Thursday, August 13, 2015
Did Paul learn to write Epistles from Gamaliel?
Gamaliel the Elder (Rabban Gamaliel I) was a leading authority in the Sanhedrin in the early 1st century CE. He was the son of Simeon ben Hillel, and grandson of the great Jewish teacher Hillel the Elder, and died twenty years before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (70 CE). In Jewish tradition, Gamaliel is described as bearing the titles Nasi and Rabban (our master), as the President of the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.[i]
Gamaliel was well-respected and, according to one rabbinic tradition:
When Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, the glory of the law ceased and purity and abstinence died. (m. Sot. 9:15)
In the Book of Acts Gamaliel is mentioned twice:
Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people. (Acts 5:34)
“I (Paul) was raised in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and I was instructed perfectly in the tradition of our fathers.” (Acts 22:3)
In The Jewish People in the First Century we find the following reference to Rabban Gamaliel the Elder:
Our (Jewish) sources have preserved some epistles announcing intercalations, such as those sent by the court of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, which clearly illustrate the measures the court took to publicize its decisions: ‘It once happened that Rabban Gamaliel and the elders were sitting on steps on the Temple Mount, and that the scribe Johanan was sitting before them.
He bade him write: ‘To our brethren in Upper Galilee and to those in Lower Galilee: May your peace be great. We beg to inform you that the time of removal has arrived for setting aside the tithes from the olive heaps.’
And: ‘To our brethren throughout the South: May your peace be great. We beg to inform you that the time of removal has arrived for setting aside the tithes from the corn sheaves.’
And: ‘To our brethren the exiles in Babylonia and to those in Media, and to all the other exiles of Israel: May your peace be great. We beg to inform you that the doves are still tender and the lambs too young and the crops not yet ripe. To me and my colleagues it seems right to add thirty days to this year.’ [ii]
Although Paul never mentions Gamaliel in his writings, the structure of Paul’s epistles reflects the general theme of those of Gamaliel. Paul is portrayed as person sitting in a position of authority using epistles to publicize his decisions about various matters to different communities.
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[ii] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two: Historical Geography, Political History, Social Culture and Religious Life and Institutions; Edited by S. Safrai and M. Stern in co-operation with D. Flusser and E. C. van Unnik; © 1976 By Stichting Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum Testamentum; Fprtress Press, Philadelphia, PA; pp. 856-57.