Acts 10 – Jews and Gentiles

In Acts 10:27-29, Peter expresses his hesitancy to enter the home of a Gentile.  I think the key here is not simply talking with a Gentile, but receiving hospitality form a Gentile. Primarily this was because of food, but some Jews in the first century did in fact avoid contact with Gentiles in order to avoid impurity.  This was certainly true in Jerusalem where Temple worship could be a daily experience.  Josephus tells us that the Jews kept separate from the Gentiles: “[the Jews]…did not come into contact with other people because of their separateness.” (Antiq. 13:245-247; cf., Apion, 2.210) Witherington (Acts, 353) observes that the Greek word Luke chooses here probably has the sense of “taboo” or “strongly frowned upon.”


But this is not to say that Gentiles were totally excluded from Jewish worship.  There was a huge “court of the Gentiles” in the temple complex itself, giving Gentiles a place of worship in the temple.  On a number of occasions in the gospels Jesus speaks with Gentiles, although usually the faith of the Gentile is in contrast to the unfaithfulness of the Jews.

One factor bearing on this issue is the long standing Jewish belief that purity laws did not apply to Gentiles even when they lived in Israelite territory.  The “sojourner laws” of Deut 5:14 ff define these Gentiles as resident aliens and require only a few general commands for them while they are living within the nation of Israel. (These are the same commands given by James at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:24-29.)

Rabbinic writers seem to have defined a category “gentile impurity,” but this does not appear in the eighteen benedictions (dating to the period just prior to the fall of Jerusalem.) Did Jews of the first century consider Gentiles impure and therefore exclude them from the inner courts of the temple?  Several Second Temple period texts indicate that Jews did not mix at all with Gentiles (Jubilees 22:16, Tobit 1:10-12, Judith 12:1-1).  Consider also Joseph and Asenath 7:1:  “Joseph never ate with the Egyptians, for this was an abomination to him”

Jubilees 22:16 And you also, my son, Jacob, remember my words, and keep the commandments of Abraham, your father. Separate yourself from the Gentiles, and do not eat with them, and do not perform deeds like theirs. And do not become associates of theirs. Because their deeds are defiled, and all their ways are contaminated, and despicable, and abominable.

Tobit 1:10-12 After I was carried away captive to Assyria and came as a captive to Nineveh, everyone of my kindred and my people ate the food of the Gentiles, but I kept myself from eating the food of the Gentiles. Because I was mindful of God with all my heart . . .

Judith 12:1-4 Then he commanded them to bring her in where his silver dinnerware was kept, and ordered them to set a table for her with some of his own delicacies, and with some of his own wine to drink. But Judith said, “I cannot partake of them, or it will be an offense; but I will have enough with the things I brought with me.” Holofernes said to her, “If your supply runs out, where can we get you more of the same? For none of your people are here with us.”  Judith replied, “As surely as you live, my lord, your servant will not use up the supplies I have with me before the Lord carries out by my hand what he has determined.”

What I think is fascinating is that Cornelius, as a God-Fearer, might very well have followed the food laws as well as Peter did.  Yet there was still a hesitancy on the part of the apostolic mission to cross over the next social barrier and bring the gospel to Gentiles, even a God-Fearing Gentile like Cornelius.  These issues will erupt into the first major church controversy by Acts 15 and may stand in the background of Paul’s confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2.

Hebrews 1 – Jesus and the Angels

The first section of Hebrews develops an argument that Jesus was foreshadowed by various people and events in the Hebrew Bible. In chapter 3 he will contrast Jesus and Moses, perhaps the most faithful servant of God and certainly the person associated most with the Law. It is well known that Matthew uses a kind of Moses typology in his Gospel to show that Jesus is a teacher in the tradition of Moses yet superior to him.

It is therefore somewhat surprising that the book of Hebrews does not begin with the contrast with Moses.  After the introduction, the writer says that the Son who is seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven is superior to the angels (1:3). Following this statement, the writer constructs a lengthy comparison of Jesus and the angels, drawing on a series of texts from the Hebrew Bible (1:4-14, 2:1-9). Why start with the angels?

