Genealogies in Ancient Israel
MATTHEW 1 In societies organized around kinship, genealogies (lists of names tracing the ancestry of a given individual or group) serve as public records that document history, establish identity and/or legitimate office.The key to legitimacy and identity is a direct, irrefutable familial tie with the past. Such lists may ascend from the individual, using the formula "x the son of y, the son of z . . ." (1Ch 6:33-43; Ezr 7:1-5; Lk 3:23-38) or descend from a common ancestor, using the pattern "x was the father of y,y the father of z . ." (Ge 5:1-32; Ru 4:18-23; Mt 1:1-17). These two basic types of genealogies can be combined (cf.v. 1 and vv. 2 — 17). In addition, genealogical rolls may either contain a simple succession of names or may be supplemented with expansive content pertaining to the deeds of certain prominent individuals on the list.
Genealogies feature prominently in both the early and later history of Israel.There are ten principal genealogical lists in Genesis alone, (e.g., "the written account of Adam's line" in Ge 5). These records served to establish and protect identity in that they regulated a variety of social interactions, including marriage and land inheritance (Dt 25:5-10; Ezr 10:18-43).2 Thus the registration of families who had returned
from exile was a profound concern during the postexilic period (1Ch 1-9; Ezr 8:2-14; Ne 7:7-63). Genealogies were especially important in ancient Israel because the right to hold important offices was a hereditary privilege. For example, the priesthood was assured to the sons of Levi (Ex 6:16-26; No 3:10; 1Ch 6:1-531,5 while kingship was reserved for the descendants of Judah (Ge 49:10) and more specifically for the son of David (2Sa 7:12-16; Ps 89:29; Isa 9:7;11:1-3).
In the New Testament era certain genealogical records were stored in a public archive in the temple mount, while others were maintained by private families. Early Christian preaching radically redefined genealogical descent by considering all who identified with Jesus as true, legal descendants of Abraham,"heirs according to the promise" (Gal 3:29; cf. Mt 3:9;1n 8:33,39; Ro 4:16).6
The New Testament pre-serves two pertinent genealogical lists, both of which present the human ancestry of Jesus as the son of David (Mt 1:1-17; Lk 3:23 —38). The two listings are different, and the reasons for this variation have been extensively debated. It may be that the register in Luke preserves the biological family tree of Joseph, while that in Matthew records the legal line of descent that authenticated Joseph's (and Jesus') claim to David's throne. Others suggest that the genealogy in Matthew is Joseph's, while the one in Luke is Mary's.
Baptism in the Ancient World
MATTHEW 3 Ritual immersion in water, or baptism, represented a powerful and frequently used religious symbol in ancient Judaism) This sacramental ceremony was enacted to symbolize purification and the removal of sin or was sometimes used as an initiation rite to consecrate a change of status or a conversion.
In the Old Testament, rites of immersion were associated with maintaining ritual purity, especially for priests (Lev 15; 16:4,24).
During the New Testament period, water itself and immersion in water functioned as the primary means by which ritual impurity was removed within Pharisaic Judaism (Mt 15:2; Jn 2:6).
Baptism was practiced by the Essene community at Qumran as a symbolic act by which one was "made holy by the waters of repentance" (1QS 3:9)
During the first century A.D. certain groups within Judaism began to practice proselyte baptism, a rite that required converts, in addition to male circumcision, to undergo immersion in a ritual bath prior to their full reception into the community.
Purification through immersion in ritual baths was required for all Jews in order to preserve that state of purity without which they could neither enter the temple nor participate in its services during major festivals (Nu 9:10; in 11:55; Ac 21:24-27; Josephus, Wars, 1.11.6).6
A number of Jewish ritual baths, or miqvaot (singular miqveh), have been excavated in Jerusalem, Jericho and elsewhere. By rabbinical law these had to hold at least 60 galIons (227 I) of water and be deep enough to completely immerse the body.
Within emerging Christianity the rite of baptism acquired fundamental importance. Baptism in water defined the central symbolic act required by John in the course of his preparatory preaching in the wilderness (Mt 3; Mk 1:4). It is precisely this act for which he was divinely commissioned and later received the epithet the Baptist" (Mt 3:1; Josephus, Antiquities,18.5.2).John summoned his hearers to be baptized in light of the imminent advent of God's judgment upon the earth (Mt 3:5-6; Lk 3:17). His baptism thus evoked prophetic images of cleansing with water for forgiveness, purification and the repentance that would characterize the Messianic age (Jer 31; Eze 36:25; Zec 13:1).
The Gospels present the baptism of John as a necessary precursor to the public ministry of Jesus, who would baptize "with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Mt 3:11; see Mk 1:8; Jn 1:31). The risen Jesus sanctioned this sacramental act as an important aspect of conversion, requiring baptism "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). Other New Testament texts record slight variations in the wording of the baptismal formula, such as "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Ac 2:38; 10:48),"into the name of the Lord Jesus" (Ac 8:16;19:5) or simply "into Christ" (Gal 3:27).The place of baptism within early Christianity occasioned sustained reflection by various New Testament authors upon the meaning of this symbolic act. Within the New Testament canon baptism is viewed as the symbolic identification of the believer with the death and resurrection of Jesus (Ro 6; Col 2:12), through which the believer becomes"clothed ...with Christ" (Gal 3:27), as well as a clear expression of repentance before God (1 Pe 3:21).
MATTHEW 5 The Pharisees were an influential political and religious sect during the Second Temple period.' During this time of increasing foreign influence, they promoted the faithful observance of Jewish law at both a national and an individual level. The exact meaning of the term Pharisee remains uncertain.The noun derives from the Hebrew verb meaning "to separate"or"to distinguish."The title appears to have been applied originally in a negative sense when the Pharisees were expelled from membership in the Sanhedrin under John Hyrcanus (135-104 B.c.), though it was later understood in a positive sense either as "those who separated themselves" from all sources of ritual uncleanness (see Mk 7:1-23; Gal 2:12 — 13) or "those who interpreted the law precisely" (see Ac 22:3; 26:5; Josephus's Antiquities, 17 .2.4).
