STUDY 3 - THE NEW TESTAMENT
WORLD: THE JEWS (1)
For this study see: M.C.Tenney, pp.80-125; R.H.Gundry,
pp.31-35; 43-55; 62-74. Further reading: F.F.Bruce, New Testament
History, pp.53-64; 128-144.
"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time
of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem" (Mt.2:1). The
Gospel of Matthew opens with Judea - a Roman province ruled by a puppet
king, Herod the Great.
1. HEROD THE GREAT
The Roman senate voted to make Herod the king of Judea.
He began his reign in 37 B.C. at the age of twenty-two. Some
three years later he defeated and executed Antigonus, the last ruler of
the Hasmonean family, and took his place. After the Battle of
Actium Caesar Augustus extended his kingdom by giving him parts of
Palestine previously held by Cleopatra, together with other cities such
as Gadara, Hippos, Samaria, Gaza, Anthedon, Joppa and Strato's Tower
(which Herod later rebuilt and renamed Caesarea). Trochonitis,
Batanea and Auranitis were added to his kingdom later.
Herod the Great seems
to be rather a complex character. His family life is sad and
unfortunate. He sought the favour of the Jews but never gained
it. He was a great builder, and the temple in Jerusalem was his
greatest achievement. Building commenced in 19 B.C. and took 46
years to complete (Jn.2:20). He erected fortresses at Masada,
Machaerus, Herodeion near Jerusalem, Herodeion on the Nabatean border
and Alexandreion. His building projects took him even outside
Palestine. He built a palace on the 'upper hill' of Jerusalem.
Herod was a cruel ruler. Matthew records the slaughter of the infants,
which was seen by Matthew as a fulfilment of prophecy (Mt.2:16-18; cf.,
Jer.31:15). His reign, however, was one of peace and prosperity.
2. PALESTINE AFTER HEROD'S DEATH
After Herod's death in 4 B.C., Augustus divided his kingdom
among his three sons.
Archelaus was to
govern Judea, Samaria and Idumea as an ethnarch. He failed in his
responsibility and in A.D. 6 he was deposed by the Emperor and replaced
by a Roman procurator. Judea became a Roman province with a
procurator. The legate of Syria was to keep an eye on affairs,
and the attachment is seen in Lk.2:1,2. Pontius Pilate was
procurator from A.D. 26-36. He condemned and crucified Jesus.
Herod Antipas was made
tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, and was informally called 'king' by his
subjects (Mt.14:1,9). He maintained peace for 40 years. John the
Baptist denounced his marriage to Herodias, his brother's wife, and was
subsequently beheaded by him (Mt.14:1-12; Mk.6:14-29). Jesus
spoke out against Herod (Lk.13:32). Pilate referred Jesus to
Herod Antipas during his trial at Jerusalem (Lk.23:6-12). Antipas
was a builder like his father. He built Tiberias on Lake Galilee, which
became known as Lake Tiberias. He was a patron of Greek culture.
Herod Philip II
(mother: Cleopatra) was made tetrarch of the region east and northeast
of the LakeGalilee (4 B.C. - A.D. 34) the least important
assignment. He was loyal to Rome and his administration was wise
and able. Philip was also involved in building projects. He
rebuilt Paneas and named it Caesarea. It became known as Caesarea
Philippi (Mk.8:27). Here Peter confessed Jesus to be the Messiah
Salome, daughter of
Herodias and Herod Philip I, was given Jamnia, Azotus and Phasaelis as
Herod had willed. The Emperor also added Ascalon. Salome
danced for the head of John the Baptist (Mt.14:1-12; Mk.6:14-29).
Herod Philip I
(mother: Mariamne) did not rule. He was the first husband of
Herodias (Mt.14:3; Mk.6:17). He died c.A.D. 34. 
In the first century A.D. Jews lived all over the Roman
world. As F.F.Bruce says: 
"At the beginning of the Christian era all Jews throughout the
world looked on Palestine and Jerusalem as their home, but the majority
of them lived farther afield. The list of nations in Acts 2:9-11
from which worshippers came to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost...
does indicate clearly the wide area of Jewish dispersion (Gk.
Judaism, the Jewish religion, survived at home and overseas
and - in the face of opposition - maintained its beliefs and
rites. The three major institutions of the Jewish religion
contributed to its survival - the home, the temple and the synagogue.
The home was the primary institution to the Jew. It had an
important role in Jewish teaching and worship. Males were
circumcised on the eighth day. The Passover was observed in the
home. The Scriptures, and especially sacred parts of it like the
Shema, were taught in the home. Verse 7 of Dt.6:4-9 was applied: "These
commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.
Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and
when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up"
The temple was at the heart of national life. Herod's temple was
built on King Solomon's original site. Sacrifices were offered
there daily by the priests, which were divided into 24 divisions.
It had its hours of prayer (Acts 3:1) and private vows and sacrifices
were made there (Acts 21:23f.). The temple was destroyed in A.D.
70 (this date marks the separation of Christianity from Judaism).
A temple-tax was payable annually by Jews (Mt.17:24-27).
One of the reasons for the survival of Judaism is the synagogue.
These were built throughout the world and became centres for worship,
education and government. The origin of the synagogue is obscure,
but date to the time of the Exile. Jesus attended the local
synagogue in Nazareth (Lk.4:16). "Any ten Jewish men banded
together for worship and sharing a concern to learn and fulfil God's
will as known in the law constituted a synagogue".  The synagogue
was an organisation of men - women and children sat separate. The
administration and ministry was lay. A priest was always
acknowledged in services, and gave the benediction.
The presiding officer was the 'ruler' (Lk.13:14). He was chosen
by the 'elders' (cf., 'rulers' in Mk.5:22).  One of his tasks was to
appoint speakers (Acts 13:15). Another important official of the
synagogue was the hazzan, or
attendant, who was a custodian of the
property and master of the synagogue school.  Synagogues were to be
found all over the NT world (see: Acts 13:14; 14:1; 17:1,10,17; 18:4;
19:8). There were many synagogues in the city of Jerusalem (Acts
6:9 mentions the Synagogue of the Freedmen). 
A synagogue service included prayer, the reading of the Law
 and Prophets, and a spoken word. Services were held every
Sabbath and on special occasions. Other biblical books were used
at different times of the year. The Pharisees were very involved in the
program of the synagogue. Most of the scribes were
Pharisees. Besides being a place of worship, education and
government, the local synagogue was a social centre of the Jewish
The Jewish experience of God was deeply rooted in history, and this
history was recorded in the Scriptures. The Torah, or Law, held a
special place in religious teaching. The Septuagint met the need of
Greek-speaking Jews. The Targums, which were paraphrases of parts
of the OT in Aramaic, met the need of those who were not at home with
Hebrew. The synagogue had a planned cycle of readings in the Law
and Prophets. The Hebrew canon consisted of 24 books in three
The Law (Torah):
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
The Prophets (Nebiim):
prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel (one book), Kings (one book). Latter
prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, The Twelve (one book). 
The Writings (Kethubim or
Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes,
Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah (one book), and Chronicles (one book).
The Five Megilloth (rolls) were specially connected with Jewish
festivals, at which they were read: Song of Songs (Passover); Ruth
(Feast of Weeks); Lamentations (Destruction of the Temple);
Ecclesiastes (Tabernacles); Esther (Purim).
The Midrash (Heb.,
exposition, explanation) consisted of doctrinal and homiletical
exposition of the Hebrew Scriptures, compiled between 100 B.C. and A.D.
300. The Midrash has three parts: the Halakah (contains
traditional law), Halakic Midrash
(a deduction of the traditional law
from the written law), and the Haggada
(consisting of legends, sermons,
and interpretations of the narrative parts of the Bible and concerning
ethics and theology rather than law). The Midrashim contain some
of the earliest existing synagogue homilies on the Old Testament.
The Talmud (Heb.,
instruction, teaching), the authoritative body of Jewish tradition
comprising the Mishnah (made
up of codified laws) and the Gemara
commentary on the Mishnah), belongs to the period A.D. 100 - 500, but
represents the opinions and decisions of Jewish teachers from about 300
B.C. The Talmud contained paraphrases whereas the Midrashim were
The feasts or festivals
In the Jewish year seven feasts were kept: Passover, the Feast of
Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Pentecost, the New Year and Day of
Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles (these are found in the law of
Moses), the Feast of Dedication and the Feast of Purim (two post-
exilic feasts). "Three basic festivals of the Jewish year were the
Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, celebrated in Jesus' day as
practically one festival; the Feast of Weeks; and the Feast of
Tabernacles" (F.V.Filson).  These were pilgrim events and marked
the deliverance from Egypt (Ex.12:1ff.), the giving of the law at Sinai
(Ex.19:1ff.) and the wilderness wanderings (Lev.23:42ff.).
Note that Jesus instituted the Breaking of Bread at Passover
time; the Holy Spirit was outpoured on the day of Pentecost; and at the
Feast of Tabernacles Jesus spoke the words recorded in
Jn.7:37,38. The Feast of Purim was observed on the 14 -15th
Adar. The Feast of Dedication (only seen in Jn.10:22) was
observed on the 25th Chislev (for eight days). It is also known as
Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, and Feast of the Maccabees. It
commemorates the rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabee in 165
B.C. after it had been profaned by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of
Syria and overlord of Palestine.
The sabbath day was a day of rest and worship (see Ex.20:8-11; cf.,
Dt.5:12-15).  As a festival day the Sabbath was the nation's most
distinctive festival. The New Year Festival was celebrated on the
1st Tishri (the Feast of Trumpets). The Day of Atonement (Yom
Kippur) was held on the 10th Tishri. It was a solemn day, when
atonement was made for the nation's sins.
Gentile converts to Judaism
The monotheism and morality of Judaism attracted many Gentile
adherents. 'God-fearers' were baptised and attended the local
Jewish synagogue. Proselytes went further in their commitment to
the faith - they were circumcised and kept the Jewish food laws.
Acts 16 indicates the presence of Judaism in Philippi in the absence of
a synagogue (see v.13). The modern city of Athens had a synagogue
1. See the chart of the house of Herod in: E.H.Palmer
(Gen.Ed.), The NIV Study Bible, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1987,
2. F.F.Bruce, New Testament History, p.128.
3. F.V.Filson, A New Testament History, London, SCM, 1965,
4. The oversight of a synagogue was plural with a leading
elder. In the NT Jairus, Crispus, and Sosthenes are named rulers
(Mk.5:35; Acts 18:8,17).
5. M.C.Tenney, p.91.
6. See: J.Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, ET,
London, SCM, 1969 for details.
7. In these notes I refer to 'Law' with a capital letter to
the first section of the Hebrew Bible (cf., reference to the law of
Moses). Citations will duplicate the form found in the textbooks.
8. 'The Twelve' represents the twelve minor prophets, Hosea,
Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai,
Zechariah, and Malachi. The term 'minor' does not reflect on the
quality of the books - only on their length. They all fitted on one
9. See: N.L.Geisler and W.E.Nix, A General Introduction.to the
Bible, revised, Chicago, Moody, 1968, p.502f.
10. F.V.Filson, A New Testament History, p.47.
11. In these notes we differentiate between the seventh day of
the week and the feast day by the use of a capital letter, e.g., the
Sabbath was held on the sabbath day!