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This Post describes one aspect of the belief system of the Jews in the first century. Jesus was of their number, but most decidedly did not go along with the dominant ideology. Perhaps the working out in his head the reasons he couldn’t go along with it, gave birth to his radicalism. If you didn’t know comrade Jesus was radical, check out the Index on the title page. The parables in particular show how strongly he felt for the poor people in his Iron Age world.
Purity maps covered almost every aspect of life; for example space can be ordered by its relative purity.
“There are ten degrees of holiness.
The land of Israel is holier than any other land.
The walled cities of Israel are holier still.
Jerusalem is the holiest city.
The Temple Mount is still more holy.
The Temple ramparts are holier still.
The Court of the Women is still more holy.
The Court of the Israelites is still more holy.
The Court of the Priests is still more holy.
Between the Porch and the Altar is still more holy.
The Sanctuary is still more holy.
And the Holy of Holies is still more holy.”
(Mishnah [m.Kelim 1:6-9])
Time was also organised into a hierarchy of holiness. Here is a list of Jewish feasts, starting with the most sacred and listing the others in descending order (just the English names are given, see the original for the Hebrew):
- Day of Atonement
- Feast of Tabernacles
- Festival days
- Feast of the New Year
- Days of Fasting
- Feast of Purim
- Mid-Festival days.
(Mishnah: Moed 99-216)
Now here is a summarized list of human beings working down from the most holy to the most unclean:
- Freed slaves
- Illegitimate children of priests
- Temple slaves
- Those with damaged testicles
- Those without a penis.
(Tosefta Megillah 2:7)
Tough on women and Gentiles, who don’t figure at all, unless women come under category 11!
Jesus must have seemed a very challenging kind of guy when he broke all the social taboos. He mixed with all sorts, and shared a table with anyone. While the prevailing ideology was one of exclusiveness, Jesus preached and practiced inclusivity.
To the folk around him that was one of his most striking features.
Herzog, W.R. “Jesus, Justice and the reign of God. A ministry of Liberation” John Knox Press (2000) p.119-120