At the risk of oversimplifying things, we might say that there are two kinds of people interested in Jesus. There are traditionalists, who believe that Jesus was celibate throughout his lifetime. And there are the others. In recent years, we’ve witnessed some very public speculation over whether Jesus could have been married. The topic of a married-and-sexual Jesus is front-and-center in popular works such as The Last Temptation of Christ and The Da Vinci Code. The recent discovery of a purportedly ancient Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (which in all likelihood is a modern forgery) raised the question yet again.
Friend of this blog Anthony Le Donne has recently stepped into this controversy with a terrific new book, The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals. In my reading experience, Anthony’s book is the single best discussion of Jesus’ probable marital status. Was Jesus married? Anthony doesn’t think so. At least, Anthony thinks that Jesus probably wasn’t married during his public ministry. I agree with Anthony, though my reasons for thinking that Jesus wasn’t married are a little different from Anthony’s. I plan to discuss this question in a later post.
But here, I want to discuss what might be the best part of a very good book. In Wife of Jesus, Anthony examines why we care so much about whether Jesus married. In Anthony’s words, “what does it say about us that we’re so fascinated and repulsed by this possibility?” This is an approach typical of Anthony, to take our questions about the past, and ask instead what our questions say about us.
This is the last of three posts here on modern Christian use of the word “Pharisee.” In my first post, I commented on the odd tendency for Christians to accuse other Christians of being “Pharisees,” a term that has come to mean a self-righteous, overly pious, judgmental and hypocritical Christian. My second post focused on who the Pharisees really were: a popular and democratic sect within Second Temple Judaism that in Jesus’ day functioned as teachers and experts in Jewish law. The sources we have about the Pharisees are quite limited, and describe the Pharisees in both good and bad terms. Even Jesus had some good things to say about the Pharisees, and even the apostle Paul seemed to think that being a Pharisee was not a bad thing.
In his latest book Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian scholar extraordinaire N.T. Wright imagines the Pharisees accurately describing themselves as follows:
We are a group of Jews who find ourselves dissatisfied with the way our country is being run and with our life as a people, at home and abroad. We are therefore devoting ourselves to the study and practice of Torah, as a kind of elite corps, intending to advance the time when Israel will finally be redeemed, when our God will reveal his faithfulness to our nation.
How bad do these people sound to you? They don’t sound that bad to me!
In my last post, I questioned the way present-day Christians use the word “Pharisee” to chastise other Christians. In current Christian vocabulary, “Pharisee” is a synonym for “self-righteous,” or “judgmental,” or “hypocritical.” Strangely enough, “Pharisee” is used by Christians primarily as a label to criticize other Christians, even though the historical Pharisees were a Jewish sect.
In an upcoming post, I plan to argue that Christians should not use “Pharisee” as a term of criticism. But first, I need to do a better job of explaining who the Pharisees were. On my last post, commenter Jo Scott-Coe noted that her Christian education lumped together the historical Pharisees with the historical Sadducees. Jo said she’d like to know more about the differences between the two groups.
Improving Jewish-Christian relations requires us to be sensitive about the language we use with each other. Language that seems innocent within each group, that we use with the best of intentions, may mean something quite different in conversation with an “other”.
For example: consider the word “Pharisee.”
Here is my New Year’s resolution: to post here at least once a week, and to try and post here three times a week: Sundays always, and Tuesdays and Thursdays when I can (yes, I know, today is Friday … so either I’m two days early or one day late). It’s my resolution to reward my readers: seek (here) and you shall find.
Naturally, I cannot post my usual book-length (!) pieces three times a week. So, I am going to teach myself to post shorter: links to other interesting blog posts, random observations, bad jokes … well, probably no bad jokes. Book reviews … and when I cannot manage a full review, observations and blurbs based on books I’m reading. But for certain: the long stuff WILL continue to appear.
While this blog begins with my thoughts and analyses, the primary reason for this blog is to get people talking to each other. So, in the comments below, please tell me what things you’d like to see me address here, and in particular describe topics that might prompt you to join in the discussion.
To those of you reading here: thank you. I very much appreciate your interest and support.