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Judaism and the Origins of Christianity

by David Flusser

Bibliographic information

TitleJudaism and the Origins of Christianity
AuthorDavid Flusser
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2009
SubjectOrigin of Christianity


For more than three decades, Professor David Flusser of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem has pioneered new understandings of the Jewish background of early Christianity. Many have been fascinated by his unique monograph on Jesus, translated into several languages, Most of his scholarly articles in English, including some new contributions as well as many published in not easily accessible journals, have been collected in this one volume. A must for New Testament scholars, and students of early Judaism, it will also be welcomed by the many lay persons for whom Professor Flusser has provided illumination on the origins of Christian faith.

About the Author 

David Flusser ---

(1917-2000) A laureate of Israel Prize, Prof. David Flusser was a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and taught Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His best-known book, Jesus, was translated into eleven languages.


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PART I The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament

1 The Apocryphal Book of Ascensio Isaiae and the Dead Sea Sect 3

2 Healing through the Laying-on of Hands in a Dead Sea Scroll 21

3 The Dead Sea Sect and Pre-Pauline Christianity 23

4 From the Essenes to Romans 9:24-33 75

5 A: Two Notes on the Midrash on 2 Sam. vii 88 B: Appendix 99

6 Blessed are the Poor in Spirit... 102

7 Some Notes to the Beatitudes 115

8 The Magnificat, the Benedictus and the War Scroll 126

9 Jesus' Opinion about the Essenes 150

10 The Slave of Two Masters 169 (by David Flusser and Shmuel Safrai

11 Qumran und die Zwölf 173

12 Melchizedek and the Son of Man 186

13 The Social Message from Qumran 193

14 The Last Supper and the Essenes 202

15 The Hubris of the Antichrist in Fragment from Qumran 207

16 Qumran and Jewish'Apotropaic' Prayers 214

PART II Jewish and Christian Apocalyptic

17 Salvation Present and Future 229

18 Messianology and Christology in the Epistle to the Hebrews 246

19 Messianic Blessings in Jewish and Christian Texts (by Brad Young and David Flusser) 280

20 "At the Right Hand of Power" 301

21 The Essene Doctrine of Hypostasis and Rabbi Meir (by David Flusser and Shmuel Safrai) 306

22 The Four Empires in the Fourth Sibyl and in the Book of Daniel 317

23 The Fourth Empire an Indian Rhinoceros? 345

24 A Quotation from the Ghathas in a Christian Sibylline Oracle 355

25 An Early Jewish-Christian Document in the Tiburtine Sibyl 359

26 Hystaspes and John of Patmos 390

27 No Temple in the City 454

PART III Ancient Judaism and Christianity

28 A: A New Sensitivity in Judaism and the Christian Message 469; B: Johanan Ben Zakkai and Matthew 490

29 A: A Rabbinic Parallel to the Sermon on the Mount 494; B: The Didache and the Noachide Commandments 508

30 Hillel's Self-Awareness and Jesus 509

31 "I am in the Midst of Them" (Mt. 18:20) 515

32 Jesus and the Sign of the Son of Man 526

33 A Lost Jewish Benediction in Matthew 9:8 535

34 "It is not a Serpent that Kills" 543

35 Two Anti-Jewish Montages in Matthew 552

36 Matthew's "Verus Israel" 561

37 The Crucified One and the Jews 575

38 A: A Literary Approach to the Trial of Jesus 588; B: What was the Original Meaning of Ecce Homo? 593; C: "Who is it that Struck You?" 604

39 Josephus on the Sadducees and Menander 610

40 The Jewish-Christian Schism 617

41 Abraham and the Upanishads 645

List of Sources 655

Sources 657

Subjects 703

List of Illustrations 721

Selected Bibliography 723


As is well known, although Rev. 21:22-27 speaks about the New Jerusalem after "the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more"

(Rev. 21:1), we read here that "the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it. .. and the honour of the nations" (21:24-26). Thus the situation is illogical and can be explained only by the fact that the author depends upon another motif or source in which the New Jerusalem was the last event of an unbroken historical development.

It has also been suggested that the author used earlier sources because of doublets: to Rev. 21:22-27 there corresponds Rev. 22:5, and already in Rev. 29:11 we learn about the radiance of the glory of God in the New Jerusalem. Another doublet is 21:27 and 22:3.