The Pharisees believed that God was the sovereign Creator, who expressed his will to humanity through Scripture. Moreover, he granted humanity the gifts of responsible moral choice and reason in order to apply the Scriptures to this life in preparation for the resurrection, judgment and the life to come (cf. Ac 23:6-8). Members of this sect carefully observed the Mosaic Law, systematically interpreting and adapting it to the conditions of their own time in order to maintain a sense of purity among the populace (Mt 23:2-3). This system of interpretation and way of life were transmitted by generations of teachers and became known variously as the oral law, the tradition of the elders (Mk 7:3-5; Gal 1:14), the works of the law (Ro 3:20-28; Gal 2:16-3:10) or simply the Halakhah (from a Hebrew word meaning "walk"; Halakhah is traditional Jewish teaching that governs behavior and religious practice). The Pharisees saw themselves as the heirs of a vast body of interpretative tradition that enabled them to function as reliable guides for the Jewish people during a tumultuous era (Ro 2:17-20). Although some Pharisees came to believe in Jesus as the Christ (Ac 15:5; Php 3:4-11),the majority justified their opposition to him on the grounds that Jesus ostensibly taught on his own authority (Mt 7:29; Jn 3:1-3; 8:13), as well as on the basis of his interpretations of various issues that were of vital concern to them. Jesus criticized the Pharisees on the grounds that, for all of their commendable observance of rules and traditions,they were fundamentally unrepentant, neither knowing God nor loving people (Mt 23).
Fasting in the Bible and the Ancient Near East
MATTHEW 6 Fasting in the Old Testament While the Day of Atonement was the only required day of fasting in the Old Testament, there were occasions throughout the year for voluntary fasting. Rather than avoiding specific foods,fasting usually involved abstinence from all food for a predetermined period of time. It was always accompanied by prayer and was used to express grief penitence or humble devotion to God. Fasting was encouraged at times of national crisis as an indication that Israel or Judah was wholeheartedly dedicated to the Lord (Jdg 20:26; Joel 1:14). Individuals in particular distress also fasted (1Sa 1:7; 2Sa 12:22). The duration of a given fast ranged from several hours to as long as 40 days. After the exile there were at least four commonly practiced periods of fasting (Zec 8:19). For example, a tradition began of fasting on the ninth of Ab (the fifth month, spanning our July and August). This fast was intended to commemorate the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, and it became customary to read Lamentations on that day.
Fasting in Pagan Religion
Fasting was also practiced in some forms of Greek pagan religion, One of the initiatory rites of the Eleusinian mystery religion involved a fast, and the cults of Isis and Cybele also entailed some fasting. Abstinence from food, as well as sexual abstinence, was often thought to be a necessary preparation before undergoing a ritual. The Greeks rarely practiced lengthy fasts, but many cults had a number of taboos involving food (the Pythagoreans, e.g., were vegetarian).
Fasting in the New Testament and the Church
Fasting remained common throughout the New Testament era.The Pharisees fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays (Lk 18:12).4 Jesus, the disciples of John the Baptist and Paul practiced substantial fasts as well. Matthew 6:16 — 18 indicates that fasting remains a legitimate form of worship for Christians. During the first few centuries of the Christian church a theology of asceticism with heroic acts of prolonged fasting arose. But Jesus' words also provide a reminder that true fasting is directed toward God, not toward impressing others. Like the prophets before him (Isa 58:1-12,Jer 14:10 — 12; Zec 7), Jesus proclaimed that true fasting is an indication of the heart's inclination toward God.
Demons and the Bible
MATTHEW 8 Many readers assume that the belief in demons attested in the New Testament is simply a function of its authors' sharing in the superstitious beliefs and practices of all ancient peoples. The question of the reality of demons, of course, cannot be settled by archaeology. Researchers can demonstrate, however, that the notion that the New Testament writers simply shared the prescientific views of their contemporaries is simplistic and misleading.
Demons in the Ancient Near East
Ancient Near Eastern society was awash in texts containing magical incantations and amulets intended to protect people from evil spirits (spells for defense against demons are called "apotropaic spells"). For example, one of the feared demons of Neo-Assyrian times was the lion-headed female figure Lamashtu, who was thought especially to attack pregnant women and babies. For protection women wore a necklace with a pendant of the god Pazuzu. An enormous number of apotropaic spells have survived from Babylonia, employing magical words and rituals involving plants, animal parts and other sacred objects., Even today in the eastern Mediterranean it is not uncommon to see amulets intended to ward off the "evil eye."
Demons in Non Biblical Jewish Literature
Ancient Jewish literature was also fascinated with magic as a means of dealing with demons. The Apocryphal book of Tobit tells the story of one"Sarah, daughter of Raquel," who had been married—and widowed on her wedding night through the intervention of the demon Asmodeus—seven times. Meanwhile Tobias, the son of the blind Tobit, journeyed to Media, where Sarah lived, traveling in the company of a man who turned out to be the angel Raphael.While Tobias was sitting by the Tigris Rivera fish tried to eat his foot. Raphael instructed Tobias to seize the fish and extract its gall, heart and liver. If he would burn the heart and liver in the presence of an individual afflicted by a demon, that person would be delivered. Arriving in Media, Raphael informed Tobias that he was to marry Sarah but that he could thwart the demon, Asmodeus, by burning the fish's liver and heart when he went in to her. Tobias safely took Sarah as his wife, after which he used the fish gall to cure his father's blindness.
The Testimony of Solomon further illustrates the widespread belief in apotropaic magic. This is a pseudepigraphical work (one that falsely claims to have been written by a famous person of the Old Testament) attributed to Solomon. In this work Solomon received a powerful ring from the angel Michael. With it he could imprison or control demons and deliver people from affliction. For example, Solomon forced the demon Lix Jetrax to help build the temple by hurling stones up to the workers.
