A Portrait Of Jesus' World - Judaism's First Century Diversity | From Jesus To Christ - The First Christians | FRONTLINE (2023)

Far from uniform, Jews disagreed over the way to honor their traditions and practice their faith.

Shaye I.D. Cohen:

Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies Brown University


(Video) From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians

A Portrait Of Jesus' World - Judaism's First Century Diversity | From Jesus To Christ - The First Christians | FRONTLINE (1)In the first century of our era there were many sects and schools in Jewish society. We hear about the Essenes, of course, the Jews of Qumran, the Dead Sea Scrolls, who separated themselves from the community at large and clearly constituted a sect, a group which thought it alone possessed the truth. Whether there were other sects or not it's hard to tell. We know instead about other groups or schools or movements or parties.... The most conspicuous of these parties or schools will be the Pharisees. The Pharisees are known to everybody from the New Testament where they enjoy a very negative press. They clearly are seen as the opponents of Jesus and "the bad guys." Who the Pharisees really were is a different question entirely, once we get past the Jewish polemic, the anti-Pharisee polemic of the gospels. And we realize the Pharisees were a conspicuous Jewish group. They seem to have been a scholarly group or a group of Jews who, as Josephus the historian says, had a reputation as the most meticulous observers of the ancestral laws. So here is a group which claim expertise [in] understanding the Torah of Moses and claimed expertise in the observance of the laws. And apparently most Jews were prepared to accept that claim.... Their opponents, of course, were the Sadducees, who were no less pious than the Pharisees, but the Sadducees did not believe in the authoritative nature of the ancestral laws. What did the Sadducees do then, exactly, we don't really know. Except the Sadducees apparently had a great deal of following among the well-to-do, among the priestly classes, and seem to have been characterized primarily by two things. One, they opposed the Pharisees and two, they denied belief in the resurrection of the dead, a belief that the Pharisees espoused and the Sadducees denied. And this, of course, made the Sadducees famous as we see very clearly in the New Testament passages where the only thing in the gospels you know about the Sadducees is basically that they deny the belief in the resurrection.

But aside from these groups that we may call schools or parties - the Pharisees appear to us to be a school and the Sadducees appear to us to be a party, a social-political party - there will have been a whole wide variety of other groups in Jerusalem and perhaps in the countryside as a whole. Some of these are political movements..., the revolutionary groups, Sicarii and the Zealots and whatnot, who took their religious understanding of what Judaism was, took their religious interpretations and turned that into a political agenda. "We must destroy the Roman Empire or we must destroy Jews who cooperate with the Roman Empire. We will kill all collaborators, no King but God," and other such slogans emerge from these religious thinkers.

And of course, the most important group of all are not the Pharisees, not the Sadducees, not the Essenes, not the revolutionaries, but the plain Jews. Plain simple folk who presumably live their Jewish lives by following the ways that they'd always done, whatever mother or father had taught them, that's what they do themselves. We may call [this] perhaps "simple piety." The Jews who observe the Sabbath, who observe the holidays, the festivals, who go with the pilgrimage to temple, who observe the Jewish food laws, the Jewish rituals, believe in the Jewish God, follow the ways by which to make the life holy, follow the dictates of the Torah in a kind of simple plain way, these are the plain folk and these are the folk who are not Pharisees, not Sadducees, but simply plain Jews. And we get a glimpse of some of them in the pages of the New Testament. But these are probably the most numerous of all and the most important of all.

Paula Fredriksen:

William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University

(Video) PBS - From Jesus To Christ. The First Christians - 1 of 4


[Josephus' two books] are two of our prime sources for the history of this period. And Josephus gives a kind of catalog for what the major groups are within first century Judaism.... He talks about the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes. He also mentions another group, [for whom] my label is Insurrectionists. That's not his term for it, but he attributes to this group of people the rebelliousness and weariness with Rome that ultimately led to the Great War against Rome in 66 to 70, eventuating in the destruction of the Temple. It's hard to tell exactly how close Josephus' descriptions are to what these groups actually believed and thought. The Sadducees are usually associated with aristocratic Priests, therefore they're in Jerusalem. They seem to not have thought that there was resurrection of the dead, which by this period is almost a normative belief in Judaism. And, since they were Priests, much of their religious interests focused on the smooth operation of the Temple, as is right, because that was their responsibility.

Pharisees, on the other hand, were a school of interpretation of Biblical text.... Priests are family groups in Judaism. If you have a friend named Cohen, that means he's a priest. So one is born a priest. One can't choose to become a priest, unlike most other religious groupings in antiquity. But, if somebody is born a priest, he could decide to interpret the Bible according to a Pharisaic tradition, and that's what happened. These are not absolute boundaries. These are permeable identifications. Josephus, for example, this historian we have is from a Jerusalem-like, priestly, aristocratic family, but he aligns himself with the Pharisees, which is one of the reasons why he praises them so much in his books.

