Chapter 6 | Table
of Contents | Chapter 8
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE PREPARATION FOR THE GOSPEL:
JEWISH WORLD IN THE DAYS OF CHRIST
JEWS AND GENTILES IN 'THE LAND'
THEIR MUTUAL RELATIONS AND FEELINGS
'THE WALL OF SEPARATION'
THE pilgrim who, leaving other countries, entered Palestine,
must have felt as if he had crossed the threshold of another world. Manners,
customs, institutions, law, life, nay, the very intercourse between man and
man, were quite different. All was dominated by the one all-absorbing idea of
religion. It penetrated every relation of life. Moreover, it was inseparably
connected with the soil, as well as the people of Palestine, at least so long
as the Temple stood. Nowhere else could the Shekhinah dwell or manifest itself;
nor could, unless under exceptional circumstances, and for 'the merit of the
fathers,' the spirit of prophecy be granted outside its bounds. To the orthodox
Jew the mental and spiritual horizon was bounded by Palestine. It was 'the
land'; all the rest of the world, except Babylonia, was 'outside the land.' No
need to designate it specially as 'holy;' for all here bore the impress of
sanctity, as he understood it. Not that the soil itself, irrespective of the
people, was holy; it was Israel that made it such. For, had not God given so
many commandments and ordinances, some of them apparently needless, simply to
call forth the righteousness of Israel;1
did not Israel possess the merits of 'the fathers,'2
and specially that of Abraham, itself so valuable that, even if his descendants
had, morally speaking, been as a dead body, his merit would have been imputed
to them?3 More than
that, God had created the world on account of Israel,4
and for their merit, making preparation for them long before their appearance
on the scene, just as a king who foresees the birth of his son; nay, Israel had
been in God's thoughts not only before anything had actually been created, but
even before every other creative thought.5
If these distinctions seem excessive, they were, at least, not out of
proportion to the estimate formed of Israel's merits. In theory, the latter
might be supposed to flow from 'good works,' of course, including the strict
practice of legal piety, and from 'study of the law.' But in reality it was
'study' alone to which such supreme merit attached. Practice required knowledge
for its direction; such as the Am-ha-arets ('country people,' plebeians,
in the Jewish sense of being unlearned) could not possess,6
who had bartered away the highest crown for a spade with which to dig. And 'the
school of Arum' - the sages - the 'great ones of the world' had long settled
it, that study was before works.7
And how could it well be otherwise, since the studies, which engaged His chosen
children on earth, equally occupied their Almighty Father in heaven?8
Could anything, then, be higher than the peculiar calling of Israel, or better
qualify them for being the sons of God?
1. Mac. 23 b.
2. Rosh HaSh. 11 a.
3. Ber. R. 44.
4. Yalkut §2.
5. Ber. R. 1.
6. Comp. Ab. ii. 5
7. Jer. Chag. i. hal. 7, towards the end; Jer. Pes. iii.7.
8. Ab. Z. 3 b.
It is necessary to transport oneself into this atmosphere to
understand the views entertained at the time of Jesus, or to form any
conception of their infinite contrast in spirit to the new doctrine. The
abhorrence, not unmingled with contempt, of all Gentile ways, thoughts and
associations; the worship of the letter of the Law; the self-righteousness, and
pride of descent, and still more of knowledge, become thus intelligible to us,
and, equally so, the absolute antagonism to the claims of a Messiah, so unlike
themselves and their own ideal. His first announcement might, indeed, excite
hope, soon felt to have been vain; and His miracles might startle for a time.
