Acts 5:34 – Gamaliel Defends the Disciples

Gamaliel is a well known figure in the first century. He was likely the grandson of the famous Hillel and is mentioned in the Mishnah. He was active after A.D. 25 and was reputed to have been a great teacher of the Law. The man had such a great reputation that the Mishnah says “When Rabban Gamaliel the elder died, the glory of the law ceased and purity and abstinence died” (m.Sota 9.15).  (I posted a few comments about his relationship with Paul here.)

Rabbi GamalielGamaliel urges careful deliberation before acting. It may be that they are worthy of death, but one must think about what the ramifications of another execution of a messianic pretender. He refers to two other “messianic pretenders” which gathered some following but eventually came to nothing. Each of these men are known from Josephus as rebels against Rome who had humble origins, developed a bit of a following, and were eventually killed.

Theudas is known from Josephus (Antiq. 20.5.1 §97-98). In this passage, Theudas led a revolt during the reign of Fadus, A.D. 44-46. This is obviously a problem, since Gamaliel is giving this speech at least ten years before Theudas rebelled.  For someone like Bruce Chilton, this makes the account in Acts anachronistic  and unreliable, despite the fact that Gamaliel’s standing in the Council is consistent with other sources (ABD 2:904).

This problem is usually explained by noting that the name Theudas is a common name in first century inscriptions. In addition, the period after the death of Herod the Great saw many rebellions, so it is likely that Gamaliel refers to a leader of one of these earlier rebellions. Judas the Galilean lead a tax-revolt about A.D. 6, described by Josephus (Antiq 18.1.6, §23). Like Theudas, he died and his followers dispersed.

Gamaliel’s  point here is to argue that recent history shows that if God was really behind any of these messianic movements, then their leaders would not have been executed. Perhaps there is a also a warning to Peter and his followers as well: If your leader is really dead, maybe you ought to stop this preaching.  Christians tend to read this warning as directed at the Sadducees in the Sanhedrin: if you are wrong about this, you will be fighting God! To a certain extent, Gamaliel’s advice is “shrewd popular politics” which endorses neither side’s view of who Jesus was (Dunn, Beginning in Jerusalem, 174, n. 14).

Gamaliel’s conclusion is that a messianic movement which is from human origin is doomed to fail; but if it is of divine origin it is destined to succeed. It would be better to let the disciples of Jesus do as they please rather than to “fight against God.” The examples given came to nothing, in both cases the leader was dead. If Jesus is dead, then his followers will disappear as well – but only if they are no longer persecuted. If the Sanhedrin continues to persecute and these men turn out to be from God, then they will be fighting against God.

Why does Gamaliel give this advice to the Council? Is this, as Dunn says, simply “shrewd politics”? Or is there more to this story?

Acts 2 – Pentecost in the Book of Acts

Feast of WeeksThe imagery of Pentecost may be important. Pentecost is a pilgrim-holiday also known as the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. The holiday celebrated the firstfruits of the harvest. The Festival of Weeks was the smallest of the three pilgrim festivals, falling 50 days after Passover (seven weeks), the late spring / early summer. This festival included an offering of two loaves made with the wheat given in the firstfruit offering.

The point of the festival was “to declare God’s ownership of the land and his grace in bringing forth food. According to a tradition found in the book of Jubilees, Pentecost was the day on which Moses was given the Law (cf. Tob 2:1, 2 Mac 12:32). This tradition is based on the belief that the Israelites arrived at Sinai 50 days after the first Passover (Exod 19:1). Some scholars (Knox, Snaith) have made a connection between this tradition and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Since Moses gave out the Law to Israel on this day, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to the church. Fitzmyer thinks Luke was aware of the tradition since there are some indirect allusions to the giving of the Law in Acts 2, not the least of which is the image of fire descending (Exod 19:18).

It is at least possible to see the idea of “firstfruits” applied to the Holy Spirit. The new age has begun and the Holy Spirit has come for the first time. But we also need to consider two other potential “Pentecosts” in the book of Acts. In Acts 10 the Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius, a God-Fearing Gentile, and he speaks in tongues just like Pentecost. Peter makes this point clear in Acts 10:47, the Gentiles in Cornelius’ home received the Holy Spirit “just as we have.”

