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  • SKETCHES IN JEWISH SOCIAL LIFE - CH. 5 - B
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    * The following as a specimen must suffice for the present: "And this Son of man, whom thou hast seen, shall stir up the kings and the mighty from their layers, and the powerful from their thrones, and shall loose the bridles of the mighty and break in pieces the teeth of sinners. And He shall drive the kings from their thrones and from their empires, if they do not exalt nor praise Him, nor gratefully own from whence the kingdom has been entrusted to them. And He shall drive away the face of the mighty, and shame shall fill them: darkness shall be their dwelling and worms their bed, and they shall have no hope of rising from their beds, because they do not exalt the name of the Lord of spirits...And they shall be driven forth out of the homes of His congregation and of the faithful" (Book of Enoch, xlvi. 4,5,6,8). A full discussion of this most important subject, and, indeed, of many kindred matters, must be reserved for a work on the Life and Times of our Lord.

    ** The passage above referred to has a most important apologetic interest. None but a truthful history would have recorded the doubts of John the Baptist; especially when they brought forward the real difficulties which the mission of Christ raised in the popular mind; least of all would it have followed up the statement of these difficulties by such an encomium as the Savior passed upon John.

    As for the Rabbis, the leaders of public opinion, their position towards the kingdom was quite different. Although in the rising of Bar Cochab the great Rabbi Akiba acted as the religious standard- bearer, he may be looked upon as almost an exception. His character was that of an enthusiast, his history almost a romance. But, in general, the Rabbis did not identify themselves with the popular Messianic expectations. Alike the Gospel-history and their writings show not merely that anti-spiritual opposition to the Church which we might have expected, but coldness and distance in regard to all such movements. Legal rigorism and merciless bigotry are not fanaticism. The latter is chiefly the impulse of the ill-informed. Even their contemptuous turning away from "this people which knoweth not the law," as "accursed," proves them incapable of a fanaticism which recognises a brother in every one whose heart burns with the same fire, no matter what his condition otherwise. The great text-book of Rabbinism, the Mishnah, is almost entirely un-Messianic, one might say un- dogmatical. The method of the Rabbis was purely logical. Where not a record of facts or traditions, the Mishnah is purely a handbook of legal determinations in their utmost logical sequences, only enlivened by discussions or the tale of instances in point. The whole tendency of this system was anti-Messianic. Not but that in souls so devout and natures so ardent enthusiasm might be kindled, but that all their studies and pursuits went in the contrary direction. Besides, they knew full well how little of power was left them, and they dreaded losing even this. The fear of Rome constantly haunted them. Even at the destruction of Jerusalem the leading Rabbis aimed to secure their safety, and their after history shows, frequently recurring, curious instances of Rabbinical intimacy with their Roman oppressors. The Sanhedrim spoke their inmost apprehensions, when in that secret session they determined to kill Jesus from fear that, if He were allowed to go on, and all men were to believe on Him, the Romans would come and take away both their place and nation (John 11:48). Yet not one candid mind among them discussed the reality of His miracles; not one generous voice was raised to assert the principle of the Messiah's claims and kingdom, even though they had rejected those of Jesus of Nazareth! The question of the Messiah might come up as a speculative point; it might force itself upon the attention of the Sanhedrim; but it was not of personal, practical, life-interest to them. It may mark only one aspect of the question, and that an extreme one, yet even as such it is characteristic, when a Rabbi could assert that "between the present and the days of the Messiah there was only this difference, Israel's servitude."

    Quite other matters engrossed the attention of the Rabbis. It was the present and the past, not the future, which occupied them--the present as fixing all legal determinations, and the past as giving sanction to this. Judaea proper was the only place where the Shechinah had dwelt, the land where Jehovah had caused His temple to be reared, the seat of the Sanhedrim, the place where alone learning and real piety were cultivated. From this point of view everything was judged. Judaea was "grain, Galilee straw, and beyond Jordan chaff." To be a Judaean was to be "an Hebrew of the Hebrews." It has already been stated what reproach the Rabbis attached to Galilee in regard to its language, manners, and neglect of regular study. In some respects the very legal observances, as certainly social customs, were different in Judaea from Galilee. Only in Judaea could Rabbis be ordained by the laying on of hands; only there could the Sanhedrim in solemn session declare and proclaim the commencement of each month, on which the arrangement of the festive calendar depended. Even after the stress of political necessity had driven the Rabbis to Galilee, they returned to Lydda for the purpose, and it needed a sharp struggle before they transferred the privilege of Judaea to other regions in the third century of our era (Jer. Sanh. i. 1, 18). The wine for use in the Temple was brought exclusively from Judaea, not only because it was better, but because the transport through Samaria would have rendered it defiled. Indeed, the Mishnah mentions the names of the five towns whence it was obtained. Similarly, the oil used was derived either from Judaea, or, if from Peraea, the olives only were brought, to be crushed in Jerusalem.

