Symposium Introduction

The thesis of Matthew Thiessen’s latest book, Jesus and the Forces of Death, is simple and compelling: Jesus did not oppose the Judaic system of ritual purity but sought to overcome the deadly powers associated with impurity. As I read Thiessen’s work, I thought to myself, “How come no one has made this point before?” To be sure, in the last few decades scholars of the New Testament and early Judaism alike have reclaimed the Jewishness of Jesus, affirming that he remained committed to the Torah. But these affirmations have often been accompanied by qualifications that seemingly relativize Jesus’s fidelity to Jewish practice. Consider, for example, how the late Jewish scholar Geza Vermes affirmed the Jewishness of Jesus, as suggested by the title of his seminal book, Jesus the Jew, but nevertheless held that Jesus “showed a complete lack of interest in legal and ritual affairs and a corresponding exclusive concentration on moral questions,” this, supposedly because of Jesus’s Galilean origins and charismatic piety.1 Such reasoning is still very much in vogue in academic and confessional settings. Last year, during a shared meal (held outdoors and through social distancing in order to avoid the impurities of Covid), some Christian friends contended that Jesus only upheld the Ten Commandments, God’s “moral” law, but had abrogated the “ceremonial laws,” which include the commandments governing ritual purity. Needless to say, this dichotomy is artificial from a Jewish standpoint as ritual stipulations are embedded within the Decalogue while moral concerns are interspersed with ritual regulations throughout the Pentateuch.

Herein lies one of several major contributions of Thiessen’s research. He affirms Jesus’s fidelity to the Torah without relativizing or dismissing Jewish concerns to maintain ritual purity. What is more, he situates Jewish purity matters within a broader ancient Mediterranean framework, showing that Jews in antiquity were by no means alone in following and honoring purity codes. Purity concerns, rather, were cross-cultural, common currency in the ancient world. Indeed, Thiessen highlights a compassionate dimension guiding the regulations of the Jewish purity system: they safeguarded humans from wrongly approaching Israel’s God whose sanctity remained opposed to impurity because of the latter’s association with death. If a person disregarded the purity regulations that prevented the pollution of God’s holiness, the consequences could be lethal (Thiessen cites several biblical examples). Worse yet, the divine presence could withdraw from among the people. From a modern standpoint, these measures may seem severe, but at least a positive rationale for the Jewish observance of purity laws has been posited for once in the context of New Testament studies.

It is this critical connection between mortality and impurity that Hannah Harrington singles out in her response to Thiessen’s analysis of Jesus’s approach to purity. According to Thiessen, the Synoptic Gospels portray Jesus as the holy one who can destroy the very sources of impurity and overcome death itself. Like the holy temple, Jesus harbors the divine presence, the holy pneuma, in an especially concentrated way, enabling him to overcome the deadly forces of impurity. This implies that Jesus was divine in the eyes of the gospel writers. However, Harrington contends that Jews did not expect for a human agent to eradicate death, sin, and impurity. Only God could do so. A key question then that probably divided Jews and Jesus’s followers (be they Jews or non-Jews) early on concerned Jesus’s identity. Thiessen raises this issue at the end of his book as he asks whether the Synoptic writers are right or wrong in their depictions of Jesus as the divine holy one who had overcome death: “If they are right, if Jesus is the holy one of God, a force of holiness who destroys the forces of death that give rise to ritual impurity, then to follow him would be to follow in the ways of holiness and life” (185).

Death, however, remains very much alive in our world, and this may explain why many Jews from the first century onwards were not convinced by Jesus’s messianic identity. Even if he didn’t come to abrogate the Torah, he didn’t put an end to death. The first Christians were, of course, aware of this problem but affirmed nonetheless that Jesus’s ministry had marked a decisive victory in history on behalf of life. In his response, Darrell Bock wonders about the ramifications of this conviction with respect to the observance of ritual purity. If Jesus overcame the deadly powers associated with impurity, what did this imply for the maintenance of purity laws within a Christian context, especially if Jesus’s cleaning was seen as permanent? Bock reasons that Jesus’s first followers soon began viewing the observance of purity laws and other Jewish practices (e.g., the food laws) as optional, citing passages such as 1 Cor 7:19 and Peter’s vision in Acts 10 to support his point.

The meaning of these passages and others, however, are debated by scholars today. At issue is not only how Jesus’s first followers related to Jewish practice but how Christians today should perceive the role of a Torah-observant Judaism after centuries of Christian supersessionism proclaiming the end of the Torah, at least its ritual stipulations. In his response to Bock, Thiessen points to passages within the Synoptics that suggest that purity practices retained their relevance. Indeed, many Christians continued to attend to purity matters throughout Late Antiquity as Holger Zellentin notes in his response. Besides promoting the moral purity required by the Apostolic Decree (Acts 15), Christians debated, for example, whether they should wash after sexual intercourse or whether women could receive the Eucharist during their menses. Interestingly, as Zellentin notes, these debates carried on in the Qur’an, which affirms that moral and ritual purity apply to non-Jews.

In the final response of this symposium, Malka Simkovich builds on Thiessen’s effective demonstration that Jesus and the Synoptic Gospels make perfect sense within their original Jewish environment. Not only was Jesus a Jew but quite possibly all of the Synoptic writers were Jewish, including Luke, as Thiessen proposes. There is more therefore than just Jewish “background” or “context” to the New Testament. This leads Simkovich to consider how the Gospels might be viewed as Jewish sources that can inform us about developments in Jewish history, including rabbinic Judaism, seeing that they participated in intra-Jewish debates. Previous New Testament scholarship, especially prior to the mid-twentieth century, tended to interact with rabbinic sources in a unidirectional way (often with anti-Jewish prejudice), indiscriminately drawing from a vast array of rabbinic materials dating centuries after Jesus in order to shed light on the New Testament. Today, scholarship is aware of the methodological and historical problems involved in using rabbinic sources in this way. Still, as Simkovich notes, Jesus’s world was in some sense rabbinic insofar as later rabbinic literature cites rabbinic authorities who would have been Jesus’s near-contemporaries. So methodological questions remain concerning the consultation of rabbinic sources for investigating the New Testament (and Second Temple Judaism as a whole). Completely ignoring this rich corpus of materials might narrow and impoverish our scope of investigation, given the limited number of Second Temple Jewish sources at our disposal. At the same time, if the promising prospect of deploying the New Testament writings to shed light on the development of later forms of Jewish expression can now be seriously entertained, it is thanks to the type of research pursued by Thiessen, who has convincingly shown how Jesus and his first followers remained invested in all aspects of Jewish life, ritual purity included.

  1. Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew: A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981), 77.


Impurity, Mortality, and Jesus

Matthew Thiessen has written a clear and engaging description of Jesus’s conflict with impurity in first-century Judaism according to the gospels. He claims that the gospel writers intentionally depict Jesus as the embodiment of holiness and destroyer of impurity and death. Thiessen systematically focuses on each of the major impurities in Jewish law and unpacks the gospel narratives in light of this material. He also supplies ancient world ideas on impurity and finds large compatibility between Jews and their neighbors in this regard. His book invites a response on the important subject of impurity, mortality, and Jesus.

Impurity and Mortality

I find the connection between impurity, mortality, and Jesus most interesting. Let’s start with the association of impurity and mortality. Impurity, i.e., ritual impurity, is a condition which results from the human body due to the natural cycle of life. The main impure conditions stem from the processes of birth, sex, severe scale disease (which depicts death in ancient minds), and death. All of these, with the exception of scale disease, are common to humanity and, from a physical point of view, distinguish what it means to participate in the life cycle, in a word, to be human. From a negative perspective, all of these processes emphasize the body’s decay and terminality. Following Jacob Milgrom and others, both anthropologists and biblical scholars, Thiessen confirms that ancient sources, both Jewish and non-Jewish, connect impurity and death (17).1 I turn now to the particulars of these impurities.

Childbirth. Thiessen supports Milgrom’s view that childbirth impurity has to do with the loss of life forces, citing several examples from the ancient world which associate birth and genital discharges with death (74). The blood flow from a woman’s reproductive organ is a major source of impurity. Not only is it associated with a life-giving organ, but it carries the threat of death. Without modern medical care, the mortality rate of both the new mother and her infant was high in the ancient world.

Thiessen raises the question of whether or not both mother and child were considered impure after the process of childbirth. Leviticus 12 is clear that the mother becomes impure but does not address the status of the newborn. It is most likely that both were considered impure. The author of Jubilees regards Adam and Eve impure like newborn babies, forty days for a boy and eighty days for a girl (just like a parturient), prior to entering the garden of Eden. The Damascus Document (one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 4Q266, 4Q267) mentions a wet nurse perhaps to keep the newborn away from the ongoing impurity of its mother.

Leprosy. The lepra of Scripture is not modern leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, which the Greeks referred to with a different term, elephantiasis (see Thiessen, 48). Biblical leprosy (lepra/tsara’at) results in white, flaky skin, not shrunken limbs. The leper has been described as the “walking dead” since the flakiness of the disease visualizes the deterioration of a corpse (51). The ancient association of death and leprosy is reflected in the Bible (e.g., Num 12:12, where Aaron pleads with Moses not to let Miriam remain a leper, “as a corpse”; Job 18:13).

