While appreciating Brian McLaren’s insightful article on Jesus’ teaching about hell, I am respectfully concerned about his treatment of the Pharisees. Accusing the Pharisees of despising, depriving, and excluding many of their neighbors—including prostitutes and tax collectors—inadvertently supports the stereotype of Pharisees as being self-righteous hypocrites. This stereotype is dismantled by these words in the Mishnah that the Pharisees aspired to: “Seek not greatness for yourself, and crave not honor more than is due to your learning” (Avot 6:5). Moreover, a strong case can be made that Jesus himself was a Pharisee who followed most of the teachings of Rabbi Hillel.
In the future, I believe it would be most helpful to invite one of our Jewish neighbors to submit an article about the Pharisees—their historical origins, their interpretation of both the written and oral Torah, their rich contributions to Judaism, the schools of Shammai and Hillel, and their similarities to Jesus. Hopefully this will give us a new appreciation of the Pharisees.