Baker Academic

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Why Many Liberals promote Anti-Jewish Theology

We don't know that we're doing it most of the time—or so I am convinced—but when we liberals mix politics and theology we tend to repeat and promote a particular brand of anti-Judaism. I call it the mythological foothold and it goes like this: Jesus was a radical, reformer, liberator, hippie, and/or shit-disturber. So far so good. If I must choose between Jesus-as-icon or Jesus-as-iconoclast, I will choose door #2 (although #2 can be overstated in our neat world of binaries). After we have decided that Jesus is a champion for the 99% (of course he was) we need to set him against a backdrop of oppression, corruption, greed, hypocrisy, and/or legalism. Luckily we have a longstanding myth (in the senses of both falsehood and meaningful narrative) that the Pharisees or "the Jews" generally were oppressive, corrupt, greedy, hypocritical, and/or legalistic. We then elevate Jesus by creating a myth of "the Jews" or "the Pharisees" over which Jesus can triumph. This mythological foothold is as old as Christianity itself.

Need modern examples? Take this bit of devotional writing from Jimmy Carter. Now please keep in mind that I love me some Jimmy. I'm impressed with any nonagenarian who builds houses for the poor while battling cancer. But Carter has been preaching Jesus as an anti-Pharisee for decades. For example:

During almost ten decades in the South—and throughout America—very few of us, even in our churches, condemned or criticized total racial segregation. We accepted the legal premise of “separate but equal.” . . . Even the most enlightened pastors would say, “Well, that’s a social problem. We just preach the gospel.” We shake our heads now, but that’s the way we lived back then, and that was the way we had lived for generations. We accepted the “fact” that we white folks were “superior” and that people of a different color were “inferior.” 
In the time of Christ, the Jews believed that Gentiles stood outside the purview of God’s covenant with Abraham. Naturally, this caused Jews to feel superior. But in this encounter with the people of Nazareth, his hometown, Jesus emphasized that God want to bless all of us, simply because God loves us. . . . Jesus says, “Love others, regardless of who they are.” Let’s pray that we might eliminate discrimination, animosity, and grudges from our lives as followers of Jesus Christ (Through the Year with Jimmy Carter, 204.)
So there you have it. According to Carter, American racists are just like "the Jews" of Jesus' day. 

Or consider this especially lamentable statement by Pope Francis: the Pharisees were “rigid on the outside, but, as Jesus said of them, ‘rotting in the heart,’ weak, weak to the point of rottenness.” Again, nobody I know would accuse Francis of impure intentions. I choose the examples of Carter and Francis because I admire them a great deal and believe that they are committed to the infrastructures of peace. This would include inter-religious understanding. Both have done far more than I will ever do to make the world a better place. But somehow we liberals repeatedly lack self-awareness when it comes to parroting anti-Jewish rhetoric. Examples of this are numerous and varied (see my chapter on "underdogma" in this book for a fuller treatment). At least I think that it is a lack of self-awareness and not overt anti-Semitism that brings this out.

So I want to give the benefit of the doubt to a complete stranger (to me) named Mark Sandlin. Sandlin and I would probably get along great if ever we met. Perhaps we'd have suds and find ourselves in a tattoo parlor. Perhaps we'd both get Amy Grant lyrics inked into our necks and share our deepest secrets. Surely, our politics are similar. But I must take issue with this statement: "while the Pharisees encouraged discrimination against women, tax collectors, the poor, and even Samaritans, Jesus went out of his way to radically include them all." Surely Mark Sandlin means no harm. But this is the sort of statement that reinforces an anti-Jewish ideology with a particularly catastrophic legacy.

35 comments:

  1. Why are the Jews pictured arguing with Jesus wearing Christmas scarves?

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    1. Not scarves, Larry. I think those are liturgical stoles purchased from Episcopalians.

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    2. Ha Ha! Anthony that's great!

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  2. But we is it clear that all Jews of one school loved or didn't hate Jews of another school? This is the part I don't get with all of this revisionist history. Samaritans hated Jews in the same way northern Italian as a group despise southern Italians and I might add liberals dislike conservatives by and large and vice versa. Silly point unless the purpose is to homogenize history to fit some theological agenda for how Jesus is supposed to be understood.

