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The problem western pop-Christianity has re-defined apocalyptic to refer only to “the end of the world as we know it.” Some students want to read Revelation as if it was in the same genre as The Book of Eli or The Road. Those two films are excellent examples of the modern genre of post-apocalyptic. Some disaster has happened which has nearly wiped out most of the world forcing a tiny community of surviving humans to struggles against extinction.post-apocalytic-businessman

But that is not at all what the genre of apocalyptic was in the Second Temple Period. From about 250 B.C. to about A.D. 250, the genre of apocalyptic flourished. Both Jews and Christians wrote apocalypses in order to deal with the rapidly changing world. These books look at the recent past and current events using spectacular imagery in order to
provide hope for the future. In this sense, a story like The Book of Eli functions the same way since despite the almost universal evil in the world, there is some hope a the end of the story that humans will survive and create an ideal community.

David Noel Freedman once said apocalyptic is “born of crisis – from the start it was underground literature, the consolation of the persecuted” (Journal for Theology and Church 6 [1979]: 173). Christian and Jewish apocalyptic reflects a crisis of faith. The world is evil and most people are living ignorantly in the darkness. Evil is oppressing the small minority of righteous. Yet this literature always ends with the hope of God’s justice. The righteous will be rewarded and the evil oppressors will be condemned.

In the introduction to his recent collection of essays on apocalyptic literature, John Collins sketches recent attempts to define apocalyptic, settling on “a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another supernatural world” (Apocalypse, Prophecy and Pseudepigraphy, 4). This definition preserves both the revelatory aspect of apocalyptic, but also some eschatology which many think is the whole purpose of apocalyptic.

But can apocalyptic be a kind of protest literature? Do the visions of Daniel, the quintessential apocalyptic book in the Hebrew Bible, offer protest against the empire (whether Babylon, Persia, the Greeks or later the Romans)? If apocalyptic was popular during the Hasmonean dynasty and the advent of the Romans, how did books like 1 Enoch offer both comfort and protest against “the evil powers of this world”?

 

Interp 4 EzraBoccaccini, Gabriele  and Jason M. Zurawski, ed. Interpreting 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: International Studies. Library of Second Temple Studies 87; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014. 240 pp. Hb, $125.00.  Link to Bloomsbury

This volume collects an additional fifteen essays from the Sixth Enoch Seminar held in Milan in June 2011. These papers were not included in Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch: Reconstruction after the Fall (Leiden: Brill, 2013). In their introduction, the editors Gabriele Boccaccini and Jason M. Zurawski state that contemporary scholarship has come to realize the importance of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch for understanding first century Judaism and the development of early Christianity (ix). This interest has made the work of the Enoch Seminar profitable since 2001.  (Since this review is lengthy, I will break it into two posts, the first is here.)

Part three of the book collections five articles which deal with exegetical details of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. Jason M. Zurawski discusses the passage in 4 Ezra the state of the present world is a consequence of Adam’s sin (“The Two Worlds and Adam’s Sin: The Problem of 4 Ezra 7:10-14”). In 4 Ezra 7:74 the author claims God is in control of all things via his initial, foreordained plan. But 7:10-14 seems to state the opposite, Adam’s sin resulted in hardship and evil in the world. Zurawski argues this “complication is more apparent than real” since it can be reconciled with the rest of the book by understanding that God made the world difficult in the first place and Adam was the first to fall into the traps of the world (105). In the book, Ezra thought the world was made only for Israel, but Uriel explains “this world was never intended as the inheritance of the righteous.” This stands in contrast to 2 Baruch, where the world was filled with toil and evil only after Adam’s sin.

Daniel M. Gurtner studies “Eschatological Rewards for the Righteous in Second Baruch.” Baruch’s readers live “between two worlds,” the present evil world where the Temple has been destroyed and the future Paradise that was created for Israel (114). The writer of 2 Baruch exhorts his readers to persevere through their present tribulation because they will receive divine blessing in the future. The specific blessings are “presented in familiar Second Temple terms” (111) such as afterlife and a world to time, a Paradise where there is no suffering, heavenly bliss and a heavenly Jerusalem, complete with a new temple.

In a related article, Jared Ludlow explores “Death and the Afterlife in 2 Baruch.” Because of the view of death in 2 Baruch, the book is an “exhortation to good works, a nondescript ethical liked which may have more in common with Jewish tradition than Christian” (116). After Adam’s sin, the realm of death was prepared (23:4) and after death a soul will face final judgment (books, scales, fire). The judgment is on the basis of the righteousness of the individual, and every secret thought will be exposed (89:3). The final state of the righteous is a crown of glory and a glorified transformation.

