Friday, April 10, 2015

Yeshua the Rabbi

The role of Yeshua as a messianic figure gets lots more attention than his role as a rabbi. The Synoptic Gospels, however, provide a wealth of information that highlights his activities as a rabbi. In order to see It is important to remember that Yeshua wasn’t the only messianic figure or rabbi the people would have known. There were hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of rabbis circulating in the land of Israel at that time. According to Professor S. Safrai, the itinerating rabbi was the norm, rather than the exception.[i] Being a disciple of Yeshua, especially for the apostles, required much more than just attending lectures.

Learning by itself did not make a pupil, and he did not grasp the full significance of his teacher’s learning in all its nuances except through prolonged intimacy with his teacher, through close association with his rich and profound mind. The disciples accompanied their sage as he went to teach, when he sat in the law court, when he engaged in the performance of meritorious deeds such as helping the poor, redeeming slaves, collecting dowries for poor brides, burying the deed, etc. The pupil took his turn in preparing the common meal and catering for the general needs of the group. He performed personal services for his teacher, observed his conduct and was his respectful, loving, humble companion. Some laws could not be studied theoretically or merely discussed, but could only be learned by serving the teacher.[ii]

According to custom, a rabbi could not charge for teaching the Scriptures, so the itinerant rabbi was dependent upon the hospitality and generosity of the community. Many rabbis carried their food with them – a pouch of meal and a few olives. From such they subsisted, not wanting to be a burden to their host. The rabbi’s stay in the community might last from only a few days to weeks, or even months. However, for the long term student (“disciple”), learning from a rabbi meant traveling, since the rabbi was always moving from place to place. If one wanted to learn from a rabbi, one had to “follow after him.”[iii]

The rabbis taught in public places and in private homes. The Mishnah (Oral Law) in Avot (The Sayings of the Fathers) states:

Let your home be a meeting place for the wise; sit amidst the dust of their feet, and drink thirstily of their words.[iv]

If the people had not been hospitable, opening their homes for teaching and providing food and lodging for the rabbis and their disciples, it would have been impossible for the rabbis to teach and for the students to learn. [v]

The rabbis used two primary methods to teach their disciples -- halachah and haggadah. Halachah comes from the Hebrew root word halach, which means “to walk” or “to go.” In other words, halachah is that path or way in which one is to walk. Halachah is the term that is also used to refer to the whole legal system in Judaism, which today includes the 613 written commandments of the Torah along with all of the legal rulings and decisions of the rabbis found in the Mishnah.

Haggadah comes from the Hebrew root word nagad, which means “to draw out; to narrate or tell.” According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Horavot 3:8. 48c), the purpose of the haggadah, unlike the purpose of the halachah, is not to state what is “forbidden” or “permitted” nor is it to declare what is “pure” or “impure.”Haggadah includes history, narrative, story, legends, fables, poetry, dirges, prayers, parables, proverbs, allegories, metaphors, hyperboles, analogies, and more. The haggadah is not written as a legal textbook, nor a digest of legal precedents. Haggadah consist of moral and ethical instruction about personal faith and the ways of God. It strives to teach man how to live in harmony with God and in harmony with his fellow man. Its fundamental purpose is to reach out and touch the heart of man so that he might “know the Creator of the world and adhere to His ways.[vi]

In Yeshua’s period, the stress was more on haggadah. The common man loved haggadah and was strengthened and encouraged by it. Rabbinic sermons for the common people were mainly haggadah, while the more technical discussions of halachah were reserved for advanced disciples. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the focus switched more to halachah.
Interestingly, and as surprising as it may seem, we have a record of more of the sayings and the deeds of Yeshua than any other 1st century rabbi.[vii]

There were a number of haggadic methods of interpretation used by the rabbis. The most frequently used method by Yeshua is remez or hinting. It was a rabbinic way of making a statement or declaration about something or someone by alluding to verse or passage from the Hebrew Scriptures. Yeshua would hint at a biblical verse or passage by just mentioning one key word or phrase in the passage. His listeners, having heard those verses read in the synagogue on a weekly schedule, knew the whole passage. Often, the point that he wanted to make is found in the biblical passage immediately before or just after the “hint” from that passage. The moment the audience recognized the “hint,” the whole passage immediately burst into their minds and they would recognize the point he wanted to make.

Keep this in mind whenever you read the words of Yeshua, especially in the Synoptic Gospels. Watch for his use of remez and find the passages he hinted at. This will add a new dimension to your understanding of his words. His audience recognized him as a skilled teacher of the Torah and viewed his messages in light of the words of the Torah. Most modern readers do not understand this and therefore fail to grasp the points that he wanted to make and the purpose of his movement. Reestablish the link of the Yeshua’s words to the words of his Bible – the Hebrew Scriptures – and you will take a giant step towards rediscovering the Real Yeshua.