But there is a third reference to Pentecost in Acts 20:16. Paul wants to return to Jerusalem before Pentecost if possible. This was a dangerous journey, especially since Paul wanted to deliver the collection from the Gentile churches at Pentecost if at all possible. Offering gifts to the poor in Jerusalem the Gentile churches indicates they too have received the Holy Spirit. Paul’s return to Jerusalem at Pentecost is calculated to highlight his “harvest” among the Gentiles. Three references to Pentecost are not unexpected since Luke repeats important events three times several times in Acts (Cornelius’ conversion, Paul’s conversion, the rejection of Israel, etc.)

Whatever the intended imagery, the day represents the largest crowd in the Temple area after Passover. Peter and the other apostles are able to preach to large crowds of biblically-minded Jews gathered to worship God in the Temple (Acts 2-3). Is there anything in Peter’s sermon that makes some use of this Pentecost imagery?  In other words, why is Pentecost the time God chose for the outpouring of the Spirit?

Bibliography: W. L. Knox, Acts, (NCB, Oxford: Clarendon, 1967), 80-84; N. Snaith, “Pentecost, the Day of Power,” ExpTim 43 (1931-32): 379-80.

Acts 1:6 – “Will You Now Restore the Kingdom to Israel?”

In Acts 1:6, some disciples wonder if Jesus was now going to “restore the kingdom to Israel.” This question is reminiscent of the Olivet Discourse in Luke 21:5-37, where the disciples ask about the coming judgment on the Temple. When they asked “when will this happen” in Luke 21, Jesus’ answer implied that it would happen very soon, within a generation (Luke 21:32).

What prompts the question is Jesus’ command to remain in Jerusalem until they are baptized with the Holy Spirit “not many days from now.” As Keener observes, talk of the Spirit’s outpouring was de facto eschatological in character” (Acts, 1:682). Many texts from the Hebrew Bible indicate that the eschatological age would be characterized by the Spirit of God on all his people (Joel 2:28-31, which Peter quotes in the next chapter, but also Isa 42:1, 44:3, 59:21). If the Spirit is coming, then the time of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel must be soon.

Return of the KingAfter the resurrection of Jesus, it was only natural for the disciples to think that Jesus would now enter the Temple in the power and glory of his resurrection and begin to reform the religion of Israel and begin the process of evangelizing the nations. This was a clear expectation of the Messiah’s activity. Beginning with the people of God, Messiah would either convert the enemies of Israel or destroy them. On a historical level, the question the disciples ask resonates with many other Jews living in the mid 30’s A.D.

The verb translated “restore” here (ἀποκαθίστημι) is a key eschatological term. It appears in Malachi 4:6 (LXX 3:23) and LXX Daniel 4:26, and it anticipates Acts 3:21 where the word appears in an eschatological context. The hope of Israel was that the kingdom would be restored to them as the prophets had predicted (Isa 2:2, 49:6; Jer 16:15; 31:27-34).

Isaiah 2:2-4 In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

In fact, Luke began his first book with the hope of the coming Messiah in the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:69-74) as well as the words of Simeon in the Temple (Luke 2:24-32).

The disciples expect Jesus to tell them that he is in fact about to restore the Kingdom and take his father David’s throne in Jerusalem. Much like the crowds in Luke 19:11, the disciples expect the Kingdom of God, as described by the prophets, to arrive at that moment.

Yet it is no surprise when Jesus reminds them it is not for them to known when the kingdom will be restored. The idea of an interim period between the present and the coming kingdom is well known in Second Temple Period Judaism. For example in 4 Ezra 4:33-37 the prophet asks “How long and when will these things be? Why are our years few and evil?” The answer in this late first century text is that “the time of threshing is delayed for the righteous—on account of the sins of those who dwell on earth.” The interim is to be used wisely. The new age will certainly dawn, but in the meantime the righteous will continue to labor. Many of Jesus’ parables have a similar theme (the Ten Virgins in Matt 25:1-14, for example).

As for the disciples, they are called to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the earth. To some extent, the kingdom is about to begin in the Temple in a manner which is not unlike what many expected. That the kingdom would be given to a group of Galileans rather than a faction within Judaism (Pharisees, Essenes, etc.) was not expected at all. These men are quite literally the most unlikely group of people to be commissioned with the task of announcing the Messiah to Israel and then the rest of the world!

