30:18; 31:12; 37:3; 38:27, 31, 38.
  • [12] The combination ἡμέρα + πρώτη occurs in: Exod. 12:15 [2xx], 16; Lev. 23:7, 35, 39, 40; Num. 7:12; 28:18; 29:13; Deut. 16:4; Judg. 20:22; 2 Kgdms. 16:23; 2 Chr. 29:17; 2 Esd. 18:18; 1 Macc. 3:29; Dan. 10:12. Of these 17 occurrences, 10 are translations of בַּיוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן (Exod. 12:15, 16; Lev. 23:7, 35, 39, 40; Num. 7:12; 28:18; Deut. 16:4; Judg. 20:22); 2 are translations of מִן הַיֹּום הָרִאשֹׁון (Dan. 10:12; 2 Esdr. 18:18); one is a translation of מִיוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן (Exod. 12:15); one is a translation of בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם (2 Kgdms. 16:23); and one is a translation of [לַחֹדֶשׁ] בְּאֶחָד (2 Chr. 29:17).
  • [13] Exod. 23:15; 34:18; Lev. 23:6; Deut. 16:16; 2 Chr. 8:13; 30:13, 21, 22; 35:17; 1 Esd. 1:17; 7:14; 2 Esd. 6:22; cf. Luke 22:1: Ἤγγιζεν δὲ ἡ ἑορτὴ τῶν ἀζύμων ἡ λεγομένη πάσχα (“Drew near the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called Passover”) and cf. Luke 2:42: τῇ ἑορτῇ τοῦ πάσχα (“for the Feast of Passover”).
  • [14] In the works of Josephus the Feast of Unleavened Bread is usually referred to as ἡ τῶν ἀζύμων ἑορτή or ἡ ἑορτή τῶν ἀζύμων (as in LXX). The places in the works of Josephus in which he mentions both ἑορτή and τὰ ἄζυμα are: Ant. 2:317; 3:321, 248-250; 9:263, 264, 271; 10:70; 11:109; 14:21; 17:213-214; 18:29; 20:106; J.W. 2:10, 224, 244, 280; 4:402; 5:99; 6:290, 421-427 (cf. Philo, Spec. 1:181). The places in which he mentions both τὸ πάσχα and τὰ ἄζυμα are: Ant. 3:249; 10:70; 14:21; 18:29; 20:106; J.W. 2:10.
  • [15] Lindsey observed that the transitions between pericopae were especially susceptible to Greek redaction. See Robert L. Lindsey, “From Luke to Mark to Matthew: A Discussion of the Sources of Markan ‘Pick-ups’ and the Use of a Basic Non-canonical Source by All the Synoptists.”
  • [16] There are no examples of יוֹם הַמַּצוֹת in MT, DSS or rabbinic sources.
  • [17] See Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Pisha chpt. 8, on Exod. 12:15 (ed. Horovitz-Rabin, 26 [l. 18], 28 [l. 6]).
  • [18] Thackeray (note to Ant. 2:317; Loeb) comments on Josephus’ use of the number “eight”: “Originally seven days, Nisan 15-21 (Lev. xxiii. 6, cf. Ex. xii. 18 f., and so Josephus himself A. iii. 249), ‘but from time immemorial the Jews outside of Palestine have added a day to their principal festivals’ (Oesterley-Box, Religion and Worship of Synagogue, ed. 2, 385).” However, it is more likely that Josephus speaks of eight days not because of Jewish Diaspora practice, nor because he was writing for the non-Jewish world, but because Jewish homes in the land of Israel were leaven-free for part of Nisan 14.
  • [19] By and large Matthew accepted Mark’s opening, although he omitted the explanation in L3.
  • [20] Cf. Exod. 12:15, 16; Lev. 23:7, 35, 39, 40; Num. 7:12; 28:18; Deut. 16:4; Judg. 20:22; 4Q216 V, 4, 11; 4Q365 23 I, 10; 11Q XL, 9; m. Suk. 5:6; m. Taan. 4:3; m. Tam. 7:4; m. Kel. 17:14; m. Nid. 10:3. Compare the rabbinic phrase בְּיוֹם טוֹב הָרִאשׁוֹן in: m. Eruv. 3:8; m. Suk. 3:13, 14; m. Meg. 3:5.
  • [21] Exod. 12:16; Lev. 23:7, 35; Num. 28:18.
  • [22] Lev. 23:39, 40; Num. 7:12; Deut. 16:4.
  • [23] Exod. 12:15.
  • [24] Judg. 20:22.
  • [25] For L1-2 Lindsey suggested the reconstruction בְּאֶחָד לְחַג הַמַּצּוֹת (LHNT, 536). In MH we find the structure בְּ + בְּאֶחָד + month (“on the first [day] of [the month of]…”). This structure appears 19xx in the Mishnah (m. Shek. 1:1 [בְּאֶחָד בַּאֲדָר]; 3:1 [בְּאֶחָד בְּנִיסָן (2xx), בְּאֶחָד בְּסִיוָן, בְּאֶחָד בְּתִשְׁרִי (2xx)]; m. Rosh Hash. 1:1 [בְּאֶחָד בְּנִיסָן, בְּאֶחָד בֶּאֱלוּל, בְּאֶחָד בְּתִשְׁרִי (2xx), בְּאֶחָד בִּשְׁבַט]; m. Taan. 4:5) [בְּאֶחָד בְּטֵבֵת, בְּאֶחָד בְּטֵבֵת (2xx)]; m. Bech. 9:5 [בְּאֶחָד בְּסִיוָן (2xx), בְּאֶחָד בְּנִיסָן, בְּאֶחָד בְּתִשְׁרִי, בְּאֶחָד בֶּאֱלוּל]). Likewise, this MH expression appears in DSS, e.g., 4Q252 I, 11; 4Q252 I, 22; 4Q321 II, 1 (2xx); 4Q321a V, 4. Notice, e.g., באחד בראשון (“on the first [day] of the first [month]”) in DSS (4Q321 III, 7; 4Q321a I, 2). However, in Hebrew the way of citing a date on a calendar is not the same as referring to a day in a succession of days. See Segal, 196-197.
  • [26] See Halvor Ronning, “Who Made the ‘Omission,’ Luke or Mark?” under the subheading “Historical, Cultural, Literary and Linguistic Evidence.”
  • [27] According to the Mishnah, “An Israelite [i.e., a Jew who was not a priest] slaughtered, and the priest accepted it” (m. Pes. 5:6; cf. t. Pes. 3:11). This custom is also attested by Philo, who writes:

    In this festival many myriads of victims from noon till eventide are offered by the whole people, old and young alike, raised for that particular day to the dignity of the priesthood. (Spec. 2:145; Loeb)

    See Safrai-Safrai, 10.

  • [28] Cf. m. Zev. 5:8. This practice, however, was opposed by the author of Jubilees (49:16-20) and the author of the Temple Scroll (11Q19 [11QTa] XVII, 8-9) who held to a more ancient halachic tradition attested in 2 Chr. 35:13 and Ezek. 46:20-24, according to which the Passover sacrifices had to be eaten in the courtyard of the Temple (see Safrai-Safrai, 10-11). The fact that Jesus ate the Passover lamb with his disciples in a Jerusalem home rather than in the Temple courtyard indicates that Jesus did not follow the Essene halachah.
  • [29] See the references to “companies” in Jos., J.W. 6:423 (“a company [φατρία] of not less than 10”); m. Pes. 7:13 (“two companies [חֲבוּרוֹת] that were eating [two separate Passover offerings] in one house”); and m. Pes. 9:9 (“a company [חֲבוּרָה] whose Passover offering was lost”). Cf. Safrai-Safrai, 14. According to Robinson, “Jesus and his disciples constituted one company; and he, as the Master, directed some of them (Peter and John) to attend to the purchase and slaughtering of the lamb, and other necessary preparations.” Thomas Robinson, The Evangelists and the Mishna: Illustrations of the Four Gospels Drawn From Jewish Traditions (London: James Nisbet, 1859), 144.
  • [30] The Pentateuch appears to call the 14th of Nisan “Passover”: “On the fourteenth day of the first month the LORD’s Passover is to be held. On the fifteenth day of the month there is to be a festival” (Num. 28:16-17 [cf. Lev. 23:5-6]; NIV). However, the JPS version renders: “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, there shall be a passover sacrifice to the LORD, and on the fifteenth day of that month a festival.” The NIV misunderstood פֶּסַח as referring to the festival rather than to the lamb, as evidenced by the words of its translation: “Passover is to be held.”
  • [31] It is difficult to believe that Luke created the phrase ᾗ ἔδει θύεσθαι τὸ πάσχα (L3), since usually Luke transmitted his two sources, Anth. and FR, faithfully. Therefore, the phrase probably originated with FR, which Luke copied throughout this pericope.
  • [32] According to Gundry (Matt., 523), “[Matt.] 26:17 (Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7) Matthew leaves Mark’s ‘day’ to be understood and omits ‘when they were sacrificing the Passover.’ The latter omission probably stems from awareness that his Jewish reading audience did not need the explanation.” See below, Comment to L3 (ὅτε τὸ πάσχα ἔθυον [Mark 14:12]).
  • [33] צָרִיךְ is not found in HB, but the noun צֹרֶךְ appears once in HB (2 Chr. 2:15; rendered in LXX by χρεία), signaling the greater use of the root צ-ר-ך in MH, where צֹרֶךְ is found, e.g., 81xx in the Mishnah. In the Hebrew fragments of Ben Sira צֹרֶךְ appears 29xx and צָרִיךְ‎ 6xx. In DSS, צֹרֶךְ is found once (11Q19 [11QTa] XLVII, 9), and although DSS attempted to follow the style of HB, צָרִיךְ appears twice (4Q197 [4QTobb ar] 3 I, 1; 4Q372 1 I, 17). The word צָרִיךְ (in masc. and fem. sing. and plur.) appears more than 6,000xx in rabbinic literature. It is found over 200xx in the Mishnah, including הָיָה צָרִיךְ‎ 5xx (m. Yom. 4:1; m. Taan. 2:3; m. Bab. Metz. 7:1; m. Bab. Bat. 9:6; m. Neg. 14:8; all 5 = לֹא הָיָה צָרִיךְ), and הָיוּ צְרִיכִים‎ 2xx (m. Par. 3:4; m. Sot. 9:6); approximately 300xx in Tosefta, including הָיָה צָרִיךְ‎ 8xx, of which seven are לֹא הָיָה צָרִיךְ.
  • [34] Δεῖ appears only 45xx in LXX, yet over 300xx in Josephus and over 100xx in NT. In the Synoptic Gospels δεῖ is found 32xx (Matt.: 8xx; Mark: 6xx; Luke: 18xx). It also appears 22xx in Acts (13xx in 2 Acts), so δεῖ could certainly be Luke’s redaction at times in Luke-Acts.
  • [35] J. Green (755) views Luke’s use of δεῖ here as a theological motif (citing Luke 9:22; 13:33; 22:22, 37; 24:7, 26, 44; Acts 1:16; 17:2-3), indicating “divine necessity”: “…Luke’s attribution of the timing of sacrifice to divine necessity—a necessity rooted in Scripture (cf. Exod 12:6, 21; Deut 16:1-7), but portrayed by Luke in such a way that one may be reminded of the progression of events related to Jesus’ death according to divine necessity.” Green’s conclusion is doubtful.
  • [36] The verb שָׁחַט is a better candidate for reconstruction than זָבַח. Although, as Bendavid (16) points out, שְׁחִיטָה and זְבִיחָה have the same sense in MH, שָׁחַט is always the verb that is used when speaking of sacrificing the Passover lamb (e.g., m. Pes. 3:7; 5:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; 6:5, 6; 8:1, 2, 3, 5, 7; 9:9; not one instance of זָבַח in the Mishnah’s tractate Pesahim!). Even when the accompanying noun is זֶבַח, the verb remains שָׁחַט (cf. m. Men. 2:4, הַשּׁוֹחֵט אֶת הַזֶּבַח).
  • [37] See David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style.”
  • [38] “They sacrifice” is a translation of θύουσιν (“they are sacrificing”), the same verb (θῦσαι) used by Mark and Luke in L3, and the same continuative form of the verb, ἔθυον (impf.), used by Mark (and hinted at by Luke’s impf. ἔδει). θύουσιν is also used to refer to the Passover sacrifice in Jos., Ant. 17:213. The continuative form of θῦσαι is again used in referring to the Passover sacrifice in Ant. 2:313 (θύομεν, “we are sacrificing”), but the aor. θύσαντες is used in Ant. 9:271.
  • [39] “Initiative on the part of the disciples is rare and mostly plays a negative role” (Nolland, Matt., 1,062). On the relationship between a sage and his disciple, see Safrai, “With All Due Respect…
  • [40] For תַּלְמִיד (talmid, “disciple”) as a synonym for, or parallel to, עֶבֶד (‘eved, “servant,” “slave”), see Matt. 10:24-25. Cf. the famous saying of Antigonus of Socho (early second cent. B.C.E.): “Don’t be like slaves [עֲבָדִים] who serve their master [lit., “the master”; hārāv הָרָב] in order to receive a reward…” (m. Avot 1:3).
  • [41] The verb προσέρχεσθαι is found often in the Apocrypha (including 8xx in Ben Sira where, in its Hebrew fragments, we find equivalents twice [Sir. 6:19, קרב; and 9:13, קרבת]).
  • [42] “Mark 14.12 has needless ἀπελθόντες” (Davies-Allison, 3:457). Hagner (2:763) calls ἀπελθόντες a “redundant participle.”
  • [43] See Comment to L15.
  • [44] Elsewhere in NT we find the καί / δέ + main verb + object + εἰπών construction 5xx (Luke 9:21-22; John 18:22; Acts 7:26, 27; 19:21). We find additional καί + main verb in the past tense syntax in Matt. 26:19 (καὶ ἐποίησαν οἱ μαθηταὶ…καὶ ἡτοίμασαν…) and Mark 14:16 (καὶ ἐξῆλθον οἱ μαθηταὶ καὶ ἦλθον…καὶ εὗρον…καὶ ἡτοίμασαν).
  • [45] “Compare the omission of ‘send them out two by two’ in [Matt.] 10.1 diff. Mark 6.7. (But in [Matt.] 21.1; Mark 11.1 Matthew retains ‘two disciples’.)” (Davies-Allison, 3:457 n. 14).
  • [46] For example, Rabban Gamaliel (first cent. C.E., the grandson of Gamaliel, the teacher of Paul) sent two disciples to Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa (first cent. C.E.) to ask him to pray for his sick son (y. Ber. V, 9d; b. Ber. 34b). For the Hebrew text and English translation of this story, see Healing Shimon’s Mother-in-law, Comment to L16. The justification for traveling in pairs was apparently Eccl. 4:9-10: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up” (RSV). Additional examples include: m. Sot. 1:3; m. Mak. 2:5; t. Sanh. 10:5[11]; t. Ohol. 17:6. The Talmud also speaks of disciples studying in pairs: b. Shab. 63a; b. Taan. 7a. Often the rationale for sending two disciples seems to be so that there will be two witnesses.
  • [47] See Sending the Twelve: Commissioning, Comment to L30.
  • [48] Peter, James, and John appear together in Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28; Mark 5:37 = Luke 8:51; Mark 13:3; 14:33 [cf. Matt. 26:37]; Acts 1:13. On the order Peter, James and John versus Peter, John and James, see Choosing the Twelve, Comment to L19-25.
  • [49] Examples of this sense of אָמַר in HB are: 1 Sam. 16:16; 1 Chr. 21:17; 2 Chr. 24:8; Neh. 13:9, 19, 22; Esth. 1:17; 9:14; Ps. 105:31, 34; 107:25; Dan. 1:3. See HALOT, I אמר, sense 6.
  • [50] See Robert L. Lindsey, A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark (2d ed.; Jerusalem: Dugith, 1973), 81.
  • [51] Gen. 27:13: πορευθεὶς ἔνεγκε = לֵךְ קַח; Gen. 37:14: πορευθεὶς ἰδέ = לֶךְ נָא רְאֵה; Gen. 43:2: πάλιν πορευθέντες [free translation (cf. Gen. 44:25), lit., “again going,” in place of the usual ἀποστράφητε, ἐπιστράφητε, ἀναστράφητε, or ὑποστράφητε] πρίασθε = שֻׁבוּ שִׁבְרוּ; Exod. 5:11: πορευόμενοι συλλέγετε = לְכוּ קְחוּ; Exod. 5:18: πορευθέντες ἐργάζεσθε = לְכוּ עִבְדוּ;‎ 2 Kgs. 5:10 (LXX: 4 Kgdms. 5:10): πορευθεὶς λοῦσαι = הָלוֹךְ וְרָחַצְתָּ [inf. abs., “going”]; 1 Macc. 7:7: πορευθεὶς ἰδέτω (like the conjectured Hebrew undertext of the Life of Yeshua, the Hebrew text of 1 Macc. was lost in antiquity).
  • [52] E.g., Matt. 11:4 and Luke 7:22 (no parallel in Mark) have almost identical wording for eleven words and are likely authentically reflecting a Hebrew undertext: καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· πορευθέντεςἀπαγγείλατε Ἰωάννῃ ἃ ἀκούετε καὶ βλέπετε (Matt. 11:4); καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· πορευθέντες ἀπαγγείλατε Ἰωάννῃ ἃ εἴδετε καὶ ἠκούσατε (Luke 7:22).
  • [53] But only once does BH have הַפֶּסַח with a double impv. with vav: Exod. 12:21: מִשְׁכוּ וּקְחוּ לָכֶם צֹאן לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתֵיכֶם וְשַׁחֲטוּ הַפָּסַח (“Select and take for yourselves lambs for your families, and slaughter the Passover offering”).
  • [54] We advocate a mixed style when reconstructing the conjectured Hebrew behind the Synoptic Gospels: BH for narrative portions of the text, and MH for dialogue. At L13 we switch to a MH style in HR: לְכוּ וְהָכִינוּ עָלֵינוּ אֶת הַפֶּסַח (HR, L13-14). This also will be the case for the words of the disciples’ question (HR, L17, L19-20) and Jesus’ reply (HR, L22-25, L27-29, L31-34, L36, L38-39, L42-46, L48).
  • [55] Or “association.”
  • [56] See comments about “prepare” at L7, L13-14, L19 and L57.
  • [57] As already noted by John Gill in the year 1746 in his comment on Matt. 26:17 (Gill, 7:324-325).
  • [58] See explanation at L42-44 τὸ πάσχα…φάγω.
  • [59] On this apparently Aramaic form representing a Hebrew word, see Randall Buth and Chad Pierce, “Hebraisti in Ancient Texts: Does Ἑβραϊστί Ever Mean ‘Aramaic’?” (JS2, 75). Because the Greek equivalent of פֶּסַח is πάσχα, Greek speakers notice what at first glance appears to be a theologically pregnant wordplay: πάσχα – πάσχω (“to suffer”).
  • [60] See Buth and Pierce, “Hebraisti in Ancient Texts” (JS2, 87-88).
  • [61] Shmuel Safrai, “Early Testimonies in the New Testament of Laws and Practices Relating to Pilgrimage and Passover” (JS1, 47-48).
  • [62] In MT we find אַיֵּה‎ 53xx, אֵיפֹה‎ 10xx and אָנָה‎ 42xx.
  • [63] In the Mishnah אֵיכָן occurs 26xx (m. Ber. 7:5; m. Shab. 1:3; 16:1, 3; m. Eruv. 10:15; m. Pes. 10:6; m. Yom. 5:5; m. Shek. 6:1, 3; m. Suk. 3:9; m. Meg. 2:3; m. Bab. Kam. 9:7, 8; m. Mak. 2:4; 3:10; m. Shevu. 3:1 [2xx]; 8:2, 3 [3xx], 4, 5, 6 [2xx]; m. Tam. 7:3) while הֵיכָן occurs only 3xx (m. Tem. 1:1; m. Tev. Yom 4:7; m. Yad. 3:1).
  • [64] “The implication of the disciples’ question is that the Passover lamb has just been slaughtered, so there is now need to retire to suitable quarters. They are asking where those quarters are” (Evans, Mark, 373).
  • [65] Papyrus 75, א and A agree against B not to add σοι φαγῖν τὸ πάσχα at Luke 22:9.
  • [66] Nolland’s judgment on Luke 22:10 is: “Luke makes a series of changes of vocabulary and syntax in line with his own preferences. In the move from ὑπάγετε (lit. ‘depart’; Mark 14:13) to ἰδοὺ εἰσελθόντων ὑμῶν (lit. ‘behold, as you enter’), Luke not only uses favored words but also recognizes that after his earlier reconstruction an imperative at this point would be out of place” (Nolland, Luke, 1,033).
  • [67] Scholars including Gill (7:325), Swete (331) and Collins (647) favor the “divine foreknowledge” interpretation. According to Boring (387), “This sub-unit is often called the ‘preparation for the Passover,’ but Mark devotes only a brief clause devoid of details to the actual preparation (16c, ‘they prepared the Passover meal’). A more appropriate title would be ‘Jesus’ foreknowledge and authority exhibited in securing a room in which to celebrate the Passover.’”
  • [68] Lowe suggests that “the miraculous character of the [water carrier] story is paralleled most closely by the story, in Matt. alone, of the miraculous payment of the temple tax (Matt. 17:24-27: ‘Go to the sea, and the first fish you catch…’), a tale that is thoroughly un-Hebraic in form.” Notice also Jesus’ prophetic knowledge of Nathanael (John 1:47-48) and the Samaritan woman (John 4:18) in un-Hebraic contexts.
  • [69] Proponents of this view include Hagner (2:765), Evans (373), Plummer (Luke, 492) and W. Mason (248). But Hooker (335) disagrees: “There is no suggestion that Jesus is in hiding, or that the preparations are being carried out in secret; anyone could have followed the disciples just as they followed their guide.”
  • [70] France (Mark, 565) comments: “In Mark’s narrative we have had no basis to suppose that Jesus had any supporters or even acquaintances in Jerusalem. This is one of several indications of the artificiality of Mark’s narrative structure.”
  • [71] See Chana Safrai, “Jesus’ Devout Jewish Parents and Their Child Prodigy.”
  • [72] See Moulton-Howard, 15, 23, 447; Moule, 183. Ἰδού appears 1,092xx in LXX, but the word never appears in the works of Josephus, who wrote almost half a million words! Of its 200 occurrences in NT, ἰδού appears 126xx in the Synoptic Gospels, 19xx in the first half of Acts and 26xx in Revelation. These are the more Hebraic portions of NT. By contrast, it appears but 4xx in John and 4xx in the second half of Acts.
  • [73] Matthew and Luke agree 18xx on the use of ἰδού at the same spot in their narratives: 2 of these are agreements with Mark (TT; Matt. 19:27 = Mark 10:28 = Luke 18:28; Matt. 20:18 = Mark 10:33 = Luke 18:31), 8 are agreements against Mark (TT; Matt. 8:2 = Luke 5:12; Matt. 9:2 = Luke 5:18; Matt. 9:18 = Luke 8:41; Matt. 10:16 = Luke 10:3; Matt. 17:3 = Luke 9:30; Matt. 24:23 = Luke 17:21; Matt. 24:25 = Luke 17:21; Matt. 26:47 = Luke 22:47) and 8 are found in DT contexts (Matt. 11:8 = Luke 7:25; Matt. 11:10 = Luke 7:27; Matt. 11:19 = Luke 7:34; Matt. 12:41 = Luke 11:32; Matt. 12:42 = Luke 11:31; Matt. 23:38 = Luke 13:35; Matt. 24:26 = Luke 17:23; Matt. 24:26 = Luke 17:23). Matthew and Mark agree 6xx on the use of ἰδού at the same spot in their narratives: 2 of these are agreements with Luke (TT), 2 are agreements against Luke (TT; Matt. 12:47 = Mark 3:32; Matt. 13:3 = Mark 4:3) and 2 are in TT contexts where Luke has no corresponding phrase (Matt. 26:45 = Mark 14:41; Matt. 26:46 = Mark 14:42).
  • [74] See Bendavid, 343.
  • [75] Boring (387) comments on Mark’s ὑπάγετε εἰς τὴν πόλιν (Mark 14:13; L13): “The command to ‘go into the city’ presupposes they are outside it.”
  • [76] Lindsey (LHNC, 83, 919, 972) supposed that the author of Mark remembered the ἀπαντᾶν in Luke 17:12 and used it as a replacement for the συναντᾶν in Luke 22:10. The conjectured substitution of ἀπαντᾶν here is similar to Mark’s replacement of Luke’s πολλαπλασίονα with ἑκατονταπλασίονα (Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30), in that ἑκατονταπλασίονα also appears only twice in NT (Mark 10:30; Luke 8:8). See “LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style.”
  • [77] Therefore, in respect to foreknowledge, “A man will meet you,” rather than “You will meet a man,” would have no significance, as France (Mark, 563) remarks: “ἀπαντήσει ὑμῖν (rather than ‘you will meet’) suggests that the man is on the lookout for them, rather than a chance encounter.”
  • [78] Cf., e.g., Keener (624 n. 46): “Perhaps because slaves…, especially female slaves, often carried water (Test. Job 21:2-3; cf. John 2:7; Gen. Rab. 53:13; 93:6; cf. Eurip. Electra 55, 140…), the disciples could readily recognize the particular man in Mark 14:13.”
  • [79] Guido Baltes (personal communication) traces this suggestion to M.-J. Lagrange of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, who wrote, “If one can judge from the present day, I see only women carrying jars, while men usually carry water in skins.” See Marie-Joseph Lagrange, Evangile selon Saint Marc (Paris: J. Gabalda, 1911), 350.
  • [80] Note that in Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, chpt. 21 (ed. Schechter, 45) we find a description of a typical workman who carries a wine jug (חָבִית) on his shoulder.
  • [81] R. Steven Notley, “Jesus and the Essene Passover,” under the subheading “The Myth of an Essene Quarter.”
  • [82] Ibid.
  • [83] On the other hand, δεῖνα occurs 12xx in Philo, 2xx in papyri and perhaps 1x in Pseudepigrapha (Luz [3:353 n. 25] cites Lucian, Soloec. 5:6; Revivescentes 38; Indoct. 4; and Demosthenes, Or. 13.5).
  • [84] “Matthew represents the unnamed host as τὸν δεῖνα; like the English ‘such and such’ it is a way of representing a name which one does not know or has some reason for not actually reporting. In Matthew’s scene it represents some name Jesus is understood to have actually mentioned” (Nolland, Matt., 1,062). “‘Go into the city to so-and-so’…clearly implies prearrangement on the part of Jesus” (Fitzmyer, 1,383).
  • [85] We find Luke’s λέγει σοι in Bel and the Dragon (v. 34): τάδε λέγει σοι κύριος ὁ θεός (“These things says to you the LORD God”). The Mishnah does not have the phrase אוֹמֵר לְךָ, but it has 27xx אוֹמֵר לוֹ, אוֹמֵר לָהֶם, etc. In MT אוֹמֵר לְךָ appears once in Isa. 41:13: הָאֹמֵר לְךָ (LXX: ὁ λέγων σοι). In MT when God or another (e.g., a king) sends messengers to someone to communicate a message, the words of the sender are couched in a standard form: “Thus said so-and-so.” The word order in MT and LXX is verb (first) and name of sender (second), as in Luke, and the verb for “say” is in the pres. indic.: λέγει. In 1 Kgs. 20:2-3 (LXX: 3 Kgdms. 21:2-3), for example, when King Ben-hadad of Aram sends messengers to Ahab, MT reads, כֹּה אָמַר בֶּן הֲדַד (“Thus said Ben-hadad”), and LXX translated as τάδε λέγει υἱὸς Αδερ (“These things says the son of Ader”). In 3 Kgdms. 21:2, LXX even has the phrase εἰς τὴν πόλιν (“into the city”), as in Luke 22:10. When Jacob sends messengers to his brother Esau (Gen. 32:4-5), he commands them to say (according to LXX): οὕτως ἐρεῖτε τῷ κυρίῳ μου Ησαυ οὕτως λέγει ὁ παῖς σου Ιακωβ (“Thus you will say to my lord Esau: ‘Thus says your servant Jacob’”). Not only are the messengers to say, οὕτως λέγει ὁ παῖς σου Ιακωβ, the word order of Luke, but Jacob’s instructions are, οὕτως ἐρεῖτε τῷ κυρίῳ μου Ησαυ, with the future ἐρεῖτε of the verb λέγειν, just as in Luke 22:11 (L33), in contrast to the εἴπατε of Matthew and Mark. For similar messenger examples, see Gen. 45:9; Exod. 4:22 (with ἐρεῖς); 5:1, 10; 7:16-17 (with ἐρεῖς), 26 (with ἐρεῖς); 8:16 (with ἐρεῖς); 9:1 (with ἐρεῖς), 13 (with ἐρεῖς); Num. 20:14; 1 Kgs. 20:5, 9 (LXX: 3 Kgdms. 21:5, 9); 21:19 (LXX: 3 Kgdms. 20:19); 2 Kgs. 1:16 (LXX: 4 Kgdms. 1:16); 9:18 (LXX: 4 Kgdms. 9:18). Notice λέγει τὸ πνεῦμα in Rev. 14:13.
  • [86] ὁ διδάσκαλος (ho didaskalos, “the teacher”) is used in NT as a title of Jesus only three other contexts: in Mark 5:35; Luke 8:49 (“While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’”); John 11:28 (“she went and called her sister Mary, saying quietly, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you’”; RSV); and John 13:13-14 (“You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am”; RSV). The ὁ διδάσκαλος in Matt. 10:24-25 (cf. Luke 6:40) is the Hebraic generic usage meaning “a teacher.” (In that saying ὁ κύριος stands in parallel to ὁ διδάσκαλος, and δοῦλος stands in parallel to μαθητής.)
  • [87] Plummer (Luke, 493) wrote, “Like ὁ κύριος ([Luke] xix. 31), this implies that the man knows Jesus, and is perhaps in some degree a disciple.” Cf. Hagner, 2:765.
  • [88] Or, if it is impossible to omit a possessive pronoun, Greek authors prefer to place it before the noun. They rarely place possessive pronouns after the noun, as in Hebrew syntax.
  • [89] These 6 instances are: 4 Kgdms. 18:22; Isa. 1:10; 35:2; 52:10; 61:6; Jer. 8:14.
  • [90] An example of the omission of a possessive pronoun in the transition from Hebrew to Greek can also be found in the two versions of the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew’s more Hebraic version reads, Πάτερ ἡμῶν (= אָבִינוּ, “Our Father”; Matt. 6:9), whereas Luke’s improved Greek version reads simply, Πάτερ (“Father”; Luke 11:2).
  • [91] Lindsey (LHNS, to Matt. 26:18) points out the parallel in Luke 21:8 in a less redacted context, “Many will come…saying, ‘…The time is near (ὀ καιρὸς ἤγγικεν)!’”
  • [92] Luz (3:354) comments: “The readers will probably understand this statement of Jesus first of all in terms of [Matt.] 26:2: Jesus’ καιρός is the time of his passion…. Similarly, but even more pointedly, the Johannine Jesus will then designate the passion as ‘my time’ (7:8; cf. v. 6) and as ‘my hour’ (2:4; cf. 7:30; 8:20; cf. 12:23; 13:1; 17:1). The language and the theology of the Gospel of John are previewed in Matthew.”
  • [93] Gundry (Matt., 525) observes that “the concept of nearness appears often in eschatological passages (see, e.g., Isa. 13:6; Zeph. 1:7; Rev. 1:3; 22:10).”
  • [94] Martin argues that katalyma is “incorrectly translated as ‘inn’” at Luke 2:7 and that “the reference is to the guest room of a house” (Raymond A. Martin, Studies in the Life and Ministry of the Historical Jesus [New York: University Press of America, 1995], 12-13).
  • [95] Ibid.
  • [96] The noun κατάλυμα appears 14xx in LXX as the translation of several different Hebrew words: אֹהֶל, מָלוֹן, לִשְׁכָּה, מִשְׁכָּן, נָוֶה.
  • [97] Depending on the context, עֲלִיָּה can mean “upstairs room (upper room),” “upper floor (upper story)” and “attic.” Furstenberg suggests that κατάλυμα may represent עֲלִיָּה, which is found in m. Shab. 1:4: “…in the עֲלִיָּה [upstairs room] of Haninah b. Hezekiah b. Gurion.” The noun עֲלִיָּה appears 52xx in the Mishnah. The three most interesting and illustrative of these occurrences are: m. Eruv. 6:6, where טְרִיקְלִין (ṭriklin, “banquet hall”), חֲדָרִים (adārim, “rooms”) and עֲלִיּוֹת (‘aliyōt, “upstairs rooms”) are found in the same passage; m. Nid. 2:5, where we find the phrase הַחֶדֶר הַפְּרוֹזְדּוֹר וְהָעֲלִייָּה (“the room, the front hall and the upstairs room”); and m. Bech. 7:3, where חֶדֶר (“room”) and עֲלִייָּה (“upstairs room”) appear in the same clause.

