Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research

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The Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research is a consortium of Jewish and Christian scholars that study the Synoptic Gospels in light of the historic, linguistic and cultural milieu of Jesus.[1] The beginnings of the collegial relationships that formed the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research can be traced back to a Jewish scholar and a Christian scholar, respectively David Flusser and Robert L. Lindsey in the 1960s.[2] For the past 50 years, ‘Christian scholars fluent in Hebrew and living in the land of Israel have collaborated with Jewish scholars to examine Jesus’ sayings from a Judaic and Hebraic perspective’.


The consortium's own website states three assumptions, shared by its members, namely, "1) the importance of Hebrew language, 2) the relevance of Jewish culture", and 3) the significance of Semitisms underneath sections of the Synoptic Gospels that in turn often yield results to the interconnection (of dependence) between the Synoptic Gospels.[3] (These three assumptions, and not one synoptic theory, are the shared presuppositions of Jerusalem School members.)

The first two assumptions are perhaps not shared by the majority of New Testament scholars, but are neither considered to be fringe positions. Today, the common view is that Jesus and His milieu spoke Aramaic, however that Hebrew was spoken and even important is not unique to the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research.[4] Many more New Testament Scholars worldwide have increasingly affirmed the importance of Jewish culture for the understanding of Jesus. John P. Meier is exemplary of this significant trend when he poignantly criticizes scholarship in the twentieth century that has paid lip service to the 'Jewish Jesus' but has not really fleshed this out, stating that if we do not have a halachic Jesus, we don't have an historical Jesus.[5]

The third assumption of the Jerusalem School basically seems to be concerned with not holding to an assumed-default position of Markan priority. It is especially the third assumption in more individually pronounced forms that has invited a response of the academic community. Some scholars have perceived the Jerusalem School as a group that holds to Lukan Priority.[6] But this perception is incomplete since it is only Robert Lindsey and David Bivin who have argued strongly for Lukan priority. The third methodological assumption of the Jerusalem School is much broader and open, without any one theory being affirmed:

Tracing the linguistic and cultural data within the Synoptic Gospels leads to insights into their literary relationships

The Synoptic Gospels provide linguistic, literary, social, geographical and cultural clues to their internal structure and development. The evangelists composed their works in Greek, yet Semitic idioms are readily evident in all three. The gospels' Greek and Semitic linguistic elements and Jewish cultural items must be identified, carefully traced through the three gospels, and then incorporated into a theory of synoptic relationships."[7]

Many scholars affirm Semitic quality of the Synoptic Gospel material as indicative of earlier material, but how to determine Semitic quality has been hotly debated. Recently this subject of a Hebrew Gospel and Semitic material has been discussed by James R. Edwards (although with somewhat differing results than Jerusalem School members).[8] The most extensive Jerusalem School publication on Semitic material and types of Semitic interference can be found in an extended essay and appendix (critical notes) in Jesus' Last Week (Leiden: Brill, 2006).[9]


Apart from extensive individual publications of the school's members that often reflect the Jerusalem School's approach (some of which are footnoted here),[10] some members have bundled some of their efforts in a joint effort. This combined effort from members of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research resulted in thus far two volumes. The first volume (2006) is Jesus' Last Week: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels — Volume One, edited by R. Steven Notley, Marc Turnage, and Brian Becker.[11][12] The second volume (2014) is The language environment of first century Judaea : Jerusalem studies in the Synoptic Gospels — Volume Two, edited by Buth, R. and Notley.[13][14]

Reactions and criticism[edit]

Both affirmation and strong criticism has come because of a lay-oriented [15] co-authored book Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus[16] by David Bivin and Roy B. Blizzard Jr. which was reviewed by Michael L. Brown. The book itself is not published by the Jerusalem School, and only one of the co-authors is of the Jerusalem School. Yet, Brown not only questioned the work of individual school member David Bivin and co-author Roy Blizzard Jr., but by association also the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research as a whole. Yet, even in his criticism of reconstructing a Hebrew Gospel (of which many Jerusalem School members are skeptical of as well), he affirms three significant points, which dovetail with the methodology—the three assumptions—of the Jerusalem School:

In the event that JSSR devotes its primary efforts to: 1) the sober elucidation of texts which New Testament scholarship recognizes as difficult and obscure; 2) providing Jewish background to the Scriptures; 3) and shedding light on Semitic nuances of biblical words and phrases, then all of us can glean from their work. Should the Jerusalem School continue to devote itself primarily to the hypothetical work of retranslation and reconstruction, then their potential contribution to the ongoing ministry of the Word would be relegated to relative unimportance.[17]

Since the Jerusalem School has not devoted itself primarily to the hypothetical work of REtranslation and reconstruction, the latter criticism is muted. (The Jerusalem School has never attempted to translate the Greek texts into proto-Mishnaic Hebrew in order to thereby declare it to be the reconstructed original Hebrew Gospel. See Lindsey's 'A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark for a translation of Mark' - which is a translation of Mark, not a reconstruction of a supposed original Gospel.)

A further academic description of the Jerusalem School and its methodology and dissemination in the lay and academic field is found in Hebräisches Evangelium und synoptische Überlieferung: Untersuchungen zum hebräischen Hintergrund der Evangelien.[18]

Jesus' Last Week

The recent combined effort of Jerusalem School members in Jesus' Last Week: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels - Volume One, a work clearly catered toward the academic community[19] has received positive reviews, for example by Nina L. Collins[20] in the journal Novum Testamentum. She closed her review by stating that:

This book is a product of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, details of which can be found at There is little doubt that, like the bird cage in Alexandria, this devoted beit knesset of properly equipped scholars has produced a perceptive set of essays, and it will be interesting to see the further insights that future volumes in this series will almost certainly produce.[21]

Other reactions have also been positive, as exemplified by Robert L. Webb's review in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus:

This fascinating collection of essays demonstrates the fruitfulness of ‘collaboration between Jewish and Christian members’ of the School as they continue to study the Synoptic Gospels together. [22]

A mixed review found the overall discussion in the volume to be "stimulating, even provocative from the perspective of current critical Synoptic studies." However, the review contained also some concerns:

