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JESUS AND THE SADDUCEAN PRIESTS: 
LUKE jo. 25-37 

By Jacob Mann, Jews' College, London. 

The ' noble' priests, the so-called apx t€ /° € ^ y (mentioned 
in the Talmud as D^VW two 'J3, Ketubboth 13. 1-2, Ohalot 
17. 5,comp. Schuerer, 1 1 4 , 276), were greatly opposed to Jesus 
and took a prominent part in his trial. This is the account 
given by all the Synoptics (Mark 11. 18, 28 ; 14. 1, 10, $$, 
55; 15. 10, 11, and so in Matthew and in Luke). This 
being the case, it is remarkable that the priests as a class 
are very seldom mentioned in the sayings attributed to 
Jesus. It would appear from the Gospel-narrative that 
Jesus, with all his pronounced opposition against the 
Pharisees, never found it necessary to denounce the priests. 
And yet the ill-repute of the aristocratic priesthood of the 
period in which Jesus lived and acted is well-known. This 
problem led several scholars to various conclusions. To 
take two extreme and opposite views, on one hand 
Dr. Buchler in his book Die Priester und der Cultus, 
deeply impressed in his survey of the activities of the 
noble priests by the reports of their rapacity and evil 
practices, came to the conclusion that all the woes 
in Matthew, ch. 23, as well as the other attacks else- 
where, were really directed against these ' noble ' priests. 
Dr. Buchler in his argument goes even so far as to suggest 
that originally the text of Matthew read snaD N'jnD and 
was in later times altered to NnSD N'cns ; ' hypocrites ', 

415 



416 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

N^SJn, being the proper term applied to those priests 
(pp. 79-88). Against this assumption it has rightly been 
pointed out by Epstein (Monatsschrift, XL, 138-44) that, 
as regards Matthew, ch. 23, the priests did neither sit on 
Moses' throne (vers. 3-4) nor did they aspire to be called 
Rabbi (vers. 7-10), nor did they give tithes (ver. 23). 
If we force ourselves to explain that they exacted tithes 
from mint, anise, and cummin, we would not call them 
hypocrites but rapacious and extortionate. 

On the other hand, Leszynsky {Die Saddusder, Berlin, 
1912, p. 297) takes the opposite view that Jesus had 
Sadducean leanings, and therefore he refrained from 
attacking the priests, who to a great extent belonged to 
the party of the Sadducees. Both these views are too 
extreme to be convincing. Especially Leszynsky's view 
that Jesus did not attack the priests at all is untenable. 
What about the great charge in the story of the Good 
Samaritan (Luke 10. 25-37) ? But this whole passage is 
generally entirely misunderstood. As we shall see, it 
contains a most scathing attack on both priest and Levite 
in general, in so far as they shared the views of the 
Sadducees on a question of principle concerning the so- 
called Levitical purity. Jesus addressed a lawyer (vo/xikos, 
10. 25), and therefore the Gospel-commentators have 
generally taken this lawyer to have been a scribe of the 
Pharisees. 1 It is however clear that the indictment could 
not have been directed against the Pharisees. In order to 
render the Parable of the Good Samaritan more likely 

1 Also HaU5vy in dealing with the Parable of the Good Samaritan 
(R£j., IV, 1882, 249-55) adheres to the view that the lawyer was a Pharisee. 
— His suggestion to substitute in the parable ' Israelite ' for ' Samaritan ', as 
being parallel to priest and Levite (p. 253), has no bearing on the point at 
issue in this article. 



JESUS AND SADDUCEAN PRIESTS — MANN 417 

to have been taken from actual life, we must reject the 
usual explanation that it was simply due to heartlessness 
on the part of both the priest and the Levite in giving no 
succour to the victim of the - robbers. It is somewhat 
against human nature to pass by a man lying in a helpless 
state on the high road without even coming near him. Both 
the priest and the Levite mentioned in the story must have 
had some reason for acting in the way they did. According 
to my opinion, this was due to the requirements of Levitical 
purity. The robbers left their victim 'half dead' (fi/iidavfj, 
10. 30), having probably fallen into a swoon. To a pedes- 
trian coming from a distance it appeared as if a corpse was 
lying in the road. Both a priest and a Levite, when 
passing by, would then avoid coming near the supposed 
dead body lest they become denied ; the former by reason 
of the Biblical prohibition (Lev. 21. 1), the latter because 
he had to do service in the Temple and had to keep 
himself Levitical ly pure. 

