Peace with Jesus’ “Enemies”

Assessing the Opposition to Jesus in the Christian Gospels

making-peace-with-the-enemies-of-jesus

This is a written version of the 7th Annual Driscoll Lecture in
Jewish-Catholic Studies, given at Iona College 28 March 2006.

The presentation of Jewish religious leaders within the Christian gospels is a significant problem for Jewish-Christian relations. By and large the presentation is negative. So much so that it would be fair to say that the Jewish leaders emerge from the gospels as the enemies of Jesus. The gospels set Jesus against a united block of Jewish authorities who constantly attack him, often with malice and manipulation. Therefore, readers of the gospels must direct their sympathies either to an enlightened, noble, and fair-minded Jesus or to a group of narrow, duplicitous, and biased opponents.

This essay will attempt to assess the historical accuracy of the presentation of the Jewish leadership in the gospels. It will do so in a limited way, examining the treatment of the Pharisees in two passages of Matthew’s gospel. Despite this narrow focus, if it can be established that Jesus’ relationship with the Pharisees was more positive than Matthew’s presentation, it may begin to make “peace” with the so-called “enemies” of Jesus.


An Initial Paradox

A seeming contradiction exists between official Catholic directives on how the Pharisees of Jesus’ day are to be understood and the scriptures themselves. Consider the following statement from the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Jews:

An exclusively negative picture of the Pharisees is likely to be inaccurate and unjust . . . If in the Gospel and elsewhere in the New Testament there are all sorts of unfavorable references to the Pharisees, they should be seen against the background of a complex and diversified movement . . .  . if Jesus shows himself severe towards the Pharisees, it is because he is closer to them than to other contemporary Jewish groups. (Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church, June 24, 1985.)

The Vatican commission encourages interpreters to adopt a fair-minded and favorable approach to the Pharisees, to situate them within the reality of first century Judaism, and to appreciate their closeness to the teaching of Jesus. So far, so good. But this simple encouragement becomes problematic when it is placed against the following two passages from the Gospel of Matthew:

He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they [the Pharisees] asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. (Matthew 12:9-14.)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! (Matthew 23:23-24.)

The Pharisees emerge from these two scriptural passages in a negative light. They try to entrap Jesus. They seek to kill him. They are hypocrites and blind guides. They ignore justice, mercy, and faith. Such scriptural passages have generated a common and pejorative view of the Pharisees which may be summarized as follows: The Pharisees were hypocritical legalists who demanded a scrupulous practice of the law in place of mercy and love. They viciously attacked Jesus and promoted his crucifixion.

Official Church directives ask Catholics to reject this negative view. But how can one square such directives with what the biblical texts seem to say? This essay will attempt to construct a revised view of the Pharisees which reflects the positive admonitions of Church teaching and at the same time is responsible to the scriptural witness. It will proceed in three sections: 1) The Nature of the Christian Gospels; 2) The Pharisees of the First Century CE; 3) Three Historical Statements Concerning the Pharisees.

The Nature of the Christian Gospels*

No responsible interpretation of the Christian gospels can be made without appreciating their literary form. The work of analyzing this aspect of the gospels is extensive. Here it will be briefly summarized in three theses.

The Gospels Are Not Primarily Historical Accounts

Modern biblical scholarship is in agreement that as the evangelists sat down to write the gospels, they did not write as modern historians. Their aim was not simply to report what happened in the ministry and death of Jesus. Their primary purpose was to move their readers to faith—to lead them to the belief that Jesus was the Messiah, the one whom God had sent into the world. There is historical information in the gospels. But the evangelists felt free to adapt the material which was passed down to them. They reshaped it, adding some things, leaving other things out, emphasizing one thing over another, and rearranging the order of events. They felt the freedom to make such changes because the gospels are not modern scientific histories. They are creative works of evangelism which strive to build up the faith of their readers.

This insight into the literary form of the gospels allows us to assess more clearly the relationship between the gospel narratives and the historical accuracy of the material they contain. Every literary genre has its own relationship with historical accuracy. Different kinds of writing are held to different standards of historical exactitude. A person reading a modern biography of Abraham Lincoln expects everything in that biography to be historically accurate. The biographer is not free to make up scenes or present his or her surmises as fact. However, a person reading an historical novel based upon the life of Lincoln understands that the writer has more flexibility. The author need not limit every scene, every character, and every quotation only to what historically occurred.

