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LP4000 The Role of Tradition and its Old Testament Influence

It would be remiss to discuss the Old Testament and its relevance to Original Christianity without talking about the oral traditions called the Talmud in later times. In the Bible, they are just called the tradition of the elders.

In Jewish history, for as long as there has been a written law, there has been an oral law that is “ a set of teachings, interpretations, and insights that complement the written Torah.” that were part of Jewish life.i In fact, Orthodox Jews believe that Moses received this oral law, also called the oral Torah , when he received the written law. From there it was passed on orally, from elders to Prophets, to the men of the Great Assembly and on and on. Many Jews consider this oral Torah just as much the word of God as the written Torah.ii

Of course, there are factions within Judaism that don’t take things as literally as the more conservative sects just as in all other religions. And so you might encounter Jews for which the Talmud is considered a valuable book, but to them, it evolved over time and some of it is no longer relevant.

Basically, according to Jewish authority, the need for the Talmud stems from the brevity of the sections of the Law in the Torah. For example, how do you perform a wedding ceremony? What does “an eye for an eye” mean exactly? How do you handle sacrifices when the temple is destroyed and that is the only supposed place for them?iii

The Talmud is further broken down into two parts, the Mishnah and the Gemara. The Mishnah is the collection of legal rulings by noted Rabbis such as First-century Rabbis. Hillel and Shammai as well as others. The Mishnah is organized into 6 basic Sedarim (orders) relating to areas of seeds, set feasts, women, damages, Hallowed things, and Purities. Within each order are numerous tractates.

The Gemara is a book of discussions commenting on the teachings in the Mishnah. It has stories, legends, parts of sermons, and other teachings relating to the relationship between the Torah and Mishnah.

The Talmud was strictly oral until the first and second centuries when the destruction of the Temple, as well as the increasing complexity of the tradition, impressed the need for codifying the material into a written form. Judah Ha-Nasi is credited with the first edition of the oral law creating a written Mishnah at the beginning of the third century.

There is a claim that the Talmud is unchangeable and if that were true then we would know what it was in Jesus’ and the Apostle’s time but evidence shows that it is a changing document so as conditions in the world changed so did the commentary on what was appropriate in the Talmud.

The fact that the written version wasn’t written down until the third century and has been updated since leaves us uncertain about some of what was the oral tradition in the time of Jesus and the Apostles but there are New testament references that talk directly about some issues.

Let’s look at a Talmud example relating to the mixing of seeds

“You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material. (Lev 19:19)

Here in the law is a law on mixing species, seeds and materials. We will look at seeds for our example.

The same laws are in Deuteronomy chapter twenty-two. Look at verse nine:

“You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, lest the whole yield be forfeited, the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard. (Deu 22:9)

So we see that mixing seeds in a field is strictly forbidden. Now let’s see what the Talmud says?

There is a discussion on chabad.org about the Talmud on these verses.iv They explain that mixing seeds or species is called kilayim. They note that there are 77 Mishnah related to this topic with “elaborate analysis”. That is a lot of discussions!

Looking at Kiddushin 39a we see Gemara comments asking whether the field is part of the Land of Israel, and then the Gemara answering that the prohibition of diverse seeds doesn’t apply outside Israel.

Another comment in the same Kiddushin 39a relates that Rav Hanan and Rav Anan saw a man planting wheat and barley between grapevines. So one says the Master should ostracize him but the other says that since Rabbi Yoshiya said one is not wrong unless he sows these three seeds with one hand motion he is not to be ostracized.v

So, in this case, these three different plants growing near each other is not an example of mixed seeds in a field. Notice that this is not the strictest interpretation of the law. It is an example that sometimes the strictest interpretation isn’t chosen, at least by some Rabbis.

The point apparently here is that it is not as simple as it looks. In this example there are different plants planted near each other which some might say is mixing seeds. But looking at the Talmud we see guidance that this example does not constitute sowing mixed seeds as the seeds are not sown together in one hand motion.

As far as seed mixing goes there are many other references to consider if those circumstances don’t match yours. And this has not been an exhaustive study by any means, just an illustration of researching the Talmud for answers. The source referenced above lists 77 Mishnahs involved.

Because of this level of inspection and review the Talmud is approximately 10 times the size of the Torah. The Babylonian Talmud is listed as 2711 pages. It is very complicated and its sheer size requires much study to know what it truly says. The sheer size of the information involved can make it confusing. In order to avoid breaking the law, it appears that the Talmud is the final authority to at least some children of God although many appear adamant that the Torah is the Word of God and the Talmud is only advice.

