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A Commentary on the New Testament
from the Talmud and Hebraica
Exercitations upon the Gospel of St. Matthew
1. Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the
[He was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, &c.] The
war, proclaimed of old in Eden between the serpent, and the seed of the serpent, and the
seed of the woman, Genesis 3:15, now takes place; when that promised seed of the woman
comes forth into the field (being initiated by baptism, and anointed by the Holy Ghost,
unto the public office of his ministry) to fight with that old serpent, and at last to
bruise his head. And, since the devil was always a most impudent spirit, now he takes upon
him a more hardened boldness than ever, even of waging war with him whom he knew to be the
Son of God, because from that ancient proclamation of this war he knew well enough that he
should bruise his heel.
The first scene or field of the combat was the 'desert of Judea,' which Luke intimates,
when he saith, that "Jesus returned from Jordan, and that he was led by the Spirit
into the wilderness"; that is, from the same coast or region of Jordan in which he
had been baptized.
The time of his temptations was from the middle of the month Tisri to the end of
forty days; that is, from the beginning of our month of October to the middle of November,
or thereabouts: so that he conflicted with cold, as well as want and Satan.
The manner of his temptations was twofold. First, invisibly, as the devil is
wont to tempt sinners; and this for forty days: while the tempter endeavoured with all his
industry to throw in his suggestions, if possible, into the mind of Christ, as he does to
mortal men. Which when he could not compass, because he found 'nothing in him' in which
such a temptation might fix itself, John 14:30, he attempted another way, namely, by
appearing to him in a visible shape, and conversing with him, and that in the form of an
angel of light. Let the evangelists be compared. Mark saith, "he was tempted forty
days": so also doth Luke: but Matthew, that "the tempter came to him after forty
days"; that is, in a visible form.
The matter of his temptations was very like the temptations of Eve. She fell by
the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life": which are
the heads of all sins, 1 John 2:16.
By "the lust of the eyes": for "she saw the fruit, that it was pleasant
to the sight."
By "the lust of the flesh": she lusted for it, because "it was desirable
to be eaten."
By "the pride of life"; not contented with the state of perfection wherein
she was created, she affected a higher; and she "took of the fruit, and did
eat," that she might become wiser by it.
The same tempter set upon our Saviour with the same stratagems.
I. As Eve was deceived by mistaking his person, supposing a good angel discoursed with
her when it was a bad, so the devil in like manner puts on the good angel here, clothed
with light and feigned glory.
II. He endeavours to ensnare Christ by "the lust of the flesh"; "Command
that these stones be made bread": by "the lust of the eye"; "All these
things will I give thee, and the glory of them": by "the pride of life";
"'Throw thyself down,' and fly in the air, and be held up by angels."
5. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of
[Upon the pinnacle of the Temple.] Whether he placed him upon the Temple itself,
or upon some building within the holy circuit, it is in vain to seek, because it cannot be
found. If it were upon the Temple itself, I should reflect upon the top of the porch of
the Temple: if upon some other building, I should reflect upon the royal gallery.
The priests were wont sometimes to go up to the top of the Temple, stairs being made for
this purpose, and described in the Talmudic book entitled Middoth; and they are said to
have ascended hither, "When fire was first put to the Temple, and to have thrown up
the keys of the chambers of the Temple towards heaven, with these words; 'O thou eternal
Lord, because we are not worthy to keep these keys, to thee they are delivered.' And there
came, as it were, the form of a hand out of heaven, and took them from them: and they
leaped down, and fell into the fire."
Above all other parts of the Temple the porch of the Temple, yea, the whole space
before it, may not unfitly be called the wing of the Temple, because, like wings,
it extended itself in breadth on each side, far beyond the breadth of the Temple: which we
take notice of elsewhere.
If, therefore, the devil had placed Christ in the very precipice of this part of the
Temple, he may well be said to have placed him upon the wing of the Temple, both
because this part was like a wing to the Temple itself, and that that precipice was the
wing of this part.
