Love vs. love

The most abominable enemy endeavours to destroy love by love itself: love for God and our neighbour—by love for the world, for its fleeting blessings and its corrupt, impious habits, by carnal love, by the love of riches, of honours, of pleasure, of various amusements. Therefore let us extinguish every love for this world in ourselves, and let us kindle in ourselves, by self-denial, love for God and our neighbor. Every beauty in this world (personal beauty) is only a faint, insignificant shadow of the uncreated beauty, of the unspeakable goodness of God’s face; every earthly enjoyment is nothing in comparison to future delights. I pray, Lord, that the faith of Christ may penetrate into the depths of my heart, that Christ’s Gospel may penetrate all my thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds, into all my bones and my brains, and not me only, but all men, as the universal truth, the highest wisdom, and the life eternal. “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou hast sent” [Jn 17.3].

St John of Kronstadt My Life in Christ, 335

The Gospels on the Pharisees IV

(continued from here)

9.) Mt 15.1-20 / Lk 11.37-54 / Mk 7.1-23
In Mt the issue is ritual handwashing prior to a meal, something that concerned some Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem, and is undoubtedly related to the later-attested Rabbinic practice (see Mishnah tractate Yadayim, passim). This would have been a basic issue that apparently would presumably prevent table fellowship between Jesus and his disciples on one side, and the Pharisees and scribes on the other. Jesus’ argument is fascinating. Adducing a presumably Pharisaic and scribal halakhic example regarding vows to the Temple (“Qorban”) and positing a situation in which it would actually break commandments in the Torah rather than preserve them, he follows with a quotation from Isaiah 29.13, a prophetic condemnation of similar behavior. This is then followed by a stunning pronouncement which appears to be related to the Isaiah quotation: what comes from the heart defiles. In Lk the argumentation is completely gone, and the pericope is combined with a Lucan version of the some of the woes of Mt 23. Mk, however, follows Mt more closely, though still not presenting the argumentation in full. Indeed, it appears that in his concern for parenthetical explanation of Jewish customs for his Gentile readers (vv 3-4, 11) and application to their situation (particularly in the parenthesis in v 19: “Thus he declared all foods clean” — patently not the issue in Mt), Mk has taken the pericope in a different direction altogether, one foreign to the argumentation in Mt.

10.) Mt 16.1-4 / Lke 11.16, 29; 12.54-56 / Mk 8.11-13
As noted above in #8, Lk and Mk have harmonized Mt 12.38-42 and Mt 16.1-4, which is most apparent in Mk 8.11 and Lk 11.16 noting that the questioning was in order “to test him,” which is lacking in the parallel in Mt 12.38. Also to be noted is the weather observation saying in Lk 12.54-56, which originates in an appropriate fuller context in Mt 16.1-4.

11.) Mt 16.5-12 / Lk 12.1 / Mk 8.14-21
Lk excerpts only the very beginning of the Matthean pericope on the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but identifies this leaven as the hypocrisy of the Pharisees alone, rather than the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees as in Mt. (The single excerpt is then followed by a Lucan version of Mt 10.26-33, interestingly implying persecution from the quarter of the Pharisees, though this would’ve been in actuality unlikely due to their position as influential intellectually, but lacking official power as a body themselves.) The version in Mk moves the focus, as elsewhere, to the miracles of the multiplication of loaves on two separate occasions, altogether neglecting to inform the reader what this leaven represents. An interesting change is that of “the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” in Mt 16.6 to “the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” in Mk 8.15. It is perhaps this unusual alteration in Mk that led to omitting the identification of the leaven. What role would the Pharisees and Herod have in common? Certainly not teaching. Mk probably should be taken, however, to understand the leaven as “hypocrisy” with Lk 12.1, contra Mt 6.12.

12.) Mt 19.3-12 / Lk 16.18 / Mk 10.2-12
In both Mt and Mk, it is the Pharisees asking Jesus about divorce, but there is a crucial difference in the two accounts. Mt has the question posed “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (19.3). Mk has it “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (10.2). Mt’s question will explain why Jesus’ ruling in 16.9 includes the proviso for adultery as the only legitimate reason for divorce. The unqualified question in Mk leads to an unqualified ban on divorce. Lk and Mk have no parallels to the concluding section of this pericope in Mt regarding not marrying as “eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” vv 10-12. Such imagery could be construed as distasteful to a Gentile audience, if aversion to circumcision is any guide. Lk and Mk might then simply have avoided presenting this odd saying to their predominantly Gentile audiences.

