Segment 12:“Church” in the New Testament
After this section, you should be able to:
- Identify and describe the five features that made Second Temple Judaism unique in the ancient world
As we think about backgrounds of the nt, we cannot talk about the nt without thinking about Second Temple Judaism. Second Temple Judaism was a peculiar religion in the ancient world. It had a lot of unusual practices that were seen as signs of faithfulness for those who practiced the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms—practiced Judaism—and there are really five features that make Judaism unique.
The first, of course, was its monotheism. There was a belief in one God and one God only. In contrast to the Graeco-Roman world, where there were gods all around, Judaism held to one God alone. In fact, if you walk into Pompeii today and you take a tour of that city, which has been preserved for us from the first century, you will see numerous temples to various gods as you walk in the marketplace, or the agora area. And if you [walk out] from the agora area, you will also see more temples to more gods. But Israel had one God only, and so this monotheistic faith drove them to react to the Gentiles who were all around them.
A Single Temple
A second feature that made the faith of Jews unique was the single temple, which of course reflected the belief in the one God. We have one temple because we have one God. We don’t have many temples because there are many gods, and this single temple was another feature that made Judaism unique. The belief was that God dwelled in this temple, in the holy of holies, in what was called the Shekinah, which was the most sacred spot on earth as far as a Jewish person was concerned. Of course, this temple was located in Jerusalem.
Special Calendar and Days
The third feature that made Judaism unique was its special calendar and its special days. Actually, one day in particular was special, and that was the Sabbath. One day a week, people would pause to take a look at and reflect upon God and what He was doing. And this special day was unlike the rest of religious faith around them in that one day was concentrated and dedicated to not working and spending time with God.
Another feature that was unique to the Jews and that got a lot of criticism and flak from the Graeco-Roman world around it was the practice of circumcision—that males would be circumcised as a sign of the covenant to show their commitment to God. This is another very unique feature of Second Temple Judaism. And those outside the faith saw it as a very cruel act and something that wasn’t supposed to be—wasn’t worth imitating or even thinking about imitating. It was just too painful to think about.
And then, last but not least, we have diet, a special diet. What we call kosher today, the Jews kept to show their faithfulness to God and to distinguish clean from unclean foods as a way of showing the peculiarities of the way God has ordered the creation.
So these features made Second Temple Judaism unique from the religious world around it. And what’s really important to appreciate about that is that when Gentiles had these other practices, Jews, in order to affirm their faithfulness to their God, would engage in these practices that were distinctive to mark them out as distinct.
Second Temple Judaism BEB pages 18-30
Fundamental Elements of Judaism NBDTE – pages 6-12
Gentile and Jewish Religions NTS pages 5-10
Suggested Reading and/or Additional Learning Activities
The Cultural Tensions and Judaism NTT Chapter 1