While there may be something to Semitic influences, contributors routinely fail to draw the reader’s attention to the speculation necessarily involved with it as a working methodological assumption. Furthermore, the contributors do not seem to engage with much critical reflection on the scholarly discussion on Semitic influences, background, or interfaces with the Synoptic texts as we have them in Greek, even finding wordplays and strings of linguistic connections based on alleged Semitic originals, which we do not have. There seems to be a prevailing assumption that “taking seriously” the trilingual context of Jesus’ setting and that of the Synoptics itself mandates a Semitic Vorlage.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research. Retrieved 05 Nov. 2006
  2. ^ "A Tribute to Robert L. Lindsey, Ph. D. (1917-1995) and his work...:Excerpt from November 1996 Tree of Life Quarterly Membership Magazine", HaY'Did. Retrieved 05 Nov. 2006. [1]
  3. ^ "Methodology." Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research. Retrieved 26 Sep. 2009. [2]
  4. ^ As early as the beginning of the 20th century, we already have: Moses Hirsch Segal Mishnaic Hebrew and Its Relation to Biblical Hebrew and to Aramaic. A Grammatical Study ... Reprinted from the Jewish Quarterly Review for July Horace Hart: Oxford, 1909.
  5. ^ Meier "rejects a major academic failure of Jesus research: mouthing respect for Jesus' Jewishness while avoiding like the plague the beating heart of that Jewishness: the Torah in all its complexity. However bewildering the positions Jesus sometimes takes, he emerges from this volume as a Palestinian Jew engaged in the legal discussions and debates proper to his time and place. It is Torah and Torah alone that puts flesh and bones on the spectral figure of "Jesus the Jew." No halakic Jesus, no historical Jesus. This is the reason why many American books on the historical Jesus may be dismissed out of hand: their presentation of lst-century Judaism and especially of Jewish Law is either missing in action or so hopelessly skewed that it renders any portrait of Jesus the Jew distorted from the start. It is odd that it has taken American scholarship so long to absorb this basic insight: either one takes Jewish Law seriously and "gets it right" or one should abandon the quest for the historical Jesus entirely.....The patient reader of Volume Four of A Marginal Jew may at this juncture be sick unto death of the mantra, 'the historical Jesus is the halakic Jesus.' But at least such readers have been inoculated for life against the virus that induces legal amnesia in most Americans writing on Jesus. The halakic dimension of the historical Jesus is never exciting but always essential." John P. Meier, "Conclusion to Volume Four" in A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume IV: Law and Love, (The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library: Yale University Press, 2009), 648 and 649.
  6. ^ Among others: Delbert Royce Burkett, Rethinking the Gospel sources: from proto-Mark to Mark, T&T Clark: NY, 4. Beate Ego,Armin Lange,Peter Pilhofer, Gemeinde ohne Tempel /Community without Temple, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, Mohr Siebeck: Tubingen, 462n2
  7. ^
  8. ^ James R. Edwards, The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.
  9. ^ Randall Buth and Brian Kvasnica. "Temple Authorities and Tithe-Evasion: The Linguistic Background and Impact of the Parable of the Vineyard Tenants and the Son." Pages 53-80 (essay), 259-317 (Critical Notes) in Jesus' Last Week: Jerusalem Studies on the Synoptic Gospels, Volume 1. Edited by R. S. Notley, B. Becker, and M. Turnage. Jewish and Christian Perspectives 11. Leiden: Brill, 2006.
  10. ^ For a collected bibliography on David Flusser see Malcolm Lowe, "Bibliography of the Writings of David Flusser." Immanuel 24/25 (1990): 292-305. For collected bibliography on Robert L. Lindsey see David Bivin, "The Writings of Robert L. Linsdey" on The list of members' publications is extensive. Here are a just a few recent representative works: --- Randall Buth, "A Hebraic approach to Luke and the resurrection accounts: still needing to re-do Dalman and Moulton." Pages 293-316 in Grammatica intellectio Scripturae; saggi filologici di Greco biblico in onore di Lino Cignelli OFM. A cura di Rosario Pierri. Edited by Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 2006. --- Weston W. Fields. The Dead Sea Scrolls, A Full History, Vol. 1 (600 pp., with photos), (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009). --- Yair Furstenberg, "Defilement penetrating the body: a new understanding of contamination in Mark 7.15." New Testament Studies 54, no. 2 (2008): 176-200. --- Brian Kvasnica, "Shifts in Israelite War Ethics and Early Jewish Historiography of Plundering." Pages 175-96 in Writing and Reading War Rhetoric, Gender, and Ethics in Biblical and Modern Contexts.Edited by Brad E. Kelle and Frank R. Ames. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008. --- Daniel A. Machiela, The Dead Sea Genesis Apocryphon: A New Text and Translation with Introduction and Special Treatment of Columns 13-17, Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah, 79. Leiden: Brill, 2009. --- R. Steven Notley, "The Sea of Galilee: Development of an Early Christian Toponym." Journal of Biblical Literature 128, no. 2 (2009): 183-88. --- R. Steven Notley, "Jesus' Jewish Hermeneutical Method in the Nazareth Synagogue." Pages 46-59 in Early Christian Literature and Intertextuality; Volume 2: Exegetical Studies. Edited by C. A. Evans and H. D. Zacharias. London: T&T Clark, 2009. --- Serge Ruzer, "Son of God as Son of David: Luke's attempt to biblicize a problematic notion." Pages 321-52 in Babel und Bibel 3. Annual of ancient Near Eastern, Old Testament, and Semitic studies. Edited by Kogan Leonid. