By Adam Smulevich
The complex relationship between the Catholic Church and the Pharisees has caused more than one obstacle to contemporary Jewish-Christian dialogue.
During his pontificate several times Pope Francis has described the Pharisees as a negative example, as a category to indicate wrongs that must be corrected. His words have been stigmatized by many in the Jewish world since the Pharisees were the most significant religious group at the time that preceded the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. The rabbinic Judaism practiced today is a direct derivation of them.
However, an opportunity for clarification is on its way: an international conference, entitled “Jesus and the Pharisees: An Interdisciplinary Reappraisal”, will take place at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome from May 7 to 9. It is organized on the occasion of the 110th anniversary of the foundation of the Pontifical Biblical Institute along with collaboration among others, of the American Jewish Committee.
The conference, as the organizers explained during a press conference held last week, will first deal with the possible origins and meanings of the name “Pharisee” in different languages. It will then examine the various ancient sources about the Pharisees (Josephus, Qumran, archaeological data, the New Testament, and Rabbinic Literature).
After a round table discussing the results concerning the Pharisees from a historical point of view, the second part of the conference will be devoted to the Wirkungsgeschichte (history of interpretation and its effects), from Patristic Literature, Medieval Jewish interpretations, Passion plays, movies, religious text books, and homiletics.
At the end, professor Joseph Sievers announced, “We will look at possible ways to represent the Pharisees less inadequately in the future”.
Numerous Jewish scholars, rabbis and Israeli experts will participate in the conference. At the end of the three-day event, Pope Francis will meet the speakers of the conference in a private audience.