The contagion of a leper is a source of great concern to ancient Jewish authors. The Temple Scroll resorts to exclusion of the leper even from ordinary cities and adds an extra week of purification (cf. Thiessen, 52–53). The most threatening contact of a leper is with holy items. Indeed the mixture of holiness and impurity is explosive and can result in death (cf. Lev 7; Lev 15; Num 19). Apparently this was an issue in Second Temple times. The writer of one of the Dead Sea Scrolls rebukes his addressee for allowing even a purifying leper to touch sacred food (4Q396 III, 4–11). The Temple Scroll allots places outside the Temple City for lepers (11Q19 XLVIII, 14–15).

Dead Womb. Thiessen helpfully characterizes a zabah, a woman with an abnormal menstrual discharge, as a woman with a dead womb. In other words, because of her abnormal blood flow, her womb is not fruitful and cannot produce children. Scholars continue to debate as to whether those with abnormal genital flows were quarantined in Second Temple times. Numbers 5 expels such people from the “camp” while Leviticus 15 does not (Thiessen, 73). The Temple Scroll, nevertheless, requires the seclusion of zabim both outside the temple city and within ordinary cities (11Q19 XLVI, 16–18; XLVIII, 13–17). Josephus in Antiquities 3.261–62 prohibits even menstruants from the city of Jerusalem (but see War 5.227, which excludes them only from the temple precincts).

Death. The most powerful impurity among ancient Jews and their neighbors was corpse impurity. Even the gods avoided it. Unlike the concept of burying Christians in hallowed ground, in Judaism, the dead are buried outside of the city, a good distance from the community. This tradition is documented from ancient times (cf. the distance between the Qumran cemetery and the inhabited area).

There is no purification for the corpse but there is a strong onus on everyone who has come into contact with the dead, whether burying one’s parents or simply visiting a house where the body is present, to purify themselves. Priests are not allowed to touch the dead except for the burial of certain close relatives (Lev 21:1–2). The purification process takes one week and requires a special temple ritual with the ashes of a red cow. Some Second Temple texts mention a required ablution on the first day of this week which allows the purifiers to attend to normal processes of preparing food and other social functions which do not require contact with holy items, e.g., going to the temple (11Q19 XLIX, 17; Temple Scroll; Philo, Special Laws 3. 206–7).

Secondary pollution becomes an issue for all sources of impurity but especially for those who come into contact with a corpse or enter a house of the dead. By definition, secondary defilement pollutes at a lower degree of impurity than the original source. For example, a person who has touched the dead becomes secondarily defiled and can pollute other persons and items as well. This type of secondary and tertiary defilement becomes a major concern in the matter of food. If food has been polluted by some external source (e.g., dead rodent or an impure person) or perhaps it has been left open in the house of a dead person, it becomes secondarily polluted. The question is, does this impure food then pollute others who handle it? The Pharisees would say, yes; Jesus, no (cf. Mark 7).

Demons. Although demons do not form a part of the Jewish ritual purity system either in the Bible or the Mishnah, they are linked in the popular mind. As Thiessen correctly notes, the priests of Leviticus and Numbers suppress the demonic, but the general populace in Second Temple times did not. Impurity was considered an evil force, and Jews eagerly awaiting the ultimate conquest of all forces of darkness (Thiessen, 126). Those with severe conditions, e.g., leprosy or abnormal sexual discharges were often considered sinners.

Jesus and Impurity

Let us move on to Jesus’s position in the ancient association of impurity and death as presented in the gospels. I will focus mainly on Mark who is generally considered a primary source for Matthew and Luke. In his short work, Mark devotes a large amount of attention to Jesus’s confrontation with impurity.

Childbirth. Although Mark does not include a birth narrative in his biography of Jesus, Luke reports that Joseph and Mary went to the temple in order for her and the baby to be purified from the impurity of childbirth (Luke 2:22). Hence, Luke places Jesus in an observant Jewish family where there was nothing unusual about performing purification rites from the time of infancy. This was simply a routine visit to the temple; the uniqueness was in the identity of the child.

Leprosy. Jesus continues to follow the biblical laws of impurity throughout his ministry. Thiessen is surely correct that Jesus’s touch of a leper does not mean he ignores the purity system (Thiessen, 62). Although he miraculously heals the man, he defers to the priest to make the pronouncement of purification and authorize the man’s reentry into society (Mark 1:44). Still the question arises, if the gospel writers wanted to assert that Jesus recognized the power of impurity and followed the law, why don’t they record any act of purification? The presence of ritual baths throughout the land of Israel indicates that many Jews did purify themselves, even when they weren’t going to the temple. Indeed, Numbers threatens excision on impure individuals who do not purify themselves (Num 19:13, 20).2

Dead Womb. The hemorrhaging woman of Mark 5 appears to be a zabah. She has an abnormal blood flow of twelve years. Although the text does not explicitly warn against any impurity threat, Thiessen points out the widespread concern for these kinds of impurities both in the Bible and in the ancient world. He also notes that Mark uses the same terminology as Leviticus 15 for the woman’s condition. Quite interesting in this story is the method of Jesus’s healing of the woman. She reaches out to touch the fringe of his clothes, he stops the pressing crowd to state that someone had touched him and he had felt power leave him. This dynamic of healing the woman through his clothes has a strong resonance with Jewish traditions related to the impurity of sexual flows. A distinguishing feature is their contamination of other items via fabric. For example, the bed of a zabah is polluting to anyone who touches it and that person must wash their clothes (Lev 15:25–27). In the narrative of Mark 5, however, the fabric of Jesus’s garment becomes an agent of healing. Is Mark perhaps making a point that Jesus can reverse the process of pollution and neutralize it altogether?

Death. Death is the archenemy of humanity and the chief source of impurity. Hence, Jesus’s death and resurrection of himself and others make an implicit statement of his power. The methods Jesus uses in raising the dead invite comment. As noted above, handling the dead would normally produce secondary pollution. Jesus ignores this eventuality and, taking Jairus’s daughter by the hand, raises her from the dead (Mark 5:41). Other gospels picture Jesus as immune to corpse impurity as well. When raising the widow of Nain’s son, Jesus does not touch the corpse, only the bier (Luke 7:11–17; Thiessen, 113). According to rabbinic sources, the bier would have been polluting. However, Jesus revives the boy through this vehicle of impurity and death. Most dramatically, Jesus raises many other dead people when he himself rises from the dead (Matt 27:50–53).

Demons. In contrast to the power of evil, which was commonly believed to stand behind impurity, the gospels represent Jesus as the embodiment of holiness, an opposite and far greater power. From his opening chapter, Mark presents an explicit contrast between evil spirits, impurity, and death, on the one hand, and the “Holy One of God,” on the other (e.g., Mark 1:5). Jesus receives holy pneuma at baptism and then baptizes others in it (Thiessen, 146).

Conclusion: If impurity points to mortality and Mark’s Jesus is the master of impurity, what is the end result? What is the gospel writer trying to say? Jesus’s disagreements with the Pharisees reveal that although Jesus takes impurity seriously (e.g., sends the healed leper to the priest), he does not ascribe as much power to it as the Pharisees. He disagrees, for example, that ritual handwashing should be required before eating. Most importantly, Mark’s Jesus is able to reverse all the major biblical sources of impurity (death, leprosy, and genital discharges). Recycling language from the priestly purity system throughout, Mark presents Jesus as a source of holiness, culminating in his own death and resurrection.

It seems that the gospels’ Jesus claims power beyond the temple to heal, forgive, and conquer death. Implicitly, he claims the temple and prevailing religious system is limited, insufficient to handle human need. Mark even introduces Jesus as the holy one of God (Mark 1), which Thiessen points out is a title for the sanctuary itself (Lev 21:23 LXX). Unlike Moses and Elisha, Jesus does not need to pray or to use a ritual to heal but exudes a contagious holiness which sometimes heals involuntarily (Mark 5). Fulfilling the prophetic promise of an end to impurity, sin, and death (Isa 25:6–8), Jesus is the agent of a new creation; his kingdom will not be subject to death but offers eternal life. Thiessen claims this is not supersessionism, because it was a Jewish idea already (183). However, the Jews expected these blessings only from God not from human hands.

So is Mark saying Jesus is divine? A demigod between Elisha and God? Thiessen stops short of such claims. He rather presents the gospels’ Jesus as a good Pharisee with a commitment to halakha but with extra powers. In his efforts to place Jesus as part and parcel of the religious system of the day, the reader wonders how Jesus ever came into conflict with the religious authorities. If they were all in agreement about the temple and the place of ritual impurity, and the prophetic vision of a new order in which death will be conquered, what was the problem? In my view, for all the reasons Thiessen has eloquently presented, the gospels implicitly claim Jesus to be divine. He has the ability to neutralize the severest impurity, heal and raise the dead, and forgive sin; his opponents considered that blasphemy.

  1. Cf. Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16, Anchor Bible 3 (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 1002.

  2. Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16, 257.

  • Matthew Thiessen


    Nitpicking: The Jewish Law and Jesus’s Identity

    Hannah Harrington provides readers with a concise summary of the overarching arguments of each chapter in Jesus and the Forces of Death. In both these summaries and her own claims, she gives space to the fine-grained details of legislation relating to various impurities. If this looks like nitpicking that’s because it is. We often think of nitpicking as a bad thing, but it can be essential. Nitpicking is what ancient Jews, Jesus and the gospel writers included, did in their various halakhic disputes and conversations. The evidence we have suggests that many ancient Jews wanted to ensure that they were observing God’s laws properly precisely because they were so weighty. Get the smaller details wrong and you will go wrong in the larger details.1 So I appreciate Harrington’s effort to get the details just right!

