Friday, 22 April 2011

The historical Jesus reconstructed - Part 2: The Kingdom of Heaven

The coming of the Kingdom of Heaven

A crowd gathered at the house where Yeshua was staying, so that the people living there could not even eat. Some lawyers who had come up from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebub - he is driving out demons by the power of the prince of demons’. Yeshua called them to him and said to them, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand, and if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, and he is coming to an end. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? They shall be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of Heaven has come upon you.’ (Mt. 12.25-28 etc.)

The accusation that Jesus was working magic by the power of Satan is known from other pieces of tradition too. In this saying, the Kingdom of Heaven is represented as being already present, at least in those places where Jesus is exercising his ministry.

‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see and the ears that hear what you hear! Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see and did not see it, and desired to hear what you hear and did not hear it.’ (Lk. 10.23f etc.)

In this saying, too, the Kingdom is regarded as being already present, within the sight and hearing of Jesus’ audience. Its superiority to all earthly existence to date is heavily underlined.

‘The Kingdom of Heaven is not coming with signs that you can see; nor will you be able to say, “Here it is!” or “There it is!”. Rather, the Kingdom of Heaven is in the midst of you.’ (Lk. 17.20f)

A slightly mysterious saying: the Kingdom is already present ‘in the midst of you’ - yet Jesus speaks of it as ‘coming’ in the future. The tension between the Kingdom as already present and still to come is a striking feature of Jesus’ preaching. He seems to have taught that it was starting to break through into normal life, and that he had a crucial role in helping it to do so, yet he was aware that its final consummation was yet to come.

‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, “A shower is coming”, and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”, and it happens. You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky: why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (Lk. 12.54-56)

This saying, unlike the previous ones, definitely suggests that the Kingdom is still to come.

‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed. When it is sown on the ground, it is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, but when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’ (Mk. 4.30-32 etc.)

Here, the growth of the Kingdom is illustrated with an agricultural metaphor. It is not clear precisely what stage of growth Jesus thinks the Kingdom has reached, but the implication, I think, is that the seed has still only begun to sprout. He can see the small inbreakings of the Kingdom in the villages of Galilee, but that is all - yet.

‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.’ (Mt. 13.33 etc.)

Another peasant metaphor illustrating the gradual spread and eventual triumph of the Kingdom.

‘There is nothing that is hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing that is secret that will not come to light.’ (Mk. 4.22 etc.)

In previous ages, the plans of God for the world were largely hidden, except insofar as they were disclosed by the prophets. Jesus here promises that God’s will and purposes will in due course be finally and fully revealed, presumably with the coming of the Kingdom.

‘No-one knows what the day or the hour will be, not even the angels of heaven, but only the Father.’ (Mk. 13.32 etc.)

‘The day’ and ‘the hour’ are presumably the day and the hour of the final judgement - the ‘Day of YHWH’, to use the Old Testament expression. Jesus clearly expected the Day of YHWH to come at some point during the spread of the Kingdom or following its triumph, but he specifically denied that he knew exactly when it would arrive. He may also have refused to speculate about the timetable for the growth of the Kingdom.


Seeking and entering the Kingdom of Heaven

‘Strive to enter by the narrow gate. Many, I tell you, will seek to enter, and will not be able to do so.’ (Mt. 17.13f etc.)

The gate to the Kingdom is narrow, and the way is difficult. This notion underpins much of the rest of Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom.

‘A sower went out to sow. As he was sowing, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where there was not much soil. It sprang up straight away, since it had no depth of soil, but it was scorched when the sun came up, and it withered away because it had no roots. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew and choked it, and it produced no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain; and it grew and increased and yielded thirty times and sixty times and a hundred times what the sower had sown.’ (Mk. 4.2-8 etc.)

This saying too predicts that many will fail to enter the Kingdom. Jesus knows that responses to his message will be mixed: some will reject it sooner or later while others will remain faithful to it and receive an enormous reward. The magnitude of the believer’s reward is the theme of several other sayings as well.

Yeshua said to the lawyers, ‘A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, “My son, go and work in the vineyard today”. The son answered, “I will not”, but later he repented and went. The man went to the second son and said the same, and his son answered, “I will go, father”, but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first’. Yeshua said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of Heaven before you. For Yohanan came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the harlots believed him, and even when you saw them, you did not then repent and believe him.’ (Mt. 21.28-32)

‘Not everyone who says to me, “Master, Master” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven.’ (Mt. 7.21 etc.)

