At least a couple of well-known biblical scholars do give us reason to doubt the popular gospel image of Jesus bumping into Pharisees with every step he took in Galilee. They met him in the corn-fields, they argued with him in the synagogues, they were even found in houses with him. Jesus warned his Galilean followers to beware of them. They even plotted his death from Galilee.
Along with this image we are frequently told in scholarly tomes that Jesus and his disciples were devout Jews who followed the customs one reads about in later rabbinical literature, and that were said to be led by the religious leaders based in Jerusalem and Judea (south of Galilee). The assumption is usually made that the Old Testament writings (Jewish scriptures) were on the lips, fringes, doorposts and hearts of the generally devout Jews (such as Jesus’ disciples and closer followers) throughout not only Judea but also Galilee where Jesus preached.
So it is interesting to stop and consider the implications of the following scholarly claims that Pharisees were really quite a rare site in Galilee in the time of Jesus.
. . . there is strong evidence that there were practically no Pharisees in Galilee during Jesus’ lifetime. A generation later, when the great Pharisee Yohanan ben Zakkai lived there for eighteen years, only two cases were brought to him for decision; he reportedly cursed the country for hating the Law – it was destined to servitude. Y. Shabbat XVL.8 (15d. end). The story may be a legend – the curse looks like a prophesy ex eventu of the results of the later revolt – but at least the legend shows that the Pharisees remembered Galilee before 70 as a land where they had few followers. More important is the evidence of Josephus; it is clear from his War II. 569-646, and even more from his Vita (28-406 and especially 197f.), that as late as 66 Pharisees might be respected in Galilee for their legal knowledge (through Josephus’ suggestion of this is suspect as part of his pro-Pharisaic propaganda), but they were certainly rare: the only ones Josephus encountered were sent from Jerusalem, and had been chosen to impress the Galileans by their rarity. Thus the synoptics’ picture of a Galilee swarming with Pharisees is a further anachronism. John at least avoided this, his Pharisees all appear in Jerusalem, and Jesus goes to Galilee to get out of their reach (4.1ff.) (p.157)
Finally, a further confirmation of our conclusion is to be found in the extreme poverty of the rabbinic tradition about Jesus . . . . The rabbis inherited the traditions of the Pharisees; among these traditions, it seems, there were none about Jesus. The lack can be explained in various ways, but the most natural and easiest explanation (and in view of the above evidence, the likeliest) is that few Pharisees encountered him and those few did not think their encounters memorable. (p.157)
The following extract was originally copied from a Jesus and the Pharisees website that no longer appears active:
Richard Horsley, Archaeology, History and Society in Galilee: The Social Context of Jesus and the Rabbis (1998) p. 182
The regional differences between Galilee and Jerusalem (and Judea) were rooted in many centuries of separate historical development prior to the Hasmonean takeover. Galilee was then under Jerusalem rule, presumably with exposure to the Torah of ‘laws of the Judeans’ and some sort of relations with the Temple, for only one hundred years before the death of Herod and the birth of Jesus. There is no literary or material evidence and little historical likelihood – given the political crises raging in Jerusalem, Palestine and the Roman empire during the first two thirds of the first century BCE – that over such a short period of time traditional Israelite culture and local customs in Galilee had become conformed to what may have been standard in Jerusalem or Judea. It is highly unlikely that the high priesthood or its scribal ‘retainers’ (including the Pharisees) would have been able to mount a program by which the Galileans could have been effectively ‘resocialized’ into habitual loyalty to the Temple and the Torah (or the ‘laws of the Judeans.)
- Pharisees in Galilee? (vridar.org)
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