13.) Mt 21.23-27 / Lk 20.1-8 / Mk 11.27-33
In Mt we find “the chief priests and the elders of the people” (21.23) questioning the source of Jesus’ authority, while in Lk it is “the chief priests and the scribes with the elders” (20.1) and in Mk it is “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders” (11.27). Again, Lk inserts scribes and Mk follows suit, connoting the group against Jesus to be composed of all the rulership of the nation as well as the instructors, while Mt leaves the latter out of this particular episode. Lk and Mt both foster the impression of widespread official opposition to Jesus from the beginning of his teaching, while Mt presents a picture over the course of the gospel of a deteriorating relationship between Jesus and the other parties: Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, et al.

14.) Mt 21.33-46 / Lk 20.9-19 / Mk 12.1-12
This is the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen. The three versions are substantially parallel, though Lk omits the removal of the kingdom in Mt 21.43, and Mk omits both that and the following verse regarding being broken on the stone (Mt 21.44; Lk 20.18). The parties who recognize themselves depicted unflatteringly in the parable are “the chief priests and the Pharisees” in Mt 21.45, and “the scribes and the chief priests” in Lk 20.19. In Mk it is simply “they” (12.12), referring back to “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders” of 11.27.

(to be continued)

The Gospels on the Pharisees III

(continued from here)

6.) Matthew 12.9-14 / Luke 6.6-11 / Mark 3.1-6
Pickup on Mt 12.9-14:

Jesus’ words presume a knowledge of Pharisaic practice—specifically, that they would have granted an exception to the Sabbath restriction in the case of a trapped animal. Jesus is accusing the Pharisees of inconsistency in their application of the Torah. More than that, he sees is as an inconsistency that fails to give proper place to the humanitarian requirements of the Law” (p. 91).

Several differences are apparent in this set of parallel pericopes. First, in Mt it is Pharisees who ask Jesus the question on the legality of healing on the Sabbath, and Jesus answers with a question, using a classic qal va-homer (a fortiori) analogy to establish that saving an animal is permitted, thus so is healing a man. In Lk and Mk, however, Jesus asks a slightly different question, skips the halakhic analogy, and heals the man in a confrontational manner. Both Lk and Mk also present the Pharisees (and scribes in Lk) as already antagonistic, just looking for an excuse to accuse Jesus. On the other hand, in Mt there is no such narrative setup, and their (the Pharisees of 12.3) animosity comes only after he has healed the man, once he is perceived to have committed an offense. So again we see, in Lk’s and Mk’s reuse of the material, Mt’s halakhic argumentation stripped out and the pericope transformed into one focusing on how a good act can paradoxically offend some pre-antagonistic viewers (did they need any excuse?), not too surprisingly. The communication between Jesus and the Pharisees, him addressing them with their own manner of argumentation, according to their own form, is important to understand. His use of such forms of halakhic argumentation indicates that it was not restricted to the Pharisees, precursors to the Rabbis, alone, but was also, as we also know from some allusive examples at Qumran, a form of argumentation that was in general circulation among first century Judeans. Eliminating the level of understanding and rapport changes the depiction of the relationship from that of two parties speaking the same language in the same cultural and intellectual context (as the original situation patently was) to that of haughty superiority on one side and craven antagonism on the other. Matthew therefore presents a picture more in line with reality than either Luke or Mark.

7.) Matthew 12.24 / Mark 3.22
In this case we find Mt depicting the speakers as Pharisees, while Mk has “scribes…from Jerusalem” speaking. Pickup (pp 94-95) notes that the scribes are more often depicted in discussion with Jesus in Mk, while in Mt, the Pharisees predominate. Pickup says (p. 95), “Clearly, the author of Matthew believed that while not every Pharisee was a scribe, certain scribes in Mark’s gospel were in fact Pharisees and these Pharisaic scribes in Mark’s gospel were in fact Pharisees and these Pharisees tended to be the ones who objected to Jesus as a teacher of the Law.” Yet there is another way to view the evidence. With the Griesbach Hypothesis, we have Lk between Mt and Mk, and the evidence viewed in this order shows that Lk introduced the scribes into many of the pericopes, where they were either retained or not by Mk, with no apparent pattern. Lk perhaps differentiated the Pharisees in Mt simply for the reason of increasing the impression of organized opposition to Jesus from Judean leadership. The scribes, however, do not get off easy in Mt. Note the repeated refrain in Mt 23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