These two sayings lay down the primary and fundamental qualifications for entering the Kingdom: repentance and doing the will of God. The point is made that the lukewarm and the conventionally religious are in danger of being cast out. Note the approving reference to John the Baptist. To ‘do the will of’ is a common turn of phrase in rabbinical writings.

The people brought children to Yeshua in order for him to touch them, and his disciples rebuked them. But when Yeshua saw what was happening, he was indignant, and he said to them, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them: the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of Heaven like a child will not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them. (Mk. 10.13-16 etc.)

The message of this saying is linked to that of the preceding ones: the believer must receive the Kingdom as a child, in a spirit of innocence and docility.

‘No-one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no-one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins. No, new wine is for fresh skins.’ (Mk. 2.21f etc.)

Total conversion, Jesus teaches, is necessary for the believer. The new wine of the Kingdom must be received in new wineskins: a complete change of heart and soul is necessary.

‘Every lawyer who has been trained for the Kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure-house both old things and new things.’ (Mk. 13.52)

This saying makes a different and rather contradictory point. Receiving the Kingdom is not presented as involving a total conversion: rather, ‘both old things and new things’ are asked of the believer. Elsewhere, too, Jesus speaks of the human heart as a treasure-house.

‘A man once prepared a dinner and sent his servant out to invite some guests. The servant went to one man and said to him, “My master invites you to dinner”. The man replied, “'I have just bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please, make my excuses.” The servant went to another man and said, “My master has invited you to dinner”. The man replied, “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to inspect them. Please, make my excuses.” The servant went to another man and said to him, “My master invites you to dinner”’. The man replied, ‘I’ve just got married, so I can’t come”. The servant returned and said to his master, “The men you invited to the dinner have asked you to excuse them”. The master said to him, “Go outside, into the streets, and bring back with you the people you meet there - they will dine with me.”’ (Mt. 22.2-10 etc.)

‘Which of you, if you want to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, to see whether he has enough money to complete it? If he does not, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees what he has done mocks him and says, “This man began to build, and was not able to finish”. What king, when he goes to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel to see whether he can meet with ten thousand men the enemy who is coming against him with twenty thousand? If he does not, he sends an embassy while the other is still a long way off and asks for terms of peace. So whoever of you does not renounce everything that he has cannot be my disciple. (Lk. 14.28-33)

As Yeshua was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit life?’. Yeshua replied, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and mother.”’ The man said to Yeshua, ‘Teacher, I have observed all of these commandments since my youth’. Yeshua looked upon him and loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing. Go, sell your property and give the proceeds to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven.’ When Yeshua said this, his face fell and he went away in sorrow, for his possessions were great. (Mk. 10.17-22 etc.)

A lawyer came up to Yeshua and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go’. Yeshua replied, ‘Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but this man has nowhere to lay his head’. Another of his disciples said to him, ‘Master, let me first go and bury my father’. But Yeshua replied, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead’. (Mt. 8.19-22 etc.)

‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then he went off in joy and sold all that he had and bought that field.’ (Mt. 13.44)

‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant who was looking for fine pearls. When he found one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.’ (Mt. 13.45)

The basic theme of the foregoing sayings is that of commitment. The believer must accept the good news without delay or reservation. Adherence to the basics of the Torah may not be enough. Receiving the Kingdom must not be put off, or made the subject of cost-benefit calculations. It is more important than material wealth (of which pearls, like gold, were an important symbol), than home comforts, and even than family commitments.

‘My children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of Heaven! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’ (Mk. 10.24f etc.)

At first sight, this saying seems to be making the same point as the foregoing ones: that earthly riches must be renounced in the process of committing oneself to the Kingdom. There may, however, also be an implicit critique of the highly unequal social order of the day - though there is no evidence that Jesus attempted to pursue a political agenda in the temporal sphere.

‘Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Mt. 23.12)

‘If anyone wants to be my disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.’ (Mk. 8.34 etc.)

‘Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will find it.’ (Mk. 8.35 etc.)

These three sayings highlight further the costs of discipleship and the demands of making the commitment to the Kingdom which Jesus demands. In return for the rewards of the Kingdom, the believe must humiliate himself and ‘lose his life’, at least figuratively. When interpreting the second saying, it may be appropriate to make a distinction between the disciple and the ordinary believer: Jesus seems not to have expected everyone who believed in his message to join up with him, nor to have made doing so a condition for entering into the Kingdom. The same observation may be made in relation to other sayings. The first of the three sayings resembles Prov. 29.23, but it is unlikely that a direct link with that passage exists.

