First Century Jewish Torah-Law
What did Jewish law look like in the first century AD?
We'll be reviewing selective quotes from "An Introduction to the History and Sources of Jewish Law", (ISBN 0-19-826262-0) which is published by Oxford University Press and edited by people like the Professor and Director of the Institute of Jewish Law, Boston University School of Law, Professor of Rabbinics at the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in LA , the Professor of Comparative Law and Legal History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The chapter we'll look mostly at is "The Jewish Law During the Second Temple Period" (that is at the time of Christ and the Church), which is written jointly by a lady Professor who teaches Jewish Law at the Pontificia Universita Lateranese (Vatican) and a Professor of Law at the University of Liverpool who is editor of the Jewish Law Annual. So they know their stuff.
"The Pharisees, emerged as a distinct group about 160 BCE (160 years before Christ). They sought to bring ritual practices on analogies from the ritual of the Temple into the home. They held that God had given an oral tradition to Moses which was handed down along with the written law; this was denied by the Sadducees. When the rabbis came to write the history of Jewish law in accordance with the conception of Oral Law they put it thus:
"Moses received the Law from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets; the Prophets committed it to the men of the Great Synagogue (in Ezra's time AFTER the return from Babylon) Simeon the Just was of the remnants of the Great Synagogue,.Antigonus of Sokho received the Law from Simeon the Just. From there five "pairs" of authorities are said each to have "received the law" from their predecessors, thus linking the Great Synagogue (viewed as the Elders who came back from exile with Ezra).with the rabbinic schools whose disputes dominate tannaitic literature. [that is Jewish law after the destruction of the temple].
"The five pairs are.[and it ends up with the fourth pair]: Shemaiah and Avtaylon (period of Herod the Great) and (5) Hillel and Shammai".
So basically then, after the return from Babylon eventually an institution called the Great Synagogue was set up and the Oral Torah Law (distinct from the written Mosaic law that forms the first five books in our Bibles) was preserved through five pairs of Great Rabbis and the schools which they taught.
After the destruction of the temple in 70AD these oral teachings were codified into the Mishnah starting around AD200.
Let's be very clear about this though, "An Introduction to the History and Sources of Jewish Law" explains that the codification of the Oral Law was very clearly prohibited by the written Mosaic Torah Law. This is also recorded in the chapter "Jewish Law During the Second Temple Period" we read:
"We know that the great treatises of the Mishnah and Talmud were prepared in order to perpetuate the values of a tradition which had grown up over the centuries, and which ran the risk of disappearing if it was not written down. Israel's will to survive prevailed, on that occasion, despite the inhibition against writing anything other than that which had been given in writing on Sinai. By committing the "Oral Law" to writing, the Rabbis sought to perpetuate traditions which had grown up over time with the consent of the community of Israel".
Where in the Mosaic written Torah law is the Oral Torah prohibited?
Answer: Deuteronomy 4.
Let's take a look at that because it becomes crucial in explaining exactly what the curse of the law is that Paul refers to twice in Galatians.
2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
Let’s do something practical here. Let’s give some consideration to the relative size of the Oral Torah in the first century and compare it with the size of the written Torah.
Now we know that the Old Testament is divided into three sections don’t we: The Law, The Writings and the Prophets, and that the Law, notice that THE LAW, THE written Torah-law is the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy).
Take your Bible and gather the first five books of the Bible together. How many pages have you got there, roughly?
In an Oxford KJV there are about 290 pages between the begining of Genesis and the end of Deuteronomy.
Now let's compare that with the size of the Mishnah. The Danby translation is about 789 pages long and broadly speaking there's not a hugely disproportionate number of words on the pages of the Danby Mishnah compared to the written Torah between Genesis and Deuteronomy within an Oxford KJV. It's probably safe to say then, that the Mishnah is at least twice as big as the written Torah law. Whilst the Mishnah didn't exist in written form until after AD 200. Many, if not most of the rulings that it codified, would have been extant at the time of Christ in Oral Torah form.
The Written Torah Law Was Probably Only a Third of Jewish Law in the First Century
Although it was of course supposed to be the bedrock of Jewish law, THE God breathed WRITTEN Torah-law which we have in our Bibles, was therefore probably only about a third of the Jewish Torah-Law (both written and Oral Torah law combined) during the times recorded in the New Testament.
Paul's Not Necessarily Criticizing The Written Torah Law at all in Galatians
When Paul writes to the Galatian churches about the GENERIC subject of “law”, “works of law” and being “under law”,we need to know much more before we assume he was criticizing the written Torah law. To understand Paul's attitudes to law in Galatians we now need to understand that the written Torah Law has always been considered a great blessing by Jews and anyone else who's kept it.
Return to the start of Galatians, Paul, The Torah-Law and Legalism a Judianity website ?
In Acts a small and predictable change to one "Old Testament" law about the circumcision of gentile proselytes caused massive turmoil in the predominantly Jewish first century church. Why then, isn't any comparable fuss recorded in the New Testament if most of the other Old Testament laws were "done away"? Why also do many christian theologians believe even after the crucifixion, that Paul kept Nazirite vows and offered sacrifices at the temple?
Let's take a closer look at the fact that The Written Torah Law is a Blessing
© www.galatians-paul-the-torah-law-legalism.info Jan 2006.