But if you suppose him placed upon the royal gallery, look upon it thus painted
out by Josephus: "On the south part [of the court of the Gentiles] was the king's
gallery, that deserves to be mentioned among the most magnificent things under the
sun: for upon a huge depth of a valley, scarcely to be fathomed by the eye of him that
stands above, Herod erected a gallery of a vast height; from the top of which if any
looked down, he would grow dizzy, his eyes not being able to reach to so vast a depth."
8. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him
all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
[Showed him all the kingdoms of the world, &c.] That is, Rome with her
empire and state. For, 1. That empire is called all the world, (which word Luke
useth in this story), both in sacred and profane writers. 2. At this time all cities were
of little account in comparison of Rome, nor did any part of the earth bear any vogue
without that empire. 3. Rome was 'the seat of Satan,' Revelation 13:2; and he granted to
the beast of that city both it and the dominion. 4. This therefore seems to be that
whereby he attempts to ensnare our Saviour in this object, namely, that he promiseth to
give him the pomp and power of Caesar, and to deliver into his hand the highest empire of
the world, that is, the Roman. This, antichrist afterward obtained.
13. And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea
coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim:
[And, leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt at Capernaum.] Why he left Nazareth
after he had passed six or seven-and-twenty years there, the reason appears, Luke 4:28,
&c. We do not read that he returned thither again; and so, unhappy Nazareth, thou
perishest by thine own folly and perverseness. Whether his father Joseph had any
inheritance at Capernaum, which he possessed as his heir, or rather dwelt there in some
hired house, we dispute not. This is certainly called his city, Matthew 9:1, &c.; and
here, as a citizen, he paid the half-shekel, Matthew 17:24. Where it is worthy marking
what is said by the Jews: How long does a man dwell in some city before he be as one of
the citizens? Twelve months. The same is recited again elsewhere. The Jerusalem Gemara
thus explains it; "If he tarry in the city thirty days, he becomes as one of the
citizens in respect of the alms-chest; if six months, he becomes a citizen in respect of
clothing; if twelve months, in respect of tributes and taxes." The Babylonian adds,
"if nine months, in respect of burial." That is, if any abide in a city thirty
days, they require of him alms for the poor; if six months, he is bound, with the other
citizens, to clothe the poor; if nine months, to bury the dead poor; if twelve months, he
is bound to undergo all other taxes with the rest of the citizens.
15. The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea,
beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;
[The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthali.] It is needful that the words
of Isaiah be considered, whence these words are taken. He had been discoursing, in the
eighth chapter towards the end, concerning the straits and miseries that compassed the
transgressors of the law and the testimony. "To the law and to the testimony,"
&c., verse 20. "But if a man transgress against it [that is, the law and the
testimony], it will redound to his hardship, and he shall suffer hunger,"
&c., verse 21. "And he shall look to the earth, and behold trouble and darkness,
dimness of anguish, and he shall be driven to darkness," verse 22. And then it
follows, chapter 9:1, "For the dimness shall not be like to that wherein it was ill
with him, at what time the former [afflicter] lightly touched the land of Zabulon, and the
land of Nephthali, and the latter grievously afflicted," &c. "That people
who sat in darkness, saw a great light," &c.
That which the prophet means here is this: 1. That the contemners of Emanuel and his
testimony, that is, the gospel, should undergo far greater calamities than those places
had undergone, either under their first conqueror Ben-hadad, or under the second, the king
of Assyria. For those places saw light at last restored to them, when the Messias preached
the gospel there: but the contemners of the gospel are driven into eternal darkness. 2. He
foretells the morning of liberty, and of evangelical light, to arise there, where the
first darkness and the calamities of their captivity had arisen. St. Matthew citing these
words, that he might show the prophecy to be fulfilled, of that light that should arise
there, omits those words which speak of their former misery, that is, the first clause of
the verse; and produceth those words only, and that very fitly too, which make to his
purpose, and which aim directly thither by the prophet's intention. The prophet Hosea
affords us an instance of curtailing a sentence after that manner, chapter 1:11, 2:1; when
he proclaims Israel and Judah miserable, he calls them 'Lo-Ammi,' and 'Lo-Ruchamah'; when
happy, 'Ammi,' and 'Ruchamah.'
