Yeshua’s Youth

Yeshua grew up in a devout Jewish family in the strongly religious region of Galilee.

Read Luke 2:40-52

At the beginning of Archelaus’ reign over Judea he was faced with sedition by some of the Pharisees, incensed at a despised Samaritan ruling over them, and crushed it with great severity.  This incited increasing anger and hatred among the general population, strengthening the hand of Bet Shammai and reinforcing their fear of all those associated with Rome.

Life in Galilee…

It was in the district of Galilee, under the Tetrarch Herod Antipas, that Yeshua grew up among this strongly religious and culturally conservative rural Jewish population. The name “Galilee” comes from the Hebrew word galil which means “circle” or “region”. The region of Galilee in the first century CE was encircled by Syro-Phoenicia stretching along the eastern Mediterranean coastline and northwards, by Gaulanitis to the north-east, by the Hellenistic settlements of Decapolis to the south-east, and by Samaria to the south which separated Galilee geographically from Judea.

Even though Galilee was encircled by Greek-speaking pagan cities, Scythopolis, Hippos, Caesarea, Philippi and Kadesh, and was under the authority of Greek-speaking rulers, most Galileans spoke Aramaic, or possibly Hebrew. Archaeologists have found only a few Greek inscriptions in the villages of upper Galilee, most being Aramaic/Hebrew, and there is little clear evidence Greek was spoken in the villages of lower Galilee. In first-century Galilee, Greek was mainly the language of those with political and administrative power. The evidence shows that it only made serious inroads in the second century CE, while Latin is virtually unattested in the region. In general, it seems that first-century Galilee was not as Hellenised as Judea, possibly because most Galileans were rural dwellers.

Herod the Great’s building programs had not reached into this area and it was without the Greco-Roman architecture prominent in other districts.  His son, Herod Antipas, focused on building up this district. He was not as cruel or capricious as his father or elder brother. He was an able leader and sought the good will of the Galileans so did not antagonise their sensibilities by building ostensibly Hellenistic or Roman structures. Antipas’ reign brought a period of peace and calm with no significant violent conflicts recorded between him and his subjects.  He completely rebuilt the city of Sepphoris, only 4 miles from Nazareth, where Yeshua grew up, and made it his capitol.  Galilee, however, remained without the common icons of Greco-Roman culture: no amphitheatre, no gymnasium, no stadium and no nymphaeum (large, elaborately decorated fountain).  The only public buildings were the synagogues.  Yet, while not forcing Hellenism on the independent and deeply religious Galileans, Antipas showed little interest in adopting their personal piety or living according to Torah


Jews were the only people in the ancient world who made educating your children a religious requirement.

Galilee surpassed even Judea in its schools of learning, and most of the famous rabbis of Yeshua’s day were from Galilee (Johnanan ben Zakkai, Hanina ben Doda, Abba Yose Holikufri, Zadok, Halaphta, and Hananian ben Teradyon).   Yet socially Galileans were considered simple rural folk who spoke a backward dialect.   Yeshua’s education in Judaism, like that of all children of pious Jewish families, began at home as a way of life, every aspect of which was governed by Torah and the increasing regulations that the Pharisees were adding to it.  At five years of age Yeshua would have joined the Bet Sefer (House of the Book) in the local synagogue, to begin his formal studies.  There the young children learned to read, write and memorise the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) over the next five years.  It is contested whether girls also attended the Bet Sefer.  (1) (2) 

And the child grew and became strong; He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.    Luke 2:40 NIV

Schooling in 1st Century Judaism

All Jewish boys attended two levels of schooling in their local synagogue.  From ages 5 – 9 they attended Beit Sefer (House of the Book) and from 10 – 14yo they attended ‘Beit-Talmud’ (House of Learning).   Very different teaching styles were used for the two different age groups.

