Halakic (legal) controversies between Bet Hillel, Bet Shammai and Jesus
Bradford, Johnnie Edgar
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The synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are commonly regarded as biographical in nature in their presentation of the life and teachings of Jesus. The gospels of Matthew and Luke report that Jesus was born a Hebrew among Hebrews, raised as a Jew within the Jewish nation, and functioned a first century Rabbi in a completely Jewish context during which time he started his own movement called the kingdom of heaven. The Rabbis of that day commonly enlisted a group of followers or disciples. The combination of a Rabbi and his students constituted an academy. Two schools or academies existed during the time of Jesus and were contemporary with him, the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel. The Babylonian Talmud dating from 500 C.E. records exactly three hundred and sixteen legal controversies between these two schools. Legal disputes between Jesus and representatives of one or the other existing schools of thought are recorded in the synoptic gospels. Each record clearly identifies the subject under dispute and the positions of the disputing parties. Nevertheless, the incomplete information provided in the synoptic gospels is not sufficient to allow readers to understand the dispute at hand. For example, a group of unidentified Pharisees approach Jesus with a specific question regarding the legalities of divorce. They ask the following question: "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause (Matthew 19:3)?" This question can raise these questions in the readers minds: Why was this question presented to Jesus? What is the background of this legality? What is the actual law regarding this matter? Is this an unresolved issue? Who are the parties involved in resolving this issue? Is there more detailed information regarding this issue? Ancient Jewish sources provide answers to all of these questions. This dissertation provides the material lacking in the synoptic gospels to enable one to understand the controversy and Jesus' interpretation. This will be accomplished through use of Jewish sources that provide the details of the disputes recorded in the synoptic gospels as well as identifying the various parties involved. Behind the process of presenting background information in this dissertation lies the premise that any study of the life and teachings of Jesus performed without consulting ancient Jewish sources will result in confusion and misunderstanding. This dissertation highlights information relating to these controversies that is lacking in the synoptic gospels and will enable the reader to understand the nature of the controversy and Jesus' conclusions.