Category Archives: History

Uncleanness in the Levitical System

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In the Old Testament Times, the Law of Moses declared the following foods to be unclean and not to be eaten. If any of these were touched, the individual had to participate in some form of ceremonial cleansing.

  • Animals strangled, or dead by natural causes
  • Animals killed by other animals or birds of prey
  • Any animal that did not both chew the cud and divide the hoof
  • Animals classified as creeping things
  • Twenty or so types of birds mentioned in Lev. 11 and Deut. 14
  • Any water fish or animal that did not have both fins and scales
  • Any insect that had wings that did not also have four legs, with the two back legs for leaping
  • Anything offered in sacrifice to idols
  • All blood. (Any container which had had blood in it had to be purified.)
  • Any flesh cut from a live animal; and any discernible fat

The idea was that any animal was unclean if it bore the image of sin, or death, or of corruption, such as the larger land animals, carnivorous animals or birds, which lie in wait for living things and devour them (“the devil as a roaring lion…”). Also marsh birds and carrion birds which live on worms, carrion, and other impurities; all serpent like fishes and slimy shellfish, and small creeping things, except some kinds of locusts. “…because, partly, they recall the old serpent, partly they seek their food in all sorts of impurities, partly they crawl in the dust and represent corruption in the slimy character of their bodies” (Keil,Biblical Archaeology, II, 117 ff).

Anything dead was a source of ceremonial (religious) impurity.

  • The dead body of a human being, no matter how he had died, was unclean, as well as the building in which he lay, his clothing, any person who lived in the building or entered it. It was defiling to touch a body or a dead man’s bones or a grave. A person defiled in this manner also defiled everything he touched, or any other people he touched, until the evening of the day he was defiled.
  • Any animal carcass, clean or unclean, defiled anyone who touched it, until the evening, so that he was required to bathe himself and wash his clothes before being clean again.
  • Thus it was equally unclean to touch a dead animal of any kind as it was to touch an unclean animal which was alive.
  • There were eight kinds of small animals which spread their defiling influence to inanimate objects. These were weasels, mice, and six species of lizard. If any part of their carcass fell onto a cooking vessel, it was rendered unclean. If water had been contaminated by a dead animal, food which had been prepared in it was contaminated and could not be eaten. If such water had got some seed wet, the food which grew from that seed was polluted.

There were several types of defilement from bodily conditions and diseases

  • Leprosy rendered the person unclean until he was completely healed. The leper was required to tear his clothes, to bare his head, to put a covering on his upper lip, and to cry “Unclean” to everyone he met. He also had to isolate himself by living outside the camp or city. Houses infected with leprosy were examined by the priest, who, before entering, had all the contents of the house removed in order to prevent everything within from becoming unclean. If symptoms of leprosy were discovered, the house was closed for seven days, after which it was reexamined. If leprosy was still found, the affected stones were removed, along with scrapings of all walls, and the house was carefully replastered. Seven days after this, if there was still infection, the house was torn down and everything was taken outside the city to the place of unclean things.

    Infected clothing was examined after seven days, and if still infected, it was burned. The purification rites for healed lepers is described in Lev. 8 and Lev. 14.

  • Any bodily discharge was unclean, and persons affected were considered unclean for a period lasting from seven to sixty-six days, depending upon the cause. Then they had to go through purification rites of cleansing. An unclean person was barred from touching anything holy or coming into the sanctuary.

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Twelve Tribes of Israel

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A topical study guide, as taught by Pastor Robert L. Bolender
Austin Bible Church, 1998.

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He blessed them, every one with the blessing appropriate to him (Gen. 49:28). The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “By faith Jacob, when he was dying” (Heb. 11:21a). The blessings bestowed upon his children then, in Gen. 49, were given in the power of the Holy Spirit and as direct revelation from God.


  1. The first-born son of Jacob by his wife Leah (Gen. 29:31-32).
  2. Was the youth who provided mandrakes for Leah (Gen. 30:14).
  3. Committed adultery with Bilhah (Gen.35:22).
  4. Argued against the death of Joseph (Gen. 37:21-29).
  5. And the sons of Reuben: Hanoch and Pallu and Hezron and Carmi (Gen. 46:9).
  6. Laments the death of Joseph (Gen. 42:22).
  7. Makes a rash vow in a human-effort attempt to please Jacob (Gen. 42:37).

“Reuben, you are my first-born; My might and the beginning of my strength, Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. “Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, Because you went up to your father’s bed; Then you defiled it—he went up to my couch.

  1. He is uncontrolled as water. This is the descriptive prophecy which will be fulfilled in the Tribe of Reuben.
  2. zj’P’ pachaz #6349: recklessness, wantonness, unbridled license, frothiness (used only here, Gen. 49:4). zj’P; pachaz#6348: to be wanton, be reckless, be frothy (Judg. 9:4; Zeph. 3:4).
  3. Two examples of these reckless descendants were Dathan and Abiram (Num. 16), who joined with the rebellion of Korah the Levite against Moses and Aaron.
  4. The reckless Reubenites desired to remain outside of the land of Canaan (Num. 32).
  5. The wanton Reubenites were unwilling to join the struggle against Sicera (Judg. 5:15,16).
  6. Reuben never excelled in his tribal development.

a. At the beginning census (Num. 1:20), Reuben numbered 46,500.

b. In the later census (Num. 26:7), Reuben numbered 43,730.

c. By the time Moses blessed the tribes before he died, Reuben may have been in danger of extinction, since Moses prayed, “Let Reuben live, and not die; and let not his men be few” (Dt. 33:6).

  1. Reuben produced not one single prophet, military leader, judge or important person in the history of Israel. As a matter of fact, the most impressive contribution made by Reuben seems to be the lending his name to a delicious corned beef and sauerkraut sandwich![^1]

Two lessons loom large from the example of Jacob’s firstborn. The first lesson is that long-range tragic effects can result from a fleeting act of sin. Reuben’s few moments of unbridled passion with Bilhah were not worth the sorrow caused to Jacob and eventually to Reuben himself. A wise man once said, “Don’t sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate.” There are men in prison and girls in shame who learned that lesson too late and are experiencing the permanent damage that often results from an immediate gratification of lust.

The second lesson follows: Our sins can be forgiven, but the effects of our sins often must still be experienced. Jewish tradition alleges that Reuben eventually repented of his sin with Bilhah. This may have been so, since he later saved Joseph’s life from the murderous plot of the other jealous brothers (Gen. 37:20–30). This was not enough, however, to remove the scar of the earlier wound, even though that wound may have healed. “But whoso commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; he that doeth it destroys his own soul. A wound and dishonor shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away” (Prov. 6:32–33).


  1. The second son of Jacob by his wife Leah (Gen 29:33).
  2. Together with Levi, and eventually their other full brothers, exacted revenge upon Shechem for the rape of their sister, Dinah (Gen. 34:24-31).
  3. And the sons of Simeon: Jemuel (also called Nemuel) and Jamin and Ohad and Jachin (also called Jarib) and Zohar (also called Zerah) and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman (Gen. 46:10).
  4. Selected to remain in Egypt as a hostage in Joseph’s jail (Gen. 42:24).


  1. The third son of Jacob by his wife Leah (Gen 29:34).
  2. Together with Simeon, and eventually their other full brothers, exacted revenge upon Shechem for the rape of their sister, Dinah (Gen. 34:24-31).
  3. And the sons of Levi: Gershon (also called Gershom), Kohath, and Merari (Gen.46:11).

“Simeon and Levi are brothers; Their swords are implements of violence. “Let my soul not enter into their council; Let not my glory be united with their assembly; Because in their anger they slew men, And in their self-will they lamed oxen. “Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, And scatter them in Israel.

