Friday, December 19, 2014

More On Sadducees & Pharisees

Patrick Sullivan writes: "I thought I already commented here but it must not have uploaded. I had trouble trying to comment on your blog.

I have read about how after the destruction of the temple Judaism went from being temple- and sacrifice-centered to bring rabbinical, prayer- and synagogue-centered; so the latter is I take it continuous with pharisaic tradition.

I didn't realize there were such great differences in terms of religious faith between these parties.

Why in the gospels are the Pharisees mentioned in a contemptuous tone? This is how I seem to remember it, though I should probably reread them on this point.

But maybe it's just that the Pharisees argued publicly and the Sadducees did not, not that he had a problem with the Pharisees as such, but rather all people who had not heard the gospel."

One of the greatest archeological discoveries of all times, and one of the most significant for biblical studies, was the Dead Sea Scrolls. One of the biggest reasons for this significance is that the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal a highly diverse, very sectarian First Century Judaism. Judaism was more like a religious movement, than one cohesive religion. The Sadducees and Pharisees were often politically aligned when it came to collusion with the Romans, though they didn't like each other much and vied for power. They were very far apart on many, many issues.

The Pharisees play a more prominent role in part just for the reason Patrick thinks. They were seeking to reform all of Judaism, which eventually they did when Rabbinical Judaism took root (which Patrick rightly mentions or surmises was just an out-growth of Pharasaism). Sadducees liked to engage in debates and arguments, too, but their activity was more restricted to Jerusalem. They didn't have much influence outside of the city, whereas Pharisees could be found all over the place (though they may not have been very numerous in the overall).

Additionally, it is important to remember that when the Gospels are written, there is still no such thing as "Christianity". Christianity is just a branch of Judaism, one of only two to survive the Temple's destruction... the other was Pharasaism. So the Pharisees were likely competitors for believers, and many scholars believe the Gospel of Matthew is actually written by a community that is all but across the street from one run by Pharisees. Much of the conversation with Pharisees by Jesus is probably partly an ongoing conversation between late first century Jesus-followers and the communities that are growing out of the Pharasaical tradition.

There is, however, another reason why the Pharisees are so prominent as Gospel antagonists. Jesus' teachings often are very similar to Pharsaical teachings, on a number of levels. He 'binds and looses' the law (The Sermon on the Mount....Jesus makes some laws more stringent and others less important, see also Matthew 18:18). And He has a wide view of scripture (quoting liberally from Wisdom traditions, the Historical Books and especially the prophets). Finally, He believes VERY strongly in the Resurrection of the Dead, the devil, and in reforming all of Judaism...maybe even the entire world. What he seems to object to is the issues the Pharisees emphasized (like the Sabbath, Matthew 12:1-13) and the tendency to apply ALL priestly laws to ALL people (Matthew 15:1-20).

However the similarities between the Pharisees and Jesus are stronger than the differences. The point being that some scholars believe that Jesus Himself WAS a Pharisee. Not just a part of the pharisaical movement, but a trained Pharisee, which was about like having a Harvard education in the Torah. He may have been a leader in the group, who turned against the others on a few important points. So his arguments with Pharisees may stem from his relationship with them. The attacks on the Pharisees, then, are a form of self-criticism from within the group. They are not an 'other' Jesus is attacking. They are His own movement He is criticizing. This would be akin to Martin Luther's situation before he came to the conclusion that schism was the only option.

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