8.) Matthew 12.38 (par 16.1-2a, 4) / Lk 11.16, 29-32 / Mk 8.11-12
Here in Mt, scribes and Pharisees seek a sign (at Mt 16.1 is is “the Pharisees and Sadducees”), while Lk has “some” and “others” in a crowd asking (11.14-16), and Mk has simply “the Pharisees” (8.11) arriving and promptly arguing. Note the change: a respectful request in Mt 12.38 (“Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you”) is harmonized with Mt 16.1 (“And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven”) in first Lk and then Mk. In both, again, Jesus’ initial rapport with the Pharisees and scribes is obscured by this practice of Lk, sustained by Mk, in presenting the Pharisees and Judean leadership as irrationally hostile to Jesus from the beginning. Mt presents a picture of deteriorating relations, which is much more believable, likely, and thereby almost certainly earlier.

(to be continued)

The Gospels on the Pharisees II

As I mentioned a few days ago in the first post in this series, I’m looking at the Gospel parallels dealing with Pharisees noted in the Martin Pickup (“Matthew and Mark’s Pharisees”) and Amy-Jill Levine (“Luke’s Pharisees”) articles in the volume In Quest of the Historical Pharisees, edited by Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton, approaching them with the Griesbach Hypothesis in mind, which takes Matthew as the earliest written Gospel, then Luke which used Matthew, then Mark, which used both. By the end of this first installment of my notes, I think it’s safe to say that taking the Griesbach Hypothesis as a starting point doesn’t overturn any of the results presented by Pickup and Levine in their discussions. In some cases, though, it may shed some more light on proto-halakhic disputation current in the first century, and how writers for Gentile audiences, not understanding the importance of the details, would summarize these for their audiences more interested in and familiar with the gnomic sayings of a Philosopher than the halakhic disputations of a Rabbi. Yet the latter is certainly to be expected the earlier we go, and is found in Matthew in spades. Likewise the depiction of the Pharisees in Matthew is a nuanced one, sometimes depicting hostility on one or the other side, but one that also recognizes them as what might be called the “directing partner” in a relationship with the actual rulers and officials in charge of the national ethnic law, or Jewish religious law, halakhah as we might say today.

These notes are personal reflections, taken off the top of my head, directions for further thought and investigation, making no claim to anything more than being notes posted on a blog. I trust others will find some things in them of interest, however. We shall see. The best benefit is to be had in actually reading In Quest of the Historical Pharisees. References to Pickup or Levine with a page number in the notes below refer to the page numbers in that volume. So let us proceed.

1.) Matthew 5.1-7.29: First Discourse/Sermon on the Mount (Pickup 99-102)
In Mt 5.17-48 Jesus “juxtaposes his own teaching about the Torah with that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Pickup 99). Six examples are given by Jesus in which the instruction/practice of the scribes and Pharisees are deemed insufficient, which “result in an inadequate level of righteousness (v. 20)” (Pickup 101). A suggestion to explain the breaking up of this discourse into the scatterd and incomplete fragments as found in Luke and Mark is the likely need for too many parenthetical explanations (as in Mk 7.3 and 11 especially) for so much of the discourse for their audiences. Excerpting from it the more gnomic and Gentile-friendly bits, avoiding the actual disputations of nascent halakhah in Matthew, explains the results. As the discourse stands, particularly Mt 5.17-48, where the patterns of halakhic disputation are plainly recognizable, it is much easier to understand this to have been the original context of the scattered parallels in Luke and Mark (namely the Beatitudes in Mt 5.3-12 and Lk 6.20-23; Mt 5.13 = Mk 9.49, Lk 14.34-35; Mt 5.15 = Mk 4.21, Lk 8.16; Mt 5.17-18 = Lk 16.16-17; Mt 5.23-24 = Mk 11.25; Mt 5.25-26 = Lk 12.57-59; Mt 5.30 = Mk 9.43; Mt 5.32 = Lk 16.18; Mt 5.38-42 = Lk 6.29-30; Mt 5.43-48 = Lk 6.27-28, 32-36). Clearly these pithy Dominical sayings are stripped from a context in Matthew to which they are manifestly better fitted, where they are linked together by topic and vocabulary, and where they are organized as proto-halakhic disputations of a format recognizable in later Rabbinic writings.

