Q: Recently a Jewish writer, Lee Siegel, wrote a very critical column about Joe Lieberman, for a leftist web magazine. As a result, a Jewish talk show host, Michael Medved (whom I often pray for) was reading segments of the article on the air, and criticizing Siegel for having accused Lieberman of behaving like Christian fundamentalists. Medved read one line in which Siegel accused the New Testament of having launching “vicious” attacks on the Pharisees. Siegel went on to describe the Pharisees as having been “rational, charitable and humane.” Medved describes himself as “a modern Orthodox” Jew, who has very warm feelings about Christians, but he said there was “an argument” for Siegel's accusation that the New Testament did not accurately represent the Pharisees. I know you're very busy, but is there anyone there who could give me a brief answer as to how would one counter this in witnessing to a Jew who believes this?
A: The accusation of the New Testament launching viscious attacks on the Pharisees (as well as Jews in general) is an old cannard thrown about haphazardly by those predisposed to finding antisemitism in the primary documents of Christianity, i.e., the New Testament. There is nothing viscious about the New Testament's description of the Pharisees. The picture the gospels paint is one of balance. Yeshua had close friends among the Pharisees. Pharisees warned him of danger. Other Pharisees plotted against him and viewed him as a threat. Finally, certain Pharisees became believers. It would be suspicious if we found within the New Testament a monochrome, uniform portrayal of what was such a vibrantly diverse sect.
The word that one should use for how Jews, including the Pharisees are described within the gospels and Acts is passionate. Anyone who has ever heard contemporary Jews speaking about other Jews with whom they disagree would understand the New Testament's style. It was written by Jews, after all. No Jewish writer worth his salt from Moses onward could ever be accused of dispassion, particularly regarding an inter-family disagreement. I respectfully submit that those who see viscious portrayals of Jews in the New Testament should attend an average meeting of Israel's Knesset, if you want to see true vitriol among fellow Jews. Passion in the New Testament writings should not be confused with either aggression or antipathy.