Palestine Soup

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What kind of a world did Jesus encounter in 1st century Palestine?

To get a better flavor of this, our assignment for LDN was to comment on chapter 1 of Introducing the New Testament by Mark Allen Powell.

In Jesus’ world we find a religious, political and cultural soup mix that everyone has an olfactory opinion on. The broth is a potent mix of Roman, Greek and Jewish cultures. Floating around in this recipe we find a cast of characters that include the usual suspects: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, Herodians, Samaritans, Gentiles, and Romans.

For the assignment, we had to summarize what each group and culture offered as truth for their way of life (the flavor each one brought to the soup).

Here are two: 

Close to home the Pharisees affected religion. Following the rule is the god. Forgotten was the fact that the rule was to remind them to follow God. To the rules they added many more so that it became impossible to follow them all. This weakness, which made them susceptible to hypocrisy, should have pointed them to Jesus who fulfilled the law.

In the world Jesus traveled Greek culture affected society. Greek had become a common language. Jewish scriptures were already translated into Greek; this providential event allowed the gospel to spread quickly. Hellenism (Greek culture influence) altered society’s fashions, and habits. Like reclining at table to eat was a Greek practice. But Hellenism also influenced Jewish beliefs.

Here are some examples:

  • Dualism introduced by Hellenistic Judaism tended to put a sharper difference on ideas such as God and Satan, good and evil, heaven and hell, body and soul. Even today we tend to think of these as opposites.
  • The Jewish scripture is rich in wisdom literature, which by Greek influence was now also seen as useful to secular life. The Apostle Paul (a master at employing these cultural influences) could argue for Jesus to the Greeks, Romans and the Jews.

Was this “Hellenization revision” of the scripture something God thought was needed to make it more convincing for the Gentiles (me included)? Does God work through, in, and with a culture to get the most from his gospel for Jesus sake?

I did not realize 1st century Palestine was so complicated.

It seems to have been the perfect storm to drop Jesus into. “Here you go Son, see what you can make of this.”

To make matters more complicated, in Jesus time there were other rabbis on the dusty road followed by dustier disciples and fans that peddled the line. “Follow us, we offer a way a truth a life.”

Jesus comes along adding his voice and disciples to the other voices clamoring for attention. Each voice needs a niche and has its shtick. So when Jesus takes up this line he did not suddenly amass a mega fan base, they had heard it all before. Even the Romans had a way a truth with a heavily taxed life to offer if you obeyed them.

But Jesus proves his mettle by dying and rising. Jesus out does them all, destroy this temple and I will raise it in three days, beat that for a concluding act.

Jesus claims, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” The I AM ties Jesus’ claim to the Old Testament, to salvation history. This gives him the senior position over all the “Johnny come lately Rabbis” that lay claim to the way, truth and life.

I am grateful that through history God takes the long view and through Jesus he continues to draw the whole world to himself. 

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