Demons in the Old Testament
The Old Testament is remarkably reticent about evil spirits, so much so that it seems to have no developed demonology. Even so, three facts stand out:
There are no incantations, rituals or amulets prescribed for giving an individual protection from spirits. Considering how much of the Torah is devoted to ritual and to sacred objects, this is a remarkable omission.
God is said to have complete authority over the spirits, which cannot operate in the world without his approval. If a "lying spirit" goes out, it is only with divine consent (1 Ki 22:23; cf. Job 1-2).
The main concern of the Old Testament writers was that people avoid seeking to avail themselves of magical powers through contact with spirits (e.g., Dt 18:10-12).
Demons in the New Testament
The New Testament demonstrates two realities about evil spirits:
Jesus alone (Lk 4:41) has absolute power over them, but this was a matter of divine authority, not magic or sorcery.
The New Testament mocks the claims of magicians by describing their inability to deal with real spirits. The failed efforts of Simon the sorcerer (Ac 8:9-24) and the sons of Sceva (Ac 19:14-16) to obtain apostolic authority illustrates the point that the miracles of the New Testament had nothing in common with ancient magic.
Jewish Meals and Meal Customs
MATTHEW 9 The Origin of New Testament Dietary Practices
The references to dining and meals in the New Testament, and especially in the Gospels, combine features of Greco-Roman practice with Jewish religious tradition. From Greco-Roman customs we see the following:
Communal meals, or banquets, provided an important social and religious venue for defining and experiencing fellowship (Mt 9:10;11:19).
The meal was followed by a period of music or extended conversation.
The normal posture for eating was reclining on one's side (Lk 7:36; 22:14).
The majority of the dietary practices we see in the Gospels, however, were derived from Judaism. From Jewish religious teachings we see the following:
The holiness of meals within Judaism was extended through interpretation to the complex system of the kosher laws. Acceptable animals were those that both chewed the cud and had cloven hoofs. Fish possessing scales and fins, as well as certain types of birds, were also permitted. The Bible prohibited certain types of food deemed to be pagan or acquired by cruel means. This included the consumption of meat taken from a still living animal or from one found dead,the drinking of blood or the boiling of a kid in its mother's milk.
The Biblical injunction against fellowship with sinners (Ps 1:1; Pr 13:20; 14:7) was developed in Jewish tradition as a warning against improper or excessively intimate association with the wicked, especially at meal-times (1Co 15:33; Sir 6:7-12; 12:13 —18).
The demands of the Levitical system of dietary purity greatly restricted the possibility of shared meals between Jews and Gentiles (Ac 10:28; Gal 2:12).
The Pharisees, known for their exacting interpretation of Scripture, applied the even higher purity restrictions of the temple to their own table fellowship., In this way they attempted to eat their meals in a state of ritual purity appropriate for priests as a way of sanctifying all of life to God.
The Significance of the New Testament Dietary Practices
Interpreters have given a variety of explanations for Jewish dietary laws:, Some contend that they were primarily intended for hygiene and good health, while others argue that the avoidance of idolatrous practices was the main reason for kosher laws. Still others simply suggest that these laws functioned as an artificial boundary to remind Jews that they were different from Gentiles. Most Jews seem to have believed these elaborate restrictions to have been a concrete, daily expression of holiness (Lev 11:44-45), which was also expressed in Jewish meals through the act of tithing all means of sustenance, the recitation of blessings before and after each meal (Dt 8:10; 1n 6:11; 1Co 11:24) and the marking of each festival on the liturgical calendar through the eating of distinctive foods prepared in a distinctive manner.
The observance of the dietary laws acquired new significance during the Maccabean era when "many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food.They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant" (1Mc 1:62-63).6 This historical reality, together with inherited prophetic imagery, led to the notion of a great Messianic banquet in which the righteous would enjoy the hospitality of God in the age to come (Isa 25:6-8; Mt 22:1-10; Rev 19:9-17).
The Zealots and the Essenes
MATTHEW 10 The Zealots were radical Jews who sought the violent overthrow of the Roman regime in Judea under the rallying cry"No king but God!"They came to prominence during the Jewish revolt against Rome in A.D. 66-73, but the roots of violent rebellion stretch back much further. While scholars debate whether there was a continuous, organized movement of insurrection throughout the first century A.D., it is at least interesting to note that some of the leaders of the uprising in A.D. 66 were direct descendants of men who had fought against Rome during the first century B.C. When Jesus advocated nonviolent resistance to enemies, he may have been directly opposing this kind of armed revolution.
The Essenes were another protest group in early Judaism.This faction most likely grew out of mid-second-century B.C. reform movements that arose during the Maccabean revolt. By the first century A.D. the Essenes were a significant force for renewal in Judaism. Like the Pharisees, they were concerned with purity and called for a strict adherence to the Law, although the two groups disagreed with the Pharisees on particular points of interpretation and practice.' The Essenes were noted for their ascetic tendencies, their nonparticipation in temple worship and their desire to isolate themselves in tight-knit communities. Some of the more radical Essenes who followed the so-called Teacher of Righteousness eventually gave up hope of renewal through normal channels and withdrew to the Judean wilderness to live together near the Dead Sea.
MATTHEW 11 Early in his ministry Jesus left his hometown of Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.' He ministered in Capernaum and in the nearby towns of Korazin (often spelled Chorazin) and Bethsaida (see "Map 11 to locate all three towns). Korazin is mentioned in the Bible only in Matthew 11:21 and the parallel passage in Luke 10:13, where all three towns came under Jesus' condemnation for their failure to repent. They were, after all, "the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed" (Mt 11:20).
Korazin is located about an hour's walk (2.5 mi or 4 km) north of Capernaum on a basalt plateau known as the Korazin Plateau, about 800 feet (244 m) above the Sea of Galilee. It is described in Jewish sources as a medium-sized town noted for its wheat production.The main road to Damascus passed by a little to the north, so commerce, as well as agriculture, played an important role in the economy of the community.
