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Jesus a Pharisee?

Huh. Who knew? I always thought he was a carpenter.

Rhonda Robinson


July 21, 2013 - 1:00 pm


Turns out he was both.

In Rabbi Boteach’s Kosher Jesus, the author points to the fact that Jesus was a carpenter by trade, which only adds to the evidence that he was indeed a classically trained scholar — a Pharisaic rabbi.

Boteach goes on to explain that the title of rabbi, in those days, was a form of respect, not a formal ordination as we understand it today. Jesus working as a humble carpenter was in direct keeping with the custom of the time. Teaching was considered a sacred duty. Jews thought it exploitive to profit from people’s desire to hear and understand God’s instructions for living a prosperous, peaceful life.

It’s my experience that the fundamentals of Sunday school teach Christian children early on that the Pharisees and Sadducees are equally bad. They are two sides of the same coin — a spiritual wooden nickel. Two faces representing an imitation of the real goodness of God. So much so, that when Jesus came on the scene teaching with his parables, he stood in direct contrast to their teaching. Which, in turn, provoked them to hate him.

Boteach claims that everything from Jesus’s teaching style to his vocation points to indisputable evidence that he was indeed a Pharisaic rabbi.

But isn’t that a bad thing?

No, apparently it’s not.

If, that is, we understand the distinctions between the two and the definitions of both. Boteach explains that, in fact, Pharisees and Sadducees were as different as “chalk and cheese.”

The Pharisees supported themselves with trades, believed in the Oral Law that God gave Moses, the Written Law of the Torah and the Talmud. It’s my understanding that they also believed in an after-life where the righteous would be rewarded and evil punished.

Also the author makes a key, and often overlooked difference: the Pharisees opposed Rome.

The Sadducees, according to Boteach, rejected the Law of Moses, and relied on their own literal understanding of biblical text. The Sadducees tended to be aristocrats who embraced their Roman occupiers and were rewarded with positions of power and authority over the rest of the Jews. The Roman authorities made certain that a Sadducee held the office of high priesthood at all times.

The relevant point is that the Pharisees were loyal to traditional Jewish teaching and the Sadducees were loyal to Rome and their own interests. The two were not only separate they were diametrically opposed.

With this backdrop of Roman oppression affecting deep parts of the Jewish religion, Jesus enters teaching in parables.

What about the parables? Doesn’t that prove he was different than them?

On the contrary, Boteach explains that throughout history, Jews analyzed the Torah using various formal principles of interpretation and deductive reasoning, which are clearly evident in the way Jesus presented the law through parables.

For example, his use of the phrase “then how much more so” reveals that Jesus is using the “light and heavy” rule, just one of seven rules he used often exhibiting “classic rabbinic reasoning.”

By Boteach’s account, the description of Jesus as a Pharisaical rabbi is not harsh or inaccurate. It is only an affront to traditional Christian teaching, not to what his followers believe about Christ himself.

To call Jesus a Pharisaical rabbi, is to say, that when Jesus walked as a man he was a beloved teacher. It is to say that he taught his followers the Law of Moses through the eyes of a loving God, led them in righteousness and stood against the decadence of the pagan culture and its oppressive government.

Rhonda Robinson writes on the social, political and parenting issues currently shaping the American family. She lives with her husband and teenage daughter in Middle Tennessee. Follow on twitter @amotherslife

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All Comments   (11)
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Look no further than the records of Jesus' interactions with the Pharisees:
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Pharisaical Judaism was the branch of the faith that believed in the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the people of Israel. Do not confuse what Jesus says about the "Pharisees" and the Pharisaical branch of Judaism
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The word "pharisee" is a corruption of the Hebrew "perushim" which has two literal meanings (from the root p-r-sh): "those who set themselves aside" and "explainers/commentators". ["Sadducees" is a corruption of "tzadokim"/Zadokites, as in Zadok the High Priest. The did not reject "the Mosaic law" --- they accepted ONLY the WRITTEN Mosaic law/Torah and rejected the Oral Law. For them the Temple service was the core of Judaism.]
To this day, "parshan" means "commentator" in modern Hebrew and "perush" "meaning"/interpretation.
The Zadokites were thrown onto the ash heap of history when the Second Temple was destroyed: the Perushim evolved into rabbinical Judaism.
Even at the time (and to this day), there were tensions WITHIN the Perushim between formalists (at one time led by Shammai) and those arguing for a more flexible interpretation (at one time led by Hillel [the Elder]): all I've read of Xian scripture (I am a Jew who was raised Catholic and reverted as an adult) convinces me that the Nazarene was a follower of Hillel that took things much further than his teacher.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hmm, no edit function: to this day, in spoken Hebrew, an interpretation (of a rule or secular law) is said to be "Beit Hillel" (House of Hillel, i.e., lenient/flexible) or "Beit Shammai" (House of Shammai, i.e., stringent/rigid).
What does Jewish Law say on the conflicting rulings of Hillel vs. Shammai? A very "Jewish" answer: "Both of them are the words of the Living and Enduring G-d. But in practical application, we follow the House of Hillel."
Coming back to the title of the article: I see nothing insulting about claiming the Nazarene was a Pharisee, just a statement of fact.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Something I recall reading many many many years ago. That many of the early followers of Our Lord were in fact Pharisee. This explains a number of things including the..."Questions" those people had over circumcision and meat offered to idols.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Jesus was not a Pharisee however he was called rabbi by both his detractors and his followers. The Sadducees did not reject the Law of Moses. They rejected the oral traditions that had been built up around it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
General Curtis E. LeMay used to say, there's a reason for the rules; the reasons are important, the rules are not.