Dore AngelsAngels were very popular in Jewish mythology from the second century B.C. through the first century A.D.  A whole hierarchy of angels was developed along with some theological teachings that were not present in the Old Testament.  In the re-telling of Biblical stories writers often had angels performing acts that were acts of God in the Hebrew Bible.  Although the imagery is found in Daniel 10, the appearance of angels as glowing white, fiery, glowing, etc. was developed during this time as well.

Angels were associated with giving of the Law to Israel in early Judaism.  This tradition develops from Deut 33:2, where the “holy ones” accompany the Lord as he arrives at Sinai. “Holy ones” was taken to mean angels. In Acts 7:53, Stephen refers to the Law as “delivered by angels.” The Second Temple book Jubilees predates Hebrews and begins with a reference to the “angel of the presence” who wrote a text for Moses:

And he said to the angel of the presence, “Write for Moses from the first creation until my sanctuary is built in their midst forever and ever. And the LORD will appear in the sight of all. And everyone will know that I am the God of Israel and the father of all the children of Jacob and king upon Mount Zion forever and ever. And Zion and Jerusalem will be holy.” (Wintermute, “Jubilees,” in OTP 2: 54)

The tradition that angels delivered the Law is found in later Judaism as well:  “The presence of angels at the event of the giving of the law was a favourite bit of embroidery in rabbinic tradition, and was meant to enhance the glory of Sinai” (H. Schoeps, Paul, 182).  The emphasis in this literature is on the angels as intermediaries, delivering the Law to Moses.  When God revealed himself to Moses, he used angels.

Since the writer of Hebrews began his book by saying that God is new revealing himself through his Jesus, it is possible a Jewish reader might think of Jesus as an angel, like a Michael or Gabriel.  He must therefore begin by showing that Jesus is something other than an angel; he is “Son of God.”

One last observation:  Is this a “difference” between Jewish Christian literature and the Pauline Letters? Perhaps not. While Paul cannot be accused of emphasizing angels, he does use the same sort of language as Stephen in Gal 3:19: The law was “put in place through angels” (ESV).

Are there other reasons that the writer begins with a sustained argument that Jesus is superior to the angels in every way?

Expansions on the Stories of Isaac and Jacob in Jubilees 24-38

Jubilees 24-27 detail Jacob’s stealth as he buys Esau’s birthright and his journey to Gerar. Like the similar Abraham story, the lie concerning his wife is omitted. There is a long section (24:14-26) given the locations of various wells dug by Jacob. Isaac curses the Philistines (24:27-33). This curse is “written on heavenly tablets” and all which he said became true (24:33). Rebecca speaks to Jacob concerning his wife (25:1-3). He is to marry a member of the family, not a Canaanite woman as Esau did (25:4-10). Jacob agrees with his mother, and she blesses him (25:11-22). The words of this blessing are because the “spirit of truth” descends upon her, inspiriting her to speak the blessing, which is not unlike the Abrahamic covenant.

The plot to steal Esau’s blessing is expanded in chapter 26. The blessing is expanded as well (vss. 22-24 are very much like the Abrahamic covenant). Esau resolves to kill Jacob after his father tells him there is nothing which can be done and he is bound to serve his brother. In Jubilees Isaac and Rebecca tell Jacob to flee to Haran (ch. 27). Isaac tells Rebecca not to worry about the boy since the Lord will protect him. Jacob’s dream at Bethel is similar to the biblical version, including Jacob’s oath to serve the Lord.  The story of Jacob’s desire to marry Rachel is nearly the same as Genesis 29, but our writer adds detail on the tradition of marrying the eldest daughter first. The rest of this chapter summarizes Jacob’s two marriages and the birth of his children. Jacob leaves the household of Laban (as in the biblical narrative). As he returns to Canaan he separates from Esau and takes care of his father Isaac at Hebron.

