Jesus’ Table Fellowship with “Toll Collectors and Sinners”

Questioning the Alleged Purity Implications

in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus
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Jesus’ attitude towards purity practices is a hotly debated issue. The majority of scholars argue that Jesus challenged purity halakhah in some way. One of the proofs cited to support the position that Jesus allegedly disregarded purity laws is that he ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” Whereas purity concerns are not explicit on the story level in the texts, many scholars still find Jesus’ actions contradictory to the norms. This paper discusses if purity plays a part, and if so how, in Jesus’ sharing meals with people considered sinners. As I will show, purity concerns only play a minor role in Jesus’ meal practice and there is nothing in his behaviour that indicates that he somehow challenged purity norms, only social norms.

Jesus’ Table Fellowship with “Toll Collectors and Sinners”

Questioning the Alleged Purity Implications

in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus




Thomas KazenJesus and Purity Halakhah: Was Jesus Indifferent to Impurity? (Coniectanea Biblica New Testament Series 38; Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International2002). Dunn “Jesus and Purity” p. 461. At the same time Dunn criticises Kazen for not engaging in the questions of purity in connection to meals; p. 465 n.74


Dunn“Jesus and Purity” p. 465. His references to the Dead Sea Scrolls (1qs 6–7; 1qsa 2:3–10) are unprecise. It remains unclear why Dunn refers to 1qsa 2:3–10 where no purity terminology appears. In addition the specific meal described in 1qs 6:4–6 does not allude to purity in any way; see Charlotte Hempel “Who Is Making Dinner at Qumran?” jts 63/1 (2012) pp. 49–65.


The first quote is from Dunn“Jesus and Purity” p. 461 and the second from Dunn Christianity in the Making p. 603.


Fletcher-Louis“Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah” p. 65.


Jonathan KlawansImpurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press2000).


Blomberg“Authenticity and Significance” p. 219.


Joachim JeremiasJerusalem in the Time of Jesus (trans. F. H. and C. H. Cave; Philadelphia: Fortress Press1969). See b. San. 25b


KlawansImpurity and Sin p. 109. He refers to t. Demai 3:4 and b. Bekh. 31a (p. 202 n.108). Fritz Herrenbrück argues the disparaging expression “sinners and tax collectors” should rather be read as one group i.e. the sinful tax collectors: “In der Formel (oἱ) τελῶναι καὶ ἁμαρτωλoὶ ist daher das και am besten epexegetisch aufzufassen. Das Ausdruck meint somit ‘die sündigen Zöllner‘ und bedeutet deshalb nichts anderes als die Wendung in Lk 197: ἁμαρτωλὸς ανήρ” (italics original; Luke 19:7 concerns Zacchaeus). Fritz Herrenbrück Jesus und die Zöllner: historische und neutestamentlich-exegetische Untersuchungen (wunt 2. Reihe 41; Tübingen: Mohr 1990) pp. 230–31. He traces the formula in turn to the Pharisees who saw them as their rivals. This part of his thesis has rightly been criticised e.g. Douglas Oakman notices “H[errenbrück] does not carry the Egyptian analogy through consistently for Palestine. For Egypt H. identifies the burdensome taxation system as grounds for hatred of the telōnai (p. 157). For Palestine and for the Jesus tradition Pharisaic ‘religious’ views of telōnai become the dominant framework (p. 234).” Douglas E. Oakman “Jesus Und Die Zöllner: Historische Und Neutestamentlich-Exegetische Untersuchungen” cbq 55/1 (1993) pp. 157–58.


Blomberg“Authenticity and Significance” p. 228. He refers to m. Toh. 7:6.


Sanders“Jesus and the Sinners” pp. 31–48.


Sanders“Jesus and the Sinners” p. 34.


Sanders“Jesus and the Sinners” p. 37.


Sanders“Jesus and the Sinners” p. 52.


CrossleyWhy Christianity Happened p. 87.


Donahue“Tax Collectors and Sinners” p. 58.


In agreement with CrossleyWhy Christianity Happened p. 89. In contrast Dunn claims that “sinners” denotes those who did not live up to the Pharisaic standard i.e. they were lawbreakers from the point of view of the Pharisees. Dunn “Pharisees Sinners and Jesus” p. 279.


KazenJesus and Purity Halakhah pp. 200–62. E.g. Kazen points to the punishment of Miriam in the form of scale disease (Num 12:9–15). Jay Sklar explains that the sacrifices were needed for people purifying from major impurities both for cleansing and atonement from sin. Through their defilement they had inadvertently polluted the sanctuary (Lev 16:16) which is a sin. חטאת sacrifices removed both ritual impurity and moral offences. Jay Sklar “Sin and Impurity: Atoned and Purified? Yes” in B. J. Schwartz et al. (eds.) Perspectives on Purity and Purification in the Bible (Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 474; New York: T & T Clark 2008) pp. 18–31.


KlawansImpurity and Sin pp. 26–31.


KlawansImpurity and Sin p. 34.


Blomberg“Authenticity and Significance” p. 229. For this point he refers to a quote by Joel Marcus “Jesus is not defiled by his contact with impurity but instead vanquishes it through the eschatological power active in him.” See Joel Marcus Mark 1–8 (Anchor Bible 27; New York: Doubleday 2000) p. 231.


KlawansImpurity and Sin pp. 34–36.


KlawansImpurity and Sin pp. 67–91.


KlawansImpurity and Sin pp. 43–46.


KlawansImpurity and Sin pp. 46–48.


 See discussion by KlawansImpurity and Sin pp. 52–59. In cd 5:6–11 possibly three sexual transgressions are listed that defile the sanctuary: not separating (from Gentiles?) sleeping with a menstruant and incest through uncle-niece marriages.


HaberThey Shall Purify Themselves p. 98.


TaylorThe Immerser p. 81.


Blomberg“Authenticity and Significance” p. 231. Dunn “Jesus and Purity” p. 465.


SandersJudaism p. 221.


Cecilia Wassen“The Jewishness of Jesus” pp. 11–36.

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