Biblical People, Places and Time-Part 7

As time progresses, non-Jewish believers will begin to “downplay” anything that is Jewish because Rome was very prejudiced against the Jews. They hated anything “eastern” and especially the Jews. A Godfearer had a lot of trouble attending synagogues, before and after the revolt in 70 AD. The book of Acts states they were already battling Greek thought, the Gnostics and others coming in among them and this was long before the revolt. Plus, there is the problem that these non-Jews have never been trained in the Scriptures. They can’t go to synagogues where they are taught and this promotes a lack of knowledge and it begins to domino. The major problem in the great revolt in 70 AD was that the Temple was destroyed and it was the center of learning. There was no Sanhedrin, no Beit Din or Nasi to discern matters. So, who called the shots? From the years 70 to 132 AD, different influences rose up, but this was fragmented and with each passing year, things became less Jewish and more influenced by paganism. Jewish believers are on the decline and they contended with the non-Jews who said “What difference or purpose does halachah have on me?” In 116 AD there was another Jewish revolt in Alexandria, Egypt. It was the second largest seaport in the world and a major seat of learning. The second largest Jewish population was there, and after the revolt they were sold into slavery. In 132 AD, there was another revolt against Hadrian. The leader of the Jews was a man they called “Bar Kochba” which means “son of the star” which alludes to a messianic prophecy in Num 24.17. The Targum Onkelos said that the “star” was the Messiah. Rabbi Akiva, the most influential rabbi of his time, said that Bar Kochba was the Messiah, but not everyone agreed with him. Jewish believers would not fight for a false messiah, and moved to Pella, unless Bar Kochba denounced this claim. He did not, and the revolt was successful at first. Judea was free from Rome for three years, but Bar Kochba was totally defeated at the battle of Bethar. He will be known as “Bar Kociba” in the Talmud after this, which means “son of the liar.” This is a turning point among Jewish believers in Yeshua and Rabbinic Judaism. It will also be a “diving board” for non-Jewish Christianity. Jewish believers are now in two groups, the Nazarenes and the Ebionites (we will explain later). Non-Jews who believe are entering into a faith that is totally different than what you have in the book of Acts. The Jewish believers have a problem. They have enemies in Rome and are subject to slavery. They have enemies in the Jewish community and are called “Meshumed” or traitors, and are “karet” or “cut off” from the synagogues. They are also oppressed by non-Jewish believers who are getting more and more involved with emerging Gentile Christianity. All of this escalates and there is no way to repair the damage. Pagan Christianity will evolve and will be constantly changing. Rabbinic Judaism will also go through changes as a direct result of its conflicts with pagan Christianity. The world is turning upside down. Rome is gradually disintegrating and becoming more and more corrupt. However, not all of Rabbinic Judaism is under Roman influence. The largest Jewish population is in Babylon because when the Babylonian Captivity ended, the majority of Jews stayed there rather than go back to Israel. Babylon was under the Parthian Empire and the Jewish population there lived at relative peace. Now, lets go back and look at a couple of personalities who are known as Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Akiva. They will put their stamp on Rabbinic Judaism that can still be seen today. Rabbi Meir was a second century Tanna (a “tanna” is a rabbi who lived between the years 100 BC and 200 AD, the Mishnaic Period) and a “mystic” which means he was very into the mystical writings of the Scriptures and the hidden meanings found there. In other words, he studied at the “sowd” level and looked into apocalyptic writings and prophecy. He led the post-Kochba generation, was interested in halachah and helped write parts of the Mishnah. He is descended from proselytes and studied under Rabbi Akiva. His politics are moderate and he believed in study, prayer and work. He said that Gentile who occupies himself in Torah is equal to the High Priest.” He also said “Whoever forgets the words of Torah is accounted as if he forfeited his life” and “a mamzer (a person of illegitimate birth) who is a scholar takes precedence over a High Priest who is an ignoramus.” The picture is emerging. Study is replacing the Temple ceremonies. The Sadducees are gone and the priests have no platform (the Temple) anymore. The rabbi’s are emerging and taking their place as leaders. Obeying the smallest details of halachah and ritual purity are Rabbi Meir’s emphasis. He married a woman named Beruria, who is also recognized as a sage in the Talmud. Up to this time, women had a role in the “Judaisms” of the time, but after her it decreased. She is the one who said “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.”