Remember that the Talmud was in oral form during Original Christianity but it was painstakingly handed down from generation to generation just as it was painstakingly adhered to by some Jewish leaders.

iJudaism for Dummies, Rabbi Ted Falcon and David Blatner, Wiley and Sons, Hoboken NJ, 2013, p.39

iiIbid

iiiIbid

ivhttps://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3570273/jewish/What-Is-Kilayim.htm

vhttps://www.sefaria.org/Kiddushin.39a.12?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

July 30th, 2019 Posted by | The Law and The Prophets | no comments

LP3132 Jonah

Jonah, chronologically, is thought to be the first of the books of the prophets as the events of the book happen around 790BC. Jonah is listed as a minor prophet simply because the book on his ministry is short.

Jonah is famous , for one reason, because Jesus refers to him:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
(Mat 12:38-41)

There is a strong contention by a number of writers that Jonah is fictional as surviving in the belly of a fish for three days sounds preposterous. One view is that the whole book is a satire. However, in the above verse by our Lord, it certainly looks like our Lord believed in Jonah and there is another reference to Jonah in 2 Kings:

In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.
(2Ki 14:23-25)

In the above verses, we see that Jonah ministered for God to God’s chosen people. Also in the above verse, he delivered a message about the border of Israel.

The book of Jonah is unique among the books of the prophets. In its four chapters Jonah only says one line of prophecy, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” The whole book is a narrative of this one series of events. Additionally, we see something about this spokesman for God that we don’t see in the other prophets who have books. Jonah was not sent to one of the Kings of Israel or Judah, rather he was sent to Nineveh. Ninevah wasn’t in Israel or Judah, rather it was a huge city in the Assyrian Empire. There is some claim that Ninevah was the great city founded by Nimrod.

And we see some unique workings in God’s relationship with his spokesman, Jonah, when we see that Jonah doesn’t want to do what God wants him to do. In Jonah, we see an entire conversation between God and a man, albeit that man is a prophet of God, so there must be a line of communication between them. And then we have the famous story of Jonah and the great fish which is prophesied to be a forerunner of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

The fact that Jonah was sent to Nineveh brings up some interesting points about the Old Testament and God’s workings. It emphasizes the point that while the descendants of Abraham were certainly God’s chosen people God did interact with other peoples, at least from time to time in the bible. There are records of dreams and other signs given to people other than the children of Israel. While there may not be a lot of records of this type God has always been the God of all. An example of other people’s relationship with our Father God would be Melchizedek, the king and priest of Salem. Melchizedek was someone Abram paid tithes to, but Melchizedek was not one of the chosen people. And Melchizedek had to be somebody very significant as Christ himself is called our high priest after the order of Melchizedek:

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
(Heb 6:19-20 ESV)

So as you probably know the story is that Jonah got the word to walk the streets of Nineveh telling them to repent. But he didn’t want to do it! So he hired a ship as if he could sail away from God Almighty! But as we know God caused a great storm, and to make a long story short, Jonah told the crew the ship to throw him overboard so that they wouldn’t get demolished in the storm. So the crew threw him overboard and he was swallowed by a great fish. Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish. After that time the great fish spit about on dry land. He did go and tell the people of Nineveh to repent. Which they did! But Jonah wasn’t happy about that, and he went and sulked on a hill.

So God had a little trick up his sleeve. God made a great plant to shadow him. But then he let a great worm destroy the plant! And he used the plant as an object lesson.

Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
(Jon 4:6-11 ESV)

Look at the detailed conversation going on here between Jonah and the Lord God. Before this we just see a simple directions that the Lord commanded Jonah:

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Jon 1:1-2 ESV)

Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” (Jon 3:1-2 ESV)

But in between those two very similar declarations by the Lord is this prayer by Jonah to the Lord. In the prayer notice his humility, his repentance.

Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!”
(Jon 2:1-9 ESV)


So we see in the conversation between God and Jonah how Jonah was concerned over the welfare of the plant but not of the citizens of the great city Ninevah.

So, as a result, we learn a great deal about God, prophecy, and prophets in this book. We learn that God did communicate with people other than his chosen people, and some did have the heart to serve him, and accordingly, God rewarded them!

We learn that being a prophet is not always an easy task and that prophets don’t always want to do what they’re told! And we learned that God works with prophets, talking with them, to teach them and guide them. We learn that in the end Jonah did his job.

Furthermore, we learn that prophecies can have different outcomes depending on the response of the people. Nineveh went from being a city that was going to be overthrown to an example of a people that would judge the people of Jesus’ time.