The Essenes are another group of people very concerned with purity. There is a lot of purity ritual associated with them. Josephus and another first century historian and writer, Philo, talk about the Essenes as being a philosophic community [with] communal property. There was a group within the Essenes who were celibate. What's interesting is that this is the community that's also represented by the Dead Sea Scroll library. And, given what we now know about them, as a result of finding that library, we can measure the distance between a respectful description by somebody who's not an Essene, and what the Essenes were actually up to. The Essenes, themselves, were very apocalyptic. They were very concerned with purity. They were so concerned about the holiness of the Temple that at least the ones in Qumran had a reputation of not going up there at all....

But how many people are we actually talking about?... [W]e have no way of testing [Josephus'] numbers, but if they're like any other kind of guess done either by a modern newspaper or by an ancient historian, they're not absolute. He mentions ... I'm not absolutely certain. I think his figures are like 6000 Pharisees, 4000 Essenes...maybe there were 20,000 Priests. Of those Priests, how many were aristocrats and therefore Sadducees? I don't know ... but a fraction of that. So that doesn't give us very many Jews actually accounted for. But there were millions of Jews in antiquity, which means that most people belonged to none of these groups. Who were these people? What did they think? We don't know because we only have the evidence for the groups that have articulated ideologies. I think we have to assume that most Jews who did not associate with one group or the other did the best they could interpreting what they thought was leading a Jewish life according to how the Bible happened to be interpreted in their neighborhood. Again, this is the vast majority of Jews, and as is the case with most populations in history, it's a silent majority because we don't have written evidence from them.

(Video) PBS - From Jesus To Christ. The First Christians - 1 of 4

L. Michael White:

Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin


A Portrait Of Jesus' World - Judaism's First Century Diversity | From Jesus To Christ - The First Christians | FRONTLINE (2)[At this time, is] Judaism a religious life that's unified and at peace with itself?

It would be a mistake to think of Judaism in this period as a state religion, even though the temple is the centerpiece of Jewish life and of Jewish worship. There's no such thing as a state church. It's not a monolithic religious or cultural entity at this time. Indeed, what we're seeing more and more through the research and the archaeological discoveries, is how diverse Judaism was in this period. So we see different groups, such as the Sadducees and the Pharisees. We also see a number of new religious texts and new practices starting to develop. .... For example, let's not forget that the Holy Day, the festival of Hanukkah, was a relatively new holiday celebration at the time of Jesus. It had only been around for something like a hundred years. But it shows some of the new ideas, the new experiences that Jews have had to overcome in that time. And so, we're watching a religious tradition that is itself still going through certain changes. Some of those changes were met with a view of optimism and progress. Some people, though, might not have liked them. And so, this sets the stage for what we see as some of the tension and some of the controversy that also surrounds the temple. So the interesting thing about the temple in the days of Jesus is that on the one hand, it's a grand, new place. It's the center of life and worship. It's the showpiece of Jewish tradition. And yet, it could also be a center of controversy and tension.

(Video) Christianity from Judaism to Constantine: Crash Course World History #11

One of the best examples of the ...the kind of diversity and vibrantly different thought that's at work in Judaism in this period is, of course now, what we know from the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Shaye I.D. Cohen:


What are some of the principal groups who were a part of Judaism during this time period? What were some of their differences?

The Jewish historian, Josephus, has a very memorable line. He says, "one temple, for the one God." The Jews saw themselves as a unique people, with the one God alone... there's one God of this one special people, one temple, and that's a very powerful idea, reflecting accurately, I think, the historical truth that the temple was a very powerful unifying source, within the Jewish community....

(Video) (Documentary) First 1000 Years of Christianity

A Portrait Of Jesus' World - Judaism's First Century Diversity | From Jesus To Christ - The First Christians | FRONTLINE (3) At the same time, the temple also serves as a source of division and a source of conflict in the Jewish community. Many, many Jews were unhappy with the way the priests ran the temple. The priests did not obey the purity laws properly. They didn't follow the right calendar. They didn't perform the sacrifices properly. The priests themselves were insufficiently pious. Their marriageswere somehow illicit or improper. The priests used the office for self-aggrandizement, for self-advantage. They were somehow were making themselves wealthier at the expense of the community and on and on and on. We hear a series of such complaints about the priests, many of the them in the Dead Sea Scrolls, many of them found in Rabbinic literature, but some of course, as anybody who reads the Bible knows, going back to the prophets, even in Biblical times, complaining about the priests of the temple.... Nonetheless, it's clear among all the numerous groups within the Jewish community of the 1st century, that all of them, to justify themselves, have to some degree or other deal with the temple. They have to either explain why the priests are wrong and they are right, or they have to explain that the priests are correct but =they're only correct, insofar as they agree with what this group itself believes.... You can see that among virtually all the groups in Jewish society in the 1st century of our era.