Basil Lourié contributes a technical article on the problem of “The Calendar Implied in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra: Two Modifications of the One Scheme.” After surveying the chronological notices in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra he concludes both books are using a 364-day calendar and both books conclude their revelation on Pentecost, the day Moses received the Law. The difference is that 2 Baruch begins his sequence on Wednesday, resulting in 31 interval days in the book (as in Jubilees), while 4 Ezra begins the year on Sunday, resulting in 33 interval days (as in 3 Baruch). Lourié suggests that if Rev 1:10 is an initial revelation on a Sunday and the series of sevens are taken as seven days, then the interval days in Revelation also work out to 31. This requires the three non-seven visions to be single days, and ignores the seven thunders in Rev 10:3. Since John is told to not write what the thunders said, Lourié’s scheme may have merit.

Finally in this section of the book, Carla Sulzbach focuses on Jerusalem in these books (“The Fate of Jerusalem in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra: From Earth to Heaven and Back?”) Sulzbach observes that Baruch is in Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple, while Ezra is living in Babylon some thirty years later. This difference in perspective may affect the portrayal of the city as well as the eschatology of the books. In both books “Jerusalem has become cosmicized and elevated,” but this process was already underway in the later prophets (143). The city is developed upwardly, toward Heaven, and conflated with the Land and Temple.This is especially true in 4 Ezra 10, where the prophet encounters a mourning woman who is transformed into an eschatological Zion.

The final part of the book proposes to study 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch in their Social and Historical Settings. James Charlesworth’s article “4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: Archaeology and Elusive Answers to Our Perennial Questions” has two related themes. First, he argues both authors could have written from the vicinity of Jerusalem between A.D. 70 and 135. There is evidence of a Jewish “large Jewish settlement” at Shu’afat which was occupied between the two revolts. The site has well-constructed mikvoth and five ink wells were found in the upper level of a building. At the very least this implies the site could have served as an administrative center and possibly other literary activity. His point is that Jerusalem was not depopulated nor were Jews banned from the city after A.D. 70., so it is at least possible these books were written within sight of the destruction of the city. The second point he makes in this article is perhaps more controversial. Charlesworth argues 2 Baruch knew at least the pessimistic theology of 4 Ezra, if not the book itself. To support this view, he shows that the implied author of 4 Ezra did not have answers for the destruction of the Temple and did not even think a future messiah would provide much hope. The messiah in 4 Ezra rules for 400 years and then dies; Charlesworth takes this as an implicit rejection of the messianic hopes leading to the revolt. 2 Baruch, on the other hand, provides an answer. The fall of Jerusalem was a punishment for sin; therefore the message of the book is “keep the Torah.” Charlesworth recognizes this suggestion cannot be proven, but offers it as a matter for ongoing discussion.

Stephen Pfann’s fascinating article (“The Use of Cryptographic and Esoteric Scripts in Second Temple Judaism and the Surrounding Cultures”) begins with Ezra’s instructions to five scribes in 4 Ezra 14 as he dictated 94 books: the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible and 70 secret books, kept for the “wise among your people (14:26). Pfann sees this practice as similar to the use of Cryptic A script at Qumran and elsewhere. The article offers an overview of cryptography, but concludes that this script was used at Qumran for texts esoteric documents reserved for the elite members of the community, possibly to be read alongside the Bible itself (194).

The last article in the collection seems to be outside the focus of the volume. In “Apocalyptic as Delusion: A Psychoanalytic Approach,” J. Harold Ellens offers an assessment of the psychology of apocalyptic movements in general, calling the “psychotic Jewish worldviews” (209). He moves quickly from Second Temple documents like 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch to modern “gurus” like Jim Jones and David Koresh, and even Adolf Hitler an examples of delusional and communal psychosis. Finally, he thinks Jesus’ apocalyptic thinking fits the DSM IV criteria for delusion, including megalomaniacal and narcissistic behavior, especially in his belief he would return to judge the world (208). He concludes “it is clear that a generalized delusional ideation had pervaded an entire community of people in the Jesus Movement, in 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, the Qumran Community, the Maccabees, and the followers of Bar Kochba” (209). The collection of essays would have been just as valuable if this essay were left out.

Conclusion. The essays in this collection are an excellent contribution to the ongoing discussion of these two important Second Temple apocalypses.

