The Religious Climate in Christ’s Time

Rabbis in Christ’s time used the following saying to express their disdain of Galilee. They proudly viewed Judea, with its traditional lore and religious academies, as far superior to Israel’s northern regions. And they could find no words strong enough to express their arrogant dislike of their northern Galilean cousins, from Nazareth in particular. 

If any one wishes to be rich, let him go north; if he wants to be wise, let him come south.

Jewish Talmud

We see this attitude in John 1:46 with Nathanael’s query, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” to which Philip responded, “Come and see.” And sneering remarks such as the Pharisees made to Nicodemus,  “Are you from Galilee too? Search, and see that no prophet arises from Galilee,” (John 7:52), were sadly all too common.

More than mere snobbery

But there was more to it than mere superiority. It went much deeper than the superiority that townspeople sometimes feel toward their country cousins.

It was characteristic of the uncharitable spirit of the Pharisees, full of mocking and contempt. And also of the sense of their own self-righteousness, as shown by the Pharisee’s prayer in Christ’s parable of the proud Pharisee and the humble tax collector, Luke 18:9-14.

The Rabbis, convinced of their own superiority as teachers of the law, believed that the unlearned (because they didn’t know the law as well) were under God’s curse.

Snobbery and disdain

This uncharitable attitude was even found in some Rabbinical writings, such as the following story:

A certain Rabbi, while travelling by the way, formed acquaintance with a man, whom he at first considered his equal. Presently this new friend invited the rabbi to dinner, liberally setting before him meat and drink. But the rabbi had by then started seeing his host as greatly inferior. So he began to test him with questions on the Jewish Talmud (or Hebrew Bible). But alas, the poor man could not answer the rabbi’s questions satisfactorily.

By the time dinner was over, the Rabbi had showed all the hauteur and contempt that Rabbis typically displayed toward the unlettered. Yet he still called upon his host, as was customary, to take the cup of thanksgiving and give thanks. But the poor unlearned man was, by then, sufficiently humiliated to merely reply, with a mixture of Eastern deference and Jewish modesty, “Let the learned Rabbi himself give thanks.”

“Very well, but you can join with me,” consented the Rabbi. And when his host had agreed to this, the Rabbi prayed in contempt, “A dog [referring to his host] has eaten of my bread!”

[This is my paraphrased version of a selection from Sketches of Jewish Social Life by Alfred Edersheim, chapter 3; in the Public Domain.]

Such was the religious climate Christ entered.

No wonder the people marveled at his teaching! His life, and indeed his very being, exuded love and acceptance. A complete contrast to the religious hypocrisy of the day.

Unlike the religious leaders around him, Christ took children on his knee, touched the untouchables, and lifted contrite hearts from the dust of sin and bondage. And he still loves in that amazing way today!

Unlike the religious leaders around him, he took little children on his knee, and reached out in love even to the untouchables of society. And he lifted contrite hearts up from the dust of sin and bondage. No wonder they said, “No one has ever spoken like him!”

Such fathomless love still amazes people today!

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35 ESV

Images from Priests| Making a toast by

6 thoughts on “The Religious Climate in Christ’s Time

    1. Yes it is heart-breaking, Dayle. Especially because we haven’t changed a lot. Human nature without Christ remains what it was. Uncharitable, unkind, and proud. We do so need him to continually work in us and change us – so his love will dwell in us and flow out through us. The world needs this desperately!


    1. Thank you for your comment, Kathie. (Sorry…I only just now noticed I hadn’t responded.) “Sketches of Jewish Life” is a rich source for Bible background. It teaches me a lot! Be blessed.

      Liked by 1 person

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