Mr. Sanders’s Pharisees And Mine -- By: Jacob Neusner
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Mr. Sanders’s Pharisees And Mine
University Of South Florida
Despite the risable misnomer of his book of miscellaneous essays (Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah. Five Studies,1 claiming to speak of “Jewish law to the Mishnah” while discussing mere anecdotes and episodes in Jewish law in the first century with special reference to the Gospels), Professor Sanders’s current account of his views should not be dismissed as the merely random thoughts of one who wanders aimlessly beyond the fence of his field of firsthand knowledge. Holding Sanders to his claim that he knows something about what he calls “Jewish law,” let us take seriously his conception of the Pharisees of the first century. Since, intending to persuade colleagues that his picture of, and apologia for, the Pharisees, rather than mine, accurately portrays how things really were in the first century, Sanders devotes two of his five chapters to that subject,2 we turn forthwith to the contrasting results contained in his current book.
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I. What I Maintain We Know About The Pharisees And How In My VIew We Know It
Since the announced purpose of the pertinent chapters is to criticize my position and set forth a different one, to begin with let me rapidly
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summarize my views.3 Viewed as a historical problem, identifying the Pharisees begins with attention to the sources that refer to them. No historical knowledge reaches us out of an a priori corpus of principles,
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and what we cannot show, we simply do not know. A principal problem in arguing with Sanders is his rich capacity to make up distinctions and definitions as he goes along, then to impose these distinctions and definitions upon sources that, on the face of it, scarcely sustain them.4 Sanders proceeds to form out of a priori distinctions and definitions a deductive argument, which makes it exceedingly difficult to compose an argument with him. For how are those of us who appeal to evidence and the results of the analysis of evidence to compose an argument against fabricated definitions and distinctions, which to begin with derive not from evidence and analysis thereof? The fundamental difficulty in dealing with Sanders, therefore, begins with the basic problem of reading scholarship that is accessible only within its own framework of premises and even language. Looking a...
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