  1. They will be dispersed and scattered in Israel. This is the core of the prophecy against Simeon and Levi.
  2. µqeL]j’a} ’achalleqem <piel.imperf.> ql’j; chalaq #2505: (piel) to divide, apportion, assign, distribute, scatter. Used 65x64vv. Abraham divided his armies (Gen. 14:15). <Hifil.imperf.> ÅWP puwts #6327: (hifil) to scatter.
  3. The territory that Simeon would be allotted entirely within the territory allotted to Judah (Josh. 19:1-9 cp. Josh. 15).
  4. The tribe of Levi would have no specific territory, but would have individual cities scattered all throughout the land of Israel (Josh. 21).
  5. Like Reuben, the tribe of Simeon decreased in population between the two censuses. In Numbers 1:23 their adult male population is recorded as 59,300, while in Numbers 26:14 (nearly forty years later) it is 22,200.
  6. One of the only Simeonites that Scriptures record is Zimri, son of Salu (Num. 25:14).
  7. It is possible that the tribe of Simeon was the predominant tribe involved in the idolatry of Baal-peor, and that they were the predominant victims of the Divine plague (Num. 25:9).
  8. During the reign of Hezekiah, a large group of Simeonites migrated farther south to the land of Edom, where they conquered and displaced the Amalekites who dwelt there (1 Chr. 4:38–43).
  9. Certain later references suggest the possibility that many Simeonites had also migrated to the northern kingdom, for they are mentioned in conjunction with the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (2 Chr. 15:9; 34:6).
  10. Jewish interpreters have taken notice of the history of Simeon. In Jewish tradition, all poor Jews supposedly came from that ill-fated tribe.
  11. Levi would be scattered, and yet they are the objects of special blessing! In the blessing of Moses (Dt. 33), the tribe of Simeon is not mentioned. The tribe of Levi receives the longest blessing! (Dt. 33:8-11).
  12. The tribe of Levi seems to have been the one spiritual tribe at the golden calf incident (Ex. 32:26). This is generally believed to be the reason why Levi was set aside as the priestly tribe (Ex. 32:29; Dt. 10:8,9).

Certainly Simeon and Levi were zealous, but their zeal was not channeled into godly paths. Zeal in itself is not sufficient, even in the Lord’s work. There are those who think that activity, devotion, commitment and sincerity are the only necessities in serving the Lord. Such zeal, however, can be misdirected. We must remember Paul’s earnest remark about his Jewish kinsmen according to the flesh, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:1–2).


  1. The fourth son of Jacob by his wife Leah (Gen 29:35).
  2. Convinced his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery (Gen. 37:26,27).
  3. Married a Canaanite, a daughter of Shuah of Adullam (Gen. 38:2).
  4. And the sons of Judah: Er and Onan and Shelah and Perez and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan). And the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul (Gen. 46:12).
  5. Exhibited Godly leadership in the face of testing (Gen. 43:8-10).
  6. Offered himself as a substitute for the punishment of Benjamin (Gen. 44:18-34).
  7. Demonstrates leadership within the twelve tribes prior to the death of Israel (Gen.46:28).

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you. “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall bethe obedience of the peoples. “He ties hisfoal to the vine, And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine; He washes his garments in wine, And his robes in the blood of grapes. “His eyes are dull from wine, And his teeth white from milk.

  1. They will have authority over their fellow tribes. This is the core of the prophetic message to Judah.

a. Judah would take the lead during their wilderness marches (Num. 10:14).

b. In the allotments of land within Canaan, Judah received his portion first (Josh. 15:1).

c. Judah had the largest population in each of the two censuses (Num. 1 & 26), 74,600 and 76,500.

  1. Judah will have great military victories.

a. King David was of the tribe of Judah and achieved Israel’s greatest conquests (2nd Sam. 8). He fulfilled the prophecy concerning the hand of Judah on the necks of his enemies (2nd Sam. 22:41; Ps. 18:40).

b. King Solomon extended David’s territory to the greatest extent Israel has ever achieved (1st Kings 4:20-25).

  1. Judah will produce a line of kings.

a. The Lord anticipated the desire of Israel to have a king over them (Dt. 17:14-20).

b. Israel’s first king, by human choice was of the tribe of Benjamin (1st Sam. 9:1,2).

c. Israel’s second king, and the first by Divine choice was of the tribe of Judah (1st Sam. 16:1-3).

d. The succession of twenty kings in the northern kingdom of Israel (Jeroboam to Hoshea, 930-721BC) were all illegitimate, as they did not descend from the tribe of Judah, and the family of David.

e. The succession of kings in the southern kingdom of Israel is the legitimate line of succession.

1) They descend from David.

2) They consist of the line of Jesus Christ.

  1. “Shiloh” is promised to Judah. What is Shiloh?

a. A town in Israel.

1) The town of Shiloh was the place where the Israelites set up the Tabernacle after the conquest (Josh. 18:1).

2) It was the center of Israelite worship until the days of Samuel (1 Sam. 1:3).

3) The most recent Jewish translation of the Scriptures entitled The Tanakh states that a literal translation of this verse is “until he comes to Shiloh.” This interpretation is a reflection of the desire to prevent this verse from referring to the Messiah. It has no basis in the text itself.

b. “To whom it belongs” /lyvi

1) This interpretation presents a reference to the Messiah to whom the scepter belongs.

2) Ezek. 21:27 is used as supporting textual evidence for this position.

3) This was the LXX interpretation. This is also the NIV rendering.

4) Unfortunately, this translation of Shiloh requires one consonental change in order to be accurate. We cannot alter the text to agree with the interpretation we’re trying to reach!

c. A proper name for the Messiah.

1) The Talmud lists “Shiloh” as one of the names of Messiah (Sanhedrin 98b).

2) The most ancient Jewish commentary on the Book of Genesis also adopts this interpretation (Bereshit Rabba 99).

3) The name “Shiloh” easily could be related to the word Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace.

a) This would agree with His name, Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).

b) This would also be in agreement with the Messianic passage in Mic. 5:5.

4) This is the sixth (out of seven) specification concerning the Christ in Scripture.

a) Seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15).

b) Descendent of Shem (Gen. 9:26).

c) Descendant of Abraham (Gen. 12:3).

d) Descendant of Isaac (Gen. 21:12).

e) Descendant of Jacob (Gen. 25:23).

f) Descendant of Judah (Gen. 49:10).

g) Descendant of David (2nd Sam. 7:12-16).

  1. Shiloh is promised

a. Obedience of the people.

b. Grapevines so abundant, they’ll be used for hitching posts.

c. Wine will be as abundant as wash-water.

d. Wine and milk will be abundant for perfect celebration and perfect health.

e. The Millennium is in view (Isa. 61:6-7; 65:21-25; Zech. 3:10).

  1. Prominent Judahites

a. Caleb (Num. 13:6).

b. Achan (Josh. 7:18).

c. Othniel, the first Judge of Israel (nephew of Caleb) (Judg. 3:9).

d. Boaz (Ruth 2:1).

  1. Why was Judah selected to receive the birthright? Was he perfect? Of course not (Gen. 38). Judah was selected by the Sovereignty of God, and received the birthright by grace alone.

The lesson of Judah is the message of grace. Although Judah certainly was not perfect, he saw the error of his ways, and moved on in the plan of God. Judah illustrates the believer who accepts the responsibility of leadership as designated by God.

Judah illustrates for us the importance of accepting the responsibility that God delegates. Judah illustrates for us the burden to wait for Shiloh, Who is to come.


  1. The tenth son of Jacob, and the sixth son by his wife Leah (Gen. 30:19,20).
  2. And the sons of Zebulun: Sered and Elon and Jahleel (Gen. 46:14). These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, with his daughter Dinah; all his sons and his daughters numberedthirty-three (Gen. 46:15).
  3. Zebulun has no significant mention in Genesis apart from the group functions he participates in with his brothers.

“Zebulun shall dwell at the seashore; And he shall bea haven for ships, And his flank shall betoward Sidon.

  1. Zebulun shall dwell at the seashore (lit. near the seas (pl)). The first aspect of Jacob’s prophecy concerning Zebulun detailed the portion of his inheritance in the land of Canaan.
  2. The territory alloted to Zebulun under the distribution of the land by Joshua was in the northwest corner of Canaan, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee (Josh. 19:10-16).
  3. Zebulun was traversed by one of the great trading routes of antiquity, the Via Maris (way of the sea). This caravan route reached from Damascus in the northeast to Egypt in the southwest. Thus, lying between two seas and on a trade route, Zebulun was heavily involved in commercial ventures (Dt. 33:19).
  4. The second element of Jacob’s prophecy is that their border shall be towards Sidon.

a. Zebulun’s territory was separated from Sidon by the tribe of Asher (Josh. 19:24–31).

b. Asher, however, was never able to dislodge the Canaanites who dwelt in that coastal area north of Mount Carmel and Haifa Bay (Judg. 1:31,32).

  1. One notable Zebulunite in Scripture was Elon the Zebulunite, who judged Israel ten years (Judg. 12:11,12).
  2. Zebulun is praised in the Song of Deborah (Judg. 5:18). They despised their lives even unto death.
  3. Zebulun is noted for being single-minded, or pure of heart (1st Chr. 12:33).

This testimony of the Zebulunites’ bravery and willingness to risk their own lives for God’s cause serves as a stirring example to today’s soldiers for Christ. A New Testament parallel is found in that noble word of commendation for Paul and Barnabas issued by the Jerusalem church: “Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26). The trail of those saints willing to sacrifice their lives for the Lord reaches from notables of the early Church, such as Stephen and Justin Martyr, through such modern martyrs as the Auca missionaries and others who suffered the ultimate human sacrifice because of their willingness to lay down their lives for the gospel.

