Biblical People, Places ans Time-Part 9

Before 135 AD, communities supported rabbinic scholars, but some worked to support themselves. After 135 AD, a doctrine emerged to study above all else. Among Gentiles, the emphasis is on success and amassing a fortune. Among Jews, the emphasis was education and scholarship above financial success. In Gentile Christianity and the Gentile world, it went into the Dark Ages. Scholars were disdained and the only place you could receive an education was in the Catholic Church, and then become a monk. In the Jewish community, education and study was emphasized. Finances could set you free to study. In the Gentile community, the rich and powerful guys were the ones that the girl would marry. In the Jewish community, it was the Rabbi’s son, who was a scholar. Matt 6.32-33 says that our sustenance is not in our power, so we shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking our prosperity depends on our efforts alone. They recognized true prosperity and God blesses a righteous man, so “be the Kingdom of God” first, then material blessings will take care of itself. This attitude produced scholars and a love for education (in America, where is the emphasis? It is on sports, athletics, the Olympics, the NFL, the NBA, MLB and so on). After the Tannaim (meaning “repeaters, teachers”), we move into the era of the Amoraim (scholars who lived between 200 to 600 AD). They concluded that tradition could not invalidate Torah and they tried to straighten out what the Tannaim got wrong. They formed what was called the Gemora. The Mishnah is the first part of the Talmud, and there are two Talmud’s. One is called the Babylonian Talmud and the other is called the Jerusalem Talmud. Talmud means “learning and study” and can mean the essence of your learning, or the exegesis of a text or the body of work. It contains the commentary and discussions of the Amoraim on the Mishnah of Rabbi Yehuda Ha Nasi. The Mishnah is also known as “Shas” which is short for “Shishah” (six) referring to the six orders in the Mishnah. It is overall known as the Oral Torah, or the “Torah bal Peh.” These were usually studied with singing and melodic phrases and studied aloud, as all books were anciently. Reading holy books in silence was inconceivable. Singing of the Scriptures and that which was written in Hebrew could be done with what is called “troph” marks which are cantillation “notes” above the letters. These “songs” are similar to the Gregorian chants that many have heard. The Babylonian Talmud is also known as “Babli” and it was written during the Amoraic period. It elaborates on the Mishnah and done in Babylon, at two academies in Pumbedisa and Sura. It had no clear cut beginning and end but it covered the time period of 250 to 450 AD. Rabbis associated with it are Abba Aricha (Rav), Samuel, Rav Ben Huna, Rav Yehuda, Rav Chisda, Rav Sheshet and Rav Nachon Ben Jacob, ending around 320 AD. After these, the next generation included Rabbah Ben Hahmani, Rav Yosef Ben Hiyya, Abbaye, Rava, Pappa and Rav Nachman Ben Isaac around 371 AD. The next generation begins the final phase in editing the Babylonian Talmud, beginning with Rav Ashi, Rav Ameimar, Rav Zevid, Rav Dimi and Rav Mar Zutra. These cover the time period from about 376 to 427 AD. The last generation of the Amoraim included Rav Yeimar, Rav Idi Ben Avin and Mar Bar Rav Ashi. These names are important because they were the immediate Talmidim of the previous heads of the academies in Babylon. Contemporaries are usually the antagonists on an issue with the other (Samuel vs Rav for instance). The scope of the Babylonian Talmud is the Gemora on the six orders, but it was not completed. This is because the subject matter does not require it because it was “cut and dried.” This does not mean all six orders were not studied in the Babylonian academies. Two opinions that might sound totally opposite are found. You have the “on the one hand” approach which is when you look at something from different angles, with no contradiction, with the “on the other hand” approach. Now, here are some tips when you study the Torah, Talmud or any other religious book. Read it like a lawyer, which means you must know what the words mean. Know Hebrew, or have a working knowledge of it, or you can miss the meaning of a translation. Know the “letter” of the Torah, and the “spirit” (intent) of the Torah. This is a Hebrew concept that goes back 1000’s of years. The Torah is the foundation, and you must know it in the way it was communicated. When lessons were given, it was given to an “agent” who was an “interpreter” called a Meturgman. He in turn would address the masses. This was the role of the Amoraim (Exo 20.18-21, Deut 18.15). After the Tannactic period, they received much more latitude in interpretation. This practice continued into the 12th century. The next group of scholars in Babylon were called the “Savoraim”, meaning “a reasoner” from 500 to 