‘There are eunuchs who have been eunuchs from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.’ (Mt. 19.12)

In this saying, commitment to the Kingdom and self-renunciation assume an unusual form: that of celibacy, which was largely unknown in the Jewish tradition (though there is evidence that it was practised by the Essenes). The saying is made particularly arresting by the fact that (literal) eunuchs are frowned upon in the Torah: see Deut. 23.1; also Lev. 22.24.

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but dissension and the sword. For there will be five in a house: three will be against two, and two against three, the father against the son, and the son against the father.’ (Mt. 10.34-36 etc.)

Some have claimed that the reference to divisions within families recalls Mic. 7.6.

‘If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters he cannot be my disciple.’ (Lk. 14.26 etc.)

Yeshua’s mother and his brothers had heard that people were saying that he was mad, and they set out to take him away with them. They came to his house and, standing outside, they sent for him to come out to them. The people in the crowd said, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you’. Yeshua replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’. He surveyed the people who were sitting around him, and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven is my brother and my sister and my mother.’ (Mk. 3.31-35 etc.)

As Yeshua was speaking, a woman in the crowd shouted to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!’. But he said, ‘No: blessed are those who hear the word of God and take heed of it!’. (Mt. 11.38f etc.)

This collection of sayings highlights one rather surprising aspect of Jesus teaching. For him, the Kingdom negated and transcended family ties: if receiving the good news meant suffering rejection by one’s relatives, so be it - Jesus’ followers, the righteous of Israel, formed a new eschatological family in themselves. The radical nature of these ideas would have been particularly apparent in a culture in which family ties were of fundamental social and economic importance.

‘Do not be anxious, and say, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”. The Gentiles worry about all of these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. No: first of all, look for his kingdom and his righteousness, and they will be yours.’ (Mt. 6.31-33 etc.)

Yeshua and his disciples went on their way and entered a village, and a woman named Marta received Yeshua into her house. She had a sister called Miryam, who sat at Yeshua’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Marta was distracted with many household chores, and she went to Yeshua and said, ‘Master, do you not care that my sister has left me to do the chores alone? Tell her to help me.’ But Yeshua answered her, ‘Marta, Marta, you are anxious and troubled about many things: one thing is necessary. Miryam has chosen the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.’

The second of these pieces of tradition illustrates the first in narrative form.

‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers a wage of one denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. He went out around the third hour and saw some other men standing idle in the market-place, and he said to them, “You go into my vineyard too, and I will pay you whatever is right”; and so they went. He went out again around the sixth hour and the ninth hour and the eleventh hour, and did the same. When evening came, he said to his steward, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the ones who arrived last and ending with those who went out first”. When those that he had hired around the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now, when those who had gone out first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them too received a denarius, whereupon they grumbled to the householder. One of them said, “These men who arrived last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to those of us who have borne the burden of the whole day’s work and the scorching heat”. The householder replied, “My friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree to work me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go: I choose to give to those who arrived last the same amount that I am giving to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge me my generosity?”.’ (Mt. 20.1-15)

This is the other side of the coin to the fire-and-brimstone preaching found elsewhere in Jesus’ sayings about the Kingdom. God will dispense his blessings with indiscriminate generosity, and there is still time for the sinner to repent and be rewarded.


The Kingdom of Heaven and the Judgement

‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came to look for fruit on it but found none. He said to the vinedresser, ‘See, I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree for three years now, and I have found none. Cut it down: why should it use up the soil?’. The vinedresser answered him, ‘Leave it alone this year too, sir, till I have dug around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down then.’ (Lk. 13.6-9)

‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who had some good seed, but his enemy came at night and sowed weeds among the crop. The man did not allow his servants to pull up the weeds: he said to them, “I am afraid that you will go intending to pull up the weeds and pull up the wheat along with them. No: at harvest-time, the weeds will be plainly visible, and they will be pulled up and burned.”’ (Mt. 13.24-30)

‘Every plant which my Father in heaven has not planted will be rooted up.’ (Mt. 15.13)

‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, the men pulled it ashore and sat down and sorted the good fish into vessels but threw away the bad.’ (Mt. 13.47-50)

The authenticity of these sayings may be doubted on the grounds that they would respond well to a likely concern of members of the early Church: whether or not to tolerate sinners in their ranks before the return of the Lord. On the other hand, this argument would seem to pose a serious threat only to the first and second sayings, and the sayings as a group are attested repeatedly in different sources (did they originally appear in Q?). It seems entirely plausible that they were spoken by Jesus. It is not quite clear whether Jesus is here teaching a doctrine of eternal punishment for the sinful - it is at least possible that the promised fate of the unrighteous is destruction (albeit of a painful and traumatic character) rather than damnation. Cutting down, uprooting, burning up and throwing away are arguably better metaphors for destruction than for unending torment. On the other hand, the idea of eternal fiery punishment was certain known to contemporary Judaism. The motif of fire in the last judgement is familiar from the Old Testament and occurs elsewhere in the New Testament: see my article on John the Baptist.