On the first day of Beit Sefer the teacher asked each student to lift up their slate. Then he put some honey on each slate. He then asked the children to lick off the honey from their slate. While they did, the teacher quoted from Psalm 119:103 “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! [yea, sweeter] than honey to my mouth!   The teacher or scribe read from the Torah in Hebrew, and when needed an interpreter, known as the meturganim (one skilled in languages), then shouted the scripture back in Aramaic so the children could repeat it in their spoken tongue.   Scripture was often chanted musically to help with memorisation.  The expression “the chirping of children” referred to what people heard when walking past the synagogue as the children were reciting their verses in song.  In eastern education repetition was the key to learning and these early years of schooling involved continual repetition as the words of the scripture had to be firmly implanted before the meaning could be explored.   Lessons took place every day of the week, including Shabbat (Sabbath –ie from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday), the difference being that no new material was presented on this day, they just repeated what they had been learning through the week.  As it was the Pharisees who had a passion for all the boys of the Jewish masses to be educated in Torah, they were the ones who organised and ran these Synagogue schools throughout Israel and the diaspora.

The next stage of Jewish education was ‘Beit-Talmud’ (House of Learning) for boys aged 10-14.  At home they were also learning their father’s trade during this time. In ‘Beit-Talmud’ Yeshua and his classmates memorised the rest of the Tanakh ( תַּנַ״ךְ, Hebrew Bible) and learnt the art of rhetorical debating of questions and answers, as they also begun studying the Mishna (Oral Law) and interpretations.  Instead of giving a rote answer that was simply learned as knowledge, the young Hebrew pre-teen had to give thought to the question and then answered the question with another question.  (3) (4) (5)

It was this training that prepared Yeshua for his visit to the temple for the “fulfilling of the commandments”when he was 12 years old.  After the destruction of the second temple in 70 A.D. this was replaced in Jewish culture with what we know today, the Bar Mitzvah – a formal ceremony where a Jewish boy, at the age of 13, transforms from a boy into a man, having the full religious rites and responsibilities of an adult male.   (6) (7) 

12yo Yeshua in the Temple…

His parents went every year to Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover. Luke 2:41-45 HNV

A pilgrimage from the Galilee to the Temple in Jerusalem was so expensive and time-consuming that many pious Jews did not make it every year, some only once in a lifetime.  Although Exodus 23:17, 34:23 and Deut 16:6 all command every Jewish male to appear before the Lord three times a year – for the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) and the Feast of Booths (Sukkot), schools of Pharisees had re-interpreted the scriptures to mean that pilgrimage was associated with these festivals and ruled that “to appear” meant instead that when one made a pilgrimage they were to bring an “appearance” sacrifice to the Temple and not come empty handed (Mishnah, Hagigah 1:6)  (8) (9).    Joseph and Mary were both exceptionally devout in making this long pilgrimage every year, and it appears that they took the scriptures much more literally than the ‘sages’ of their day whose rulings are recorded in the Mishnah.

When he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast and when they had fulfilled the days, as they were returning, the boy Yeshua stayed behind in Jerusalem. Joseph and his mother didn’t know it, but supposing him to be in the company, they went a day’s journey, and they looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances. When they didn’t find him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for him.      Luke 2:42-45 HNV

As Matthew 1:25 records, Joseph had no union with Mary until she gave birth to Yeshua.  Once Mary had gone through her ritual purification from childbirth and the associated bleeding, she and Joseph fulfilled the final part of their nissuin (wedding) – the consummation of their marriage.  From this point on they continued to fulfil the Biblical command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28).  Scripture describes Yeshua as having four brothers – James, Joseph (Joses), Jude and Simon – and some sisters (Matthew 12:46-50 & 13:55-56; Mark 3:31 & 6:3; Luke 8:19; John 2:12 & 7:3; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; and Galatians 1:19).  It is possible that His family travelling to Jerusalem for this special occasion included up to six younger siblings on this occasion.  For Mary and Joseph to be focused on the care of the younger, more vulnerable, ones as they started travelling back home and assumed that the eldest was with the wider group of their relatives and neighbours would not have been unusual.  They had undertaken this journey for the last 12 years and Yeshua had never given them any cause for concern before.