    The עֲלִיָּה was usually accessed by an outside staircase. On houses in first-century Israel, see Shmuel Safrai, “Home and Family,” in Safrai-Stern (728-792, esp. 730-732).

  • [98] The noun τρικλίνιον is not found in LXX or NT. The Hebrew equivalent of τρικλίνιον, טְרִיקְלִין, appears 5xx in the Mishnah (m. Eruv. 6:6; m. Bab. Bat. 1:6; 6:4; m. Avot 4:16; m. Mid. 1:6). The most well known of these occurrences is in m. Avot 4:16: “Rabbi Akiva says: ‘This world is like a פְרוֹזְדּוֹר [front hall, antechamber, vestibule] before the world to come. Prepare yourself in the פְרוֹזְדּוֹר so that you will enter the טְרִיקְלִין [banquet hall].’” We learn the dimensions of a טְרִיקְלִין from m. Mid. 1:6: “He who wants to build a טְרִיקְלִין, [builds it] 10 by 10 cubits [15 by 15 feet].”
  • [99] In LXX חֶדֶר, which occurs 39xx in MT, is translated with ταμιεῖον 31xx.
  • [100] The noun חֶדֶר is found 8xx in the Mishnah: m. Eruv. 6:6; m. Sot. 8:7 (bridal chamber); m. Bab. Bat. 3:7; 4:1; m. Bech. 7:3; m. Ohol. 8:6; m. Nid. 2:5; 7:4.
  • [101] By chance the form תַּלְמִידַי (“my disciples,” the equivalent of οἱ μαθηταί μου in L43) does not appear in the Mishnah; however, as reported by the Talmud, R. Eliezer said: “Much Torah have I taught, yet my disciples [תַּלְמִידַי] have only drawn from me as much as a painting stick from its tube” (b. Sanh. 68a). For a second example of תַּלְמִידַי, see y. Taan. 2:8 [65d]. In DSS תַּלְמִיד does not occur in any form.
  • [102] Compare the contrast between master and student in a sentence from the Mishnah: “Rabban Gamaliel stood up and kissed him [his disciple] on his head” (m. Rosh Hash. 2:9).
  • [103] E.g., the combination κἀκεῖνος (with the pron. ἐκεῖνος in the nom. in all its genders and numbers) appears in Luke only here (Luke 22:12) and in Luke 11:7; in Mark only 3xx (Mark 4:20; 16:11, 13 [both occurrences in Mark’s “Longer Ending”]); and once in Matthew (Matt. 15:18). The combination appears in LXX 5xx (3 Kgdms. 3:21; Job 31:15; Wis. 18:1; Isa. 66:5; Susanna 57), but in the works of Josephus 88xx (e.g., Ant. 1:9, 323; 2:3, 94; 4:107; etc.).
  • [104] The Koine ἀνάγαιον (variants: ἀνάγειον, ἀνάγεον) is the equivalent of the Classical ἀνώγαιον or ἀνώγεον. In Xenophon (Anabasis 5.4.29; cf. Antiphanes, Frag. 312) we find ἀνώγεον referring to “the upper floor of a house, used as a granary” (see entry “ἀνώγαιον” in LSJ, 169).
  • [105] A more common word for upstairs room is ὑπερῷον, the LXX equivalent of עֲלִיָּה, which appears 4xx in NT (Acts 1:13: 9:37, 39; 20:8), 17xx in LXX, 5xx in Josephus and 2xx in Philo.
  • [106] Fitzmyer (1,383) comments: “In LXX Ezek 23:41 klinē estrōmenē, ‘a spread couch,’ suggests the cushions needed for reclining at table.” Gould (261) comments: “ἐστρωμένον—spread or strewn, is used of making up a bed or couch, and here of making up, or furnishing a room with couches.” Nolland (Luke, 1,034) comments: “ἐστρωμένον is literally ‘spread out,’ but here ‘set up for a banquet.’” France (Matt., 984) reasons that since “Mark 14:15 says that the room was already prepared for the meal before the disciples came…all they had to prepare was the food.”
  • [107] The noun רהיטים and adj. מרוהט are modern Hebrew and not found in BH or MH.
  • [108] On participle + δέ + aorist as the equivalent of vav-consecutive + vav-consecutive, see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L37-41.
  • [109] On the author of Mark’s redactional methods, see “LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style.”
  • [110] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:121-122.
  • [111] See Dos Santos, 48-49.
  • [112] Luz (3:354) comments: “Matthew’s language follows here a widespread biblical formula that Rudolf Pesch has significantly called Ausƒührungsformel (“execution formula” or “fulfillment formula”). It appears several times in Matthew (1:20-25; 21:2-7; cf. 28:15)…. For Matthew discipleship means to belong to the family of those brothers and sisters of Jesus who do the will of the heavenly Father (12:50). This makes it understandable why it would have made no sense for him if only two disciples had carried out Jesus’ command and the others had not been involved.”
  • [113] Gen. 18:5; 31:16; 41:28; 42:14; 45:21; Exod. 8:6; 10:29; 23:13; 33:17; Lev. 17:12; Num. 18:24; Josh. 1:3; 3 Kgdms. 2:31; 1 Esd. 9:10; Tob. 12:11; 1 Macc. 10:56; 14:22; 4 Macc. 2:6; Ps. 121:1; Job 34:5; Sir. 19:14 (no Hebrew equivalent); Isa. 14:24; Ezek. 13:7; Dan. 6:13; 12:6.
  • [114] Here, as elsewhere in this passage, τὸ πάσχα probably refers to the Passover lamb, not the Passover meal (see above, Comment to L42-44). Although Christian readers today are more accustomed to interpreting these verses as though they referred to preparations for a meal, standard Hebrew lexicons and dictionaries give no examples of this usage of פֶּסַח. Even-shoshan (1074) lists only the senses “Passover festival” and “Passover sacrifice.” Jastrow (1194) indeed lists “Passover meal” as one of the three meanings of פֶּסַח, but gives no examples of this meaning of the word. We have found no examples in ancient Hebrew literature of פֶּסַח in the sense of “Passover meal.” Can פֶּסַח in the phrases φαγεῖν τὸ πάσχα or ἑτοιμαζεῖν τὸ πάσχα (L14-15, L19-20, L42-44, L57) ever mean “eat the Passover meal”? Apparently not. Note that in Luke 22:15, when Jesus said “I have so very much wanted to eat this Passover,” the meat of the roasted lamb would have been right before them. Here, too, the reference is to the Passover lamb.
  • [115] Lightfoot (342-343) details the necessary preparations. Hooker (335): “The preparations included the provision of unleavened bread, wine and bitter herbs, and the roasting of the lamb, which was killed in the temple in the afternoon.” Note again m. Pes. 7:2: “An anecdote about Rabban Gamliel, who said to Tabi his slave: ‘Go and roast the Passover lamb for us on a grill.’” For the Passover meal and the Passover holiday, as it was eaten and as it was celebrated in the Second Temple period, see Safrai-Safrai, 9-15.
  • [116] Taylor (536) comments about these parallels: “These agreements show that the two stories are composed by the same writer, but they do not suggest that they are doublets. The parallelism is like that already noted in the narratives of the Deaf Mute (vii. 31-7) and the Blind Man at Bethsaida (viii. 22-6) and illustrates the tendency of Mark to repeat himself.”
  • [117] On the historical present in Mark, see David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton, “<ahref=””>LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style,” under the subheading “Mark’s Freedom and Creativity.”
  • [118] See Comment to L49.
  • [119] “As often, Matthew omits Mark’s recitative ὅτι. Luke agrees with the omission” (Gundry, Matt., 525, to Matt. 26:18).
  • [120] For more on Mark’s reworking of his sources, see “LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style.”
  • [121] Matt. 26:17 (L6-8) reads: ποῦ θέλεις ἑτοιμάσωμεν.
  • [122] Cf. Luz (3:351-353), Beare (223) and Hagner (2:763).
  • [123] Wherever Luke copied from FR, one cannot view Anth. directly, but only indirectly through FR. One can compare the much more “Hebraic Greek” of Anth. with the less “Hebraic Greek” of FR in, e.g., the two versions of the Lord’s Prayer: Matthew’s beautiful Hebraic-Greek version (Matt. 6:9-13), presumably copied from Anth., and Luke’s redacted “Greek-Greek” version (Luke 11:2-4), copied from FR.
  • [124] Most authorities assume that Matthew copied Mark’s text, occasionally inserting words and passages from conjectured Q (Matthew’s second source, the source he shared in common with Luke). Each place where Matthew deserts the text of Mark is extremely significant, since at these points in his text it is possible that Matthew began copying his second source. In this pericope Matthew frequently deserts Mark (e.g., in L40-41), and these differences include three minor agreements with Luke against Mark, and another three agreements with Luke against Mark in omission. In such a synoptic situation, it behooves us to proceed with caution, carefully considering each element in the text of Matthew’s Gospel. Lowe’s arguments are well taken.

Cataloging the Gospels’ Hebraisms: Part Five (Parallelism)

Revised: 20-Dec-2012

As indicated in the last article, “parallelism” is a central feature of Hebrew poetry. It permeates the words of biblical poet and prophet. The frequency with which parallelism occurs in the utterances of Jesus is surprising, and leads inevitably to the conclusion that the Greek source (or, sources) used by the authors of Matthew, Mark and Luke derive(s) from a Greek translation (or, translations) of Hebrew documents.

Scholars have investigated Hebrew poetry, including parallelism, for hundreds of years. They have divided parallelisms into 3 categories: 1) Synonymous Parallelism, 2) Antithetical Parallelism, and 3) Synthetical Parallelism (see C. F. Burney, The Poetry of Our Lord: An Examination of the Formal Elements of Hebrew Poetry in the Discourses of Jesus Christ [Oxford: Clarendon; 1925], 15-16). For an excellent article on Hebrew poetry, see James Muilenburg, “Hebrew Poetry,” Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1972), 13:671-81. Also superb is the online article, “Parallelism in Hebrew Poetry,” in the Jewish Encyclopedia (article written by the Editorial Board of the encyclopedia).

In this article we will survey the first of the above three categories. Synonymous parallelism is the repetition of a thought in different but synonymous, or equivalent, words. Before suggesting that similar structures are found in the New Testament, let’s look at examples of synonymous parallelism in the Hebrew Scriptures.

We have no portion in David,

No share in Jesse’s son. (2 Sam. 20:1; JPS)

The parallels are “portion” = “share,” and “David” = “Jesse’s son,” thus:

portion | David
share | Jesse’s son

In other words, “share” is the equivalent of and a substitute for “portion,” while “Jesse’s son” refers to the same person as “David.”

Here are more examples of synonymous parallelism:

The LORD roars from Zion,

Shouts aloud from Jerusalem. (Amos 1:2; JPS)

roars | Zion
shouts aloud | Jerusalem

 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! (Zech. 9:9; RSV)

rejoice greatly | O daughter of Zion
shout aloud | O daughter of Jerusalem

At [that] time I will gather you,

And at that time I will bring you [home]. (Zeph. 3:20; JPS)

In this parallelism, “gather you” is a synonym for “bring you home.”

I will turn your festivals into mourning

And all your songs into dirges (Amos 8:10; JPS)

your festivals | mourning
your songs | dirges

Let me know Your paths, O LORD;

teach me Your ways. (Ps. 25:4 [25:3]; JPS)

let me know | your paths
teach me | your ways

He who corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,

and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. (Prov. 9:7; RSV)

corrects | scoffer | gets himself |abuse
reproves | wicked man | incurs | injury

Now, let’s turn to examples of synonymous parallelism in the Gospels:

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. (Luke 1:46-47; RSV)

my soul | magnifies | the Lord
my spirit | rejoices in | God my Savior

Don’t go in the way of the Gentiles,

and don’t enter a city of the Samaritans. (Matt. 10:5; my trans.)

In this verse, “go,” that is, “travel,” is a synonym for “enter,” and “Gentile roads” is a synonym for “Samaritan cities.” Assuming a Hebrew undertext, the singular nouns “way” and “city” probably should be understood as carrying a plural sense: “ways” and “cities.” In Hebrew, the singular of a noun is often used in a plural sense. In Ezekiel 20:47, for instance, “tree” means “trees.” See Bivin, “Jesus and the Enigmatic ‘Green Tree.’

You build the tombs of the prophets,

and decorate the monuments of the righteous. (Matt. 23:29; my trans.)

build | tombs | prophets
decorate | monuments | righteous

 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,

killing the prophets

and stoning those who are sent to you. (Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34; RSV)

killing | the prophets
stoning | those sent to you

Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed,

or hidden that will not be known. (Luke 12:2; RSV)

covered up | revealed
hidden | known

This your brother was dead, and is alive again;

he was lost, and is found. (Luke 15:32; my trans.)

dead | alive
lost | found

Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?

Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? (Matt. 7:9-10; NIV)

bread | stone
fish | snake

Nation will rise against nation,

and kingdom against kingdom. (Luke 21:10; RSV)

nation | against | nation
kingdom |against | kingdom

For with the judgment you judge, you will be judged;

and with the measure you measure, it will be measured to you. (Matt. 7:2; my trans.)

judgment you judge | you will be judged
measure you measure | it will be measured to you

There were many widows in Israel in the days of [the prophet] Elijah…,

And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha. (Luke 4:25, 27; RSV)

widows in Israel | [the prophet] Elijah
lepers in Israel | the prophet Elisha

He who is not with me is against me,

and he who does not gather with me scatters. (Matt. 12:30; Luke 11:23; RSV)

is not with me | is against me
does not gather with me | scatters

…for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good,

and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt. 5:45; RSV)

makes sun rise | on the evil and good
sends rain | on the just and unjust

If I tell you, you will not believe,

and if I ask you, you will not answer. (Luke 22:67-68; RSV)

In the Hebrew of Jesus’ time “ask” was a synonym for “tell.” That knowledge helps us understand this passage, and also helps explain the story about Jesus in the temple at age twelve: he was “sitting among the sages, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at…his answers” (Luke 2:46-47). Strange. Logically, we would expect, “were amazed at…his questions.” However, in Jewish discussion and debate, in Jesus’ time and still today, asking the right question demonstrates knowledge of the answer! “Questions” are “answers”!

(The master of that slave will come)

on a day when he does not expect him

and at an hour he does not know. (Matt. 24:50; Luke 12:46; my trans.)

on a day | he does not expect
at an hour | he does not know

Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward,

and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. (Matt. 10:41; NIV)

Synonymous parallelism is often more extended than just one couplet, for example:

Behold! Darkness shall cover the earth,

And thick clouds the peoples;

But upon you the LORD will shine,

And His Presence be seen over you.

And nations shall walk by your light,

Kings, by your shining radiance. (Isa. 60:2-3; JPS)

Here are several striking examples of extended synonymous parallelism found in the teaching of Jesus:

Ask, and it will be given you;

seek, and you will find;

knock, and it will be opened to you.

For every one who asks receives,

and he who seeks finds,

and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matt. 7:7-8 = Luke 11:9-10; RSV)

A disciple is not above his teacher,

and a slave is not above his master.

It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher,

and the servant like his master. (Matt. 10:24-25; RSV)

For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?

Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others?

Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matt. 5:46-47; RSV)

Blessed are your eyes, for they see,

and your ears, for they hear….

many prophets and righteous men [hypothetical reconstruction: “many prophets and messengers”]

longed to see what you see,

and did not see it,

and to hear what you hear,

and did not hear it. (Matt. 13:16-17; RSV)

Do you think these Galileans [that Pilate had slaughtered] were worse sinners than all the (other) Galileans…

or do you think [the eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell] were greater debtors than all the others who resided in Jerusalem? (Luke 13:2, 4; my trans.)

Here, in Luke 13:2, 4, as in the Lord’s prayer, “debtors” is the equivalent of “sinners.”

Do not worry about your soul [i.e., your life],

what you will eat,

nor about your body,

what you will wear.

Isn’t the soul more than food,

and the body more than clothing? (Matt. 6:25; my trans.)

Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!

If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon,

they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.

And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths [literally, Hades].

If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom,it would have remained to this day.

But I tell you that it will be more bearable for [literally, the land of] Sodom on the day of judgment than for you. (Matt. 11:21-24; NIV)

Hallowed be thy name,

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done. (Matt. 6:9-10; KJV)

It is likely that the petitions Jesus taught his disciples, “hallowed be thy name,“ “thy kingdom come,“ and, “thy will be done“ (Matt. 6:9-13), constitute a three-part synonymous parallelism. If so, these three phrases would not be different requests, but rather, a 3-part parallelism, with the request repeated in typical Hebraic fashion in three nearly synonymous ways, with each of the three reinforcing the idea of the other two, or explaining more fully the implications of the other two. See Brad Young, “The Lord’s Prayer (9): ‘Lead Us Not Into Temptation.’” Therefore, “May your kingdom come” would mean the same as “May your name be sanctified,” and “May your will be done.” If this threesome is a Hebraism, we would learn that “doing God’s will” is the same as “bringing his rule into the hearts of people as more and more persons accept his rule in their lives. “Thy Kingdom come” is not a petition for God to initiate Armageddon, but means the same as, “Hallowed be thy name” and “Thy will be done.”

In Psalms 1:1, we find a 3-part synonymous parallelism:

Blessed is the man

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

nor stands in the way of sinners,

nor sits in the seat of scoffers. (Ps. 1:1; RSV)

walks | counsel | the wicked
stands | way | sinners
sits | seat | scoffers

The Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-10) are even more extended, an 8-part synonymous parallelism!

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who pursue righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3-10; RSV)

Each beatitude is equal to, and has the same sense as, the other seven. In eight slightly different ways Jesus makes his point. For instance, “the meek” is the equivalent of “the poor in spirit,” and “be comforted” is another way of saying, “be satisfied.” Notice, too, that the 1st and 8th beatitudes end with “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” a nice way of bracketing Jesus’ beautiful, poetic creation. All the beatitudes refer to kingdom people, members of Jesus’ movement. In order to be, and remain, in his movement, his disciples had to be the kind of people who continually sought God with all their heart, hungering and thirsting for his salvation.

In the next article in this series, we will expand our discussion to include Antithetical Parallelism.

To read the next article in this series, click here.

Cataloging the Gospels’ Hebraisms: Part Two (Luke 9:51-56)

Revised: 19-Dec-2012 

Rather than looking at isolated words or expressions that appear to be Hebraisms, or, examining a category, or type, of Hebraism, let’s take a complete story from the life of Jesus: Luke 9:51-56, a story found only in the Gospel of Luke. This approach will allow us to gain an impression of the density of Hebraisms that often exists in gospel passages. I followed this approach in writing “Cataloging the Gospels’ Hebraisms: Part One,” pointing out the density of Hebraisms in Matthew 13:16-17. Relatively few of the suggested Semitisms underlying the Greek New Testament constitute clear-cut proof for a Hebrew undertext, but a high density of Hebraisms in a given passage increases the probability that it is “translation Greek,” perhaps a descendant of a Greek translation of a Hebrew source, and raises the chances that any purposed Hebraism in such a passage was translated from a Hebrew source at some point in the transmission process rather than having been originally composed in Greek. Here is a literal English translation of Luke 9:51-56:

And it came to pass in the fulfilling of the days of the going up of him and he the face put of to walk to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers before face of him. And going they entered into a village of Samaritans so as to prepare for him. And they did not receive him because the face of him was walking to Jerusalem. Seeing and the disciples James and John said: “Lord, do you want we may say fire to come down from the heaven and to destroy them?” Turning and he rebuked them. And they went to another village.

