A very frequent assertion of Christian apologetics is that Christian morality would be "the best and most perfect" of all morals. This argument is often used by apologists to prove the truthfulness of the Christian religion.
In truth, it would be enough to read the writings of thinkers from other countries to see that Christian morality, although very beautiful, is in fact not so innovative. It could even be contrasted with the morality already present in the Bible to show that there is "nothing new under the sun", but some apologists reply that Jesus and his apostles have justly returned to bring true biblical morality back to the ground where the Pharisees had put it down; for if Christian morality is raised to the highest rank, the morality of the Pharisees is despised and slandered to the lowest, with a lowliness it does not deserve.
Except that when we study the morals of the Pharisees we see that they had nothing to envy Christian morals, and that even in certain points they are even more intense. It is not a question of reducing Christian morality, which is very beautiful and has allowed a great advance in the Western world in particular, but simply to bring Pharisaic morality back to the truth in the face of the defamation it is undergoing. Why does the New Testament often slander the Pharisees, when according to all the Jewish traditions we have kept from them their morals were equal if not superior to Jesus' in every respect? Non-exhaustive list:
1. Resignation of insults.
One of Jesus' most famous phrases concerns the resignation of insults, where we are told:
"If someone strikes you on one cheek, present him the other as well. If someone takes your coat, do not prevent him from taking your tunic again. ».
Everybody knows this maxim and it was often used to prove something new in relation to the so-called vindictive vision of the Pharisees. But are they really? What does Pharisee morality tell us?
"The world exists only by the merit of those who close their mouths at the moment of disputes" (Houlin 89a).
"Those who suffer insult without giving it back, those who are denigrated and do not retaliate, who have no other motive than love, who welcome with joy the evils of life, it is for them that it is written in the prophets: The friends of God shall shine like the sun in all its strength. "(Shabbat 88a)
2. Loving your enemy
Jesus wants to be of a new morality, surpassing all previous morals with his famous maxim beginning with
"You have heard that it was said to the ancients: Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy, but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and bless them that curse you. "
First problem, when Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said to the elders," he is referring to the Torah, in the same way that Jesus says:
You have heard that it was said to the elders: Thou shalt not kill. (verse 21)
You've heard it said to the elders: Thou shalt not commit adultery (verse 27)
But it is never said in the Torah (or even in the whole Bible) that one should hate one's enemy. What does the Torah say about this, where Jesus would have gone wrong?
Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt take care to rebuke thy neighbour, but thou shalt not bear sin because of him. (Leviticus 19:17)
When you see the donkey of him who hates you falling down under his care, and you have no desire to help that man, help him anyway to unburden his donkey. (Exodus 23:5)
Who would be the enemy par excellence of the Hebrews when they receive the Torah? Would it not be the Egyptians, who have enslaved the Hebrews for centuries? What does the Torah think of the Egyptians, does it ask them to be hated, or conversely, does it say:
"Thou shalt not hate the Egyptian, because thou hast been a stranger in his land" (Deut 23:7).
So the Torah seems to be opposed to Jesus' claim that he is asking to hate his enemy, using beautiful words. Well, the Talmud goes even further with the stories of the enemy's donkeys to be unloaded:
"A friend bending under his charge, and on the other hand, an enemy who at the same time asks to be helped in his charge, it is the enemy that must first be rescued. "(baba metsia 32b)
What, finally, of the prophets to the enemies that Jesus tells us they ask to be hated?
If you see your enemy fall, do not be glad; if he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, lest the Lord see him and condemn you, and bring all the evil upon your head (Prov. XXIV, 17,18).
If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink, for in doing so you will remove the burning coals from his head (Prov. XXV, 22).
I call God as my witness if I have ever enjoyed the evil of my enemy; if my heart was moved with joy when misfortune befell him (Job, XXXI, 29).
Now, what do the Pharisees say about this?
