The New Testament Environment

Book examines the religious sentiments in Judaea in the first century

"Common Judaism" was a term coined by E.P. Sanders to describe the religious sensibilities among people who lived during the period known as the Second Temple. This period coincided with the life of Jesus Christ, who, like the majority of the populace, did not follow the strictures of the major religious groups such as Sadducees, Pharisees or Essenes. Obviously some of the population had no religious interest at all, but the majority were considered to follow a form of "common" Judaism. 

book published late last year examines the concept of a common Judaism in greater detail, building on the work of Sanders, who, in fact, contributed an essay to the book.

This appears to be a useful work for reevaluating the social environment of Judea and Galilee during the period when Jesus and the apostles taught in the first century C.E., making disciples of "the way." These were the First Followers.


Tags: Judaism, Temple, Devout people, First Century, First Followers, Judaea, Synagogues

The Essenes and Pliny

Ancient reference at the heart of the association of Qumran with the Essenes
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Details:  The Essenes and Pliny
Essenes and Qumran

The statement by Pliny the Elder that the Essenes lived above Ein Gedi, adjacent to the Dead Sea, has been a matter of contention for those who wish to locate the Essenes at Qumran as well as for those who wish to locate their settlement elsewhere.

The critical term in Pliny's writings is his use of a Latin preposition in describing the location as being, infra hos, which has been correctly translated as “above.”  But in what way did he mean this?  Was it to be considered in a vertical sense or was there some other directional reference given in his writing that would help us understand the term? Joan E.Taylor has examined this question in detail in a chapter of the latest issue of Dead Sea Discoveries. Taylor’s abstract states:

Pliny wrote that the Essenes lived west of Lake Asphaltites, and that infra hos was En Gedi. Some scholars associate Pliny’s reference with Qumran, others with a location above En Gedi. Given that Pliny writes about Judaea by following the course of the land’s remarkable water, it would be most natural to read infra hos as “downstream from them.” The Dead Sea itself has a current, and there was a belief that the lake had a subterranean exit in the south. From a survey of scholarship produced prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it appears that Pliny’s reference was usually believed to indicate a wide region of the Judaean wilderness, understood to stretch from En Gedi northwards and/or inland. When En Gedi was identified in the mid-19th century, the suggestion that Essenes occupied caves just north of and above the ancient settlement was made, but this was not seen as exclusive. If we again read Pliny appropriately, as referring to a region which the gens of the Essenes held, we can move away from either-or dichotomies of possible Essene sites.

The entire chapter can be read at Joan Taylor’s website.  Compliments to Stephen Goransonof Duke University for highlighting this material.



Tags: Archaeology, Essenes, Judaea, Ein Gedi, Joan E. Taylor, Pliny the Elder, Qumran

First Century Tomb Discovered

A New Testament king’s final resting place is uncovered at last.
 Mount Herodium
Mount Herodium: Site of Herod's Tomb

The remains of a tomb from the first century B.C.E. has been uncovered at Herodium, 12 miles south of Jerusalem. Unlike other tombs that have been in the news of recent date, this tomb can be linked unequivocally to a specific individual: King Herod, also known as Herod the Great, who ruled the Jewish nation from 37 to about 4 B.C.E. and who died shortly after the birth of Jesus Christ. 

Herodium was one of the monumental public works commissioned by Herod. His reign witnessed one of the most prolific building campaigns in Judaea. Herod not only refashioned Jerusalem but started to restore and enlarge the temple—a project that lasted for some 46 years—making the sacred structure a focus and magnet for Jews throughout the Diaspora. He also built a number of fortified palaces for himself at Jericho, Machaerus, Masada and Herodium, the latter becoming his burial place. 

Details of his funeral procession, circa 4 B.C.E., are given by Flavius Josephus. But the exact

Base of Herod's tomb

Tomb of Herod the Great

location of the tomb at Herodium was never recorded. For the past 35 years, Professor Ehud Netzer of Hebrew University has made it his goal to locate it. Initially the focus fell on the “Tomb Estate” on the lower levels of the tumulus, or hillock, on which Herodium is built. An extensive palace and administrative center were found, but no sign of a tomb. Other archaeologists such asJodi Magness believed that the tomb was in the fortified palace at the top of the mound. Since archaeologists discovered that the palace was no longer used after the Herod’s death, some reasoned that it could be the location of the tomb. 

Ultimately, Netzer found the tomb on the northeast shoulder of the mound at the top of a processional stairway that led to the burial site. Sadly for the professor, the mausoleum that contained the sarcophagus had been vandalized and destroyed, most likely after the 70 C.E. fall of Jerusalem. Herodium, like Masada, became an outpost for the Zealots and, also like Masada, was finally destroyed by Roman forces. The Zealots had no love for Herod, regarding  him as a puppet of the Roman Empire that had given him his role and legitimacy. The magnificent sarcophagus in which Herod was buried, estimated to be eight feet long (almost 2.5 meters), had been smashed. Despite the failure to recover anything more than fragments and decorations, the site is accepted as having been the final resting place of Herod and is being noted as one of the most significant of archaeological discoveries. 

Decorated Fragments Herod's Tomb

Fragments and Decorations from Herod's Tomb

Herod, of course, is known for his brutality and despotism. The account of the massacre of the children of Bethlehem, recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, is characteristic. He ordered the murder of at least one of his wives and two of his sons, and his dying wish was that all the leaders of Judaea perish with him so that the entire nation would mourn his death. Fortunately, those charged with his orders did not carry them out. 

Whether loved or hated by the people of his day, Herod made a major contribution to the region in a critical period of time. His life ended shortly after the birth of Jesus Christ, with the consequent spread of Jesus’ followers throughout the Roman world and beyond. Herod’s reign as a puppet of the Roman Empire also contributed to the ultimate fall of Jerusalem and the dispersion of its people. 

Tags: Herod, Jesus Christ, Judaea, Josephus, Heroduium

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