 

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

 

Interp 4 EzraBoccaccini, Gabriele  and Jason M. Zurawski, ed. Interpreting 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: International Studies. Library of Second Temple Studies 87; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014. 240 pp. Hb, $125.00.  Link to Bloomsbury

This volume collects an additional fifteen essays from the Sixth Enoch Seminar held in Milan in June 2011. These papers were not included in Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch: Reconstruction after the Fall (Leiden: Brill, 2013). In their introduction, the editors Gabriele Boccaccini and Jason M. Zurawski state that contemporary scholarship has come to realize the importance of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch for understanding first century Judaism and the development of early Christianity (ix). This interest has made the work of the Enoch Seminar profitable since 2001. Since this review is lengthy, I will break it into two posts (part two).

The essays in the first part of the collection focus on how 4 Ezra relates to other texts in the Apocalyptic Tradition. Veronika Bachmann demonstrates how 4 Ezra and the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36) are both rooted in traditional ways of thinking about the history of the world in her article “More than the Present: Perspectives on World History in 4 Ezra and the Book of the Watchers.” Both works have a view of history consisting of a series of ages, although the focus is on the present evil world and the coming world promised to the righteous. Yet neither book is escapist, the readers are to affirm this world’s realities and live righteous lives (17). As such, both works emphasize the sovereignty of God. The Book of the Watchers is closer to the category of “sapiential wisdom” since the book stresses a good creation. Fourth Ezra, on the other hand, is more “apocalyptic wisdom” since it is looking forward to an “other-worldly Jerusalem” (31).

Since the Qumran literature was written well before the destruction of the Temple and 4 Ezra just after, Bilhah Nitzan traces some development by comparing five specific apocalyptic ideas in his essay “Apocalyptic Ideas in 4 Ezra in Comparison with the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Both works hold a deterministic concept of history that attempts to explain the origin of evil, although the Qumran literature is more hopeful concerning the future punishment of gentiles. Both certainly look forward to judgment on the wicked, but 4 Ezra sees this as the work of God alone (not the righteous). One methodological problem with the essay is that the Qumran literature is a collection rather than a single book. It is difficult to know why a copy of 4Q Pseudo-Ezekiel appears among the Dead Sea Scrolls—did the community value the book because they agreed with it? The non-sectarian documents may not reflect the views of the community, although I think Nitzan is right to judiciously conclude that resurrection of individuals was widely held in the Second Temple period.

Laura Bizzarro’s essay compares the fifth vision in 4 Ezra and Daniel 7, specifically the meaning of the Eagle and the Lion (“The ‘Meaning of History’ in the Fifth Vision of 4 Ezra”).  She finds the fifth vision to be consistent with other Jewish apocalypses: history is linear, with an absolute and imminent end. 4 Ezra is adapting and updating the language of Dan 7 in order to predict the coming judgment of Rome in the near future. In Dan 7, the eagle image was used to describe wicked Hellenistic kings leading up to Antiochus, 4 Ezra “updates” the image to refer to the Julius-Claudian dynasty. The lion in 4 Ezra refers to the “defeat and annihilation of the eagle,” suggesting the “end of the Roman empire and the end of history” (35).

The second part of the collection compares 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, to Early Christian Literature. In his article,“The Woman Who Anoints Jesus for his Burial (Mark 14) and the Woman Who Laments her Dead Son (4 Ezra 9-10) – Twice the Same Person?”, Andreas Bedenbender argues the Gospel of Mark is implicitly dealing with the fate of the city of Jerusalem and this pericope treats the death of Jesus and the loving relationship of Jesus and Zion (46). Specifically in Mark 14, the breaking of alabaster bottle of perfume is an allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem and the woman herself is an allegory for Zion. The perfume is nardos, a word only appearing in the LXX Song of Solomon, a marriage context. Her action therefore means something like “if you are really the messiah, then act now and save the city from destruction” (45). As Bedenbender points out, this is “highly speculative” but points to several hints in Mark’s gospel as well as parallels to the grieving woman in 4 Ezra 9-10 to support his claim.  This article was fascinating to me since I covered much the same ground in Jesus the Bridegroom, 174-6. As I pointed out there, the real problem for 4 Ezra as an example of a marriage metaphor is that the son/bridegroom is not the focus of the section, rather Zion as a grieving mother.

Calum Carmichael examines 4 Ezra’s view of creation as a model for understanding John 1-5 (“Days of Creation in 4 Ezra 6:38-59 and John 1-5”). That John models his Gospel on Genesis is well-known, although what his point in doing so was is not always clear. John reworks the creation story on a way that would be understood by his highly literate Hellenistic Jewish audience (51). Carmichael does not think the “pessimism of 4 Ezra is a negative counter-statement to the confident, triumphant claims of John’s Gospel,” although they “share a common pool of ideas about the created order” (60).