Book Review: Reinhard Pummer, The Samaritans: A Profile

Pummer, Reinhard. The Samaritans: A Profile. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 376 pp. Pb; $30.   Link to Eerdmans

In his introduction to this new history of the Samaritan people, Pummer cites an anonymous reviewer of James Montgomery’s 1907 monograph on the Samaritans that wondered if the Samaritans were worthy of a 360 pages book! The situation has changed one hundred years later. Following the publication of Magnar Kartveit’s The Origin of the Samaritans (Brill 2009) and Gary Knoppers’s Jews and Samaritans: The Origins and History of Their Early Relations (Oxford, 2013), interest in the Samaritans seems to be on the rise. Pummer’s new volume contributes to this developing interest in the history of the Samaritans by going beyond the confines of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament to explore the history of the Samaritans.

Pummer-SamaritansThe first section in the book deals with the identity of the Samaritans. Popular preachers and teachers have denigrated the Samaritans, calling the half-breeds and implying their religion is a subset of Judaism. This mischaracterization is often corrected in scholarly literature, but a full description of “Samaritan” is often lacking. Pummer begins his definition by contrasting what the Samaritans claim for themselves (they are the true heirs of Israel) with the typical Jewish view than the Samaritans are the descendants of the kingdom of Israel as described in 2 Kings 17. Modern scholarship on the Samaritans tends to reject both of these extremes. Kartveit argued there was a split in the fourth century caused by the building of a temple on Mount Gerizim. Knoppers argued for more interaction between two Yahweh sects at Samaria and Judea. The destruction of the Gerizim temple by John Hyrcanus (134-104 B.C.) was the cause of a split, but not an absolute schism between the two similar religions. Pummer thinks the evidence shows the Samaritans were not a sect that broke away from Judaism, not a “branch of Yahwehistic Israel in the same sense as the Jews (25).

The next three sections of the book trace references to the Samaritans in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and early Jewish literature. He adds a question mark to the title of his chapter on the Old Testament since it is possible the polemic in 2 Kings 17 does not refer to a long standing enmity between Samaritans and Jews. In fact, there appears to be an amicable relationship even after the Gerizim temple was destroyed. In the New Testament, Pummer suggests Samaritans are neither Jew nor Gentile, although Jesus did not engage in a systematic mission to the Samaritans (37). Luke for example, does not see the Samaritans as either pagans or syncretists (41), an no text in the New Testament looks back to 2 Kings 17 as an explanation of the origins of the Samaritans. Pummer only briefly deals with the Gospel of John, suggesting that John 4 expresses concern over Christian mission to the Samaritans. He does not think there is any Samaritan influence on Stephen’s speech or the book of Hebrews, although there may be some shared interests. Following the biblical data, Pummer surveys references to Samaritans in other ancient Jewish Writings including the Apocryphal (Sirach and 2 Maccabees), Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, and Rabbinic literature. Josephus has the most data, although it is possible Josephus has enhances his positive view of the Jews be contrasting them with the Samaritans, an unreliable people from the Roman perspective (55).


The fifth section of the book examines the archaeological excavations at Mount Gerizim. Although today’s Samaritans deny there was a legitimate Yhwh temple on the mountain (89), Josephus reported the presence of a temple as well as the destruction of the temple by John Hyrcanus. Pummer surveys modern excavations on Mount Gerizim and concludes it is “very likely that a temple once existed in this area” (80). There are nearly four hundred fragments with palaeo-Hebrew or Aramaic texts. Among these fragments are words like YHWH, priests, sacrifice, house of sacrifice. In addition to these inscriptions, a small golden bell was found which may have been part of a priestly ephod (84).

Pummer surveys several diaspora synagogues which have dedications implying they were Samaritan synagogues. Of primary importance is the synagogue a Delos where two inscriptions were found honoring a patron who made contributions to a sanctuary on argarizin. Pummer takes this as a reference to the temple on Mount (har) Gerizim, concluding this is evidence for “Samarian Yahwehists whose religious center is Mt. Gerizim” (93). This chapter includes many photographs and diagrams illustrating Samaritan synagogues both in the diaspora and in Palestine. Pummer admits the number of excavates Samaritan synagogues is small compared to Jewish synagogues, he asserts there is enough evidence to support the existence of these religious centers among the Samaritans in antiquity. Finally, Pummer briefly summarizes smaller discoveries such as amulets and oil lamps and Samaritan ritual baths (miqvot). Pummer believes the fact no mikvoth were found on Mount Gerizim is an indication they were not used until after then temple was destroyed (116).