[Beyond Jordan.] Not by Jordan, but beyond Jordan. For the latter
afflicter, the king of Assyria, had carried away that country also into banishment and
bonds, 1 Chronicles 5:26. Here is an ellipsis of the conjunction and.
18. And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter,
and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
[Casting a net into the sea.] Fishing in the sea of Tiberias, in Talmudic
speech. There the fathers of the traditions dream that Joshua the son of Nun gave ten laws
to the Israelites concerning having some things in common, as lawful, and to be allowed
of: Our Rabbins have a tradition that Joshua ordained ten conditions: That cattle graze
in common in woody places. And that a man gather wood in common in his neighbour's field,
&c. Among others, And that any, in common, spread his nets for fishing in the sea
of Tiberias. But yet under this caution, That none set up a wall, which may be any
stop to ships. The Gloss is, "It is the manner of fishermen to fasten stakes in
the water, and to make fences of canes or reeds, in which the fish may be taken: but this
is not permitted, because it is an impediment to the ships." However therefore the
sea of Tiberias belonged to the tribe of Nephthali, yet it was free for any Israelite to
fish in it, so it were under the condition mentioned.
19. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
[Fishers of men.] This phrase is something agreeable with that of Maimonides
upon the Talmud, A fisher of the law.
21. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of
Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets;
and he called them.
[James the son of Zebedee.] We meet with a certain Rabbin of this very same
name, R. Jacob the son of Zabdi.
23. And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching
the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease
among the people.
[Teaching in their synagogues.] Since we meet with very frequent mention of
synagogues every where in the books of the Gospel, it may be needful to know something
more clearly what the customs and institutions of the synagogues were, for the better
understanding very many things which have some reference thereunto in the New Testament;
let us here despatch the history of them as briefly as we may, now when the mention of
synagogues first occurs.
Of the Synagogues.
I. A synagogue was not formed anywhere but where there were ten learned men professedly
students of the law. 1. Let that of the Talmud be observed. "What is a great city?
That in which were ten men of leisure. If there be less than this number, behold, it is a
village." 2. Observe that of Maimonides; "Wheresoever there be ten of
Israel, there a house must needs be built, to which they may resort to prayers in the time
of prayer, and this house is called a synagogue." Not that any ten of Israel made a
synagogue; but wheresoever were ten learned men, and studious of the law, these were
called Batlanin, men of leisure; "who were not to be esteemed for lazy and
idle persons, but such who," not being encumbered with worldly things, "were
at leisure only to take care of the affairs of the synagogues, and to give themselves
to the study of the law."
The reason of the number of ten, though lean and empty enough, is given in the Talmud:
and it is this; A congregation consists of ten: which they prove hence, because it
is said, "How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, &c. (Num
14:27). Take away Joshua and Caleb, and there remain only ten"; namely, of the spies
of the land.
II. Of these ten men:
1. Three bear the magistracy, and were called The bench of three: whose office
it was to decide the differences arising between the members of the synagogue, and to take
care about other matters of the synagogue. These judged concerning money-matters, thefts,
losses, restitutions, ravishing a virgin, of a man enticing a virgin, of the admission of
proselytes, laying on of hands, and divers other things, of which see the tract
Sanhedrim. These were properly, and with good reason, called rulers of the synagogue,
because on them laid the chief care of things, and the chief power.