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2006. --- Serge Ruzer, Mapping the New Testament: Early Christian Writings as a Witness for Jewish Biblical Exegesis, Jewish and Christian Perspectives Series, 13. Leiden: Brill, 2007. --- Serge Ruzer, "The Historical Jesus in Recent Israeli Research." Pages 315-41 in Le Jésus historique à travers le monde = The historical Jesus around the world. Ed. by C. Boyer and G. Rochais. Héritage et projet; 75. Montréal: Fides, 2009. --- Brian Schultz, "Jesus as Archelaus in the Parable of the Pounds (Lk. 19:11-27)." Novum Testamentum 49 (2007): 105-27. --- Brad H. Young, Meet the Rabbis: Rabbinic Thought and the Teachings of Jesus. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007.
  11. ^ Jesus' Last Week, edited by R. Steven Notley, Marc Turnage, and Brian Becker. Vol 1. Leiden: Brill, 2006.
  12. ^ Accessed from Table of Contents: David Flusser, "The Synagogue and the Church in the Synoptic Gospels" 17-40 • Shmuel Safrai, "Literary Languages in the Time of Jesus" 41-52 • Randall Buth and Brian Kvasnica, "Temple Authorities and Tithe-Evasion: The Parable of the Vineyard, the Tenants and the Son" 53-80 • Serge Ruzer, "The Double Love Precept in the New Testament and the Rule of the Community" 81-106 • Steven Notley "Learn the Lesson of the Fig Tree" 107-120 • Steven Notley, "Eschatological Thinking of the Dead Sea Sect and the Order of the Christian Eucharist" 121-138 • Marc Turnage, "Jesus and Caiaphas: An Intertextual-Literary Evaluation." 139-168 • Chana Safrai, "The Kingdom of God and Study of Torah" 169-190 • Brad Young, "The Cross and the Jewish People" 191- 210 • David Bivin, "Evidence of an Editor's Hand in Two Instances of Mark's Account of Jesus' Last Week" 211-224 • Shmuel Safrai, "Early Testimonies in the New Testament Laws and Practices Relating to Pilgrimage and Pesah" 225-244 • Hanan Eshel, "Use of the Hebrew Language in Economic Documents from the Judaean Desert" 245-258 • Randall Buth and Brian Kvasnica, "Appendix: Critical Notes on the VTS" (=Temple Authorities and Tithe-Evasion: The Parable of the Vineyard, the Tenants and the Son)259-317.
  13. ^ Buth, R. and Notley, R.S. (2014) The language environment of first century Judaea : Jerusalem studies in the Synoptic Gospels. Leiden: Brill. (Jewish and Christian perspectives series, 26)
  14. ^ The articles in this collection demonstrate that a change is taking place in New Testament studies. Throughout the twentieth century, New Testament scholarship primarily worked under the assumption that only two languages, Aramaic and Greek, were in common use in the land of Israel in the first century. The current contributors investigate various areas where increasing linguistic data and changing perspectives have moved Hebrew out of a restricted, marginal status within first-century language use and the impact on New Testament studies. Five articles relate to the general sociolinguistic situation in the land of Israel during the first century, while three articles present literary studies that interact with the language background. The final three contributions demonstrate the impact this new understanding has on the reading of Gospel texts. Table of contents Introduction: Language Issues Are Important for Gospel Studies Sociolinguistic Issues In a Trilingual Framework 1. Guido Baltes, “The Origins of the “Exclusive Aramaic Model.” 2. Guido Baltes, “The Use of Hebrew and Aramaic.” 3. Randall Buth and Chad T. Pierce, “Hebraisti” 4. Marc Turnage, “The Linguistic Ethos of Galilee” 5. Serge Ruzer, “Syriac Authors” Literary Issues In a Trilingual Framework 6. Daniel A. Machiela, “Hebrew, Aramaic Translation” 7. Randall Buth, “Distinguishing Hebrew from Aramaic.” 8. R. Steven Notley, “Non-LXXisms” Reading Gospel Texts in a Trilingual Framework 9. R. Steven Notley and Jeffrey P. Garcia “Hebrew-Only Exegesis” 10. David N. Bivin, “Petros, Petra” 11. Randall Buth, “The Riddle” (accessed 04/02/2014 from
  15. ^ This book is evidently catered toward the lay audience, because of its style, incidental footnotes and type of publisher. It probably received nevertheless a review from Brown, because of its unique character and impact in its time of publication.
  16. ^ David Bivin and Roy B. Blizzard Jr. Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 1994.
  17. ^ Michael L. Brown "The Issue of the Inspired Text: A Rejoinder to David Bivin" in Mishkan, Isso No. 20, 63.
  18. ^ Baltes, Guido. Hebräisches Evangelium und synoptische Überlieferung: Untersuchungen zum hebräischen Hintergrund der Evangelien. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011, 65-67.
  19. ^ This book is evidently catered toward the academic community, because of its style, abundance of footnotes and type of publisher. The review by Collins published in Nova Testamentum supports the academic nature.
  20. ^ Nina Collins is a British widely published scholar in the fields of Judaism and Christianity.
  21. ^ Collins, Nina L. "Review: R. Steven Notley, Marc Turnage, and Brian Becker, eds., Jesus' Last Week: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels - Volume One." NovT 49/4 (2007) 407-409.
  22. ^ Robert L. Webb, McMaster University, in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, Jan2007, Vol. 5 Issue 1
  23. ^ Daniel M. Gurtner, "Review: R. Steven Notley, Marc Turnage, and Brian Becker, eds., Jesus' Last Week: Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels - Volume One." Review of Biblical Literature feb (2011).