Yeshua the Pharisee?
By James Scott Trimm
In Yochanan we read that when Yochanan was immersing in the wilderness:
26 Yochanan answered and said to them, I immerse with water: but among you stands One, whom you do not know.
27 This is the One, who will come after me–yet was before me: the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to loose.
(John 1:26-27 HRV)
Now a basic rule of hermeneutics is to ask who is being spoken to in any given passage. In this case there is much to learn by asking this question, because Messiah himself is part of this “you” being addressed here by Yochanan. The answer as to who is “you” here lies in verse 24:
24 And those who were sent were from the P’rushim.
(John 1:24 HRV)
In other words, we could understand the passage as follows:
26 Yochanan answered and said to them, I immerse with water: but among you [Pharisees] stands One, whom you do not know. 27 This is the One, who will come after me–yet was before me: the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to loose.
(John 1:26-27 HRV)
Yeshua seems to be referred here as a Pharisee! This should not serve as a surprise. When Yeshua was born he received a special blessing from Hillel the Great’s son Shim’on:
Now there was one man in Yerushalayim. His name was Shim’on. And this man was just and righteous and waiting for the comfort of Yisrael, and the Ruach HaKodesh was upon him.
(Luke 2:25-35 HRV)
This Shimon (Simon) was almost certainly Shim’on the son of Hillel who would later succeed his father as Nasi of the Pharisaic Sanhedrin. His son Gamliel would become the teacher of Paul (Acts 22:3) and would take a tolerant stance toward the Nazarene sect (Acts 5:34) possibly influenced by his father’s earlier blessing of Yehsua. … (Taken from the Hebraic Roots Commentary on Luke http://www.lulu.com/nazarene)
One of the most significant parallels between Yeshua and Hillel is Their profound teaching of Love. Yeshua’s teaching of love was a radical departure from the teachings at Qumran. Now Philo tells us that the Essenes had great “desire to promote brotherly love” (Philo; The Hypothetica 11:2) this brotherly love seems to have been only to fellow members of the Yachad (unity). This is reflected in the Damascus Document’s use of Lev. 19:18. In the Torah Leviticus 19:18 reads:
You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of my people, But you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am YHWH.
Now the Damascus Document interprets this passage as follows:
As for the passage that says, “Take no vengeance and bear no grudge against your kinfolk” (Lev. 19:18) any covenant member who brings against his fellow an accusation not sworn to before witnesses or who makes an accusation in the heat of anger or who tells it to his elders to bring his fellow into repute, the same is a vengence-taker and a grudge-bearer….
(Damascus Document 9, 2)
Note that this Qumran interpretation of Lev. 19:19 would limit “neighbor” in Lev. 19:18 to “any covenant member” i.e. a member of the Yachad. In fact the Qumran sect taught:
…bear unremitting hatred towards all men of ill repute… to leave it to them to pursue wealth and mercenary gain… truckling to a depot.
(Manual Of Disc. Ix, 21-26)
By contrast Hillel is quoted as saying:
Be disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and drawing them near to the Torah.
The Qumran attitude was one of hatred to the sinner. There was no concept of “drawing them near to the Torah” but rather to “leave it to them to [sin]… truckling to a depot.” Yet Hillel took the opposite approach. Hillel’s attitude was to “Love” the men of ill repute and draw them near to the Torah. This was also Yeshua’s approach.
You have heard that it was said “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?
Yeshua here begins by quoting the Tanak “Love your neighbor” (Lev. 19:18) but then gives the Qumran corollary “hate your enemy.” Yeshua differs with this “hate your enemy” teaching in agreement with the love philosophy of Hillel. Apparently the Qumran community inferred from “Love your neighbor” (Lev. 19:18) that they should therefore bear unremitting hatred toward their enemies. To Yeshua (and presumably Hillel) the issue is the interpretation of “neighbor.” In his Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:29-36) Yeshua argues that we cannot be sure who our “neighbor” is, so in order to make sure we do not violate Lev. 19:18 we should love everyone.
Hillel, Yeshua and the Golden Rule
Another strong parallel between Hillel and Yeshua is that of the so called “Golden Rule.” There is a story in the Talmud in which Hillel gives a summary of the Torah. The Talmud says:
…it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, “Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Thereupon he repulsed him with the builders cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he said to him “Do not to others what you would not have them do to you: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.”
A similar incident occurs in the Gospels:
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Yeshua said to him, ” ‘You shall love YHWH your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “This is the first and great commandment. “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Matthew 22:34-40 = Mark 12:28-31 = Luke 10:25-37)
Here Yeshua is pressed to summarize the Torah and answers with the Sh’ma (Dt. 6:4-9) and the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). This is remarkably similar to Hillel’s answer to the same question. It is important to note that the Pharisees agreed that Yeshua’s answer was correct. Yeshua elsewhere gives a summary of the Torah which parallels Hillel’s answer even closer:
Whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even to them, for this is the Torah and the Prophets.
(Matthew 7:12 = Luke 6:31)
Priority of Chesed to Hillel and Yeshua
Within Rabbinic literature we have record of over 350 disputes between the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai. Generally Shammai gave the stricter interpretation, while Hillels understandings were more relaxed. According to the Zohar (Ra’aya Meheimna 3:245a) The School of Shammai was based on GEVURAH (“severity”) while the School of Hillel was based on CHESED (“grace”/”mercy”). This is very significant. In Mark’s account of Yeshua’s summary of the Torah (Mk. 12:28-33) A “scribe” comes to question Yeshua. In Matthew’s account this “scribe” is identified as a Pharisee (Mt. 22:34-36). According to Mark’s account this Pharisee not only agreed with Yeshua’s summary of Torah and repeated it adding:
…and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
It is not unlikely from this context that the Pharisee was quoting a now-lost saying of Hillel here. In making this statement the Pharisee, who apparently was from the School of Hillel, was pointing to Hosea 6:6:
For I [YHWH] desire mercy (CHESED), and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of ELOHIM more than burnt offerings.
This Pharisee seemes to have identified “love your neighbor” of Lev. 19:18 with the CHESED of Hosea 6:6. Remember the relaxed halachic positions of the School of Hillel were based on CHESED, it is indeed likely that Hosea 6:6 served as a proof text for many of their halachic rulings, since this passage assigns a halachic weight to CHESED. We also find Yeshau using Hosea 6:6 in support of his relaxed halachic rulings regarding the Shabbat (Mt. 12:7 = Hosea 6:6) hereYeshus argues from Hosea 6:6 that CHESED is of greater weight than the sacrifices. Since CHESED out weighs sacrifice, and sacrifice out weighs Shabbat, then CHESED out weighs Shabbat.
It seems that both Yeshua and Hillel emphasised love for all men, Taught the “gloden rule” and had many of their halachic rulings rooted in CHESED (“mercy”).
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