A Closer Look: Focus on Jerusalem

Throughout the Roman Empire, Jewish people were viewed as ethnic Judeans or, in terms of conventional urban eastern Mediterranean, city-centric perspectives, as the people whose well-known mother city was Jerusalem. Paul might respond in Gal. 4 to his rivals’ emphasis on Jerusalem. Ancient Near Eastern religion emphasized holy sites; thus when invaders destroyed an earlier city, they often reused its cult sites for their own shrines. Various ancient Jewish and Christian traditions also valued holy sites. For many later rabbis, the location of prayer was very important; some locations made prayers more likely to be heard than others. Thus one could not recite the Shema in an unclean location, and a Jewish teacher who had never meditated on Torah in any unclean place would invite emulation.

Synagogue architecture may reveal popular Jewish views of sacred space outside rabbinic circles. Thus builders may have elevated some synagogues or (following bibilical precedents) oriented synagogues toward the Jerusalem temple, although not all synagogues fit this description.

By the time of the Jewish nationalist revival of the mid-second century BCE, some Jewish writers were heightening the land polemic already president in Genesis. Naturally, following biblical prophecy, early Judaism envisioned a unique eschatological significance for their homeland. Although Jesephus does not hightlight the land as much as one might expect, perhaps to avoid revolutionary implications, some other early Jewish texts do.

This interest is developed most fully in later rabbinic texts, where Israel is the holiest among lands. Here Israel is the highest-hence most praiseworthy-of lands, and the temple is higher than the rest of the world. Eretz Israel was one of God’s supreme gifts to Israel. Some limited the Torah and the Spirit of prophecy to the land of Israel. Dwelling in the land was meritorious, and the merit available to those outside the land was limited.

This content is by Craig Keener, but edited and posted by Defenders Media.

For more on the book of Galatians, please check out Galatians: A Commentary

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