Despite the extremely small number of Samaritans, there are some subgroups which can be described as sectarian. In the sixth section of the book, Pummer gathers this information from Samaritan, Muslim and Karaite sources, supplemented with a few Patristic sources. This evidence is sketchy, but seems to indicate there were as many as four types of Samarians in the fourth century. This is reported by Epiphanius of Salamis (312-403), but by the early nineteenth century Samaritans denied some of this evidence as relating to their history (127).

Perhaps the most useful section of the book is Pummer’s history of the Samaritans from Hellenistic and early Roman times through the modern period. Most introductions to the Samaritans are content to deal with the biblical period, Pummer traces the Samaritans through the Early Muslim and Crusade, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods. One of the most fascinating aspects of this history is what Pummer calls the “Modern Period,” introducing the reader to the current state of the Samaritan people. This short section of the chapter should be read alongside chapter 12, the Samaritans today. Chapter 8 concerns the geographical distribution and demography Samaritans over their history, in both Palestine and the Diaspora. Although estimates for the total number of Samaritans in antiquity vary from ninety thousand to as many as five hundred thousand in the Hellenistic-Roman periods, the numbers today are extremely low. In 1954 there were as few as 313 Samaritans but in a 2013 study, the number had risen to 756.

Chapters 9 and 10 concern the literature of the Samaritans. Of primary interest to most readers is the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) and the differences between this ancient translation and the Masoretic Text (MT). Pummer contributed a monograph on the topic (Early Christian Authors on Samaritans and Samaritanism: Texts, Translations and Commentary, Mohr Siebeck, 2002). Although most readers will be familiar with the “sectarian changes” introduced to the Pentateuch in order to support Gerizim as the location for the Temple, but there is far more to the SP than this popular characterization. It is true there are minor modifications to increase the sanctity of Mount Gerizim, but other differences between the SP and the MT are found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and it now appears the Hebrew text behind the SP is older than the MT. Pummer offers examples of both in this chapter. For example, in the SP expands on the Decalogue to include a command to build an altar at Gerizim (205).  As with other sections of the book, Pummer includes a short history of the study of the Samaritan Pentateuch western scholarship.

No Samaritan literature has survived from the Hellenistic or Roman periods, and even the hints such a literature existed in patristic sources is debatable. For most Samaritan literature available today, there are no critical editions or translations available. Pummer summarizes a few examples of exegesis, halakhah and liturgy as well as some historical chronicles and folktales. Of some interest is the dialogue with European scholars. Since the Samaritan religion was virtually unknown at the time, Robert Huntington (1637-1701) wrote a series of letters to Samaritan leaders asking questions about their beliefs and practices. This sort of interaction continued into the twentieth century and is rarely considered in introductions to the Samaritans.

Chapter 11 summarized what is known of Samaritan rituals and customs, including the unique Samaritan calendar, their practice of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Weeks and the Day of Atonement. Some practices are similar to Judaism (pilgrimage to Mount Gerizim, circumcision, redemption of the first born and reading of the torah). Pummer includes a few short sections on the culture of Samaritans (betrothal, weddings and funerals, prayer, music and art). Overall these descriptions are dependent on modern practice since it is virtually impossible to know anything about Samaritan culture in antiquity due to the total lack of literature or material evidence. The brevity is frustrating to the reader, but given the available data, Pummer is not to be faulted for this.

The book concludes with a few comments the challenges the Samaritans face today. Since the Samaritan community is very small it is difficult to know how they can survive in the modern state of Israel.

Conclusion. Pummer’s introduction to the Samaritans goes beyond the usual topics to include the whole history of Samaritan culture. By blending literary and archaeological sources, Pummer presents a clear and concise picture of the Samarians both in antiquity and in the modern world. Although the arrangement of topics is sometimes odd, this book will be a useful contribution to the ongoing study of the Samaritans.


NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Adam Marshak, The Many Faces of Herod the Great

Marshak, Adam Kolman. The Many Faces of Herod the Great. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 432 pp. Pb; $35.  Link to Eerdmans  

Herod the Great took the minor Hellenistic kingdom of Judea and successfully transformed it to a major kingdom with international influence and prestige. Although known to most Christians primarily for his pursuit of Jesus in Matthew 2, Herod was a masterful politician in the Roman world. Adam Marshak argues in this fascinating book that Herod succeeded as the King of Judea despite his dubious lineage and weak claim to the throne because of his political skill and flexibility (335). Adam Marshak wants to get beyond the popular view of Herod as an evil monster perpetuated in popular preaching and see Herod as an example of an ideal Roman client king.