Singleness of heart and mind enabled Zebulun to be stable and successful. They kept rank and did not flee the battle because their attitude was the same as that of the Apostle Paul: “but this one thing I do” (Phil. 3:13). A divided heart and mind produce instability: “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (Jas. 1:8). This is the great lesson from Zebulun: courage to face the conflict due to an unswerving commitment to the goal.


  1. The ninth son of Jacob, and fifth son by his wife Leah (Gen. 30:18).
  2. And the sons of Issachar: Tola and Puvvah (also called Puvah and Puah) and Iob (also called Jashub) and Shimron (Gen. 46:13).
  3. Issachar has no significant mention in Genesis apart from the group functions he participates in with his brothers.
  4. Jewish tradition held that Issachar was a student of the Torah, while his younger brother Zebulun toiled as a merchant to support Issachar in his studies. Although there is no scriptural foundation for this tradition, the rabbis based it on Moses’ blessing in Deuteronomy 33:18: “And of Zebulun he said, Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out [i.e., trading]; and, Issachar, in thy tents [i.e., studying].”

“Issachar is a strong donkey, Lying down between the sheepfolds. “When he saw that a resting place was good And that the land was pleasant, He bowed his shoulder to bear burdens, And became a slave at forced labor.

  1. The primary prophecy concerning Issachar centered on his being a strong donkey. This is complimentary—not insulting.
  2. The donkey was the primary beast of burden in the ancient world (Dt. 5:14; 22:10; 2 Sam. 19:26). It would even be a donkey’s blessing to bear the Messiah (Zech. 9:9; Matt. 21:7).
  3. The expression “lying down between the saddlebags” is indicative of Issachar’s geographical allotment in the land of Canaan (Josh. 19:17-22). Issachar was assigned the land at the east end of the Jezreel valley, between Mt. Tabor and Mt. Gilboa.
  4. The prophecy stating “He bowed his shoulder to bear burdens, And became a slave at forced labor” again is complimentary and not insulting.
  5. Tola, of Issachar, judged Israel for 23 years (Judg. 10:1,2).
  6. Issachar is praised in the Song of Deborah (Judg. 5:15).
  7. Issachar is described as “valiant” (1st Chr. 7:1-5).
  8. The Tribe of Issachar were dispensationalists (1st Chr. 12:32).

Rather than criticizing Issachar, as some commentators are prone to do, Jacob portrayed him as having insight and as one who carried the burdens of others. These traits are sorely lacking and desperately needed in God’s people today. The apostle reminds us, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Dear reader, are you a burden creator for others or a burden bearer? Do you help to shoulder the heavy burdens under which some of God’s children labor, or do you add additional burdens to already weary shoulders? God, grant us a host of Zebuluns and Issachars in our midst—men and women who are committed to the work and who care for the workers!


  1. The fifth son of Jacob, and first-born son by his concubine Bilhah (Gen. 30:6).
  2. And the sons of Dan: Hushim (also called Shuham) (Gen. 46:23).
  3. Dan has no significant mention in Genesis apart from the group functions he participates in with his brothers.

“Dan shall judge his people, As one of the tribes of Israel. “Dan shall be a serpent in the way, A horned snake in the path, That bites the horse’s heels, So that his rider falls backward. “For Thy salvation I wait, O Lord.

  1. Dan shall judge. This is direct application of the meaning of his name (Gen. 30:6).
  2. One of the greatest Judges in the history of Israel would be from the tribe of Dan—Sampson (Judg. 13:2).
  3. Dan shall judge as one of the tribes of Israel.

fb,ve shebet #7626: AV – tribe 140, rod 34, sceptre 10, staff 2, misc 4; 190

  1. The serpent reference in the prophecy concerning Dan indicates that the tribe of Dan would be involved in Satanic activity.

a. The tribe’s idolatry and substitute priesthood (Judg. 18).

1) They were dissatisfied with their God-given portion of land.

2) They conquered another land by human effort (Judg. 18:27,28).

3) They established their own religious center (Judg. 18:17-20,30-31)

4) This religious center would later serve the purposes of Jeroboam (1st Kgs. 12:28-30).

b. It is highly likely that the False Prophet (Rev. 13:11) will be from the tribe of Dan.

  1. In the twenty different listings of the tribes, Dan is generally far down and often is the last in the list.

a. Dan was the rear guard in the wilderness march (Num. 10:25).

b. Dan received his allotment of land last (Josh. 19:47-49).

c. Dan is entirely absent from the extensive tribal genealogies (1st Chr. 2-10).

d. Dan is absent from the 144,000 Jews sealed in the Tribulation (Rev. 7:4-8).

e. Dan does, however, receive a tribal inheritance in the Millennial kingdom (Ezek. 48:1-2).

  1. Jacob concludes his prophecy with the prayer for Dan’s salvation (Gen. 49:18).


  1. The seventh son of Jacob, and the first-born son by his concubine Zilpah (Gen. 30:11).
  2. And the sons of Gad: Ziphion (also called Zephon) and Haggi, Shuni and Ezbon (also called Ozni), Eri and Arodi (also called Arod) and Areli (Gen. 46:16).
  3. Gad has no significant mention in Genesis apart from the group functions he participates in with his brothers.

“As for Gad, raiders shall raid him, But he shall raid attheir heels.

bqe[; dg¬y: aWhwÒ WNd,WgyÒ dWdGÒ dG:

  1. This prophecy is the one which most plays on the person’s name. Three of the six words in this verse stem from the root name for Gad.
  2. The theme of the prophecy for God centers on the raiders he would encounter.
  3. Gad’s inheritance on the east side of the Jordan, exposed him to raiders from Ammon and Moab.
  4. Gad provided some of David’s fiercest warriors (1st Chr. 12:8).
  5. Moses would also make reference to the warlike future of Gad (Dt. 33:20).
  6. Jair, a Gadite, judges Israel 22 years (Judg. 10:3-5), as was Jephthah the Gileadite (Judg. 11:1).
  7. Elijah the prophet was also of Gad (1st Kings 17:1).

Though little is mentioned of the tribe of Gad in the Bible, the lessons to be learned from them are many. Gad graduated from the proverbial school of hard knocks. His difficult experiences produced a toughness that only hard times can bring. The spiritual lesson gleaned from Gad is that in the furnace of affliction we are prepared to come forth as gold. Some of the most profitable lessons about suffering and adversity are learned, not in the classroom, but by undergoing the experience of suffering itself. The psalmist testifies, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes” (Ps. 119:71).

Furthermore, Gad’s constant readiness teaches us of the spiritual preparedness necessary to face the spiritual foe. Gad, much like his modern Israeli descendants, was constantly ready to face hostile neighbors. Peter reminds us of a similar danger that continually lurks around us: “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, like a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Believers never can afford to be without the armor God has provided lest we be caught off guard by one of Satan’s fiery darts (cf. Eph. 6:10–17).

Finally, the promise to Gad is that “he shall overcome at the last” (Gen. 49:19b). The seven churches of The Revelation each received a promise to the overcomer (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). The overcomer is defined by John as follows: “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn. 5:4–5). Whatever trials are faced by believers, we can rest assured that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37).


  1. The eighth son of Jacob, and the second son by his concubine Zilpah (Gen. 30:12,13).
  2. And the sons of Asher: Imnah and Ishvah and Ishvi and Beriah and their sister Serah. And the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel (Gen. 46:17). These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Leah; and she bore to Jacob these sixteen persons (Gen. 46:18).
  3. Asher has no significant mention in Genesis apart from the group functions he participates in with his brothers.

“As for Asher, his food shall be rich, And he shall yield royal dainties.

  1. The main point of the prophecy concerning Asher centered on the richness of his food.
  2. Asher never developed militarily, and could not dislodge the Canaanites from the territory allotted to them (Judg. 1:31,32).
  3. Asher produced no Judges, or military heros. The only significant Asherite in Scripture is Anna the Prophetess who greeted Christ in the temple (Lk. 2:36-38).
  4. The word for “rich” is the feminine form of the word for oil. ÷m,v, shemen #8081: fat, oil. The oil of Asher was, and continues to be famous throughout Israel. Moses’ prophecy concerning Asher also made reference to the tribe’s olive oil (Dt. 33:24).

The lesson of this prophecy is that Asher will be blessed with an abundance which he will share with others. The Apostle Paul expressed it this way: “Let him that stole steal no more but, rather, let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28). We are to share with others that with which God has blessed us, not hoard it for ourselves (Lk. 16:9–12; 1 Tim. 6:16–18). Furthermore, the fruitfulness of Asher is associated with oil, which is often a scriptural symbol of the Holy Spirit. In a similar way, believers today are to bear fruit—the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23).