But the boundary lines of the Kingdom which He traced were essentially
different from those which they had fixed, and within which they had arranged
everything, alike for the present and the future. Had He been content to step
within them, to complete and realise what they had indicated, it might have
been different. Nay, once admit their fundamental ideas, and there was much
that was beautiful, true, and even grand in the details. But it was exactly in
the former that the divergence lay. Nor was there any possibility of reform or
progress here. The past, the present, and the future, alike as regarded the
Gentile world and Israel, were irrevocably fixed; or rather, it might almost be
said, there were not such - all continuing as they had been from the creation
of the world, nay, long before it. The Torah had really existed 2,000 years
the patriarchs had had their Academies of study, and they had known and
observed all the ordinances; and traditionalism had the same origin, both as to
time and authority, as the Law itself. As for the heathen nations, the Law had
been offered by God to them, but refused, and even their after repentance would
prove hypocritical, as all their excuses would be shown to be futile. But as
for Israel, even though their good deeds should be few, yet, by cumulating them
from among all the people, they would appear great in the end, and God would
exact payment for their sins as a man does from his friends, taking little sums
at a time. It was in this sense, that the Rabbis employed that sublime figure,
representing the Church as one body, of which all the members suffered and
joyed together, which St. Paul adopted and applied in a vastly different and
9. Shir haShir. R. on Cant. v. 11, ed Warshau, p. 26b.
10. Eph. iv. 16.
If, on the one hand, the pre-eminence of Israel depended on the
Land, and, on the other, that of the Land on the presence of Israel in it, the
Rabbinical complaint was, indeed, well grounded, that its 'boundaries were
becoming narrow.' We can scarcely expect any accurate demarcation of them,
since the question, what belonged to it, was determined by ritual and
theological, not by geographical considerations. Not only the immediate
neighborhood (as in the case of Ascalon), but the very wall of a city (as of
Acco and of Cæsarea) might be Palestinian, and yet the city itself be regarded
as 'outside' the sacred limits. All depended on who had originally possessed,
and now held a place, and hence what ritual obligations lay upon it. Ideally,
as we may say, 'the land of promise' included all which God had covenanted to
give to Israel, although never yet actually possessed by them. Then, in a more
restricted sense, the 'land' comprised what 'they who came up from Egypt took
possession of, from Chezib [about three hours north of Acre] and unto the river
[Euphrates], and unto Amanah.' This included, of course, the conquests made by
David in the most prosperous times of the Jewish commonwealth, supposed to have
extended over Mesopotamia, Syria, Zobah, Achlah, &c. To all these districts
the general name of Soria, or Syria, was afterwards given. This formed,
at the time of which we write, a sort of inner band around 'the land,' in its
narrowest and only real sense; just as the countries in which Israel was
specially interested, such as Egypt, Babylon, Ammon, and Moab, formed an outer
band. These lands were heathen, and yet not quite heathen, since the dedication
of the so-called Terumoth, or first-fruits in a prepared state, was
expected from them, while Soria shared almost all the obligations of
Palestine, except those of the 'second tithes,' and the fourth year's product
of plants.11 But the
wavesheaf at the Paschal Feast, and the two loaves at Pentecost, could only be
brought from what had grown on the holy soil itself. This latter was roughly
defined, as 'all which they who came up from Babylon took possession of, in the
land of Israel, and unto Chezib.' Viewed in this light, there was a special
significance in the fact that Antioch, where the name 'Christian' first marked
the new 'Sect' which had sprung up in Palestine,12
and where the first Gentile Church was formed,13
lay just outside the northern boundary of 'the land.' Similarly, we understand,
why those Jewish zealots who would fain have imposed on the new Church the yoke
of the Law,14
concentrated their first efforts on that Syria which was regarded as a kind of
11. Lev. xix. 24.
12. Acts xi. 26.
13. Acts xi. 20, 21.
14. Acts xv.1.
But, even so, there was a gradation of sanctity in the Holy
Land itself, in accordance with ritual distinctions. Ten degrees are here
enumerated, beginning with the bare soil of Palestine, and culminating in the
Most Holy Place in the Temple - each implying some ritual distinction, which
did not attach to a lower degree. And yet, although the very dust of heathen
soil was supposed to carry defilement, like corruption or the grave, the spots
most sacred were everywhere surrounded by heathenism; nay, its traces were
visible in Jerusalem itself. The reasons of this are to be sought in the
political circumstances of Palestine, and in the persistent endeavour of its
rulers - with the exception of a very brief period under the Maccabees - to
Grecianise the country, so as to eradicate that Jewish particularism which must
always be antagonistic to every foreign element. In general, Palestine might be
divided into the strictly Jewish territory, and the so-called Hellenic cities.
