Jesus and Judaism:
Part of this teaching was originally prepared as a Lent Course held at Christ Church, Abingdon in 2000 and part was prepared for a day on the Jewish Teaching of Jesus, at Highmoor Hall on 4 April 2001.
The aim of this course is to place Jesus in a Jewish context. Why are we doing this? You might think that it is all very interesting to look at background to the Bible but surely it is not relevant to us in the 21st Century?
I use the analogy that if you want to make a loaf of bread, you don't start with a cake you start with a bag of flour. It is important to go back to source. If we can understand a Jewish Bible and a Jewish Jesus and can see how that understanding can deepen our understanding as Christians today, then this should be helpful in working out how to make the Bible and our faith relate directly to today's secular culture.
Also if you want to understand bread you need to know about flour. I hope these evenings will help us look at our faith and gain a deeper understanding of the Bible. Jesus was Jewish and I have found that understanding him in this way has deepened my relationship with him. Over all I hope you will be challenged to see Jesus in a different culture to our own. But find that understanding another culture is fun!
Exploring the world of Jesus
My aim in this lent course is to invite Jesus to lead you into his culture. We are going into something very different and will allow Jesus to show us the familiar things of his human experience. I hope you will come away from these few weeks feeling that, if you like, you have sat in his furniture and even tasted his mother's cooking - well not quite! But Judaism is as much about the way your mother cooks as the way you hold your services - there is not the same division between secular activities and spiritual activities as can sometimes be found in Christianity. This is something we need to relearn.
I have put some extra information about primary sources below. Much of the teaching in the sessions contain extracts from my book, A Feast of Seasons. Each session has discussion questions at the end and these have also been grouped together. Please do make use of the feedback section, so that I can take your views into account when preparing future material.
Where do we look for information?
Dead Sea Scrolls - very useful indeed. Need to remember that they were a particular sect.
Apocrypha: A good historical source. The church should read for "example of life and instruction of manners", but does not apply them to establish any doctrine.
Other ancient writings: Pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus etc
Mishnah and Talmud (The source I have drawn on more)
Up until the destruction of the Temple, the written teaching for Judaism was what we describe as the Old Testament. But there were many oral traditions. From a Jewish perspective, this made them a kind of living word that could change and adapt with the needs of each generation. Once the Temple ceased to be a focus for the feasts, the transmission of these traditions became more difficult in a purely oral form and needed to be written down. There were many different points of view and, rather than force a consensus, these different views were recorded side by side. These debates were eventually gathered together with discussions about all the other aspects of Jewish law in about 220 AD. The resulting book, called the Mishnah, is in some senses a commentary on the Old Testament and on the whole of Judaism. It is a window through time to the debates on Judaism of the early centuries of our era, and is the key resource for understanding the Judaism of that period.
Both the Babylonian and the Galilean schools continued to debate the Bible and the oral law, now codified in the Mishnah. These debates were recorded over the third to fifth centuries and made another layer of commentary called the Gemara. This together with the Mishnah became known as the Talmud. Debates varied in Babylon and the Holy Land and there are two Talmuds, the Babylonian and the Jerusalem or Palestinian Talmud.
Conclusion: Very good source for illuminating Judaism in the early Centuries of the Christian era. It was written much later than the New Testament and reflects that later time period.