Eric F. Mason examines how Psalm 104:4 is used in Hebrews and compares it to 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra (“2 Baruch, 4 Ezra, and the Epistle to the Hebrews: Three Approaches to the Interpretation of Ps 104:4”). In the Hebrew Bible the verse refers to the power and majesty of God, yet the trajectory in the Second Temple Period was to read the verse as a description the creation of angels from wind or fire. Mason doubts use of this verse in Hebrews 1:7 has anything to do with the creation of angels, although Jubilees 2:2-3 and 2 Baruch 21:6, 56:11 may allude to Ps 104:4 as a description of angels. Fourth Ezra, on the other hand, uses Ps 104:4 to underscore God’s incomparable dominion—God is able to transform his servants into fire or wind.

The final article in this section of the book Rivka Nir challenges the consensus view that the Epistle of Baruch was a Jewish composition. Her article, “‘Good Tidings’ of Baruch to the Christian Faithful (The Epistle of 2 Baruch 78-87),” argues the letter is best understood as a Christian composition “pervaded with Christian symbolism” (93). The Letter describes itself as a letter of “doctrine” and “hope.” While doctrine is a fair translation of the Syriac, she contends the translation “scroll of hope” is “baseless,” the word ought to be rendered “good tidings” or even “good news.” It is the very word used for Christian gospels. To support her contention, she points out the metaphors in 77:13-16 can all be applied to Christ: A lamp, a shepherd, and a fountain. While all three are developed from the Hebrew Bible, they are thoroughly Christianized in the Gospel of John (for example). In addition, the imminent expectation of the end of the ages is more like Christian apocalyptic than Jewish since it is looking forward to resurrection into a new world. The poem in 85:10-11 is “pervaded with Christological imagery” (79). She hears a faint echo of Jesus’ calming the sea in this poem and observes that the image of a “safe harbor” is common in early Christianity, especially among the Syrian fathers (83). The Hebrew Bible describes the “resting place” of God’s people as a return to the Land of Canaan, not a safe harbor. There is no hope for the restoration of the Temple or sacrifices, and even the commands to “remember the Law” are generic (no purity laws, no circumcision of food laws). I find her arguments persuasive, although the article falls short in explaining how a Christian composition became attached to 2 Baruch. Likely as not it was added by the Syrian Christians who preserved 2 Baruch itself, on the analogy of the expansions to 4 Ezra.

The review will continue in the next post.

Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Guide. Edited by John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2012, xxxiv + 467 pp. $35.00, paperback.  Link to Eerdmans

EarlyJudaismThis volume is reprint of 13 major essays originally appearing in the first part of the Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism ( Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010).  This Dictionary was a major contribution to the study of Second Temple Period Judaism when it was released two years ago, but with a list price of $95, most readers were unable to afford the book. The editors comment in their introduction that this reprinting allowed for corrections and emendations as well as some expanded bibliography. A five-page chronology of the period is included (538 B.C.E. – 200 C.E.), as well as 13 maps. There are 71 black and white photographs in the center of the book. I am not sure if all of these maps and photographs appeared in the original Dictionary, but the few I checked did.

The description “early Judaism” is used to describe the period of development during the Hellenistic and early Roman period. The term “Second Temple Period” was too broad. Since that period is usually defined as 520 B.C.E. to 70 C.E., it would include most of the writings of the Hebrew Bible. For this book, “early Judaism’ refers to the period from Alexander the Great through the Bar Kokhba revolt (135 C.E.).

The essays in the book are not broken into sections, although there is a general pattern to the book. After an introductory essay on “Early Judaism and Modern Scholarship” by John Collins, three essays appear charting the history of the period. Chris Seeman and Adam Marshak describe the long period from Alexander the Great to Hadrian, the historical boundaries of Early Judaism. This is a very brief overview (forty pages for 400 years?) The next two essays describe “Judaism in the Land of Israel” (James VanderKam) and “Judaism in the Diaspora” (Erich S. Gruen). Both essays briefly comment on the literature produced in the Land and in the Diaspora, although these are covered elsewhere in the book. The two chapters are excellent when read together. VanderKam describes the critical importance of the Temple to those dwelling in the Land while Gruen describes the importance of synagogue to those in the Diaspora. Gruen has several sections of interest for students of the New Testament, including Gentile attraction to Judaism and the “boundary markers” used to maintain Jewish identity.