Rabbi Akiva lived from 50 to 135 AD. He is an interesting personality. He made a mistake in the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 AD, but was a Torah scholar and is accorded much honor in Rabbinic Judaism. Jewish schools are named after him even today. He taught Rabbi Meir and didn’t even start learning till he was almost 30 years old and studied under Eleazar Ben Hycannus and Yehoshua Ben Hananiah, two personalities already mentioned in Part 6. He systemized the halachah and the “aggadot” (stories and parables) and took an interest in the poor. He was humble and modest, and a mystic. It is said that he is one of only four men who entered “Pardes” (paradise) and came out sane. He assimilated the mystic doctrines and brought order to learning. He saw the meaning of the “aleph-tav” in Scripture and also where certain words were “misspelled” and how it must of meant something, even the “jots and tittles (crowns over certain letters called “taggins”). His view on these things agreed exactly with Yeshua’s words in Matt 5.18. He is considered one of the premier teachers of his time. He declared that Bar Kochba was the messiah during the third Jewish revolt in 132-135 AD. He was imprisoned by Rome for teaching the Torah and tortured and killed by having his skin torn off by metal combs. By this time the Jews have isolated themselves among the Gentiles and “Judaism” has changed. There “fences” around the commandments and “minutia.” The Jews of Judea were more prominent than the Jews in Babylon and the “west” influenced the “east” for awhile. Rome was moving into pleasure seeking, sports and satisfying the desires of the masses. Jews move to seeking the knowledge of the Torah. This began with Ezra, deteriorated about the time of the Maccabees, then re-emphasized again to a deeper degree to combat Hellenism. This battle raged on among the Jewish people to 70 AD. After the Temple was destroyed, the Pharisees were the only group to survive, so their teachings are the foundation for Rabbinic Judaism. They emphasized the study of Torah to a greater degree under Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbinic Judaism at this point (middle of the second century AD) is preparing to write things down. They are being propelled into a hostile, Gentile world. They were guardians of the Torah and “fences” were put up for a “defense” around breaking a commandment, which was seen as “insulation” against a pagan world. If it wasn’t for these people and others, much of what we have today would not be there, like the Scriptures, history, language and concepts. Remember, there are three “prongs” emerging at this time. We have Rabbinic Judaism, Gentile Christianity and the Messianic faith, made up of Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Messiah. Things were changing fast. To understand Rabbinic Judaism and Gentile Christianity, you need to know these turning points. In addition, Gentile believers are moving away from anything considered Jewish, which will be the foundation for Gentile Christianity. Congregations are not being established like they were in the Gospels and Epistles. When Paul would establish a congregation, he appointed elders (zekanim), who would appoint other elders as they grew. To be an elder, you had to know the Scriptures, be able to teach them and know the customs and traditions, plus other requirements mentioned in the Epistles. Elders were not elected and were subject to a Beit Din (court). In the land, you had a king for civil law and a high priest for religious law. A high court issued mishpatim (judgments) based on the mitzvoth (commandments) and the Torah was the law of the land. But things are different now. You have a Gentile power over you and their laws to deal with. Now you have Jewish law and secular law, and problems emerge. As the Jews were dispersed due to three Roman wars, all of these problems are heightened. We know in the book of Acts that the Romans objected to what the Jews were teaching (Acts 16.21, 18.1-2), but after all these revolts it is even worse. In Part 8, we will pick up here and continue to bring out what was going on and how things got to where they are today. This is important because we need to see as believers just how things digressed to the point that Torah observant believers are the minority and anti-Torah (lawless) sentiments and teachings are seen as “biblical.”

Posted in Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Prophecy/Eschatology, The Tanach, Understanding the New Testament

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