With the death and resurrection of Jesus, the promises of prophet and the spirit of God moved to the community of the way, the Christians. But what happened to the Sanhedrin? Those who rejected Christ, manipulated Pilate into his suffering and crucifixion, and then lost the revolt of Bar Kochba, which ended when Tiberias destroyed Masada?
They reconfigured along Christian lines, with a rabbinate, theological academies, and patriarchs. They worked on rationalizing and reconciling previous lists of interpretation of the law (Torah) into precedents — Mishna. Precept on precept, precedent after precedent.
There was no longer a temple, nor daily sacrifice, nor a High Priest. The Synagogue and the Scholar were all.
The promulgation of the Mishna initiated the period of the (lecturers or interpreters), teachers who made the Mishna the basic text of legal exegesis. The curriculum now centred on the elucidation of the text of the standard compilation, harmonization of its decisions with extra-Mishnaic traditions recorded in other collections, and the application of its principles to new situations. Amoraic studies have been preserved in two running commentaries on the Mishna, known as the Palestinian (or Jerusalem) Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud, reflecting the study and legislation of the academies of the two principal Jewish centres in the Roman and Persian empires. (Talmud is also the comprehensive term for the whole collections, Palestinian and Babylonian, containing Mishna, commentaries, and other matter.)
The schools were the primary agencies through which the rabbinic way of life and literature was communicated to the masses. The types of schools ranged from the primary school to the advanced “house of study” and more formal academy (yeshiva), the synagogue, and the Jewish court. Primary schools had long been available in the villages and cities of Palestine, and tannaitic law made education of male children a religious duty. Introduced at the age of five or six to Scripture, the student advanced at the age of 10 to Mishna and finally in mid-adolescence to Talmud, or the processes of legal reasoning. Regular reading of Scripture in the synagogue on Mondays, Thursdays, Sabbaths, and festivals, coupled with concurrent translations into the Aramaic vernacular and frequent sermons, provided for lifelong instruction in the literature and the various teachings elicited from it. The amoraic emphasis on the moral and spiritual aims of Scripture and its ritual is reflected in their Midrashic collections, which are predominantly homiletical rather than legal in character.
An amoraic sermon conceded that, of every 1,000 beginners in primary school, only one would be expected to continue as far as Talmud. In the 4th century, however, there were enough advanced students to warrant academies in Lydda, Caesarea, Sepphoris, and Tiberias (in Palestine), where leading scholars trained disciples for communal service as teachers and judges. In Caesarea—the principal port and seat of the Roman administration of Palestine, where pagans, Christians, and Samaritans maintained renowned cultural institutions—the Jews too established an academy that was singularly free of patriarchal control. The outstanding rabbinic scholar there, Abbahu (c. 279–320), wielded great influence with the Roman authorities. Because he combined learning with personal wealth and political power, he attracted some of the most gifted students of the day to the city. About 350 the studies and decisions of the authorities in Caesarea were compiled as a tract on the civil law of the Mishna. Half a century later, the academy of Tiberias issued a similar collection on other tracts of the Mishna, and this compilation, in conjunction with the Caesarean material, constituted the Palestinian Talmud.
Despite increasing tensions between some rabbinic circles and the patriarch, his office was the agency that provided a basic unity to the Jews of the Roman Empire. Officially recognized as a Roman prefect, the patriarch at the same time sent representatives to Jewish communities to inform them of the Jewish calendar and other decisions of general concern and to collect an annual tax of a half shekel, paid by male Jews for his treasury. As titular head of the Jewish community of Palestine and as a vestigial heir of the Davidic monarchy, the patriarch was a reminder of a glorious past and a symbol of hope for a brighter future.
But this was predicted, and with it the consequences. The rejection of the movement from one nation to many, the refusal to accept the ministry of Christ, and the frank denial and persecution of the witness of the apostles that he had risen had consequences. The Jews were scattered, and their converts (the Ashkenazim) with them.
23 “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. 3 Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.
5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
7 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 8 but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.
The Talmudists never bought a kingdom in Israel: the Zionists managed that by subverting the British Empire, which had kicked the Turk out of Palestine during latter part of the Great War. We can take them as a warning.
That our faith cannot be constructed purely of a set of legal principles. The Law kills. It is the spirit of God that gives life, and if there is an error in being to loose in one’s beliefs — which, parallel to the development of the Talmud, the church had to deal with as the Gnostics continually tried to make an elect class akin to the academies of the Jews — only the most elect of the Gnostics had the understanding to be saved.
But Christ calls all, not the credentialed, the discipled, or the academically gifted. And he will call his own to him. From all nations, those of Israel included.