This is certainly unusual Greek. Just how unusual, we will now see as we detail the Hebraisms in this passage:

  1. And it came to pass…and he the face set…and he sent…and going…and they did not receive…and the disciples James and John said…and he rebuked…and they went…. Notice in this passage the typical Hebrew “and…and…and…and” syntax (syntaxis and polysyndeton), instead of the subordination of clauses with participles and other particles (parataxis) that the Greek language prefers.
  2. in the fulfilling of the days of. The expression “days were fulfilled” is Hebrew for “when the time came.” We find the form מְלֹאת (melot, [the] fulfilling [of]) 5 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. Four of these times, it is followed by ימים (yamim, days), e.g. in Lev. 12:6, וּבִמְלֹאת יְמֵי טָהֳרָהּ (uvimlot yeme tohorah, in the fulfilling of the days of her purification, i.e., when the days of her purifying are completed). Cf. Num. 6:13: “when the time of his separation has been completed.”
  3. of the going up of him. A play on עֲלִיָּה (aliyah, going up), which in Hebrew also can have the senses “pilgrimage” and “ascension.” This is a Hebrew wordplay that probably indicates the author had in mind 2 Kings 1, the story of Elijah’s aliyah to Samaria (vs. 3) and his calling down fire upon the soldiers of Ahaziah, the king of Samaria (vss. 10, 12), and 2 Kings 2, the story of Elijah’s aliyah to heaven in a whirlwind (vs. 11).
  4. he put his face. This is one of the many Hebrew “face” idioms. To “put one’s face” simply means to “turn in the direction of.” This idiom appears many times in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Gen. 31:21; 2 Kgs. 12:17; Jer. 49:15, 17; 51:12). Just like the verb “turn” in English, the Hebrew idiom “put one’s face” can be followed by “to” in the sense of “toward,” or by an infinitive (i.e., “to go,” “to come,” “to attack,” etc.), as in Luke 9:51. A few translators have attempted to provide a more English flavor: “Jesus resolutely set out” (NIV); “He resolutely took the road” (Jerusalem Bible); “He proceeded with fixed purpose” (Weymouth); “He moved steadily onward with an iron will” (Living Bible). This unnecessary emphasis on resoluteness eventually resulted in this translation: “As the days drew near when Jesus would be taken up to heaven, he made up his mind [emphasis the author’s] and set out on his way to Jerusalem” (Good News for Modern Man). From this translation, one might get the impression that Jesus, after much soul searching, at last decided to go through with his crucifixion—as if, until then, he had not been able to make up his mind. The Samaritan Villagers passage is clogged with literalisms such as Hebrew “face” idioms. Because the Greek verb translated “set” found in Luke 9:51 carries “fix” or “establish” as its particular shade of meaning, translators began to insert the idea of fixed purpose. The Hebrew idiom, however, does not connote resoluteness or firmness of purpose. How should Luke 9:51 be translated? Literally, the text reads, “And when the days of his going up were fulfilled, and he put his face to go to Jerusalem.” This is good Hebrew, but hardly Greek or English. An accurate English translation would be: “When the time came for him to go on pilgrimage [to Jerusalem], he headed for Jerusalem.” In other words, when the time came, Jesus went. This verse is simple narration, a description of events. It should not be made to imply that Jesus, after an inner struggle, finally found the courage to go to Jerusalem.
  5. And it was (καὶ ἐγένετο, kai egeneto) when the days were fulfilled, and he set his face. This syntactical structure is probably the most important Hebraism in the New Testament. Gustaf Dalman stated that one should begin any discussion about possible Hebrew sources behind the Greek of the Gospels with an analysis of the καὶ ἐγένετο (“and it came to pass,” lit., “and it was”) structure (Die Worte Jesu, [2nd ed.; Leipzig, 1930]).[1] We find this structure in the Hebrew Bible in two variations: 1) subjectless ἐγένετο (egeneto, was, happened) + time phrase + finite verb (not an infinitive, participle or gerund). This variation occurs twice in Mark (Mark 1:9; 4:4); 5 times in Matthew (Matt. 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1); 22 times in Luke (Luke 1:8, 23, 41, 59; 2:1, 6, 15, 46; 7:11; 9:18, 28, 33, 37; 11:1, 14, 27; 17:14; 19:29; 20:1; 24:30; 24:51). 2) subjectless ἐγένετο + time phrase (as here, in Luke 9:51: “when the days were fulfilled”) + kai (and) + finite verb (as here, in Luke 9:51: “he set”). This variation occurs once in Matthew (Matt. 9:10) and 11 times in Luke (Luke 5:1, 12, 17; 8:1, 22; 9:51; 14:1; 17:11-12; 19:15; 24:4; 24:15). For an example of variation 1, see Gen. 8:5: “And it came to pass at the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark….” For an example of variation 2, see Josh. 24:30 (29): “And it came to pass at that time, and Abimelech…spoke….” These are the same Greek structures we find in the synoptic Gospels, a reflection of the corresponding Hebrew structure from which the Greek of the Septuagint was translated. Both constructions are septuagintal equivalents of the biblical וַיְהִי (vayehi, “it was, it happened, it came to pass”) structures. Both are non-Lukan in style since they do not occur in Acts, in other words, they probably originated in a source Luke used, rather than being composed by Luke. The importance of one of the Hebraic egeneto structures embedded in the Greek of Luke 9:51 cannot be overestimated. Wherever one of these unique structures occurs in the New Testament, it constitutes strong evidence for an underlying Hebrew tradition, a telltale sign of translation Greek.[2] Notice that there are 41 examples of the two Hebraic egeneto structures in the synoptic Gospels. They occur so frequently that we will meet them again and again in our discussions of Hebraisms in the New Testament.
  6. his face was walking. Walking faces? The Hebrew language is especially fond of idioms that incorporate the names of body parts such as head, hands, feet and eyes. “Face” (פָּנִים, panim) is incorporated in scores of Hebrew idioms. Hagar fled from “the face of” Sarai (Gen. 16:6, 8), Jacob from “the face of” Esau (Gen. 35:1, 7) and Moses from “the face of” Pharaoh (Exod. 2:15). Moses “hid his face” in fear (Exod. 3:6). God sometimes “hides his face” in anger (Deut. 31:17, 18; Jer. 33:5). God “sets his face against” idolaters (Lev. 20:3, 5, 6). He can “make his face shine upon” (i.e., deal kindly with) someone (Num. 6:25; Ps. 31:16) or “turn away his face” (2 Chron. 30:9). Joseph, in grief, “fell on the face of” his father (Gen. 50:1). But before a king, one falls upon one’s own face (2 Sam. 9:6). King Joash wept over “the face of” the dying Elisha (2 Kgs. 13:14). Jehu “lifted up his face” to the window out of which Jezebel was looking (2 Kgs. 9:32). In Hebrew, faces can even walk! Moses was willing for God to bring him and the people of Israel to the promised land on condition that God’s “face would walk” with them (Exod. 33:15). It is interesting that the expression “the angel of his face” is once used in Scripture as a synonym for “the angel of the LORD” (Isa. 63:9). Notice that in Isaiah 63:9, “his face” is replaced by “his presence” in almost all English versions of the Bible. The replacement, “presence,” however, is only the attempt of English translators to give sense to the Hebrew word for “face.” Actually, in this verse, “his face” is just another way of saying “the Lord.” What reader of the King James Version does not remember the famous “shewbread” (archaic English for “showbread”)? Modern English translations of the Bible, such as the Revised Standard Version and the New International Version, generally prefer “bread of the Presence” to “shewbread,” but both translations, “shewbread” and “bread of the Presence,” result from the difficulty in translating a Hebrew “face” idiom—in this case, “bread of the face.” A more idiomatic English translation would be simply, “the bread of the LORD.” As we would expect, the table on which the “bread of the face” rested was called the “table of the face” (Num. 4:7).
  7. and he sent messengers. This is characteristic Hebrew word order: “and” + verb + subject (following the verb or included in the verb) + direct object.
  8. before face of him. Here “face” is missing its article because, we may suppose, it is part of another Hebrew “face” idiom: לְפָנָיו (lefanav, “before his face,” that is, “before him”).
  9. and going they entered into. This construction with two verb, one of them superfluous, is similar to such Hebraisms as “and he lifted up his eyes and saw.”
  10. they did not receive him. Here, beneath the Greek phrase καὶ οὐκ ἐδέξαντο αὐτόν (kai ouk edeksanto auton, and not they received him) is perhaps the Hebraism “receive” in the sense of “welcome.”[3] The Samaritans refused to extend Jesus their hospitality: “You are headed for Jerusalem,” where, in Samaritan teaching, a false temple had been located. According to Samaritan belief, God’s true temple was in Samaria on Mt. Gerizim. Jesus’ disciples were likely not serious, but tongue-in-check, when they said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?” However, because of the Samaritans’ rude behavior, the disciples just couldn’t refrain from hinting at the famous story of Elijah and thinking of the punishment these inhospitable Samaritans deserved. Given the situation, it is understandable that the disciples recalled the story of Elijah and his calling down fire from heaven, an event that also took place in Samaria. Their jest was distasteful and Jesus immediately reprimanded them. That there was bad blood between Jews and Samaritans in the time of Jesus is attested by the following quotation from Josephus:

    Hatred also arose between the Samaritans and the Jews for the following reason. It was the custom of the Galileans at the time of a festival to pass through the Samaritan territory on their way to the Holy City. On one occasion, while they were passing through, certain of the inhabitants of a village called Ginae, which was situated on the border between Samaria and the Great Plain, joined battle with the Galileans and slew a great number of them. (Antiq. 20:118, trans. Louis H. Feldman, Loeb Classical Library)

    Although in the time of Jesus there was considerable tension and ill-will between these two nations, Jesus’ mission was to save lives, not destroy them. Similarly, later in Jerusalem, when Jesus’ disciples said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords” (Luke 22:38; cf. Luke 22:51),[4] Jesus reprimanded them with what was probably just one word: דַּי (dai, enough), that is, “Enough of that!” “Enough of that kind of talk.” Although his words of rebuke in Samaria are not recorded, Jesus may have used the same word of reprimand he used in Jerusalem.

  11. his face was walking to Jerusalem. Here we have the same Hebrew idiom that we noticed in Luke 9:51 (see example 6 above).
  12. do you want us to say. In post-biblical Hebrew, “say, speak” also could have the sense “command”; therefore, here we should suppose the sense is: “Do you want us to command fire to fall on these Samaritans?” In this short story of just six verses, we have noticed at least ten Hebraisms. One non-grammatical comment needs to be added: in Luke 9:56, the conclusion of the Samaritan Villagers story, we find these words: “and they went to another village.” Jesus knew that not every Samaritan, or Samaritan village, was hostile to Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. Compare, for instance, Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable (Luke 10:30-37) in which a Samaritan is cast in a positive light as a merciful human being. Jesus did not leave Samaria, which, depending on the lateness of the hour, might have been a physical impossibility, but simply moved on to the next Samaritan village.

As a summary of this discussion, let me suggest an English translation of Luke 9:51-56 based on an understanding of the Hebrew idioms we have noticed:

Idiomatic English translation (as literal as possible while still being acceptable English): When time came for his [Jesus’] pilgrimage, he turned and began walking on his way to Jerusalem. He [Jesus] sent messengers before him who set out and went into a village of Samaritans to prepare for him. But they (the Samaritan villagers) didn’t welcome him because he was on his way to Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire from heaven to destroy them?” Turning, Jesus rebuked them. And they went on to another (Samaritan) village.

Dynamic English translation (reflecting what a modern English-speaker might have written had he originally recorded the story): When it came time for the pilgrimage, Jesus headed for Jerusalem. He sent messengers on ahead. They reached a Samaritan village and entered it to get things ready for his arrival. But the Samaritan villagers didn’t extend to him their hospitality because he was clear he was on his way to Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John observed this (the Samaritans’ response), they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire and burn them up?” Addressing them, Jesus reprimanded them for what they had said. Then they proceeded to another Samaritan village.

What’s the bottom line, the personal application? We learn that disciples of Jesus are not to seek revenge, try to “get even,” “get back at.” Jesus said, “Don’t compete with evildoers” (Matt. 5:39). “If anyone forces you to go a mile, go with him two miles” (Matt. 5:41). Jesus didn’t seek revenge on the Samaritan villagers; instead, he moved on to another village. This action reminds us of Jesus’ advice to his disciples about how to deal with their coming persecution: “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next. Amen! I tell you, you won’t get through all the towns of Israel…” (Matt. 10:23). In other words, “You won’t run out of towns!” a glimpse of the subtle, but powerful, humor of Jesus. Also applicable, and along the same lines, are Jesus’ words to Martha about worry: “Relax! Don’t be anxious. Don’t worry. God will take care of you tomorrow, and in each of the coming days, just as he has done every day until now” (Luke 10:41; and see Matt. 6:25 = Luke 12:22-23). Just move on in faith!

To read the next article in this series, click here.
  • [1] I am indebted for the following analysis of egeneto to Randall Buth and Brian Kvasnica, “Temple Authorities and Tithe Evasion: The Linguistic Background and Impact of the Parable of the Vineyard, the Tenants and the Son,” in Jesus’ Last Week: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels (ed. R. S. Notley, M. Turnage and B. Becker; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2005), 268-273.
  • [2] I apologize for the use of technical grammatical terms, but Hebraic egeneto structure must be defined precisely to avoid confusion with another similar non-Hebraic egeneto structure.
  • [3] The Hebrew idiom “receive his face” is common, so perhaps the Hebrew form of Luke 9:51-53 contained an amazing concentration of “face” idioms: “he set his face…they did not receive his face because his face was going to Jerusalem….”
  • [4] Notice that Jesus’ disciples were armed! See my article, “Jesus’ View of Pacifism.”

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.

Evidence of an Editor’s Hand in Two Instances of Mark’s Account of Jesus’ Last Week?

Revised: 21-May-2013

It has been noted that in instances where Mark’s editorial hand restructured his story, Luke has preserved a more primitive form of the account, a form that is independent of Mark’s influence. Gospel scholars need to properly evaluate Mark’s editorial style and acknowledge that frequently a theological agenda influenced his rewriting.[1]

In 1922, William Lockton proposed a theory of the priority of Luke. According to Lockton’s hypothesis, Luke was written first, copied by Mark, who was in turn copied by Matthew who also copied from Luke.[2]

Forty years later Robert L. Lindsey independently reached a similar solution to the Synoptic Problem suggesting that Luke was written first and was used by Mark, who in turn was used by Matthew (according to Lindsey, Matthew did not know Luke).[3] In Lindsey’s proposal, Mark, as in the more popular Two-document (or Two-source) Hypothesis, is the middle term between Matthew and Luke.

Lindsey arrived at his theory unintentionally. Attempting to replace Franz Delitzsch’s outdated Hebrew translation of the New Testament, Lindsey began by translating the Gospel of Mark, assuming it was the earliest of the Synoptic Gospels. Although Mark’s text is relatively Semitic, it contains hundreds of non-Semitisms that are not present in Lukan parallels. This suggested to Lindsey the possibility that Mark was copying Luke and not vice versa. With further research Lindsey came to his solution to the Synoptic Problem.[4]

By emphasizing the importance of Hebrew for studying the Gospels, Lindsey, and others like the late Prof. David Flusser, followed the pioneering work of Hebrew University professor M. H. Segal, who suggested as early as 1909 that Mishnaic Hebrew showed the characteristics of a living language.[5] Segal’s conclusions have largely been borne out by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Bar Kochba letters, and other documents from the Dead Sea area.

Lindsey’s theory is, of course, a minority opinion. The vast majority of today’s New Testament scholars assume the Two-document Hypothesis: Luke and Matthew wrote independently using Mark and a common source, which is sometimes termed Q. Since, according to this theory, Matthew and Luke relied in Triple Tradition material upon Mark, one would not expect their texts to be superior to Mark’s. Certainly, one would not expect to find Luke and Matthew agreeing against Mark (a “minor agreement”)[6] to preserve a better, more primitive wording. Yet, this is sometimes the case.

The present study will apply the approach championed by Lindsey to two story units taken from the last week of Jesus. Primary attention will focus on Jesus’ visit to the Jerusalem Temple, a story that is frequently referred to as the “Temple Cleansing.” The second part of this study will address the significance of the floating phrase, “For they no longer dared to ask him another question,” for highlighting Mark’s penchant for rewriting his source materials. By applying a literary-philological methodology that seriously considers the trilingual environment (Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic) of the land of Israel in the first century of the Common Era to this limited corpus, we can began to shed light upon Mark’s editorial methods and indicate Luke’s independence from Mark and his access to good material within non-Markan sources.[7]

Jesus’ Last Visit(s) to the Temple

The “Cleansing” according to the Synoptic Gospels

The account of the “Temple Cleansing” preserved by Luke reads as a brief, straightforward narrative:

And he entered the Temple and began to take out the sellers, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house will be a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into ‘a den of bandits.’” (Luke 19:45-46)

Luke and Matthew both agree against Mark in the detail of when Jesus performed this action. Matthew and Luke record that this episode took place upon Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and its Temple, while Mark places the event on the next day stating that upon his initial arrival in Jerusalem Jesus went straight to the Temple, but only “looked around[8] at everything, and, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve” (Mark 11:11). Mark’s account seemingly betrays a secondary editorial hand as part of his narrative agenda to place the Temple incident between Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree on his way into Jerusalem from Bethany (Mark 11:12-14) and the fig tree’s withering upon his return with his disciples to Bethany (Mark 11:20-25) in order to provide his theological commentary on the Jerusalem Temple. He, therefore, shifted Jesus’ action within the Temple to the following day in order to frame it with the cursing and withering of the fig tree. Matthew failed to follow Mark’s literary fashioning of his narrative at this point, simply stating that upon Jesus’ cursing the fig tree “the fig tree withered at once” (Matt. 21:19); thus, in Matthew, the cursing is another miraculous act by Jesus, while Mark’s literary creativity in placing the episode of the Temple cleansing in between the cursing of the fig tree and its withering intends to draw ideological and theological consequences for his readers.

Flusser noted that in Mark’s Gospel Jesus never weeps over Jerusalem, thus severing Jesus’ ties to the holy city; moreover, he suggested that the cursing and withering of the fig tree was Mark’s literary, creative way of presenting Jerusalem, and its Temple, as already judged and cursed.[9] Flusser also detected within Mark a sectarian impulse that influenced and colored his narrative and literary presentation of the life of Jesus.[10] Mark’s bracketing of Jesus’ action within the Temple with the cursing and withering of the fig tree, likely grew out of his sectarian impulses rather than a historical account. Such a sectarian outlook has been preserved in the Essene writings discovered in caves in and around Khirbet Qumran. The Essenes viewed the Temple as defiled, and saw the Temple priests as polluted because of their corruption.[11] Mark’s combining of the cursing of the fig tree with Jesus’ actions in the Temple suggests that Mark possessed a similar sectarian attitude toward the Temple and its priests, and that this generated his editorial reworking of the Temple cleansing and the cursing and withering of the fig tree.

Vincent Taylor suggested that the genesis for Mark’s fig tree cursing derived from a parable like the one preserved in Luke 13:6-9, if not that parable itself, which begins, “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it but found none” (Luke 13:6).[12] Likewise Rudolf Bultmann[13] concluded that Mark 11:12-14 was a Markan literary creation, possibly dependent upon Hosea 9:10 and 16 or Micah 7:1.[14] The entire episode in Mark (and Matthew) is peculiar in its realia by Jesus seeking figs from a fig tree when it was not the season for figs, for one would not find ripe, edible figs on a fig tree in the land of Israel around Passover. The early figs do not ripen for at least another month. Mark contains the editorial comment, “for it (ὁ γάρ) was not the season for figs,” absent in Matthew’s version of the story; thus, Mark portrayed Jesus as seeking to satisfy his hunger from the fruit of a fig tree at a time when edible figs were not found on it—then Jesus cursed the poor fig tree for its lack of edible fruit. The appearance of ὁ γάρ in Mark further suggests Mark’s editorial activity.[15] This seemingly indicates that Mark was the originator of the connection between Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree and his action in the Temple;[16] thus, if the cursing of the fig tree had a historical kernel, it likely occurred at a time of the year when one would find ripe figs upon a fig tree. By Mark’s relocation of the incident to the week before Passover, he created a strange account that fails to connect with the physical realia of the land.

In Mark, upon Jesus’ second venture into the city and the Temple, Jesus began to violently disrupt the economic activities of the Temple—even to the extreme of shutting down the Temple by not allowing “anyone to carry anything through the Temple” (Mark 11:16). Neither Matthew nor Luke agrees with Mark’s presentation of Jesus’ actions within the Temple as his shutting down the Temple completely—a significant Matthean-Lukan agreement against Mark. What in Luke is a protest against the commercialization, and corruption, of the sacred Temple by the chief priests, in Mark, because of Jesus’ shutting down of the Temple, becomes an indictment against the Temple itself.

Luke’s account reads in a terse straightforward manner that upon careful inspection does not betray serious editorial revision (Luke 19:45-46: just 25 words compared to Mark’s 65 and Matthew’s 45). In fact, Luke’s account of the events within the Temple lacks any mention of violence on Jesus’ part. Rather, Jesus’ actions parallel those of his contemporaries, who, like him, saw God’s judgment upon the Temple priests as an inevitable result of the priests’ unrighteousness (cf. Jeremiah’s similar prophetic outburst against the First Temple). Jesus’ actions in Luke are similar to those of Jesus the son of Ananias whom Josephus describes as “a rude peasant” who, in 62 C.E., standing within the Temple precincts, predicted its destruction (War 6.300ff.). His prediction of the destruction of the Temple relied upon allusion to Jeremiah 7, the same chapter that stood at the heart of Jesus’ critique. Some of the leading citizens, most likely the Sadducean high priestly families who ruled the Temple, arrested Jesus the son of Ananias and handed him over to the Roman governor Albinus, and he, like Jesus of Nazareth, refused to answer the governor’s queries and was subsequently beaten.

Scholars have rarely paid attention to the absence of violence within Luke’s presentation of the episode within the Temple. Traditionally, New Testament scholars have interpreted Luke’s “…and began to drive out [ἐκβάλλειν] those who were selling things there” (Luke 19:45) under the influence of Mark’s explicitly violent presentation of the episode: “…and [he] began to drive out [ἐκβάλλειν] those who were selling and those who were buying in the Temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the Temple” (Mark 11:15-16). However, the appearance of ἐκβάλλειν in Luke need not be understood within the same vein as Mark’s presentation. Moreover, Luke (cf. also Matthew’s account) was unfamiliar with Mark’s description of Jesus’ shutting down the Temple. Joseph Fitzmyer is right to question the historicity of such an action, but Fitzmyer fails to note that Jesus’ shutting down of the Temple appears only in Mark and is not preserved in Matthew and Luke. Nevertheless, he rightly comments:

Denial of the historicity [of the Purging of the Temple, Luke 19:45-46] stems mainly from the inability to explain how Jesus as a single individual could have cleaned out the great Court of the Gentiles of the sellers and money changers who did business there with the permission of the Temple authorities and succeeded in it without opposition or at least the intervention of the Temple police. How could he have prevented the court from being used as a thoroughfare for transporting objects (Mark 11:16)? There is, in the long run, no way of answering this question, valid though it may be; we just do not know how Jesus might have done it.[17]

Again, Fitzmyer’s a priori reading of Luke under the influence of Mark prevents him from recognizing Luke’s independent account of the episode that upon close inspection is free of any Markan tendenz. Regarding Jesus’ closure of the Temple in Mark’s Gospel, is it possible that here again, as with the episode of the cursing and withering of the fig tree, one finds Mark’s sectarian outlook influencing his literary reshaping of his sources?

Mark’s presentation of the events of the Temple cleansing proves problematic because it creates the impression that Temple commerce took place within the Temple proper, or even within the “Court of the Gentiles” (where most New Testament commentators place this event) as opposed to outside in the greater Temple complex near the entrance to the Huldah Gates. Mark’s description of Jesus as not permitting anyone to carry anything “through the Temple” places Jesus’ actions upon the Temple mount within the sacred precincts themselves. The stalls of merchants along the southern part of the western wall of the Temple mount have been recently excavated. Here, pilgrims coming from within and without the land of Israel could purchase sacrificial animals and birds or exchange money with money changers who provided the Tyrian coin required for the payment of the annual half-shekel tax. These stalls were located near the southern entrance used by pilgrims known as the Huldah Gates (cf. m. Middot 1.3), or pilgrims could easily access the arched stairway, known today as Robinson’s Arch that led into the Royal Stoa, which occupied the southern stretch of the Temple mount. Pilgrims could not enter the Temple courts via the Royal Stoa. No selling was permitted within the Temple courts, including the Temple’s outer court. A prohibition existed forbidding anyone carrying a purse upon the Temple platform (m. Ber. 9.5), which raises strong objections to the historical quality of Mark’s narrative, and suggests that his version of the event underwent an editorial reworking at his hands.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ actions within the Temple is usually subjected to the editorial bias of Markan priorists; this is primarily evident in the reading given to the word ἐκβάλλειν in Luke’s text: “…and [Jesus] began to drive out those who were selling things there” (Luke 19:45). Flusser has drawn attention to the fact that the Greek word ἐκβάλλειν possesses the nuance “to take out, remove,” a nuance found elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. Mark 1:12), “without any connotation of force.”[18] In the Lukan account of the events, Jesus does not use force, but simply removes the sellers through his quotation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Mark, and Matthew following him, understood the word ἐκβάλλειν in its more common meaning of “to drive out” implying force.[19] Possibly, Mark expanded the violent aspect of his text in a midrashic manner based upon the fuller context of Jeremiah 7. Jesus quoted a portion of Jeremiah 7:11, “…but you have made it a den of robbers [מְעָרַת פָּרִצִים].” Mark possibly expanded his presentation of the events under the influence of Jeremiah 7:15: וְהִשְׁלַכְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מֵעַל פָּנָי. The Septuagint translated the Hebrew verb הִשְׁלִיךְ with the Greek verb ἀπορίπτειν. Could Mark have been influenced by Jeremiah 7:15 to read ἐκβάλλειν in a more violent sense giving such a characterization to the events in the Temple? If Mark’s text is part of a midrashic expansion, it also seems possible that Zechariah 14:21, “On that day there shall no longer be any merchant in the house of the LORD of hosts,” influenced Mark’s portrayal of this episode, and possibly encouraged his sectarian impulse to depict Jesus as effectively shutting down the Temple.

Furthermore, accepting the trilingual (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) character of the land of Israel in the first century and allowing that the canonical Gospels rest upon Greek sources derived from Semitic originals, it is possible that behind the Greek word ἐκβάλλειν in Luke’s text is the Hebrew לְהוֹצִיא meaning “to take out” or “bring out” (cf. Josh 6:22), as originally suggested by Lindsey. Even though the Septuagint regularly used ἐκβάλλειν to translate the Hebrew גֵּרֵשׁ, it did translate לְהוֹצִיא with ἐκβάλλειν four times (2 Chron 23:14; 29:5, 16 [twice]). Accepting the historical order of the Gospels as Luke, Mark, Matthew, John, as proposed by Lindsey, it is difficult to deny the growing degree of violence in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ action in the Temple until, finally, John depicts Jesus as braiding a whip, which he used to drive the sheep and the cattle from the Temple courts, scattering the coins of the money changers and overturning their tables (John 2:13-16). Apparently, the developing presentation of Jesus’ actions in the Temple as violent entered into the Gospel tradition at the Greek level; moreover, by recognizing this, one may rightly conclude that Luke not only is independent of Mark in his account, but preserves the more primitive version of the events, which originally contained no violence.

The phenomenon of increasing violence in the developing Synoptic tradition appears elsewhere in the Gospels—namely, in Luke 21:12-13 = Mark 13:9 = Matthew 24:17-18. In this instance, however, the violence is not perpetrated by Jesus, but rather, there is an anticipated growing level of violence against his disciples.

Luke 21:12-13 Mark 13:9 Matthew 24:17-18
They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.
They will deliver you up to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake.
They will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake.

Luke’s version of this saying, while acknowledging coming troubles, lacks any mention of the beatings and floggings that are found in Mark and Matthew, whose versions quite possibly reflect the struggles of the early Jesus movement toward the end of the first century.

Jesus’ actions at the Temple parallel those of another Jesus who in 62 C.E. predicted the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple (War 6.300ff.). In addition to their common pronouncement against the Temple due to the corruption of the priesthood, both of these figures couched their pronouncements by appealing to the vocabulary of Jeremiah 7. Jesus the son of Ananias standing in the Temple began to cry out: “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds; a voice against Jerusalem and the sanctuary, a voice against the bridegroom and the bride,[20] a voice against all the people.” Both of these first-century prophets of doom alluded to the words of Jeremiah spoken against the corruption of the First Temple to elucidate their message against the corruption of the Second Temple. Jesus of Nazareth included with his citation of Jeremiah 7:11 a citation of Isaiah 56:7. Frequently, rabbinic exegetes combined two distant and unrelated texts because of a common word or phrase shared by the two texts. As Joseph Frankovic has suggested, Jesus was familiar with a version of the text of Jeremiah 7:11 that reads בֵּיתִי, as attested by the Septuagint, as opposed to הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה, the Masoretic reading.[21] If this suggestion is correct, then Jesus likely combined these two passages based on the shared lemma בֵּיתִי. Furthermore, it was common for a sage to quote a single word or phrase from a passage of the Hebrew Bible intending to allude to the entire context of the passage (cf. Jesus’ allusion to Ezek. 34 in Luke 19:10). Apparently, Jesus’ intended, by quoting Jeremiah 7:11, which culminated in the cutting off of the priesthood, to recall the entire context of Jeremiah 7 in order to punctuate his pronouncement.[22]

The terse character of the citations preserved in Matthew and Luke, as opposed to Mark’s fuller and clumsier citation of Isaiah 56:7, betrays a rabbinic sophistication lacking in Mark’s form of the citation where he added the phrase “for all the nations” (Mark 11:17). Moreover, Mark’s presentation of Jesus’ citation as a question posed in a teaching session, “And he taught, and said to them, ‘Is it not written?’” seems out of place in this context, especially a context that depicts Jesus’ actions as part of a violent outburst against those in the Temple (Mark 11:15-16).

A careful literary and philological analysis of the episode of the Cleansing of the Temple reveals Mark’s editorial style. His narrative betrays secondary sectarian and midrashic expansions that uncover Mark’s ideology and theological agenda, but shed little light on the historical events behind his narrative. Moreover, a careful analysis of the Synoptic tradition in this episode displays Luke’s independence of Mark’s editorial biases and pen. Also, Luke’s narrative presents a picture that appears to better reflect the historical events behind the Gospel presentations. Having carefully analyzed Markan editorial style and techniques in his account of the Temple Cleansing, we now turn to a second example from the last week of Jesus’s life where a similar Markan editorial reworking can be detected revealing the secondary quality of Mark’s narrative.

“For they no longer dared to ask him another question”

In the Synoptic tradition the phrase, “For they no longer dared to ask him another question” (Matt. 22:46; Mark 12:34; Luke 20:40), appears in three consecutive pericopae (Aland 281-283). The three Gospels agree in placing the phrase within the context of the events of Jesus’ last week, and each of the Evangelists places the phrase at the conclusion of a series of disputes between Jesus and the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Luke placed the phrase at the conclusion of the “Question about the Resurrection” (Luke 20:27-40). Mark positioned the phrase at the end of the discussion of the “Great Commandment” (Mark 12:28-34), and Matthew used it to conclude the “Question about David’s Son” (Matt. 22:41-46). David Flusser called this example from the Synoptic Gospels the clearest illustration of the Synoptic relationship.[23]

Only the placement of this phrase as it appears in Luke makes sense within the overall literary context of the events leading up to it. In Luke the phrase concludes a series of disputes Jesus had with the Sadducean priestly authorities culminating in the question concerning the resurrection (cf. Luke 20:1, 19-20, 27). In its Lukan context the phrase, “For they no longer dared to ask him another question,” provides a fitting conclusion to a strong interchange between Jesus and the Sadducean priests.

