Friday, June 29, 2012

The Good Samaritan and an Incident in the Temple

I finished Brad Young's Jesus and His Jewish Parables: Rediscovering the Roots of Jesus' Teaching.  In this post, I'll talk about Young's comments on the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).

Young states that his mentor, David Flusser, believed that the Parable of the Good Samaritan adapted an incident that is discussed in rabbinic literature, in Tosefta Yoma 1:12 and Babylonian Talmud Yoma 23a.  In this story, two priests are running in the Temple, and one stabs the other.  Rabbi Tzadok was then curious about how to apply a law in Deuteronomy 21 about what to do when one finds a corpse.  The victim's father notices that his son is in convulsions, however, which means that the son is not dead, and so the knife within the son is not yet unclean.  The narrator then says that the Israelites were more concerned about the purity of a knife than murder (presumably because they sought to protect the Temple from defilement), and it cites II Kings 21:16, which states that Manasseh (a wicked king) shed a lot of innocent blood.  In the Tosefta, we read that the sanctuary was made unclean on account of murder.  The narrator appears to disapprove of preoccupation with ritual at the expense of human life.

Similarly, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite do not help the half-dead man, and that could be because they feared being ritually defiled were the man to die, since touching a corpse caused ritual impurity.  But the Samaritan, whose culture also had purity regulations, chose to place love for another human being above ritual purity regulations and helped the man.  Young refers to a scholar who held that the Samaritan was placing himself in danger for so doing, for, if the Samaritan were carrying a half-dead Jew, couldn't observers wrongfully conclude that the Samaritan attempted to kill the Jew, especially with the hostility against Samaritans that existed in those days?  And wouldn't the victim's family then seek retaliation against the Samaritan?

Young states that, according to Semachot 1:1 (see here for information on Semachot, which appears to be part of editions of the Babylonian Talmud), Jews were required to help a man even if his imminent death was certain.  Semachot is a much later source, but Young does well to highlight that, within Judaism, there was a concern for human life and criticism of elevating the ritual above the moral.  That should counterbalance the blanket notion that Christianity is good while Judaism is bad.  At the same time, perhaps the Parable of the Good Samaritan is revolutionary in that a member of a despised, non-Jewish group, a Samaritan, is the hero of the story.  This is not to suggest that Gentiles were portrayed as evil throughout rabbinic literature, though.

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