Herod-The-GreatHerod appeared to the Romans as an ideal client king yet also claimed to be a successor to David and Solomon. Marshak offers an example of how Herod could be both a Roman and Jewish king. During the procuratorship of Felix there was a dispute over Caesarea—was it a Greek or Jewish city? Both sides appealed to Herod as the founder to support their claim (254). This illustrates something important about Herod, he was able to play to the interests of Roman, Greek, and Jewish constituencies in order to increase his own power and prestige. Marshak’s title, The Many Faces, alludes to Herod’s uncanny ability to appeal to all three of these cultures.

In order to study Herod within the proper cultural and intellectual milieu, Marshak begins with three chapters explaining why Rome used client kings and the ideal Hellenistic monarchy. As Rome expanded, it was expedient to use local kings to support Roman interests in newly acquired territories. Client kings were supported by the Roman army and were part of the Roman patronage system, often receiving citizenship and other honors. Since the client king relied on Roman patronage, the client king would honor patrons with gifts and other support. Although Rome allowed some autonomy for client kings, they had access to Roman culture and technology. Herod took advantage of advanced Roman engineering to build Caesarea and the Temple in Jerusalem. Hellenistic kings were expected to be virtuous lawgivers who were generous with their great wealth. In addition, Hellenistic kings were to protect their people and piously honor the gods.

The third chapter in this section is an overview of history from the Maccabees to Herod. Although this history is well known to most readers of the book, Marshak is interested in demonstrating the fact the Hasmoneans were already Hellenistic kings, despite their origins in the Maccabean revolt. By examining inscriptions and coinage, he describes the tension between the duties of a Hellenistic king and being a king of the Jews.

In the second section of the book, Marshak traces Herod’s rise to power. Herod began his career as a governor of Galilee in 47 BCE. Despite being an outsider in the Judean court, during this period Herod proved himself to be loyal to Hyrcanus II, but he was clearly ambitious (90). From 42-30 BCE Herod managed the difficult political waters of the Roman civil war first by supporting Anthony then Augustus in order to prove himself to be “a useful but unassertive client king.” After he was appointed as king by the Romans, Herod needed to present himself to the Jews as a “new Hasmonean.” This would be difficult since he was Idumean who ruled by the power of Rome. Herod married the granddaughter of Hyrcanus II, Mariamme, in order to have a claim to the Hasmonean throne. Herod also built or re-built several desert fortresses and palaces in order to defend Judea but also to connect his reign to the Hasmoneans. Marshak also examines Herod’s early coinage and argues the symbolism of these coins was intended to connect Herod to Jannaeus and the other Hasmonean kings (129).

The third section of the book describes Herod’s self-presentation as an ideal client king in an Augustan world. As Marshak showed in the first early chapters, a good Roman client king provided military support to Rome and sought Rome’s advice for major decisions. In addition, the client king publically honored his Roman patron and actively Romanized their kingdom (141). Herod was able to support Rome both militarily and financially. By sending gifts to Augustus, Herod bought the trust of the Emperor and demonstrated he was an important and powerful man in the Mediterranean world (145). He built Sebaste and Caesarea to honor the Emperor and publically honored the Emperor in other Hellenistic cities. For example, two inscriptions were found at the Acropolis in Athens describing Herod as a “friend of the Romans” and another as “Pious, Friend of Caesar” (155).

Since a good client king Romanizes his territory, Herod slowly brings Judea into the Roman sphere. Marshak devotes two chapters to this issue. First, he lists a series of practices Herod introduced to make Judea a part of the larger Roman world. First, he sent eight of his sons to Rome for their education. Second, Herod imported luxury goods from Rome. At Masada sixty-five amphorae were discovered with Latin commercial inscriptions. These contained imported wine, honey, apples and Garum, a Roman fish sauce (178). These imports are evidence of economic trade relations with the west. Third, Herod may have Romanized the army, although there is no irrefutable evidence for this (190). Fourth, Herod built Roman style buildings throughout his kingdom, including baths, villas, amphitheaters and theaters, hippostadiums. Perhaps the most significant Roman buildings were temples at Sebaste and Caesarea (Augusteum). These temples included cult statues to Roma and Augustus (212). Fifth, Herod took advantage of advanced Roman engineering to build the artificial harbor at Caesarea and in his expansion of the Temple Mount. Last, Herod used Roman decorative techniques in al of his buildings (opus reticulatum and opus sectile).