    Let me join in that nitpicking. Although Harrington knows that lepra (Hebrew: tsara’at) was not leprosy, she continues to use the words leper and leprosy. Here she is in good company, for virtually all scholars of priestly literature seem to be aware of this fact and yet scholarship on the Hebrew Bible, early Judaism, the New Testament, and rabbinic literature continues to use language that associates the conditions outlined in Leviticus 13–14 with leprosy. Consequently, all modern standard Bible translations of whatever language perpetuate the falsehood that what is in view here is a medical condition that we modern people understand and believe to be serious.2 Take, for example, the English Standard Version (ESV), a recent English translation which markets itself as being one of the most literal translations available. The English terms the ESV uses to talk about this condition are “leprosy,” “leper,” and “leprous [disease].” Only once, at Leviticus 13:2, is there a translational footnote that acknowledges that the term relates to “several skin diseases.” I can’t imagine any reader of that note concluding that leprosy was not one of those skin diseases, even though all the evidence, literary and archaeological, shows us that it was not. And what is the probability that a reader of the ESV (or any other translation) is (a) going to read that little note and then (b) apply it every subsequent time they come across the terms leprosy, leper, leprous in their Bibles? I’m no statistician but by my calculation the probability that this will occur approaches zero.

    I’m nitpicking. It matters. If we scholars don’t insist upon accuracy at the translational level, other readers—scholars, clergy, laypeople won’t know that their understanding of a text is simply inaccurate. Here this inaccuracy results in what is to my mind a significant confusion: by identifying lepra as leprosy, modern readers conclude that the text shows Jesus healing people with awful medical conditions. This is not only incorrect, given that lepra refers to a number of relatively minor skin conditions (think eczema), it also hides from modern readers the fact that the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels actually cares about ritual impurity.

    The gospel writers depict Jesus getting into the nitty-gritty details of proper law observance, deploying halakhic arguments that use the same sorts of arguments preserved in later rabbinic literature. These debates and disagreements are noteworthy in that they show that the Jesus of the gospels valued the Jewish law. Contrary to so much gospel interpretation, these debates and disagreements do not in themselves presage what scholars have frequently termed the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity. Jesus does not come to abolish or abandon the law. For the gospel writers, Jesus and his mission are greater than the temple—something Mark implies (Mark 2:23–28) and Matthew makes explicit (Matt 12:6). Whereas the temple complex can scrub out the residual impurities, Jesus can remove their very sources. This is no criticism of the temple. It’s great; Jesus is greater! The gospel writers are not suggesting that the temple is irrelevant or useless, but they are making a controversial claim about just how important Jesus is.

    And this begins to answer Harrington’s last comments related to Jesus and divinity. As she notes, one of the first titles applied to Jesus within Mark’s narrative world is that he is “the Holy One of God” (ho hagios tou theou). The LXX frequently uses the singular adjective hagion substantively as a reference to the wilderness tent (translating the Hebrew ha-qodesh). Anyone who had any familiarity with the Greek translations of the Books of Moses would likely have heard Mark’s ho hagios tou theou as evoking the holy place where God resides. To say that Jesus is ho hagios, then, is to suggest that he is also a place where Israel’s god has taken up residence in a particularly concentrated way, something that Mark depicts via the descent of the divine pneuma who enters into Jesus (Mark 1:10). Matthew and Luke depict this connection going back to the conception of Jesus via the holy pneuma and John depicts the divine logos taking on flesh and camping amongst humans. So while the gospels speak differently about this, they all agree that the human Jesus incarnates Israel’s god.

    Just as Israel’s god inhabited the wilderness tent and then the temple, so he can and does inhabit Jesus via the sacred pneuma. Israel’s god can be embodied in numerous ways simultaneously and non-competitively. Harrington has herself recently provided us with a fabulous treatment of Israel’s god inhabiting humans, turning them into sacred space.3 The question for readers of the gospels was whether Israel’s god truly did inhabit the flesh-and-blood person of Jesus and if so precisely how. Such questions led to all sorts of theological nitpicking amongst later Christian theologians, again because one has to be accurate in the little things if one wants to be right on the larger things.

    1. For an accessible discussion on this point in rabbinic literature, see Chaim N. Saiman, Halakhah: The Rabbinic Idea of Law (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018).

    2. Confession: I didn’t actually check all translations in all modern languages. Also: Robert Alter’s impressive translation of the Hebrew Bible is one exception that comes to mind (“skin blanch”).

    3. Hannah K. Harrington, The Purity and Sanctuary of the Body in Second Temple Judaism, JAJSup 33 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2019). On ancient Mediterranean gods, including Israel’s, occupying multiple bodies simultaneously, see Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), and Tyson Putthoff, Gods and Humans in the Ancient Near East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021).


Four Observations on Jesus and the Forces of Death

Jesus and the Forces of Death is an examination of the early Christian movement from a “within Judaism” perspective. As such, it is a helpful corrective to the common, more disjunctive approach to Christian origins. Much of the New Testament shows a more nuanced engagement with the movement’s Jewish roots and the issues tied to law than the bifurcation we commonly see. As the book opens, “The gospels writers portray a Jesus who really was that Jewish” (2). Such a view rightly fights against seeing Judaism as strictly about legalism as it has often been portrayed. The core thesis that Jesus’s actions challenge the source of ritual impurities and is not directed against the law has merit. A question remains whether this is as either/or as the book suggests. In short, if Jesus has dealt with the source of such impurity, then what need remains for a law to cover it? Does not that redirection necessitate or give room for the relativizing of the law as a result? I will make four observations, one is a matter of introduction, while the others deal more directly with the topic.

First, I want to consider the idea that Luke is not a Gentile (40). Thiessen argues that the author shows a deep knowledge of Judaism, implying that this suggests a Jewish origin. This rules out an option that could exist for a writer decades removed from the events he describes. It is that Luke could be a Gentile who came to his faith through a previous journey through Judaism, a God-fearer who became a Christ follower or one who came to know many Jewish believers. At one level this changes little to nothing of the larger argument in the book. However, at another it could obscure the ethnic mix that fueled the new movement after a time. This could explain two features of Luke-Acts: (1) the awareness of Jewish practice the two volumes do display as Thiessen notes and (2) the sensitivity with which Luke-Acts portrays God-fearers and other Gentiles who are kind to Judaism. A Gentile pulled into a mixed community of faith may have over the decades learned a lot about that faith, whether his exposure to Judaism came after or before his move into the emerging community. This is an origin I and others, such as John Nolland, have contended for as part of the commitment Luke-Acts has as it describes both ethnic groups.

Second, there is the recognition that purity laws had a compassion tied to them because of the perceived risk that impurity posed in sacred space that could lead to judgment. The need to be protected is a key observation about a function of the law as forming a people with a special sensitivity to issues tied to holiness and the normal (not abnormal) functions of life (72). However, some of these texts appear to suggest that such a sensitivity overdeveloped goes too far. For Jesus to act out of compassion and yet not viewing these restrictions as applying so strictly as others sought to suggest may mean that the compassion Thiessen points to may be incomplete. What this could show is that ritual purity is not rejected as such, but its scope is very much under challenge so that the context and extent of how it is passed on or not does matter. This is an internal Jewish question for sure, but the reduction of its scope from where many had it may raise a trajectory the latter Jesus movement picked up on. Thiessen is correct to highlight that the passage stresses Jesus’s power over uncleanness, his reversal of it. However, if that is so, where does that leave the person now cleansed by Jesus? What happens if such cleansing is seen to be permanent? If Jesus, to use Thiessen’s words, destroys “impurity’s sources” then where does that leave the law dealing with it (96)?

Third, there is the way in which Jesus handles death and the impurity tied to it in relation to Jairus’s daughter. It is pictured as a sign of new life and illustrative of that larger power. This does point in the direction of a permanent solution as I am raising above (109). Yes, she is to die again, but in the movement’s view such a death is not an end but a transition, as it is rooted in the hope of resurrection and a call to new birth which impacts the way one sees and lives out one’s identity.

Fourth, dietary laws represent the issue that is perhaps most challenging for Thiessen in my view. He has spent much energy, even beyond this book, to argue for the vision of Acts 10 not representing a challenge to Jewish dietary laws, treating the vision as a picture of relationships versus being directly related to an instruction to Peter about meal fellowship. The appeal is similar to those where the argument is that Paul’s remark that circumcision is nothing still does not represent a challenge to the law (1 Cor 7:19). In both cases, what is juxtaposed is the idea of keeping God’s commands. In the Acts vision, it is a vivid visual with the perceived command that leads Peter to initially refuse to go there in terms of the food multiple times. So God’s now former (?) law is portrayed as transgressed. In Corinthians, the remark on commandments is stated directly. Given the concern that table fellowship did engender for scrupulous Jews, the ability to sever these topics seems problematic. One act does symbolize the other for a reason. I am reminded in this light of how Paul handles meat offered to idols, where restriction only comes when the meat is directly tied to the temple, either while there or at a meal where the connection is made. Otherwise there is no need to ask questions. Something is going on here that moves in the direction of a greater sense of liberty than the law tended to generate, a contrastive attitude one can see when one sees the detail the law generated in a work like the Mishnah. All of this strikes me as far more than a “coded vision” (195). It is the vision that makes the point with a pointed application. Acts 11:3 as well seems to assume something more comprehensive took place here. Peter’s reply does not reject the charge of eating with Gentiles but defends and explains the action as justifiable. This also fits with Galatians 2. Paul reacted because Peter’s separation from Gentiles appears to have been motivated by something more than just race or ethnicity since Gentile salvation was a given for both Peter and Paul. The issue had to be about practice, something specific about the table setting that was troubling. If Peter were kosher in his habits, that defense should have sufficed as an explanation. Nowhere do we get that reasoning.