The ruins of Korazin cover an area of more than 80 acres. Excavations and literary sources indicate that the city was founded in the first century A.D. and thrived until the Arab conquest in the eighth century. A civic center and a number of domestic complexes, all made of local black basalt stone and dating from the third to eighth centuries A.D., have been uncovered.The civic center, arranged in an east west direction on the gently sloping plateau, is comprised of a synagogue, ritual bath complex, cisterns and public buildings. After the Arab conquest Korazin declined and was eventually abandoned.
The Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus
MATTHEW 12 The Gospel accounts provide limited details about Jesus' immediate family. We know, of course, that he was born to Mary and that his stepfather was Joseph. A carpenter by trade,Joseph is mentioned only in the narratives of Jesus' birth and early childhood, leaving many to believe that he died prior to the time of Jesus' public ministry.The Gospels record the names of four of Jesus' brothers —James, Joseph, Simon and Judas (Mt 13:55)—and mention sisters without providing names.
Those who believe that Mary remained a virgin throughout her entire life suggest that these siblings were Joseph's children from a previous marriage. Scripture itself, however, makes no claim that Mary maintained her virginity following Jesus' birth, and it is more likely that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were simply the natural children born to Mary and Joseph after Jesus' birth. In ancient Jewish culture it would have been unthinkable for a man and woman to live together in a permanently unconsummated marriage. Matthew 1:25 in fact implies that Mary and Joseph did have normal sexual relations after Jesus' birth.
Although the relationship between Jesus and his family was characterized by tension and misunderstanding (e.g., Mk 3:31-34), at least two of his brothers later became his followers. James, a leader of the Jerusalem church (Ac 12:17), was martyred in the early sixties.Tradition ascribes the New Testament epistle of James to him. Similarly, the epistle of Jude is attributed to Jesus' brother Judas.
Houses in the Holy Land of the first century A.D.: Peter's house in capernaum; Insule
MATTHEW 14 Housing conditions in the first-century Holy Land varied dramatically according to people's financial situations. The best preserved homes are those that were built for the upper classes and constructed with obvious craftsmanship from lasting materials. Of these, the most splendid examples are the remains of Herod the Great's lavish palaces in Jerusalem, Masada and Jericho.,
These structures, along with other luxurious houses discovered in Jerusalem's upper city, reflect the stylistic conventions of contemporary Roman villas. The villa was structured around an open, colonnaded courtyard and contained a large reception room and dining area to accommodate large gatherings. Floors were covered with detailed stone mosaics, and walls were painted with frescoes. These upper-class houses and palaces in Judea also contained distinctively Jewish features, such as ritual baths alongside ordinary bathrooms, the absence of human or animal representation in mosaics and frescoes and the presence of Jewish symbols (e.g., the menorah).
Since relatively few people lived in palatial homes, many more examples of middle-class dwellings have been revealed through archaeology. An important example, discovered in Jerusalem in 1970, is known as the"burnt house."This home was completely buried with soot and ash from the destruction of the city in A.D. 70 and, therefore, has been well preserved.The floor plan reflects a common pattern of three medium sized rooms, a small storage room, a small kitchen and a stepped, ritual bath built around a paved courtyard. The walls were covered with a thin layer of limestone plaster, and the floors consisted of pressed earth. Furnishings within the house included rectangular stone tables, bowls, plates,cups and cylindrical weights, one of which identifies the owner as Bar Karos.
Other significant examples of first-century houses have been unearthed in Capernaum. Excavations near the ruins of the ancient synagogue there revealed a group of approximately 12 homes constructed of black basalt rocks and small pebbles and arranged around a central courtyard containing ovens and grinding stones.
These single-story dwellings had floors of beaten black earth and stairways leading to flat roofs. The less-substantial roofs were probably built with tree branches covered with mud and straw (cf. Mk 2:4).
The largest of these homes attracted particular attention in that it featured a crushed limestone floor and had plastered walls filled with decorations (including flowers, pomegranates and numerous crosses) and inscriptions, which were fragmentary and in many languages:124 in Greek, 18 in Syriac, 15 in Hebrew and 1 in Latin. Most of the inscriptions were short prayers, such as"Christ have mercy" or "Lord Jesus Christ help." Others contained the name of Peter, suggesting that this home was venerated in antiquity as a place of Christian pilgrimage and associated with the memory of Peter.Thus, this dwelling has become known as the house of Peter in Capernaum (Mt 8:14; Mk 1:29; Lk 4:38).
The lowest urban classes in-habited crowded tenement buildings called insulae—multi-storied buildings divided into numerous apartments called cenaculi.The lowest floor generally contained a shop in which the proprietor also lived. The upper floors were accessed through outside staircases.The insulae usually lacked any system of heating, running water or sewage. Eutychus most likely fell from the third floor window of an insula while listening to Paul preach Christ in Troas (Ac 20:7-12).
Galilee in Jesus' Time
MATTHEW 15 Jesus grew up in Nazareth , about 15 miles (24 km) from the Sea of Galilee. This region had been settled by Jews since ancient times and had remained a bastion of Judaism down through the centuries. Certain aspects of this area help to define the cultural environment in which Jesus lived, spoke and acted:
Economically, the region benefited from the fish of the Sea of Galilee, trade with the Phoenician coastal cities and reasonably productive agricultural yields, including wheat, grapes, figs and olives.
In terms of religion, although cut off from Judea by Samaria, Galilean Jews appear to have been as orthodox as their Judean counterparts. Galilee did experience upheaval in the Jewish revolt of A.D.66-70, but the region was not necessarily marked by revolutionary sentiment before that time.
Politically, Galilee lay within the territory of Herod Antipas.While the Gospels say little about Antipas,the incidents surrounding the death of John the Baptist profoundly distressed the common people. Certainly Jesus realized that preaching would be unsettling to worldly monarchs like Antipas.