From a literary perspective, the gospels are closer to historical novels than modern biographies. They contain historical information but not every aspect of their narration is historically accurate. Therefore, the gospels in our Bibles are not primarily historical accounts. The ramifications of this understanding lead to the second thesis.

The Non-historical Aspects of the Gospels Do Not Undermine Their Authority for Christians

Believing Christians hold that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. They believe that God’s truth is communicated to them through the biblical text. Yet the means of that communication is mediated through the literary form of the text in question. If the gospels were modern biographies, they would attempt to make truth and historicity correspond precisely. But the gospels are not such biographies. Therefore the truth of the gospels is not limited to statements which are historically exact. The creative reshaping of the gospel materials by the evangelists is able to express truths which are inspired and authoritative, even if they are not historically accurate. The only time truth and history must perfectly match is in literary works which promise to honor this identity. The gospels are not that kind of literature. The truth which is proclaimed by the gospels remains authoritative for Christians apart from its historical accuracy.

Although the claims of the gospels remain authoritative for believers, the literary nature of the gospels leaves the issue of historical accuracy an open question which must be evaluated issue by issue. This leads to the third thesis.

The Historical Aspects of the Gospels Must Be Specifically Established

Because the gospels are a mixture of historical data and artistic editing it must be determined which parts of the gospels are historical and which are not. To illustrate this point, consider the following theoretical example. We want to write an accurate historical account of the life of Abraham Lincoln. But somehow every document concerning him—every book, every letter, every source—has been destroyed. There is one exception. A single historical novel on the life of Lincoln has been preserved. Now we know that a great deal of historical information is included within that novel. But we cannot automatically accept every scene, every character, and every quotation as historically reliable. We must make judgments in each case whether this scene or this character has the ring of historicity or whether they are present because of the imagination and artistry of the historical novelist.

One way to make such judgments is to learn as much as we can about the culture, politics, and beliefs in the period in which the events occurred. In our theoretical case, we would try to learn as much as we could about politics in the city of Washington during and after the Civil War. If our historical novel tells us that Lincoln was shot and killed while watching a play, Our American Cousin, at the Ford’s Theater, we would question the historical likelihood of such an event. On one hand, being shot in the theater is an unusual way to die. Perhaps our novelist is creating this scene for dramatic effect. On the other hand, it would not be likely that the novelist would change something as fundamental as the manner of Lincoln’s death.

To decide between the two alternatives we would diligently search for any piece of information outside the novel which could help us. Was there a Ford’s theater in Washington? Do we know of any presidents who attended plays there? Did it ever produce Our American Cousin? The discovery of such outside information would assist in judging which parts of the novel were likely to be historical and which parts were the creative expression of the novelist. Moreover, if we were to discover within the novel characteristics and attitudes which were inconsistent with the characteristics and attitudes which were common during the Civil War Period in Washington, such inconsistencies might indicate the creative shaping of the author rather than an accurate reflection of the historical period in which the events took place.

Employing such an array of strategies is necessary for anyone who would wish to determine the historical reliability of a literary work which does not espouse historical accuracy as its primary purpose. The historicity of elements of the narrative can be assessed in light of material which is available from outside the text.

The availability of such outside information can help resolve the paradox with which this essay began. When the portrait of the Pharisees in the gospel of Matthew is compared with the historical information concerning the Pharisees, it leads to a high likelihood that Matthew’s characterization of the Pharisees is both non-historical and dangerous.

The Pharisees in the First Century C. E.

Information concerning the Pharisees in the first century is limited. We have no writings of the Pharisees. There are, however, two sources outside of the gospels which shed light upon them: the rabbinic writings and the writings of Josephus. Combing through this material, a majority—if not unanimity—of scholars have concluded that the Pharisees are best identified as a reform movement in Judaism. The Pharisees desired to make the practice of Judaism more personal and more active in the religious life of the ordinary Jew. They accepted the temple and the temple cult, but they insisted that Judaism was not simply about cultic practice. Genuine worship must include personal responsibility motivated by the love of God and neighbor. Of course, this perspective was not new to Judaism. It can be found throughout the Jewish scriptures, particularly in the prophets. It was, however, the restating of this traditional perspective which characterized the Pharisees’ attempt to renew Judaism.