I hope you enjoyed this and learned something too!
Jim Myers

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[i] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two: Historical Geography, Political History, Social Culture and Religious Life and Institutions; Edited by S. Safrai and M. Stern in co-operation with D. Flusser and E. C. van Unnik; © 1976 By Stichting Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum Testamentum; Fprtress Press, Philadelphia, PA; p. 965.
[ii] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 964.
[iv] Mishnah, Avot 1:4
[vi] Sifre, Deuteronomy 49

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Yeshua and the Passover Part 2

Three times in a year all Israelite males are to appear before Yahweh.[1] These are called Shalosh Regalim (the three pilgrimage festivals):

(1) Feast of Unleavened Bread

(2) Feast of Weeks (Shavuot aka Pentecost) 

(3) Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)

On the major feasts days, all priests from all divisions could make pilgrimage, and all of them were entitled to the festal offerings. The special feature of Passover in the Temple was the slaughter of the paschal lamb by all worshippers, inhabitants of Jerusalem and pilgrims alike. Let’s take a moment to define a couple of key words:

(1) pilgrim – from Old French pelerin, peregrine "crusader; foreigner, stranger."[2]

(2) paschal – from Greek pascha "Passover," from Aramaic pasha "pass over," corresponding to Hebrew pesah, from pasha "he passed over."

Notice that Passover is not listed above in the feasts. Originally, Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were two separate holidays:

(1) In the fourteenth day of the first month at evening is Yahweh’s Passover.[3]

(2) On the fifteenth day of the first month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread unto Yahweh; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. [4]

At the beginning of the Babylonian exile they were combined.[5] The Torah’s laws for the observance of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are given in Exodus 12:1-28, Leviticus 23:4-8, Numbers 9:1-14, Deuteronomy 16:1-8. Below is an overview:

(1) This month shall be the first month of the year -- Nissan, is in the spring (March-April).

(2) On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb for a household.

(3) If the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it.

(4) The lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year (from the sheep or the goats).

(5) You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month.

(6) On the fourteenth of the month, the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight.

(7) They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it.

(8) You shall eat it with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste.

(9) They shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.

(10) Do not eat it raw, nor boiled at all with water, but roasted in fire — its head with its legs and its entrails.

(11) You shall let none of it remain until morning.

(12) If any of it remains until morning you shall burn it with fire.[6]

By the time of Yeshua, the ways Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were understood and celebrated had evolved. The Temple was the center of activity and the rituals had to be able to accommodate and include the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims coming to Jerusalem. At midnight the Temple gates were opened to the people and before the sun rose the Temple court was already filled with Israelites. The special feature of Passover at the Temple was the slaughter of the paschal lamb by all worshippers.[7] Obviously, there was simply not enough space and time for every family to sacrifice a lamb in the Temple. Therefore, group sacrifices of single lambs were done in the Temple by a few, while most sacrifices were done outside the Temple.

The lamb was sacrificed on the 14th of Nisan, on the eve of Passover, at the ninth hour (about 3 pm) of the day. The Mishnah (Oral Law) describes the activities that took place within the Temple. Those who wished to sacrifice formed groups, each of which slaughtered one paschal lamb for the entire group. The priests allowed the Court of the Israelites to be filled three times. The paschal lamb, unlike with the usual animal-offerings, was sacrificed by the Israelites themselves. As with all peace-offerings, it was offered in the inner court and its blood tossed on the altar. After one group completed the ritual, the doors were opened again and the next group entered. The lambs were then eaten in the households and courtyards throughout the city.[8]

At the close of the first festival-day, the people participated in the harvesting of the barley sheaves. These usually came from Beth Makleh, beside the Kidron brook, but if, due to the late arrival of winter, it proved difficult to find ripe barley nearby, and the sheaves thus could not be harvested in this area, they were brought from afar. [9] The Torah states that the barley should be waved “the morrow after the Shabbat” and that a count should be made for seven weeks until “the morrow after the seventh Sabbath,” when the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) was to be celebrated.[10] This created a conflict between the Sadducees and Pharisees.[11]

● The Sadducees interpreted “the morrow after the Shabbat” to mean literally the day after the first Shabbat after Passover (the very next Sunday).

● The Pharisees interpreted the term “Shabbat” as “festival” and taught that the sheaves should be brought on “the morrow of the first day of Passover” (the 16th of Nisan).