No Temple in the City

But even those who rightly supposed that Rev. 21:22-27 is based upon an earlier source are unwilling to accept that Rev. 21:22 was a part of this source. It seems to them that a Jewish author could not have written the following sentence: "And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb" (Rev. 21:22). The opinion of those scholars is: as a temple in the eschatological Jerusalem is indispensable for Jewish eschatology, the concept that in the New Jerusalem there will be no temple is Christian and, therefore, Rev. 21:22 is a creation of John of Patmos.2 When he speaks about a temple (3:12; 7:15; 11:19; 14:15, 17; 15:5, 6,8; 16:1, 17), it is situated in heaven and not upon the earth.

In the present article, however, it will be shown that Rev. 21:22 is basically Jewish and that it belonged to the source of John of Patmos. Either this Jewish source was written in Hebrew, or it was written in Greek but, nonetheless, based upon Hebrew material. If the source was indeed written in Greek, it is impossible to be certain how far already the Jewish author had restyled the Hebrew material and what were the subsequent changes and abbreviations made by John of Patmos. He surely replaced the Messiah with the Lamb, but there do not seem to be any other tendentious changes attributable to the Christian author with full certainty.

But before treating this special literary problem, we have to say a few words about the Temple in the Jewish and Christian thought of the time.

In ancient Judaism there existed side by side contrary tendencies: one tendency stressed the central importance of the Jerusalem Temple and its worship, but another, so to say centrifugal, tendency expressed in various ways a critique of or even an opposition to the Temple and the worship performed in it, while between the extreme positions there was a large spectrum of approaches, as can be recognized already from the Old Testament. Very few embraced the extreme negative position towards the Temple as did the small Jewish sect of Nasaraioi, a part of which probably later became the heretical Christian sect of Ebionites. The

Essene position, as is known, was less extreme: it seems that the author of the Book of Jubilees, a work written within the broader movement in which the Essene sect originated, considered the whole Second Temple as illegal. Even in Pharisaic Judaism there were trends and groups which reflected a more or less

uneasy feeling about the Temple and the worship in it. Not only is there evidence of a tension between the Pharisees and the Sadducean Temple hierocracy, but in the rabbinic literature we sometimes hear voices expressing ideological doubts about the institution of the Temple itself, and especially about the positive value

of sacrifices. In the period of the Second Commonwealth, the Temple of Jerusalem was thus both an object of veneration and a problem. It seems that the lack of consensus about the value of the Jerusalem Temple made it easier for the Jews to overcome the terrible crisis caused by its destruction and contributed to

the survival of Judaism after this catastrophe.

The destruction of the Second Temple caused a deep despair in the Jewish nation and the hope for its future renewal nourished eschatological longings. It was also easier to wish that the glorious Temple would be rebuilt and that the sacrifices there would be renewed if one had already forgotten the questions which had

arisen in the past when the Temple and the offering of sacrifices were visibly present. This hope for the rebuilding of the Temple became a kind of dogma for the Jews. In such a situation it was surely difficult for the rabbinic sources to include too much of the critique of the Temple and its sacrifices. But even if we

take into account the psychological inhibitions of the rabbinic tradents and later compilers, it is interesting to notice that the rabbinic literature preserved an echo of the critical ideology in connection with the Temple and the sacrificial worship there, though it is probable that sometimes during the oral tradition and in the

written stage such utterances were somehow weakened. Further investigation of the whole theme is badly needed.

Although it is not our task to treat the various attitudes of Christianity towards the Temple in Jerusalem and its sacrifices, it should be remembered that even today in the mainstream of Christianity the evaluation of the Temple is ambiguous and not wholly negative. Jesus' words about the destruction and the rebuilding of the Temple could be interpreted both as opposition to the Temple and as an expression of the hope that Christ will rebuild the sanctuary. Jewish Christians were divided in their evaluation of the Temple: the Ebionites rejected it, but the Mother Church in Jerusalem assembled in it.

Later on, groups of Jewish Christians continued to pray in the direction of Jerusalem. John of Patmos was both a Jew and a believing Christian. In his book we find no negative or even critical remark about the Temple in Jerusalem and the sacrifices. Only the absence of a Temple in the New Jerusalem in Rev. 21:22 can be interpreted in this direction, but we hope now to show that he has taken over this sentence from a Jewish source. Thus in this case we have to ask about the tendency of his source and not about the personal opinion of John of Patmos.