The Pharisees were not priests. But just as the priests had codified the cultic laws of the Temple, the Pharisees interpreted biblical laws in order to promote love, loyalty, and human compassion as the inescapable responsibilities of every Jew.  In doing this they were served by their interpretation of the law. Unlike the Sadducees who held to a strict interpretation of the written text, the Pharisees believed there was an oral law which went beyond the written letter of the law. They promoted some actions of love and mercy which were not explicitly mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. These actions were hospitality to travelers, visiting the sick of all religious groups, dowering the indigent bride, giving charity anonymously, burying the dead, and promoting peace in the midst of hostility. These teachings were formulated into commands of the oral law. Following such commands was seen to constitute true worship.

Jesus expresses a similar viewpoint in the Sermon on the Mount: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:3-24). This teaching of Jesus has a Pharisaic ring. In fact, Jesus may have developed his own teaching on this matter in light of the teaching of the Pharisees. Jesus (like many Jews of his time) espoused ideas which probably came from Pharisees: the resurrection of the body; piety as prayer, almsgiving, and fasting; calling God as Father; and priority of love of God and neighbor. Christians who are unaware of Pharisaic teaching and practice tend to see these teachings as unique to Jesus. It is more historically probable to view them as a Pharisaic influence upon Jesus. It is for this reason that the Vatican Commission can claim that Jesus was closer to the Pharisees than to other contemporary Jewish groups.

When historical information from outside of the gospels is evaluated, the Pharisees emerge in a positive light. This increases the possibility that the negative evaluations of the Pharisees in the gospels are a result of the perspective of the evangelists rather than an accurate reflection of the Pharisees in the time of Jesus. In order to test this possibility, three statements concerning the Pharisees will now be examined. All three have a high level of historical reliability.

(1) The Pharisees Were Legalists (So Was Jesus)

Both Jesus and the Pharisees were legalists. Christians tend to see “legalist” as a negative term. They therefore assume that Jesus could not be a legalist. Yet such a position is historically improbable. Jews of the first century did not view being a legalist negatively. Knowing the law and following the law expressed one’s participation in the covenant. Jews saw God’s choice of Israel as a free gift and following the law as a response to that gift. Determining what the law demanded and following it was an honor. Throughout history Christians have tended to characterize such attitudes towards the law as “nitpicking,” “earning salvation,” or “scrupulosity.” Such characterizations are prejudiced and inaccurate. To argue over the meaning and application of the law was an essential aspect of Jewish faith. It was an accepted part of the teaching and practice of both the Pharisees and Jesus.

With this appreciation of the law in mind, let us return to the passage of the curing of the man with the withered hand in Matthew 12:9-14. In this passage both the Pharisees and Jesus engage in a responsible debate over the law. Both the issue and the situation of the debate must be appreciated, if the passage is to be interpreted fairly. The issue is the Sabbath and what kind of work is permitted on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a sign of Jewish identity. It was not an incidental matter. Observing the Sabbath was a way every Jew could testify to his or her belief in God’s love and the covenant which bound God and Israel together. In no part of this gospel passage does Jesus reject or diminish the Sabbath. There is every reason to believe that the historical Jesus accepted the Sabbath and followed it. In this passage Jesus and the Pharisees are not debating over whether to honor the Sabbath but in what circumstances might another duty override the command of Sabbath rest.

The Pharisees pose the opening question: “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath?”  As stated, every Jew would answer, “of course!”  Every Jew would admit that a cure could be performed on the Sabbath, if the problem was sufficiently serious. If a person was in danger of death or afflicted with a serious immediate need, Jews would acknowledge that a cure would be permissible despite the command of Sabbath rest. Since such a position was so universal, the Pharisees’ opening question must be read more narrowly. They are not asking whether it is permissible to cure on the Sabbath, but whether it is permissible to cure this man on the Sabbath. They are arguing a specific case of the law: can this man with the withered hand be cured today?