Seven of the essays deal with the literature of the period. This ought to be expected since there is a great variety of literature produced during this long period. Eugene Urlich describes the move from texts to Scripture to Canon in his “The Jewish Scriptures: Texts, Versions, Canons.” James Kugel (“Early Jewish Biblical Interpretation”) comments on the interpretation of Law within the Hebrew Bible itself as well as the trajectories found in extra-canonical texts like Jubilees. Loren Stuckenbruck contributes an article on the “Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.” This article was somewhat frustrating in this format of the book because it is not able to treat any given book in these broad and imprecise categories with anything more than a line. If I was reading the article in the Dictionary, I could easily turn to the articles on Tobit or Enoch for a more in-depth introduction.

Eibert Tigchelaar has a nice introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls which steers clear of archaeological controversies and focuses on the texts. Katell Berthelot’s essay on “Early Jewish Literature Written in Greek” treats some literature which might be categorized as Apocrypha, others that are Pseudepigrapha. Her summary of themes in this literature is excellent, concluding that “this literature documents a remarkable attempt to embrace Greek culture while maintaining a distinctive Jewish identity” (249).

Dictionary of Early Judaism

Two essays were added to this collection with appeared as entries in the original Dictionary. The chapter of Philo compiles the Dictionary articles on Philo (Gregory Sterling), Allegorical Commentary (Maren Niehoff), Apologetic Treatises (Gregory Sterling), Exposition of the Law (Maren Niehoff), Philosophical Works (Annewies van den Hoek), and Questions and Answers on Genesis and Exodus (David T. Runia). The order of these sections is different than the original Dictionary and Sterling’s concluding paragraph is placed at the end of the chapter. That each section is not identified by author is a minor frustration. While this is mentioned in the introduction, it would not have been very difficult to include a “signature” at the end of each section.

The chapter on Josephus compiles the Dictionary entries on Josephus and Antiquities (Steve Mason) Against Apion (John Barclay) and Jewish War (James McLaren). As with the chapter on Philo, these sections are edited without indicating which author wrote the section. Steve Mason’s article on Josephus is interrupted after his discussion of Vita, the sections on Apion, Antiquities and Jewish War are inserted at this point. Mason’s original article picks up again, treating the reception and interpretation of Josephus.

While not precisely a form of literature, Jürgen Zangenberg’s article on “Archaeology, Papyri and Inscriptions” provides an overview of this massive collection of data that is often ignored by scholars studying the period. Since there are so many books from this period, it is easy to overlook this sub-form of literature. Zangenberg’s article is handicapped by trying to cover too much, each of his sub-sections could have been a full chapter.

The final three chapters of the book cover Jews and “others.” Miriam Pucci Ben Zeev describes the usually tempestuous relationship of the “Jews among the Greeks and Romans.” Her article describes controversies in Rome, Asia Minor, Syria and other regions. Daniel Harlow contributes a stimulating article on “Early Judaism and Christianity.” It is almost impossible for someone to write on this topic without interacting with E. P. Sanders and the developments in scholarship since his Paul and Palestinian Judaism. After surveying Jesus, the earliest Jesus followers and Paul, Harlow comments that the essential pattern of “covenantal nomism” looks very much like Paul’s view. Harlow sees Paul’s view of the Law as very complex, even “convoluted” compared to the other writers in the New Testament.

Finally, Lawrence Schiffman treats “Early Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism.” This chapter is very brief (a mere 14 pages) and attempts to show that the sectarianism of “Early Judaism” was at odds with the Pharisaic-rabbinic Judaism which develops after 200 C.E. Part of the problem is inadequate documentation of the development from the pre-70 C.E. documents to the rabbinic texts which begin to develop after 200 C.E. The unwritten tradition of the Pharisees is the “real basis of rabbinic Judaism” (434).

Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Guide is an affordable, handy collection of essays which would make an excellent college or seminary textbook. It is not overly technical, providing the scholar with necessary details without sacrificing readability. While I was occasionally frustrated by the brevity of the essays, this does not distract from their usefulness as an introduction to broad topics.  Each essay concludes with a short bibliography to encourage the reader to pursue these topics further.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for a copy of this book to review.