Galilee is thought to have had a strong Gentile presence. The city of Sepphoris, just a few miles from Nazareth, is believed by many to have been largely Hellenized.4 How-ever, it is doubtful that Gentile customs had any major influence on Jesus' preaching; the cultural separation between a city like Sepphoris and a Galilean village was much greater than the physical distance. Furthermore, we have no suggestion in the Gospels or other records that Jesus frequented urban centers like Sepphoris or Tiberias.
MATTHEW 16 The area of Caesarea Philippi was first known (c. 200 B.c.) by the name Panion, meaning "sanctuary of Pan,"a pagan god associated with fields and herds. In 23 B.C. Augustus assigned the area to Herod 1 to rule for the Romans,' and Herod's son, Philip, took control of the region after his father's death. Philip constructed an administrative capitol building at Panion and changed the name to Caesarea Philippi, honoring both Caesar and himself. (Caesarea Philippi is not to be confused with Caesarea Maritima, a city on the Mediterranean coast.)
There is no record of any civilian habitation at the time, so Caesarea Philippi was an administrative center and not yet a city during Jesus' lifetime. The Gospel accounts carefully observe this fact, recording that Jesus and the disciples frequented the villages (Mk 8:27) or the region (Mt 6:13) of Caesarea Philippi. In the year A.D.53 or 54 Agrippa II became king of the principality and transformed Caesarea Philippi into a Greco-Roman city. The magnificent administrative palace was converted into a public bath house, and a long colonnaded street was constructed through the middle of the city. Fresh water was supplied through underground pipes and a new aqueduct. In A.D. 70 the city was the scene of notorious savagery.2 The Roman general Titus, after destroying Jerusalem, brought a large number of Jewish prisoners to Caesarea Philippi, where they were 'massacred in games as a public spectacle.The city reached its peak in the second and third centuries A.D. but appears to have undergone a sharp decline from the fourth century on.
Although the site has been a popular tourist destination since the nineteenth century, systematic excavations did not begin until 1988.Work has focused on the sanctuary of Pan and the central area of the city. Much of the Roman-period architecture was destroyed during the Middle Ages, when the location was used as a military outpost by both Muslims and crusaders. Stone blocks were mined from the ancient buildings to be reused in later structures, making the work of reconstructing the ancient city more difficult. Archaeologists have uncovered numerous medieval pieces of pottery, metal and glass and are confident that further exploration will reveal remains from the Biblical era.The city's athletic facilities and a temple built for Augustus by Herod I are among the important edifices yet to be excavated.
The Capernaum Synagogue
MATTHEW 17 The city of Capernaum ("Map 9") features prominently in the Gospel narratives as a location from which Jesus conducted much of his public ministry (Mt 4:13; Mk 2:1).1 He performed many miracles there and is reported to have frequently entered the Capernaum synagogue in order to teach (Mk 1:21; 3:1-5; Lk 4:31; Jn 6:59). According to Luke 7:5 the synagogue of Capernaum was constructed under the auspices of a Roman centurion who felt great love for the people of Israel.
The ruins of a synagogue were recognized by Edward Robinson in 1852 at the site of Tell Hum. Charles Wilson conducted the first excavation there in 1865-1866. In 1894 the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land acquired the site from the Turks, built a monastery, covered the ruins and planted crops over them in order to keep them safe until the political situation would permit careful excavation. During the years 1905-1926 the ancient synagogue was excavated and partially restored by German and Franciscan teams.
The wait had been worthwhile. The teams discovered a large, ornate, limestone synagogue planned as a rectangular basilica approximately 60 feet (18 m) wide by 80 feet (24.5 m) long. The floor plan consisted of a central nave flanked by aisles. Stone benches lined the eastern and western walls. The focal point of the structure faced south, toward Jerusalem. For a number of years scholars believed that these visible ruins represented the actual structure in which Jesus had taught. However, continuing excavations begun in 1968 have revealed the remains.of an earlier structure, built of black basalt stone, with a similar floor plan.The 4-foot-thick (1.2 m) basalt walls are slightly out of line with the limestone walls and, therefore, could not have served as their foundation. In 1981 a basalt cobblestone floor was discovered, together with pottery from the first century A.D. Thus, it is no doubt this earlier structure from which Jesus declared,"I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever" (in 6:51).
The Legend of the Needle's Eye Gate
MATTHEW 19 Since the Middle Ages commentators have considered the possibility that Jesus` statement concerning the"eye of a needle" (Mt 19:24) may have been a reference to certain doors or gates that actually existed in his day. Some homes did in fact have large doors that would allow a fully loaded camel to enter into the courtyard. Since such doors were cumbersome and required great effort to open, there were often smaller doors cut within them, permitting easy passage of people and smaller animals into the house. Some interpreters have argued that this smaller door was the"needle's eye gate," while others have suggested that the needle's eye referred to smaller doors within larger city gates, such as those at Jaffa and Hebron. Passage through the smaller gate, it was said, would have forced a camel to its knees. Thus, the point of Jesus Teaching in verse 24 is supposedly that a rich man can enter the kingdom of heaven only if he falls down to his knees.
As illustrative as these theories are, they in fact diminish the force of Jesus' words. The point is not that salvation is difficult without God but that it is impossible without him. Jesus' contrast of the largest animal known in Palestine with the smallest of holes created a vivid and memorable illustration. The fact that modern-day gates have been so named can most likely be attributed to the influence of this and similar statements within the Talmud and the Koran. In other words, the term "needle's eye gate" most likely did not precede the teaching-, rather, the popularity of the teaching; rather, the popularity of the term evidently came about because of the teaching. But in Jesus' original setting, it is very likely that a needle's eye was simply a needle's eye and not a gate at all.
Bible readers do well 1 to beware of legendary, pseudo-archaeological interpretations, which can be quite misleading and even distort or undermine the true meaning of a Biblical text.