What then are the specific conditions of this case? Presumably this man’s hand had been withered for years. Such a longstanding disability would lessen the urgency of the case. The Pharisees argue that it would be better to wait until tomorrow to heal the man. By taking this approach it would be possible to both heal the man and honor the Sabbath.

It is important to note how Christians reading this passage often miss the Pharisees’ position entirely. Because the gospels frequently set the Pharisees in direct opposition to Jesus, Christians suppose that the positions of Jesus and the Pharisees are diametrically opposed. Therefore, when the Pharisees ask “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath?” Christians conclude that the Pharisaic position is that you can never cure anyone on the Sabbath. Because Christians do not understand the scope of the question, they presume that Pharisees would let people suffer and die rather than break the Sabbath. Under this presumption the Pharisees become group of hard-headed and inhuman extremists. The Pharisees’ position, however, is that it is better to wait until tomorrow since there is no immediate need.

The same misunderstanding is often applied to Jesus’ concluding statement in verse 12: “So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”  Every Jew would agree with Jesus’ conclusion, including the Pharisees who are debating with him. They would respond, “Of course it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. What we are discussing is what good can wait until tomorrow and what good should be done today.”

Jesus believes that the man should be cured today. But notice how he arrives at his position. He is a legalist. He argues the law. He proposes a legal test case. What should be done if a sheep were to fall into a pit on Sabbath? This was a common case in Jewish legal discussion. The Essenes in the Damascus Scroll (11:13-14) held that only a threat to human life could justify work on Sabbath. Therefore, an animal could not be rescued on the Sabbath. The Pharisees held a more lenient interpretation. They were attuned to poor farmers whose entire livelihood could rest on one sheep. Therefore, they argued that the potential loss of that sheep was too great to risk and it was permissible to rescue the animal even on a Sabbath. Jesus knows the Pharisaic position. He refers to it in verse 11: “will you not lay hold of it and lift it out?” (It goes without saying that the Pharisees would allow a human person to be lifted out as well.) Jesus is using the interpretation which he shares with Pharisees to push the envelope further. He is arguing that if he and the Pharisees allow an animal to be pulled out of a pit, why not also allow this man’s withered hand to be healed today. The Pharisees would respond by arguing that being caught in a pit is dangerous to life, whereas waiting until tomorrow to heal a withered hand is not.

Jesus clearly disagrees with the Pharisees over the healing of this particular man on the Sabbath. But he is not disagreeing over the value of the Sabbath, whether cures are possible on Sabbath, whether good can be done on the Sabbath, or whether one can pull animal or human out of the pit on the Sabbath. He is disagreeing over whether in honor of the Sabbath the man with the shriveled hand should wait until tomorrow to be healed. Jesus says, “no.” The Pharisees say, “yes.” We might side with Jesus, but the Pharisees’ position is not heartless or nitpicking. The Pharisees are attempting to balance two values: the curing of a man in need and the honor of the Sabbath. Both the positions of Jesus and of the Pharisees are credible and reasonable. They are both valid legalistic opinions on how to interpret the law.

(2) The Pharisees Were Not Hypocrites

There is no reason to believe that historically the Pharisees were more hypocritical than any other religious group of the first century. How then can the frequent use of the term “hypocrite” and other slurs such as “blind guides” which are prevalent in such scriptural passages as Matthew 23:23-24 be understood?

In assessing such charges, one must appreciate that vilifying an opponent was a common rhetorical technique in the ancient world. In the first century, debate was not polite. Polemically attacking your opponents and accusing them of various moral deficiencies was a widely accepted as a rhetorical practice. Among Roman writers the technique was called vituperatio. It consisted in many strategies of denigrating your opponent.

