October 17, 2008

Annas & Gamaliel

By my personal count, 20% of the entire New Testament tells us about the events of 33 AD. Of course, the Gospels in 33 all focus on events before Pentecost, while Acts picks up with events from Pentecost and after. So – for one thing – we never think of Annas the High Priest and Gamaliel the Pharisee serving on the Sanhedrin together, even though we know they did.

It's a fascinating contrast. Here’s Annas the wealthy Sadducee, jockeying for power and keeping it, through his sons, for nearly all of 30 years. Meanwhile, Gamaliel spends that entire time just like his mentor Hillel – almost entirely away from the pages of history but famously devoted to the study and teaching of God’s Law.

Christians tend to like Gamaliel because he stood up for God’s will after Pentecost. Also, we know he was Paul’s teacher. But we never think of Gamaliel being on the same Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus! And long-term, we never think of Gamaliel being around since 10 AD or so, which is about when his mentor Hillel retired (or died). For another thing, I just realized how interesting it is that Hillel’s protégé outlasted him by over 23 years. If Gamaliel was the top Rabbi of all Hillel’s following from the year 10 onward, then he probably sat on the Sanhedrin for all those years, not just in 33 AD.

I seriously doubt Annas would have minded. On the contrary, Hillel and Gamaliel were both so laissez faire about politics and events, they were probably the model Pharisees any politically minded chief Sadducee would naturally prefer to have as head of the minority party in Jerusalem’s Council. All of which leads me to one more fascinating consideration:

Was it Gamaliel’s providential attitude that helped him survive in that mix with such prestige for so long? Or was it the need to survive under Annas (& his sons) that helped Gamaliel hold onto that attitude? With no disrespect at all to the laudible law-lover, I’d have to guess it was at least a little of both.

What else can we glean by considering Annas & Gamaliel togther, from 10 to 33 AD?

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