Jubilees 30 retells the story of Levi and Simeon seeking revenge for the rape of their sister (30:1-6, 24-25). Inserted into this story is a teaching section on the law against marrying outside of Israel (7-17). Breach of this law was the basis of Levi’s anger – marriage to a foreign woman is a defilement. Because of his zeal for keeping this law, Levi is appointed to the priesthood (an appointment which is written in the heavenly tablets.) This is an example of the writer placing a present historical reality (levitical priesthood) in the history of the patriarch. If the children of Israel break this commandment, it will be written in the heavenly tablets.

Isaac prepares to die in Jubilees 31, so there are several “blessings.” Jacob delivers two of his sons, Levi and Judah, who receive special blessings from their grandfather. This is significant since these sons and tribes will be associated with the priesthood and kingship later in the history of Israel, and at least in some streams of Judaism, with a coming messiah.

After the birth of his last son Jacob goes to Bethel and pays a tithe, as his grandfather Abraham did (ch. 32). For the writer of Jubilees, the law of the tithe is written on “heavenly tablets” and rooted in these patriarchal narratives. After giving the tithe Jacob intends to build a sanctuary at Bethel, but the Lord tells him not do in a vision. There is a heavenly, eternal sanctuary and no need for an earthly one. The Lord tells him he will die peacefully in Egypt. The chapter concludes with several death notices.

Reuben’s sin with Bilah is described in 33:1-9, giving the author an opportunity for a discussion of the law against incest (10-14). This sin is described as despicable and it pollutes the land. Reuben, however, is not killed for his sin. The writer therefore answers a possible objection by explaining that Reuben received forgiveness because the law had not yet been revealed to man at that time. In the law, however, incest is “written on heavenly tablets” and is therefore punishable by death. Moses is to make this very clear to the people – sexual sin is an “abomination” and results in a blemish and pollution in the land.

Jubilees 34:1-9 concludes the section on Jacob with his raid on the Amorites (not paralleled in Genesis), but it is reminiscent of Abraham’s rescue of Lot. The story of Joseph begins in 34:10-14 with the plot to sell him into slavery. A day of mourning was declared for Joseph, the tenth day of the seventh month, the day set aside in the Law for the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16:29. This is another example of our author placing a well-known Jewish feast day in the patriarchal history.

Jubilees 35 is Rebecca’s final words to her sons. A “testament” from a woman is rare in this literature, (cf. Deborah in Pseudo-Philo 33.) The first speech is a prediction of her death while speaking to Jacob. He laughs at his mother’s words because she was still in perfect health (verse 7). Rebecca then intercedes with Isaac on behalf of Jacob. She believes that after she dies Esau will get his revenge on Jacob. Isaac reassures her this will not happen. In the final section Rebecca calls on Esau himself to not harm Jacob, and he swears he will not. On the last night of Rebecca’s life the two brothers eat and drink together as a demonstration of their reconciliation.

Isaac makes his own farewell speech (testament) in Jubilees 36. Jacob and Esau are called to his deathbed and gives them a moral exhortation to remember the Lord and the way their father Abraham walked. He makes them swear not to seek evil for each other, then divides the inheritance between them, giving Esau the larger share. Esau admits he sold his share to his brother, so Isaac blesses him. Jacob returns to Hebron to live, where we are told he worshiped the Lord with all of his heart according to the commands which were revealed. Leah dies soon after this (verses 21-24).

Chapter 37-38 answers a potential question in the patriarchal narrative – how could Esau have simply surrendered to Jacob? The peaceful resolution between Jacob and Esau does not last after the death of Isaac and Rebecca. Esau’s sons convince their father to attempt to take by force what Jacob stole, so he hires mercenaries and plans to make war against his brother. Esau’s army approaches Hebron, but Jacob attempts to convince his brother not to attack. After some fairly harsh words for his brother, Esau attacks, but is soundly defeated by Judah and his men. It is Jacob himself who shoots the arrow which kills his brother. The sons of Esau are forced to pay tribute to Jacob until the family moves into Egypt.