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    1. Stephan, could we agree that it would be more accurate to say that "some Samaritans" hated "some Jews"....? And that "some northern Italians" hated "some southern Italians"? Or you can choose the qualifier for better historical clarity: "many," "most," "almost all." Even a bit of nuance is a huge step in the right direction.

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    2. Perhaps a better description may be found from the socio-cognitive sciences: "as a group membership becomes significant to their self-definition [individuals] will be motivated to evaluate that group positively. In other words, people seek a positive social identity... [and] positive social identity is achieved through the establishment of positive distinctiveness of the in-group from relevant out-groups." [1]

      The minimal group experiments indicate that inter-group discrimination (and even intra-group discrimination) is a critical factor of the formation of groups.
      Perhaps a better nuance is the degree to which it is expressed?

      [1] Penelope J. Oakes, S. Alexander, and John C. Turner, Stereotyping and Social Reality, (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 1994), 82.

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  3. (I wrote something similar to the below a few minutes ago, but I don't think it went through. If it did, no need to publish this one.)

    I think the Gospel of Mark portrays Jesus as believing "that Gentiles stood outside the purview of God's covenant with Abraham." Thus we have the story in chapter 7:

    24 "Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

    27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

    28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

    29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

    30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone."


    It wasn't until the Syro-Phoenician woman first humbled herself, accepting the view that she was as a dog in comparison to God's children, the Jews, that Jesus raises her to the status of "daughter." I suggest that the history of the Church's (liberal or conservative) relationship with the Jews has been the struggle to accept the same attitude as the Syro-Phoenician woman.

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  4. I am sorry about my last comment. I thought - perhaps mistakenly - that this was a site devoted to uncovering the real Jesus of history rather than the made up Jesus of modern theology and ecumenism. If this is a theological rather than a historical website please delete my last comments. I understand that Christians have great difficulty accepting the Jewishness of Jesus especially when it reflects the kind of 'perfect hatred' that Christians inherited from their Jewish ancestors (cf. 5.63) The Jews were understood in this period to have fought against one another with great zeal, bickering over the most irrelevant marginalia, and this bickering was passed on to the Christians who in Celsus's day were divided, like the Jews at the time of Jesus, into a great number of sects and divisions. Of course if you want to believe Acts and imagine that peace and harmony ruled Christianity and that a man of peace like Jesus couldn't possibly have shared in the irrational bickering of his Jewish contemporaries you are engaging in retroactive myth-making rather than historical research. Best of luck in either case!

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    1. Stephan Huller, it is because I am committed to historiographical rigor and because historical impact continues to be felt in the theological present that I prefer nuance over and against stereotyping.

      -anthony

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  5. Anthony,

    I have been a lurker for some time and finally feel compelled to comment. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am a progressive Christian who just graduated from seminary (yeah!) *and* my birth father is Jewish (my great-grandparents were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau). In fact, I practiced Judaism for many years before returning to Christianity. I have to admit that I understand the context of the Gospels completely different than most of my classmates. When I read about the "Pharisees," I always want to ask "which house?" Shame was the rule follower and the stickler while Hillel was much like Jesus. I also understand what Jesus is doing as the time-honored tradition of "two Jews, three opinions." Christians pathologize something that I read as *extremely Jewish." Heck, the Talmud is full of people arguing over centuries! I really have come to realize that if we do not truly understand the Jewish context of Jesus, we do not get him and it can lead to anti-Judiasm and antisemitism. My family history has shown me where that can lead.

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    1. Lurk no more, Chris. Welcome and congrats on finishing seminary.

      -anthony

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  6. Part of the problem, I think, is that in order to survive daily life, we need to stereotype to a certain extent. We categorise all chair-like objects as chairs until proven otherwise, all apple-like objects as apples, etc. We also stereotype people, although this is almost always less useful than stereotyping chairs. I think that people can be forgiven for using stereotypes about the Bible, because they see it in the text eg "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees! Hypocrites!" Perhaps it is more helpful to critique the beliefs and behaviours instead of the people or groups? It is also not just those at the liberal/progressive end of the theological spectrum who do this, of course. :-)

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    1. Agreed. It's weird how often commentators seem to "know" things about Pharisees about which there is really no evidence. It speaks more to how contemporary readers are eager to make all people they perceive as religious fanatics the same (e.g., homophobic, oppressively patriarchal).