July 8th, 2019 Posted by | The Law and The Prophets | no comments

LP0.2 Dating the Bible

Dating ancient events has always proved challenging.  For one thing, there have been numerous calendars that different cultures have used and synchronizing them is not always easy.  The Egyptians had a 12 month calendar but each month had the same 30 days, (three 10 day weeks, no less). The Romans had several calendars; the original Julian calendar had only 355 days which we all now know will never work. 

Dionysis Exeguus did an admirable thing for Christianity in centering dates around the birth of Christ, but he is also responsible for an error that caused it to be off.  The problem is that Herod the Great, responsible for killing all the babies under two to murder the Christ child, died in 4 B.C. so Jesus could not be born later than that.  So all date calculations need to account for that.

Consequently dating the Bible appears to be as much art as science.  Different sources give dates that, while close to each other, rarely match especially the farther back you go.  One of the early modern attempts at dating the events in the Bible was done by James Ussher in the 17th century.  He based his dates primarily on then known dates of events in the bible and time periods like the years between the patriarchs. The following are examples of bible verses that specify time periods:

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. (Mat 1:17-18 ESV)

In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the LORD.  (1Ki 6:1 ESV)

And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison.  (2Ki 25:27 ESV)

Ussher’s work was a scholarly work for its time.   Furthermore, Ussher integrated known historical data to produce not just a bible history but a world history aptly named Annals of the World, a tome of greater than 1200 pages.

Since that time scholars have been able to co-ordinate more historical records of other civilizations  with events in the new testament.  Even with that there is still no firm estimate of the exact year of the birth of Adam or a lot of other biblical events.  Part of the reason is that per the scientific community man has been around longer than the bible seems to accommodate.

I have used a number of sources in looking at dates.  Timeline.biblehistory.com is a very good web site with a timeline chock full of dates and facts that correspond bible history dates with world history and middle east history. I have used Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible for forty odd years now and it has some dates, more approximations,  in amongst all the bible details there.  Rose’s Book of Bible Charts, Maps, and Timelines is a more recent publication and has a wealth of date knowledge in it among many other things.

Eerdman’s Handbook has the least precise date data.  In the book they make statements regarding the difficulty of constructing timelines.  For example, Erdmann’s says that there appears “at first glance” enough evidence to construct an accurate timeline regarding the chronology of the Kings. They cite that the reigns of the Kings are clearly given and the events that affected both kingdoms are given.  The book writes:

“However, serious problems arise on closer inspection.  For instance, in Judah, the total from Rehoboam to Ahaziah’s death is 95 years, whereas the identical period of Israel from Jeroboam to Joram’s death, totals 98 years.”[i] 

The book gives more examples like this explain the challenges of making accurate time charts even when an abundance of time data appears to be given.

Consequently lot of bible history just avoids putting a date to an event.  I personally think that giving dates that are a good estimate is better than not having dates at all because they give a historical overview timewise that puts things in perspective.   

The following chart gives an idea of how different sources estimate dates and which dates they provide.  All dates are BC.

Event Ussher Rose[ii] Timeline.bible…[iii] Eerdman’s[iv]
Creation 4004[v] No estimate 3954 No estimate
Abraham’s Birth 1996[vi] 2166 or 1999 1946 20th century
David’s Birth 1085[vii] 1011 1040 11th century
Isaiah  Birth 759 (date of prophecy)[viii] 760 766 740 (date of prophecy)

For a look at an attempt at reconciling this complicated problem there is a dissertation named ‘Chronology of the Old Testament: A Return to the Basics’ available online, but I did not find it an easy read[ix]


[i] Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible, William B Eerdman’s Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1973, p. 269

[ii] Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps and TimeLines, Rose Publishing, Peabody Massachusetts, 2005, the timeline is on a foldout page at the very beginning.

[iii] http://timeline.biblehistory.com/home, that web page opens up a time line that spans all of bible history,

[iv] Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible, William B Eerdman’s Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1973, Charts are provided p 118-121, 374-375 that give approzimate dates

[v] https://archive.org/details/AnnalsOfTheWorld/page/n11

[vi] https://archive.org/details/AnnalsOfTheWorld/page/n17

[vii] https://archive.org/details/AnnalsOfTheWorld/page/n69

[viii] https://archive.org/details/AnnalsOfTheWorld/page/n95

[ix] http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books%20II/Jones%20-%20Chronology%20of%20the%20OT.pdf

May 20th, 2019 Posted by | The Law and The Prophets | no comments