On Publicans, Pharisees, and Giveaways

Last Sunday, we heard in Church the account of the call and repentance of Zacchaeus (St Luke 19:1-10), which signals the end of the post-Pentecost period and the imminent arrival of the Lenten season; this coming Sunday, the first of the three preparatory Sundays before Lent, we will hear the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (St. Luke 18:10-14). In this latter reading, and indeed throughout the rest of the canonical Gospels (see, for instance, my earlier post), the Pharisees receive a thorough beating, which leads many Bible readers unaware of anything but the picture painted in the Gospels to conclude that the Pharisees must have been the most execrable types ever to walk on God’s earth. Needless to say, this is a grievous mistake that stems from failing to take into account the polemical nature of the Gospel picture of Jesus’ opponents, and perhaps more importantly, that underscores the great amount of care we must exercise whenever we engage in the necessary and unavoidable task of the historical reconstruction of the New Testament context. I shall have more to say about this issue over the course of the coming week, but for our purposes now, I wish to call to your attention the wonderful sermon on last Sunday’s Gospel by St John (Maximovich) of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896-1966), which exhibits a keen awareness of the historical context of the New Testament as applied to the subject at hand while remaining close both to the Gospel picture. St John says:

The customary comparison between the humble Publican and the proud Pharisee often blocks the true meaning of these two images in our minds. However, to understand the Gospel correctly, one must picture them clearly. The Pharisees were truly righteous men. If on our lips the name “Pharisee” sounds as condemnation, in the days of Christ and during the first decades of Christianity this was not so. On the contrary, the Apostle Paul triumphantly confesses before the Jews, “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6). And then, to Christians, to his spiritual children, he writes, “I am of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews, as touching the law, a Pharisee” (Phil. 3:5). And besides the holy Apostle Paul, many Pharisees became Christians: Joseph, Nicodemus, Gamaliel. Pharisees (in ancient Hebrew “perusim,” in Aramaic, “ferisim,” which means “other”the separated, the different) were zealots of the law of God. They “rested upon the law”; in other words, thought on it constantly, loved it, strove to keep it exactly, preached and interpreted it. And the reason for the Lord’s accusation against the Pharisees is found in that the Lord warns them that their entire labor, their truly virtuous endeavors, are made worthless in the eyes of God, are turned into nothing and they obtain condemnation from the Lord and not blessings, despite their superiority and the righteous deeds they performed, because of their proud self-exaltation, and above all, their judgment of their neighbors, of which the Pharisee of the parable gives a clear example, saying, “Lord, I thank Thee that I am not as other men” (Lk. 18:11).

Note especially St John’s recourse to St Paul’s “boasting” about his former adherence to Pharisaism, which is quite apropos: St Paul is, after all, one of the only two ancients who claim to have been Pharisees (the other is Josephus), a designation he is unlikely to have claimed in one of his “boasting” passages had it truly been a term of opprobrium, as it became in later Christian discourse.

As I noted above, engaging in the task of historical reconstruction is both necessary and unavoidable, and we would all do well to acquire such bibliographical resources as would set our investigation on firmer footing. On the subject of the Pharisees and other Jewish sects in the First Century, one would be hard pressed to find a better and more comprehensive study than the late Anthony J. Saldarini’s Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society (1988; reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001). Quite fortunately you, my gentle snowflakes, as I searched my library for books touching on this important subject, I discovered that I have not one, but two copies of this important work. I have therefore decided to bestow the additional copy upon one of you in the first (and probably the only) ever Week of the Publican and the Pharisee Giveaway at The Voice of Stefan! Following Nick Norelli’s sage advice, I only ask you to sign up for the giveaway in the comment section of this post, and perhaps to advertise the giveaway on your own blog, should you have one. [UPDATE: If you choose to announce the giveaway on your own blog, I will enter you name twice into the contest.] I will draw a winner next Friday, February 13 (N. S.), 2009, and send out the undoubtedly coveted prize to the winner’s regular US address shortly thereafter. (With profuse apologies to readers outside the US, I am presently unable to ship internationally.) Best wishes to any and all who choose to participate!