The latter had been built at different periods, and were politically
constituted after the model of the Greek cities, having their own senates
(generally consisting of several hundred persons) and magistrates, each city
with its adjoining territory forming a sort of commonwealth of its own. But it
must not be imagined, that these districts were inhabited exclusively, or even
chiefly, by Greeks. One of these groups, that towards Peræa, was really Syrian,
and formed part of Syria Decapolis;15
while the other, along the coast of the Mediterranean, was Phoenician. Thus
'the land' was hemmed in, east and west, within its own borders, while south
and north stretched heathen or semi-heathen districts. The strictly Jewish
territory consisted of Judæa proper, to which Galilee, Samaria and Peræa were
joined as Toparchies. These Toparchies consisted of a group of townships, under
a Metropolis. The villages and townships themselves had neither magistrates of
their own, nor civic constitution, nor lawful popular assemblies. Such civil administration
as they required devolved on 'Scribes' (the so-called kwmogrammateiV or topogrammateiV). Thus Jerusalem was
really, as well as nominally, the capital of the whole land. Judæa itself was
arranged into eleven, or rather, more exactly, into nine Toparchies, of which
Jerusalem was the chief. While, therefore, the Hellenic cities were each
independent of the other, the whole Jewish territory formed only one 'Civitas.'
Rule, government, tribute - in short, political life - centred in Jerusalem.
following cities probably formed the Decapolis, though it is difficult
to feel quite sure in reference to one or the other of them: Damascus,
Philadelphia, Raphana, Scythopolis, Gadara, Hippos Dion, Pella, Gerasa, and
Canatha. On these cities, comp. Caspari, Chronol. Geogr. Einl. in d.
Leben J. Christ, pp. 83-90.
But this is not all. From motives similar to those which led to
the founding of other Hellenic cities, Herod the Great and his immediate
successors built a number of towns, which were inhabited chiefly by Gentiles,
and had independent constitutions, like those of the Hellenic cities. Thus,
Herod himself built Sebaste (Samaria), in the centre of the country; Cæsarea in
the west, commanding the sea-coast; Gaba in Galilee, close to the great plain
of Esdraelon; and Esbonitis in Peræa.16
Similarly, Philip the Tetrarch built Cæsarea Philippi and Julias
(Bethsaida-Julias, on the western shore of the lake); and Herod Antipas another
Julias, and Tiberias.17
The object of these cities was twofold. As Herod, well knowing his
unpopularity, surrounded himself by foreign mercenaries, and reared fortresses
around his palace and the Temple which he built, so he erected these fortified
posts, which he populated with strangers, as so many outworks, to surround and
command Jerusalem and the Jews on all sides. Again, as, despite his profession
of Judaism, he reared magnificent heathen temples in honour of Augustus at
Sebaste and Cæsarea, so those cities were really intended to form centres of
Grecian influence within the sacred territory itself. At the same time, the
Herodian cities enjoyed not the same amount of liberty as the 'Hellenic,'
which, with the exception of certain imposts, were entirely self-governed,
while in the former there were representatives of the Herodian rulers.18
rebuilt or built other cities, such as Antipatris, Cypros, Phasaelis, Anthedon,
&c. Schürer describes the two first as built, but they were only rebuilt
or fortified (comp. Ant. xiii. 15. 1; War i. 21. 8.) by Herod.
17. He also rebuilt Sepphoris.
on the subject of the civic institutions of the Roman Empire, Kuhn, Die
Städt. u. bürgerl. Verf. d. Röm. Reichs, 2 vols.; and for this part. vol. ii.
pp. 336-354, and pp. 370-372.
