Odd Couple

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The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. (Acts 23:8 )

Let’s see. On one side of the Jewish bi-polarity you’ve got the infamous Pharisees whose very name evokes images of frothing, hypocritical Christ killers. Not bad. A little bad press maybe, but lots of scriptural airplay and always the best seats in the house. On the other hand you have the enigmatic Sadducees, those wily existential logicians who shadow the fringes of the Biblical narrative with their one-shot deal philosophy and a smoldering scorn for pie-in-the-sky losers who believe in ghosts and pearly gates. Both camps have their admirable qualities. The Pharisees are self-righteous, self-serving, humorless, and ruthless—in other words, perfect religious leaders. The Sadducees are the perfect foil for them: skeptical, condescending, sarcastic, and conniving.  Together they form the New Testament’s only real dynamic duo, an odd couple bound by tradition, necessity, and mutual revulsion.

The Sadducees are a strange crew. Since they’ve dispensed with both angels and an afterlife, you have to wonder why they even bother with the religion business. I can maybe see the advantages of a heaven without angels and spirits (less noise, easier parking), but a heaven without me? What’s the point of a religion where dead people stay dead? I mean, the whole idea of having a religion in the first place is so you have someplace to go when you kick the bucket. Even if your afterlife looks more like a bus station lobby, at least you can do crossword puzzles to kill time. But if there’s no you left over to reheat, then the God thing loses a lot of its luster, it seems to me. Then again, religion without postmortem perk possibilities precludes punishment too. There may be nothing to look forward to, but there’s nothing to worry about either. You may not win a condo in heaven, but you’re not going to burn in hell. Still, I’d rather take my chances with eternal damnation if that gives me a shot at an after anything. Personally, I’d find nothing plenty to worry about.

The Pharisees, however, buy into the whole supernatural schmear—lock, stock, and barrel. They’ve got angels and demons galore. This means that they get to deliver people from demon possession. (The Sadducees can only deliver sarcasm.) But more importantly, unlike their sad comrades, Pharisees don’t have to stay dead after they’re dead; they have a resurrection clause in their contract. This makes them the go-to guys for afterlife counseling. There are certain advantages to having a resurrection policy. For one thing, you don’t have to place all your bets on the current hand. Win or lose, you’ve got a whole deck of cards left to shuffle and the promise of more chips than you can count. The downside of resurrection is the possibility that the lame shleps around you might get rebooted too, and you’d end up dealing with their crapola for eternity. Not exactly a pleasant thought.

But though they have their differences, the Sadducees and Pharisees are made for each other. Together they put the screws (er, nails) into Jesus like nobody’s business. There’s nothing like a bad cop/bad cop double-team to bring about a good crucifixion. If there were Tony’s for original Biblical productions, these guys would share the award for best supporting actor. (Peter would be the house favorite, of course; but his performance lacked subtlety and often slipped into melodrama.) Too bad they were one-hit wonders. They’d have made another killing in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, though, considering their respective theologies, the show would have been retitled, Rosencrantz Not Guildenstern is Dead. Sigh. So much talent, so little opportunity.

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One Response

  1. Good stuff!

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