"Ben Azai put as the most important verse, "God created man in his own image," so that you would not say, 'Since I was despised, let my brother also be despised, since I was cursed, let my brother also be cursed; for if you do this, know who it is that you despise and curse: God, whose image is man. (Yalcult 11d.)
"Whoever renders evil for good, evil shall not depart from his dwelling place (Proverbs 17:13). That is not all; but on him also who renders evil for evil, the same curse falls. (Yalcult, II, 140a)".
One of the most famous midrashim (I can no longer find the exact source), tells us a beautiful story: when the Hebrews came out of the Red Sea and the Egyptians died in the sea, they sang Psalm 113 where it says "Praise the Lord, for his charity is eternal", but it does not say "for he is good" why? Because "God does not rejoice in the fall of the ungodly. The Jews, moreover, continue this idea by reciting Psalm 113 on the seventh day of Easter, but they do not recite all the psalms that make up the Hallel, for their joy is not complete, there is a void, this mourning of the Egyptians that still lasts.
So we see that according to the Bible, as according to the Pharisees, we must not hate our enemy but rather love him. Should we pray for him?
The famous story of Rabbi Meir (berahot 10b) gives us the answer:
"There were robbers in Rabbi Meir's neighborhood who were causing Rabbi Meir and his family a great deal of trouble. Rabbi Meir decided to pray that they would die and that he would have no more problems. His wife Brouria came to him and said, "Don't you think you should pray for them? "Rabbi Meir nodded, prayed for them, and they repented. »
3. The price of forgiveness
A beautiful maxim found in the Gospels concerns the price of forgiveness: what happens to the one who forgives? In Matthew we read:
"If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you your trespasses. »
Let it be said, this is THE Pharisee doctrine par excellence:
"Whose sins does God forgive? To the one who himself forgives insults. Whoever is quick to forgive, his sins will also be forgiven (Megillah 28b)".
One of the most eloquent stories in the Talmud tells us this fact:
"At one time of the year, there was a great drought, which imposed a great famine. Rabbi Eliezer fasted and prayed, but the rain did not come. Rabbi Akiva in turn fasted and prayed, and then the rain came. One wondered, "Is Rabbi Akiva a greater master than Rabbi Eliezer? "And the Talmud answers, "No, it is simply that he forgives more willingly" (Taanit 25a).
"One day Rabbi Akiva came to visit Rabbi Nehounia (who was very old) and asked him: "By what merits have you reached this age? "He replied, "My son, I have never refused forgiveness" (Megilla 28a).
4. The humble of spirits.
Jesus teaches us the importance of being humble when he says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Of course, the expression poor in spirit is to be understood as "humble in spirit," for in Hebrew the term "nemokhe" means both humble and poor, and the expression "nemokhe rouah" is a common expression in those days meaning humble in spirit (which moreover proves the Aramaic origin of this gospel).
But this expression, so beautiful, is in truth not a Christian invention, it is already found among the Pharisees, among whom we find similar phrases:
"It is near the humble that God lays his Chehina to rest" (Sota 2a).
"Where will we find God's science? In the humble spirit, like water that rolls from high places to stop at the lowest" (Taanit 7b).
Another statement about the humble is found this time in Mark (10:31) where it is said that
"Many of the first will be last, and many of the last will be first."
A similar idea is found in Matthew (23:12) where it says,
"Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. »
But this idea that the proud will be lowered and the humble will be raised is not a new invention either; it is also found in the Pharisaic texts:
"My lowliness shall be my exaltation, and my exaltation shall be my lowliness." (Vayikra Rabba 81a)
"Be humble of spirit to the point of excess, for man's last hope is the worms of his grave" (Avot chapter 4).
"Whoever humbles himself shall be exalted, and whoever exalts himself shall be humbled" (Aruvin 13a).
"The world to come belongs to those who bend their knees, to the humble, the bent, who meditate incessantly without vanity" (Sanhedrin 88b).
5. Some beatitudes on the same subject
Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy". The Talmud says, "Whoever shows mercy, God will show mercy to him" (Sota 8a).
Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." The mishnah says, "Those who make peace will be so rewarded that not only in the future world will they be rewarded" (Pea 1:1).
Self-denial is one of the most important virtues of the Gospels, so we find verses such as:
He who loves his soul will lose it, but he who hates it will keep it in eternal life"
"If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if you mortify by the spirit the desires of the flesh, you will live. "And finally, "You must brave every kind of suffering to be worthy to follow me. Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. »
Is self-denial a Christian novelty? What does the Talmud tell us about it?
"What must man do to live? Let him die! What must he do to die? Let him live! »
"the law of God is found in him who sacrifices his own life" (berahot 63a).
"Where will you find the Law? In him who does not fear to expose himself to the utmost destitution for the love of it" (Sota chap III).
"Is there anything in the world more beautiful, more precious, more sacred than the homeland, the Torah, and Heaven? Well, well, well! One can deserve neither homeland, nor Law, nor heavenly bliss, without pain, without suffering, without self-denial.
In many instances, pride is criticized in the Gospels, although it is implicitly so when it emphasizes humility, but then, what do the Pharisees think of pride?
"The proud deserve to be uprooted like the groves of idols. His dust will not wake up on the day of resurrection; even if he had reconciled heaven and earth with God, as Abraham did, he could not escape the pains of hell. Let him be to you as an idolater, as an atheist, as an incestuous one. The shekhinah groaned over him, she said, "It is impossible for me and him to coexist in the world" (T Jer Sota 1).
I don't think we can make it any clearer.
Like pride, anger is criticized by Jesus (although it is only unjustified anger that is criticized, we will talk about that later).
What do the Pharisees say about anger?
"Whoever indulges in anger does not respect the Shekhinah itself" (Nedarim 20a).
"If a man is angry, if he is a prophet, his inspiration forsakes him; if he is a doctor, he forgets his doctrine" (Pessahim 66a).
Our last example is most explicit concerning what we said above: indeed, many times Jesus gets angry in the Gospels, which allows us to draw the moral conclusion that in Christian morality, "justified" anger is totally permitted. On the other hand, in Pharisaism, all anger, even justified anger, is very much criticized:
"Why was Elijah taken from the earth as soon as he was taken from it? Because he became angry and had Baal's prophets killed. Then God took him away from the world, saying to him, "The earth has no need of such men as you" (Shabbat II).
The criticism of anger is found in another word of Jesus where it says,
"You have heard that it was said to the elders: Thou shalt not kill, and he that killeth shall be punished by judgment; but I say unto you, that whosoever is angry without cause with his brother shall be punished by judgment, and he that saith unto his brother Raka shall be punished by the council, and he that calleth him mad shall be punished by the Gehenna of fire. »
The beginning of this statement is quite problematic because it puts morality and justice on the same level: indeed, never, not even in Christianity, has a person found himself in court for the simple fact of being angry, although this sentence is meant to be graphic, it is excessive because it puts homicide and anger on the same level.
Concerning the rest of this verse, which condemns the one who calls his brother Raka (there is an error in translation, it is said rasha, which means unholy) or mad, it is not a Christian novelty. Pharisaic legislation already applied sentences that condemned insult (baba kamma 91a). The Talmud even says that a person who raises his hand on another -without hitting him- is punishable by law (Sanhedrin chap 7). But it is finally a passage from the Talmud that I wanted to show you so that you can see the seriousness of the insult and to shame the Pharisees:
"Whoever descends into hell finally ascends, except for three who descend and do not ascend, and they are: he who engages in adulterous relations; he who humiliates another in public; and he who calls another a derogatory name. "(baba metsiah 58b)
I could go on for hours. What is innovative about the morals of Jesus, in what way are they superior to all morals or to Jewish morality as it is often heard, and why are the Pharisees described as odious characters in the New Testament, when all the moral traditions we still have of them are equal to or superior to the morals of Jesus?
I find this idea all the more unfortunate since more and more historical studies seem to indicate that Jesus himself was part of the Pharisaic movement of his time.