Originally posted by robbie carrobie
Okay, Robbie, here are my comments (which really are little more than addenda to what you wrote)—
(1) I have not come across any statement about “hating your enemies” in the Oral Torah, so if that was a saying among the Pharisees, it did not get recognized. There is a statement somewhere in the Talmud that I read recently that said that one should not rejoice over his enemy’s downfall (I’ll do some searching to see what I can find). I’m not sure that all of the “you have heard it said” statements can be attributed to any one group (they could have been folk sayings).
(2) There is no doubt about Jesus’ arguments with the Pharisees: some may have been fairly classic rabbinical debate, but others were clearly harsher. He seemed, as I recall, to have been on good terms with Nicodemus. I suspect that the Pharisees today might be considered something like “ultra-orthodox” rabbinical Jews. The 18th century Hasidic movement was in part a counter to what they saw as a kind of “hyper-Talmudism” in Judaism.
—I speculate that, if Jesus were a rabbi today (again, ignoring the messiah issue), that he would be more of a Reform, neo-Hasidic type.
(3) According to Josephus, the party of the Pharisees didn’t number more than 6,000; and scholar Geza Vermes has said that they were almost entirely in Judea with no real presence in Galilee. (The population estimate of Judea/Galilee combined that I have seen for the period was about 1.5 million.) The Sadducees I think numbered about 4,000; they were Temple-centered and did not accept the Oral Torah (which at the time was still oral).
With all that said, I see Jesus as more “giving his torah”, rather than setting aside Torah. That is what rabbis do. In the Talmud, you read stuff like: “R. Eleazer said…. But, R. Joshua said….”. It’s not far-fetched to think that, before any of that was written down, that what some of these guys said was: “R. Eleazer says…. But, I say….”. The Oral Torah offers expansive interpretation of the written Torah, and conflicting opinions are included (often with no resolution).
There’s an interesting case where one might plug Jesus into the Oral Torah:
Hillel (who died when Jesus would have been a teenager) said: “’Do not do unto to others what you would not like them to do to you.’ That is the whole of the Torah; the rest is commentary, go and learn.” [Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat; quoted from Norman Solomon, The Talmud: A Selection
Then Jesus came along and said: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Point, counterpoint! Wonderful! Now, I happen to prefer Hillel’s version, only because I have had well-intentioned people “do unto” me what I did not like or want—“Please, stop ‘doing unto me’!” However, Jesus’ formulation also has validity. What are the circumstances? “Well, here is a circumstance for this, and there is a circumstance for that.”
Did Jesus know Hillel’s version when he gave his counterpoint? Who knows? Hillel was pretty famous, and folks listening to Jesus’ torah-teaching could have known the reference. In my hypothetical “expanded oral torah”, I’d include this “exchange”. (But, then, I play it pretty fast and loose, and I’d include Lao Tzu as well!
Now, as I noted above, some of Jesus’ exchanges with the Pharisees were clearly polemical. But maybe some were more on the order of this kind of rabbinical argument: the heart of Oral Torah.
Oral Torah really has two aspects: One is what was eventually written down in the Talmuds and the Midrashim—because it was being forgotten. The second is the continuing interpretation that goes on today. I generally use “torah” (with a small “t” ) for that. So, this person “gives his torah” on the Torah. And, no matter how expansive that process gets, it is still rooted in Torah—and is not an abrogation of Torah. And that’s pretty much what I see Jesus doing.
I want to add two caveats to all this:
First, as I have said before, I have no intention of telling Christians who/what Jesus was, or how to understand him. Anything that I say here that conflicts with Christian theology or Christology (from whoever’s viewpoint), simply disregard. (Knightmeister once said, a good time ago when I was coming at things from a slightly different perspective, that I was trying to “Buddha-size” Christ. He was right—though I didn’t think so at the time—
and I don’t want to do that kind of thing.)
Second, I don’t speak for Judaism. I only speak from what I have studied, and that is always going to have my own spin (consciously or not). And I don’t spend a lot of time on halakhah
, rabbinical legal opinions; I spend more time in aggadah
, stories and midrash.