The second century of our era was an age of definition not just for Christianity but also for Judaism. In Christianity, of course, the second century of the common era is a time of sects and heresies and divisions and splits and schools of all sorts as Christians try to figure out exactly what Christianity is and exactly what Christianity isn't. On the Jewish side of the fence, we don't hear much about conflicting sects or heresies. Most of them seem to have disappeared in the wake of his destruction of the temple in 70 C.E. So we don't hear about then conflicting parties the way we do on the Christian side. But nonetheless, I think we can still call the second century of our era an age of definition, even on the Jewish side. Because it is the second century of our era that marks the emergence for the first time into the light of history of a new group and a new culture and a new literature and a new way of thinking and writing. We call the people rabbis and we call their Judaism "Rabbinic" texts or "Rabbinic" literature.... It is the rabbis who now emerge as a new kind of Judaism, and it is this Judaism that will endure from the second century of our era down to our own age.


What was Judaism like in the first century? ›

The Jews differed from other people in the ancient world because they believed that there was only one God. Like other people, they worshipped their God with animal sacrifices offered at a temple, but, unlike others, they had only one temple, which was in Jerusalem.

What are the 4 sects of Judaism? ›

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that nearly all Israeli Jews self-identify with one of four subgroups: Haredi (“ultra-Orthodox”), Dati (“religious”), Masorti (“traditional”) and Hiloni (“secular”).

Why was there conflict between the Romans and the Jews? ›

A serious conflict between Rome and the Jews began in A.D. 66 when Nero was emperor. The Roman governor of Judea decided to take money from the Great Temple in Jerusalem. He claimed he was collecting taxes owed the emperor. When rioting broke out, Roman soldiers harshly put it down.

Why was Christianity attractive to cosmopolitan Greeks? ›

One reason that Christianity was attractive to cosmopolitan Greeks was because: Many Greek people practiced Eastern mystery religions with which early Christianity shared characteristics. Roman borders were: Porous and thus more symbolic than actual.

How did Judaism influence Christianity? ›

Jewish Christianity is the foundation of Early Christianity, which later developed into Christianity. Christianity started with Jewish eschatological expectations, and it developed into the worship of a deified Jesus after his earthly ministry, his crucifixion, and the post-crucifixion experiences of his followers.

Which religion did Jesus follow? ›

Of course, Jesus was a Jew. He was born of a Jewish mother, in Galilee, a Jewish part of the world. All of his friends, associates, colleagues, disciples, all of them were Jews. He regularly worshipped in Jewish communal worship, what we call synagogues.

What are Russian Jews called? ›

The largest group among Russian Jews are Ashkenazi Jews, but the community also includes a significant proportion of other non-Ashkenazi from other Jewish diaspora including Mountain Jews, Sephardi Jews, Crimean Karaites, Krymchaks, Bukharan Jews and Georgian Jews.

What are 5 beliefs of Judaism? ›

A summary of what Jews believe about God
  • God exists.
  • There is only one God.
  • There are no other gods.
  • God can't be subdivided into different persons (unlike the Christian view of God)
  • Jews should worship only the one God.
  • God is Transcendent: ...
  • God doesn't have a body. ...
  • God created the universe without help.
14 Sept 2009

What is the difference between Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazi Jews? ›

Ashkenazim differ from Sephardim in their pronunciation of Hebrew, in cultural traditions, in synagogue cantillation (chanting), in their widespread use of Yiddish (until the 20th century), and especially in synagogue liturgy.

Did the Romans like the Jews? ›

Soon Rome recognized Judaism as a legal religion, allowing Jews to worship freely. But Rome viewed the Jews with suspicion and persecuted them on several occasions. One of the most serious conflicts between Rome and the Jews began in Judea in A.D. 66 when Nero was emperor.

What religion were the Romans? ›

The Roman Empire was a primarily polytheistic civilization, which meant that people recognized and worshiped multiple gods and goddesses. Despite the presence of monotheistic religions within the empire, such as Judaism and early Christianity, Romans honored multiple deities.

