I’ve been doing a little bit of reading for my class on NT backgrounds. I’ve started reading the Mishnah tractate Sanhedrin; i.e. the laws and sayings concerning the court and legal cases. (The Mishnah was compiled around AD 200, but likely reflects long standing tradition)
This law is in the context of deciding who would be a fit witness in a civil case concerning property. Those involved in the case can refuse to admit the other’s witness on the grounds that they are kinsfolk or ineligible. This section outlines what would be deemed an ineligible witness.
3. And these are they which are not qualified [to be witnesses or
judges]: a dice-player, a usurer, pigeon-flyers, or traffickers in Seventh Year produce.1 2 R. Simeon said: Beforetime they used to call them ‘gatherers3 of Seventh Year produce’, but after oppressors4 grew many they changed this and called them5 ‘traffickers in Seventh Year produce.’ R. Judah said: This applies only if they have none other trade, but if they have some other trade than that they are not disqualified.
1 All footnotes are from Danby’s 1933 Edition, p. 385
2 When all crops were deemed ownerless property and free to all. Lev. 25:1ff.
3 i.e. who did not let their fields lie fallow.
4 Tax-gatherers, who exacted dues even in the Seventh Year
5 This category of ineligible witnesses and judges.
This little bit illumines some of the possible interpretive pitfalls the gospels may have been trying to avoid, (or possibly confront); this may be why we have no gospel written by James, Jesus’ brother, and yet it also makes one wonder about Matthew. Was he trustworthy? He may have made a case for his legitimacy as a witness in outlining his abandoning his work as a tax-collector.
Overall, this is interesting to me because I am curious what sort of criteria of testimony our gospel writers might be conforming to. I am particularly interested in why John has in mind about his own gospel, especially give his heavy handed use of “testimony,” “witness,” and “truth” themes.
At the end of the day, I’m just glad my pigeon-flying days are behind me