Now, just the Pharisees laid great emphasis on the 
so-called duty of mso no, making it obligatory even on 
a high priest to contract Levitical impurity and bury 
a dead body lying on the highway with nobody to take 
care of it. The Rabbis ascribed the origin of this duty 
of mvo no to Joshua the son of Nun (B. kamma 80 b 
bottom, 'Erubin 16 a); obviously in order to enhance its 
importance. But there is no reason for maintaining that 
this custom amongst the Pharisees does not go back to 
comparatively early times. 2 In Nazir 7. 1 we find a 

2 Possibly Josephus refers to this duty of mXO 1TO when writing in 
Contr. Ap., II, 29, § an, that 'there are other things which our legislator 
ordained for us beforehand, which of necessity we ought to do in common to 
all men, as to afford fire, and water, and food to such as want it ; to show 
them the roads ; nor to let any one lie unburied'. 

VOL. VI. E e 



418 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

theoretical case similar to that mentioned in Luke. ' If a 
high-priest and a Nazirite journey together and find a dead 
body lying in the road ' (mxo no 1NX»1 ITU p^no m), 
R. Elieser b. Hyrkanos disputes with the contemporary 
scholars as to which of the two should bury the dead 
person, in order to prevent that both high-priest and 
Nazirite should become Levitically impure while the work 
could be done by one of them. But it was a matter of 
course that if either a high-priest or a Nazirite alone were 
to find a corpse lying in the road, he was bound to contract 
Levitical impurity and perform the burial. The expression 
nwe no seems to have been a standard phrase familiar to 
everybody- An anonymous Baraitha defines it to the 
effect that ' as long as there are no other people to look 
after the burial of the corpse ' (pi3ip )b ;w bl), the duty is 
incumbent on the first Jew that passes by, without any 
exception, to perform the burial (Nazir 43 b, Yerushalmi 
Nazir 56 a, top and parallels). 

This demand which the Pharisees made on both priest 
and Nazirite to defile themselves for such a nreo no was 
clearly against the literal wording of Lev. 21. iff., 11 ff., 
Num. 6. 7. The Rabbis tried hard to deduce mxo no from 
the Bible with the help of their method of hermeneutics 
(cp. Sifra to Lev. 31. 1, Nazir 47 b, 48a-b, Zebahim 100 a 
and parallels). As is well known, the laws handed down 
by tradition were attacked by the Sadducees on the ground 
that many of them had no foundation in the Biblical laws. 
To meet these objections and to uphold the tradition, 
successive generations of scribes and Rabbis brought to 
perfection a system of hermeneutics intended to find in the 
Bible some indications of the traditional laws. It must be 
admitted that in the case of mvo no, the hermeneutic 



JESUS AND SADDUCEAN PRIESTS — MANN 4.19 

deductions did not bring the Rabbis very far. They merely 
maintained as granted that when the Bible laid down the 
rule, for example, that a high-priest should not defile 
himself at the burial of even his nearest relations, ' neither 
for his father nor for his mother ' (Lev. 21. 11), it excluded 
mxo DO. Obviously the Sadducees rejected such a deduction. 
They would adhere to the clear wording of the Biblical law. 
No exception was to be made in the case of nivn no. A 
Sadducean priest then, when passing a dead body, would 
have certainly avoided coming near it, and detecting a man 
lying unconscious in the road, as in the parable of Luke, 
would have passed on for fear of defilement. Against such 
a practice Jesus directed his attack. There need be no 
hesitation in simply taking this vofiiKos to have been a 
Sadducean lawyer. It is known that the Sadduceans had 
a 'code of impositions' (KJTVM "iSD, Megillat Taanit, ch. 10) 
and that they were as a rule strict judges (Jos., Ant. XX, 
9, 1, § 199), so that there existed among them lawyers. 

The above explanation of Luke i®. 25-37 becomes the 
more plausible, when we consider the textual state of our 
passage. Luke 10. 1-37 breaks the sequence of the narra- 
tive. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, and there are 
stories of the journey in 9. 51 ff., 57 ff. In 10. 38 there 
follows another incident of the journey. Within these 
stories there are inserted the account of the seventy 
apostles, their mission and return (10. 1-35), and the 
parable of the Good Samaritan (vers. 25-37) which begins, 
'And behold a certain lawyer (vojukos) stood up, and 
tempted him '. It is evident that there is neither any con- 
nexion with the preceding nor with the story that follows. 
Now vers. 35-8 have their parallels both in Mark 12. 28 ff. 
and in Matt. 23. 34 ff. in their proper sequence. The 

