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.”

Kosher

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?

Christian Visions and the Ascension of Isaiah

Chapters 6-11 are a Christian addition to the Martyrdom of Isaiah, usually called the “Visions of Isaiah.” Isaiah has a vision when he was in Jerusalem to see King Hezekiah. While he is surrounded by forty prophets (including Joel and Micah), he slips into some sort of trance. Some thought he was about to ascend, others that he was dead. He recovers and relates his vision to Hezekiah. In his vision, Isaiah was taken by the hand and escorted up into heaven by an angel. He passes through the firmament and then through the seven heavens. In chapter 9 Isaiah enters the seventh heaven where he sees a wonderful light and innumerable angels.

Image result for ascension of IsaiahIsaiah sees Abel and Enoch, which is not unexpected since this whole heavenly journey is remarkably similar to 1 Enoch. The saints are not wearing crowns nor are they seated on thrones. They will not receive these things until after Christ descends in human form and is crucified. The resurrection is described as “plundering the angel (or prince) of death.” After the Lord ascends to heaven the Old Testament saints will receive their crowns and thrones. The balance of the chapter is a series of worship scenes: the Lord (vss.27-32); the “angel of the Holy Spirit” (vss. 33-36) of God (vss 37-42).

The lower heavens join in this worship (verses 1-6) and then Lord Christ (who is called Jesus) is called upon by the father to descend to Sheol (but not Perdition) and be made into the likeness of those in the lower heavens. This he does, becoming “incarnate” for each of the five levels of heaven he enters.

The final chapter of the Christian Visions section recounts the virgin birth (11:1-16) and the infancy of the Lord (verses 17-18). The virgin birth is without pain (Mary does not cry out) and occurred after only two months of pregnancy.

Ascension of Isaiah 11: 9-13 Mary then looked with her eyes and saw a small infant, and she was astounded. And after her astonishment had worn off, her womb was found as (it was) at first, before she had conceived. 10 And when her husband, Joseph, said to her, “What has made you astounded?” his eyes were opened, and he saw the infant and praised the Lord, because the Lord had come in his lot. 11 And a voice came to them, “Do not tell this vision to anyone.” 12 But the story about the infant was spread abroad in Bethlehem. 13 Some said, “The virgin Mary has given birth before she has been married two months.”

The vision skips quickly ahead to the crucifixion. The death of Jesus is blamed on the ruler of Sheol, who incited the children of Israel to crucify Jesus (11:19-21). There is a hint of “harrowing of hell” theology, Jesus “descended to the angel who (is) in Sheol.”

After the resurrection Jesus ascends back to the seventh heaven where he sits at the right hand of the Father and receives glory, with the angel of the Holy Spirit on the left hand. The book concludes with the angel returning Isaiah in the vision and his report to Hezekiah. The words of the vision were recorded and Hezekiah is sworn to secrecy.

The Martyrdom of Isaiah

The first five chapters of this work are a Jewish expansion of 2 Kings, detailing the martyrdom of Isaiah. Chapters 6-11 are a Christian work which detail Isaiah’s ascension through the seven heavens. This section is akin to the apocalyptic literature of Enoch in that Isaiah’s soul is ushered through various stages of heaven. Each section is a composite of various sources. This complicates the dating of the book. The Jewish section was likely written in Hebrew and translated into Greek. Hebrews 11 appears to refer to the martyrdom of Isaiah (“some were sawn asunder”) or the same tradition that Isaiah the prophet was martyred by being sawn in half. This would imply a date prior to the late first century.

Image result for The Martyrdom of IsaiahThe story of Isaiah’s death at the hand of Manasseh is similar to Second Maccabees (the martyrdom of the seven brothers and Eleazar), so a date as early as the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus IV Epiphanies is possible. The Christian section is more difficult to date, although Jerome and Epiphanes seem to use the book, making a date earlier than the third century somewhat certain (OTP 2:149-150). It is even more difficult to decide when the two books were put together. Fragments of the work in Geek appear in the fifth-sixth century as does a palimpsest in Latin from the same period.

