Was Jesus influenced by Hillel?


#1

I’ve recently heard a discussion in which a prominent Jewish scholar, Amy-Jill Levine, made the statement that Jesus had been influenced by Rabbi Hillel, who lived a generation before him. According to Levine, the debate between two rabbis of that generation, Hillel and Shammai, had a major sway over Jewish thinking in the first century.

To me, there are certainly things that Hillel advocates that Jesus did not, such as easy divorce. However, there seem to be other areas where the two seem more consonant.

Can anyone suggest a good reference for how Hillel might have influenced the world in which Jesus lived?


#2

[quote="fnr, post:1, topic:336261"]
I've recently heard a discussion in which a prominent Jewish scholar, Amy-Jill Levine, made the statement that Jesus had been influenced by Rabbi Hillel, who lived a generation before him. According to Levine, the debate between two rabbis of that generation, Hillel and Shammai, had a major sway over Jewish thinking in the first century.

To me, there are certainly things that Hillel advocates that Jesus did not, such as easy divorce. However, there seem to be other areas where the two seem more consonant.

Can anyone suggest a good reference for how Hillel might have influenced the world in which Jesus lived?

[/quote]

I don't have a reference handy but I know, for example, that Hillel the Elder summed up the Torah Law in terms of two commandments: to love G-d and love your neighbor, and he said everything else is commentary. Jesus said almost the same thing a generation later. I'm sure there are other similarities as well despite the differences. Jesus was a product of His time, as well as an innovator, and wanted to probe the intricate meaning of the Law in order to be able to follow it more completely and profoundly. There was indeed a debate between Rabbis Hillel and Shammai, and Judaism followed the path of Hillel for the most part.


#3

As a Christian it is not possible for me to subscribe to the idea that the Son of God was “influenced” by anyone. If anything, a Christian would say that it was Christ - the “Word of God” - one with the Father - who influenced Hillel - Just as The Word (through the Holy Spirit) influenced every prophet and true spiritual leader from time immemorial.

I can see where someone who is not Christian could make such an assertion - but to a Christian such an assertion simply makes no sense… IMHO

Peace
James


#4

=fnr;11096422]I've recently heard a discussion in which a prominent Jewish scholar, Amy-Jill Levine, made the statement that Jesus had been influenced by Rabbi Hillel, who lived a generation before him. According to Levine, the debate between two rabbis of that generation, Hillel and Shammai, had a major sway over Jewish thinking in the first century.

To me, there are certainly things that Hillel advocates that Jesus did not, such as easy divorce. However, there seem to be other areas where the two seem more consonant.

Can anyone suggest a good reference for how Hillel might have influenced the world in which Jesus lived?

Consider the source!:)

A better and more correct question is:

Was Hillel influenced by Yahweh God?

Who came first God or Hillel? Which of the two CANNOT error?


#5

[quote="PJM, post:4, topic:336261"]
Consider the source!:)

A better and more correct question is:

Was Hillel influenced by Yahweh God?

Who came first God or Hillel? Which of the two CANNOT error?

[/quote]

The source, Amy-Jill Levine, happens to be an expert in Christian theology and the New Testament. She is Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University and has co-edited the highly praised Jewish Annotated New Testament. Her life story is a very interesting one.


#6

[quote="JRKH, post:3, topic:336261"]
As a Christian it is not possible for me to subscribe to the idea that the Son of God was "influenced" by anyone. If anything, a Christian would say that it was Christ - the "Word of God" - one with the Father - who influenced Hillel - Just as The Word (through the Holy Spirit) influenced every prophet and true spiritual leader from time immemorial.

I can see where someone who is not Christian could make such an assertion - but to a Christian such an assertion simply makes no sense.. IMHO

Peace
James

[/quote]

But wasn't Jesus fully human as well as fully divine. Couldn't He, as a human, have been influenced by other humans? Or is this idea contrary to Christian belief?


#7

[quote="meltzerboy, post:6, topic:336261"]
But wasn't Jesus fully human as well as fully divine. Couldn't He, as a human, have been influenced by other humans? Or is this idea contrary to Christian belief?