Expansions on the Story of Abraham in Jubilees 11-23

Jubilees 11 is a narrative-genealogy for Abram. The births of Serug, Nahor, Terah and Abram are narrated. The period leading up to the time of Abram’s birth is a terrible time, but Abram is a righteous man who separated from his father over the worship of idols (cf. the Apocalypse of Abraham).

Abram pleads with his family to stop worshiping idols and only worship the God of Heaven but they become angry with him (ch. 12). He eventually burns the sanctuary of his these idols and he therefore has to leave his family (cf. Jud. 6, Gideon.)  He spends the night wondering what he is seeking and wondering whether he ought to go back to Ur.  It is at this moment the Lord calls him to go to the land and makes the Abrahamic covenant with him.  While the covenant is the same, the circumstances are remarkably different.  Abram is already a monotheist and resisting idols aggressively by destroying them at the risk of his own life.  Like the Apocalypse of Abraham, Abram is a righteous man who really is seeking after the God of Heaven when the Lord initially calls him. In order to show the Jewish religion in the best light possible, the Lord gave Abram the ability to read Hebrew, a language which had not been spoken since the time of the fall.  Terah blesses Abram and bids him return when he has found the “beautiful land.”

Abram first stays at Bethel before moving on to Hebron (ch. 13). As in the Genesis account, he goes into Egypt during a famine and pharaoh takes his wife (no mention of the lie that made this possible.)  After returning to Bethel he and Lot separate and there is a notice of the wickedness of Sodom.  After Abram rescues Lot from the invading kings he tithes, but there is a missing section here – Melchizedek is not mentioned although he would have been of interest to the author as a “priest of the God Most High.”  One wonders if the Qumran community had a complete text since they had an interest in Melchizedek.

Jubilees 14-15 tracks closely to Genesis 15 and 16, with very little unique material.  It is at a festival of the first fruit that the Lord appears to Abram and reestablishes the covenant and changes his name to Abraham.   Because circumcision is given as a sign in the Genesis story, the author of Jubilees deals with the law of circumcision (15:25-32).  Circumcision is a commandment written in heaven on heavenly tablets.  It is to be done on the eighth day for all Israelites, but not for descendants of Esau or Ishmael. No one is to be exempted from this law, but the Lord also predicts the nation will become lax in following this law as well.  Those who do not circumcise their children are called “sons of Beliar” (15:33-34).  Since circumcision is such an important issue for the Jews that the early Church struggled with the ritual (Acts 15 and Galatians especially.)  If this sort of thinking represented by Jubilees was popular in the first century, we may have some light on the strong reaction against Paul’s teaching that Gentiles were not to be circumcised.

Titian: Abraham and IsaacThe story of Sarah’s laughter follows the biblical model closely, although the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is briefly described (ch. 16).  The reason for the judgment is fornication, which causes pollution on the earth.  When Isaac is born, the Lord appears to Abraham and repeats the covenant once again (the biblical account places the third repetition later in Abraham’s life.)  Abraham celebrates the Feast of Booths after Isaac is born and makes a sacrifice to the Lord, after which the Lord says he has “eternally blessed” the seed of Abraham.  This is another example of the writer placing later Jewish festivals early in the history of the world.

In Jubilees 17:1-14 – Isaac is married, Hagar is banished, and the story moves quickly to the Binding of Isaac (17:15-18:19, cf., Genesis 22).  While the actual story is quite similar to the Genesis, the introduction is radically different.  Instead of the Lord deciding to test Abraham it is Prince Mastema (Satan.)  The prologue in 17:15-18 is modeled on Job as the Lord boasts over Abraham to Prince Mastema, who responds as Satan did in the Job story.  It is this Prince Mastema who suggests Abraham sacrifice his only son.  The last line of chapter 17 is important – Abraham was “not slow to act because he was faithful and a lover of the Lord.”  When the Lord stops Abraham, it is Prince Mastema who is shamed (18:12).