There were many things going on in and around Jerusalem other than the religious rituals. Consider the fact that 250,000 to 500,000 pilgrims were added to the resident population and they had to eat, sleep and do all of the other things humans to on a daily basis. Some of the pilgrims slept in Jerusalem, while others stayed in nearby villages or in tents around the city. Pilgrims came to make new friends as well as renew old friendships on these journeys.[12] They came to browse among the masses of merchants and buy things they could take back home. It was an environment in which there was a great deal of activity, festivity, and many opportunities to encounter and interact.

 The worshippers could spend their nights outside Jerusalem until the day of sacrifice of the paschal lamb. But on that night they were required to remain in Jerusalem for the night.[13] Matthew records Yeshua’s activities during this period. Before the feast Yeshua stayed outside Jerusalem, but with the approach of Passover he told his disciples to go to one of the inhabitants of the city and fix a place for their mean. Even though the townsman is not necessarily a follow of Yeshua, he and his disciples are welcomed to his house as a matter of course.[14]

It is not clear whether pilgrims were obliged to remain in Jerusalem throughout the seven days of Passover and the eight days of Sukkot, but many traditions from the time of the Temple take it for granted that they remained until the end of the feast-days. [15] The feasts created many opportunities for the multitudes to interact with Yeshua, as well as many other teachers – and others who claimed to be the messiah. It also made it possible for them to go to the Temple and listen to the scribes discuss and teach from the Torah, as well as go to the “Stairs of the Rabbis” and listen to their views. The focus of the scribes, teachers and rabbis would have been on the correct way to do the laws of the festivals. I feel we can be sure that when the pilgrims returned home the first thing their friends and neighbors did was ask them about their experiences in Jerusalem and on the journey.

With the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the offering of the paschal lamb came to an end. During the period between 70 and 200 CE, the synagogue and home became the center for the practice of rituals that had been exclusively done at the Temple. New ways had to be created to make it possible for the laws of the Torah to be done. Today, a book called the Haggadah (from the Hebrew root "to tell") serves as the liturgy and guidebook for the seder (the rituals of the Passover meal). Yeshua did not use a Haggadah or participate in a seder meal like those done today.

The first documented evidence of parts of the Haggadah is found in the Mishnah (Oral Law edited ca. 200 CE). The arrangement of the table, the psalms, benedictions, and other recited matter of today coincide substantially with the program laid down in the Mishnah. Midrashim (commentaries) were added and most of the version we now have was completed by the end of the Talmudic period (500-600 CE). Evidence of the wide acceptance of the Haggadah was its inclusion in Rav Amram's siddur (prayerbook) in the eighth century CE.

Let me repeat, it is important to understand that the Passover Yeshua knew and participated in was not the same thing as the Passover of Rabbinic Judaism today.  Rabbinic Judaism is an offshoot of the Pharisees and reflects their positions on many things. The focus in Yeshua’s time period was on correctly doing the laws of the Torah, something that in many cases today is impossible because there is no Temple or functional priesthood.

I hope you learned something from this and enjoyed it. Passover begins tomorrow night (April 3, 2015) at sunset. Remember your biblical heritage with the wisdom and values we have received from those who came before us.

Shalom,
Jim Myers

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[1] Deuteronomy 16:16
[3] Leviticus 23:5
[4] Leviticus 23:6
[5] Encyclopaedia Judaica Vol. 13, p. 169.
[6] Exodus 12:1-12
[7] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two: Historical Geography, Political History, Social Culture and Religious Life and Institutions; Edited by S. Safrai and M. Stern in co-operation with D. Flusser and E. C. van Unnik; © 1976 By Stichting Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum Testamentum; Fprtress Press, Philadelphia, PA;p.891-892.
[8] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 892
[9] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 892
[10] Leviticus 23:11-16
[11] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 893
[12] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 903
[13] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 904
[14] Matthew 26:17-18
[15] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 904

Monday, March 30, 2015

Yeshua Travels to Jerusalem for the Passover

Festivals were very much a part of ancient life, and people were prepared to endure crowded conditions and long journeys in order to participate. People travelled in groups to Jerusalem for the Passover and the other two major festivals -- Shavuot and Sukkot. The large caravans in which many travelled also protected the temple tax which they brought from lands outside of Israel.[1] They came by land all the way from Babylon.[2] Caravans and ships also brought groups of pilgrims from Syria, Asia Minor and North Africa.[3] Galileans and Idumaeans also travelled in companies to Jerusalem.[4]

There is no reason to exclude secular ditties, jokes, and more wine than usual at night. The Jewish festivals were like Christmas: a blend of piety, good cheer, hearty eating, making music, chatting with friends, drinking and dancing. [5] As the travelers walked toward the Temple they sang Psalms. Singing the Psalms below is something Yeshua would have experienced many times in his life on these journeys.