Marshak also demonstrates Herod was an ideal Hellenistic king. He lists a number of examples of Herod’s many benefactions (euergetism) divided into four categories: buildings and urban structures, endowments, tax assistance and monetary gifts, and personal intercession (232). Since Herod was an extremely wealthy king, he would be expected to do “good works” with that wealth. Herod gave money and assistance to cities outside his control (including Athens and Antioch). Although Herod’s benefactions were gifts, they were calculated to create friendship and good will with Rome and its leaders (247). Within Judea, Herod spent huge sums on buildings designed to bring honor and prestige to Judea, increasing his own honor. The best example of this is the Herodium, which Marshak accepts as Herod’s tomb (264).

Of the characteristics of a Hellenisitic king, piety toward the gods was the most difficult for Herod since offering proper respect to the gods of Rome at Sebaste or Caesarea would offend his Jewish population. Marshak describes Herod’s “careful political triangulation” of three cultures (273). With respect to Imperial worship, for Herod what happens in Caesarea stays in Caesarea. Although the detail are held until the final chapter of the book, Herod’s efforts to expand the Temple to largest in the ancient world made Jerusalem a pilgrimage destination for Diaspora Jews and demonstrated is piety toward the God of Israel.

The final two chapters of the book deal with Herod as the king of the Jews, Melekh HaYehudim. Just as he intentionally styled himself as an ideal Hellenistic king, Herod wanted to be seen as a legitimate successor to David and Solomon. Because he was Idumean this was impossible and it was equally impossible for him to be seen as the founder of Jerusalem. For this reason he sought to build in and around Jerusalem. According to Marshak, Herod “is engaging with his Jewish past by using a Hellenistic vocabulary” (281). The Temple is the key example of Herod’s piety, but also an indication Herod wanted to be seen as a new Solomon.

Marshak concludes that Herod was not a Hellenized Jewish king who was enamored with Rome. He was “a fully Hellenistic, Romanized Jewish king, the first of a new breed of Jewish rulers who felt at home in each of these worlds” (285).Was Herod successful? As Marshak observes, he had a long peaceful reign and died at an old age, leaving his kingdom to his sons for several generations (311).

Conclusion. Marshak contributes a scholarly yet readable introduction to Herod the Great. Yet the book is also valuable for understanding the client kings in the Roman world. Marshak provides rich footnotes on virtually every topic in the book, making this book a valuable resource for future research. This book is a welcome addition to Nikos Kokkinos The Herodian Dynasty (Sheffield, 1998) and his more recent The World of the Herods (Franz Steiner, 2007). Although Marshak includes many architectural details, his books should be supplemented with Ehud Netzer’s Architecture of Herod, the Great Builder (Baker, 2008).

It is possible most readers will approach this book as “background” for the New Testament, but that is not the purpose of the book. There are only nine references to the New Testament listed in the index, all in footnotes. Certainly a better understanding how Herod controlled Judea prior to the events of the Gospels and Acts will illuminate biblical texts, but that is not Marshak’s immediate goal. Herod’s “careful political triangulation” of Roman, Greek and Jewish cultures is exactly the kind of world in which Jesus lived. Paul’s mission also was a “careful triangulation” of these three cultures. This book contributes to our growing understanding of the tensions Jewish people experienced in the Second Temple period.

Bonus: Watch a short book teaser from Eerdmans:

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Act 3:13 – God’s Servant

Peter calls Jesus “God’s Servant.” The title “servant” was not usually an honor prior to the Christian use the word. Since the idea of serving God is so much a part of Christianity, we miss the impact of the word as a title for Jesus. The activity of a servant of God in Isaiah 49-53 is critical for understanding who Jesus was in Peter’s sermon. The servant suffered unjustly at the hands of sinners. Because he suffers Israel will be saved and he will be a “light to the Gentiles.

Suffering ServantMany Jewish readers of Isaiah would understand the servant of God as Israel as a while, suffering in exile until the time of the messiah. Christians quickly developed the idea Jesus was the fulfillment of the suffering servant primarily because of Jesus’ own mission as a servant. Mark 10:45 Jesus claims to have come to serve. Certainly the suffering of the Cross resonates with the suffering of the servant in Isaiah 53. The idea of the messiah as servant appears in other texts as well from the first century, 2 Baruch 70:9, for example as well as the Targum Jonathan on Isaiah 41:1 and 52:13.