69 responses to “On Publicans, Pharisees, and Giveaways

  1. Ah! An opportunity for autokeraphonia!

    Last summer I worked up a series of posts (Notes on Pharisees; The Gospels on the Pharisees, Parts I, II, III, IV, V, and VI)investigating the treatment of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Gospels, inspired by the Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton-edited In Search of the Historical Pharisees (Baylor University Press, 2007). The book is required reading along with Saldarini’s. They are the two most recent, most in-depth treatments on what is known about these complex groups.


  2. James> But you have a PhD and tenure! We can't compete back! ;-)

    Kevin> Autokeraphonia?! I love it!!!

    Thank you ever so much for reminding me of these excellent posts of yours! I will elevate this comment to post status on Monday.

    As for the volume edited by Neusner and Chilton, well, I asked Baylor for a review copy over a year ago, but those evildoers refused to send me one. Hmph.


  3. Please include me in your consideration for a winner. Not only do I like to win, but I would also like to read this book.


  4. I’m definitely in, as I could likely stand to learn more about this topic to a greater extent than your other readers!

    By the way, poor Manuel! I don’t read Spanish, but I understand ‘nuestro dolor’ and :-(.


  5. I humbly request to be on the list. Not only am I more ignorant than Aaron and thus require far more education on the subject, I am also short and I need good books on which to sit at the dinner table.


  6. Manuel> ¡Ay, hermano! Mil disculpas una vez más. Desgraciadamente, aún no he podido encontrar trabajo permanente, y por esto sencillamente no puedo costear el envío internacional. :-/ Pero bueno, !ya veremos si el ganador escribe una reseña!

    Nathan> You have been duly entered, my friend! We'll see who wins the prize; I'm kind of curious to find out myself. :-)

    Aaron> Please note that it is not yet the time for both the arrogant and the humble to come to the feast without regard of their condition (cf. The Paschal Homily of St John Chrysostom). ;-)

    Justin> You too are duly registered, sir! Of course, the whole idea of you sitting on the book makes me ponder the liberality of my inscription policies…

    And you selfish lot! With the sole exception of Aaron, NOT ONE of you has announced the giveaway on your blog! I know your trying to improve your chances to win, but here’s this: the names of those who announce the giveaway on their blog will be enter twice into the contest. So, as it stands, Aaron has twice the chance of anybody else to win. ;-)


  7. Please sign me up. Being already a certified Pharisee, I have no need of such rubbish, but I will certainly enjoy reading and will post corrections on my blog.

    I am also very curious about the basis for classifying Gamaliel as a Christian. Given that this St. John you reference was from San Francisco, there should be an interesting explanation.


  8. James: Luckily one of the free books I’ll be receiving this summer is a copy of your very own work The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context and I can assure you that should you ruin my chances at winning the present book being offered I will give it a scathing review! ;-)


  9. Count me in too. I’m always in the market for more free books. I agree with James McGrath, Nick needs some competition when it comes to free books. ;)


  10. Reasons to bequeath upon myself this fine resource:

    1) I am a grad student
    2) I have a wife
    3) I have two kids
    4) All of my money goes to 1-3
    5) I would love to read this book
    6) I’ll actually read it
    7) I promise to use it in my MA thesis

    And that’s seven reasons (the number of perfection) to award the book to me. Oh, and you will reap a harvest one-hundred fold and experience supernatural debt cancellation for seeding into the ministry of the Lord’s prophet.


  11. I too would like to be considered! Looks like a good and valuable resource – especially for a poor small church pastor such as myself! ;) I will also henceforth post it on my blog as well.


  12. This isn’t a book I would be interested in but I hope you can check your library for more duplicates.

    You can see I’ve been taking lessons from Nick on begging for books.


  13. Looney> You're now on the list. If you win, I look forward to an insider's critique of Saldarini's sociological reconstruction. ;-)

    As for Gamaliel, it was the tradition of the early Church (still reflected in the Synaxaria of the Eastern Church) that Gamaliel became a Christian.

    Nick> Oh, so I guess YOU can fight back. I stand corrected. ;-)

    Tim> If you win, I'll just drive the book over. I mean, I'm out that way every week for Church!

    Scott> Your reasons are very moving indeed; I hope they impress whoever it that determines the luck of the draw!

