Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus

This book is a library of information about the city of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. Thank you, Joachim Jeremias. The author devotes one chapter to the ḥabūrōt, Jewish mission agencies of first century Israel.[1] Jeremias describes ḥabūrōt as “closed communities.” Like-minded Jews organized these communities and held each other accountable for certain beliefs and behaviors that were not shared by most other Jews. In fact, the members of these ḥabūrōt were on a mission from God, as they saw it. That mission was to be a light to the entire world. The most prominent ḥabūrah was the Pharisees. Jeremias writes:

Joachim Jeremias

“In the following pages we are to study the composition of the Jerusalem ḥabūrōt (Pharisaic communities) and to describe their position within the framework of societies. We must never lose sight of the fact that they formed closed communities. Thus, the Pharisees were by no means simply men living according to the religious precepts laid down by the Pharisaic scribes; they were members of religious associations, pursuing these ends.[2]

The first appearance of the Pharisees, in the second century BC, shows them already as an organized group. I Maccabees 2.42 calls them ‘a company of Assideans [ḥasidim] who were mighty men of Israel, even all such as were voluntarily devoted to the Law.’ The Essenes also originated in the second century BC, and whatever the foreign influences which must have affected their beginnings, they were in origin very close to the Pharisees, “both obviously owing their origins to the ḥasidim of Maccabean times,” as witness their strict rules of purity and their efforts towards separateness. In the first century AD there seem to have been several Pharisaic communities in Jerusalem alone.

Saints in Paul’s Letters to the Churches. Jeremias writes:

In Paul’s epistles the primitive Christian community in Jerusalem is called ‘the saints’; the members of the early Church were called ‘the saints’ in sharp contrast with the whole community. The church was the true Messianic community of salvation, the remnant whom God has chosen from among the people of salvation, in exactly the same way that the Pharisees called themselves ‘the separated,’ that is, ‘the saints.’[3]

The Pharisaic communities of Jerusalem, several of which are known by name, had strict rules of admission, which again shows their character as a closed society. Before admission there was a period of probation, one month or a year, during the course of which the postulant had to prove his ability to follow the ritual laws.[4]

The scribes, priests and Levites comprised only a small number of the Pharisaic community. The laity were far more numerous, as we can see from the frequent occurrence of the ‘scribes and Pharisees’ in the New Testament. This expression shows that besides the leaders who were scribes, the great majority of members had not had a scribal education. The Talmud expressly says of a Pharisee who turned against Alexander Jannaeus, that he was a ‘simple Israelite.’ The innumerable rules pertaining to commercial dealings leave no doubt that above all it was merchants, artisans and peasants who made up the ḥabūrah.

Similarities between Pharisees and Essenes. Candidates for membership in the Essene community were assigned a supervisor and then took the oath of entry. According to the Essene Manual of Discipline there was a period of two years’ probation. Serious transgressions were punished by temporary or permanent expulsion. These details are mainly in agreement with the result of our examination of Pharisaic communities. This becomes particularly clear if we remember that the synagogue, in contrast to these two movements, knew nothing of expulsion or of admission of adults except in the case of the converted pagan.[5]

Blincoe: In the time of Jesus, the Jews organized two kinds of religious structures, the synagogue and the ḥabūrah. The early Jewish Christians borrowed from both: The synagogue became the church and the ḥabūrah became Paul’s missionary band. Therefore, from the beginning, there were two structures in the Christian religion, one for the gathering of the saints, the other (Paul’s missionary band) for going to the unreached peoples. I call these two kinds of structures Lighthouse and Flint. More about these two structures here and here.

Jeremias, Joachim. Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus; an Investigation into Economic and Social Conditions During the New Testament Period. Philadelphia,: Fortress Press, 1969.

[1] Another spelling is havurot. The singular, חבורה, is hevrah.

[2] Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus; an Investigation into Economic and Social Conditions During the New Testament Period (Philadelphia,: Fortress Press, 1969). 247

[3] Ibid. 248 Qadoš (saint) and paruš (as in “Pharisees,” the Hebrew word “separated”) are used synonymously in the Tannaitic Midrashim.

[4] Ibid. 251

[5] Ibid. 260