Bible Review 11:3, June 1995

Did Jesus Oppose the Purity Laws?

By Paula Fredriksen

In the last century, especially in the last few decades, historians of Christianity have increasingly understood Jesus of Nazareth as a participant in the Judaism of his day. Many scholars, however, while emphasizing Jesus’ articulation of Jewish ethics, or his Jewish scriptural sensibility, or the apocalyptic convictions he shared with so many contemporaries, draw the line at the biblical laws of purity. These laws rarely appear realistically integrated into historical reconstructions of Jesus. Connected as they are to an ancient system of sacrifices, they seem obscure to modern religious sensibilities; and after the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., they soon became irrelevant to the later, largely Gentile church. Perhaps, too, purity codes—a hallmark of virtually all ancient religions—are too disturbingly archaic to fit comfortably with modern constructions of Jesus and his message.

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