Is 'Pharisee' an antisemitic slur?

But how many Christian children go to VBS any more?

Heck, I never heard of VBS until I was an adult living in the mainland USA.

That’s not the point. I just mean in general, Chistian children hear a lot about Pharisees. It’s not obscure in those communities.

No, that is precisely the point. How many Christian children hear a lot about Pharisees? It certain isn’t a big part of Episcopalian teachings.

It isn’t? I was raised in the Church of England and definitely was taught about Pharisees as a trap to avoid, as in a short hand for Christians who are obsessed with the legalistic side of Christianity. It was barely even mentioned in the context of Judaism.

I concur. If we called a Jewish banker a “temple money changer”, it would be a slur even though the Temple has been gone these thousand years.

That concept is called felix culpa (fortunate fault) in early and medieval Christian doctrine, though it’s more usually applied to Adam’s fall from Eden.

Good can come from sin, or is predestined to come from sin.

As the lyrics from the song Adam lay ybounden (c.1400) say,

Ne had the apple taken been,
   The apple taken been,
Ne had never our Lady
   A-been heavene queen.

Blessed be the time
   That apple taken was,
Therefore we moun singen,
   Deo gracias!

Tolkien uses the same idea in his works.

It’s Gollum’s desire for the Ring that results in good – the ring being destroyed. Also in the Ainulindalë and elsewhere in the Silmarillion.

Pharisee is not really level 101 Christianity. I would not expect a regular churchgoer to even keep track of that group unless they supplemented their attendance with Bible study or had an experience with parochial education as I did.

Jesus is portrayed as being even handed in the Bible. The Pharisees and other more organized Jewish groups are usually portrayed as rivals, though not the only ones. But there are occasions where they give the answer Jesus is looking for, and he praises them accordingly.

If someone wants to clear the barrier of general knowledge about the Pharisees, and ignore the general anti discrimination tone of the New Testament, do all that and try to make it a slur… I never saw it used as a slur, not once. There are plenty of other slurs that have wider acceptance. Only saw Pharisees used in an “inside baseball” context of people already familiar with church life. No outside relevance.

As a particularly non-devout Reform Jew, I certainly don’t identify with the Pharisee, but was vaguely aware of their traditions after many years of Hebrew School. While I would have identified Pharisees as being Jews, I wouldn’t have identified Jews as being Pharisees if you get my drift.

As for the second and third points, sadly the answer is a conditional yes, but very rare. And lets be clear - these are not what I would consider Church-educated Christians doing it - it seems to be a more a self-ordained preacher sort of thing, who gets his religion from a couple of favorite quotes and popular culture, including Jesus Christ Superstar. So it’s along the line of ‘You Pharisees got Jesus Killed, and you’ll be taking away our jobs/guns/freedums/etc next!’.

Still, pretty darn rare, I would say 80-90% of the time I’ve heard the term uses outside of a historical perspective it was, as others have said, shorthand for any sect of rigid rules lawyers (secular or religious).

While Pharisees feature in the Gospels, and therefore most Christians who’ve had any kind of engagement with scripture will have some awareness of them, it’s not the Pharisees that are positioned in the Gospels as being responsible for the death of Christ; it’s the Temple authorities, with whom the Pharisees were pretty much at odds. And, while that might be a distinction that would pass many people by, the pejorative associations of “Pharisee” are of being legalistic and formalistic and pettifogging, not of being murderous or cruel.

I think it comes down to this: you’ve got a term that has very clear Jewish connections and connotations, and it’s used pejoratively. In the context of the history of relations between Christians and Jews, that’s gotta be problematic. Maybe find an exemplar of legalism and formalism who isn’t Jewish?

Yeah, I’m most familiar with the term in the phrase “lawyers and Pharisees”.

I’m fond of the Rabbi Small series. Kemelman wrote one book as an explanation of different aspects of Judaism. That book is Conversations With Rabbi Small. I just checked my Google Play Books copy of it for what he said about the “Scribes and Pharisees”. Here it is from p.p. 14~15, with a conversation between a young woman who wishes to convert to Judaism, and Rabbi David Small, the protagonist of the series.

She colored. “Well, sometimes against the Jews. But not the modern Jews,” she added hastily. “It would be around Easter, and it would be about the Jews of Jesus’ time, about the Scribes and the Pharisees.”

