You are hereFirst Century Jewish Culture and Christianity

First Century Jewish Culture and Christianity


By StephenGreer - Posted on 11 January 2008

This is a paper that I wrote for an independent study this past semester. It's essentially a summary of the basic keys to understanding Jewish culture. It doesn't go too in-depth, so I wanted to post it kind of as a primer for those new to the site and the study of preterism. Plus, a review never hurts.First Century Jewish Culture & Christianity: The Ties That Bind

In a pluralistic society, it is a truism that cultural upbringing will color a person’s outlook. Although some cross-cultural behavior results in confusion, sometimes even offence, cooler minds interject, saying, “That is how they act in X culture,” and many, if not most, find this an acceptable explanation. Those who were born in China will predictably act Chinese. Those who are born in America will act predictably American. Imported movies create a window through which the viewer can make a connection with another culture that he might never see otherwise. He readily accepts that others do not see things the way he does, others will not react the way she does. They have learned differently.

Oddly enough, although generally sensitive to other cultures, those who study the Bible rarely give it any such courtesy. There is little attempt to understand the Bible in its own language, not just Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, but its cultural language, its historical language. These frameworks are virtually ignored by the average reader, and even worse, by the scholar on occasion. A temptation that does not exist when dealing with other modern day cultures (perhaps because they are more Westernized than previously) jumps to the forefront when dealing with ancient texts.

As an example, among a list of Biblical contradictions(1) on Infidels.org, an atheist website, there is a reference to Exodus 20:12, which says, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” They then claim that Jesus, who is supposed to fulfill the Torah,(2) negates this commandment by telling his disciples, “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”(3) Apparently, the two are mutually exclusive and therefore a contradiction. However, it is interesting that in Ancient Israel sages and teachers were regarded as being more important than one’s own father,(4) and that in Mesopotamia teachers were actually called “Father.”(5) In addition, “father” in the Ancient Near East (ANE) was a term for one’s patron, someone who was socially higher, who provided what one needed.(6) In this case, the claim of contradiction reveals more about the character and motivation of the accuser than about the Bible.

Given the above illustration, understanding the cultural and historical framework is of great importance if we are to grasp the meaning of the Bible. The reader who does not attempt to gain such knowledge is doomed to misinterpret and misrepresent the meaning of a large part of the Old and New Testament. In light of this, I will investigate the historical and cultural features that characterize life and education in the ANE. Having set up that framework, I will then turn to Christianity as a Jewish sect that grew out of a Jewish culture, utilizing Jewish ideas and beliefs. In doing so, I hope to shed some light on previously dim areas of study.

Since Jewish history is a long and involved one, I have chosen to start from just after the Maccabean revolt and focus primarily on the era closest to the time of Christianity. Just after the Babylonian conquest, Jews that had been left behind or who had escaped began drifting towards Egypt. During the reign of Ptolemy I just after the Persian conquest of Babylon, the number of Jews migrating into Lower Egypt exploded, with Alexandria the most populated city.(7) In fact, every part of the Grecian and Roman empires experienced a surge of Jewish inhabitants, such that the Greek writers attested that “by the first century C.E. Jews were to be found in every part of Asia Minor.”(8) Religiously, the Jews were particularly privileged: they were not forced into the Imperial cult; Jewish military units did not have to serve on the Sabbath; etc. Bit by bit the Jews became more commonplace, gaining positions of power in the communities, developing and filling synagogues, and even inducing some “gentiles” to take up Jewish religious customs, hence “God-fearers.”(9) This political, social, and economic success did not sit well with all, and soon anti-Semites reared their ugly heads, accusing the Jews of practicing “barbarous superstition.”(10) However, there was little negative reaction, and by and large the Jews lived peacefully, if not amicably, with their neighbors.

In Palestine, the situation was more or less the same. The ruling Hasmonean Dynasty crumbled under internal squabbles over right to succession and other political issues, culminating in an appeal for help by Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II to Sextus Pompey. This move backfired when Pompey took control of the entire region of Judea, an area Rome had long wanted to possess.(11) Thus Judea and Jerusalem came under Roman rule, but little changed, at least religiously. The era was marked and would continue to be marked by sectarianism, until after the destruction of the Second Temple. However, this sectarianism was different from that of the Old Testament (OT). In the OT, disagreements sprang up over where the Jews should worship God: Jerusalem or at any “high place”? In the first century ANE, the issue of where to worship was settled. Almost no party disagreed that the Temple was God’s chosen place, and they were not willing to change such a characterizing feature, especially in the face of powerful Hellenizing forces. The main disputes had to do with A) what constituted Torah and how to interpret it, and B) how to confront and deal with inevitable Hellenizing influence.(12) Out of the clamor, a few distinct voices arose.