It happened after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the rabbis, both listening to them, and asking them questions.  All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:46-47 HNV

There is intriguing speculation that Yeshua may have been talking with Hillel and/or Shammai during these three days in the temple, but it is more likely that it was with younger rabbis who had been trained by them.   They were clearly engaging in the rhetorical debate in which every Jewish boy was trained.   What was remarkable in these exchanges was not that Yeshua engaged in such debate, but the depth of understanding he demonstrated with the questions that he answered them with.  Also of note was that such discussions were more important to him, as a 12 year old, than all the attractions a large city like Jerusalem would have for a boy from rural Galilee.  When his parents eventually found him Yeshua’s response to his mother carried a strong sense of identity and divine mission even at this age:

He said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”    Luke 2:49 HNV

Most Jewish young men continued working in their father’s trade to help support their family after their “fulfilling of the commandments” in Jerusalem. 

Tertiary Education in 1st Century Judaism

Only the most gifted scholars went on to ‘Beit Midrash’ (House of Study) after reaching 13-15 years of age, in order to train to become a scribe or rabbi.    To do so the young man needed to find a rabbi that he respected and request to become his תלמידם – talmid (disciple).  Rabbis did not usually go and seek out their own talmidim (disciples); they were few in numbers and their prestige and honour was such that ambitious young men came to them requesting admittance into their Beit Midrash.  It was important that the talmid follow the teachings of their particular rabbi because each rabbi carried different interpretations of the Tanakh ( תַּנַ״ךְ, Hebrew Bible) and Mishna (Oral Law).  If a rabbi thought that the prospective talmid was worthy of consideration, he would quiz him to see how committed he was, how well he knew the Tanakh and Mishna and how well he was able to put it to debate in line with the interpretations of that particular rabbi.  The testing was gruelling. Critical thinking and the art of answering questions with questions were heavily engaged.  

If the young man passed, and the rabbi thought he had it in him to become a scribe or a rabbi like himself, he was then told to “take my yoke upon you.”  Those were the words that every Jewish young man ambitious to enter into the Beth-Midrash longed to hear.  He was now accepted into higher education. To take his rabbi’s yoke meant the talmid (disciple) was willing to take on that rabbi’s interpretation of the Torah as his own, become his student in all aspects of life, and do all the work that was required ahead of him in learning how to live the Torah in the exact same way that his rabbi lived it. The young man was then obliged to leave his father, mother, synagogue, community, and family business to devote his life to following his rabbi – everywhere. Rabbis demanded honours of first rank, even surpassing those bestowed on parents.  If the rabbi travelled, his talmadim (disciples) travelled with him. Every detail of the rabbi’s life was copied, including his walk, talk, and mannerisms. The rabbi’s job was to teach his students along the way, testing them continuously, to become just like himself.  There is a prayer that comes from the Mishnah that says: “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi,” meaning you followed your rabbi so closely that you get covered with the dust his sandals flung up as he walked, which was considered a great honour.  

Although we cannot categorically say that He did not, there is no evidence that Yeshua took this next step of formal education, even though His performance in the temple proved that He was eminently qualified to do so in terms of ability.   Yeshua may have felt that to commit to taking another rabbi’s yolk (interpretations) upon Himself as His own was not compatible with His mission of bringing a distinctly heavenly perspective to Torah.   There may also have been more earthly considerations.  We know from scripture that Yeshua had at least six siblings, all younger than himself.  The evidence of scripture also suggests that Mary’s husband, Joseph, had died before Yeshua began his ministry.  If Joseph died while Yeshua was a teenager, then as the oldest son He would have taken responsibility for His mother and younger siblings, providing for them until the youngest had finished their education and was able to provide for themselves, and then ensuring that His mother would have her needs cared for before He left to begin His ministry.   Doing this as His first priority, in honouring His father and mother, could have meant that Yeshua aged out of being eligible to study with a rabbi before he was relieved of this family responsibility.  What would have been considered in that society as unfortunate for a talented young man like Yeshua was in actuality part of the Father’s perfect plan for the Son to live and teach His own, and not another rabbi’s, interpretation of the scriptures. (4) (10)

Yeshua’s later teaching supports this:

And He said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commandments of God in order to observe your own traditions!  For Moses said, “Honour your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’  But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is ‘Corban’ (that is, devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother.  Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”     Mark 7:9-13a NIV

Anti-Semitism and Hellenization …

There were many other currents in the surrounding society as Yeshua was growing up.  Anti-Semitism and Hellenization were clashing with traditional Judaism and the proselytization of their heathen neighbours even while the two dominant schools within pharisaic Judaism were engaged in increasingly bitter conflict with one another.  All of these were shaping the world that He was preparing to minister to.   