Back in October I posted a short note on the money changers in the Temple.  Money needed to be changed to an acceptable currency before it could be given to the Temple.  Popular preaching usually states with confidence this is because Roman coins were blasphemous, so they were exchanged for Tyrian shekels. The usual explanation for Jesus’ anger with the money changers is that they were gouging the “tourists” with an exorbitant exchange rate.  This overlooks the fact that the Tyrian shekel had an image of Melkart / Heracles as well as an eagle.  The reason the Tyrian shekel was required was that it was the most pure silver coin available.  Nevertheless, some sort of coin exchange was required before a worshiper entered the Temple.

An odd seal or “token” was recently discovered in Jerusalem with the words “pure to Yahweh.”  Ronny Reich described as a seal placed on an object which was dedicated to the Lord.  This would explain why it is a bullae, a clay seal impression.  On the other hand, George Athas suggests on his blog that this seal is a kind of exchange token for use in the Temple.  This would ensure than the worshiper had an accurate exchange rate with the proper coinage and that the coinage was “acceptable” for use in the Temple.

I like Athas’ suggestion, but I am not sure a clay seal could be used for a handful of coins which would be immediately taken into the Temple and “spent” as a tithe or offering almost immediately.  A more durable chit would be more likely in that case.

The seal strikes me as not unlike the common l’melek seal.  This impression is found on jar-handles indicating that the contents of the jar are reserved for the king, perhaps as a tithe / tax.  Perhaps this seal was placed on an item being given to the Temple as an offering. People may have given all sorts of things to the Lord through the Temple aside from money (food, wine, etc.), these items could be marked as set-aside to the Lord with this sort of seal.

Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2011. xv., 335 p., 24 p. B&W illustrations, pb. $25.  Amazon Link.

Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus is an excellent book and well worth reading.  However, it lives up to its own subtitle.  I am not sure any book can live up to that particular goal simply because the sources for common, daily life of the first century are so limited. This is a problem with haunts every attempt to describe the way people lived in ancient times: normal people did not leave much behind to study.  The poor did not journal their daily lives, nor did they leave behind a great deal for archaeologists to study.

Nevertheless, Magness proceeds through several categories of daily life and describes them via literary and archaeological data.  Each chapter begins with a few citations from the Hebrew Bible, Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, or a rabbinic literature.  Then she turns to the archaeological record, usually showing that the literary descriptions are more or less accurate.  Each chapter attempts to tie the practice to an episode in the life of Jesus.  Topics include purity and the practice of ritual washing (mikveh), food, household items, dining customs, Sabbath observance, coins, clothing, oil and spit, toilet habits, and burial customs. An underlying theme throughout every chapter is a concern for purity.  The chapters on food and household items, for example, have a great deal of material on avoidance of uncleanliness.

Magness’ method can be illustrated by her description of the tzizit (fringes on the edge of one’s cloak) she begins with the Hebrew Bible, then moves through the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Mishnah, the Talmud, and an early Christian writer (Justin). She then describes an episode in the gospels which describes Jesus a wearing a fringe or tassel (Matt 9:20-21 and par.)  There is scant archaeological evidence for the practice in the first century, but it is possible that an unfinished tzizit was discovered in the Cave of Letters (112).  Literary sources help to illuminate archaeology, archaeology helps illuminate the literary sources.  This method is repeated for every topic covered in the book.

Magness is an archaeologist, so it is no surprise that her material on physical data is extremely rich.  Unfortunately, there are only a few sites to illustrate many of the practices covered in the book.  Magness is an expert in Qumran archaeology (see her Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls), so it is natural that her illustrations should be drawn from this important site.  The second site which Magness uses is the so-called Burnt House in Jerusalem.  This is an important archaeological site since it is an aristocratic (priestly?) home near the Temple which was burned in A.D. 70.  There is a wealth of household objects which illustrate a number of practices described in this book.

While Magness does refer to other sites, I wonder if the practices at Qumran and the home of an elite member of the aristocracy really illustrate“daily life” at the time of Jesus.  Sadly, there is just not that much available to illustrate how a poor Jewish villager in the Galilee lived, and that is the “daily life” most Christians are going to want to illustrate.

What is remarkable about Stone and Dung is the wealth of literary sources compiled for each topic. Every chapter is a treasure trove of texts drawn together around a topic.  Selections for the Talmud seem to be drawn from “early” authorities, although dating a saying in the Talmud is always a problem. Nevertheless, her selections are judicious and placed along side other first century voices which mitigate any serious dating problems.  I particularly like her use of the New Testament as a serious source.  She is not interested in showing that the New Testament is wrong about descriptions of daily life.  In fact, most often the New Testament describes Jesus as a “typical Jew” and living within the traditions of the Second Temple Period.

