Bad blood existed between the Pharisees and the Sadducee’s. But, how do these groups relate to the non-Jews? This will be critical to understanding the Gospels and Epistles. There is a lot of good information on this in the Jewish Encyclopedia on “Beit Hillel/Beit Shammai.” Beit (house, school) Hillel and Beit Shammai will argue about everything. The Talmud and Tosefta tell us about that, as does the Jewish Encyclopedia. There are over 300 recorded arguments between the two schools. Yeshua would take issue with the Pharisees, but the Gospels don’t tell us which school they were from, but they are “lumped” together. We have different Jewish writers refer to the Pharisees and the Chasidim for instance. In the Gospels, when Yeshua takes issue with a Pharisee, it is usually someone from the school of Shammai. His answers are many times what the school of Hillel would have said.
The status of non-Jews (or the Yiray Shamayim/Godfearers) was that they were not considered “pagan.” In Acts 10.2 you will see these people referred to as “feared God” (Phoubemenoi in Greek) and also they are referred to as “worshippers” and “devout ones ” (Sebemenoi in Greek). They followed the seven Noahide laws which were given to all men. They also followed the Torah as it applied. The school of Hillel was more tolerant of the non-Jewish Godfearers, especially if they followed the Noahide Laws. They believed that these non-Jews were “righteous Gentiles” and had a place in the resurrection of the Just and the Olam Haba.
The school of Shammai said “No!” They believed they had to become a Jew through ritual circumcision to be saved and have a place in the resurrection and the Olam Haba. These two schools argued about this. and this was the topic in Galatians. Believers from Beit Shammai were telling the Galatians that they needed to be circumcised (become Jews) to be saved. Paul, being a Pharisee from Beit Hillel, took issue with them. This was a classic argument between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai in the book of Galatians. Christianity teaches that these Galatians were being “Judaized” which means they were being told to follow the Torah, and if they did, they would fall from grace. This is a gross misinterpretation of what was going on and totally inaccurate.
Several events will occur around 20 BC that will change the face of this already tenuous relationship between Jew and non-Jew. There was a meeting at the house of a leading scholar named Hananiah Ben Hezekiah ben Gurion between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. One of the topics was the 18 Edicts, which were “guidelines” on how Jews were to interact with non-Jews. Hananiah was the son of the man who founded the Zealot movement, a man named Ben Gurion. He and his followers in the Zealot movement supported Beit Shammai because of their stand concerning the non-Jews. The Babylonian Talmud discusses what happened.
A second event concerned this meeting. The Nasi (president) of the Sanhedrin at the time was Hillel, and the Av Beit Din (vice-president) was a man named Menachem the Essene. Before the vote on the 18 Edicts, many from Beit Hillel were murdered by the Zealots, who were supported at least by Beit Shammai. The 18 Edicts are passed, and Menachem is so disgusted that he takes 80 of his own students and 80 from Beit Hillel and departs into the wilderness. As a result, Shammai becomes Av Beit Din (Talmud, Shabbat 13.b, 17a). They took a vote, and Beit Shammai outnumbered Beit Hillel, and the 18 Edicts were passed. These edicts restricted concourse between Jews and non-Jews, and Beit Hillel was against them. We will go into more detail on this meeting and the aftermath later because it is that important. What is the Book of Galatians about? How to treat non-Jews. So, let’s look at the Book of Acts and the 18 Edicts.
Many people think Yeshua was against the Pharisees and was constantly arguing with them. It is true that there were many teachings that he took issue with, but they were classic arguments between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. He was taking issue with the teachings from Beit Shammai. Yeshua and his responses showed that he agreed with Beit Hillel on most issues. The 18 Edicts have a tremendous bearing in the Book of Acts, especially Acts 10 and 11, Acts 15 and Acts 21. Beit Shammai believed that the Godfearers were “on the road” to salvation and a place in the Olam Haba (world to come) but they had to become a Jew through ritual circumcision first. Then they would be “saved” and have a place in the resurrection of the righteous. This becomes an issue in Acts 15.1 and the reason the Jerusalem Council was called in Acts 15. This was also the underlying problem in Galatians.
The 18 Edicts did not survive the years. After 70 AD, the halakah of Beit Shammai was ruled “unconstitutional” by the survivors of the Roman destruction. Why? Because most of the survivors who restructured the “Judaisms” in the First Century into one were from Beit Hillel. So, why did the meeting in 20 BC at the house of Hananiah Ben Hezekiah Ben Gurion take place? Beit Hillel was trying to “reach out” to non-Jews. They met in Shammai territory (the south) trying to heal the wounds between the two groups and Hananiah was a respected scholar. The arguments were explosive and Hananiah was the son of the founder of the Zealots, Hezekiah Ben Gurion.
Menachem the Essene was Av Beit Din of the Sanhedrin. He departed this meeting and may have went to the Essenes because he was so disgusted over what happened with the killings and the 18 Edicts. Shammai became Av Beit Din in 20 BC. Some say he usurped control via a coup when Zealots killed these students from Beit Hillel prior to the vote on the 18 Edicts. After Hillel died in 10 AD, Shammai became Nasi of the Sanhedsrin with no Av Beit Din till his death in 30 AD, the same year Yeshua died. He certainly knew Yeshua.
Before the first vote was taken on the 18 Edicts, we mentioned that several students from Beit Hillel were murdered. The Zealots who killed them may have been from the “Sicarii” (“cut-throats”) but it doesn’t matter. Beit Shammai, the Zealots and the Sicarii were all closely related. Hezekiah Ben Gurion, Hananiah’s father, was beheaded by Herod for rising up against him. Anyway, it was decreed in the 18 Edicts that a Jew could not go into the house of non-Jew and could not eat with them, plus many more things.
So, that brings us to Acts 10 and Cornelius and his house. Cornelius was a “phoubemenoi” (v 2) and Beit Hillel would have considered him a “righteous Gentile.” Beit Shammai would not have seen him that way. The Ruach Ha Kodesh falls on Cornelius, and the same thing happened to him that happened to the Apostles in Acts 2, but Cornelius was not circumcised or had become a Jew yet! When the “brethren” heard what happened they thought that this could only happen to converts. They accused Peter of going into the house of a non-Jew, breaking one of the 18 Edicts of Shammai. They said in Acts 11.3, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Peter tells the story and in Acts 11.18 they quieted down and glorified God saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance to life.” In other words, they had to change their doctrine concerning the staus of the non-Jew because it did not line up with Scripture.
How did all this come about? The Lord was going to show them something about these 18 Edicts. Peter has a vision and three times he see’s the same thing. He is told by the Lord to go to Caesarea, the home of the Roman legions occupying Israel at the time. Acts 10.28 says, “And he said to them (Cornelius and his house), ‘You know how unlawful (according to the 18 Edicts) it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.'” This verse contains one of the 18 Edicts and this was the meaning of Peter’s vision.
In Part 5, we will pick up with another aspect of this in Acts 21.15-26. Paul took a Nazarite vow and came out of the vow in Acts 18.18 by cutting his hair (Like Samson did when his hair was cut, that’s why his strength left him). He then is on his way to Jerusalem to keep the festival of Shavuot (Acts 20.16) and to bring alms and sacrifices (Acts 24.17). There are rumors going around about him that he is teaching the people not to follow Moses (Torah-the highest level of of the five levels of Jewish law) or the customs (the lowest level of the five levels of Jewish law). Paul is going to prove these rumors untrue and that he keeps the Torah and walks according to the Jewish halakah.