E e 2 



420 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

occasion was when in Jerusalem the Sadducees disputed 
with Jesus about the resurrection (Mark 12. 18-28, Matt. 
22. 23 ff., Luke 20. 27-40. The Pharisees were pleased with 
Jesus, so that it is rather difficult to understand why one 
of the Pharisees, a lawyer, 3 as Matt. 22. 35 reports, should 
have stood up and tempted Jesus. Mark (12. 28) indeed 
felt the difficulty, and therefore makes the scribe not 
tempting Jesus, but rather being pleased with him (ver. 
32 ff.). But Luke (10. 35) has also 'tempting him' and 
thus agrees with Matthew. According to my opinion, the 
common tradition of Matthew and Luke is authentic. 4 This 
lawyer was a Sadducee, and even in the wording of Matthew, 
e£ avrmv vo/iikos treipdgcov avrov, could refer to the nearest 
noun, i.e. rods SaSSvKaiovs (ver. 34). Accordingly, Matt. 
22. 35-40 is quite parallel to Luke 10. 25-8 ; the Sad- 
ducees having been refuted, one of their lawyers continues 
the issue with Jesus. Thereupon follows the second ques- 
tion, ' Who is my neighbour ? ' and Jesus concludes with 
the serious indictment against Sadducees contained in the 
parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10. 29-37), a detail 
reported only by Luke. That the Pharisees could not 
have been meant in this parable has been shown above. 5 

3 Cureton reads ]&eo a scribe, but omitted by Syrsin. 

4 Comp. also Resch, Ausserkanonische ParaJleltexte su den Evangelien, III, 
p. 120 (in Gebhardt u. Harnack, Texle u. Unlersuchuttgen, vol. 10, Leipzig, 
1893-4). Luke 10. 25-8, Mark 12. 28-34, Matt. 22. 34-40 are three variants 
of one and the same pre-canonic Q ( = Quellentext), the beginning of which 
is preserved best in Luke 10. 25 a. 

5 Cf. a similar story in Qohel. R., 11. 1, of a noble Roman who was once 
shipwrecked and washed to the Palestinian shore, where just a scribe, 
Eleazar b. Shammua, took care of him, dressed and fed him, and sent him 
away on his journey. See further the stories of Nehemiah the cave-digger 
(prvc C^N), Nahum of Gimzo (Yerushalmi Pea 21 b) and Abba Tahna the 
pious (Qohel. R., ch. 9). 



JESUS AND SADDUCEAN PRIESTS — MANN 42I 

As for the details of the Parable, the question whether the 
road from Jerusalem to Jericho was dangerous in those 
times cannot be decided by Jerome's account of the state 
of things in his own times. But the detail of the priest 
passing along that way to Jericho is in accordance with 
the local conditions. From Taanit 27 a we learn that 
Jericho was largely inhabited by priests (see further, 
Dr. Buchler, Priester und Cultus, 161-81). That Jericho 
and its neighbourhood had sycamore- trees (Luke 19. 4) 
is also corroborated by Pesahim 4. 9, where we are told 
that the people of Jericho used to engraft their sycamore- 
trees during the whole eve of the Passover, even in the 
time of the day when in Jerusalem the Passover lambs 
were just sacrificed in the Temple. 

There is another saying of Jesus reported by the 
Synoptics which was perhaps also directed against the 
priests. Jesus' remark on seeing the poor woman throwing 
her trifle into the treasury (ya{o<j>v\&Kiov, Mark 12. 41-4, 
Luke 21. 1-4) seems to have been a rejoinder to those 
priests who despised the insignificant gifts of the poor to 
the temple and their scant offerings amounting to a pigeon 
or a meal-offering (nmo). There are some interesting 
Rabbinic parallels which place the reported sayings of 
Jesus in its proper light. Commenting on Lev. 2. 1, 
R. Isaac says, ' Why is the word " soul " (B>SJ) mentioned 
in connexion with a meal-offering? Who brings such 
a sacrifice ? A poor man. I (i. e. God) account it to him 
as if he sacrificed his soul before Me ', ''isb WS) S<~>pn ii>N3, 
Yalkut to Lev. 2. 1, § 447 in the name of a Midrash). 
Likewise in Lev. R., ch. 3, we have an anonymous story 
concerning a woman who once brought as a sacrifice a 
handful of flour. Whereupon the priest abused her, saying, 



422 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

' Look what these women offer up ! What remains there 
for eating and what for sacrificing?' The following night 
this priest had a vision in a dream, enjeining him not to 
despise such an offering, because it is regarded as if the 
woman had offered up her life. This story might have 
been an old Agada and closely resembles the incident 
reported in the Synoptic Gospels.