Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Josephus Hated the Pharisees; Any Pharisees in Galilee?; A Return to the Garden

I have three items for my write-up today on volume 3 of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus.

1. I wrote a paper on the Pharisees for a class years ago. What I found in my reading of articles was a scholarly assumption that Josephus was a Pharisee, and so there was debate about whether Josephus was conceptualizing the Pharisees accurately or was simply promoting the Pharisees to the Romans because he was one and wanted the Romans to grant the Pharisees authority, meaning that the positive things that he says about the Pharisees' widespread influence are loaded with bias and can't be trusted. Some who argued that Josephus was accurate in his depiction of the Pharisees noted that there were times when Josephus depicted the Pharisees negatively, and, in their eyes, that meant that Josephus was a reliable historian because he contradicted his own support for the Pharisees by airing their dirty laundry.

What I read in Meier was a different argument altogether. According to Meier, Josephus could not stand the Pharisees, one reason being that it was Pharisees who removed Josephus from command. And Meier contends that Josephus was lying when he claimed to be a Pharisee. The first reason that Meier believes this is that the chronology in Josephus' account in Life about his exploration of different branches of Judaism and his settling on Pharisaism does not add up. Second, Meier notes that, in the works of Josephus before he wrote Life, Josephus says nothing about being a Pharisee. For example, when Josephus talks about Pharisees who removed him from command, he gives no indication that he was a Pharisee, too. For Meier, Josephus in Life was claiming to be a Pharisee because (notwithstanding his disdain for them) he wanted to latch on to the Pharisees because they had become a powerful and influential group.

2. On page 335, Meier talks about a scholarly argument that there wasn't much Pharisaic activity in Galilee in the first century C.E. Meier agrees that Pharisaism was primarily in Jerusalem and large Judean towns, and he states that "In general, it seems to have been an urban rather than a rural movement, demanding as it did a certain level of learning and a certain modicum of leisure (and material resources?) to engage in regular study and punctilious practice of the Law." According to Meier, Acts and the Gospel of John are consistent with this in that they place the Pharisees at and around Jerusalem. When Mark depicts Jesus' interacting with Pharisees in Galilee, Meier speculates that these interactions actually occurred in and around Jerusalem, but Mark places them in Galilee because Mark wants to present Jesus being in Galilee until the final week of his life.

I don't know much about this issue. I will say, though, that many rabbis in the second century and beyond were in Galilee. And, because rabbinic literature speaks so much about agricultural topics, there has been speculation that many rabbis were engaged in agriculture. So I don't see why a first century Pharisee could not live in Galilee, work the soil, and find time and resources to engage in the study of the Torah.

3. On page 337, Meier says that Jesus opposed divorce because of his "eschatological hope that the end time would restore the Creator's intention for what he had created in the beginning (i.e., the permanent reunion of one man and one woman in marriage, Mark 10:1-12)."

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