Jesus & Purity Halakhah
Was Jesus Indifferent to Impurity?

By Thomas Kazen
December 2002
Almqvist & Wiksell
ISBN: 91-22-01964-2
414 pages, Illustrated, 6 1/4" x 8 3/4"
$73.00 Paper Original

At the end of the Second Temple period, ritual purity came to play an increasing role in Jewish society. Purity laws were interpreted and expanded, and sources of impurity were generally avoided by many. Signs of that development are discussed in this study and put forward as arguments for an expansionist trend, gaining in influence and support from the common people. Jesus' attitude to impurity is traced against this historical background. The (in)famous history of historical Jesus-research necessitates a conscious choice of method. The traditional focus on sayings material and criteria of authenticity is modified; narrative traditions with implicit purity issues are appealed to, and extra-canonical traditions are included. The main areas examined are the most important "fathers" of impurity: "leprosy" (skin diseases), genital discharges and corpse-contamination. Jesus is found to have acted in ways easily understood as indifference to these types of impurity. His behavior is shown on several points to clash with current purity halakhah and dominant expansionist ideals. In an attempt to interpret his actions within the Jewish context and culture of the Second Temple period, three explanatory models are provided. Jesus' attitude is seen as part of a moral trajectory in Judaism. It is understood as a response to a regional, Galilean dilemma. It is viewed in a power perspective as an expression of Jesus' eschatological struggle against demonic evil. The result is that Jesus may be understood as operating within the purity paradigm of his time, yet pushing it to the breaking point, at least in the eyes of some. Such a reconstruction makes subsequent developments intelligible, in which various Christian currents drew conflicting conclusions. The function and effect of purity laws change with time, however. While they are irrelevant to most modern people, those looking to Jesus' behavior for some sort of guidance may find contemporary analogies.

Conciectanea Biblica New Testament Series No. 38

Return to Coronet Books main page