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Friday, July 07, 2017
The 'pharisees' were a rhetorical trope
I am a not-so-proud bearer of a 'B' in GCSE Divinity, Royal Shrewsbury 1989. The Divinity course was the Crown's way of instituting good Anglicanism into us fifteen-year-old boys. QE2 and Maggie agreed it very important we all knew that the first Western Pope, Saint Peter, was married. Among the other fact(oid)s we were 'taught', was that the Pharisees were the ancestors of the modern Jewish rabbis.
Yeeeah, wellll... about thaaaat. Annette Yoshiko Reed asks: When did Rabbis become Pharisees?. Dr Reed looks into the Christian witness at the migration of the 'pharisee' trope throughout early Christian literature. She turns up that after Matthew floated how wicked the Pharisees were, many early Christians approvingly quoted it, especially chapter 23... as we'd expect... except that they didn't use the word 'pharisee' against the Jews. Usually Christians used it against people in their own church whom they disapproved. It took until Jerome before Christians started thinking, maybe these are the forerunners to the fourth-century rabbinate.
Even then, we see problems with the pharisee - rabbi connexion. For instance Matthew's 'pharisees' were astrologers where orthodox Jews aren't, and haven't been. Y'all did watch Husbands and Wives, nu?
I am reminded of how the Dead Sea scrollwriters used to hurl invective against the Seekers Of Smooth Things (dorshei hakhalakôt). The targets aren't around to explain themselves; we have to translate the puns which their enemies hurled at them. The Dead Sea's enemies were presumably dorshei after halakha.
As for Matthew's enemies - well, that's anyone's guess. First-century Judaean popular piety was fluid and, often, simply insane. You might honestly be better off watching Life of Brian again.
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