2. Besides these there was 'the public minister of the synagogue,' who prayed publicly,
and took care about the reading of the law, and sometimes preached, if there were not some
other to discharge this office. This person was called the angel of the church, and
the Chazan or bishop of the congregation. The Aruch gives the reason of the
name: "The Chazan (saith he) is the angel of the church (or the
public minister), and the Targum renders...[it as] one that oversees; for it is
incumbent on him to oversee how the reader reads, and whom he may call out to read in
the law." The public minister of the synagogue himself read not the law publicly;
but, every sabbath, he called out seven of the synagogue (on other days, fewer) whom he
judged fit to read. He stood by him that read, with great care observing that he read
nothing either falsely or improperly; and calling him back and correcting him if he had
failed in any thing...Certainly the signification of the word bishop, and angel
of the church, had been determined with less noise, if recourse had been made to the
proper fountains, and men had not vainly disputed about the signification of words, taken
I know not whence. The service and worship of the Temple being abolished, as being
ceremonial, God transplanted the worship and public adoration of God used in the
synagogues, which was moral, into the Christian church; to wit, the public ministry,
public prayers, reading God's word, and preaching, &c. Hence the names of the
ministers of the Gospel were the very same, the angel of the church, and the
bishop; which belonged to the ministers in the synagogues.
3. There were also three deacons, or almoners, on whom was the care of the poor; and
these were called Parnasin, or Pastors. And these seven perhaps were reputed
the seven good men of the city; of whom there is frequent remembrance in the
Of these Parnasin we shall only produce these things. There were two, who
demanded alms of the townsmen; and they were called, the two collectors of alms. To
whom was added a third to distribute it.
"R. Chelbo in the name of R. Ba Bar Zabda saith, They do not make fewer than three
Parnasin. For I see the judgments about many matters to be managed by three:
therefore much more these which concern life. R. Josi in the name of R. Jochanan saith,
They do not make two brethren Parnasin. R. Josi went to Cephar, intending there to
set Parnasin over them, but they received him not. He went away, after he had said
these words before them, Ben Bebai was only set over the threaded [linen of the lamps],
and yet he was reckoned worthy to be numbered with the eminent men of that age. Ye who are
set over the lives of men, how much more are ye so! R. Chaggai, when he appointed the Parnasin,
argued to them out of the law, all dominion that is given is given from the law. By me
kings reign. R. Chaiia Bar Ba set rulers, over them, that is, he appointed
Parnasin. R. Lazar was a Parnas."
This perhaps holds out a light to those words of the apostle, 1 Timothy 3:13,
"They that have performed the office of a deacon well have obtained to themselves a
good degree": that is, being faithful in their care and provision for the poor, as to
their corporal life, they may well be probationers for the care of souls. For when those Parnasin,
as also all the ten, were learned and studious, they might with good reason be preferred
from the care of bodies to that of souls. The apostles' deacons are to be reckoned also of
the same learned and studious rank. And now let us turn our eyes a little from the
synagogues to Christian churches, in the history of the New Testament. When the Romans
permitted the Jewish synagogues to use their own laws and proper government, why, I pray,
should there not be the same toleration allowed to the apostolical churches? The Roman
censure had as yet made no difference between the Judaizing synagogues of the Jews, and
the Christian synagogues or churches of Jews; nor did it permit them to live after their
own laws, and forbid these. I am not, therefore, afraid to assert, that the churches of
that first age were wanting to themselves, if they took not up the same liberty of
government as the Romans allowed the Jewish synagogues to use. And I do not think that was
said by the apostle, 1 Corinthians 6:2, 3, &c. without this foundation. Therefore,
this power of their own government being allowed them, if so be they were minded to enjoy
what they might, how easily may those words of the apostle be understood, which have so
racked learned men (shall I say?), or which have been so racked by them, 1 Timothy 5:17:
"Let the elders that rule well," &c.
4. We may reckon the eighth man of these ten to be the interpreter in the
synagogue; who, being skilled in the tongues, and standing by him that read in the law,
rendered in the mother-tongue, verse by verse, those things that were read out of the
Hebrew text. The duty of this interpreter, and the rules of his duty, you may read at
large in the Talmud.
The use of such an interpreter, they think, was drawn down to them from the times of
Ezra, and not without good reason. "And they read in the book of the law: that was
the text. Explaining: that was the Targum. And added the meaning: they are the
accents: and they understood the text: that was the Masoreth." See Nehemiah
8:8; see also Buxtorf's Tiberias, chapter 8.
