By Lydia O’Kane
This year the Pontifical Biblical Institute is celebrating the 110th anniversary of its foundation. To mark this occasion, the institute is holding an international conference entitled, “Jesus and the Pharisees: an Interdisciplinary Reappraisal”.
In prepared remarks to members on Thursday in the Vatican, Pope Francis focused on the conference’s theme. He told those gathered that recent study had come to realize that less is known about the Pharisees than previous generations thought. “We are less certain about their origins and about many of their teachings and practices”, he said.
The Pharisees: examination and research
The Pope added, that the conference’s examination of interdisciplinary research into literary and historical questions regarding the Pharisees, would “contribute to a more accurate view of this religious group, while also helping to combat antisemitism.”
Delving into the New Testament, the Pontiff noted that Jesus had numerous discussions with Pharisees about common concerns. He pointed out that, “among the more significant moments in the Gospel of John we find Jesus’ encounter with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, one of the leaders of the Jews. Pope Francis went on to say that, “to Nicodemus Jesus explains that, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”. Nicodemus, emphasized the Pope, “would then defend Jesus before an assembly and subsequently be present at his burial. Whatever view one takes of Nicodemus, it is clear that the various stereotypes about “the Pharisees” do not apply to him, nor do they find confirmation elsewhere in John’s Gospel", he said.
Golden rule of loving ones neighbour
In his remarks, the Pope recalled how “Rabbi Aqiba, one of the most famous rabbis of the second century and an heir to Pharisaic traditions, pointed to the words “love your neighbour as yourself” as a great principle of the Torah.
Pope Francis explained to those present how the “golden rule” of loving ones neighbour “represents a significant indicator for recognizing affinities between Jesus and his Pharisee interlocutors.
It certainly constitutes an important basis for any dialogue, especially among Jews and Christians, even today.”
The Pope continued by saying that, “to love our neighbours better, we need to know them, and in order to know who they are we often have to find ways to overcome ancient prejudices.” For this reason, he concluded, “your conference, crossing faiths and disciplines in its effort to attain a fuller and more accurate understanding of the Pharisees, will make it possible to present them more appropriately in teaching and preaching.”
“I am certain, he said, “that these studies, and the new avenues they will open, will positively contribute to the relationship between Jews and Christians, in view of an ever more profound and fraternal dialogue.”