Perhaps the most well-known group is that of the Pharisees. While it would be easy to assume, due to the amount that Jesus interacts with them, that the Pharisees had a great following, they actually had a relatively small group. Yet by all accounts they held a great amount of sway in the way the Temple functioned, and were popular with the people due to their middle/lower class status. The Pharisees were generally un-Hellenized because of their lower status, and held to many traditional doctrines, e.g. humans had an immortal soul as well as free will (although God could still intervene in human affairs), and the “traditions of the fathers,” i.e. oral law handed down through the generations.(13) The Sadducees, on the other hand, represented the aristocrats, usually taking the positions of priest and high priest. They were far more Hellenized than the Pharisees; they rejected the oral traditions, strictly favoring the written Torah, and rejected any kind of divine intervention. The Sadducees were also very lax concerning the purity codes. While Pharisees recommended strict observance of the law, the Sadducees did not enforce Levitical laws outside the Temple.(14) These two groups constituted the two powerhouses in Jerusalem.

There were those who turned away from the Temple, however. The most notable dissenters were the Essenes and the Dead Sea Sect (DSS). The Essenes are most commonly associated with the group that hid the Dead Sea Scrolls near Qumran. They practiced “community of property,” sharing all wealth and possessions so that all were equal. The Essenes put a huge amount of emphasis on purity, washing several times a day to avoid uncleanliness. As for the Temple, their disagreement was not with the location, but with the purification and sacrificial rituals that the Sadducees practiced.(15) The DSS bears some similarities with the Essenes. Both groups were very secretive and shared communal property (although the DSS members owned it privately). The main difference was eschatological: the DSS believed strongly that it was predestined to help the soon-coming messiah forcibly over-through the Romans. They also believed another messiah from the line of Aaron would come to restore the Temple to its proper position.(16) While there were undoubtedly other groups, these four were the most vocal, and best represent the Jewish political and religious backdrop from which Christianity emerged.

In the ANE, educational concerns were quite uniform between cultures. Two essential interest characterized ANE education: maintaining tradition, and maintaining order.(17) For modern Americans, maintaining tradition seems strange and actually harmful to society and progress. However, the ANE, because it was a collectivist culture, viewed people dyadically, i.e. “in terms of their relationship to someone or something else.”(18) A person’s very identity was wrapped up in who her father was, what sect he belonged to, etc. Therefore, tradition had to survive in order for the Jews to know who they were and where they came from. The option to create one’s own “story” did not exist; a lack of ties led to a lack of certainty on the part of others, and where uncertainty existed, chaos followed closely. One could argue, therefore, that the continuity of tradition was bound to the establishment of order.
As for order and security, nothing lived closer to the edge. From the view point of the Ancient Israel, the world was constantly at risk of slipping into chaos.(19) Society was made up primarily of small groups that were somewhat connected. Such groups were self-contained, very devoted to the in-group, as discussed below. Since the in-group was small, the only way for it to continue was if the next generation maintained it. If a person left his family or village, that meant one less person to keep the village alive, and no village meant no security. Were every group to experience this, the entire nation would crumble. Obviously, it was important for education to maintain order.

The sages of ANE believed that the best way to ensure order was to acquire wisdom. Here it is important to point out that wisdom did not equal knowledge. In fact, knowledge was a neutral concept. Wisdom had to do with virtuous conduct: “Wisdom, the capacity to use information for human good, includes virtue.”(20) The most prized attributes were “self-control, restraint, eloquence, and honesty.”(21) These qualities were felt to guarantee against the looming chaos inherent in life, not just personal chaos but more importantly social chaos. Those who could control themselves could more rightly judge what Truth was, could better observe the world, and could better lead those who did not have self control. In addition, “whoever acquires Wisdom as a bride also possesses the personal attributes of the deity, particularly the four cardinal virtues.”(22) Since God overcame chaos in the creation story of Genesis,(23) anyone who could have His characteristics would undoubtedly be able to preserve order and provide security. This put the pursuit of wisdom at the forefront of Jewish education.

