Damn Shame What They Did To That Dog!
(Deconstructing the Biblical Polemic Against the Pharisees)
By Khalil Amani
Remember that scene in Coming To America where the landlord shows Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall that dirty-ass apartment—complete with a chalk outlining of a dead dog? The slumlord says, “Damn shame what they did to that dog!” Well, that’s kinda the sentiment I feel for how we have been mislead about biblical stuff. Our minds are mentally dead.
The biggest problem with the New Testament Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) are that they were not written by firsthand eye-witnesses to the works of Jesus. They were written after Jesus’s death—some 30 to 70 years after his death. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did not write those books. Those names were given to these books, but the real authors are unnamed, anonymous writers who lived in the first and second centuries. They wrote these books and gave credit to Matthew and them—a common custom and literary device used by first century writers. These names were chosen to add credence and authenticity to their storytelling. These are indisputable facts that all biblical historians agree on.
Understanding that the new Testament is not a comprehensive historical account of all that was going on in Palestine when Jesus walked the earth, we need to check with those sources that lived as close to Jesus’s time and see what was going on. The Bible only hints at what was going on—a real milquetoast, watered-down version of how the Jews were being dogged out by the Romans. Remember how our schools taught us about American Slavery and then we saw the movies Roots—and Mandingo—and Django—and 12 Years A Slave and then we became angry at white people because we had a visual to go with what our school books taught us? The same can be said about what the Jewish people endured under Roman rule—not as degrading as American Slavery, but in a distant neighborhood. Rome was not fucking around with the Jews!
They had this little torture device they’d use on the Jews to make examples out of rabble-rousers and dissidents and trouble-makers and shit-starters and people claiming to be the king of the Jews—messiahs. This little torture device that many of you have come to venerate—the CROSS! The cross was a form of corporal punishment since Time Immemorial, yet we have made it a religious symbol.
Let’s be clear! The Jews were looking for the coming messiah—an anointed king—one who could expel the Romans out of the land of Israel and return the Jews to their former glory. This otherworldly son-of-God phenom is a new narrative, created outside of the Jewish mind. Be very clear about that! The Jewish mind had no concept of a real only begotten son of God type. That is a Hellenistic (Greek) construct and since the original New Testament was written in Greek, you have hella Hellenistic influence in the writing of the N.T. books.
Before we discuss the group known as the Pharisees we should be very clear on the setting in which Jesus and the Pharisees lived. You got that? If you don’t understand the times, Google that shit! Now let’s talk about the Pharisees.
In this book I go into great detail regarding the Pharisees. It gets quite ugly!
The Pharisees. Who were these dudes? If you read the Bible—more specifically, the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—Jesus lets off a volley of shots at the Pharisees. Jesus throws major shade on their sect. Jesus all but curses them out! Jesus outright, flat-out disses this group called the Pharisees. The question now becomes, why? How accurate is the New Testament’s diatribe against the Pharisees? What did the Pharisees do that warranted such scorn and ridicule from Jesus?
Matthew 23:23-29 is a great example of how Jesus goes in on the Pharisee: “Woe [serious trouble] unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…Ye blind guides…” Jesus blasts the Pharisees in Matthew 16, 23, Mark 8, Luke 11, 12, and all through the book of John. Jesus says very unflattering and unedifying things about these people known as the Pharisees.
Jesus’s main beef seems to be that the Pharisees were law-abiding citizens of the Torah (the Jewish law) and that they followed it to the letter of the law, not allowing for interpretation. Jesus saw, in their actions, hypocrisy and called them out on it. This is the narrative put forth by the New Testament, but how accurate and historical is it?
At a time when a Roman regime ruled Palestine (Israel) one would think that Jesus would save his harshest criticism for those who kept their foot on the necks of his people, the Jews—and not so much on a religious sect that little is known about from just reading the New Testament. The Gospels give us no real reason for Jesus’s outbursts, other than him not liking the fact that they were stringent about keeping the law.
But ah! There is an easy historical explanation as to Jesus’s mum-moufness towards his oppressor and Jesus’s all-out verbal assault on his own people, the Pharisees. It goes back to what I stated early, the Gospels were not written by Jews when Jesus lived. The expressed intent of all four Gospels are to expunge Rome—to excuse Rome—to downplay Rome’s atrocities towards the Jews and make it look like the Jews were rife with infighting. Even though the Romans murdered Jesus—the blame for Jesus’s death was placed squarely on the shoulders of the Jews and they come out in history as the “Christ Killers.” This was done on purpose! The four Gospels turn out to be the ultimate justification for antisemitism—four apologist books absolving any and all complicity in the murder of Jesus and the dehumanization of first century jewry.
