Monday, March 27, 2023

The Talmud's Influence on the New Testament Writers

Dr. Alice C. Linsley

The first 12 chapters of Genesis are rich in anthropological data. They speak of the Hebrew ruler-priests who established and expanded their territories, promoted technological advances, controlled river and land commerce, traded with kingdoms far from their own, developed systems of writing, and influenced the religious beliefs of many non-Hebrew populations. 

The Hebrew ruler-priests were the first lords of the earth, the potentates of 6000+ years ago. They believed that their authority was derived from the High God and that they were required to rule according to the sacred law codes of their ancestors. Genesis preserves their king lists in chapters 4, 5, 10, 11, 25 and 36. Genesis 36:31 clarifies that these "mighty men of old" (Gen. 6) ruled before there was any king in Israel.

The Hebrew ruler-priests were a caste that preserved their identity and wealth by marrying only within their caste. Among them are Cain, Seth, Lamech the Elder (Gen. 4), Lamech the Younger (Gen. 5), Noah, Ham, Shem, Sheba, Heth, Nimrod, and Abraham the Hebrew. 

Unfortunately, some of these early Hebrew are misrepresented in later writings, especially the Talmud and Mishnah. Though these were codified after 70 A.D. the ideas they contain were well known to the Jewish writers of the New Testament. In the first century there were many sects and schools in Jewish society and the diversity of opinion is expressed in the disputations of the rabbis.

Many Jews believe that the Talmud contains truth of greater authority than the Hebrew Bible. The Talmud itself encourages this. We read this explicit instruction: “My son, be more careful in the observance of the words of the Scribes than in the words of the Torah." (Talmud Erubin 21b)

SUNY professor, Robert Goldberg, has written: “The traditional Jew studies Talmud because it communicates ultimate truth—truth about God, truth about the world, and most important, truth about how God wants the holy community of Israel to live.”

New Testament writers were influenced by the Talmud in the way they present certain Old Testament characters: Cain, Esau, Korah, and Balaam are examples. Cain is remembered as a murderer, but Moses and David are not. Esau is posed as wicked though he forgives the deception of Jacob and welcomes him back to the “land of Seir” in Edom (Gen. 32:3). Moses’ half-brother Korah is remembered only for his challenge to Moses’ authority and not for his ritual purity, and Balaam becomes the archetype of a foolish false prophet.

By the time that Jude wrote his epistle (c. 68 AD) Cain was solidly established as the archetype of an earthly ruler. Jude warns those who might abandon Christ because of their suffering and false teachers that God punishes those who rebel against Him. He uses three men as examples: Cain the ruler, Balaam the prophet, and Korah the priest. These were the three most sacred offices among Abraham’s Hebrew people, and they were often filled by people corrupted by the world.

The pervasive influence of the Talmud on first century Jews makes it more remarkable that the New Testament writers recognized Jesus as Messiah and the Son of God.

Much of the argument developed by the writer of the book of Hebrews relies on rabbinic thought, not on historical realities. In Hebrew 7:14, the writer recognizes that the Messiah is from the clan of Judah and a descendant of David, but he seems unaware that both Judah and David are descendants of an ancient caste of ruler-priests. 

Hebrews 12:16 casts Esau as immoral, yet Esau welcomed his deceiving brother Jacob who sought to return home. Zevachim 14:4 claims that Esau's wives served idols, yet they were the daughters of the Hittite chiefs Elon and Beeri who served the same High God. Esau was Isaac's proper heir and he ruled over Isaac's territory in Edom. The intense dislike of Esau in Jewish writings appears to spring from jealousy.

In Hebrew 7:20-28, the author states that the former priests did not take oaths. However, there are historical documents that attest to oaths among the Horite and Sethite Hebrew priests. These include oaths of office, of loyalty, and of truth telling. The priest took an oath that declared loyalty to the high king who he served, and the oath was declared before the appointed royal official or high priest under whom the priest served.

In an oath taken before a priest of the Temple of Hathor on December 6, 127 B.C., a royal servant Petasatet declared his innocence in the case of cloth theft. Temples played an important role in resolving legal and personal disputes.

An oath was taken as a solemn appeal to divine authority represented by the high king. One type asserts a truth and is by nature a declaration such as that of Petasatet. A second type makes a promise pertaining to future actions. (See John A. Wilson, “The Oath in Ancient Egypt”.)

The writer of Hebrews admits that many of the religious practices of the period of the Exodus are not familiar to him. Of the Ark of the Covenant, the mysterious manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, he explains in Hebrew 9:5 – “Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” When the details that enable verification of narratives is lacking the reader has reason to question the source.

However, an empirical investigation of the Hebrew ruler-priest caste using the data in Genesis tells us who they were, what they believed, how they dispersed out of the Nile Valley, and that they are the first to hold the Messianic Faith concerning God Father and God Son. Their religion was not Judaism and they would find much of the Talmud confusing and unfamiliar.

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