2.) Matthew 9.1-8 / Luke 5.17-26 / Mark 2.1-2: Healing the Paralytic
Mt and Mk both indicate that “some of the scribes” found Jesus’ words blasphemous, while Lk notes it was “the scribes and the Pharisees” in keeping with Luke’s setting of the scene: “One day . . . Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem)…” (Lk 5.17). Mt doesn’t mention a crowd initially, though one is implied by the scribes of 9.3; the crowd is only mentioned at the end of the pericope in Mt 9.8. Mk has “many were gathered together” (2.2) indicating a mixed crowd rather than one of exclusively scribes/law-teachers and Pharisees, as Lk may be read to imply. The delightful detail of letting the man on the pallet down through the roof (Mk 2.4, Lk 5.19) is some added color, though it appears to make their feat of lowering the man the indicator of their faith, rather than the mere fact of their having brought him. An explanation of the “blasphemy” is found in Lk 5.21 and Mk 2.7, which explanation was unnecessary in Mt, and presumably originally, as well: “Who can forgive sins but God?” The emphasis in Lk appears to be on Jesus’ extra-local fame and ability to draw interested parties, including particularly those responsible for religious education. Taking Mt as the earliest and Lk as next, we see emphasizing the crowd moved up front in Lk and an emphasis on that component of the crowd which had come from afar, law-teachers (later “scribes”) and Pharisees, which gives a certain great philosopher-like impression of Jesus. Likewise the “fear” of the crowd in Mt 9.8 is entirely striking but appropriate, the crowd having just witnessed what appeared to be a delegation of Divine power to a man. This is softened to amazement in Lk and Mk, with the delegation removed. Indeed, the point of the pericope in Mt is that of the delegation, but in Lk and Mr the healing is emphasized, and the important point of delegated forgiveness is not as strongly (if at all) pointed to. Lk in fact sets it up as a healing story at 5.17.

3.) Mt 9.9-13 / Lk 5.27-32 / Mk 2.14-17: The Calling of Matthew/Levi
In Mt only Pharisees ask the question, while in both Lk (“Pharisees and their scribes”) and Mk (the odd “scribes of the Pharisees”), scribes are involved. Seeing that in both Mk and Lk the scribes are somehow attached to the Pharisees, whether in being themselves Pharisees or so controlled by them that they are effectively Pharisees, we find corroboration of the image presented throughout the Gospels — the Pharisees were the “directing partners” of the scribes.

4.) Mt 9.14-17 / Lk 5.33-39 / Mk 2.18-22: On Fasting
Mt has the question asked by “the disciples of John” (9.14) Lk has a generic “they” (5.33), likely pointing back to the same “Pharisees and their scribes” in the previous pericope, but followed by their awkward reference to themselves in the third person! Mk likewise has unspecified “people” asking (2.18), though awkwardly introducing the pericope with the mention of the disciples of John and the Pharisees to be currently fasting (based on Mt’s present tense in 9.14?). However, if the Pharisees’ disciples (and presumably also the Pharisees themselves) were fasting, why were they at this banquet? Lk has the question become “fast and offer prayers.” Again, Mt has the better antecedent, with disciples of John simply asking “Why do we and the Pharisees fast…?” (9.14). As in #2 above, we see a softening of Mt’s original for the sake of diaspora Jews and Gentiles: fasting is not, as for Mt, equated with mourning (Mt 9.15), but in Lk becomes associated with prayer and thus is presented as a religious function of some sort (Lk 5.34). Lk also shows some expansion in the patch of new cloth being torn from a new garment (Lk 5.36), and in v. 39, the statement on old wine’s superiority, which rather defeats the purpose of the pericope, or at least distracts from its point on appropriate timing for fasting.

5.) Mt 12.1-8 / Lk 6.1-5 / Mk 2.23-28: Plucking Grain on a Sabbath
Both Lk and Mk importantly fail to note what excused the disciples’ “harvest” — “his disciples were hungry” (Mt 12.1). Only in Mt is there a coherent presentation of the disputation. The Hosea 6.6 quotation is not extraneous, but integral, explaining both the principle at play in the David incident first, and secondly the disciples’ situation. Secondly, the “priests in the temple” section (vv 5-6) is tied to the “priests” in v. 4, followed by a link with the word “temple” in vv 5 and 6. So we have the entire pericope bound together in a classic word chain: hungry-hungry, priests-priests, temple-temple, sabbath-sabbath, which sabbath likewise links back to verse 1. In both Lk and Mk, the gnomic “Son of man is lord of the sabbath” is rendered cryptic without the disputation from which it came, although Mk does include a rather generic summary of its intended point (2.27). The full context lies only in Mt. The Pharisees are depicted as objecting in all three Gospels. Pickup puts it well on this pericope:

