Topic 3 Historical Context of Jesus Ministry

					Topic 3

Historical Context of Jesus’ Ministry

Necessity of historical context for proper understanding:
   How could we understand Gandhi apart from the Indian caste system and British colonialism? Or Martin Luther King, Jr., apart from American slavery and its legacy of Jim Crow and racial discrimination? Or Jesus apart from first-century Judaism in Roman-occupied Palestine, a land that was politically oppressed, economically exploited, and religiously divided?

A. Historical survey (587 BC – 135 AD)
Presupposes “Covenant theology”: Israel’s election; obligation to Torah; gift of Land; mission to be Light to the nations.

1. Babylonian period (587-39 BC) – Exile; Babylonian captivity.
a. Temple destroyed; homeland in ruins; Jews in captivity. b. Prophets promised glorious restoration; new Golden Age. c. N. T. Wright: Jews of 1st cent. considered themselves still in “Exile.”

2. Persian period (539-333 BC) – Return; rebuilding.
a. Temple rebuilt (516) – “Second Temple.” b. Still under foreign control.

3. Greek period (333-166 BC) – Hellenistic influence; persecution.
a. Jews divided over Hellenistic influence. b. Antiochus IV (167) desecrated Temple; instigated persecution.

4. Maccabean/Hasmonean period (166-63 BC) – independence
a. Maccabean Revolt achieved Jewish independence. b. Hasmonean dynasty ruled Palestine as kings/highpriests. c. Jewish factions appeared (Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes).

A. Historical survey (587 BC – 135 AD) – cont.
5. Roman period (63 BC – 135 AD) – Jesus and NT.
a. Indirect rule through the Herods
1) Herod the Great (37-4 BC) a) “King of Judea” – client king appointed by Rome. b) Great building campaign – including Temple. c) Brutal tyrant; unpopular. d) Birth of Jesus set in closing years (cf. Mt. 2). e) At Herod’s death, Rome divided Palestine among 3 sons. Map 2) Herod Antipas (4 BC – 39 AD) a) Governor of Galilee and Perea. b) Capitals at Sepphoris (4 miles from Nazareth) and Tiberias. c) Executed John the Baptist; suspicious of Jesus. 3) Philip (4 BC – 34 AD) – governed NE districts. 4) Archelaus (4 BC – 6 AD) – governed Judea and Samaria.
a) Brutal; unpopular; protests ag. his rule (cf. Lk. 19:11-27). b) Removed by Rome in 6 AD.

Click for Pictures of Herodian Palestine

Click for Pictures of Sepphoris

A. Historical survey (587 BC – 135 AD) – cont.
5. Roman period (63 BC – 135 AD) – cont.
b. The procurators (prefects) – Roman governors
1) 6 AD – shift to direct rule; census; new poll tax. 2) Sparked uprising of Judas the Galilean (cf. Acts 5:37). 3) Period of unrest marked by periodic uprisings/protests led by “messiahs” and “prophets.” 4) Fifth procurator was Pontius Pilate (26-36):
a) b) c) d) Brought Roman “standards” into Jerusalem. Raided Temple treasury to finance aqueduct. Slaughtered a band of pilgrims, assuming they were rebels. Crucified Jesus (c. 30 AD).

c. Jewish War with Rome (66-70)
1) Major conflict; prosecuted by Vespasian and Titus. 2) 70 AD – Jerusalem sacked; Temple destroyed (Mk. 13:2). Arch of Titus

A. Historical survey (587 BC – 135 AD) – cont.
5. Roman period (63 BC – 135 AD) – cont.
d. Council (Academy) of Jamnia (90-100)
1) Reorganized Judaism around scripture, tradition, synagogue. 2) Closed Hebrew canon. 3) Began process of codifying “oral law” of rabbis: Mishnah (200)
(written collection of oral law)




Talmud (450-500)
(definitive text of rabbinic Judaism)

(rabbinic commentary)

4) Banned Christians from Synagogue.

e. Second Jewish Revolt (132-135)
1) Led by Simon bar Kochba, an alleged messiah. 2) Jerusalem leveled, rebuilt as Roman city dedicated to Jupiter.

B. Major Jewish Parties
A sampling of Jewish diversity - many parties with diverse beliefs/agendas (“Judaisms”). N. T. Wright: theologically, Jews were still in exile; pagans occupied the Promised Land and ruled the people of God. Many different options for dealing with situation.

1. Sadducees (“Zadokites”)
a. Chief priests and other wealthy aristocrats. b. Controlled Temple and Sanhedrin (Jewish ruling council). c. Cooperated with Rome; high priest appointed by procurator; maintained order; opposed rebellions. d. Theologically conservative: only written Torah is binding; rejected oral law, resurrection, afterlife. e. Solution to pagan rule: compromise; make the best of it. f. Instrumental in arrest and trial of Jesus. g. Disappeared after 70.

B. Major Jewish Parties – cont.
2. Pharisees (“Separated ones”)
a. Devoted to Torah: written and oral law. b. Detailed rules for Sabbath, tithing, ritual purity, etc. c. Maintained priestly purity in daily life; formed close associations for purity at meals. d. Teaching dominated synagogues; influential, though not politically powerful; much admired for devotion. e. Theologically progressive: law must be interpreted and applied; oral law; new ideas like resurrection, afterlife. f. Believed neglect of Torah was punished by pagan rule and hindered appearance of Messiah. g. Solution to pagan rule: devotion to Torah as they interpreted it. h. Opposed Jesus for not keeping Torah as they did. i. Pharisaism triumphed at Jamnia; developed into Rabbinic Judaism.