Some people told Yeshua about the Galileans whose blood Pilatus had mingled with their sacrifices. He answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish’. (Lk. 13.1-5)

‘Everyone will be salted with fire.’ (Mk. 9.49)

This seems to echo the doctrine of purgatory found in St Paul and in later Catholic teaching: the righteous are not guaranteed a smooth entry into the Kingdom, but may have to pass through an initial stage of purification. The salt metaphor appears elsewhere in Jesus’ teachings too.

‘Many shall come from east and west and shall recline with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven, but you will be thrown out into outer darkness. In that place, there shall be weeping and grinding of teeth.’ (Mt. 8.10-12)

This is clearly a reference to the gentiles, though some have claimed that its application is restricted to Jews living in the diaspora. The idea that the gentiles would participate in the utopia that God would create at the end of time had been present in Israelite prophetic thought for centuries, occurring (for example) in Isaiah, Zechariah and Malachi. The idea of the Messianic Banquet occurs elsewhere in the NT (see e.g. Mt. 26.29, Lk. 14.15-24, Rev. 19.9) as well as in Jewish texts (the earliest relevant passage is Is. 25.6-8). It has been suggested that the feeding of the five thousand was a prefiguration of the great banquet which would be eaten in the Kingdom.

‘Listen to what I tell you: the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given to you.’ (Mk. 4.24 etc.)

Jesus characteristically gives a new twist to the old notion that we each get from God, in terms of reward or punishment, what we have given to our fellow human beings. In the coming judgement, no half measures of any sort will be given.

‘To him who has, more will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.’ (Mk. 4.25 etc.)


Life in the Kingdom of Heaven

‘Blessed are the poor - theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty - they will be filled.
Blessed are those who mourn - they will be comforted.’ (Lk. 6.20f etc.)

For the motif of mourners being consoled, see Is. 61.2.

‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left his home or his brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands who will not receive a hundred houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands.’ (Mk. 10.29f)

Compare Jesus’ demands that his followers forsake their families if necessary, and his affirmation that those who seek the Kingdom form a new family within themselves.

‘Many who are first will be last, and who are last, first.’ (Mk. 10.31 etc.)

Another example of a characteristic attitude of Jesus: present social categories and hierarchies are irrelevant in the sight of God and will not survive the coming of the Kingdom.

Yakov and Yohanan came to Yeshua and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you’. And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’. They said to him, ‘Let us sit alongside you in the Kingdom of Heaven, one at your right hand and one at your left’. But Yeshua replied, ‘To sit at my right hand or at my left hand is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared’. (Mk. 10.35-40 etc.)

Jesus here seems to concede that he will occupy the central place in the Kingdom - that he will be, so to speak, the King of the Kingdom, insofar as its true king is not God himself. This may be considered as an implicit claim that he is the Messiah.


The Torah

‘Truly, I say to you, it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of the Torah to become void.’ (Lk. 16.17 etc.)

A saying of Jesus which affirms the perennial validity of the Torah. It contrasts strikingly with the radical anti-Torah stance of many in the early Christian community (notably St Paul), whose views rapidly came to prevail throughout the Church.

A lawyer asked Yeshua a question, to test him: ‘Which commandment is the greatest of all?’. Yeshua answered, ‘The greatest is, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. The whole of the Law and the Prophets hang upon these two commandments.’ (Mk. 12.28-31 etc.)

‘Do to other people whatever you want them to do to you: that is the Torah and the Prophets.’ (Mt. 7.12)

Jesus, like a number of rabbis cited in the Talmud, boils down the Law (and the writings of the Prophets) to one or two basic principles. The OT passages which he cites are Deut. 6.4f and Lev. 19.18.

