First Century Jewish Rabbis & Disciples

According to some scholars, Jesus was considered a rabbi in his own time.

According to some scholars, Jesus was considered a rabbi in his own time.

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by Contributing Writer

The first century was a tumultuous time for Judaism. Discontent with Roman rule existed throughout the century, and it eventually gave way to rebellion. The Romans crushed the rebellion in A.D. 70, destroying and desecrating the sacred temple of Judaism in the process. This event had a lasting impact on Judaism. From this point on, Judaism was no longer about sacrifices and temple rites, but revolved around local synagogues and the wisdom of rabbis and their disciples.


Rabbi Hillel, who died in the year 10, was a giant of Jewish rabbinic history. Hillel founded a school of thought that bears his name to this day, and he was known for his peaceful nature and his belief that knowledge informs morality. Hillel summarized the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, with the words "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor." Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was Hillel's most notable disciple, continuing the tradition of Jewish scholarship after the destruction of the temple.


Shammai was a contemporary of Hillel, dying in the year 30, and his fame is due to opposing Hillel and his school of thought. Shammai would be considered a fundamentalist, in today's language, teaching a rigid interpretation of the Torah and the separation of Jews and Gentiles. He was a fiercer opponent of the Romans than Hillel, who was a moderate and open to discussion with Gentiles. Shammai's disciples were even more rigid than their master; according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, only the gentle nature of Hillel's disciples prevented violent conflict between the two factions.


Rabbi Akiva, who lived in the last half of the first century, is considered one of the greatest rabbis in history. The Talmud compares him to Moses, and he achieved this status despite two notable handicaps -- the social stigma of coming from a family of converts, and spending the first 40 years of his life as an illiterate. Rabbi Akiva studied the Torah at the urging of his wife, and he eventually opened up his own Jewish school. Akiva continued to preach the Torah after Judaism was outlawed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and he was eventually executed.


For the all the animosity between Jews and Christians throughout the centuries, it is forgotten as some scholars point out that Jesus was considered a rabbi in his own time. Jesus is continually addressed as "rabbi" in the Gospels, and he was viewed as a Jewish teacher in his own time. While Jesus did not have an official school like Hillel, he continually spoke with great knowledge of Jewish Scripture. One of Jesus' disciples, Paul, was also a rabbi, and he significantly shaped Christianity as it is known today.

About the Author

Michael Brenner has been a writer for almost 10 years for various outlets including the "Chicago Tribune," "St. Louis Post-Dispatch," other newspapers and various business websites. He holds two master's degrees from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in the areas of interfaith relations and world religions.

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