  1. The sixth son of Jacob, and the second son by his concubine Bilhah (Gen. 30:7,8).
  2. And the sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel and Guni and Jezer and Shillem (Gen. 46:24). These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Rachel, and she bore these to Jacob; there wereseven persons in all (Gen. 46:25).

“Naphtali is a doe let loose, He gives beautiful words.

  1. Jewish tradition holds that Naphtali, the son of Jacob was a very swift runner. He supposedly ran all the way from Egypt to Canaan carrying the news to the elderly Israel that his son Joseph was still alive.
  2. The swift doe, with beautiful words has one fulfillment in Deborah and Barak (Judg. 4:6; 5:1-31). Barak was of the tribe of Naphtali. Naphtali was a tribe that was swift to run to the battle against Sisera (Judg. 5:18).
  3. The swift doe, with beautiful words has another, greater fulfillment in the disciples of Christ. Jesus Christ summoned his twelve disciples, and began their training in the region of Naphtali (Matt. 4:13‑15). Their feet, who preached good news, are pronounced “blessed” (Rom. 10:15).

The feet of the hind are swift. The Book of Romans speaks about two different types of feet. Romans 3:15 condemns the feet that “are swift to shed blood;” while, on the other hand, Romans 10:15 commends those who preach the gospel with these words: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” What a contrast, and what a lesson to those of us who are followers of Jesus. Are our feet as swift to tell someone about the gospel as they are to share some damaging gossip?


  1. The eleventh son of Jacob, and first-born son by his wife Rachel (Gen. 30:24).
  2. Now to Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, bore to him (Gen. 46:20).
  3. Joseph was the spiritual assistant to Israel (Gen. 37:2,3,13,14).
  4. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt (Gen. 37:28; 39:1).
  5. Joseph was imprisoned in the royal prison (Gen. 39:20).
  6. Joseph was freed and exalted to royalty (Gen. 41:38-40).
  7. Joseph was given a wife from Egyptian nobility (Gen. 41:45).
  8. Joseph provided for his father, and family in Egypt (Gen. 47:1-12).
  9. Joseph died at the age of 110, and was buried as an Egyptian monarch (Gen. 50:26).

“Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a spring; Its branches run over a wall. “The archers bitterly attacked him, And shot at him and harassed him; But his bow remained firm, And his arms were agile, From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), From the God of your father who helps you, And by the Almighty who blesses you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. “The blessings of your father Have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; May they be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.

  1. Joseph’s fruitfulness has already been exhibited in God’s blessing of his life, and the naming of Ephraim (Gen. 41:52).
  2. Joseph’s future fruitfulness is seen by the booming populations of the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim. In Numbers 1, the total population of Ephraim and Manasseh (i.e., the tribe of Joseph) is 75,900, compared to the 74,600 of the next largest tribe, Judah. In Numbers 26, their total population was 85,200 while Judah’s was 76,500. Jacob prophesied that the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh would “grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Gen. 48:16).
  3. The promise of blessings is seen in both tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.

a. Manasseh had the largest territory of any tribe, and extended its boundaries on either side of the Jordan river.

b. Ephraim became so prominent, that in many of the later prophets, the northern ten tribes of Israel are referred to as Ephraim (Hos. 11:3; 12:1; Jer. 31:9,20).

After meditating on the faithful life and fruitfulness of Joseph, one final lesson emerges. Joseph is a convincing example of the truth stated in 1 Peter 5:6: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” Humanly speaking, it must have been extremely difficult to wait for God’s timing after having been unjustly sold as a slave, unjustly imprisoned for remaining pure and unjustly forgotten by an acquaintance whom he had helped. Most of us would have cried out, Why me? Yet, Joseph waited on God during his trials without seeking either revenge or advancement. Finally, in His timing, God exalted His faithful servant and lifted him to a place of honor where he could be a blessing to others.

Our responsibility is not to be ambitious and self-seeking. It is to be faithful. His job is to hand out the promotions. Joseph faithfully waited in prison before he was lifted to the throne. Elijah faithfully waited at Cherith before he triumphed at Carmel. Moses faithfully labored in Median before he challenged the power of Egypt. Jesus faithfully carried the cross before He wore the crown.

This is a principle of spiritual growth—“thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things” (Mt. 25:21,23).

May this great lesson of Joseph’s faithfulness in trial not be lost on our impatient and ambitious egos!


  1. The twelfth son of Jacob, and second son by his wife Rachel (Gen. 35:18).
  2. And the sons of Benjamin: Bela and Becher and Ashbel, Gera and Naaman, Ehi (also called Ahiram) and Rosh, Muppim (also called Shephupham and Shuppim) and Huppim (also called Hupham) and Ard (Gen. 46:21). These are the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob; there werefourteen persons in all (Gen. 46:22).
  3. Benjamin was the son of Jacob that Joseph desired to keep with him in Egypt, and so had the silver cup planted within his bags (Gen. 44:2ff.).

“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; In the morning he devours the prey, And in the evening he divides the spoil.”

  1. The central theme of Jacob’s prophecy concerning Benjamin is his vicious, warlike nature.
  2. The first prominent example of a vicious Benjamite is Ehud (Judg. 3:12-30).
  3. The next prominent example of vicious Benjamites is the tragedy of the Levite concubine (Judg. 19; 20:21,25).
  4. The next prominent example of a vicious Benjamite is Saul, son of Kish, King of Israel (1st Sam. 9:21; 11:1-11; 14:47b.).
  5. Saul’s son, Jonathan is another vicious wolf of a Benjamite (1st Sam. 14).
  6. Esther and Mordecai were also vicious wolves of Benjamin who faught for their people (Est. 2:5).
  7. The greatest vicious wolf of Benjamin in all of Scripture was Saul of Tarsus (Rom. 11:1; Phil. 3:5; Gal. 1:13; Acts 8:3; 9:1,2; 22:4; 26:9-10).

Matthew Henry has written graphically, “Blessed Paul was of this tribe and he did, in the morning of his day, devour the prey as a persecutor, but in the evening he divided the spoil as a preacher.”

God can mold and utilize any temperament—whether it be phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine or melancholy—when that person has surrendered completely to the Lord. God transformed the Benjamite Paul, not by drastically altering his temperament, but by refining and rechanneling his misguided zeal into a God-honoring direction.

Let us determine in our hearts to be clay in the Potter’s hand, willing to be molded for His purposes. May God grant us a host of Benjamins who will tear in pieces the armies of darkness!

All the persons belonging to Jacob, who came to Egypt, his direct descendants, not including the wives of Jacob’s sons,weresixty-six persons in all, All the persons of the house of Jacob, who came to Egypt, wereseventy (Gen. 46:27).

In verse 26 the number of descendants is said to be 66, whereas the number in verse 27 is 70. The first number represents those who traveled with Jacob to Egypt, and the second number includes the children and grandchildren already in Egypt. The following tabulation shows how these two figures are determined:[^2]

Leah’s children and grandchildren (v. 15) 33
Zilpah’s children and grandchildren (v. 18) 16
Rachel’s children and grandchildren (v. 22) 14
Bilhah’s children and grandchildren (v. 25) 7
Dinah (v. 15) +1
Er and Onan (who died in Canaan; v. 12); -2
Joseph and his two sons, already in Egypt (v. 20) -3
Those who went to Egypt with Jacob (v. 26) 66
Joseph, Manasseh, Ephraim, Jacob (v. 27) +4
Jacob and his progeny in Egypt (v. 27) 70

The significance of these names, though, must be understood in the context of Num. 26, as being the sons (Tribes) of Israel, and grandsons (Families) of Israel which would be significant in the early history of the Nation of Israel.

[^1]: Varner, William, Jacob’s dozen: a prophetic look at the tribes of Israel, © 1987, The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, inc. All of the shaded paragraphs in this study guide are direct quotations from Varner. The icon graphics for each tribe are likewise from Varner’s work.

[^2]: Tabulation taken from The Bible Knowledge Commentary : an exposition of the scriptures / by Dallas Seminary faculty ; editors, John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck.

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Pontius Pilate

For a Scripture friendly version, go here.

from several sources, including:

Josephus, Flavius, Antiquities; and Wars of the Jews

Edersheim, Alfred, Sketches of Jewish Social Life; The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; and The Temple.

Bond, Helen, Pontius Pilate


Pontius Pilate was the fifth governor of the Roman province of Judaea. His rule began in 26 AD and lasted until early in 37 AD. See Luke 3:1; Matt. 27; Mark 15: Luke 23; and John 18,19.