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  7. Stephan, speaking as a Jew: if all groups of Jews hated all other groups of Jews throughout time, how in heck did we manage to survive for 3300 years? My advice is not to confuse argumentation and sectarianism for hatred. And remember who fought the Thirty Years War.

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  8. Slavoj Zizek controversially commented on this same topic the other day, although putting it far more strongly:

    “Even if most of the Nazi claims about the Jews were true ... their anti-Semitism would still be pathological,” he said. “The true problem is not: Is this true or not? The true problem is why do the Nazis, in order to sustain their world view, need the figure of the Jew – and I claim it’s exactly the same with the growing fears of refugees and immigrants all around Europe”.

    One could rephrase that regarding 'liberals needing the figure of the Jew' as an out-group foil.

    Thoughts on Zizek's caricature?

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    1. Chris this point is made even more robustly in David Nirenberg's "Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition." He begins his project like this: “For several thousand years people have been thinking about Judaism.” He asks further, “Why did so many diverse cultures—even many with no Jews living among them—think so much about Judaism? What work did thinking about Judaism do for them in their efforts to make sense of their world? . . . And how did this history of thinking about Judaism affect the future possibilities of existence for living Jews?”

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    2. Indeed, but Nirenberg doesn't make the contextual link to the present as strongly as Zizek does/likes to do. Also interesting was the temporal confluence, the Left Forum would have been on at pretty much the same time as this post was mae.

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  9. Okay, Anthony, what evidence do you have that the depiction of the Pharisees in the Gospels is not accurate? How then were the Pharisees perceived by the greater Jewish community? I'd really appreciate honest answers to these questions without being told, "buy my book."

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    1. Look at Josephus's characterization of the Pharisees or the rabbinic tradition's. Those are two example of how other Jews viewed them, and in terms fairly different from how the Gospels viewed them. But you've missed the point here, Joe, especially in your implication that Anthony would give a less-than-honest answer. Anthony's point is not that an individual Pharisee may have had some of these characteristics, but that the portrayal of the Pharisees in the Gospels is necessarily a product of the conviction that they were Jesus' enemies, and applied to an entire group as a whole, just like the Gospel of John applies group stereotypes to "the Jews," and that we must take that into account. It is a falsehood that all Pharisees or all Jews were hypocritical, *even if* Jesus happened to deal with some who were. Again, the issue here really isn't about historical accuracy in the sense that you assume.

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    2. Well, because I cannot say "buy my book" I will say buy this book:

      Neusner and Chilton, "In Quest of the Historical Pharisees"
      http://www.amazon.com/Quest-Historical-Pharisees-Jacob-Neusner/dp/1932792724

      But you probably would like something in this space. My short answer is that the NT only gives us a partial and problematic picture of the Pharisees. There were some Pharisees, I would guess, that tended toward exclusion and severe interpretations of Torah. But even the NT suggests that this is not the whole picture. Here is where I would start to add a bit of nuance to the caricature: Hillel and Shammai http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/hillel.html

      -anthony

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    3. Thanks Chris. First off, I was not implying that Anthony is giving a less-than-honest answer. I want to know how he got to his conclusion. Second of all, thanks for pointing me to places I could look.

      Anthony, thanks for the resources and response. That weblink is a good short description (and not Wikipedia). Basically, I gather that Jesus entered into a scene where disciples of Hillel and Shammai were already arguing against themselves and the conflict spread to Jesus. When you look at what Jesus calls out as far as hypocrisy, it is really the arguments about stupid stuff while neglecting what really matters to God. As for the book, that looks good. That is the type of answer I was looking for. See Chris, no hidden agenda to call Anthony a liar.

      No matter the picture of the pharisees we might paint, there was enough of them in opposition to Jesus that they killed him. There was also a sufficient number of them being actual hypocrites and legalists to merit Jesus' rebuke.

