Written by: Julia Tyack
One of the great myths introduced by Matthew is the myth of Jesus’s bitter conflict with the Pharisees. The teachings of Jesus in some matters, reflect the teaching of the greatest Pharisee in history, a sage called Hillel who lived for 120 years like Moses and died when Jesus was about 10 years of age. Some scholars now think that Jesus could have belonged to the school of Hillel and that the supposed bitter conflict with the Pharisees in Galilee is not historical, but that conflict did erupt between the early Christians in post-second Temple Judaism. Once the temple was destroyed by the Romans and the priesthood disappeared as a viable institution within Judaism, two parties contended for the future of Judaism – the Rabbinical party composed mainly of Pharisees and the Jesus people. When the Jesus people were expelled from the Synagogue around 80 CE, that conflict became very bitter. It is reflected in Matthew 23 (which helps us locate the dating of the production of “Matthew”) and the Fourth Gospel. The spirit and tone of Matthew 23 containing what was supposedly Jesus’ bitter and intemperate outburst against the Pharisees (snakes, children of the devil, go to hell you evil brood, and the rest) is completely at odds to the core teaching of Jesus in the Great Sermon.
At least two well-known sayings of Jesus appear to reflect the sayings of Hillel. One of these is known as the Golden Rule. Hillel said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellows. That is the whole Torah, the rest is explanation; go and learn.” So Jesus says, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you. This is the whole of the law and the prophets.” ( Matthew 7:12) And the other from Hillel, “The Sabbath is given over to you and not you to the Sabbath.” Jesus put the Hillel saying this way: “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.”
Shemmai was a rival teacher to Hillel, and this resulted in a rival School of Shemmai. Shemmain was an arch conservative and Jewish exclusivist. He taught that only those who kept the Torah, meaning only those who were practicing Jews, could have a part in the life to come. Hillel was more liberal and a known gentle peace lover who taught that the God-fearers among the Gentiles would share in the life to come. On this point it could be said that Hillel was at least half-way to Paul’s doctrine of salvation apart from circumcision.
Some of the Q scholars maintain that the early Q document contained no apocalyptic and nothing in it that reflected what we find in Matthew 23. But after these Galilean Jesus people pressed and agitated for some time on the core teaching of Jesus ( no revenge, love of enemies etc) and reaped a poor response, they began to express their frustration by editing into the sayings of Jesus Gospel, the warnings and bitter tirade which we find in Matthew 23.