Monday, August 23, 2010

The World of Jesus' People

"Thus...Rome established or supported friendly kings... thereby governing through subsevient agents in lands where Rome itself did not choose to rule... Friends of Caesar." Judaism in the Beginning of Christianity by Jacob Neusner

The ruler of the Bible,Herrod and his sons, were local Jews selected by the Romans to rule. Developing the region as they wished for political and economic gain, Roman rule brought changes to the land of the biblical Jesus. They built new cities, ports, aqua ducts, roads; they divided the territory into taxing districts, collected the rents and public due from the populace by means of an established and efficient bureaucracy.

Not regarding Roman rule as wholly legitimate, Jews of the period regarded the taxation imposed upon them as robbery, writes religious historian, Jacob Neusner in his book, Judaism in the Beginning of Christianity. Furthermore he writes, "No Gentile (non Jew) could ever take valid, legal possession of land [since it was ultimately deeded from God in the Jewish mind]; even if a Gentile bought land from a Jew, Gentiles held it as sharecroppers."

Many people, Neusner writes, received a religious education, rich and poor alike. "This education centered on religious learning, was sufficiently broad to impart civilizing and humanizing lessons." Typically Jews of the period learned about their forefathers, such as Moses, Abraham and Jacob. Their tradition was sufficiently old so as to take a look backward into history and observe those peoples of history who no longer existed.

They were instructed about their obligations to the temple, the poor, children and widows, to care for the sick and to bury the dead. God was there for the Jew to be the One Lord, that they should not regard any other, nor idolize as had been done in days long ago. The Jews of the time of the Christ learned to do justice, love mercy and its practice, and mostly to walk humbly with their God.

Thus to these ancients, a comet, a flood, an earthquake or a scientific calculation all conveyed truths equally. They did not readily discriminate among them. Yet socially they were widely stratified. Among the residents of the city Jerusalem, there were those of great wealth, merchants, scholars and men of the Temple. Apart from these were the skilled trades, the money changers, the bankers and the tax collectors. In the countryside, land owners took p residence, with shepherds near or at the lowest rank.

Also present in the countryside were centers established by groups who purposefully separated themselves from the wider society.
The Roman, Philo, describes these groups principally as the Essenes who went outside of the Polis seeking purity and hoping for eternity; the Sadducees, another group who lived outside the Polis, stood for strict adherence to the written word, and practiced conservatism in both ritual and belief as spelled out in the Torah.

Finally the much maligned group of the New Testament, the Pharisees were a group who lived as deliberate Separatists, avoiding contact with those outside their group. Together these groups formed what is now thought of as early monastic practice in which they lived, worked and worshiped together in community. The Pharisees in particular, writes Neusner, adhered to the writings of Jewish philosopher, Hillel, who wrote, "Do not separate yourself from the community."

Thus supposes Neusner, it was the Pharisees who actively fostered their philosophies within the larger society, both Jews and Gentiles alike, greatly able to influence large masses of persons. Some joined with the urban Pharisees and formed urban communes, living, working and carrying out the religious traditions under Pharisaical direction. These groups frequently lived and worked among those who did not know or hold their views. Teaching by example, was an early model followed by those disciples who would later come to follow the Christ; in just the same way, they remained in community at one another's side.

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