Sarah’s death is recorded as in the biblical material and the story of the marriage of Isaac and the birth of Jacob and Esau is very brief (ch. 19).  What is unique is Abraham’s continued involvement in the family.  It is Abraham who loves Jacob more than Esau and convinces his mother to favor him.  Jacob receives a special blessing from his grandfather Abraham and we are told that he will be the son of the promise.

Abraham’s farewell “testament” appears in chapter 20, despite his life continuing until chapter 23.  This speech has the usual warnings against fornication, but includes a long condemnation of the Gentiles.  The relationship of Jews and Gentiles at the turn of the era is difficult to assess, but the stream of Judaism represented by Jubilees has a strong anti-Gentile prejudice.

In chapter 21 Isaac receives a special blessing from his father, although the content is not at all what we might expect.  Rather than a moral exhortation, Isaac receives instructions on the proper method for animal sacrifice including a list of approved woods for the burnt offering and ritual washing.  Abraham grounds this teaching in the words of books from Enoch and Noah, making the sacrifices discussed here ancient indeed.  They are in fact very much like what is found in Leviticus (there are several references to Leviticus in the margin of OTP for this chapter.)  The practice is not, however, copied straight out of the Old Testament, implying that we are reading the practice of the period of the writer, or at least his opinion of how it ought to be done.

Abraham celebrates the feast of first fruits and blesses Jacob in Jubilees 22. In this lengthy blessing Abraham tells his grandson he will rule over the seed of Shem and that he will be blessed as was Noah and Adam, but only if he keeps the “commandments of your father Abraham.”  The following section is yet another condemnation of Gentiles and their practice of idolatry.

Finally, in chapter 23 Abraham dies and is buried with Sarah in Machpelah. In 23:8-15 we have an authorial discussion of the problem of longevity. Abraham only saw three jubilees and four weeks of years, or 175 years total. Why did the “ancients” live as many as nineteen jubilees? The writer blames the reduction in age to suffering and evil ways. The pre-flood generations lived nearly a thousand good years, yet today people live seventy or eighty and they are filled with evil due to the pollution of sin. This discussion leads to a semi-prophecy of the evil future generations will commit (verses 16-21), followed by a judgment on the world for these sins (a great plague, verses 22-23). There will be turmoil for Israel (verses 24-25), but in those children will begin to search the law and the commandments and they will return to a way of righteousness (verse 26). When this happens long life will return and men will live for a thousand years in peace and rejoicing because Satan will be no more (verses 27-29). There may be a reference to resurrection in verses 30-31, when “the bones rest in the ground but the spirits increase in joy.”

From Creation to Flood – Jubilees 1-10

Chapter 1 begins with Moses going up to Mount Sinai to receive the Law the Lord commands him to create a book so that his descendants will know what has happened on the Mountain.  The Lord tells Moses the people will not keep the Law, they will worship idols, and they will be punished for these transgressions.  The prophets will be “witnesses” to encourage the people to seek the Law.  Although the Lord promises not to forsake the people even in their exile, Moses intercedes on their behalf (as he does in Numbers frequently).  He prays that they do not allow the spirit of Beliar to rule over them, but the Lord tells Moses that they will be unfaithful, but they will be restored. Jubilees therefore deals with the same theological problem as Romans 9-11, ‘”has God forsaken his people?” Moses therefore dictates the words of the book to an angel who writes in on tablets.  The history which follows is based on “jubilee years,” or sets of “seven” years.

The second chapter summarizes creation.  For the most part the text is generally in line with Genesis 1 until the description of the Sabbath beginning in verse 17.  This is more detailed and is connected with the people of Israel (“I will sanctify them for myself,” verse 19, cf. 31-33.)  Verses 26-33 expand this description greatly, calling the Sabbath holy and demanding death for anyone who pollutes the day.  There are twenty-two generations from Adam to Jacob, and twenty-two kinds of work created before the first Sabbath.  This number is probably based on the number of Hebrew letters.