He nodded grimly. “That’s one of the difficulties. Because Judaism as it is today is the Judaism of the Scribes and the Pharisees.”

She was startled. “It is?”

He smiled faintly and nodded.

She looked at him doubtfully. “You’re not trying to put me off again are you?”

“No. But it does rather point up some of the difficulties, doesn’t it? The same words mean one thing to you with your Christian background, and something else to us. You see, Christianity was a new and radical movement at the time, and radical movements are against the establishment. Well, the Scribes and the Pharisees were the establishment. If the movement succeeds, as Chritianity certainly did, then the meanings and connotations that it ascribes to certain terms and concepts are crystallized and become the official meanings. But while the movement succeeded, the establishment also persisted–down to the present day. It’s us. So the terms Scribes, Pharisees, which in Christianity suggest smug complacency, pettifogging legalism, self-righteous hypocrisy–those terms in Judaism refer to a group of saintly men, profound thinkers, men whose lives were dedicated to setting up a system by which God’s will might be done.”

A personal observation: taking a term that refers to a particular group of Jews and using that term as an insult strikes me as anti-Semitic, IMHO.

Sure, but that’s not really about Vacation Bible School. It’s not like that’s the only time people would hear of things from the gospels. You have Sunday School, children’s church, various sermons, TV shows, movies, and plays about Jesus’s life, and so on.

I would find it odd if someone who grew up Christian didn’t know the word. And, yes, the main place they show up is as people who Jesus shows up. He basically claims that the Jewish leaders of the day were all corrupt, only outwardly pretending to be righteous, doing it all for show. It’s not even like he only ever talked about the Pharisees: he mentions the Saducees, or “teachers of the law.”

Personally, I can’t say I’ve used the term for anyone other than the historical group in quite a long time. I find the term “hypocrite” does just as well, as does the allusion to “whitewashing.” Both come from the Bible, without any need to refer to an a specific group.

But I also am not aware of the term being considered offensive, either. Thing is, it’s not for me to decide.

The way I was brought up (and still think) is that the term is a non-loaded descriptor.

It’s like differentiating between Roman Catholics and Orthodox Catholics; between Baptists, Episcopalians, etc. It’s an adjective describing one sub-set of a larger group.

The doctrinal differences between most religious groups still escapes me. Mostly because I’m just not interested.

Except that (unlike Roman Catholics et al) no one nowadays self-identifies as a Pharisee (as far as I know). Therefore, to describe someone as such must certainly be loaded in some direction or another.

I think it’s doubtful if most ordinary non-churchgoing people would know what a Pharisee was.

IIRC correctly the Pharisees WERE the Temple authorities, but that’s completely beside the point. Criticizing the Temple authorities is not OK from a Jewish POV.

Your statement is equivalent to “I wasn’t taught in school that ALL Catholics were horrible, evil people — just all the Popes and Cardinals!”. It’s doubly insulting, in that you’re first insulting the people the other community consider God’s literal representatives on Earth, and then doubling down by implying that most of the community never really took those old fuddy-duds seriously anyway. You see how that would be problematic.

No, that’s more the Sadducees (although both groups were represented)

This may undoubtedly be true, but there are biblical accounts of righteous people criticizing the temple authorities. For example, in the Book of Samuel, Ch. 2, a “man of god” accosts a priest and rather devastatingly curses him in the name of the Lord, on account of all the corruption going on there.

I am not an expert in the period, and it’s hardly a crucial point, but my impression was that the point of contention was whether the authority to interpret religious law was to be restricted to the hereditary priestly caste (the Sadducee position) or to a self-selecting, non-hereditary, group of elite scholars who eventually became known as “rabbis” (the Pharisee position, and obviously the one which won out). Both sides agreed that only the priests could actually perform the ritual Temple sacrifices.

My impression is that by the end of the Temple period, the Pharisees were in control, to the point that the priests had to perform the sacrifices according to Pharisee rulings, even though most of them were Sadducee sympathizers. So that was the sense in which I meant that they were the “authorities”.

On the other hand, if the point is that the priests running things on a day-to-day basis were corrupt, not necessarily the top leadership, then, yes, most of them would have been Sadducees.