5. We do not readily known whom to name for the ninth and tenth of this last three. Let
us suppose them to be the master of the divinity-school, and his interpreter:
of whom we shall have a fuller occasion of inquiry. And thus much concerning the head of
the synagogue, that learned Decemvirate, which was also the representative body of the
III. The days wherein they met together in the synagogue were the sabbath, and the
second day and the fifth of every week. Of the sabbath there is no question. They refer
the appointment of the second and fifth days to Ezra. "Ezra (say they) decreed ten
decrees. He appointed the public reading of the law in the second and fifth days of the
week. Also on the sabbath at the time of the sacrifice. He appointed washing to those that
had the gonorrhea. He appointed the session of the judges in cities on the second and
fifth days of the week," &c. Hence, perhaps, it will appear in what sense that is
to be understood, Acts 13:42. "The Gentiles besought that these words might be
preached to them the next sabbath, or the sabbath between"; that is, on
the days of that intervening week, wherein they met together in the synagogue.
IV. Synagogues were anciently builded in fields. "To the evening recital of the
phylacteries are to be added two prayers going before, and two following after."
Where the Gloss thus; "The Rabbins instituted that prayer that they might retain
their colleagues in the synagogue. And this certainly respected their synagogues at that
time; because they were situated in the fields, where they might be in danger." And
so Rabbenu Asher upon the same tract; "Anciently their synagogues were in fields:
therefore they were afraid to tarry there, until the evening prayers were ended. It was
therefore appointed that they should recite some verses, in which a short sum of all the
eighteen prayers had been compacted"...
But the following times brought back their synagogues for the most part into the
cities; and provision was made by sharp canons, that a synagogue should be built in the
highest place of the city, and that no house should be built higher than it.
V. The like provision was made, that every one at the stated times of prayer should
frequent the synagogue. "God does not refuse the prayers, although sinners are
mingled there. Therefore it is necessary that a man associate himself with the
congregation, and that he pray not alone when an opportunity is given of praying with the
congregation. Let every one therefore come morning and evening to the synagogue." And
"It is forbidden to pass by the synagogue in the time of prayer, unless a man carry
some burden upon his back: or unless there be more synagogues in the same city; for then
it may be judged that he goes to another; or unless there be two doors in the synagogue;
for it may be judged that he passed by one to go in at another. But if he carry his
phylacteries upon his head, then it is allowed him to pass by, because they bear him
witness that he is not unmindful of the law." These things are taken out of the
Babylonian Talmud: where these are also added: "The holy blessed one saith, Whosoever
employeth himself in the study of the law, and in the returning of mercy, and whosoever
prays with the synagogue, I account concerning him, as if he redeemed me and my sons from
the nations of the world. And whosoever prays not with the synagogue is called an 'ill
neighbour,' as it is said, 'Thus saith the Lord of all my evil neighbours,'" &c.
VI. When they were met together in the synagogue on the sabbath-day (for this being
observed, there is no need to speak any thing of the other days), the service being begun,
the minister of the church calls out seven, whomsoever he pleases to call out, to read the
law in their order. First, a priest, then a Levite, if they were present; and after these
five Israelites. Hence it is, O young student in Hebrew learning, that in some editions of
the Hebrew Bible you see marked in the margin of the Pentateuch, 1. The priest. 2. The
Levite. 3. The third. 4. The fourth. 5. The fifth. 6. The
sixth. 7. The seventh:--denoting by these words the order of the readers, and
measuring out hereby the portion read by each one. Thus, I suppose, Christ was called out
by the angel of the church of Nazareth, Luke 4:16, and reading according to the
custom as a member of that synagogue.
There is no need to mention that prayers were made publicly by the angel of the
church for the whole congregation, and that the congregation answered Amen to
every prayer: and it would be too much particularly to enumerate what those prayers were,
and to recite them. It is known enough to all that prayers, and reading of the law and the
prophets, was the chief business in the synagogue, and that both were under the care of the
angel of the synagogue.
I. There seemed to have been catechizing of boys in the synagogue. Consider what that
means, "What is the privilege of women? This, that their sons read in the
synagogue. That their husbands recite in the school of the doctors." Where the
Gloss thus, "The boys that were scholars were wont to be instructed [or to learn]
before their master in the synagogue."