Why did Romans destroy Jerusalem? ›

The Jewish Amoraim attributed the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem as punishment from God for the "baseless" hatred that pervaded Jewish society at the time. Many Jews in despair are thought to have abandoned Judaism for some version of paganism, many others sided with the growing Christian sect within Judaism.

How did Christianity become the dominant religion? ›

Constantine turns the tide

When a Roman soldier, Constantine, won victory over his rival in battle to become the Roman emperor, he attributed his success to the Christian God and immediately proclaimed his conversion to Christianity. Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Who promoted Christianity? ›

Constantine made Christianity the main religion of Rome, and created Constantinople, which became the most powerful city in the world. Emperor Constantine (ca A.D. 280– 337) reigned over a major transition in the Roman Empire—and much more.

When did the Romans switch to Christianity? ›

In 313 AD, the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which accepted Christianity: 10 years later, it had become the official religion of the Roman Empire.

What was Christianity like in the first century? ›

They believed Yahweh to be the only true God, the god of Israel, and considered Jesus to be the messiah (Christ), as prophesied in the Jewish scriptures, which they held to be authoritative and sacred. They held faithfully to the Torah, including acceptance of Gentile converts based on a version of the Noachide laws.

What are the 5 basic beliefs of Christianity? ›

The 5 are: 1) Uniqueness of Jesus (Virgin Birth) --Oct 7; 2) One God (The Trinity) Oct 14; 3) Necessity of the Cross (Salvation) and 4) Resurrection and Second Coming are combinded on Oct 21; 5) Inspiration of Scripture Oct 28.

What are Judaism's basic beliefs? ›

Jewish people believe there's only one God who has established a covenant—or special agreement—with them. Their God communicates to believers through prophets and rewards good deeds while also punishing evil. Most Jews (with the exception of a few groups) believe that their Messiah hasn't yet come—but will one day.

What is Jesus real name? ›

Jesus' name in Hebrew was “Yeshua” which translates to English as Joshua.

What was Jesus last name? ›

What was Jesus's Real Name? - YouTube

What is the name of Jesus wife? ›

Jesus 'married Mary Magdalene and had children', according to ancient manuscript.

Where did the Jews come from? ›

Jews originated as an ethnic and religious group in the Middle East during the second millennium BCE, in a part of the Levant known as the Land of Israel.

What is so special about Ashkenazi Jews? ›

Most people with Ashkenazi ancestry trace their DNA to Eastern and Central Europe. But many also have Middle Eastern ancestry, which is just one reason for their genetic “uniqueness.” It's clear that people with European ancestry are genetically distinct from those of Asian or African descent.

Is Yiddish similar to polish? ›

Although its core grammar and most of its vocabulary are Germanic, Yiddish contains many words and grammatical features that it shares with other languages: Hebrew and Aramaic; Czech, Polish, Ukrainian, and other Slavic languages; Old Italian and French.

Do Muslims believe in one God? ›

Muslims believe that all the Prophets sent by God to humanity shared the same central message, and that was the message of monotheism. Monotheism is a term used to refer to the belief in the existence of only one diety (God). Muslims believe that there is only one God who created the universe and everything within it.

What are 3 major practices of Judaism? ›

The main three branches of Judaism are Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, though many Jewish people formulate their own informal version of Judaism, and do not fit strictly into any one of these categories.

How do I know if I have Sephardic ancestry? ›

There are various things that indicate Sephardic ancestry, including one's family name (or the Sephardic family names of your ancestors), speaking Ladino in one's home (either Eastern Ladino or Western Ladino), through a genealogy, proof of one's connection to Sephardic synagogues or communities (cemeteries, ketubot, ...

Why is it called Ashkenazi? ›

The name Ashkenazi derives from the biblical figure of Ashkenaz, the first son of Gomer, son of Japhet, son of Noah, and a Japhetic patriarch in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10). The name of Gomer has often been linked to the ethnonym Cimmerians.

What language did Sephardic Jews speak? ›

If Yiddish is the language of Ashkenazi Jews, then Ladino is the language of Sephardic Jews.

When were Jews kicked out of Rome? ›

The exact date is uncertain. The maximal time window for the expulsion of Jews from Rome is from January AD 41 until January AD 53. More detailed estimates such as those based on the AD 49 date by Orosius or the reduction of the AD 53 upper limit due to Proconsul Gallio's health are possible but controversial.

Were there Jews in the Roman army? ›

There were Jews who served as simple foot soldiers, influential generals like Tiberius Julius Alexander, and Jewish military units such as the Regii Emeseni Iudaei.

What happened to the Jews after the fall of Rome? ›

985 villages were destroyed and most of the Jewish population of central Judaea was essentially wiped out – killed, sold into slavery, or forced to flee. Banished from Jerusalem, which was renamed Aelia Capitolina, the Jewish population now centered on Galilee, initially at Yavneh.

