Post Temple Judaism
By its very smallness, the New Testament is a tribute to the strength and vigilance of the early Church’s hierarchy. The Jews were not so fortunate. The original and true Jewish religion had been a priestly religion. After the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in 587 BC however the exiled Jews developed a religious way of life centred less on the Temple and more on the Synagogue (Greek: ‘meeting’ or ‘meeting house’). Synagogue services were conducted not by priests offering sacrifices but by members of the community who were personally learned in the Scriptures. These came to be called Rabbi (Hebrew: ‘Master’). His learning qualified a Rabbi to explain the Scriptures, to give sermons, to lead the prayers, to teach the young and to adjudicate disputes. All these activities took place in the Jewish community’s synagogue. 2
Meanwhile in Jerusalem, in the centuries after the resumption of Temple sacrifices in 515, the ancient Levitical priesthood, apparently under pagan Greek influence, degenerated until it fell under the domination of the Sadducees (‘Zadokites’). Denying the existence of spirits or of the afterlife, and apparently wide open to pagan Greek ideas and practices, the Sadducees were a small priestly caste of virtual agnostics. They also denied Scriptural status to any books outside the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Few in numbers, rich, cynical and offering no hope, they lost their leadership of the people. As the duty of interpreting the Scriptures was relinquished by the priests it was steadily assumed by the scribes and the lawyers. Calling themselves the haberim (‘associates’) but known to their opponents as pherisim (‘exclusives’ hence pharisees) the scribes and lawyers of Pharisaeism grew in power. Finally, in the reign of Queen Alexandra (76 to 67 BC), their most illustrious members were admitted into the Sanhedrin, the 71 man ruling council itself of the Jewish world. 3
With the final destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD the Sadducees were destroyed and disappeared from history. Judaism ceased to be a priestly religion, and has remained, ever since, the religion of the scholars of Pharisaeism. At Jamnia (a.k.a. Jabneh) in Palestine in 90 AD took place a meeting of rabbis which marked the formal foundation of post Temple and non sacrificial Judaism. This important meeting decreed that no book written outside of Palestine or after the time of Esdras (or Ezra, c. 450 BC) belonged among the inspired Scriptures. At this meeting ‘Gamaliel was deposed and Eleazor ben Azariah made head of the school … the excluding act which segregated the apocrypha was the work of Pharisaeism triumphant.’ – Max Margolis, Hebrew Scriptures in the making (Philadelphia, 1922) p. 91 4
Later one Elias Levita, a contemporary of Luther, was to advance this Jewish doctrine that the canon of the Hebrew Bible had been completed and closed by ‘the men of the Great Synagogue,’ presided over by Ezra (Esdras).
Published on Nov 29, 2011
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...