II. The Targumist, or Interpreter, who stood by him that read in the law,
and rendered what was read out of the Hebrew original into the mother-tongue,--sometimes
used a liberty of enlarging himself in paraphrase. Examples of this we meet with in the
Talmud, and also in the Chaldee paraphrast himself.
III. Observe that of the Glosser, Women and the common people were wont to meet
together to hear the exposition or the sermon. But of what place is this better to be
understood than of the synagogue? That especially being well weighed which immediately
followeth, And they had need of expounders [or preachers] to affect their hearts:
which is not much unlike that which is said Acts 13:13, If ye have any word of
exhortation for the people, say on.
IV. Service being done in the synagogue, they went to dinner. And after dinner to the
school, or the church, or a lecture of divinity; call it by what name
you will. It is called also not seldom by the Talmudists The synagogue. In this
sense, it may be, is upper synagogue to be taken, mentioned in the Talmud; if it be
not to be taken of the Sanhedrim. In this place a doctor read to his auditors some
traditional matter, and expounded it. In the Beth Midrash they taught traditions, and
There are three things to be taken notice of concerning the rites used in this place.
1. He that read to the auditors spake not out with an audible voice, but muttered it
with a small whisper in somebody's ear; and he pronounced it aloud to all the people. So
that here the doctor had his interpreter in this sense, as well as the reader of the law
his in the synagogue. "Rabh went to the place of R. Shilla, and there was no
interpreter to stand by R. Shilla; Rabh therefore stood by him." Where the Gloss
hath these words, "He had no speaker, that is, he had no interpreter
present, who stood before the doctor when he was reading the lecture. And the doctor
whispered him in the ear in Hebrew, and he rendered it in the mother-tongue to the
people." Hither that of our Saviour hath respect, Matthew 10:27; "What ye hear
in the ear, that preach ye upon the house-tops." Consult the same place.
2. It was customary in this place, and in these exercises, to propound questions. In
that remarkable story of removing Rabban Gamaliel of Jafne from his presidentship, which
we meet with in divers places of both Talmuds: when they met together in the Beth Midrash,
"The questioner stood forth and asked, The evening prayer, is it observed by
way of duty, or of free will?" And after a few lines, the mention of an interpreter
occurs: "The whole multitude murmured against it, and said to Hotspith the
interpreter, 'Hold your peace'; and he held his peace," &c.
3. While the interpreter preached from the mouth of the doctor, the people sat upon the
earth. "Let not a judge go upon the heads of the holy people." The Gloss is,
"While the interpreter preached the synagogue [or the whole congregation]
sat on the ground: and whosoever walked through the middle of them to take his place,
seemed as if he walked upon their heads."
One may safely be of opinion that the word synagogue, was used sometimes in the
New Testament in this sense; and that Christ sometimes preached in these divinity-schools,
as well as in the synagogues.
But by what right was Christ permitted by the rulers of the synagogue to preach, being
the son of a carpenter, and of no learned education? Was it allowed any illiterate person,
or mechanic, to preach in the synagogues, if he had the confidence himself to it? By no
means. For it was permitted to none to teach there but those that were learned. But there
were two things especially that gave Christ admission to preach in every synagogue;
namely, the fame of his miracles, and that he gave out himself the head of a religious
sect. For however the religion of Christ and his disciples was both scorned and hated by
the scribes and Pharisees, yet they accounted them among the religious in the same
sense as they did the Sadducees; that is, distinguished from the common people, or the
seculars, who took little care of religion. When, therefore, Christ was reckoned among
the religious, and grew so famous by the rumour of his miracles, and the shining rays of
his doctrine, no wonder if he raised among the people an earnest desire of hearing him,
and obtained among the governors of the synagogues a liberty of preaching.
For more info on synagogues, see "Sketches of Jewish Social
Life," chapters 16. Synagogues: their Origin, Structure, and Outward Arrangements and 17. The Worship of the Synagogue by Alfred Edersheim.
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