Thursday, December 29, 2016


I have long thought that a Jewish annotated New Testament, or at least for the Gospels, is badly needed. What is currently out there does not measure up. After all, the historical context for these texts is ancient Jewish society. The Gospel authors took it for granted that their audience would know certain things, or if they did not assume this, they were still writing from a base of knowledge. It is exceptionally enlightening to see what they knew, even if they did not spell it out. Here are just a few suggestions for these annotations.

Jesus/Joshua – His name is obviously one thing we need reminding about. It was Yehoshua in Hebrew and this had become shortened to Yeshua in his time. It was a common name. “Jesus is coming to town” did not have any special ring to it. It was like saying “Joe is coming to town.” To his contemporaries, this would have caused people to say “Who is Joe?” or “Which Joe are you talking about?” The name Jesus has a lot of assumptions built into it, which falsify history. “Did Jesus threaten the Temple?” is a biased question because the answer is already in the name Jesus. “Did Joshua threaten the Temple?” allows for clearer thinking.

Mark14:63 –The high priest tears his robes – Josephus gives a couple examples of the high priest doing this and/or pouring ashes over his head. These were acts of mourning and they were used to persuade someone in an argument. They were not acts of condemnation. It is just one sign that Jewish leaders were not putting Jesus on trial. Something a lot more informal and friendly was going on.

Mark 14:59 – Their testimony did not agree; and in preceding verses, false witness is mentioned – This seems to be a reference to a Jewish trial rule that if witness testimony conflicted, this evidence should be dismissed. This would provide an opportunity to discuss the Mishnah trial rules. Perhaps not all were in effect in the 1st century, but at least some of them were. They were profoundly humane rules, many of them favoring the defendant, and none of them (except this one on testimony not agreeing) have anything to do with this meeting between Jesus and Jewish leaders. It is another sign that this was an informal meeting and not a trial.

Matt 5:9 –Blessed are the peacemakers – A note on this verse should provide information on how important peace was to Jews, especially to the Pharisees. In Jewish folklore, Aaron, brother of Moses, had the reputation of being a peacemaker. Shemaiah and Avtalyon, two Pharisaic teachers, who preceded Hillel, spoke about peace as a supreme Jewish value. These are the things that would have been going through the minds of the audience members when Jesus was speaking.

Matt 20:16 –The first and the last – I found a similar saying in rabbinic literature, only the rabbi spoke of the near and the far. Every verse in the Gospels which has a rabbinic counterpart should be noted. Only by such means can Jesus’s full Jewishness be appreciated. The reason why no one has explored all this is that they are afraid Jesus will become too Jewish, as if being Jewish were an inferior way of being. I have sometimes found people are very disturbed to hear that Jesus spoke about chutzpah, which was an Aramaic word (it was adopted into Yiddish from Aramaic). The Gospels are richer with Jewishness than anyone realizes.

© 2016 Leon Zitzer

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?