Mark, however, placed the phrase at the conclusion of the discussion of the “Great Commandment” (כְּלָל גָּדוֹל; cf. Matt. 22:36). The nature of the phrase, “For they no longer dared to ask him another question,” assumes a dispute conflict, yet in the discussion of the “Great Commandment” there is no conflict between Jesus and the questioning Pharisaic scribe. In fact, to the contrary, the “Great Commandment” discussion portrays one of many points of agreement between Jesus and the sages of Israel. Mark’s peculiar placement of this phrase is accentuated by the scribe’s expansive repetition of Jesus’ comments about the “Great Commandment” (Mark 12:32-34a). Significantly, Matthew omitted both the scribe’s expansive repetition as well as Mark’s statement, “For they no longer dared to ask him another question” (Mark 12:34b). Luke placed the discussion of the “Great Commandment” in a context outside of Jesus’ last week (Luke 10:25-37). Luke likewise lacks in the “Great Commandment” pericope, as does Matthew, the Markan repetitive expansion by the scribe and the inclusion of the concluding “For they no longer dared to ask him another question.” The appearance of this phrase in Mark’s Gospel appended to the discussion of the “Great Commandment” reflects Mark’s secondary expansion of the episode: we once again see Mark’s rewriting of his source material while Luke preserves a more coherent form of the events.

Matthew’s placement of the phrase, “For they no longer dared to ask him another question,” at the conclusion of the “Question about David’s Son” turned Matthew’s version of this pericope into a conflict story even though Mark and Luke agree that the “For they no longer dared to ask him another question” phrase grew out of teaching Jesus gave.[24] In Matthew, however, this phrase was added to a question posed by Jesus to the gathered Pharisees (see Matt. 22:41-45). By altering the context of this pericope, Matthew possibly followed Mark’s lead in changing an episode that originally lacked a conflict to one in which Jesus was brought into conflict with his Jewish contemporaries—a secondary trait of the Gospel tradition; however, Matthew did not follow Mark in his placement of the phrase, “For they no longer dared to ask him another question.”

It does not seem likely that the original setting of Jesus’ question regarding the son of David was a conflict or dispute. In Luke’s account the question, “How can they say that the Messiah is the descendant [lit., “son”] of David?” apparently reflects the common rabbinic launching of a lesson with a question, or riddle. The sages commonly introduced a lesson with a question that would be answered either by another question from the sage or from one of his disciples. Frequently, these questions derived from a riddle posed by the sage to his disciples surrounding an apparent contradiction in a biblical passage. In this instance, Jesus’ question was precipitated by the apparent contradiction in the description of the Messiah as the descendant of David, while David, the supposed author of Psalm 110, described the Messiah at the time of his writing as “lord” (אֲדֹנִי). Furthermore, the question posed by Jesus as preserved in Luke, “How can one say?” (or, “How is it possible to say?”), literally, “How can they say?” (with an indefinite subject), contains a Hebraism: the third-person, plural form of the active participle employed to avoid using a passive construction.[25] Luke’s version of this episode appears culturally and linguistically authentic, while Matthew’s account is a secondary reworking of his material.

Only the placement of the phrase, “For they no longer dared to ask him another question,” as preserved in Luke fits the logical context of the disputes between Jesus and the Sadducean priestly aristocracy. Both Mark’s and Matthew’s placements of this phrase bear the marks of secondary rewriting, turning non-confrontational episodes into conflict stories. As with Mark’s version of the story of Jesus’ visit to the Temple during Jesus’ last week, Mark’s placement of the phrase, “For they no longer dared to ask him another question,” reveals Mark’s penchant for extensive rewriting and reworking of his material.


Mark’s account of Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple and his placement of the Cursing of the Fig Tree display a secondary reworking by Mark of his material. Likewise, Mark’s movement of the summary phrase, “For they no longer dared to ask him another question,” to the conclusion of the discussion of the “Great Commandment” changed this episode into a conflict story, producing a difficult and incongruous reading. In describing Jesus’ actions in the Jerusalem Temple and in the placement of the floating summary statement, Mark betrays his tendency for rewriting and restructuring his source material. Strikingly, in both instances, Luke preserves a terser, more original form of the text that is independent of Mark’s rewriting. Mark’s editorial reworking of his material, in contrast to Luke’s (and at times, Matthew’s) superior preservation of early material, is a significant challenge to modern New Testament scholarship’s usual reliance upon Mark as the principle source for reconstructing the life and teachings of the historical Jesus. While this study has only examined two examples of Mark’s editorial style, scholars have noted other examples of the secondary nature of Mark’s text, particularly in his account of the events of Jesus’ last week.[26] Furthermore, some scholars have already noted that in many instances where Mark’s editorial hand has restructured his story, Luke preserves a more primitive form of the account—independent of Mark’s influence. Synoptic scholars need to reevaluate Mark’s editorial style and acknowledge that, frequently, a theological agenda influenced his rewriting. The importance of this reevaluation for future Gospel and Historical Jesus studies cannot be overestimated.

  • [1] This article appeared in Jesus’ Last Week: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels (Volume 1) (ed. R. S. Notley, M. Turnage and B. Becker; Leiden: E. J. Brill, ISBN 9789004147904, 2006), 211-224. Jerusalem Perspective wishes to thank Koninklijke Brill NV for permission to publish the article in electronic format. A longer form of the article was published in 2004 as Selected Examples of Rewriting in Mark’s Account of Jesus’ Last Week.
  • [2] William Lockton, “The Origin of the Gospels,” Church Quarterly Review 94 (1922): 216-239 [Click here to read a reissue of this article on]. Lockton subsequently wrote three books to substantiate his theory: The Resurrection and Other Gospel Narratives and The Narratives of the Virgin Birth (London: Green and Co., 1924); The Three Traditions in the Gospels (London: Green and Co., 1926); and Certain Alleged Gospel Sources: A Study of Q, Proto-Luke and M (London: Green and Co., 1927).
  • [3] Robert L. Lindsey, “A Modified Two-Document Theory of the Synoptic Dependence and Interdependence,” Novum Testamentum 6 (1963): 239-263; now reissued as A New Two-source Solution to the Synoptic Problem. Lindsey’s theory postulates four non-canonical documents, all of which preceded the Synoptic Gospels in time, two that were unknown to the Evangelists—the original Hebrew biography of Jesus and its literal Greek translation—and two other non-canonical sources known to one or more of the Gospel writers; see Lindsey, “Conjectured Process of Gospel Transmission,” Jerusalem Perspective 38 & 39 (May-Aug. 1993): 6.
  • [4] Priority of composition order does not necessarily imply originality. Although he suggested that the order of the writing of the Synoptic Gospels was Luke-Mark-Matthew, Lindsey observed that on various occasions Matthew and Mark (although Mark less frequently) preserved the earliest form of the Gospel account.
  • [5] M. H. Segal, “Mishnaic Hebrew and Its Relation to Biblical Hebrew and to Aramaic,” JQR 20 (1908-1909): 647-737. See also Segal’s, A Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew (Oxford, 1927).
  • [6] In the Triple Tradition there may be as many as 1,500 Matthean-Lukan minor agreements, and a similar number of Matthean-Lukan agreements in omission (where Matthew and Luke agreed in omitting words found in Mark’s account).
  • [7] Obviously, for these examples to be compelling, it would be necessary to integrate them into a fuller treatment of the Synoptic Gospels.
  • [8] The word περιβλέπειν has a profile that Robert Lindsey classified as “a Markan stereotype”; see his, A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark (2nd ed.; Jerusalem: Dugith Publishers, 1973), 57-63. The word appears six times in Mark (Mark 3:5, 34; 5:32; 9:8; 10:23; 11:11), but only once in the rest of the New Testament (Luke 6:10, parallel to Mark 3:5).
  • [9] David Flusser, Jesus (3d. ed.; Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2000), 237-250.
  • [10] Ibid.; see also Flusser’s article in the present volume.
  • [11] Philo, Prob. 75; Josephus, Ant. 18.19 (see Louis H. Feldman’s note [Note a] to 18:19 in Josephus [LCL; London: William Heinemann Ltd., and Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927-1965]); CD 4.15-18; 5.6-7; 6.11-13: “For the desert sectaries of Qumran, the Temple of Jerusalem was a place of abomination; its precincts were considered polluted, its priests wicked, and the liturgical calendar prevailing there, unlawful,” E. Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ [175 B.C.–A.D. 135] (ed. G. Vermes, F. Millar, and M. Black; 4 vols.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1979), 2:582. (See also 2:535, 570, 588-589).
  • [12] V. Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark (London: Macmillan, 1955), 459; F. W. Beare, The Earliest Records of Jesus (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962), 206; and R. Steven Notley, “Anti-Jewish Tendencies in the Synoptic Gospels, ” Jerusalem Perspective 51 (Apr.-Jun. 1996): 25.
  • [13] R. Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition (trans. John Marsh; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963), 218.
  • [14] Ibid., 230-231. A. Robin also suggested Micah 7:1, “The Cursing of the Fig Tree in Mark XI. A Hypothesis,” NTS 8 (1961/62): 276-281.
  • [15] Lindsey, in a personal communication. See Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark, 460. According to the Babylonian Talmud (b. Ta‘an. 24a), R. Yose’s son commanded a fig tree “להוציא פירותיה שלא בזמנה” (to put forth fruit out of season).
  • [16] “One theory is that Mark was the first to link this with the entry into Jerusalem and the cleansing of the temple, there being no original connection with these events. If this is so, it is superfluous to ask whether Jesus could expect to find edible fruits on the tree in spring-time at the Passover,” Claus-Hunno Hunzinger, “συκῆ,” in TDNT (vol. 7; ed. G. Friedrich; trans. G. W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), 756.
  • [17] J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (AB 28a; Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1981-1985), 1264. For a discussion of the historicity of Jesus’ dramatic action in the Temple, see Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20, 164-169. Evans comments, “Recent research in the historical Jesus has by and large come to accept the historicity of the temple demonstration” (166).
  • [18] Flusser, Jesus, 138, especially note 8.
  • [19] Cf. W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (4th ed.; trans. W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 236-237.
  • [20] An allusion to Jeremiah 7:34: “Then I will make to cease…from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride; for the land will become a ruin.”
  • [21] Joseph Frankovic, “Remember Shiloh!,” Jerusalem Perspective 46/47 (1994): 25-29.
  • [22] Ibid.
  • [23] Personal communication.
  • [24] While Mark’s version of this episode does not necessarily suggest a confrontation, the placement of Jesus’ question on the Temple mount where he had already been in conflict with the religious authorities, as well as Jesus’ question directed toward the scribes, could suggest to a subsequent reader that the encounter was part of a dispute. Possibly, Matthew’s altering of the nature of this event grew from such a reading of Mark. Nevertheless, Luke’s version lacks any sense of conflict; rather, its nature is that of a teaching session between a sage and his disciples—an acceptable reading of the Markan version, as well.
  • [25] The Greek text of Luke 20:41 can easily be reconstructed into idiomatic Hebrew: וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם כֵּיצַד אוֹמְרִים שֶׁהַמָּשִׁיחַ בֶּן דָּוִד.
  • [26] See C. H. Dodd, “The Fall of Jerusalem and the ‘Abomination of Desolation,’” in More New Testament Studies (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968), 83; Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark, see, e.g., p. 511; idem, Behind the Third Gospel: A Study of the Proto-Luke Hypothesis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1926); idem, The Passion Narrative of Luke (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972); J. Jeremias, New Testament Theology (London: SCM, 1987), 40; Flusser, “The Crucified One and the Jews,” Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, 575-587; idem, “A Literary Approach to the Trial of Jesus,” Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, 588-592; idem, “Who is it that struck you?,” Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, 604-609.

Jesus and the Enigmatic “Green Tree”

The above image, courtesy of Gary Asperschlager, shows olive trees growing near the Church of All Nations on the Mount of Olives.
Revised: 19-Apr-13

How did a Jew in Jesus’ time announce that he was the Messiah? One accomplished this by applying to himself words or phrases from Scripture that were interpreted by members of his community to be references to the coming Messiah. Being interpretations rather than direct references, such messianic allusions are extremely subtle, and easily missed by modern readers of ancient Jewish literature. Claimants certainly did not reveal themselves by simply declaring, “I am the Messiah,”[1] as we moderns might expect. Rather, ancient messianic pretenders, such as, for instance, Bar Kochva, informed contemporaries of their messianic identity by referring to themselves with titles acknowledged to refer to one or more of the exalted figures described in Scripture.[2]

Jesus made bold messianic claims when he spoke. To thoroughly understand these claims, however, we must get into a time machine and travel back in time to a completely different culture, the Jewish culture of first-century Israel. We must acculturate ourselves to the way teachers and disciples in the time of Jesus communicated through allusions to Scripture.

Members of Jewish society in Jesus’ day maintained a high degree of biblical literacy. Consequently, rabbinic teachers and their disciples frequently communicated by using a word or phrase extracted from a passage of Scripture. For example, John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to ask the question: “Are you ‘the Coming One [ὁ ἐρχόμενος (ho erxomenos = הבא]’?” (Matt 11:3 = Luke 7:19), an allusion to Zechariah 9:9 and Malachi 3:1. Jesus responded, “Go tell John…,” etc., an answer that alluded to passages from chapters 29, 35, 42 and 61 of Isaiah.

Jesus’ world was a world of messianic hopes and fervor. Biblical words and phrases were employed to express these hopes, and messianic pretenders put forward their claims by drawing upon Scriptures that had been interpreted messianically. The following are a few of the messianic titles used by Jesus and his disciples to refer to him.

Messianic Titles Used by Jesus to Refer to Himself[3]

1. Son of Man. Jesus used “Son of Man”[4] more frequently than any other messianic appellation. It is probably the most supernatural messianic title in Scripture, more supernatural, even, than “Son of God”! Why? Because the context (Dan. 7) in which “Son of Man” appears is such a heavenly, supernatural scene.

Jesus referred to himself as the “Son of Man” when he was interrogated by the elders and chief priests. They said: “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” He replied, “If I tell you, you won’t believe; and if I ask you, you won’t answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the Power” (Luke 22:66-69). In his reply Jesus claimed to be both the “Son of Man” and David’s “Lord.”

“Son of Man” is a reference to the messianic “Cloud Man” of Daniel 7:13: “And behold, one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought him near before him.” “Seated at God’s right hand” is a reference to David’s “Lord” of Psalms 110:1: “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool.’” In more straightforward language, what Jesus said was: “Henceforth I will be sitting at God’s right hand.”

The Zacchaeus episode is another of the many places where we find the title “Son of Man” in the mouth of Jesus. Jesus declared: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he [Zacchaeus] also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10; RSV). By alluding to Daniel 7:13-14, Jesus claimed to be the “one like a son of man.”

2. Seeker and Saver of the Lost. In his words to Zacchaeus, Jesus made an even bolder claim: “I am the Seeker and Saver of the Lost,” an allusion to the “Shepherd of the Lost Sheep” in Ezekiel 34. This was an extremely bold claim because it is God who is described in Ezekiel 34 as the “Shepherd of the Lost Sheep.” Since in Ezekiel 34 it is God who declares that he will “seek and save and rescue his sheep,” Jesus’ words, “I have come to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) appear to be an imitation of God’s words. To understand just how bold this claim is, we must look at a few verses of Ezekiel 34, noticing the frequency of the phrase “seek and save”:

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say to them…the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought…; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them…because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves…no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them outAs a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered…. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed… I will save my flock, they shall no longer be a prey…. I, the LORD, have spoken.” (Ezek. 34:1-24; RSV; italics the author’s)

When Jesus alluded to Ezekiel 34 by using the words “seek and save the lost,” his audience, many of whom knew most of the Hebrew Scriptures by heart, and who knew chapter 34 was the classic “seek and save” passage, realized instantly to which biblical passage he was alluding, and understood the implications of his declaration. Jesus was saying: “I am the ‘Shepherd.’ I am the ‘Prince.’ I am ‘David.’”

Messianic Titles Used by Jesus’ Disciples to Refer to Him

1. Righteous One. Like many messianic titles, this title is, first of all, God’s title. It is God who is “the righteous one.” For example, in Isaiah 45:21 God is referred to as “a righteous [צַדִּיק, tzadiq] God and savior.” But it also becomes the designation of God’s “servant” and “king”: “My righteous [צַדִּיק] servant makes the many righteous” (Isa. 53:11; JPS); “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous [צַדִּיק] Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer. 23:5; RSV); “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous [צַדִּיק] and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9: NIV).

An olive tree growing on the slopes of the Hinnom Valley west of the Old City of Jerusalem. Photograph courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

Apparently, הַצַּדִּיק (“the Righteous One”) became one of the most popular and common ways of referring to Jesus after his death by the early community of believers. Peter told the crowd gathered in the Temple: “But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you.”[5] Stephen responded to his interrogation by the high priest: “Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered.”[6] Ananias of Damascus tells Saul that God has chosen him to see the Righteous One (ὁ δίκαιος; i.e., Jesus) and to hear his voice (those words of Jesus that Paul had heard on his way to Damascus).[7] The author of 1 John writes: “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.”[8]

2. Prince. A well-planned, and initially successful revolt against the Romans broke out in Judea in 132 A.D. The name of the revolt’s leader was שמעון בר כוסבא (Shim‘ōn bar [Son of] Kōsba’) in Aramaic, and שמעון בן כוסבה (Shim‘ōn ben [Son of] Kōsbah) in Hebrew, written in Greek as Χωσιβα (Kosiba). Rabbi Akiva declared him the promised Messiah and, in a pun on his name, called him בר כוכבא (Bar Kochba, Son of a Star), an allusion to Numbers 24:17, ‏דָּרַךְ כּוֹכָב מִיַּעֲקֹב וְקָם שֵׁבֶט מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל (“A star rises from Jacob, A scepter comes forth from Israel”; JPS), a passage that was understood by Akiva’s contemporaries to refer to the Messiah. In rabbinic sources, Ben Kosbah is sometimes called בר כוכבא (Bar Kochba), but usually referred to as בן כוזבה and בר כוזבא (Ben/Bar Kozba[h], Son of a Lie, i.e., a liar), a pun on his name created by those who opposed him, and by those who were plunged into despair by his defeat at the hands of the Romans in 135 A.D.

In his letters and on the coins he minted, Bar Kochva added the title נְשִׂיא יִשְׂרָאֵל (Nesi’ Yisrāēl, Prince of Israel).[9] Since Scripture says in Ezekiel 34:24 that “my servant David will be prince among them” and in 37:25 that “David my servant will be their prince forever,” it was understood that the “LORD’s servant David”—itself a messianic reference—would be “prince.”

The word נָשִׂיא (nāsi’, “prince”) brought to mind powerful messianic associations linked with the prophecies of Ezekiel 34 and 37, where “prince,” רֹעֶה (ro‘eh, “shepherd”), צֶמַח (tzemaḥ, “plant”), עֶבֶד (‘eved, “servant”), דָּוִד (dāvid, “David”), מֶלֶךְ (melech, “king”), and שֹׁפֵט (shofēt, “judge”) were brought together, “Prince” being the most powerful of these images.

As noted above, in Ezekiel 34 God replaces the shepherds of Israel, himself becoming the shepherd of his people (vs. 11), seeking and saving the lost sheep (vss. 16, 22), becoming a judge (vss. 17, 20, 22), and placing over his people one shepherd, “my servant David” (vs. 23) who would be a prince among them (vs. 24). In this chapter of Ezekiel, we find the “seek and save the lost” that Jesus uses, as well as a connecting of the titles “David,” “Servant” and “Prince.” In Ezekiel 37 God promises to gather the Israelites back to the land of Israel (vs. 21): “They will be my people, and I will be their God. My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd…and David my servant will be their prince forever” (Ezek. 37:23-25; NIV).

The messianic title “prince” is used perhaps once in the New Testament to refer to Jesus. In Acts 5:31, “Peter and the apostles” responded to the high priest’s questioning in these words: “God exalted him [Jesus] to his own right hand as Prince [ἀρχηγός, archēgos] and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel” (NIV).[10]

Attempting to Unravel the “Green Tree” Enigma

I would like to suggest an additional messianic title: “Green Tree.” Although no other messianic figure in ancient Jewish history is known to have adopted this title, it appears that Jesus applied it to himself.

As a teenager I read the words “green tree” in the Gospel of Luke and they made no sense to me. I inquired of every passing pastor and Bible professor about the verse’s meaning, but never received what was, to my mind, a satisfactory answer. The translations of English Bibles I checked did not dispel my confusion. To this day, Luke 23:31 has remained my candidate for “Jesus’ Most Enigmatic Saying.”

In the late 1960s, several years after arriving in Israel, I sat reading Franz Julius Delitzsch’s nineteenth-century Hebrew translation of the New Testament. As I read Luke 23:31, I was surprised to discover that Delitzsch had not translated the expression “green tree” with עֵץ יָרוֹק (‘ētz yārōq)[11] or עֵץ רַעֲנָן (‘ētz ra‘anān),[12] as I had assumed based on my knowledge of modern Hebrew, but had translated with עֵץ לַח (‘ētz laḥ). The adjective לַח (“green” in the sense of “fresh, freshly cut, supple or limber, moist, full of sap”)[13] is found six times in the Bible, but only twice together with עֵץ (‘ētz, tree)—in Ezekiel 17:24 and 20:47. The opposites, עֵץ לַח (“green tree”, “live tree”) and עֵץ יָבֵש (‘ētz yāvēsh, dry tree, “dead tree”), or any other opposite expressions that could be translated “green tree/dry tree” or “green wood/dry wood,” appear together in the Hebrew Scriptures only in Ezekiel 17:24 and 20:47. This situation allows us to narrow to only two the passages to which Jesus could have been alluding.

A ladder leads up to into the branches of an olive tree growing in the Hinnom Valley west of the Old City of Jerusalem. Image courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

The expression עֵץ לַח (‘ētz laḥ) is translated by the Septuagint as ξύλον χλωρόν (xūlon chlōron, “green tree”) in Ezekiel 17:24 and 20:47, the only two places in Scripture where עֵץ (‘ētz) and לַח (laḥ) appear together and laḥ modifies ‘ētz.[14] In the Septuagint the adjective χλωρός (xloros, green [color], green herb) appears with ξύλον (xūlon) only three times: in our two Ezekiel passages, and in Exodus 10:15 (“nothing green was left on the trees”).[15] In Luke 23:31, however, Jesus says, ὑγρόν ξύλον (hūgron xūlon, “moist tree”). The adjective ὑγρός (hūgros, “aqueous,” “moist,” “supple,” “with sap”) never occurs with ξύλον in the Septuagint, proof that Luke could not have gotten this Hebraism from the Septuagint.[16] Rather, it is a sourcism, that is, a Hebraism Luke copied from a written source.

In other words, a different adjective was used to translate the conjectured לַח (lakh) in Luke 23:31 than in the Septuagint’s translation of Ezekiel 17:24 and 20:47. The translators of the Septuagint used χλωρός (xloros), but Luke has ὑγρός (hygros). On the assumption that there is a Hebrew undertext for Luke 23:31, Luke’s ὑγρός is a more dynamic translation of the Hebrew לַח than χλωρός. In any case, Luke’s ὑγρόν ξύλον (hūgron xūlon) was not copied from the Septuagint.[17]

The Context of Jesus’ “Green Tree” Saying

Jesus, followed by Simon of Cyrene, who has been forced by the Roman soldiers to carry the cross upon which Jesus would be nailed, trudges toward Golgotha and his death by crucifixion.[18] A great crowd of Jewish people follows Jesus, including women who beat their breasts and wail in grief at the awful spectacle (Luke 23:26-27). Turning to these women, Jesus says:

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry? (Luke 23:27-31; NRSV)

Ezekiel 17:22-24, the context of the first of the two references to עֵץ לַח (‘ētz laḥ) in the Hebrew Scriptures, does not seem to fit the context of Jesus’ saying.

Thus said the Lord GOD: Then I in turn will take and set [in the ground a slip] from the lofty top of the cedar; I will pluck a tender twig from the tip of its crown, and I will plant it on a tall, towering mountain. I will plant it in Israel’s lofty highlands, and it shall bring forth boughs and produce branches and grow into a noble cedar. Every bird of every feather shall take shelter under it, shelter in the shade of its boughs. Then shall all the trees of the field know that it is I the LORD who have abased the lofty tree and exalted the lowly tree, who have dried up the green tree [עֵץ לַח (‘ētz laḥ); Septuagint: ξύλον χλωρὸν (xūlon chlōron)] and made the withered tree [עֵץ יָבֵש (‘ētz yāvēsh); Septuagint: ξύλον ξηρόν (xūlon xēron)] bud. I the LORD have spoken, and I will act. (Ezek. 17:22-24; JPS)

However, Ezekiel 20:45-21:7, the context of the second of the two references to עֵץ לַח (‘ētz laḥ) in the Bible, is strikingly similar to the context of Jesus’ saying. In a prophecy against Jerusalem and its Temple, Ezekiel refers allegorically to “green tree” and “dry tree.” One must read Ezekiel’s prophecy in full to realize the full import of Jesus’ words in Luke 23:31.

The word of the LORD came to me: O mortal, set your face toward Teman, and proclaim to Darom, and prophesy against the brushland of the Negeb. Say to the brushland of the Negeb: Hear the word of the LORD. Thus said the Lord GOD: I am going to kindle a fire in you,[19] which shall devour every tree of yours, both green [עֵץ לַח; (‘ētz laḥ); Septuagint: ξύλον χλωρὸν (xūlon chlōron)] and withered [עֵץ יָבֵש (‘ētz yāvēsh); Septuagint: ξύλον ξηρόν (xūlon xēron)].[20] Its leaping flame shall not go out, and every face from south to north shall be scorched by it. Then all flesh shall recognize that I the LORD have kindled it; it shall not go out. And I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! They say of me: He is just a riddlemonger.”[21]

Then the word of the LORD came to me:[22] O mortal, set your face toward Jerusalem and proclaim against her sanctuaries[23] and prophesy against the land of Israel.[24] Say to the land of Israel: Thus said the LORD: I am going to deal with you! I will draw My sword from its sheath, and I will wipe out from you both the righteous and the wicked.[25] In order to wipe out from you both the righteous and the wicked, My sword shall assuredly be unsheathed against all flesh from south to north; and all flesh shall know that I the LORD have drawn My sword from its sheath, not to be sheathed again. (Ezek. 20:45-21:5 [= Ezek. 21:1-10]; JPS)

In Ezekiel’s allegorical prophecy against Jerusalem and its Temple, the “green tree” symbolizes the righteous, and the “dry tree” the wicked.[26] Ezekiel prophesied that a forest fire started by God would sweep through the forests of the Negeb, its heat so intense that even the green trees (live trees) would be destroyed. Jesus prophesied that just as “the green tree” (he, the righteous one) was being put to death, so they (“the dry tree,” the unrighteous ones) would be destroyed.

Because the contexts of Luke 23:31 and Ezekiel 20:47 are so strikingly similar, it is probable that Jesus’ reference to “green tree” is an allusion[27] to the “green tree” of Ezekiel 20:47, and if so, that Jesus is making a messianic statement. Although this messianic title is unique, it is not unlike other messianic titles he claimed (for example, “Son of Man”).

Perhaps Jesus’ use of “green tree” is even more sophisticated than it at first appears. Since the עֵץ לַח (‘ētz laḥ, green tree) of Ezekiel 20:47 is explained in Ezekiel 21:3-4 as an allegory for the צַדִּיק (tzadiq, righteous person), by claiming to be “the Green Tree,” Jesus also claimed he was the messianic “Righteous One.”

Is “Green Tree” a Messianic Title?

Few English translators of the Bible have indicated any assumption that Jesus’ words ὑγρόν ξύλον (hūgron xūlon) are an allusion to Ezekiel 20:47’s עֵץ לַח (‘ētz laḥ, “green tree”), many translators rendering the expression with “green wood.”[28] Furthermore, few New Testament commentators have suggested that the expression “green tree” in Luke 23:31 could be a reference to Ezekiel 20:47,[29] much less that it could be a messianic title.