What seems to remain, then, is an option to the way Thiessen sees Jewish believers functioning, while respecting the law from within the movement, but something short of a requirement to do so. Some probably did live this way, but others probably did not and argued for that space. One could respect the law as a Jewish believer as the crowd tied to James appeared to do in ways Thiessen describes, but others handled the choice in ways that non-believing Jews would not have thought respected fully the law. What the Pauline epistles seem to suggest is that fighting over this in house should not be done and the reason is not made clear that the distinction is between Jewish believer / Gentile believer one, but a distinction more generic to the faith.

This is a far more complex discussion than one tended to have a half century ago. That shift is the result of a positive development in New Testament study, a more engaged interaction with Second Temple sources and the surfacing of a broader study of texts from the period along with their wider availability for study. This book is a fine example of the fruit of such study, for which we can be grateful.

  • Matthew Thiessen


    What Do the Gospels Imply? How Do Readers Infer?

    What are readers of the gospels to do with the numerous stories of Jesus destroying impurity’s sources? This is the question that Darrel Bock asks and subsequently answers by concluding that these stories imply the relativization of ritual purity laws. Bock stands in good company in this reading of the gospels, for it has been the dominant Christian conclusion over the last two thousand years. And one can find a similar conclusion in the writings of Thomas Kazen, who has worked extensively on ritual impurity in early Judaism and in the gospels: Jesus “had a pragmatic, rural or locally based attitude, which did not allow purity rules to intervene with social network, table fellowship and community, and that his eschatological outlook made impurity subordinate to the kingdom.”1

    Bock infers that the gospel writers mean to convey to their readers that Jesus’s purifying mission now results in the relativization of ritual impurity laws. But is this what the gospel narratives imply? I believe that carefully attending to the very first story of Jesus and a ritually impure person suggests something altogether different. In Mark 1:40–45, Jesus encounters a man who had lepra, who asks Jesus whether he is willing to purify him. On Bock’s reading, now that Jesus has destroyed the source of impurity (that is, the skin condition), the man has become permanently ritually pure. “What need remains for a law to cover it?” asks Bock.

    It’s a good question, one that Jesus answers rather clearly immediately after removing the skin condition: “Go and show yourself to the priest and offer for your purification the things that Moses commanded, for a testimony to them” (Mark 1:40). And both Matthew and Luke retain Jesus’s demand to the man with lepra. This requirement to make offerings for purification suggests that the residual ritual impurity still adheres to the man, even after the underlying condition that caused the impurity has been destroyed. As Paula Fredriksen puts it: “This is an uncomplicated endorsement of a very elaborate sequence of ablutions and sacrifices (a bird, two male lambs, one perfect year-old ewe), detailed in Leviticus 14, by which the leper moves from pollution to purity, from isolation back into life in the community” (20–21).2 Jesus’s demands follow precisely what Leviticus requires of the person whose lepra has disappeared: a series of rituals detailed in Leviticus 14 that effects the removal of the residual ritual impurity over a seven-day period.

    To be sure, not a few Christian scholars have taken that last clause “for a testimony to them” (eis martyrion) negatively. That is, through the healed man, Jesus puts the priests in their place.3 One can see such a negative use of this phrase in Jesus’s command to his disciples to shake the dust off one’s feet when leaving an unwelcoming town (6:11), but positive uses of the term occur as well (13:9; cf. Matt 24:14). Is the phrase positive or negative here? If Jesus wanted the man to put the priests in their place, why ask for a priestly diagnosis in keeping with Leviticus 14? And, what is more, why command the man to go through the complex of rituals required by the Jewish law? To do so when Jesus supposedly intends the man’s healing to serve as a witness against the priests and the cultic system surely would have sent mixed signals (at best). Consequently, a negative interpretation of the phrase “for a testimony to them” makes little sense.

    Admittedly, Jesus does not command the woman with the abnormal genital discharge or recently revivified corpses to go through purification rites. One could infer from this silence (a) that Jesus removed the residual impurity and not just its source and (b) that such healings/resuscitations relativized ritual impurity both in the narrative and for readers of the gospels. In an earlier draft of my book, I concluded that the first of these conclusions was correct: Jesus destroyed both the source of the ritual impurity and the residual impurity. But that initial story of Jesus and the man with lepra complicates this conclusion. Are these later stories different, or do they just assume that the same command Jesus gave that man he gave also to these other people? How does one read these silences in the narrative?4 Does Mark (or Matthew or Luke) imply something significant by such silences or does he merely intend to be economical in his story telling? What can or should we infer about such silences?

    To answer this question, I think it helpful to reflect on other Jewish texts. Jewish narratives frequently mention corpses and births, sex and menstruation, but almost never mention the attendant purification rites. Bathsheba’s purificatory bathing from her (menstrual?) impurity appears to be the exception here (2 Sam 11:1–4). Another example: Miriam’s lepra disappears, but Numbers 12 does not tell us she bathed or made the offerings mentioned in Leviticus 14, only that she dwelt outside the camp for seven days. Does this silence imply something about legal laxity? Presumably not. Rather, the author probably assumes his readers will fill in the gap with what they know from Leviticus 14. And both Elijah and Elisha touch corpses in order to resuscitate people, but 1 Kings depicts neither them nor the former corpses undergoing the seven-day purification rites of Numbers 19. If we don’t conclude that these passages imply a relativizing of ritual purity laws, what warrant do we have to infer something quite different in relation to the Jesus of the gospels?

    To conclude: we readers of the gospels often believe them to be implying this or that when in fact it is us making inferences from them. On what basis do we make these inferences, especially when the gospels contain silences and gaps and tensions? For far too long, Christian readers have inferred that the Jesus of the gospels opposes the Jewish law, or the priesthood, or the Jerusalem temple, or ritual purity regulations, not because the gospels imply these things but because we are (knowingly or otherwise) embedded in discourses that are deeply indebted to Christian anti-Judaism. It’s time to start filling in the narrative gaps within the gospels from a different set of assumptions.

    1. Thomas Kazen, Jesus and Purity Halakhah: Was Jesus Indifferent to Impurity?, ConBNT 38 (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2002), 347.

    2. Paula Fredriksen, Sin: The Early History of an Idea (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 20–21.

    3. For instance, Edwin K. Brodhead (“Christology as Polemic and Apologetic: The Priestly Portrait of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark,” JSNT 47 [1992] 21–34 [25]) claims that “Jesus sends the one declared clean specifically to the priest who had declared the leper unclean. There the leper is to bear witness to the power of Jesus and, by implication, to the impotence of the priest.”

    4. Slightly more complicated, in his additional story of Jesus healing people with lepra, Luke depicts Jesus commanding the men: “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14). This command conforms again to the laws of Leviticus 14, which required priestly diagnosis to confirm the person has become ritually pure, but it lacks explicit instruction to go through the complex set of rituals to remove the residual impurity that persists. Does Luke imply anything by this omission, or does he assume his readers will fill in the gaps based on the earlier healing of the man with lepra?

    • Darrell L. Bock


      Rejoinder to Matthew Thiessen’s Response to My Review

      The idea that Jesus did not relativize the law in his ministry turns on the whole of his work, not just on a passage early on in his ministry. Thiessen appeals to Mark 1:40-45 as the key answer to my query about what Jesus taught about the ritual purity. He sees it as an endorsement of the role of purity for Jesus. It is but the beginning of the discussion Jesus raises. The following testimony the leper is to give the priest in agreement with the Law, as I see it, is not a negative nor a positive testimony in relationship to the priests. It is a report of what God has done and is doing through Jesus. It generates the exact response it should. The leaders come out to see all that Jesus is about in his ministry. This distinction is important, because Jesus is gradually displaying what he is calling for from followers of God. It is but the beginning of the path Jesus is forging.

      Thiessen goes on to make observations about later events, the woman healed of the flow of blood and other such texts. He falls back to Mark 1:40-45 as the key to answering if anything is changing. This ignores several texts touching these areas such as Jesus declaring you cannot put new wine in old wineskins or the way Jesus handles issues of cleanness and hand washing in Mark 7. Something is going on here and the disciples sensed this by their reaction, whether we think of Mark 7:19 or the vision scene of Acts 10. Granted these texts are not about Jesus, but they are rooted in his followers, who also are portrayed as having been previously very committed to a Jewish way of doing things. Thiessen appeals to as the evidence of how silence works by going back to Hebrew Scripture texts like 2 Sam 11. This move bypasses what is said subsequently in these New Testament texts. Do those NT texts fill in and remove the supposed silence? Those NT texts supply the warrant Thiessen rightly requests be a part of our conversation. They justify the “inferences” made that Thiessen questions.