It is not difficult to realize that the ANE was collectivist. This area probably confuses Westerners more than any other aspect of first century Jewish culture. Unfortunately, as this is a broad and complex subject, I will only be able to deal with the most important details. That said, above all else the collectivist mindset established the base for all other characteristics of Jewish society. Since the group provided security, individuals were viewed in terms of others, i.e. dyadism. In short, “such people live in a world which is clearly and extensively ordered, a system which is well known to members of the group.”(24) As a result, people of the time were deeply concerned about what others thought. The worth of individuals grew in direct proportion to the extent that they embodied the beliefs, morals, and values of the group as a whole.(25) In the cultural language of the time, “worth” was “honor”: “Honor is a claim to worth along with the social acknowledgment of worth.”(26) As it applied to the Jews, honor meant first acting in accordance with what God commanded, then in accordance with what one’s group (e.g. the sects of the Pharisees or Sadducees) valued, and finally in accordance with the values of the family. This collectivism was particularly important to the Diaspora Jews, who lived among a hostile culture that did not share its values. It was important therefore that the Diaspora Jews develop a group-centered “court of appeal” that distributed meaningful honor.(27) While not overtly and deliberately ignoring the cultural cues of their neighbors, the Jews nevertheless held obedience and faithfulness to Torah as more honorable, for reasons I will enumerate below.

Opposite honor was, of course, shame. However, there were two different kinds of shame within the ANE framework. On the one hand, “negative” shame involved a rejection of one’s worth in the eyes of the group: “…Shame signifies…being seen as less than valuable because one has behaved in ways that run contrary to the values of the group.”(28) On the other hand, “positive” shame meant sensitivity to the opinions of others, and a desire to act in harmony with the group and its values: “To have shame in this sense is an eminently positive value. Any human being worthy of the title ‘human’…needs to have shame…to be perceptive to the opinions of others.”(29) Shame in either sense served to guard against destructive elements within the group, and in a sense ensured harmony and survival, as in the case of the Diaspora Jews.

Because of the small size of most of these communities, their livelihood was governed by the forces of nature, religion, and government. What they received to survive was not guaranteed, and since most were peasants, they “perceived themselves as subject to ‘nature,’”(30) and recognized that they had virtually no power to increase their supply without taking from others. Thus an attitude of “limited good” developed, which dictated that everything – and quite literally everything – was in short supply.(31) Food, love, honor, work, money, etc; all were of limited quantity. Given that what one was born with was what had been allotted to his family for generations, should he desire more of anything, he would be stealing from another’s allotment. Therefore, it was honorable to care for and sustain one’s “inherited status.” By taking care of what one had always had, no one could accuse him of depriving the group, thus threatening its existence.(32) However, because it was dishonorable to ask from others, therefore depriving them, a problem arose for those who, by misfortune, were unable to continue uphold their inherited status.

Those that fell into such positions resorted to appealing to social superiors. These social superiors, or “patrons,” could provide the unfortunate with what they needed but could not otherwise obtain. In a sense, “the client relates to his patron according to the social norms of child relations to actual parents, while the patron is expected to relate to his clients as a parent would to his actual children.”(33) Just as the father of the household provides his family with what it cannot obtain on its own, the patron gives as needed, in return for loyalty. Thus, when God is called the “father” of Israel,(34) He is acting as a patron, because he is providing life, land, and prosperity to Israel by bringing them out of slavery in Egypt and into the land of Canaan. However, contracts did sometimes need a mediator,(35) and for the Jews, the Torah functioned as that go-between. The Torah brought Jews in contact with their patron, their “Heavenly Father,” so long as they obeyed it. Lack of obedience to Torah meant that the mediator no longer functioned, thus God could not be approached. In response to their patron’s grace, i.e. favor, the Israelites would have felt a responsibility to respond with gratitude.(36) Patronage was, therefore, a type of second family for those involved, as society pressured both parties to act as such.

The importance of family comes as no surprise. Since it was the basic unit of society, it served as the model and the foundation for all social interactions. Indeed, it “receives expression at every level...in society…and…provides the foundation for the society itself.”(37) The establishment of the family, i.e. marriage, was in turn a very important and critical step in the process. From the return from exile up to the first-century, the Jews practiced a defensive marriage strategy: sons and daughters married the closest kin allowed by incest laws, so that the family would remain close together and become more established.(38) The purpose was always to maintain a pure family line that would preserve the paternal legacy.(39) Ultimately, preserving the paternal line meant preserving the state and people of Israel as God had established it, which in turn meant that Israel had maintained purity before God, and could continue in her contract with Him.