A King Riding on a Donkey: Cultural /Political Significance in the Ancient Near East
MATTHEW 21 Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday represents one of the most significant public events of his ministry. Each of the four Gospels records this incident, though with distinctive details (Mt 21:1-11; Mk 11:1-10; Lk 19:29-38; in 12:12-15). Central to each report is Jesus' deliberate choice to enter the city riding upon a donkey. Scholars have noted three significant points regarding this chosen mount. These aspects are not mutually exclusive, and each contributes to a more complete appreciation of the meaning of Jesus' symbolic action and its decisive consequences:
The donkey was a traditional mount for kings and rulers in the ancient Near East (Jdg 10:4; 12:14; 2Sa 16:2); Jesus was therefore making an implicit claim to be the king of his people.
The act of riding into Jerusalem on a donkey near the time of the Passover celebration invoked a central image of Messianic expectation, linked to key Biblical texts such as Genesis 49:10, Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9. Two of the four Evangelists explained the significance of Jesus' entrance explicitly as the fulfillment of Scripture (Mt 21:5; in 12:15). In Jewish literature and teaching, moreover, the image of a king on a donkey approaching Jerusalem was consistently understood to signify the arrival of the Messianic King. Thus, Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah and proclaiming that the age of restoration was dawning through his own person.
In light of the frequent Old Testament association of horses with war and human pride, the donkey may have presented an image of peaceful humility.Jesus, in this interpretation, was making a statement regarding the nature of his kingship (cf. Dt 17:16; 2Sa 15:1; Ps 20:6-9; 33:16-18; 147:10-11; Pr 21:31; Zec 9:9-10).
MATTHEW 22 The Sadducees were a religious and political sect during the Second Temple period,' drawn primarily from the ruling priestly and aristocratic elements in Jewish society. This party controlled the temple worship, and many of its adherents were also members of the supreme Jewish legal council, called the Sanhedrin (Ac 23:6). Two separate accounts of the Sadducees' origin link the name of the sect to two different historical figures, both named Zadok.
The name Sadducee may be derived from Zadok, the high priest in the days of David and Solomon (2Sa 8:17; 1Ki 1:34). In Ezekiel's vision of restoration, the descendants of this Zadok are entrusted with oversight of the temple worship (Eze 40:46; 43:19; 44:15). Zadok's descendants did in fact constitute the temple hierarchy down to the second century B.C.
According to rabbinic tradition, however, the sect of the Sadducees was founded by a disciple of Antigonus of Sokho (c. 200 B.c.), also named Zadok.
The Sadducees' major opponents were the Pharisees.3 Contrary to this rival faction, the Sadducees denied the resurrection of the dead (Mt 22:23-33; Ac 4:1-2; 23:6-8), the immortality of the soul, the doctrine of reward and punishment and the validity of the oral law (regulations passed down by rabbinic tradition).They accepted as binding only those laws based directly upon the written text of the Pentateuch. It is for this reason that Jesus defended the doctrine of the resurrection to them from the standpoint of Exodus 3:6 rather than from the prophets (Mt 22:32).The influence of the Sadducees virtually ceased with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70,4 leaving post biblical Judaism to develop along Pharisaic lines. Later rabbinic teaching contains numerous examples and anti-Sadducee propaganda.
Biblical Interpretation at Qumran and Among the Early Rabbis
MATTHEW 23 Qumran' is the location at which the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.The ancient community that was once located there produced a library of well over 800 manuscripts, most of them related to Biblical interpretation.' This collection includes a wide variety of documents:
Paraphrases: Some texts "rewrote" portions of the Biblical narratives with interpretive and expansive paraphrases (e.g., the Genesis Apocryphon and the Temple Scroll).
Commentaries: Pesharim, annotations on the prophetic books and the Psalms, sought to interpret or explain Biblical texts.
Anthologies: These texts stitch together various Biblical passages on a particular theme—some-thing like a modern"topical Bible.
Original writings composed in a Biblical style: These documents use Biblical expressions, style and vocabulary to evoke the authority of Scripture. The Teacher of Righteousness the dominant leader of the Qumran community, believed that God had revealed all the mysteries of the prophetic writings to him. Biblical interpretation in Qumran reflected his understanding that the Scriptures were full of hidden references to his community and to its conflicts with other Jewish leaders and with the outside world. Some of the documents from Qumran suggest that the community perceived itself as authorized not only to provide inspired interpretations of the Scriptures but also to generate new inspired works on an equal footing with Scripture.
Interpretation at Qumran focused on the rules that governed the community and upon the prophetic interpretations that supported its ideals and hopes.
Early rabbinic Biblical interpretation was primarily concerned with Halakhah —the rules that governed daily life and religious practice. The demand for precise application of Biblical law among the Jews meant that Halakhah had to give guidance about what a person could eat or wear or what action was permissible under specific circumstances. As times and situations changed, new questions arose about what was allowable or required; thus interpretation was an ongoing task, resulting in a continuing process of refinements to previous legal judgments.
Those refinements took place in a dialogic fashion, as rabbis debated the proper application of Biblical texts and legal principles. In their deliberations they tended to cite or string together a series of verses on the basis of some similarity, such as the fact that each verse had a specific word in common. For example, rabbis might cite or associate several verses from different parts of the Bible that have in common the word grapes—even if the verses they cited had nothing to do with one another and used the word in radically different contexts. This strategy treated the Bible as a "hypertext" (a complex web of associations in which one could jump from one passage to another); such interpretation was like solving a puzzle whose pieces needed to be constantly turned, rotated and rearranged. The desired, ideal outcome: When the right combination of Biblical passages was placed side by side, they revealed the otherwise elusive meaning of the particular text under consideration.
The process was not altogether arbitrary. A series of rules was developed to control the interpretive process. The first seven of these were attributed to Hillel, a famous rabbi of the first century A.D. The two most important principles were the argument a fortiori (meaning that a principle that works in a lesser case should also apply to a more important one) and the principle of verbal analogy (meaning that two different passages sharing words in common can be used to interpret each other).
