How the Pharisees Got a Bad Rap

Sept. 8 2015

The existence of a Jewish sect known as Pharisees in the first centuries BCE and CE is well known to readers of the New Testament, as well as to readers of the ancient Jewish historian Josephus. Most historians agree that there was a close link between the Pharisees and the rabbis of the Talmud, but the connections are, at best, based on informed conjectures. Joshua Garroway explains why knowledge of this important group is so sketchy, and how its members became saddled with a reputation for hypocrisy:

The age-old association of the Pharisees with hypocrisy stems from scenes in the Gospels (for example, Matthew 23:1-39) in which Jesus denigrates the Pharisees as religious phonies who demand from others a strictness they themselves fail to observe. Many historians doubt that Jesus himself ever made such an accusation, however. More likely, the evangelists—who were vying with the Pharisees (or early rabbis claiming the mantle of the Pharisees) in the wake of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE— retrojected their own hostility onto the ministry of Jesus. Not Jesus but Matthew and Luke thought the Pharisees were hypocrites.

Were they right? The charge is hard to square with Josephus’ insistence that the Pharisees were lenient in imposing punishments and held the esteem of the masses. A Pharisee here or there may have exhibited superficial piety, but to indict them collectively on account of Matthew and Luke seems unwarranted. Much of the depiction of the Pharisees in the Gospels may derive from their similarities to the early Jesus movement and that movement’s frustration that this similar group did not accept Jesus as the messiah.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Bible Odyssey

More about: ancient Judaism, History & Ideas, Josephus, New Testament, Pharisees

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat