A 1st-Century Jewish Sage:
The Life and Teachings of Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah
“SINCE Rabbi Joshua died, good counsel has ceased in Israel” (Sotah 49b). This was a contemporary opinion of the value of Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah’s leadership and the effect of his death on the Jewish people.
Born in Pontius Pilate’s procuratorship, he lived under thirteen emperors, some crazier than others, but almost all of them gods in their own eyes: Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vittellius, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, Narva, Trajan, and Hadrian. A competent Greek scholar, he knew not only his own people but their enemies. He may well have realized how vulnerable the Roman Empire was to concerted attack, for not only the Jews but the Parthians and the German barbarians were watching for an opportune time to strike. Yet Joshua struggled with the people against the temptation to revolt. He belonged to a school founded by Hillel, which taught that the public good must be considered in terms of the misery or happiness of individuals. The Hillelite motto, “Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 24:14), amounted in the present context to the preaching of non-resistance, and Joshua declared himself for peace when the provocation to take up arms was almost irresistible. He gained the title of “good counselor” and, indeed, no one so truly translated into everyday action Hillel’s humanitarian principles. He was an enemy of foolish piety, of hypocrisy, of visionary fanatics who tried to negate the values of this world by harping on the next. He opposed the imposition of additional ceremonial and legal burdens because the people might find them hard to bear. He did not, however, attempt to make life easier for himself.
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