He granted the request of Joseph of Arimathea, to be allowed to bury Christ: Matt. 27:57; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:50; John 19:38.

See also Acts 3:13; 4:27; 13:28, and 1 Tim. 6:13.

The Province

When Herod I died in 4 BC, Augustus upheld his will and divided the kingdom between three of Herod’s surviving sons. Antipas was allotted Galilee and Peraea, and Philip was given Batanaea, Trachonitis, Auranitis and certain parts of Zeno around Panias (or Ituraea). Both were given the title tetrarch, literally the ruler of a fourth part of a kingdom. The remainder, amounting to half of the kingdom and comprising of Idumaea, Judaea and Samaria, was given to Archelaus with the title ethnarch.

Ten years later a combination of dynastic intrigue amongst the Herodians, Roman expansionist policies in the Near East and perhaps Archelaus’ brutality, again led to Augustus’ intervention in Judean affairs. Archelaus was exiled and his territory transformed into a Roman province. Although it included Samaria and Idumaea, the new province was known simply as Judaea. The year was 6 AD.

Judaea was formally a third class imperial province. These provinces, which were few in number, tended to be those which were least important in terms of expanse and revenue. Often they were territories in which the indigenous population presented particular problems.

The governors of these provinces were drawn from the equestrian rank and commanded only auxiliary troops.

Though technically independent, the new province was to a large extent under the guidance of the powerful and strategically important neighboring province of Syria. The Syrian legate, a man of consular standing, had three Roman legions at his disposal to which a fourth was added after 18 AD. He could be relied on to intervene with military support in times of crisis and could be called upon as an arbitrator by either the Judean governor or the people if the need arose.

Aside from the brief reign of Herod Agrippa I ( 41- 44 AD), Judaea continued as a Roman province from 6 AD until the outbreak of the Jewish Revolt in 66 AD. Its borders remained unchanged throughout the first period of Roman rule but underwent some alterations in the second, 44-66 AD.

The province of Judaea was extremely small. In its first phase, to which Pilate’s governorship belongs, it measured only approximately 160 km north to south and 70 km west to east. Yet despite its size, the population of the province came from ethnically diverse groups – Jews, Samaritans and pagans. This last group were located particularly in the pagan cities of Caesarea and Sebaste. To a certain degree, the province had two capital cities. The traditional capital, Jerusalem, continued as the focus of Jewish religious; but the governor resided in Caesarea together with his troops and entourage, transforming the city into the Roman administrative headquarters. On occasion, the governor would move to Jerusalem, particularly during festivals both to keep the peace and to hear criminal cases.

The Governor

Rank: As was customary in relatively unimportant imperial provinces, the governors of Judaea were usually drawn from the equestrian rank. Equestrians formed the middle rank of the Roman nobility and under Augustus their order provided suitable men for a variety of essential public offices ranging from military commands to the collection of taxes and jury work.

Duties: Rome had few officials in its provinces; an imperial province would be administered by only the governor and a small number of personal staff. The governor’s concerns, therefore, had to be limited to essentials, principally the maintenance of law and order, judicial matters and the collection of taxes. To enable him to carry out his duties, the governor possessed imperium, or the supreme administrative power in the province.

Law and Order: The primary responsibility of the governor of Judaea was military. This crucial aspect of the governor’s task is emphasized by his title which, in the period before Agrippa I reign ( 41 to 44 AD) was prefect(praefectus/eparcos). The appointment of men to a military prefecture shows the determination of early emperors to hold on to a newly subjugated territory and to bring the native inhabitants firmly under Roman control.

Under Claudius, however, prefect was changed to a civilian title, procurator (procurator/epitropos) which may have been designed to underscore the success of the pacification process. This change explains the confusion in the literary sources regarding the governor’s title.

The governors of Judaea had only auxiliary troops at their disposal. These appear to have been descendents of the Herodian troops drawn predominantly from Caesarea and Sebaste. They amounted to five infantry cohorts and one cavalry regiment scattered throughout the province. One cohort was permanently posted in the Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem.

Judicial Matters: The governor possessed the supreme judicial authority within the province. He would presumably have had a system of assizes to which cases could be brought and receive a hearing. The precise division of judicial competence between the governor and native courts varied in different provinces. There is not enough evidence to determine whether or not Jewish courts could inflict the death penalty at this period; scholarly opinion is sharply divided on this issue. The Roman governor would doubtlessly wish to maintain his jurisdiction over political offences but it is not impossible that Jewish courts were able to execute when their own law had been contravened.

Collection of Taxes: Rome relied to a large extent on the help of local authorities and private agents in the collection of taxes. Supervising these was the governor, acting as the emperor’s personal financial agent. The heaviest of these taxes was the tributum; by the first century AD this was primarily a tax on provincial land and the amount of tribute required from each person was worked out by means of a census. Only one census appears to have been conducted in Judaea, that organized by Quirinius at the formation of the new province in 6 AD

General Administration: In accordance with general Roman practice, the entire day-to-day administration of the nation was left largely to the Jewish High Priest and aristocracy in Jerusalem. The Romans expected them to uphold imperial interests whilst the local aristocracies could expect their own privileged positions to be safeguarded by Rome in return. The Roman governors recognized the political importance of the High Priesthood and sought to keep a tight control over it, appointing and deposing High Priests at will.

Pontius Pilate

Nothing is known of Pilate prior to his arrival in Judea. Advancement at the time depended on patronage; a man’s chances of promotion to public office depended on connections and influences in the imperial court. In all probability, Pilate was helped to office by powerful patrons, perhaps even Tiberius himself or his powerful friend Sejanus.

Pilate may well have had previous military experience before coming to the province, but records are completely lacking. Most governors ruled over Judaea between two and four years; Pilate and his predecessor Gratus, however, each governed the province for approximately eleven years. This is probably not an indication that these two governors were especially competent since Josephus tells us that part of Tiberius’ provincial policy was to keep men in office for a long time.

In general, Pilate’s term of office corresponds to the general picture of Judean governors sketched above. Two points, however, distinguish Pilate’s governorship to some extent from the others.

The first is the lack of a Syrian legate for the first six years of Pilate’s term of office. Tiberius appointed L. Aelius Lamia to the post but kept him in Rome, presumably trying out a form of centralized government. This may not have been altogether successful as subsequent legates governed from the Syrian capital, Antioch. The implication of this is that for the early part of his governorship Pilate had no legate on hand in Syria on whom he could call in an emergency. Unlike his predecessors, Pilate could not rely on the immediate support of the legions in case of unrest. This would mean that Pilate was more than usually dependent on his auxiliaries and that any potential uprising had to be put down quickly before it could escalate.

A second distinctive feature of Pilate’s governorship is that, unlike his predecessor Gratus who changed the High Priest four times in his eleven years, Pilate made no change to the incumbent of the High Priesthood. This was presumably not out of any wish to respect Jewish sensitivities but rather because he found in Gratus’ last appointee, Caiaphas, a man who could be relied on to support Roman interests and who could command some respect amongst the people.

Sources of Information for Pilate’s Governorship

These fall into two groups: archaeological and literary.

Archaeological. We have two archaeological links with Pilate. The first is an inscription found on a block of limestone at Caesarea Maritima in 1961. Much of the inscription is mutilated, but the lettering is still visible.

The inscriptions are tentative and extremely hypothetical in nature, three things are evident. The first is that the second line refers to Pontius Pilate, giving the first of his three names in the mutilated left side. Secondly, his title is clearlypraefectus Iudaeae, prefect of Judaea. Thirdly, the inscription appears to have been attached to a building known as a “Tiberiéum’’. This was presumably either a temple or a secular building dedicated to Tiberius.

The second archaeological link with Pilate is a number of bronze coins struck by the prefect from 29 to 32 AD. Each depicts a distinctively Jewish design on one side along with a pagan symbol on the other. The first shows three ears of barley on the obverse and a simpulum (a sacrificial vessel or wine bowl) on the reverse. The second and third both contain the same design with a lituus (an augur’s crooked staff or wand) on the obverse and a wreath with berries on the reverse. This blending of Jewish and pagan designs may stem from an attempt to integrate the Jewish people further into the empire. That the coins were not generally regarded as offensive is apparent from the fact that the coins would have been used until Agrippa’s reign and he only changed the design in his second year.

Literary Sources. Specific events from Pilate’s governorship are recorded in the writings of six first century authors – Josephus, Philo and the four Christian evangelists.