A terraced olive grove on the Mount of Olives east of the Old City of Jerusalem. Photograph courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

In rabbinic works, there is never an indication that the expression עֵץ לַח in Ezekiel 20:47 is a messianic title.[30] In fact, in all of the vast corpus of rabbinic literature, there is perhaps only one reference to the עֵץ לַח of Ezekiel 20:47.[31] עֵץ לַח is mentioned eleven other times in rabbinic literature (e.g, Gen. Rab. 53.1), but the reference is always to Ezekiel 17:24 (“I dry up the green tree”), and not to Ezekiel 20:47.[32]

Although there is little scholarly support, and even less support from rabbinic literature, nevertheless, my assumption that Jesus employed Ezekiel’s “green tree” as a messianic allusion is not without logical basis:

  1. The juxtaposing in Luke 23:28-31 points to the conclusion that Jesus used “green tree” as a messianic title: “But Jesus turning to them said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children…If they do this to the green tree, what will happen to the dry [tree]?’” “Me” (Jesus) is contrasted with “yourselves [daughters of Jerusalem] and your children” in verse 28; and “green tree” is contrasted with “dry tree” in the continuation (vs. 31). Thus, in this four-part, double parallelism, “me” (1) is equal to “the green tree” (3), and “yourselves and your children” (2) is equal to “the dry [tree]” (4).[33]
  2. The addition of “the” to “green tree” is evidence that Jesus was creating a title: “I am the green tree,” that one, the one in Ezekiel 20:47. The article in the Greek text of Luke 23:31 indicates that Jesus made “green tree” definite when he spoke to the women. Apparently, he said הָעֵץ הַלַּח (hā‘ētz halaḥ, “the green tree”) in order to put forward a messianic claim. By the addition of “the,” Jesus turned “green tree” into a messianic title in the same way that he turned “son of man” (Dan. 7:13) into the messianic title “the Son of Man.”
  3. Although circumstantial evidence only for Jesus’ use of Ezekiel’s “green tree” as a messianic allusion, since Jesus’ scriptural allusions are often messianic claims, we should consider the possibility that by the use of “green tree” Jesus claimed to be the Messiah of Israel. When he taught, he frequently claimed to be the Messiah.[34] Here, in Luke 23:31, as in many other contexts, Jesus may have taken advantage of the particular situation in which he found himself to make a messianic claim, in this instance, “I am the green tree of Ezekiel 20:47.” If so, “Green Tree” would be one additional early rabbinic messianic title.

The Saying’s Hebraisms

Perhaps one reason translators and commentators have struggled with Jesus’ “green tree” saying is due to the density of Hebrew idioms in its Greek: Εἰ ἐν τῷ ὑγρῷ ξύλῳ ταῦτα ποιοῦσιν, ἐν τῷ ξηρῷ τί γένηται; (“Ιf in the green tree these things they do, in the dry what will be?”).

1. they. If we assume a Hebrew undertext for this saying, “they” probably does not refer to specific individuals, but is the well-known Hebraic impersonal usage.[35] The third-person plural active of the Hebrew verb can be employed to avoid a passive construction. We have this same impersonal style used elsewhere by Jesus, for example: “If they have called the Master of the House ba’al zebul…. (Matt 10:25). In Luke 23:31, the phrase “if they do these things in the green tree” would then mean “if these things are done in the green tree.”

2. do in. The Greek text reads, literally, “Ιf in the green tree these things they do….” To “do in” is a Hebrew idiom that means to “do something injurious to.” Some translators, those of the Revised Standard Version, for instance, attempted to make sense out of this verse by translating, “For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”[36] Apparently, these translators assumed that Jesus intended, “in the time of the green wood.”[37] The same “do in” idiom occurs in Matthew 17:12 in a reference to John the Baptist: ἐποίησαν ἐν αὐτῷ ὅσα ἠθέλησαν (“They did in him whatever they pleased,” that is, “They did to him whatever they pleased.”)[38] For some reason, in this John the Baptist context, the idiom “do in” has not caused most translators any trouble.

3. how much more. In this saying Jesus employed the “If…how much more…” pattern, that is, argument from simple to complex.[39] Like other sages, he used argument a fortiori (simple-to-complex reasoning) a good deal in his teaching. Called kal vahomer in Hebrew because the term kal vahomer (“how much more”) usually appears in examples of such reasoning, it was a central rabbinic principle of interpretation. Although the words “how much more” do not appear in the saying, that is its gist: “If they are doing this to me, how much more will they do this to you.”[40]

Jesus employed simple-to-complex logic in at least three other teachings. When speaking about the sin of being anxious about material things, Jesus said: “If thus God clothes grass in the fields, which is here today and tomorrow is used to stoke an oven, how much more can he be expected to clothe you, O men of little faith” (Matt 6:30). When speaking of God’s great care for his children, he said: “If you, then, who are bad, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more your father in heaven will give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matt 7:11). And finally, when speaking of his disciples’ fate, he said: “If they have called Ba‘al ha-Bayit Ba‘al Zevulhow much more the sons of his house” (Matt 10:25).[41]

It appears that in order to translate Luke 23:31 correctly, not only must one be familiar with Hebrew idioms, one also must be familiar with rabbinic methods of scriptural interpretation. In his very rabbinic way, using the kal vahomer rabbinic interpretive principle, Jesus hints at a passage in the Hebrew Scriptures.

4. tree. The singular עֵץ (‘ētz), like many other Hebrew nouns, can have a plural sense, as it does in Ezekiel’s allegory: “See! I am kindling a fire in you that shall devour all trees, the green as well as the dry” (Ezek. 20:47; NAB; italics mine).[42] This grammatical peculiarity of the Hebrew language makes it possible for Jesus to make a messianic claim using the singular ‘ētz (“tree”) of Ezekiel 20:47 in referring to himself, a single individual.[43]

Literary Parallels to Jesus’ Saying

Yose ben Yoezer (ca. 150 B.C.), one of the earliest sages mentioned in rabbinic literature, was not only a great scholar, but also was referred to as the “most pious in the priesthood” (m. Hagigah 2:7). He said: “If so much is done to those who are obedient to His will, how much more shall be done to those who provoke Him!” Although not a messianic claim, Yose be Yoezer’s statement is amazingly similar to Jesus’ “green tree” saying. Even more amazing is the context of his saying:

The sages say that during a time of religious persecution a decree was issued for the crucifixion of Jose ben Joezer. Jakum of Serorot, the nephew of Jose ben Joezer of Seredah, rode by on a horse, as Jose ben Joezer, bearing the beam for the gallows [i.e., cross], was going forth to be hanged [i.e., crucified]. Jakum said: “Look at the horse that my master [i.e., the king] gives me to ride, and look at the horse [i.e., the cross] that thy Master [i.e., God] gives thee to ride!” Jose ben Joezer replied: “If so much is given to such as thee who provoke Him, how much more shall be given to those who obey His will!” Jakum asked: “Has any man been more obedient to the will of God than thou?” Jose ben Joezer replied: “If so much is done to those who are obedient to His will, how much more shall be done to those who provoke Him!” (Midrash Psalms 11:7; trans. Braude)

Yose’s saying, and its context, too, are similar to Jesus’ saying and its context. Yose was bearing his own cross to the place of his execution. His response (in mixed Hebrew-Aramaic) to his mocking nephew is structurally identical to Jesus’ response to the wailing women of Jerusalem. Furthermore, Yose’s response contains the key words kal vahomer (how much more).[44]

Another surprisingly similar rabbinic parallel to Jesus’ “green tree” saying is found in the rabbinic work Seder Eliyahu Rabbah: אם אש אחזה בלחים מה יעשו יבשים (“If fire has taken hold of the green [trees?], what will the dry [trees?] do?”).[45] Like Jesus’ short saying, this saying appears to be a reference to Ezekiel 20:47! The saying helps to strengthen the probability that proverbs similar to Jesus’ were current.[46] Just as in Jesus’ saying, the rabbinic saying has the words לַח (green, or moist), יָבֵש (dry), although the two adjectives are in the plural, and the third-person future plural active of the verb “do.” Braude and Kapstein translate: “In regard to severe punishment for minor sins, the Sages said, [citing a popular proverb]: If fire seizes what is moist, what may one expect it to do to what is dry?[47] Braude and Kapstein note neither the Ezekiel 20:47 parallel nor the Luke 23:31 parallel.

Rav Ashi (d. 427 A.D.) once asked a certain orator how he would eulogize him at his funeral. The orator replied: “If a flame among the Cedars fall (אם בארזים נפלה שלהבת), what avails the lichen on the wall (מה יעשו איזובי קיר)?” (b. Moed Katan 25b [Engl. trans., Soncino, p. 160]). The structure of this rabbinic saying is the same as that of Jesus’ “green tree” saying. As in Jesus’ saying, the words “how much more” do not appear, but that is the rabbinic saying’s sense. The lofty cedars (saints) were often compared with the lowly lichen (ordinary people).[48]

The above rabbinic parallels to Luke 23:31 were not discovered recently. They have been available to modern scholarship since at least 1924 when they were noted and translated to German by Hermann Strack and Paul Billerbeck in their monumental commentary on the New Testament, which was illustrated with parallels from rabbinic and related literature.[49] An earlier compiler of rabbinic parallels to the New Testament, John Lightfoot, did not mention any of the above rabbinic parallels to Luke 23:31, but did give Matthew 3:10 as a parallel. It is worth quoting Lightfoot’s comment on Luke 23:31 in its entirety:

Consult John [the] Baptist’s expression, Matt. iii. 10; “Now also the axe is laid to the root of the tree,” viz., then when the Jewish nation was subdued to the government of the Romans, who were about to destroy it. And if they deal thus with me, a green and flourishing tree, what will they do with the whole nation, a dry and sapless trunk?[50]

Nunnally has cataloged the references to “green tree” in the Dead Sea Scrolls.[51] One especially interesting parallel to Jesus’ “green tree” saying is found in the Thanksgiving Scroll, usually considered to date from the first century B.C.: “…then the torrents of Belial will overflow all the high banks like a devouring fire…destroying every tree, green or dry (kol ‘ētz laḥ veyāvēsh).”[52] In this passage we have the עץ לח (“green tree”), and the אש (’ēsh, “fire”) that אוכלת (’ōchelet, literally, “eats”; i.e., “devours,” “burns up”) that also are found in Ezekiel 20:47. Nunnally argues convincingly that this “green tree” reference is an allusion to Ezekiel’s “green tree,” and refers not to plants, but allegorically to human beings.

A beautiful parallel to Jesus’ “green tree” saying is found in 1 Peter:

…yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear? [Prov. 11:31]” (1 Pet. 4:16-18; RSV)

The pertinent words are: “If it [judgment] begins with us [the righteous], what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God [the sinners].” This text likewise shows that the structure “If this is done to the righteous, what will happen to the unrighteous” was frequently used in Jewish circles in the first century A.D.

The relevance of the above literary parallels to Jesus’ “green tree” saying is immense. We find sayings in the Dead Sea Scrolls, elsewhere in the New Testament, and in rabbinic literature that are similar structurally and linguistically to Jesus’ saying. We also find a saying from long before Jesus’ time (in the Thanksgiving Scroll) that apparently alludes to the “green tree” of Ezekiel 20:47, as well as a saying from long after his time (in the rabbinic Seder Eliyahu Rabbah) that alludes to the same scripture. These literary parallels are evidence that both before and after the period when Jesus taught, the “green tree-dry tree” motif was in circulation among Jews in the land of Israel. It is probable that Jesus was not the only Jewish teacher or author to employ it. Nevertheless, Jesus gave it an innovative twist, and it is likely that he used it to remind those present during his march to the cross that he was the promised Messiah of Israel. Such a conclusion has ramifications, for example: if it is true that during this moment of intense mental anguish and physical pain, Jesus’ employed the “green tree” motif  to stress his messiahship, then it cannot be true that by this moment in his life he had already realized his messianic pretensions had come to naught. We can assume that Jesus viewed his death as an integral part of his messianic mission. Jesus had not been disillusioned by his arrest, scourging, and the prospect of a cruel death, but marched to Golgotha confident of his divinely ordained task.


Besides prophesying to the weeping women, Jesus makes a messianic claim by referring to himself as “The Green Tree.” This deduction is based on the saying’s context and Jesus’ habit of making a messianic claim when alluding to Scripture.

On his way to be crucified, Jesus does not ignore these wailing women. He looks into the future and sees the terrible destruction that within a little more than a generation would sweep down on Jerusalem, engulfing these women and their children! Like Ezekiel, Jesus is heartbroken:

And you, O mortal, sigh; with tottering limbs and bitter grief, sigh before their eyes. And when they ask you, “Why do you sigh?” answer, “Because of the tidings that have come.” Every heart shall sink and all hands hang nerveless; every spirit shall grow faint and all knees turn to water because of the tidings that have come. It is approaching, it shall come to pass—declares the Lord GOD. (Ezek. 21:6-7 [= Ezek. 21:11-12]; JPS)

The women who viewed the ghastly scene wept for Jesus. If they only had known what the future would bring, they would have wept for themselves. “Don’t weep for me,” Jesus said, “weep for yourselves. If they do this to me, what will they do to you?” In other words, if this is done to the Righteous, the one who is the “Green Tree” of Ezekiel 20:47, what will happen to the “dry trees,” ordinary sinners? The “dry trees” would face the same fate at the hands of the Romans, and an even worse fate.

We could paraphrase Jesus words to the women as follows: “If this is happening to me, the green tree, one can only imagine with horror what awaits you and your loved ones. If this is done to me, if I am being burned up, what hope is there for you? If this can happen to the Messiah, the Righteous, the Innocent, what will be your fate?”[53]

Amazingly, despite his extreme weakness and physical pain, Jesus had the presence of mind to show concern for those around him: he warned the wailing women by giving a prophecy containing a subtle allusion to the book of Ezekiel. In his words to the women, Jesus spoke with rabbinic sophistication, couching his words in Hebraic parallelism and employing a fortiori reasoning. In addition, he also may have been making a bold messianic claim, applying to himself the title “the Green Tree.”

  • [1] Even today a Jew who believes he is the Messiah never says, “I am the Messiah,” but rather, a messianic pretender refers to himself using words or phrases from scripture texts that have been interpreted messianically.
  • [2] See my “‘Prophet’ as a Messianic Title.”
  • [3] For other messianic titles employed by Jesus, see David Flusser, “Son of Man: Post-Biblical Concept,” Encyclopaedia Judaica 15:159; David Flusser, “Messiah: Second Temple Period,” Encyclopaedia Judaica 11:1408-10).
  • [4] For example, in Matt 25:31-34. See Randall Buth, “Jesus’ Most Important Title.”
  • [5] Acts 3:14 (RSV).
  • [6] Acts 7:52 (RSV).
  • [7] Acts 22:14; cf. “My righteous servant (צַדִּיק עַבְדִּיי) makes the many righteous, It is their punishment that he bears” (Isa. 53:11; JPS).
  • [8] 1 Jn. 2:1 (RSV).
  • [9] We find this title on official documents and coins of Ben Kosbah’s short-lived administration. Some of the coins Ben Kosbah minted bear the image of a star above the Temple facade.
  • [10] Ἄρχων (arxōn) is the usual translation of נָשִׂיא (nāsi’, “prince”) in the Septuagint, 93 times out of ἄρχων’s 134 occurrences; however, ἀρχηγός twice translates נָשִׂיא (Num. 13:2; 16:2).
  • [11] יָרוֹק (yārōq, “green thing”) occurs only once in the Hebrew Bible: Job 39:8. It is never found with Hebrew words for “tree” or “wood.”
  • [12] The word רַעֲנָן (ra‘anān, “green,” “leafy,” “verdant”) appears 20 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, usually (9 times) in the expression עֵץ רַעֲנָן (‘ētz ra‘anān, verdant tree); however, עֵץ רַעֲנָן is never translated in the Septuagint using either the adjectives χλωρός (as in Ezek. 17:24 and 20:47), or ὑγρός (as in Luke 23:31), but rather by other Greek adjectives meaning “shady, leafy.”
  • [13] As in the description of Jacob’s freshly cut rod (Gen. 30:37).
  • [14] The noun ξύλον (xūlon) is the Septuagint’s usual translation of עֵץ. This mid-second-century B.C. translation of the Hebrew Scriptures renders עֵץ by ξύλον 252 times, and by δένδρον (dendron) only 16 times. Ξύλον appears 20 times in the New Testament (6 times with the meaning “tree”; 5 times with the sense “clubs”; 4 times with the sense “cross”; and 3 times with the sense “wood.” Δένδρον shows up 32 times in the Septuagint, but only in 16 of these occurrences is δένδρον the translation of the Hebrew noun עֵץ. Δένδρον appears 25 times in the New Testament, always in the sense of “tree.”
  • [15] Of the six occurrences of לַח in the Hebrew Bible, ὑγρός is twice (Jdg. 16:7, 8) the Septuagint’s translation of לַח, and χλωρός is three times (Gen. 30:37; Ezek. 17:24; 20:47) its translation. Ὑγρός appears only one time in the New Testament, in Luke 23:31. Ὑγρός appears 6 times in the Septuagint: twice in Jdg. 16:7 and 16:8, where both times it is the translation of לַח’s plural, laḥim; once in Job 8:16, where it is the translation of רָטֹב (rāṭov); and once in Ben Sira 39:13, where there exists no Hebrew equivalent.
  • [16] Nunnally states: “Despite the fact that the gospel writer [Luke] usually employs the Septuagint…the language of [Luke] 23:31 is not borrowed from this source” (Nunnally, “From Ezekiel 17:24 and 21:3 to Luke 23:31.
  • [17] Luke’s ὑγρόν ξύλον (hūgron xūlon) is an example of a “Lukan non-Septuagintalism,” that is, a Hebrew expression found in the Gospel of Luke that is not also found in the Septuagint. Luke’s ὑγρόν ξύλον demonstrates Luke dependence on a Semitized Greek source that was independent of the Septuagint, and is evidence against the mistaken notion that when Luke’s account displays a Hebraism, that Hebraism must be a borrowing from the Septuagint.
  • [18] For examples of other Jews who were put to death by crucifixion, see Brad H. Young, “A Fresh Examination of the Cross, Jesus and the Jewish People,” in Jesus’ Last Week: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels (ed. R. S. Notley, M. Turnage and B. Becker; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2005): 192-200.
  • [19] Cf. Jer. 21:14, “I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings, says the LORD; I will kindle a fire in her forest, and it shall devour all that is round about her” (RSV).
  • [20] Notice the intensity of the fire: it burns up the “green” trees, the live trees, with the “dry” trees, the dead trees. When a forest fire rages, the heat often becomes so intense that it explodes the living trees. The fire rages on, and the “green” trees do not halt the spread of the fire.
  • [21] In other words, someone complained about Ezekiel’s prophecy, saying: “Listen, stop prophesying in allegories. Tell us plainly what you mean.”
  • [22] Now comes the explanation of the allegory. For a similar allegory accompanied by its interpretation, see Ezek. 23:1-4, and following: “The word of the LORD came to me: O mortal, once there were two women, daughters of one mother. They played the whore in Egypt; they played the whore while still young. There their breasts were squeezed, and there their virgin nipples were handled. Their names were: the elder one, Oholah; and her sister, Oholibah. They became Mine, and they bore sons and daughters. As for their names, Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem” (JPS).
  • [23] Notice how Ezekiel inveighs against Jerusalem’s sanctuaries. Jesus had the same bone to pick with the Temple authorities of his day, the Sadducean high priestly families.
  • [24] In this prophetic explanation we learn that the three synonyms for “south” (TemanDarom and Negev) in the allegory refer, respectively, to “Jerusalem,” “Jerusalem’s temples” and “the land of Israel.”
  • [25] At this point, we learn that “green tree” and “dry tree” of the allegory represent “the righteous” (צַדִּיק, tzadiq), and “the wicked” (רָשָׁע, rāshā‘). Likewise, in the Psalms the righteous is compared to a tree: “He is like a tree planted beside streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, whose foliage never fades, and whatever it produces thrives” (Ps. 1:3; JPS; cf. Jer. 17:8).
  • [26] An interesting parallel is found in Deut. 29:19 (29:18): סְפוֹת הָרָוָה אֶת הַצְּמֵאָה (“the destruction of the moist with the dry”). The Septuagint renders הָרָוָה (“the moist”) as ὁ ἀναμάρτητoς (“the innocent”), and הַצְּמֵאָה (“the dry”) as ὁ ἁμαρτωλός (“the sinner”). NAB: “the watered soil and the parched ground.”
  • [27] Like other sages of his time, Jesus hinted at passages of Scripture by allusion rather than by quoting directly. A teacher was able to make such sophisticated allusions since his audience knew Scripture by heart.
  • [28] The word for “tree” in both Greek (ξύλον), and in the corresponding Hebrew (עֵץ), can sometimes have the sense “wood,” and at other times the sense “tree.” If, in Luke 23:31, the reference to Ezekiel is not assumed, a translator can mistakenly render “wood” where the sense is “tree.” This error was made frequently in English versions of the Bible. The following translations rendered “wood” instead of “tree”: RSV; NKJV; NRSV; NAB; REB; ESV; JB; NJB; TEV; CEV; CJB; PHILLIPS; MOFFATT; GOODSPEED; NET; MLB; AMP (“timber”); Charles B. Williams; Charles Kingsley Williams; and Templeton. Fitzmyer’s translation of Luke 23:31 is: “For if this is what is done with green wood, what will happen to the dry?” (Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke [AB 28A and 28B; Garden City: Doubleday, 1981, 1985], 1493). Green translates, “For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke [NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997], 813). Beare also translates ξύλον as “wood” rather than “tree” (Francis Wright Beare, The Earliest Records of Jesus [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962], 236-37), as does Nolland (John Nolland, Luke [WBC 35A-35C; Dallas: Word Books, 1989-1993], 1138).
  • [29] More than a century ago Plummer pointed out this reference, commenting: “In Ezek. xxi. 3 [xx. 47] we have ξύλον χλωρόν and ξύλον ξηρόν combined; but otherwise there is no parallel [to Luke 23:31]” (Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke [ICC; 5th ed.; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1896], 530). Manson also noted the reference: “Jesus sees a suffering which calls more than his own for tears. The corroborative ‘For if this is what they do when the wood is green, what will they do when the wood is dry?’ recalls Ezekiel xx. 47, and may be proverbial” (William Manson, The Gospel of Luke [MNTC; London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1930], 259). Nunnally has argued strongly for the connection between Luke 23:31 and Ezek. 20:47 (= MT: 21:3) (W. E. Nunnally, “From Ezekiel 17:24 and 21:3 to Luke 23:31: A Survey of the Connecting Jewish Tradition” (May 14, 2009). Fitzmyer does not mention a possible reference to Ezek. 20:47 and to its “green tree,” but rather states, “Jesus compares himself to damp, soggy wood, difficult to kindle, and some aspect of the ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ to dry wood, easily combustible” (Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke, 1498). Green also does not see a possible reference to Ezekiel. Shockingly, he apparently interprets the “they” of verse 31 as referring to “those who rejected Jesus” rather than to the Roman authorities: “If they treated Jesus in this way, how will they be treated for instigating his execution?” (Green, The Gospel of Luke, 816). Beare, too, does not note the reference to Ezekiel, writing: “The contrast of green and dry wood does not seem appropriate to a comparison of the Crucifixion with the national disaster of A.D. 70; in itself, it suggests rather a contrast between the brutality with which some minor uprising was suppressed and the unbridled savagery that must be expected when the authorities have to deal with a serious outbreak” (Beare, The Earliest Records of Jesus, 236-37). Nolland mentions that earlier authorities (unnamed) have compared Jesus’ proverb with Ezek. 20:47 as well as Ezek. 17:24, 24:9-10 and various other Scriptures, but opines that “our text is not clearly dependent on any of these” and suggests that these Scriptures “create a presumption in favor of ἐν = ‘in the case of’” (Nolland, Luke, 1138).
  • [30] In updating my thinking regarding Jesus’ “green tree” saying (Luke 23:31), I have the opportunity to correct an error that has existed, unfortunately, for some 25 years. On p. 68 of Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus (2d rev. ed.; Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 1983, 1994), I, and my co-author, Roy B. Blizzard, wrote: “Jesus applied to himself the title ‘Green Tree.’ This was a rabbinic way of saying ‘I am the Messiah’…an expression interpreted by the sages in Jesus’ day as a messianic title.” (See also our discussion of “green tree” on pp. 82-84.) In our youthful exuberance, we overstated our case.
  • [31] In Seder Eliyahu Rabbah [ed. Fried.] 14 [13], p. 65. See the discussion below under “Literary Parallels to Jesus’ Saying.”
  • [32] In these eleven references, עֵץ לַח is interpreted as “Peninnah,” “the wives of Abimelech,” “the breasts of the women of the Gentile nations,” “Abimelech,” and “Belshazzar.” The expression עֵץ לַח does not appear in the Hebrew fragments of Ben Sira. However, it does appear in a passage from the Dead Sea Scrolls (see below).
  • [33] The women and children, representing the population of Jerusalem, are likened by Jesus to the unrighteous, the dry trees, because they are residents of this city of political and religious corruption, which included the city’s high priestly mafia. See my “Evidence of an Editor’s Hand in Two Instances of Mark’s Account of Jesus’ Last Week?Jesus’ Last Week: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels, 219.
  • [34] Notice that the last sentence of teaching by Jesus often has messianic implications (for example, Luke 2:49; 4:21; 12:10; 19:10, 44; 20:18; 22:37, 69; Matt 9:6 = Mark 2:10 = Luke 5:24; Matt 9:15 = Mark 2:19-20 = Luke 5:34-35; Matt 10:25; Matt 11:4-6 = Luke 7:22-23; Matt 11:27 = Luke 10:22; Matt 12:30 = Luke 11:23; Matt 12:41 = Luke 11:31-32; Matt 23:39 = Luke 13:35; Matt 24:28 = Luke 17:37).
  • [35] “Impersonal use of 3rd plur. act. in place of passive. This is usual in Hebrew…as well as Aramaic….” (James Hope Moulton, Wilbert Francis Howard and Nigel Turner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek [4 vols.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1908-1976], 3:447). “The subject ‘they’ is impersonal” (Manson, The Gospel of Luke, 259).
  • [36] Also rendering with “when” are: NRSV; NAB; REB; ESV; TEV; CEV; CJB; PHILLIPS; MOFFATT; GOODSPEED; NET; AMP; Charles B. Williams; Charles Kingsley Williams; and Templeton. Rendering with “when” and “wood” are: RSV; NKJV; NRSV; NAB; REB; ESV; TEV; CEV; CJB; PHILLIPS; MOFFATT; GOODSPEED; NET; AMP; Charles B. Williams; and Charles Kingsley Williams.
  • [37] Only a handful of versions render the “do in” idiom in Luke 23:31 correctly: GWORD (“If people do this to a green tree, what will happen to a dry one?”); MESSAGE (“If people do these things to a live, green tree, can you imagine what they’ll do with deadwood?”); NJB (“For if this is what is done to green wood, what will be done when the wood is dry?”); The Modern Language Bible: The New Berkeley Version (“For if they do this to the green wood, what will happen to the dry?”). The MLB’s comment on this verse (p. 92, note k) is impressive: “Here Jesus used what was evidently a current proverb, meaning that if the Romans had mistreated and condemned Him to death (the green tree—i.e., an innocent person), what would they later do to the guilty (the dry tree)?” Although this version renders “wood” rather than “tree,” surprisingly, it mentions only “tree” in its notes. Apparently, there was not adequate coordination between the translator and the commentator who added the significant comment. Gerrit Verkuyl, the editor-in-chief of the 1945 and 1959 editions of the MLB translation, indeed informs us in his Preface that, “The notes below the translation are not necessarily in every case those of the translator; some of these were supplied by the editor-in-chief and his assistants” (The Modern Language Bible: The New Berkeley Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969), v. We may assume this is one of the cases of which Verkuyl speaks. Here, Verkuyl and his assistants ignored their own version’s translation (“wood”) when they added their notes.
  • [38] We might reconstruct the hypothetical Hebrew behind ἐποίησαν ἐν αὐτῷ ὅσα ἠθέλησαν as עשו בו מה שרצו (‘āsū bō mah sherātzū).
  • [39] So Alfred Plummer (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke, 529. See my “Principles of Rabbinic Interpretation: kal vahomer.”
  • [40] Based on the assumption that a green (i.e., live) tree does not burn as easily as a dry (i.e., dead) tree.
  • [41] As in the “green tree” saying, here Jesus contrasted himself to others: “If I am being called ‘Satan,’ you [Jesus’ disciples] will certainly be called ‘Satan.’” In Hebrew, “son” is a synonym for “disciple.” Also here, as in the “green tree” saying, we find the Hebraic third-person plural active of the verb (“they have called”) employed to avoid a passive construction.
  • [42] The expression Jesus’ uses, “the green tree,” if derived from the Hebrew הַעֵץ הַלַח (ha‘ētz halaḥ), also can have a plural sense, “the green trees,” that is, trees in general; however, the plural sense is less probable in this context than “the Green Tree,” possibly a messianic claim.
  • [43] Without a clear context, English translators and commentators would find it difficult to distinguish between the two Greek words translated “green” (χλωρός and ὑγρός), and between the two meanings of the Greek word ξύλον, “wood” and “tree,” and between their conjectured possible Hebrew equivalents, עֵץ רַעֲנָן (ξύλον χλωρός, “green tree”) and עֵץ לַח (ὑγρόν ξύλον, “green tree”). However, when we look for potential Hebrew underneath the Greek of Luke 23:31, Jesus’ intent comes into focus.
  • [44] A variant version of the Yose ben Yoezer story is found in rabbinic literature in Genesis Rabbah 65:22.
  • [45] Seder Eliyahu Rabbah [ed. Fried.] 14 [13], p. 65.
  • [46] According to Craig Evans: “…on internal grounds there is no reason why the work [Seder Eliyahu Rabbah] could not have been compiled about 300 C.E.” (Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005], 239).
  • [47] William G. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein, Tanna Debe Eliyyahu: The Lore of the School of Elijah (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1981), 187.
  • [48] The same structure is found in Ps. 11:3: כִּי הַשָּׁתוֹת יֵהָרֵסוּן צַדִּיק מַה־פָּעָל (“If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” [RSV]).
  • [49] Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (6 vols.; Munich: C.H. Beck, 1922-1960), 2:263-64.
  • [50] John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica: Matthew-1 Corinthians (London: Oxford University Press, 1859; repr. Hendrickson in 4 vols., 1989), 2:210.
  • [51] Nunnally, “From Ezekiel 17:24 and 21:3 to Luke 23:31.”
  • [52] 1QHa XI, 29-30.
  • [53] Note again the MLB comment on this verse (p. 92, note k): “…if the Romans had mistreated and condemned Him to death (the green tree—i.e., an innocent person), what would they later do to the guilty (the dry tree)?” Marshall’s translation is: “For if this is how the innocent suffer, what will be the fate of guilty Jerusalem?” (I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text [NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978], 862). Danker renders: “If God permits this to happen to one who is innocent, what will be the fate of the guilty?” (Frederick W. Danker, Jesus and the New Age: A Commentary on St. Luke’s Gospel [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1988], 237).

