(A) Primary Sources of History in the early First Century

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In analyzing who controlled the Temple before the war between the Romans and the Jews broke out in 66, the major primary sources are the New Testament and Josephus, and the question of whether the Rabbinic texts that begin with the Mishnah (c. 200 CE) are to be properly accepted as primary sources deserves some initial brief comment. From the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE to the publication of the Mishnah c. 200 CE is 130 years. While the authors of the New Testament were personal witnesses of what they wrote (though Mark and Luke received their information from others who were personal witnesses) and Josephus was a personal witness beginning about the middle of the first century (he was born in 37 CE, but utilized other historians before him, especially Nicolaus of Damascus for events in the second century BCE), the Mishnah was not set into its written form by anyone who was a personal witnesses of events before 70 or who personally knew anyone who was such a personal witness. Except for some relatively few apparent borrowings from the Megillat Taanit (published c. 120), it is not known how the infrequent historical statements in the Mishnah and later Rabbinic texts from before the destruction of the Temple have found their way into those texts.

However, by comparing certain statements in these three sources with one another that relate to authority in Judea during the time sought, and by supplementing this with a few remarks from the Roman historians Tacitus and Trogus, we can make a reasoned evaluation on whether the use of the Mishnah and later Rabbinic texts are reliable as a historical source of events from before 70. In any case, the Mishnah falls short of being a primary source because it was not put into published form close to the time of the events we now seek (before 70 CE), and we have no record of any primary sources that it utilizes except for the Megillat Taanit, which is only a very condensed skeleton of some events, and which was completed c. 120.

Rabbinic texts may have used some primary sources for its historical statements, but this is evaluated in appendix B. In the present discussion our interest lies in which groups of Jews controlled the Temple services, especially during the first century before the war began in 66. The New Testament mentions the high priest, chief priests, Sadducees, Pharisees, and scribes. Josephus mentions these groups also, but adds the Essenes and the zealots. Since the latter two groups are never mentioned in the New Testament, they should be dismissed as candidates for having control of the Temple in the 70 years before its destruction.