[/quote]

My two cents: The idea would seem contrary as Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, exists outside of time as God, the Second Person. In working with the Father's plan of salvation, it would be illogical to have them appear to adjust plans based on their creations, per se, when their divinity allows them to know and have known what to to do before Hellel ever existed. The notion also implies that Jesus and his human nature were simply adjusting the larger plan of the Father as if he thought only *as a human (that is, with imperfect thinking). Jesus *mere existence on Earth demonstrated that the plan was already done and needed only to be implemented. It doesn't seem respectful to suggest that God isn't "smart enough" to come up with good ideas and have to leave it to His creations to come up with one.

Not to pull in the whole "free will" and predestination arguments, but the plan of salvation itself would be a solid one. Jesus did encounter and act to demonstrations of faith that he appeared to otherwise seem neutral. But it may also be that Jesus (being who He is) was testing those who came to Him.


#8

[quote="Spencerian, post:7, topic:336261"]
My two cents: The idea would seem contrary as Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, exists outside of time as God, the Second Person. In working with the Father's plan of salvation, it would be illogical to have them appear to adjust plans based on their creations, per se, when their divinity allows them to know and have known what to to do before Hellel ever existed. The notion also implies that Jesus and his human nature were simply adjusting the larger plan of the Father as if he thought only *as a human (that is, with imperfect thinking). Jesus *mere existence on Earth demonstrated that the plan was already done and needed only to be implemented. It doesn't seem respectful to suggest that God isn't "smart enough" to come up with good ideas and have to leave it to His creations to come up with one.

Not to pull in the whole "free will" and predestination arguments, but the plan of salvation itself would be a solid one. Jesus did encounter and act to demonstrations of faith that he appeared to otherwise seem neutral. But it may also be that Jesus (being who He is) was testing those who came to Him.

[/quote]

We need to be careful about back-casting high Christology when interpreting the life of Jesus (as St. Paul writes in Philippians 2:7, he "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave"). It's clear from the gospels that Jesus was an observant Jew from an observant family. The tassels on his garment are a sign, as are his visits to Jerusalem for various festivals. His parents also did things that observant families did, such as the presentation in the temple and festival observance.

Jesus fit into his time and place, which is one of the human reasons he was so effective as a prophet and teacher. For him to understand the major debates in the Judaism of his day seems obvious to me!


#9

[quote="meltzerboy, post:6, topic:336261"]
But wasn't Jesus fully human as well as fully divine. Couldn't He, as a human, have been influenced by other humans? Or is this idea contrary to Christian belief?

[/quote]

In the context of the OP's question - I would have to say that it IS contrary to Christian belief. (or at least this Christian). The idea that the "incarnate Word of God" would be influenced by another and purely human thinker - even a spiritually inspired thinker - just does not make sense.

Now - this does not mean that Jesus the man could not be influenced by others. Most certainly He could be. He might be influenced by mercy to cure someone or by justice to point out the sins of others...as in His indictment of the Pharisees. These are things that might influence Him to act in a certain way...
But how can one who knows ALL be influenced (in his ideas /teaching) by one who does NOT know all?

I can understand that from the Jewish perspective - seeing Jesus as man and prophet but not God - this can seem foreign.

Peace
James


#10

[quote="JRKH, post:9, topic:336261"]
I can understand that from the Jewish perspective - seeing Jesus as man and prophet but not God - this can seem foreign.

[/quote]

We don't, actually, see him as a prophet.

What Hillel said and how he said it is often useful when somebody talks about Jesus saying new things in new ways - the fact that much of what he said fits into the general dialogue of the time is often surprising to Christians.


#11

[quote="JRKH, post:9, topic:336261"]
In the context of the OP's question - I would have to say that it IS contrary to Christian belief. (or at least this Christian). The idea that the "incarnate Word of God" would be influenced by another and purely human thinker - even a spiritually inspired thinker - just does not make sense.

