A Family Affair
The New Testament is fair in pointing out both Jewish rejection and acceptance of Jesus. Some, however, have chosen to emphasize Jesus’ times of tension and conflict with the Jewish community and have therefore concluded that Jesus’ relationship with the Jewish community was one of mutual animosity.
But what is missed is that this was basically a “family matter.” Much like the conflicts that can be seen among the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Chasidic branches of Judaism today, the Houses of Shammai and Hillel within the Pharisaic camp were often at variance with one another. Likewise, the Talmud also mentions seven classes of Pharisees, but in fact only approves two of them: “the God-fearing Pharisee” after the manner of Job and “the God-loving Pharisee” after the manner of Abraham (Sotah 22b).1
Even the Midrash (Pest R. xxii) charges certain Jews with hypocrisy: “wearing tefillin and tzitzit, they harbor evil intentions in their breasts.” (J.E. 1905, Vol. ix, p. 665). This same article acknowledges that “otherwise the Pharisees appear as friends of Jesus (Luke 7:37, 13:31) and of the early Christians (Acts 5:38, 23:9).”
Conflict in first-century Judaism was not limited to disputes among the Pharisees alone. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were then at odds with each other, and with the am ha-aretz, those “men in the street” who were considered to be ignorant of the Torah. We see this in the New Testament, where some Pharisees refer to their non-schooled brothers as “…this mob that knows nothing of the law – there is a curse on them” (John 7:49).
The conflict between Jesus and some of his fellow Jews is not unusual when looked at against the backdrop of Jewish life, both in the first century and even today. Take for example, Chasidic Jews of this generation who believe that Rabbi Schneerson is the Messiah; some in mainstream Jewry might look at them as misguided, yet still consider them within the Jewish spectrum of belief. So why not consider the controversy over Jesus’ claims as yet another family dispute? Care to comment? Go to:
- The Babylonian Talmud, Vol. 3 of Seder Nashim, English translation 1936, London: The Soncino Press, p. 113