      I am struggling with putting the pieces together. Was there not an exclusivist undercurrent in Jewish culture as a whole at the time? They did not want Roman rule. They did not want so much Roman culture. They wanted to follow God's law so they would not be judged by God, which would result in having their place totally taken over by the Romans. There were the Zealots who stirred up actual trouble. There were the Essenes who went to live in the caves and be holy. Maybe my crude depiction of first century Jewish culture is off. But, would it be safe to say, that even the legalistic pharisees, the subset of the normal? pharisees, more or less blended in and were unexceptional in a larger culture of nonconformity to Rome? What I am getting at is that there seems to be an undercurrent of legalism is Jewish culture, even being a problem in the churches that Paul starts, and that hyper-legalistic pharisees might not have seemed too out of place in a legalistic society. That combined with the infighting of the schools of Hillel and Shammai, is the depiction of the Pharisees in the gospels that implausible? I admit we might read into it and exaggerate the legalism and heartlessness in our interpretation.

      Also, Chris, I take offense at your crack about my idea of historical accuracy. I know you view my more conservative view and concerns about historicty as being naive. I am concerned with at least 3 things. 1) That the events actually happened. At least two of the Gospel writers claim to be giving a historical record. John claims to be an eyewitness to the things he wrote. If Jesus did not actually rebuke the pharisees for being hypocrites, then I have serious problems with accepting anything the gospel writers have to say. 2) How and why the gospels were created. 3) A historically accurate picture of the culture of Jesus' day. I would suggest that whatever a person believes about number 2 will skew their reconstruction of number 3. I'm trying my best to keep these in perspective as I study, preach, and lead.

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    4. Just a few points here, Joe. (1) Some first-century Jews were quite happy with Roman rule, some were not. (2) Some Jews were happy (even enthusiastic) about Hellenism, some were not. (3) The Essenes did not live in caves as far as we know.

      -anthony

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    5. I don't know why it made my comment as anonymous. Your point about the Essenes is well taken. I should have said, "the Essenes who used the caves as storage lockers."

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    6. Joe, you're free to take offense at whatever you like, but I never made a crack about your view of historical accuracy, nor did I say anything about it being "conservative," nor did I say that it was naive. I said that your concern about historical accuracy is leading you to misunderstand what Anthony was saying, and I stand by that comment. And as a side note, adding a qualification in saying that what you'd "really" appreciate is an "honest" answer is implying that you'd otherwise have received a less-than-honest answer, just like saying that you don't want someone to say "buy my book" assumes that this is what they were otherwise going to say. To my knowledge no one on this blog has ever offered that answer at any point in time. You may want to consider how you word these things.

      I'd also challenge your notion that what Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for is "stupid stuff" instead of "what really matters to God." According to whom?? It's apparently stupid stuff to you, but I think this is reflecting your tendency to view these matters exclusively through the lenses of the Gospel writers. As much Jewish tradition, including the Gospels, indicates, the Jews who valued such matters did not at all consider it "stupid stuff"; they considered it as precisely what did matter to God, otherwise they would not have cared about it. If you're interested in a "historically accurate picture of the culture of Jesus' day," that conclusion can't really be avoided.

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    7. Rabbinic Judaism, what we know as Judaism today, came from the Pharisees. The Pharisees *saved* Judaism after the destruction of the Temple. So if Christians "hate on" (as my students say) Pharisees, they are disparaging Judaism today. Given the history of Christian antisemitism, that is deeply problematic.

      From my perspective, we need to remember that the Gospels were speaking to a particular audience that was dealing with the struggle that arose after the destruction of the Temple. If there were a group of Pharisees who were telling the Jewish people "come this way," it is not surprising that the Gospels would try to show them in less than a positive light so that people did not follow them. Yes, it was an intra-Jewish argument but, as Anthony reminds us, this changed a long time ago and it would be naive to say "let's go back." It was an intra-Jewish tug-of-war that we today do not understand and we need to be honest about that.

      I also think Anthony's point about the houses of Hillel and Shammai are critical. Jesus is actually very similar to Hillel in his thinking. In fact, some argue that Jesus himself was a Pharisee in the Hillel tradition. I do not know about that but I do know that Hillel was not the "stickler for the rules"; that was Shammai. So when I read about the struggles between Judaism and some Pharisees, I ask "which Pharisees?"

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    8. Also Joe, your statement that the Pharisees killed Jesus is inaccurate. Even on the account of the Gospels, the Pharisees largely fade from the scene in the passion narratives. The priestly aristocracy in and around Jerusalem seem to be the power brokers on the Jewish side. But regardless of that, it remains significant that Jesus died by the order of a Roman procurator and on a Roman cross.

