Those brethren who are from the Dunkard line well know of what you are speaking: the back-hand of fellowship, shunning of venial sins, public confession of sin, all those old standard and standby hymns and everything else done in lower saxon dialect. Well might descriptions such as “hollow-out legalism”, “legalism of ‘humility'”, “oppressive legalism”, “paying lip-service” suit the Old Faith of our Anabaptist forefathers.
But I wonder if all those “evils” are causing a distorted view of first cent. Pharisees. Are you looking at the Pharisees through the “lens” of your ossified and institutionalized anabaptist experience. Be careful of following centuries of Christians projecting on the Pharisees and first cent. Judaism something that was never there. Let us be careful and not fall into the same mistakes the Church Fathers, the Roman Church and the Reformers did. That is, stereotyping and caricaturizing first cent. Judaism led on by those casuistrical Pharisees (blast them!) Let me attempt a “clarification of thought”.
I will deal with the ‘social justice’ prophets later. But at least for now, you are absolutely right, they were not in the least anti-Jewish or anti-semitic — they were, at times (and when they would get all hot and flustered), racist and anti-goeim: “Damn the Gentiles! God’s wrath will strike them down!” Ah yes, “social justice”. It all depends where your social justicing is standing. (Let us all remember that when we get all lathered up against the “bad guys”.
Back to “the Pharisees”…that is, the “bad guys”. I must ask you, what are you reading? Who are you listening to? Why are you doing the same old thing, and dragging out the same old Christian party line that stereotypes the Pharisees and thus as well first cent. Judaism. Again, I must say, please read the work of the consensus of the most noted biblical scholars and historians of the past fifty years. Read those who the the consensus of the academy most acknowledges . Please, put down (at least for a while) J. Yoder, Menno Simmons, Muentzer, Grebel, Humaier; put on the shelf Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Tolstoy, St. Francis (unless you are preapared to follow his early and later Rules, his Testament, and the eremitical life he lived — then see what you have to say), and Jim Wallis. Take a rest from Segundo, Boff, Guiterezz and the liberation theology gang. And do, pick up and become a student of — at least familiarize yourself with — biblical studies and those who can teach you well. Learn about Judaism.
Here, let me ask you, what do you truly know about Judaism? What do you know about Second Temple Judaism? About the early nascent Rabbinic movement, or about the intertestamental and pseudopigraphal literature? Have you read the Jewish apocalyptic corpus and the merkavah and Helakot mystical tracts? This is what you do: go to Synagogue, to friday night Shabbos, attend a Seder, study with a Rabbi, visit a yeshiva — and tell them that the first cent. Pharisees and by implication, Palestinian Judaism was oppressive, legalistic and “paying lip service to God” — and they’ll look at you quizzically and than take great offence at your religious hubris. The Rabbi, if he is in a very good mood (which they usually are) will just laugh.
Wake up, the Pharisees were not any of those things. That belief is an age-old ignorant rant that smacks of Christian religious bigotism. And the Christian social justicers continue and are complicit with it.
Next: the composition and demographics of the Pharisees’ party in first cent. Palestinian society and their use and purpose of “purity” and “holiness” codes and pracitices. The gospel writers and their communities inhouse wrangles with the nascent Rabbinic movement in the post-Temple situation; their family feuding, polemics and vitriol.
And, underlying all of this, what was the real issue of contention between Jesus and (at least some of) the Pharisees. How all this fits in with radical Anabaptism, radical Biblical exegesis, radical questions as to peace, pacificsm and who and what Jesus was all about, and its relationship to the new emphasis on activism, activation, actionizing and “social justice” of the “young and the restless”.