The first argument makes the point that the Sabbath restriction cannot be understood to mean that every kind of work is prohibited on that day, for it was obvious that God did not intend the suspension of the priestly sacrificial duties on the Sabbath. The quotation (again) of Hosea 6:6 complements the prior argument, for if sacrifice is not forbidden on the Sabbath, and yet mercy (ελεος) is more important to God than sacrifice, then deeds of mercy on the Sabbath could not be forbidden. This type of qal v’homer argumentation fully comports with the thrust of Jesus’ halakhic argumentation in Mark. (Pickup 91)

I would say, of course, that Mark’s summary doesn’t do justice to the original argument as presented in Matthew, which itself comports fully with a proto-rabbinic environment of halakhic disputation, just what is expected in first century Galilee and Judea.

[to be continued]

A Pilgrim and a Prayer

Phil Sumpter at Narrative and Ontology has been reading the Russian Orthodox classic Откровенные рассказы странника духовному своему отцу (Candid Stories of a Pilgrim to his Spiritual Father, usually titled in English The Way of A Pilgrim) in what appears to be a very nice German translation. The selection he translates into English there I have also found in my own copy of the Helen Bacovcin translation (Doubleday/Image Books, 1978), beginning with quoting the staretz or spiritual father of the unnamed pilgrim (pp 18-19):

“To learn about this prayer, we will read from a book called the Philokalia. This book, which was compiled by twenty-five holy Fathers, contains complete and detailed instructions about ceaseless prayer. The content of this book is of such depth and usefulness that it is considered to be the primary teacher of contemplative life, and as the Venerable Nicephorus says, ‘It leads one to salvation without labor and sweat.'”

“Is it then more important than the Holy Bible?” I asked.

“No, it is neither more important nor holier than the Bible, but it contains clear exposition of the ideas that are mysteriously presented in the Bible and are not easy for our finite mind to understand. I will give you an illustration. The sun—a great, shining, and magnificent light—cannot be contemplated and looked at directly with the naked eye. An artificial glass, a million times smaller and dimmer than the sun, is needed to look at the great king of lights to be enraptured by its fiery rays. In a similar way the Holy Bible is a shining light and the Philokalia is the necessary glass.

Phil delightfully titled his post “Tradition as ‘sunglasses'” which I think is going to stick with me from now on because of this happy concatenation of connections between us, as it was one of my own posts of a quotation from the Philokalia which led him to mention his reading this book.

Philokalia (love of beautiful things) is a Greek word which came to be used to describe literary anthologies, and it is perfectly appropriate as a title of this collection of beautiful writings on prayer of the heart (or hesychastic prayer; most literally it is what is referred to as the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner) from various Church Fathers dating from between the fourth to fifteenth centuries. The original collection was compiled in the eighteenth century by Saint Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain (Mt Athos) and St Makarios of Corinth, and published in Venice in 1782. A second edition was published, including additional texts from Patriarch Kallistos of Constantinople (mid-fourteenth century), in Athens in 1893. A third edition in five volumes total was published 1957-1963, also in Athens by Astir. It is this third edition, incorporating all the texts of the earlier editions, which is the source of the English translation which is in process of publication by His Eminence Kallistos, Metropolitan of Diokleia (by 1995, four volumes were released: 1, 2, 3, 4; the fifth may or may not yet be published), who had worked earlier with the now-reposed G. E. H. Palmer and Philip Sherrard on editing the translations initially completed by a larger team. Earlier, however, an abridgement of the original edition of the Philokalia in Slavonic, Dobrotolubiye (which likewise means love of beautiful things), was published by St Paisii Velichkovskii in 1793. This was the edition carried by the Pilgrim in his trek. A translation of this volume into Russian, still using the title Dobrotolubiye, was published by St Ignatii Branchianinov in 1857. A five-volume Russian adaptation (including extra texts and abridgements and alterations to the original Greek collection) was published by St Theophan the Recluse, complete by 1883, also under the title Dobrotolubiye. The notes and introductory essays in the English edition by Metropolitan Kallistos, et al., are contemporary, and the best available texts are used for the selections included, so it is a valuable edition, and will hopefully be completed soon. I have heard of some hesitation regarding the publishing of the fifth volume, as it includes some passages on the discipline of hesychastic prayer which are considered to be potentially susceptible to abuse in the hands of the naive or those without spiritual guidance. Concern for the spiritual welfare of all readers may lead to the fifth volume of the English translation not being published.