Ancestry meant everything to Israel. One’s ability to trace his ancestry back to one of the Twelve Sons of Jacob proved that he belonged among God’s chosen and blessed people. If he could prove he was a child of Abraham, it served to “ground a claim to power, status, rank, office, or inheritance in an earlier ancestor.”(40) Since God had blessed Abraham, only his blood ancestors could lay claim to Abraham’s status as God’s chosen. Those who had a doubtful origin, those who could not prove their lineage, had none of the privileges that God had granted Israel, because they were impure. Those who could not procreate were also considered impure, because they could not perpetuate the people of Israel.(41) God had made his covenant with Israel, and only Israel, and covenants could last several generations,(42) so how could anyone who was not related by blood actually take advantage of a contract that was not theirs? It was imperative that the Israelites keep their blood pure so that the Torah could continue to function as a mediator between themselves and God.

So where exactly does Christianity fall into all of this? Now that I have established somewhat of a foundation, the answer will become clearer. Christianity was something new, yet at the same time it used language and ideas that were not new. I begin by noting that, in virtually all respects, Christianity was thoroughly Jewish in character, and viewed itself as that during the first century. Christianity developed during an era of messianic expectations, and Jesus had not been the only messiah on the scene.(43) Given the precedent and the desire, it would have been natural for Jews to latch on to someone who offered them hope, and many did. In addition, Jewish sects with a strong apocalyptic tradition already existed, such as the Dead Sea Sect at Qumran, and were accepted as legitimate Jews by the other sects.(44) Christianity certainly had its disagreements with the other sects, apparently the Pharisees and the Sadducees, but this conflict could be seen as an attempt by the Jews to redirect their wayward brothers back to the fold. From this we can see that Christianity was squarely within a Jewish framework.

The divinity of Christ, although seen as a later addition by some, was theologically within the boundaries of Judaism. Earlier on, Wisdom literature had gradually begun to shift its understanding about the nature of Wisdom. Sages, most notably Ben Sira, began personifying Wisdom as a helper to God, who was with God at creation and aided Him in restraining chaos and establishing order,(45) an idea that John very blatantly parallels in his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word…” Ben Sira took this idea a little further, claiming that not only was Wisdom God’s helper, but that Wisdom manifest itself in the Torah, the mediator between God and man.(46) Jesus claim to be the fulfillment of the Torah,(47) combined with the writer of Hebrews calling Jesus the “mediator of the new covenant,”(48) clearly borrows from this idea. The writer of Baruch went still further when he “introduces the curious notion that Wisdom subsequently appeared on earth and dwelt among people…”(49) Here the connection requires knowledge of ANE culture. Human activity was divided into three zones: the eyes/heart (knowing, understanding, feeling), the mouth/ears (instructing, telling, revealing), and the hands/feet (acting, doing).(50) While the Father (God) is said to know, love, and judge, and the Spirit of God is said to empower the apostles to work miracles, Jesus reveals the Father, and instructs the apostles of what they are to do.(51) Since instruction and revealing the attributes of God are the task of Wisdom (see above), Jesus implicitly takes over that role; and if Wisdom is a divine aid to God, a part of Him, yet a distinct zone of activity, then Jesus is implicitly a part of God, yet a distinctly personified zone of activity. The idea of the Trinity, the oneness of Jesus with the Father, and yet his distinctiveness, are very Jewish concepts, rooted in Jewish theology and culture.

As Christ is link with the Torah, he takes on the roles of Torah. One of those roles is to act as mediator, as the writer of Hebrews calls him. Just as the Torah allowed access to God, Jesus now acted as that bridge, yet one that was not dependent upon man’s strict adherence. The most shocking thing about Jesus’ message, as de Silva points out, is not God’s grace and favor, or even that He offers it to the ungrateful, but that He offers it with the best that He has, and that he himself provides the mediator, instead of man needing to seek out the mediator.(52) Whereas the Torah required perfection and absolute obedience in order to function correctly, since it was mediator and contract, Jesus was a personal patron, who fulfilled the contract himself and staked his honor on it. Therefore, the contract was between the Father and the Son, and the Son was free to make a contract with whoever needed his help, thereby redirecting them to the Father.