The Jews gathered for worship, prayer and the study of scripture in the Temple courts would not have missed the allusion to Isaiah 53: the Servant of the Lord who suffers on behalf of Israel.  Peter’s words align closely with LXX Isaiah 52:13, the servant/child (παις) will be glorified (future passive of δοξάζομαι). Peter shifts the verb tense to aorist to refer to the now past crucifixion but otherwise the allusion seems clear. David Moessner pointed out several other words present in Acts 3 that indicate he has Isaiah’s servant songs in mind (cited by Keener, 2:1085).

In Acts 3:14 Peter calls Jesus the “holy and righteous one,” additional language drawn from Isaiah (41:14, 43:3, 47:4, 48:17, 49:7, 54:5). In fact, Isaiah calls God the “Holy One” frequently. Keener points out pagan kings would call themselves “righteous” (1:1091), but a Jewish audience would have heard an echo of scripture, Noah or Enoch were “righteous ones,” but most importantly the servant of God is “my righteous one” (Isa 53:11).

Finally, God glorified Jesus his servant by raising him from the dead.  A Jewish person in the crowd might have objected that Jesus could not be the messiah since he was dead – a valid point.  But the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and demonstrate that he is the messiah, since his glorification is to the ultimate place, the right hand of the father.

What is the significance of Peter’s allusion to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah? To what extent is he calling attention to the whole context of Isaiah 40-55? This was a popular text among Jews in the Second Temple since it looks forward to the end of the Exile, is Peter claiming the exile came to an end with the death of Jesus?

Acts 2:22-35 – God’s Deliberate Plan

When Peter addresses the crowd in Acts 2, he argues Jesus’s death fulfilled God’s plan, and Jesus was vindicated by God in his resurrection and ascension. The death of Jesus was according to God’s purpose and foreknowledge, but humans are responsible for his death. There is a fine balance between divine sovereignty and human responsibility here: God determined the death, and people freely chose to kill Jesus. Both of these words (ὁρίζω and πρόγνωσις) are theologically packed words. God was not surprised by the death of Jesus, but knew fully what was going to happen because he had planned it ahead of time.

Peter at PentecostBut Jesus is not dead because God has raised him from the dead in fulfillment of prophecy. Peter goes about proving the resurrection quite a bit differently than we do today. He does not mention the empty tomb or challenge the Pharisees to produce a body to prove that Jesus was really dead. Rather than pursue modern logical arguments, he turns to the Psalms and shows that David does not exhaust the meaning of the text. Since the messiah is to be a new David, the psalms Peter cites are turning into prophecies of Jesus’ resurrection.

Peter quotes Psalm 16:8-11, where David states his faith that God will not abandon him in the grace not allow him to see decay. Peter states the obvious: David died and was not resurrected and his tomb was not far from the location of this sermon. Perhaps people in the audience had already visited the tomb of David during their visit to the City. In the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7) David was told he would not fail to have a man on the throne. This text was also generally thought to refer to a future messiah. For Peter, Psalm 16 is a prophecy of the resurrection of Jesus.

To further his case, Peter also cites Psalm 110, another well-known messianic prophecy. There David is told that he would be exalted to the very throne of God and that God would make all his enemies his footstool. This prophecy cannot have been exhaustively fulfilled in the life David. Although David was given great victories, and he was the greatest king in Israel’s history, he was not raised to the level of the throne of God!

Peter therefore tells the crowd that Jesus non only rose from the dead but was taken up to heaven like Elijah or Moses (or Enoch, for that matter). In those three cases, the person was a highly respected prophet who did not experience death. Like the great men of old, God confirmed Jesus’ message by doing miracles through him, but he allowed him to die in order to initiate the new covenant.

Since Jesus fulfills the psalm which David could not, he is confirmed as the Lord and Christ (verse 36). This is the most shocking point in the whole sermon – everything which the Hebrew Bible looked forward to had happened with Jesus, he was in fact the Lord and Messiah. But Israel crucified him! Here the finger points at the crowd, since they were a part of the people who shouted for Pilate to crucify Jesus. Perhaps they followed Jesus the cross mocking him and watched him suffer before going off to celebrate the Passover with their families!

This is the real point of the sermon – God sent his messiah, but Israel rejected him. Thinking back to the life of Jesus, what are some additional things Peter might have included in this sermon? In what ways did Israel reject Jesus as Messiah?