Pharisees, Origins of Christianity, Dr. Kyle Harper (2014)

Pharisees, Origins of Christianity, Dr. Kyle Harper (2014)


It is somewhat easier, but still
challenging, to reconstruct the nature and the beliefs of Pharisees, but it helps
that we have the writings of two of them that we
know quite well. Josephus and Paul – Christian Apostle Paul is a Pharisee. He tells us that he’s a Pharisee. [someone] is a Pharisee and it is to be borne in mind when you read
his histories that he is knowledgeable about Phariseeism, and favorable towards the Pharisees. The Pharisees are a
broad and extremely powerful group. They have a much more grassroots power
structure, not a narrow aristocratic elite like the Sadducees –
but an influential movement. The Sadducees fear the Pharisees and compete with the Pharisees. The Hasmoneans: herod and the Romans alike, will seek the favor the Pharisees. There is a temptation, which is inevitable, to see the Pharisees as the predecessors of rabbis. Sort of proto-rabbis. What does rabbi mean?
It just means ‘teacher’ – and what does Mary Magdalene call Jesus in the Gospel of John when she sees a resurrected? “my teacher” – “Rabbouni.”
The Pharisees in some ways seem like early rabbis, they
are pious teachers, leaders of the synagogues, learned in the Jewish law, who maintain the oral traditions of
Judaism and there’s an element of truth in that
image, but it is more common to say rabbinic Judaism
begins with the destruction of the temple. Rabbinic Judaism is the form that
Judaism assumes when there is no longer a temple cult, when the is no longer a caste of Sadducees, when the religion is forced to grapple
with the effects of the destruction of the temple. The
Pharisees, many of them probably support the
Maccabean rebellion and at times support the Hasmonean dynasty.
Certainly they are largely willing to live under Hasmonean rule, but regularly come into conflict with the
Hasmonean Kings. The power the Pharisees comes from
their influence over the rank-and-file inhabitants of
Palestine. They’re not aristocrats, they derive
their power from moral influence. The most important traits the Pharisee
are learning in Jewish Scripture in law, but
a belief that the law requires interpretation and that there
is a body of interpretation that has been built up
by generations. The Pharisees, unlike the Sadducees,
believe in an afterlife. In some ways their image of God is of a more elaborate, more rational, more just
god who will punish the wicked and reward the good in the afterlife. But above all this Phariseeism is about personal piety. Personal piety through the Jewish law. Now think about
what that means. The basic ideal of Phariseeism is that Judaism, that the covenant between God and Israel can be experienced by the
ordinary person through his or her own life practices. For the Pharisees the essence Judaism, the central part of
Judaism, is not so much temple sacrifice – although
they certainly support and adhere to Temple sacrifice – but most importantly personal adherence to
the law, personal righteousness, adherence to table purity – kosher, maintenance of sabbath purity, prayer, tithing, the study the torah. The individual can follow the law of Moses in obedience to God. And this allows the Pharisees geographically to be powerful on a much broader scale. The Gospel of Mark introduces us to Pharisees throughout
Galilee in the north, although they too would
certainly have been centered in Jerusalem. Now as we will see when we turn to the
Gospels the early Christians will cast the Pharisaic devotion to the torah, to the law, in a
negative light – In fact as hollow. We will see Jesus struggling with the
Pharisees over questions of the law, over fasting, over the Sabbath, over divorce, over questions of purity. In mark, which as we will see is the earliest the
Gospels to have been written, the Pharisees are part of the plot against Jesus. In Matthew, written
somewhat later, the opposition between Jesus
and the Pharisees is even more pronounced. The Pharisees are not a hereditary caste, like the Sadducees. In fact there’s no
clear organization or structure to the Pharisees, they’re a diffuse,
grassroots, religious movement. Not revolutionary, not secessionist, but not accommodationist as the Sadducees. They are the moral
center of late second Temple Judaism. Truly trying to call forth the best in the commitment to the Jewish law, but
at the same time not radically seceding from society or
radically, violently, opposing Roman rule.

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