Religion

Sounds Like Russian Soul (Русская душа)

Alfred Edersheim (1825-89)

“If any one wishes to be rich, let him go north; if he wants to be wise, let him come south.” Such was the saying, by which Rabbinical pride distinguished between the material wealth of Galilee and the supremacy in traditional lore claimed for the academies of Judaea proper. Alas, it was not long before Judaea lost even this doubtful distinction, and its colleges wandered northwards, ending at last by the Lake of Gennesaret, and in that very city of Tiberias which at one time had been reputed unclean! Assuredly, the history of nations chronicles their judgment;1 and it is strangely significant that the authoritative collection of Jewish traditional law, known as the Mishnah, and the so-called Jerusalem Talmud, which is its Palestinian commentary,2 should finally have issued from what was originally a heathen city, built upon the site of old forsaken graves.

But so long as Jerusalem and Judaea were the centre of Jewish learning, no terms of contempt were too strong to express the supercilious hauteur, with which a regular Rabbinist regarded his northern co-religionists. The slighting speech of Nathanael (John 1:46), “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” reads quite like a common saying of the period; and the rebuke of the Pharisees to Nicodemus (John 7:52), “Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet,” was pointed by the mocking question, “Art thou also of Galilee?” It was not merely self-conscious superiority, such as the “towns-people,” as the inhabitants of Jerusalem used to be called throughout Palestine, were said to have commonly displayed toward their “country cousins” and everyone else, but offensive contempt, outspoken sometimes with almost incredible rudeness, want of delicacy and charity, but always with much pious self-assertion. The “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men” (Luke 18:11) seems like the natural breath of Rabbinism in the company of the unlettered, and of all who were deemed intellectual or religious inferiors; and the parabolic history of the Pharisee and the publican in the gospel is not told for the special condemnation of that one prayer, but as characteristic of the whole spirit of Pharisaism, even in its approaches to God. “This people who knoweth not the law (that is, the traditional law) are cursed,” was the curt summary of the Rabbinical estimate of popular opinion. To so terrible a length did it go that the Pharisees would fain have excluded them, not only from common intercourse, but from witness-bearing, and that they even applied to marriages with them such a passage as Deut. 27:21.3

But if these be regarded as extremes, two instances, chosen almost at random—one from religious, the other from ordinary life—will serve to illustrate their reality. A more complete parallel to the Pharisee’s prayer could scarcely be imagined than the following. We read in the Talmud (Jer. Ber. iv. 2) that a celebrated Rabbi was wont every day, on leaving the academy, to pray in these terms: “I thank Thee, O Lord my God and God of my fathers, that Thou has cast my lot among those who frequent the schools and synagogues, and not among those attend the theatre and the circus. For, both I and they work and watch—I to inherit eternal life, they for their destruction.”

The other illustration, also taken from a Rabbinical work, is, if possible, even more offensive. It appears that Rabbi Jannai, while travelling by the way, formed acquaintance with a man, who he thought his equal. Presently his new friend invited him to dinner, and liberally set before him meat and drink. But the suspicions of the Rabbi had been excited. He began to try his host successively by questions upon the text of Scripture, upon the Mishnah, allegorical illustrations, and lastly on Talmudical lore. Alas! on neither of these points could he satisfy the Rabbi. Dinner was over; and Rabbi Jannai, who by that time no doubt had displayed all the hauteur and contempt of a regular Rabbinist towards the unlettered, called upon his host, as customary, to take the cup of thanksgiving, and return thanks. But the latter was sufficiently humiliated to reply, with a mixture of Eastern deference and Jewish modesty, “Let Jannai himself give thanks in his own house.” “At any rate,” observed the Rabbi, “you can join with me,” and when the latter had agreed to this, Jannai said, “A dog has eaten of the bread of Jannai.”

Impartial history, however, must record a different judgment of the men of Galilee from that pronounced by the Rabbis, and that even wherein they were despised by those leaders of Israel. Some of their peculiarities, indeed, were due to territorial circumstances. The province of Galilee—of which the name might be rendered “circuit,” being derived from a verb meaning “to move in a circle”—covered the ancient possessions of four tribes: Issachar, Zebulon, Naphtali, and Asher. The name occurs already in the Old Testament (compare Josh. 20:7; 1 Kings 9:11; 2 Kings 15:29; 1 Chron. 6:76; and especially Isa. 9:1). In the time of Christ it stretched northwards to the possession of Tyre on the one side, and to Syria on the other; on the south it was bounded by Samaria—Mount Carmel on the western, and the district of Scythopolis (in the Decapolis) on the eastern side, being here landmarks; while the Jordan and the Lake of Gennesaret formed the general eastern boundary line. [..]