The Value of Rabbinic Literature as an Historical Source

Rabbinic literature contains extensive facets of Jewish life from the Second Temple period until the Byzantine period and shortly thereafter. It includes halachic (legal) and aggadic (non-legal, ethical and narrative) passages, homilies and homiletic fragments, biblical exegesis, debates among sages, and between sages and laypersons, sectarians or Gentiles. It also includes a number of historical traditions. This rabbinic tradition has come down to us in nearly every literary form: direct sayings, stories, homilies, parables, poetic fragments, pure fiction, folk sayings, and many more. Obviously one cannot construct a continuous historical framework for the Second Temple period, or the period after the destruction of the Temple, on the basis of rabbinic sources. Rabbinic literature did not intend to relate the history of the Jewish people in an orderly fashion. Many of the decisive events in Jewish history appear in the literature in the form of homiletic narrative, merging events that took place at different times such as during the destruction of the First Temple and the Second, and even during the Trajanic Revolt (112-115 C.E.) and the Bar Kochva Revolt (132-135 C.E.). Furthermore, halachic pronouncements have often come down to us in the form of combinations of different levels and different periods and sometimes from different and even conflicting schools. Obviously, rabbinic tradition often relates aggadic passages and prayers in a fused form, combining different levels of traditions from many generations.

The Oral Torah is just that—an oral tradition—a tradition that was alive and taught in the various houses of study and transmitted with additions and changes by the sages of later generations. The collections of rabbinic literature have not reached us in the form they were given by the sage or school who produced them. These collections, starting with the editing of the Mishnah in the third century C.E. and the other collections that were edited afterwards, remained primarily oral literature throughout the rabbinic period, and the transmitters did not refrain on occasion from adding or removing elements in the course of teaching and passing on the tradition—or even changing and replacing the ancient sages in whose names the traditions were given.

Rabbinic literature does not include political history or geographical, sociocultural history of the kind found in Greco-Roman histories or in that written by the early Church Fathers, or even of the kind that was written in the historical literature of ancient Israel (in biblical books such as Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings), or in the apocryphal books of 1 and 2 Maccabees. Such apocryphal books (for example, the Vision of Ezra and the Syriac Baruch, which were preserved only in the tradition of the Church) may have been written by writers who were close to the world of the sages. If not for Church tradition, we would not even know that these books existed. However, we have no historical books in the vast tradition of rabbinic literature. The closest thing we have are the works Seder Olam Rabbah and Seder Olam Zuta, which, as important as they are, constitute no more than chronicles providing names and certain details in a chronological order.

Though there are no historical books in the rabbinic tradition, there is a wealth of varied information from all facets of public and private social life and spiritual life, in the Temple, the synagogue and the house of study. Likewise, we can glean facts from rabbinic literature regarding trade and economics, agriculture, craftsmanship, the life of the sages and of the common man, urban-rural relations and relations between the Land of Israel and the Diaspora. The halachot, aggadot, dialogues and debates reflect both the home and the marketplace, the wealthy and the poor, weekdays, sabbaths and festivals—in fact, every aspect of human life in all its variety and forms of expression.

Similarly, aggadic literature refers to all the aspects of life. The great wealth of rabbinic literature sometimes enables us to reconstruct the reality of the period in all its complexity, whether on a sociopolitical, a sociospiritual, or personal plane. There are certain issues that are arranged in an orderly fashion in a rabbinic work, for example, the description of the Temple in Mishnah Middot and Tamid, and the detailed description of the service on the Day of Atonement in Mishnah Yoma. Information on other subjects, such as charity, education and the teaching of Torah to children, is scattered throughout the literature and interspersed in various contexts in halachic and aggadic (stories, homilies, introductory homilies, sayings and parables) collections.

Rabbinic Literature as an Historical Source

Can rabbinic literature be used as a source to describe the historical reality of the Second Temple period, which preceded the first redaction of this literature by one hundred and fifty years? Starting from the Middle Ages, authors of Jewish historical sources accepted every rabbinic tradition, no matter how exegetical or homiletical, as a genuine historical fact, either incorporating them verbatim or rewriting them. To this day many authors who received a traditional Jewish education continue in the same fashion. There are also Jewish scholars who have received philological and historical-critical training, but when they encounter traditional Jewish sources they tend to accept them en bloc, or nearly so, treating them as reliable evidence for a concrete sociointellectual world, even preferring them to Josephus or other ancient historical sources. The latter are relatively few, but there are many scholars today who tend to minimize or negate the importance of rabbinic sources for the period after the Temple (70 C.E.ff.), and even more so, for the Second Temple period. Attempts have been made to argue that sources redacted no earlier than the beginning of the third century, and in most cases later on, cannot be reliable testimony for the historical reality of the Second Temple period.[1]

Similar to this approach is the practice of treating every stratum of rabbinic literature separately, that is, a subject or personality is selected and everything reported about him in the Mishnah is examined first, and then whatever is found about him in later collections is analyzed. Even in Mishnaic sources an attempt is made to distinguish between reports by ancient sages and those of later sages, between earlier traditions and later traditions. Obviously, any philological and historical analysis contributes to the advancement of research and to the understanding of the Second Temple period, or the periods after the destruction of the Temple, but if such analysis is done for the purpose of reducing the historical value of earlier or later sources, then, the effort tends to legitimize those who do not have the skills, the capacity or the initiative to examine and evaluate rabbinic sources for themselves. Those who argue that there is no way to estimate the historical value of halachah and aggadah and their chronological and geographical application, release others, particularly, younger scholars, from the obligation to know the world of halachah and aggadah, and its complexities.

The failure to exploit the wealth of rabbinic sources has resulted in casting Jewish and early Christian reality in an increasingly Hellenistic mold. Non-Jewish scholars, and to a degree, even Jewish scholars educated in Europe and America, have found it convenient to work with the rich Greek sources that have been published in reliable scholarly editions and excellent translations. These scholars were raised on a culture that is derived from the Greek and has an affinity for it. Books in Greek and Latin generally stem from one author, or one redactor, whose time and milieu are usually known—in contrast to rabbinic works, where it is not always clear to what period a book belongs, or what stands behind a saying, act or debate. Translations of rabbinic literature in the last generation, regrettably, are in part erroneous, and it is sad to read how entire theories have been developed on the basis of erroneous translations. Anyone who is at home in these Jewish sources encounters this phenomenon with unfortunately great frequency. Noted scholars have pointed out some of the glowing errors in translations of rabbinic literature, and in the notes and commentaries that accompany these translations, but most of these errors have not been corrected.

Rabbinic research is in great need of scholarly critical editions. Only a part of the works of rabbinic literature has appeared in quality editions. Auxiliary studies are lacking both for literary research and historical research. Many problematic grammatical forms have not been satisfactorily explained, and many questions about literary content have not been clarified, or have been only partially clarified. Nevertheless, a great deal is available to anyone wishing to examine literary or historical issues. Since the nineteenth century rabbinic research adopted the techniques of modern historical philological research and many outstanding specialists in rabbinic literature not only applied these techniques to rabbinic literature, but also adapted them to the unique requirements of the rabbinic tradition. This phenomenon may be observed in the works of the pioneers of literary rabbinic research, such as Zechariah Fraenkel, Isaac Hirsch Weiss and Meir Ish Shalom, and even more so in the writings of other scholars such as Wilhelm Bacher, Abraham Buchler, and others. In recent generations such scholars as Epstein, Ginzburg, Alon and Lieberman, among others, have laid solid foundations for scientific research and philological interpretation. Some of the most notable scholars went to great lengths to utilize the literature and reality of the classical and early Christian world in order to arrive at responsible philological and historical explanations of the rabbinic tradition, unravelling many inexplicable passages and expanding and enriching our understanding.

After generations of scientific research, we cannot see in the traditional Jewish approach to historical sources definitive and satisfactory answers to many questions about Jewish history, literature and faith. Great Jewish scholars from the Middle Ages until today have regarded the answers provided by the traditional approach as sufficient. However, scholars who have been trained even moderately in modern scientific methods of research cannot accept these traditional answers uncritically. For us, it is necessary to analyze and explain the traditional answers supplied by Jewish sources. Our solutions may be better or worse, but we cannot rely on the answer that tradition gives to these questions. Two examples will suffice to illustrate this point.

One of the outstanding phenomena in the entire corpus of rabbinic literature is the phenomenon of “controversy,” a predominant form in tannaic and amoraic literature alike. It is to be found in all strata of halachic and aggadic literature. In a baraita at the beginning of chapter 7 of Tosefta Sanhedrin (and parallel passages in the Tosefta and the two Talmuds), we find an explanation for this literary and historical phenomenon. Originally, according to this baraita, there were no controversies in Israel and any question that arose would be referred to the local court to be resolved. If the local court could not resolve the issue, the question would be referred to a nearby court, and if it could not give an answer, to the courts on the Temple Mount until the point of dispute reached the High Court where a vote would be taken, and “halachah would go forth from there and be accepted in all of Israel.” The baraita continues: “When the students of the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel who did not attend their rabbi enough became numerous, controversies multiplied in Israel.”

Tosefta Sanhedrin informs us that at one time there were no controversies. (According to the parallel passages, there were only a few controversies.) However, when students of the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel who had not learned the Torah sufficiently became numerous, controversies resulted. Even though this tradition appears in tannaic tradition in several places, and in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, as well, and its text is substantially reliable, it is difficult to regard it as historical testimony about the history of the Oral Torah. In fact, all the halachot found in tannaic sources until the period of Hillel and Shammai are reported in the form of controversies. Moreover, all the halachot reported in the names of Hillel and Shammai themselves are in the form of controversies. There are also cases of sages who disagreed with both Hillel and Shammai (m. Eduyyot 1:1-2). There are even cases in which Shammai disagrees with the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel (m. Eduyyot 1:7-8). The sages see the controversies of the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel as “the living words of God” (j. Berachot 3b, Chap. 1, and parallels), and that the words of both houses were “given from one shepherd” (t. Sotah 7:12, and parallels). A different tannaic tradition describes the controversies between these two schools as “a controversy for the sake of heaven” that is “destined to be sustained” (m. Avot 5:17). Whatever the meaning of the passage in Tosefta Sanhedrin, it is not historical and does not square with other tannaic traditions.

A second example is the mishnah that reports a famous controversy that went on for generations: “May one lay hands on sacrifices on festival days?” The Mishnah (along with other tannaic sources) relates that “the Zugot” (the five pairs of teachers, concluding with Shammai and Hillel) disagreed on this question generation after generation, and adds: “The first [named in each of the five pairs] were נשיאים [nesi’im, ‘patriarchs’] and the second [named in each of the pairs] were אבות בית דין [avot beit din, ‘fathers of the court’]” (m. Hagigah 2:2). Most scholars agree, and I concur, that in the time of the Zugot and the Second Temple period the title נשיא (nasi, “patriarch”) was not in use, in fact, neither was אב בית דין (av beit din, “father of the court”). The title Nasi appended to the name of the head of the Sanhedrin or the head of the בית ועד (beit va’ad) does not appear in rabbinic sources before the time of Rabban Shim’on ben Gamliel II in the generation after the Bar Kochva Revolt (132-135 C.E.). The mishnah found in tractate Hagigah describes “the pairs” (end of the Hellenistic period) in light of the reality of the second half of the second century C.E.

Careful Scrutiny Needed

By cautious analysis it is possible to clarify to a certain degree when one tradition or another may be accepted, and very often one can determine with great likelihood what part of a tradition may be accepted entirely, what part is historical and what may be taken historically only as interpretation reflecting the understanding of later generations. Not everything that is attributed to the Second Temple period is in fact really from that period. However, in many cases, one can say with certainty or near certainty what part of a passage from early generations is reliable and what part should be regarded with skepticism. In some cases it is clear that the tradition as it appears is undoubtedly late and entirely aggadic. At any rate, in many cases it is possible to draw certain historical conclusions. Sometimes these conclusions are partial and sometimes they are extensive. The traditions in rabbinic literature appear in a variety of places, in various contexts and in a great variety of forms. Traditions regarding a certain subject, literary or historical, may reappear and be discussed in many places in early and late sources in various compositions. These parallel passages may be either complementary or contradictory.

The problem in evaluating the historicity of a rabbinic tradition is not, as some scholars contend, that a particular scholar accepts the rabbinic tradition and another rejects it, but the degree of understanding, analysis and integration brought into the discussion of rabbinic sources. What is the degree of creativity that a particular scholar brings to the discussion? Creativity should be part of every analysis of an historical source. The scholar’s task demands not only the collecting of texts and the proper integration of them, but also creativity.

There is one additional problem that is common to every type of source and every historical period (general and Jewish alike), a feature that is particularly characteristic of rabbinic literature. Rabbinic literature reflects a culture and a heritage that evolved orally from generation to generation, and when traditions were finally written down, they were not recorded systematically in either the halachic or aggadic spheres. It was deemed unnecessary to summarize and systematize either orally or in writing what was clear to contemporaries who studied this literature. Systematization of this literature was done only in the Middle Ages. Maimonides attempted to systematize halachah and Jewish thought, but rabbinic literature assumes many things are understood and only adds what teachers felt obliged to emphasize and add. Often, particularly in aggadic contexts, the words preserved in the sources are only the top of an iceberg that contains a vast world of thought and practice. A study of these fragmented sources from the philosophical and historical points of view should reveal the intellectual and real world that exists in the background and is reflected in a particular saying or aggadic description.

Ways of Expressing Historical Reality

Let us come back to our assertion that a scholar’s main problem in determining whether a rabbinic tradition is historical is the sophistication of that scholar’s analysis, that is, his or her ability to combine different sources creatively and his or her awareness of the limits of creative interpretation. Two relatively simple examples will illustrate this premise.

According to the Babylonian Talmud, members of the Great Assembly at the beginning of the Second Temple period fasted for three days and three nights and observed a kind of fire going out of the Holy of Holies, and the prophet explained to them that this was the inclination for idolatry departing from Israel (b. Yoma 69b). This is a late legend phrased in a literary fashion, but it expresses the reality that from the earliest days of the Second Temple period Jews did not engage in idolatry. This situation is attested in various sayings and metaphors in amoraic literature. The Mishnah describes the festivities of the Beit Hasho’evah (House of Water Drawing) celebration, which took place during the Feast of Tabernacles in the Temple in Jerusalem, reporting that participants in the celebration would go out to draw water from the Shiloah Spring and returning, when they reached the eastern gate, “would turn their faces towards the west and say: ‘Our fathers who were in this place [in the First Temple period], their backs were toward the sanctuary and their faces toward the east, and they would bow to the sun, but we, our eyes are toward the Lord” (m. Sukkah 5:4).

Many generations before the Mishnah (in the Second Temple period) the Book of Judith reports: “There has not appeared in our generations, nor is there at this time, a tribe, clan, district or town among us who worship man-made gods” (Judith 8:18). Beginning with the first wave of exiles returning from Babylonia in the time of the Persian king Cyrus the Great (559-530 B.C.E.), there is no mention of admonishment for idolatry in any of the Jewish books written. Even the Book of Jubilees and the literature of the Qumran sect, which criticize Hellenists and Pharisees very harshly, do not accuse them of the sin of idolatry.

A second example: In the Babylonian Talmud the amora Rav relates that Joshua ben Gamla, the high priest in 63-65 C.E., introduced the regulation that “they would set up teachers for small children in every city and every town and bring them in at the age of six or seven” (b. Bava Batra 21a). In the Jerusalem Talmud, however, one of the regulations of Shim’on ben Shetah, a contemporary of Alexander Yannai and Shlomtzion in the first half of the first century B.C.E., was “that the small children should go to school” (j. Ketubbot, end of Chap. 8). One scholar detected here a contradiction between the two traditions and consequently concluded that neither is historical testimony. However, it is doubtful whether there is a contradiction since one could argue that the regulation of Shim’on ben Shetah established the duty to go to school and the second regulation reinforced the establishment of schools in every community. However, even if there is a contradiction, one should accept as historical the tradition that from Second Temple times and onwards there was an organized school system for children since the very framework of socioreligious life, for example, the recitation of grace after meals, and the synagogue, which revolved around the reading of the Torah, presumes that all those assembled know how to repeat blessings by heart and to read the Torah.

Josephus also emphasizes that study of the Torah was widespread and that all children received an education: “If someone asks one of them about our laws, there is not one of them who does not find it easier to repeat all the laws [by heart] than to tell his own name since we all learn them from our first admission until they are engraved on our hearts” (Against Apion 2:178; cf. 1:12). Specific evidence regarding the establishment of schools in every community exists only from the middle of the third century C.E., but in light of the ability of the general public to read the Scriptures during the Second Temple period, clearly demonstrable from a variety of sources, there is no reason to doubt the traditions regarding the requirement that small children go to school, or the concern later on that there be schools everywhere.

Historical Information Even in Aggadic Traditions

Let us examine a few more aggadic traditions, some exaggerated and consequently of no historical value, but which, by a careful analysis of them in the context of all the sources allows us to arrive at historical conclusions. The first two examples are from the Second Temple period and the third from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple.

1. Three sayings are transmitted in the name of the Men of the Great Assembly in the first mishnah in Avot. These are in effect the earliest traditions in rabbinic literature, the Oral Torah. The three sayings are:

(a) הוו מתונים בדין (Be deliberate in judgement).
(b) העמידו תלמידים הרבה (Raise up many disciples).
(c) עשו סייג לתורה (Make a fence around the Torah).

These three sayings are the essence of the Oral Torah in its approach to Biblical exegesis and its perception of society. That these attitudes constitute a realistic description of the Pharisees and later sages’ point of view may be demonstrated not only from the vast literature of the Oral Torah, but also from Second Temple reality as revealed in Philo, Josephus, the New Testament, and even the literature of the opponents of the Pharisees, the Essenes. I will limit myself to a discussion of the first of these three sayings.

It is customary to interpret the term מתונים (metunim) as “cautious,” that is, Do not be hasty in judgement. This interpretation may be found in quite early sources, but the verb מתן appears in the Mishnah with the meaning “soft, moderate, easy.” We read: “He who puts olives in a press so that they will get soft [ימתונו] and be easy to press” (m. Tohorot 9:5). This verb is used in the Mishnah only in the sense of “soft.” In other words, the members of the Great Assembly taught that one should be soft, that is, humane, in giving judgement. Indeed, if we survey the halachic interpretations in Pharisaic and rabbinic tradition, particularly with regard to capital crimes throughout the generations, we will find that their judges tried to be gentle when sentencing persons guilty of a crime punishable by death. This contrasts with the halachot we find in the Book of Jubilees, which is close, if not identical, to the halachot of the Essene sect.

The Torah says frequently, ונכרת האיש ההוא מקרב עמו (and that man will be cut off from among his people; Lev. 17:4, 9) or ונכרת מעמיו (he shall be cut off from his people; Exod. 30:33, 38), and other similar expressions. These expressions were understood in the Halachah as punishment from heaven (m. Yevamot 4:13). Josephus says regarding the Pharisees that they “by nature are lenient regarding [capital] crimes” (Antiq. 13:293) in contrast to the Sadducees who he says, in connection with the execution of James the brother of Jesus by the Sadducean high priest Hanan, “he is one of the sect of the Sadducees who are the most brutal of all the Jews in judging offenders” (Antiq. 20:199). I am not claiming that the members of the Great Assembly stated the three sayings exactly as worded in Avot, or that the sayings of later sages in Avot 1 are preserved exactly as they were given, but these sayings are a realistic expression of the fundamentals of interpretation of the Torah, on the one hand, and the life of deeds, on the other, that developed in the early days of the Second Temple period, and that the Pharisees and the sages after them continued to follow (examples abound in rabbinic literature).

2. The Second Temple, its structure, regulations and place in public life, feature prominently in both tannaic and amoraic literature. Two tractates, Middot and Tamid are devoted in their entirety to a description of the physical structure of the Temple and how it functioned. Many chapters in the Mishnah, and in some cases entire tractates, deal with topics pertaining to the Temple during festivals and holy days. Nearly all of tractate Shekalim concerns the half-shekel donation to the Temple. Nearly all of tractate Yoma is a description of the Temple service on the Day of Atonement. Similarly, chapters in Sukkah, Pesahim and many other tractates detail Temple ritual and observance.

In the Mishnah (including tractate Tamid, one of the oldest collections of mishnaic redaction) there are legendary traditions that contain exaggeration. It goes without saying that the much later material found in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds and the Midrash include interpretation and tend to glorify the past with legends that have a lyric character and a longing for redemption and the restoration of the Temple. These traditions cannot be regarded as historical in the confined sense. However, comparison and analysis of the sources enable us to establish historical reality in a relatively broad area and with a reasonable degree of likelihood. In fact, we can determine the physical dimensions of the Temple (its courts, halls, gates and many other architectural details) by careful analysis of rabbinic sources.

As is well known, Josephus also provides detailed descriptions of the Temple, particularly in The Jewish War, and the picture that emerges from the rabbinic sources is the same picture that emerges from Josephus’ descriptions. It is true that there are certain contradictions between the Mishnah’s description and Josephus’, but these are not greater than the internal contradictions within the writings of Josephus himself, or than the internal contradictions within the Mishnah. Some of the differences in detail between Josephus and rabbinic literature depend perhaps on the manner of description. It may be that Josephus counts the central gate but not the smaller appended gates on its sides, and perhaps the contradictions reflect different periods. There may be some genuine contradictions, but in general, the descriptions do conform. The east-west orientation of the Temple is the same in both sources. The internal division of the sanctuary and its courts is the same, and the proportions are the same. The Temple vessels and altars are located in the same places and their use is identical. Furthermore, archaeological excavation carried out on the Temple Mount and its surroundings has reinforced some of the rabbinic literary data, and so far, has not contradicted any rabbinic traditions.

The bilingual inscription discovered in the Tomb of Nicanor. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The same applies, with even greater conformity, to the Temple service and its place in the life of the people. The Temple sacrifices on weekdays and festivals are prescribed in the Torah, and the rabbinic sources are identical to Josephus regarding them. However, even in regards regulations that are not written in the Torah there is a great degree of conformity between the rabbinic sources and that which may be gleaned from other Second Temple sources, such as Josephus, Philo, the New Testament—from both canonical and apocryphal gospels—Roman legal and administrative documents and archaeological findings.

One prominent feature pertaining to the organization of the Second Temple is the collection of the half-shekel donation for the maintenance of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. As is well known, making this donation an annual obligation was a Pharisaic innovation. The Bible (Exod. 30:12-16) enjoins a one-time donation for the erection of the Tabernacle, and not an annual donation. From rabbinic sources it is clear that the Sadducees strongly objected to this innovation and insisted that the public sacrifices be financed by private donations (see the beginning of Megillat Ta’anit). The Essenes taught that the half-shekel donation “should only be given once during a man’s lifetime,” and not annually (4Q159 f1ii:7).

Ossuary from Nicanor's Tomb on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. Photographed by JHistory. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Sarcophagus from Nicanor’s Tomb on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. Photographed by JHistory. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

From rabbinic sources we learn that the half-shekel was collected from all the Jews in the land of Israel and in the Diaspora (m. and t. Shekalim 1), and this conclusion is confirmed by extra-rabbinic literature, for example, Matthew 17:24-27. Josephus reports that the towns of Nahardea and Nisibis served as centers for the collection of the half-shekel donation (Antiq. 18:312). Philo tells about the collection of the half-shekel in Egypt and in Rome (On the Embassy to Gaius 156-157, 291, and 311-316). After the destruction of the Temple, Vespasian levied a tax of two dinars on all the Jews in the land of Israel and the Diaspora for the benefit of the Temple of Jupiter in Rome, instead of the two dinars, the equivalent of half a shekel, that the Jews had customarily sent to the Temple in Jerusalem. This fact, confirmed in many Jewish, Christian and Roman sources and documented in receipts from Egypt, testifies to the widespread observance of the half-shekel donation.

From numerous passages in rabbinic literature it is evident that the administration of the Temple, that is the high priesthood, was in the hands of the Sadducees, but that pressure on the part of the sages and the people, who supported the sages, forced the high priests to give in often and to carry out the Temple service according to the halachot of the Pharisees (m. Yoma 1:5-6; t. Sukkah 5:1; t. Parah 3:8; and frequently elsewhere). This picture also emerges from various descriptions by Josephus, who says: “And all the religious matters concerning prayers and the offering of sacrifices are carried out according to the interpretations of these [the Pharisees]” (Antiq. 18:15; cf. 18:17).

Let us take a brief look at examples from details scattered throughout tannaic literature:

In the first chapter of Tosefta Yoma we find a detailed description of Temple activity on the night of the Day of Atonement. In halachah 4 Rabbi Yose (second century C.E.) adds that on one occasion a high priest experienced nocturnal pollution on that night (according to the primary texts of the Tosefta and its parallel) and Joseph son of Elim from Sepphoris replaced him. Josephus mentions the same event, reporting that Matthias son of Theophilus, who served as high priest between 5 and 4 B.C.E., experienced nocturnal pollution on the night before the fast and that Joseph son of Ellemus his relative took his place (Antiq. 17:165-166).

Tomb of Nicanor on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem. (Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.)
Tomb of Nicanor on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

The Mishnah mentions individuals who contributed to the Temple or brought donations and tithes, but whose gifts created halachic problems. The list is brief and all the examples belong to the last generations before the destruction of the Temple. It is remarkable that the tombs of two of the donors have been discovered in the vicinity of Jerusalem. One of these tombs, that of Nicanor who made one of the gates of the Temple, has been known for decades. The Mishnah says: “Miracles happened to Nicanor’s doors and he was remembered with praise” (m. Yoma 3:10). The Tosefta and both Talmuds report the miracles that happened to his doors when he brought them from Alexandria as a donation to the Temple (t. Yoma 2:4; m. Middot 2:3). A burial cave was discovered on Mount Scopus with a Greek and Hebrew inscription testifying that here were located the remains of Nicanor of Alexandria, who made the gates (Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaicarum 1256).

