In Search Of A Pharisee -- By: D.R. de Lacey

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 43:2 (NA 1992)
Article: In Search Of A Pharisee
Author: D.R. de Lacey

In Search Of A Pharisee

D.R. de Lacey


Although much criticised recently, the picture of First-Century Judaism as dominated by Pharisaic legalism still predominates even in major recent studies and standard works. J. Neusner has attempted an alternative model for understanding the Pharisees, which has in turn been criticised by E.P. Sanders. This study illustrates the problem, examines the debate and argues that the major issue in reconstructing pharisaism is lack of sensitivity to the nature of the source-texts. A refinement of Neusner’s model is proposed as more in accord with the evidence we have.

I. Introduction

To most students of the period, First-Century Judaism is politically and religiously dominated by the Pharisees,1 who in turn are dominated by a desire to heap ‘line upon line and precept upon precept’, in no coherent fashion, in order to bring all of life under the control of the Torah.2 They are simultaneously smug and despairing, hidebound by tradition and innovative. What little we learn of their spiritual life is the formalism of mere ritualistic and external observance,3

crass materialism,4 superstition,5 and inconsistency.6 Such comments are made without any indication that the authors regard them as contentious. And this is not merely the uncritical scholarship of a bygone era. The revised Schürer was hailed as ‘Simply the most important work on the history of the Jewish people . . .published in the 20th Century’ even by the man who must be the most prolific writer on early Jewish traditions;7 together with the Compendia it is probably now the major authoritative source on the subject for many students. Yet both of these repeat the travesties. The purpose of this paper is to raise a voice in protest both against the portrait of pharisaism they represent8 and more significantly the attitude to texts which underlies it; to assess the different approaches of Neusner and Sanders, and to offer a somewhat more nuanced model. I suggest that the pharisaic raison d’être is a striving toward the highest holiness, as epitomised in the priestly service and expressed in the regulations of the Torah concerning purity.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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