Rev. 21:22-23 states: "And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb." As will be shown, these words depend upon a midrash, which already combined two biblical passages in order to create a coherent picture. Thus this midrash is composed of two units. The second unit is the one reflected in the words "its lamp" (i.e., that of the New Jerusalem) "is the Lamb." John of Patmos has here replaced the Messiah of the original with the meaningful title "the Lamb." The point of departure of this second unit is Ps. 132:17 and it appears independently in two midrashic collections.

Both versions of the midrash create a causal connection between the lamp in the Temple and the lamp of the Messiah mentioned in Ps. 132:17. One is a saying of Rabbi Hanan: "Because of the merit of the regular mounting of the lamp (Lev. 24:2), you will benefit from the lamp of the King Messiah. Why? Because 'there I will make a horn to sprout for David, I have prepared a lamp for my Messiah' (Ps. 132:17)." The second midrash11 is anonymous. It identifies typologically the gold, silver, bronze and the tanned ram's skins in Ex. 25:3-5 with the four wicked empires. "And what is written after this? Oil for the lamp (Ex. 25:6). What is the lamp? The King Messiah, as it is written (Ps. 132:17): 'There I will make a horn to sprout for David, I have prepared a lamp for my Messiah.'" This biblical verse is not the only reason that the Messiah became connected with light. Other rabbinic texts speak about the light of the Messiah12 and about the rays which will emanate from his countenance. The Messiah, moreover, is not the only person in rabbinic and other ancient Jewish literature who is connected with light.

The first unit of the midrash which is behind Rev. 21:22-27 is simply an application of Is. 60:19 to the current eschatological hopes. According to a rabbinic text:14 "Jerusalem is the light of the world, as it is written: "And nations shall come to your light' (Is. 60:3). And who is the light of Jerusalem? The Holy One, as it is written: 'And the Lord will be your everlasting light' (Is. 60:19)." The latter verse begins: "The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you . . . Thus the beginning of Rev. 21:23: ("And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illuminated it . . ." ) is a combination of this verse and Is. 60:1 ("And the glory of the Lord has shone upon you"). It is well known to all commentators that this part of the Book of Revelation is, among other things, a paraphrase of quotations from Isaiah chapter 60.1 hope to show that this is meaningful for the literary aspect of our question.

As in Rev. 21:22-23, also in its nearest rabbinic parallel, the two midrashic units are fused together namely as a midrash15 to Ex. 27:20: "And you shall command

the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light ready for the regular mounting of the lamp." The midrash states: "The Holy One said to Israel: 'In this world you needed the light of the Temple, but in the world to come because of the merit of the above mentioned lamp (Ex. 27:20) I will bring you the King Messiah, who is compared to a lamp, as it is written: "There I will make a horn to sprout for David, I have prepared a lamp for my Messiah" (Ps. 132:17). And not only this: I will make light for you, because this is what Isaiah said: "The Lord will be your (i.e., Jerusalem's) everlasting light, and your God will be your glory" (Is. 60:19)."'

The similarity between the midrash and Rev. 21:22-23 is obvious. Here, as in many other cases, when we discover the Jewish background of a passage in the New Testament, we are able to understand that New Testament passage, because very often, when the New Testament reflects a Jewish midrash, its original structure has to some extent become blurred. The first thing which becomes clear in our case is that the idea that the lamp of the New Jerusalem will be the Lamb derives from a Jewish understanding of Ps. 132:17 ("I have prepared a lamp for my Messiah"). The second contribution for the understanding of our passage is the fact that the idea that in the eschatological Jerusalem there will be no need for the light of the Temple, because the glory of God will give this light, is already Jewish: Is. 60:19 was interpreted not only as being concerned with Jerusalem of latter days, but also with the existence of the eschatological Temple.

And the third point is: this achievement was reached already at the Jewish stage; a midrash on Ps. 132:17 was fused with a midrash on Is. 60:19 to become a coherent picture, which we also recognize in Rev. 21:22-23. And a further remark: in verse 23 there we read that "the city has no need of sun and moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illuminated it." We have already seen that this is a combination of Is. 60:19 and 60:1. According to the Jewish parallel, "in this world you needed16 the light of the Temple, but in the world to come... I will bring you the King Messiah, who is compared to a lamp." Even if it is not said in so many words, the midrash implies the notion that in the world to come there will be no need of the light of the eschatological Jerusalem. The main difference

between the midrash and the description in the Book of Revelation is that according to the midrash the Messiah is compared to a lamp, while in Rev. 21:23

the lamp itself is the Lamb. The three most salient parallels between Rev. 21:22-23 and the Jewish midrash are thus as follows:

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