In the Mishnah tractate Hallah three individuals are described as having brought offerings to the Temple—offerings that raised halachic questions: (1) whether firstfruits could be brought from Babylonia; (2) whether firstfruits could be brought in the form of wine and oil; (3) whether firstfruits could be brought from Syria. The Mishnah says: “Ariston brought firstfruits from Apamea” (m. Hallah 4:11). This Ariston appears in a recently published inscription in Hebrew and Greek: “Ariston Afme” (Scripta Classica Israelitica XI [1991/2]: 150).

3. The third example is from the period of the Great Rebellion (66-70 C.E.). In rabbinic sources there are numerous versions of the story of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai’s departure from Jerusalem to Yavne and the privileges the Romans granted him. According to the Babylonian Talmud (b. Gittin 56a-b) the dispensations he received were quite extensive. According to sources originating in the land of Israel, such as Avot de-Rabbi Natan (Version A, chap. 4; Version B, chap. 6), the privileges were far more limited. Lamentations Rabbah’s version (Lam. Rab. 1:31) is similar to the latter. The various parallels also differ in the historical background they portray. However, these traditions should not be discussed only from a literary point of view. Taken together, the various references to Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai and his sayings, from both before and after the destruction of the Temple, suggest a clear picture of his actions. He was not a Zealot, and may have opposed the rebellion. He left Jerusalem in order to rebuild Judaism after the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple, turned himself over to the Romans and, like everyone who departed the besieged city and turned themselves over to the Romans, was arrested. He reached Yavne because it served as a place where people who left Jerusalem were concentrated. He received only limited recognition and began to operate under difficult conditions. Only in the course of years did Yavne become a center of Jewish leadership and a center for the study of Torah and gain its important place in the rebuilding of a Judaism without Jerusalem and its Temple.

Qumran and the Antiquity of Halachic Terms

There are many halachic terms that appear in rabbinic traditions ascribed to the Temple period and that pertain to the reality of the Temple. Many of these traditions relate to controversies with Sadducees. The traditions mention Hebrew terms that are idiomatic in the language of the sages. They pertain to Biblical injunctions, but they occur in the language of the sages not in the language of the Bible. One might argue that the terms do not date from the Second Temple period but were coined during the mishnaic period and quoted in the names of earlier sages or personalities who lived in the period of the Second Temple. However, since the discovery of the Dead Sea documents in 1947 scholars have pointed out dozens of such terms proving that they were current in the Second Temple period. Let us discuss a few that have been clarified by scholarship, beginning with an halachic homily that is not attributed to an early period:

1. In Exodus 22:15-16 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29, the Bible says that he who seduces or rapes a virgin is obliged to marry her and “she will be his wife.” This obligation is discussed in an halachic homily (Mechilta, Mishpatim 17 [on Ex 22:15; ed. Horovitz-Rabin, p. 308]) and in the Mishnah (m. Ketubbot 3:5). In these two texts it is stated that the seducer is required to marry her only if she is suitable for marriage to him, אשה הראויה לו (a woman suitable for him), that is, is not a forbidden relation. The language of the addition to the Biblical verse in the Temple Scroll (11q19 66:9) is identical: והיא רויה לו מן החוק (and she is suitable for him according to the law). The Mishnah and the Temple Scroll do not agree regarding every detail of this law, but the expression “and she will be his wife—a wife that is suitable for him” is the same even though the time gap between the Temple Scroll and the Mishnah is several hundred years.

2. The day on which the ’omer (measure of barley from the new crop) is waved, as prescribed in Leviticus 23:12, “On the day of your waving the ’omer,” is called יום הנף (the day of waving) in rabbinic literature (m. Sukkah 3:12; m. Rosh HaShanah 4:3). This expression is a condensed form of יום הנף העומר (the day of waving the ’omer), or in one place, הנפת העמר (Pesikta Rabbati 41). The same form occurs several times in the Temple Scroll, for example, in 11q19 11:10 and 11q19 18:10: וביום הנף העומר and ביום הניפת העומר.

3. According to the Torah one who undergoes ritual purification does not become pure on the same day, but only after sunset: “And the sun will set and he will be pure” (Lev. 22:7); “And when the sun sets he will enter the camp” (Deut. 23:12). In rabbinic language, this waiting period is called מעורב שמש (setting of the sun) (m. Parah 3:7, and elsewhere), and the completion of the period is called העריב שמשו (his sun has set). This language appears often in tannaic literature, in some cases regarding traditions and events from the time when the Second Temple was still standing, such as the altercation between Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai and the Sadducean high priest (t. Parah 3:6-10). The same language also appears several times in the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, in 4QMMT (4Q394 f3_7i:18) we read: להעריב השמש להיות טהורים ([Concerning the purity of the heifer of the sin offering, the one who slaughters it, the one who burns it, the one who gathers its ashes, and the one who sprinkles the (water of) purification—for all of these,] the sun must set for them to be pure) (trans. Abegg). And in a fragment of the Damascus Covenant we read: וטהר אשר יעריב שמשו (and pure whose sun has set).

4. The sages use a halachic concept הנצוק (ha-nitsok), a term used to describe liquid being poured from a pure vessel into an empty vessel or into one containing impure food or drink. The term appears in several halachot regarding the impurity of vessels or the impurity of idolatry. It recurs not an insignificant number of times in both tannaic and amoraic sources. According to the halachah, such a fluid is pure and does not constitute a carrier of impurity. In other words, as soon as one stops pouring, the liquid that has entered the impure vessel is impure, but the liquid in the pure vessel retains its state of purity. A term that appears in tannaic literature cannot be presumed to have come into being before the time of the tannaim (before the generation of Yavne [70-132 C.E.] and afterwards), but this term appears also in a controversy between Pharisees and Sadducees, since the Pharisees declared this liquid pure and the Sadducees declared it impure and a carrier of impurity. In the Mishnah we read: “The Sadducees say: ‘We complain about you Pharisees who purify the נצוק’” (m. Yadayim 4:7). We could argue that the language of the Sadducees was changed by later editors for whom the term נצוק was common, but a similar controversy appears in 4QMMT of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and its similarity is not only in content, but also in form and terminology. This work is a kind of anti-Pharisaic polemic or propaganda tract in which the writer presents the preferred views of the sect as opposed to the inferior views of his Pharisaic opponents. We read: “[Co]ncerning streams of liquid (מוצקות), we have determined that they are not intrinsically [p]ure. Indeed, streams of liquid (מוצקות) do not form a barrier between the impure [and the] pure. For the liquid of the stream and that in its receptacle become as one liquid” (4Q394 f8iv:5-8; trans. Abegg).

We should not rush to conclude that the halachah of Qumran is the halachah of the Sadducees or even resembles it. We know very little about Sadducean halachah, and the few Sadducean halachot that we find similar to those of Qumran do not testify to more than a factor common to both the Dead Sea sect and the Sadducees—a tendency toward conservative interpretation of the Torah that opposed the interpretations and the traditions of the Pharisees. Evidence from the Qumran texts supports the conclusion of scholars who attribute some rabbinic halachot to the period of the Second Temple on the basis of analysis of rabbinic sources. We would reach the same conclusion if we compared the many parallels in the Septuagint, Josephus and the Apocrypha with early Christian literature, that is, the New Testament and the writings of the apostolic church fathers. I have selected the above examples from the Dead Sea Scrolls because of their linguistic similarity to rabbinic traditions, because the Scrolls predate rabbinic literature by several generations, and because it cannot be claimed that the Scrolls have undergone later rewriting.


Obviously there can be no general consensus on the extent of the historical value of rabbinic sayings. To one scholar a testimony, saying or tradition (anonymous or ascribed to a certain sage) may seem to be unimpeachable historical evidence, and to another nothing more than a literary tradition. Even the same scholar may not always take the same position. Sometimes a scholar changes his position about a piece of “evidence.” Nevertheless, often one may reach sound conclusions as to the degree of reliability of a rabbinic tradition; but only, however, if these are drawn on the basis of serious analysis of text and context, taking into account how the tradition fits into the mosaic of rabbinic tradition from both literary and historical points of view.


  • [1] In this article I summarize what I perceive as the correct way to deal with rabbinic sources and do not engage in a controversy or polemic with any particular scholar. Consequently, I have not given bibliographical references to specific translations and editions, but only references to original sources.

The Amidah Prayer

Revised: 18-Jun-2013

Because the prayer Jesus’ taught his disciples (The Lord’s Prayer) is apparently an abbreviated version of the Amidah prayer[1] (also known as the Eighteen Benedictions, or Blessings), it is important for Christians to be familiar with this central prayer of Jewish religious life. (Not finding an English translation of the Amidah to my liking, I prepared the new translation of the Amidah below.)

The Amidah is very ancient, some of the changes to it being made 200 years before the time of Jesus.[2] The prayer is also very beautiful, full of allusions to and quotations from Scripture.

The Amidah is the essential part of the morning, afternoon and evening weekday services in the synagogue. Every Jew is religiously obligated to pray the Eighteen Benedictions daily.

The prayer is composed of three opening benedictions of praise, which include: “We will hallow your name in the world as it is hallowed in the highest heavens”; thirteen petitions including petitions for wisdom, healing, forgiveness, deliverance from want and affliction, and for the sending of the Messiah, “the branch of David”; and three concluding benedictions, which include thanksgiving to the “rock of our lives and shield of our salvation” whose “miracles are daily with us,” whose “wonders and benefits occur evening, morning and noon,” and whose “mercies and kindnesses never cease.”

The headings below in capital letters (e.g., “THE GOD OF HISTORY”) that summarize each benediction are for reference only, and are not to be recited. The characterization of God (at the end of each benediction, e.g., “the shield of Abraham”), which always follows the words, “Blessed are you, O Lord,” also can be used to summarize each benediction, and, if strung together, comprise a nice description of God: God is the shield of Abraham, the one who revives the dead, the holy God, the gracious giver of knowledge, the one who delights in repentance, the one who is merciful and always ready to forgive, the redeemer of Israel, the healer of Israel’s sick, the one who blesses the years, the one who gathers Israel’s dispersed, the King who loves righteousness and justice, the one who smashes enemies and humbles the arrogant, the support and stay of the righteous, the one who rebuilds Jerusalem, the one who causes salvation to flourish, the one who hears prayer, the one who restores the divine presence to Zion, the one whose Name is the Beneficent One and to whom it is fitting to give thanks, and the one who blesses Israel with peace.


The  Amidah


Blessed are you, O Lord our God and God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, the great, mighty and revered God, the Most High God who bestows lovingkindnesses, the creator of all things, who remembers the good deeds of the patriarchs and in love will bring a redeemer to their children’s children for his name’s sake.

O king, helper, savior and shield. Blessed are you, O Lord, the shield of Abraham.


You, O Lord, are mighty forever, you revive the dead, you have the power to save. [From the end of Sukkoth until the eve of Passover, insert: “You cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall.”]

You sustain the living with lovingkindness, you revive the dead with great mercy, you support the falling, heal the sick, set free the bound and keep faith with those who sleep in the dust. Who is like you, O doer of mighty acts? Who resembles you, a king who puts to death and restores to life, and causes salvation to flourish?

And you are certain to revive the dead. Blessed are you, O Lord, who revives the dead.


[Reader] We will sanctify your name in this world just as it is sanctified in the highest heavens, as it is written by your prophet: “And they call out to one another and say:

[Cong.] ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’” [Isa. 6:3]

[Reader] Those facing them praise God saying:

[Cong.] “Blessed be the Presence of the LORD in his place.” [Ezek. 3:12]

[Reader] And in your Holy Words it is written, saying,

[Cong.] “The LORD reigns forever, your God, O Zion, throughout all generations. Hallelujah.” [Ps. 146:10]

[Reader] Throughout all generations we will declare your greatness, and to all eternity we will proclaim your holiness. Your praise, O our God, shall never depart from our mouth, for you are a great and holy God and King. Blessed are you, O Lord, the holy God.

You are holy, and your name is holy, and holy beings praise you daily. (Selah.) Blessed are you, O Lord, the holy God.


You favor men with knowledge, and teach mortals understanding. O favor us with the knowledge, the understanding and the insight that come from you. Blessed are you, O Lord, the gracious giver of knowledge.


Bring us back, O our father, to your Instruction; draw us near, O our King, to your service; and cause us to return to you in perfect repentance. Blessed are you, O Lord, who delights in repentance.


Forgive us, O our Father, for we have sinned; pardon us, O our King, for we have transgressed; for you pardon and forgive. Blessed are you, O Lord, who is merciful and always ready to forgive.


Look upon our affliction and plead our cause, and redeem us speedily for your name’s sake; for you are a mighty redeemer. Blessed are you, O Lord, the redeemer of Israel.


Heal us, O Lord, and we will be healed; save us and we will be saved, for you are our praise. O grant a perfect healing to all our ailments, for you, Almighty King, are a faithful and merciful healer. Blessed are you, O Lord, the healer of the sick of his people Israel.


Bless this year for us, O Lord our God, together with all the varieties of its produce, for our welfare. Bestow ([from the 15th of Nissan insert:] “dew and rain for”) a blessing upon the face of the earth. O satisfy us with your goodness, and bless our year like the best of years. Blessed are you, O Lord, who blesses the years.


Sound the great shofar for our freedom, raise the ensign to gather our exiles, and gather us from the four corners of the earth. Blessed are you, O Lord, who gathers the dispersed of his people Israel.


Restore our judges as in former times, and our counselors as at the beginning; and remove from us sorrow and sighing. Reign over us, you alone, O Lord, with lovingkindness and compassion, and clear us in judgment. Blessed are you, O Lord, the King who loves righteousness and justice.


Let there be no hope for slanderers, and let all wickedness perish in an instant. May all your enemies quickly be cut down, and may you soon in our day uproot, crush, cast down and humble the dominion of arrogance. Blessed are you, O Lord, who smashes enemies and humbles the arrogant.


May your compassion be stirred, O Lord our God, toward the righteous, the pious, the elders of your people the house of Israel, the remnant of their scholars, toward proselytes, and toward us also. Grant a good reward to all who truly trust in your name. Set our lot with them forever so that we may never be put to shame, for we have put our trust in you. Blessed are you, O Lord, the support and stay of the righteous.


Return in mercy to Jerusalem your city, and dwell in it as you have promised. Rebuild it soon in our day as an eternal structure, and quickly set up in it the throne of David. Blessed are you, O Lord, who rebuilds Jerusalem.


Speedily cause the offspring of your servant David to flourish, and let him be exalted by your saving power, for we wait all day long for your salvation. Blessed are you, O Lord, who causes salvation to flourish.


Hear our voice, O Lord our God; spare us and have pity on us. Accept our prayer in mercy and with favor, for you are a God who hears prayers and supplications. O our King, do not turn us away from your presence empty-handed, for you hear the prayers of your people Israel with compassion. Blessed are you, O Lord, who hears prayer.


Be pleased, O Lord our God, with your people Israel and with their prayers. Restore the service to the inner sanctuary of your Temple, and receive in love and with favor both the fire-offerings of Israel and their prayers. May the worship of your people Israel always be acceptable to you. And let our eyes behold your return in mercy to Zion. Blessed are you, O Lord, who restores his divine presence to Zion.


We give thanks to you that you are the Lord our God and the God of our fathers forever and ever. Through every generation you have been the rock of our lives, the shield of our salvation. We will give you thanks and declare your praise for our lives that are committed into your hands, for our souls that are entrusted to you, for your miracles that are daily with us, and for your wonders and your benefits that are with us at all times, evening, morning and noon. O beneficent one, your mercies never fail; O merciful one, your lovingkindnesses never cease. We have always put our hope in you.

For all these acts may your name be blessed and exalted continually, O our King, forever and ever. Let every living thing give thanks to you and praise your name in truth, O God, our salvation and our help. (Selah.) Blessed are you, O Lord, whose Name is the Beneficent One, and to whom it is fitting to give thanks.


Grant peace, welfare, blessing, grace, lovingkindness and mercy to us and to all Israel, your people. Bless us, O our Father, one and all, with the light of your countenance; for by the light of your countenance you have given us, O Lord our God, a Torah of life, lovingkindness and salvation, blessing, mercy, life and peace. May it please you to bless your people Israel at all times and in every hour with your peace. Blessed are you, O Lord, who blesses his people Israel with peace.

  • [1] For abbreviated versions of the Amidah prayer taught by ancient Jewish sages to their disciples, see my “Prayers for Emergencies.”
  • [2] The prayer’s final version dates from around 90-100 A.D., when a nineteenth benediction was added.

Repentance: God Inhales


In March of 1998 I participated in an annual conference sponsored by the Centre for the Study of Biblical Research. Several sessions had been designated for me to speak, and during one of them I presented “Repentance: God Inhales.” The response from the audience seemed favorable, so upon returning to Wichita Falls, Texas, (where Janet and I lived for 22 months), I began entertaining the idea of transcribing, revising, editing, and eventually publishing the material in printed form. To achieve this goal, I received considerable assistance from others.

Diana and Ronnie Hicks volunteered as transcribers. They also did the computer work on the first few rounds of revisions. This was no small undertaking, and for their commitment to such a tedious task I am truly thankful.

Ken and Lenore Mullican started where Diana and Ronnie left off. Ken invested many hours entering corrections, making revisions, and formatting the digital version of the manuscript. Together he and I slowly worked on the project for well over a year. Without Ken’s unflagging efforts, “Repentance: God Inhales” would have remained nothing more than a roughly edited transcription.

At least once I have been questioned about the booklet’s odd title. “Repentance: God Inhales” reflects a fusion of two conceptual sources. First, there are plenty of passages like Leviticus 1:4-9 where the phrase “a soothing aroma to the Lord” appears. An aroma can be appreciated only if it is inhaled. Secondly, I began formulating ideas about this topic during the presidency of Bill Clinton, a man who claimed he did not inhale (while smoking marijuana during his student days). These two sources of inspiration seemed compatible conceptually, and so the title “Repentance: God Inhales” sprang into reality.

The material in this article originated as an oral presentation. Despite my efforts to improve the literary style and enhance readability, evidence of an oral history may still be collected. Hopefully the reader will not be too distracted by the content to notice the literary shortcomings.

Lastly, I am again very pleased that Father Richard Thomas agreed to write a foreword for something that I have written. He is a Spirit-filled Jesuit priest who serves the poor and destitute of El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. Over the many years of laboring in ministry, Father Thomas has seen God respond in dramatic ways to the silent cry of the penitent prostitute and the shattered soul of the remorseful junkie. He has witnessed God’s loving-kindness transform even the most decadent and prolific of sinners.

I am indebted to Israel’s ancient sages and Judaism’s modern scholars for helping me see more clearly the mercy and compassion of The Holy One Blessed Be He. It is my desire that “Repentance: God Inhales” shed soft, warm light on a few of the often overlooked, but no less sublime features of God’s character.

Joseph Frankovic
March 29, 2000
Tulsa, Oklahoma


Early in his gospel Mark reported that Jesus went into Galilee and began proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel!” (Mark 1:14-15). The nearness of the kingdom of God required two responses: first, belief that the kingdom of God was in fact at hand, and secondly, repentance to prepare one to welcome the kingdom.

Genuine repentance calls for a reforming of one’s daily habits. The needed change begins with the individual and ideally should permeate the society at large. For instance, a slave owner would need to apply the Golden Rule in his treatment of his own slaves. When enough individual slave owners had made such an application of the Golden Rule, the next step would be for the state to reflect a more Godlike character resulting in the abolition of slavery. Tragically, however, it was not repentance that brought about the change in our country, but a bloody civil war.

God wants to reform the individual and the culture. The story of Zacchaeus illustrates well what happens when an individual repents (Luke 19:1-10). A chief tax collector living in Jericho, Zacchaeus was as rich as he was despised. Because Zacchaeus worked hand-in-glove with their harsh Roman overlords, the other citizens harbored ill-will toward him.

Once as Jesus passed through Jericho, probably en route to Jerusalem, Zacchaeus saw him. Abandoning the propriety proper to someone his age and social status, Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree to command an unobstructed view of Jesus. When Jesus came to the spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” The kingdom of God, centering on the person of Jesus, went straight to Zacchaeus. The chief tax collector responded by reshaping his life. “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” Zacchaeus is an instructive example of individual repentance. Jesus implied this by saying, “Today salvation has come to this house because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost.”

As an example of corporate repentance, the story of Jonah and the Ninevites splendidly illustrates how turning from sin can extend far beyond the individual and affect an entire city. After Jonah’s encounter with the sea monster, he decided to obey God and go to Nineveh. The result was dramatic. The Ninevites believed God, declared a fast, and all of them from the greatest to the least put on sackcloth. When the king heard about it, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, and issued this decree: “Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands” (Jonah 3:7-8).

The Ninevites responded to Jonah’s proclamation, and God responded to their corporate act of repentance: he spared the 120,000 citizens of that city as well as its many animals. Their repentance triggered God’s compassion

The Old Testament prophets recognized that corporate sin required corporate repentance. For example, Daniel confessed in prayer before the Lord: “Indeed all Israel has transgressed thy law and turned aside, not obeying thy voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against [God]…for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people have become a reproach to all those around us” (Daniel 9:11, 16). Group sin requires confession of that sin and a collective change in the people’s behavior.

When Artaxerxes was king of Persia, he appointed Nehemiah to be governor of Judah. Nehemiah returned to the land of his ancestors to find the walls of Jerusalem in disrepair and God’s people lacking the prosperity that they had been promised. The ninth and tenth chapters of Nehemiah record a liturgy of God’s people repenting for sin:

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dirt upon them. And the descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God… But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly; they became stubborn and would not listen to Thy commandments. And they refused to listen. And did not remember Thy wondrous deeds which Thou hadst performed among them; so they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But Thou art a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness; and Thou didst not forsake them… However, Thou art just in all that has come upon us; for thou hast dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. For our kings, our leaders, our priests, and our fathers have not kept Thy law or paid attention to Thy commandments and Thine admonitions with which Thou had admonished them… Now because of all this we are making an agreement in writing; and on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests…we will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons. As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or a holy day; and we will forego the crops the seventh year and the exaction of every debt. (Neh. 9:1-10:31)

Nehemiah’s program required that the entire community participate. He coupled corporate confession of sin with a positive, practical plan to amend the people’s bad habits.

Examining the experience of Jesus, we see that he succeeded in calling some of his coreligionists to repentance. He failed, however, in getting his people to repent corporately. Luke recorded Jesus’ reaction once he realized that Jerusalem would not receive His message.

And when He approached, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44)

Generally speaking, contemporary preachers emphasize belief more than repentance or the reformation of conduct. One exception is J. John of the United Kingdom. Four years ago he began preaching the Ten Commandments. He proclaims a simple, basic message of repentance. “Sin is overlooked in the church,” J. John declared during an interview in November 1999. He also commented, “…as the Ten Commandments are preached, the Holy Spirit convicts of sin; people return stolen goods and begin to tithe and so forth.” The results have been outstanding with Christians being revived and nonbelievers coming to faith. Repentance and the changing of habits is J. John’s message.

Today despair wreaks havoc in many people’s lives because they suppose that their sin is too great for God to forgive. Drug addicts who have compiled a long, sordid personal history suffer from despair. Women who have aborted their children regard their sin as heinous and unpardonable. They torture themselves daily with condemning thoughts until they learn of God’s mending love and liberating mercy. In a way they resemble Judas because he too lacked confidence in the Master’s readiness to forgive. Judas’ gross miscalculation of God’s merciful character constituted a graver error than his betrayal of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

Herein lies the service that Joseph Frankovic has rendered to us: a bold underscoring of God’s unflagging and fierce desire to forgive. Jesus (whose name in Hebrew means “salvation”) occupies himself with saving, healing, and forgiving people. A principle feature of his messianic task is calling people (and even society at large) to a radical redirecting of their lives toward our merciful Heavenly Father.

Fr. Richard Thomas
The Lord’s Ranch
Vado, New Mexico
January 2000


Repentance: God Inhales

Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old. Blessed are thou, O Lord, who delightest in repentance.[1]

This benediction comes from a version of a Jewish prayer older than the one that appears in contemporary prayer books. Blessing God as one who delights in repentance has rich theological implications. Nevertheless, this blessing runs the risk of inaccuracy by understating God’s reaction to repentance. He not only delights in it but displays peculiar patterns of behavior when under its influence.

Rabbi Jose once said: “God has declared, ‘make for me an opening as the eye of a needle; and I will make for you an opening through which armies of soldiers with heavy equipment can enter.’”[2]

Preserved as a comment on Song of Songs 5:2, Rabbi Jose’s words underscore God’s sensitivity to repentance. The slightest indication of it rouses God to action. He stands ready to assist the penitent offender. God acts like the stereotypical salesman: once he gets his toe in the door, he works it until the door is finally wide open.

Psalms 32:10 offers a consoling message with which many Christians can identify: “Many are the sorrows of the wicked; but he who trusts in the Lord, loving-kindness shall surround him.”

This verse requires no explanation for the reader to grasp its literal meaning. The psalmist merely described two different types of people, the wicked who deserve punishment, and those who trust in the Lord. The ones trusting in the Lord benefit from his loving-kindness surrounding them.

After the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, a new group emerged to join the ranks of Israel’s biblical tripartite leadership model of priests, prophets, and kings. The new group constituted the sages (or in Hebrew, the hachamim). As champions of innovation and reform, these learned men played a lead role in the transformation and advancement of Judaism during the Second Temple Period. Before the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E., many sages were Pharisees, and after the temple’s demise, many contributed to the formation of rabbinic Judaism.

When reading the Bible, they realized that before them lay a very old text. They also realized that they lived in a changing world. To prevent theological ossification and to infuse Judaism with new vigor, they pioneered and developed a method of reading Scripture called midrash.[3]

One way to illustrate the midrashic process is to visualize the man at the carnival who sells long colorful balloons. Imagine a verse of Scripture as being one of those colorful balloons; and the carnival vendor bending and squeezing and twisting and knotting it to the point of bursting. After bending, squeezing, twisting, and knotting, he presents us with a delightful animal or flower. The carnival man sees greater potential than first meets the eye, and by manipulating the balloon, he entertains and surprises us. In a way, this resembles what the sages did with the biblical text. Believing that the Bible contained unlimited potential, they bent and squeezed the text through the process of midrash until it yielded a gem that at first had been imperceptible. One parable in rabbinic literature[4] suggests that when God gave the Children of Israel his Torah, he entrusted them with raw material rather than a finished product—an idea quite foreign to a modern Protestant view of Scripture.

Consider again Psalms 32:10. The average reader can easily appreciate its message. Moreover, the person of faith finds comfort and assurance in it: “But he who trusts in the Lord, loving-kindness shall surround him.”

Nevertheless, the rabbis squeezed and bent this text until it yielded a more profound message. I also suspect that they may have had misgivings about the type of thinking that the verse could foster. It contrasts and separates two groups of people: 1) the wicked—all of us know what they deserve; and 2) those that trust in the Lord—all of us know what we deserve.

By the time that Jesus arrived on the scene, Jewish thinking had evolved and matured quite a bit from that which we see reflected in various parts of the Old Testament. Judaism had also become more diversified. It contained a plurality of approaches to piety. For instance, in Matthew 5:45, Jesus said, “…for He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Jesus did not say that God sends rain on the righteous and lightning on the unrighteous: he does good to both parties. Matthew 5:45 typifies the sort of achievement which occurred in Jewish theology after the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Jews in the first century recognized that God loves people, and does good things for them, even when they do not deserve it.

When the rabbis read Psalms 32:10, they may have felt a little apprehensive because this verse can easily be enlisted to promote a “we-and-they” mentality. I would be willing to suggest that this same theological virus plagues even the thinking of a number of evangelically-minded and fundamentalist Christians. Such a mentality adversely affects our conduct. Few sins inhibit the activity of the Holy Spirit as does spiritual or theological elitism. Once such thinking has infected our souls, it masquerades as piety and eludes most efforts to root it out, because the Bible contains ample number of verses to which we may appeal for defending our unholy attitude.

