I started E.P. Sanders’ Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah: Five Studies. There were a variety of interesting items in my latest reading:
—-I remember reading in Samuele Bacchiocchi’s From Sabbath to Sunday a while back that Judaism banned fasting on the Sabbath. On page 13 of Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah, Sanders offers documentation for this, citing passages from Second Temple and rabbinic Judaism (Josephus’ Life 279; Judith 8:6; Mishnah Taanith 1:6).
—-On pages 17-18, Sanders discusses the question of whether Jewish authorities in first century Palestine were allowed to inflict the death penalty. Jewish authorities tell Pilate in John 18:31 that they were not allowed to put people to death, and yet Stephen was stoned in Acts 7. Sanders says that the high priest was most likely not allowed to impose the death penalty without Roman permission (except when a Gentile entered forbidden parts of the Temple), but a Roman official may have turned a blind eye to an execution if nothing subversive against Rome would come out of it. Galilee, however, was a client state that was not ruled directly by Rome and was not occupied by a substantial number of Roman soldiers. (And, of course, Antipas had John the Baptist killed.) According to Sanders, Antipas was concerned about enforcing some elements of Jewish law but not others. He obviously was not concerned too much about purity, for example, for he had the city of Tiberias built over a graveyard! Sanders says that Antipas, like many rulers, most likely left law enforcement to local authorities, and, while Sanders infers from Josephus’ War 2.571 that they probably couldn’t “inflict the death penalty” (Sanders’ words), he acknowledges that there could have been times when “popular enthusiasm” led to people being stoned to death.
—-On pages 29-30, Sanders talks about ritual purification from corpse impurity. This purification had to be done with special Temple water, which means that “by biblical law all Jews in the Diaspora had, or were assumed to have, corpse-impurity until they made a pilgrimage.” But Sanders says that Philo seems to have developed “an extra-biblical purification, valid for life in the Diaspora, for those who contracted corpse impurity.” Presumably, this purification occurred in the Diaspora. That brings me to my next point.
—-I wrote a post a while back about the question of whether Jews believed that Jews had to attend corporate worship on the Sabbath. On page 78, Sanders says, “It is striking that three ancient authors regarded assembly on the sabbath as a Mosaic decree (Philo, Hypothetica 7.12-13; cf. Creation of the World 128; Josephus, Apion 2.175; Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiq. 11.8, who make it part of the ten commandments).” Josephus even “quotes Apion as saying that Moses erected houses of prayer ‘in the various precincts of the city, all facing eastwards’ (Apion 2.10)” (page 77). I wonder if Jews believed they had to be ritually purified in order to engage in this corporate worship. On the one hand, Josephus says in Antiquities 14.258 that local Jews were allowed by a decree of Halicarnassus to “worship near the sea ‘in accord with ancestral custom'” (page 77). On the other hand, Josephus refers to a house of prayer in Tiberias, a city that was perpetually impure because it was built over a grave.
—-On page 33, Sanders says that “some Pharisees restricted giving work to Gentiles that might carry over to the sabbath.” Does this imply that Gentiles were somehow forbidden to work on the Sabbath? Technically, rabbinic Judaism did not appear to require Gentiles to observe the Sabbath (or at least that is my impression, based on my reading; see here), but there was concern that Israelites might benefit from the labor of Gentiles at certain holy times, which would be a no-no (see my post here).
There were other interesting items in my latest reading, but I’ll stop here.