PODCAST: Yeshua in Context – The Handwashing Dispute

The Yeshua in Context book, audiobook, and eBook is due for release in August 2010. I plan to publish a sourcebook as well with lists, charts, and further resources for study. In this podcast, I set up the problems in Mark 7 and present a few clues toward a better reading of the story. In the book I will present a holistic reading of the story.

In Mark 7 we have a story about another dispute between Yeshua and those in Israel who saw themselves as the Torah teachers of the future. In Yeshua

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5 Responses to PODCAST: Yeshua in Context – The Handwashing Dispute

  1. judeoxian says:

    Great summary. Overall, I agree with your perspective that what Yeshua was not criticizing the ritual itself, but rather the lack of inner holiness in his opponent’s hearts. It was internal Jewish dialogue, not Christianity overturning Judaism.

    There are a few things you stated that raised questions for me. First, on a more basic level, what is the reason or theology behind handwashing? What does it do? Was handwashing in the first century different from handwashing post-destruction? It is an innovation, or a legitimate command of the Torah?

    Second, I’m not so convinced that “some of his disciples did not wash” necessarily implies that other disciples and even Yeshua himself did wash. Matthew omits the qualifier “some.” And if one receives criticism about one’s disciples, it is really a criticism of their Master, i.e. “You haven’t taught them properly.” Yeshua seems to defend their not washing. At the very least, he does not correct his disciples.

    But I still want to emphasize that I still appreciated much of what you said. Especially the bit from the Letter of Aristeas, that handwashing was not limited to just the circle of the Pharisees.

    I’ve never really been able to put everything in this passage together. For me, it has lacked coherence. This has helped put a few pieces back together.

  2. “Yeshua did practice ritual handwashing. We conclude this because his questioners ask why

  3. Gene:

    Yes, it is true Yeshua did not believe handwashing was compulsory and did not always do it. However, here is how I would express Yeshua’s problem with his generation (differently than your expression: “superficial observances that do nothing to affect the inner person”): his problem was with a kind of spirituality that emphasized expanding purity rituals and in so doing eclipsed greater values of ethics and godliness.


    It is not essential to my argument whether Yeshua ever practiced or routinely practiced handwashing. I’d prefer a clean “he did not,” and it would not affect my interpretation of the passage on the whole. However, I felt the evidence was compelling that he did practice. So I tried to incorporate that and speculated what rationale he might have had for doing so. I can’t imagine he would support the idea that impurity could be ingested, since he teaches the opposite. So, I surmise that he saw the practice as a valid way of honoring God’s holiness, bringing a holiness practice into the home, without advocating fear of ingesting impurity.


  4. tandi119 says:

    “In Yeshua

  5. Tandi:

    I will blog about “The Problem of Christian Rabbinic Mythology” and post it tomorrow morning.

    I was working on a blog post to answer your question and my wife said, “Isn’t blogging kind of like work? And isn’t today a Yom Tov (holiday Sabbath)?”

    I said, “Well, blogging is fun and no one pays me for it.”

    She looked at me with those “do you believe your own boloney” eyes and I realized, I shouldn’t be writing articles on a Yom Tov. For now, let me just say: Shaye Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah and E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief, will give a much more realistic picture of Judaism in the time of Yeshua based on current scholarship.

    More tomorrow. And may everyone enjoy this seventh day of Pesach!


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