Over the past several years I’ve studied Judaism and spent a lot of time thinking about the similarities to and differences with Christianity.
It is a matter of historical record that from the time of Jesus’ ministry until over 300 years into the early church those who believed in and followed Jesus’ teachings were considered a sect of Judaism. We both have the same roots.
When I write my Women of the Bible books, my stories take place in a Jewish society influenced by the Hellenistic world around them and ruled by the Roman Empire. Jesus and his disciples were practicing Jews. They studied the Torah. They went to the temple in Jerusalem for the required festivals and to make their sacrifices. They followed the laws, customs and traditions of Judaism. The God the Jews in the first-century worshiped was a jealous god who showed his anger to his people when they sinned. He was viewed as spiteful and vengeful, and he could and would strike them down individually or in groups even though the Israelites were his “chosen” people. God demanded obedience to his laws.
To keep from “angering” God, the priests of Judaism – mainly from the Levite tribe – went well beyond the ten commandments handed down to Moses, contriving, writing down and enforcing 620 laws, or mitzvahs, that the Jewish people were expected to follow. These mitzvahs were like warning tracks in baseball, maintained so that the Jewish people would not approach the actual violation of the commandments. Judaism became very legalistic after Moses.
The teachings of Jesus essentially attempted to convince the Jewish people that this version of God was incorrect, that God was as loving to his creations as a (normal) earthly father was to his own children.
In my stories I attempt to show this love in a number of dimensions, such as:
– The love of a mother for her child
– The love of a wife for her husband
– The love of a woman for her God
When you read about Jesus and how he treated people in the scriptures, it is evident that he treated both men and women with equal compassion and love. Jesus taught the women along with his male followers.
My attempt to capture this sense of egalitarian love should, I hope, give all of us a hint about how to think of and treat each other in our contemporary world.