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    9. Chris MacDonald-Dennis, terrific comment! But some nuance is necessary, because Rabbinic Judaism (at least, as reflected in the Talmud) contains some sharp criticism of the Pharisees.

      I think what you've said is right overall. As a Jew, I DO consider myself to be a spiritual heir of the Pharisees. Moreover, there's an unsavory history in Christian disparagement of the Pharisees. Just look at the writing of the great German Protestant theologians of the 19th and early 20th centuries: most of them employed a feedback where their negative view of contemporary Jews was used to characterize 1st century Pharisees, and vice versa. Their thinking was often sharply anti-Semitic, and it fed the Nazi ideology that was to follow. We owe it to contemporary Christians (who predominantly are friendly to Jews and Judaism) to point out what can happen when we bear false witness against the Pharisees.

      Today, I'd say that "Pharisee" has come to mean "bad Christian" in the minds of the Christians I talk to. But you're right. There's still no excuse for using the Pharisees in a reflexive way as the enemy of every good trait we associate with Jesus. Thanks for passing this on.

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    10. Unknown, agreed that Jesus’ primary beef with the Pharisees he opposed (i.e., not all Pharisees, but the Pharisees he opposed) was their supposed hypocrisy. That doesn’t mean, as you put it, that the Pharisees made arguments about “stupid stuff.” Hypocrisy is where one claims to have standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform. Look it up. It’s a failure to walk the walk once one has talked the talk. The Gospels portray Jesus as saying some awfully nice things about the Pharisees’ talk. He said that the Pharisees sat in Moses’ seat. He said that his followers should obey everything the Pharisees teach … which doesn’t make any sense if all the Pharisees taught was “stupid stuff.”

      If you care about historical accuracy, and if your primary source for historical accuracy is the New Testament … I’m not going to object to that. Other reliable historical sources paint a very different picture of the Pharisees: not that they were “hypocrites,” but that they were known for practicing what they preached. But I’m used to it: some Christians (maybe not you) SAY “historical accuracy” but MEAN a close reading of the New Testament as their exclusive historical source. In this case, at least, I’m OK if this is what you want to do. But then, DO it. Starting with Matthew 23:1-3.

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    11. Larry,

      Your point is spot-on and so important for Christians to remember when reading the Gospels: Jews have, for centuries until this very day, critiqued each other. I remember the first time I read the Talmud and saw all of the arguments. I loved it!

      Thus, when I read the Gospels, I simply see Jews doing what Jews do: disagreeing and arguing over the finer points of the Law and Jewish tradition. Having practiced Judaism, I also knew that Jesus was not alone with what he was saying. There were lots of folks saying similar things. Interestingly, my Jewish heritage and experience leads me to a high Christology. When my Jewish friends ask me what makes Jesus so special, given that others were saying similar things, I have to answer, "Because he was the manifestation of God on Earth." I truly believe that this is what gets many liberal Christians in trouble because many do not or cannot claim Jesus' divinity; therefore, they need something around which they can worship Jesus. Thus, it becomes about how he (alone) loved the "other" while "the Jews" did not or that he broke down boundaries between groups. I can believe he did those things, know that other jews were doing the same thing, and still worship him as the manifestation of God.

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  10. Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

    Hi Anthony, thanks for the stimulating topic.

    As I see it, few look at criticism of the "Pharisees" as a family problem. A perceived criticism of Jews or Judaism by Christians comes across as gentiles criticizing Jews. Or it could occur the other way around. Jews and Christians, however, are siblings. Jesus was a Jew so as a follower of Jesus that means I am a Jew, as are all of his followers. So, in truth, any conflict should be seen as one Jew criticizing another. But any attempt at identifying the followers of Jesus as a movement within Judaism was long ago lost at some point in the first century C.E. I propose that, as there exist the branches of orthodox, conservative, and reformed Judaism, to be true to the original historical impulse, our social/cultural/communal memory needs to carve out a fourth branch which is Jesus Judaism. My proposed theory on why that didn't occur originally is the increase in strength of the gentile "Christ" community when Jesus did not return as predicted. There is, of course, Messianic Judaism, which honors Jesus, meeting the Christians half way, so to speak, but are there any Christian groups that are willing to make a primary identification with Judaism?

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    1. Gene, I think that your view of Messianic Judaism is misinformed.
      -anthony

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  11. Anthony, the above is fascinating, and disturbing.

