Saturday, March 27, 2004

Scholar says Pharisees got a 'bum rap' (Staten Island Advance)
Jesus shared a great deal in common with the Pharisees, including his teaching style and belief in an afterlife
Saturday, March 27, 2004


Still, the view of Pharisees and their Jewish followers as Christ-killers has helped perpetuate nearly 2,000 years of anti-Semitism. As Easter approaches, many Christians will reflect on Jesus' ministry and sacrifice. This might be a good time to rethink the Pharisees' image as the conniving bad guys of the New Testament.

In truth, the Pharisees get "a bum rap," says Thomas Smith, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Loyola University in New Orleans and an early church historian.


"The Pharisees," he said, "were a major component of the 'glue' that held Judaism together after ... the destruction of the Temple" (in A.D. 70). Indeed, the Pharisees were the predecessors of the modern rabbis.

They were in the lineage of scribes who first came to prominence at the end of the Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C., Smith said. They focused on careful interpretation of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and in finding ways to make it applicable to everyday life.

By Jesus' day, the Pharisees had introduced two concepts into Jewish thinking, said Rabbi David Kline of Temple B'nai Israel, a Reform synagogue in Monroe, La. Kline also teaches biblical studies at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

The first was an oral tradition to complement the Torah. This tradition would ultimately form the foundation of the Talmud, a multi-volume Jewish sacred text. The second idea was even more revolutionary -- a belief in an afterlife.

The Pharisees didn't introduce the idea of an afterlife � this is an old concept even if it wasn't very important in ancient Israel - but they did help to popularize it.
[The Rev. Pat] Madden said the Pharisees enjoyed argument, and it's quite conceivable they would have debated at length with Jesus over interpretations of the law.

But he suggested that the Gospels used the Pharisees mostly as foils for Jesus, narrative devices to provide a counterpoint to his teachings.

Amy-Jill Levine, a professor of New Testament studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn., agrees.

"For a modern, albeit inexact, analogy: The New Testament's depiction of Pharisees is much like the depiction of very liberal Democrats by very conservative Republicans, or vice versa," she said. "Some Pharisees were hypocrites, as, of course, were some Christians; others were not."

The rest of the article looks pretty good, although I don't think that Jesus himself being a Pharisee is a realistic possibility.

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