Plutarch was one of the most urbane of ancient philosophers, yet this did not stop him from slurring his opponents. When an Epicuran named Colotes attacks Plutarch’s  teachers as “buffoons, charlatans, assassins, prostitutes, and nincompoops,” Plutarch responds by calling Epicurans “prostitutes who were characterized by irreligion, sensuality, and indifference” (Moralia, 1129b). The Hellenistic Jew, Philo, calls the Gentiles of Alexandria “promiscuous and unstable rabble—more brutal and savage than fierce wild beasts” (Embassy to Gaius, 18:120; 19:131). The writings of the Essenes teem with vituperatio. They call those outside their community “sons of the pit who live in a spirit of falsehood and are ruled by an angel of darkness. They belong to the lot of Satan and God has vengeance planned for them” (1QS, 3:19-21; 5:2, 10).

Some comments of Pharisaic teachers come down to us in the Talmud. We know that there was competition between two Pharisaic schools: Hillel and Shammai. When a follower of Hillel, Dosa Ben Harkinas, hears that his brother Jonathan has sided with the House of Shammai in a case involving levirate marriage, he calls his brother “first born of Satan” (Yevanot 16A). Strong rhetoric of this type is also present within the Jesus movement. When Peter disagrees with Jesus’ teaching that he must suffer, Jesus responds, “Get behind me, you Satan!” (Mark 8:33). Disagreements in the ancient world were routinely expressed in the most brutal language.

In light of this rhetorical practice, vilifying language in the gospels or anywhere in ancient literature cannot be presumed to render an accurate description of the moral status of the persons addressed. It is often rhetoric. To call someone a hypocrite, a prostitute, a scoundrel, or any other slanderous title, was often only a convenient way to identify that person as an opponent who disagreed with the position of the writer. Such slander need not be affected by facts. A particular Pharisee might be a good and insightful person. But if he disagreed with the author’s position, he might well be tagged a blind fool.

At the time of the writing of the gospel, Matthew’s community was in a struggle with the Pharisees over the heritage of Judaism. Matthew clearly believed that God had sent Jesus as the Messiah. The Pharisees did not accept this belief. Matthew’s slander towards the Pharisees is therefore most likely a means to express a disagreement which existed between them after the destruction of the temple. It does not describe a disagreement between the Pharisees and Jesus during his ministry. Wherever we place its origins, the purpose of such slander in Matthew is to tag the Pharisees as his opponents. It should not be taken as an accurate description of the Pharisees’ moral character.

The most striking example of rhetorical slander can be found in the Didache, a second century Christian work: “Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites who fast on Mondays and Thursdays; rather you should fast on Wednesday and Friday” (8:1). It is difficult to see the moral superiority of Friday over Thursday. In this text being a hypocrite simply means fasting “like them” rather than “like us.” When the practice of vituperatio is appreciated, it is likely that the slanderous claims of the gospels concerning the Pharisees do not indicate that they were more hypocritical than any other religious group of the first century.

(3) The Pharisees Were Not Involved in Jesus’ Death.

The historical circumstances of Jesus’ death require an entire essay in themselves. But the main points of the situation may be briefly summarized. Crucifixion was a Roman form of execution. Therefore, the Romans were clearly the primary agents. It is likely that some of the Jewish leadership cooperated with the Romans in Jesus’ crucifixion. The most likely agents were the temple authorities. Even though certain offenses were punishable by death under Jewish law, the authority to execute the offender was reserved to the Roman procurator who at the time of Jesus was Pontius Pilate. It is possible that the Pilate permitted Jewish authorities to execute offenders for certain religious violations. But the case of Jesus did not involve such a violation and so his death would fall under Pilate’s direct control. The temple authorities would be limited to only an auxiliary role.

Yet Matthew 12:14 claims that the Pharisees went out and conspired against Jesus to destroy him. Is such a statement historically reliable? Two tendencies in the gospels indicate that this charge is a non-historical claim added by the evangelist. One tendency in all the gospels is to reduce Roman responsibility for Jesus’ death and to place it in Jewish hands. Another tendency on the part of the gospel writers is to routinely lump various Jewish groups together. Thus the gospels give the appearance that all Jewish groups were plotting against Jesus. Yet despite both these tendencies, there is no mention of the Pharisees in the gospel passion accounts.  In the actual description of Jesus’ death, the Pharisees are noticeably absent.