      One more thing needs to be said. The discussion here is not at this level about Christian anti-Judaism. Regrettably, there has been much of that in the subsequent history of the church, including the reading of the testimony passage as negative about the Law and priests. This does represent an infiltration some Christian readings of texts like these that Thiessen rightly points out. However, this discussion is about whether Jesus brought a reprioritization of how the Law was to function. What make this discussion complex is that we are dealing with two levels in this conversation, namely questions tied to the law itself and how Jewish tradition had added to and in some cases extended that law into wider contexts. Jesus certainly critiqued the latter. Add to this the distinction between the reports of what Jesus did and what his followers record and why. This combination makes our conversation complex. The question we both are pursuing is whether we also see in Jesus efforts to deal with the (potentially shifting) role of the law itself in light of the coming of promise. I am contending that Jesus did so and that his initial followers read his direction correctly.

      None of what I am saying here questions the value of his work in moving this discussion along in very helpful ways by raising very appropriate observations and questions that require fresh assessment of the topic.


What Difference Does It Make If Jesus Kept Kosher?

Matthew Thiessen’s volume synthesizes and leverages a scholarly trend that can be traced to the Christian Hebraism occasioned by the Reformation.1 The simplicity of the premise that the gospels’ portrayals of Jesus as a self-confessed Jew ought to be taken seriously does not belittle its brilliance and complexity, either in the work of Thiessen or in that of his forebears. Jesus was and remains a primary religious symbol in Western Civilization, no matter what our respective degree of acculturation or secularization. The discovery, or perhaps the re-creation of a Jewish Jesus, at every turn of the step, has to face a historical culture that is predicated on overcoming the very notion of Judaism, as David Nirenberg, Peter Schäfer, and many others have abundantly illustrated.2 Memorably, my teacher John Gager once cautioned me that no matter how subtle and developed our hermeneutics, no matter what our scholarly or religious identity, the moment we lose focus even for a second, if our attention slips even for the blink of an eye, established cultural paradigms reassert themselves in our readings. Holding one’s attention long enough to conceive of Jesus’s Jewishness throughout all three Synoptic Gospels and sparing some moments even for John remains a daring feat, and a great accomplishment by Thiessen.

Yet apart from such mere trifles as historical truth, what difference does it really make if Jesus kept kosher, if he abolished not the Jewish purity system but the underlying causes of impurity such as death and disease? After all, the vast majority of Jesus’s Christian interpreters had understood him as abrogating biblical purity law, so what, beyond the entertainment of self-congratulatory religious historians such as yours truly, makes Thiessen’s book so relevant? Well, establishing a point of history and recovering the past have hardly ever been exercises for their own sake. This is the caseeven more so at a moment when the notion of demonstrable truth finds itself under prolonged assault, the like of which we may not have seen since the times of Walter Benjamin. There are, moreover, a myriad of implications for contemporary culture and religious practices if one takes Jesus’s, or at least the gospels’ Jewishness seriously. I would, for example, suggest reconsidering not only how contemporary anti-Semitism, but also how the widespread phenomenon of Islamophobia relates to conceptions that juxtapose Jesus to purity.

For the present publication, however, I have,  not been tasked to reflect upon the broader relevance of Thiessen’s book, but on how it relates to my own work as a historian of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The answer, in short, is that the Jewishness of the Synoptic Gospels, and their endorsement of Jesus’s battle not against ritual purity but against its origins, constitute a useful and in some ways even an essential starting point for our understanding of late antique Judaism and Christianity and of early Islam. Three interrelated examples, focusing on the notions of legal hermeneutics, on the Torah’s laws for gentiles, and on the emergence of Islam, show what difference it makes if the gospels did create their stories within the framework of ritual purity.

First, legal hermeneutics. A little while ago, I suggested that the notion of originalism, a concept here borrowed from US constitutionalist debates, may help us explain the legal debates in the Gospel in Matthew.3 Originalist jurisprudence of the more sincere kind (and there are many others) seeks to apply the constitution as it was understood by the people in the time of its original promulgation. The concept of originalism is best conceived of as a juxtaposition to its counterpart, the concept of a “living constitution.” The latter bases jurisdiction on both the original document and especially on its established history of interpretation over the centuries. Neither concept makes sense on its own, and their very juxtaposition finds an intriguing parallel in early Judaic legal debates. Here, both in Josephus and in the Gospel of Matthew, the Pharisees are accused of adding their “traditions of the elders” to the received written Torah (Ant. 17.41; Matt 15;), and this tradition often interprets how the written Torah is to be understood. The Pharisees can thus be compared to those who base their jurisprudence on “established interpretation,” making them ancient proponents of a “living constitution”— in the rabbis’ much later description of their own post-biblical legal traditions, they state explicitly that “these and these are the words of the living God” (Bavli Eruvin 13a). In light of the notion of “traditions of the elders” in texts depicting the Pharisees’ legal hermeneutics, I have suggesting naming this pharisaic and rabbinic tendency “traditionalism.”

The Pharisees’ opponents, among them the Sadducees and the author of the Gospel of Matthew, reject any addition to the written Torah, and claim to fulfil the Law and nothing but the Law—even if such legal purism was as hard to achieve in the first centuries of the Common Era as it remains to this day. Matthew, in my view, was thus an ancient proponent of originalism. Thiessen’s broader reading of all three Synoptic Gospels as affirming Torah law may indicate that the concept of originalism may indeed apply to a broader intellectual tendency within the early Jesus movement than I had once suspected. If this turns out to be the case, then a more widely attested originalist tendency within the Christian tradition would also offer a plausible counterpoint against which to assess the history of later rabbinic legal hermeneutics. In contrast to the early rabbinic Tannaim, the later Amorarim seem to highlight their traditionalist credentials to the point of the hyperbolic exaltation.4 Thiessen’s book offers the groundwork upon which one could reconceive aspects of rabbinic Judaism as the result of a polarization that already begins in the first century CE.

Secondly, laws for gentiles. The work of Jürgen Wehnert and others has demonstrated that the Acts of the Apostles conceives of a clear set of Torah laws that are applicable to non-Jews. He has shown that the so-called “Apostles’ Decree” is based on the laws given to the biblical “resident aliens” (gerim), the non-Israelite denizens of the Holy Land (Acts 15).5 According the Bible’s Holiness Code, the Biblical residents had to observe laws that obviated both “ritual” and “moral” impurity, to use Jonathan Klawans’s terms. By contrast, the gentile believers in the Acts of the Apostle are explicitly instructed to obey only those prohibitions whose transgression would lead to moral impurity.6 Now, conceiving of the gospels’ portrayal of Jesus as engaged with those forces of impurity that apply to Israel, as Thiessen does, equally offers itself to renewed scrutiny how, exactly, these forces relate to gentiles—both those that appear in the gospels, and those to whom the apostles are eventually sent. (Neither group makes much of an appearance in Thiessen’s book beyond the discussion of Luke’s putative gentile ethnicity on pp 40–41.) Again, if we are dealing not only with Matthew but with the entire synoptic tradition as affirming purity law, then we could learn much about the early Jesus movement as a whole (including Paul), when seeking to trace how it dealt with the distinct laws for gentiles we find first in the Hebrew Bible and then again in parts of the New Testament.

Thirdly, the emergence of Islam. Thiessen’s portrayal of the Synoptic Gospels has implications that help us contextualize the qur’anic community more broadly, and more specifically the Qur’an’s portrayal of Jesus and of purity. In a thesis I published a few years ago, I sought to retrace the late antique legal narrative that depicts Jesus as a law-giver who affirms the eternal “primary law” yet rejects the punitive “secondary law” that had been given to Israel as a result of their sins. This view with roots also in Greek and Latin Christianity became prominent especially in Syriac Christian literature, and informs the qur’anic image of Jesus and even the nascent Islamic legal self-identity.7 This narrative about Jesus as affirming and partially abrogating Israelite law combines two of the aforementioned tendencies: the restoration of the eternal primary law, namely constitutes an originalist tendency, whereas the content of this law, both in the relevant Christian traditions and in the Qur’an, is largely congruent with those rulings established as gentile law by the Hebrew Bible as channelled by the Apostolic Decree. This holds true even more for those Christians who understood the Apostolic Decree as ordaining both the observance of moral and of ritual purity upon gentiles. If not only Matthew but all the Synoptic Gospels should indeed portray Jesus as a law-affirming originalist who pushes back against secondary legal additions, as I understand Thiessen’s thesis on Jesus’s battle against impurity to intimate, then we once again have a much broader point of departure from which to consider the many pathways that led from the early Christian understanding of purity to the emergence of Islam.