Anti-Semitism in the 1st Century

Anti-Semitism already had deep roots in the prevailing Greeco-Roman culture. History wars were continuing between Jews and Egyptians while culture wars raged between religious Jews and Hellenists. The political and philosophical concern for tolerance, sociability and co-operative citizenship was a central feature of the Hellenistic era as the founding of new cities, the new mobility of populations, and the cultural mixing among the civic elite created new ‘virtues’ and their corresponding vices.  Thus the Jewish virtue of remaining faithful to their God and culture, preserving themselves as a distinct people, was to Hellenistic thinking a terrible vice which Plato had designated as a sign of feral character.  The dominant culture of the time demanded mutual acceptance and respect for others’ gods and customs, along with reciprocal hospitality. These were considered the fundamental social virtues supported by the Stoic notions of a universal humanity.  They lay in stark contrast to the Pharisees’ Essenes’, Hasidim’s or Zealot’s way of life and teachings about the need to be separate from the gentiles, to worship only Yahweh as God, observe the Jewish dietary laws, refrain from participating in other’s religious practices and keep pure from intermarriage.  By Roman times the worst vice and most unpardonable sin in the eyes of the dominant culture was that committed by the Jews, wherever they were found throughout the empire, of social aloofness and failure to integrate into the pagan civic life of the rest of the population.  The Jews thus became the antitype of the values of tolerance and social reciprocity considered in Hellenism as necessary for the well-being of civilization as a whole. (11) (12)

Apion (25 BC – 48 AD), a Hellenized Egyptian grammarian, sophist, and commentator on Homer, rose to prominence in Alexandria.  He was renowned for his exceptional oratory skills, his vast knowledge, his ostentatious vanity and his bitter hatred for the Jews.  Apion was consciously part of a Graeco-Roman anti-Jewish intellectual tradition that had included Manetho, Posidonius, Apollonius Molon, Cicero, Horace, Hecataeus, Chaeremon, Lysimachus and Tacitus. Over the centuries a set of standard charges had been developed to lay at the door of the Jews.  These included that their ancestors were lowly, leprous and diseased slaves who ate animals that represented the gods and thus angered them, causing the Egyptians to drive them out of their country.  Jews were depicted as carriers of disease, physically, intellectually and culturally inferior, antisocial, and as atheists who denied the gods.  Circumcision was a constant subject for coarse jokes. Sabbath-observance described as an indulgence in idleness, only the upper classes of other peoples had any such indulgence.  Also causing particular angst with their neighbours was the Jewish attitude of superiority, social separation from non-Jews, rejection of all the pagan religions, proselytization and efforts to replace Greek and Roman laws with Jewish ones.   Apion was a master at inciting hatred for ‘the other’ and worked to rouse the fanaticism of the populace against the Jews by coming up with additional charges against them.  “Every year”, he said, “it was the practice of the Jews to get hold of some unfortunate Hellene, fatten him for the year and then to sacrifice him, partaking of his entrails and burying his body, while during these horrible rites they took a fearful oath of perpetual enmity to all other peoples”.   Under such influence the educated Roman regarded the Jew with a mixture of contempt and hatred, bitter that this despised race confronted him everywhere, with a religion so uncompromising as to form a wall of separation, and with rites so exclusive as to make them not only strangers but enemies. Yet still Romans were turning to Judaism in increasing numbers, even among the elites, and this aroused even greater fear and suspicion among the populist masses.  Apion’s orations roused the citizens of Alexandria to riot against the Jews, attacking individuals, homes and businesses. (13) (14) (15) (16) (11)