In Matthew 23 Jesus upbraided the scribes and Pharisees for establishing elaborate and meticulous rules that attended to fine points on less significant matters but that ignored weightier issues. He particularly rejected their tendency to focus on the lesser issue of external, ritual purity while ignoring the greater issue of the internal contamination of their hearts.
Josephus and the Fall of Jerusalem
MATTHEW 24 The Jewish historian Josephus is our primary source of information about the fall of Jerusalem. During the Jewish revolt of A.D. 66-70 Josephus began as a rebel leader, but midway he switched his allegiance to the Roman side of the conflict. He accompanied the Roman general Titus to the siege of Jerusalem and was thus an eyewitness of the harrowing events of the city's fall.
As the Romans slowly crushed the revolt in outlying areas, refugees flooded into Jerusalem for the climactic battle of the war. The Jews inside the city were torn by internal dissent, with various rebel groups vying for control. There was horrendous loss of life, and conditions worsened as spring of A.D.70.Titus's troops took the outer wall around May and captured the strategic Fortress of Antonia. The destruction of the temple was imminent, but many of the Jewish defenders likely believed that God would defend them and his temple at the last., Nonetheless, at the end of August the Romans successfully attacked the temple, setting fire to its gates and overwhelming its defenders. With the sanctuary fallen, the Jews lost hope, and carnage ensued.
Josephus described it thus:"No pity was shown on account of age or out of respect for anyone's dignity—children and elderly, laypeople and priests alike were slain.The battle surged ahead and surrounded everybody, including both those who begged for mercy and those who resisted. The flames spread out to a great distance and its noise mixed with the groans of the perishing; and such was the height of the ridge and the magnitude of the burning that one would have imagined the whole city was aflame" (Wars,6.5.1).Thus was Jesus' prophecy regarding the destruction of the temple fulfilled (Mt 24:2).
The Last Supper and the Passover
MATTHEW 26 Exodus 12 records the deaths of all firstborn males in Egypt, except for those born to Israelites whom God spared or "passed over" when the avenging angel saw the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. Passover is the annual festival commemorating God's miraculous deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage.' Every year thousands of first-century Jews would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate this holy day (the fourteenth day of the first month).2 The Passover celebration involved a sacrifice on behalf of each family present, followed by a sacrificial meal consisting of unleavened bread, bitter herbs and wine. The following day (the fifteenth) was the first day of the seven-day Festival of Unleavened Bread. During the eight days of these two festivals no one was permitted to eat bread with leaven; this was commemorative of the need to prepare to leave Egypt in haste at the time of the exodus (there being no time to wait for the dough to rise).
There has been a good deal of debate over whether the Last Supper of Jesus was a Passover meal. It certainly appears that Jesus understood it to be such (Mk 14:12-16; Lk 22:15).Arguments against it being a Passover meal include the following:
John 19:14 indicates that Jesus was crucified on the day of the preparation for the Passover; thus the previous evening could not have been that of the Passover.
The Passover is traditionally eaten with one's family, whereas the Last Supper was shared among a group of men, some of whom (such as Simon Peter) were married but who for the most part were unrelated to one another.
The Gospel accounts of the Last Supper do not mention the lamb or the bitter herbs of the Passover, nor do they use the normal Greek word for"unleavened bread,"speaking instead of ordinary bread.
Passover wine was consumed using individual cups, but the wine of the Last Supper was drunk from a common cup.
On the other hand, many elements associated with the Passover were present at the Last Supper:
The meal was consumed at night, which was the time for the celebration of Passover.
The drinking of wine was obligatory at Passover, and wine was central to the Last Supper.
During New Testament times Jews ordinarily sat when taking meals, but Jesus and the disciples habitually reclined while taking the Passover. At the Last Supper they reclined.
At Passover, a dish of hors d'oeuvres preceded the breaking of bread; such a dish is mentioned in Matthew 26:23.
A hymn was sung at Passover, as in verse 30.
Some of the arguments against the Last Supper having been a Passover meal probably indicate that Jesus was transforming the Passover and creating a new institution for the new covenant:
Jesus' taking the meal with his disciples implies that the church is the family of God (see Mk 3:31-34).
Jesus may well have used unleavened bread at the Last Supper, but the Evangelists may have used the ordinary word for bread to avoid the implication that it is essential that the Lord's Supper be taken with unleavened bread.
The lack of mention of a lamb is probably significant. Jesus was presenting himself as the sacrificial Lamb of the new covenant, and the mention of a literal lamb would have been a misleading distraction in the narrative.
The Location of Jesus' Tomb
MATTHEW 27 According to the New Testament, Jesus was buried in a new tomb hewn out of rock (Mt 27:60; Mk 15:46; Lk 23:53) in a garden near the crucifixion site (Jn 19:41), just outside the city (Jn 19:20; Heb 13:12).ln addition,the entrance was low and sealed with a stone (Mt 27:60; Mk 15:46; Jn 20:11), and on the right side it was possible to sit where the body of Jesus had lain (Mk 16:5; Jn 20:12). Based upon the Biblical description and upon other known first-century tombs, the tomb of Jesus can be reconstructed as having had a small forecourt, a low entry passage and a burial chamber with benches, or "couches," on three sides for the placement of the deceased.