    Brian> See my response to Scott. ;-)

    Yvette> All are welcome to play, but especially someone who gave me a book for my birthday! :-)

    Jeff> I knew in my heart of hearts that you'd come over to the dark side sooner or later.

    Steph> Well, that has got to be the quickest reversal in recorded history! ;-) I do not in fact remember seeing this comment, but flattery (and Manuel's heartfelt plea) might actually get me to look into exactly how much would it cost to ship this book internationally…


  14. Not only is the giveaway posted on my blog, it is readable to my friends on Facebook. So HA!

    I’m only kidding about sitting on the book. I would never do that. Rather, I would recite from it at the dinner table to my family. That doesn’t minimize the fact that I am short. But just having the book will make me feel like the tallest man.

    It occurs to me that a poor pastor deserves a good book more than I. It also occurs to me that if Aaron wins, I will still get to read the book (after the honeymoon period of course). In fact, Aaron has already loaned me several good and important books which I also do not sit on.


  15. Naturally the reversal wasn’t real – I was just idly noting the inadequacy of my NZ address which I suddenly realised disqualified me from the contest – and my comment on James C’s blog is there as evidence for my heartfelt admiration of you fantasticity which of course is eternal… :-)



  16. Scott Bailey> If I withdraw my name from the competition, can I experience supernatural debt cancellation too?


  17. I can’t believe you are not on my reader! But leave me out for I live in Canada and I already have too many books to read.


  18. I’m genuinely surprised so many people don’t already have this book!

    Please make sure that I am not in your list of potential recipients, Esteban. I have a copy already.


  19. Sign me up.

    I was about to get outraged! as Canada is not so far as, say, Ghana, and I sure that there are many Ghanese (Ghanans?) who would like this book too, but then I realized that I too have an American address. In fact, I have easily a dozen Stateside friends who would be so much more willing to mail a book to Canada than you are.

    Also, you haven’t replied to a letter from the two of us, which means that in the cosmic order of things, you owe us. I had been thinking first-born child, but I’ll accept the book.

    [Please note the guilt with which I have laced the above paragraphs. It’s not much, but I don’t think it has been tried yet.]

    Oh, and I am advertising the contest in my blog, so I get my name in twice.

    – V.


  20. And, if I win, I'll give you a contextless yet priceless endorsement for you to add to your blog. Think about it. Nobody's offered that yet.

    Besides, think how much easier it will be to announce that I have won versus writing names on paper, tearing up said paper, placing paper in a hat, plucking paper from the hat, &c. &c. ad nauseum ad infinitum… Really, choosing me is much simpler.

    – V.


  21. kevin already has the book (says he, in a triumphalist tone akin to that of george bush’s ‘mission accomplished’)

    since he wasted your time and space by telling you not to sign him up, you should make him send you a book or ban him forever from your blog.



  22. Again you neglect your parents simply because we live in Canada. For shame my son. I will endeavor to announce this giveaway in my own blog – perhaps you could blogroll your old man instead. :-)


  23. Peter> You smart guy, you! But, alas, I think up to two entries for bloggers is about enough. :-)

    Justin> Ah, Facebook! I should give people an additional entry for making the book giveway their Facebook status. Um.. not really. ;-) But anyway, if you combine your entries and Aaron's, you guys have 300% better chancesto win than people with a single entry! That's not too bad.

    Steph> Well, the eternal admiration of fantasticity is of course mutual! Start a blog and see just to what extent I am able to fawn. ;-)

    Bob> And I just realized that you're on my reader, but not on my blogroll–a mistake I am about to correct!

    Jim> You are incorrigible, but you make an EXCELLENT point! Which leads me to the following:

    Kevin> I figured, but duly noted. Now, what book are you going to send me? ;-)

    V.> Hold on–I'm busting out the world's smallest violin for you. ;-) Meanwhile, your smooth talking was so dizzying that I nearly gave in and announced you to be the winner. Then I got over it, and was so mad about the manipulation aspect of it all that I nearly decided to enter a half ballot for you. :-)

    (PS: Sorry about the email delay, but I don't have internet at home, and I'm woefully behind in my correspondence. Look for it this week.)