    The question what cities were really Jewish was of considerable importance, so far as concerned ritual questions, and it occupied the earnest attention of the Rabbis. It is not easy to fix the exact boundaries of Judaea proper towards the north-west. To include the sea-shore in the province of Samaria is a popular mistake. It certainly was never reckoned with it. According to Josephus (Jewish War, iii, 35-58) Judaea proper extended along the sea- shore as far north as Ptolemais or Acco. The Talmud seems to exclude at least the northern cities. In the New Testament there is a distinction made between Caesarea and the province of Judaea (Acts 12:19, 21:10). This affords one of the indirect evidences not only of the intimate acquaintance of the writer with strictly Rabbinical views, but also of the early date of the composition of the Book of Acts. For, at a later period Caesarea was declared to belong to Judaea, although its harbor was excluded from such privileges, and all east and west of it pronounced "defiled." Possibly, it may have been added to the cities of Judaea, simply because afterwards so many celebrated Rabbis resided there. The importance attaching to Caesarea in connection with the preaching of the Gospel and the history of St. Paul, and the early and flourishing Christian churches there established give fresh interest to all notices of the place. Only those from Jewish sources can here engage our attention. It were out of place here to describe the political importance of Caesarea, as the seat of the Roman power, or its magnificent harbor and buildings, or its wealth and influence. In Jewish writings it bears the same name by which we know it, though at times it is designated after its fortifications (Migdal Shur, M. Zor, M. Nassi), or after its harbor (Migdal Shina), once also by its ancient name, the tower of Straton. The population consisted of a mixture of Jews, Greeks, Syrians, and Samaritans, and tumults between them were the first signal of the great Jewish war. The Talmud calls it "the capital of the kings." As the seat of the Roman power it was specially hateful to the Jews. Accordingly it is designated as the "daughter of Edom--the city of abomination and blasphemy," although the district was, for its riches, called "the land of life." As might be expected, constant difficulties arose between the Jewish and Roman authorities in Caesarea, and bitter are the complaints against the unrighteousness of heathen judges. We can readily understand, that to a Jew Caesarea was the symbol of Rome, Rome of Edom-- and Edom was to be destroyed! In fact, in their view Jerusalem and Caesarea could not really co-exist. It is in this sense that we account for the following curious passage: "If you are told that Jerusalem and Caesarea are both standing, or that they are both destroyed, believe it not; but if you are told that one of them is destroyed and the other standing, then believe it" (Gitt. 16 a; Meg. 6 a). It is interesting to know that on account of the foreign Jews resident in Caesarea, the Rabbis allowed the principal prayers to be said in Greek, as being the vernacular; and that, from the time of the evangelist Philip, good work was done for Christ among its resident Jews. Indeed, Jewish writings contain special notice of controversies there between Jews and Christians.

    A brief summary of Jewish notices of certain other towns in Judaea, mentioned also in the New Testament, may throw some additional light on the sacred narratives. In general, the Mishnah divided Judaea proper into three parts--mountain, Shephelah, and valley (Shev. ix 2), to which we must add the city of Jerusalem as a separate district. And here we have another striking evidence of the authenticity of the New Testament, and especially of the writings of St. Luke. Only one intimately acquainted with the state of matters at the time would, with the Rabbis, have distinguished Jerusalem as a district separate from all the rest of Judaea, as St. Luke markedly does on several occasions (Luke 5:17; Acts 1:8, 10:39). When the Rabbis speak of "the mountain," they refer to the district north-east and north of Jerusalem, also known as "the royal mount." The Shephelah, of course, is the country along the sea-shore. All the rest is included in the term "valley." It need scarcely be explained that, as the Jerusalem Talmud tells us, this is merely a general classification, which must not be too closely pressed. Of the eleven toparchies into which, according to Josephus (Pliny enumerates only ten), Judaea proper was arranged, the Rabbis take no notice, although some of their names have been traced in Talmudical writings. These provinces were no doubt again subdivided into districts or hyparchies, just as the towns were into quarters or hegemonies, both terms occurring in the Talmud. The Rabbis forbade the exportation of provisions from Palestine, even into Syria.