In addition to these primary resources, Magness provides detailed documentation in her endnotes.  In fact, the text of the book ends on page 186, the notes run from 187-270 and the bibliography from 271-305!  The fact that they are endnotes frustrates me, but the style makes the main text much more accessible for the non-professional.  I appreciate several detailed indices.  There are 24 pages of black and white illustrations including photographs of archaeological items and pottery figures.  Some of these look like they are repeated from her book on the archaeology of Qumran, but they are quite helpful in illustrating the material evidence.

This book is important because most people because people have so many preconceived notions about how “it was back in Bible times.” Most of these mental images are based on Sunday School lessons or bad Hollywood productions.  The value of a book like this is to set the stories of the Gospels into their proper context.  Without that cultural context, we miss the real depth of the story.  I recommend Stone and Spit, Oil and Dung to anyone interested in the culture of the times of Jesus.

In my last post I commented that the issue in Second Temple Judaism was not whether a Jew would Hellenize or not, but the degree to which any given Jewish person might Hellenize.   John Barclay created something of a scale for evaluating  the literature of the Diaspora with respect to how “Greek” the writer thought  of himself.

In Barclay’s Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora from Alexander to Trajan (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996), he develops the following three criteria.  For each, there is a spectrum from the more “conservative” Jews who resisted Hellenization to the more “liberal” Jews who became a part of their culture:

Assimilation. How successfully has a Jew become integrated into the dominant culture?  At the low end, someone who stays within a Jewish neighborhood and has no contact with gentiles, in the middle, someone who has daily business contact with gentiles but maintains the “boundary markers”, at the high end Jews who have abandon those markers.  There are relatively few Jews at the high end, although some reversed circumcision or became a part of a pagan cult.

Acculturation. To what degree does a Jew internalize the dominant culture? At the low end, a Jew might have no knowledge of Greek, while in the middle of the scale there is a use of Greek and basic familiarity with Greco-Roman ethics and culture.  At the high end, a Jew who understands and uses the literature and rhetoric of the Greco-Roman world and has a mastery of the Greek language.

Accommodation. This measures the extent to which a Jew puts to use their acculturation.  At the low end, a Jew might reject Gentile culture entirely, while in the middle of the scale, a Jew might use the culture to express their own tradition, still maintaining the core values of Judaism.  At the high end, the Greco-Roman culture asserts itself over the Jewish way of life.

With these broad categories in mind, we might evaluate some of the groups which we encounter in the world of the Gospels.  The Essenes, for example, might be considered at the “low end” of assimilation and accommodation, especially if there is a connection with Qumran.  At least some Essenes seem to have separate from other Jews (the Temple establishment).  On the other end of the scale we can confidently place Herod and his family, and the the “Herodian” party.  Clearly a Jew like Agrippa I had no trouble being “Roman” and yet seems to have considered himself fully Jewish.

It is the middle range of the spectrum which is more difficult.  Typically the Sadducee is thought to be “more liberal” and the Pharisee “more conservative,”  but it is possible on this scale that the Sadducee was rather conservative with respect to assimilation since they are based in Jerusalem and maintained the traditions of Temple and purity.  On the other hand, Pharisees are found throughout the land, and some (like Paul) traveled to Hellenistic Synagogues in Damascus and Antioch.  While they are obviously concerned with purity, they likely engaged in commerce with Gentiles.

Barclay’s scale is also helpful for looking ahead to some problems which appear very early in the church, especially as Gentiles begin to come to faith.  A Gentile by default has some level of Hellenization, especially if he was a converted pagan!  How the early Christians assimilated, acculturated, or accommodated was a real problem in Paul’s churches, especially in Galatia and Corinth.

Finally — can these categories be applied to the present Church?  Can we learn from the past with respect to absorbing and using culture?  Is it always a good thing to be separate from the world?  Or, like the Jews we meet in the Gospels, is it the case that we cannot avoid some level of assimilation?

Some of the classic works of Judaism (Strack and Billerbeck or their predecessor Lightfoot) are based on the idea that Mishnah and Talmud can be mined for “background” for the teaching of Jesus or Paul.  Gabriele Boccaccini has this older scholarship in mind when he begins his book on the Roots of Rabbinic Judaism with the observation that “the idea that already during the Second Temple period Rabbinic Judaism was normative or mainstream belongs to the history of scholarly research.” This is a point with which virtually all of scholarship would agree, yet the average pastor still uses tools that have not quite caught up to scholarship.  It is easier to read Edersheim’s Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah than to wade through E. P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism!