By far the greatest amount of information comes from the Jewish writer Flavius Josephus who composed his two great works, the Antiquities of the Jews and the Jewish War, towards the end of the first century. Important as Josephus’ accounts are, however, they can only be used with a certain amount of caution. Apologetic and rhetorical motives have shaped each narrative to a large extent, particularly his desire to impress on other nations the futility of revolt against Rome, his attempt to stress the antiquity of Judaism, and his endeavor (in the Antiquities) to put some of the blame for the Jewish revolt on the Roman governors of Judaea.

In all, Josephus describes four incidents involving Pilate. His earlier work, the Jewish War, describes Pilate’s introduction of iconic standards into Jerusalem and his construction of an aqueduct for the city. The Antiquities repeats these two stories (with slightly different emphases) and adds two more – the story of the execution of Jesus of Nazareth and an incident involving Samaritans which eventually led to Pilate’s removal from the province.

The Standards (War 2.169-174, Antiq 18.55-59)

Josephus accuses Pilate of deliberately bringing standards containing offensive effigies of Caesar into Jerusalem by night. The Antiquities account goes so far as to accuse Pilate of deliberately wanting to subvert Jewish practices. Seeing what had happened, the Jewish people flocked to Caesarea and surrounded Pilate’s house for five days, imploring him to remove the standards. When Pilate eventually encircled the people with his troops, they declared that they were willing to die rather than see their ancestral laws contravened. Amazed at their devotion, Pilate had the standards removed.

Josephus has clearly allowed his rhetorical concerns to influence this story, particularly the description of Pilate’s deliberate provocation and the people’s unflinching devotion to their ancestral religion. Yet it may be possible to piece together something of the historical event behind the narrative.

Due to its position at the beginning of the accounts in both the War and the Antiquities, most scholars assume that this incident took place early on in Pilate’s term of office, perhaps as early as winter 26 AD. A squadron could not be separated from its standards; if new standards were brought into Jerusalem that meant that an entirely new squadron was being stationed in Jerusalem, one which had not been used in the city previously. As a military prefect, Pilate’s interest would have been in the troops themselves and their strategic positioning; the particular emblems on their standards would not have been particularly important. As a new governor, Pilate may not even have realized that this particular cohort would cause offence in Jerusalem because of its standards. Or, if he had been warned, it might have seemed absurd to him that troops which could be deployed in Caesarea could not be moved to Jerusalem. The account gives the impression of a new governor anxious to take no nonsense from the people he is to govern. The fact that he was willing to reconsider the position and did eventually change the troops shows a certain amount of prudence and concern to avoid unnecessary hostilities.

The Aqueduct (War 2.175-177, Antiq 18.60-62)

Again Josephus accuses Pilate of deliberately attempting to arouse hostilities, this time by using temple money to build an aqueduct for Jerusalem. Matters came to a head during a visit of Pilate to Jerusalem when the people rioted and many were killed.

As with the previous incident, Josephus’ bias is evident, particularly in his description of Pilate’s motivations. The building of an aqueduct for the city was surely a commendable undertaking, one which would have benefited the inhabitants enormously. The point of conflict seems to have been around the use of temple money for the project. Pilate must have had the co-operation (whether voluntary or forced) of Caiaphas and the temple authorities whose duty it was to administer the treasury; if he had taken the money by aggression Josephus would surely have mentioned it. What may have led to hostilities, however, was if Pilate had begun to demand more than simply the surplus for his building venture. The War’s use of the verb exanaliskon in 2.175, whilst perhaps over-exaggerated, may imply that Pilate began to demand ever increasing amounts, draining temple supplies and treating the treasury as his own personal fiscus. The date of this incident is unknown.

The Execution of Jesus of Nazareth (Antiq 18.63-64)

This passage, recorded only in the Antiquities, is generally referred to as the Testimonium Flavianum. Scholars are generally agreed that it has suffered at the hands of later Christian interpreters and that the original wording is now lost. Given the context, the original text probably recorded another disturbance in the time of Pilate, centering on Jesus or his followers after his death. As it now stands, the Testimonium Flavianum adds little to our picture of the historical Pilate. He is shown working closely with the Jewish hierarchy to eliminate a common threat. It may also be significant that he has only the messianic leader executed and not his followers, a fact which may show a dislike for excessive violence. This event is usually dated to either 30 or 33 CE on the basis of astronomical and calendrical information derived from the gospels.

The Samaritan Uprising and Pilate’s Return to Rome (Antiq 18.85-89)

According to the Antiquities, a messianic figure stirred up the Samaritans to climb Mt Gerizim with him. They assembled in a nearby village carrying weapons and prepared to ascend the mountain. Before they could get very far, however, Pilate had his men block their route and some were killed. Many prisoners were taken and their leaders put to death. Later, the council of the Samaritans complained to Vitellius, the legate of Syria, about Pilate’s harsh treatment. Vitellius sent his friend Marcellus to take charge of Judaea and ordered Pilate to Rome. Pilate hurried to Rome but reached the city after Tiberius’ death (March 37 CE), suggesting that he was ordered to leave the province in the first few weeks of 37 CE.

In view of the fact that the Samaritans appear to have been armed as they undertook their trek up Mt Gerizim, Pilate’s actions do not appear to be unnecessarily severe. Any Roman prefect neglecting to deal with such an uprising would surely have been failing in his duty. As in the previous incident, only the ringleaders were executed.

What happened to Pilate in Rome is unknown. The fact that the new emperor, Gaius, did not reappoint him does not necessarily indicate an unfavorable outcome to his trial. After eleven years in Judaea, Pilate may have accepted another commission.

Philo of Alexandria

A fifth incident from Pilate’s term of office is described in Philo’s Legatio ad Gaium, an incident in which Pilate set up gilded shields in Jerusalem (Legatio 299-305). Although written only a few years after Pilate’s departure from Judaea, this work is highly polemical in nature. The story is part of a letter, supposedly from Agrippa I to Gaius Caligula, in which the Jewish king attempts to persuade the emperor not to set up his statue in the Jerusalem temple. Philo uses all the drama and rhetoric at his disposal to cast Pilate in a particularly brutal light and to contrast him with the virtuous Tiberius, an emperor who (unlike Gaius) was intent upon preserving the Jewish law.

Pilate is described as corrupt, violent, abusive and cruel (§§ 301, 302). He is accused of intentionally annoying the Jewish people by setting up gilded shields in Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. These shields contained no picture but only an inscription stating the name of the dedicator and the name of the person to whom they were dedicated. When the significance of this inscription was widely known, the people chose four Herodian princes to appeal to Pilate on their behalf and ask for the removal of the shields. When Pilate refused, they threatened to send an embassy to Tiberius. According to Philo, this worried Pilate enormously because of the atrocities committed throughout his governorship. The embassy went ahead and Tiberius upheld the Herodian complaints, ordering Pilate to remove the shields to the temple of Augustus at Caesarea.

Although Philo’s picture of the ruthless Pilate is obviously over-exaggerated in accordance with his rhetorical aims, there is clearly some basis to the story. The most important starting point for any reconstruction is the shields themselves. Such honorific shields were common in the ancient world; generally they would contain both a portrait and an inscription. Pilate’s shields were of this type, but even Philo has to admit that they differed by the fact that they contained no images. This suggests that, rather than deliberately acting against the Jewish law, Pilate took steps to avoid offending the people. Furthermore, they were set up inside the Roman governor’s praetorium in Jerusalem, surely the most appropriate place in the city for such shields.

If this event occurred after the commotion caused by the introduction of iconic standards narrated by Josephus, then Pilate’s behavior was both understandable and prudent. He wanted to honor the emperor without antagonizing the people. Where he went wrong, however, was in the wording of the inscription. This would have contained both Pilate’s name and that of Tiberius. In official inscriptions the emperor was referred to as: Ti. Caesari divi Augusti f. (divi Iuli nepoti) Augusto pontifici Maximo.The reference to the divine Augustus could have been seen as offensive by some Jews, particularly when it was situated in the holy city. That not everyone found this immediately offensive is suggested by Philo’s description of the Jewish reaction which is rather oddly put in § 300; it seems to give the impression that the wording of the inscription was generally known before its significance was realized. This reconstruction fits in well with the final part of the story. If Pilate had set out to be deliberately provocative, it is extraordinary that he would allow an embassy to go to Tiberius and inform the emperor of his atrocities. If, however, the shields were designed to honor the emperor and Pilate had deliberately tried to avoid offence by omitting images, his decision to allow Tiberius to adjudicate makes perfect sense.

The date of this incident is uncertain, but it probably occurred after the incident with the standards.