I think this is the main issue Jesus had with the Pharisees. They were so concerned about following all the rules to the T, they even invented new rules so they could better follow the old rules. They would pride themselves on how well they followed the rules. They even questioned whether Jesus was following the rules when he would heal the sick on the Sabbath.

So enamored of the rules they became, they forgot why the rules existed.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Jesus Christ was no Pharisee. This is Jesus Christ: 1 In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 From the very beginning the Word was with God. 3 Through him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him. 4 The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. 6 God sent his messenger, a man named John, 7 who came to tell people about the light, so that all should hear the message and believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came to tell about the light. 9 This was the real light - the light that comes into the world and shines on all people. 10 The Word was in the world, and though God made the world through him, yet the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to his own country, but his own people did not receive him. 12 Some, however, did receive him and believed in him; so he gave them the right to become God's children. 13 They did not become God's children by natural means, that is, by being born as the children of a human father; God himself was their Father. 14 The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father's only Son. 15 John spoke about him. He cried out, "This is the one I was talking about when I said, "He comes after me, but he is greater than I am, because he existed before I was born.' " 16 Out of the fullness of his grace he has blessed us all, giving us one blessing after another. 17 God gave the Law through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only Son, who is the same as God and is at the Father's side, he has made him known."
The Gospel of John ch. 1, vs. 1 through 18
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Obviously, Ms. Robinson, hasn't read the Bible in her research of Jesus and His relation to the Pharisees! Just a few verses....from the Bible.
(1)"Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven(teachings)of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees."(Matt. 16:6)
(2)"Then understood they how that He bade them not beware of the leaven of bread but of of the doctrine of the Pharisees and the Sadducees"
To further prove that Jesus wan't a Pharisee, is to read what the Pharisees did to him, in accusations. He healed people and performed miracles not by God but by the devil(blasphemy of the Holy Spirit in declaring that His work is the work of the devil), tried to trap him in doctrine(particularly the Sabbath)and tried many ways to kill Him. Now why would a Pharisee do that to one of their own? Jesus made clear what He thought of the Pharisees in that "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte and when he is made, two fold more the child of hell then yourselves"(Matt. 23:15)
To write this article based on another article from a Rabbi, who, characteristically, does not accept Jesus as the Messiah, is a waste. Read the Bible, learn for yourself and then write a true article. You might think Jesus was a Pharisee, or at least quibble about it with the "?" out you provided yourself but the answer is plain.....Jesus was no Pharisee!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In my experience, most people who try to find the "historical Jesus" ignore the biblical Jesus only when he is claiming something that doesn't fit into their theory of him. I'm not really sure why Jesus using traditional interpretation somehow negates traditional Christian teaching. The New Testament shows some good Pharisees, and Jesus exhorts the Jews to follow the Pharisees' teachings, but he does point out the hypocrisy of many of the Pharisees.

I was raised in traditional Christian churches, and the duality of the Pharisees and Sadducees was never presented as two sides of a coin, but two extremes in a spectrum. The Sadducees did not take their responsibility to God seriously, while the Pharisees did not take their responsibility to their fellow man seriously.

Was Christ a rabbi in the Pharisaical tradition? You could say that, considering the loose nature of that movement. Did Jesus condemn many of the practices of the powerful Pharisees? Certainly.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
> In my experience, most people who try to find the "historical Jesus" ignore the biblical Jesus only when he is claiming something that doesn't fit into their theory of him.

Yeah, I've noticed that. Problem is, there is no historical Jesus, in the sense that Jesus' life was recorded in sources other than the Gospels. We have a smattering of knowledge about him from the historian Josephus, and maybe a Roman record or two -- just enough to corroborate that, yes, there was a man named Jesus who had religious disciples and was crucified. That's about it.

There is no record, for example, that Jesus had been trained as a Pharisee. Based on his utterances, this is a speculative "must have been". Odd, isn't it, that we're supposed to believe these unsubstantiated "must have beens", but not the well-documented miracles?

I'm trying to figure out why, if Jesus had been trained as a Pharisee, the Gospels make no mention of it. Not arguing that it didn't happen, just skeptical that it did. It doesn't seem like the kind of fact the writers of the Gospels would have left out. Paul spoke of his training as a Pharisee, almost bragging about it. Anything that would have bolstered the authority of Jesus' teachings, I think, would have probably been dutifully recorded. If not, why not?

Any talk of the "historical Jesus", or the "historical Bible", is simply a way of damning the Bible with faint praise. It presumes things could not have happened precisely the way the Bible states -- because, wink wink, we *know* some of those fabulous accounts could not *possibly* be true -- and supposes for us a narrative that "probably" happened instead.

But the Bible is pretty much all we have. There is no historical Jesus to speak of, only the Biblical one. I'm pretty sure that's by design. Believe it or don't, but the lukewarm shall be spat out. If they're looking for a way to explain the impressive theological erudition of a mere carpenter, here's a possibility: Jesus was who He claimed to be, the Son of God.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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