Finally, those coming into a contract with Christ were brought into a new group that had new social standings. Since, according to Paul, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,”(53) all were on equal social ground. Those coming into Christ were consequently social equals coming together around a common cause, creating a “polyadic” relationship, or, a new family (group of clients) with a common Father (patron).(54) This family corresponds to the Jewish family, barring one major difference: the Jewish family was blood related, and therefore in contract with God through the Torah. Others could not enter into contract with God without becoming a part of Israel as a proselyte. The early Christians rather brilliantly dealt with this issue. The lineages in Matthew and Luke confirm that Jesus is a direct descendent of Abraham by blood, and therefore a true Israelite. Paul takes this assertion and expands it considerably when he calls the Church the “Body of Christ.”(55) Accordingly, those who come into the “body of Christ” become, in a sense, a full-blooded member of Israel. They come into the contract between God the Father and Jesus His Son, because their participation with Christ gives them that dyadic relationship necessary to take part in the new covenant. Christianity, from the Christian perspective, creates a new kinship group, and yet still manages to satisfy, in some sense, the Jewish requirements of the Torah.

The connections between Christianity and Judaism are deeper and richer than most given them credit for. Since Christianity grew out of a Jewish context, with Jewish theology and Jewish concerns, it is wrong not to interpret its earliest teachings in light of a Jewish framework. Whether one believes in the message of Christ or not, the beauty and intricacy of the message disappears when propelled into any other context but the original. Hopefully the ANE culture of the first century will receive more and more attention in the future, opening up the Old and New Testaments in ways previously incomprehensible.

Endnotes
(1) http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/contradictions.html
(2) Matt 5:17-18
(3) Matt 23:9
(4) Crenshaw, James L. Education in Ancient Israel: Across the Deadening Silence. New York: Doubleday, 1998. 10.
(5) Ibid. 15-16.
(6) Pilch, John J. and Bruce J. Malina. Handbook of Biblical Social Values. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000. 151.
(7) Schiffman, Lawrence H. From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple & Rabbinic Judaism. Hoboken: Ktav Publishing House, 1991. 82-84.
(8) Ibid. 85.
(9) Ibid. 86-87.
(10) Ibid. 90-91.
(11) Ibid. 98-103.
(12) Ibid. 103-104.
(13) Ibid. 105-107.
(14) Ibid. 108.
(15) Ibid. 113-115.
(16) Ibid. 116-117.
(17) Crenshaw 201, 1.
(18) Pilch 53.
(19) Crenshaw 72.
(20) Ibid. 120.
(21) Ibid. 2.
(22) Ibid. 129.
(23) Ibid. 66.
(24) Pilch 94.
(25) deSilva, David A. Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture. Downers Grove: InterVaristy Press, 2000. 35.
(26) Malina, Bruce J. The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology, Third Edition. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001. 30.
(27) deSilva 38-41.
(28) Ibid. 25.
(29) Malina 49.
(30) Pilch 123.
(31) Malina 89.
(32) Ibid. 91.
(33) Pilch 152.
(34) Deut. 32:6
(35) Malina 96.
(36) deSilva 101.
(37) Pilch 77.
(38) deSilva 175, Malina 151.
(39) Malina 138.
(40) deSilva 159.
(41) Malina 175.
(42) deSilva 97.
(43) Schiffman 149-150.
(44) Ibid. 150.
(45) Crenshaw 64-66.
(46) Ibid. 70-71.
(47) Matt. 5:17-18
(48) Heb. 12:24
(49) Crenshaw 247-248.
(50) Malina 69.
(51) Ibid. 73-75.
(52) deSilva 126-130.
(53) Rom. 3:23
(54) Malina 97.
(55) I Cor. 12:27-28

MiddleKnowledge's picture

Great stuff, Stephen!!

Thanks,

Tim Martin
www.beyondcreationscience.com

StephenGreer's picture

Thanks! I think once I graduate I'm going to go to grad school to study the Creeds and the issues surrounding them. I'm wondering how aware the Early Church Fathers were of Jewish culture, if at all. I can't say that I've read very much of them, but the little I have sounds far more Greek than Jewish.

Stephen

JL's picture

Stephen,

When you look at how the late 4th / early 5th century church used the creeds, you will find they weren't as Greek as the creeds sound to us.

The Nicene Creed first found its way to the masses in the Liturgies of Basil the Great and John Chrysostom. These liturgies intrepreted the Creeds in ways that are obviously foreign to the modern creedalists.

But then, what modern creedalist practices "baptism for remission of sins?"

Blessings,

JL
BeyondCreationScience.com

Blessings,

JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

MiddleKnowledge's picture

Stephen,

That sounds like productive study. Good luck. I would like to see what you come up with.