Although each of these towns and districts had its special
deities and rites, some being determined by local traditions, their prevailing
character may be described as a mixture of Greek and Syrian worship, the former
preponderating, as might be expected.19
On the other hand, Herod and his successors encouraged the worship of the
Emperor and of Rome, which, characteristically, was chiefly practised in the
East.20 Thus, in
the temple which Herod built to Augustus in Cæsarea, there were statues of the
Emperor as Olympian Zeus, and of Rome as Hera.21
He was wont to excuse this conformity to heathenism before his own people on
the ground of political necessity. Yet, even if his religious inclinations had
not been in that direction, he would have earnestly striven to Grecianise the
people. Not only in Cæsarea, but even in Jerusalem, he built a theatre and
amphitheatre, where at great expense games were held every four years in honour
of Augustus.22 Nay, he
placed over the great gate of Temple at Jerusalem a massive golden eagle, the
symbol of Roman dominion, as a sort of counterpart to that gigantic golden
vine, the symbol of Israel, which hung above the entrance to the Holy Place.
These measures, indeed, led to popular indignation, and even to conspiracies
and tumults,23 though not
of the same general and intense character, as when, at a later period, Pilate
sought to introduce into Jerusalem images of the Emperor, or when the statue of
Caligula was to be placed in the Temple. In connection with this, it is curious
to notice that the Talmud, while on the whole disapproving of attendance at
theatres and amphitheatres - chiefly on the ground that it implies 'sitting in
the seat of scorners,' and might involve contributions to the maintenance of
idol-worship - does not expressly prohibit it, nor indeed speak very
decidedly on the subject.24
good sketch of the various rites prevailing in different places is given by Schürer,
Neutest. Zeitg. pp. 378-385.
20. Comp. Weiseler, Beitr. z richt. Wur dig. d. Evang. pp. 90, 91.
21. Jos. Ant. xv. 9. 6; War i. 21. 5-8.
Actian games took place every fifth year, three years always intervening. The
games in Jerusalem were held in the year 28 b.c.
(Jos. Ant. xv. 8. 1); the first games in Cæsarea in the year 12 b.c. (Ant. xvi. 5. 1; comp. War. i. 21.
23. Ant. xv. 8. 1-4; xvii. 6. 2.
at least in a Boraitha. Comp. the discussion and the very curious arguments in
favour of attendance in Ab. Zar. 18 b, and following.