Faced with the potentially divisive implications of Psalms 32:10, the rabbis circumnavigated the verse’s plain meaning. They accomplished this by creatively expanding the wording of the verse: “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but even if the wicked one repents and trusts in the Lord, loving-kindness will surround him.”[5]

In order to achieve that reading, the rabbis squeezed and bent this verse to the point of bursting. Nevertheless, interpreting midrashically, they highlighted a foundational theological concept: a person cannot accumulate more iniquity than repentance can remove. It is this message that the rabbis sought to coax out of the verse. With the assistance of a midrashic rendering of the text, they refocused the reader’s attention on a more sublime feature of God’s character.[6]

From this rabbinic comment on Psalms 32:10, we learn that God remains on alert for any sign of repentance from a sinner or wicked person. He responds to the repentant cry of a thoroughly wicked person just as he does to the repentant cry of an average sinner. Once remorse is detected, he moves in and surrounds even the most morally depraved with loving-kindness.

Thirteen chapters later in the Psalter, another psalmist opened by speaking about the inspiration welling up within his heart to write lyrics for a royal occasion. English translations of Psalms 45:1 read something like the following: “My heart overflows with a good theme; I address my verses to the King” (author’s emphasis). The Hebrew literally says: “My heart is stirred with a good word, I will tell my deeds to the King” (author’s emphasis).[7]

Exploiting a literal reading of the verse, the rabbis offered this comment: “When a person is unable to confess with his or her mouth, as soon as the heart is stirred toward repentance, God receives it.”[8]

Thus, not only is God ready to respond to repentance at the slightest indication and assist the process, and not only is he willing to forgive any amount or type of iniquity, here he accepts the meditations of one’s heart (without or before verbalization). The rabbis interpreted “I will tell my deeds to the King” as a description of one repenting before God. Once that interpretation had been fixed, they read “my heart is stirred with a good word” as paralleling “I will tell my deeds to the King.” Hence, both sentences speak of repentance.

Commenting on Jeremiah 30:18, the rabbis employed a common hermeneutic technique of isolating a phrase of Scripture and interpreting it independent of its original context. The rabbis were fond of breaking up a verse into small parts. They interpreted each part as an independent unit and/or recombined it with parts from other verses.[9] This midrashic process of breaking up a verse into smaller parts and recombining the parts generated additional meaning. The rabbis delighted in squeezing every possible drop of meaning from Scripture.[10]

English translations of Jeremiah 30:18 read something like: “Behold I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob…” Where the English reads “I will restore,” the Hebrew literally says, “I am returning.” From a hyper-grammatical perspective שָׁב (shav), which has been translated above as “will restore,” could be translated “I am returning” or even “I am repenting.” This verb appears in the Pa’al (or Qal) conjugation and, therefore, is intransitive. This attracted the attention of the rabbis. They simply treated the verb shav hyper-literally and read the phrase as, “Behold I am repenting.”[11]

Now that is a curious reading. Does God have need of repentance? Of course not! So why would God be repenting? The rabbis answered this question by telling a parable in which they compared God to a father whose child lay ill. A doctor came and prescribed medicine for the child. Reacting to the bitter taste, the child recoiled from the medicine. What did the father do? He went to his child and said, “Dear One, I will take the medicine first, and then you take it after me.” Wow! The rabbis portrayed God in a manner which suggests that God himself is prepared—if we can even imagine it—to repent! Surely, he has no need of repentance. Nevertheless, in order to make repentance a more attractive option, God behaving like a father who loves his ill child swallows the bitter medicine first with the hope that the child will follow his example. Although the rabbis gave Jeremiah 30:18 a thorough midrashic reworking, and leveled its simple meaning, their depiction of God and his profound love for us leaves the reader dumbstruck.

Allow me to relate one other story from rabbinic literature.[12] The story deals with King Manasseh, who was one of Judah’s most wicked kings. Openly worshipping idols, he even sacrificed his children to them. 2 Chronicles 33 describes his capture by the King of Assyria. While a prisoner, Manasseh repented. The rabbinic version of the story recounts Manasseh’s experience as a prisoner. The verses on which the rabbis zeroed in are 2 Chronicles 33:12-13:

And when he was in distress, he entreated the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

The rabbinic retelling of the story relates how Manasseh, while incarcerated, prayed to all of his idols for deliverance, but to no avail. One day, however, he remembered a passage of Scripture that he had heard his father read in the synagogue.[13]

That passage came from Deuteronomy 4:25-31:

When you become the father of children and children’s children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord your God so as to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you shall surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but shall be utterly destroyed. And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you shall be left few in number among the nations, where the Lord shall drive you. And there you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice. For the Lord your God is a compassionate God: He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.

Remembering these verses which he had heard in his youth, Manasseh reasoned that he might as well try calling out to God. If his fortune did not change after praying to God, Manasseh could assume safely that there is no difference between God and an idol. If, however, God answered his prayer, then he would repent and quit his idolatrous ways. So, Manasseh prayed, and as his prayer was ascending on high, the angels of the heavenly court quickly got to the windows and closed the shutters. They simply did not want Manasseh to have any chance of repenting and gaining future admittance through the heavenly gates.

One can imagine the angels walking around the heavenly palace and trying to act as if they were not up to something. But God discerned that something was afoot, and he realized that Manasseh was supplicating him in prayer. Discovering that Manasseh’s prayers were rising up to heaven, but bouncing off the shutters, God became very restless. As each prayer hit the bolted shutters, God became more agitated. Finally, out of desperation, he ripped a hole through the throne of glory, and poof! Up the prayers came through the hole that he had dug through his throne. Greatly relieved, God happily accepted Manasseh’s prayers, and as a result of Manasseh’s turning toward him, God returned him to Jerusalem and restored his royal throne.

This rabbinic story depicts God enduring the unbearable: not having access to the prayers of a penitent sinner. The situation so distressed God that he responded by ripping a hole through his throne!

These excerpts from rabbinic literature reinforce what I wrote at the beginning. To say that God delights in repentance is an understatement. Not only does he delight in repentance, but in the light of the rabbinic literature, God acts incomprehensibly when affected by it.

What motivates God’s peculiar behavior? Speaking through Ezekiel the prophet, God once declared: “…As I live!…I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live…” (Ezek. 33:11).

Here God clearly indicated that he finds no pleasure in the ruin of a wicked person. Rather, he hopes for his or her repentance. The rabbis latched on to this theme. They searched for opportunities in Scripture to underscore this point. They found such an opportunity in Proverbs 11:7: “In the death of a wicked man, hope perishes.” I have translated this verse literally from the Hebrew in order to help explain how the rabbis interpreted it. Notice that the Hebrew does not indicate specifically whose hope perishes. The rabbis read the verse in a manner to suggest that it is not the hope of the wicked, but God’s hope that perishes.[14] God’s hope for what? Repentance. In other words, if a person persists in the pursuit of wickedness up to the point of his or her death, the opportunity for repentance passes away too, and, obviously, God’s hope of redeeming that person will never be realized.

Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans:

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

Likewise 2 Peter 3:8-9 reads:

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

In the light of these passages from the New Testament, should Christians pray for the soon return of the Lord? That would be similar to seeking a wicked person’s untimely death. When the wicked person dies, God’s hope perishes. When the Son of Man comes, apparently the terrible Day of the Lord will be at hand. That day will be a day of judgment. Could the delay in the coming of the Son of Man be interpreted as an expression of God’s grace? The longer the delay, the greater the opportunity for the wicked to repent.

We live in an age (or dispensation) that Jesus called the days of “the Kingdom of Heaven.”[15] What is happening during this unprecedented span of time? The good news is preached to the poor, release is proclaimed to the captives, the downtrodden are set free, the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up.[16] The days of the Kingdom of Heaven constitute a favorable period in salvation history. What is the Kingdom of God doing right now? What it has always done since the time of John the Baptist—expanding. From a spiritual-metaphorical perspective, we are enjoying the longest running bull market in salvation history![17]

Let us now turn to the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke­—in order to survey how God’s character is depicted in them. Look first at Luke 15:4-6:

What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep, and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture, and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!”

How is God’s character portrayed in this parable? Is he passively waiting for people to repent? God remains assertive—he (or his messianic representative) goes out and seeks for that lost individual who has strayed. Is this consistent with the picture that the rabbis sketched? Rabbi Jose claimed that God actively facilitated the process of repentance.

Consider another passage from Luke 15:11-21:

A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.” And he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be in need. And he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he came to his senses he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and in your sight: I am no longer worthy to be called your son: make me as one of your hired men.’” And he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

If a wicked person repents and trusts in the Lord, loving-kindness will surround him. Is the rabbinic interpretation of Psalms 32:10 consistent with the portrayal of the father’s response to his repentant son in Luke’s parable?

Consider Luke’s version of The Wicked Husbandmen.[18] Jesus told this parable during his final visit to Jerusalem. The aristocratic Sadducean priests controlled the temple precincts. They had begun conspiring against Jesus because of his denunciation of their abusive and corrupt practices.[19] In response to the aristocratic priests and not the Pharisees, he told this parable:

A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey for a long time. And at the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers in order that they might give him some of the produce of the vineyard; but the vine-growers beat him and sent him away empty handed. And he proceeded to send another slave; and they beat him also and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he proceeded to send a third; and this one also they wounded and cast out. And the owner of the vineyard said, “What shall I do? I will send my beloved[20] son; perhaps they will respect him.” But when the vine-growers saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, “This is the heir; let us kill him that the inheritance may be ours.” And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What, therefore, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? (Luke 20:9-15)

Which character in the parable defies reason? Whose behavior is irrational? Early in the plot of the parable, the wicked tenant farmers establish a pattern of reckless conduct. They beat the first three servants (who represent the prophets of old).[21] Nevertheless, the owner of the vineyard concludes that if he sends his only son to these wicked tenant farmers, they will respect him. What is wrong with the owner of the vineyard? Is he naive? Based on their previous conduct, what are the chances that the tenant farmers will treat his son with respect? Once again the ancient literature portrayed God in a manner in which his behavior seems incomprehensible.

In the parable, Jesus cast God in the role of the vineyard’s owner and, being the landlord, he must deal with these wicked tenants (who represent the aristocratic Sadducean priests). The tenants make no effort to receive hospitably their visitors—rather, they mistreat them. Yet God decides that they need to be treated more kindly. So he sends his only son in a final effort to win them over.[22] And, of course, the parable concludes with an easily anticipated ending—the death of his son.

Once again, we see that God’s behavior becomes very strange when the hope for repentance is at stake. God seems irrational and unpredictable. But thank God for his irrational, unpredictable behavior, or most of us would not belong to him.

In Jewish theology, when somebody sins against another person, receiving forgiveness requires not only repenting before God, but also going to the offended party and asking him or her for forgiveness. Once while commenting on topics related to the day known as Yom Kippur, Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah touched upon this idea: “For transgressions that are between man and God, the Day of Atonement will effect atonement, but for transgressions that are between a man and his fellow, the Day of Atonement effects atonement only if he has appeased his fellow.”[23]

Does that remind us of something Jesus taught? “If therefore you are presenting your offering at the alter, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the alter, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:23-24). Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah’s remark and Jesus’ words simply reflect standard Jewish theology on sin, repentance, and reconciliation.

When setting right a transgression committed against another party, an offender can approach God and ask his forgiveness without difficulty. Asking God for forgiveness is the easy part of the equation. Seeking reconciliation with the offended or injured party is another matter. In fact, the rabbis formulated a vivid teaching to illustrate this:

When a man insults his fellow in public and later seeks to apologize, the insulted one says,“You insulted me in public, but now you apologize in private. Go! Bring the very people before whom you insulted me, and I will accept your apology.” The Holy One, blessed be he, does not act in such a manner. When a man curses and reviles him in the market place, the Holy One says to the offender, “Repent in private and I will accept your apology.”[24]

In light of the rabbinic passages that I have assembled above and of the gospel passages, we gain insight into God’s nature and his acute sensitivity to repentance. What is ultimately underlying God’s peculiar behavior? Love. God loves us so much that he is anxious that none of us should perish. His love for us motivates his distinctive, peculiar, incomprehensible behavior.

In this brief study, we have encountered ideas that may prove relevant for becoming better disciples of Jesus. In Jewish tradition, there exists a well-known principle, which is called imitatio dei. The principle is built upon the simple concept of emulating God: as the Great Teacher, he serves as our role model. We should, therefore, pattern our behavior after his. In addition to being an amusing lesson about God’s nature in contrast to human nature, the rabbinic story about the man offended in public challenges us. We should not turn away a remorseful person with harsh words. Rather, we should follow God’s example and accept an apology in private for a public offense.

I am reminded of Matthew 18:21 where Jesus in response to Peter’s question indicated that forgiving a penitent brother up to seven times was not sufficient. Jesus simply instructed Peter to exhibit the same attitude which God has toward a person repenting of sinful, shameful, hurtful conduct. Of course, this means, too, that our behavior will take on an element of irrationality. Love sometimes requires that both God and people abandon propriety.[25]

Ultimately, is not this sort of attitude consistent with the objectives of God’s redemptive activity? Upon saying “yes” to Jesus and making him Lord, we become participants in God’s redemptive program. We rejoice at the slightest hint of repentance. We join God in doing good to all, so that even the wicked will be touched by his love. God is trying to reach those who are far from him. Living in submission to Jesus’ leadership, we become conduits of love and redemption, channels of healing, forgiveness, and mercy to a hurting world.

Our involvement in people’s lives should gently escort them to a place where they want to return to God. Like a parent who is motivated by love and takes the bitter medicine first, we should be contrite, acknowledging our shortcomings and seeking reconciliation with those who harbor enmity toward us. Let us go forth today and imitate the excellent but very challenging precedent established by our Father in heaven who causes the sun to shine and rain to fall on all people.

  • [1] Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights, 1993), 342.
  • [2] Pesikta de Rav Kahanah (ed. Bernard Mendelbaum; 2nd rev. ed.; New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1987), 369.
  • [3] “While a definition of a midrash is a difficult task, its function can be explained quite clearly…. The midrash (from a functional point of view) is the result of the inherent paradox which haunts a religion based upon a body of sacred scriptures: the conflict between the wish and the need to innovate, and the religious maxim which states that all truth is to be found in the scriptures. This means that, in order to be true, every new statement should be old. The midrashic technique is the traditional Jewish answer to this paradox” (Joseph Dan, “Midrash and the Dawn of Kabbalah,” in Midrash and Literature [eds. Geoffrey Hartman and Sanford Budick; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986], 127). While reading Joseph Dan’s explanation of the function of midrash, a student of the synoptic gospels may think of Matthew 13:52 where Jesus’ words echo a similar idea.
  • [4] Seder Eliahu Zuta, ch. 2 (Meir Friedmann ed.; Jerusalem: Wehrmann Books, 1969), 171.
  • [5] Midrash Wayyikra Rabbah 15:4 (Mordecai Margulies ed.; v. 1; New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1993), 330.
  • [6] Compare Exodus 20:5, 6; 34:6; Psalms 86:5, 15; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2.
  • [7] Joseph Dan’s comment that follows underscores the inherent limiting nature of an English translation while calling attention to the manifold interpretive approaches allowed by the original Hebrew language of the text: “The possibility of using the totality of the text is created by the nature of the original Hebrew language of the Jewish scriptures…. Even in regard to the simple meaning of the text, there is a vast difference between reading a text in what is believed to be the language of revelation and reading a translation. Many, probably most, of the verses in the Old Testament, for example, can be translated in more than one way, because there are at least several shades of meaning and sometimes even complete obscurities in the text. A translator has to choose between all possible interpretations and present one of them, losing in this way the richness, as well as (from a religious point of view) the profundity of the original. The translated text thus conveys a sense of clarity which is completely missing from the original. The translator does not transmit the text, but one possible meaning of it, creating a new text which is much more flat and unequivocal than the original” (Midrash and Literature, 128-129).
  • [8] Midrash Tehillim (ed. Solomon Buber; New York: OM Publishing, 1947), 270.
  • [9] While discussing a literary form unique to midrash (the petihta), David Stern remarked that a fundamental tendency of midrashic literature is “…the urge to unite the diverse parts of scripture into a single and seamless whole reflecting the unity of God’s will. This tendency derives directly from the rabbinic ideology of the canonical Torah—Pentateuch, Prophets, and Writings—as the inspired Word of God, a timeless unity in which each and every verse is simultaneous with every other, temporally and semantically; as a result, every verse, no matter how remote, can be seen as a possible source for illuminating the meaning of any other verse” (David Stern, “Midrash and the Language of Exegesis: A Study of Vayikra Rabbah, Chapter 1” in Midrash and Literature, 108).
  • [10] See Joseph Frankovic, Reading The Book (Tulsa, OK: HaKesher, 1997), 35-37.
  • [11] Pesikta Rabbati (ed. M. Friedmann; Wien: Josef Kaiser IX, 1880), 184.
  • [12] Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 376 (28c).
  • [13] Note that 2 Chronicles 31:20-21 indicates that Manasseh’s father Hezekiah remained faithful to the Lord.
  • [14] Kohelet Rabbah (Vilna ed.; v. 2; Israel: Books Export Enterprises, n.d.), 40.
  • [15] See the NIV of Matthew 11:12-13. The Kingdom of Heaven (or God’s redemptive power) has been breaking forth since the days of John the Baptist. It continues in our day and will not end until the Son of Man suddenly comes. Hence Jesus spoke of three periods in salvation history: 1) The Law and the Prophets; 2) the days of the Kingdom of Heaven; and 3) the Coming of the Son of Man, which apparently ushers in Haolam Habah or the World to Come. See David Flusser, Jesus (2nd corrected and augmented ed.; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1998), 258-275.
  • [16] Compare Luke 4:18-19 and Matthew 11:4-5.
  • [17] See Joseph Frankovic, The Kingdom of Heaven (Tulsa: HaKesher, 1998), 43-44.
  • [18] See Luke 20:9-15a.
  • [19] See Joseph Frankovic, “Remember Shiloh!Jerusalem Perspective 46 and 47 (Sept.-Dec. 1994): 24-29, and Shmuel Safrai, “Insulting God’s High Priest,” Jerusalem Perspective 55 (Apr.-Jun. 1999): 34-36.
  • [20] A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (eds. F. W. Gingrich and F. W. Danker; 2nd rev. and augmented ed. of Walter Bauer’s 5th ed; Chicago: University of Chicago, 1979), 6.
  • [21] Note the phrase “all the mysteries of the words of his servants the prophets” (Die Texte Aus Qumran [ed. Eduard Lohse; Munchen: Kosel-Verlag, 1986], 234).
  • [22] For a fuller discussion of this parable, see Brad Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 215-224.
  • [23] The MishnahSeder Moed (ed. Hanoch Albeck; Jerusalem/Tel Aviv: Bialik Institute/Dvir Publishing, 1988), 247.
  • [24] Pesikta de Rav Kahana 24:12, Mandelbaum ed., 370.
  • [25] I am reminded of Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai’s saying about love and hate. Regarding love he said that it stimulates a person to act in ways that violate propriety. As examples of Biblical personalities who were motivated by love and accordingly did things that were incompatible with their social status and elevated stature, he cited Abraham and Joseph (Bereshit Rabbah [eds. Theodor and Hanoch Albeck; 2nd printing with corrections; Jerusalem: Wahrmann Books, 1965], 592-593; 55:8).

Rabbinic Reflections on Living Sacrifices at Romans 12:1

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.


First-century Jewish cult practice is difficult to study because the main sources are the Old Testament which is too old and the rabbinic corpus which (on the whole) is too recent. The few references in contemporary sources like Josephus and Philo are often useful but they do not provide a comprehensive picture, and can do no more than confirm or question a few details in the two major sources.

Rabbinic traditions are difficult to use for studying first-century Judaism because the earliest written versions date from long after the Temple was destroyed, and although many early rabbis are cited, it is difficult to determine when these attributions are accurate. In recent decades the dating of some rabbinic material has become more certain, largely through the painstaking work of Neusner and his colleagues. The general consensus is that halakhic traditions (that is, traditions concerned with the practice of the Law) are usually reliable with regard to the date of attributions, and that some anonymous halakhic traditions can be dated with reference to the datable ones,[1] but for all other rabbinic traditions it is still very difficult to have confidence in dating.

Sacrifices left to “pasture till blemished”

One rabbinic concept may throw light on Paul’s language in Romans 12.1—the concept of a sacrifice which cannot be slaughtered for technical reasons, so it is kept alive all the time that it remains holy, and any profits go to the Temple. This is a fairly widespread concept, and is usually referred to by the phrase “pastured till blemished.” This phrase implies that most animals will gain some kind of blemish, after which they are unsuitable as a Temple offering, so they can then be killed for meat and sold for the Temple funds. The description of these sacrifices as “pastured till blemished” may reflect the curious noun plus double adjectives used by Paul: Θυσίαν ζῶσαν ἁγίαν—literally “sacrifices, alive, holy.”

Man with a lamb slaughtered for the Samaritan Passover on Mt. Gerizim.
Man with a slaughtered lamb on the Eve of the Samaritan Passover on Mt. Gerizim (2007). Photo courtesy of Joshua N. Tilton.

Reasons for designating offerings as “pastured till blemished” are many and various but usually originate with confusion about whether an animal should be offered, or some technical reason why it cannot be sacrificed even though it is clearly given as an offering. For example, if a lamb or goat had been set aside for Passover and subsequently lost, and they designated a substitute, what happened if the original animal turned up? They had both been designated as an offering to God by the owner, so it would be sacrilege to simply take one back into normal ownership. Clearly they both belonged to God, but each family could only offer one Passover, so what could you do with a Passover offering which could not be offered? The solution was to give the extra lamb or goat to the Temple. It was pastured by either the Temple or the offerer (this is not specified in the traditions) till it was blemished by a graze or illness or whatever, at which point was no longer suitable as an offering. It was then legal to sell the animal without committing sacrilege, and the money could be spent on a peace offering instead (m. Pes.9.6).

Other instances solved in this way included: a female animal picked by mistake for an offering where only a male was suitable (m. Pes. 9.7); giving an offering which was not due (m. Yeb. 11.5, 7); buying too many offerings (m. Ker. 6.6); the offering of an offerer who died before he brought it (m. B.Q. 9.11); an animal which might have been confused with an unsuitable animal (m. Zeb. 8.1), or with animals presented for other types of offering (m. Zeb. 8.2-3), or with animals in the rest of the flock (m. Ket. 9.7); a firstborn which was born at exactly the same time as a twin (m. Bek. 2.6-8); and an offering which bears an offspring while waiting to be sacrificed (m. Tem. 3.3).

Dating an example text

Most of the discussions about this concept come from the second century when there was a renewed interest in offerings which could be made without sacrifice, because the Temple was destroyed. But there is good evidence that this practice dates back to Temple times. The following is an example which concerns an animal which was designated as a sin offering, but the offerer then discovered that he had not broken the Law, so the sin offering could not be sacrificed. This might happen if, for example, he ate some untithed food and discovered subsequently that it had been tithed after all.

He who brings a suspensive guilt offering, and is informed that he did not commit a sin—if this was before it was slaughtered, “it [the offering] goes forth and pastures among the flock,”—the words of R. Meir [T4]. And sages say, “It is set out to pasture until it is blemished, then it is sold, and its proceeds fall [to the Temple treasury] as a freewill offering.”

R. Eliezer [b. Hyrcanus, T2] says, “It is offered up. For if it does not come on account of this sin, lo, it comes on account of some other sin.”

If after it was slaughtered, he is [so] informed, the blood is to be poured out. And the meat goes forth to the place of burning. [If the man is informed after] the blood is [properly] tossed, the meat is to be eaten.

R. Jose [b. Halafta, T4] says, “Even if [he is informed while] the blood is in the cup, it is to be tossed, and the meat is to be eaten.” (Mishnah Keritot 6.1, based on Neusner’s translation).

This section contains three different traditions from three very different periods, so it is not the record of an actual debate, but a later compilation of opinions. The earliest individual is Eliezer b. Hyrcanus, whose traditions originate from roughly A.D. 80-120 and who often represents conservative opinions which disagree with the majority. The next is that of R. Meir from about A.D. 140-165, whose opinions are very authoritative, but who was often opposed by the majority, as on this occasion where “the Sages” represent the opinion of the rest of the rabbis at the time. The last individual, R. Jose b. Halafta (who was contemporary with Meir), presents a much older tradition originating from Hanan the Egyptian (who probably dates back to Temple times), and although Hanan is not named, the other rabbis would be expected to recognise it.

Hanan’s tradition related to a famous situation when one of the pair of goats on the Day of Atonement died. This prompted the problem of whether one could simply replace the dead goat, or whether one had to select a new pair and cast the lots again to chose one “for the Lord” and one “for Azazel,” and then put the left-over goat from the original pair to “pasture till blemished.” Some said that a single goat could be replaced only up till the time of the lots, but Hanan said that this was possible even up to the time of the offering itself—“Even if the blood is in the cup, he brings its fellow”[2] —i.e., it was never too late, so there was no spare goat to “pasture till blemished.”

Both Hanan and Eliezer are witnesses to the practice of putting animals out to “pasture till blemished” before A.D. 70, when so much of Jewish practice changed with the destruction of the Temple. Eliezer is commenting just after this period, but he is commenting on a practice which was already well established, so the practice itself dates back before the destruction of the Temple.

The Practice and Paul’s Imagery

We do not know exactly what happened in practice—whether these animals were pastured by the person offering them, or in a special Temple enclosure. It is likely that they were kept separate from other animals because one common reason for designating them in the first place was confusion about which individual animal had been offered. Meir seems to imply this when he makes a contrast between animals which were pastured “among the flock” and those which were “pastured till blemished.” Perhaps these animals were kept in a special enclosure belonging to the Temple, because many of them would have already been brought to Jerusalem when the confusion or technical difficulties arose, and because this would clearly mark them out as belonging to the Temple. Or perhaps they were kept in a special enclosure on the farm they came from. Either way, they had to be kept separate, and cared for carefully, and examined regularly to see if any blemish had occurred, so that they could then be sold and the money used for some other offering to the Temple. Presumably, any produce such as wool or milk which they produced in the mean time also belonged to the Temple.

This fits very well with the concept which Paul is expressing in Romans 12. He has just concluded three chapters on the role of Israel, so that his readers are thinking about the Jewish world. He turns to the general body of believers, many of whom might feel as though Paul was designating them as second-rate, and tells them that they too are as holy and as pleasing to God as any kosher offering. They are like the living offerings which, instead of being sacrificed on the altar, serve God by living for him. They are set aside for his service, and kept pure so that they can carry on serving him in this way. Paul therefore emphasises that all believers can be “sacrifices” which are “alive, holy” (pastured, unblemished).

When this background concept is taken into account, the rest of the language of Romans 12 forms a coherent message. If believers are to be living sacrifices, they must remain holy, because once they are blemished, they are no longer suitable for God. Paul therefore warns them to be separate, “not conformed to this present world” (Rom. 12:2). While they remain unblemished, all that they produce will be counted as belonging to God, so they should regard all their gifts such as prophecy, service, or teaching, as done in God’s service (Rom. 12:6-8).

Their sacrifice is both physical (“present your bodies”) and yet is a type of sacrifice which is “pleasing to God,” which is presumably an allusion to passages about God being “pleased” with bloodless worship (esp. 1 Sam. 15.22; Prov. 21.3; Isa. 1.11). This is confirmed by the term λογικήν (logiken, variously translated as “rational,” “spiritual” or “logical”) which was used in Hellenistic Judaism for personal sacrifice in contrast with slaughtered sacrifices. Philo said: “that which is precious in the sight of God is not the number of victims immolated but the true purity of a rational spirit” (Sp. Leg. 1.277) and the Testament of Levi refers to angels who “present to the Lord a pleasing odor, a rational and bloodless oblation” (T. Levi. 3.6).

By a mixture of references to Jewish pastured animal offerings and Hellenistic terminology about bloodless sacrifice, Paul conveys his message to both Jewish and Gentile readers. Knowledge of neither is necessary for understanding Paul’s meaning, but they both enhance the message—that believers should serve God while alive and remain unblemished.

  • [1] Hermann L. Strack’s Einleitung in Talmud und Midrasch (München, 1887), ET Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash was revised (or more properly, rewritten) by Günter Stemberger (Oscar Beck: München, 1982) ET by Markus N. A. Bockmuehl (London: T & T Clark, 1991; Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress 1992, 1996), 63-65.
  • [2] This tradition is found at b. Yom. 63b; cf. b. Tem. 6b; b. Zeb. 34b; 74a. Its dating is discussed in relation to m. Yom. 6.1 in my Traditions of the Rabbis in the Era of the New Testament, vol. 2A Feasts and Sabbaths: Passover and Atonement (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011).