We often see the term "tax collectors and sinners" paired together in the Bible. The Bible presupposes in these cases that both groups are social and moral outcasts.
"Why? Tax collectors were collaborators with the Roman imperial authorities and hence were considered disloyal and suspected of treason. They often collected indirect taxes such as tolls and customs (Catholic Book Publishing, MT 5:46 footnote). The collectors paid a fixed income to the Romans "for the right to collect customs duties within their districts. Since whatever they could collect above this amount constituted their profit, the abuse of extortion was widespread...hence...were regarded as sinners, outcasts of society, and disgraced along with their families" (Catholic Book Publishing, MK 2:14 footnote).
Sinners [was] a technical term for members of despised trades thought susceptible of ritual uncleanness and other blemishes (one list...gives ass-driver, camel-driver, sailor, caster, herdsman, shopkeeper, physician (= blood letter?), butcher" (Brown et al., p.649).
Note: This definition will be in the "Definitions & Facts" page in the 'Bible Questions' section...thus it might be expanded in the future. Please check there for most up to date info.
As we start to go further in discussing the Canon, we will run across common references to other sources. One of these is the abbreviation "MT" for the "Masoretic Text." [Note: I will probably be adding to this definition as we go along.]
The Masorah (also spelled Massorah) is technically a "system of critical notes on the external form of the Biblical text. This system of notes represents the literary labors of innumerable scholars, of which the beginning falls probably in pre-Maccabean times and the end reaches to the year 1425" (JewishEncyclopedia, Masorah).
The Masoretic Text "is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Tanakh for Rabbinic Judaism." The official version of the Hebrew Old Testament as it exists today (Evan & Tov, p.21). Until the sixth century A.D. only the consonants of the Hebrew OT were written down; the language contained no vowels. The tradition of correct pronunciation of ancient Hebrew words was passed down orally. Between A.D. 500 and 1000, a group of Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes (from 'maser,' to hand down, transmit) developed a system of adding vowels, accents, and notes that guaranteed more accurate reading and copying of the ancient text. No other text from the ancient world was as carefully safeguarded as the Masoretic Text. Its tradition came to be regarded as authoritative and can still be considered highly trustworthy. The Masoretes themselves date from the early Christian period until the Middle Ages.
In existence today: The earliest complete Masoretic manuscript, the Leningrad Codex (A.D. 1009) is used for the standard edition of the Hebrew Bible. Another source states that the standard for Hebrew Bibles printed today is the Masoretic Text from A.D. 1088, currently housed in the Saint Petersburg Public Library. Another ancient copy, although partially lost, is the Aleppo Codex (A.D. 925)
The founding of the Dead Sea Scrolls has shown amazing consistency between the Masoretic Text and the original scrolls, even though they are separated by 1,100 years. This gives much credence to the idea that the Masoretic Text is a reliable copy that is faithful to the original meaning intended by the writers of the OT. In other places, though, the LXX has proved to have been closer to "the original meaning" (entire books on textual criticism can be looked into if you are interested in this subject).
The material for these posts will probably end up filling many pages when I'm done, but I'll be posting as I go along in "quick bites" for people who are interested in such things. But this means that I won't have read everything or know everything (if such a thing is possible) when I write each blog post. I'm learning as I continue to research. Should you find an error, please let me know! Please, please, reference "Canon History" for the most up-to-date, accurate information!
Sadducees- Greek 'Saddoukaioi' means 'followers of Zadak,' perhaps 'righteous.' According to Josephus, there were three major sects within Judaism at the time of Jesus: the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes.
Priestly, wealthy, aristocratic class, centered in Jerusalem. "They enjoyed privileged positions in society and managed to get along well under Roman rule" (6, p.936). In contrast to the Pharisees (in Mark), as the priestly party connected with the Temple, the Sadducees are more directly involved in the death of Jesus, probably due to the fact that they were much more politically minded. Despite their central role in Jesus' death, they did not enjoy the influence among the people that the Pharisees did.
"They accepted as scripture only the first five books of the Old Testament, followed only the letter of the law, rejected the oral legal traditions, and were opposed to teaching not found in the Pentateuch, such as the resurrection of the dead." (10, Matthew 3:7).
The historical books of the Bible are a continuation of the history of the Pentateuch.
They include: Joshua; Judges; Ruth; 1 and 2 Samuel; 1 and 2 Kings; 1 and 2 Chronicles; Ezra; Nehemiah; Tobit; Judith; Esther; and 1 and 2 Maccabees. Protestant Bibles removed Tobit, Judith, and the Maccabees during the Reformation. Note that the "divisions" of the Bible into Pentateuch, Historical books, Prophets, etc. can be different according to different scholars/schools of thought.
Joshua, Judges, Samuel(s), & King(s) are often called "The Deuteronomistic History." In an earlier form, these books were published together with Deuteronomy as their introduction. The "final" edition of these books certainly dates from the post exilic period, but much of it may have been in written form before then. Sources mentioned throughout the books indicate that there was a body of historical writing that these authors drew upon. These books not only attempt to inform of historic events, but also inserts speeches/essays of theology. The Deuteronomistic History tells of Israel's history, but leaves its future a bit vague.
