Skip to comments.Jesus the Jew
Posted on 11/06/2001 10:13:10 AM PST by JMJ333
*I know this is an extremely old article [I dug it out of the back of my closet} but it is well worth the read.
Jesus was a committed Jew of his day. And to truly understand Jesus, we need a solid background in Jewish religious, social, and political history.
Jesus, a rural Jew, lived in Galilee, in the northern part of Palestine. And in Jesus day, Galilee was divided into an upper and lower region. The lower region, where Jesus lived was a rich valley that stretched from the Mediterranean to the sea of Galilee, a distance of about 25 miles.
As far as we know, in Jesus' time there were four principle Jewish sects: The Essenes, the Zealots, the Sadducees, and the Pharisees.
The Essenes, whose name may come from an Arabaic word meaning "pious," had already withdrawn from Jerusalem and Temple participation by the time of Jesus. In isolated monastic communities established in the Judean wilderness, they studied scriptures and developed a rule of life. Essenes were known for their piety--daily prayer, prayer before and after meals, strict observation of the Sabbath, daily ritual bathing, emphasis on chastity and celibacy, wearing white robes as a symbol of spiritual purity, and sharing communal meals and property. Nowhere in the Gospels, however, is Jesus presented as adhering to the Essenes way of life.
Jesus was not a zealot either. Zealots were Jews who vehemently opposed the Roman occupation of Palestine. But there is no evidence in any of Jesus' teachings that he encouraged revolt against Rome.
Jesus also was clearly set apart from the Sadducees, whose name in Hebrew means "Righteous ones." These Jews believed in a strict interpretation of the Torah and did not believe in life after death. Jesus, of course believed in bodily resurrection (Mark 12:18-27)
Contrary to common understanding, Jesus may well have been close to the Pharisees, even if he did debate them vigorously. Many of Jesus' teachings and much of his style was similar to theirs. To understand this, we need to compare the central teachings of the Pharisees to Jesus' teachings.
The Pharisees were a lay reform group within Judaism. The name Pharisee itself means "separate ones" in Hebrew, which refers to a ritual observance of purity and tithing; the word Pharisee can also be translated as "The interpreter," referring to this group's unique interpretation of Hebrew scripture.
As reformers, the Pharisees did not oppose Roman occupation; rather their focus was on reforming the temple, especially with respect to its liturgical practices and priests. And the Pharisees turned their attention toward strengthening Jewish devotion to the Torah, which, they said, had to be continually readjusted within the framework of the contemporary Jewish community. While the Pharisees insisted that the 613 commandments found in the written Torah remained in effect, the commandments had to be carefully rethought in light of new human needs.
The temple priests, though, looked upon the precepts of the Torah more literally and primarily in terms of sacrificial observances at the Temple. The Pharisees, on the other hand, taught that every ordinary human action could become sacred--an act of worship. Doing a "good deed" for another human, a "mitzvah" in Hebrew, was accorded a status that in some ways, surpassed Temple worship. This was truly a revolution in religious thinking.
In addition, a new religious figure in Judaism--the teacher--or Rabbi--emerged within the Pharisaic movement. For their part, rabbis fulfilled a twofold role in the community: They served as interpreters of the Torah and, more importantly, they helped make its teachings relevant. Their principle task was instructional, not liturgical.
From the Pharisaic reform emerged what was later called the synagogue ("assembly of people"). The synagogue became the center of this movement, which quickly spread throughout Palestine and the cities of Jewish Diaspora. Unlike the Jerusalem Temple, the synagogues were not places where priests presided and sacrifices were offered; rather they were places where the Torah was studied, rabbis offered interpretations, and prayers were said. Thus, synagogues became not merely "houses of God" but far more "houses of the people of God."
The Pharisee also emphasized table fellowship--a way of strengthening relationships within a community. In the eyes of the Pharisees, the Temple altar in Jerusalem could be replicated at every table in the household of Israel. A quiet but far reaching reform was at hand. There was no longer any basis for assigning to the priestly class a unique level of authority.
The Pharisees saw God not only as creator, giver of the Covenant, and much more, but in a special way, as the Parent of each individual. Everyone had the right to address God in a direct and personal way, not simply through the temple sacrifices offered by the priests.
The Pharisees also believed in resurrection. Those whose lives were marked by justice would rise once the Messiah had come. Then they would enjoy perpetual union with God.
There is little doubt, then, that Jesus and the Pharisees shared many central convictions. The first was their basic approach to God as a parent figure. In story after story in the Gospels, Jesus addresses God in this way. And Jesus' central prayer begins by invoking God as "Our Father" (Matt. 6: 9-13). The effect of this emphasis was fundamentally the same for Jesus as for the Pharisees (although Jesus had a unique position as God's "Only begotten Son"). More than anything, this approach led to both an enhanced appreciation of the dignity of every person and ultimately to the notion of resurrection--and perpetual union with God.
Jesus' own public stance closely paralleled the evolving role of the Pharisaic teacher. Jesus on a number of occasions in the Gospels are filled with examples of Jesus teaching in synagogues.
Jesus clearly picked up on another central feature of Pharisaism as well, that of the oral Torah, which refers to interpretations given by the Pharisees to various Torah texts. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus offers interpretations of Scripture quite similar to those of the Pharisees.
Finally, Jesus also embraced the table fellowship notion of Pharisaism. The meal narratives in the New Testament are an example of this. In the end, He selected table fellowship for a critical of his ministry, the celebration of the first Eucharist.
Then why, in the Gospels, do the Pharisees appear as the archenemies of Jesus? Here is gets complicated. For one thing, some Pharisees were praised by Jesus (for example the scribe of Mark 12:32). And we know that Jesus ate with Pharisees (Luke 7:36; 14:1).