600 AD. Next came the Gaonim (meaning “the magnificent”), who were the heads of the Babylonian Academies, from 600 to 1040 AD. Now, some of the principle Amoraim of the Palestinian Academies (200 to 600 AD) were Hanina Ben Hama, Yannai, Jonathan Ben Eleazar, Levi Ben Sis, Rava, Samuel Ben Nachman, Simeon Ben Lakish, Huna, Eleazar Ben Pedat, Assi, Ammi, Oshaya, Hanina, Abbahu, Yosi Ben Jacob, Hillel II and many, many others. What you need to do is get a chronology of all the Tannactic and Amoraic rabbis and see who was prominent during major events in church history, and the personalities involved. You will see who the rabbi’s were who went against certain church fathers, for example, the “Dialogue with Trypho” by Justin Martyr may be with Rabbi Tarfon, a third generation Mishnaic sage who lived between 70 and 135 AD, where Justin tried to show that Christianity was the new “law” for men. All of this will revolutionize how you read the New Testament. How? What kind of rabbi was Paul? He was a Tanna (notable sages, scholars, rabbi’s from 100 BC to 200 AD). Who was his teacher? Another leading Tanna called Gamaliel, the grandson of one of the greatest scholars of all, Rabbi Hillel. In Judaism, the closer you get to the era of the Tannaim the better. So, Paul’s word should be considered very highly. The time you live is considered as far as authority goes. So, that is why it is good to know this chronology because that puts the writings of the Gospels and Epistles right there at the beginning. So, again, who was Paul’s teacher? Gamaliel, so that would be even better than someone taught by a lesser known rabbi. Paul’s credentials rates him among the greatest Tannaim, and he wrote most of the New Testament, which makes it a very orthodox Jewish writing, not only before men, but inspired by God himself. By knowing the Tannaim, the Amoraim, the Savorim and the Gaonim, you can see how they were taught, how they think and you can pick up things in the Gospels and Epistles. The Gemora of the Amoraim (200 to 600 AD) explained the Mishnah of the Tannaim (100 BC to 200 AD) because they felt that it was necessary to explain what the Tannaim took for granted. For example, Passover in the Temple in the Mishnah didn’t go into massive detail because the people already knew that. The Amoraim knew that their people did not have the knowledge associated with Passover, nor did they experience Passover in the Temple like many of the Tannaim did. So, their Gemora went into detail about it, which in turn helps us today because now we can know what exactly went on at Passover, who stood where, what gate people came in and out of, what prayers were said, and on and on. Halachic discussions of the Amoraim had equal weight as the Tannaim because the Mishnah was not detailed. As a result, two types of scholars emerged One full of knowledge was called “Sinai” and one with a keen, analytical mind was called “an up-rooter of mountains.” Sound familiar (Mark 11.22.23)? Of the scholars at Pumbedisa it is said, “That with their excessive sharpness, they could make and elephant pass through the eye of a needle.” Sound familiar (Matt 19.24)? They could do the impossible in a situation. The Tannaim and the Amoraim were lawyers. The Tannaim may teach from halachah one day, then the aggadah the next day. The Amoraim were not like that, they specialized in one or the other. Then there were the Nechutei (“shaliachim” or apostles, sent ones). They travelled (were sent) from Palestine (as it was known then) to Babylon to inform the scholars there what the Palestinian rabbi’s were teaching, and their authority was accepted in Babylon as greater. Their view of ordination, the books written and prophecy was that it must be in the land. This wasn’t right, but it was their view. In civil matters, they viewed Babylon as under Palestinian authority. Now, as far as titles went, a “rabbi” was from Palestine and a “rav” is from Babylon. Some had “mar” after their names. Rabbana is another one or placing an “R” (Rav) in front of their names, like “R Ami” or “Rami.” As far as politics, Palestine was governed by the Romans, then the Christians. In Babylon, it was the Parthians, then the Persians. When making a livelihood, these scholars were not paid for teaching or studying, they did it for the “sake of heaven.” They were to live by their own toil. They engaged in every type of occupation, without neglecting their studies. Communal activity was supported and sometimes scholars were exempt from taxes through the Jewish leaders of that particular city. In Part 10, we will pick up discussing the development of Gentile Christianity, second century apologists and the arguments of these apologists, the Church Fathers, church heresies and much more. For more detail on tis subject, go to out teaching on “Replacement Theology” on this site.

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

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