Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Friday, June 09, 2006

More on Intermarriage

The Church in Antioch was founded by Hellenists who left Jerusalem after the persecution that arose over Stephen (11:19). The Church at Antioch did not consider them as bound by the Jewish law. For instance, they did not observe the Jewish dietary laws (Gal. 2:12). Was this idea in practice in Jerusalem among the Hellenists?

It is apparent that the Jews of the Diaspora were stricter, more conservative in their observance of Jewish laws than the Hellenists. This strictness has been explained by their physical distance from Jerusalem; that the Jews in Jerusalem were, relatively speaking, complacent because they had access to the temple.

What about the Hellenists? Are their views traceable to the "liberal" views of community espoused by the writers of Joel, Ruth and Jonah? Did the conflict that erupted when Stephen preached his last sermon arise out of the devout Jews and proselytes from every nation coming into contact/conflict with the many priests who became Christians? We have four clues whose significance becomes apparent after reviewing evidence from the Dead Sea Scroll. 1) Acts 2:5 "Now there were living in Jerusalem devout Jews drawn from every nation under heaven . . . ." Is the text variation "devout men" of any significance? 2) Acts 2:11 "visitors from Rome, both jews and proselytes." 3) Acts 6:5 Nicolaus, one of the Seven who was chosen to serve in the Jerusalem was a proselyte. 4) Acts 6:7 "and very many of the priests adhered to the Faith."

Schiffman in his discussion of the Book of Jubilee (Second Century B.C.E.) indicated that the author placed certain of his teachings in the mouths of the patriarchs using the example of the prohibition of intermarriage:

“And if there is any man in Israel who wishes to give his daughter or his sister to any man who is from the seed of the gentiles, let him surely die. . . . And also the woman will be burned with fire because she has defiled the name of her father's house. . . . (Jubilee 30:7)”

Schiffman states: "The author strong stand against intermarriage should be seen in the context of extreme Hellenization going on in contemporary times. Nonetheless the author is echoing the traditional Jewish prohibition of mixed marriages, to which he has added extremely harsh penalties, as is his tendency throughout."

According to Schiffman, the text of the Halakhic letter reconstructed by Qimron from six fragmentary copies concern laws, inter alia, condemnation of mixed marriages. Schiffman in his discussion of "Other Laws in the Temple Scroll" indicates passages in the Temple Scroll seem to indicate that all marriages between Jews and gentiles was prohibited (Temple Scroll 57:15-17).

"No doubt non-Jews would have been prohibited from entering the temple since even proselytes were forbidden entry into the middle Court until the fourth generation (Temple Scroll 39:5-7). Indeed, in the End of Days, non-Jews as well as proselytes were to be excluded from the sanctuary described in Florigium."

Paul's views on marriages and sex have produced an outpouring of writings. His theory of status quo said that if you are married, you were to remain married even to a heathen but that divorce desired by the heathen partner was permitted. If you were not married, you should remain single. These views were based on Paul's belief in the imminent return of Jesus Christ. For our purposes, we are interested in his rather liberal view regarding marriage to non-Christians. There has always been a conflict in Israel concerning intermarriage presumably with the proponents thereof citing the examples of Moses marrying Miriam, Joseph the daughter of the Pharaoh and the story of Ruth. The bottom line is that intermarriage was a prominent issue in first century Judaism and it would be surprising if the issue did not surface in the early Christian community in Jerusalem.

The Book of Jonah provides another clue. The Book of Jonah is usually cited as the source for that passage in Matt. 12:39-41 as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days so Jesus was in the belly of the earth for three days before He was raised from the dead. The story of Jonah has a larger significance for our understanding of the Lucan (and Pauline) vision of a universal church.

The Book of Jonah was written in the post‑Nehemiah period (fourth century B.C.E.) after the return of Jewish leaders from the exile into which they had been cast by the Babylonian conquest of Palestine in the early sixth century. This book was a gentle satire on a type of self‑righteous Jewish religious exclusivism that had arisen after the return.

The story avoids the more immediate feelings against the Babylonians (who had caused the exile of the leaders of the Southern Kingdom of Judah in the early sixth century) by projecting its tale back to the time before the destruction of the city of Nineveh in 612 B.C.E. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire, which had caused the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the latter part of the eighth century. Because of this conquest, which scattered the northern tribes of Israel and replaced them with Assyrian settlers, no city was more hated in Jewish tradition than was Nineveh.

God sent Jonah to the city of Ninevah to preach to them the coming wrath. But the 120,000 citizens of Ninevah led by their king repented changing from their evil ways and God relented and did not impose the wrath that Jonah had expected. Jonah believed that all the people of Ninevah were Gentiles and thus were sinners doomed to eternal damnation in this world and the next.

In two separate scenes, Yahweh is portrayed as a God whose compassion reaches beyond Israel to the nations. It is Yahweh who hears the prayers of pagans on the storm-tossed boat, each of whom are praying to their own God. This ship represents the family of nations. Yahweh saved Jonah and the pagans. In the second scene, the point concerning Yahweh's compassion is made even more forcefully. God cares for the inhabitants of Ninevah and does not desire their destruction. God seeks their repentance and deliverance from destruction. Since the people of Ninevah symbolized the Gentile nations, the story is a powerful statement that the divine compassion embraces all the people of the earth. The final point of the story reveals that the chief obstacle to the extension of Yahweh's salvation to the nations was Yahweh's own messenger, Jonah.

The Book of Ruth demonstrated the compassion of Yahweh to those foreigners who had been drawn into the community through marriage. The Book of Joel provided bold new expression to the eschatological dimensions of Yahweh's presence in the world.

The Books of Joel, Ruth and Jonah were a reaction to the reforms and visions of Ezra and Nehemiah of separateness of the people of Judah from the other people of the world. This different vision of God as the compassionate and righteous Lord of all people was the biblical legacy to the Lucan and Pauline communities. It included the notions of Israel as a "light to the nations" (Isa. 49:6), of the temple as a "house of prayer for all peoples" (Isa. 56:7), of all nations of the world contributing their children to the priesthood of Yahweh (Isa. 66:18-21), of offerings being made to Yahweh "from rising of the sun to its setting" (Mal. 1:11), of a Moabite woman being adopted and protected by the Yahwistic community (Ruth), of a pagan king repenting and appealing to the mercy of Yahweh (Jonah 4:6-9), and of Assyria and Egypt joining Israel in becoming "a blessing in the midst of the earth" (Isa. 19:24).

In the years after the return of the exiles and before the birth of Christ, there developed another vision of community among some of the Jewish groups that ethnic membership in the elect in the absence of good moral behavior was insufficient for salvation. This message espoused in the story of Jonah and the whale as well as in the Books of Joel and Ruth provided biblical support for Luke's universalism. It is also provides insight to the events of Acts 6 and why Stephen's last sermon provoked such a reaction.

This discussion suggests that the conflict in the sixth chapter of Acts may deal with intermarriage. This excursion into the Dead Sea Scroll community is intended to show the beliefs of the members of the early Jerusalem Church regarding intermarriage; and to establish that these ideas, that had to have time to develop for Luke to write about them, in fact had existed in the community for a long time. When these clues are combined with Stephen's attack on the Temple, and the different vision of Jonah and Ruth, it becomes apparent that the devout Jews and proselytes of Acts 6 have been excluded from the Temple. Among such excluded people, the status of the Temple is downgraded. When Stephen suggested that the very existence of the Temple is idolatrous he echoed the sentiments of many devout Jews and proselytes from many nations who were excluded from the Temple because of intermarriage. This trouble was created by the breaking of the boundary lines that defined Judaism.

Copyrighted 2006


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