I was drawn into Brian McLaren’s “Beyond Fire and Brimstone” (February 2014) by the article’s introductory framing of the historical and cultural context of belief in an afterlife—but was brought up short later when he focused in on the Pharisees as elitist, judgmental, and indifferent to the poor as a contrast to Jesus.
A positive presentation of Jesus does not require negative stereotyping of the Pharisees or any other Jews. Nor is it accurate. First century Judaism was diverse and evolving, and the Pharisees were just one group dealing with the challenges to their tradition at the time. As forerunners to the rabbinic movement that emerged after the temple’s destruction, they contributed to the preservation and development of Judaism in the diaspora. Further, the teachings of Judaism are very clear about the imperative to care for one’s neighbor and giving to the poor, so it’s simply wrong to say they “stepped over destitute neighbors.”