Who started Christianity? ›

Christianity originated with the ministry of Jesus, a Jewish teacher and healer who proclaimed the imminent Kingdom of God and was crucified c. AD 30–33 in Jerusalem in the Roman province of Judea.

What language did the Romans speak? ›

Latin is the language that was spoken by the ancient Romans. As the Romans extended their empire throughout the Mediterranean, the Latin language spread. By the time of Julius Caesar, Latin was spoken in Italy, France, and Spain.

What type of religion is Christianity? ›

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It is the world's largest religion, with about 2.8 billion followers, representing one-third of the global population.

What happened to the Jews in 70? ›

On the 9th of the month of Av (August 29) in ad 70, Jerusalem fell; the Temple was burned, and the Jewish state collapsed, although the fortress of Masada was not conquered by the Roman general Flavius Silva until April 73.

How many Jews were killed by the Romans? ›

Based on questionable numbers from Josephus, it has been estimated that the Roman vanquishing of Galilee resulted in 100,000 Jews killed or sold into slavery.

How many times did Jerusalem fall? ›

During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.

What is the oldest form of Judaism? ›

Modern Judaism evolved from Yahwism, the religion of ancient Israel and Judah, by the late 6th century BCE, and is thus considered to be one of the oldest monotheistic religions.
ScriptureHebrew Bible
RegionPredominant religion in Israel and widespread worldwide as minorities
11 more rows

How did Judaism spread in the ancient world? ›

Judaism spread in the ancient world through historical exiles and the Jewishdiaspora.

What year did Judaism begin? ›

What is considered classical, or rabbinical, Judaism did not emerge until the 1st century CE. Judaism traces its origins to the covenant God made with Abraham and his lineage—that God would make them a sacred people and give them a land.

When and where did Judaism begin? ›

Origins of Judaism
Origin1st millennium BCE 20th–18th century BCE (traditional) Judah Mesopotamia (traditional)
Separated fromYahwism
CongregationsJewish religious communities
Membersc. 14–15 million
14 more rows

What religion was Moses? ›

Moses is the most important Jewish prophet. He's traditionally credited with writing the Torah and with leading the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Red Sea. In the book of Exodus, he's born during a time when the Pharaoh of Egypt has ordered every male Hebrew to be drowned.

What was before Christianity? ›

Before Christianity, two major monotheistic religions existed in the ancient Mediterranean area. Explore the similarities and differences between Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and emerging Christianity, and how the empire initially accommodated their teachings and actions.

Who started Christianity? ›

Christianity originated with the ministry of Jesus, a Jewish teacher and healer who proclaimed the imminent Kingdom of God and was crucified c. AD 30–33 in Jerusalem in the Roman province of Judea.

What God does Judaism worship? ›

God in Judaism has been conceived in a variety of ways. Traditionally, Judaism holds that Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the national god of the Israelites, delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and gave them the Law of Moses at Mount Sinai as described in the Torah.

Why did Christianity spread so much? ›

Ehrman attributes the rapid spread of Christianity to five factors: (1) the promise of salvation and eternal life for everyone was an attractive alternative to Roman religions; (2) stories of miracles and healings purportedly showed that the one Christian God was more powerful than the many Roman gods; (3) Christianity ...

What makes Judaism different from other religions? ›

Jews were monotheists—they believed in and worshipped only one god. This stands out to historians because monotheism was relatively unique in the ancient world. Most ancient societies were polytheistic—they believed in and worshiped multiple gods.

What do the Jews believe? ›

Jewish people believe there's only one God who has established a covenant—or special agreement—with them. Their God communicates to believers through prophets and rewards good deeds while also punishing evil. Most Jews (with the exception of a few groups) believe that their Messiah hasn't yet come—but will one day.

What are 5 beliefs of Judaism? ›

A summary of what Jews believe about God
  • God exists.
  • There is only one God.
  • There are no other gods.
  • God can't be subdivided into different persons (unlike the Christian view of God)
  • Jews should worship only the one God.
  • God is Transcendent: ...
  • God doesn't have a body. ...
  • God created the universe without help.
14 Sept 2009

What was the first religion? ›

Hinduism is the world's oldest religion, according to many scholars, with roots and customs dating back more than 4,000 years. Today, with about 900 million followers, Hinduism is the third-largest religion behind Christianity and Islam. Roughly 95 percent of the world's Hindus live in India.

Where do Jews worship? ›

synagogue, also spelled synagog, in Judaism, a community house of worship that serves as a place not only for liturgical services but also for assembly and study.


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