To conclude, then, Thiessen’s book invites us to reconsider the role of law and of purity not only within Jesus’ Jewish framework, but also among late antique gentiles. All Christians subscribed to the notion that “moral” impurity of body and/or soul must be avoided by gentiles, as detailed by the Apostolic Decree. As Karl Böckenhoff has long shown, an overwhelming majority of Church Fathers, councils, and other authorities understood moral purity in terms of a clear prohibition of consuming meat sacrificed to idols, of consuming animal blood or carrion as foodstuff, or of engaging in sexual intercourse during a woman’s menses.8 (Augustine and Chrysostom, both of whom allowed the consumption of animal blood, are two noteworthy exceptions, yet in this case these fathers represent only a small minority of the late antique legal culture.) At the same time, Christians expressed a broad range of attitudes towards the question of “ritual” purity. The questions whether one should one wash after sexual intercourse or before prayer, whether a woman should receive the Eucharist during her menses or after childbirth, or how to deal with the impurity of human corpses were hotly discussed topics in Christian communities from North Africa to Anglia, and from Armenia to Ethiopia. Among these topics are some of those addressed in Thiessen’s study. The fact that a majority of those church fathers whose writings have been preserved—yet by far not all—eventually rejected the notion of “ritual” purity in their quest to highlight the moral type in no way indicates that the former concept would have been moot. Rather, either by sustained polemics against such practices or by their endorsement, the plurality of writings from the second to the seventh century indicate that a considerable number of Christians within mainstream communities continued to consider aspects of purity as obligatory for gentiles. The Qur’an here is a case in point in so far as it does not endorse an Israelite self-identity and stands in detailed continuity with those Christian interpretations of the Apostolic Decree—and thereby with the Bible’s laws for the “resident”—that see both moral and ritual purity as applicable to non-Jews. Thiessen’s volume, highlighting the importance of the gospels’ affirmation of purity discourse, provides a basis from which to reassess all of late antiquity from the particular perspective of purity discourse. It thus makes a big difference for the history of Judaism, of Christianity, and of Islam if, and how exactly, Jesus kept kosher.

  1. Early modern scholars such as John Lightfoot in his Horae Hebraicae et Talmudicae had already begun to read the gospels in the light of ancient Judaism, a trend that has only solidified throughout the twentieth century; key works include Albert Schweizer’s Quest for the Historical Jesus, Geza Vermes’s Jesus the Jew, and E. P. Sanders’s Jesus and Judaism.

  2. See David Nirenberg, Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition (New York: Norton, 2013), and Peter Schäfer, Kurze Geschichte des Antisemitismus (Munich: Beck, 2020).

  3. Holger Zellentin, “Jesus and the Tradition of the Elders: Originalism and Traditionalism in Early Judean Legal Theory,” in Beyond the Gnostic Gospels: Studies Building on the Work of Elaine H. Pagels, ed. L. Jenott et al. (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013), 379–403.

  4. See, e.g., Shaye J. D. Cohen, “Antipodal Texts: B. Eruvin 21b–22a and Mark 7:1–23 on the Tradition of the Elders and the Commandment of God,” in Envisioning Judaism: Studies in Honor of Peter Schäfer on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday, ed. Raʿanan S. Boustan et al. (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013), 965–83.

  5. Jürgen Wehnert, Die Reinheit des ‘christlichen Gottesvolkes’ aus Juden und Heiden: Studien zum historischen und theologischen Hintergrund des sogenannten Aposteldekrets (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997).

  6. For a description of the development of gentile law from the Hebrew Bible to the Qur’an, see Holger Zellentin, “Judaeo-Christian Legal Culture and the Qurʾān: The Case of Ritual Slaughter and the Consumption of Animal Blood,” in Jewish Christianity and the Origins of Islam, ed. Francisco del Río Sánchez (Turnhout: Brepols, 2018), 117–159, and Zellentin, “Gentile Purity Law from the Bible to the Qur’an: The Case of Sexual Purity and Illicit Intercourse,” in The Qur’an’s Reformation of Judaism and Christianity: Return to the Origins, ed. Holger Zellentin (New York: Routledge, 2019), 115–215. I am currently preparing a second monograph that further develops this legal history for publication

  7. Holger Zellentin, The Qurʾān’s Legal Culture: The Didascalia Apostolorum as a Point of Departure (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013).

  8. Karl Böckenhoff, Das apostolische Speisegesetz in den ersten fünf Jahrhunderten: Ein Beitrag zum Verständnis der quasi-levitischen Satzungen in älteren kirchlichen Rechtsquellen (Paderborn: Schöning, 1903); for my own take on the matter, see my articles listed in note 5 above, which discuss further relevant studies.

  • Matthew Thiessen


    The Residue of Impurity Thinking in Early Christianity

    In one of the earliest drafts of Jesus and the Forces of Death, I concluded each chapter with a brief survey showing some piecemeal evidence that many early Christians in the first centuries after the gospels were composed continued to wrestle over the relevance of ritual impurity. I decided to remove those sections because my knowledge of these writings was at best spotty. I am glad I did not include these sections, knowing that Holger Zellentin has been working on this very topic, intending to publish a truly ambitious book that looks at ritual impurity in early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But while we await this groundbreaking project, let me sketch out a few insights I derived from the evidence, which relate to Zellentin’s remarks about legal hermeneutics and Torah application to gentiles (and might be of interest when thinking about early Islam as well).

    Even after reading the gospels, some Christians in the first centuries CE concluded that they needed to observe certain ritual purity regulations. Such people could be Jews or gentiles. Other Jesus followers came to the opposite conclusion: they did not need to worry themselves about ritual impurity, but often not for reasons that we might think. As I note in my response to Darrell Bock, the gospels do not explicitly tell their readers what they should do with regard to ritual purity thinking: abandon it, modify it, observe it. Readers must make inferences and draw their own conclusions and so it is hardly surprising that we see a diversity of positions.

    And I would argue that these positions are almost always indebted to the dynamics of purity ideologies that were pervasive in the ancient Mediterranean world, and not something unique to Jewish scriptures and thought. Given the ubiquity of these beliefs in the ancient Mediterranean world, Mary Rose D’Angelo rightly suggests that “such restrictions might well have been viewed by the early Christians not only as taught by Judaism but even more as universally comprehensible, as ‘natural.’”1 In the minds of most people in the ancient world, the existence of ritual impurity was simply a given. Very little, if any, evidence exists that some Christians simply concluded that ritual impurity never existed at all or that it no longer existed.

    An example: Clement of Alexandria notes that some of his Christian contemporaries think that sexual intercourse pollutes. Such people may have pointed to the laws of Leviticus 15, but they were also likely indebted to broader ancient Mediterranean thinking about the ritual pollution created by genital discharges that temporarily excluded one from close contact with divine beings. Clement disagrees with these people, but his reason for doing so is illuminating: “Personally, I think that the seed coming from consecrated people is sacred too” (Stromateis Has Clement rejected the idea of ritual impurity? Hardly. Rather, this statement depends upon the four distinct categories so central to the priestly ritual purity system: holy and profane, pure and impure (cf. Lev 10:10). Christians have been made holy through baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit. They have been infused with a power of holiness that is stronger than the ritual impurity created by genital emissions. This indwelling holy power permanently cleanses them.

    This is what Clement says later: “The Lord eliminates washing after intercourse as unnecessary since he has cleansed believers by one single baptism for every such encounter, just as he takes in the many washings prescribed by Moses by one single baptism” (Stromateis This holy power purifies them through one baptism and the purifying effects of that one washing linger long after the event. But one can only believe this if one believes that ritual impurity exists and is important and needs to be dealt with. The Holy Spirit and baptism provide a one-time, permanent purification and subsequent sanctification to Christians. This, in other words, is an argument that relativizes the power of ritual impurity, but it is a relativization that depends upon the logic and dynamics of the whole system: one powerful force cancelling out a lesser and opposing force. Christians are holy and therefore Christian sperm is holy and therefore it can’t be defiling. But do Clement’s remarks not suggest that non-Christians are not sacred and therefore non-Christian sperm continues to be defiling? My hunch: yes.

    Similarly, numerous Christian writers appear to do away with any concern for corpse pollution. For instance, Origen argues that the corpses of Abraham and the prophets cannot possibly be impure (Homilies on Leviticus 3.3.1), while Jerome avers that the bones of martyrs do not contaminate (Vigil 8). Relatedly, the Didascalia Apostolorum declares, “You, in accordance with the Gospel and in accordance with the power of the Holy Spirit, gather in the cemeteries to read the Holy Scriptures and to offer your prayers and your rites to God without observance and offer an acceptable eucharist” ( The author concludes: “And so you are to have contact with those who rest [i.e., the dead], without regard for observances, and not to consider them unclean” ( These texts (and others) have been understood to indicate that early Christians rejected the ritual purity system. Yet the logic of the Didascalia Apostolorum’s legal position derives explicitly from the Jewish scriptures: the author points to the important example of Elisha’s bones, which (startlingly!) revivified a corpse that had been thrown into his grave (2 Kgs 13:20–21). The author believes that the story demonstrates that the Holy Spirit continues to dwell in Elisha’s corpse, making what was formerly impure (a corpse) holy and life-giving (a saint’s corpse). And if a corpse of one of Israel’s prophets was holy, so too are the corpses of holy Christians. This same thinking undergirds the claims of Origen and Jerome: the remains of holy people cannot pollute. As Moshe Blidstein rightly notes, “the Holy Spirit which is in [Christ followers] prevents them from becoming defiled when in the cemetery, and similarly prevents them from defiling after they die, since they are not really dead. It appears that for the author of the Didascalia death impurity still exists in the world—perhaps in the death of non-Christians—but in the case of Christians, it is vanquished through the action of the Holy Spirit.”2

    The logic of a number of major early Christian writers, then, is not that ritual impurity does not exist; rather, they believe that whatever impurities Christians encounter are too weak to make them impure when they have the Holy Spirit. Even the strongest form of ritual impurity, corpses, are not impure and do not pollute if and only if they possess the Holy Spirit. To put it simply: at least some early Christians continued to believe that corpse impurity was a real force, just as real a force as the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless, these forces were opposing and unequal in power: the force of the Holy Spirit simply overpowered all forces of impurity and therefore rendered them powerless to pollute. This might sound like a new and bold claim, but frequently these authors make this claim in dependence on precedents that they find in ancient Jewish scriptures.