The Gospels

The trial of Jesus of Nazareth before Pontius Pilate is described in all four gospels (Mt 27.1-26, Mk 15.1-15, Lk 23.1-25 and John 18.28-19.16a). Although Matthew and Luke – and quite possibly John – used Mark’s version as a source, each of the trial narratives is quite different and reflects the concerns of their own particular early Christian community. Similarly, the portrayal of Pilate in each is significantly different. It is often assumed that Pilate is a “weak’‘character in the gospels in contrast to the “harsh’‘prefect of the Jewish sources. When the gospels are read more closely and in a first century context, however, this generalization does not hold. In Mark’s gospel, Pilate’s repeated references to “the King of the Jews’‘and then “your king’‘seem calculated to embitter the crowd who shout all the more for Jesus’ execution. In the same way in John’s Gospel, Pilate orders the execution of Jesus only when he has pushed “the Jews’‘into declaring Caesar to be their only king (19.15f). Pilate is weak in Luke’s gospel and it is this weakness which allows Jesus’ opponents to have their own way. Nevertheless, as a Roman judge, Pilate’s three-fold declaration of Jesus’ innocence serves an important apologetic point in the two-volume work Luke-Acts. In Matthew’s narrative Pilate plays a secondary role, the emphasis is rather on Jesus’ Jewish protagonists. Pilate is often referred to not by name but by the rather vague title hegemon, perhaps indicating that for Matthew he is representative of other Roman judges before whom members of his community may be forced to stand trial.

Later References to Pilate

Church tradition portrayed Pilate in increasingly favorable terms. In the second century Gospel of Peter, Jesus is condemned not by Pilate but by Herod Antipas. Tertullian asserted that Pilate was a Christian at heart and that he wrote a letter to Tiberius to explain what had happened at Jesus’ trial (Apology 21). Eusebius cited a tradition that Pilate had committed suicide in the reign of Gaius Caligula out of remorse for his part in Jesus’ condemnation (Hist. Eccl. 2.7.1). The fourth or fifth century Gospel of Nicodemus (which contains the Acts of Pilate), though far from “Christianizing’’ Pilate, also depicts the governor as more friendly towards Jesus than any of the canonical gospels. Pilate was canonized by the Coptic and Ethiopic churches.

Quotations from Original Sources

Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.169-174

“Pilate, being sent by Tiberius as procurator to Judaea, introduced into Jerusalem by night and under cover the effigies of Caesar which are called standards. This proceeding, when day broke, aroused immense excitement among the Jews; those on the spot were in consternation, considering their laws to have been trampled under foot, as those laws permit no image to be erected in the city; while the indignation of the townspeople stirred the country folk, who flocked together in crowds. Hastening after Pilate to Caesarea, the Jews implored him to remove the standards from Jerusalem and to uphold the laws of their ancestors. When Pilate refused, they fell prostrate around his house and for five whole days and nights remained motionless in that position. On the ensuing day Pilate took his seat on his tribunal in the great stadium and summoning the multitude, with the apparent intention of answering them, gave the arranged signal to his armed soldiers to surround the Jews. Finding themselves in a ring of troops, three deep, the Jews were struck dumb at this unexpected sight. Pilate, after threatening to cut them down, if they refused to admit Caesar’s images, signaled to the soldiers to draw their swords. Thereupon the Jews, as by concerted action, flung themselves in a body on the ground, extended their necks, and exclaimed that they were ready rather to die than to transgress the law. Overcome with astonishment at such intense religious zeal, Pilate gave orders for the immediate removal of the standards from Jerusalem.”

Josephus, Antiquities, 18.55-59

“Now Pilate, the procurator of Judaea, when he brought his army from Caesarea and removed it to winter quarters in Jerusalem, took a bold step in subversion of the Jewish practices, by introducing into the city the busts of the emperor that were attached to the military standards, for our law forbids the making of images. It was for this reason that the previous procurators, when they entered the city, used standards that had no such ornaments. Pilate was the first to bring the images into Jerusalem and set them up, doing it without the knowledge of the people, for he entered at night. But when the people discovered it, they went in a throng to Caesarea and for many days entreated him to take away the images. He refused to yield, since to do so would be an outrage to the emperor; however, since they did not cease entreating him, on the sixth day he secretly armed and placed his troops in position, while he himself came to the speaker’s stand. This had been constructed in the stadium, which provided concealment for the army that lay in wait. When the Jews again engaged in supplication, at a pre-arranged signal he surrounded them with his soldiers and threatened to punish them at once with death if they did not put an end to their tumult and return to their own places. But they, casting themselves prostrate and baring their throats, declared that they had gladly welcomed death rather than make bold to transgress the wise provisions of the laws. Pilate, astonished at the strength of their devotion to the laws, straightway removed the images from Jerusalem and brought them back to Caesarea.”

Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.175-177

“On a later occasion he provoked a fresh uproar by expending upon the construction of an aqueduct the sacred treasure known as Corbonas; the water was brought from a distance of 400 furlongs. Indignant at this proceeding, the populace formed a ring round the tribunal of Pilate, then on a visit to Jerusalem, and besieged him with angry clamor. He, foreseeing the tumult, had interspersed among the crowd a troop of his soldiers, armed but disguised in civilian dress, with orders not to use their swords, but to beat any rioters with cudgels. He now from his tribunal gave the agreed signal. Large numbers of the Jews perished, some from the blows which they received, others trodden to death by their companions in the ensuing flight. Cowed by the fate of the victims, the multitude was reduced to silence.”

Josephus, Antiquities, 18.60-62

“He spent money from the sacred treasury in the construction of an aqueduct to bring water into Jerusalem, intercepting the source of the stream at a distance of 200 furlongs. The Jews did not acquiesce in the operations that this involved; and tens of thousands of men assembled and cried out against him, bidding him relinquish his promotion of such designs. Some too even hurled insults and abuse of the sort that a throng will commonly engage in. He thereupon ordered a large number of soldiers to be dressed in Jewish garments, under which they carried clubs, and he sent them off this way and that, thus surrounding the Jews, whom he ordered to withdraw. When the Jews were in full torrent of abuse he gave his soldiers t he prearranged signal. They, however, inflicted much harder blows than Pilate had ordered, punishing alike both those who were rioting and those who were not. But the Jews showed no faint-heartedness; and so, caught unarmed, as they were, by men delivering a prepared attack, many of them actually were slain on the spot, while some withdrew disabled by blows. Thus ended the uprising.”

Josephus, Antiquities,18.63-64

”About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”

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Gnosticism and the Colossian Heresy

Introduction 1

[Please read the Epistle to the Colossians before continuing with this study.]

The doctrine of the Person of Christ is stated in Colossians with greater precision and fullness than in any other epistle of Paul.

The Colossian heresy, in its attack upon the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, made it imperative that it be met with such precise and complete doctrinal teaching as would successfully cope with the false teachings of these systems. A full understanding of the implications of the truth in Colossians stems from an acquaintance with this heresy.

The Colossian heresy is composed of two elements, either as taught separately by different people, or fused into one idea structure containing elements of legalistic Judaism and ascetic oriental Gnosticism.

Paul’s mention of Sabbaths, new moons, distinctions between meats and drinks, circumcision – all point to the element of Judaism in the heresy. His references to self-imposed humility, service and worship of angels, hard treatment of the body, and a superior wisdom, indicate that he is dealing with a Gnostic element.

Paul does not define these heresies. We are inferring the questions by examination of the answers that he provides. Neither is there any evidence that he is addressing two different groups; but it is generally agreed that many Christians at Colosse were being taught false doctrine that was based on these two major heresies.


A Gnostic is a person who considers himself as having “knowledge” beyond that which the ordinary person has. He thinks of himself as a member of an intellectual elite, one of the few who set themselves above all others as possessing a superior knowledge.

The ancient oriental philosophy, or religion, of Gnosticism was concerned mainly with two questions.

  1. First, how can the work of creation be explained?
  2. Second, How are we to account for the existence of evil in the universe.

So, the problem posed was, “How can one reconcile the creation of the world and the existence of evil with the conception of God as a being who is absolutely holy?”

The Gnostic argued as follows

If God had created the universe out of nothing, and evolved it directly from Himself, that holy God could not have brought an evil universe into existence. Otherwise, one is drive to the inescapable conclusion that God created evil, which is impossible because He is holy.

But, the fact of an evil universe remained. So the Gnostic explains this with the theory that God must have limited Himself in some was in the act of creation.

There must have been some evolution, some emanation from God, a germination. This first “germination” evolved a second, which introduced a third, and so on. The more numerous the various stages of these creative emanations from God, the more feeble became their deity, until the divine element became so diffused that contact with matter was possible.

Now – matter was conceived to be that in which evil resided. The Gnostic postulated the theory of some antagonistic principle, independent of God, by which His creative energy was thwarted and limited. Thus, evil is seen to be resident in the material universe.