This absence is a strong indication that despite the tendency to associate all Jews in Jesus’ death, the Pharisees played no role in Jesus’ crucifixion. Historically a limited number of Jewish temple authorities probably cooperated with Pilate in Jesus’ crucifixion. That cooperation by a few was read back by the gospel writers into Jesus’ ministry and generically applied to all Jewish groups. The Pharisees are thus charged with trying to kill Jesus because they are a Jewish group. It is guilt by association. Their role in Jesus’ death is not historical.

A Revised View of the Pharisees

If we summarize our discussion, the following revised view of the Pharisees can be proposed. The Pharisees were a highly respected reform group in Judaism advocating a flexible interpretation of the law in service of love and mercy. As a group they were neither scrupulous nor hypocritical. Their teaching was very close to that of Jesus. They played no part in Jesus’ crucifixion.

This revised view can help resolve the paradox with which we began this essay and allow us to read the Christian gospels aware of the inaccurate and unjust understandings which can be derived from them. Yet advancing this revised view is no simple task.

Despite the work of many scholars over the last few decades, the traditional view of the Pharisees is remarkably persistent. To be a Pharisee for most Christians today still means to be a hypocritical legalist or a blind fool. One can always claim that adequate efforts of adult education are the reason that such misunderstandings persist. But I believe the issue lies much deeper. The traditional Christian view of the Pharisees remains attractive to many Christians for homiletic and educational purposes.

When the traditional Christian view of the Pharisees is connected with similar views of other Jewish groups, all Jews appear united against Jesus. This leads to a characterization of Judaism as a superficial, self-serving, and misguided religion. Once this false picture of malice and hypocrisy is accepted, Jesus can be easily presented as the light of the world, shining against the darkness of Judaism and its leaders. As a believing Christian, I fully hold that Jesus is the light of the world. But I do not believe that my faith requires me to negate the light and truth which was present in Jesus’ culture, Jesus’ opponents, or Jesus’ Jewish faith.

In order to believe that Jesus is good, we do not have to believe that Judaism is evil. In order to believe Jesus’ gospel was one of love, freedom, and grace, we do not need to claim that the law was about judgment, scrupulosity, and meriting salvation. In order to believe that Jesus died for our sins, Christians do not need to believe that Jesus was crucified because his message was so different and so opposed to the message of the Pharisees that they could not wait to kill him.

Preachers and catechists might find that such a stark contrast helps them emphasize the importance of Jesus. But I insist it does so at a great cost. To make this false contrast may be dramatic, but it is also historically indefensible and morally unjust.  We must work against it.

What can we do? We can educate ourselves and share what we learn with others.  Christians must come to believe that a Jesus who is thoroughly Jewish and understood in continuity with the Jewish tradition is no less our Messiah. We must teach that Jesus not only argued with other Jews but he also shared many central ideas with them. We must be careful when we read the gospel debates between Jesus and his opponents to understand that they are most often a debate within Judaism rather than against it. We must not understand slander in the gospels literally but rather see it as a part of the rhetoric of the time. Christians can and should see Jesus as dying for the gospel but understand that Jesus’ gospel was not opposed to Judaism but in continuity with it. Jesus taught a loving and merciful God because as a Jew he was taught that God was loving and merciful. He died believing in that God, but his death was not the result of the envy or opposition of fellow Jews who did not believe in such a God. He was put to death because he disturbed the interests of imperial Rome.

Christian homilists and teachers must insist that Christianity is truer and stronger when it admits its continuity with Judaism rather than falsifying Jewish beliefs in the misguided attempt to make a more dramatic point. Promoting a revised view of the Pharisees can be an important corrective in establishing such a continuity.

The Pharisees and most Jews of the first century were not the enemies of Jesus.  They were the ancestors of Jews today who we Christians claim as our brothers and sisters. It is with these elder brothers and sisters that we Christians must find a way to stand in our broken and despairing world and together proclaim our shared inheritance: the love and mercy of the God of Israel.

_____________________

** The argument and examples of this section have been previously published in George M. Smiga, “Separating the True from the Historical: A Catholic Approach to the Passion Narratives,” in Pondering the Passion: What’s at Stake for Christians and Jews? Ed. Philip A. Cunningham, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004, pp. 56-58.

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