Along these lines, the editors (His Eminence Kallistos, Philip Sherrard, and G.E.H. Palmer) provide the following cautions for those who would attempt hesychastic prayer:

It must be stressed, however, that this spiritual path known as hesychasm cannot be followed in a vacuum. Although most of the texts in the Philokalia are not specifically doctrinal, they all presuppose doctrine even when they do not state it. Moreover, this doctrine entails an ecclesiology. It entails a particular understanding of the Church and a view of salvation inextricably bound up with its sacramental and liturgical life. This is to say that hesychasm is not something that has developed independently of or alongside the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church. It is part and parcel of it. It too is an ecclesial tradition. To attempt to practise it, therefore, apart from active participation in this sacramental and liturgical life is to cut it off from its living roots. It is also to abuse the intention of its exponents and teachers and so to act with a presumption that may well have consequences of a disastrous kind, mental and physical.

There is a further point connected with this. The texts in the Philokalia were written by and for those actively living not only within the sacramental and liturgical framework of the Orthodox Church, but also within that of the Orthodox monastic tradition. They therefore presuppose conditions of life radically different from those in which most readers of this English translation are likely to find themselves. Is this tantamount to saying that the counsels they contain can be applied only within a monastic environment? Many hesychast writers affirm that this is not the case, and St Nikodimos himself, in his introduction to the original Philokalia, goes out of his way to stress that ‘unceasing prayer’ may or, rather, should be practised by all. Naturally, the monastic life provides conditions, such as quietness, solitude and regularity, indispensable for that concentration without which one cannot advance far along the spiritual path. But, provided that the basic condition of active participation in the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church is fulfilled, then this path is open to all to follow, each to the best of his or her ability and whatever the circumstances under which he or she lives. Indeed, in this respect the distinction between the monastic life and life ‘in the world’ is but relative: every human being, by virtue of the fact that he or she is created in the image of God, is summoned to be perfect, is summoned to love God with all his or her heart, soul and mind. In this sense all have the same vocation and all must follow the same spiritual path. Some no doubt will follow it further than others; and again for some the intensity of the desire with which they pursue it may well lead them to embrace a pattern of life more in harmony with its demands, and this pattern may well be provided by the monastic life. But the path with its goal is one and the same whether followed within or outside a monastic environment. What is essential is that one does not follow it in an arbitrary and ignorant manner. Personal guidance from a qualified teacher should always be sought for. If such guidance is not to be found, then active participation in the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church, always necessary, will have an added importance in the overcoming of obstacles and dangers inherent in any quest of a spiritual nature.
Philokalia, vol 1, pp 15-16

The dangers warned of are real. Every “quest of a spiritual nature” is fraught with peril when attempted without the foundation of discernment necessary to “test the spirits” (1 Jn 4.1). There is no such thing as “Eastern Orthodox mysticism.” There is only Eastern Orthodoxy. With all its dogma, its liturgies, its canons and ecclesiology, its hymnography and iconography, and its life of prayer, it is one organic whole, and indivisible. It is precisely those who would separate an imagined “Eastern Orthodox mysticism” in hesychasm from Eastern Orthodoxy who are in the most danger. Would a novice weightlifter attempt to lift 500 pounds the first day he steps foot in a gym? Never! But there are those in these modern times who would certainly attempt to practice hesychastic prayer without its foundation and its proper context in a life lived in the Orthodox Church and the spiritual nourishment and healing and protection that such entails. I shudder to think what would happen when some of these people who don’t even believe in demons would attempt hesychastic prayer. Those would be the easiest of marks, so easily deceived and destroyed.

I don’t mean at all to imply here that my friend Phil or anyone else should stop reading and enjoying the Strannik and/or Philokalia. Not in the least! They are classics to be enjoyed and loved by all. I only thought it helpful to bring up the warnings regarding the practice of the Jesus Prayer in this context, as these two works, The Way of a Pilgrim and the Philokalia deal precisely with that prayer as their primary subject. If these books interest someone, if they love them greatly, then they should also become more familiar with the Orthodox tradition that has produced them, in which the practice of hesychastic prayer, the Jesus Prayer, is an organically integrated part. Yes, yes, I admit it: I would have the whole world convert to Orthodoxy, if it would. I admit my complete partiality, rooted in joy and love. But who could not be partial to any group that produces such things as the Philokalia and The Way of a Pilgrim?! Orthodoxy is itself the love of beautiful things indeed, the most beautiful being God! And along with that love for God, the love for our fellow man prompted me to share the above warnings. I trust this concern will be appreciated in the spirit in which it is intended.

