Philologos Religious Online Books
Sketches of Jewish Social Life
by Alfred Edersheim
The object of this volume is kindred to that of my previous book on The Temple, its Ministry and Services as they were at the Time of Jesus Christ. In both I have wished to transport the reader into the land of Palestine at the time of our Lord and of His apostles, and to show him, so far as lay within the scope of each book, as it were, the scene on which, and the persons among whom the events recorded in New Testament history had taken place. For I believe, that in measure as we realise its surroundings--so to speak, see and hear for ourselves what passed at the time, enter into its ideas, become familiar with its habits, modes of thinking, its teaching and worship--shall we not only understand many of the expressions and allusions in the New Testament, but also gain fresh evidence of the truth of its history alike from its faithfulness to the picture of society, such as we know it to have been, and from the contrast of its teaching and aims to those of the contemporaries of our Lord.
For, a careful study of the period leaves this conviction on the mind: that--with reverence be it said--Jesus Christ was strictly of His time, and that the New Testament is, in its narratives, language, and allusions, strictly true to the period and circumstances in which its events are laid. But in another, and far more important, aspect there is no similarity between Christ and His period. "Never man"--of that, or any subsequent period--"spake like this man"; never man lived or died as He. Assuredly, if He was the Son of David, He also is the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.
In my book on The Temple, its Ministry and Services, I endeavoured to carry the reader with me into the Sanctuary, and to make him witness all connected with its institutions, its priesthood, and its solemnities. In this book I have sought to take him into ordinary civil society, and to make him mingle with the men and women of that period, see them in their homes and families, learn their habits and manners, and follow them in their ordinary life--all, as illustrative of New Testament history; at the same time endeavouring to present in a popular form the scenes witnessed.
Another, and perhaps the most important part in its bearing on Christianity, yet remains to be done: to trace the progress of religious thought--as regards the canon of Scripture, the Messiah, the law, sin, and salvation--to describe the character of theological literature, and to show the state of doctrinal belief at the time of our Lord. It is here especially that we should see alike the kinship in form and the almost contrast in substance between what Judaism was at the time of Christ, and the teaching and the kingdom of our Blessed Lord. But this lay quite outside the scope of the present volume, and belongs to a larger work for which this and my previous book may, in a sense, be regarded as forestudies. Accordingly, where civil society touched, as on so many points it does, on the theological and the doctrinal, it was only possible to "sketch" it, leaving the outlines to be filled up. To give a complete representation of the times of our Lord, in all their bearings--to show not only who they were among whom Jesus Christ moved, but what they knew, thought, and believed--and this as the frame, so to speak, in which to set as a picture the life of our Blessed Lord Himself, such must now be the work, to which, with all prayerful reverence and with most earnest study, I shall henceforth set myself.
It seemed needful to state this, in order to explain both the plan of this book and the manner of its treatment. I will only add, that it embodies the results of many years' study, in which I have availed myself of every help within my reach. It might seem affectation, were I to enumerate the names of all the authorities consulted or books read in the course of these studies. Those mentioned in the foot-notes constitute but a very small proportion of them.
Throughout, my constant object has been to illustrate the New Testament history and teaching. Even the "Scripture Index" at the close will show in how many instances this has been attempted. Most earnestly then do I hope, that these pages may be found to cast some additional light on the New Testament, and that they will convey fresh evidence--to my mind of the strongest kind--and in a new direction, of the truth "of those things which are most surely believed among us." And now it only remains at the close of these investigations once more to express my own full and joyous belief in that grand truth to which all leads up--that "CHRIST IS THE END OF THE LAW FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS TO EVERY ONE THAT BELIEVETH."