Jesus a Pharisee?


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.