One of the biggest mistakes Christians make when they read the New Testament is to imagine that the Jews of the first century had a single set of unified beliefs and practices, something like a Creedal Statement or a “doctrinal statement” found in the later Christian church.  This is simply not the case, although there were certainly a few doctrines which made the Jews unique and practices which set them apart from the Gentile world.  For the most part, Judaism at the beginning of the first century was a fractious as Christianity was by the end of the century.

A second mistake most Christians make is thinking that modern Judaism is a good representation of how Jews lived in the first century.  Unfortunately Fiddler on the Roof may not be a good guide to how Jews lived in first century Galilee.  The Mishnah was not developed until A.D. 250 and the Talmud several hundred years later.  Many of the things Christians say about “all Jews” are drawn from these documents but may not reflect the practice of the first century at all.

Having made these two caveats, the main theological doctrines which “all Jews believed” in the first century were basically monotheism and the election of Israel. Each of the “parties” within first century Judaism believed that there is only one God, and he is the God of Israel.  Each of these parties equally affirmed that God has chosen Abraham and his family to be the recipients of his Law.  While the relationship of God and his people will vary, that God has specially chosen Israel is foundational.

The main practices which defined Judaism included circumcision, food laws, purity laws, and Sabbath.  With respect to theology, you either believe the Lord God is one, or you do not.  You either believe God has chosen Israel to be his people or not.  But with respect to practice, various groups struggled to find a balance between living as a Jew and living in a Greco-Roman world.  How much effort was put into keeping the Law varied depending on one’s commitment or even one’s proximity to the Land.  A Jew living in Ephesus may not have considered the purity laws as important as someone in Galilee, or Judea, or in Jerusalem itself.  The closer to the Land, the closer to the Temple, the more likely ceremonial purity was an issue.  Keeping Sabbath in Ephesus was much more difficult than in Jerusalem.

It is therefore little wonder that when we read Paul in Galatians, for example, food and circumcision are the two biggest issues between Paul’s Gentile mission and the so-called Judaizers.

As many of you know, in addition to teaching Bible in a Bible College, I am the regular Sunday Evening teacher at Rush Creek Bible Church.  I have just finished a long series on the prophets, arranged chronologically, so I thought I would try something a bit unusual for a Bible church. Last weekend I taught on the Maccabean Revolt, this Sunday I am teaching on the development of “Judaisms” during the Second Temple Period.  There was a great deal of interest in the Maccabean Revolt and I had several supportive comments from people who attended.  There were a number of excellent questions asked after my presentation and (as far as I know) no real criticisms of spending a Sunday evening studying 1 and 2 Maccabees.  I am thankful for a congregation that is interested enough in the Bible to want to know more about the history of Israel after the close of the Hebrew Bible.

Why bother with the intertestamental history if it is not biblical history?  This is a good question given my teaching was in a regular Bible Study situation.  As I see it, there are several reasons which make a study of the intertestamental period important for the Christian.

First, much of what we read in the New Testament assumes the four hundred years of history between the testaments. Politically, everything has changed since we left Ezra and Nehemiah as representatives of the Persian government.  By the time we read the Gospels, the Land of Israel has been ruled by the Persians, Greeks and Romans.

Second, the struggle of Jews to live as Jews under foreign domination is a major factor in the New Testament. How can a Jewish person live like a Greek and maintain his identity as a Jew?  What are the boundary markers between Jew and Gentile?  What are the key behaviors or beliefs on which there cannot be compromise?  This question alone was so volatile in the first century that the suggestion that a Gentile could be right with God without keeping the Law caused riots.

Third, much of the messianic hope we encounter in the Gospels is based on the history of the Second Temple Period. The Jewish people faced oppression from the Greeks and Romans, but also from inside Judaism itself.  Many longed for a time when God would break into history and defend his people and his Land, renewing the promise he made to David in 2 Sam 7.  This hope for the coming messiah grew steadily during these years, as the Gospels show.

For me, this is all very “preachable” since the Christian church in the west is moving into a period of time where we are no longer the dominant cultural force.  The church will face very similar tensions to the Jews in the Maccabean period since we will have to decide what is important and non-negotiable with respect to doctrine a practice.  Like the “Judaisms” which came out of the Maccabean period, some Christians will include very little in their list of essential items and become virtually indistinguishable from the dominant secular world.  Others will have a lengthy detailed list of non-negotiable doctrines and practices and withdraw from secular society entirely.
On which issues will the Christian church “be zealous” when the day of persecution comes?

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Christian Theology

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