Our Gospel today tells us of the death of St. John the Baptist, but if you don’t mind, I would like to take up the theme of the Gospels from Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week. In them Jesus was criticizing the Scribes and the Pharisees for being sticklers for unimportant regulations. I would like to sketch out the historical reasons for Matthew’s attacking the Pharisees on these points.
For the first forty years of Christianity, most Christians were Jewish people who continued with all the practices of their Jewish religion. Then, after the year 60 A.D. a group of Jewish terrorist took to ambushing Roman military patrols, killing them off with short daggers called shikas. After successful raids those Shickaries found safety by holing up in Jerusalem.
In the year 69 A.D., all other ways of getting at the Shickaries failing, the Roman Senate commissioned General Titus to destroy Jerusalem and its temple. While his men were carrying out the destruction, a leading Pharisee got in touch with Titus, convincing him that the Pharisees had always been Rome’s true friends, and that inside Jerusalem’s walls the Shickaries were killing off Pharisees and their families.
General Titus let the Pharisee families come out from Jerusalem to settle at a place called Jamnia on the coast of the Mediterranean.
After word of the temple’s complete destruction reached the Pharisees in Jamnia, then began asking themselves how a temple-people could survive as a religion without their temple. After the year 75 A.D., they began saying that the core of their religion was strict adherence to each and every kosher law.
On seeing that the Christian Jews were violating kosher by eating with unclean non-Jewish Christians, the Pharisee authorities decreed that no one could be both Christian and Jewish. They were claiming that Jesus had been out to destroy the law and the Prophets.