The activities of demons are very important in the Martyrdom of Isaiah. It is the demon Sammael Milkira who causes Manasseh to go astray and Beliar possesses him and prompts him to kill the prophet. Near the end of Hezekiah’s life he calls Manasseh, his only son, in order to give him a final charge (ch. 1). Isaiah the Prophet is also present as well as the prophet’s son, Josab (Shear-Jashub in Is. 7:3). He tells the boy the “words of righteousness” which he has seen, including eternal judgments, Gehenna, and the activities of demons (princes of this world.) There is an implication that Hezekiah has had visionary experiences himself which were recorded by his secretary. Isaiah tells the king this speech will have no effect on Manasseh and that he will rebel against the word of the Lord.

The demon Sammael Milkira will indwell Manasseh. Beliar will also indwell Manasseh and he will lead many to desert the faith. Isaiah even predicts his own martyrdom. This creature was originally an archangel, but he enticed the serpent to tempt Eve. He is a Satan in Debarim rabba 11 and the angel of death, Targum Jeremiah (OTP 2:157 note u). Sammael Milkira is mentioned in the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch 4:8 (he planted a vine in the garden to tempt Adam) and 9:7 (when he “took the serpent as a garment.”

All that Isaiah predicted happens (ch. 2). Manasseh does not obey his father and he served Satan instead. Witchcraft, magic, divination, auguries, fornication, adultery, and the persecution of the righteous all increase, so Isaiah and the rest of the prophets withdraw from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, then to a mountain in a desert place. There they eat noting but bitter herbs for two years. There is a short story inserted at this point which seems to have little to do with the rest of the book other than to introduce the a false prophet named Belkira. This man accused the prophet Micaiah who is eventually martyred himself. Compare OTP 2:158 note o and 159 note b; it is possible the name in chapter two is not the same as the name in chapter 3.

In chapter 3, Belkira the false prophet discovers Isaiah’s hiding place and accuse these prophets of prophesying against Israel and Judah (which is most likely true at this point!) The king is convinced and Isaiah is arrested. Verses 13-31 are a Christian interpolation describing the death and resurrection of Christ, the descent of the Holy Spirit and the spread of the gospel. Eventually the church will abandon the teaching of the twelve apostles and there will be many wicked elders and shepherds who do wrong for their sheep.

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Chapter 4 seems as though it is from yet another source, likely Christian. The content seems to be based on either the Olivet Discourse or the book of Revelation. It is more likely this chapter reflects the sort of Christian reflection on Daniel and Antiochus IV Epiphanies represented by these two Christian texts. Isaiah is speaking in the first person to Hezekiah and Josab about the return of Christ and associated apocalyptic judgments. After the twelve apostles plant the gospel throughout the world, Beliar will come in the form of a king. This king is a “murderer of his mother,” a stock description of Nero in other apocalyptic literature. People will sacrifice to this king and worship him. He will do miracles in every district and set up his image everywhere (the “abomination which causes desolation,” possibly emperor worship).

The duration of his reign will be three years, seven months and twenty-seven days (or 1, 335 days total, cf. Dan. 12:12). After this time “The Beloved” will speak from heaven and “reprove in anger the world.” All which is written in the prophets will be fulfilled, a list of the prophets is included in 21-22. The Minor Prophets appear in the order of the LXX and the “word of the righteous Joseph” are included. This may be a reference to the Prayer of Joseph (OTP 2:699-714). This chapter is important because it shows an eschatological program outside of the biblical material used by at least some in the early church which included the elements of the Olivet Discourse and Revelation.

Because of the vision Beliar is enraged with Isaiah and prompts Manasseh to saw him in half (ch. 5). Belkira tries to get Isaiah to recant all which he has said about Manasseh, but of course the prophet refuses and his killed. He “spoke with the Holy Spirit until he was sawed in two” (14)

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.