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This blog is about when Jesus came back to speak in the synagogue at Nazareth, about his outreach to Gentiles, and what the Jews thought of Melchizedek. I wrote about Jesus coming back to Nazareth already, even analyzing their expectations and bullying. This blog adds a little more about Christ with Gentiles, Moses’ Seat, and Melchizedek due to archaeological discoveries and the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS).
Moses’ Seat was
a special chair of honor in the synagogue where the authoritative teacher of the law sat. The teacher in practice exercised the authority of Moses, in whom the written and the main lines of the oral law were regarded as originating. Not many of the Pharisees were actually scribes, among whose number there were also Sadducees. The scribes were looked upon as being the recognized exegetes of the law of Moses (Matthew 23:2).
You’ll note that when Jesus went to the synagogue, “as was his custom, he…stood up to read…. And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him” (Luke 4:16, 20). I learned in Israel it was the custom to stand while reading the scriptures, and to sit while teaching. In fact, sitting to teach had
a symbolic sense…means teaching from the books of Moses…. While the phrase need not indicate a literal chair, archeologists have confirmed that a stone chair has been found in ancient synagogues (in Hamath, Chorazin, En-Gedi, and Delos) next to where the law was kept.
The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS)
The DSS give context to what’s familiar but perhaps rather strange in the Bible. They
give a great many examples of how Scripture was interpreted 2,000 years ago. In some cases…OT prophecies [were] interpreted the same way…in the NT. At other times…very different interpretations…. The DSS help us understand better…the century or so before the time of Jesus…the condition of their country and its pressing needs…the teachings and beliefs of the Jewish people in the time of Jesus…. The DSS provide excellent…Jewish background…and…writings that make up the NT.
Example: the writer of Hebrews uses Melchizedek as an illustration of how Christ was better. What do the Dead Sea Scrolls say about Melchizedek?
Melchizedek in the DSS
The scroll agrees with Jesus that Isaiah 61 promises a jubilee in which all sin debt is forgiven…. But it disagrees with Jesus that the good news will be extended to those outside the righteous circle as the insiders defined it. Here is part of the text, where the work of the Redeemer is described:
“He will proclaim to them the jubilee, thereby releasing…God’s holy ones and so establish a righteous kingdom…. Therefore Melchizedek will thoroughly prosecute the vengeance (Isaiah 61:2) required by God’s statutes. Also, he will deliver all the captives…. Allied with him will be all the ‘righteous divine beings.'”
Jesus and the Gentiles
Last week we learned the oral law of the Jews commanded no contact with Gentiles. But while Jesus was here, we don’t see him reach out to the Gentiles much. In fact, Jesus told the Canaanite woman he came only “to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:21-28).
Outsiders are invited in at the last, in the great banquet parable of Luke 14:15-24.
There is a general agreement among contemporary scholars that this latter invitation symbolically represents outreach to the Gentiles…. Some contend that such…was not envisioned by Jesus and that this invitation…is an expansion of the parable by the early church…. Isaiah 25:6-9 is a crucial text for a clear understanding of this parable. There the inclusion of the Gentiles in the great banquet of God is boldly set forth…. It remains an unfulfilled future task as the parable closes…. This parallels Jesus’ own ministry in that he did carry out a ministry of inviting the outcasts of Israel…. He did not carry out any major outreach to the Gentiles….
Luke’s interest in the Gentiles is unmistakable…. Simeon declares Jesus to be a “light for revelation to the Gentiles”…. The quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5 in Luke 3:6 includes the phrase, “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God”; and the commission to the disciples at the end of Luke specifically mentions the Gentiles (Luke 24:47).
Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, making him someone Abraham looked up to. I don’t agree with all in this article, but some of it is most interesting. We also learn from the DSS that Melchizedek was on a pedestal in the ancient Jewish minds.
The rabbis would argue, quoting other deceased rabbis who often quoted other deceased rabbis from before that. The traditions that were older had the most weight, but they were also often harder to apply as times changed. Abraham and Melchizedek were both older than Moses, and Moses gave the law that these rabbis all quoted in their interpretations. And yet people said of Jesus, “No one ever spoke like this man” (John 7:46).
Again and again, Jesus didn’t quote anyone. He just said, “But I say unto you….” And the writer of Hebrews showed how even compared to Melchizedek, Christ is better.
Praise the Lord we live in an age when the DSS has been uncovered and analyzed so well by scholars. Praise God for this chance to learn the colors of the old black-and-white familiar scriptural stories.
The above pictures were scanned from Moses’ Seat and DSS.