My experience in the church fathers is that they are quite a mix. I have found plenty of jewels, but there is a lot of junk to go through to get them. There is so much diversity and contradictory things taught by the earch church fathers, that whenever somes says, "that's not true because the early church fathers all said such and such," my immediate thought is that this particular individual has never spent much time actually reading the early church fathers for themselves.

The early church fathers are very interesting as historical markers. They are even very insightful at times, particularly in how foreign their thinking is to modern "conservative" Christianity in America today. But I can't see how anyone today can claim "their" tradition based entirely on what the early church fathers taught and maintain any kind of scholarly legitimacy.

I look forward to your future contributions,

Tim Martin
www.beyondcreationscience.com

Islamaphobe's picture

Stephen,

I'll join Tim in congratulating you for a job well done. I have copied this article and will file it for future use. In trying to understand the Bible it is indeed important to learn what we can about how the people of biblical times lived and thought. Some of what you write, incidentally, can be related to the our own day. For example, your comments about honor culture and shame should be useful in helping people appreciate how it is that some Pakistani and Egyptian immigrants to North America have come to have a mindset that rationizes the honor killing of one's own children and siblings. Unfortunately, Islamic theology strongly reinforces cultural factors that produce an honor culture mentality.

In some of the work I am currently doing, I have come across people who seem to throw Herod the Great and his people into the same camp as the "apostate Jews" who allied themselves with them and the Romans. Your article serves as a reminder of the FACT that since Herod was an Idumaean, whose people had been forcibly converted to Judaism only a generation or so before his birth, he and his family could never have been fully acceptable to the leadership strata of Judea. Thus there was always a basic hostility between the Jewish elite and the Herods.

I would be interested in your views about the Samaritans, whom I regard as having been descended, in large part, from residents of the Kingdom of Israel who were NOT carried away by the Assyrians.

John S. Evans

StephenGreer's picture

Thanks for the support, all!

Dr. Evans, I really have just started my studies of ANE culture, so I haven't gotten a chance to branch out beyond simply working to understand such foreign concepts as some of those presented in my paper. However, to take a stab at the Samaritans, I would say that the Jews would not have accepted the legitimacy of their claim to descent from Abraham because of the split of the kingdoms. When they separated, the Northern Kingdom built its own worship system, which the Jews would never have excepted, especially those in the 1st century. Since the Northern Kingdom had turned itself over to "licentiousness", the Jews would have immediately regarded their descendants as corrupt as well. Stereotyping was the order of the day back then, because it made the world predictable, and because of individuals' devotion to the larger group.

Personally, I would regard the Samaritans as possibly, if not probably, genetic descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, having something of that dyadic relationship, but not entirely in the covenant either, since they did not follow the Torah in the manner of the Jews. They were in a liminal state, and I strongly believe that Jesus was referring to that group (as well as the Jews to some extent) when he said "the lost sheep of the House of Israel." God was still bound to that group by a promise, and I believe that because they clung to some semblance of the Torah (the Samaritan Pentateuch) they could still be considered part of Israel, albeit "lost".

As for those who did not either reconnect with the Jews or became Samaritans, at this time I believe they can not be considered Israelites. We think of descent as genetic, but they saw it as not simply blood but more powerfully as relationship and loyalty to the family, to the group, etc. I think Virgil is on to something very important when he puts so much emphasis on relationships. They were a very important part of the culture back then, and I think we should deeply consider that when we study the Bible.

Starlight's picture

Stephen,

Nice work.

So much of what you are stating is so very important to a proper understanding of scripture and I agree with your following statement.

Quote … “The reader who does not attempt to gain such knowledge is doomed to misinterpret and misrepresent the meaning of a large part of the Old and New Testament.”

I also would point out that these very principles that you illustrate here concerning the era right before and during the time of Christ are also principals that must be looked at for properly understanding Genesis as well. The era that Moses arose during was heavily influenced by Babylonian and Egyptian thought instead of the Hellenized era that you are detailing.

One of the best ways to understand how the Hebrew mind works is to read more of their literature. We are actually blessed with significant commentaries if you will that expound upon and provide us glimpses of their thinking. Unfortunately because of modern taboos concerning that literature many scholars have shied away from it and have missed insights that were provided to us through those eyes that were much closer to their period. We have put precedence over contemporary insights rather than those from antiquity that are turning out to have been much more accurate than first thought. Preterist have proven this principle constantly by demonstrating how 2000 years of thinking has been largely skewed toward a physical futurist view rather than a covenantal spiritual one. It’s the same principal that bit the Pharisees and Sadducees in the rear end during Christ day. It’s funny how we make light of them but then turn around and step in the same dog pile as they did.