    1. Mary Rose D’Angelo, “Gender and Power in the Gospel of Mark: The Daughter of Jairus and the Woman with the Flow of Blood,” in Miracles in Jewish and Christian Antiquity: Imagining the Truth, ed. John C. Cavadini, Notre Dame Studies in Theology 3 (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), 83–109 (85). On which, see the essays in Christian Frevel and Christophe Nihan, eds., Purity and the Forming of Religious Traditions in the Ancient Mediterranean World and Ancient Judaism, Dynamics in the History of Religion 3 (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

    2. Moshe Blidstein, “Polemics against Death Defilement in Third-Century Christian Sources,” StPatr 63 (2013) 373–84 (377). See more fully on the topic of purity and early Christianity, Moshe Blidstein, Purity, Community, and Ritual in Early Christian Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).


Using the Rabbis to Discover Jesus

In this groundbreaking work, Matthew Thiessen convincingly demonstrates that the Synoptic Gospel writers believed that Jesus viewed the ritual purity system which governed much of Jewish life in first-century Judea as authoritative. Rather than viewing purity laws as a nominal, structural category devoid of inherent meaning, these gospels portray Jesus as approaching Jewish purity laws in ways that affirm their function as protectors from ritual impurities that could potentially violate sacred Jewish spaces. As an overpowering force which effectively, and often shockingly, serves to nullify ritual impurity, Jesus’s purifying energy does not deny the essentialist reality of other purifying and impurifying sources. In fact, its dominance over these sources validates the reality that Jesus accepts them as effective and potent. In a series of analyses centered on healing stories, Thiessen demonstrates that the Synoptic Gospel writers believed that Jesus operated within a fully Jewish context, and accepted the rules of the ritual game.

Besides his sharp close readings of well-known stories, one of the pleasures of this book is Thiessen’s blunt refutations of scholarly readings of the New Testament which presuppose Jewish legalism that contrasts with Christian universalism, a problem that is prevalent in scholarship pertaining to Jewish ritual purity laws. I took delight in reading a passage that underscores Luke’s knowledge of Judaism, and cleverly laments that it is “ironic that modern (and predominantly Christian) scholars accuse an ancient author of having only book knowledge [italics his] of Judaism as it was practiced in Jesus’s day, for it is we modern readers who have only a book knowledge of ancient Judaism” (38). Thiessen’s more measured refutation of scholars who analyze the New Testament through a feminist lens and falsely conclude that Judaism is uniquely and exclusively misogynist in the ancient world (69–70) was equally engaging, and a profoundly necessary correction to problematic scholarship which betrays unfortunate misunderstandings of early Jewish practice and thinking.

While I was hoping that Thiessen would conclude his study with a contextualization of his findings within the broader scope of early Judaism, perhaps such an expectation is unreasonable. As it stands, the book is trailblazing enough. Nevertheless, since I have been asked to write a response to Thiessen’s book, I will share three comments that derive from my perspective as a literary historian of early Jewish texts, and from my desire to consider the full ramifications of Thiessen’s findings. My first comment regards Thiessen’s engagement with Jewish sources, both biblical (which I label here as “Jewish” in the sense that by the first century, scriptural texts were read as the authoritative texts of practicing Jews) and rabbinic.

The Jewish laws pertaining to ritual impurity are, as far as we know, either derived from biblical laws or developed by early rabbinic communities who recorded them in rabbinic documents beginning in the early third century. The world of Jesus stands between and in both these two worlds: Jesus’s world was biblical in the sense that biblical laws were, at that time, part of an as-yet unclosed canon of authoritative texts that were subject to radical interpretation. It was also rabbinic, in the sense that later rabbinic literature would cite rabbinic authorities who could have been Jesus’s near-contemporaries. The biblical laws which Thiessen cites were considered by first-century Jews to be ancient, and had long been subject to centuries of oral transmission, analysis, and reworking. While Sadducean Jews may have read the purity laws in Leviticus and elsewhere in their scriptures as literal and unsupplemented, most Jews practiced their purity laws with a supplementary oral tradition in view which was subject to active and ongoing interpretation.

Despite his meticulous scholarship, Thiessen downplays the complex analyses required for scholars to determine what rabbinic sources truly derive from the first century, and tends not to engage with the rabbinic sources that he cites on a source-critical level. And yet, Thiessen is no doubt aware of this problem, and thus responsibly refers to much rabbinic literature as “later” rabbinic texts. But the very method of looking at the world of Jesus through the lens of rabbinic conversations, even conversations in which legal rulings are not well established, has pitfalls in that it serves to collapse and essentialize the rabbinic perspective. As Anthony Saldarini has warned, “the integrity, vitality and legitimacy of the Jewish community and tradition is lost in the Christian quest for facts to clarify New Testament passages.”1 Though Saldarini wrote these words out of concern for the practice of comparing New Testament and rabbinic sources in ways which cast the latter in a negative light, any comparison between these corpora must recognize the vastly different historical context of the two collections.

Moreover, Thiessen does not highlight the reality that rabbinic literature has no single historical context: What can we learn from the fact that the Synoptic Gospels portray Jesus as engaged in conversations which have literary corollaries in, to state only a few rabbinic collections, Numbers Rabbah, Leviticus Rabbah, Genesis Rabbah, Babylonian Talmud, the Tosefta, and the Jerusalem Talmud, collections which span centuries, and which were not all edited in Judea? But perhaps this is exactly the point. Thiessen recognizes the diversity of Judaism and takes it as self-evident. The debates preserved in the gospels are simply further evidence of the live and ongoing legal debates among Jews over the course of centuries. Nevertheless, the incorporation of more secondary literature illuminating the complex and layered world of the rabbis would have provided Thiessen’s readers with an even greater appreciation of Jesus’s Jewish context, and of the impossibility of making derivative generalizations about a rabbinic—and by extension, a Jewish—population.

My first point, then, can be summed up as a question: rather than reading rabbinic sources back into the first century (which, despite all of Thiessen’s careful references to “later rabbinic literature” phrases, he still does), could Thiessen have depicted the Synoptic Gospels as participating in intra-Jewish conversations which led to the complex formation of later normative Judaism, particularly given his compelling argument that Luke was probably Jewish?

My second point regards Thiessen’s engagement with late Second Temple sources. Thiessen knows that, ideally, evidence that Jesus was engaged in intra-Jewish discussions regarding the nature of ritual purity should come from documents recorded in the first century CE. But most of the Second Temple texts that he cites are sectarian, such as documents preserved at Qumran, and the book of Jubilees (which was preserved at Qumran in fifteen separate manuscripts, but was likely composed outside of the community). And while Thiessen cites some information from Philo and Josephus, the vast majority of the Second Temple documents that he cites are Judean and of those, mostly sectarian. I think that Thiessen is correct to cite these important sources, which properly situate Jesus into his Jewish context. But again, Thiessen’s collapsing of Jewish sources as being of equal “Jewish value” denies a historical reality which makes his argument even more intriguing: The Second Temple sources that Thiessen uses are predominantly Judean and disproportionately sectarian. Thiessen is at a disadvantage when it comes to the sources that he uses which place Jesus’s arguments into the context of a broader Jewish conversation. As he admits (in the same outstanding passage cited above), “we are able to piece together fragments of that world, but our knowledge will only ever be imperfect at best” (38). Surviving Jewish evidence from the first century is skewed towards the sectarian: the majority of the Jewish literature that we have this period represents a minority of the Jewish people who lived at that time.

For this reason, we cannot conclude that Jesus was a typical “Jew” (if there was such a thing), but only that he was a typical Galilean Jew, with access to a tiny sectarian world in which conversations about ritual purity and impurity would have had particular meaning that outsiders would not have understood. Would a Jew in Alexandria, Rome, Antioch, or in eastern regions of the Roman world have appreciated the import of this ritual “inside baseball,” these debates which so occupied and engaged Jesus and his interlocutors? Would they have taken a similarly essentialist approach to the notion of ritual impurity? Would they have been compelled by Jesus’ arguments, or by some of the Pharisees’?

It is precisely because Jesus understands the specific interpretations of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and likely the Essenes that I find the argument in Thiessen’s appendix to be strange. There Thiessen argues that Jesus is engaging in a specifically Pharisaic debate about how impurities travel, and that Mark’s declaration that Jesus declared all food to be clean must be contextualized into a broader discussion about handwashing before eating. And yet, Thiessen’s entire book, and the majority of the texts that he uses, may be similarly embedded into insider debates among sectarian Jews. The recognition of Jesus’s very specific milieu, which in fact does not represent a wide swath of Jewish life, would not minimize the import of Thiessen’s argument that Jesus was a Jew. But it would serve to effectively demonstrate what kind of Jew he was.