The views of the Rabbis in regard to pictorial representations
are still more interesting, as illustrating their abhorrence of all contact
with idolatry. We mark here differences at two, if not at three periods,
according to the outward circumstances of the people. The earliest and
absolutely forbade any representation of things in heaven, on earth, or in the
waters. But the Mishnah26
seems to relax these prohibitions by subtle distinctions, which are still
further carried out in the Talmud.27
25. Mechilta on Ex. xx. 4 ed. Weiss, p. 75 a.
26. Ab. Zar. iii.
a full statement of the Talmudical views as to images, representations on
coins, and the most ancient Jewish coins, see Appendix
To those who held such stringent views, it must have been
peculiarly galling to see their most sacred feelings openly outraged by their
own rulers. Thus, the Asmonean princess, Alexandra, the mother-in-law of Herod,
could so far forget the traditions of her house, as to send portraits of her
son and daughter to Mark Antony for infamous purposes, in hope of thereby
winning him for her ambitious plans.28
One would be curious to know who painted these pictures, for, when the statue
of Caligula was to be made for the Temple at Jerusalem, no native artist could
be found, and the work was entrusted to Phoenicians. It must have been these
foreigners also who made the 'figures,' with which Herod adorned his palace at
Jerusalem, and 'the brazen statues' in the gardens 'through which the water ran
out,'29 as well as
the colossal statues at Cæsarea, and those of the three daughters of Agrippa,
which after his death30
were so shamefully abused by the soldiery at Sebaste and Cæsarea.31
28. Jos. Ant. xv. 2, 5 and 6.
29. Jos. War v. 4. 4.
30. Acts xii. 23.
31. Ant. xix. 9. l.
This abhorrence of all connected with idolatry, and the
contempt entertained for all that was non-Jewish, will in great measure explain
the code of legislation intended to keep the Jew and Gentile apart. If Judæa
had to submit to the power of Rome, it could at least avenge itself in the
Academies of its sages. Almost innumerable stories are told in which Jewish
sages, always easily, confute Roman and Greek philosophers; and others, in
which even a certain Emperor (Antoninus) is represented as constantly in the
most menial relation of self-abasement before a Rabbi.32
Rome, which was the fourth beast of Daniel,33
would in the age to come,34
when Jerusalem would be the metropolis of all lands,35
be the first to excuse herself on false though vain pleas for her wrongs to
Israel.36 But on
wordly grounds also, Rome was contemptible, having derived her language and
writing from the Greeks, and not possessing even a hereditary succession in her
empire.37 If such
was the estimate of dreaded Rome, it may be imagined in what contempt other
nations were held. Well might 'the earth tremble,'38
for, if Israel had not accepted the Law at Sinai, the whole world would have
been destroyed, while it once more 'was still' when that39
happy event took place, although God in a manner forced Israel to it. And so
Israel was purified at Mount Sinai from the impurity which clung to our race in
consequence of the unclean union between Eve and the serpent, and which still
adhered to all other nations!40
here the interesting tractate of Dr. Bodek, 'Marc. Aur. Anton. als
Freund u. Zeitgenosse des R. Jehuda ha Nasi.'
33. Dan. vii. 23.
Athidlabho, 'sæculum futurum,' to be distinguished from the Olam
habba, 'the world to come.'
35. Midr. R. on Ex. Par. 23.
36. Ab. Z. 2 b.
37. Ab. Z. 10 a; Gitt. 80 a.
38. Ps. lxxvi. 9.
39. Shabb. 88 a.
Z. 22 b. But as in what follows the quotations would be too numerous,
they will be omitted. Each statement, however, advanced in the text or notes is
derived from part of the Talmudic tractate Abodah Zarah.
To begin with, every Gentile child, so soon as born, was to be
regarded as unclean. Those who actually worshipped mountains, hills, bushes,
&c. - in short, gross idolaters - should be cut down with the sword. But as
it was impossible to exterminate heathenism, Rabbinic legislation kept certain
definite objects in view, which may be thus summarised: To prevent Jews from
being inadvertently led into idolatry; to avoid all participation in idolatry;
not to do anything which might aid the heathen in their worship; and, beyond
all this, not to give pleasure, nor even help, to heathens. The latter involved
a most dangerous principle, capable of almost indefinite application by
fanaticism. Even the Mishnah goes so far41
as to forbid aid to a mother in the hour of her need, or nourishment to her
babe, in order not to bring up a child for idolatry!42
But this is not all. Heathens were, indeed, not to be precipitated into danger,
but yet not to be delivered from it. Indeed, an isolated teacher ventures even
upon this statement: 'The best among the Gentiles, kill; the best among
serpents, crush its head.'43
Still more terrible was the fanaticism which directed, that heretics, traitors,
and those who had left the Jewish faith should be thrown into actual danger,
and, if they were in it, all means for their escape removed. No intercourse of
any kind was to be had with such - not even to invoke their medical aid in case
of danger to life,44
since it was deemed, that he who had to do with heretics was imminent peril of
becoming one himself,45
and that, if a heretic returned to the true faith, he should die at once -
partly, probably, to expiate his guilt, and partly from fear of relapse.
Terrible as all this sounds, it was probably not worse than the fanaticism
displayed in what are called more enlightened times. Impartial history must chronicle
it, however painful, to show the circumstances in which teaching so far
different was propounded by Christ.46
41. Ab. Z. ii. 1.
Talmud declares it only lawful if done to avoid exciting hatred against the Jews.