Ruth is, quite simply, a short story of ordinary people. The artistic telling of this story is meant to inform and provide models of living faithfully even during times of difficulty.
"The Chronicles and Later Histories" includes 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Chronicles start with a list of genealogies starting with Adam and going to Saul. In contrast with the Deuteronomistic History, the Chronicles try to visualize for us a clearer form of Israel's future. It shows continuity between Israel's past and their coming future. It makes a larger effort not just to relay events of the past, but to interpret them. Ezra and Nehemiah are narrative accounts of the post exilic period, showing the restoration of Judah following the exile of Babylon.
Tobit is often described as a "religious novel." The purpose of the story is to show that God controls events and circumstances in order for His own purposes.
Judith and Esther are, bluntly, hard to classify at all. Both have multiple historical errors, but are kept for their attempts to show how God will rescue Israel.
Finally, 1 2 Maccabees cover the period of the second century B.C. It provides details from the period after the histories but before the Gospels.
Pharisees- Greek 'Pharisaioi' is 'separate ones.' In Hebrew means "separatists." According to Josephus, there were three major sects within Judaism at the time of Jesus: the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes.
They helped to develop an elaborate system of oral laws to apply to the written law of Moses to Jewish life after the destruction of the temple and the Roman conquest of Israel. Thus, they were known for devotion to the law, written and oral. The law was rigorously applied to everyday life. Scribes, experts in the law, belonged predominantly to this group. Many people, having lost respect for priesthood due to corruption, looked to the scribes, who were often pious and disciplined (6, p.830). While relatively small in number (due to their exclusivity), they nevertheless enjoyed prestige and respect of the people and could affect both popular opinion and national policy at times.
"If they [Pharisees] despised the Herods and the Romans, they hated Jesus' doctrine of equality and claims of messiahship with equal fervor" (5, p.475). Other sources say that while the Pharisees were not always unfriendly to Jesus (and Mark has them taking no part in his death), Jesus criticized them severely precisely because their religious leadership was so serious. Originally helping to save Judaism (a noble thing), it had degenerated over time and become too rigid/exclusive.
I'm adding these maps to the places sections for future reference. Sometimes when reading the Bible, it helps to look at a map and see the actual land that is being talked about. First is a map of the division of the land of Israel by the 12 tribes, second is a map of Israel during the time of Jesus.
Honestly, Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, is a fairly shadowy figure in the Bible. The last mention of him chronologically is when Jesus is age 12. This is the episode in which Jesus returned to the temple without his parents knowledge; once they found him, they asked what he was doing. His response was that he was in his His Father's house. Jesus seems surprised that they did not know this. It is up to us to decide if mention of Joseph ceased at this time because of Jesus' first reference to his heavenly Father, or whether Joseph passed away. Joseph is mentioned nowhere during the accounts of Jesus' ministry, he is absent from the wedding at Cana, and- most tellingly- at Jesus' crucifixion, he gives the care of his mother over to one of his disciples.
We first learn about Joseph at the same time as the Annunciation. Matthew specifically refers to him as a "just man" and his behavior supports this. Upon learning of Mary's condition, rather than taking action that could have resulted in her death, he decides to privately put her aside. Of course, an angel speaking his dream cancels this course of action. Later verses indicate his profession: a carpenter. The Greek word used (tekton) indicates he was also skilled in other craft work, such as stone. We also learn he is a descendant of David. It is Joseph's adoption of Jesus that fulfills the prophecy that the messiah will be a descendant of David.
We see Joseph is obedient to the will of God multiple times. He follows the angel's instructions to marry Mary and father her child. When the angel speaks again telling him to flee to Egypt, he obeys. When an angel appears after Herod's death and instructs him to go to Galilee (not to his place of origin Judea), he obeys. He follows the Hebrew law about presenting the first-born in the temple and offer sacrifice. He followed the law about trekking to Jerusalem during the required holy days.
While we might not have many Biblical references to the man who is referred to a Jesus' earthly father, the information we do have is telling. He cared for his family, followed the Lord's commandments, and was a "just man." We can also assume that God's choosing him was not arbitrary; he is an example to follow.
While there is more than one Enoch (as well as an Enosh) referenced in the Bible, I am referring to the Enoch spoken of in Genesis 5:18-24.
18 When Jared was one hundred and sixty-two years old, he became the father of Enoch.
19 Jared lived eight hundred years after the birth of Enoch, and he had other sons and daughters.
20 The whole lifetime of Jared was nine hundred and sixty-two years; then he died.
21 When Enoch was sixty-five years old, he became the father of Methuselah.
22 Enoch lived three hundred years after the birth of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters.
23 The whole lifetime of Enoch was three hundred and sixty-five years.
24 Then Enoch walked with God, and he was no longer here, for God took him.
Why is Enoch of interest? Because of the simple phrase "Then Enoch walked with God, and he was no longer here, for God took him." In this phrase, he is one of only two people (the other being Elijah) in the Bible who do not die...instead they go directly to/with God. This mysterious phrase gave rise to much extrabiblical literature focused on his "heavenly secrets," commonly referred to as the book(s) of Enoch (Brown, Fitzmyer, & Murphy, 1990, p.14). These are considered part of the apocalyptic literature written after the exile. More recently, those who have adopted the (extremely) recent idea of the rapture believe that all the faithful will be taken up like Enoch was before for the "Tribulation."