‘You have heard that it was said to the men of old, “You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment”. But I say to you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. Whoever calls his brother “raka” will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, “You fool!” will be at risk of being cast into Gehinnom. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and remember while you are there that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there, in front of the altar, and go: first make your peace with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.’ (Mt. 5.21-24)

Here and in the following sayings, Jesus comments on some of the central prescriptions of the Jewish Law. It is important to realise that he is in none of these cases setting aside the Law, but rather bringing out its inner ethical significance. The ethics of the Kingdom are not different from those of the Torah as it was traditionally understood, but they are distinct insofar as they call for a much higher level of personal commitment and virtue. The OT prohibitions on murder are found at Ex. 21.12, Lev. 24.17 and Num. 35.16-18. Gehinnom was a rubbish dump outside Jerusalem where the refuse constantly burned.

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. But I say to you, do not resist an evil man. No: if anyone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other one to him too, and if anyone wants to take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well, and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to whoever begs from you, and if someone takes away your goods do not ask them for them back.’ (Mt. 5.38-42 etc.)

The relevant OT citations are Ex. 21.23-25, Lev. 24.19f and Deut. 19.21.

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy”. But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to whose who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who abuse you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the good and on the evil, and sends rain on the righteous and on the wicked. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the gentiles do the same? And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. No: love your enemies, and do good, and lend expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.’ (Mt. 5.43-48 etc.)

The relevant OT cite is Lev. 19.18. The dictum about God sending sun and rain on the righteous and the unrighteous echoes both Prov. 29.13 and a passage in the works of the pagan philosopher Seneca (De Ben. 4.26.1).

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery”. But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better to enter the Kingdom of Heaven with one eye than to be thrown into Gehenna with two.’ (Mt. 5.27-29)

Jesus’ teaching here is closely paralleled in the Talmud: see Berakoth 24a. The relevant OT cites are Ex. 20.14 and Deut. 5.18. The Greek word meaning ‘woman’ (gynĂ©) might be translated instead as ‘married woman’ or ‘wife’.

‘You have heard that it was said to the men of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the LORD what you have sworn”. But I say to you, do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply “Yes” or “No”. Anything more than that comes from evil.’ (Mt. 5.33-37)

The OT cites are Lev. 19.12 and Num. 30.2. Jesus’ teaching here is cited elsewhere in the NT at James 5.12.

Some Perushim approached Yeshua and, in order to test him, asked him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’. Yeshua answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’. They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away’. But Yeshua said to them, ‘It was because of your hardness of heart that he wrote you this commandment. No, from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female”. For this reason, a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two become one flesh, so that they are no longer two but one flesh. So let no man separate what God has joined together.’ (Mk. 10.2-9 etc.)

Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman, commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery. (Mk. 10.11f etc.)

Though there were two distinct schools of thought among the Pharisees on the question of divorce, represented by the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel - both agreed that divorce was in principle perfectly possible. It is here that Jesus comes closest to annulling a section of the Torah. It should be noted, however, that he does it in the name of another part of the Law: ‘God made them male and female’ (Gen. 1.27; see also 2.24). This saying seems to be cited, or at least referred to, at 1 Cor. 7.10f.

One Shabbat, Yeshua and his disciples were going through the grainfields. As they went on their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The lawyers said to him, ‘Look at that! Why are your disciples doing what is not lawful on Shabbat?’. Yeshua replied, ‘Have you never read about what David did when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him - how he entered the house of God, when the father of Abiathar was high priest, and ate the Bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for anyone but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?’. (Mk. 2.23-26 etc.)

‘If your sheep falls into a well on Shabbat, which of you will not immediately pull him out?’ (Mt. 12.11)

‘Shabbat was made for man, not man for Shabbat. Man is master of Shabbat.’ (Mk. 2.27f etc.)

Jesus’ sayings on the Sabbath were not as radical as is sometimes claimed. The third of his dicta here is closely paralleled in the Jewish rabbinic tradition. The second saying was spoken in the context of a dispute that followed a healing performed by Jesus on the Sabbath.

Some Perushim who had come from Jerusalem met with Yeshua and saw that some of his disciples were eating with unwashed hands. They asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with unclean hands?’. Yeshua said, ‘There is nothing outside a man which can defile him by going into him - rather, the things which come out of a man are what defile him’. (Mk. 7.1-15 etc.)

This saying was taken by Mark to mean that Jesus had chosen to set aside the Jewish food laws, but this inference is unwarranted. If he had done so, the early Christian community would surely not have argued so fiercely about whether or not it was necessary to eat kosher. Jesus here is simply offering a general ethical observation in opposition to an unnecessary ritual practice with no basis in the Torah.