Encountering the New Testament, 4th Edition

A Historical and Theological Survey

series: Encountering Biblical Studies


2. The Middle East in the Days of Jesus

Part 1 Intro Video

Chapter Intro Video

Chapter Objectives

  • Describe the essential geographical features of Palestine
  • Outline the major historical events occurring in Palestine from 539 BC to AD 70
  • Explain how various factors unified Judaism
  • Identify the differences among the major religious groups of this historical period
  • Contrast the writings of the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the pseudepigrapha
  • List the various rabbinic materials and what they teach

Chapter Summary

  1. The personal aim of the New Testament can be seen in how its twenty-seven books consist of twenty-four personal letters and three personalized accounts of the life and work of Christ.

  2. Viewed north to south, Palestine consists of five regions: the coastal plain, the foothills, a central mountain range, the wilderness and the Jordan Valley, and the eastern mountain range.

  3. Palestine had several administrative districts in Jesus’s day: Galilee, Samaria, Judea, Philip’s territory, the Decapolis, and Perea.

  4. Herod’s descendants who ruled Palestine from 4 BC to AD 66 were Archelaus, Philip, Antipas, Herod Agrippa I, and Herod Agrippa II.

  5. Jerusalem was destroyed systematically by the Romans from AD 66 to 70.

  6. The Jews considered Jesus a threat because he made controversial claims about himself and took liberties with Jewish customs.

  7. The most significant unifying factors for the Jews were their relationship to God and their sense of uniqueness in world history.

  8. Other factors that unified the Jews were (a) the idea that God had placed them in Palestine forever; (b) the messianic fervor of the time; (c) the synagogue; (d) the Torah and tradition, which included Sabbath keeping and circumcision; (e) the temple; (f) the priesthood; and (g) the festivals.

  9. The best-known religious group in Jesus’s day was the Pharisees, who had two major schools of thought: the followers of Hillel and the followers of Shammai.

  10. Other groups of this period included the Sadducees, the Essenes, the Zealots, the Samaritans, the Herodians, and the Am ha-Aretz.

  11. The Apocrypha includes more than a dozen noncanonical books written between 200 BC and AD 100.

  12. Rabbinic materials were developed over a period of six hundred years and were collected in the form of the Talmud, of which the Mishnah is the core.

Study Questions

  1. What were the main theological beliefs of the Pharisees?

  2. What factors unified Judaism in Jesus’s day?

  3. What is the Apocrypha?

  4. Why did the Jewish War of AD 66–70 take place?

  5. Why was the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 significant for Christianity?

  6. What are the major geographical regions of Palestine?

  7. Who were the Hasmoneans, and why were they important?

  8. What were the strengths and weaknesses of Herod the Great?

  9. How was the land of Palestine divided after Herod the Great, and what was the rule of his sons like?

  10. What are the distinctive features of “apocalyptic” writings?