How lovely is they dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!
My soul longs, yea faints for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.[6]

Oh send out Your light and Your truth;
Let them lead me,
Let them bring me to Your Holy Hill
And to Your dwelling!
Then I will go to the altar of God,
To God my exceeding joy;
And I will praise You with the lyre,
O God, my God.[7]

I was glad when they said to me,
`Let us go to the house of the Lord![8]

The festive atmosphere started on the road, but the true feast came in Jerusalem. Today, we try to put activities like this in an exclusively “religious box” and view the participants through that lens. But, people are people and their trip to the Temple was their main opportunity for `splurging’ during the year. It was a religious pilgrimage that also included shopping. Pilgrims had their “second tithe” money to spend and it could only be spent in Jerusalem:[9]

for whatever you desire, oxen, or sheep, or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves; and you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. [10]

There are a wide range of figures for the population of Jerusalem around 30 CE, but most scholars place it at around 40,000 regular residents. But during the shalosh regalim (three pilgrimage festivals each year), which all Israelite males were to appear before Yahweh,[11] the number of pilgrims added another 300,000 to 500,000 people.[12]

Herod’s Temple was an awesome structure with walls soaring straight up as much as 120 ft. above street level. The Temple Mount enclosed a rectangular area of 35 acres. (Click on this link to view and print the diagram of the Temple.) In the middle of the enclosure, the Sanctuary building rose above the rest, its gold-covered roof glowing like fire in the rays of the desert sun. [13] Josephus wrote:

"To approaching strangers [the Temple] appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of purest white." [14]

Pilgrims could see the blazing roof a long way off before they arrived in Jerusalem. When they arrived and walked to the Temple they crossed a plaza lined with shops to get to the main entrance to the Temple Mount (click on this link to view and print the drawing of the entrance). There was a 244 ft. wide stairway leading to the southern entrance to the Mount, but to go through the Temple’s gates one was required to be ritually pure. Levites were stationed at the gates to act as guards for security purposes as well as being responsible for maintaining ritual purity by checking visitors.

In an effort to facilitate contact between those in the city and those in the Temple, and to ease the difficulty of pilgrimage to the Temple, laws regarding uncleanness were relaxed on the feasts in Jerusalem and even within the Temple.[15] Ritual immersion was an important part of ritual purity. The Temple was filled with dozens of Jewish ritual baths (known in Hebrew as mikvaot) for the purpose of ritual purification. [16] These installations, however, could not have met the needs of tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims from outside the city attending the festivities at the Temple. It appears that the Bethesda and Siloam Poolsto the north and south of the Temple Mount – were designed to accommodate almost all of the ritual purification needs of the large numbers of Jewish pilgrims who flocked to Jerusalem for the festivals.[17]

The huge stairway was sometimes called the "stairs of the rabbis" because that is where the elders and teachers, including Rabbi Gamaliel who was said to have been the teacher of Paul, gathered to discuss legal questions and make religious decisions.[18] This would have no doubt been a favorite stopping place for Yeshua to visit on his trips to the Temple.

We will continue with Yeshua’s Passover experiences in the next Real Yeshua Blog.

Shalom,
Jim Myers

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[1] Judaism: Practice & Belief 63 BCE – 66 CE By E. P. Sanders© 1992; Trinity Press, Philadelphia, PA; p. 128.
[2] Josephus, Antiq. 17.313
[3] Spec. Laws 1.69
[4] Josephus, War 2.232
[5] Judaism: Practice & Belief 63 BCE – 66 CE By E. P. Sanders© 1992; Trinity Press, Philadelphia, PA; p. 128.
[6] Psalm 84.1
[7] Psalm 43.3
[8] Psalm 122.1
[9] Judaism: Practice & Belief 63 BCE – 66 CE; p. 129.
[10] Deuteronomy 14.26
[11] Deuteronomy 16:16
[12] Judaism: Practice & Belief 63 BCE – 66 CE; p. 128.
[14] Josephus, War 5.5.6
[15] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two: Historical Geography, Political History, Social Culture and Religious Life and Institutions; Edited by S. Safrai and M. Stern in co-operation with D. Flusser and E. C. van Unnik; © 1976 By Stichting Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum Testamentum; Fprtress Press, Philadelphia, PA;p.891.