The naming of the animals takes Adam the six days of the next week (ch. 3). Woman is created late on the second sixth day, the text reads about like Genesis 2.  Along with the material on marriage there is also a section on purification ritual after child birth (seven days for a male, thirty three days for a female.)  This grounds a major element of ritual purity in the creation story (along with Sabbath and marriage.)  Adam and Eve are in the garden for the first jubilee of seven years before the temptation and fall occur.  These stories follow Genesis 3 closely, although there is a variant which implies the serpent had four legs prior to the fall.

Image result for Cain and AbelAfter Cain murders Abel there is a long section dealing with marriage in the first few generations (Jubilees 4). Where did Cain get his wife?  Jubilees tells us it was his sister Awan.  The genealogy section climaxes with Enoch (16-26).  Enoch is the first to learn wisdom and writing.  Adam dies seventy years short of one thousand because “one day is like a thousand in the testimony of heaven” (verse 30).  Cain is killed after the death of Adam (his house collapses on him.)  This is considered a just punishment for the murder of his brother.

In chapter 5-6 increasing wickedness of humanity leads to the flood.  Verses 1-11 are close to the story in Genesis, but in 12-19 we are told that God will create a new, righteous people (Israel). This new righteous people will be the judge of the unrighteous who perished in the flood.  After the flood, God makes a covenant with Noah.  This is an important point in history since many later Jewish consider this passage to be God’s covenant with the Gentiles.  In Jubilees 6:1-10 the story runs parallel to Genesis 9, but in 11-16 there is a significant departure.  Noah makes a second covenant with the nation of Israel.   This covenant is to be renewed each year during the feast of Shebout.  Once the land dried out Noah ordained feasts for “eternal generations.” Since these feasts are important remembrances of God’s Covenant it is important to know when to celebrate them.  Verses 32-38 deal with the calendar, advocating a 364-day calendar so that the feast days fall at the right times each year.

Chapters 7 deals with Noah’s post-flood activities.  After he sacrifices, Canaan is cursed because of Ham’s sin and Shem is blessed.  The text of Genesis is expanded by adding a list of the cities built by each of the sons of Noah. The chapter concludes with a “testament” of Noah parallel in form to the testamental literature. The moral exhortation in this testament is based on the Noahic covenant (avoid blood and fornication.) While this was expected from the biblical text, Noah’s commands concerning the first-fruits are unique.  He gives commands on when to harvest from a new tree and how to reserve a portion for the altar of the Lord.  Noah cites Enoch as an authority for this commandment. The sons of Noah are described in chapters 8-9. Cainan discovers astrology from a stone inscribed by a pre-flood ancestor.  He transcribes it and thereby participates in the sin of the Watchers.   The earth is divided among the three sons of Noah, and the regions are described in 8:12-9:13.  If anyone violates these boundaries, they are cursed (9:14-15).

Finally, Noah’s children are harassed by demons and are “lead into folly” by them (ch. 10). Noah prays for his children and asks the demons (children of the Watchers) may not have power over humans.  The Lord binds most of the children of the watchers, but leaves a tenth to serve Satan at the request of Prince Matsema.  This Prince appears several times in Jubilees and seems to be roughly parallel to Satan (the name means “enmity,” R.  H. Charles, APOT, 2:28.)  Matsema is mentioned in “A Fragment of a Zadokite Work,” 20:2, “when Moses gives the Law the angel of Matsema will depart from him if he makes good his word.”

After a notice of the death of Noah (who was more excellent than anyone except Enoch, vss. 15-17), the story of Babel is re-told nearly parallel to the biblical account.  After this time, however, Cainan seizes Lebanon from his brother Shem and is therefore cursed.  This also is used to explain the name of the land as “Canaan” (verse 34). This version may serve to absolve Noah of any responsibility for planting the vineyard after the flood and getting drunk, leading to the sin of Ham.