Philo Judaeus (25 BCE – 50 CE), a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher from one of the leading Jewish families in Alexander, also rose to prominence at this time.   When Apion led a delegation from Alexander to disparage the Jews to Caesar it was Philo who led the Jewish delegation to clear their name and seek Roman protection from the riots incited against them.  Philo is considered the epitome of how intellectual Jews of the Dispersion, isolated from Palestine and their native culture, allowed Hellenistic influences to shape their theology and philosophy.  He tried to fuse and harmonize ancient Greek philosophy and Judaism, using a composite of Jewish exegesis and the art of allegory he had learned from Stoic philosophy. Philo was thoroughly educated in Greek philosophy and culture with a superb knowledge of classical Greek literature. He had a deep reverence for Plato and referred to him as “the most holy Plato” (Prob.13). Philo’s philosophy represented contemporary Platonism which was its revised version incorporating Stoic doctrine and terminology, as well as elements of Aristotelian logic and ethics and Pythagorean ideas.  Philo put forward the teachings of Moses, as “the summit of philosophy” (Op. 8), and followed the earlier Hellenistic Jewish tradition of considering Moses to be the teacher of Pythagoras and of all Greek philosophers and lawgivers. For Philo, Greek philosophy was a natural development of the revelatory teachings of Moses.  

Philo attempted to achieve a twofold purpose through his writings:

  1. He endeavoured to justify the Jewish religion to the cultured people of Greco-Roman society. In view of the deterioration of pagan society and religion, he had a splendid opportunity to portray the Jewish faith as fulfilling ‘the desire of all nations.’
  2. He tried to show and persuade his strict coreligionists that Greek philosophy and learning were not actually hostile and opposed to the tenets of the Hebrew religion but that each stood for practically identical principles.

Philo thus adopted an eclectic viewpoint, one in which he blended the theological concepts of the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures) with Greek philosophical principles.   .   (17) (18) (19) (20)

Middot – Hillel’s Seven Rules for Biblical Interpretation

Such synthesis of scripture and Greek philosophy was abhorred in Judea.  The Tanakh was to be interpreted with reference to itself and the thinking of the great Jewish sages, not to Greek philosophy.  Hillel (60 BC – 10-20 AD?) established seven rules of biblical interpretation called middot (measures / norms). These rules aim at moving from peshat (literal sense) to remez (legally binding principle) for applying Torah to everyday live.  They were exemplified in the Tenach (Hebrew Scriptures) and, being the ‘norm’ for scriptural interpretation in Israel during NT times were used by both Yeshua and the NT writers. They did not, however, ensure unanimity of interpretation.  Hillel’s Seven Rules were:
1. Kal vachomer” (light and heavy / minor and major).  What applies to a less important case will certainly apply in a more important case.  A kal vahomer argument is often, but not always, signalled by a phrase like “how much more…”  Tenach examples include: Prov. 11:31, Jeremiah 12:5a, Jer. 12:5b, Deut. 31:27, 1 Sam. 23:3, Ezekiel 15:5 & Esther 9:12.  Examples of Yeshua’s use include: Mt. 6:26,30, Lk 11:13, Mt. 12:11-12, Jn 7:23, Mt. 10:25, Jn 15:18-20 and Jn 7:23.   Shaul (Paul) studied under Hillel’s grandson, Gamilel, and also frequently used kal vahomer (eg. Rom. 5:8-9, 10, 15, 17; 11:12, 24; 1Cor. 9:11-12, 12:22; 2Cor. 3:7-9, 11; Philippians 2:12; Philemon 1:16; Heb. 2:2-3; 9:13-14; 10:28-29; 12:9, 25.)  
2. Gezerah shavah” (equivalence of expressions).  If the same word occurs in two Biblical passages, then the law applying in the one should be applied to the other.  Tenakh example: By comparing 1 Samuel 1:10 to Judges 13:5 using the phrase “no razor shall touch his head” we may conclude that Samuel, like Samson, was a nazarite. This found far less use in the NT.  We have the opening of Mark’s gospel where he links Malachi (3:1) and Isaiah (40:3) through the shared term “way” (1:2-3) and Mat. 15:1-9 where Yeshua links Exo 20:12 & 21:17 about honouring father and mother.

3. Binyan ab mikathub echad” (building up a “family” from a single text). One explicit passage is used as a foundation or starting point so as to constitute a rule for all similar passages or cases.

4. Binyab ab mishene kethubim” (building up a “family” from two or more texts). A principle is established by relating two texts together: The principle can then be applied to other passages.  The writer of Hebrews uses these two in establishing principles for blood and showing the Messiah to be of a higher order than angels.