43. Mechilta, ed. Weiss, p. 33 b, line 8 from top.
44. There is a well-known story told of a Rabbi who was bitten by a serpent, and
about to be cured by the invocation of the name of Jesus by a Jewish Christian,
which was, however, interdicted.
such is the moral obliquity, that even idolatry is allowed to save life,
provided it be done in secret!
this, although somewhat doubtfully, such concessions may be put as that,
outside Palestine, Gentiles were not to be considered as idolators, but as
observing the customs of their fathers (Chull. 13 b), and that the poor
of the Gentiles were to be equally supported with those of Israel, their sick
visited, and their dead buried; it being, however, significantly added, 'on
account of the arrangements of the world' (Gitt. 61 a). The quotation so
often made (Ab. Z. 3 a), that a Gentile who occupied himself with the
Torah was to be regarded as equal to the High-Priest, proves nothing, since in
the case supposed the Gentile acts like a Rabbinic Jew. But, and this is a more
serious point, it is difficult to believe that those who make this quotation
are not aware, how the Talmud (Ab. Z. 3 a) immediately labours to prove
that their reward is not equal to that of Israelites. A somewhat similar
charge of one-sidedness, if not of unfairness, must be brought against Deutsch
(Lecture on the Talmud, Remains, pp. 146, 147), whose sketch of Judaism should
be compared, for example, with the first Perek of the Talmudic tractate Abodah
In truth, the bitter hatred which the Jew bore to the Gentile
can only be explained from the estimate entertained of his character. The most
vile, and even unnatural, crimes were imputed to them. It was not safe to leave
cattle in their charge, to allow their women to nurse infants, or their
physicians to attend the sick, nor to walk in their company, without taking
precautions against sudden and unprovoked attacks. They should, so far as
possible, be altogether avoided, except in cases of necessity or for the sake
of business. They and theirs were defiled; their houses unclean, as containing
idols or things dedicated to them; their feasts, their joyous occasions, their
very contact, was polluted by idolatry; and there was no security, if a heathen
were left alone in a room, that he might not, in wantonness or by carelessness,
defile the wine or meat on the table, or the oil and wheat in the store. Under
such circumstances, therefore, everything must be regarded as having been
rendered unclean. Three days before a heathen festival (according to some, also
three days after) every business transaction with them was prohibited, for fear
of giving either help or pleasure. Jews were to avoid passing through a city
where there was an idolatrous feast - nay, they were not even to sit down
within the shadow of a tree dedicated to idol-worship. Its wood was polluted;
if used in baking, the bread was unclean; if a shuttle had been made of it, not
only was all cloth woven on it forbidden, but if such had been inadvertently
mixed with other pieces of cloth, or a garment made from it placed with other
garments, the whole became unclean. Jewish workmen were not to assist in
building basilicas, nor stadia, nor places where judicial sentences were
pronounced by the heathen. Of course, it was not lawful to let houses or
fields, nor to sell cattle to them. Milk drawn by a heathen, if a Jew had not
been present to watch it,47
bread and oil prepared by them, were unlawful. Their wine was wholly
interdicted48 - the mere
touch of a heathen polluted a whole cask; nay, even to put one's nose to
heathen wine was strictly prohibited!
47. Ab. Zar. 35 b.
to R. Asi, there was a threefold distinction. If wine had been dedicated to an
idol, to carry, even on a stick, so much as the weight of an olive of it,
defiled a man. Other wine, if prepared by a heathen, was prohibited, whether
for personal use or for trading. Lastly, wine prepared by a Jew, but deposited
in custody of a Gentile, was prohibited for personal use, but allowed for
Painful as these details are, they might be multiplied. And yet
the bigotry of these Rabbis was, perhaps, not worse than that of other
sectaries. It was a painful logical necessity of their system, against which
their heart, no doubt, often rebelled; and, it must be truthfully added, it was
in measure accounted for by the terrible history of Israel.
Chapter 6 | Table
of Contents | Chapter 8