As I illustrated in a recent blog, not all Pharisees were sanctimonious hypocrites, and some even provided vital support to Jesus and his followers. So it’s not really surprising that from the moment my Daughter of Jerusalem Pharisee, Eleazar ben Judah, began presenting himself to my creative imagination, I found him lovable and admirable. To me he represented all that is noble and good in the Jewish roots from which Christianity sprang.
My Model Pharisee
At first, of course, he didn’t yet have a name. In fact, I even considered identifying him as the Bible character he most resembles: Gamaliel, the fair-minded Sanhedrin member who urged the Jewish council to let the early Christians alone as they spread their gospel. (See Acts 5:34-39.) Research, however, later revealed that Gamaliel had a son, and, for the purposes of the plot, the Pharisee in my novella could not. His relationship with his daughter Mara is central to the plot, and if a Pharisee had a son, it is unlikely that he would ever have broken with tradition so far as to teach his daughter the Hebrew Scriptures. So Gamaliel had to be sacrificed to be faithful to the historic record, and this led me at last to my fictitious friend Eleazar.
A Remarkable Father-Daughter Relationship
From the very start, Eleazar‘s relationship with his daughter Mara was what drew me to him. I could picture a conservative, dignified doctor of the law in affectionate dialogue with a spunky misfit of a young woman. By teaching Mara the Scriptures, Eleazar has rendered her unsuited to the position she’s expected to occupy in their culture. He has also unknowingly set the stage for her deep appreciation of Jesus (Yeshua) from the moment she first hears him teach. As you can see, these two characters made a deep initial impression on me. The question was: Now what?
What happens next?
Decades of my life intervened before their full story evolved, but this father-daughter duo simply would not leave me alone. Their story had to be told. Questions had to be resolved. How would this devoutly Jewish father react to his daughter’s avid interest in the teachings of a young rabbi from Nazareth? Would he go so far as to actively oppose her interest? Or would he share that interest? Or something in between? I suppose I had to wait for Eleazar to tell me himself.
Eventually he opened up to me. I listened intently, for instance, as he patiently explained to his daughter why the Pharisees opposed Yeshua— both the surface reason and the deeper one. I watched Eleazar cautiously shepherd Mara to the Temple to hear Yeshua teach. And I wept as he regretfully shared with his heartbroken daughter the details of the crucifixion— an execution initiated by the very council on which he sat!
Rewards of the writing
Birthing the character of this Pharisee was one of the most instructive and rewarding experiences of my life. It helped me to better understand how Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries would have viewed him and why. And it enabled me to cherish even more deeply the as yet undiscovered gift that Jesus was bringing to them.
So, as I’m sure you can tell, I am grateful I got to write about this Pharisee. He was definitely one of the good ones. If you haven’t gotten to know him yet, I hope you will. And if you have, I would love to hear what message he has communicated to you.