5. Kelal uferat” (the general and the specific).  A general principle may be restricted by a particularization of it in another verse – or, conversely, a particular rule may be extended into a general principle. A Tenach example: Genesis 1:27 makes the general statement that God created man. Genesis 2:7, 21 particularizes this by giving the details of the creation of Adam and Chava (Eve).
6. Kayotze bo mimekom akhar” (analogy made from another passage).  Two passages may seem to conflict until a third resolves the conflict. Examples from the Tenach: Lev 1:1 & Ex. 25:22 resolved by Num. 7:89; 2Sam. 24:9 & 1Chr. 21:5 resolved by 1Chr. 27:1.  In Romans Shaul (Paul) uses Gen. 15:6 to resolve Ps. 62:12 & Ps. 32:1-2.

7. Davar hilmad me’anino” (explanation obtained from context). The total context, not just the isolated statement must be considered for an accurate exegesis.

The men who penned the Brit Chadasha (New Testament) participated in the Hebraic thought pattern of the sages and rabbis of their time period in interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures.   From Hillel’s rules for interpretation we can see three fundamental principles in Torah hermeneutics: logic, analogy and comparison.  These were the underpinnings of all Tenach interpretation by the Jewish sages and Torah scholars, including Yeshua and the NT writers.  In contrast, Hellenistic thinking reduced everything to logical interpretation alone and so lost much of the richness of the Hebraic way of thinking and Torah understanding. (21) (22) (23) (24) (25) (26) (27)

Jewish evangelism …

This was also a time of Jewish proselytization.   The prophets during the exile had brought a greater emphasis on the reality that God is not just a tribal God of the Israelite nation but a universal God of all humanity.   With this emphasis on Judaism as a universal faith, formal proselytization developed, especially through the dominant Pharisaic school, Bet Hillel.  Jewish teachings and ways exerted a fascination among both the aristocracy and the common people of the Roman Empire and their proselytization was so successful that ten percent of the population became Jewish. (28)

Change in Leadership Over Judea…

After ruling for 10 years with a brutality rivalling that of his father, but without his father’s nation-building capacity, Archelaus was removed by the emperor Augustus in 6 A.D. and replaced by a Roman Prefect.  Ananias, son of Seth, was appointed by the Roman legate Quirinius as the first High Priest of the newly formed Roman province of Judaea that same year.  Ananias officially served as High Priest for ten years (6–15 CE), when at the age of 36 he was deposed by the procurator Gratus.  He remained as one of the nation’s most influential political and social individuals, aided greatly by the use of his five sons and his son-in-law Caiaphas as High Priests.  There are Talmudic references to the unworthiness of the High Priests during this period. (29) (30) (31)

Origins of Tax Collectors…

After the banishment of Archelaus, the Roman procurator, Coponius, attempted to directly tax the Jews and ordered a strict census for that purpose. B oth major pharisaic schools, Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai protested. They stigmatised the new measure as being so outrageous as to justify all schemes by which it might be evaded.   Both schools also promoted abhorrence of every Jew who was officially concerned in carrying it out – even their testimony before any Jewish court was deemed worthless.

Hatred of “the other”…

In this atmosphere of heightened discontent with Roman rule Judas of Galilee (son of Hezekiah whom Herod had executed) and Zadok, of the Shammai school, united in forging the Zealots into a significant political league whose objective was to oppose by every means the practice of Roman laws and exercise of Roman governance.  ‘Hatred of the other’, primarily directed at the Romans but broadened to include all Gentiles, gained the ascendency and with it Bet Shammai gained political ascendency over Bet Hillel.  Viewed through this lens, anyone who fraternized with Gentiles was compromising the purity of God’s people, corrupting the holy Torah and unworthy of any respect.   An incident is recorded of Hillel going up to the temple to offer a burnt offering and being accosted by several students of Shammai.   Rather than risk confrontation in the very Temple courtyard, Hillel offered a lie that they accepted and moved off (b.Betazh 20a).  These two houses of Pharisees grew so bitterly opposed to each other that even in public worship they would no longer unite under one roof. (32)