M. Borg on the Purity System ortrait/social.shtml

B. Major Jewish Parties – cont.
3. Essenes (“Holy ones,” “Pious ones”?)
a. Sectarian group not mentioned in NT. b. Described by Josephus and Philo as living on shore of Dead Sea. c. Probably associated with Qumran community and Dead Sea Scrolls. d. Protest group c. 150 BC; withdrew to wilderness; organized into a closed community by “Teacher of Righteousness.” e. Claimed to be “true Israel;” persecuted by Hasmoneans. f. Apocalyptic: expected 2 messiahs (royal, priestly); final war between good and evil (Sons of Light vs. Sons of Darkness). g. Devoted to strict discipline and ritual purity; daily bath of purification; sacred meals. h. Many parallels with NT (John the Baptist; apocalypticism; baptism; communal meal; etc.) i. Solution to pagan rule: withdraw; maintain purity; prepare to fight (did fight in Jewish War; destroyed by Rome).

Qumran Pictures

B. Major Jewish Parties – cont.
4. Zealots (“Fourth Philosophy”)
a. Militant political revolutionaries. b. Not a single party but an ideology of violent opposition to pagan rule and to compromising Jews. c. Motivated by zealous devotion to God and Torah. d. Solution to pagan rule: fight back. e. Forms of resistance (see Ehrman, pp. 114-19):
1) Silent protest (Passover observance). 2) Nonviolent uprisings (protest over Pilate’s standards or Caligula’s statue). 3) Prophetic proclamations (Theudas’ parting Jordan; “the Egyptian’s” collapse of Jerus. walls; both slaughtered by Rome). 4) Violent insurrections (Judas in 6 ad; Jewish War of 66-70).

One of Jesus’ disciples is called a Zealot (Lk. 6:15); others have been suspected (“sons of thunder;” cf. Lk. 9:54); perhaps many in the crowds hoped Jesus would lead revolt. g. Zealot ideology faded after failed revolts of 66-70 and 132-35. f.

C. Jewish Eschatology (doctrine of “last things”)
1. Prophetic eschatology: hope for Messiah
a. Late OT prophecy developed hope for an ideal King to restore Israel and rule over Golden Age of peace and justice. b. Grew out of “Davidic theology,” which regarded Davidic kings as God’s chosen rulers, guardians of justice, peace, blessing. c. “Messiah” = Hebrew for “anointed one;” anointing designated Davidic kings as divinely chosen to rule. d. Messianic hope was basically a nationalistic hope for a human messiah in lineage of David to restore Israel’s independence and glory. e. By NT times, concepts of messiah were quite varied: political, military, spiritual. f. “Christ” = Greek for anointed one; NT writers assume Jesus fulfilled the hope but transformed the concept.

C. Jewish Eschatology – cont.
2. Apocalyptic eschatology
a. Later, more radical type; not restoration of nation within history but the end of history/world and a cosmic transformation. b. Apocalyptic literature is mostly non-canonical; appeared in times of crisis/persecution (200 BC – 200 AD). c. Basic motifs:
1) Dualism: Doctrine of “Two Ages;” This Age is corrupt, transient; Age to Come is perfect, eternal. 2) Pessimism: Satan is in revolt against God and temporarily has upper hand; explains wickedness/injustice of world; will not get better in this age. 3) Messianic woes: A period of intense Tribulation and suffering precedes the end of the age; end is imminent. 4) Resurrection: earliest Jewish depictions of final resurrection of dead are found in this literature. 5) Final Judgment: all are judged according to deeds; wicked are destroyed or punished; righteous are rewarded with eternal life. 6) Messianic figure: may or may not appear; Davidic messiah does not fit; may be heavenly “Son of Man” as cosmic judge. 7) New Age: new heaven/earth; kingdom of God; return of Paradise. 8) Determinism: history is foreordained; end can be calculated.

D. Socioeconomic Conditions
1. Social stratification – sharp division btw. rich and poor (see
“Rich and Poor” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels)

a. Rich (“urban ruling elites” = 10% of pop.; controlled 66% of wealth)
M. Borg on Peasant Society ortrait/social.shtml

1) 2) 3) 4) 5)

Chief priests (profitted from tithes and sacrifices) Herods (wealth based on power; taxes) “Retainers” (lower govt. officials, army officers, rel. leaders) Absentee landlords Wealthy merchants

b. Middle class
1) Very small (some say none) 2) Skilled artisans; mid-size farmers; merchants

c. Poor (“peasants” = 90% of pop.; controlled 33% of wealth)
1) 2) 3) 4) Small landowners Tenant farmers Day laborers and beggars (“expendables”) Tradesmen – fishermen, carpenters, etc. (status varied)

D. Socioeconomic Conditions – cont.
2. Absentee landlordism
a. Wealthy took advantage of hard times to buy up huge estates. b. Small farmers were forced to sell ancestral land to pay taxes/debts and avoid debtor’s prison. c. Many were only a bad crop or two away from ruin. d. Became tenant farmers, having to pay landlord before providing for their own family.

3. High taxes
a. Roman: poll tax; land tax; duties on goods; symbolized that people and land belong to emperor. b. Jewish: Herodian taxes; temple tax; tithe on produce; sacrifices. c. Total obligation might be a third of income – not high compared to our rates but burdensome for peasants living on edge of ruin (rent might take another third). d. Tax collectors (mostly Jewish) – despised as traitors and presumed dishonest.

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