But there was still conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus, nevertheless. And here scholarship offers three possible explanations.
The first sees Jesus and his teachings as quite similar to the Pharisees. The animosity in the Gospel results from subsequent interpretations of Jesus' action. For example, Jesus' practicing healing on the Sabbath or his disciples picking grain in the holy day were actions clearly not supported by the Pharisees.
Another possible explanation results from our enhanced understanding of the Talmud, the collected teachings of the Pharisees and their rabbinic heirs. In the Talmud are references to some seven categories of Pharisees, which clearly shows that the Pharisaical movement encompassed a wide range of viewpoints and, more important, that internal disputes, often of the heated variety, were quite common. The Gospel portraits of Jesus disputing with the "Pharisees" were examples of "hot debates" that were common in the Pharisaic circles rather than examples of Jesus condemning the Pharisees.
A third scholarly approach stresses positive connection between Jesus' central teachings and those of the Pharisees. In light of these, one becomes suspicious about the so-called texts of conflict. Surely Jesus would not denounce a movement with which he had so much in common.
Hence, either Jesus was speaking in a very limited context, or what are commonly called "the conflict stories" represent religious tensions existing in the latter part of the first century when the gospels were written. The Christian community--now formally expelled from the synagogues--was engaged in intense competition for Jewish converts. The New Testament statements about conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees may reflect that competition.
Regardless, one fact remains. Jesus' own Bible was the Hebrew Scriptures. His attitude toward the sacred writings is summed up in the assertion "Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish the Law but fulfill (Matt. 5:17).
On the whole, Jesus' teachings were wither literally biblical or filtered through the Pharisaic use of the scripture, or both.
The way the Pharisee and Jesus used the Hebrew Scriptures becomes more clear when Jesus argues his position by using so-called "proof-texts." Here, Jesus quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures to prove a point or refute a critic (See the Sermon on the Mount Matt 5, 6, & 7). In such instances, Jesus was drawing on a technique used by the Pharisees in trying to make a point.
The "Proof-Texting" that Jesus used did, at times, pit him against the Pharisees--such as when He challenged certain claims they made about the unwritten law and called them hypocrites for placing higher value on teachings of humans than of God (Matt. 23: 1-36).; such as when He used scripture to refute the Pharisaic teachings about plucking grain on the Sabbath (Matt 12: 1-8). or unwashed hands (Matt. 15:20).
At other times though, Jesus' "proof-texting" placed him on the side of the Pharisees. Once in an impressive debate with the Saduccees, He used Hebrew scripture to reinforce his belief, and that oft he Pharisees, in an afterlife. Jesus was so impressive he won the Pharisees' applause (Matt. 22: 23-33).
Possibly the best example we have of Jesus' use of Hebrew Scriptures is his teaching on love. "Teacher," one Pharisee asked, "which commandment is greatest?" And Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronamy 6:5, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment" (Matt. 22: 36-39). Them Jesus went on quoting Leviticus 19:18, "The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." In brief, Jesus was proof-texting his answer.
Jesus' use of the Hebrew Scriptures, therefore, was unabashedly Jewish. And it was similar to that of his contemporaries, particularly the philosophy of the Pharisees.
Knowing and appreciating the Jewish origins has at least three advantages: First, it helps us revise negative understandings of the Pharisees. It also helps us to avoid anti-Semitism. Finally, it allows us to better appreciate the Jewish roots of Christianity. Ultimately, understanding Jesus as a Jew will help us to better understand both our own faith and that of the contemporary Jews.
Judaism is definately a religion of love [See I am not the only one who thinks that!] I thought the article did a good job of outlining why. Second, that this article supports the fact that Jesus most certainly considered himself Jewish in every sense of the word.
I enjoyed the article immensely. I have learned a few things differently, but the gist of the article is sound. In addition, the chief evangelist of the first century was a self proclamed Pharisee (Hebrews 3:5) and zealous for the Law.
As to the quote above, I have always believed it was because the Pharisees had such a high calling and had still failed. They were supposed to bring G-d near and had lead the people away from Him (Matthew 23:15). Jesus was much like the Pharisees of His day, and many modern Jewish scholars look at Jesus of the Gospels as a prime example of first century Pharisaic life. But He had given much to the Pharisees and had demanded much in return. They did not deliver.
Still, His desire was to save them, not to condemn them. His harsh words were to bring them to the light, not drive them into outer darkness. Witness His relationship with the Pharisee in John 3.
They were the ones who needed to be redeemed from the curse of the law.
Gentiles were a non-issue during His ministry.
I guess I miss the purpose of the article...
And yep, we're Episcopalians.... one of my favorite bumper stickers is
"My Boss is a Jewish carpenter...."
I posted it because of a debate I've been having with another poster, and I wanted to show that Judaism is indeed a religion of love and that Christians do have an obligation toward Jews and Israel.
Not exactly. Remember the Centurion.
So goes the catechism. How do they know that? Circumstantial evidence indicates he might not have been Jewish. Who would know? The early Christians were Jewish, no doubt.
Then why, in the Gospels, do the Pharisees appear as the archenemies of Jesus?
My answer to this question is the fact that Jesus told ALL the Jews that he WAS the Messiah. Most of the Jewish elite either didn't believe he was but thought that HE did believe this to be true or thought he was lying for his own gain.
This is what made most of the Jewish elite his archenemies.
So goes the catechism. How do they know that?
I thought the article did a good job of outlining why it was fairly possible of his Pharasiacal roots. It is long, but if you get a chance to read through the entire article I think you will find it interesting.
Circumstantial evidence indicates he might not have been Jewish.
Which circumstancial evidence would that be? I think the article outlines in detail exactly where his teachings came from.
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