The Eighteen Articles and a Violent Shift of Power within the Pharisees

In order to build a sufficient fence around the Torah to maintain Jewish purity the Shammaites and Zealots proposed a more strict interpretation of the laws of purity and association.  Known as “The Eighteen Articles”, these measures included prohibiting the Jews from buying any article of food or drink from their heathen neighbours.  The Shammaites placed such significance of ritual purification of the hands before eating, after the manner of the priest’s purification before serving at the altar, that one who ate bread without engaging in this ritual washing of his hands was considered “as if he had sexual relations with a whore”.  It needs to be understood that for the Jews ritual purification was not about washing dirt off but was an additional ritual washing after the hands, or item, were physically clean in order to demonstrate one’s spiritual purity.  Another example of adding more stringent articles to the rules of ritual purity related to objects which had become ritually unclean.  Now even melting metal objects down and using the molten metal to make new objects was deemed to be insufficient to remove their ritual uncleanliness if they had been forged by a gentile. 

The Hillelites were not in agreement with such sharply defined exclusiveness or such rigidly applied ritual purity laws that would have the effect of splintering the people even more than they already were, to the point where even a Pharisees could not eat with other Pharisees.   They could see the detrimental economic effects of such trade restrictions and also the difficulties such would pose for continuing their proselytizing of the Gentiles if all contact with them was prohibited.

The Sanhedrin was basically a democratic body, so with both the Sadducees and the Hillelites against their new measures there was little chance of the Shammaites and Zealots getting them passed into Jewish law as things stood.   Eleazar ben Ananias conceived a plot to change the way things stood.  He invited the disciples of both schools of Pharisees (Hillel & Shammai) to meet at his house. Armed men were stationed at the door, and instructed to permit everyone to enter, but no one to leave. During the discussions that were carried on under these circumstances, many Hillelites are said to have been killed with swords and spears; and there and then the remainder adopted the Shammaites’ Eighteen Articles.  On account of the violence which attended those enactments, and because of the radicalism of the enactments themselves, the day on which the Shammaites thus triumphed over the Hillelites was later regarded as a day of misfortune (Tosef., Shab. i. 16 et seq.; Shab. 13a, 17a; Yer. Shab. i. 3c). 

Many of the measures had been repealed by the time Rabbi Judah HaNasi penned the Mishnah, but while the Shammaites retained the ascendancy (which now lasted until after the destruction of the second temple) these measures remained fixed in the Jewish law. It was now unlawful for the Jew even ‘to keep company, or come unto one of another nation.’  To quarrel with this was to find fault with “the law” and the religion which made one a Jew. 

With this increasing polarisation of society the radical centre of Bet Hillel had shrunk from a broad way that carried most of the people to an endangered narrow path, under threat from both Romans and Zealots.  When Hillel died, sometime between 10 and 20 AD, the leadership of Bet Hillel passed to his son, but the leadership of the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin was now firmly in the hands of the stringent separatist Shammai. (33) (34)

New Capital for Galilee…

In 18 AD, Antipas built the city of Tiberias to replace Sepphoris as his capital. He named it to honour the Roman Emperor who was his close friend and patron. The urban cities built by Antipas were cosmopolitan and opulent, and quite unlike the traditional towns of Galilee. Furthermore, the city of Tiberias had been built over a cemetery making it “unclean” for Jews.   Interestingly, the gospels never recount that Yeshua, a devout Jew, travelled to either Tiberias or Sepphoris, even though Sepphoris is only a few kilometres, and even visible, from the village of Nazareth where he spent his childhood. (1)

The stage was now set for this much needed reform to begin.  A reform that would be, as the Gospel of Matthew keeps reminding us, a fulfilling of God’s purposes for Israel.

