Judaism in the Beginning of Christianity

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

2
SAGE,
PRIEST,
MESSIAH

Three Types
of Judaism in
the Age of Jesus

IDEAL TYPES

The holy men of Judaism divide into a number of distinct types; each figure with his point of stress and insistence, the thing that made him holy. (We speak of men only. In the period under discussion, women did not take a public and prominent part in Judaism.) Each kind of holy man represented a particular focus within the diverse religious tradition of Judaism. The three were: first, the priest; second, the sage or scribe or wise man; and third, the Messiah. Each stood for a different sort of holy way of life, pointed toward a different aspect of what God wanted from, or promised for, Israel, the Jewish people.

The scribe or sage (later “rabbi”) centered on the Torah, the revelation of God to Moses at Mount Sinai, and laid stress upon study and interpretation and application of the teachings of the Torah to the everyday life of the Jewish people.

The priest centered on the Temple. He believed in serving God through sacrifice. He stressed the issue of holiness or sanctification.

People who looked forward to the near-at-hand coming of the Messiah emphasized the issue of salvation. They thought that great public events bore deep meaning for Israel's life, and so gave great emphasis to preparing now for an end that was coming soon.

While, we all know, Jesus was represented as Christ, the Messiah, New Testament writers also treat him as the perfect priest and sacrifice, as in the Epistle to the Hebrews. They further represent him as a great sage, teacher, hence “rabbi,” as in the Gospels. Accordingly, in the figure of Jesus, the principal motifs of Judaism were drawn together. Later on, in the aftermath of the destruction of

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