    There's a minority opinion here: the Pharisees are guilty until proven innocent. The commenters who have questioned you have not cited scripture to support a low view of Pharisees. They've asked you to carry the burden of proof. Can you demonstrate from scripture that the Pharisees did not discriminate against women? While you're at it, would you demonstrate that the Pharisees did not advocate building a 30 foot high wall between Judea and Samaria? If you can't prove the negative, then you are guilty of elevating some kind of politically correct ecumenical agenda above the conclusions of dispassionate scholarship. Whoa.
    What a world.

    It is interesting that no one here has thought to look at the particulars of Sandlin's comment, that the Pharisees supposedly discriminated against groups of fellow Jews: women, the poor and tax collectors. Also against Samaritans. The charge is absurd on its face. How exactly would one "discriminate" against tax collectors in the first century? Deny them seats at lunch counters, try to impede their right to vote?

    Even if we were to judge the Pharisees based on the harshest information contained in the NT, there's no indication that the Pharisees were bigots. The primary criticism of Pharisees in the NT is that they were hypocrites, not racists. But any fair reading of the NT would indicate that its opinion of Pharisees is mixed. The Apostle Paul noted with some pride that he was a Pharisee; by "Pharisee," Paul seemed to mean "really devout Jew." Jesus said that the Pharisees sat in Moses' seat, which was about the best place a Jew could sit. If you read the parable of the Prodigal in a traditional way, where the older son represents the Pharisees and the father represents God, then the final lesson of the parable is that God is always with the Pharisees and everything God has belongs to the Pharisees.

    It is NOT Bible-based to portray the Pharisees as a first century KKK. The present-day tendency to pin modern-day sins on the Pharisees is not a product of Bible-study, but is instead an unthinking knee-jerk chain of bad assumptions: that Jesus supported everything we think is good, and that the Pharisees are just like everyone who opposes our political/social/religious agenda in the present day.

    I know I'm just restating what you've already said, Dr.
    ALD. But it felt good to do so.

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  12. A question arises: can we make any criticism of Pharisees or Saducees without being labelled as anti-jewish?

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    1. J.P. this is a great question. As far as I know, no modern group traces its spiritual heritage to the Sadducees. Does this mean that it is okay to criticize them? I suppose it makes the worry of consequence different. One worries, for example, that you might be misrepresenting the historical context or misleading the historical discussion. FWIW, it is noteworthy that we have zero writings left by the Sadducees. All we know of them was written about them (often by folks who don't think very highly of them). So I might pepper my criticism with a bit of criticism of myself as I am dealing with a paucity of data.

      Criticizing Pharisees is a bit different. For example, let's imagine that I want to argue that many Pharisees were argumentative. I might be able to point to cases that support this thesis by looking at rabbinic writings, Josephus, the NT, etc. But other worries surface: (1) why am I singling out "many Pharisees" as argumentative? How can I know if many or most Pharisees were any more or less argumentative than any other group? (2) Couldn't it be that Jesus was argumentative and that Paul was argumentative and so our windows into the topic give us a particular color? (3) Moreover - and this is probably closer to the question you're asking - is there a legacy attached to the criticisms I level? If so, I may want to nod to the legacy to demonstrate that I am aware that certain kinds of criticism are charged. (4) Finally, you asked "can we make any criticism of Pharisees or Sadducees without being labelled as anti-Jewish?" If you want to make claims about entire people groups, the answer is that it is going to sound like (at best) bad history or (at worst) racism. But if you can frame criticism of a particular Pharisee like Hillel, or Eliezar, or Paul, you might be on safer ground. In any case, statements like "the Pharisees were x" or the Pharisees believed y" risks a lack of nuance and stereotyping. These sort of absolute statements smack of amateurish attempts to create a historical backdrop. Always better to qualify and nuance, especially when the history of Christianity is peppered with theologically charged pogroms and worse.

      -anthony

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    2. Thank you, Anthony, for your answer. Of course, I agree with most of it. After all, one of the original sins of historian's work is the need of classification, and hence generalization: the temptation to make general claims from particular cases. I want to clarify that when I said criticism, I didn't mean 'censure', 'dissaproval' or the like. I just wanted to point out that we should be very careful also when we say that any particular claim is anti-Jewish because this is a heavy charge, that's all.

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