The Law of the Pharisees between the Gospels and Rabbinic Tradition
2019-05-08 - 11.00
In this lecture I offer an integrated analysis of the legal disputes of the Pharisees as they appear in rabbinic literature as well as in the synoptic gospels. While each of the traditions in and by itself offers only a superficial image of the Pharisaic concern with the correct observance of the law, by juxtaposing the two bodies of tradition we can assemble the discrete legal issues into developed systems of thought. Arguably, the dispute over legal details reflect the core differences between competing worldviews during the Second Temple period. Thus, the comparative analysis of major disputes serves to reveal the actual guidelines that shaped group identity, and in particular that of the Pharisees.
I argue that a contextualized reading of the legal disputes of Jesus with the Pharisees reveals not so much their mere concern for the level of law observance but rather its particular form. In direct opposition to competing approaches, those of the Sadducees and the Qumran sectarians, the Pharisees developed a legal approach that would reflect their particular religious and social ideology. I therefore argue that in his complaints against the Pharisees, Jesus is either quoting or building upon familiar arguments against the law of the Pharisees, who to the dread of their opponents endorsed popular practices and sought to promote a lenient and compromising approach towards the laws of the Torah. Within a plurality of competing legal systems, rabbinic literature and the gospels represents different sides of the same inter-sectarian discourse, in which the dispute over details of law served to draw the fundamental differences between competing religious ideologies.