    Father> That is a nearly unforgivable transgression! I shall correct it forthwith. But as for your living in Canadia (that's its true name), well, that's not my fault. I have many times pleaded with you and Mother to move away from there, but to no avail. In this, you have brought your exclusion upon yourself.

    To the rest of the commenters, I have added you all the list. Thanks for participating!


  24. Well, my last book sending was something of a trial for both of us. I’ll have to work up the guts towards that. I’ve got something in mind, though.


  25. I’m starting to like the idea of doing one of these book giveaways and watching all of my fellow bibliophiles make fools of themselves by their ingratiation attempts!


  26. Kevin> Ah, yes, that was travesty of epic proportions. But Thomson arrived in the box, so all was well! ;-) (And by the way, I picked up an additional copy of that book edited by Neusner, Faith Renewed, which I intend to send you soon.)

    Aaron> My pal Jeff, who commented above, often speaks of the bibliophiles' groveling. I never quite understood it until I this giveaway–I guess that one grovels oneself (as I have done on many occasions!) one is oblivious to it. ;-)


  27. I suppose because I’m not going to get sucked into the procrasination blogging phenomenon I am again disqualified?



  28. [laughter]

    Setting aside grovelling and its attendant risks for the moment, I thought I would ask you or Kevin P. Edgecomb this pressing question:

    What is autokeraphonia?

    Sadly, my Greek isn’t that good, and I misplaced my dictionary behind the stacks of cheap paperback thrillers.

    – V.


  29. "Scott Bailey> If I withdraw my name from the competition, can I experience supernatural debt cancellation too?"

    I'm sorry that is a negative action, a passive faith. In order to experience the supernatural debt cancellation from Scotteriology Ministries International Super Amazing Seed Blessings Department, one must take a more concrete and positive step and seed (give me money or stuff).


  30. you guys have 300% better chancesto win than people with a single entry!

    Rebbe Aaron> "and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do."


  31. Steph> Oh, of course not! Having a blog, after all, is not required for the giveaway. However, it is exceedingly difficult to fawn over our mutual fantasticity to the full extent of the possibilities when, alas, you have no blog for me to do my part! ;-)

    Ed> I will sign you up, even though your bank has probably run out of room to accommodate all the money you've made on your fine book. (Har har!)

    V.> Autos=self, keras=horn, phonh=voice–which roughly comes out to "tooting one's own horn." Hilarious, no?

    Fr Andrew> You got it, Father Dude! ;-)


  32. Oh but only you are fantastic. And any blog I blogged would be duller than ditch water – not to mention the fact that I don’t know how to start a blog! or use a cell phone or turn on a DVD or Video – things I’ve never had or used, but I can drive a car, ride a horse and swim the Cook Strait though…. But despite my insignificance, nonblogging status and unfantasticity, I know my destiny is to proclaim the fantasticity of you – littering the comments of biblioblogs with your praises! :-)


  33. Esteban, I almost make enough money in royalties to pay for all of the resources that I had to buy in order to write my books in the first place! ;-)


  34. Steph> But you see, the point is that I have grounds to doubt that I am fantastic, while I am utterly convinced that you are. I suppose it's okay that don't have a blog wherein I can fawn over your obvious fantasticity, but I suppose I can adopt your modus operandi and take my loud proclamations thereof to such comment sections in which we happen to coincide. For instance, I can tell everyone repeatedly how you can swim the Cook Strait through. Fantastic! Amazing! (Really?!)

    Ed> Yes, it's a vicious circle, I hear! If I ever write a book, I'm afraid that, however popular it becomes, I'll never make enough to make up all the money I have squandered on books for 15 or so years. ;-)


  35. I’m actually remarkably unfantastic and most people haven’t heard of Cook Strait and alot of people wouldn’t even know where New Zealand is. However your fantasticity is without doubt and I look forward to celebrating it with you in the comments. (and winning the book:-)


  36. Steph> Well, your fantasticity is such that, against the rules, I included you in the contest! But alas, you did not win. Probably because I broke the rules. ;-)

    And well, I know where New Zealand is, and while I had never heard of Cook Strait, I looked it up!


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