So their reasoning is, the gap between a holy Creator, God, and matter is bridged by these emanations. In this way the Gnostic brushes aside the intermediate agency of creation, namely the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:3) and the fact that God put a curse on the perfect creation because of sin (Rom. 8:20).

From these philosophical speculations, two opposing codes of ethics emerged, a rigid asceticism and an unrestrained license. The problem confronting the religious Gnostic was – since matter is evil, how can one avoid its terrible influence and keep his higher nature pure?

According to one group, the solution was to hold to a rigid asceticism. All contact with matter should be reduced to an absolute minimum. The material part of man should be reduced by subduing and mortifying. One should live on a spare diet and refrain from marriage. Eating animals was forbidden. The anointing of the body with olive oil was prohibited.

Other Gnostics, however, felt that even such strict denial of the body would produce slight and inadequate results. The argued that matter is everywhere and that, no matter how careful you are, you can avoid contact with it.

Therefore, one should cultivate an indifference to the world of matter and sensation. One should follow his own impulses without giving matter any thought one way or the other. Further, this group argues, the ascetic elevates matter to a higher place that it deserves, by pacing such great importance on abstinence. Thus he fails to assert his independence to is. The true rule of life is to treat matter as foreign and alien to one, and as something towards which one has no duties or obligations, and which one can use or leave unused as one likes. This philosophy, or course, led to unbridled license.

Gnosticism had no connection with Christianity directly. The professing Christian church was, however, influenced by Jewish Essenes, who were mystics, members of a secret brotherhood, and characterized by the same sort of severe asceticism that Gnostics practiced, in their rigorous observance of Mosaic ritual. They would not light a fire, move a vessel, or perform other ordinary functions; some even stayed in bed as much as possible.

Essenes held the name of Moses in reverence, and blasphemy was punishable by death. Marriage was an abomination; the adopted children. Those who accepted marriage as necessary regarded it, nevertheless, as evil. They lived for prayer and religious exercises.

Believing that matter is evil, they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, but believed in the continuance of the soul after life. They rejected blood sacrifices of the Jews (in spite of Moses) and sent offerings of vegetables to the temple. They place angels in the category of things to be worshipped, and prided themselves on their secret documents and teachings.

These, then, are the anti-Christian doctrines and practices that were creeping into the church at Colosse. Paul’s letter was written to combat these things.

  1. Intellectual exclusivism VS the universality of Gospel teaching
  2. Hidden mysteries and secret ritual VS the knowledge of God in Christ
  3. Some men perfect through knowledge VS every man perfect in Christ.
  4. Divine emanations and angels who were mediators in creation VS Jesus Christ as Creator
  5. A distributed divine essence (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) VS the divine essence is totally in Christ Jesus.

The Essenes 2

The Essenes were a Jewish religious community which was first mentioned in history in the writings of Josephus (Antiquities, XIII, 5, 9), who mentions them as flourishing in the time of Jonathan Maccabaeus, in about 150 B.C., where he speaks of Judas, an Essene.

The Essenes are not mentioned directly in the Bible. However, it is thought that Matt. 19:11,12 and Col. 2:8 and 18 include indirect references to Essenes. In any case, the Essenes disappeared from history after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

The Essenes were an extremely ascetic group of men in Palestine and Syria, and they are thought to have formed the first cells of organized monasticism in the Mediterranean world, setting the pattern for the various holy orders which proliferated during and after the time of Christ. It is still not clear whether the Essenes proceeded from some sect of Judaism or whether elements of Greek and other foreign philosophies had an influence in their origin. Their main colonies were near the northern end of the Dead Sea and around the town of Engedi. The study of the Dead Sea Scrolls has produced a considerable body of knowledge of the early Christian sects; and the Essenes may have been the group which produced the scrolls. The bibliography of this article provides references for further study.

Essene Organization

The community of the Essenes was organized as a single body, with a president at the head. The members had to obey the president unconditionally. A man who wanted to join the order was given three articles: a pickax, an apron, and a white garment. After a year’s probation, during which he was observed continuously, he was admitted to the second stage of his probation period. Another two years passed, after which the successful candidate was admitted as a full member and allowed to participate in the common meals. He was required to take a terrible oath, in which he swore to be absolutely open to the brethren and to keep secret the doctrines of the order, under pain of excommunication.

Children were instructed in the principles of Essenism; and Josephus says that the Essenes were divided into four classes. The children formed the first class, the first and second stages of novices were the next classes, and the fourth class were the full members.

Essene Discipline

Discipline was carried out by trial, and guilt was never decided unless at least one hundred members voted for it. After that, the decision was unalterable. The usual punishment was excommunication, often amounting to a slow death, since an Essene could not take food prepared by strangers, for fear of pollution.

The strongest tie between members was the absolute community of goods. Those who came into the order had to give all they had to stewards who were appointed to take care of their common affairs. There was one purse for all, and all members had expenses, clothing, and food in common. Those who were needy, such as the aged and infirm, were cared for at the common expense; and special officers were assigned in each town to take care of traveling brethren.

Essene Ethics and Customs

The daily labor of the members was strictly regulated. After group prayer, the members were dismissed to work by their president. They reassembled later for purifying washings and the common meal. They went to work again for the afternoon and gathered again for the evening meal. The chief employment was agriculture, and there were crafts of every kind. Trading, however, was forbidden; it was thought to lead to covetousness. It was also forbidden to make weapons or any utensils or tools that might injure men.

According to Josephus and other historians, the Essenes’ life was simple and unpretentious. They did not marry, but other people sent their children to them for training and admission to the order. They only ate enough to stay healthy; and they were content to eat the same food day after day. They felt that great expense was harmful to mind and body; and they did not throw any clothes or shoes away until they were completely worn out. They only acquired for themselves the minimum required to maintain life.

The following special customs were observed by the Essenes:

  • They had no slaves; all were free, mutually working for each other.
  • Swearing oaths was forbidden as worse than perjury; “for that which does not deserve belief without an appeal to God is already condemned.”
  • The forbade anointing the body with oil or perfumes, because they thought that having a rough exterior was praiseworthy.
  • It was compulsory to bathe in cold water before meals, after the functions of nature, and after coming into contact with lower Essene classes or strangers.
  • They wore white clothing all the time.
  • They required great modesty. In performing natural functions they dug a foot-deep hole with their pickax, which they always carried, covered themselves with a mantle (so as not to offend God), and covered the hole when they were finished. While bathing, they tied the ever-present apron around their loins.
  • They sent gifts of incense to the temple, but they did not offer animal sacrifices because they thought their own sacrifices were more valuable.
  • Their common meals had many characteristics of sacrificial feasts. The food was prepared by priests with the observance of certain rites of purification; and an Essene could not eat any food but this.

Essene Theology

The Essene theology was basically Jewish, with an absolute belief in God. Next to God, the name of Moses the lawgiver was an object of great reverence, and whoever blasphemed either God or Moses was sentenced to death. In their worship, the Scriptures were read and explained. The Sabbath was so strictly observed they did not even move vessels or perform the functions of nature. Their priesthood closely paralleled the Aaronic priesthood.

They had a strong belief in angels and revered them highly. Novices had to swear to preserve the names of the angels.

Concerning their doctrines of the soul and of immortality, Josephus writes: “They taught that bodies are perishable, but souls immortal, and that the souls dwelt originally in the eternal ether, but being debased by sensual pleasures united themselves with bodies as if with prisons. But when they are freed from the fetters of sense, they will joyfully soar on high as if delivered from long bondage. To the good souls is appointed a life beyond the ocean, where they are troubled by neither rain nor snow nor heat, but where the gentle zephyr is ever blowing…But to the bad souls is appointed a dark, cold region full of unceasing torment.”

The Essenes had peculiar conduct with respect to the sun. They turned to the sun while prayer, in contrast to the Jewish custom of turning toward the temple.

Essenism seems to have been Pharisaism in the highest degree. It was, however, influenced by foreign systems of theology and philosophy, including possibly Buddhism, Parseeism, Syrian heathenism, and Pythagoreanism.

1 This article is taken largely from Bishop J. B. Lightfoot, Epistle to the Colossians.

2 Bibliography of the section on the Essenes.

Josephus, Antiquities, xviii,1,5; Wars, II,8,2

Schuerer, Jewish People, Vol. II

Edersheim, Life and Times of the Jesus the Messiah,

Brownlee, W.H., “A Comparison of the Covenanters of the Dead Sea Scrolls with Pre-Christian Jewish Sects”, in The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. XIII, Sept. 1950, pp. 50-72.

Unger, Merrill F., Unger’s Bible Handbook

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