There are two main contenders for the location of Jesus' tomb in the Old City of Jerusalem: the Garden Tomb, 275 yards (251 m) north of the Damascus Gate, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter.The Garden Tomb, however, has no authentic ancient tradition associated with it. It was suggested as the site of Jesus' burial after the renowned British military hero Charles Gordon, while visiting Jerusalem in 1883, suggested that Calvary would have been located on a nearby hill. His identification was based on a fanciful interpretation of ancient Jerusalem as being in the shape of a skeleton, with the skull (i.e.,Golgotha) positioned at a hill north of the Damascus Gate. This led to the identification of a tomb on the western side of the hill as Jesus' burial place, once referred to as Gordon's Tomb. Modern investigations of the Garden Tomb and others in the vicinity, however, indicate that they were part of a cemetery dating to the divided monarchy period rather than to the first century A.D.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre location,on the other hand, has a tradition going back to early Christian times. When the Roman emperor Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem in 130/131, he constructed a temple to Jupiter and Venus over the site of the present Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In v.0.325 Constantine ordered the removal of Hadrian's temple. Local Christian tradition had claimed this to be the site of Jesus' tomb, and, remarkably, when Hadrian's temple was cleared away, a tomb area was indeed discovered beneath it. Constantine had a church constructed on the site and built a small structure,oredicule, within the building to enclose the tomb itself. The present Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the continuation of Constantine's church.
In favor of the authenticity of this location is the fact that there was a continuous Christian presence in Jerusalem from Jesus' death until Constantine uncovered the tomb. This Christian community doubtless would have venerated the site of Jesus' burial, preserving the memory of the location of his tomb. Also, the site of the church was an old quarry during the time of Jesus, although at least part of it had been made into a garden (in 19:41).The fact that the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre had been a quarry implies that it was outside the walls of the city (it is today inside the Old City). This agrees with the fact that Jesus was crucified outside the walls. Within this area at least four tombs cut into the western rock face have been discovered, only one of which corresponds to the type in which Jesus was buried.
The church was destroyed in 614 and rebuilt in 626.The edicule was destroyed in 1009 by the Egyptian caliph al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah. Contemporary accounts suggest that the southern wall, the burial couch and part of the northern wall survived this destruction.The rebuilt edicule has suffered damage and neglect over the centuries since that time, so that today it is a hodgepodge of re-constructions and repairs. Although absolute certainty is impossible, the evidence points to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as being the actual site of Jesus' tomb.
The Resurrection of Jesus
MATTHEW 28 All four Gospels are clear in their teaching that Jesus arose bodily from the dead. They differ, however, in their accounts of the appearances of the risen Christ:
Matthew 28:9 — 10 notes an appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" (v.1) near the empty tomb,fol-lowed by a manifestation to the remaining 11 disciples in Galilee (vv. 16 — 17).
The most ancient manuscripts of Mark, meanwhile, do not feature an account of the appearance of the risen Christ,although an angel assured the women at the tomb that the disciples would see him in Galilee.
Luke's narrative focuses on the vicinity of Jerusalem, with Jesus revealing himself to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and later to larger groups of his followers in Jerusalem and Bethany.
John features an appearance to Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb, two appearances (perhaps in Jerusalem) to the disciples—once with Thomas absent and once with this disciple present—and an appearance by the Sea of Galilee to a number of disciples who were fishing.
Are these accounts in conflict, as some scholars have suggested? Most of them are left without specific time references, so there is no need to posit any chronological problems with the texts. Luke, however, has been understood to indicate that all of the resurrection appearances and the ascension to heaven happened on the same day, namely Easter Sunday, leaving no room for the manifestations recorded in Matthew and John. But is this really an insurmountable problem?
Luke was clearly interested in the Jerusalem appearances as a transition from his Gospel to the book of Acts. But while the appearances to the Emmaus travelers and to the rest of the disciples must have taken place on Easter Sunday (cf. Lk 24:13 with vv. 33,36), there is room for a chronological break either after Luke 24:43 (i.e.,Jesus ate with the disciples, some undetermined time period ensued and then he spoke the words beginning in v. 44) or after verse 49 (i.e., Jesus met with the disciples and sometime later met them again in Jerusalem, led them to Bethany and ascended to heaven).
Like many ancient writers,, Luke was not concerned about giving an exhaustive, chronological account in his Gospel. It is difficult to imagine that he was unaware of traditions concerning Jesus' appearances in Galilee, and we have no reason to suspect that he would have rejected them. It would 4 appear that he simply wished to move his readers as smoothly as possible from his Gospel to the accounts in Acts and that he carefully selected from among the post resurrection appearances of Jesus those centered in the Jerusalem area.
The Soldiers Guarding the Tomb
MATTHEW 28 Only Matthew mentions that soldiers guarded the tomb of Jesus., Matthew 27:62-66 records that the chief priests and Pharisees recalled Jesus' own prediction that he would rise again, and they cited their fear that the disciples might steal his body to support their request for an authorized guard. Pilate's reply in 27:65 liter-ally means "You have a guard," and on this basis some have surmised that the guard in question was the temple guard under the high priest's own jurisdiction. However, the language of 28:14 precludes this possibility and requires a Roman guard under Pilate's direct control. Moreover, it is unclear why the chief priests and Pharisees would have requested permission for a guard that they themselves could have directed. Thus, the phrase of 27:65 should probably be rendered as"Take a guard" (as in the Niv)., The tomb of Jesus was already sealed by a large stone (27:60),which was then prob-ably affixed with an official seal that, if broken, would have attested to the opening of the tomb (cf.Da 6:17).4 Matthew 28:11-15 records that some of the guards reported the things they had seen and were bribed into circulating a false report about their own negligence and the theft of Jesus' body. The ensuing rumor is assumed in John 20:2, 15 and alp-. pears later in Justin Martyr's second-century Dialogue With Trypho (108:2).
The Roman concern for safeguarding tombs is reflected in an imperial inscription bearing the title Diatagma Kaisaros, acquired at Nazareth during the nineteenth century. The marble slab, containing 21 lines of Greek text, dates from between 50 B.C. and A.D. 50. The text attests to the sanctity of tombs and threatens with capital punishment any who would defile a tomb by removing the body. Scholars have considered the possibility that, in light of the disturbances between Jews and early Christians over what happened to the body of Jesus, the Diatagma Kaisaros may reflect an early Roman response. Although the present state of research does not allow for absolute certainty, the presence of this authentic decree lends historical credibility to Matthew's account.