    Travelling southward from Caesarea we are in the plain of Sharon, whose beauty and richness are so celebrated in Holy Scripture (Cant 2:1; Isa 35:2). This plain extends as far as Lydda, where it merges into that of Darom, which stretches farther southwards. In accordance with the statements of Holy Scripture (Isa 65:10) the plain of Sharon was always celebrated for its pasturage. According to the Talmud most of the calves for sacrifices were brought from that district. The wine of Sharon was celebrated, and, for beverage, supposed to be mixed with one- third of water. The plain was also well known for the manufacture of pottery; but it must have been of an inferior kind, since the Mishnah (Baba K. vi. 2) in enumerating for what proportion of damaged goods a purchaser might not claim compensation, allows not less than ten per cent for breakage in the pottery of Sharon. In Jer. Sotah viii. 3, we read that the permission to return from war did not apply to those who had built brick houses in Sharon, it being explained that the clay was so bad, that the houses had to be rebuilt within seven years. Hence also the annual prayer of the high-priest on the Day of Atonement, that the houses of the men of Sharon should not become their graves (see The Temple). Antipatris, the place where the foot soldiers had left St. Paul in charge of the horsemen (Acts 23:31), had once been the scene of a very different array. For it was here that, according to tradition (Yoma, 69 a), the priesthood, under Simon the Just, had met Alexander the Great in that solemn procession, which secured the safety of the Temple. In Talmudical writings it bears the same name, which was given it by Herod, in memory of his father Antipater (Ant. vi, 5.2). The name of Chephar Zaba, however, also occurs, possibly that of an adjoining locality. In Sanh. 94 b, we read that Hezekiah had suspended a board at the entrance of the Beth Midrash (or college), with the notification that whoever studied not the Law was to be destroyed. Accordingly they searched from Dan to Beersheba, and found not a single unlettered person, nor yet from Gebath to Antipatris, boy or girl, man or woman, who was not fully versed in all the legal ordinances concerning clean and unclean.

    Another remarkable illustration of the New Testament is afforded by Lydda, the Talmudical Lod or Lud. We read that, in consequence of the labors of St. Peter and the miracle wrought on Aeneas, "all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron...turned to the Lord" (Acts 9:35). The brief notice of Lydda given in this narrative of the apostle's labors, is abundantly confirmed by Talmudical notices, although, of course, we must not expect them to describe the progress of Christianity. We can readily believe that Lydda had its congregation of "saints," almost from the first, since it was (Maas. Sh. v. 2) within an easy day's journey west of Jerusalem. Indeed, as the Talmud explains, the second tithes (Deu 14:22, 26:12) from Lydda could not be converted into money, but had to be brought to the city itself, so "that the streets of Jerusalem might be garlanded with fruits." The same passage illustrates the proximity of Lydda to the city, and the frequent intercourse between the two, by saying that the women of Lydda mixed their dough, went up to Jerusalem, prayed in the Temple, and returned before it had fermented. Similarly, we infer from Talmudical documents that Lydda had been the residence of many Rabbis before the destruction of Jerusalem. After that event, it became the seat of a very celebrated school, presided over by some of the leaders of Jewish thought. It was this school which boldly laid it down, that, to avoid death, every ordinance of the Law might be broken, except those in regard to idolatry, incest, and murder. It was in Lydda, also, that two brothers voluntarily offered themselves victims to save their co-religionists from slaughter, threatened because a body had been found, whose death was imputed to the Jews. It sounds like a sad echo of the taunts addressed by "chief priests,"scribes and elders," to Jesus on the cross (Matt 27:41-43) when, on the occasion just mentioned, the Roman thus addressed the martyrs: "If you are of the people of Ananias, Mishael, and Azarias, let your God come, and save you from my hand!" (Taan. 18, 6).

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