[/quote]

Again, in performing exegesis, we need to be careful not to back-cast high Christology such as the concept that Jesus on earth (prior to resurrection) was consciously omniscient. Beyond Paul's writings that Jesus "emptied himself and became the form of a slave" (Philippians 2), we have clear scriptural evidence that Jesus was influenced by other human beings. For example, in Luke 2:
"51 He went down with them *(his parents)** and and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man."*
There's also the example of the Canaanite woman, who is the only other major character in the only story in the gospels in which Jesus seems to change his mind. Matthew 15:
"26 He said in reply, 'It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.' 27 She said, 'Please, Lord, for event he dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.' 28 Then Jesus said to her in reply, 'O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you **as you wish.' And her daughter was healed from that hour."
Lastly, there's even the Lord's Prayer, which the Gospel of Luke suggests may not have even originated with Jesus, but with John the Baptist. Luke 11:
'1 He was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray **just as John taught his disciples*.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread 4and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.”'
*
All of these instances show how Jesus was influenced by others -- sometimes in very large and profound ways. Under the tutelage of his parents, he matured and learned. The Canaanite woman episode showed that Jesus also was for the Gentiles. The Lord's Prayer itself is the most profound prayer in all of Christianity. Yet all of them were somehow influenced by others.

Now - this does not mean that Jesus the man could not be influenced by others. Most certainly He could be. He might be influenced by mercy to cure someone or by justice to point out the sins of others...as in His indictment of the Pharisees. These are things that might influence Him to act in a certain way...
But how can one who knows ALL be influenced (in his ideas /teaching) by one who does NOT know all?

Again, we can't back-cast the high Christology of later years onto Jesus as we read his interactions with the world around him. Not that we shouldn't believe in the high Christology, but we also need to view Jesus as fully human as he moved through his ministry. He shows emotions, not just a cool facade of someone who truly fears. In the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11), he is "deeply perturbed and troubled" when Mary of Bethany falls at his feet. In the Agony in the Garden, he asks that the cup be taken from him.

The point made earlier -- of the commonality in how Jesus and Hillel summarized the Torah -- suggests that Jesus grew up in a Jewish milieu. I'd go so far as to say that to take Jesus out of his Jewish context is to misread the Bible! Even the Pontifical Biblical Commission (with a preface by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) report in 1994 said that we can't read the Bible with no reference to the time and place it was written:
"..the very nature of biblical texts means that interpreting them will require continued use of the at least in its principal procedures. The Bible, in effect, does not present itself as a direct revelation of timeless truths but as the written testimony to a series of interventions in which God reveals himself in human history. In a way that differs from tenets of other religions, the message of the Bible is solidly grounded in history. It follows that the biblical writings cannot be correctly understood without an examination of the historical circumstances that shaped them. "


#12

[quote="Kaninchen, post:10, topic:336261"]
We don't, actually, see him as a prophet.

[/quote]

Might you not view him as a rabbi, though? Amy-Jill Levine actually says that the Gospels are one of the best ways to get into a picture of late Second-Temple Judaism!

What Hillel said and how he said it is often useful when somebody talks about Jesus saying new things in new ways - the fact that much of what he said fits into the general dialogue of the time is often surprising to Christians.

To me, that's critically important. To listen to the parables of Jesus without understanding the context of his audience is to miss the full meaning. Likewise, many of his actions have prior cultural reference points (i.e., the cleansing of the temple can be viewed in light of the purification of the temple by Judas Maccabeus that is commemorated at Hanukkah). And even the Last Supper can be viewed as a meal similar to an early seder, at least according to Shaye Cohen of Harvard. What I find most eerie about Jewish and Christian resonances is the afiqoman at a modern passover seder -- the hidden piece of matzah that represents, of all things, the paschal lamb from the time before the temple was destroyed *and *the Messiah. Weeeeeeird -- sounds a lot like what we Catholics believe about our Eucharistic bread. :cool:

I have a copy of the Jewish Annotated New Testament, and to me it's been an invaluable resource in better understanding what Jesus actually said and did!


#13

[quote="fnr, post:12, topic:336261"]
Might you not view him as a rabbi, though? Amy-Jill Levine actually says that the Gospels are one of the best ways to get into a picture of late Second-Temple Judaism!