Reference List

1. Galilee in the First Century CE. New Life. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
2. Chancey, Mark A. How Jewish Was Jesus’ Galilee? s.l. : Biblical Archaelogy Society, 2008.
3. Stolebarger, Dan. Discipleship vs. Talmidim. Koinonia House. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
4. Erickson, Joyce A. 2-Jesus as Rabbi-Jewish Roots. The Online Bible School. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
5. Bivin, Roy B. Blizzard and David. Study Shows Jesus as Rabbi. Bible Scholars. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
6. Rabbi and Talmidim. That the World May Know. [Online] [Cited: 18th Sept. 2016.] .
7. Bivin, Roy B. Blizzard and David. Study Shows Jesus as Rabbi. Bible Scholars – Question the Answers. [Online] May 2013. [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
8. Safrai, Shmuel. Pilgrimage in the Time of Jesus. Jerusalem Perspective. [Online] Sept/Oct 1989. [Cited: 3rd November 2019.]
9. Safrai, Chana. Jesus’ Devout Jewish Parents and their Child Prodigy. Jerusalem Perspective. [Online] [Cited: 3rd November 2019.]
10. Andrews, Samuel James. How Many Brothers and Sisters Did Jesus Have – The Life of our Lord on Earth. [Online] [Cited: 5th Aug 2019.]
11. Armin Lange, K.F.Diethard Römheld, Matthias Weigold. Judaism and Crisis: Crisis as a Catalyst in Jewish Cultural History. Oakville : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011.
12. Barclay, John M. G. Pauline Churches and Diaspora Jews.
13. Radl, Karl. Apion of Alexandria on the Jews (Part I). Semitic Controversies A Daily Blog About Jews and Judaism. [Online] 2nd Oct. 2012. [Cited: 2nd Oct. 2016.]
14. Kohler, Kaufmann. APION. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 2nd Oct. 2016.]
15. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Ml: : Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1886.
16. Emmanuel Kwaku Akyeampong, Henry Louis Gates. Dictionary of African Biography, Volume 6. New Tork : Oxford University Press, 2012.
17. Hillar, Marian. Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C.E.—40 C.E.). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [Online] Center for Philosophy and Socinian Studies. [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
18. Kirby, Peter. Philo of Alexandria. Early Jewish Writings. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
19. Mastin, Luke. By Individual Philosopher >Philo of Alexandria. The Basics of Philosophy. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
20. Nash, Ronald. Was the New Testament Influenced by Philo? CRI. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
21. DelHousaye, John. Hillel’s Seven Rules of Interpretation. Academia. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
22. Louis Jacobs, David Derovan. HERMENEUTICS. Jewish Virtual Librry. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
23. What are the seven middoth (Hillel’s rules for interpretation)? Biblical Hermeneutics. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
24. The Seven Rules of Hillel, and the Thirteen Rules of Ishmael. Upper Biblical Studies for All. [Online] 6th Dec. 2013. [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
25. Chapter 10: Hillel’s Seven Principles of Bible Interpretation. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
26. Trimm, Dr. James. The Seven Rules of Hillel. Nazarene Space. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
27. Trimm, James. HHMI Newsgroup Archives. Hebraic Heritage Ministries International. [Online] 2011. [Cited: 3rd Oct. 2016.]
28. Apple, Rabbi Dr Raymond. Jewish attitudes to Gentiles in the First Century. OZ Torah. [Online] [Cited: 15th Nov. 2016.]
29. Greene, T.E. Timeline. Tegworlds Total Context. [Online] 2nd Feb. 2016. [Cited: 7th Sept. 2016.]
30. Biblical Archaelogy Society Staff. Herod’s Death, Jesus’ Birth and a Lunar Eclipse. Bible History Daily. [Online] 29th Nov. 2015. [Cited: 7th Sept. 2016.]
31. Jacobs, Rabbi Louis. High Priest Head of all priests had special rights and privileges. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 5th Oct. 2016.]
32. Marcus Jastrow, S. Mendelsohn. Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 9th Sept. 2016.]
33. Bugg, Rabbi Mikha’el (Michael). The Eighteen Measures, Part 2: Another Upper Room. Return of Benjamin. [Online] [Cited: 9th Sept. 2016.]
34. —. The Eighteen Measures, Part 3: The Measures and Ritual Purity. The Return of Benjamin. [Online] [Cited: 9th Sept 2016.]

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* How did the Jewish school system prepare the people to hear Jesus’ message?
* In what ways is your schooling system like it was in Nazareth, and in what ways is it different? What impact do you think that has on the children’s learning, moral and spiritual development?
* Why were the people in Galilee, and especially in Nazareth looked down on?
* Why would God have chosen that place for Jesus to grow up?
* In what ways is your community like Nazareth, and in what ways is it different to Nazareth?
* Is there ‘hatred of the other’ in your community? If so, which people are hated, and how do you think Jesus would relate to them?