Glossary to the Magazine
Ark of the Covenant – The Lord instructed Moses to construct the Ark of the Covenant after the Exodus. It was the most sacred religious artifact of the Hebrew people and represented the presence of God in the earth. It was considered so holy that for an unauthorized person to touch it, even accidentally, was sacrilege, punishable by death. See 2 Samuel 6:6. The Ark was apparently captured when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC and nothing is known for certain of its later history.
Gentiles – When God appeared to Abraham, he cut a covenant with him, distinguishing him from all other peoples. Abraham’s family subsequently became known as “Jews,” and the rest of the world were “Gentiles.”
Messiah – The Hebrew word literally means “anointed one.” In Greek this translates to Christos as in a title, not a surname. See John 1:41 (“We have found the Messiah” (which is translated “Anointed” or “Christ”).
Pharisees – Pharisees were an unofficial Jewish group that arose sometime before Christ was born. Their aim was to purify Israel through an intensified observance of Israel’s law, the Torah. In this, they developed their own traditions about the precise meanings and application of holy scripture. Although not all legal experts were Pharisees, most Pharisees were legal experts. In the Gospels, the Pharisees represent part of Israel’s ruling class.
Sadducees – The Sadducees were the aristocratic class of Judaism, probably tracing their origins to the family of Zadok, David’s high priest. They resisted the pressures of the Pharisees and claimed to rely exclusively on the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), and denied any teachings or doctrines of a resurrection, presumably because they cut against birth right.
Scribes – Scribes constituted a trained class of writers who performed important functions such as drawing up contracts for business, marriage, etc. In a world where most of the population could not write, they were viewed as experts in Israel’s Law and traditions.
Torah – “Torah” literally means the “teaching.” Israel’s Torah, narrowly construed, consists of just the Pentateuch, but many of the writers of the New Testament used the term to refer to the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. The Torah is what gave the children of Israel their identity with YHWH.
YHWH – The ancient name for God, from at least Exodus 6.2 It is known as the tetragrammaton and was considered too holy to speak alound, except for the high priest once a year in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. When Jews would read from the Torah, they would say Adonai, “Lord,” in place of the name. The word YHWH itself stems from the Hebrew verb “to be,” conflating ‘I am who I am,”I will be who I will be,” with “I am because I am,” which emphasizes YHWH’s otherworldly existence and sovereign power.