The Gospels on the Pharisees I

I recently read and posted briefly on In Quest of the Historical Pharisees, edited by Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton (Baylor Univ Press, 2007). It’s a pithy book, a thoroughly thought-provoking one that deserves revisiting in more depth. In a short series of posts I intend to revisit precisely those issues which, in my reading, struck my contemplation like a bell, leaving it ringing ever since.

The first interest is something I mentioned in my earlier post, investigating how following the Griesbach Hypothesis minority approach to the Synoptic Problem (mentioned in passing, as we’ll see below, by both Martin Pickup in his chapter “Matthew’s and Mark’s Pharisees” and by Amy-Jill Levine in her chapter “Luke’s Pharisees”) would lead to perhaps slightly different conclusions regarding attitudes discernible through differences between the Evangelists’ mention of the Pharisees and others. Pickup and Levine both, of course, utilized the majority approach to the Synoptic Problem in their investigations, what is most often referred to as the Two-Source Hypothesis.

For those readers unfamiliar with what is commonly called the Synoptic Problem, in a nutshell it refers to the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which are quite similar in wording and order of pericopes, and the relationship in the origins of each one to the other. The Griesbach Hypothesis, also called the Two Gospel Hypothesis, posits that Matthew was written first, then Luke was written using Matthew, and then Mark written last using both Matthew and Luke. (This is the explanation to which I myself hold.) The Two-Source Hypothesis is more complicated. It posits that Mark was written first, and that there was a further written body of shared tradition available to both Matthew and Luke (labeled Q, from the German Quelle, source), that also available to Matthew and Luke were a set of traditions peculiar to themselves (referred to as M and L respectively when it is proposed that these sources were written documents and not just oral tradition), but that Matthew and Luke did not use one another’s Gospels. An excellent site which describes all the variations suggested as solutions to the Synoptic Problem is that of Stephen Carlson, who provides a system of didactically very helpful graphics showing the relationships between the Gospels in the various hypotheses, The Synoptic Problem Website.

So, the issue here in exegesis of any text represented in one of the Synoptic Gospels must be intimately related to the hypothesis preferred by the exegete to explain the relationships between the Gospels. In this way, a saying that is present in one Gospel in one form, and in another Gospel in a slightly different form, will be explained differently according to the relationship suggested by the preferred solution to the Synoptic Problem. When we posit Mark as the beginning, and then evaluate Matthew and Luke according to how they have “changed” what Mark said, one will suggest different alterations and motivations than what would be said in positing Matthew as the beginning, seeing how Luke adapted his writing, and how Mark made use of both in the end. So I thought it would be fun to apply this latter method, based on the Griesbach Two Gospel Hypothesis, and see how differently the data regarding the mention of Pharisees in the Synoptic Gospels will look. I’m thinking particularly that it might clear up a bit of what’s going on with the Pharisees in Luke, which Amy-Jill Levine showed was rather difficult to pin down in following the Two Source Hypothesis.

Following the series of posts describing this alternate investigation of the data relating to the Pharisees, I then intend to take a look at how the Gospels have been and are still regularly misread regarding the Pharisees. With the information found in the chapters of In Quest of the Historical Pharisees, it is not only possible, but imperative to correct those misreadings. We find, in taking account of this new picture of the Pharisees, that they are still criticized in the Gospels, but not in general for what has been attributed to them in the past, for a kind of rigid, loveless, legalistic religious hypocrisy that is familiar to every religious tradition. Rather, their problem lay elsewhere, I would suggest in a kind of cynical pragmatism tied to the maintenance of their popularity with and power over the populace.

In any case, stay tuned for the coming installments. I have to write them first!


Tongues of flesh are unbabeled
Speaking mysteries of God
Tongues of fire lap at heaven
Tasting the fruit of the Spirit
Today is born the Bride betrothed
To her only loving Bridegroom
Waiting in world-shaking wind
In soul-shattering Spirit
Keeping a lamp lit for Him
To light a new world from it
One prayer ever on her lips
O come, my Lord, come.


Love bade me welcome : yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d any thing.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here :
Love said, you shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them : let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat :
So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert, Love (3), 1633

Buy it now!