The word 'with' implies familiarity with God, not just a distant or awe-filled relationship. Perhaps the lesson to take from Enoch's life, even if only granted a mysterious single sentence in the Bible, is that he 'walked' with God, implying a long, steady, continuous journey with God (MacDonald, 1995, p.38).
Brown, R.E., Fitzmyer, J.A., and Murphy, R.E. (1990). Genesis. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Catholic Book Publishing, “St. Joseph Edition, New American Bible.” New York, NY: Catholic Book Publishing.
MacDonald, W. (1995). Genesis. Believer's Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc.
Sumer was part of the Fertile Crescent. It was a region in Mesopotamia south of modern Baghdad. To those of Biblical times, it was a classical civilization of knowledge viewed much as how we view Greek and Roman civilizations today. It's time period of activity includes the mid-fourth century B.C. (perhaps earlier) to 1750 B.C.
Of note, "the Sumerians created the world's earliest writing system, cuneiform...They invented the whell, the potter's wheel,...and compiled collections of laws. In architecture they developed the arch, dome, and vault" (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 2005, p.10). As you can see from these amazing accomplishment (and how early they were), their effect on civilization both in Biblical times and even today cannot be underestimated.
Note: I have not included a map due to copyright reasons, etc. Plus, it's so easy to do a search of your own.
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. (2005). New International Version: Archaeological Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Corporation.
As there were multiple cultures, countries, and cities in the early days, it also follows that there were multiple creation myths. While fascinating, it is also important to have an overview of these various stories. They were stories that the Hebrews would have been familiar with. People that lived around them would have subscribed to these stories just as much as the Hebrews subscribed to their beliefs. While a complete description of all creation myths could fill a book, I’m going to try to give a brief overview of some of the major beliefs that the Hebrews might have come in contact with. In today’s post, we’ll cover the basic Hebrew creation concept. Future posts will cover Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Babylonian, Greek, and Roman beliefs.
From St. Joseph: “God’s heavenly seat rests above the superior waters. Below these waters lies the firmament or sky which resembles an overturned bowl and is supported by columns. Through the openings (floodgates) in its vault the superior waters fall down upon the earth in the form of rain or snow. The earth is a platform resting on columns and surrounded by waters, the seas. Underneath the columns lie the inferior waters. In the depths of the earth is Sheol, the home of the dead (also called the nether world).
While studying the Hebrew conception of the world, we have not only do have the Biblical example of creation to read, but graphics developed by scholars. Genesis: Chapter 1 has a description of the formation of the world, giving an outstanding view of how the Hebrews would have viewed the world. I suggest reading various Bibles to see how the word descriptions vary (not to argue about various points, but to appreciate the adjectives, and expand ones’ view).
From the “Archaeological Study Bible, p. 5, ‘Ancient Creation Narratives’” (which I recommend to everyone to buy! This is an indispensable resource!) “The Genesis account implicitly challenges the claims of these ancient creation myths by affirming God’s unity and sovereignty, by portraying the heavenly bodies and great sea creatures as his creations and by presenting humans as God’s stewards—and indeed image bearers—rather than as an after-thought born of divine need or laziness.”
Catholic Book Publishing, “St. Joseph Edition, New American Bible.” New York, NY: Catholic Book Publishing.
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, “New International Version: Archaeological Study Bible.” Zondervan Corporation: Grand Rapids, MI, 2005.
Jennifer Becker Landsberger
Who am I? Freelance writer (magazines, websites, & copywriting), Catholic, military wife, and Mensan. Double Bachelor's in History & Psychology.
Witnessing by charity and love are above all. Studying the Bible and beyond helps me on this quest. Feel free to join my walk into the Bible.
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~~~Prayer before Writing-
Oh creator of the universe, who has set the stars in the heavens and causes the sun to rise and set, shed the light of your wisdom into the darkness of my mind. Fill my thoughts with a loving knowledge of you, that I may bring you like to others. Just as you can make even babies speak your truth, instruct my tongue and guide my pen to convey the wonderful glory of the Gospel. Make my intellect sharp, my memory clear, and my words eloquent, so that I may faithfully interpret the mysteries what you have revealed.
To my readers & fellow writers,
1. I will pray that God's grace helps illuminate all of our interactions- both those of simple reading and more active conversations.
2. I will communicate with you respectfully and civilly. These are (rightly) issues which we feel passionate about. But even in disagreements, I will respect you fellow "seekers of truth."
3. I will not fall into negative behavior or words, such as insinuations, exaggerations, blames, or personal attacks. I respectfully ask you to do the same.
4. I will pray we will all find the truth and strive to fulfill the two greatest commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30-31)
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Sites I Recommend
Biblical Evidence for Catholicism by Dave Armstrong