Sketches of Jewish Social Life (Edersheim, 1876)

The mountainous part in the north of Upper Galilee presented magnificent scenery, and with bracing air. Here the scene of the Song of Solomon is partly laid (Cant. 7:5). But its caves and fastnesses, as well as the marshy ground, covered with reeds, along Lake Merom, gave shelter to robbers, outlaws, and rebel chiefs. Some of the most dangerous characters came from the Galilean highlands. A little farther down, and the scenery changed. South of Lake Merom, where the so-called Jacob’s bridge crosses the Jordan, we come upon the great caravan road, which connected Damascus in the east with the great mart of Ptolemais, on the shore of the Mediterranean. What a busy life did this road constantly present in the days of our Lord, and how many trades and occupations did it call into existence! All day long they passed—files of camels, mules, and asses, laden with riches from the East, destined for the far West, or bringing the luxuries of the West to the far East. Travellers of every description—Jews, Greeks, Romans, dwellers in the East—were seen here. The constant intercourse with foreigners, and the settlement of so many strangers along one of the great highways of the world, must have rendered the narrow-minded bigotry of Judaea well-nigh impossible in Galilee.

We are now in Galilee proper, and a more fertile or beautiful region could scarcely be conceived. It was truly the land where Asher dipped his foot in oil (Deut. 33:24). The Rabbis speak of the oil as flowing like a river, and they say that it was easier in Galilee to rear a forest of olive trees than one child in Judaea! The wine, although not so plentiful as the oil, was generous and rich. Corn grew in abundance, especially in the neighbourhood of Capernaum; flax also was cultivated. The price of living was much lower than in Judaea, where one measure was said to cost as much as five in Galilee.  Fruit also grew to perfection; and it was probably a piece of jealousy on the part of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that they would not allow it to be sold at the feasts in the city, lest people should forsooth say, “We have only come up in order to taste the fruit from Galilee.”7 Josephus speaks of the country in perfectly rapturous terms. [..]

Some one has compared Galilee to the manufacturing districts of [Belgium]. This comparison, of course, applies only to the fact of its busy life, although various industries were also carried out there—large potteries of different kinds, and dyeworks. From the heights of Galilee the eye would rest on harbours, filled with merchant ships, and on the sea, dotted with white sails. There, by the shore, and also inland, smoked furnaces, where glass was made; along the great road moved the caravans; in field, vineyard, and orchard all was activity. The great road quite traversed Galilee, entering it where the Jordan is crossed by the so-called bridge of Jacob, then touching Capernaum, going down to Nazareth, and passing on to the sea-coast. This was one advantage that Nazareth had—that it lay on the route of the world’s traffic and intercourse. Another peculiarity is strangely unknown to Christian writers. It appears from ancient Rabbinical writings8 that Nazareth was one of the stations of the priests. All the priests were divided into twenty-four courses, one of which was always on ministry in the Temple. Now, the priests of the course which was to be on duty always gathered in certain towns, whence they went up in company to the Temple; those who were unable to go spending the week in fasting and prayer for their brethren. Nazareth was one of these priestly centres; so that there, with symbolic significance, alike those passed who carried on the traffic of the world, and those who ministered in the Temple.

[..]

It can scarcely surprise us, however interesting it may prove, that such Jewish recollections of the early Christians as the Rabbis have preserved, should linger chiefly around Galilee. Thus we have, in quite the apostolic age, mention of miraculous cures made, in the name of Jesus, by one Jacob of Chefar Sechanja (in Galilee), one of the Rabbis violently opposing on one occasion an attempt of the kind, the patient meanwhile dying during the dispute; repeated records of discussions among learned Christians, and other indications of contact with Hebrew believers. Some have gone further,11 and found traces of the general spread of such views in the fact that a Galilean teacher is introduced in Babylon as propounding the science of the Merkabah, or the mystical doctrines connected with Ezekiel’s vision of the Divine chariot, which certainly contained elements closely approximating the Christian doctrines of the Logos, the Trinity, etc. [..] Finally, the Midrash applies the expression, “The sinner shall be taken by her” (Eccl. 7:26), either to the above-named Christian Rabbi Jacob, or to Christians generally, or even to Capernaum, with evident reference to the spread of Christianity there.