I also like your statement concerning the Church as the “Body of Christ”

Quote … “The early Christians rather brilliantly dealt with this issue. The lineages in Matthew and Luke confirm that Jesus is a direct descendent of Abraham by blood, and therefore a true Israelite. Paul takes this assertion and expands it considerably when he calls the Church the “Body of Christ.”(55) Accordingly, those who come into the “body of Christ” become, in a sense, a full-blooded member of Israel.”

The body metaphor is a major teaching of Preterism espoused by many competent scholars such as King and Frost, but at the same time it is sometimes an intimidating teaching to those who are new to the concept. I think we can capitalize upon the contemporary understanding of the church where it is usually clear to most that the body of Christ metaphor represents the totality of believers. Therefore when we introduce our full Preterist understanding of the body of death (Old Covenant Israel) we should use that known concept to capitalize and bridge that transitional understanding. I like to use some of the following scriptures in my discussions and the one you referenced is a prime example to begin with.

1 Cor 12:12 The BODY IS A UNIT, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, THEY FORM ONE BODY. So it is with Christ…. 14 Now THE BODY is not made up of one part but of many. … 20 As it is, there are many parts, but ONE BODY. … 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Rom 6: 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that THE BODY RULED BY SIN MIGHT BE DONE AWAY WITH, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Rom 7: 4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law THROUGH THE BODY OF CHRIST,

Rom 7: 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from THIS BODY OF DEATH?

Gal 3: 21 who shall fashion anew THE BODY OF OUR HUMILIATION, that it may BE CONFORMED TO THE BODY OF HIS GLORY,

I personally like to use the Gal 3:21 verse either before or at the end of discussing the body to show how Paul sees the convergence from the Old body of Death to the new Body of Christ.

Blessings

Norm

StephenGreer's picture

Norm, thanks for the Scripture references. I'm ashamed to say that pointing to specific passages that back up my claims is not my strong suit. I grew up in a Baptist environment that heavily stressed Biblical knowledge, so for the last few years I've relied more heavily on what I remember than on what I've recently read. Also, I'm kind of waiting until I've learned all the Greek grammar so that I can read the NT in Greek instead of English. But again, thanks for the references.

I think that the typical "personal" relationship with Christ that the Protestant church emphasizes so often doesn't account for the collective language of the NT. It's what I find fascinating about the Catholic and Orthodox churches. There is a lot of variety and difference of opinion, e.g. some are liberal while others are conservative, but as far as I've experienced, they still view each other as part of the same body. Protestants, on the other hand, more often than not just leave and find another "group" that will appeal to their personal tastes, resulting in a much more splintered notion of the Church. I think things are starting to change, but it will take time. As much as people don't like it, at least Emergent gets people talking to each other instead of having a "live and let live" mentality.

Stephen

JL's picture

Stephen,

It's the problem that Rushdoony called, "The one and the many."

My personal experience with Post-moderns and Emergent outside of PP is no they don't. They claim to talk to anybody, but they don't. They are just another splinter group.

Blessings,

JL

Blessings,

JL Vaughn
Beyond Creation Science

Starlight's picture

Stephen,

In regards to your inquiry to creeds; doesn’t that research into them basically amount to an investigation of how historical religion in general determines their traditions? It seems to boil down to an inquiry of how men interpret and systematically organize themselves. Creedal statements are simply fallible man’s attempt to systematize their religion into a simple coherent manner for agreement. It will evolve and change as men recognize that past creeds resulted in errors that new enlightenment has corrected. If you allowed Preterist such as a Don Preston or Sam Frost to write a creed you would get possibly one different from dispensationalist or futurist. Also acknowledging the past incompetence of men to properly discern scripture and root out futurism then throws a dark light over even attempting to present a concise “creed” that all can adhere to. It probably boils down to something like this:

Lk 10: 25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 27 He answered, " 'LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND'; AND, 'LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF."
28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

As far as reading the scriptures in their original language, that is a good goal but until you accomplish that I have found that word searches have proven a huge help in determining the proper context of the language. I have learned so much from constantly researching how words are used from beginning to end. Looking at the contextual usage across the board pays huge dividends in acquiring a comprehensive understanding of the word.

