Ethicizing the Law – Summation of the Commandments

Geza Vermes in ‘The Religion of Jesus the Jew: Chapter 2 – Jesus and the Law: The Judaism of Jesus‘ gives a great insight from R. Simlai as he breaks down the ethics of the law into one line. Here is his quote:

“613 commandments were given to Moses…David came and reduced them to 11. For it is written: A Psalm of David, O Lord, who shall sojourn in thy tent? Who shall dwell on thy holy hill? (1) He who walks blamelessly, (2) and does what is right, (3) and speaks truth from his heart; (4) who does not slander with his tongue, (5) and does no evil to his friend, (6) nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor; (7) in whose eyes a reprobate is despised, (8) but who honors those who fear the Lord; (9) who swears to his own hurt and does not change; (10) who does not lend his money at interest, (11) and does not take bribe against the innocent. How who does these things shall never be moved (Ps. 15:1-5)

Isaiah came and reduced them to 6, for it is written: (1) He who walks righteously (2) and speaks uprightly; (3) he who despises the gain of oppressions, (4) who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, (5) who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed, (6) and shuts his eyes from looking upon evil (Isa. 33:15)

Micah came and reduced them to 3, for it is written: He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but (1) to do justice, (2) and to love kindness, (3) and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)

Isaiah came again and reduced them to 2, for it is written: Thus says the Lord: (1) Keep justice (2) and do righteousness (Isa. 56:1).

Amos came and reduced them to 1, for it is written: For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: (1) Seek me and live (Amos 5:4)”

For starters this shows a Jewish history of summarizing the law like Jesus did when he presents the Decalogue to the rich young ruler or gives his 2 great commandments. Jesus was right in line with such a tradition that is much deeper than just Rabbi Simlai (goes back to the scriptures, then to Hillel, Philo, Josephus, etc).

What this also shows is that much of what Jesus is seen teaching in the gospels, and what the epistles also allude to, can be found in a summation like this. In fact, if you compare this list with much of what Jesus taught they are very similar in content regarding a close relationship with God. One could filter through each list and find places where Jesus taught such things.

So what does it mean?

It means when we read Jesus, we are reading someone clearly in the Judaic tradition based solely on the content of his ethics. That’s a good thing. It establishes that (a) Jesus likely was a real person and (b) that he found his integrity in the scriptures of his God (his religion). He isn’t something from nowhere, he’s part of an established line of thinking that creates words we find him teaching his students.

On a personal level, I really dig those lists.


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