There is an existing question asking about what language Jesus spoke.

This question is well worded. But it's not hermeneutics and it's not exegesis. Furthermore, it's not regarding historic interpretation as we've already determined is on topic, but rather history itself.

There's no doubt that history is important to the exegesis of text (given that historical/cultural analysis is one of the methods of hermeneutics). But does that mean that historical questions or questions of the culture of that time are on topic?

It's worth noting that these types of questions won't be valid on History.SE, since they are not in regards Geo-Political History, but in regards to the Bible and the historical context in which it was written. –  Richard Nov 15 '11 at 20:20

3 Answers 3

I have been waiting for someone else to post a "Yes, they're on topic, within reason" answer, but it seems that no one has. So...

Yes, Within Reason

When people are seeking to interpret a passage of scripture using the grammatical-historical method, they need the historical context in order to do that. This site should be a place that allows them to ask questions regarding that historical context, provided they show that the question is related to the understanding of scripture.

Historical questions that do not relate to the understanding of scripture should be closed as off-topic, since they're not beneficial for biblical exegesis.


  • "Why was Herod appointed to the Israel district?" would be off topic unless the asker showed how it would benefit the understanding of a specific passage.

  • "What was the primary language at the time of the New Testament?" would help understand why some passages were in Aramaic while some were in Hebrew.

  • "How large was the Roman Empire during the NT times?" would be off topic, without substantial connection to Biblical understanding.

  • "Did Jesus, as a rabbi, have legal authority to cleanse the temple?" could be beneficial to explain the reaction of the sanhedrin.


Questions that are purely about historical context without relation to a text are not hermeneutics and should not be on-topic. This is not History.SE.

However the question you note could easily be re-written to include a hermeneutical aspect of the text it is found in and how and why that bit of the text varies from it's surroundings.

Do you have any suggestions I could try out? –  Jon Ericson Oct 11 '11 at 23:14
@JonEricson It looks like you may have already gotten it. My comments were based on the original version of the question. I think to be an exemplary question instead of just a passably on-topic one it could be further worded to be more about that bit of text in context and why it uses the language it does. Eventually your (excellent) answer would become not-an-answer because it answers a question about the historical figure of Jesus not about a text that is either hermeneutics or exegesis. I think this question is better suited for C.SE in the first place and your answer would be great there. –  Caleb Oct 11 '11 at 23:20
Thanks for the compliments. I've (unjustly) avoided the Christianity site, but if the question got moved there I wouldn't be broken up about it. –  Jon Ericson Oct 11 '11 at 23:29

Well... I guess I wouldn't recommend asking a question the way that I did. ;-)

Likely many of the questions we'll see here are of the "What the heck does this mean?" sort. Hopefully there will be a little bit of elaboration to point to what the asker fails to grok, but the essence will remain: "I'm confused. Help me out." In these cases, the answer might depend on extensive historical background, but there's no way for the asker to know that. So telling them, "We won't answer your question because it's really about historical context" seems a bit unfair and unreasonable.

Take for instance, my question on Jeremiah 31. Until I read Amichai's excellent answer, I would not have guessed that the word "encircled" could have a courtship connotation. Further, while I did know some of the historical context of Jeremiah that was required for the answer, we can't expect every question to be from people who already know the history of the text they are asking about.

On the question in question, it has genetic problems. I went about asking the question all wrong, but I think after some work, it's not so bad. It's not great as it boils down to "I don't get this" rather than a really well considered question that hasn't yet been resolved. I'd appreciate further suggestions to get it whipped into shape, but I think it now fits on the site more or less.


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