The Gospels thus also tell the story of corruption within Israel itself, as the people who bear the solution have themselves become (with terrible irony that causes Paul to weep every time he thinks of it) a central part of the problem. The Pharisees are offering an interpretation of Torah which pursues a kind of holiness but only makes matters worse. The priests in the temple are offering the sacrifices which should speak of God's grace but which instead speak of their own exclusive and corrupt system. The revolutionaries try to get in on the act of God's in-breaking kingdom (Matthew 11:12), but their attempt to fight violence with violence can only ever result in a victory for violence, not a victory over it. This means that the death of Jesus, when it comes, is bound to be seen as the work not only of the pagan nations but of the Israel that has longed . . . to become "like all the nations" (1 Samuel 8:5, 20) and now is reduced to saying that it has no king but Caesar (John 19:15). - N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (IVP, 2006), 80-81.(Wright is describing what he takes to be the portrayal of the Gospels, but it appears that he agrees with it.)
The various actors in the period that we have surveyed are often the objects of moral censure. We shall understand them better if we view them sympathetically. I rather like the chief priests. I think that on the whole they tried hard and did better at staving off revolt and protecting the Jewish population from Roman troops than any other group could have done -- except a succession of Herods. . . . I rather like the Pharisees. They loved detail and precision. They wanted to get everything just right. I like that. They loved God, they thought he had blessed them, and they thought that he wanted them to get everything just right. I do not doubt that some of them were priggish. This is a common fault of the pious, one that is amply displayed in modern criticism of the Pharisees. . . . Mostly, I like the ordinary people. They worked at their jobs, they believed the Bible, they carried out the small routines and celebrations of the religion: they prayed every day, thanked God for his blessings, and on the sabbath went to the synagogue, asked teachers questions, and listened respectfully. What could be better? - E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief 63 BCE - 66 CE (SCM, 1992), 493-4.
My question: Do the Gospels present the Chief Priests, Pharisees and rebels as corrupt for the reasons Wright cites, or is it--as Sanders has argued elsewhere--a case of solution to plight? In other words, the main thing the Gospels find wrong with the Chief Priests and Pharisees is not their piety (or hypocrisy) but their rejection of the Messiah.