Indeed, what we know of the Galileans would quite prepare us for expecting, that the gospel should have received at least a ready hearing among many of them. It was not only, that Galilee was the great scene of our Lord’s working and teaching, and the home of His first disciples and apostles; nor yet that the frequent intercourse with strangers must have tended to remove narrow prejudices, while the contempt of the Rabbinists would loosen attachment to the strictest Pharisaism; but, as the character of the people is described to us by Josephus, and even by the Rabbis, they seem to have been a warm-hearted, impulsive, generous race—intensely national in the best sense, active, not given to idle speculations or wire-drawn logico-theological distinctions, but conscientious and earnest.

The Rabbis detail certain theological differences between Galilee and Judaea. Without here mentioning them, we have no hesitation in saying, that they show more earnest practical piety and strictness of life, and less adherence to those Pharisaical distinctions which so often made void the law. The Talmud, on the other hand, charges the Galileans with neglecting traditionalism; learning from one teacher, then from another (perhaps because they had only wandering Rabbis, not fixed academies); and with being accordingly unable to rise to the heights of Rabbinical distinctions and explanations. That their hot blood made them rather quarrelsome, and that they lived in a chronic state of rebellion against Rome, we gather not only from Josephus, but even from the New Testament (Luke 13:2; Acts 5:37).

“These two Galilees, of so great largeness, and encompassed with so many nations of foreigners, have been always able to make a strong resistance on all occasions of war; for the Galileans are inured to war from their infancy, and have been always very numerous; nor hath the country been ever destitute of men of courage, or wanted a numerous set of them”. 

Josephus, War 3:41 f.

Their mal-pronunciation of Hebrew, or rather their inability to properly pronounce the gutturals, formed a constant subject of witticism and reproach, so current that even the servants in the High Priest’s palace could turn round upon Peter, and say, “Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee” (Matt. 26:73)—a remark this, by the way, which illustrates the fact that the language commonly used at the time of Christ in Palestine was Aramean, not Greek. Josephus describes the Galileans as hard-working, manly, and brave; and even the Talmud admits (Jer. Cheth. iv. 14) that they cared more for honour than for money.

 

Sketches of Jewish Social Life (1876: 1994 Hendrickson Publishers Inc. Updated Edition). Available free online.

Excerpts from Chapter Three: In Galilee at the Time of our Lord.

Alfred Edersheim (1825-89) was a Vienna-born biblical scholar who converted from Judaism to Christianity. A veteran minister and missionary to the Jews of Romania, Edersheim left an enduring and priceless legacy to followers of Christ.

****

From Chapter 1, note 12 (1994 ed.): There can be no reasonable doubt, that colonies from some of these [Ten northern Hebrew] tribes are scattered far and wide. Thus descendants of them are traced in Crimea, where the dates on their gravestones are reckoned from “the era of the exile, in 696 B.C.; i.e., the exile of the ten tribes; not 586 B.C., when Jerusalem was taken by Nebuchadnezzar” (Dr. S. Davidson, in Kitto’s Cycl. of Bibl. Lit. iii. p. 1173). For notices of the wanderings of the ten tribes see my Hist. of the Jewish Nation, pp. 61-63; also the late Dr. Wolff’s researches in his journeys. How prone even learned Talmudical Jews are to credulity in the matter of the ten tribes may be gathered from the Appendix to Rabbi Schwartz’s (of Jerusalem) Holy Land (pp. 401-422 of the German ed.). The oldest Crimean inscriptions date from the years 6, 30, and 89 of our era (Chwolson, Mem. de l’Ac. de St Petersb. ix. 1866, No. 7).

 

“It’s frightening how free a Russian man’s spirit is, how strong is his will! No one has ever been so much torn away from his native soil, as he sometimes had to be; nobody ever took a turn so sharp, as he, following his own belief!”

Fyodor Dostoevsky

More: Dostoevsky on Russia’s mission (at Soul of the East)

REFERENCES

1. “The history of nations is the Nemesis of nations” (“Die Weltgeschichte is das Weltgericht”), writes Schiller

2. There are two Talmuds—the Jerusalem and the Babylonian—to the text of the Mishnah. The Babylonian Talmud is considerably younger than that of Jerusalem, and its traditions far more deeply tinged with superstition and error of every kind. For historical purposes, also, the Jerusalem Talmud is of much greater value and authority than that of the Eastern Schools.

3. Every one who is curious to see the lengths to which Pharisaical pride could go in its contempt of the country people should read Pes. 49, a and b. (online)

7. Pes. 8 b (online)

8. See the reference in Neubauer, p. 190

11. See generally, the learned volume of M. Neubauer, La Géographie du Talmud, p. 186, etc. Compare also, Derenbourg, L’Histoire et la Palestine, pp. 347-365

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