Was Jesus A “Mesith?”: Public Response To Jesus And His Ministry -- By: D. Neale

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 44:1 (NA 1993)
Article: Was Jesus A “Mesith?”: Public Response To Jesus And His Ministry
Author: D. Neale

Was Jesus A “Mesith?”: Public Response To Jesus And His Ministry

D. Neale


Negative public response to Jesus is examined with reference to Deuteronomy 13 and rabbinic assessments of Jesus as a mesith, a beguiler of the people. The tradition of interpretation of Deuteronomy 13 in the rabbinic corpus and New Testament passages that reflect this motif are examined for clues to the cause of conflict the historical Jesus encountered in his ministry. In particular, the issues of familial division, Jesus’ reception in the cities, and the rural pattern of ministry are examined. It is argued that Jesus experienced the ostracism reserved for the mesith at both the personal and the civic level.

I. Introduction

The gospels report a generally positive public response to Jesus throughout most of his ministry. It usually falls to Jesus’ fellow religionists to mount the opposition, and apart from the final hours not a single instance of crowd disapproval or mob violence can be discerned in the gospel narratives. Yet, there is indirect evidence in the gospels of a more widespread and concerted negative public response to Jesus as well. The purpose here will be to assess some of that evidence and then place it in an interpretive historical context which will help to explain that negative response. Specifically, we will address the question, ‘Does the Old Testament and rabbinic material on the mesith (one who entices to apostasy or idolatry) offer any help in understanding response to Jesus in the time of his public ministry’?1 The interpretive crux will be the Old Testament and rabbinic traditions regarding the so-called mesith and whether these texts can provide insight into this important but neglected aspect of Jesus’ public ministry. In terms of the New Testament material some of the factors in Jesus’ ministry that will occupy us are the enigmatic

rural pattern of ministry, the expulsion from certain towns and cities, and the unwillingness of some to be identified with Jesus.

II. Methodological Concerns

A word on method is in order as we begin, particularly with regard to the use of rabbinic sources here, since their relationship to the first century Palestinian milieu is always a matter of debate and often tenuous. No argument will be made that the rabbinic pronouncements cited here necessarily had currency in Jesus’ day, although in some in some cases a tradition of similar belief probably did exist in the first century. The reason these rabbinic pronouncements on the mesith are of pa...

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