They got Jesus saying, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s…” placating and bowing to Roman rule, while, at the same time going hard-body-karate on his own people—calling the Pharisees “hypocrites and generation of vipers”—and going into temples and wreckin’ shit—turning over tables and chasing mofos out of the building!
In American politics, the Pharisees would be Democrats. From a black consciousness point of view, the Pharisees would’ve been more like the Black Panthers—an extremist group who were “about that life.” You know what the phrase “about that life” refers to—they were street savvy—killers—goons and alla dat!
Enter Yosef ben Matityahu aka Flavius Josephus. (Who dat?) Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived 37 C.E. to 100 C.E. (*C.E. is the scholarly form for A.D., meaning “Common Era.” A.D. presupposes a Christo-centric view and has been abandoned in the name of unbiased scholarship.) He was a contemporary of Jesus, born just four years after Jesus’s death. As a man, he fought against the Romans, but later surrendered and became a slave to the Roman emperor Vespasian as an interpreter. He was freed and took on the name of his Roman captors, Josephus.
Flavius Josephus wrote The Jewish Wars and Antiquities of the Jews. He is the Jewish authority of Jewish history, so whatever he wrote holds tons of water! He wrote about all things Jewish—the Pharisees included, but before you read this let us read what he supposedly said about one of his contemporaries. The following paragraph has mostly been debunked by scholars and only believed to be authentic by Christian apologists. On Jesus, Josephus wrote:
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.”
Again, scholars have given this paragraph of Josephus a major side-eye. They say it sounds “too Christian.” Most scholars don’t believe Josephus wrote this or ever spoke about Jesus! They’re on some “You need more people!” type ish.
Okay. I just wanted to show you that. Now read what Josephus said about that Pharisees—the group that Jesus shades throughout the Gospels. Let’s see if Josephus views the Pharisees with the same disdain as Jesus. Josephus writes this of the Pharisees:
“Pharisees, who are one of the sects of the Jews… These have so great a power over the multitude, that when they say anything against the king or against the high priest, they are presently believed (354). …while the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace obsequious to them, but the Pharisees have the multitude on their side” (355).
But hold on! Stop the effing presses! Check this shit out! Josephus further states:
“These are those that are called the sect of the Pharisees, who were in a capacity of greatly opposing kings. A cunning sect they were, and soon elevated to a pitch of open fighting and doing mischief. Accordingly, when all the people of the Jews gave assurance of their good will to Caesar, and to the king’s government, these very men did not swear, being above six thousand…” (453). …the Pharisees are friendly to one another, and are for the exercise of concord and regard for the public” (608).
Can you start to see what a pickle the New Testament Gospels have us in? All that red writing in the new Testament, which is supposedly Jesus speaking has the Pharisees looking hella crazy, but here comes Flavius Josephus where he tells us that they were well-liked by the Jews, didn’t take no shit and didn’t pledge allegiance to Rome and even started riots! It turns out that the Pharisees were the Black Panthers of their day! Rebel-rousers, mischief-makers, shit-starters—and “about that life!”
The ultimate aim of the Pharisees—and the Essenes—and the Zealots were a return to the true State of Israel! This is why Barabbas was imprisoned! He was one of the agitators and not some penny-anny two-bit thief! The narrative put forth by the New Testament that Jesus didn’t like the Pharisees is totally misleading, incorrect and historically inaccurate! Straight like dat! (Damn i’m killing it!)
The Pharisees had nothing but love for Jesus and I can prove it! St. John 3:1-2 writes, “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. the same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God…”
And! Jesus’s doctrine and the Pharisee doctrine weren’t at total odds with one another. In Mark 12:34 Jesus speaks to a scribe (Pharisee) saying, “And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” Jesus supposedly talks shit about the Pharisees, but it was a Pharisee who tried to warn him that Rome wanted him dead! Luke 13:31 says, “The same day there came a certain of the Pharisees, saying unto Him [Jesus], Get thee out and depart: For Herod will kill thee.”
The scholar Karen Armstrong, in her book, A History of God writes this about the Pharisees as portrayed in the Bible, “Apart from this being a libelous distortion of the facts and a flagrant breach of the charity that was supposed to characterize his mission, the bitter denunciation of the Pharisees is almost certainly unauthentic” (81).
At the end of the day, it is not Jesus who lied on the Pharisees, but rather that second and thirdhand information through Oral Tradition and much covert Gentile/Hellenistic influences that made the Bible writer diss the Pharisees. For they were amongst the most radical element that Rome watched with a careful eye. The Pharisees and the Zealots, from the perspective of the Romans could be viewed as we view Isis and Ben Laden’s al-Qaeda. They were freedom fighters, but to the occupying forces, terrorists. There is no reason why Jesus would have to diss the very people who were trying to free his people! It makes no sense!
“Damn shame what they did to that dog.” (The Pharisees!)