Concerning the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox view of the Body, I find limitations in all of them and consider the Catholic model as an artificial and human attempt to classify the overall “Body of Christ” into a subset no different than Protestants do. All believers comprise the body and churches are simply the subset where these members connect with each other. When it gets beyond the local church or group that one meets with then we simply get into a manmade organizational structure which can be beneficial or detrimental to the body as a whole. Christ is the Head of the body and additional structures added over the centuries are simply mans attempt and desire to manage the Body.

Blessings

Norm

Sam's picture

Stephen,

Good work. I wonder, though, how useful this information is to the wino, prostitute and orphan?

Sam

StephenGreer's picture

I openly admit that I can't think of any immediate practical use for this information. But then again, I can't think of any practical use for preterism. Frankly, the historically futurist Church has produced plenty of individuals and groups that have positively affected the lives of winos, prostitutes, and orphans. In fact, last summer I interned with my uncle in Ohio, where he is the outreach pastor at the Vineyard Church, a notoriously dispensational group. They reach out very effectively to a rather broken community. Rob Bell, himself a futurist, heavily encourages community outreach to Michigan, which is in a very poor economic state.

Point being, our own avowal of preterism as the best interpretational system doesn't necessarily improve the lives of the destitute. The futurists we so regularly accuse of being "inconsistent" or "in error" are pretty good at helping the poor and needy. I guess what I'm getting at is the question, "What is the focus of the Christian life?" If it is doctrinal truth, then my article is very important. If it is helping the needy, then who cares what I believe as long as I'm helping people. If it is both, then both are important, one for establishing the best foundation on which to build a group of Christians, the other for displaying the love of Christ to the world, who doesn't understand or care about theological matters.

This article is aimed at contributing that "best foundation" for understanding the will and character of God and His Church. My next job is to take what I've learned about the Christian life and apply it to the outside world. Thanks for holding me accountable.

As a "rebuttal," however, how useful is the proper interpretation of Genesis to a wino, prostitute, or orphan? ;)

Stephen

tom-g's picture

Hey Stephen,

I agree with your comment about the lack of any practical use for that information. However I can't believe you are serious about the lack of practicability of preterism.

How about for starters that it is practical as the result of studying for the purpose of showing yourself approved unto God? Then of course it is possible that it is also practical for doctrine, for reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness so that you, as a man of God, may be perfect and thoroughly furnished unto every good work.

I would also be curious as to what relationship you think exists between a believer's Christian life and unbelievers' lives.

Tom

StephenGreer's picture

Tom, I think you missed my point, which was, if you dismiss the practicality of my information, you have to dismiss the practicality of preterism as well, because they both deal with the same thing, i.e. doctrine. Thus, the same argument that you made for preterism's utility could be made for my article. They both (hopefully) seek to accurately understand the Bible, they both (hopefully) display a desire to know God better, and they both (hopefully) claim to be faithful to the original meaning of the Old and New Testaments.

Put a different way, if "practical" is material in context, then neither the arguments in my article nor in preterism are useful, because they don't meet physical needs. But you and I would obviously reject that "practical" takes that context only. In a spiritual context, the practicality of either set of arguments must be judged based on the arguments themselves. Do they accomplish their goals? Do they expand our understand of God and the Bible? Do they bring us closer to God? Do they give us a better understanding of what the Church should be and then encourage us to work faithfully toward that vision? If the answer to any of these is yes, then my article is just as practical as anything.

As for the last question, I'm not sure how to respond, because I'm not exactly sure what you are asking. It just seems too simple to say "salt and light." :) But I don't know, maybe it is that simple.

Stephen

KingNeb's picture

Are you kidding me? Just last night at the theater a homeless man walked up to me and just as i was about to reach into my pocket and hand him a dollar, he said, "no, no. I just wanted your opinion about the etymology of the name "Essenes", particularly what you think about the proposal by Boccaccini."

I said, "Here man. Just take the dollar."

He was like, "No man! Not interested. Please, let's talk about Epiphanius's distinction between two groups within the Essene community."

thereignofchrist.com

Scotty's picture

Neb,
You are hilarious bro. You need to start a band called "Twisted Brother." You crack me up! :)

Jack Scott

tom-g's picture

I'm a great fan from last year's TV 2007. Not easily impressed. Have you written anything I could read, I'd like to examine your arguments.

Tom

Recent comments

Poll

Should we allow Anonymous users to comment on Planet Preterist articles?
Yes absolutely
24%
No only registered users should comment
76%
What are you talking about?
0%
Total votes: 41