My third and final point has to do with what I find to be the most intriguing footnote in the book, which engages with the question of whether theology drives ritual practice. Thiessen writes,

[EXT]Such rituals likely did not arise out of theological reflection; rather, the rituals gave rise to theological reflection that connected corpses, lepra, and genital emissions with death or mortality. [Lemos] rightly cautions that “the type of analysis that seeks ever to schematize almost always sees ritual as secondary to belief and the body as secondary to the mind.” . . . Or, as Walter Burkert puts it, “Ideas do not produce ritual: rather, ritual itself produces and shapes ideas, or even experience and emotions.” (17n18)[/EXT]

This little aside imploded my understanding of Thiessen’s entire book. If it is indeed the case that ritual precedes the systematic development of theological ideas, which serves to retroactively explain the rituals, then has Thiessen made the great defense of the integrity of the Jewish purity system which he purports to make, or has he only made the argument that Jesus was a good Jew who bought into a system that was founded on empty superstitions, but were at a later point retroactively imbued with meaning? If this is the case, would it not be a conceptual jump to presume that all Jews who accepted the rules of this system correctly perceived its agreed-upon theological meaning? Above all, is Thiessen implying that Jesus was a good Jew, but nevertheless, that the core ideas which ground the ancient Jewish purity system, ideas laid out in Milgrom’s famous commentary to Leviticus and Mary Douglas’s work, were simply a theological tail wagging the ritual dog?

I make these points with the intention of situating Thiessen’s work into the broader context of a time when the majority of Jews were not sectarian, when the majority of Jews did not live in Judea, and when the majority of Jews were probably not routinely concerned with eradicating the forces of ritual impurity from their lives. Does it matter that Jesus was the kind of Jew that was not particularly representative of most Jews of his time? I hope that these brief comments are not read as challenges of Thiessen’s argument, but as the responses of a grateful reader for an outstanding work of scholarship that merits further exploration.

  1. Saldarini, “Comparing the Traditions: New Testament and Rabbinic Literature,” BBR 7 (1997) 195–204 (196).

  • Matthew Thiessen


    Filling in the Gaps

    Neither Pharisees nor Sadducees nor Jesus read Jewish scriptures as unsupplemented, whatever they might have thought. Likewise, readers of the gospels, then and now, are incapable of unsupplemented reading. The gospels, like all writings, abhor a vacuum, forcing readers to fill that void with something. The task of each reader is to fill that vacuum with the right stuff. But what is the right stuff? This question, I think, is in many ways what Malka Simkovich asks as she reflects on Jesus and the Forces of Death, asking penetrating questions about sources: which ones to use, how to extrapolate from them, and what presuppositions one brings to them.

    Jesus and the Forces of Death is first and foremost about the gospels’ depictions of Jesus, but to understand how a reader in the first century CE might interpret these depictions, one must map out as fully as possible, through book knowledge and archaeological evidence, what we know of that world. So while it’s about the Jesus of the gospels, it is no less about ritual purity systems in the ancient Mediterranean world. In it, I wanted to show readers of the gospels that the ritual purity system known to them through Leviticus and Numbers was merely one purity system among many in the ancient world. Jews were not alone in believing in the existence of ritual impurity and seeking to contain and remove it. This belief was broadly shared at the same time that it manifested itself in different rituals and customs.

    And I sought to show that even within Judaism, legal diversity existed. This diversity exists within the various writings of rabbinic literature, preserving halakhic disagreement and debate both across and within collections. Showing this diversity undermines the all-too-common collapsing and essentializing of the “rabbinic perspective” by naming, where available, to which rabbi a particular halakhic position was attributed.1 To borrow and modify the words of Paula Fredriksen, “Judaism, of course, did not have views of [ritual purity]; Jews did.”2 Likewise, as the different collections of sayings and debates amply testify, rabbinic Judaism didn’t have views about ritual purity; different rabbis did. To be sure, I did not delve into the historical and social contexts of the various rabbinic collections.3 Such work, as Simkovich notes, would have enriched my larger argument about a ubiquitous concern for ritual impurity within differing cultures over a large chronological period that manifested itself in a variety of beliefs and practices. And although it was beyond the scope of the book’s argument, I fully agree with her that the literary depictions of conversations, debates, and disagreements we find in the Synoptics are evidence for a larger intra-Jewish conversation,4 a conversation that contributed not only to rabbinic Judaism but also to early Christianity.5

    In seeking to fill the historical vacuum around the gospels, we are almost entirely constrained by a few literary sources, sources that by their very nature are selective in what they show us. And we are also constrained by the vicissitudes of history that have obscured most of the ancient world through the ravages of time. Both literary evidence and material culture provide us with fragmentary glimpses of the past.6 The serendipitous discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s cracked open one window onto that now strange world, but it is a small window that afforded a peculiar view of ancient Jewish beliefs and practices. Consequently, Simkovich notes how Judea-centric and predominantly sectarian our (pre-rabbinic) evidence is on the topic of ritual impurity. For this reason, she concludes that we simply can’t say “that Jesus was a typical ‘Jew’ (if there was such a thing), but only that he was a typical Galilean Jew.” But even this, I would argue, is saying too much. What do we actually know about Galilean Jews or Galilean Jewish purity practices? Not much, and surely not enough to speak about what was typical!7

    As persistent and pervasive as the language continues to be, I remain uncomfortable with the language of sectarianism when applied to early Judaism, inasmuch as it appears to be intertwined with the notion that there existed something akin to a normative, and therefore nonsectarian, Judaism in the first century CE. So I agree with Simkovich’s parenthetical qualification about the typical Jew: “if there was such a thing.” I would never call Jesus (or Paul or Josephus or Philo) a typical Jew. But neither would I call Jesus (or Paul or Josephus or Philo) a marginal Jew, as John P. Meier has so famously done.

    And what do we know about ritual purity practices among diaspora Jews? Again, not much.8 But we do know that regardless of where they dwelt, diaspora Jews lived within larger social matrixes that almost universally held to the maxim that one must approach the sacred space of any god in a state of purity, however construed. This was the common theology of the ancient Mediterranean world. Combine this with a knowledge of Jewish sacred texts and traditions and I think it safe to assume that many Jews throughout the diaspora practiced ritual purifications, at least if and when they came to the Jerusalem temple.9

    Finally, Simkovich asks a question that relates to underlying presuppositions. The laws pertaining to ritual impurity in Leviticus and Numbers were presumably kept in a variety of ways by many ancient Israelites prior to the Priestly Writer writing them down. At what point did someone recognize or claim that what tied the three sources of ritual impurity (corpses, lepra, and genital discharges of blood and semen) together was death or mortality? Did one need to subscribe to this systematic understanding of these sources for the rituals associated with impurity to transcend the realm of superstition? I don’t think so. As Jonathan Klawans puts it, “Even if it could be established that rituals were originally arbitrary, that does not preclude the possibility that developed religious systems infuse rituals with symbolism.”10 Admittedly, when I read the footnote that prompts her questions, I find myself wondering why I endorsed the claims I quoted there without qualification. What comes first—ritual or belief? Ultimately, I am unsure how one can disentangle ritual from belief or determine which preceded which in this instance. And, following Klawans, I balk at the way such questions often lead to evolutionary accounts of (Jewish) religion. But even if the claims I cite in that footnote are true, does it matter? Only if the question of origins is determinative for meaning.

    1. And there is reason to exercise caution in believing these attributions. See Jacob Neusner, “Evaluating the Attributions of Sayings to Named Sages in Rabbinic Literature,” JSJ 26 (1995) 183–95.

    2. Paula Fredriksen, “Judaism, the Circumcision of Gentiles, and Apocalyptic Hope: Another Look at Galatians 1–2,” JTS 42 (1991) 532–64 (533).

    3. Shai Secunda’s The Talmud’s Red Fence Menstrual Impurity and Difference in Babylonian Judaism and Its Sasanian Context (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020) appeared too late to consult, but I could have pointed, for instance, to his earlier The Iranian Talmud: Reading the Bavli in Its Sasanian Context, Divinations (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

    4. On which, see Isaac W. Oliver, Torah Praxis after 70 CE: Reading Matthew and Luke-Acts as Jewish Texts, WUNT 2/355 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013).

    5. For the continuing interplay between rabbinic and Christian thinking, see the fascinating work of Michal Bar-Asher Siegal, Jewish-Christian Dialogues on Scripture in Late Antiquity: Heretic Narratives of the Babylonian Talmud (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

    6. For material culture and purity practices, see Stuart S. Miller, At the Intersection of Texts and Material Finds: Stepped Pools, Stone Vessels, and Ritual Purity among the Jews of Roman Galilee, JAJSup 16 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015), as well as the numerous articles of Yonatan Adler, e.g., “Toward an ‘Archaeology of Halakhah’: Prospects and Pitfalls of Reading Early Jewish Ritual Law into the Ancient Material Record,” Archaeology and Text 1 (2017) 27–38, and “Ritual Purity in Daily Life after 70 CE: The Chalk Vessel Assemblage from Shuʿafat as a Test Case,” JSJ 52 (2021) 39–62.

    7. For Galilean purity practices as unearthed by archaeology, see Mark A. Chancey, The Myth of a Gentile Galilee, SNTSMS 118 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

    8. But see here the judicious discussion of Jodi Magness, “Purity Observance among Diaspora Jews in the Roman World,” Archaeology and Text 1 (2017) 39–57.

    9. See Jonathan R. Trotter, The Jerusalem Temple in Diaspora: Jewish Practice and Thought during the Second Temple Period, JSJSup 192 (Leiden: Brill, 2019). It’s also worth mentioning a number of temples dedicated to Israel’s god that were not located in Jerusalem: the Samaritans at Mount Gerizim, the Oniads at Leontopolis, Jews at Elephantine. Ritual purity no doubt mattered in relation to these sacred spaces as well.

    10. Klawans, Purity, 68.