Hebraic Roots Movement - Part IV
Does Judaism today resemble what God had originally conveyed in the Pentateuch? What is the foundation of the modern Hebraic Roots Movement? To answer these questions, let us examine some history. In so doing, we can evaluate which element modern Judaism and the “Christian Hebraic Movement” resemble most: God’s written Word or Jewish oral tradition.
In 165 BC, there was a Jewish uprising of the Maccabees against Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria. At that time, the victorious Jews were, in fact, free to worship at the temple in Jerusalem, but Rome had begun to take over the government of Syria and Israel. The Hasmonean family, to which Judah Maccabee belonged, brought forth leaders that continued to sustain Jewish independence, all the while Rome kept a watchful and observant eye on their progress.
In 63 BC, Pompey of Rome marched into Israel and invaded the temple during a service, killing thousands of priests and worshippers. Pompey then appointed Hyrcanus—a Jew very friendly to Rome—as the new high priest, but Pompey stopped short of giving him any royal title.
Some fifteen years after this event, Julius Caesar and Pompey entered into a civil war, of which Caesar was the victor. During the conflict, Hyrcanus and Antipater defected from the side of Pompey to support Julius Caesar. As a show of gratitude for their allegiance and help, Caesar reconfirmed Hyrcanus as the high priest and appointed Antipater as procurator of Judea.
After the death of Antipater, his son Herod continued to offer allegiance to Rome. Herod supported Caesar until the latter was assassinated; consequently, Herod shifted his faithfulness from Caesar to Brutus, then from Brutus to Mark Anthony, and then finally from Mark Anthony to Octavian. In exchange for his undying consecration to Rome, Herod was appointed as king of Judea.
Jewish Sects And Scholars
The daily life of a Jew in Israel was directed by two components: the mitzvoth (commandments) found within the Written Law (Torah), as well as the unwritten (Oral) Laws, which were laws and traditions that had grown up among the people.
Several factions of Jewish leadership emerged during this period. The most significant group of religious leaders was the Pharisees, called Perushim. These pharisaical rabbis and leaders placed a focus on the keeping of Jewish law in everyday life and living. They revered both the Written and Oral law, though emphasis was directed to the oral traditions. The Pharisees believed that study and observance were essential for every Jew, and they even went as far as ruling that every town must have a school for children. The Pharisees comprised most of the seventy-one scholarly positions in the court of the Sanhedrin—the group that settled questions of Jewish law.
The other major group of Jewish leaders was the Sadducees, and the leaders in this faction were the priestly and affluent “elite” of Israel. They emphasized temple service and insisted on a literal interpretation of the Torah.
Looking outside the boundaries of Israel, at this particular interval in history, there were many Jews who lived and worshipped throughout the Roman Empire. For example, in the city of Alexandria, Egypt, one-third of the people were Jews. To the pagan people of Alexandria, the philosopher Philo actually defended the Jewish religion, explaining how the Scriptures and Jewish traditions taught people to be virtuous. The largest Jewish community outside of the Roman Empire, however, was in Babylonia. When the first temple was destroyed in 586 BC, most Jews were forced into exile and fled to Babylonia. Years later, when Jews were allowed passage back to Jerusalem to build the second temple, many of the exiles remained in Babylonia. Despite the Jewish community in Babylonia growing to nearly a million strong at this time, they still considered themselves to be in exile. Those wishing to study the Torah traveled back to Jerusalem. Perhaps the most famous of these Babylonian scholars was Hillel, who traveled to Jerusalem, becoming a leader in schools and in the Sanhedrin. Hillel studied both the Torah and the oral traditions, and he showed how the oral laws actually came from the confines of the written Torah.
After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, the Roman occupation led to high taxation and dishonor for the Jewish temple. In fact, the procurator, Florus, robbed the temple and summarily had his soldiers slaughter thousands of protesters. As a result of this maltreatment, the leaders of the Sanhedrin made plans for war and revolt. They appointed military leaders that were expected to hold back the Roman legions in Galilee. The Jewish General, Josephus, quickly fell to Rome’s great General Vespasian, who was under direct charge from Emperor Nero. Consequently, Josephus defected to Rome and, although a traitor to the Jews, he recorded an account of Jewish history that was, and still is, unprecedented. The Roman forces then gathered at Jerusalem and surrounded the temple. The Jewish zealots would not allow surrender, and on the ninth day of Av in the year AD 70, the Romans set the temple ablaze, killing every defender.
Traditionally, it is said that while the Romans were besieging Jerusalem, the scholar Johanan ben Zakkai wanted to speak with the Roman commander, however, the Zealots would not permit anyone to leave the city. Therefore, Zakkai’s students claimed that he had passed away, hid him in a coffin, and carried him out of Jerusalem. Once outside the city, Zakkai contacted General Vespasian for permission to start a school in the town of Yavne near the Mediterranean Sea. Tradition holds that Vespasian gave his approval, and the school started by Zakkai saved the Jewish people, though the temple was destroyed.
Read Part V of “Hebraic Roots Movement” in the June issue of The Evangelist.