Eighth Day Books has reprinted of Fr Andrew Louth’s absolutely magnificent Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology which I’ve mentioned here several times before. It’s available there for the very low price of US $25. Thank you, Eighth Day Press! I’ll be buying several copies for friends.

Hopefully with this text being available at such a low price, it will be more widely read and discussed, as it deserves much more attention than it has received.

Many thanks to Papabear of Diligite Iustitiam for bringing this reprint to my attention via a link to one of my posts on the book. Isn’t this technology just amazing and so helpful? Glory to God!

Notes on Pharisees

As you may’ve noticed, I’ve been reading the volume edited by Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton, In Quest of the Historical Pharisees (Baylor University Press, 2007). If anyone is interested in what can be known about the Pharisees, this is the book to read. I found it a much more satisfying reading experience than even the relatively recent and excellent Anthony Saldarini’s Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society (Eerdmans, 2001), with nearly every chapter presenting a new and more convincing reading of the data.

The first five chapters already lead to something of a consensus. Steve Mason in “Josephus’s Pharisees: The Narratives” and “Josephus’s Pharisees: The Philosophy” covers very well indeed all the mentions of the Pharisees in Josephus’ works, the two chapters dealing with narrative and with the passages wherein the Pharisees are described as one of several Judean philosophies. Martin Pickup covers “Matthew’s and Mark’s Pharisees,” Amy-Jill Levine describes “Luke’s Pharisees,” and “John’s Pharisees” are covered by Raimo Hakola and Adele Reinhartz. The indication through these (with Luke being somewhat equivocal and hard to pin down, which makes Levine’s chapter somewhat less fun, that way) is that the Pharisees were a voluntary association of some sort with a focus on religious-social law (or halakhah, to be somewhat anachronistic), who did not in themselves comprise the ruling class (though some members did belong to it), but they exerted continuing influence over the leadership due to their influence over and popularity with the general population, an influence beginning in the middle-Hasmonean period and continuing until the Great Revolt (and beyond, in the Pharisees transformation/appropriation as the forerunners of the Rabbis). Details of their organization, membership requirements and numbers, even a precis of their standard beliefs, however, are all lost to us. But we do have some very interesting remnants preserved in the rabbinic canon, particularly several pericopes in the Mishnah and Tosefta, which Jack Lightstone describes in “The Pharisees and the Sadducees in the Earliest Rabbinic Documents”, and Neusner describes in “The Rabbinic Traditions about the Pharisees before 70 CE: An Overview”, and “The Pharisaic Agenda: Laws Attributed in the Mishnah and the Tosefta to Pre-70 Pharisees,” and “The Pre-70 Pharisees after 70 and after 140.” The potential recovery of such material is only possible with careful attention to the form of the pericopes. Where the form is unusual, this needs to be investigated. Neusner shows that this yields interesting possibilities indeed in the Pharisee/Sadducee dispute material and in the “domestic” narratives regarding Hillel’s family. In both cases, parts of the pericopes have not been “digested” by the editors of the pre-Mishnaic sources or by the editors of the Mishnah and Tosefta themselves into the standard format for such materials, so the likelihood is high that these are earlier sources incorporated into the texts as we have them. It’s unfortunate that there are so few! It’s also fascinating just how very blurred the line is between “Pharisees” on the one side and “Rabbis” or “Sages” on the other in the Tannaitic documents; there appears to be no real distinction, in fact. Additional interesting chapters include that of Bruce Chilton, “Paul and the Pharisees,” Chilton and Neusner with “Paul and Gamaliel,” James VanderKam’s “The Pharisees and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” and James Strange’s “Archaeology and the Pharisees.”

There are some chapters following the above on The Pharisees in Modern Theology: Susannah Heschel’s “The German Theological Tradition,” and two by Neusner “The Anglo-American Theological Tradition” and “The Debate with E. P. Saunders since 1970.” There is then also a concluding chapter by William Scott Green, “What Do We Really Know about the Pharisees, and How Do We Know It?”

One of the most interesting and beneficial results of this book would be the attention it draws to how one particular reading of the Gospel evidence, rather than the sum of the available evidence itself, and even a more generous reading of the Gospel evidence, has generated nearly two millennia of misreadings of the other materials regarding the Pharisees, too. I’ll cover some of those misreadings here, later. In the meantime, I recommend In Quest of the Historical Pharisees to everyone interested in the subject.