B415- The History of the Levant from John the Baptist to Paul
ASSIGNMENT: Read Matthew; Mark; Luke; John; Romans; Galatians; 1-2 Corinthians; 1 Thessalonians; Philemon; Philippians; Acts. Also, Koester, Section 6-9.
The ministry of John the Baptist most likely began around the year 25 AD
He was, according to some, an Essene from Qumran who left the "monastery" there to preach in the vicinity of the Jordan river. The results of his preaching were that he was summarily executed by request of Herodias. But not before he baptized Jesus. Therefore the ministry of Jesus is closely connected, thematically, with the ministry of John.
Jesus conducted his ministry (primarily) in Galilee. The Gospels seem to indicate that his ministry was about 3 years long. If he was born around 4 BC, and ministered from the age of 30 to 33, then we can assume that he was executed in the year 29 or 30 AD.
The homeland of Jesus, Galilee, served as a "buffer zone" between Judea and the world. It was, in the time of Jesus, an area that enjoyed relative peace and prosperity. There were merchants, artisans, and craftsmen who plied their trade near the Sea of Galilee (as well as those who made their living as fishermen).
The area around Galilee is very beautiful. There are wonderful rolling hills and lovely little villages in that place. The natural beauty of the area was the perfect backdrop for the parables of Jesus and the lessons he strove to teach his disciples.
The center of community life in Galilee (and Judea) was the synagogue.
Each Sabbath the community gathered to hear the Torah read and expounded on; to sing the songs of faith; and to receive encouragement for the coming week. The men sat on one side while the women sat on the other; (that, by the way, is why Paul says that women should ask their husbands questions at home instead of yelling across the aisle in synagogue).
The life of a Galilean peasant was simple but pleasant. Jesus and his followers were all of this segment of society.
The political life of Palestine in the period of Jesus was determined by the Romans, who oversaw the activities of the minor rulers who governed after the death of Herod the Great. The more important rulers of Palestine were:
|Rulers in Palestine|
In the year 6 AD the Romans added another rung to the political hierarchy; the Procurator. This procurator was a politician and a military leader who was responsible for seeing to it that peace was maintained at any cost. This office was active in Judea from 6 till 41 AD The only Procurator known to us from the literary and archaeological remains is Pontius Pilate.
All of these politicians were under the direct control of the Roman Legate.
The Legate was the supreme political and military authority. The legates of this era were:
And, these legates were to answer directly to the Roman emperor. The emperors of this era were:
Yet during the period under investigation, the Jews were allowed considerable freedom to practice their religion. The high priest, in fact, wielded significant power. The high priests in office during the first half of the first century were:
Besides their spiritual responsibilities these priests also were responsible for the finances of the temple. This was big business (as, per example, the story of Jesus casting the businessmen out of the temple). They thus wielded significant economic power as well as spiritual power. All of the high priests of this period belonged to the party of the Sadducees. The Sadducees accepted only the 5 books of Moses as authoritative; they did not accept the idea of an afterlife and they did not believe in angels or devils.
Their opponents, the Pharisees, accepted the whole of the Hebrew Bible as authoritative and accepted the ideas of angels and afterlife.
The third sect of first century Judaism was the Essenes. These Essenes were ascetics who lived throughout the country and in the settlement called Qumran. They split off of the Sadducees in the second century BC; but they went towards the Pharisees in their beliefs.
The majority of Jews in the first century belonged to none of these groups.
Most were not interested in the extreme piety of the Essenes and Pharisees and were not blue-blooded enough for the Sadducees. It was to this great bulk of people to whom Jesus appealed.
When Jesus was crucified and resurrected, his disciples began to spread the message of his life. Theology began to develop. The first great theologian of the Church (after Jesus!) was the apostle Paul.
Paul had received training as a Pharisee and when the church was born he persecuted it with all the zeal he could muster. He was, nevertheless, converted to the new movement and became its most vocal spokesman; surpassing all of the other apostles (including Peter).
The early Church experienced rapid growth. Because of this the Romans became suspicious of the new movements aims. It was decided that the best cure for the possible rebellion was execution- so that the Christian leadership was in great danger of being eliminated. Some of the more important events of this era were:
As the Church grew it expanded beyond its Jewish borders and became a predominately Gentile Church. As this took place the Church adopted many of the philosophical teachings of its new Gentile converts. The Church, in short, was transformed from a Jewish sect to a Hellenistic religion. Paul's missionary work made it necessary for him to speak in ways that the Greeks and Romans could understand; thus he transformed many Jewish ideas into Greek ones; and communicated these as the Gospel. Many of Paul's ideas have parallels in the "mystery" religions of the day. For instance, in some Roman religions cleansing for eternal life was accomplished by being covered with the blood of a sacrificed animal. Thus when Paul spoke of the cleansing blood of Christ his Greek hearers would think of this as an initiation into eternal life. There are numerous examples of this syncretism (see Koester).
The Church grew by leaps and bounds in its earliest decades. The majority of Christians were poor or slaves; and they desperately wanted to be free from the bondage of sin and devil. In the Gospel they found what they so desperately wanted; and theologians like Paul and John helped them to see it clearly.
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