[/quote]

I've suggested several times here on CAF that he often sounds like another rowing rabbi - part of the great tradition of rabbis rowing (for the sake of it, it often seems). Amy-Jill Levine may well be right but I do have to point out that late Second Temple Judaism is probably of more interest to Christians than Jews - to most of us, it's probably 'sort of interesting' rather than a particular focus.

To me, that's critically important. To listen to the parables of Jesus without understanding the context of his audience is to miss the full meaning. Likewise, many of his actions have prior cultural reference points (i.e., the cleansing of the temple can be viewed in light of the purification of the temple by Judas Maccabeus that is commemorated at Hanukkah). And even the Last Supper can be viewed as a meal similar to an early seder, at least according to Shaye Cohen of Harvard. What I find most eerie about Jewish and Christian resonances is the afiqoman at a modern passover seder -- the hidden piece of matzah that represents, of all things, the paschal lamb from the time before the temple was destroyed *and *the Messiah. Weeeeeeird -- sounds a lot like what we Catholics believe about our Eucharistic bread. :cool:

I think you have to be careful about reading too much into things though - we all do it (I'm particularly prone to reading too much into Sumerian and Egyptian stuff - Judaism as a reformation) but it's a tricky business.

I have a copy of the Jewish Annotated New Testament, and to me it's been an invaluable resource in better understanding what Jesus actually said and did!

I've heard very good reports of it.


#14

I stand corrected.

What Hillel said and how he said it is often useful when somebody talks about Jesus saying new things in new ways - the fact that much of what he said fits into the general dialogue of the time is often surprising to Christians.

I would agree with this. Certainly Jesus would speak in ways that were “current” to the time in which the incarnation took place…the question of the OP was about whether Hillel “influenced” Jesus - and I remain convinced that, from a Christian perspective, it is not possible for Hillel to “influence” Jesus.

If we were to separate Jesus the man from the Spirit of God within Him - just for the sake of clarification - the man aspect of Jesus was completely given over to the Holy Spirit within. The man spoke as the Spirit of God prompted Him…No outside human influence.

Jesus himself instructs the Apostles similarly when he tells tells them not to prepare answers - instead the Holy Spirit will tell them what to say. (Luke 12:11-12)

Peace
James


#15

Jesus quoted the Torah and the prophets. Was he influenced by them as a man? Or as the pre-incarnate Messiah did he inspire them and affirm them?

Was Hillel a prophet of sorts in his lifetime? Was Hillel inspired by the Shekinah of G-d?
Was the pre-incarnate Messiah the Shekinah that led the Israelites through the wilderness as a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night?

Could not other Jewish individuals such as Hillel also have paved the way for the Messiah (in addition to John the Baptist)?

These are a just few questions for those of us of the Christian faith to consider when responding to Amy-Jill Levine’s supposition.


#16

[quote="JMJ91, post:15, topic:336261"]
Jesus quoted the Torah and the prophets. Was he influenced by them as a man? Or as the pre-incarnate Messiah did he inspire them and affirm them?

Was Hillel a prophet of sorts in his lifetime? Was Hillel inspired by the Shekinah of G-d?
Was the pre-incarnate Messiah the Shekinah that led the Israelites through the wilderness as a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night?

Could not other Jewish individuals such as Hillel also have paved the way for the Messiah (in addition to John the Baptist)?

These are a just few questions for those of us of the Christian faith to consider when responding to Amy-Jill Levine's supposition.

[/quote]

:thumbsup:


#17

It is questions like these that bring out the basic differences between those who believe in Jesus, and those who really don't.

Did Hillel influence Jesus? Well, probably, in a secular sense. "Scholars" can argue about it all they want, and get published and get tenure and such.

But for the true believers, it doesn't matter. God meant Jesus to go from point A to point B, and if God had previously set up the life of Hillel to serve that purpose in Jesus' later life, then so be it. It could have been anyone or anything.

You can run the chain back. Well, who influenced Hillel? And who influenced the guy who influence Hillel? And the iterations continue ad infinitum.

God works in mysterious ways. "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Point A to point B.


#18

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.